Sunday was the big birthday party. The weather was mercifully fine, the bouncer set up in the backyard, the cakes ordered from our local bakery (since I can't do fancy frosting), cupcakes baked (because I can at least bake), goody bags packed, and most importantly guests had RSVP'd and were expected at 3.00pm prompt.
We had a long list of groceries to be purchased, the house to be tidied up, and the usual panic of arranging food, filling coolers with sodas, bringing out the attractive toys and hiding the ones the dog has chewed, stretching ahead of us. Geekydaddy headed out to get the groceries, and I took the kids to the playground after picking up the cakes. I figured that the best way to be ready on time was to be sure they took a nice long nap, so I felt that a morning playground outing was a good use of time, despite the task list.
At the playground I struck up a conversation with a handsome, unshaven, very tired looking dad who was wearing a tiny baby in a fleece pouch, and supervising a three year old girl. He mentioned that they had a child who came in between the two he had with him; three kids all 16 months apart, and an eight year old too. We chatted about schools, the labrythine lottery system used to assign kids to public schools being an incessant topic of conversation here in the city. He mentioned that his oldest was in a pretty public good elementary school. Siblings get preference in the assignment system, but the age gap between his son and the little girl was big enough that they wouldn't overlap, negating the sibling advantange.
Then he said something that I wasn't expecting. He told me that they had had another daughter, in between the ages of this girl and his son, but that she had died. I didn't know what to say. I expressed how terribly sorry I was. I asked if she had been sick, and he told me no, she had suffered an accident, then said no more.
It sounds so selfish, but I didn't want to hear the story of how his daughter died. Not on this beautiful day, the day I would soon be celebrating the birthdays of my healthy, perfect son and daughter.
We chatted about my kids a little, but I was still thinking about what he had said. He had wanted to talk about her, and I wasn't able to listen. So I asked what her name was, and he told me. "Olive, she was called Olive".
I have a memory of meeting a mum and a toddler girl named Olive, back when Geekygirl was tiny. It isn't a common name, so maybe that was her. I looked around the playground at all the happy children, including mine, so beautiful, so strong and suddenly I was hit with a sense of the fragility of life.
I said goodbye to the dad, and we shook hands and exchanged names. I hope I meet him again when I'm more prepared to listen.
Then I went back home and stepped into party prep mode. It was a great party. Geekygirl was so thrilled to have her friends visit her house, it was worth the extra effort involved in having it at home. Geekyboy bounced for hours, and he was delighted that he got to have a cake too (Where my cake? Where my candoo?"), having been quite grumpy when his sister got candles on a cupcake the previous day, her actual birthday. But all afternoon, as I photographed the exhilarated kids, trying to capture the pleasure in their faces and freeze these tiny moments in time, I kept thinking of Olive, who didn't get to have enough birthdays.