One wish. That’s all we get when we blow out the candles on our birthday cake each year. It’s kind of a funny tradition when you think about it. We wait 364 days in anticipation of the one date we are allowed to make this wish. The rules are strict yet simple: make said wish in your head so that no one knows, blow out all the candles with one breath and your wish shall be granted. Or so the story goes. Children in particular bank on the truth of this practice probably more so than the list they send to Santa Claus, because there is just something about the whole custom – the build up that is perpetuated by all in attendance at the candle-blowing-out ceremony – that makes it seem so authentic.
“Make a wish but don’t tell anyone or it won’t come true,” you are reminded by parents, friends, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who are circled around you and your cake full of brightly lit candles… as if you would forget. With so many believers it just HAS to be real we tell ourselves, which is what makes it an even more eagerly awaited annual event for young and old alike.
Last week we celebrated Sam’s 15th birthday. Now I love birthday’s just as much as anyone else, especially, as I grow older, when they are somebody else’s. But for the last seven years I have had a heavy heart when I watch Sam extinguish his candles. You see, Sam broke that all-important rule (you know, the one with the confidentiality clause) when he was eight years-old and told me what his wish was, the same wish, as it turns out, that he has had ever since he can remember.
“Do you want to know what I wished for mom?” he asked.
“Well I don’t know Sam. If you tell me then it might not come true,” I said, trying to protect the folklore.
“I’m not worried about that,” he said confidently, “…because I have wished for the same thing since I was three and it still hasn’t come true,” he confided.
My heart sinks.
“Every year when I blow out my birthday candles I wish that I could be the boy I know I am,” Sam shared, in his usual matter-of-fact, age 8-going-on-48 manner.
His words feel like a sucker punch to the gut.
My mind flashes back to the last several birthday celebrations starting when Sam turned three, reflecting on small details at a dizzying pace about the cakes – from Blues Clues and zoo animals to baseball themes – and the people invited to celebrate the special day. Amidst all of the balloon filled, crepe paper decorated festivities I never would have guessed my child was making a wish, not for something that could be purchased at the local toy store like most kids would do, but rather for something that would bring him inner peace. That realization was almost more than I could bear.
Every birthday since then I have wondered what Sam was wishing for as he exhaled a deep breath strategically aimed at those candles. At the exact same moment I make my own private wish that he is on his way to finding happiness and self acceptance. And together as a family we continue down that road less traveled I have mentioned before, the one that sometimes seems way too long and filled with all too many detours, each of us motivated only by the fact that somewhere up ahead is his birthday wish come true.