This is the eighth time I have celebrated my birthday on the rooftop terrace of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. It is my favorite space in all of Washington, D.C. to dance, to think, to imagine, to sift through the lessons of heartbreak, to experiment with my creativity. I’ve spent so many hours in this self-claimed laboratory over the past decade of my life. I’ve plotted visions, mapped workshops, choreographed dances, written plays, convinced myself that I was good enough to pursue whatever thing intimidated me and made me question if I was a real dancer, introduced myself to the characters in my stories, rehearsed shows, considered whether or not to stay in love, edited poems, taped interviews, given myself pep talks and also tough, you-need-to-face-the-truth-of-this-thing talks. There are countless journal entries documenting this personal evolution of self. There are thousands upon thousands of kilobytes of photo and film archives of these moments of discovery as artist, woman, and mother, captured somewhere on assorted cameras, laptops, flash drives, disks, and external hard drives.
When the munchkin was born, a week before my birthday in fact, it was the first time I wasn’t able to be in my sanctuary on my birthday after seven consecutive years. The next year we did go there for the munchkin’s first birthday, but the intention was not the same because we were focused on celebrating his big milestone. In years past I have usually been accompanied by some member of my family or soul-artist family to help me hold the space on my birthday, but also there have been times when I just went alone. This year was my biggest delegation yet, journeying into the magic portal as four adults, a two year old, a three month old, two strollers, a car seat, diaper bags, a special spread of homemade birthday treats, including all the fixings to build your own strawberry short cake, yoga mats, backpacks, baby carriers, various snacks to please a toddler’s unpredictable appetite, water bottles to fill and refill to stay hydrated and to make more breastmilk, multiple changes of clothes for when the diapers couldn’t do it all, and a journal that I knew I wouldn’t even use but had to have in my bag anyway just because. I caught a glimpse of our reflection in the massive tinted windows as we walked to the corner that overlooks the water. Wow, I thought, see all that you’ve become.
It understandably takes much longer to get myself situated into this birthday ritual, and even after all my efforts I know we can’t just stay indefinitely. Never are we free from the laws of mealtime and bedtime, of strategizing the most direct route home that will yield the least amount of needs to stop and soothe any fussy babies, of being sensitive to the reality that we are borrowing time from these children who will make it known in no uncertain terms when they are ready to be done with my sacred, birthday festivities. Now it seems that the pure and abundant joy of entering my creative playground is tempered by the ever present blessings of my responsibilities as a mommy. I go all this way knowing I will have to leave soon. Never mind that this victory comes after more than thirty-three cumulative months of pregnancy, birthing, breastfeeding, mothering of one, more pregnancy, more birthing, breastfeeding in the plural, and mothering two babies. This is what it is to be an artist with my family. This is what it means to feel I am whole nowadays.
One of the most critical things I do when I am in my special space on the rooftop is lie on my back so that the only thing I see is sky. Here I breathe in the reminder of all the possibilities that exist in my life. This is where many of my biggest dreams are born and fed, are outlined and labeled, are given their roots from which something beautiful can grow. Mothering work has absolutely changed the shape of my sanctuary, but the impact of the rituals I do there are still extremely potent. I’m so glad I kept pushing to get us into the space on my actual birthday. There were plenty of moments where getting out the door seemed impossible and I thought maybe we’ll just try this another time. But there was something I needed to experience on this day. Just being present in a space bigger than the tight rectangle we call home. Just being able to touch my bare feet to the floor of the lab that has nurtured so much of my creative practice. That was the gift I didn’t realize I was trying to give myself all along.
So finally when we have reached the coveted rooftop, complete with its splendid view of the Potomac River and all the planes about to land at Washington National, the open sky greeting me with warmth and remembrance, and I am pressing my youngest son’s cheek to my face, beginning to tell him why this place is so important to mommy, I feel the wetness spreading over my fingers. I look down to see the greenish, mustard yellowy poop oozing over his leg and onto my hand. All that spinach and flaxseed I’ve been drinking to heal my postpartum hemorrhoids. And amen, hallelujah it’s been working. Those of us who know the details of that complicated agony on the seat of a toilet, know that this feat is beyond major. It is now when I feel that all-encompassing gratitude for the collective beauties and stumbles of my life that have delivered me into this exact moment. Here I am, I keep hearing inside my head. Indeed, this is a happy birthday for me.
Binahkaye Joy is a new mommy, dancer, doula, writer, movement facilitator, and creativity coach. She writes extensively about the intersections of mothering work and the cultivation of a vibrant creative practice. Binahkaye recently gave birth to her second child and captures some of the mystery and magic of mothering two babies in Rambling Mother of Two.