Birthdays are great. In my life, many of my fondest memories are celebrating with close friends every year. I love birthdays so much, I even remember many of my friends birthday party themes from childhood. Shout out to my mom for the best “Where’s Waldo” birthday party in the history of this world. Contrary to popular belief, I’ve learned birthday celebrations aren’t a birth right. Today, a child told me his birthday is 2 years from now. He was 9 years old and struggled to understand what I meant when I asked for his birth date.
A coworker and I later discussed that many of the children living in our farm worker camp don’t know their own birthdays, in theory, because so many of their parents are more focused on hiding from immigration so things like birthdays aren’t as relevant and really, if you’re never formally writing it down for documentation, how easily would you remember it? Birthday celebrations are a luxury I’ve taken for granted. Today I asked at least ten children to fill out a simple form with their names and birthdates, and every single one of them required assistance in figuring out what year they were born based on how old they thought they were and then literally counting backwards. Most of these children were between the ages of 7 and 13. A 9 year old girl who couldn’t articulate her own birthday, later described to me in graphic detail how one of her brothers was shot in the head and the other brother sliced open with a knife in El Salvador.
It’s one thing if you want to go with the immigration theory, but that doesn’t explain why a client I tested today had the same issue. She’s not running from immigration, in fact she’s an American citizen. When I asked her how old she was, she replied, “Well, I was born in 1978.. so.. 1988.. 1998.. 2008.. plus 3.. I guess I’m 33?”. She was sober, articulate and well groomed, but in visible emotional distress. I haven’t been able to shake that testing session all day.
My heart aches for this world and the harsh realities that could bring a 33 year old woman to lose track of her own age and children to miss out on smearing icing all over their faces and pinning a cardboard tail on a paper donkey. I pray for healing, for peace amidst confining circumstances and for future celebrations.