Happy 40th Birthday, Jacob

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Dear Jacob,

Today is your 40th birthday. Forty. It’s hard for me to picture you as forty because I still see you as that smiling 11 year old boy in a gold sweater. So, to see you as 40, I have to picture myself at 40… where I was at that time in my life, what I was doing, and where I hoped to be going.

My kids were 13 and 11 at that time… about the same age you were when you disappeared. We were so busy then. Our world revolved around sports… wrestling, football, baseball. I call these the “lawn chair years” because it seems like we were constantly just folding and unfolding our lawn chairs, packing them in the car, and heading to our next game.

And then, there were the snowboarding years. My friend Diane talked me into helping her chaperone the New London-Spicer ski club that went out to Powder Ridge every Friday night. My boys both wanted to join, so I figured, what the heck. It wasn’t long before I got bored with the skiing, so I decided to give snowboarding a try. Jordan and Cole made it look so fun and easy, I figured “how hard can it be?” As it turns out, plenty hard. I crashed almost every time I got off the chair lift, and I hit my head so many times, I finally resorted to buying a helmet. But, I stuck with it, and to this day, I still consider it one of my proudest accomplishments. I took up snowboarding at age 40, and I loved it! I have a feeling you would have, too.

By far though, the biggest thing I remember about turning 40 was the surprise party my friends threw for me. It was a Friday evening and I was just getting ready to settle in for the night, when, all of a sudden, my friends Betsy, Jane B, and Jane D showed up at my door wearing matching 70s outfits. They yelled, “Happy Birthday” and told me to pack a bag… they were taking me to see Boogie Wonderland at the Medina Ballroom.

I love disco music, and Boogie Wonderland was my favorite band at the time. We dressed up every time they came to Melvin’s in Spicer, and we danced on the beach all night long. The whole town was wild for Boogie Wonderland, and even the guys… even Ross… would dress up in crazy hair and tie-dye shirts.

The girls took me back to Jane B’s house so I could change into my own 70s outfit they had bought for me. My mini-dress was slightly different than theirs… black and white Mondrian squares vs. their primary colored ones. Clearly, I was to be the leading lady of this crazy entourage.

I put on my dress, matching hat, wig, and go-go boots, and off we went to Medina. Or, so I thought. Oops… Betsy forgot the tickets… we needed to stop by her house first. I was still completely oblivious to everything until someone suggested we should all go in for a quick beer before we took off for Medina. I figured it out then, but was still completely blown away when I walked in the door. There was a group of at least 30 people, all dressed in 70s outfits.

I started laughing so hard… I couldn’t recognize a single person. I started going one-by-one, greeting each person and trying to figure out who they were. My parents were there, along with several cousins and college buddies who had all driven in from the Cities. All the Bakers were there, and Ross’s brother Paul (Mr. Conservative) had shaven off the bottom of his goatee so he had this long crazy horseshoe mustache that reached all the way down to his chin. I absolutely didn’t recognize him at all, and when I finally figured out who he was, I laughed so hard I had tears streaming down my face.

I was so happy. I just couldn’t believe all the time and effort these people had gone through to make my 40th birthday so special. Most of them hate 70s disco music (or so they say), but we danced all night long… into the very wee hours. It was so incredibly fun.

So, that’s the memory I’m stuck with this morning as I think about you turning 40. I bet your friends would have thrown you a surprise party, too. I bet they would have come from far and wide for your party, just to see you smile and laugh when you got pranked. I wonder what kind of music you would have liked… which songs you would have danced to until the wee hours of the morning.

I was 11 years old when you were born. It was 1978, and I was in 6th grade… the same age you were when you disappeared. I was so happy and carefree then… I loved being 11 years old! We went to our Christmas tree farm almost every weekend, and I spent the days running and playing in the tree fields with my cousins. I think this is why I love 70s music so much. It brings me back to those times… being with my family and listening to the songs on the car radio during our hour-long car rides to and from the tree farm.

That made me wonder what songs were on the radio when you were 11. Maybe those would have been your favorites, too. So, I decided to look them up. Here’s a quick sample from Billboard’s top 100 songs of 1989:

  • Every Rose Has Its Thorn
  • Miss You Much
  • Wind Beneath My Wings
  • Right Here Waiting
  • Waiting For a Star to Fall
  • Lost In Your Eyes
  • Don’t Wanna Lose You
  • Heaven
  • Two Hearts
  • Listen to Your Heart
  • I’ll Be There for You
  • Like a Prayer
  • I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)
  • Eternal Flame
  • When I See You Smile
  • If I Could Turn Back Time

Umm… is it just me, or is that a deeply profound and ironic list of song titles?

But then, nothing surprises me anymore. Nothing is a coincidence. I am truly a different person because of you. Why? Well, here’s the deal.

Truth is, I was kind of a hot mess before you came into my life. Without even realizing it, I was in full-blown mid-life crisis by my mid-40s. I found myself searching so hard for the “next big thing,” that I seemed to have lost track of everything I had that was right in front of me.

I was feeling this intense pressure to find my true purpose… to use my gifts to make a difference. This constant feeling of unrest was making me (and everyone around me) absolutely crazy. Ultimately, that led to a downhill spiral that caused me to lose all my confidence, and without that, I didn’t even know who I was anymore. I was so far from the person I wanted to be, I didn’t think I’d ever find her again. I had become Sad Joy… a far cry from that happy, carefree 11 year old who loved to belt out 70s songs on the AM radio.

And then, you came along.

I can’t explain things very well from here on out, because I still have trouble making sense of it all. All I know is this… you saved me. You gave my life purpose and meaning. You took the pressure off. On the outside, I was insanely busy. I have no idea how I accomplished everything I did during those few years. But on the inside, I was intensely calm and focused. For the first time, I felt like I was using my gift of writing to truly make a difference. That meant everything to me. Still does.

Today may be your birthday, Jacob… but you are MY gift.

So, Happy Birthday to you on this momentous day. I’m sure your soul is shining brightly, and I imagine a big 80s surprise party for you up in heaven with everyone belting out Bobby Brown and Milli Vanilli songs. I will take your kind spirit and carry it in my heart as I continue to celebrate the rest of our Birth Month. Go Aquarius.

Peace.

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