May always brings special treats for Mother’s Day and my birthday

If you haven't noticed by now, this columnist has more than a few "coincidences"

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by Helen Baldwin |

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Today is my birthday, and it’s a big one. In fact, earlier this year, my heart palpitated a bit when it sank in just how big it is. By now, however, it seems minimally eventful.

Sunday, of course, was Mother’s Day. I heard that morning from our daughter, Katie, and our son, Matthew, and daughter-in-law, Jill (whose birthday was earlier in the month), fixed a delicious dinner. I exchanged notes with several fellow mamas. My own mother, who died in February 2022, was sorely missed.

In January, as I recovered from a hip replacement, I had to resume work on our taxes, a task I despise. Since I was to restrict my sitting to 20 minutes at a time, either I ended up sitting longer than I was supposed to or I had to get up, move around, sit back down, get up, move around, sit back down, get up … well, you get the picture.

I was stiff and physically limited from the surgery and experiencing horrendous post-surgical leg spasms. The temperature outdoors was 3 F, and I was supposed to ice my hip! On top of that, I was cranky from having to deal with taxes.

Cue the violins.

Enter my quest to calm my pity party with a jigsaw puzzle. I love puzzles I deem worthy of framing, so I shoved Uncle Sam aside and perused an online puzzle store. Oh my, so many frame-worthy puzzles that I didn’t know where to start. Until I spied the one.

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Mom, Jeffrey, and ‘Little Bird’

Mom, an accomplished musician, had a knack for whipping up stunning original creations on the keyboard that left me, her two-piano partner for years, in awe. She never wrote anything down; she just followed her fingers.

She said many times that her favorite collection of songs was the one she prepared for Jeffrey, our third baby. Jeffrey was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) at 2 months old. The prognosis was grim, and doctors said he likely wouldn’t be with us long. His beloved Nana didn’t waste a minute. She compiled a collection of little songs, which he loved almost as much as he loved her!

A grandmother dotes over a tiny baby she's holding in her lap. Both are smiling widely and looking at each other. The photo is from the late 1990s.

Baby Jeffrey with his very favorite Nana in 1997. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)

One of Mom’s most captivating little tunes, “Little Bird,” was inspired by a gorgeous stained-glass hanging of a bluebird that my sister-in-law, Jaymie, made for her and Dad many years ago. Mom added words to the song a few years later. A few years after that, my brother, Paul (who is married to Jaymie), recorded my cousin’s partner, Barbara Taylor, singing it.

I saved “Little Bird” to the music program on my computer, where I could listen to it at will.

A gift to myself and a tribute to my mother

Remember the puzzle search? I found a 1,000-piece selection titled “Stained Glass Bluebird.”

A finished jigsaw puzzle of a stained-glass piece with a bluebird sitting on the branch of a tree. In the photo, it looks like a real stained-glass piece, but it's a jigsaw puzzle. It also has some printed out lyrics, but they're too small to read in the photo.

The “Stained Glass Bluebird” jigsaw puzzle, complete with lyrics to my mother’s song “Little Bird” and a small, blue feather I found outside just after finishing the puzzle. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)

Squealing, I placed the order. My plan was to finish my lengthy part of the taxes for our CPA before opening the box. I’m an optimist, but I’m not loaded with self-control; consequently, I broke into the box as soon as it arrived. Giddily and a bit foolishly, I cleared a spot on a work table, dumped out the 1,000 pieces, and attempted to pull out the straight-edged ones. With my eyes more than a little crossed, I forced myself to return to Uncle Sam until I was done. “Bluebird” proved to be highly motivational.

It took several sittings over several days, but the puzzle — a birthday gift to myself and a tribute to Mom and her “Little Bird” — came together. All but one piece, that is.

I remained calm, reminding myself that I’d had to make a missing puzzle piece years before and no one noticed. However, I was determined to find the piece. As I opened the flap of a box sitting right beside the table, poof! The piece fell onto the floor. Mitty, Mom’s cat we inherited, apparently had knocked it onto the box during one of his (probably many) unsupervised treks across the puzzle. No matter, it was ready to be glued and framed.

Meanwhile, a perfect final touch right where I stood happened to appear in our yard: a small, blue feather. It’s not the first time a blue feather has appeared at just the right time, nor do I expect it to be the last.

Some birthday presents are impossible to beat

Speaking of my birthday, I’ve had some great treats. One was a totally unexpected visit from Katie and our son-in-law, Paul. Another was a rock.

Yep, a rock.

On my birthday 11 years ago, I was cleaning out a jungly area for a pollinator garden. As I raked untold, nondescript little rocks, I started thinking about Jeffrey’s 16th birthday that was coming up in three days. Having left his earthly stint at just under 6 months old, all of his birthdays had been in heaven. I wondered what he was doing and what he’d be doing if he were still here.

Looking down at that moment to pick up more rocks, I was speechless to see this gem:

A heart-shaped rock set to a simple white background.

I might not have known what Jeffrey was doing as his 16th “angel” birthday approached, but I didn’t have to wonder where he was. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)

A perfect gift.


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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