I remember last year's September well.
I can jump back to those days of standing alone at the school playground at pick-up time, listening to the conversations going on around me, but not being part of them.
I remember looking around at a sea of faces that looked friendly, but not safe.
There is a difference, you know.
Funny how you can feel about a place can change in a year.
How you feel about the people who make the place.
How the sea of faces have names and stories attached to them now, and how some of their threads are running alongside mine in my 37th year.
No one here knew me last year on my birthday.
This year was different.
The girls and I walked to school together. I was dressed for the gym - ready for a work-out right after dropping the girls off.
As soon as we walked up to Sasha's door, her special friend Sophia bounded up to me with a "Happy Birthday Karla!" like only Sophia could do. She ran to her mom, Lisa, one of the strongest and optimistic women I know, and then the two returned to me. With a plate of cupcakes iced and sprinkled for my birthday. Those cupcakes were such a symbol of something bigger than turning 37.
After the girls were in their classrooms, I found myself surrounded by women (and a dad or two). I knew them, and they knew me. Relationship where once there was none.
As I turned to walk towards the gym, my friend Karyne called over and asked if I wanted to do a power-walk with her instead. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, and Karyne is strong and walks fast. "I'd love to", I said.
As she walked (and I half walked and half jogged) the four miles to New Brighton and back I heard stories and I told some of mine. I am invested in her, and she in me because our daughters are connected. And now so are we.
After our walk, Karyne and I drove down Hastings to a tiny little Italian Cafe that you'd never notice unless someone pointed it out. I'd never noticed it after driving that strip a million times in the last year. The signage is old, and the awning outside is faded. This is Karyne's spot, her "Cheers". Everyone really does know her name in that place! The tables inside were filled up with older Italian men drinking espresso and telling stories. The owner made me the best Iced Mocha I've ever had in my life.
We sat outside at a tiny table and ended up beside an old man with only one ear. Karyne asked him what happened and he told us his story. Soon his wallet was open and he shared ancient pictures of the people he loved. We know his name now - he said we could call him "Old One Ear" or "Darrell" - the choice is ours.
I drove home feeling full, and known, and connected.
I wanted nothing more for my birthday.