Elena’s Birthday

For years we spent Christmas Eve at friends of ours for a traditional seven fish dinner. Towards the end of the evening we would watch as their granddaughter Nicole opened up her Christmas presents. She beamed with delight as she opened up each gift and made the giver feel so special and so appreciated. I wondered how you teach that to a child.

Of course, you can’t. Some kids are just built that way.

Elena was one of them. Everything for her was just what she wanted. She couldn’t wait to wear the clothes or play with the toys. Each giver got a huge gift in return.

So today is Elena’s birthday and I’m looking for my gift. Equally hard for many close to us is the fact that they have already purchased their gifts for her. These presents sit in their closets as reminders that this child passed just before her seventh birthday.

What do I want for Elena’s birthday? Sounds selfish but I do have a little list.  Mainly, I want her back. I know I won’t wake up and walk into her room to see her there. I know she won’t be perched on the counter when I grind the coffee. I don’t mean that I expect her to ever be physically present. But I still want her back and you can help.

I think of the crossing guards and the lunch aids and the teachers and the parents and the trash collectors and the people in the stores and all of the people that Elena paused to touch. Now think of the people in your life that you see every day and don’t notice. How many times has that person poured you a cup of coffee. Do you know anything about them? You don’t need to change forever but just for today, take a moment and choose one of those people who are a part of your life that you don’t know and give them a smile and talk to them a bit. If you’re one of our neighbors, you probably already do.

The other item on my list is stories. You can help bring Elena back to me by dropping us a line with a story about Elena that makes you smile. Here’s one that Maggie reminded me of yesterday.

At Christmas, Elena and Maggie each got a Chia (R) pet. [Incidentally, Maggie was very careful to note that I should use the letters (TM) with Chia. Looking at their web site at http://www.chia.com it appears that they use (R) and not with every instance.]

A chia is a clay figure of a character or an animal that you wet and spread seed over in areas that you want to grow hair. The grass or herbs that you grow look like the fur of the animal.

Carolyn, Elena’s aunt, had bought Elena a Scooby-Doo Chia Pet. Elena was delighted. She couldn’t wait to show her aunt how much she loved the gift. She took it out of the box and ran up to Carolyn and said, “I love Cheetah Pets.”

Carolyn was confused. She thought Elena was disappointed because she had gotten a Scooby-Doo shape instead of a Cheetah shape. “Oh honey,” she said, “we can exchange it for a different shape.”

Now it was Elena’s turn to be confused. She had told her aunt how much she loved her present and her aunt wanted to exchange it. “No,” she said, “Cheetah’s are my favorite.”

Carolyn was getting sadder by the minute. She’d specifically picked Scooby-Doo for Elena and she was insisting on a Cheetah.

It took a while for us to convince Carolyn that Elena thought she was saying “Chia” not “Cheetah” and that this gift really was exactly what she wanted.

Published in: on March 3, 2006 at 6:32 am  Comments (28)  

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  1. I am SO SAD today, sad because I do not have a story to share with you about Elena, because I have never have met her. Your family will be in my thoughs all day today as you have been in them for the last week.

  2. Daniel, Kim and Maggie..
    We have a few special moments with boths of your girls, because we are part of the special Shen Sisters. This one stands out maybe because it was not when we normally see you, but is the time we stopped by on our way out to Virigina Beach. We said we would be in town around dinnertime and that is all it took. You both invited us to stop by and see the family. It was a beatuiful June night. Maggie and Laura picked right up. And Elena she was in to singing. She walked around the backyard singing to the trees and bushes making up words just happy to be outside. When we went inside she made sure we had a tour of the house which was she showed us the kicthen and her and Maggie’s room that’s it. But that was all that was important to her. What other rooms matter to a young girl. But Maggie and Elena enjoyed our visit and I am so glad we took the time out of vacation to stop to see some friends in Ohio while we were passing through.


  3. Daniel, Kim, & Maggie
    I’m not great with words but i will be thinking of all of you today.Uncle Bill and i will be sure to do something special for someone today. We love what you have written about Eleana and your beautiful family.
    Tell Maggie my name is Marguerite Rose and i have a granddaughter named Maggie.

    Uncle Bill & Aunt Maggie

  4. Celebrate her birth, and remember her life, especially today. The only way Elena can truly die in your hearts is if you forget to talk about her, remember her, and honor her.


  5. Kim and Daniel, I have not been able to comment on your blog until now, it is just too painful. Thank you for the opportunity to express myself in a way that I can. My story about Elena:
    One of my fondest memories about Elena is her “active” participation in her Brownie Troop. Whilst sitting in our Brownie Circle at each meeting I try to engage the young girls in conversation, about their weeks since we last met, about current events in their lives and such. Naturally this leads to questions offered to the group. Guess who is always the very first person to raise their hand with a comment or an answer? And not just raise her hand, she would raise her bottom off the floor as if that gave her some leverage, some height to be seen. Little did Elena know that she never needed additional height, she was tiny is stature but only in stature. Anyway, back to guessing who was the first to raise her hand-that’s right, beautiful, engaging, all-knowing:-) Elena. She loved to be chosen to answer, no matter if her answer is right or wrong, unimportant:-) And if someone else has already offered an answer, that is also unimportant because Elena was going to give me one anyway, even if it replicated the first girls answer:-) Come to think of it it was also unimportant whether you called on Elena at all, because she gave her answer anyway:-) I am fortunate that I will always have this vision of Elena in my mind. Her Spirit lives on in our house and occassionally we can laugh at the many funny things Elena did or said. As always my thoughts are with you.


  6. Daniel, Kim and Maggie, I will never forget a beautiful, crisp fall day on the soccer field. The girls had a Challenge game and Elena was on the sidelines, cheering on Maggie. My husband and I were watching the teams, but my attention couldn’t stray from Elena. Every time Maggie came near the soccer ball or touched it, she was cheering, exuberant, completely in the moment. She ran as much as the older girls, just to be part of the game with her big sister. She didn’t down the sidelines to see who was watching. She was enjoying everything about being part of the team and I imagine, that if she could, she would have joined the team.

    I will cherish that memory and when I see the girls playing soccer again in fall, I will remember that scene and think about all of them and Elena.

    Bless you all. Helen

  7. Dear Kim, Daniel and Maggie,
    One thing for YOU to remember is that you are not the only ones who is thinking of Elena. I am too. Everything Elena touched is part of her spirit and her spirit is with you. Elena was a very cheery girl. Try to think of all the good times that you had together like this one that I remember.
    In Girl Scouts we made a flag of India for World Thinging Day. My mum asked who wants to work on the flag with her. Elena’s hand shot up like an air balloon. My mum picked on Elena, Riyon and I. Elena was so excited about it that she wanted to do the whole thing and she took over! She kept trying to do mine and Riyon’s part. At the end I let her do my part. Right now I am doing as you said, I am in a restrant thinking so much about Elena and talking to someone I don’t usually talk to, the waitress. I’m crying behind my eyes. You are so strong. have faith in yourself. Elena is in the 2nd best place she could be, in heaven.
    Your friend McKenzie

  8. I do not have a memory for you because I do not know you, however, this is what I am thinking…I am thinking that I do not take the time to appreciate the small things in life enough because the rush of life has me interpreting the small things as nuisances so much of the time. This morning I wrote a small entry in my journal complaining about how sick I am of picking up used tissues around the house. After reading the things YOU have written, I feel somewhat ashamed that I let myself be so petty. If I did not have those tissues to pick up anymore because I did not have those people in my life to pick up after, I know I would be devastated. It’s all in how you look at the world…how you must choose to look deeper because nothing is promised to last forever.

  9. Daniel,
    So many stories come to mind today…backseat conversations that made you wince (body parts, religion, etc.), other kids’ food in her lunchbox (that girl could eat!) – especially the mashed potato day, the constant henpecking of poor Jack (he loved it), but the one that really stands out has to do with Torre. Elena shared our sadness when “everyone’s favorite cat” was hit by a car last fall. She really loved that little guy – both girls did – Maggie renamed him “Fuzzy Face”. Weeks after he died, Elena came over one afternoon and gave me a special shell that she found on one of her trips to Rhode Island. She said it reminded her of Torre because it was kind of shaped like a paw print (it really was), and she wanted my family to have it to always remember him. That rambunctious little imp had such sensitivity to the things that mattered to other people. I kept that shell on our kitchen windowsill for months. I have no idea where it is now – one of Elena’s littlest fans admired it, so it could be anywhere. I know one day I’ll come across it and be reminded of her sweet nature. Elena propelled her way into our hearts, where she will always live smiling.

  10. When I came home this past week end, I was looking through my dresser drawers. Sure enough, I came across a birthday card from you, Kim, Maggie and Elena. The card was made for me only a little over two months ago. Not only was the card beautiful, but the envelope was entirely covered in color from markers. It must have taken Elena and Maggie so long to color the card and envelope for me. In it, Elena wrote with her cute little first-grade writing “Happy Birthday Christine”. I will keep that card forever.

    Daniel, Kim, and Maggie, you have been in my thoughts and prayers constantly.
    I love you,

  11. Stories abound, but the one that comes to mind instantly is the same one that’s been in my head for a while now.

    We were all sitting around a table somewhere–probably after having a meal–and Elena decides she has something really important to say. She said, “Hey James, I got…” She looked puzzled for a moment and then looked up at her mom and asked “What are they called again?”

    Kim looked at her and said “What that, honey?”

    “You know, on my butt.”

    “Oh”, said Kim with a can-you-believe-my-child look, “Those are called zits.”

    “Oh yah..”, and then Elena broke into psudeo-song “I got zits on my booty. Zits on my booty. Zits on my booty” And of course she was dancing in her chair as she sang it.

    She didn’t care who else might know. That was Elena.


  12. Dear Daniel, Kim and Maggie Rose,

    We live down the block from you at 3021 Warrington Road. We have never met, but we are forever joined in that unfortunate brother/sisterhood of grieveing parents. Six years ago, we lost our one year old daughter, Louisa, suddenly during the night. We were overcome with sadness and grief, but like you and your family, were also cloaked in love and sympathy and friendship. Our daughter is also buried at beautiful Lakeview Cemetary. She, too, would also be 7 if she had lived. We, too, learned from her death how precious and fragile a gift life is. How courageous, honest and unconditionally loving children are. I am honored to read about your daughter and your beautiful family. I hope that we will meet soon, as I think it is so important for families who have had similar loss to support one another. My oldest daughter is also in fourth grade, and she and Maggie Rose will be at Woodbury together next year. She told me the other day that she would like to meet Maggie and give her a hug, “because we both have angel sisters and only we know what that is like”. I do hope they will meet one day also.

    Today, I send up birthday wishes to your daughter, Elena, and will take some time to do what you asked for a present… Acknowledging and being grateful to someone we may otherwise take for granted. What a lovely gift to give.

    My thoughts and prayers are with you. I only hope that somewhere in this vast universe, our two daughters are together, lighting up the stars with their spirits.

    Charlote Neel and Family

  13. Dear Daniel, Kim and Maggie Rose:

    While we don’t know you, we are part of the “Boulevard family” and you have all been in our constant thoughts. Our children, Shaina, Adin and Mira, often played with Elena and Maggie on the playground after school. While Mira knew Elena best, since they were both in the first grade and sometimes played together with the “girls group” at recess, all of them have spoken of her as the “girl who always had a smile on her face and was soooo nice.” Shaina (who is in 5th grade at Woodbury) told us how Elena always said “hi” to her on the playground –she seemed impressed by Elena’s great confidence in herself, that she could so easily be friendly to an older girl she didn’t really know (Shaina has always been very shy). From what I’ve read and heard about Elena, it sounds like she could pretty much handle herself in any situation.

    Your expressions of hope and sadness, as you put it, have been beautiful and inspiring, and have allowed us all to feel Elena’s spirit in our hearts. In that, you have given everyone a great gift.

    We will continue to keep you in our thoughts and prayers.

    The Halfon/Leibovich Family (Ellen, Rick, Shaina, Adin and Mira)

  14. I am so sorry that I don’t have a story for you and your family. Elena sounds like she was quite the little girl and I grieve for your loss. I know how difficult that first birthday is, especially so soon after her death. My husband and I, along with our children also had to face that hurdle. But I want you to know, it is because of your sharing that has helped my family cope with our loss. To finally put a name to our feelings and try to wade through them. You may not have intended that as a result of your blogging but there it is. So sincerely, and deeply, thankyou.

    The Winders

  15. My favorite memory of Elena (other than the morning routine of seeing her run into school late with a huge smile on her face) was her time on the Boulevard playground after school. Nothing spectacular. No specific moment. Just the ordinary every day pastime. Elena had a way of making the ordinary extraordinary. She radiated joy as she played with others. She loved the playground and had so much enthusiastic energy. She was a leader. I can see her with Katie, Sarah, Zoe, Ethan, and others. Elena made the most of every moment on the playground. Maggie and Kim would be ready to leave, but Elena always needed one more minute!


  16. Dear Daniel, Kim, and Maggie:
    I am so sorry about the loss of Elena. Your entire family has been in my thoughts. I am a close friend of the Najem family and met you many years ago. I have been reading your words each day and want you to know that I have not stopped thinking of you all. Your blog has touched me deeply– tonight on the night of Elena’s 7th birthday I cried. I cry for your loss and for the never ending love in your hearts. I will honor Elena’s birthday by really paying attention to people I have not noticed but who touch my life in unique ways. I will approach those persons and acknowledge their gifts. My deepest sympathy goes out to you and your entire family.

    Pam Heath

  17. […] Anyway, what it points to is that while Nick calls others “Blog Snobs” he also tells folks how they should or shouldn’t blog, and it seems to me that, by definition, that would make him one, too. In fact, it makes me one as well. Yes, I am a Blog Snob. I think that Blogging about Bloggers who Blog about Blogging, or having an argument over what a blog is all about is stupid, wasteful, and boring, especially when there are people out there writing about things that are so much more important, like Elena’s Birthday, and how we should be celebrating for her. […]

  18. Dear Daniel,

    The Oberlin grapevine is at work again. But this is not the way I would choose to catch up with an old friend.

    I’m so very sorry to hear of Elena’s death. From your writing, and that of her many friends, it’s clear what a joyous and loving little girl she was, and how she enriched the lives of those around her.

    I can’t begin to imagine the loss of a child. My son is exactly a month older than Elena, and I think if I lost him, or any of my children, I would want to throw myself on the funeral pyre. But I guess we don’t get to do that.

    I’m not a religious person, but I’ve got to believe that souls like Elena’s live on – in heaven, or maybe simply in the hearts of those she leaves behind.

    Your writing is beautiful and I hope it gives you solace.

    My thoughts are with you. Best wishes for hope and healing to you, Kim, Maggie Rose, your folks, Jill, Ethan, and the rest of your family.



    PS – My four-year-old just ran in and climbed on my lap to tell me about her day, and I grabbed her into a hug. She laughed and said, “That’s so tight!” I guess I will hug all of them a little tighter now.

  19. Interesting enough, I sent in a memory that didn’t get posted….it was a moment that I was having this morning and went for it…the emotions flowed…so here is a brief version…

    Our memory is Christmas Eve, ….we miss it and we hope we continue it…that was Nicci’s high light….seeing your children…though much older than your girls, Nicci enjoyed them and so did Brooke…it was nice for Brooke because Brooke and Maggie are close in age…

    Nicci just assumed that her Christmas Eve was celebrated with her cousins and this was before her true cousins were even born….

    Our first memory was when you brought Maggie to her first Christmas Eve…what a gift to all of us….and the fact that she started your family

    Then Maggie brought her new baby sister to her first Christmas Eve….bundled up in her snow suit, with her pacifier….as Nicci calls it “her shield”…her trick that night was the pacifier flip…and we loved it and she loved that we loved it…we have many more and it is that last 6 years of Christmas Eves…

    We will be home this summer or sooner and hope to see you….
    we love you and HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO OUR ELENA…..

  20. Daniel,

    I haven’t posted anything here yet, though I’ve started writing several times. I’ve been thinking a lot about you, Elena and your family in recent days. It’s hit me pretty hard, even though I never got the chance to meet Elena. But I’m very glad you were able to visit with my family a few weeks ago.

    I just couldn’t let today pass without remark. Yesterday was my birthday, today is Elena’s and I just sent out the invitations for my daughter Madeline’s 2nd birthday party later this month (yep, you’re invited again). March, it seems, is a special month.

    I can’t recount a story about Elena, but I thought you might enjoy an anecdote about Madeline. I’m sure you remember, when you visited, how Madeline proudly named all the animal sounds: “What does cow say?” “Moo!”, “What does sheep say?” “Baa!”, etc.

    I think I also told you how it didn’t take long before she started quizzing *me* on the animal sounds. Well, now she’s got a new wrinkle: “Daddy Daddy, what does nose say?” “What?” “Ah-Choo!”

    You have much to be proud of Dan, and I’ve proud to call myself your friend. Be well.

    Ron Hitchens

  21. Though I do not personally know neither this angelic girl nor your family, sir, a picture of a saint comes to mind. Reading of the memories of her and those that know you shared brought laughter and tears to my life this night. I’ve yet to experience a death of a loved one so dear and close to me, so I can only imagine the achings of your hearts. Per your request, I will reach out to those around me in memory of your beautiful angelic saint. If you can, please try to share with your family the following songs: “Homesick” by MercyMe, and “Held” by Natalie Grant as the lyrics are about this particular topic in a calming and hopeful theme.

  22. As has been said before, Elena was a huge personality who made an impression on everyone she met. One incident comes to mind when we were at Attitash with you a couple of years ago. It was the second day of doing the water slides, and Elena goes to get in line. The woman who was checking the riders said, “You came back!” and gave her a hug. Who knows how many kids she saw the previous day, but she remembered Elena.

    And so will we.

    Kevin, Lisa, Eric and Ben

  23. The only story I can offer is a “One Day” story, one that never happend but would have been wonderful if it had…
    One day a little girl named Evie and a little girl named Elena met and became fast friends. So close in age (Evie just 3 months younger, and also having just lost a front tooth) and attitude, neither one afraid of the big wide world. They had many great adventures together, and came home to tell their fathers. The end.

    I have to end it there because if I try to make up more the tears will make it so that I can’t see to write. Your words have touched me so deeply, making me so sad and happy all at once… sad for your loss which is all of our loss, and happy that you are writing to share such magic with the rest of us.

    Each night since I started reading this blog, I come home and see my kids in such a different light, no longer taking for granted even the most annoying whine, and hugging the two of them and reminding them how much I love them, not just because they are my kids, or because of my wishes for their futures, but because of who they are right now. Thank you for reminding me to hold them closer.

    I will also celebrate Elena’s Birthday by reaching out a little more to those I might not have before, giving an extra smile and chat to everyone I encounter, cutting a bit of extra slack wherever I can.

    Though we’ve never met, I want you to know how much your family, your writing, and Elena’s life have impacted mine.


  24. happy birtdaaay Elena 🙂 i see my webpage : elena´s birtday in this respect.. and i can a little englisch write..

  25. Daniel Kim and Maggie This is a pumpkin story. We are so glad we got to see you all in the fall. The girls were going to carve pumpkins and elena wanted her own special pumpkin. Dad said elena you do not need your own special pumpkin. Well to shorten a story. it wasn’t very long and there was a pumpkin carved with the words GIRL POWER. Elena had worked her magic.

  26. Hello Daniel, Kim and Maggie Rose,
    Here’s another “magical” story about Elena. I don’t know how she worked her “magic” on others, but she just did. Even when we said “until we meet again, Elena” at the church last Monday, we could feel her goodness and strength and energy swirling all about us. We loved that you mentioned her two favorite songs – music always seems to bridge distances in time and space. We now will always feel close to Elena whenever we hear “Do You Believe in Magic?” and “The Circle of Life”. We left the service knowing we had just been part of something very special, life-affirming, transforming. When we got into the car, we sat quietly for a moment, then almost absent-mindedly flipped on the radio. The opening notes of Elton John’s “The Circle of Life” filled our car – Elena was still working her magic on us! Love & Hugs, Mary Anne, Don, Cassie and Susie

  27. Daniel, Kim and Maggie.
    A writer I’m not, but I did want to send a short story for Daniel. In honor of Elena’s bday. I have always felt a close connection with Kim, although we do not get to hang together often on a deeper level she is one of my best friends. In this some way I have always felt that our girls were good friends although they only got together 2-3 times a year. Maybe it was beause they only got together on rare occassions but it always amazed me that the three of them got along so well. As a mother of three, I can tell you it doesnn’t happen often. Maybe it was their ages, with Maggie being the oldest, Jenny in the middle and Elena the youngest, I never heard any of them complaining of being left out. My favorite memories are of going to see the lights at the zoo in the winter. The crowds were small, the girls bundled up against the cold, their noses and cheeks reddened, eyes shining. Kim and I freezing but enjoying the time together with each other and watching the girls. Eventually, we would make to the little chalet looking building for something to warm us up. We’d buy the girls hot chocolates, Kim would look at me and ask if we dare order Irish coffee with Bailey’s, I don’t like coffee but I’d always say yes and we’d sit and drink and try to stay warm. Most times we’d do the most foolish thing of all and buy each girl a cookie to decorate. We would shake our heads about how messy,and sticky the girls would get, frosting and sprinkles everywhere, and yet revel in how happy they were getting that way. Most of the time they didn’t even eat the cookies. Then came the hard part, having to end the evening no matter how long they spent together, they were never ready to call it a night. Daniel, they must have gotten it from Kim and I if you remember how late we stay out sometimes. But we always left with the idea that we would be back together again, either at the zoo, or a play or a hockey game. I was so touched by the hundreds of people that came to Elena’s funeral, I believe that everyone is put on this earth for a purpose, in Elena’s short time here she touched so many lives, those that knew her and those that she touched from a distance, with a smile or a song or a dance. She brought a smile and a sense of joy and wonder to all around her and I loved her for that. I used to tease Kim about how rambunctious Elena was, now we know why, she had to have all that energy to accomplish as much as she did in the time allotted her. My thought are constatly with you this past week and probably will be for awhile. I would say God bless all of you, but he already has.
    All my love toyou, Kathie

  28. My daughter was in brownies with Elena. She was always happy and dancing around the room with the other girls when I would come to pick her up. Eleanore misses Elena very much. They shared a birthday, which I didn’t find out until lat that evening when another brownie mom showed me the blog.

    The night Elena passed, Eleanore was sleeping with me. We were preparing for a day at the hospital. She was going to have some outpatient surgery because an ear ring had been pushed inside of her ear and could not be pulled out. I was not happy about having to go through all of that over a silly ear ring. The following morning as a I prepared for the day, I said a prayer for Elena, and those she left behind. I was momentarily overcome with both grief and shame. I felt great grief for the loss of Elena as Eleanore’s friend, and Elena as a wonderful person in this world. I also felt shame for being so upset over something so small as that stupid earing.

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