Happy birthday to me

Shaina loves the Happy Birthday song. Yes, I know all kids do, but she takes it to another level. Shaina trills the tune at the slightest hint of a birthday. She plays it endlessly on YouTube and has taught us all to sing “¡Cumpleaños Feliz!” (Spanish) and “Sana Helwa Ya Gameel” (Arabic). Yup, our verbally challenged daughter is turning us into a polyglot family.

Shaina also loves to snap photos and take videos on our phones. Shaina is the star of her productions, either in front of the camera or mumbling commentary and singing in the background. The other night, she churned out one of her most entertaining flicks yet. 

It looked like this:

Shaina toddles into our kitchen singing “Happy Birthday”, holding her finger on the “record” button. The tricky part of the song is when she has to choose “Happy birthday to… who?”. Levik, her older brother, was in the kitchen. As soon as Shaina spotted him on camera, she chose him as the subject of her song. “Happy birthday to Levik!”

“But, Shaina,” Levik derailed her performance, “This week is your birthday”.


It doesn’t sound half as funny on paper as on video. We were in stitches. So was Shaina. She has rewatched this clip dozens of times, cracking herself up every time. We found her nonchalant response hilarious but are thrilled that she acknowledged her birthday. 

A special-needs child’s birthday conjures up mixed emotions. Each one reminds us how behind she has fallen in her milestones. For the last four years, we’ve tried training her for months in advance to know what age she will now be. When she turned seven, Shaina finally admitted that she was six. 

This year, hers really is a happy birthday. Shaina knows that she is turning eight. Her amusing “Oh” realisation tells us she understands she is headed for a special lifecycle event. That’s progress. She is using more words and behaving more maturely (which includes a newfound assertiveness that is stressful to manage).

I guess she’s been trying to tell us all along that everything would be okay. During the toughest times, she sang us “Happy Birthday”. It was a hint that she would celebrate happy milestones. It is a reminder that the day we celebrate a person’s birth is always joyous.

Not all of us love birthdays. I know people who find them frightening because they mean the clock is ticking. Other people feel they’re depressing because they remind us of what we hoped to but didn’t achieve. Children find birthdays magical. A birthday is a day for song, cake and gifts. How bad could that be?

Judaism teaches that the day we were born, is when G-d decided that we would make an indispensable contribution to His master plan. A person may have been born to liberate a nation from slavery, teach profound wisdom or cure cancer. Or someone may enter this world to live with cognitive challenges, a broad smile and a song on their lips. Shaina is happy to celebrate her birthday any day of the year. She’s not waiting for the Forbes 500 or a Nobel prize to validate her worth. She knows intrinsically that she is special, every day- as should we all. 

Last birthday

Published by rabbiarishishler

Husband, father and rabbi of Chabad of Strathavon in Johannesburg, South Africa.

8 thoughts on “Happy birthday to me

  1. Happy birthday Shaina darling. May you know only gezundt and more gezundt. Keep smiling and teaching us all to live life to the fullest. Enjoy and appreciate every moment in life. Keep singing and dancing. We love to see your beautiful smile. Good Shabbos. Love Louise 😘💜

    Liked by 1 person

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