“Birthdays are good for you. Statistics show that the people who have the most live the longest.” —Larry Lorenzoni
This year your birthday started with a visit from Grandma and Grandpa in Baltimore. And, on the way to the airport, Owen threw up all over himself and the van. As I was trying to get him cleaned up with the few wipes and plastic bags I had, changing him into one of Daddy’s shirts slated for Goodwill I found in the back of the van, you ever-so-helpful said from the back, “Mommy, you are not prepared for this.”
And I loved that, the humor you gave to an otherwise awful situation. And I loved that, because it showed you are still young enough to always speak your mind. And I loved that because, when it counts, you really are generous and kind. You care, about everything, so much.
Which is why, in part, I felt so badly that your birthday was a bit of a bust.
It started out wonderfully, with a present from Great Aunt Susie—a handmade Elsa dress.
Still, on the day of your birthday party at the YMCA, Owen and James had been sick less than 48 hours prior, so both boys had to stay home with Grandpa. (But don’t worry about the boys—Grandpa came through with a small birthday celebration they threw for you, on their own, in the backyard.)
And you, I believe, had fun.
Nini and Pop Pop came to your party at the YMCA, and then followed us home where you opened your presents from them on our front porch. They were on their way to see your Aunt Katy, Uncle Tom and cousin Colleen, who, as you know, has a birthday the day after yours. They stayed on the porch in what we hoped was a germ-free zone, so as not to get pregnant Aunt Katy sick.
After Nini and Pop Pop left, you said your stomach hurt. I tried to convince myself it was the sweets, but then you, too, got sick. After emailing my sincerest apologies to all the other parents of your friends who were at your party, I sat next to you on the couch, holding your hair and scratching your back—not a great way to spend your birthday, any birthday, but especially a birthday when you’re 6.
Still, you said you wanted to open presents. It was clear you loved them, but you were quiet and reserved, and you hardly played with your gifts after, which included some much-anticipated Frozen merchandise.
Several days later you were ready for your meal-of-choice: scrambled eggs, fruit salad, bacon and cinnamon rolls “from the can.”
Still after, you had a stomachache.
So it wasn’t until you were 6 years and 1 week old that you finally had your Frozen ice cream birthday cake, which your dad, who has many varied talents, made for you.
We even threw in a couple extra presents, for good measure. And then, we had cake!
And now is when I normally write a personal letter to you. And I will, but privately. For you’re 6 now, my sweet child. You’re in kindergarten. You’re learning to read. Your friends are learning to read. My thoughts and reminiscences about the year past are no longer primarily focused on physical milestones and parenting mishaps, but more personal milestones—your emotional and intellectual milestones—your growth as a human being, into an adult. And they are yours. And for the ones we share, also mine. And they belong to everyone you choose to share them with, both in the present, and in the future, if that’s what you wish.
This was the first year I didn’t know what you wished for—you have secrets, experiences, thoughts and frustrations tucked away in your brain that I’m not privy to—as it should be. Still, I love when you share. And I hope you continue to share. And in return, I promise to respect your privacy, as well as a mother (who also is a writer) can.
Happy, happy birthday my generous, passionate, funny Sophie.
I love you, always.
“We turn not older with years, but newer every day.” —Emily Dickinson
It’s 11:25pm the night before I turn 35 and I feel like I want to physically reach out and press against time. Slow it down. Stop it, for a moment, for many.
I have been so lucky in my life and I have such high hopes for the future. I should also note that not a single birthday has bothered me. Except this one.
I have some theories.
At the YMCA when I option in my weight and age on the elliptical machine the age given is 35. From here on out, I press the up arrow.
Then there is the little matter of the little black boxes next to the different age demographics on various forms. For years I’ve been ticking the 25-34 box. Come tomorrow, I’ll be checking the 35-44 box.
Please don’t mistake this for an essay on feeling old. Thirty-five is not old. Rather, this is an essay on the passage of time—the ever-swifter passage of time.
Ten years ago, when I graduated to the 25-34 demographic, I was living in a lovely old townhouse in Mariemont with my good friend Jenna. We would go to work, come home, heat up frozen veggies in the microwave for dinner, drown them in spray butter (I know), and follow that up with large bowls of ice cream while watching “Sex and the City” out of order on DVDs we found at the library. I was an editor at Popular Woodworking magazine, looking for misplaced commas and building the most uncomfortable Windsor chair ever built while writing about craftspeople who built the most beautiful things. I was planning on marrying a guy I had dated since my sophomore year of college at The Cincinnati Observatory, a place I also volunteered. Thursday nights at Arthur’s with friends were some of my favorite nights. I listened to Patty Griffin constantly. I was lighter in weight as well as in years and the future seemed so far, so bright, so bold.
And it has been bright. And it has been bold. But now, as I think about my next 10 years, everything feels more settled. And there’s comfort in that, but weariness, too. Some mornings, I laugh on the inside at my face in the mirror. I laugh at this universe that thinks I’m capable—old enough—to be married, with three children, in a house we owe and owe and owe for, paid, in part, doing work I second-guess myself on all the time.
I am told this is normal.
That said, hope for brighter and bolder hasn’t been completely lost. After the one (or three) slices of French strawberry torte I plan to eat tomorrow I have big plans for my relationship with the machines a the Y. I will keep submitting my picture books, even though I’ve been submitting for six years now. I figure there’s still hope when the rejections still sting. The hopes I have for my children are most intense and they are also the reason I most want to slow down, back up, retreat, pause. And yet, at the same time, I can’t wait for them to march through all their years and experience all of everything and so I try to remain present in the now, the 35 and one day, the 35 and two days, and so on.
It just feels not so long ago that I was in the newly-married-new-parent demographic. And before that, the young-adult demographic. And before that, the teenager demographic. Truly, it all seems so recent.
I can think back 30 years, to when I was 5. I remember my blue tricycle with the white plastic basket and my Strawberry Shortcake sheets and the feel of our concrete front stoop. Thirty years from now, I’ll be 65. 65.
And last time I checked, weren’t my parents 35? No?
Age, time—it’s a funny thing, something birthdays inspire thinking about.
Once, while on a road trip with friends, we were playing “Would You Rather” with each other in three different cars, via walkie-talkies. All the questions, of course, were ridiculously fun and then it was my turn. My question: “Would your rather live a great life and die at the age of 25, or live a horrible life and live to be 100?” (I am quite skilled at awkwardly turning light conversation into serious talk.) It’s an impossible question, dependent on so much.
Here I am. Ten years beyond what was then, on a highway with friends so many years ago, several years away. And it’s been great. So my expectations are high, for all the good and not-so-good that will fill the little black box next to 35-44.
“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.” —Henry David Thoreau
“Mommy, when we came out of your tummy you gave us a birthday!” —James, thinking deep thoughts, almost two hours past his bedtime
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” —Mark Twain
This year, your birthday celebration started with your preschool celebration. First, you sat on Mrs. Richter’s lap and shared a book you made about your life.
Then you walked around the sun, carrying a small world, five times—representing your five times around the sun. As you walked, the children sang: The earth goes round the sun, the earth goes round the sun, the earth goes round the sun tra la, the earth goes round the sun. This tradition gets me every year.
Per your request, you had some special visitors the entire day this year—Owen and James loved doing work with you, and making bunny hats.
For weeks you talked about making cutout heart cookies for your class. But at the last minute, you insisted on cake pops. Having never made cake pops, we talked you into Oreo truffles instead. You got to pass them out, along with little paper cups of apple juice, to your happy class.
You woke up on your birthday (a Saturday) as any 5-year-old would—so happy. We’ve been talking a lot about how much you’ve grown lately (and you have!) so before you even changed into your birthday dress we measured and marked your 5-year-old height on your growth chart.
We set the dining room table for your brunch—you requested scrambled eggs, bacon, fruit salad and cinnamon rolls (not homemade but rather the ones “from the can”). The tall birthday candle on the table was a gift to me from a family friend (I think) back in 1979. It lists a child’s years from 1 through 21, and certain ages have pictures next to them (12 is a bike, 18 is a graduation cap). 21, however, is a wedding ring. We readily informed you that you don’t, my darling, need to get married that young …
You, of course, had the red plate.
And you, as usual, throughly enjoyed your bacon (something that still confounds the former vegetarian in me).
I purchased these five pink polka dot balloons at The Party Source at around 10:30pm Friday night. I’m fairly certain I was the only person there buying balloons versus booze that late on a Friday night.
This year you chose an opera cream cake from The BonBonerie, the same cake Daddy and I had at our wedding.
After brunch, we lit the candles on your cake …
and you made a wish. You wouldn’t tell us your wish (as is the norm with wishes), but you also, sadly, said it would never come true. If I had to guess, I would guess your wish was to fly. You’ve been talking about how wonderful it would be to fly a lot lately, to fly like a bird—anywhere you wanted. And you’re right. It would be wonderful.
Owen and James surprised you with The Last Unicorn movie (a new obsession, which you discovered at the library—now you don’t have to return it!), and Charlotte’s Web (but we have to finish the book first!).
You received many generous presents this year, including your first American Girl doll from Nini and Pop Pop. I’ll be honest—Daddy and I were always a little wary of these dolls, after we received the first catalog in the mail seemingly one week after you were born. (The prices!) But there are so many positives. I love that you have a doll that you will play with and love, even when you’re older. I love that Marie-Grace (your doll) is based off a historical fiction character from the 1850s. I love the books that accompany her.
And I love that when you found an American Girl catalog in the mail a month before, out of all the beautiful things shown, you fell in love with the feel-better kit and wheelchair. Ever since you had your surgery, you’ve been performing daily surgeries on your dolls. So this is what you wanted most. And so this is, among other things, what Grandma and Paw Paw gave you. Marie-Grace has had a lot of broken arms and legs, but thanks to your loving care and medical expertise, she’s come through them all just fine.
After all the gifts had been opened, we asked you, Owen and James to close your eyes.
And Daddy and I gave you your first real bike! A 16″ pink and white Huffy, covered in princesses and glitter (even the pedals are heart-shaped). It is, well, something. (We were so happy you loved it.)
Your first bike ride. It reminded me so much of my first solo bike ride on the blue and white bike I got for my 5th birthday, the one with the training wheels and a little white basket with plastic flowers on it. I felt like I was going so fast, and so far, and I distinctly remember my grandpa Mangan yelling “Go, Kara! Go!” as I pedaled and pedaled and pedaled down our sidewalk. You, my dear Sophie, are reaching the age when you will begin to remember things—really remember things. I hope for happy, soft, does-something-good-to-your-insides ones.
You chose to have an art party this year, and for it, we went to our friend Tanith’s art studio, Artscapade.
First you and a few friends painted a canvas—a forest or field for your fairy; an ocean and ship for your pirate.
Then you used polymer clay and step-by-step, made your fairies and pirates.
We had cookies and apple juice from The BonBonerie, and then you opened your gifts. Tanith put together wonderful little creativity kits for all your guests to take home.
Here’s everyone, with their lovely works of art. You had a lot of fun.
Only for about a day this past year were you 4. As the months passed you were quick to inform anyone who asked that you were “4 and 1/4,” “4 and 1/2,” “4 and 3/4” and finally, “4 and 11/12s.” You were into ages this year. You wanted to know the age of everyone, characters in books, characters on television shows, dolls, other children you met. And you pushed yourself older, no matter how hard we (quietly) tried to push back. You loved when we let you watch the Scooby Doo show that’s for children “7 and older” (you remind us daily how brave you are because of it). You begged to wear nail polish (we let you, one weekend, when you were sick). You asked when you could have your ears pierced (not yet, we said). The things we did let you try—chewing gum and drinking Sprite or root beer—you declined. We still don’t know why. Perhaps you want to grow older, but only on your own terms.
Although you still desire our attention more often than not, now you will play by yourself, in your room, for long periods of time. Your play is elaborate, with your paper dolls, stuffed animals, princess figurines, scraps of fabric, treasure box contents, ribbons and art box contents. You’re constantly talking or singing while you play and often, you have your “royal ball music” playing softly in the background. You enjoy playing with Owen and James but you also enjoy your alone time—and play dates with friends (oh the constant requests for play dates with friends!), too. You throw royal balls almost nightly. You like to paint and color your paper masks and watch My Little Pony and these (admittedly awful) Barbie movies you pick out at the library. At night, we read chapter books. Currently we’re reading Ramona and Her Father and Charlotte’s Web.
You are kind. You’re often agreeable and you are so incredibly accommodating to Owen and James. You share, mostly. You’re fiercely protective of your brothers. Just today, while I was on your bed acting as patient and you were above me, acting as dentist, you heard James cry. You had begged me for a good five minutes to come upstairs for a dentist appointment. But the moment you heard James cry, you said, “Go, Mommy! He needs you!” May you always be that loyal.
You are passionate. When you’re angry, sometimes, you lose it. It reminds me of one of our favorite bedtime stories, When Sophie Gets Angry, Really, Really Angry. Your anger and frustration are so intense, so real, that your stomach hurts, you have trouble breathing, you literally say, “I can’t stop.” And although I’m sometimes at my wit’s end during one of these episodes, deep down, I’m glad for them. I’m glad you’re so passionate about life, that you care about what happens in your world so deeply and that you are comfortable enough around me to express your displeasure so honestly. (Of course, this doesn’t mean I’m no longer putting you in time out.)
I love that you still love to snuggle. I love how much you adore school. I love how conscientious of rules, procedures and following directions you are at school. I love your sense of style—the outfits you choose to wear, the earrings you buy me for my birthday, the way you wish you could, and try to, decorate every room you inhabit. I love that you still grab my hand when we walk and how much you love when Daddy and I swing you when it’s just the three of us. I love how much you love your stay-up time: 8:30pm is your bedtime now, while James and Owen go to bed at 8pm. Mostly, I love how much you love—us, your brothers, your family, your friends, your teachers, even yourself. May that love always be this strong.
Happy, happy birthday, Sophie.
I love you.
“Most of us can remember a time when a birthday—especially if it was one’s own—brightened the world as if a second sun has risen.” —Robert Staughton Lynd
Sophie’s birthday is Saturday. As such, conversations with the kids this week have largely centered around age. A couple days ago, in the car, Owen asked me how old he was. “You’re 2,” I said. Then, James asked me how old he was. “You’re 2, too,” I said.
Yesterday we were talking about ages (again). Owen said, “I’m 2!” And James said, “I’m 2 and 2!” And they agree on the matter. Owen will tell you James is “2 and 2” and he’s “2.”
Which is, I suppose, exactly what I said.
“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” —Satchel Paige
In January we celebrated my grandma’s birthday …
with dinner at Troy’s Cafe. Part of me hesitates writing this, because it’s such a great suburbia secret. Situated at the end of a strip mall in West Chester, an area awash in chain restaurants, this little gem of a restaurant has delicious, reasonably priced food, good wine and desserts. Andy and I have celebrated an anniversary there. We’ve dragged all our friends up north to celebrate a birthday there. When family is in town, we often eat there—my parents could be considered regulars. It’s small, but I’ve never had to wait. When we have a large group, we make reservations. But still. I don’t understand why it’s not packed, all the time.
And they are so nice. I have taken many-a-crying child out to the parking lot only to be given extra crayons or a refill of milk upon our return. Two visits ago, Owen dropped his entire cupcake after only one bite. I think he got out only a couple tears before someone from Troy’s just appeared, new cupcake in hand at no cost.
They’re good people.
So there you go. If you live in Cincinnati—especially if you live in West Chester—check it out.
“Never trust the food in a restaurant on top of the tallest building in town that spends a lot of time folding napkins.” —Andy Rooney
and you’re the father of a 4-year-old and two 2-year-olds and you’re married to me you get:
(1) a Graeter’s ice cream cake as requested but with 33 candles on it that melt everything in the name of tradition.
(2) take-out Indian food because, let’s be honest, you’re the better cook.
(3) two children helping you blow out the 33 candles on your cake.
(4) plus one more, from afar.
(5) help opening your presents.
(6) a big, soft, gray blanket because your daughter, while shopping in Target for you said, that you “like blankets.”
(7) a fedora because your daughter, while shopping in Target for you said, “you like hats.” (I tried to explain the difference between a baseball cap and a fedora, but she would have none of it—simply because this one had blue on it and she knows, because she’s asked you at least 100 times, that blue is your favorite color.)
(8) homemade cards.
(9) a child who promptly steals one of your presents for their own amusement.
(10) children who fight over said present, resulting in a hat party.
Happy birthday, my love.
“Fatherhood is pretending the present you love most is soap-on-a-rope.” —Bill Cosby