When You Turn 33 …

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

Your Fourth Birthday

Dear Sophie,

This year, your birthday was a big deal. You spent the year prior throwing daily birthday parties. These parties involved emptying toy baskets and decorating the house with their contents. Making cakes out of boxes and insisting we sing and make a wish (over and over and over). Wrapping presents (often books from the bookshelves or your little, plastic princess figurines) in baby quilts, and presenting them. You loved making birthday cards. You refused to wear your underwear with little cupcakes on them unless we were celebrating someone’s birthday for real. Birthday parties required party dresses, no matter how informal the occasion. You loved birthdays, everything about them—so you can only imagine how excited you were for your own. As such, this year we let you invite a few friends for a birthday party, the weekend before your actual birthday.

We borrowed child-size tables and chairs and covered them with vintage tablecloths from Nini. In teapots (also from Nini) we put snapdragons, which you picked out during a trip to Ft. Thomas Florist. You chose the paper plates and napkins. We used antique tea cups from my collection (and a few extra we picked out together, during a trip to an antique store). You had a tea party.

Parents (friends and cousins) were so helpful.

We decorated little wooden teacups with stickers, and homemade teacup and teapot-shaped sugar cookies with icing and sprinkles.

Your cousin Gregory was not only a trooper given the theme of the party, but also a big help to his little sister, Kaitlyn.

We picked out your dress a couple months before, stumbling upon a tea party-worthy frock with one of your favorite things (flowers) and your favorite colors.

During the party each child visited Nini to decorate a bonnet with flowers.

We drank pink lemonade, and ate peanut butter and jelly, and cucumber and cream cheese tea sandwiches.

Everyone was so careful with their teacups.

Our house wasn’t big enough to invite everyone you loved, and you were so gracious when we said in addition to your cousins, you could only invite a few friends. I’m just so thankful you were able to have some of your most-loved friends with you on your special day.

For your “cake,” Daddy made homemade Oreo truffles.

Your brothers surprised us! I thought for sure we’d have to take them upstairs but instead they sat at the table, drank “tea” from their tea cups, decorated (and ate) way too many cookies and didn’t throw a thing.

Whitney and Lauren loved wearing their bonnets.

Mommy and Daddy were very grateful to have Pop Pop and Nini there for help.

Daddy brought you your truffle “cake,” and everyone sang “Happy Birthday.”

Then, you finally got to open your presents.

After presents, we cleared out the table and had a dance party to smash hits such as “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” and “Freeze Song.” You loved this.

A few days later you celebrated your birthday at preschool. All week long we worked on a book all about you, which you shared with the class—and class treats!

I love your school’s birthday tradition. After sharing your book, an older student lifted you up so you could turn off the light. Mrs. Richter lit a candle, which represented the sun. Everyone sat in a circle around the sun. You then walked around the sun, carrying a small world, four times—representing your four 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. I got a little teary eyed watching you do this—and probably would have gotten more teary eyed if I hadn’t also been chasing the boys around your classroom, keeping them from pulling tiny little beads off of shelves and yelling too loudly.

On your birthday, as per your every-year-wish, you helped make your cake—strawberry  cake with pink icing.

You insisted on sprinkles.

For dinner, you chose salad (specifically lettuce, tomatos and carrots only) with Daddy’s homemade dressing (a recipe from his grandpa), apple slices, bread with butter and water—for everyone.

You wanted to put the salad on everyone’s plate …

yours, of course, was red.

After we sat on the couch and waited for Daddy to bring in the cake. There was singing, a wish and then …


Nini made you a Red Riding Hood-esque cape …

which you wear when you need magical powers. I was so thankful you were able to celebrate your birthday with all four grandparents and all of us.

You turning 4 really struck me. Some birthdays seem so much more than others, and for me, 4 felt … well, you’re a girl now. No longer a baby. Or a toddler. But a girl who dresses herself and has opinions (about everything); a girl who is wise and yet still naive; a girl who keeps a delightfully/maddeningly messy room filled with tiny princess figurines and silk flowers and stuffed animals and dress-up clothes and doll clothes and magnet dolls and rocks and dried flowers and masks and treasures; a girl who rides her scooter fast and with ease; a girl who can write her own name and draw a picture of our family and tell us what letters words start with; a girl who can get upset about how the tops of her strawberries look and a girl who can be filled with joy upon spotting a robin in our yard.

A girl who sleeps in her own bed, under her own quilt, in her own room (without a gate) with her own dreams—and yet a girl who, even though I complain about it, I secretly love when she climbs into my bed in the middle of the night, simply to snuggle.

I love you for how much you love others, for how much you love life. May that love only grow as you grow, and not diminish as love, sometimes with more worldly knowledge, does. Now that you’re getting older, I so worry about the things you’re going to find out, the things you’re going to learn—that people aren’t always kind, that life on earth ends, that bad things (bigger than colds and lost pink markers) happen. But already I see in you someone who will be able to handle these truths with grace, acceptance, humor and the determination and fight to change what can be changed for the better.

I love you.



“So mayst thou live, dear! many years,
In all the bliss that life endears, …” —Thomas Hood

Sophie’s “Secret”

One evening my dad was over helping with the kids while Andy was out of town. Pop Pop and Sophie made a double-layer chocolate cake with pink icing. (There was a slight meltdown when my dad reached for the cocoa powder to make chocolate icing. “PINK, POP POP! PINK!” Sophie screamed. Because, of course, icing should always be pink. Of course.) Overall, though, she was thrilled with this baking adventure with Pop Pop—and the result.

A couple days later Sophie and I were in the living room. Out of nowhere she said, “Mama! You stay here. I have a secret.”

And she left. For about two minutes.

When she came back, I asked her what her secret was. “Nothing,” she said slowly, smiling shyly. Once she busied herself with a toy, I walked into the kitchen. And saw this:


I walked back to the living room.

“Sophie, can you come here, please?” I asked. She slowly walked with me to the kitchen. “If you’re going to snitch cake, you should at least be more secretive about it.” He eyes grew wide. She, honestly, had no idea how I knew what she had done. I pointed to the scene of the crime. “First of all, you should have recovered the cake,” I said. “Second of all, you should have moved the chair back to the kitchen table.” I looked at her. Her eyes were still wide. She had no idea if she was being scolded or taught. Or both. “And one last thing. Don’t snitch cake. If you want cake, ask me. And I’ll decide if you can have it or not. But don’t take sweets without asking. OK?”

“OK,” she said.

There have been no signs of before-dinner dessert snitching since. Or maybe I just taught her too well.

“Once in a young lifetime one should be allowed to have as much sweetness as one can possibly want and hold.” —Judith Olney