birthday blues

We asked our sweet almost six-year-old what he wanted to do for his birthday– a party at McD’s, perhaps? But alas, he wanted his birthday at home with his friends. So we decided to switch things up a bit: we invited only school friends (to meet some new people) and we did the party on a week-night, which was his actual birthday. Sounds simple enough, right?

I made the invites, he chose the friends he wanted to come and all was well. Everyone had a week to RSVP. However, by the date given for the RSVP I began to get nervous. Only a small number had replied and so far it had only been the girls, which made up about half the list. Well, that day came and went so I asked Ben to ask some of his classmates. Why did I do this you ask? Does a five-year-old asking another five-year-old really know what his parents are planning? I should have known of course they would all say they were coming, but I chose  optimism instead of my usual go-to-move which is realism.

The day of the party came. I am currently approaching 34 weeks pregnant and very uncomfortable, but for him I persevered through an uncooperative sciatic nerve and worked all day cooking, game-making and trying to have everything perfectly vegetarian for our guests, something I would have never even considered in the US, but it’s a must here.

By party time everything was ready and our first guest arrived. A sweet girl who doesn’t know a word of English. Ben adores her and they are good friends even though she’s a head taller than him. Then, forty-five minutes later, the next guests arrived. Yes, forty-five minutes and several mosquito bites later (we were standing on the porch and outside the gate looking for party-people) another girl from his class and her twin brother who is in another class showed up. Then soon another girl or two– all dressed to the nines for an Avengers birthday party. They looked more like they had dressed for a Barbie or Disney Princess party.

I started to panic. We played a game involving Captain America’s shield. I panicked some more. Where were the boys? Where was his best friend that he had wanted there so badly? Why did these kids look at me like a bunch of deer in headlights when I was trying to be fun and engaging? Panic had set in indeed.

I decided we should eat some dinner since it was now past seven and our American bellies were growling. The hubs and I started making plates of food to give to the kids– just pasta, sauce, fruit salad and veggies with dip. The first child said no thanks and it was a domino effect after that. I should have gone for the deep-fried nuggets and potato Smiles that everyone else serves at these things. Rookie mistake.

Utterly defeated by this point (and wondering how the five of us were going to eat an entire pot of elbow macaroni) we moved on in my well-crafted-kid-party program. I pulled out the shortbread cookies, colored icing and sprinkles. Like everything else, the cookies all started crumbling before we could get the icing on. One child dressed like a small bride refused purple icing, along with everything else. Truly, I did not understand these children.

By this time parents had started showing up to collect their children–yay! We hurriedly put candles on the cake and sang a Happy Birthday to our special boy. He looked happy. I was still in panic mode, but I willed myself to enjoy the moment. The kids did eat cake–the white part at least. Some weren’t sure about the layer I had tinted blue so they left it. Then, one mom couldn’t believe her kids had not eaten anything else, started asking the other kids if they were hungry and for some reason they all decided now was the time, after dessert, that dinner sounded better. Some ate a little– at this point I just wanted it over. I didn’t dare mention the last game involved popping balloons. Neither did the hubby. We were done.

Two hours from start to finish, but there were moments that felt like an eternity. The parents all showed up and I learned to never have a birthday party on a week-night with people you don’t know, especially when you are very pregnant and when RSVP means call only if you can come since most people don’t like to tell you no. The last guest left so he opened his gifts, took some photos and said goodnight to the birthday boy who said he’d had a fine birthday and seemed genuinely happy.

Mission accomplished.

presents in the present

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”
Beryl Markham, West With the Night

As horrible and embarrassing as it is to admit I am sometimes the sort of person who looks back and thinks how wonderful life was in the past. Okay, so sometimes doesn’t exactly hit the mark. Let’s try often. Especially if it has been a particularly trying day… okay, so maybe even if it hasn’t.

So thought about living in the present lately and how bad I am at that. How I romanticize life in the past too much and dream of an idyllic future, when I ought to live in the moment, in the present. And birthdays are the worst. The day I turned twenty-seven I woke up in a train going from Paris to Rome, Italy with my husband as my traveling companion. What a birthday! As far as locations go Rome is difficult to beat. And so I dreamily would say on birthdays thereafter “This is alright, but oh, I’ll never forget that birthday in Rome!”

And I suppose I shouldn’t–it was a beautiful trip. But it was just a day, a moment in my timeline that was a bit more memorable than some others that have since followed. Though as I sat yesterday in a quiet moment I thought about the birthday just around the corner and I decided that this was going to be the best birthday. That from here on out I wanted to try to be better at living in the present instead of in the bookends of past and future.

I feel more than ever this is important not only for me but as an example to those three little hearts that call me mom. Particularly for my eldest who is me in smaller, boy form. When I hear him lament some gross injustice found here (like Saturday school), I hear myself. He is learning how to live on this planet by watching my responses, my choices and attitudes. Oh dear.

Anyway, the present. It’s where the action is and it’s the only thing I can control (to some degree, of course). And the present has been fairly sweet today, I must say. Breakfast from the boys served in bed (the girl is too much like me and likes to sleep in). Sweet friends who drove a long way across town to bring me flowers and other things they knew I’d love. A day of homemade cards. A clean house. Friends coming for dinner. New books. Good things.

So while there is no Colosseum or Forum or creamy gelato, there are friends and flowers, phone calls and video chats, doughnuts, homemade peanut butter cups with candles on top–right here, right now.