Tag Archives: birthday

An Unexpected Birthday

So, today was my birthday and the lead up was NOT good.

Birthdays, holidays and milestones mean a lot to me. I demand real Christmas trees, that we hopefully have to cut down ourselves, and will stay up all night baking Christmas cookies with the girls because IT’S CHRISTMAS AND THATS WHAT PEOPLE DO.

Maybe it’s the ritual, or maybe I like the idea of setting days aside to make quality time spent with your loved ones the top priority, I don’t know. But either way, I spent my last birthday trying to keep the kids from killing each other and setting the house on fire and was determined not to do it again.

Because it made me really sad, like any holiday that passes without comment. Any day that’s supposed to count which brings feelings of loneliness and disconnection.

So, we planned to do something we’d never done before, which made me so happy:

We would wake up really early and go to Gilroy Gardens, a small amusement park with lots of waterslides and rides for the family. John and I had been hit with some unexpected expenses this month, so it couldn’t be anything extravagant, but I asked for a few chocolates for my birthday and a little trip with the family if he could comfortably get the day off from work.

He could, and the girls were EXCITED to hear about the fun trip to the water park. Since I firmly believe showmanship is 50% of proper parenting, I’d been pulling up internet  photos and planning for the past week, whetting the girls’ appetites until it turned into a nightly ritual of “How many more days until Gilroy Gardens?’ answered by “four more days,” “three more days,” “two more days.” Right after the book and before the goodnight kiss.

Well, things started going wrong on Two More Days.

'Well, yes. That's true, Gary. After you tackle and sting the other hive's quarterback...'First, after a week of 100+ degree weather, the pool was finally warm enough for me to swim in. I was laying stomach-down on a big blow-up alligator, closing my eyes and trailing my arms through the water as I felt a startling amount of stress magically float away, when suddenly I felt a sharp stinging in the worst place one could feel it…

Flipping up, bewildered and disoriented, falling off the alligator because someone just set my nether regions ON FIRE…

Me: WHAT THE HELL??

John: Hey, I tried to get him off you.

Me: Get…

And here, I stop talking because I find myself barking and yelling and trying really, really hard not to swear because I used to swear a blue streak before the kids were born but kids repeat what you say and I can’t have them dropping F-bombs everywhere because then people would think they were Born In A Barn and they just wouldn’t be received in the best houses and I’m trying to work out what John meant by “I tried to get him off you” as I wonder why  my first sense of timeless, weightless Nirvana in months had been interrupted by melting privates…

John: Hey, the bee was sitting there already when I knocked him away to help you. You want me to pull out the stinger?

Me: NO, I WANT TO WALK AROUND WITH A STINGER UP MY ASS.

John: Well, if…

Me: YES, I WANT YOU TO PULL THE STINGER OUT.

He pulls it out and scrapes it off on the side of the pool as I notice a dead bee laying there.  Was that the bee who stung me? Stinging kills honey bees. Suddenly, it occurs to me…

Me: HEY, I have NEVER been stung by a bee since I was four years old and touched one, but YOU have been stung A GAZILLION TIMES.

John: Well, I grew up in the South, so…

Me: No. Just, NO.  I’ve seen TONS of bees and we have NEVER had a problem with each other. YOU get involved AND SUDDENLY, I HAVE BEES STINGING MY PRIVATES.

John: I WAS HELPING YOU!

Me: I DO NOT WANT YOU TALKING TO BEES ON MY BEHALF. CLEARLY, YOU PISS THEM OFF.

Well, once the raging pain subsided, I calmed down and asked John to just tell me next time instead of smacking it. Everything was going fine (apart from the trouble I was having sitting down) until the next day, when I was eating some toast for breakfast and half a tooth falls out in my mouth.

Oh, crap. This can’t be good.

This is about to suck. 

S1e10_doofyI look this up online to figure out whether this is an EMERGENCY before realizing that the tooth I’m holding in my hand is actually a broken crown, since my teeth have been good to me apart from two back molars which gave me enough trouble to ultimately get crowned a couple of years ago. I call the dentist…

Me: I think the crown broke because it’s just the top with no root and is it really a huge emergency because my birthday is tomorrow and my husband took the day off work so we could go do something fun and we have plans and I really, really don’t want to cancel them to spend my birthday having dental work done, so is it okay to handle this later?

Dentist Receptionist: Ummm… are you in a lot of pain?

Me: Noooooooo….. I mean. I have to chew everything on the left side of my mouth and if I make a mistake it’s pretty unpleasant, but other than that I’m totally fine. It’s great, actually. I’m not even noticing anything. Feels awesome.

DR: Hold on…

Okay, we can see you the next day after your birthday in the afternoon.

Me: Whew, okay sounds good.

Tomorrow was saved and I was so relieved. Even if I spent today dealing with a right-side-of-my-head headache as my kids spent their afternoon trying to solve their boredom by winding each other up. That’s when my husband came home from work…

He looked troubled, but didn’t say anything until the kids were outside playing. Which made it even scarier.

Turns out, the loan for the replacement HVAC just got added to our mortgage which unexpectedly drove up out mortgage this month, which we didn’t see coming. And, the deductible for our insurance for the mold issue that happened in our laundry room because the previous owners hadn’t built the washer outlet up to code had suddenly come out of our account. That, and a few other unexpected bills had cropped up, which meant we were squeezing by and didn’t have enough for luxuries this month, like going to Gilroy Gardens or buying chocolates.

I braced myself to tell the kids.

Because I felt sick about promising them something fun then having to cancel it because mom and dad, the Titans who rule their world, had gotten their math wrong and now we’d have to be super practical for a while. They had underestimated and maybe the entire universe was resting on shaky foundations because the demi-gods they answer to and expect to keep the trains running on time were apparently two bad events away from total chaos at any given moment…. I was afraid they would think.

But they took it surprisingly well. Until they got into the car to run a quick errand with John, where they cried their eyes out the entire way, he later told me.

Which means they kept up a brave face for my sake, which felt even worse.

Disappointing your children is agony.

While they were gone, I scrambled for something else to do and came up with the idea of visiting the Egyptian museum a couple of hours away. Tickets were pretty cheap.

“There’s a real mummy in there,” I told Brontë when she returned.

Ancient Egypt,” she asked in wonder.

“Yes,” I said. “And you can see the mummy’s tongue. It’s all black and dried up.”

“Ohhhhhh…” she said, grinning.

It wasn’t until after they went to bed that I looked up the hours and realized it would be closed today. As would be most other things.

I scrambled even harder and came up with a plan: we could go on an Underground Sacramento tour, which neither John nor I had done, before then checking out the Folsom Prison museum, which could be accomplished for $2 adult tickets and children-under-12 are free.

John and I had already bought the sacrificial Underground tour tickets online before reading that “TOUR NOT RECOMMENDED FOR CHILDREN UNDER SIX.”

And Bridget is four.

It’s an outside walking tour, over an hour long, and it would be over 100 degrees outside.

(Let’s hope for the best.)

So… we woke up early today, scrambled to get the kids’ hair brushed and shoes buckled and sunblock and snacks stuffed into backpacks, which took longer than it should’ve and meant we would hit bad traffic while watching the clock tick down to ten minutes before the tour would leave when we were still 20 minutes out.

We parked the car too far away because we saw an open space, then jogged to the ticket booth, grabbing the kids’ hands across the street as Bridget endlessly asked “why?” and finally passed the tour that had already started as the grey-bearded, prospector-looking tour guide in full, period costume saw us and said:

“It’s okay. You get your headsets and I’ll talk real slow.”

There have been a couple of desperate moments in parenting when a few kind words completely restored my faith in humanity.

One was when John and I took a screaming infant Brontë out in her stroller at 3AM, in the crazed hope that her five hours of tortured, window-shaking shrieks would be calmed by a gentle morning walk, and that she’d stop screaming outside before waking up the entire neighborhood. Another father took one look at our crippled faces, tilted his head in sincere sympathy and promised us, “It gets easier. it really does.”

And this was the other time.

We ran to the ticket office and fitted the kids with their headsets and receivers and scrambled outside to join the rest of the tour. I looked at Bridget and inwardly prayed… please, Bridget… Please don’t break the headset and don’t get bored and start babbling in the middle of the tour and throwing a fit until we have to leave and waste our money and time and deal with you freaking out while every other adult in the vicinity judges us and thinks we are terrible parents who are ruining everything…

And then the guide walked us to the Eagle Theater, made of canvas apparently because it’s a mockup of the kinds of canvas buildings built in Sacramento before brick became the standard because anyone could boat down the river and scoop up discarded, easily-transportable canvas for free when Bridget took my hand, lead over, and whispered:

“I love this, mama…”

And I smiled, and she kissed my hand. She was perfectly-behaved during the whole tour, beaming as she followed instructions and squeezed my hand the entire way. We went under a few buildings to learn how floods were destroying Old Sacramento and how rich people paid people to put cranks under buildings with the tenants still living there, raising the buildings, inch-by-inch, until Sacramento was lifted several feet up and the American river had been hand-diverted by workers shoveling dirt into buckets.

The guide even picked me out as the imaginary rich woman of Old Sacramento who would hire the lifting company to move my fancy brick building full of city bigwigs… I got special attention from the guide, even though he didn’t know it was my birthday, and any woman over 25 is always flattered to be referred to as “young miss” repeatedly, even if the referrer is over seventy if he is a day…

VC_UndergroundCalifornia_Module02_OldSacramentoTours_Supplied_daynastudios_140[1]_1280x640.jpgWe finally reached the underground building where an archeological dig is going on, which had unearthed surgeon/dentist/guy-who-owns-whisky-and-knives tools, where a ghost with a beard and red vest had apparently been spotted yelling at an angry woman who disappeared–on more than one occasion. The guide seemed reluctant to mention supernatural facts around my young children, but they were thrilled and would later call it their favorite moment.

We then bought a little candy from the nearby old-timey candy shop and I pretended the piece I just accidentally chewed on the right side wasn’t driving ice-picks into my right temple before departing for Folsom Prison, which Brontë could hardly believe.

Is it a real prison, she kept asking.

Yes, it is real.

They aren’t pretending?

No. They are real prisoners who did bad things. They killed people or did something really bad, and some of them have to stay there forever. See that tower over there? (She nods.) That’s where guards are watching to see if prisoners try to escape. They can shoot them from those towers.

Brontë blinks rapidly. Are they there now?, she asks.

Yes, real prisoners. Right now.

Can we see them?

No. But we can see the museum.

We enter the museum and are led to a video of Huell Howser visiting Folsom prison. Huell Howser was a very tall man with a very rural accent who once made a career at PBS out of being super impressed by simple things.

Like a box of rocks. Huell Howser once wouldn’t stop talking about a small box of rocks he saw at a quarry. Adam Corella called him exactly the guy you want seeing your new house in front of your mother-in-law. I really miss that guy.

Well, Huell was checking out the original Folsom Prison cells, which didn’t used to have air-holes and existed in open-air in 1890, when prisoners would poop in a bucket and empty said bucket every morning before breakfast.

Feeling the 100+ degree heat, I couldn’t help wondering how many of them died of heat exhaustion.

quote-if-you-have-a-good-story-it-doesn-t-have-to-be-overproduced-i-want-our-stories-to-reveal-huell-howser-61-84-50.jpg

Huell may have been the most positive human being who ever lived. 

 

We also saw pictures of Death Row, where prisoners pooped in buckets in slightly bigger cells with a few more air-holes before being hanged with ropes and buried in graves whose gravestones and ropes we would soon see in the museum.

Which we did, along with early Gatling guns and a giant toothpick Ferris wheel built by a bored-but-talented prisoner. And roses made of toilet paper and marker pens, which smelled like roses, though the placards didn’t mention how the artist had infused the rose-like scent. We saw a wall of improvised shanks, dating back to the 1930’s, which John found titillating.

It was altogether most creepy and fascinating.

And on the ride home, the girls couldn’t stop talking about how awesome the day had been.

“What was your favorite part?” I asked them.

“Seeing where prisoners live, and how they made toys out of toothpicks. And getting candy. And hearing about ghosts,” said Brontë.

“See where the ghost with a beard likes to yell,” said Bridget. “And holding you hand because I love you.”

We grabbed a pizza and went home and to swim. The girls wanted me to hold them in the pool and talk about all the crazy, wonderful things they’d seen.

Which made it a pretty nice birthday, overall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Murder, Card Catalogues, and Birthdays

It’s been well over a week’s since I’ve posted and high time I wrote something, before I completely lose momentum…

We’ve been in the depths of home-buying hell lately, scrambling to compete for limited Sacramento inventory while trying to sell our house to folks who don’t want to risk contingencies. Moving from a lower-demand area to a higher one is proving tricky.

Plus, I’m having sporadic  panics about having to clear the evidence of two wild toddlers from our house quickly, so someone can check out our house before it re-explodes: “I said PUT THAT DOWN! Where are your SHOES… Did you just FLING YOGURT ALL OVER THE KITCHEN!?”

Momma is rapidly losing it.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: white carpets are where madness lies. White carpets and white tile and white grout and white painted decks were clearly the brainchild of some bourgeois masochist, hell-bent on providing suburban disciples with a daily atonement exercise.

dori
The carpet, like your soul, is filthy
It’s never clean. None of us are clean. There’s nothing so decaying as the core of Puritanical zealotry. Just keep scrubbing, just keep scrubbing (I’m picturing a wild-eyed Dori in a Thanksgiving hat as I say this).

 

In the midst of all this, however, my husband John surprised me with a three-day trip to Disneyland for my birthday, because he’s awesome like that. I thought we were just gonna hang out at Santa Cruz.

The trip was fantastic and I’ll be writing another post about it with adorable photos. But for now, I’d rather discuss getting older, since birthdays tend to make one reflect.

I don’t want to get too detailed about it, but let’s just say I had kids older than many, but young enough not to need medical help with it. I firmly believe there are different advantages to parenting at various ages, but in my case, this was the right path. I wasn’t financially or emotionally ready at 20.

Besides, the older I get, the more I grasp the grand relativity of age. For instance, I can still vaguely remember sixth graders looking SO grown-up, back when I was seven years old.

Now, many high schoolers look like kids.

In fact, I remember being baffled when my high school teacher parents called them that: “Kids.” Kids were single digit ages, to my way of thinking, who played hopscotch and dragged around dolls. 

High schoolers, on the other hand, could almost vote. Clearly, my folks were delusional.

I can also remember thinking 30 was practically middle-aged, back when I was fourteen or so. Thirty now feels very “young adult,” the soonest a person should be trusted with important decisions. Possibly it sounds infantile to septuagenarians.

 

My recent Sue Grafton mystery novel reading jag has put all this into even greater perspective. I don’t know why I’ve been on a Grafton kick, except that I like mystery novels and read hers years ago, back when I was younger than the main character. Back when I had to check them out of the library and hope someone had brought the next alphabet letter book back.

I have to mention, she really developed an ingenious titling system: A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, etc. Not only is is easy (she just comes up with a crime-related word for each alphabet letter), but it also activates any Obsessive-Compulsive tendencies within her readers.

longdivision.gif
ABOMINATION
You want to complete the set. You don’t want to be missing “E” or “J” in your beautifully-coordinated book set, because that would be like long division with an outrageously repeating decimal remainder. It’s a missing bicuspid in an otherwise uniform set of teeth.

 

Clever titles aside, it’s been eerie to reread a 80’s saga I once read in my youth. It’s world is forever frozen in the 1980’s of my childhood, with a detective who still uses phone books and card catalogs. A detective who once seemed worldly and mature to me, but is now younger than I am, locked into a world without internet or smart phones.

It’s amazing to think the kids growing up today will see phone booths as antiquated relics, the way my generation saw old-timey 1920’s phones with bells you talk into and little cranks on the side. Phone numbers that included addresses because everyone was on a party line, or something.

Even crazier is the idea that someday, Millennials will be the old farts. Whatever the next generations ends up being called, they’ll eventually be making fun of Millennial music and pants styles, pointing out how dated it is to tattoo your arms and cringing whenever someone born “way back in the 90’s” mangles the current slang.

Sigh… it’s all a big cycle, isn’t it? I’ve never understood the point of fixating on age (you won’t find me posting commiserating “age test” memes on Facebook), since we’re all alive on this planet for one brief lifetime (probably) and better off living our lives than complaining about unchangeable details, but there are a few points I’d like to make after all this reflection…

  1. Every generation, probably since the dawn of time, thinks the next one is going to Hell in a hand basket 

Right now, it’s Generation X complaining about Millennials: they’re entitled, they’re materialistic, they’re lazy, they have bad manners… blah blah blah. But a thousand years ago it was Socrates, saying:

The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.

Funny how everyone seems to think the world happened to reach its greatest potential within their lifetimes.

On everything: common sense, manners, the right amount of technology before people become socially-impaired…

And music, of course. Music just happened to be awesome until right after your college years, whereupon it went straight into the toilet. The world’s collective creative peak just happened to zenith along with you before sliding into another Dark Age.

I don’t know if it’s because we forget the follies of our youth or just resent the world going without us, but I have no doubt the Millennials will be making the same arguments in another 15 years.

2.  We’re all convinced we were tireless gods in our youths, before our bodies betrayed us

“I used to stay up partying all night long, throw back some coffee, get into work early, and keep going like no one’s business. Can’t do it anymore, but boy, I used to be unstoppable.”

animal-house
Sure, this guy passes for early 20’s
That’s roughly what I’ve heard thirty-somethings-or-more say about sixteen billion times. They never used to get tired. They could get by on no sleep and just keep going. They used to get up an hour before they went to bed to run seven miles, hungover, before partying all night long.

 

I don’t know… I don’t remember it quite the same way. I remember having 8 AM classes every morning before doing a work study job then sabre fencing until 2 AM, night after night…

And I also remember being EXTREMELY TIRED.

I was late to that 8 AM class, more often than not, and downing as much caffeine as possible while I dragged myself through my days, sneaking naps whenever I could get one.

I remember eating candy corn and pounding Jolt cola while pulling all-nighters to write fifteen page papers, walking in circles to stay awake and eyeing my bed with incredible longing… How sweet sleep sounded, to just lay down and close my eyes into restful oblivion. I’d get the paper in and come home to pass out for the next ten hours.

I’m not saying we don’t have more energy in our youth, just that it’s not as extreme a difference as people claim. We view our youth through the Golden Good Times filter, much like we view relationships in the first days of their disintegration. Suddenly you’re remembering all the special songs and inside jokes, forgetting all the zits and jealousy.

We were tired back then TOO, we just did it anyway. We didn’t care. We wanted to hang out with our friends and had breaks in-between classes. We weren’t about to to get fired and lose the house.

We’ve grown soft, that’s all. We have cars, regular schedules, and expect more for dinner than microwaved Hot Pockets and creamed corn. We’re tired and bored, because making spreadsheets in a cubicle is way more monotonous than discussing the philosophical implications of Family Guy.

3.  You’ll eventually view your younger self as amazingly attractive, but stupid

meme-birdsI’m exaggerating a little for effect, but this is generally true.

While growing up, you’ll probably have a list of “flaws” you worry about: your chubby thighs, the shape of your nose, your zits or lack of six-pack abs, or whatever.

Ten years later, you’ll probably see an old photo of yourself and be amazed at how much cuter you were than you thought at the time. You may even want to reach through the photo to slap yourself, just for wasting so much time being insecure about nothing.

I think it’s a question of perspective. High schoolers spend most of their time around other high schoolers, so they don’t appreciate all the physical gifts that come so easily then… the fast metabolism (despite eating crap), the shiny thick hair (despite flatirons and bleach), and shadowless skin (despite stress).

They compare themselves to photo-shopped models, expensively-groomed Hollywood actors, and the select set of fresh-faced youths they run around with. Not the real world, the larger world of all times and ages, rush hours and cubicle jobs without exercise.

You’re so much better-looking than you realize. Even now, I look at “before” photos from five years ago and wonder why I felt so fat. Why I thought raspberry lipstick would look any different than fuchsia delight.

What a waste of time.

On the other hand, you’re probably deluded about how smart you are. I mean, you may be very clever, especially for your age, but you haven’t had the life experiences that will end up granting you wisdom over your next few decades. You’re taking things for granted you will end up appreciating later. Opportunities that you’ll wish you still had.

Because you’ll have some regrets. We all do. We all make mistakes and some of them stick with us.

And when you look back on your life, you see yourself heading into those mistakes, over and over again. Like watching Titanic and hoping the boat won’t sink, even though you know it will.

You may wonder how your life might’ve turned out differently if you had only done X or Y, wishing you had a time machine to see how it would’ve all played out. You want to impart this wisdom on another kid, hoping to spare them the consequences of your own idiocy.

titanic
Trust me, there’s no time for this crap. Go find a lifeboat and sit there.
But you can’t, because the story has been written.

So far.

Maybe that frustration is responsible for our tendency to remember the past differently than it really happened, to think we bounced from party to party, without sleep, and never had the irresponsible tendencies kids today seem to display.

I don’t know. But somewhere, faintly, I can hear F is for Fugitive calling my name.

Some things in life are easy.