birthday

I “moustache” you to look at this cake.

It is my son Owen’s birthday today. He turns nine. It is going too fast, this whole childhood thing. But we had a great day. He wanted a moustache theme–so we obliged. He and all his friends were wearing fake moustaches. It was a riot.

Here’s his cake:

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Here’s Owen:

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And, in case you don’t remember what it’s like to be nine, here’s a look into the mind of my newly turned nine year-old. It’s the view right outside the bedroom door in his mansion: (If you click on the picture, it enlarges) ( See “Key” below)

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Can you spot the:
zip line
snow hill
snowboard lift
spinney chair
slide
rope
snack bar
couch
trophies
money
hot tub
moustache case
go cart
snow boards
safe
limo
bathroom
pet fish

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” —John Lennon, Imagine

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A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Singing of Happy Birthday from Becoming More of a Burden on Parents, Family Members, Friends, and the World At Large

It happened again on Sunday. There I was, enjoying a delicious summer barbecue at a neighbor’s house. The food was plentiful, the weather balmy, so much so that I forgot the occasion for our being there–an 8 year-old’s birthday party. The kids had a blast, we had some drinks, and all was merry, until…until it came time to sing “Happy Birthday.”

My hatred of this song sneaks up on me. I forget how insufferable it can be, because I am so excited for the cake–those who know me well, know I am obsessed with all things cake. When did singing “Happy Birthday” become so annoying? It is either so drawn out that it may as well be a funeral march, or it is hijacked by screaming kids who think it’s a contest to see who can shout it the loudest. Adults sing it with such monotonous dread that it takes longer to finish than it does to bake the damn cake; kids just holler it at you.

The other night, I was watching Arbitrage with Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon. The movie begins with Gere’s character’s birthday. A successful billionaire, his cake is kingly–larger than our master bedroom. But when it is wheeled out by his butler–complete with sixty candles (!), his family simply says “Happy Birthday Dad/Honey/Grandpa.” Then, he makes a little speech. I loved this scene. I want to try it at my upcoming birthday. Let’s just say “Happy Birthday” everyone–I don’t even have to make a speech. Hell, I don’t even need a butler to serve it to me. Just a simple spoken gesture of well wishing and then– let’s eat!

IMG_0055I realized how bitter I was about this song when my younger son turned five. There we were, birthday boy, brother, parents and grandparents, singing our hearts out. Yet, it took us so damn long to finish the second line that Hayden simply blew out IMG_0057the candles. Just like that, the song was over. We stopped, somewhat dumbfounded. Then, I burst out laughing and said, “Well, okay, let’s cut the cake.” He knew! A five-year-old knew that all of this pomp made for too much circumstance. It was as if he was saying “While we’re young, people. While we’re young.”

I don’t enjoy being such a party pooper. In fact, I like birthdays. I like celebrating the lives of the people I care about. But the devolvement of this tradition irks me. Even as a child, I remember being annoyed when someone introduced the trend of adding “How old are you? How old are you?” to the end of the song. Or the crueler, but similarly inane, “You act like a monkey, and you look like one, too.” I think that one bugged me because I DO look like a monkey. Anyhow, every year, I share my observations about our society’s annoying birthday renditions with my students– a captive audience (emphasis on the word captive). I tell them to fight the injustices that have been done to this song, and encourage the group to avoid dragging it out. In addition, I tell them that they have the power to start the singing and set the pace. Once candles are lit, and lights are dimmed, no one wants to actually begin. Thus, I tell them to take control. In a loud, throaty voice, just utter the sound “HAP-” and the rest of the group will chime in with “BE-Birthday to you…” It never fails. Whenever one says that first syllable, the rest join in on the second syllable. Try it at your next party, and see for yourself. You may even want to just sing that one noise and then watch as the rest of the gang finishes the entire number. It is highly entertaining to watch the faces of your friends and family sing, while their eyes are transfixed on the flickering candles.

Growing up, we were a traditional “Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear So-and-so, happy birthday to you” sort of family. We sang it faster than any song we knew–be it a TV theme song (“The Brady Bunch, The Brady Bunch”) or commercial jingle (“Plop, plop, fizz, fizz; Oh, what a relief it is”) . We’d finish in less than fifteen seconds. I guess with seven kids, everyone was preoccupied with diving into the cake.  As an adult, particularly as a dad, I have come to realize that there are the traditional singers of “Happy Birthday” and the obnoxious upstarts who have to add the “Cha Cha Cha’s”. What. The. Hell. I had never encountered this until I had kids of my own. To make matters worse, there are those who take over the song (my sons’ included), who think it’s funny to add all manner of absurd imagery to the end–in addition to all of the Cha, Cha, Cha’s. Allow me to enlighten those of you who are lucky enough to have been spared such a lengthy performance:

. . . “Happy birthday dear So-and-so, happy birthday to you.” Note: The song should end here. But, Nooo. It then continues with:

“Cha, Cha, Cha. Ohh, la, la. Hi-Ya. Scooby-doo, we love you. Winnie the Pooh, We love you, too.”

Enough! E-nough I say. Let’s take back Happy Birthday. Let’s make it a quick, sentimental rendition. Let’s stop letting people yell it at the top of their lungs. Let’s stop adding nonsensical lyrics to a simple musical gesture.

Therefore, I propose that anyone who feels the need to ruin the Happy Birthday song be “accidentally” burned with the hot wax from the candles, which are now mere wick-nubs because a few big mouths had to take so freakin’ long to wish someone well, that the candles melted into the cake. It will only take a few “accidents” for your guests to get the hint. And besides, the pain will subside that much quicker with the taste of all that sugary icing in the victims’ mouths–but the scars will serve as a reminder for all future celebrations.

If this issue does not make you feel as sadistic as it does me, could you at least give the offenders a considerably smaller piece of cake? Thanks!

Warning: This diatribe is not meant for toddlers or senior citizens.

Tag, I’m It

My son, Owen, has been excited for his friend’s birthday party for over a month. It was held today at this cool place called Arnold’s thatRackMultipart20121011-28295-3i406n_grid_6 has laser tag, go karts, and a million other attractions–all with blinking lights and raucous music. Earlier this week, Owen asked me who was taking him to the party. I said I wasn’t sure. “We’re going to play laser tag and it’s kids versus parents! I hope it’s you, cause I told all my friend how you are really athletic.” Anyone reading this post who knows me is probably laughing right now. Even I would consider myself “active” but certainly not “athletic”. Gotta love the mind of an eight-year-old boy.

When Pam arrived home from work that night, the first thing out of Owen’s mouth was “Who’s taking me to Greg’s birthday party (same breath)I WANT DAD TO!” Pam laughed and said,”Why doesn’t dad take you?” The rest of the week, Owen was bursting with anticipation for both of us: “Are you excited, Dad?” “Now it’s kids versus parents so I’m not going to be on your team–which means I may have to shoot you–but not in the face. Plus, it’s just a laser so it won’t hurt.” “Hey, Dad, the party’s tomorrow. Are you ready?”

Today, we began counting down at 7 a.m.–five hours til the party. Before we knew it, we were pulling in to the giant warehouse parking lot that housed Arnold’s Fun Center–a facility larger than some countries. Once inside, it was sheer mayhem. There were a dozen birthdays going on simultaneously. Owen was anxious to find his friends, and once he did, he left me in the dust. I watched them bounce from video games, to bumper cars, to junior go karts, to laser tag. And I noticed that most of the parents seemed to have disappeared, claiming these two hours as a chance to shop or catch up on work or listen to a game on the car radio. So much for parents versus kids.

I was relieved that my physical prowess would not be up for inspection. But then, Greg’s mom saw me walking around and (felt sorry for me?) offered me a card for the amusements. So, I asked Greg’s dad if he was going to play laser tag. He was reluctant, but my look convinced him. We rounded up the boys for another game of tag. As we waited in the darkened vestibule to be suited up, I said to Owen and his friends, “You know, I was a laser tag major in college.” Their eyes widened. Someone shouted, “Kill Owen’s dad first!” Me and my big mouth. Once inside the neon labyrinth, I ran around like I was just another kid at the party. I was terrible, though. Everyone shot me. Including strangers. But no one was interested in my athletic ability, just my ability to be here at a kid’s party and join in the fun. When our game was over, I was proud of my 2,640 points, until I realized that every kid scored double or triple that. Oh, well.

As I once again sunk back into my role as spectator, Greg’s dad now urged me on: “You have to try the Go Karts.” “Really? I’ve never done it. I’m not sure.” He was giving me the same look I had given him pre-laser tag. “Okay, I’ll try it.” I’m glad I did. Talk about a rush. I can’t wait to do it again someday.

After another hour of games then cake, we thanked Greg’s parents and wished him a happy birthday. As we walked out into the parking lot, the glaring sun reminded us that it was, in fact, a beautiful day outside. I grabbed Owen’s hand to walk to the car. “So, did you have fun, Dad?” “I sure did, Owen. I sure did.” Yeah, the mind of an eight-year-old boy. Gotta love it.

 

To Owen On His Eighth Birthday

Dear Owen,

Today is your eighth birthday, and I  just wanted to share some observations with you about your life.

It seems like just yesterday I held your little body in my hands—my two hands!  Time DOES fly. It travels by leaps and bounds. You are eight today, and soon enough you will be in high school, med school, law school, then NASA…maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself. The point is, life is fleeting. That’s why I make every effort to capture as much of this time that you and I have together. I am constantly saying to myself, “Remember this…remember this.” And I try.

I have certainly enjoyed the milestones with you– from teeth, to walking, to monkey bars, to bike riding. But it’s the small things that I love the most. Like the time I was putting you to bed and you discovered your shadow. You ran back and forth from the night light to the closet for a half hour straight. Or how you became our little TV junky from the moment I plopped you in front of Baby Einstein at a few weeks old. Or how you make up all these crazy rap song rhymes and sing them over and over; or how we tease you for staring in the mirror of the hutch in the dining room when we have dinner; or how you still carry a wooby to bed and suck your fingers (I know, we’re working on it); or how,  sometimes, when I’m driving, I’ll reach back to hold your hand (I’ve done this since you were a toddler) and you still let me hold it; or how you create all these amazing abstract drawings out of your imagination. But what I love best about you is your sense of wonder. You have such a cool perspective on the world, and I am humbled and privileged to be able to see this world through your eyes. Through your lens, my world is brighter, more magnified.

Your fresh perspective prompted me to begin a journal a few years ago of quotes you and Hayden say.  Here are some examples to help you appreciate what I mean about your viewpoint:

“Daddy—even when I grow up and I become a daddy, you’ll still take care of me right?” “I sure will, Owen.” It was this question from you that prompted me to keep a quote journal. We were driving in the car. You were five. And out of the blue, you just asked me this. Tears instantly shot into my eyes. Hearing you ask this made me realize the magnitude of bringing another person into this world. And even though you will grow up and find your independence, I will always take care of you, and you of me. Family takes care of each other. Always.

“Daddy, watch this. I’m gonna run faster than the rain drops.” What I love about this quote is that your 6 year old self believed it could really outrun the rain. Nothing is impossible when you are young. It is because of this belief, that I have been able to steal a little magic from you. Nothing is impossible if you believe in yourself. Thank you for reminding me of this.

“You have to eat your breakfast or you won’t be strong and brave.” Owen, you are a true first born—you have such a sense of duty and responsibility. You said this to Hayden, who was refusing to eat his breakfast. And you said it with such conviction. You do try to be so brave. You always have. I remember one of your first haircuts. We went to an unfamiliar barber shop (since bald daddy hadn’t needed a barber in years:) There was one old man and he was kindof scary, and the place reeked of his cigarette smoke. You were the only customer. He was pretty gruff, but was trying to be gentle. You kept looking at me for reassurance, and you held it together until the very end. When he whipped out the clippers and started buzzing your neck, you began to bawl. I was so impressed that you hung in there for as long as you did–don’t worry, we never went back there. My brave boy. Keep eating your breakfast, buddy.

Owen: And when I’m 900, I’ll go up to heaven so I can come back down as a puppy dog.

Mommy: And maybe I’ll come back as a kitty cat so you can chase me.

Owen: No! I don’t want to chase Mommy.

Mommy: Maybe I’ll be a dog, too, so we can snuggle.

Owen: Yeah, you’ll be one, too, and Daddy and Hayden and Rufus (our actual dog). Pause. What do we look like in heaven?

Mommy: Some people think we look like angels, you know, with wings.

Owen: Cool!

What I find so moving about this conversation is that kids are simply matter of fact about death. When you said this, I laughed at the thought that you would live to be 900 years old, and then I was sad that we won’t be together forever. That is a sad reality. But I promise you this. For all the time we have left, I will always love you, and I will always be here for you. Mommy and I are so lucky to have found each
other, and then to have had you and Hayden.

I hope someday you will read this. And you won’t hate me for embarrassing you, or roll your eyes at how corny I am. Remember, life is short. And we only get so much time to say the things we want to say. I am so excited to share this day with you, and the year ahead, and as much time as we will have. You will always be my little Owee. I love you, buddy. I hope you continue to find life to be very captivating, as you have captivated us for these past eight years.

Love always,

Daddy

Of Birthday cards, and cake, and cake, and cake…

Just had a birthday on September 29th–43. Enjoyed a relaxing weekend with my family. It’s funny how birthdays become such a non-event as you get older; the less fanfare the better. However, it’s nice to get presents and cards. I have to say, though, I’m a sucker for the homemade card. I am so cheap, and cannot bring myself to spend more than 2 bucks on a card. My wife, on the other hand, loves cards and stationery. I don’t think she even looks at the price on the back. If she likes it, she buys it. I wish I could be that way, sometimes. But, you cannot put a price tag on the stuff your kids make you. And now that they are at an age where it is legitimately their creation, it’s even more heartfelt. Take this year’s crop:

This is from Owen. It is the top of the box my birthday cake came in! He has been into drawing these new noses–more like carrots–definitely gives me a more Mr. Smithers look from The Simpsons.

This is from Hayden. It is important to note that we are both smiling. Pictures of us smiling are good. In our house, if Hayden is happy, EVERYONE’S happy.

And this is from Owen,too. Owen can never stop at one. He usually makes about 5 cards for whatever occasion. I think it’s an oldest child thing. I love this card. The front said “Choose your own Light Saber” and had three choices. Here is the inside. Allow me to translate: Darth Maul said he wants to duel you. But I would not let him. So I’m dueling him instead. But I scared him off. Happy Birthday.  (Please note: misspelled words were changed by a certified English teacher). How cool is that? My son, all of seven years old, was willing to stand up to Darth Maul for me. Pretty brave, huh?

And, finally, cake. What birthday would be complete without it? Not mine. I love cake. Actually, I’m a cake freak. Once, at a wedding, there was a cake shortage. I was caught by the staff skulking around the head table eyeing up the bride’s piece. The women shooed me from the table and quickly whisked away the bride’s cake for safe keeping. Anyhow, for me, a birthday is all about cake.

Two years ago, my birthday sucked. It was really just not a good day. It involved lost keys at work, being late for Owen’s bus home from school…I was not happy. And my cake sucked! It was some freezer burned, stale log from Baskin Robbins. Nothing edible should come in log form. Pam apologized, “It was all they really had.” At that point, I just wanted the day to end.

Last year, as my birthday approached, I had an epiphany: We spend all this time and money on the boys’ birthdays, and they always have these awesome theme cakes. That’s great. I’m glad we are giving them these happy memories. But why are our cakes usually an afterthought? Some last minute thing from a bakery or–yikes–the super market. Well, no more! “I want my birthday cake from the cake lady,” I declared that night at dinner. I know, I know, who has a cake lady? (It’s part of this functional family thing, I think). “Wow, okay,” Pam said excitedly.

Thus, a tradition was started. Not only did I get my cake from this woman who creates these amazing works of art out of her home–for less than one would spend at a bakery–but I decided my whole birthday would be about cake. I would only eat cake on my birthday. I started the day with my mother’s grandmother’s homemade pound cake–which she dropped off warm that morning. For lunch, I had Pam’s  coconut cake, a delicious dessert we discovered while on vacation one year in St. John. And for dinner, I had this:

I let the boys pick the theme. They chose Phineas and Ferb, their favorite cartoon.

It was such a great day. This cake thing made it more of an event, but in a simple way. I had quality time with my mom in the morning. She actually thanked me for asking her to make the cake. Then she shared some baking memories about the women in her family. Pam and I were able to reminisce about our time in St. John, where we got engaged and fell in love…with the coconut cake (which was delivered on a photocopy of the recipe from its feature in Bon Appetit magazine). Then, the boys and I were excited all day about having the cartoon cake for dinner. “I get to eat Phineas,” Owen said. “No, I called Phineas,” cried Hayden. “Boys, no fighting on Daddy’s birthday.” Laughter.

In the spring, as Pam’s birthday approached, she announced one day: “I’m getting my cake from the cake lady this year!” Woot, woot! Again, the excitement over cake reinvigorated us. Pam’s birthday is always around Memorial Day, and we spend it at her parents’ house on the shore. So, she went for a (more adult) beach theme:

And so, this past weekend, as I began my 44th year on this earth, I celebrated my second anniversary of cake day. The same three were featured throughout the day (the entire weekend, actually). The boys chose an Avengers cake this year–they are currently obsessed with all things Avengers, and that’s fine with me, as long as I get the last piece.

So, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too? I disagree.  And, by the way, that has to be one of the dumbest expressions I’ve ever heard. I’ve always wondered: Why would someone have cake and not be able to eat it? Fool! Please don’t explain the origin of this if you know it.  I’d rather wallow in my annoyance while I continue to disprove this idiotic idiom—I will have my cake (S) and eat them all!