(Not to be confused, of course, with the remains of the cake.)
Monkey’s 7th birthday has come and gone, and I haven’t cried (much) and Chickadee wasn’t jealous (much) and all went well except for the part where in order to buy enough stuff to be able to use my credit card, when I was picking up party plates and napkins I bought a big bag of Flipz and now I can’t stop eating them. And given the spectrum of possible birthday calamities, that seems pretty manageable.
As is our custom, I quietly woke Chickadee this morning and we burst into Monkey’s room to wake him with the birthday song. He popped out of bed and wiggled and danced his way through his morning routine, declaring “It’s my biiiiirthday!” so many times that finally Chickadee hissed at him “I KNOW! STOP SAYING THAT!”
Otto called during breakfast, and Monkey piped up, “Does he know it’s my birthday?” No, he has NO IDEA, he routinely calls us at o’dark thirty just to chat. Oh, wait, no he doesn’t. Many happy returns were wished upon the birthday boy and he went back to dancing in his chair with his pop-tart.
Upon checking my email I discovered a message from my mother to Monkey, so I called him in to hear it. “Does she know it’s my birthday?” No, she just picked TODAY OF ALL DAYS to send you mail. How about that!
He danced to the bus stop and high-fived the bus driver and waved frantically out the window while yelling, “I’LL SEE YOU THIS AFTERNOON! FOR MY BIRTHDAY!”
I have to say, there is little I wanted to do less today than go feed cake to a roomful of 1st graders. My head is clogged, my throat is sore, I’m tired and achy and miserable. Often in years past I’ve just dropped off the special birthday snack and let the teachers do their thing. But this year Monkey really wanted me to come in, and this year I felt like I really needed to be there.
Because this year, Monkey has been struggling, and I have been agonizing, and if he had said, “Mama, this year I would really like a pony,” well, I probably would’ve asked him what color I should look for. We’re nearly at the end of the various tests the school decided to run, and so far we know he’s plenty bright but very, very anxious. You know, the kid is in first grade. Pretty much the most stressful part of his day should be figuring out if his underwear is on backwards or not. While I am relieved to know that he’s neither learning disabled nor psychotic, I just want him to be happy. Happy and secure like he used to be.
He wanted me to come in for his birthday, so I came in for his birthday.
He crashed into me seconds after I entered the classroom, so hard that I nearly dropped the cake. He showed me the special birthday picture one of his friends had made for him, and told me all about how they announced his birthday on the loudspeaker and the whole class cheered. Then he followed the teacher’s directions to pick some helpers to serve, and we started passing out cake and milk.
Once everyone had cake and a cup of milk, Monkey jumped atop his chair and raised his arms in anticipation. Through stifled giggles the teacher led the class in singing to him, and he beamed throughout. Then he leapt down and took a huge bite of cake and declared me the best baker in the entire world.
You’d think that THAT would be when my heart exploded, but it actually happened later, after the cake was done and all the brightly-colored plates had hit the wastebasket. Monkey asked if we could take a slice of cake to the guidance counselor he has lunch group with each week. We brought her a slice of cake and she thanked us and said she’d come over to the classroom in a minute. Back in class, Monkey joined a cluster of children who were building a city out of blocks. I chatted with the teacher—who told me I’m the only parent so far this year who actually baked at home, so I treated her to the story of how much fun it is to frost a cake while your nose runs, which I’m sure she loved—and marveled as my son negotiated multiple social interactions with grace and charm. Just like he used to.
The guidance counselor came over with a small gift for Monkey, and then treated me to an earful about what a delightful kid he is, and how hard he’s working on his issues, and his teacher agreed; and I stood there with them each on one side of me, telling me how great my son is and how much they enjoy him.
That’s when my heart exploded. Because: Again, first grade. He shouldn’t have issues, and he shouldn’t have to work hard. But it is awfully nice to know that in spite of all of that, the Monkey I know and love is still in there. And he’s coming out often enough that others are getting to see him, too.
Then it was time to clean up and fetch Chickadee and head home. Monkey opened his presents and he and his sister spent the next forty five minutes until their father arrived clocking each other’s spazz-out speed with Monkey’s new radar gun. They then spent the evening celebrating with Daddy and returned home in high spirits.
In Monkey’s mind—where molehills are sometimes threatening mountains—today was Disneyworld wrapped up in Chuck E. Cheese with all the Transformers sprinkled on top. It was everything. I worried all day that his expectations wouldn’t be met, somehow, and he would be disappointed. But his expectations were only that today would be his birthday, and therefore, perfect.
And it was. Just like he is.
Happy birthday, my very favorite boy.