Eleventh Time

The Girl’s birthday, falling in mid-December, is during a most inopportune season: there’s Christmas, school concerts, church obligations, another friend’s birthday (in early December). There’s just no time to have a party, so once again, we put it off. Last year, we turned it into a New Year’s Eve party with two of her closest friends; this year, we waited until today.

The girls started with a little slime-making — it’s an obsession L has had for some time now, and we’ve gone through countless bottles of glue over the last year.

The interesting thing, for me, was that only one of the two girls from last year was present this year. The other has had a falling-out with L. L explains that it’s a complicated social situation, and while I thought such dilemmas would not be appearing in elementary school, I guess it’s just a harbinger of things to come.

But there are always new friends, new adventures.

Fifth Birthday Party

The Boy woke up at six this morning, ready to go. He’d been worried since Wednesday when he came home with a fever: “Will I be okay by my party?” he asked. Certainly. So this morning, he had his materials packed — cars and guns and other toys stuffed into the book bag Nana and Papa gave him for his birthday earlier in the week — and by the door by half-past-seven.

Later in the morning, he was packing his goodie bags for his guests, filling them with the Polish sweets he and K had chosen at the local Russian store (of course it’s called “Euro Market” or something similar, but like most Euro Markets, it seems, it’s a Russian owner). I sat down and glanced at the “Time Machine” links just at the bottom of the page as is my Saturday morning custom, and there was a post about holding the Boy when he was just a few weeks old.


Long gone are the days when you can hold him in the crook of your arm. Now it’s difficult to pick him up. When he falls asleep in Mass, it’s always in K’s arms, and I almost always end up holding him during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which means figuring out a way to kneel and hold a sack of concrete.

By the time it was actually time to head to the party, the Boy was more than ready, all nearly-fifty pounds of him.

The party itself was bliss for him. Many of his friends from pre-school came, as well as neighbors and kids from the Polish community. K brought some games for everyone to play, including a sack race, but in the end, what was most successful was what was simplest: E’s toys.

The Girl, though was sick, which accounts for her absence as well as Nana’s and Papa’s.


K and I woke about the time we arrived at the hospital ten years ago.

We were eating breakfast at the time I was filling out paperwork and K was wearily filling in her midwife on the progress thus far.

By the time the kids were up, K was in the huge tub preparing for a water delivery.

When L was opening her present, she was still almost an hour away from delivery. By the time E was licking the maple syrup off his plate after a birthday breakfast of French toast, L was getting closer but still not there.

By the time my students were partaking in their improvised opłatek celebration, K was holding a clean and fragrant little girl who had already taken over our lives entirely.

By the time our neighbor Santa arrived, Nana and Papa had already arrived and been reveling for some time in their new status as Nana and Papa.

Ten years and everyone around us, except for L, wonders how the time disappeared so quickly. Hasn’t L always been this tall? Hasn’t E always been tagging along behind her?


A day of double goodness. First, the Girl turned nine. It happened when she was arriving at school — 8:05 to be precise. I wished her an official happy birthday when I got back from work in the afternoon. In the meantime, she had cupcakes at school and got to go see E’s first concert.

Dinner was her favorite: rosół. Clothes for her Caroline made the perfect birthday gift — all in all, a good day for her, I think.

Ninth Try

What makes a perfect birthday party perfect? It’s not number of guests, for if that’s the case, today’s party would be very far from perfect. It’s not the price of the gifts, for no matter how much one spends on a present, more is always an option. It’s not the cake, though in the case of E and his destruction cake a couple of years back, it certainly made a positive impact.

Having a part in the planning and preparation of your party would be an element of a perfect party, a perfect sign that double digits and more approach. The Girl chose a craft-centered party, spending several weeks researching and thinking about which activities she wanted at her party. In the end, she chose holiday-themed crafts: gingerbread decoration and Christmas tree baubles.

Morning was dedicated to baking gingerbread, then, in various shapes and sizes. There was also significant cleaning as one of the guests is allergic to cats — never before has the Girl’s room and the living room been so thoroughly cleaned. Early afternoon was decorating. And finally, after putting the balloons in place and dressing both Caroline and herself in matching outfits, the Girl was ready for the guests.

Once the girls arrived, the Boy, though, felt suddenly left out. He went into the living room, flopped down on the couch, and said, “Daddy, I’m boring. I’m not doing anything.” The girls headed down to the trampoline and he just watched from the balcony. “Don’t worry — you’ll get to do all the crafts with the girls. You’ll decorate some gingerbread and make a bauble and do whatever else you want to.”

After crafts, pizza and a movie, and a bit of fingernail painting. And finally, we cleaned up the mess, and I asked the Girl, “So, was it a perfect party?”

“Pretty much.”

And that’s the best present she can give to K and me.

Third Party

The gifts came on his actual birthday, last Thursday. A party can wait, but gifts? That’s just cruel.


Wednesday of last week we took the Boy to Toys R Us to pick out some presents, and we bought him a little something that he didn’t ask for but which we knew he would love. He’s really outgrown his four-wheel vehicle (rover? quadcycle?), and his bike is still too heavy for him really to do much with. A glider was the obvious bridge.


So first thing Thursday morning, we put it together. It was the first time in over a week that I’d sat on the floor, and I wondered what it might be like to try to get back up, what with new, thick scar tissue, tired muscles, irritated everything. “Push it as much as you can as soon as you can,” the surgeon had said, and that day, plopping down in the floor and getting back up seemed like quite a bit of pushing. Indeed, quite enough.

The Boy though was just getting started. He began with tentative walking in the kitchen/dining area. K and I showed him how to sit in the seat so that he balanced his weight over his arms and his backside, and within a couple of days, he was cruising in the house quite quickly.


Today then was just icing on the cliche. No icing on the cake, though: a bit of thick, fresh whipped cream. And some construction equipment moving about the crushed Oreos that plague every building site.

“I want a digger cake,” E has been saying for some time as we’ve talked about his birthday party. We’d seen it via social media and knew he’d love it. K showed him a picture and it was instant mini-obsession. So the Girl and I laid out a piece of foil the same size as the cake, did some planning and positioning, then went to work creating a decorating masterpiece to top K’s amazing cake.


The party itself was a small affair: just the grandparents and the Boy’s best friend, N, who lives a couple of houses up from us and has become a regular visitor. We’d managed to keep the cake out of view until just before the moment of ceremonious candle extinguishing, and the result was predictable but sweet: some squealing, some laughing, and an immediate desire to play with the diggers on the cake.


After cake, we all headed outside, where E tried his new coaster on a variety of surfaces, deciding that the best was grass.


In the end, though, with a near fall, he decided that as amazing as the coaster might be, four weeks are much more secure feeling. After all, he’s been riding this thing for over two years now: it’s second nature to him.


“If you keep practicing,” we all told him, “soon, you’ll be able to ride the two-wheeler as fast and as well as your four-wheeler” we explained. E thought about it, then said simply, “Nah.”

The Actual Party

The Girl turned eight last week. Of course we had a party for her, but Nana and Papa, the Boy, Mama, and Tata — well, it’s an alright party, but most of the responsibility for screaming and hyperactivity falls on the head of the birthday girl herself. It’s a big responsibility, and L made a valiant effort, with some help from the Boy, to roust everyone out of their chairs, but mainly it was the Girl’s work.

The setting

The setting

What she needed was, say, three other girls, roughly her age, a load of sugar, some presents, and a sleepover party.

Lighting the candles shortly before

Lighting the candles shortly before

blowing them out.

blowing them out.

It is only then that the full silliness can blossom, for adults don’t really appreciate a little girl’s efforts to blow out her candles with a fully-open mouth like kids would.

Earring inspection

Earring inspection


Arranging the new earrings

Afterward, it was time to organize the gifts. Since the Girl got her ears pierced, all the presents had a common theme, and one cannot just toss dozens of earrings together into a chaotic pile.

Once the sun went down, though, we had only one option: the best lights in town, according to some. Over 350,000 lights, three months to set up, three more to take down — an impressive show.

The adults wandered about, wondering about the motive behind the lights, which surely cost thousands of dollars a year; the kids wandered about, wondering about the free hot chocolate.


It started with cupcakes at school.


A quick Mama/L day followed, with some bouncing



and ear piercing.


A chocolate ice cream birthday cake


and a couple of long-sought gifts rounded out the Girl’s eighth birthday.



Well, almost.


Mother’s Day 2014 and Happy Happy!

“Today is a triple header,” Father Boyle said today at Mass. “Mother’s Day, Good Shepherd Sunday, and First Communion.” He left out one thing: E’s Happy Birthday.

First, food.


Grilled onions, hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled corn, Greek spinach salad, Black Forest cake, and fresh fruit.


With a beginning like that, what could go wrong? Sure, not everyone’s crazy about hot dogs. Sure, the idea of grilled corn Indian style (i.e., smeared with lemon dipped in Cayenne pepper) sets some people on fire. Sure, not everyone likes strawberries. (Really? On what planet?) Still, food brings people together like few other things. Perhaps that’s why the Lord’s Supper is just that. Breaking bread together is truly an ancient tradition.


Perhaps not as ancient as some traditions, like motherhood. By now, it’s almost cliche, but where would we be without mothers? Silly question; silly tradition. We shouldn’t need a special day to honor our mothers. We should be doing it on a daily, no hourly basis.But we don’t, so it’s for the best that one day a year we decide deliberately to honor our mothers. Our fathers have to wait another month.

But E: he only had to wait for the cake.



And then came the fun. For E, the present selection process was simple: anything with wheels. Is it a cliche? Who cares — he is simply obsessed with any and all vehicles, and knowing this simplified present choices for everyone.




But the real present of true he received long ago, when I was so blessed to marry the woman I married. L’s best present, too. And mine.


Theoretically unnecessary or not (come on — must we be reminded to be thankful for those who cleaned our backsides and spanked them too?), I’m still glad we have Mother’s Day.