Jack was born in the summer. By default, our summer travel routine and the vacation plans of most of his classmates made most of his birthday celebrations quite a bit smaller and tamer than the circus-like orgies of cake and presents that are depicted as normal and desirable in movies or ads. His birthdays are often spent with family doing something special at the beach or going to a favorite museum.
We knew that six-year-old Thing2’s October birthday made the more traditional kid birthday party more likely. He’s seven today, and we planned his birthday over the weekend. Watching Jack’s interest in traditional kid birthday parties (even when we offered) begin to fade when he was around nine, I know there won’t be many of these left.
Thing2, the Big Guy and I decided he should invite his classmates, and a few weeks ago, I filled his backpack with his homework, lunch, and seventeen invitations. Knowing that not everyone RSVPs for kids’ parties, the Big Guy and I got the house ready for a halloween-themed party on Columbus Day Weekend.
Three kids and their moms showed up.
At first I was a little nervous about Thing2’s reaction to the dearth of kids (and presents, of course), but he didn’t seem to notice. For two hours, the kids cavorted in the sun and the leaves for two hours. They beat apart and divided the treasure from a piñata filled with candy for 16 kids. There was no pin-the-tail on the donkey or other party games. Instead, they screamed and laughed as they chased each other through and around the house. The Big Guy in his Herman Munster costume and I as Lily Munster sat at the table with the three other moms getting to know each other a little better than we do at the bus stop.
Thirteen-year-old Jack’s own memories of these few traditional kid parties are often impressions of sunny days, the details blurred by distance. I know this day will blend into the collection of parties we’ve thrown for Thing2 as well. But I’m hoping that his memory is marking that, while a larger party would have been fun too, sometimes less really is more.
I woke up a few Fridays ago determined to get my ‘down’ time in on the trail before the workday started. I got it. I also got a lesson from Mother Nature down time management.
I got the kids to the bus, miraculously in time for the first stop. Then I headed to the trail at the park. It had been raining all night, and there were still drips and drops, but there were also peeks of sunshine. By the time I stopped at the park, it was drizzling, but I wasn’t too worried. It was about to clear up.
Wrapping my mp3 player in a plastic sandwich baggie and then into my belt, I pushed play and headed down the trail. Five hundred feet into the park, the sky opened up. Instantly, I was drenched from head to toe and supremely grateful that, in my now-soaked shirt and running pants and looking like a jelly donut entering a wet T-shirt contest, I was the only person in the park. I thought seriously about turning back.
It wasn’t fortitude or courage that kept me going. It was the knowledge that I had a To-Do list a mile long. Work was next on the agenda, then (hopefully) blog posts, getting ready for a class I was about to help teach, laundry (always laundry), vacuuming, dinner and writing before bed. I knew this was the only time to get my down time.
I took refuge under a shelter when the rain was too blindingly-heavy to navigate the path. When the rain slowed, I restarted my run from the beginning, figuring I couldn’t possibly get any wetter. Mother Nature laughed and let out another sprinkle. As I got to the end of the third mile and started the fourth, it had stopped feeling like work and begun feeling like down time – without and with the rain.
That’s when it struck me that the rain was just part of the game. The weather is going to do nothing but get worse over the next few months. As I write, it’s still dark this morning. Weather and time changes close in with their excuses not to run, but the dark is also part of the game. Winning that game and getting that down time – on the trail or the keyboard – is ignoring those excuses and getting it anyway.
I’m making a third birthday cake for Thing2 today. He had one for his party over the weekend, we took cupcakes in for his class today, and we’ll have our family celebration tonight. It’s the last cake for the last seventh birthday I’ll ever make for one of my children, and while I don’t want to do this again, I also don’t want it to end.
It’s the Big Guy’s birthday. Today our family is celebrating him, but I’ve also come to see this day as the demarcation of the seasons.
It’s not just because his birthday coincides with the second day of fall, but because his favorite birthday dessert is not cake. It’s apple pie, preferably made with apples from our own tree. It’s only after a few cold snaps that the apples start to take on a sweeter taste, and the first, tart bite, softened by the streusel topping, evokes all the soon-to-be wood-stove warmed evenings, homemade breads and stews, and evenings snuggled on the couch. So now, celebrating the Big Guy is really a celebration of a season of family enjoying family. And who better to inspire it?
Everyday is a beginning, and in the beginning, it’s always murky – sometimes even dark. Beginnings still take determination and fight – whether it’s a new run or another day toward a new life. It’s not until the first bead of sweat breaks that the rhythm of the trail or the day takes over. It’s self-sustaining until the exhaustion that must come does, but when it passes, what is left behind is the fight and determination to begin again tomorrow.