And frankly, right now, the feeling is mutual.
I’ve got nothing else. Pray for a miracle. I know I am.
Birthdays come but once a year. And it’s a damn good thing. Any more, and parents would be dropping like flies.
Or I would, anyway. MJ’s party was four days ago now, and I’m only just feeling human again. As for my pocketbook, well, it may need a bit more time to recover. Because you know what? It turns out that even a super casual, bagels-in-the-park, cupcakes from Vons, no favor bags birthday party can be extraordinarily expensive. It might’ve been cheaper to rent a yacht. Who knew?
But it was worth it. I think. Myra-Jean seemed to enjoy it. Mostly. I mean, let’s be honest–by the end of such a party pretty much any preschooler is in a stage five meltdown. What with the sugar, the attention, the pinata, the grownups goosing their cheeks–it’s enough to make even the most phlegmatic of four-year-olds blow a gasket. MJ, being no exception to this rule, spent the last half-hour of the party refusing to acknowledge departing guests and screaming “I just want to open my presents!!” I thought we were going to have to sedate her. Good times.
But then it was over–the invitees headed home, the cups and plates cleaned up, the smashed Jupiter pinata stuffed in the trash, the remaining cupcakes tossed. We headed up the hill to our house and ate takeout lunch with our family. Everyone was starved. One thing you forget to do at these things is eat.
As for MJ, she was all over the place. One minute she played with a new toy, the next she was sobbing over getting served the “wrong kind of chicken.” She said she’d enjoyed the party, but it was hard to tell. She was tired. She was mean. She was edgy. And this edginess lasted for the next three days.
It only seemed to lift yesterday–the actual day of her birthday. I’d had to work–a fact deemed unforgivable by my daughter–and it looked like the day could be a total debacle. Myra-Jean was furious when I left.
“You may never go!” she screamed. “Ever!”
The four birthday-themed postcards I’d left her notwithstanding, I felt like the worst parent alive.
But as the day went on, I heard that she cheered up. School was fun. The weather a bit cooler. In the afternoon she did some gardening with her father.
And then I was able to get off early to meet them for dinner! At our favorite restaurant! We ate pho and crayoned pictures of Walter and Mina on small white pieces of scrap paper. MJ chewed french fries with fish sauce and seemed ecstatic to be up past her bedtime. After dinner, we went to ice cream; when we were done eating it I watched, grinning stupidly, as my husband and daughter danced to “American Pie” in the middle of the empty parlor’s floor.
There, in that moment, I found the joy of her fourth birthday. And, judging by their faces, I’d have to say Mike and MJ did as well. No pinatas, no space decorations, no craft table, no hats. Just a quiet dinner, a sweet dessert, and the hard slate floor of an empty shop.
Perhaps next year we’ll just skip straight to that.
Ah, Tuesday. My half day “off.”
If we were a restaurant, we’d have been shut down by the health department today.
Yes, it’s a meatloaf. Don’t laugh.
That’s the final version. There was an earlier incarnation, which tasted mystifyingly raw inside, even though it had cooked for an hour and a half. I ate a small slice, and got so freaked out I fed the rest to the dog. It was creamy, like polenta. I don’t know much, but I know meatloaf isn’t supposed to have the “mouth feel” of creme brulee.
So I put the remaining half back in the oven. Because Mike would need dinner, too, when he got home. And I was not feeding him turkey pap.
An hour later I remembered to get it out.
“What did you do to it?” Mike said, when he saw it.
I shook my head. “I don’t know, exactly.”
“Oh, well. I’m sure it’ll taste great,” he said, in that game way people do when they know they are about to step off of a culinary cliff.
Later, after he’d eaten all of it–good man!–we talked about what had gone wrong.
“It just wouldn’t cook,” I insisted. “It was in there forever. It tasted like oatmeal. And then it got burnt.”
“Was the oven temperature right?” Mike asked.
He shook his head. “Then I don’t know what to tell you.” There was a pause. “Did you follow the recipe?”
“Yes,” I snapped, rolling my eyes exasperatedly. Then I thought about it. I’d used a bit more ketchup than was called for. And a bit less meat.
I mentioned this.
“How much more ketchup?”
I counted in my head. “Maybe four times?”
His eyes widened.
“It was a mistake!” I stammered. “I read the recipe wrong. And then I forgot–and I had to–anyway. Maybe five times. Do you think that could’ve been the problem?”
“It’s a lot of extra liquid.”
I cocked my head. “Ketchup is a liquid?”
He ignored this. “Of course it tasted creamy. It was soaked.”
Whatever. What’s done is done. But I’m renewing my vow–first made after the Mark Bittman chicken debacle two years ago–to never again cook a recipe that calls for a meat thermometer. It’s not worth the pain, the humiliation, or the attendant mild nausea.
As for our home-restaurant? The one Myra-Jean is now calling “Food?” We will simply go vegetarian. Or vegan. Or better yet, raw. I suspect I have a knack for that.
To add insult to injury, I’ve been betrayed by my book club.
After months of reading excellent choices, all of which resulted in at least slightly substantive conversations–OK, when we weren’t talking about dolphin rape, sea sponge tampons, and the like–we’re now reading something so dim, unappealing and insipid I’m embarrassed to admit what it is.
A hint: Annie Hall.
Yes, it’s the Diane Keaton biography. I can’t even remember the name. “This Is It?” “What Have You?” “Nevermind?” No, that’s the Nirvana album. Honestly. Am I going to have to lug myself out of this chair to go get it? Is the name really that forgettable?
Sigh. I’ll be right back.
Look, I don’t mean to be unkind. I’m aware of google alerts, and I don’t want Ms. Keaton to be offended if she stumbles upon this post. But on the other hand? I think she’ll have to be. Because I so don’t want to read this thing. Here’s how much: I happen to own a copy, because my mother read it a year or two ago and insisted on leaving it with me when she flew home. I told her the only thing I would use it for was kindling. That I’d rather be cut up with a pizza roller than read a single page. That if it was the last book in the world I’d gouge my eyes out rather than–
“Read it,” she interrupted. “It’s about her mother. It’s cute.”
Cute is something I like in my bunnies, not my books. I’m not going to cuddle with the thing. I’m not going to tickle it under the chin. I’m going to read it.
Because I am reading it. I read everything my book club chooses. It’s Pavlovian at this point. But man, am I pissed about it. Every time I pick it up and see Keaton lying there on the cover, her legs up the wall like some yogi on her cycle, I just want to puke. Instead I curse and curse.
This is not what book clubs are for. Give me Catherine the Great. Give me Cleopatra. Give me Henrietta Lacks, even, who was only heroic by virtue of how sick she was. Just please. Don’t give me kindling.
We may need it if the gas gets switched off.
Note to self: tres leches cake? Not a good choice for a three-year old birthday party. The kids will pick at it, lick one piece tentatively, and walk away disconsolately. You will feel like a selfish beast for choosing a confection that the adults find delectable, but the children think is repugnant.
Other that that? I’d have to say that MJ’s do was a great success. Thank God for friends who are crafty, kind and willing to show up indecently early on a Sunday morning to help set up. Thank God for their husbands, who have even less reason than they do to be so generous. Thank God for weather forecasts that don’t come true. Thank God for public parks. Because kid’s birthday parties? Expensive. Even if you do nothing but serve homemade food, have a grocery store cake the kids hate, and offer a silly craft from Michael’s. Thank God for ebay, where you can buy new/old Beanie Babies, (which — musty or not — turned out to be the best idea ever for a party favor), insanely cheaply. Thank God for my mom, without whose extra helping hands Mike and I might’ve ended up in divorce court before the weekend was out. Just kidding, honey. Kind of…
And thank God for the day after the birthday party. Thank God for sleeping ’til 8, keeping your kid home from school, going to the Audubon Center with your mom and daughter to listen to the hawks, and feeling 100% satisfied with the celebration that is now, blissfully, receding in the rear view mirror of your life.