It Marches On

Tomorrow, Henry turns nine years old. For the past few years, we have celebrated his birthday in New York, where we make an annual holiday visit to Bob’s hometown. However, this year, a pesky stomach bug forced us to cancel our trek north. As much as I am disappointed to miss out on celebrating the season with family, spending Henry’s birthday at home is turning out to be a blessing. It’s something we haven’t done since, I think, his fifth birthday. Like Bob’s birthday five days before Christmas, Henry’s birthday five days after Christmas has meant it gets lost in the shuffle a bit. Even with our best efforts to make it a very special day.

So, we are making it a very special day for Henry, indeed! Bob and I agreed, with our change of travel plans, that some one on one time with Henry would be perfect. Bob will tend to Charlie and Millie while I get to take Henry to a host of places that Henry has specifically requested. (And, lest you think Bob gets the short end of the stick here, he’ll be napping contentedly while I spend hours listening to detailed character descriptions of every Lego Star Wars character ever created. So, it’s pretty even-steven.)

Stop #1: the library. When asked what super! amazing! place he wanted to visit for his birthday, Henry requested a special trip to the library. Done and done, kid. Thanks for being so easy to please.

Stop #2: Sweet Frog. Which is ironic since Henry hasn’t had a taste of ice cream since he was a toddler (when he quit being a fan of so many, many delicious foods). However, Sweet Frog remains a favorite since he can amass a wide variety of his favorite candy toppings in one convenient bowl! Marshmallows for miles.

Stop #3: Target. He really is closest to my heart, this one. Thanks to some generous family members, Henry has a little money in his wallet to spend (nine-year-olds carry wallets!) and since we could really use some milk and bananas, Target it is. Well, the Lego aisle at Target, anyway.

I can’t wait for our day. The luxury of time is not something we often have together, this big kid and I.

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And, time is passing for certain. For some reason, with this ninth birthday, my awareness of Henry’s age and his advancing maturity is acute.

It’s subtle how this creeps up. This realization of growing independence and autonomy.

When we arrive at church on Sundays, there is a brief process during which we get each kid signed in and set in their respective Sunday school rooms. After a couple of weeks of attendance, Henry asked if he could walk to his classroom alone. “I know the way, mom. I know where to go,” he explained. Bob and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows and sent him on his way. We got Charlie and Millie settled and, of course, went down to Henry’s room to ensure he was there and seated. He saw us peeking in the doorway and appeared mortified. He approached only to tell us that he was fine and to shoo us away. Bob and I headed to the sanctuary both knowing that it had begun. This confidence.

When we arrived home from a busy afternoon away, the kids parked themselves in front of the television while Bob and I rested. When dinnertime rolled around and I headed to the kitchen to rummage for supper components, I found Henry seated at the table enjoying a full meal of his usual favorites. When I looked at him confused, Henry explained, “I was hungry. So, I made myself dinner.” He did. He made himself dinner. I sighed knowing that it had begun. This needing us less.

“I can’t believe how tall you are getting,” family and friends exclaim when they set eyes on Henry. It’s true. He’s getting taller. After rising at 3:00 a.m. Christmas morning, he fell fast asleep early on Christmas evening. In our bed. With Bob asleep next to him, I went about the daunting task of relocating this suddenly enormous and incredibly sleepy kid to his own bed. He’s taller. And, bigger. And, heavier and I realized I couldn’t carry him anymore and that it had begun. This physical transformation.

It’s all changing but then it’s not changing but then it all is and then one day, you have a nine-year-old who is wonderful and unique and independent and asked to go to the library for his birthday.

I’m not nostalgic for the old days. Just painfully aware of these new days. And, sometimes, my heart doesn’t feel big enough to hold all the love I have for him.

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Happy birthday, Henry. You are loved beyond measure.

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May Your Days Be Merry and Bright and Free From Snot

Merry Christmas from our house to yours!

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Okay. Maybe not all the way from our house. Because of the germs. You wouldn’t want that. So, we’ll just say, merry Christmas and leave it at that.

Two of the three kids have full-blown ugly colds and a third has been coughing and sneezing suspiciously. “We’re All Going Down” should be the theme of this holiday season.

Somehow, even when debilitated by illness, they STILL manage to be completely over-excited about Christmas. Henry alternates between telling me how “bored, so, so boooooored” he is and counting the presents underneath the tree while simultaneously updating the Christmas countdown ticker. Charlie is basking in all of the extra attention and cuddles of his grandparents as he explains to them what he is going to do with the new John Deere lawn tractor he is getting for Christmas that he totally isn’t getting for Christmas. Millie asks every day, multiple times a day, if it’s time to open presents. (Which, actually, is a measure of self-control since last year she just opened several when I wasn’t looking.)

Our family has had a doozy of a year so, this Christmas, the adults are indulging in some lounging about, a bit of shopping, lots of lovely chats and an incredible quantity of sweet treats. The number of cookies, cupcakes, cinnamon rolls and chocolate consumed around here in the last three days is impressive. We had to pull a kringle out of the freezer this morning because we were getting dangerously low on baked goods.

I hope you, too, are enjoying many Christmas treats! I sincerely wish you the best of the holiday season. Thank you for being a part of our lives over the past many months and may the new year bring joy and light and wonderful adventures.

Rhymes With Nifty Hive

My relationship with Bob began at a dinner held in his honor. In December of 2002, I had been working for Bob for only a few months and while we were professional at the office, our affection for one another was becoming clear. He was celebrating his 43rd birthday and asked if I would join him and a small group of friends at a restaurant in Old Town. I didn’t want to meet his friends for the first time without backup so I begged my best friend and her husband to come along, too.

I remember being nervous that night. I also remember laughing a lot. Having a fun, flirtatious time. It was a birthday but also a beginning. Bob often points to that birthday, that night, as the start of it all. His birthday wish granted.

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Three years and one wedding later, just ten days after he turned 46 years old, I gave Bob what could arguably be described as the best birthday present ever, a brand new baby.

We spent the days surrounding Bob’s birthday and Henry’s arrival, over Christmas of 2005, assembling the crib, giving our Shetland Sheepdog extra attention and hypothesizing over whether we were having a girl or a boy. We had decided against putting up a Christmas tree that year because we knew we would have our hands full both before and after the holidays but our friends wouldn’t have it. They delivered a freshly cut tree in the back of their pickup truck with one of them dressed as Santa.

I used to make fancy pressed coffee for us on weekend afternoons and I can remember sitting around in our tiny house, sipping coffee and appreciating the scent of the huge Christmas tree that took up half the real estate in our living room. This was the last of Bob’s birthdays that we would spend as a party of two.

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A few years later and with the addition of one baby Charlie, Bob’s 50th birthday looked very different. The entire Washington metro area was in the midst of a massive snow storm and I had waited in line for over an hour at the grocery store, with hundreds of other panicked shoppers, to buy ingredients for his special dinner.

I had purchased a new flat-screen television for Bob in honor of his birthday but had stashed it in our neighbor’s basement weeks before to keep it a surprise. The streets were covered in a few feet of snow so navigating the large, heavy box back to our house in secret proved challenging. My former neighbor and I still laugh about the two of us walking down our Del Ray street, in the dark of evening, with a huge TV box awkwardly hoisted between us. We looked like we were taking advantage of the bad weather to loot.

Bob spent his 50th birthday shoveling snow with Henry and napping with Charlie. On the sofa. In front of his new TV.

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Millie arrived in time for Bob’s 52nd birthday; such a bundle of joy. We were still reeling from the addition of a third child – a girl! – when we celebrated.

I gifted Bob with a painting for his birthday that year. I handed my father a photograph of a particularly wonderful moment during a particularly wonderful weekend Bob and I had spent with the boys earlier in the spring and my dad recreated it on canvas. It is precious.

We put our house on the market only a couple of weeks after Bob’s birthday so I remember this time being especially hectic with punch lists and things to do. I don’t believe we even hung the painting until we were relocated to Richmond.

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Tomorrow, Bob turns 55. I’m not sure what he thought 55 would look like way back in 2002, when we were making googly eyes at one another across the table at the Union Street Public House, but I’m pretty sure neither of us envisioned this.

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This birthday will probably be a lot like every other birthday Bob’s had since we’ve been together. Much the same but also different. This year, my parents will be here to help celebrate. I will make a favorite dinner for Bob and present him with baked goods and a present and try my hardest to make his big day, only five days before Christmas, a special one.

A special day for a very special man. Happy birthday, my love.