Last week was my birthday. It was a pretty ordinary day. I had to work long hours that day and I was recovering from a thankfully short-lived stomach bug. Also, I didn't really want to make a big deal of it for two reasons: one, I am old! 38 is a big number and 40 is looming in the not-so-distant future. And really, once you have a kid, your birthday just doesn't mean what it used to.
That said, it's still nice to be celebrated. I don't like to make a fuss, I get embarrassed when people sing, I don't need to go to a fancy restaurant or have a big party (though I have done all of the above at one point or another). But it's nice when people remember, even when Facebook reminds them, and it's nice that people take the time out to celebrate my day, and to wish me happiness. I like that. And I got lots of Facebook comments. I got cards in the mail and an e-card in my inbox. I got emails and calls from people I'm close to and from people I haven't heard from in ages. And when I got home from work, my family was waiting for me with a card, a gift, a bouquet of flowers and the very best thing, a big toothy glompy kiss from a smiley baby. Life is good.
On this birthday, I got a few small gifts that I love. I also got something invaluable. Thora's grandma gifted us her time, offering to drive 200 miles each way to come to stay with Thora for the evening while we went out for dinner. So generous! And. Terrifying. Up until then, we had never left Thora with anyone else, ever. Not family, not friends, not a babysitter. This is by choice. It's not that we don't have a Nana and a G-Ma and lots of friends close by who would babysit at a moment's notice. It's that I like being with her, so I don't ask. I miss my baby all day so I live for evenings and weekends with her. I don't mind taking her with us anywhere we go. But Thora's Grandma doesn't see us that often. So I was honored. But I fretted. And stressed. I missed my kid in advance. I worried about checking in too much, and also not enough. And I was secretly, and then not so secretly, excited. So we thought big. We priced theater tickets. We debated restaurants... Candle 79? Blossom? V-Note? We discussed drinks before or dessert afterward. We were getting a little crazy. But then I worried that we'd be spending a ton of money on plans that I wouldn't really enjoy because I'd be so busy missing Thora. So we scaled back.
We kept it simple and cheap, deciding to head to our old favorite, Yaffa Cafe on St. Mark's Place. We could get home in a half hour if we suddenly had to and we'd inconvenience no one with lost tickets, canceled reservations, whatever. I got more and more excited. What would I wear? Heels? Makeup? The weather threatened to cancel all of our plans by dumping 20 inches of snow on Boston, making Grandma unsure that she'd even be able to make it. But we crossed our fingers and by the time our evening rolled around she was here and we were ready and before I knew it, Johnny was pulling me out the door. I was wearing rain boots instead of heels and lip balm instead of makeup. My clothes couldn't quite hide the baby weight I'm still carrying around with me and they were stained with breastmilk. Picking Cheerios out of my hair, I was out the door with my husband and our child was not with us.
As we walked over the bridge to the train, we both felt like we were missing something. "I forgot something, but I can't think of what!' I said. "I feel so light," Johnny said. "No stroller, no mei tai, no diaper bag... this is weird!"
Yaffa was perfect, as always. Our salads were as predictably good as they are every time we order them (and I have been ordering the same exact salads at Yaffa for two decades now). We were mildly annoyed by other people's conversations but then I was kind of amazed that we could even hear them. When you're in a restaurant with a baby, people at surrounding tables are usually too focused on you to get into their own conversations and you are too focused on the fact that strangers are focusing on you for you to have much of a conversation of your own. Usually it's because they think your baby is really cute so they wave and coo and instead of talking to your husband you have to say stupid things like, "Are you waving, Thora? Are you making friends?" Other times it's because your baby is tired or fussy and is not into mealtime so she throws stuff, bangs her spoon or is just generally a handful so your neighbors keep a wary eye on you expecting it to get worse and to have something really horrible to bitch about and you try to eat fast and get out of there before you give them a reason to give you the eye they are already giving you. Luckily with Thora those times are pretty rare. Also we don't eat out that much.
Of course I had my phone next to me. Johnny tried to engage me by asking me about movies I saw as a kid and my favorite TV shows growing up. I was more absorbed in my Droid. The text conversation looked like this:
Me: We just got to the restaurant. How is everything?
Grandma: Fine. We are clapping.
Me: Fun! I will try not to bother you too much. :-)
Grandma: Any and every time you want.
Grandma: (sends video of Thora reading a book.)
Me: Aww! Made my heart smile. Thank you!
Grandma: Mega poop. Good thing we decided to take a bath!
Me: Oh wow. Let me know if you need me to help you find anything.
Grandma: All good.
Me: We left the restaurant and are now going to have coffee and dessert. Is that okay?
And so on. You get the idea. I am sure I drove her crazy but I was thrilled to get a photo a few minutes later with the caption "ready 4 bed" with a sleepy Thora in her Grandma's arms.
That's when I relaxed, finally.
We got into it. We walked arm in arm and then lingered over tea and cake. We walked from the East Village all the way up to Times Square, chatting excitedly and making random stops along the way. Thora was in excellent hands, the weather was briskly cool but enjoyable, and I was out on a date with my love. I missed my daughter but I knew she was fine and happy and, at that point, sleeping. I was proud of myself that I was able to leave but I was also really looking forward to getting back home. All was right with the world. It was a great birthday! Thank you, Grandma.