I dropped Vinnie off at work 3pm, then made my way to the bank. Right before my turn, I get a call. “Mom, the Chef messed up, he does not need me until 5.” Instead of turning left, I made a quick, messy, U-turn, heading back to pick Vinnie up. “No Mom, it’s cool, I can wait until 5.” There was no way I was going to have him wait two hours just to start work. Plus, I was just up the road. “I will pick you up, but you are coming with me to run my errands.”
At the grocery store, I had a list. A very specific list that included cat food, ice cream, vodka, and something for dinner. Vinnie and I are walking around the store, somewhat at a fast, brisk pace.
“Mom, that’s a rip-off. Seven dollars for strawberry’s?!”
“Look at the sign, it is two for seven.”
“There’s like a strawberry place up the road where you can go pick them yourself!”
I find it both funny and endearing now that he is making his own money, he pays attention to the price tag.
“No, those are blackberries and no one keeps up with it. The field is dry and gross.”
This pretty much sums up our exchange during the forty-five minutes we were in Fred Meyer.
“Nine dollars for a frozen pizza? The cheap ones are 2.99!”
“Gracie can’t eat the cheap ones, she needs gluten-free.”
“So let me get this straight, it cost more money to make sure your kid eats healthy?”
“You catch on quick!”
I would say it was an unexpected learning experience for him and a good one at that.
While in line, Vinnie and I are watching the two teenagers ahead of us arguing with the cashier over some makeup that was supposed to be half off. Looking at the young girl, with different bills in her hand, I already knew she was on a strict budget. She probably had the exact amount of money for her makeup, nothing more, nothing less. I was on a time limit, and getting annoyed that they were arguing over four dollars. I reached my hand into my purse, ready to dig out the difference in the leftover quarters I had accumulated for Vinnie’s bus money.
“Mom! Don’t you have a birthday coming up?”
The cashier gave the young girls the four dollar discount.
“Ummm, let me think, oh yeah it was on Wednesday!”
I despise birthdays.
When I turned thirty, that one, that birthday was a shit-show. I got fired and found out I was pregnant all in the same day. It was horrible. Joe, well, Joe is great about being supportive, and always having a plan to fix things. What he is not so good at is birthdays. My friend, Amanda, came over after she heard I was fired. Actually, the icing on the non-existent birthday cake, both Christin and I were fired on the same day. So Amanda comes over to see how I am doing, not even realizing that Christin was fired as well.
“Jen! I am so sorry this happened to you, and on your birthday too?! Get dressed I am taking you out!”
Are you familiar with how a deer looks in headlights? The deer, innocently crossing a road, and before he knows it he is face to face with the headlights on a car that will determine his fate. This was Joe’s look.
“Wait, it’s your birthday?”
Amanda looks at me, bewildered.
“Yes, it is my birthday, I do not want to talk about it!”
Joe gets up from playing the x-box. Reaches for his wallet, and gives me some money.
“Here, Happy Birthday! Go out with your friend and have a good time.”
Naturally, I threw a fit.
“No thank you! I am not a whore!”
And with that, I left in a dramatic Oscar worth performance and went to my room to cry.
By the time I turned thirty-something I already knew how this whole birthday thing was going to go. It wasn’t. It would be up to me to plan something with the kids and Joe, and quite frankly, I just did not have the energy to plan my own birthday. What I did have the energy for was to finally take the good ole Botox plunge. It had been something I had been thinking about for a long time. I did my research, saved up some money.
On the day of my birthday, I made sure Joe and the kids knew I had a doctor’s appointment for “female things.” No one questioned it. I had my appointment and honestly, never felt better. This was my well deserved present for myself. And even though Dr. Rex, an older gentleman, who was a little heavy-handed on the Botox for himself, he did a wonderful, subtle job on me. I knew, one way or another, this was something I would keep up with.
As the years went on, I was not able to keep up with my Botox. It was just too much money for what was going on on the home front, and I was okay with that. Birthdays, they still were a “hit or miss.” Some years, Joe would remember and come home with a well picked out card and chocolate. Other years, he would not remember it was my birthday until he received his own birthday card from my own parents in the mail…..three weeks after mine.
“Oh, they did not have to do that, wait….did I miss your birthday?”
I feel like I am now a pro at this.
“Yes you did, it’s okay, we can call it good if you wash the dishes.”
I mean I still have to get something out of this, right? Many times he would try to give me the birthday money that my parents sent him, “I feel bad, just go buy something!”
But, for me, it was never about buying something. Plus, my parents remembered my birthday and had already sent me my own birthday goodies.
This birthday. It was not much different. The Sunday before my birthday, I talked to Dad on the phone.
Dad~ “So, you have a birthday coming up this week?”
Me~ @*$% ($*%&#^@!!
I was over it. There is too much pressure. Pressure that I admittedly put on myself, but still pressure.
First, there is the fifty plus “Happy Birthday” post on Facebook. Which I feel I have to answer each one individually. If these people, my friends, and family took the time to write on my wall, then in my mind I figured the very least I can do is respond to each one individually.
Next, it’s my kids. I feel silly telling them “I have a birthday coming up!” I do not want them to feel pressured into getting me anything, especially since only two of my children work, and the other two, the two that would most likely want to do something, can’t. So I never say anything. I used to hope that Joe would give them the heads up “Mommy has a birthday this week, let’s draw her a picture.” But, Joe has the memory of a shoe, so I was not banking on much.
This is where I need to take a page out of Christin’s book. Every year, without fail, shortly after midnight on the day of our birthday (we happen to share the same birthday) she wakes her family out of their slumber and plays 50 Cent’s “It’s Your Birthday!”
I know this goes over well with her family, as I have been on the phone listening to how her significant other threw his hip out because the music was too loud and woke him out of a quiet slumber.
Thursday morning, the day after my birthday, we had an early start. Gracie was scheduled to have an MRI done. Her Neuro wanted to compare a new MRI to an older one to see if there had been any changes. The goal is, no change. This MRI would be a bit more challenging in the sense that Gracie would not be sedated. And, something as simple as “Gracie, you cannot move.” She will not understand it. In fact, she did not understand it. She asked me “Mom, am I allowed to blink?” She was not trying to be funny, she was serious. This is how the mind of an autistic child works.
Before Joe and the girls and I headed out to her MRI, Joe called all of us together. Right by our foyer, with our belongings in hand, and Vinnie close by, Joe says “Okay, let’s do a quick family prayer.”
The kids and I are giving each other looks as we gather in a circle, join hands and ask God to be with us all today.
We said our good-byes to Vinnie with the promise of texting him to let him know what was going on. Before we hit the road to Tacoma, we stopped at one of my favorite coffee shops. Sofia and I put our order in while Joe and Gracie waited in the car.
As we are waiting for our order, I am looking around the coffee shop. Nervous, but trying to play it off so Sofia would not worry.
There on the counter next to the cream and sugar and stacks of newspapers was a jar, a big glass jar. On this jar was a note that read…
“If you need prayer for anything, family, friends, home/work place finances, etc, B&R would love to pray for you. Just write it down and put it in the jar.”
In that moment, I knew. I felt Joe’s prayer, I felt the prayers from friends and family across the United States. In that moment, birthdays and lack thereof were the furthest thing from mind. I knew, everything would be okay.
And, it was.
There was absolutely no change in her MRI.
I could not have asked for a better birthday present.