This week marked a milestone in American history. A birthday celebration of such magnitude that the nation sat up a little straighter in their Laz-E-Boys and took notice. I speak not of the Fourth of July, but of the First of July, also known as the short people’s 10th birthday.
As most of you know, I am a cynical and distrustful person. By and large I do not care for the general public and feel that 90% of our society is more fucked up than a fraternity pledge during Hell Week. So when I come across certain individuals that make me catch my breath and gaze heaven-upward in wonder it is a thing of supreme beauty. Fortunately for me, I live with two such individuals, and every time I ponder the fact that some divinity made the colossal fucking mistake of choosing me to be responsible for their lives I drop to my knees in thanks. They are not just exemplary children; they make everyone who comes in contact with them a better person by osmosis, myself included. Therefore, I knew that we couldn’t possibly let their first double-digit birthday go by without some form of revelry. The boys spent the morning with Gil, and I promised them a surprise when I picked them up. Then I texted my sister, Holly.
When I picked up the boys, neither one was wearing a shirt.
“Umm,” I asked Gil, “could you grab some shirts for them before we go?”
He shrugged absently. “Oh. It’s kinda hot today. You didn’t say they’d need shirts.”
I stared at him blankly for a moment. “Seriously? What possible scenario did you envision for today that DIDN’T involve shirts? NASCAR? A tractor pull? An episode of ‘Cops’?”
He muttered something that sounded vaguely like “smart ass bitch” and returned with some additional clothing for the short people. Of course, the boys had each shot up a good three inches this last month and as Gil is too cheap to actually spend money on new shirts they each looked like Winnie the Pooh. However, this was not the hill I wanted to die on, so, thus armed, we headed off to Incredible John’s.
When we arrived, Holly was waiting by the door, armed with gifts and a wary expression. “Holy crap,” she whispered to me as we entered “you weren’t kidding about this place. It’s freaking HUGE!”
I rolled my eyes. “And insane. Between the music and the lights and the chaos you’ll feel like you’re at a rave, only with less ecstasy and more shitty pizza.”
Armed with our game cards the short people began clamoring for pizza so we made our way to the buffet. Granted, the counters were well-wiped and each buffet line was armed with the health code mandated “sneeze bar” but watching the myriad children weaseling their greasy paws over each slice of pizza and fruit before making their selection made my stomach churn. For someone so paranoid about germs that every time I use a public restroom I hang from the bars in the handicapped stall, dangling over the seat like Mary Lou Retton, this was a horror of near-epic proportions. But I sucked it up and just reached into my purse and started whipping out antibacterial wipes like a coked-up blackjack dealer while chirping “Isn’t this GREAT!” in my best impersonation of a good mother.
As we ate, the boys opened their gifts; a Play-Doh bakery set for M and a Pokemon DS game for J. This of course led to a 30 minute discussion of all things Pokemon until both Holly and I were ready to lose our shit.
“Hey!” I cried to J “Let’s play a fun game! It’s called ‘Mommy Gives You a Quarter For Every Minute You Don’t Talk About Pokemon!’”
J looked at me with quiet contempt. “You know, it wouldn’t kill you to be a little supportive, Mommy.”
“I’m supportive!” I cried. “Didn’t I take you to see ‘The Avengers’? . . .Twice?”
“Hah!” Holly snorted “And I’m sure Jeremy Renner and Chris Hemsworth had NOTHING to do with that bit of quality parenting!”
I rolled my eyes and took a sip of my coffee while J shook his head disapprovingly. “You know, Mommy” he stated soberly “this is how those TV movies start. You aren’t supportive, I run away from home, then I get sold on the black market and you wind up working as a coed call girl.”
Holly and I gaped at him in astonishment. “OK, that’s it” I said “tomorrow morning I’m cancelling the cable TV.”
Once sufficiently nourished by pizza and soft serve ice cream, the short people darted off to the gaming area while Holly fortified herself at the wine bar and I settled in for some quality people watching. Now, “family fun centers” attract a certain breed of people anyway, but in Portland? Oh, honey. . .suffice to say, if there were a Freakshow Hunger Games then Portland would have the Career Tributes. Every. Damned. Year. That day I was surrounded by a coterie of individuals who looked like they rode in on the short prison bus, with more neck tattoos and gold chains than a Flo Rida video. One family in particular was of fascination to me as the mother had more facial piercings that that dude in “Hellraiser” and the dad had a set of Pamela Anderson-like man boobs that bobbed and wobbled like a couple of drunken sorority girls every time he swung the Whack-a-Mole mallet. We had sat across from them in the dining area and both Holly and I were enraptured by the family’s ability to decimate a good 12 pounds of chicken wings in under a minute. But just as I was on the cusp of getting arrested for stalking the Clan of the Cave Bear, my son M ran up asking to use the restroom.
Generally these places are pretty safe, but as M has autism I am loathe to let him into a men’s room alone as I have a paranoia that every stall is inhabited by some itchy-fingered tweaker, lurking there like ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Molester’ ready to go all Catholic priest on my son. I wrangled my son J and after listening to him gripe for five minutes about “not being M’s babysitter” I convinced him to lean into the strike zone and take one for the team.*
*There may also have been some bribery involved. Don’t judge.
After they emerged, both boys were begging to go on some of the watered-down carnival rides featured at Incredible John’s. J both showed mad skills at the bumper cars; crashing and weaving like Lindsay Lohan leaving the Viper Room. . .
. . .and M tore it up on the motorcycles, yo.*
*Although he got totally confused when I asked if he was Ponch or John. Pfft! These kids today have no appreciation of the classics.
Then M spotted the ultimate; the Octopus ride in the center of the play area that spun and raised off of the ground. He grabbed his brother’s hand and pulled him toward the entrance but J balked. J, for all of his bravado is a fearful child and I could see him torn between his anxiety and his unwillingness to wuss out in front of his brother.
“Dude!” Holly cried. “You’re ten years old now! If you lived in the Ozarks you’d be a Baby Daddy already. Man up!”
Despite Holly’s attempt to boot J’s ass like a Puerto Rican place-kicker, J stayed grounded and instead pulled my sister’s hand toward the prize area, where he could trade in his game tickets for worthless pieces of crap. When M and I met them there minutes later, Holly grabbed my arm.
“Hey look!” she chortled gleefully “for only 1215 credits you could get me that plush dildo.”
“Wait. . .what? No. . .it. . .that has to be a Schmoo, right?” I stammered.
Holly snorted derisively, “I don’t know what cartoons you were watching in the 70’s but I don’t recall the Schmoo being flesh-toned and having a ballsack.”
I glanced to the left of the offending toy. “Hey! Speaking of ballsacks is Patrick popping a chubby? That ‘nautical nonsense be nothing I wish’, yo.”
Holly squinted judiciously, “Maybe he just pissed his pants. Apparently ‘absorbent and yellow and porous ain’t he’”. We dissolved into paroxysm of laughter as M approached, his hands filled with glorious plastic bounty.
“What’s so funny?” he asked with a furrowed brow. Wise child that he is, M is aware that when I am hysterically laughing it is generally always preceded or followed by some form of inane dickery that is apt to end in disaster.
“Nothing, Pumpkin Pie”, my sister cooed sweetly. “Mommy just told Auntie Holly a silly knock-knock joke.” M stared her down like a Gitmo detainee and sidled away suspiciously.
As we were driving home, M sang softly along to Jay-Z and J moaned quietly.
“Everything OK back there, J-Man?” I asked, peering at him in the rearview mirror.
“I don’t feel good, Mommy,” he whimpered, “I think I have stomach flu or mono or something.”
Now most parents would be alarmed by this statement but in addition to J being something of a wuss, he is also a raging hypochondriac.*
*Yeah, I know. He’s gotta get over that shit or he’s gonna get his ass kicked in middle school.
As I am used to J’s “Boy Who Cried Lupus” routine, I inquired as to the symptoms de jour: Stomach ache. Nausea. Bloating.
I paused for a moment. “Out of curiosity, in addition to the pizza and ice cream we just had, what did you eat at Daddy’s today?”
J thought for a moment. “Umm. . .doughnuts for breakfast. Oh yeah! And we went to McDonald’s for lunch. Oh, and Daddy let us have Doritoes in the truck on the way to the store.” He looked up in horror. “Why? Do you think it was poisoned?”
I smiled reassuringly. “Oh, Sweetie. When we get home Mommy’s going to read to you from a silly little book called ‘Fast Food Nation’. It’ll all make sense then. . .OK? OK?. . .Sweetie?”
I glanced in the rearview mirror to see J slumped over on his brother’s shoulder, both boys fast asleep and quietly snoring, their plastic Slinky’s and rubber snakes clenched in their sticky hands. Looking at them cuddled up together, I couldn’t help but flash back to ten years prior when they entered the world prematurely. M, weighing just under three pounds, and J weighing a terrifying pound and a half.
Ten years ago I thought I’d seen a miracle, but now I know that the miracle was not in their birth but in their survival. These boys who were never meant to survive have beaten all of the odds and lived and loved and laughed harder and stronger in the last ten years than most of us do in a lifetime. So, when people ask me how, in a world as crazy and tragic as this, I can still believe in God, I can honestly tell them: because I see Him each and every day.
Happy birthday, boys. Mommy loves you to the moon and stars and back again.