It was an exciting day, right from the beginning. For almost a month now, I’ve kept a clear coffee cup full of M&M’s on a high shelf in Zooey’s room. The idea was to work on counting, on subtraction, but it turned mostly into daily chocolate on the level of an obsession. Still, the past few days, when a cup full of candies had turned into a few, recognizable, colorful, countable shapes, like the final grains of sand inside an hourglass, the excitement built to a crescendo. The day before her birthday, she wanted to eat them both. “It doesn’t work like that,” I told her.
So yesterday morning, we greeted Zooey with “Happy birthday!” and I made waffles at her request. Then I went to work in my office and Sonja started cooking. Zooey and Titus got to play with Play Doh, and otherwise with one another, all morning. After nap, Zooey requested Toy Story 2, which delighted me as my gift to her was an “authentic” Jessie doll. She is obsessed with Jessie lately; her pull-ups come in mixed boxes of Minnie and Jessie, and she shuns the Minnie ones until we run out of Jessie. Like almost everything else Zooey does, it’s rather cute.
For dinner, Sonja had made a lasagna. It was truly excellent. I paired a Louvau Vineyard Cab Sauv from Tom Meadowcroft with it, and they soon became good friends. The kids ate their lasagna, the whole time staring at Zooey’s cake. Titus, who would spend three hours eating dinner if he had his druthers, was done before I was. At last, it was time for cake!
Zooey could not contain herself. Sonja had baked a beautiful cake, made her own frosting, and decorated it with figurines from Frozen. She was squirming and giggling with excitement, and after she got all three candles blown out and we were all applauding her, she all but erupted in mirth. Sonja and I just looked at each other and smiled. Even in quarantine, it was possible to have an amazing birthday after all.
With the cake I paired a little-known secret: Sutter Home Triple Creme. You can only get it at the winery, and a .375 is like $6. I know that a lot of what they make is bottom shelf plunk, but when we visit Napa, Sonja and I stop by most times to buy shippers (most people don’t sell them) and triple creme. Check it out sometime.
After dinner, we went downstairs where Sonja had connected the television to her laptop, so we had a seventy-inch Zoom with immediate family. All of the grandmas and grandpas were there, as well as Titus and Zooey’s only aunt, uncle, and cousin. Zooey unwrapped her presents deftly — “it’s like opening an orange,” her big brother instructed, and when Titus started to feel a bit left out I was able to point him toward a little white package that my parents had sent, containing a book full of stories about PJ Masks. He had a present too! We soon said goodbye to everyone, and the kids spent the next half hour playing with all of Zooey’s new toys. Then it was time for bed.
Sonja had taken me aside the other day, tears in her eyes. Our kids are going stir-crazy, as we are, and at times we fear it is impacting their behavior. Of course, dying a painful death from a disease that attacks your respiratory capacity would be, arguably, far worse than feeling lonely, but I still understand what she’s saying. The fact that we were able to have a “party” for Zooey, and make her third birthday special, was very meaningful to us. I told Sonja that I suspect one day the kids will learn about the pandemic of 2020 in school, realize they were alive in 2020, and have to ask us about what it was like. I hope so anyway. We do our best to make things feel normal around here — although we will be having large slices of chocolate cake for breakfast today!
As ever, thanks for reading, thanks for your friendship and support. Be good to each other, stay safe, and remember that this will all be over in due course. Until next time, take good care.