Wednesday, April 23, 2008


In Which We Are (still) Companions on the Journey...

Either we're getting older or the drive is getting longer, but we are all of us physically and emotionally drained, whupped, just plain beat, having returned last night from a visit to Ohio and the extended family. April has always been a busy time for my family--in a good way, typically--and that generally translates into a lot of parties and celebrations and, as in this case, one hell of a drive on someone's part to get there.

My nephew had his First Communion on Sunday which, as his godfather, I was compelled to attend (it's a law for Catholics, you know. The Pope called me up and told me). Truth is, I would have gone even if I weren't under papal edict. I love watching kids handle new challenges and this was a big one for young master Gregory (or "Greggy," as Thomas called him when he was a baby). Now, when I mention challenges, I'm not talking about getting up in front of a church full of people and partaking of the body and blood of our Lord, although standing front and center in front of God and everybody like that can be a bit of an intimidating event, you know.

No, in this case, I'm talking about the post-Communion party. From a kid's perspective, this has got to be the weirdest damn thing. I mean, it has all the trappings, all the vibe, all the parentally telegraphed preparatory fluster of a birthday party, right, and so you're initially excited. Who wouldn't be? I mean, your parents spent the morning laying in food, getting a cake, putting up a few streamers or balloons (if you really want to go all out). And when you get back from church, not only is there cake, but there's a stack of presents for you too.

But then you get deeper into the event and the weirdness of it gives your little brains a turn. The house is full of people, just like at a birthday party, but they're adults as well as kids (and in fact the only kids are your cousins--no friends), and they're all dressed up. And while everyone is chatting and interacting, they're all so subdued, or at least struggling to be on their best behavior. If you were a little older and had a little more experience in the world, you'd be able to put your finger on it--everyone's acting like they're at a funeral.

And when you finally sit down to open the presents, the weirdness is complete. Because the presents are nothing you'd want. At all. Ever. Sure, there are some cards, and a couple contain a check or even a savings bond, but the rest of it? It's all rosary beads and statues of the Virgin Mary, and not one but two pewter plaques with a profile of Jesus, almost like He's posing for His mug shot.

That's the part I love the most, watching a kid struggle through something so contradictory as opening religious presents. He's old enough to know he's supposed to be polite and gracious, and to look up and smile at the assembled throng that is now circling him. He knows he's supposed to look genuinely happy and to thank each person. He may even be required to offer himself up to the depredations of a grabby, overly affectionate relative--usually a female one who's a little on the plump, bosomy, lilac-scented side. But struggle though he might to be the very model of a well-mannered young man, there's something in his eyes that gives him a way, that seems to say, "What the hell's going on here?"

Luckily for my godson, I have undertaken it as my person mission to be The Cool Uncle, so when Greg sat down next to me to tuck into some well-earned cake, I did my mind-reading trick.

"So, two pewter Jesuses, huh? What's up with that?" I asked.

He looked at me with a mixture of gratitude and alarm. Gratitude at having his inner-most thoughts validated. Alarm, I guess because he was worried for one second that he might have said something aloud, instead of merely thinking it. Then he smiled. "What am I supposed to do with them?" he whispered.

"Well, when I got my two pewter Jesuses at my Communion party--one was a plaque like yours, the other was a statue--I put them in the drawer with my underwear. Later, my brother accidentally melted them on the kitchen stove."

Greg snorted a little bit of cake up his nose as I said this. "He melted--?"

"The pewter stuff. Not my underwear!"

"Oh. You can do that?"

"Yeah, but not today, okay? Nothing stinks up the house like a melted pewter savior." This caused much giggling, after which I said, "How about we play catch instead? Thomas and I brought our gloves." And so we spent the afternoon in the damp, loamy backyard, throwing the ball around and getting grass and mud stains on our Sunday best.

The next day, as you know, was the Éclair's birthday. Unlike her cousin, she got lots of real presents, although being 1, she wasn't really sure what to do with them. Luckily, she had about four cousins and two siblings who were practically tearing their hair out for the suspense and frustration of trying to get her to open the things. In fact, my niece Grace, who has become a real pistol, decided she wasn't going to wait for that silly baby, and started opening all the presents herself, when nobody was looking.

Except for the Big Sister.

The Brownie, who doesn't often get to be anyone bigger and more intimidating in her own house, stomped over to little Grace and said, in a low voice, "Hey. What do you think you're doing?"

Grace just gave her a look and turned back to the business of opening the Éclair's presents. "I couldn't believe it, Dad," she told me later, her every molecule vibrating with indignation. "You should have seen the face she made. It was a Boss-of-the-World face. I wanted a glass of water on her head!" she blurted, having come to worst thing she could think of doing.

"Wow," I sympathized. "How rude. I can't imagine some little girl giving me a look like she was Boss of the World."

The Brownie stared at me for a beat, then decided to let the irony go whizzing over her head. "Anyways, I didn't dump water on her. But I did tell her I was going to get her mommy if she didn't stop."

"And that worked?" I asked.

The Brownie squinted her eyes at the memory. "No. So I gave her money instead."

I was thunderstruck. The Brownie is a regular Scrooge McDuck, hoarding every quarter she gets, every penny she finds stuck to the sidewalk. But...paying off a 3-year-old? I didn't know whether to be aghast or impressed. I went with impressed.

"That was a very creative solution, and awfully nice of you to look out for your little sister like that," I finally said. "And it was very generous of you to use your own money."

Her smile disappeared, replaced by her most serious look. "Oh, Dad, I didn't use my money. I got some out of the wallet on the counter." And then, as I looked wildly around for the counter in question, she dashed off to rejoin the party, leaving me to spend the rest of the afternoon figuring out a way to steal a 20-dollar bill from a 3-year-old and slip it back in my father-in-law's wallet without anyone catching me.

Meanwhile, the Éclair finally figured out how to rip the wrapping paper off her many boxes, most of which turned out to be clothes, which she enjoyed flinging at people far more than trying on. Then she opened the big gift, a plastic fire truck that she can sit astride and scoot around the floor on. Or she can once her legs get a little longer. For the moment, she was content to sit with her feet up, hands grasping the handlebars, while her big brother pushed her just a little too fast around the downstairs hallways. Later, there was cake, which she both ate and wore.

The next morning--this would be yesterday--all of us headache-y and more than a little cranky--no doubt it was a massive, collective, sugar hangover--we drove the nearly 11 hours back home. I kept thinking the day was special in some way, but couldn't put my finger on what it was. The best Thomas could come up with was that it was Earth Day. All Her Lovely Self could recall was that it was my grandfather's birthday--he would have been 89. I was impressed that she remembered--I should have recalled it myself.

The best I could come up with was the lame notion that it was the Day Before Our Anniversary. Which isn't so lame, when you think about it. I mean, New Year's Eve and Christmas Eve aren't lame. Why should My Wedding Eve be lame? The original one--April 22, 1994--sure wasn't. I spent it having a gunfight, almost breaking my leg, serenading Her Lovely Self, and almost getting arrested for disturbing the peace.

But this year, mentioning that it was the DBOA gave my bride something of a jolt. "Oh God! You know, what with all the plans we've been making for other things, I kind of forgot that tomorrow is our anniversary," she said, then laughed. I didn't exactly share her mirth--can you imagine if I forgot our anniversary? There sure as hell wouldn't be any laughing, I can tell you that.

But I understood, I really did. Between making plans for this trip and plans for the Brownie's birthday party (coming up soon) and helping me finish settling the last of my parents' affairs, and dealing with her own health issues, my wife has been the very model of the overscheduled woman. That last factor, in particular, has been something of a drain on her emotional and physical resources. Because of her Crohn's Disease, Her Lovely Self has been trying to make some healthy changes to her lifestyle. Some weeks ago, she shifted herself over to a diet virtually free of processed foods, heavy on organic, preservative-free stuff. She's even gone so far as to grind her own grain into flour (something our old blender--a wedding present, coincidentally enough--just wasn't ready for). That's helped some of her symptoms, but it has by no means cured her. So just recently, she finally secured an appointment at the Mayo Clinic in an effort to get some kind of last word on the extent of her condition and a sense of what she can do next. But making that appointment has made it necessary for her to make other plans, including what to do with the kids while we're gone for an overnight. In short, I can see how she might have overlooked our anniversary, and I certainly didn't hold it against her.

"I know," she finally said. "For our wedding present to each other, why don't we just take ourselves out to dinner on the weekend and call it good? That will be our present--we'll let each other off the hook."

Well, why not? We get older, the drive gets longer, we feel emotionally and physically drained, but at least we're still on the journey, and we're still on it together. So I agreed. Besides, I really wouldn't want my wife to have the added pressure of worrying about getting some present for me. I can't imagine that I'd even allow myself to enjoy it, knowing that it was just one more damn thing she had to do today.

So now I have only one cause for concern, and it's this:

If we're not giving each other gifts, what the hell am I going to do with this deluxe hi-speed blender I got her (the better to grind your own flour with)?

Maybe I'll just call it an early Mother's Day present? Or a late Earth Day present?

Or perhaps I'll simply call it a very belated--and thoroughly inadequate--present in return for her bestowing on me the biggest gift of all, 14 years ago today.

Happy Anniversary, honey.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Happy anniversary!! I say just call it a "Just because" gift. Good luck to her with treatment. As a fellow sufferer of an IBD I sympathize with the stress of trying to find a cure.
I agree - doesn't matter what you call it, she'll love it and you for the thought. And Happy Anniversary!
I think in this case you can be forgiven for giving appliances instead of jewelery. Just don't try this for birthdays or Christmas.
You could present it as a 'get out of guilt' card for some far off forgotten Anniversary. Right, like that would let you off the hook. Besides, I doubt 'Mr. Mind Like a Steal Trap (I remember my first birthday) would ever forget an Anniversary.

Just give her the blender as a replacement for the broken one. You'll never be able to fake her out, and you know it.
Have the the kids' babysitter put the blender out while you're at dinner over the weekend and don't say anything about it until she notices.
Happy Anniversary! And happy belated birthday to the Eclair.
you seriously need to start giving lessons to all the rest of the husbands in this world. you are the awesomest most careing and thoughtful one out there! i'm sure she'll love it no matter what :) happy anniversary!
Is it pure coincidence or a little bit creepy (or both) that my husband's dog is named Blaze and our wedding anniversary is the same day as yours?
Happy Anniversary to HLS and MM. Two of the most wondefulest people that I don't actually know but wish I did.

Mother's day is coming up.
You and Her Lovely Self share the day with my husband and I. We were married on the same day...and year. The internet makes this world seem so much smaller.
I hope you enjoyed your day...and here is to lucky 14.

Our daughter will be making her First Communion in a few weeks and her brother has already warned her that the presents she gets will not be "fun" ones. Except, for Buggy, ANYTHING is fun. She does not care, as long as she gets a new dress and new shoes. THAT is the draw for her.
Happy Anniversary, and just give her the blender because she can use it. I think a night out (or in, depending) together is the best way to celebrate an anniversary.
A very happy anniversary to you both! And, MM, the First Communion memories are spot on. Great stuff.
Please tell me you got her a blendtec.

I *heart* my blendtec...

And yes, it does grind wheat--beautifully. I just don't know what we did before we got it...
Funny, I just got done reading Frank McCourt's account of his First Communion in Angela's Ashes.

The more I hear about it, the more I'm glad I wasn't raised Catholic.

Have a good anniversary.
Happy Anniversary!

Has HLS looked into celiac disease? I'm currently being tested for it, and Crohn's seems to come up a lot on the celiac message boards. Just a thought!
ygcrtdHappy Anniversary! Just last year I told My Sweetie, "From now on let's forget about gifts and just do cards for anniversaries and Valentine's Day." I hope HLS has good luck at the Mayo Clinic. And the blender? Just unwrap it and say, "I got you a new blender."
aw, happy belated anniversary, MM!
Your anniversary isn't the same as mine and none of my dogs have been named Blaze.
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