On your eighth birthday . . .
I shut your bedroom door, as quietly as I could, to keep the cat out, but you woke up anyway, a full hour earlier than normal. Sleep still in your eyes and with your over-sized pink nightgown, a shoulder peeping out playing peek-a-boo. I wished you a happy birthday and ensconced you in a too-tight hug before you plopped yourself on the sectional and watched YouTube Kids videos until it was time to get ready for school.
When we walked out to my blue Buick, I told you to look in the front yard for a surprise. Granny had the yard Sign Gypsy-ed, and it shouted “Happy 8th Birthday Little Thing” to the entire neighborhood for the whole day. We requested a cat theme, but they gave you a purple, pink, gold, and gray girly display instead. It featured a present-laden birthday llama; I promise I didn’t request it. Your eyes widened in delight at the surprise, and your grin, oh that grin baby girl, it was so wide that you would have thought that we surprised you with a trip to Disney World.
I jammed to Taylor Swift’s Red album while driving, and you, as always, continued to watch YouTube Kids, a video about fairy circles. You chimed in with “I knew you were trouble when you walked in” in all the right places like you were a tiny background singer on autopilot. Nana and Papa Blob called to sing you happy birthday. Papa Blob butchered “Happy Birthday” even worse than he did when you turned seven. When we stopped at the last, long red light before reaching our destination, you said your throat hurt a little. I told you to grab your water bottle, which I normally wouldn’t send with you but the school’s water fountains are turned off because of coronavirus, but you informed me that I didn’t pack it. Then I realized that I didn’t pack you a snack either. Momentarily, horrible mother guilt mindset kicked in, how dare I not pack my baby girl water and snack on her birthday, but then I remembered the glove department emergency snacks and figured I’d steal a coworker’s extra bottle of water for you. At least I managed to tuck some birthday Oreos into your lunchbox, I thought.
You pulled on your favorite, pink kitty mask, adjusting it over your ears and moving its llama lanyard out of your face, after you climbed out of the backseat. I’m always afraid you’re going to tumble out and break your femur or your head wide open because the backseat isn’t roomy and your backpack is heavier than you are. Your gold headband with the beaded bow twinkled in the early morning light. The sky is pink you said. Half a moon hung in it too. You seemed droopy, but I chalked it up to your early morning wake up.
In the library, your friends surprised you with a card. One of your friends, the librarian’s daughter, tried to gift you the library’s copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
When you climbed into my car after school, you were wearing a different mask, the backup one covered in conversation candy hearts. I asked How was your day? Did you have a good birthday at school? You huffed, Yes, but I had TWO nosebleeds AND I’m getting da bad sneezes. I heard the congestion, phlegmy and liquid, in your normally chirpy voice. I made sure a tissue box was in arm’s reach of your seat and passed back the only pair of sunglasses, a cheap promotion from a college bar–fire engine red with Captain Morgan written on the side, in the car to help combat your sneezes. After you let down your wildly long hair from its daily ponytail, you sighed in relief. You looked too grown and cool, like a snuffly badass.
I offered you birthday dinner from anywhere, but you just wanted noodles, edamame, strawberries, and chocolate milk. You worked on your homework while I was in the kitchen, but before I could finish dinner, you escaped into your room’s darkness, hiding from the sunlight like a vampire. Da bad sneezes lived up to their name.
Granny came over for cake, ice cream, and “Happy Birthday.” We couldn’t find a candle. The week before, you declared you wanted a Harry Potter scavenger hunt, complete with a Hermione Granger Halloween costume to wear while scavenging. So even though I’d already spent the money I had set aside for your birthday, I made it happen because COVID-19 sucks and you couldn’t have a party. I spent an hour writing clues and wrapped your presents the night before. The scavenger hunt was so worth it. You looked exactly like a tiny Hermione Granger/Emma Watson when you donned your Gryffindor robes. The clues lead you to Hermione’s wand, some LOL Surprise Dolls, Floop, a glittery pink phone stand, the Knight Bus LEGO set, and a build your own robot set. You loved all the gifts. Your eyes sparkled and you twirled and magic-spelled your way through the clues, but I could tell that you were feeling puny.
You played with your Floop and then tried to build the robot with Daddy, which was a silly idea because Daddy was broken. He was having surgery the next morning to repair a ruptured biceps tendon and had been sporting a sling for two weeks. I had been outside walking and would have argued against even opening its box. Luckily, your aunt, uncle, and cousin in Illinois Facetimed you, and I put the robot away. You talked with them for quite a while, showing off your completed LEGO sets and your rainbow artwork displayed on the refrigerator, and all of a sudden, you got that I-can’t-function-any-longer-look-in-your-eye, and asked your aunt, Is it okay if I go to bed now? And you abruptly ended the conversation–because you were done with the day, even though it was your birthday.
You met Buckbeak before you went to bed because you insisted that I read to you despite your yawns and your sneezes. We listened to Lady Gaga’s and Ariana Grande’s Rain on Me, for the millionth time, while I braided your hair. I turned the lights off, put the cat away, brought you some water, and turned on your nightlight. You climbed out of bed, no longer able to form words, and tried to turn your night light off, too bright for your sneezy eyes. You accidentally looked directly into it, starting an uncontrollable sneezing fit. I turned it off. You climbed back in bed and closed your eyes.
You were snuffly and ethereal.
And I tucked you in, my little tuckered-out birthday girl.