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Birthday Adventures... While in Quarantine

Last Thursday was my birthday. I don’t usually make a big deal about my birthday. There’s nothing wrong with birthdays; it’s just that it fell in the middle of the week, and I knew that with the quarantine, there wasn’t much we could do. Still, the day turned out to be a much bigger adventure than I anticipated. In fact, I’d say it was the most mixed-up, backwards birthday I’ve ever had. I also think it was one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had.

What I realize, looking back on that day, is that we all need to give each other grace, especially in times of crisis. If we tolerate what’s happening to us, wait to see what happens, and just go with the flow, we’re sure to be rewarded with some clarity...or at least a good story.

My birthday is on April 2nd (now you all know and can highlight it in your calendars for next year!). Having a birthday in early April can be a crapshoot. Some years there is snow on the ground. Sometimes it’s sunny. Most years it’s rainy or cloudy. But this year, it was brisk but sunny. Ryan had the day off from work, so my only request was that we spend the day together and take a walk.

Actually, I did have one more request: anything BUT pork for dinner. I should back up:

Ryan got a Traeger Grill for Christmas, and lately he’s been obsessed with it. I think it’s a coping mechanism for him. He can’t control the quarantine or the spread of coronavirus. He can’t control the crazy people where he works (and he still has to work), but he CAN smoke meat all day long if he wants.

Side note: because we’ll be talking about “meat” and “pork” for the next few paragraphs, there are bound to be many euphemisms and “that’s what she said!” moments that you could draw out. I’m not going to do that for you so it gives you a fun activity to do on your own as you read. Feel free to print this out and highlight them, making notes and profane doodles in the margins. Consider it “stay-at-home-work.”

Well, Ryan likes to support our friends at the local butcher shop, so on Monday last week, he bought 4 small pork loins and 4 huge pork chops. After Monday night’s pork loins and Tuesday night’s pork chops, I was already a little “over-porked.” Again, you can laugh at your own childish joke that you’ve inserted there.

After 2 days, I was looking forward to something different. Ryan had been taking the leftover pork to work for lunch and eating it cold for breakfast. He didn’t seem to mind, but I really needed something that didn’t previously “oink” for dinner. Unfortunately, on Wednesday, I made the mistake of sending Ryan to the grocery store for a few small things. Why did I let him out of the house unsupervised? Why didn’t I go to the grocery store myself on Wednesday? I’m still asking myself those same questions. .

Ryan walked in proudly, carrying WAY more than what was called for on the small list. He set down the bags and pulled out 2 HUGE pork butts. “They were on sale!” he smiled proudly. I just stared. I was trying really hard to be supportive, but I know my response came off as bitchy. “I do NOT want pork for my birthday,” was all I said through gritted teeth. I blame my bitchiness on all the pork in my system. Have you ever seen a grumpy pig? Well, I have because I grew up on a farm, and that’s what I had become.

“Don’t worry,” Ryan replied. He had a plan, at least. “I’m going to cook it up tomorrow and take it into work on Friday for all of us to eat,” and added something about how at least the staff at work appreciates his cooking.

Wednesday night we ate something boring which I can’t remember. Which was a blessing really. A forgetable, non-porcine meal...just what I needed.

Then it was Thursday, my birthday. Right away, Ryan was up preparing his pork butt that he wanted to cook ALL day. He looked up the perfect recipe, prepared his ingredients, and was so excited. Admittedly, he is really cute when he’s excited about something, so I didn’t mind too much. “Oh, Happy Birthday,” he said to me when he remembered what day it was. He and Maddie made me coffee and a bagel to eat in bed. “Ok,” I thought, “I can deal with his pork obsession today as long as we get time together.”

After our walk down the street (which finalized when Ryan’s timer went off that it was time to turn the pork), he realized he actually WAS missing an ingredient that he needed and would need to run BACK to the store.

I’m not too proud to admit that I get jealous when he gets to go out in public and I’m stuck home with the kids. I hate feeling like a homebody, especially these days when I can’t go anywhere with the kids. He agreed to take one of the kids with him. Neither really wanted to go, despite the fact that they got to ride in the Tesla, our family car that we’re all kind of obsessed with. Finally, we convinced Maddie to go by saying she could pick out a cake to bring home for me.

I was able to spend a few quiet minutes alone, writing, while Sam played on his own. Shortly after, Maddie and Ryan were home. Maddie came into the office where I was working on the computer. “Dad can’t get the cake out of the car,” she said matter-of-factly. “Haha,” I laughed and kept working. I thought maybe it was a leftover April Fool’s joke.

A few minutes later, Ryan walked into the office in a huff. “So…..” he said, “we got you an ice cream cake, and I put it in the front trunk (Tesla’s don’t have an engine, so there’s an extra trunk up front where the engine would be), and now it won’t open. The cake is stuck in the car” What? Seriously? Ryan got on the phone to Tesla technical support. It was some mechanical glitch that we couldn’t fix on our own. They didn’t have any road crews to send our way. We would have to go to the dealership up in Lyndhurst, about an hour and half away.

So many things went through my mind: This is silly, we’re going to drive all the way to Lyndhurst for a cake? Although it is an ice cream cake. It would surely melt all over the inside of the front trunk. Ryan works non-stop the next three days, so there’s no chance of him heading up there another day.

So there it was: someone had to drive an hour and a half north to rescue an ice cream cake before it melted in the front trunk of our car. As I type that sentence, I realize we are part of the privileged, very American, very first-world group of idiots who have problems like this and actually think they’re REAL problems. People who buy ice cream cakes and have front trunks. That’s what sets us apart from the rest of the world.

It was about 3:20, and the dealership closed at 5:00. We had to make a decision and make it fast. Ryan offered to take both kids with him and leave me home alone, knowing how precious alone time is to me. That would mean he’d have 3 hours with the kids in the car, driving in the city, which he hates. Knowing how precious his sanity is to him, I nixed that idea.

He offered to let me go by myself to take the car up to Lyndhurst, but I didn’t really like that idea either. Despite the fact that alone time for me is scarce, I wanted to spend my birthday with my family. Then it hit me--the worst idea in history: Let’s all go together and spend the time together. It’ll be an adventure.

The kids weren’t thrilled about the idea. We bribed and threatened them to get in the car. Maddie was still playing a game on the tablet, so I told her just to get in the car and I would grab her shoes. We were off! The ride up wasn’t totally easy, but it was ok. We managed to keep the kids occupied with stories and talking. Finally, we pulled into the Tesla dealership about 15 minutes before it closed.

“Ok! We’re here!” I said, “Let’s get out and go potty!” (the first thing a mom with small kids thinks of after a long car ride). “Mom, where are my shoes?” asked Maddie. Shhhhiiiiiittttt. I knew I forgot something. Oh well. I couldn’t think of that now because my bladder was about to explode. The technicians took Ryan’s car in, I scooped up Maddie and carried her to the sales department.

The door was locked. Because of Covid-19, their showrooms weren’t open. A saleswoman saw me though, holding a child and looking desperate. She opened the door. “I’m sorry!” I said, “Our car is getting fixed, and we need to use your restroom… it’s been a really long trip…. And…” “Say no more,” she said. She clearly has kids, I thought. She let us in, and I ran back to the restroom, hoping she wouldn’t notice that my 7 year old wasn’t wearing shoes.

In the restroom, I reluctantly put Maddie on the floor in her socks because I REALLY had to pee. The restroom was of course spotless because it’s Tesla, and everything they do is sleek and posh and gorgeous. As I washed my hands, I realized that I was wearing ripped jeans, a dirty t-shirt, my hair was a mess, I had on no make-up, and just generally looked frazzled. I figured that the Tesla people probably thought we were hobos or just really dedicated hipsters. Both could be partly true I suppose. We walked out with what little dignity we had, and I tried to hold my breath so that we didn’t breath germs on these beautiful, sleek Tesla people.

The car was still in the shop, and my arms were killing me from holding Maddie. I looked up and down the suburban road and spotted an ALDI! Angels singing, the sun glinting through the clouds to highlight the place of magic where dreams come true and you can find anything you need in a pinch. I walked next door, still carrying Maddie, wishing I had a quarter so I could at least put her in a cart, but no such luck. We walked to that middle aisle with all the random Aldi knock-off products, and VOILA, we found shoes for $6.99. Maddie tried to argue with me that she didn’t really like them, but I was like, “Um, kid, you can wear them for the next couple hours until we get home, K?”

It was then I realized that we had no way of handling the cake when we were finally granted access to it. We grabbed a pack of paper bowls, and I was going to grab plastic spoons, but my environmentalist conscience kicked in, and I couldn’t bear to buy a whole package of plastic utensils that would lay in a landfill for the next 10 millenia. No, I thought, not on my birthday. We walked back to the random aisle, and Aldi came through again: we found 2 sets of kids’ forks and spoons, one with “Paw Patrol,” one with “Frozen.” Bam. It’s going to be a good day afterall. Saving the environment and appeasing the kids with licensed character accessories.

By the time we got back to the dealership, the car was done and we were on the way. Ryan went to a nearby Tesla Super Charger, and we parked. I grabbed the cake (which had leaked all over the front trunk), the bowls, and the utensils. I also grabbed the box of baby wipes that Ryan and I keep in our cars. Even though our kids are growing up, I don’t think I’ll ever give up having baby wipes in the car...on that level, the environment will have to take the hit. At least baby wipes are biodegradable.

I walked to a little step by some dumpsters behind the car and slopped 4 huge pieces of cake into four bowls, making a ridiculous mess but who cared at that point? It was not the way I envisioned cutting my birthday cake, serving it up by the dumpsters, but it worked. My sweet, beautiful, crazy family sang “Happy Birthday” to me in the car. We “cheersed” messy ice cream bowls, and slurped it down with “Chase” and “Elsa” utensils.

We headed home, full of cake and with a fun story to tell. Thank goodness the Tesla has something called “Careoke” so that the kids could sing their favorite songs on the way home to burn off the sugar rush. For me, it will be a very memorable birthday, one in which we made the best of a situation. We were together. It was frustrating, it was funny, and it was our family through and through. The other good part: we made it home just in time to pull the pork butt off the grill. I didn’t eat one bite of it, but I heard it was amazing.

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