It’s Anna’s twelfth birthday today. For months, she’s said the only thing she wants to do for her birthday is to design and bake her own birthday cake–all by herself, preferably alone in the kitchen. She’s watched a zillion YouTube videos, and all the Great British Baking Show episodes. She arrived at the lake with a box of cake decorating supplies, including an elevated cake stand that spins on its axis for ease in applying the buttercream frosting. Yesterday, she spent most of the day baking four tiers of chocolate cake, cooked and cooled the raspberry filling, and put on the initial buttercream layer, the crumb coat, which was mixed with the chocolate crumbs she had scraped off the cake layers. Her cousins enthusiastically scooped up the crumbs as they fell on the floor, and I pleaded with them to please wipe off the bottom of their bare feet, before they walked on the Oriental rugs. By dinner time, when we needed to occupy the kitchen to prepare dinner, she was too tired to complete the final frosting process, which includes piping rosettes and ribbons of various colors across the top. She’s saved that for today, and I’ve removed myself from the chaos in the kitchen, while she toils away in there. Earlier, I passed through and heard her humming a song. I think it must be going well.
I was the adult on duty this morning when she awakened to her parent’s gift at the end of the bed–a glass pedestal cake plate with a high domed cover. Next, she discovered the bouquet of wildflowers which Duncan and Norah left for her, as well as the bakery croissant with the Happy Birthday greeting from her Mother. When she went to warm the croissant in the microwave, she exclaimed, “there’s a balloon in the microwave”. The last thing little eight-year old Eamon did before he went to bed last night was to blow up twenty balloons, and hide them around the house for the “find the balloon” game he imagined in his head. They all got up early this morning in birthday excitement, and I couldn’t believe how much fun five kids–including two twelve-year olds and one fourteen-year old–could have with simple, old-fashioned, brightly colored balloons.
Last night, as the adults lingered out on the terrace after dinner, Anna came and sat next to me and gently held my hand which was lying on the table. I felt her finger trace the raised veins on the top of my hand, and spin the anniversary band next to my wedding ring. These tender moments are less and less, as the grandchildren move with the rhythm of their own lives, into adolescence. Tomorrow morning, Fletcher, his Mom and I, are driving to Bellingham, for a campus tour of Western Washington University. How did my first grandchild already become a senior in high school? How did it go by so fast? Their childhoods are now in the rear-view mirror, and, in the momentary touch of a soft child’s hand, I feel the melancholy of nostalgia wash over me. ‘How it calmed us then, rewinding the gentle loop…”
Talking about the Day, by Jim Daniels
Each night after reading three books to my two children—
we each picked one—to unwind them into dreamland,
I’d turn off the light and sit between their beds
in the wide junk shop rocker I’d reupholstered blue,
still feeling the close-reading warmth of their bodies beside me,
and ask them to talk about the day—we did this,
we did that, sometimes leading somewhere, sometimes
not, but always ending up at the happy ending of now.
Now, in still darkness, listening to their breath slow and ease
into sleep’s regular rhythm.
They are grown, you might’ve guessed.
The past tense solid, unyielding, against the dropped bombs
of recent years. But how it calmed us then, rewinding
the gentle loop, and in the trusting darkness, pressing play.
I suspect the memory I’ll carry forward of Anna’s twelfth birthday is the warmth of her holding my wrinkly, veined hand. As Olivia Stiffler writes in her poem Grandchildren:
Sometimes they come back
and hold onto our hands
as if they were the thin strings
of helium balloons
about to drift off.