When the phone rang early Sunday morning, we didn’t need to check the caller ID. Clay’s Grandpa Tony (aka “Goots”), an early riser, is invariably the first to serenade the little guy with a rousing version of Happy Birthday, a tradition on my wife’s side of the family. Moments later, his Aunt Ann called, leaving her own version on voicemail.
Clay’s 16th birthday was underway. And we had some decisions to make.
We’ve learned the hard way over the years to take things slow and easy on Clay’s birthday. We don’t plan to do much. Last year, when we asked what he wanted to do he typed, “Stay home.” We did manage to get him to a restaurant for dinner, where he had a grand time, but that was the extent of the festivities.
Likewise with gifts. Clay rarely asks for anything and rarely responds to any gifts beyond Dr. Seuss books and videos. (You can only buy so many of them.) His favorite gift is quality time with his family. So, we stopped forcing other presents (and parties) on him a few years back. And we’ve learned not to wallow in the pesky thoughts that can loom over birthdays as you inevitably look back and ahead. Nothing productive comes out of that.
We had thought tentatively about a trip to the zoo, even did a little Googling to find one that might not be crowded. It was raining when we woke up, though, and the forecast was not promising, so that was scrubbed, along with trips to Clay’s favorite nearby parks. We decided to make no decisions. Although, technically, we never actually decided not to decide. We just let the day (and Clay’s mood) take us where it would take us.
A bunch of happy birthday messages came into Clay’s Facebook page from family and friends. Phone calls and texts arrived. Cards were opened. Clay typed out a response on the keyboard he uses to communicate, “so cool thanks everybody so stupendous.”
By mid-afternoon, the little guy (guess I can’t call him that too much longer) was running laps between the kitchen and the living room, laughing manically at some private joke (long weekends at home will do that). My wise wife proposed a trip to Target to look for music or books for Clay (and get him out of the house). He typed “sure,” and we were on our way. Of course, Clay shot right to the Dr. Seuss collection, but we fought that off, and settled on an anthology of P.D. Eastman classics, and a copy of Goodnight Moon, which you should always have in the house. (Who is that old lady whispering “hush”?)
For his birthday dinner, Clay chose a nearby diner. We knew they had the required booths and guessed correctly they wouldn’t be overly crowded on a holiday weekend. Good choice, Mr. Clay.
Back home, we broke out the gluten free/dairy free birthday cake.
He ended the day running between the kitchen—where the newly downloaded “Toy Story” movie was playing on his iPad (thanks, everyone for the iTunes gift cards), my wife’s office—where his favorite Mister Rogers video “Making Music” with Yo Yo Ma was running, and the patio—where his brother and I were setting off fireworks. It was July 3, after all.
At the diner, while Clay was scarfing the London broil and french fries (along with my salad, my wife’s hash browns and everything else within his surprisingly long and quick reach), my wife asked what he thought of his birthday so far.
“So silly to celebrate birthdays” he typed. “We are special every day.”
So wise at 16.