Next week’s milestone: Sonny’s first birthday away from home. Dave and I plan to visit him at the U for a little celebration.
I’d planned to get Sonny a birthday card today. I wanted it to be something special, so I head for the Hallmark store for a good selection. Sonny likes funny cards that we’ve annotated further, and I also needed to get a card for him from Capone. It’s the end of a warm September, and today is one of the first days that feels like fall. Crisp air, tinges of color on the leaves, a benevolent blue sky. It’s almost exactly nineteen years ago today when Sonny was due. We had everything ready at home. I had my fancy cell phone (it weighed only a couple of pounds!) ready to call Dave’s office or, if necessary, Dave’s beeper. Every morning I woke up trying to figure out if this twinge or that was labor. The late-September due date passed. We were venturing perilously close to my own early-October birthday. My father and brother have the same birthday, in February, and I knew that could suck. My brother, especially, objected to years of two-for-one cakes, parties, and presents. Two days before my birthday, the twinges became the real thing. After almost 24 hours of labor, I begged my obstetrician to get the baby out of me, already. “Push!” she snapped. After a bunch more pushing and an emergency C section, I had my bouncing baby boy with a birthday the day before mine and a glorious prospect of the Octobers to come, all with two cakes, two sets of presents, two parties!
Sonny usually picks his cake. Nothing fancy, just something from the grocery store. Usually a smallish gold cake; the important thing is the frosting, which Sonny likes to be plentiful and colorful, and the candles. After age eight, we switched to the candles that are formed into numbers rather than the little thin ones that have to be counted out and stuck all over the cake. (Candles for Sonny’s cakes only–Sonny and Dave know better than to put number candles on MY cake, which in any case is not birthday cake, but cheesecake.) There’s a Shaw’s supermarket in the same strip mall as the Hallmark store, but I wouldn’t want to shop for a cake without Sonny. Plus his dorm room doesn’t have a fridge. Cake this year will be by the piece, no candles.
I haven’t figured out presents yet. Sonny used to give us lists. We didn’t necessarily get everything on the lists, but almost always a couple of the most important things. The strip mall has a toy store right next to the Hallmark store. It’s one of those hoity-toity ones with a train table, lots of wood and puppets and games and projects that are supposed to make kids smarter while they play (with not a Barbie to be found). I pass it, a bit wistful for the days when we could buy another few feet of track and a couple of Thomas trains and know we’d gotten something he’d love. There’s nothing in the strip mall that appeals to the Sonny of today. No Newbury Comics or Barnes and Noble or even a Game Stop.
I get to the Hallmark store to find a padlock on the door and a sign about the store hiring now. The lights are on. There are two people in there. They act as though I am invisible. I remind myself that there’s no hurry. I have a week. Still, I’m fuming a bit as I drive home. The fall wind blows a little colder.
For the past few years, Sonny’s birthday has coincided with football games and rehearsals and concerts. Autumn’s a busy time for everybody. Usually the birthday party has been the three of us having cake and opening presents, plus a special excursion for Sonny and a friend or two on the next convenient weekend. I don’t mind these small-scale parties. (Some of us are still recovering from Sonny’s biggest party ever, a 2005 event for 12 kids, most on the spectrum, plus their parents, plus their siblings, at Plaster Funtime. That was in a different strip mall, and I sincerely hope they’ve managed to scrub down the walls in the Party Room by now).
This year will be low key to fit Sonny’s grown-up vibe. We’ll give Sonny his presents and cards, Sonny will give me my present, and then we’ll all order cake. Two-for-one, and I’m looking forward to it, so very much.