Saturday was my wife's birthday. So, if you see her wish her a belated Happy Birthday (if you haven't done so and many of you have, she is loved). I came into it scared because I was unprepared. True I had bought her a nice gift, something she wanted, something she helped me pick out, but I felt like if that's all I did, that would be pretty lame for her. And going in, that's all I had, and I suspected thats all she expected. I did not want her day to be just another typical day.
Work has been unbelievably busy lately (I know the universal excuse all men make to their wives), but its true. Its actually somewhat comforting to be this busy with work while much of the rest of the economy is rapidly grinding to a gut-wrenching hault, but we're full speed ahead. But there I was, working late on Friday night, barely thinking about Saturday, knowing that every hour I was awake past midnight was going to drain a bit more energy away I needed to make Saturday nice.
I finally went to bed, setting the alarm for 6am, knowing that was probably pretty much impossible. Our daughter's violin group class was at 9am and she was scheduled to perform in the recital portion of the class, so we were all planning on being there. We also have this tradition that on birthdays, the birthday person gets breakfast in bed. To make my wife breakfast in bed (meaning it had to be ready before she was up), I had to be up early, and that turned out to be impossible. I set the alarm, but I have no recollection of it going off. We were finally awoken by our kids at 7:30.
So, what do you do on your wife's birthday when you have nothing else planned? You basically volunteer to do everything possible, I rushed into the kitchen and made waffles for the family, while my wife got ready. With breakfast out of the way, we rushed to violin class.
Quick aside, the violin class is interesting, its broken up into three portions, the first is a classical violin group class. (There are many classes at different levels happening at the same time). In the second, all the students and their families gather together in the gym for a student recital - and some of the more advance students were darn impressive that day, the third portion involves a non-violin specific music class. All run by volunteers who are generally pretty amazing teachers. We pay a measly $140 for the entire year. But our daughter played well, and I did my best to hold our newborn and keep our son in check so that my wife could have a bit more relaxing time enjoying our daughter.
Ok, so nothing much has happened yet.
After violin, it was lunch time. I made lunch, of course. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids, leftovers for the adults. Yeah, yeah, again nothing special. But I did make sure I remembered and administered many of the blood sugar tests and insulin shots for the day, so my wife had a little break from diabetes.
After that, I volunteered to take the kids and my wife's grocery list with me and shop for groceries for the upcoming two weeks. All she had to do is get our new-born to sleep, then she could have some personal time alone. After compiling the list, she handed it to me laughing, "Good luck with that, you'll be wandering the aisles for hours, call me if you have questions".
So, off we went, but I had an extra-special secret plan. We drove off to the coolest strip mall in Tempe, probably in all of Arizona, the one with "Changing Hands Bookstore", "Trader Joe's", and surprisingly a cool, previously unrecognized record store and a few small little interesting restaurants.
First stop, Changing Hands.
Let me tell you about this bookstore. It is independent, locally owned, but very large and always very busy. It was originally located in downtown Mill Avenue in Tempe, but they moved, both to get bigger and because Mill Ave did not have the foot traffic they wanted. They often host book readings, Hillary Clinton has read there, they have first Friday poetry nights, that I have enjoyed in the distant past, and it has this hippy, politically liberal feel that every good bookstore should have. (What would a conservative bookstore be like - I guess Deseret Books qualify - nothing wrong with that store, but I really appreciate Changing Hands).
Here's the thing about books as gifts. My wife just finished reading a book, and she was drawn into it. She read and read, even if it meant ignoring the kids or household responsibilities. I found this so refreshing because she is often the epitome of self-sacrifice. I really, really enjoyed seeing her indulge in herself during times other than when our kids are asleep. I wanted to get her another book that she could keep this going.
And books are such a great way to self-indulge. They draw you into another world for an extended period of time that no other medium can do. You are carried into people's heads, you experience another's life you can experience in no other way. My wife loves to read, and I hoping to keep the experience going for her with another book.
But what book to buy? I wanted it to be a novel, I wanted it to be a good author. But its hard to find novels, I am not in the literature loop and I have no idea who the great modern writers are. I didn't want to buy her something boring like a Jane Austin classic. I wanted a book she had never heard of before. If only I could go to the library and ask a librarian for some advice. But I settled on a newly published book by Toni Morrison, who we have both enjoyed reading before. It was the best I could do. So, I bout the book, a couple of nice birthday cards, and some chocolate assortments, and we were off.
Done with gifts, off to Trader Joe's, a really cool, one of a kind grocery store chain. They have these little shopping carts for the kids, so they could help with the shopping too. The store is nice, tidy, and small so you don't get too overwhelmed. And what's up with the workers? Those folks have this aura of cool and hip (I know it doesn't take much to be considered hip and cool with me), what were they doing bagging my groceries. It's a weird place. I know they get paid more than they would working at Safeway, but not that much more. But they seem to thoroughly enjoy working there. And admittedly, its actually a nice, enjoyable place to shop. At least if you don't have two kids and a shopping list a mile long.
Look, I'm pretty good at math. I get math. My brain works well with numbers. But finding obscure items (like avacados or sour cream) at the grocery store is beyond me, way beyond me. Maybe if the shopping list had ten items on it I would have been ok. But there must have been like 50. Every single item was a chore. I would go down the same aisle multiple times before I found what I was looking for. And in the meantime, my kids were grabbing for cookies, or spinning donuts with their mini-shopping carts around other patrons, or generally complaining about being tired or hungry, or wandering off. It was exhausting, for them and for me.
After at least an hour of this, I looked at the list and thought I must have at least 80% of this stuff, so I decided it was time to check out, drop the kids off at home to watch a promised movie, and head back to Fry's to polish this list off. And so I did. But first, I crossed off all of the groceries I bought, and to my horror, I still had half the list left, and my wife was adding more items to the list.
Before I left, I did quickly wrapped up the book, had my children quickly right nice notes on the purchased birthday cards, and we presented everything to my wife waiting patiently in the bedroom. Obvious and unplanned, but it was better than nothing, and she loved the book.
I then got the kids settled into a movie, and I was at Fry's for another solid hour or more until I finally found every last one of those items (except peanut butter crackers of course - Trader Joe's was the best spot for those and I wasn't going back there - and wasn't there a salemena outbreak in peanut butter anyway?).
Back at home with all of the remaining food. I began dinner the never before accomplished task of parallel cooking. Normally, I like to do things one at a time. Trying to do too many things at once is a recipe for disaster - did I already put two tablespoons of sugar in the bowl, I can't remember... But, I was ready for this (it helped that the dinner was pretty easy). I had corn on the cob boiling in the pot. I had the barbecue grill heating up outside. I had my store bought potato salad all ready to go. I had a cake mix getting stirred up in a bowl. I was cooking away. We did had a nice dinner with my parents, veggie burgers for them (they prefer no meat), steak for the wife and I, and burgers for the kids. I cleaned up dinner escorted my parents to their car, got the kids ready for bed, and then I collapsed on the couch exhausted.
I know, I know, my wife gets all of this and much, much, much more done every single day of the week. I know I would be lost without her. I know I was lost without her in my single days. I'm glad I have her now, and I think, hope, feel she had a nice, relaxing birthday.
So message to my wife, if you're reading this: Happy Birthday.