The Weekend Before
Friday afternoon around five June and I got on a bus to go to downtown Takoma and get a birthday present and card for Beth. I already had a present but not a card and June had a card but no present, so we each needed something. We left Noah at home to practice his drums with the plan that we’d call him from the Co-op to let him know what the selection of fancy chocolate bars was like, so he could pick a few. He’d given me $15, which was all the cash he had on hand, and told me to buy as many as I could with that.
We went to the Co-op first and after conferring with Noah on the phone I bought five bars—dark chocolate with orange peel, dark chocolate with raspberry, dark chocolate with caramel and sea salt, plain dark chocolate, and milk chocolate with coffee beans. June asked if she could have a muffin and I bought that, too, along with a orange-cranberry chocolate bar for myself because I’d been looking at chocolate bars so long I wanted one for myself.
The next stop was Capital City Cheesecake, for liquid sustenance for June and me. I needed a latté and she needed a juice box. She finished the muffin she’d started to eat on the walk there while I read her a chapter from A Horse and His Boy.
At Tabletop, we made pretty short work of the gift and card buying. June considered many items, but in the end she chose a glass votive candleholder shaped like a turkey because we don’t have any Thanksgiving decorations and it’s Beth’s favorite holiday. She also got a penguin-shaped hot/cold pack, which she thought Beth might use on aches and pains. I got a card with a drawing of bookshelves, since I’d gotten her a book, The Gay Revolution.
It was close to six by the time we finished and we always have pizza on Friday nights so I decided to pick some up from Pizza Movers, which is just down the block. I ordered two pizzas and an order of mozzarella sticks and while we waited for them to make it June and I sat in the window seat and read another chapter of A Horse and His Boy. It was in this chapter that the dwarf Thornbut is introduced. June was considerably entertained by this name and kept muttering, “Thornbut” under her breath and giggling. We like to keep it classy.
The next morning, Saturday morning around 9:30, I was sitting across the dining room table from Beth. Noah and I had just come inside from raking leaves out of the driveway to the curb for the leaf truck and then we’d gone over his homework goals for the weekend and he’d left, presumably to start his Algebra II take-home test. Beth was absorbed in her work laptop. I reminded her she’d said she wanted to talk about strategy for the weekend, basically who was doing what and when.
On her list was picking up her own birthday cake from Cold Stone when she went ice-skating with June on Sunday afternoon. She’d been undecided for a while whether she wanted a homemade cake or a store-bought one and she’d settled on buying an ice cream cake, so it made sense for her to get it when she was going to Silver Spring anyway, rather than having me schlep out there on the bus. But still, it seemed wrong somehow. I’ve always baked or bought her a cake.
“Sometimes it’s nice to feel taken care of on my birthday, but this weekend it’s just about getting it done,” she said. She was embroiled in an ongoing work crisis and she already knew she’d be working most of the weekend and worse yet, Thanksgiving weekend. She wanted to “allocate the family time budget” wisely.
So she bought her own cake, leaving me free to supervise Noah’s homework (my main task on any given weekend), read with both kids, read nine chapters of Daniel Deronda for book club, go swimming, make dinner on Saturday, and clean the bathroom. She worked, grocery shopped, took June skating, and made dinner on Sunday.
When Beth got home from work on Monday, there was a stack of wrapped presents at her place at the table. I’d wrapped them all, as Noah was busy writing a paper comparing philanthropy, self-reliance, and fate in Walden and Maggie, A Girl of the Streets. Meanwhile, June had a play date with Megan that afternoon and ended up in a rush to finish her own homework as well.
I’d actually forgotten Megan was coming over until she arrived, bearing a bag of outgrown shoes for June. Lest she feel put out by the fact that no one seemed to be expecting her, I told her it was “a pleasant surprise.”
Megan, who’s good-natured as a rule, said, “I’m a pleasant surprise!” and liking the sound of it, said it again.
The girls played, and at the very end of the play date, watched a bit of Cupcake Wars, which is June’s new obsession. This meant I needed to explain to both girls what absinthe is, because it was a required ingredient in one round. That was fun.
Megan’s mom came to pick her up and June did her homework and practiced her violin while I finished up dinner. Beth had requested tofu sticks (think homemade vegetarian fish sticks) and French fries. I was running late with dinner because the tofu needs to marinate in a salt-and-pepper brine for two hours and I’d forgotten to do that until about an hour later than I usually would. But dinner was almost ready when Beth got home. It was lucky in this instance that the kids and I usually eat before Beth gets home because she gets home on the late side most nights. The result was dinner wasn’t late for her at all.
After dinner, Beth opened her cards and presents appreciatively, admiring the glass turkey and said we needed some Thanksgiving decorations. She said she’d use the hot/cold pack on her foot, which has been bothering her all fall. She said the chocolate bars would keep her well supplied with squares of dark chocolate to eat every day after lunch. She flipped through the index of the book immediately, looking for people she knows. She worked at the Human Rights Campaign from 1992 to 1999, so she knows a lot of movers and shakers in the LGBT rights movement. Then she jokingly looked for herself, but she wasn’t there.
“You’re more of a behind the scenes person,” I said.
“I am a behind the scenes person,” she agreed.
We put the numeral four and nine candles in the chocolate-and-salted-caramel ice cream cake and sang “Happy Birthday” to her and Beth’s birthday celebration was over. Noah and I were up late that night as he worked on the Thoreau/Crane paper and I read his drafts and made suggestions. In the morning, Noah and Beth were up early doing the same thing.
Here’s to another year, Beth. You’re the person behind so much of what makes our family work. You get it done. Next year, though, I’ll take care of the cake.