I wanted Jenny to have an especially good birthday this year. She’s so good to me, Elena, and Roman that she deserves a far bigger celebration than I could ever put together. Thanks to some of our friends, we all had a birthday weekend to remember.
The planning started during the summer when I contacted several of Jenny’s friends from Texas and elsewhere to let them know of my plans and invite them to visit. All of them would have liked to come, but the logistics only worked out for Amy, Christine, and Vivian. Everyone I contacted honored my request not to let Jenny know, which was an important element of my plan.
I scheduled a different birthday surprise as a decoy: tickets for Les Miserables at the Kennedy Center. I hoped it would stay secret for longer than it did, but Jenny opened the credit card statement showing the purchase. After that she knew where we were going, but didn’t figure out what the show was until someone else mentioned it in casual conversation. We went to the show last Wednesday, and it was incredible. We had a great time–if that had been the main component of the birthday celebration, it would have made Jenny very happy. Thanks to Gran Ann for babysitting so late.
The friends were due to arrive the next day, but a last-minute text message from Vivian expressed her regrets–she was not feeling well, and wouldn’t be able to make the trip. I was disappointed, but hopefully we can figure out a way to see her soon. Our other two guests made it into town just fine, and even though they had never met before, had a great time together. One amazing coincidence was that Gran Ann was leaving town for the weekend, and she needed to be at the airport at the same time that Amy’s plane was scheduled to land. They agreed to meet on the curbside so that Amy and Christine would have the use of a car for the weekend and Gran Ann wouldn’t have to park.
Surprisingly, everything went exactly according to plan and they made it to our house in time for dinner. Jenny wasn’t home–she had gone off to a consignment sale–so Amy and Christine helped me wrangle the kids. Elena loved having visitors; we played several rounds of Duck, Duck, Goose and Hide and Seek, all while Amy held Roman to keep him from crying. Jenny figured out that something was up when I repeatedly asked when she would be home. When Jenny finally arrived, Amy and Christine hid in the kitchen while I greeted her at the door. They finally popped into view, and Jenny’s first impression was “who are those people that look like Amy and Christine, and what are they doing in my kitchen?” She had a hard time believing that they had come for the sole purpose of visiting her, but it sunk in as they stayed up and chatted late into the night.
We filled Friday up with activities. In the morning I watched Elena and Roman while Jenny and friends visited the spa. After they got home it was off to the zoo for the afternoon. This time Christine was the baby whisperer, carrying Roman and keeping him quiet for most of our trip. Many of the animals were out even though the weather was cool, and Elena loved seeing them all. She liked the elephants, pandas, and otters, but really fell in love with the big cats. We saw the lions and tigers right at the beginning, but Elena wanted to see a leopard. I saw cheetahs listed on the map but couldn’t find a leopard, so we were all excited when we came around a corner and saw the leopard’s area. It was pacing in the back corner of its habitat, but we got at least a few good looks.
The worst part of visiting the zoo was the traffic, both coming and going, but that frustration was mitigated by the fact that we got free parking due to a broken credit card machine at the parking lot exit. Roman and I drove home alone so that nobody else would have to put up with his crying, as we had stretched the interval between his meals longer than we should have. Once we got home, Jenny tended to Roman while I worked on dinner for everyone else. We were soon joined by Leisa and Sam. In addition to their desire to celebrate Jenny’s birthday, they came up because Leisa is friends with Amy and hadn’t seen her in a long time. At Jenny’s request, we had authentic, traditional Beef Stroganov. Dinner came together quickly because everybody pitched in to help–stroganov is a dish that requires lots of chopping–but we all appreciated the results. After dinner we opened some cards and presents. Amy was kind enough to bring things from her family to all of us, including books for Jenny, a purse and accessories for Elena, and a soothing-noises giraffe for Roman.
With dessert I redeemed myself for last year’s debacle by presenting a functional, fully-frozen ice cream cake. Elena helped me to make it during the week; it’s amazing how much better everything holds together when it’s all done in advance and not thrown together at the last minute. Now that I have the basics down, I think that more ice cream cakes may be in our future.
Elena went to bed after we ate cake, but the rest of us stayed up and played games. After a few rounds of Bananagrams, Leisa and Sam headed home and the rest of us started in on a game of Settlers of Catan. Jenny played a very strategic game from the very beginning and ended up with the win, although I like to think that I helped because I played a couple of her turns while she tended to Roman.
We got a late start on Saturday, because everyone needed a rest after the previous two late nights. We were joined by another set of guests, as Jenny’s family drove up to visit. Amy and Christine were due to fly out that afternoon, so we had to get the most out of the few hours we had remaining. We decided on two activities: lunch at our favorite, Matthew’s Pizza, and visit to the go-kart track that we drive by every day. Elena chose me as her go-kart companion, and made sure that we didn’t go too fast around the corners. We had a lot of fun before it was time to take Amy and Christine to the airport. That evening we relaxed, as Grandma Nancy took care of Elena and Mark and Shaun made dinner.
All in all, it was a wonderful birthday weekend for all of us. I don’t think I’ll be able to top it next year, but maybe I’ll try.