A Birthday Weekend

Happy birthday to me, etc., bla bla bla and yadda yadda yadda. Yes, it was yesterday, but I was a little too preoccupied with my birthday to actually write about it. So it comes, here at the end of the weekend, as we wind down the festivities and prepare for another week of near-abject mayhem.

I will freely admit that it wasn’t my “best” birthday, but it was definitely memorable (and positively so), which in the end is pretty much all you can ask for, right? Besides, it’s the last birthday before I get tagged with all those “other the hill” monikers. (Cathy, if you even think about pulling a lawn full of fake gravestones next year, you have no idea the wrath I shall drop on you for your 40th…)

It all started at 4:00am on Saturday morning…

That’s when Choo Choo woke up. Choo Choo has a nasty habit of waking up long before a “reasonable” hour, notably 8:00am, which after many late night for many weeks/months, is a significant improvement over, oh, anything before it. I managed to get her back down in her crib and back to sleep, and it looked like that might work. Which it did, for about 30 minutes or so. Up again.

I was up for good before 6:00am, although exactly what time it was, I couldn’t tell you. Nor can I tell you the exact details from when I got up until about 7:15 or so, which is when the Daily Battle of the Wills started again (in other words, when I tell Monkey that she needs to get dressed for the day), and I effectively ended up going back to bed to lie down from physical and mental exhaustion.

And this, dear reader, is where things at Casa del Sowrey went decidedly sideways. I (moronically) decreed that unless Monkey got changed, we were leaving her behind for breakfast (the plan was to go up to the Sunterra). It was a hollow threat, and I (wrongly) assumed it would motivate her to get dressed. Monkey slammed her door (yes, she’s only three — I’m installing bumpers before too long), and after being (rightly) admonished for my overbearing behaviour, I (idiotically) sulked off to my room and inadvertently slammed my door, too (swung the door too hard, got caught in the draft, I dunno, nor does it matter). I laid down, closed my eyes to stop the throbbing, and must have passed out, if only for a few minutes.

Happy Birthday to Daddy, Westgate, Calgary, Alberta, 16 July 2011

Alex, for her part, remained the calm centre of chaos, and (wisely) wrote the both of us off. She took Choo Choo and proceeded to breakfast, as neither Monkey nor I were really being cooperative, and it was wholly unfair to have Alex and Choo Choo go hungry because of our bad behaviour. I didn’t know that they’d left (having apparently passed out) until Monkey came in and woke me up because she was hungry (and actually dressed). I (still wrongly) assumed we were all going to Sunterra. I was then informed that Mommy had left. I was … well, still exhausted, and also a little stunned.

I went into a heavy funk. Be it due to my aforementioned exhaustion, or ego, or what-have-you, I felt a little put out. It didn’t help that I’d woken with a wicked sense of abandonment to begin with, but now I’d had an actual instance to back it up, too. I fed Monkey, and then started to wallow in self-pity (along with a couple of strong cups of coffee).

Okay, let me explain a little…

Some 10 years ago, I used to hang out with friends frequently (it didn’t help that I lived with one of my best friends, Chris, so we had guests almost constantly). Even after I moved into my own home, I still lived with a good friend, and did pretty much what I wanted when I wanted. I saw people, I went out, I had “fun”. (I use the quotes only to indicate the general term of “fun”, rather than imply some form of negative or sarcasm.) Even when Alex and I got married, there was still the sense of seeing friends and other people — Alex and I went out fairly frequently, so we never felt house-bound.

And then we had kids. And my friends got married. And moved away. Had kids of their own. And suddenly … I realised that despite all the people I knew, I felt very much alone.

That’s what hit me Saturday morning. Even though I had a loving family (we’ll ignore the whole 4:00am-10:00am window due to sheer irregular chaos), I felt like I was at the end of my line. I was the afterthought, the forgotten bottom rung on the ladder that no-one pays attention to until it breaks, the unimportant character who merely provides some iota of accessory plot development in a story. Pick your version of “insignificant”, I thought about it and threw myself a little Pity Party for One.

Why? I’ve had a bad sense of abandonment since I was a kid. I hated being left out of things. I’d hear about a great party that lots of people were invited to … but not me. Or was the last to be chosen for a baseball team. Or found out about a movie that friends went to without me, and wasn’t asked. And so on. I still have that problem, and I probably always will. I haven’t come to terms with it; I’ve become jaded, and even perhaps a bit bitter, too. But, it is what it is.

Now, maybe you can picture me being all bitter (stupidly so) and wanting to crawl back into bed and writing off my birthday entirely — I could and it was everything in my will to not actually do that. Leave it to the Monkey to improve the situation by changing the day’s schedule.

Alex and Monkey had spent the better part of a day making me a cake. (Alex had found a train-shape cake mould a couple of years ago, and I bore witness to it for the first time last year.) They’d baked it almost in secret (the mould was found in the sink, which tipped me off), and had taken it to the basement to decorate away from my prying eyes. To say that Monkey was excited about this cake is as much an understatement as saying that standing under Niagara Falls will get you a little damp. Alex referred to it as a “cake made with love”. And Monkey hauled it out at 10:30am because she simply couldn’t wait any longer for her Daddy to see it.

You couldn’t really recognise the train shape underneath the mashed, lumped, and smeared icing, or the zillions of candies and Bits ‘N Bites that encrusted the semi-circle of cake cars. The locomotive was green, and was proudly declared to be a manifestation of my favourite locomotive, CN 6060. Any critic would have regarded it at “hideous”. I looked at it, and immediately felt like an ass for feeling like ass. Sometimes, you need a kid to remind you that life is wonderful from nearly any angle.

The cake, for the record, was delicious. (Alex makes amazing baked goods. If I haven’t stated it before — though I’m sure I have — she makes my favourite cookies.) The fact that my family had gone to that extent for me really hit home the fact that no matter how bad I feel, they’re there for me. Always. It was definitely what I needed.

And my friends did come out for me — via the internet. (I think I might die without the awesomeness of social media, if for no other reason than for the plethora of birthday wishes.) From around the world, no less, which really makes it that much more awesome.

Although an original plan had us going out to Banff for a picnic (Parks Canada’s official 100th birthday party was also on Saturday), we opted for a nearer picnic at the park next to the primary school Monkey and Choo Choo will attend in the years to come. I made chicken sandwiches, cut some grapes, and grabbed some of the leftovers from the night before. Monkey wheeled her doll in her stroller, and we sat down to a wonderful little lunch.

One of the reasons we didn’t go to Banff was that we “had dinner plans”. This was another surprise Alex had lined up (have I mentioned that I like surprises?), and I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen. When Janice (aka Grandma) arrived, we ducked out and (mostly) walked up to LeVilla, a nicely upscale restaurant in the West Market Square not far from the house.

I hadn’t ever actually planned on going to LeVilla, although Alex had assumed I did. Why? Well, last weekend — the only time we managed to do the Stampede pancake breakfast this year — LeVilla (wisely) distributed cards to everyone waiting in line. I pocketed it, not having any particular plan at the time, except possibly to follow up on it. Alex took it as “boy, would I ever like to eat there!” and looked into it. By happy circumstance, it was the best possible thing to happen.

Neither Alex or I can remember exactly the last time we had an adult meal at a nice restaurant without having to cut spaghetti for one of the kids. We suspect it was at Bacchus, which was a fairly nice restaurant in Santa Ana, a few kilometre from our condo in Costa Rica. I think it was either for Mother’s Day, or for Alex’s birthday. But it was one of the only times in recent memory. This meal was not only outstanding (seriously — Calgarians, check it out, you won’t be disappointed), it was worth every penny of the much-higher-than-we-normally-pay price.

My meal was prime rib. Although a little more done than I would have preferred (I like mine rare), I cannot remember the last time I had such an excellent piece of roasted beef, and Dad, I can finally say after many, many years that I’ve found a yorkshire pudding to rival yours. My slab was huge, I definitely ate too much, and it was worth every little twinge of mild discomfort.

Alex told me that she had hoped to pull off a three-event evening, starting with dinner, and ending with a trip out to the nightly fireworks at the Stampede (or more importantly, to see the fireworks near the Stampede). Mini-golf had been her goal for the middle event, but a fairly central mini-golf doesn’t seem to exist in Calgary, and going a long distance wasn’t really desirable. Bowling was a consideration, but eventually we just decided to take our time getting to the fireworks.

We got to Inglewood around 8:30 — easily two and a half hours before the fireworks would begin. So we drove through and around Inglewood, mostly just to see what was there (neither of us had really looked much beyond 9th Ave). Then we drove up into Ramsay to find a place to park.

The city had (wisely) cordoned off the streets on Scotsman’s Hill/Bluff (not sure what the correct name is) to residents only, so the streets wouldn’t be completely jammed with Stampeding crowds (there’s a handy set of stairs that go right into the grounds). We had to walk from a few blocks away, and up a fairly steep hill to get to the park. We were early enough that benches were still vacant, and the sun was setting behind the downtown core.

I always forget how nice a view it is from there, and really need to remind myself to go up there more often. We strolled over to a bench, sat down, and laid on the bug spray as thickly as we could. (We knew from a similar sojourn many years earlier that the mosquitos up there are near-epic in concentrations.) Then we sat down to wait.

Alex and I haven’t had such long sustained conversations in ages, without having been interrupted by our kids, anyway. There were, however, kids aplenty to offer distractions. Such as a pair of girls (I estimate at 5 and 8, respectively) who were operating a truly wonderful lemonade stand across the street from the park. They loudly and proudly announced their business and offered it readily to whomever was in need of refreshment. I simply couldn’t resist.

It’s the little things like that — the lemonade stand, and the great chat I’d had with the kids mother — which remind me why parts of Calgary are truly great. Give me the “inner city” any day — the vibrance of the communities remind me that it’s not just about having a roof over your head to sleep, it’s about being around your neighbours.

I snapped picture after picture as the sun set behind the downtown core. I don’t remember the last sunset Alex and I watched, although I’m willing to bet it was when we were living in Costa Rica (the fantastic sunsets were nearly daily). The clouds overhead created fantastic orange ripples, and a bright yellow glow seemed to burst from behind the Calgary Tower.

Sunset over downtown Calgary, Alberta, 16 July 2011

Calgary Tower silhouette, Alberta, 16 July 2011

The Grandstand Show started, and we listened to the music in the distance, watching the tease of sporadic fireworks that accentuated the show. As the hour crept closer and closer to 23:00, more and more people began to arrive at the park. Kids in the pyjamas, couples with blankets, people with their pets, and even a guy with his bike who had clearly been fishing out cans and bottles from the garbage bins sat down to wait for the show.

Finally, the show hit its finale, and the lights went out to witness the pyrotechnic spectacle.

I love fireworks. I love the artistry that goes into them — not just the construction of a big shell, but the arrangement of a variety of them into a single segment of flashes and streams and bangs and thuds. I remember when we were kids, Dad would take us out on the lake to watch the Benson and Hedges Symphony of Fire at Ontario Place. We’d listen to the choreographed show over the radio, which played the music to which the fireworks danced. Although there was no music at the Stampede (really, I can’t figure why not), the show was nevertheless stupendous.

Stampede fireworks, Calgary, Alberta, 16 July 2011

Stampede fireworks, Calgary, Alberta, 16 July 2011

The fireworks were divided into three sequences (or so I heard), but we left shortly after the first one ended. The mosquitoes were bad, and it was late (we were tired). As it turned out, it was a good plan, since the sky was filling with its own flashes, which turned to heavy rain, hail, severe claps of thunder, which led to (we think) a short blackout in Mission. Not bad for one day…

Today, the Sunday, was pretty good, too. Choo Choo finally slept in a bit, and although Monkey and her were a bit loud in the morning, both Alex and I got some much-needed rest. Pancakes, then a bit of play time. We visited with our newest neighbours next door, who are reaching the end of a major renovation (they bought the house in March) and we’re still getting to know them. Monkey plays with their kids, ages 7 and 3, and I had gone over to retrieve her for lunch … and stayed for nearly 90 minutes chatting.

I love this neighbourhood. I wasn’t originally thrilled about moving here — I wanted to be closer to downtown, admittedly — but having such awesome people around really makes it hard to not want to know everyone.

Their kids came over after dinner, and we all played in the basement. I found out their daughter — the 7 year old — has a devious streak in her. (She tried, almost successfully, to cram an icepack down my shirt.)

So now I sit at my kitchen table, looking at the events of two days. Alex says I’ve been sighing a lot as I write this. I think it’s a good thing — they’re the moments that remind me that, yes, life may be periodically difficult, but it is those little moments that make it matter.

Thank you, my family, for making this a great weekend. Thank you for caring, for making me feel special, and being there for me every day. I love you all.

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