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Entries in birthdays (35)


Reunion on the 4th

My dad's birthday is on the 4th of July. He's quiet and unassuming, so he never makes a big deal out of the event, but I definitely grew up thinking that his birthday was a big deal. I mean, all the people, all the celebration, all the fireworks! Who else gets fireworks for their birthday? The illusion was perpetuated, at least in part, by the wild shindigs my grandparents threw every year, first in their stately old home with the suburban backyard and friendly neighbors, and later in their newly built larger home deep in the woods. In my memory these gatherings were always part birthday party and part 4th of July celebration, but the largest portion was a reunion of sorts, a meeting of long-time friends and family with catching up to do.

I don't actually remember how often they threw these parties. In my memory they were an annual thing until they sort of petered out, probably as kids (my generation) got older and other activities got in the way. When I was younger, there were great big tubs of beer and pop, high chairs littered the back patio, and we spent the evening lighting black carbon snakes in the driveway. I remember the smell vividly. The last party I really remember I was in middle school, or maybe high school. My dad was wearing a weird short-sleeved plaid shirt and a mustache, and his cake, made by a talented family friend, was shaped like a computer—the old desktop kind with a big monitor and clunky keyboard (only at the time it wasn't old).

So partying on the fourth has a long tradition in our family, just one that hasn't been exercised in an number of decades larger than one. As all extended families do, ours scattered to the call of school, work, and the next generation. Some of those revelers I haven't seen in nigh on twenty years. In that time the kids of my generation have gotten married and had children of their own. Others, like my grandparents, have passed away. In all those years, a lot has changed. If you go too long between reunions, you don't always recognize the people you are there to see.

So my dad's cousins held the reunion this year, down in Indiana farm country where my grandfather's baby sister is still living with many of her children, and their children, surrounding her. She is the last of her generation, her three brothers gone before her, but she is sharp and young at heart, and it was her birthday, actually later in the month, that brought us all together this year. We spent three days playing with cousins we see more regularly, and getting to know those we haven't seen in many years, in some cases ever. There was a big hill good for all kinds of play, trees for climbing, and a field that proved perfect for kickball. And while the kids roamed far and wide, the adults huddled together, sharing memories of the past and details of the present, our tight groups a stark contrast to the great openness of the heartland around us. Because that's  what a family reunion is about.



Here is where I make a confession. Calvin has never had a traditional birthday party. Every year he has had wonderful celebrations with his grandparents, but we have completely avoided the traditional "have a bunch of kids over for games, cake, and presents and send them home with a favor" kinds of parties. Jon and I both have fond memories of our own parties when we were younger, and there is no good reason for our own reluctance, other than sheer fright maybe. Each year, though, we've had to put more consideration into it as Calvin has become increasingly social, and this year was finally the year. We checked our anxieties at the curb, selected a free weekend, and did what any self-respecting parents would do: we farmed it out.

Actually, we gave Calvin the choice of having a party at home, or going to one of a variety of venues. His choice was a letterboxing hiking party at the Leslie Science Center, a city park in Ann Arbor with a beautiful collection of living raptors. The birds alone would have been a good draw, but we had a great guide who led us through making nature stamps, taught us how to use a compass, then took us on a well developed scavenger hunt, looking for clue after clue until, finally, we arrived at a cache box with a stamp book of previous visitors inside. Back in the party room the kids used their previously made stamps to leave their own mark in the book for the next group to see, then we had the obligatory cake and ice cream.

I believe fun was had by all, and I know that fun was had by Calvin, who enjoyed greatly the fact that so many of his friends came together to celebrate with him. I agree—the outpouring of love and adoration from so many little individuals was by far the greatest outcome of the entire day.



9 year old "portraits"



Have I have told the story here of our "camping friends"? I call them camping friends for the purpose of simplification, because we've gone camping with them at least every year for the past five, but that's not the only basis for our friendship. Sarah and I were friends growing up. We've been friends, in fact, since we were in first grade (Sarah likes to tell it that it would have been earlier, but she got stuck in afternoon kindergarten while I had morning). We lost touch somewhere midway through high school and did not reconnect until the miracle of facebook, when we found that our children were born just two days apart. Two days.

So we get together several times a year, including to go camping, and to celebrate the kids' birthdays together. It's a tradition now.

And, because one party per weekend isn't enough for a ninth birthday, we also had a party with the grandparents this weekend. You could say it was a grand party. Because you only turn nine once.


Birthday evening

Dinner (crab legs) and a book store shopping trip. And he asked to park at the very top of the parking structure, and so we did. It feels so great, as parents of such a great kid, to have a day where we can basically say yes to everything.

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