Last week, we celebrated both Ben's seventeenth birthday and that of our cat, Molly. (Molly was a rescue cat who came to us when Ben was two; since the vet estimated that she was about the same age, we assigned her Ben's birthday and celebrate them together.)
Molly's annual celebration consists of a catnip toy and an enthusiastic trio rendition of "Happy Birthday," but Ben's have evolved over the years, and each year brings back the highlights for me.
He walked on his first birthday. He was an early talker -- he said his first sentence at nine months -- but he showed no interest in walking or even pulling himself up until that day. A friend presented him with a push toy that was only possible to operate standing up. It fascinated him. During his entire party, he pushed it around the apartment, and after the guests left, he let go of the handle and walked over to us as if he'd been doing it all his life.
At the Quaker school he attended from preschool through the fifth grade, it was considered important not to leave anyone out of events such as birthday parties. If you invited one child in the class, you had to invite everyone.
We supported this policy of inclusion, though it was challenging. Most of his classmates lived in large houses, or could afford to take everyone to Six Flags. Fortunately, I found out that for a small fee, I could reserve a large space in a nearby waterfront park, so every year Ben's classmates and friends, their parents, and our friends would gather for an afternoon picnic party. We would bring plenty of balls, Frisbees and kites, serve pizza and cake, and enjoy a relaxing, social afternoon.
Then, when he turned ten, Ben decided that he was too old for big parties. Instead, for five years, he would invite a friend, and the four of us would attend a baseball game, either the Yankees or, when those tickets were not available, one of the two local minor league teams.
We made a major event out of this, including getting his name on the scoreboard, and he loved it -- until suddenly he didn't anymore. He still enjoys going to games, but it's no longer a thrill to attend with Mom and Dad, and to see his name flash by during the seventh-inning stretch. Instead, he decided, he would prefer to put the money toward a more substantial present, of music equipment.
So that is what we do now. This year, we had a lovely dinner with Ben and his girlfriend, whom we adore, at Ben's favorite Buddhist restaurant. (Just joking. We had Indian food.) we presented him with a fancy electronic keyboard, which he had picked out himself. It was a very nice evening.
Still, I found myself waxing nostalgic over past birthdays, with their sugar highs, wild hugs, even the crashes and tears. And I miss the days when Molly had the energy to do more than bat her present around a few times before settling in for another nap. A lot of work went into those celebrations, but the resulting fun and excitement and sense of connection felt miraculous.
On the other hand -- yesterday I was practicing "Summertime," which I was preparing to sing at a party last night. Ben came in to listen. "You know," he said, "I'm looking for new songs to learn on the keyboard. If I can get a copy of that, maybe I can learn it and we can do it together!"
Maybe, as Frank Sinatra sang, the age of miracles hasn't passed.