My daughter turned 13 on Friday. We celebrated with take-out Italian from one of her favorite restaurant and a cake we bought, smuggled in, and hid in our overflowing fridge. We sang Happy Birthday and she is smiling in the picture she let me take. Her grandparents all FaceTimed with her. I was sad that her 13th wouldn’t be as special as she once imagined it to be (her parties, that she plans herself, are always elaborate affairs; last year it was an Alice in Wonderland picnic party), but then I saw her IG stories and the outpouring of birthday wishes from her friends and almost cried. She is loved, and I don’t even know what level of birthday snaps she got.
Birthdays are fraught for me, as my mid-August birthday always meant that I never really had a party, in the space between summer swimming friends and school-year friends. It was also the height of end-of-summer swim meets and water polo tournements and synchro shows, so there was never really a free night when I was younger, and even less of a free night when I was working at the pools. I was the only one in my friend group who never got a surprise party, also the only one in my friend group whose birthday fell outside of the school year, over the summer.
Swim meets. Water polo games. Summer fun. It all seems so banal. They’ve started preparing our townhouse complex’s outdoor pool, in the hopes that we’ll be allowed to congregate there over the summer months. The kids summer sleep-away camp has already been canceled. I hope that we can practice social distancing at the pool, maybe sign up for swim times – we get an hour at the pool, even just 30 minutes. The irony is that there is rarely more than one or two families at the pool at once, and it often sits empty hours on end save for the lifeguard on duty. If I’m working from home for the forseeable future, then what I wouldn’t do to be able to go to the pool once a day, swim a few short laps, and just feel the water on my skin, coming home with the familiar scent of chlorine clinging to my hair.
But who knows. No one does. We keep baking cakes and planting little gardens and making elaborate meals and stocking our fridge and freezer to bursting and not making any other plans. We keep busy doing the things right in front of us, the things we can control, the things that we know have a clear, but short, timeline. We know when we’re done baking, done cooking, done sewing, done planting, done cleaning, done that puzzle or that boardgame or that movie. They all have clear endings. We choose when it starts, can see it through to the end. We keep projects small and manageable. We exert some control over a world we are powerless over. A powerlessness that was always present, for sure, but a powerlessness we have been confronted with over and over and over again this past month.
We make lists on facebook and participate in social media challenges that largely ask us to mark the passing of time in some way while also sharing pieces of ourselves. Share your top-20 albums, share your senior pictures, share your baby pictures, share your favorite books. We share the recipes we’ve been making. I share the dress that I wear every day. I will probably start sharing the progress of the small garden we planted yesterday, when the first strawberry and first tomatoes appear, are harvested, are eaten. My son is particularly excited to grow something, to nurture a plant that will give him fruits that he enjoys.
We used to have a neighbor, back in Morehead, who had a huge garden in their yard that grew more tomatoes that they knew what to do with. They invited the kids and I to come in and pick to our heart’s content. Tomatoes have always been my son’s favorite, and when we would walk to pick up his sister at the bus stop, we would pick what was growing over and through the fence, and then I could leave him in there while I got his sister and he would fill his tiny pockets and tiny cheeks and tiny fists with tomatoes. I don’t know if he remembers, he was still so young, but I think somewhere he does, and that’s why he’s excited to grow his own, to be able to step out on our small porch and fill his larger pockets and fists and mouth with the tastes of his younger days.
The kids start “school” on Tuesday. Another new normal to get used to. And then, in another month, who knows? The kids are doing better than we are with this. They have their technology, which is how they’ve always talked to their friends. But they are starting to miss school, miss seeing their friends, miss not having their contact be mediated by the strength of the wifi. This week was a rough one for me, so much so I even skipped our Thursday virtual Happy Hour, because I just needed to be away from everything, but how do you even do that under these conditions?
My daughter turned 13. I was allowed to take a picture of her, and she was smiling. For 2020, that’s a win.