A tragical birthday


Our family of six moved from Phoenix to Albuquerque four days before my daughter Ana’s 14th birthday.

But, so help me, I tried to make it good. I tried!

With boxes still enveloping us, I made homemade pancakes. A good beginning if not for the fact that we had no syrup. Midway through cooking, I ran to the store and picked up a store brand variety called “Old-fashioned Syrup” which I thought might be code for “slightly healthier.” Why, oh why, was I thinking healthy on a birthday?

Unfortunately, old-fashioned meant pure unadulterated molasses with a hint of sugar to take the edge off. We should have made gingerbread cookies with it.

“Yuck!” my kids exclaimed in unison with properly contorted faces.

“What? What is it?” 

Even with my penchant for gingerbread men, I couldn’t stomach the flavor.

Out I trot to a different grocer to pick up some that was unapologetically sugar, and since we had just moved, ran to the discount and dollar stores next door to find laundry hampers, curtain rods, and waste baskets. Feeling guilty about my long absence, I picked up a bunch of sunflowers to present to my birthday girl.

I still needed to figure out the cake. It was supposed to be a purchased ice cream cake instead of a homemade confection per tradition. Unfortunately, I didn’t know where any creameries were and before I could find one, I had to spend an hour on the phone with our insurance company sorting out the new home and auto policies with a very talkative, if helpful, young man. When I finally was released to call an ice cream shop near us, the lady nicely informed me that I should have placed an order yesterday.

I dove into boxes for missing baking gear. Then I went to the fridge to lay out ingredients for cake.

We had no butter or eggs.

Well, I still needed to get my daughter gifts anyway, so I rounded up Ana and her younger siblings, and off we went to two more stores. At a home improvement store Ana got her wish: plants to place in a large flower bed that was all her own. Though she fretted they were too expensive (I guess her dad and I had been stressing a lot about the new mortgage), she finally choose four blooming beauties, and we headed to my sixth store of the day.

I may say that I am disappointed that Albuquerque did not fly a banner over our heads at this point declaring exuberantly, “Thanks for helping our economy, you fabulous, frustrated new residents!”

We grabbed butter, eggs and a can of whipped cream topping.

On the way out of that shopping center, I turned right onto a busy street, and we nearly got hammered by an aggressive sedan that raced up behind us. I thought rush hour was supposed to be better in Albuquerque!

At home safe but flustered, I labored over a fatty chocolate cake for my sweet girl and offered to spread mint chocolate ice cream between its layers.

My husband came home late from his new job, and after I had irritated him by crying and complaining about crazy Albuquerque drivers, told us that we shouldn’t physically put ice cream in the cake. Instead of homemade ice cream cake, my daughter was to have plain old cake with ice cream!

Valiantly my son Berto and I attempted to write “happy birthday” with the whipped topping on the barren expanse of the cake. Alas, the pressurized cream ejected from its can with all the force of a fire extinguisher. It was all we could do to make the carnage resemble “Happy Birthday Ana”.

As we woefully surveyed our erratic clouds of whipped writing, we realized we had no matches, no lighters, nothing to spark her candles, those candles we had lumped together from the junk drawer the movers had packed with the kitchen stuff. (You cannot imagine our relief when we came up with 14!)

“Really?” said Ana.

My husband and I argued about what to do. Try to start a flame with flint and knife? Search all the boxes yet unpacked for matches that were overlooked? Go yet again to a store for a lighter? He left to procure a lighter.

After his return and a chorus of Happy Birthdays, I sliced into the cake which quivered and…

“Oh, Ana, it’s crumbling,” I moaned.

My daughter and I looked at each other and burst into tears. It had all become far too "tragical", as Anne of Green Gables would say.

But we soon realized that such a mad birthday must surely be more hilarious than heart-breaking 10, maybe 20 years from now – give or take a few.

Nevertheless, I vow that Ana’s 15th will be a different level of celebration. Perhaps I’ll launch fireworks, organize a parade, buy her a pet ferret, send her up in a hot air balloon, or hire a boy band to serenade her all evening.

But we will never – EVER – move near her birthday again.


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