“Can you hear us?”
It’s that face your mother-in-law makes when she’s miffed. There are two ways you can handle this situation: The bad option is to scream so loudly that it shakes your daughter, who's seated in the plastic high chair on the day of her first birthday party. The good option is to politely chuckle, stifle yourself, and say in your most forgiving lilt: “We’re working on it!”
We did the second thing.
Earlier that day I texted all the family members that they should be ready to celebrate Birdie’s first birthday over Zoom at 6:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m. EST. “So 6:30, right?” my mom in Philadelphia asked.
“No, 7:30 your time.”
“Oh. Well, alright.”
Roughly 40 minutes later my Dad called.
“Hey, am I gonna have trouble getting to this Zoom?”
“What does that mean?”
“Can you email the link to me? I’d rather watch on my computer.”
My wife did all the work. She crafted a “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” banner to hang on the fireplace. She wrapped the presents, including the 3-foot-tall box that Birdie didn’t unwrap when it was time—my other daughter, Evie, was all over it because she was “helping.” I use quotation marks because, really, she just wanted to unwrap it herself.
My wife also baked a big chocolate sheet cake for us and a round smash cake for Birdie. She connected her computer to our large monitor so we could see everything loud and clear, like my brother’s eyebrows and my Dad’s entire ceiling because that’s all we see when he joined Zoom.
I worked while my wife prepared everything, but I did cook spaghetti and red sauce because it’s Birdie’s favorite meal. Also, my wife said the only thing I really needed to do was write something for Birdie. So here it is.
I don’t know in what state the world will be when you read this; I can only hope it’s better than how we experienced it when you celebrated your first birthday. You won’t remember but we were in the house a lot. All the time. That was unusual for us.
Before The Pandemic—which at least today is an odd thing to write—you, your mother, your sister, and I went outside all the time, but it wasn’t just parks and playgrounds. We ate at restaurants, hung out at breweries, and traveled to places two, three, six hours from home. We hiked 1,500-foot mountains. I hiked mountains even taller than that, and before all of this I was planning to drive to Atlanta, fly to Los Angeles and Chicago, and discover more of America in between.
The good thing is you seem to have carried on the discoverer gene. At home you climb on stools, coffee tables, and counters as if they’re mighty ranges sheltering the Continental Divide. You delight in being held upside down, carried on my shoulders and down my spine, tossed lightly in the air, and balled up like an armadillo in some insane feat of gymnastics. Birdie, please know that my lifelong dream is to be that crazy dad in the 23rd row of the second level of the Gymnastics Center during the third week of July every fourth year.
You’re unafraid to crawl to people, and as of this very day, to walk without help. You’ll eat anything, especially if it’s dehydrated and resting on the floor for more than three days. You’ve never met a salad dressing bottle you haven’t loved romantically, and I'm pretty sure you'd be kosher with me dumping a vat of water on your head. We've already put $500 on you running away from home and ending up in the Himalayas by age 19. You’re weird.
But you also give the best hugs, emphasizing each with an “awww” while staying on my shoulder two seconds longer than I always expect. Every time you come at my face with an open mouth I don't know whether to laugh hysterically or return your kiss, so I do both. My favorite time of the day is when I cuddle you in your jammies and let you drink milk to a sleepy finish, all while I attempt to sing “Blackbird” well enough so that you won’t loathe the song in 20 years.
Just about everything I described has been everything I’ve observed over these last six weeks during The Pandemic, as we’ve spent nearly all of our time in our quaint house somewhere in Houston. I wish we could have thrown you a big party deserving of your gigantic personality, one where all of your grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins could gather just to watch you wonder why the heck everyone was staring at you. Instead, they all did that from cameras, and Poppy showed us his ceiling, Uncle Jack zoomed in on his eyebrows, Granny was still late for the call even though I told her twice the correct time, and Grandma screamed into a cell phone that she couldn’t hear us.
So I chuckled and stifled myself and said, “We’re working on it.”
Birdie, I swear to you that we’re working on it.