My daughter just turned nine on Saturday. My big plan for her birthday was to take her to the local carnival, buy a zillion dollars worth of tickets and junk food, and let her go nuts. The evening would finish with her very own fireworks display. All this and I wouldn't have to bake a cake or throw a party. It was one big birthday loophole and I was taking advantage of it.
I had a number nine candle and a box of matches in my purse ready to make any dessert she came up with her makeshift birthday cake. I had a foolproof plan... until the sky turned black.
We were at the carnival just long enough to buy food. Then the wind started blowing so hard the air turned brown with dust. Then the rain started dumping on us, making our newly purchased french fries soggy. Somewhere in there the lightening started to strike and in the end, that's what took the metaphorical cake.
The ride home to get dry clothes so we could redeem the celebration with an indoor activity was marred with a relentless din of children sobbing and pounding rain. As we got closer to our tree lined street the number and size of the branches that littered the road became progressively more worrisome.
Once we were on our street, the full sized tree and power lines that were blocking one side of the road had us all in a bit of a panic. They were feet from our neighbor's front door and I had to drive over branches to get past. That's when I made the mistake of saying, "Not having much luck for your birthday, are you Abby?" And her sobs transitioned into wails of anguish. Turns out dry humor is lost on a newly nine year old girl whose birthday plans were just ruined.
When I pulled up to my own house I could immediately see that there were trees down in our backyard. The skyline looked different. As I got closer, though, I noticed something odd. I saw what appeared to be the black hose I had bought that morning wrapped around my pole beans. I figured the wind had blown the hose across the yard. I was just about to pick it out of my garden when I noticed the large electric pole from our back yard laying down next to a few downed trees.
It wasn't the hose, my beans and yard were covered in a thick rope of electrical wire. Just as I grasped this I saw that my three year old was heading straight toward it, as I had. For once, the kid listened when I yelled for him to stop.
We of course had no power, still don't, and my older children, who were expecting a night of carnival and fireworks but were instead in a dark house surrounded by mayhem, were inconsolable. I could not believe my daughter's birthday was so thoroughly turned to crap. I had nothing with which to create an impromptu celebration, no cake, no ice cream, no dessert of any kind. With no power, the best I could have done was to stick my number nine candle in the sugar bowl.
The storm stopped as quickly as it started and fear of being trapped on our road by service crews with no way to redeem this failed birthday celebration had me ushering the kids, still wailing, back to the car. Ice cream. We needed ice cream. Stat.
My daughter wouldn't let me put the number nine candle in her sundae because she was too afraid we'd get in trouble for having a lit candle at the restaurant. As following the rules is a trait I'm trying to instill, I didn't push it. Instead I tried in vane to find a movie we could go see. No dice.
In the end, it was the grandparents who saved the day. Even though they had just gotten back in town from a funeral, they invited us up to spend the night. My mother-in-law even managed to produce mini cupcakes on which we could finally place the number nine candle and sing "Happy Birthday" properly.
There were presents to open from Mom Mom and an unwrapped present that my father-in-law even had me close my eyes for. When I opened them to see him hand my daughter her very own guitar, well, it is kind of hard to describe the gratitude I felt. My emotions seemed to be twinkling around me like I was in a room full of pixie dust.
The instrument would have been a great gift for her regardless of the circumstances, but juxtaposed with the events that preceded her receiving it, that guitar was pure magic. I am still amazed by how thoroughly the day turned on a dime not once, but twice.
In retrospect, there are three lessons, gifts if you will, I hope all of my kids received from that whirlwind birthday: be prepared for the unexpected, persevere even if the world is falling down around you, and never underestimate the ability of the people who love you to produce a miracle.
I like to throw things.