Aly's 16th Birthday...a perfect night.
When it comes to a 16th birthday for your kid, you almost are forced to have the surprise party planned days or weeks in advance of the actual birthday to keep your kid off the scent. Even then, they have a 6th sense that something's coming, and with every child that hits the milestone, they are more aware then ever that there is a collective conspiracy.
So even though Aly's birthday is today, the celebration of it happened in earnest last Thursday. It had been planned before the foundation of the world, which is to say that Heidi has been stewing on it for months on end, scheming and dreaming about how it could all come together like a fairytale. I don't know if you've ever tried to create a fairytale in real life, but it's no cakewalk. That being said, Heidi is a master of creating fairytale-like days for our children.
The first prerequisite to pulling off a great surprise party is to manufacture a believable lie. In this case Heidi had told Aly that she was watching the boys so that her mom and dad could have a long overdue date night. It had been some time since she'd done that, so she was down with it. She knew she had soccer practice and then was going to be coming home to hold down the fort with the "little lions". Her brain was thoroughly washed.
What she didn't know is that it was all an elaborate fib. When Heidi went to pick her up from practice, she gave her a little envelope with a card in it that said, "Be our guest". Aly loves "all things Disney", but her favorite animation by far is "Beauty and the Beast". She has memorized all the songs and she simply is bewitched with the storyline. Heidi knew that all she had was her grubby practice gear, so she brought two changes of clothes for her to choose from and then took her to have a pedicure. While that was happening, she was going to straighten her hair and get her all dolled up to take her out to eat. What she didn't know is that Heidi had arranged for all her friends to be at Mangiamos, an old mansion in Grand Rapids that has been converted into a magnificent Italian restaurant. Each friend would be one of the Disney princesses when she turned the corner into the special dinner area held in the old library. (Aly loves the library scene in Beauty and the Beast)
When she and her mom arrived at the restaurant, they walked into the dining room and Aly burst into tears when she saw everyone. She cries just like her mom, half smiling, half wincing in apparent pain trying to wipe the tears from her eyes so that her makeup doesn't run and smear. It's a precious thing to behold.
Heidi had purchased a glass globe that was covering a single red rose just like the movie. There were decorations and the "Be our guest" theme was woven throughout the night. There were lots of happy tears but there was also hearty laughter that filled that old library with mirth and merriment. The fairytale was unfolding.
Sometimes when you plan something like this, there are other surprises that you couldn't anticipate or even afford that put the cherry on top! One of those serendipitous delicacies was live music right there in the room. These two guys were actually playing one of Aly's favorite love songs when she finally got settled into the bustling atmosphere. She looked over at her mom and said, "Did you hire a live band?" Heidi is more holy than I, cause I would have owned it, winked, and nodded my head. But she shook her head and admitted that was even a surprise to her. That was one of Aly's favorite aspects of the night. The two guys kept playing all her favorite songs...and if there is one thing that defines Aly it is music. She loves good music from all eras and what's crazy is that she has all the lyrics memorized. She said that every song they played were her favorites...not surprising since these guys were playing popular cover songs. (but we don't need to tell her that and ruin the fairytale) They even stopped when they found out it was Aly's 16th birthday and got the whole room full of friends and strangers to sing her happy birthday together. The night just kept getting better.
Where was I while this was happening? Glad you asked. The crucial part I played was being with the boys so this all could happen without a hitch. Cause nothing says hitch like throwing two little boys into the dream of creating a fairytale. They tear fairytales apart and eat them like turkey legs at the state fair. So we hung out at home climbing trees, cutting wood, taking tractor rides, and staying active. I put them to bed around 8:15pm knowing that Aly and her friends would be coming to our house around 9pm. I stopped hearing noise around 8:50pm and moved onto the next part of the evening.
It was my responsibility to tidy up the house and then get a fire started down in the fire pit. It's hard to believe, but it's the first fire we've had this year. I collected a bunch of wood in a wagon and hauled it over to the campfire. I wanted to get it raging just in time for them to step out of their cars and see it blazing in the backyard. The sunset was unreal. It had rained momentarily and then the clouds lifted and the sun broke through with brilliance. The backyard was verdant and pungent. The word that comes to mind is idyllic.
I heard the cars crowding into our driveway and the girls hopped out and made their way into the house. I got to hug Aly and hear firsthand her reactions to all the surprises...she was talking a mile and minute.
Her friends brought her presents and she took time to read the cards and open them around our kitchen table. I love seeing our kitchen table being used for community...the sound of cross-conversation, shotgun-giggles, and story-telling is intoxicating to me. One time I just backed away over near the kitchen sink and took it all in trying to capture it searing the memory in my mind forever. Some of the cards brought tears to Aly's eyes....one made her ball like a baby. Her friends took time to share their deep heart for her. Many days she doesn't know if she is making any difference in their lives and today she was picking the fruit of her faithfulness. Nights like this are to die for.
While they were finishing their brownies and ice cream, I stoked the fire again to get it good and hot, and invited them to go down and get warmed up. After they all got down to the fire pit, I slipped away under the cover of the night and left them to enjoy the freedom of girly campfire conversation. Again, I stood on the deck overlooking them down by the fire and soaked in the moment. These nights come and go so quickly and I didn't want to miss a second of the sacredness I feel when time seems to stand still so you can take it in with large gulps. I drank deep of the sights, sounds, and smells of that Thursday night.
It wasn't long before the girls headed home and we were left with the after party mess. But the mess is so worth it on nights like this. We didn't care about the mess so much as talking to Aly about what she loved and remembered...retelling stories is my favorite part of story telling. Aly gushed with joy. We smiled with satisfaction.
What a night.
I love my second born girl with all my heart. My hope is that she will never forget this night because I know I won't.
I love you, Gracie Grace.