Last Friday was my 35th birthday. Although not a "milestone" birthday by any stretch of the imagination, I have been dreading it secretly because it means I'm closer to 40. For years I have been (jokingly) telling my kids I am 29....and the young ones still believe me because they simply don't know any better!
Late Friday morning, a friend of mine picked up the boys so they could do some work around her horse pasture. Tristin-Grace went with them since she had the day off from school. My friend keeps another little girl who is Tristin-Grace's age. The girls met at Vacation Bible School last year and got together frequently over the summer. Since school started, this has been their first opportunity to get together (the girl lives in a neighboring town and attends school in another district. Their days off don't always coincide).
I decided to take Teagan, Annie, Taryn, and Ruthie out to lunch for a treat since it was just us "girls." We rarely eat out for lunch, and since I've been doing my once-a-month-cooking, we hadn't eaten out for supper in a while, either. I phoned TJ to see if he minded, and he agreed to meet at McAllister's Deli (a yummy favorite of mine!).
Over lunch I questioned TJ about the plan for dinner that evening. Earlier in the morning I mentioned to Thomas that I wanted to go eat dinner at a favorite Japanese restaurant. He responded in a strange way, saying we had to go to the Olive Garden. He quickly recovered, giving reasons to support his claim. But, I was suspicious. My suspicions were dropped, however, when TJ said we could go eat wherever I wanted.
The girls and I went home after lunch and the afternoon went on. I did my usual routine of laundry, dishes, etc. The boys and Tristin-Grace arrived back home about 4:30p, and Tristin-Grace asked if my friend was here. I gave her a puzzling look while Thomas got really angry. I quickly told her to stop talking and tried to defuse the situation with Thomas. Although I had no idea what she was talking about, I began to again think they were planning something. I asked Thomas if I needed to change (I was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt- not exactly "nice" clothing). Without saying a word, he nodded his head yes.
About 10 minutes later, I was getting the kids ready to go. I had just sat down to feed the baby when my phone rang. It was my friend Chelsea (from Ohio) calling to wish me a happy birthday. While I was talking to her, one of my kids exclaimed that my friend, Valarie, was at my house. I quickly hung up with Chelsea and tried to process what was going on. I didn't think a whole lot about Val being at the house because we had been texting back and forth earlier in the day. I knew she was going to be dropping off her son at church for a campout. I had invited her to come to dinner with us since it was just her and her husband. Although she never responded, I figured she was stopping by to either say hello or go with us.
She came inside and mass chaos broke out. Taryn had a dirty diaper, Annie had just awoken from her nap and wanted "Mommy Cuddle Time", and I was nursing the baby. Val offered to change Taryn for me and Tristin-Grace went about helping her to do so. After that was done, the kids took turns talking to Valarie and whatnot. A few minutes later I realized I hadn't seen Taryn since having her diaper changed. I called her, and at that exact moment, TJ phoned. As I was explaining to him that Valarie was at the house and that I was trying to locate Taryn, Taryn came downstairs. She was covered in body lotion. Everywhere. I hung up with him and went upstairs to bathe her.
In the meantime, TJ arrived home. I have no idea what was said between him and Val since I was up in the bathroom with Taryn, but when I came down, he sent me off to dinner with her. I was again suspicious of a (family) party because I heard TJ tell Annie we were going out to eat. When Valarie and I left the house, she drove me to Target. We shopped for about an hour (which was so nice because I didn't have the kids with me- I could actually look at stuff). As we left the parking lot, Val asked me if I minded going to the Olive Garden for dinner since it is located just across the street. Of course I said "No", and I was extremely suspicious.
As she pulled into the parking lot, it was PACKED! She circled the lot 4 or 5 times looking for a parking spot. I carefully looked too, but not for a spot. I was looking for my truck. I was expecting TJ and the kids to be inside waiting to surprise me. I never saw it. I began to think they parked somewhere else so I wouldn't see the truck. Finally Val suggested we park across the street at another restaurant and walk over.
Once inside, she spoke to the hostess and we were told to go back. I knew then something was up because there were so many people in the lobby area; the wait was probably an hour or more. Walking back to our table, I fully expected to see TJ and the kids. I was pleasantly (overwhelmingly!) surprised!!
It has been a long time since I've celebrated my birthday with friends, and this year TJ and Thomas planned me a HUGE surprise party. At the table were close to 20 women, each special to me in her own way. Some I have known for years, others I am in the process of getting to know better. My eyes filled with tears immediately because I know what a sacrifice it was for each of them to be there that night. Not just in terms of money, but in arranging for childcare with their husbands, planning a meal for their families' in her absence, and of course of time spent away from their family. (One friend who was there hadn't seen her husband all week because he had been out of town. He had just arrived back in Charlotte that evening. Another friend was invited to a get-together at another church member's home. She explained the situation and decided to come to dinner with me. In a wheelchair because she is recovering from foot surgery. Driven there by her husband because she can't drive yet. A third only stayed for a short time because her son was coming to visit for the night. She needed to get home to make a late supper. It is this kind of friendship that brings tears to my eyes). We all enjoyed each other's company and yummy food.
For me, this birthday will always be a cherished memory. I spent most of my life feeling alone, like the "odd man out" whenever it came to friends. I moved around so much and cliques had been formed long before I arrived to a new city or town. I had friends, but I didn't allow myself to get close to them because I knew I would probably be moving away soon enough. Although I stayed in the same town from 8th grade through high school, it was difficult for me to really find my niche. I did, but in some ways I was still an outsider. When I joined the Air Force, I worked in aircraft maintenance. That is not a typical "woman" job so there were few women for me to befriend. Of the couple friends that I did make, one moved away and we lost touch, and the other now lives in Hawaii (hi Andrea!!). It's rather difficult to maintain a close friendship when the distance is so far apart.
Looking back, I should have known TJ and Thomas were up to something, but my mind is so consumed with other "stuff" on a daily basis that I didn't think much of what I noticed. For instance, I caught Thomas putting away our church directory a couple of weeks earlier. I questioned him about why he had it, but once he answered me, I forgot all about it. Another time, I wanted to see an invitation to a birthday party my boys were invited to. He was being weird about letting me hold it, and TJ stepped in and said Thomas had written down some birthday gift ideas for me on the back. Again, I didn't push the issue and let it drop. Later I found out Thomas had really used the back of the invitation to write down RSVP's for my party.
As far as a family celebration, we went the next evening to the Japanese restaurant.