This family always celebrated the end of summer and the start of school with a party.
Ari’s birthday is the end of August, so it’s been morphing from childhood birthday parties into teenage craziness and now? Well, now it’s a sitdown dinner and their friends still come, but I can once again supply all the food and drink because nobody is playing beer games or barfing in the shrubs. My babies have grown up.
We don’t do presents, because as I remind all of the kids all of the time: having me for a mother (or mother substitute, like: I Can’t Believe it’s Not Mother) is present enough. I am a gift, I tell them, and they pretend to accept it.
I actually got Ari a cake this year, and had them put balloons on it because it felt festive. White with chocolate icing, and “Happy Birthday Ari” scrawled on it like he was 3 instead of 23.
Ari and Taryn have gone the full vegetarian route now, which makes me do a cautious menu selection. The true test of accommodating half your guests is people fighting over everything served at the table, not staring forlornly at the neutered sawdust patty on their plate.
I’m not sure how my son has left steak behind but it’s easy enough, especially this time of year, to make vegetables the star of the table.
Taryn came through the door with a big bucket full of beautiful flowers. Her sister, along with her fiancé, works a farm, and Ari and Taryn spend a lot of time on the weekends helping out.
“Bouquets for all the girls!” announced Taryn, and I swiftly grabbed a bunch featuring sunflowers. I don’t usually do flowers; these were stunning, and as each “girl” arrived they claimed their prize.
“Wait, there’s something else,” said Ari, heading back to the car.
He came back wielding two glorious onions, stalks a couple of feet long and dirt still clinging to the bulbs.
“These are from the ones I planted in the spring. They are so good; we just sliced and ate one the other night. Here. Try it.”
I pretended it was the onion that made me a little teary as I added it to the roasting pan.
My father grew onions. My father ate those onions right from the knife. My father bragged about his onions, and he had every right to because he grew fabulous onions. And his grandson, who can’t remember him, was doing the same thing with the same joy in his voice.
Yeah, it was the onions that were making me cry.
A couple of days later as I scrolled through friends posting first day of school pictures of their little — and not so little — ones, I got a note from Ari.
“This Mexican thing is fantastic. Taryn and I split the leftovers to take to work.”
I’d sent everything home with both sets of kids, just like my mother had always done. Christopher and Ari had agreed to split the birthday cake, which was actually more surprising than the fact there was any left over at all.
On someone’s Facebook feed, some grouch asked why first-day-of-school pictures even matter. I smiled and knew before I checked that he had no children.
Kids hold signs in those pictures now; mine just squinted into the sun and told me to hurry up. Though I often had to cajole and bribe Ari and Christer to get those pictures, they are the mile markers of childhood.
Nothing reminds me of that so much as seeing them as adults now, bringing me flowers and onions and sharing birthday cake.