Last child’s first birthday a dud

For years I have been dogged by this vague memory of a kid’s birthday that didn’t go well. I couldn’t remember which kid it was or which year it was; just that it was something I Birthday cakedidn’t want to revisit.

We mothers work hard at keeping our less than stellar moments locked in the dark, but sometimes they have a way of slithering into the light.

We were looking at photo albums and came across first birthday parties. The oldest had a great party in the backyard with blue skies, lots of family friends and a giraffe cake. The second one had an adorable clown-themed party with a pink elephant cake with a licorice tail. The third one discovered she had been ripped off.

It was the bad memory I had worked to forget.

The four photos (considerably fewer than the two dozen documenting the other parties) show us in the kitchen with no balloons, no decorations, nothing, just a couple of beat-up Happy Meal boxes sitting on the counter in the background.

Our youngest said, “So it’s true, the last one really does get the shaft!”

The husband offered that we must have had a party for her at a later time.

“No,” I said, “that was it.”

“Where are all our friends?” she asked.

“We didn’t have any. We’d just moved 2,500 miles and were still getting to know people.”

“But where’s all the family?”

“Living out of town,” I said.

It was coming back to me with painful clarity. It had not been a great day. The 3-year-old had one of her epic breakdowns due to the upheaval of moving and the 5-year-old had jerked my chain one too many times. When the husband came home, I asked him to take the kids to McDonald’s. Since that was something we rarely did, I remember telling the oldest two they didn’t deserve a treat, so they’d better not enjoy it.

In the 40 minutes I had to myself, I picked up the house, whipped up a cake and threw it in the oven.

“So the cake is that blob on my high chair?” our youngest asked, looking at the snapshots.

“Yeah, that mound with a candle shoved in it,” I said.

“What’s all the goo?”

“I had to frost it while it was still warm.”

“Did I have gifts?”

“Yep. They’re in that brown grocery bag.”

Mothers like to create the illusion that they are always on top of things. The last thing they want to do is admit that something didn’t go well. But, pure and simple, some days are a train wreck. Some days you do what you can with what you have and tell yourself that tomorrow will be better. Those days may seem like failures, but if you don’t quit and keep going, they are successes.

I told the kid that didn’t get much of a first birthday party that we could take her to Chuck E. Cheese’s for her birthday this year if she still felt ripped off. She just turned 28.

She’s still laughing.

Satisfied with being dissatisfied

Why is it we always seem so surprised when a poll tells us what we already know? A Pew Research poll found more than 80 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the way things unhappy faceare going. Everywhere you turn, people are dissatisfied and they’re not afraid to talk about it.

A woman was voicing dissatisfaction with her grown son who recently moved back home. “We provide a roof over his head, cook his meals, do his laundry, make his car payment and even mute his cell so it doesn’t disturb him when he sleeps until noon, but he doesn’t seem motivated to get on his own two feet,” she fumed.

“At least he’s satisfied,” I said.

Two women on a morning news show were expressing their dissatisfaction with a certain pop star that had been shaking her pop star backside and behaving crudely.

“Appalling,” said one.

“Troubling,” said the other.

“Be sure to watch tomorrow when she’ll be here for a concert on the plaza!”

A neighbor was expressing dissatisfaction over his financial situation. “Groceries are skyrocketing, the cost of gasoline is a killer and our health care premiums are shooting through the roof. Our credit cards are maxed out and we’ve got nothing for college, let alone retirement.”

“Hang tough,” I said. “Say, is that delivery truck stopping here?”

“Yeah, that’s our new giant flat screen,” he said.

A young mother was expressing dissatisfaction with her family’s together time. “It’s just so hard to find time to connect,” she said, on the verge of tears.

“Always has been,” I said.

“Between dance lessons, music lessons, sports, plays, my late hours, Sam’s late hours and season football tickets, we hardly see each other.”

“Would you describe yourself as somewhat dissatisfied or very dissatisfied?” I asked.

She was about to answer when we were interrupted by a text on her cell. “Oh great,” she shrieked. “Now I have to reschedule Girls Night Out.”

The produce manager I chit chat with at the grocery was complaining about the circus in Washington. “Just the same-old, same-old,” he said, tossing eggplants into a bin. “Fraud, waste, entitlements, no accountability. They spend other people’s money with glee. Something needs to change,” he barked. “Sounds like you’re dissatisfied enough to get involved,” I said.

“Naw, what’s the point?” he growled, hurling another eggplant. It missed the bin and exploded on the floor.

A young friend expressed dissatisfaction with his children’s education. “It’s not just the academics, it’s the toxic culture,” he said.

“Would you say you’re mildly dissatisfied or somewhat dissatisfied?”

“We’re terribly dissatisfied,” he said. “But we talked about it and agreed to wait another year or two to see if things don’t improve. “

“At least you have a plan,” I said.

Never have so many been so dissatisfied and so unwilling to do anything about it.

Does this computer make me look paranoid?

To say the husband is security minded is tantamount to saying that the Pope is Catholic. I must admit, however, that over the years the husband has shaved off what he believes to be considerable time from the 30-minute home-security ritual he goes through every time we leave town.

Ten seconds.

All that to say, I should not have been surprised when he was working on his laptop at the kitchen table and I saw a small pink Post-it note stuck to the top of his computer.

“Is that a reminder for something?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “It’s in case anyone tries to hack through the wireless and access the webcam.”

I asked why he thought someone might weasel through his webcam and he said, “Well, they did it to Miss Teen USA and she wasn’t too happy about it.”

Because there is a delicate balance between honesty and love in the course of a marriage, I reminded him, ever-so-gently, “You are not Miss America.”

I may also have reminded him that he is a late middle-age male who never streaks through the house in the buff.

When we skyped with our son later, I told him about the Post-it on his dad’s computer. I asked what the thought a hacker might see. He began to imitate someone falling asleep at the computer. The husband was only mildly amused and said, “That’s not the only thing someone might see. They could also see me eating pretzels.”

He had us there. We had completely overlooked the pretzels. It would not be case of webcam sextortion, but a case of webcam carbtortion.

The husband also reminded us that the last iPhone update had a glitch that let anyone bypass the phone’s lock to hijack photos, texts and emails.

“Exactly why I didn’t update my phone,” I said. “I don’t want someone stealing my photo of that lovely apple pie I made or pictures of my herb bed.”

Everyone is at risk to intrusions from technology, yet there is a comfort, and no doubt a false sense of security, in knowing that we are boring—not necessarily to one another, but by any measure of today’s Kardashian standards.

I was working at my desktop, where I put a Post-it on the top of my computer screen as a sign of solidarity (even though my desktop monitor doesn’t have a webcam), when the husband came in to tell me something.

“What’s with that spoon in your hand?” I asked.

“Ice cream,” he said.

“Make sure your Post-it is in place, I said. The last thing we need is the world knowing that we’re so boring we even eat plain old vanilla bean.”

‘Don’t anybody touch my stuff’

I am with our twin granddaughters, who recently turned three, and their one-year-old sister in the attic of the old house where they live. The attic has small paned windows with thick High heelswavy glass on either side of where a chimney used to be. The gabled ceiling cocoons the wide open space, creating an idyllic place for play.

One of the twins announces she has to use the potty, which is down the stairs and at the end of the hall on the second floor.

She pauses at the top of the stairs, tosses back her head of curls, and sweetly says, “Don’t anybody touch my stuff.”

She could have said, “Be right back,” or “Will someone go with me?” but instead she fires a shot across the bow. Granted, it was a pink, fluffy shot covered in feathers, but it was a shot nonetheless.

She pauses halfway down the steps and sweetly calls out again, “Don’t anybody touch my stuff!”

We hear the creak of the door at the bottom of the stairs.

“Don’t anybody touch my stuff!” she sings.

“Nobody is touching your stuff!” her mother calls back. “We don’t even know what stuff is your stuff!”

Her stuff could be the small naked doll with the cloth body, the Elmo slippers or the purse in the shape of an alligator. It could be the plastic cozy coupe that has already been sideswiped twice this morning and rolled once. Whatever her stuff is, we know this much: We are not to touch it.

She leaves the door to the attic open. Footsteps pad down the hall. The toilet lid goes up. “Don’t anybody touch my stuff!” she shouts.

This is a child who usually insists on privacy, but today she is deeply concerned about her stuff.

The toilet flushes.

“Nobody touch my stuff!”

“Nobody is touching your stuff,” I yell back. “Your stuff is plastic and Grandma only likes plastic in the shape of small cards with magnetic stripes on the back.”

In the child’s defense, her younger sister is occasionally dubbed “Swiper” for grabbing whatever is of interest to the older girls. When you live with someone nicknamed Swiper, perhaps you are never truly at rest.

She clamors up the stairs still sing-songing, “Don’t anybody touch my stuff!”

It turns out, the stuff she is concerned about is a doll stroller and a pair of pink plastic high heels. This is the equivalent of a convertible to a man in midlife crisis and a pair of Jimmy Choo’s for a 20-something female.

We are all a touch possessive about our stuff. We can even be annoying about our stuff. But at least as adults, we’re too sophisticated to go around saying, “Don’t anybody touch my stuff!”

The one concerned about others touching her stuff seats herself at the little table and begins coloring with her twin, who has been quietly taking it all in. Swiper is in another corner of the attic, momentarily entertaining herself.

In a sweet voice barely above a whisper, the twin who has been at the table coloring all along looks at her sister and says, “The next time you leave, I’m gonna touch your stuff.”