Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Nuclear Subter-fusion

I had a birthday recently. Well, not just any birthday.

I'm 30.

Let me just explain that I hate birthdays. All birthdays equally, whether or not there is a zero at the end of it. Not because I hate getting older. I don't care about that at all. You're as old as you feel, and most days, I'm still 16 - complete with pimples and low self esteem. And I don't have anything against presents, so feel free to give away. Cash is one-size-fits-all.

What I hate about birthdays is the same thing I hate about April Fool's Day. The element of trickery. Surprise. Making someone the center of attention against their will.

Jete knows me well and knows better than to throw me a surprise party. He has been in on surprise parties for me before and suffered for them. A baby shower my coworkers held for me. And a birthday party his mother threw last year. Because they were other people's parties he couldn't give them away. But he would never initiate a surprise himself. He has been witness to my wrath.

This birthday has been especially nerve wracking for me. There is something about those dreaded "zero" birthdays that make people crazy. For months people asked, "What are you doing for your 30th? Are you having a big party?" No. I had no party planned. I had a son with major surgery planned. His body cast was my birthday present. I had no intentions of running off to a big blow-out party while he was at home with a sitter. It just wasn't important to me.

Unfortunately, birthdays - like births, weddings, and anniversaries - are not really about the celebrant. They are about EveryoneElse. And EveryoneElse? Wants a party.

I knew my coworkers would do something because they are the Queens of Surprise. I talked to Jete the night before my birthday to see if he knew anything about their plans. And to assess his knowledge of my wishes for a quiet birthday. I wanted to hang out with him, maybe go to dinner. End of story. No surprises, no hoopla, no being the center of attention.

"You know, there better not be any subterfuge tomorrow."


"Yeah. Subterfuge."

"What the hell is subterfuge?" (Normally, Jete is a walking dictionary. He must have missed a page.)

"You know. Sneaking around and lying to my face but secretly planning something. Subterfuge."

He got a smirk on his face and just looked at me.

"What the hell is that look for?"

"What look?"

"That SMIRK. You are in on something. You KNOW something! Is it about work?"

"How would I know anything about your work? No. I don't know what they are planning."

"Then why are you smirking??"

"You never know... Maybe I have some subterfusion of my own going on. "

"You know, it's just subterfuge. It's not a nuclear reaction or anything."

"Whatever. I'm just saying."

My coworkers didn't disappoint. They hung up signs with my face on it and "The Big Three-Oh!" all over the office. They dressed all in black. They hung black balloons and crepe paper all over my cubicle. They wore the signs they had made on their backs - even when they took me to lunch at a local restaurant. They made sure the waiters and waitresses sang to me.

Yeah, they had the subterfuge going on.

That afternoon, I talked to Jete on the phone and told them what they had done. He laughed. He asked what we were doing that night. It was already 4:00. I said I didn't know. He said we'd figure it out when I got home. I was curious how we could make plans so late in the day, but thought maybe he had a secret plan.

I went home to find him in his flannel in-for-the-night pants. He had showered after work as he usually does and seemed settled. He was giving CG his bath and getting Ethan ready to have dinner. He asked me if I wanted to order Chinese or something.

I was disappointed. Is this what my life has become? My 30th birthday and this is how I was going to spend it? Another boring night, same as every other. Go to work. Come home. Feed people. Change diapers. Go to bed - in separate rooms no less, since Jete still sleeps in the living room with Ethan. When were we going to have some time together? Alone? Be adults for five minutes? We couldn't even get a meal together without someone crying or needing us.

I went online briefly, then came back to the living room and sat by the front window. I audibly sighed about a dozen times. I stared out the window and felt sorry for myself.

About a half hour later, Sete came in with her friend T. Jete greeted them in the kitchen. I wondered why she had stopped over, but since she lives on the next road, it didn't seem too odd. She asked how my day was, and I told her about what the Queens of Surprise had done. As we talked, Jete went down the hall to the bedroom.

He came back a few minutes later. He was dressed. Jeans and all. I looked at him, confused.

"Well? Are you going to change out of your work clothes?"

"Why? Change for what?"

"We're going out. Come on, let's go!"

I was skeptical, but I changed. I didn't know what he had planned. Sete was smirking at me as we walked out to the car.

When we got in the car, he asked me where I wanted to go.

"You mean you really don't have anything else planned? We aren't going to some surprise party somewhere are we?"

"No. This is it. We're going to dinner, and anywhere else you want to go in the next 2 hours. Your choice."

Over dinner, it came out that Jete had secretly called Sete the night before to arrange her babysitting services. He had done everything he could to not give it away with his smirking. Even "ordering Chinese" was a plot to throw me. He never takes the initiative to do something like that, so it didn't take much to fool me. Even so, he wanted it to be a surprise.

That was the best birthday gift I could have gotten.

We spent our two hours eating at Bertucci's and picking out tile at Home Depot. Those were my choices. Our time alone is precious, and sometimes practical things outweigh the romantic. Besides, who says you can't bond over home improvement tasks?

In the car on the way home, Jete was smirking again. I asked him what he was thinking about, and he summed it up in one word:


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