Bedtime was not going well.
I’d already marched down the hall three times to put an (albeit temporary) end to the boys’ conversations and waited through Eli’s long explanation for why he was still up: it was the stuffies. Moosie goes to bed at 8:30, he explained, but Bunny stays up till 9 and Ringo the lemur is a night owl with an 11:00 bedtime. Eli wanted to keep Ringo company, but his chatting was bothering his brother and driving me to distraction. I was at the end of my rope when Eli held up Moosie.
“Mama?” said Eli-as-Moosie.
“Moosie, I can’t hear it!” I snapped. “You’ve been talking way too much tonight! It’s bedtime!” (You know it’s bad when you’re shouting at stuffed animals.)
Eli crumpled and started to cry.
“Oh, Eli,” I said, instantly chastened. “Please don’t cry. Tell me what Moosie wanted to say, just this one more thing, and then we all need to stop talking and go to bed, ok?”
Well. I should have known that given an opening, Eli would jump right in.
Through his tears, Eli told me it was Moosie’s birthday, and we had forgotten. We hadn’t done any of the special things we’ve done during the recent run of birthdays: Ben’s in March, Tony’s in April, and Eli’s just last week. We hadn’t hung the birthday letters, nor baked a cake and served it on the family-heirloom musical cake plate. There had been no special breakfast, no gifts, no singing. As Eli spoke, Ben sat up, his annoyance gone, and started to chime in along with me, trying to comfort Eli.
We would celebrate Moosie’s belated birthday (Ben helpfully explained to his little brother what “belated” means). We sang Happy Birthday right then, to make Moosie feel better, but we would sing it again in the morning. We would hang the birthday letters and set out some treats. And we would celebrate Bunny’s birthday, too. Bit by bit, Eli’s tears stopped and his sniffling slowed. Both boys were excited (but not too excited) about our celebratory plans. They snuggled back down in their beds. They stopped talking.
When Tony got home from his meeting, he set to work making cut-outs of Moosie and Bunny. I got out the cake plate, a relic of Tony’s childhood, and set it with small bowls of peanuts and carrots. We felt silly and indulgent, but why not? It doesn’t take much to provoke a smile, to send a kid to bed with happy dreams, and this was one of those times it felt pretty easy to say yes to a happy, silly plan.
The next morning, Eli announced it was Ringo the lemur’s birthday, too, and that Ringo likes to snack on eucalyptus leaves. With some quick work, we expanded the celebration to include Ringo (Eli need never know those were bay leaves in the lemur’s bowl). When Eli saw it, he grinned broadly, and then sat the stuffies right down to enjoy their birthday snacks. Luckily, nobody asked for any presents.