It was the most formal of times; it was the most casual of times. In both cases, however, it was “the best of times.” Several weeks ago, my wife and I had the great fortune of participating in two milestone celebrations with dear friends and family members on consecutive Thursdays. And the two functions could not have been more different. One was held in what many believe to be the nicest restaurant in the city; the other took place in our home (which some may consider one of the nicest in the city). At one, guests wore sports coats and dresses; at the other, we donned shorts and flip flops (and onesies). At one, we were served beef tenderloin, ahi tuna, and crab cakes; at the other, we dined on pizza and cake (and cheerios). At one, we sipped scotch, martinis and champagne; at the other, we chugged lemonade and soda (and milkie). At one, we discussed politics, retirement, and travel; at the other, we debated nursery schools, the Mattel toy recalls (thanks China), and potty training. At one, we were guests; at the other, we were hosts (and based on my estimate of the two bills, I’m fairly certain we got the better end of that deal).
Back in mid-September, one of my wife’s closest friends (and now mine as well), celebrated her Big “Five-O” at a fabulous dinner hosted by her husband. The evening included humorous toasts and heartfelt speeches that honored five decades of wonderful memories and detailed action-packed plans for the 50 years to come. Everyone shed a few tears of joy when her parents surprised her by arriving from out-of-town as our friend’s husband left no stone unturned in celebrating his wife’s milestone day. The guest of honor opened lovely gifts (though I specifically remember the invitation saying “no gifts please”) as she shared with us life lessons and the “secrets to her successes” which included many stories about the very people in that room. I sat next to a charming couple (just a “few” years my senior) who were enjoying retirement and relish those days when their grandkids stop by to be spoiled. The wine flowed throughout the night as very few of the guests had to get up early for work the next morning (and certainly no one else had small children at home).
I just hope I look as good (and am in as good of shape) as our friend when my big day arrives many (many, many) years in the future (a serious challenge since I already look and feel about 10 years older than she is). A few of my (much older) buddies likewise are approaching their milestone birthdays as they both turned 45 a few days apart (though their celebrations were slightly different). One underwent an MRI because of an aching back only to follow up with a colonoscopy a few days later. The other informed me that his wife would not be serving any ice cream at his birthday party (at least not to him), as he was recently diagnosed as being lactose intolerant. Somehow birthday cake and non-dairy yogurt doesn’t sound too appetizing.
JUST A FEW YEARS BEHIND
On the following Thursday, the partying continued as our daughter Emmy celebrated her Big “One” with an almost equally fabulous dinner hosted by her folks (that’s us). The evening included a Winnie the Pooh theme though Emmy was not very familiar with Eeyore or Piglet. (They were the best decorations at Party City.) Throughout the magical night, we toasted the many wonderful memories of past months that had simply flown by. Some pointed out how it seemed like just yesterday when she was learning to crawl (it was actually almost two months before). We laughed at the days gone by when Emmy could barely finish four ounces of formula (now, at many feedings, she drains six ounces of whole milk in a sippy cup with no problem). Tears flowed when we recalled her inability to eat solid food and how she would spit out anything with texture. (Well, in reality, she still does that.)
We serenaded her with a beautiful rendition of Happy Birthday as she eagerly eyed the fabulous cake (though she still didn’t recognize Owl or Roo). As the guest of honor, she was rewarded with the first piece, but chose to dump it on the floor and chew on the plate instead (remember, cake has texture). She excitedly watched as mommy and daddy opened her gifts (we did not include the traditional “no gifts please” on the invite) and could hardly contain her emotions over the rocking horse, red wagon, fashionable outfits, University of Texas clothing, and activity centers (which were only slightly less interesting than the torn wrapping paper and boxes all over the floor). Of course, she was thrilled to receive those U.S. savings bonds and has her heart set on a few key purchases when they mature in several years. (They are already earmarked for college savings assuming she is not on full scholarship, both academic and athletic.) By 8:30 pm, the lemonade pitchers had been put away as bed time loomed (I could hardly keep my eyes open) and the guests headed home for the night.
Emmy’s celebration continued at her music class that weekend as the entire class welcomed her with another quite distinct version of the birthday song. Over the next few weeks, she attended the parties of two of her best friends (whom I had never met) who reached their all-important one-year milestones slightly after her. One party was planned opposite the Texas/OU football game so I sense I will not become very close with the father. (He had no idea about the game, but did notice a lot of people wearing burnt orange that day, including Emmy and me.) The other party was highlighted by a petting zoo (which, of course, left Emmy wondering why we didn’t love her as much as Alicia’s parents…next year we get the moonwalk).
YOUNG AT HEART
The two evenings left me pondering the diverse lives we are leading as older parents. On one hand, some of our long-time friends are sending their kids off to college (or even beyond) and starting to live out their lives as empty-nesters. They offer us wonderful childrearing advice (at least, those who can think back that far) and love visiting with Emmy as she gives them good practice for those grandkids who may be arriving in just a few years. Others are raiding 401(k) accounts as they plan for Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and are living through those tough teenage years when kids realize that their parents aren’t perfect and begin to succumb to the dreaded peer pressure from their middle/high school friends. (We have decided to homeschool Emmy.) Yet, we continue to share bonds of history and past experiences with them that can never be replaced no matter how different the stages in life we are experiencing.
On the other hand, we are meeting lovely “young” couples around the neighborhood and in Emmy’s music class who cannot remember where they were (if they were even born) when a man first walked on the moon, President Reagan was shot (not to mention JFK), or Craig Curry dropped a punt in the 1984 Cotton Bowl (I still haven’t gotten over that one). I had already written Issue 1 of For What It’s Worth (this is number 83, if you’re counting) and my wife had made partner at her law firm when many of our new friends were still attending college. Yet, we are establishing different bonds with them as we watch our babies grow and celebrate new milestones together. Some might say that we get to experience the best of both worlds. We worked and played hard as “young” adults (yes, 40s still counts) as we sowed our wild oats living the “crazy” singles scene. We made many lifelong friends whom we continue to see for happy (and sad) occasions or just to hang out as schedules permit. Now we are able to better appreciate our new lives together and our daughter keeps us young at heart (assuming we don’t need MRIs for our aching backs in the near future). In other words, these are definitely “the best of times.”