Friday, October 8, 2010

Chaotic Cake-Cutting

            The only thing more chaotic and stressful than hosting a two-year-old birthday party is to have the unimaginable coincidence of celebrating it the day after moving into your new home. Imagine twenty-some kids running around wildly, popping balloons, destroying my mother’s flowers, over-stressing the swing, and not even once sitting still, even during the serving of the cake.
            I’d thought it would be overall a bit more, oh, I don’t know, peaceful, somehow. Thankfully, there were lots of adults around so no major harm was done, but Celia didn’t even open half her presents – how could she, surrounded by two dozen delightful screaming children – which means that I have very little sense of who gave her what.
            By the time the birthday party was over, Michelle was stressed and exhausted. She’d lost her voice, and the light was starting to leave her eyes.
            “Don’t stop now,” I told her. “We have to move over Celia’s crib and another load of our stuff so we can sleep in our new home tonight.”
            “I don’t want to sleep in our new home tonight. I want to stay here another night.” Michelle not only sounded horrible, she had a look in her eye like a cornered squirrel – trying to find an escape route to safety.
            “What!? We didn’t say that before! We’d planned on staying in our new home!” I was exasperated. I’d spent the entire last two days working up a sweat loading and unloading nearly every last item of ours into the new house. All that was left was Celia’s crib, some clothing, and random household items strewn around the parents’ house. My back was sore, I was dehydrated, and I was ready to collapse into bed just as soon as we put some sheets on it.
            “I don’t want to,” Michelle replied with a rasp. “I’m done.”
            I paused.
            I think taking a breath and looking her in the eye was probably the best thing I could have done, because I was about to snap at her. Instead, I saw the weariness in her eyes and tried to set aside my own exhaustion so I could empathize.
            “I can respect the fact that you’re tired,” I said, looking her in the eye, “And that we’re absolutely crazy to move the day of our daughter’s birthday. But I’ve already moved nearly everything. I need you for one or two more hours to give it that last push. In two hours it’ll all be over. The kids will be in bed and we can sit down with a drink and relax. But I need you right now. My mom will come over and help. We can do this.”
            Michelle nodded. She took a deep breath and seemed to calm down. I turned and instantly spun into action, loading the kids and a few more items into the van.
            My mom was a godsend. I don’t think we could have done it without her. She held a wailing Joshua as Michelle and I put sheets on our bed and got the room semi-decent for him to sleep in. Then, she held different parts of the crib as I reassembled it in Celia’s new room.
            Sure enough, within an hour and a half both kids were asleep, and Michelle started washing up to do the same.
            “I’m heading back to the parents’ house for another load.” I told her.
            I kissed her and drove back the parents’ house, running up and down stairs with boxes and sifting through the kitchen for critical items. As I was about to go out the door to sleep in my new home, my dad stopped me.
            He put his hands on my shoulders and looked me in the eye. Then, he kissed my left cheek, then right cheek, and then the left again, as he always does. Michelle says she thinks he does three kisses to reflect the Trinity, and that he’s praying a blessing over you when he does it. I don’t know if that’s true, but I felt blessed. Then, he looked me in the eye while holding my head and said, “Welcome home, Habibi.”
            For the last few months I’ve felt like a nomad, living life in transition, always thinking about what’s next and having a lot of difficulty staying in the present. Finally, the day has come. And my dad was the first to say it.
            I am home.

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