“oh, a BOX!!! Just what I’ve always wanted!”

“If you don’t like it, or if it doesn’t fit, you can take it back. I don’t mind.”

“Is that it? Are there NO more PRESENTS for MEEEE???”

During any Christmas, birthday, or celebration of any kind involving presents, we always have to say the three quotes listed above. Otherwise it doesn’t feel right.

Tonight my family is celebrating the birthday of my Aunt Carol. Some of the usual suspects are missing…my mom and stepdad are in Hawaii, my little sister Sophia is off at college, one uncle sick, one uncle working. But there is a very strong core of people here to carry on the traditions of eating and drinking too much, and the present-opening rituals of days gone by. The comforting thing about family, as much as the landscape might change, with our families blending, people being added or going away, people moving, different houses, some things always stay the same. We either eat: Zachary’s pizza, Los Panchos, or steak. We either have: yellow cake with chocolate frosting or pineapple upside down cake. We always sing “Happy Birthday” and dissolve into a horrible four part harmony. My grandpa always takes five minutes to take one horrible picture. Someone always cries. Its magic.

My great-grandma, who we’ve always called “Grandma Great” and I’m not sure why…I’ve never once addressed her by her name, Mary, is here from the home where she now lives. She is 95 years old, and looks like a tiny, white, bewildered bird. We had to move her to a home last year because she was getting very confused and forgetful. It was really hard on my grandma and great-aunt. The first few months were very difficult, as she kept asking for the keys to her car and saying that she “just wants to go home!” and getting very angry and confused. But now she seems more comfortable. The home is run by some very nice Filipino people, and filled with tiny old people who sit hunched over their laps, hoping to be picked up by family, or falling asleep.

Its hard to watch a family member to get older and lose touch. Gma Great is the first I’ve seen of elderly people in  someone that I love. She doesn’t remember why she’s here, or who we are married to, or whose house we’re at. She still has her sense of humor sometimes, and she still loves a Corona and tacos, and she still signs birthday cards the same way.

Every time we hang out she asks what I’m doing.

“Oh, you’re a teacher?” “Yes, Grandma.” “Oh, what do you teach?” “Junior high.”

Then she always makes a noise like “well, la dee dah!” or “Ooop da lala!” and asks me if I get paid more to work with that kind of child.

A few minutes go by, and we have the same conversation. Sometimes I tell her I’m training to be an astronaut, or I’m just coming back from backpacking the Sierras, or I’m moving to Russia. We talk about it for a few minutes, then she forgets, then we start all over again.

Its strange to miss someone who is sitting right beside you.

The “little boys” as we call them, are running around the house, as they always do. There is usually a jumping-off-the-stairs stunt, or a shirts on skins game, definitely some farting, and the party isn’t complete without an injury and tears. Their names are Vinnie, Tony, and Jack. Its a small Mafia in training.

The dog, Darcy Bennett, is here. She scouts around hopefully for a scrap of Zachary’s pizza or pineapple upside down cake, the traditional foods we always have for C’s birthday. Her little dainty paw nudges at your knees over and over until you glance down at those puppy eyes….we’re doing our best to resist, as puppy is looking a little big around the edges.

Right now we’re all playing Dance Off on the Wii, and laughing our heads off. Except for me, who came upstairs to knock out a blog really quick. :) J and I are headed downtown tonight to paint the town red. I take that back. Paint the town blue and gold. Or black and orange black and orange. Smile.

Au revoir!