David R. Jennings / Staff Photographer
Yesterday, I was up hours earlier than I wanted to be, stomping around the house as I tried on every swimsuit I owned before throwing it on the ground and picking up another, hoping it’d be the one that made me look tan and 20. By the time I was finished, my bedroom looked like a Target dressing room before spring break.
“Who throws a birthday party at a public pool at 10 in the morning on a Saturday?!” I asked the dog. “I don’t even have a present yet. I’m gonna roll up late looking like pillow stuffing wrapped in rubber bands. And what do you buy a 4-year-old?”
As I’ve gotten older and squishier, the birthday parties have changed. The bar crawls starting late in the night are slowly morphing into quiet 7 p.m. dinners with a glass or two of wine. And now, as my friends are starting families, the adult parties are disappearing to make room for kids’ parties. And there I was, having a meltdown about how I’d look in a swimsuit. Is being predictably ridiculous part of the human experience?
I put on my trusty pink swim skirt and turquoise bikini top, tossed on a cover-up and headed to the coffee shop for some thinking juice. What do you buy a 4-year-old?
I’ve been to enough baby showers to know a box of diapers and a bottle of wine will do the job, but that doesn’t work for a kid toeing the kindergarten line. I like to get Red Ryder BB guns for my adult womenfriends and bottles of whiskey for my menfriends, but I was pretty sure neither of those gifts would work for young Tilly. “Here’s a bottle of Bulleit rye and a Red Ryder, kid. Don’t shoot your eye out,” I’d say as her parents forcibly ejected me from the pool party.
Presents that work for people my parents’ age — pounds of coffee, potted plants, crystal tealight candleholders — those weren’t going to work either. I envisioned the kid’s obvious disgust as she shifted the begonias to the side and unwrapped a pound of Sumatra.
I needed help. “Did you get Tilly a present? What do I get her? Running late,” I texted my buddy Liz. She had a niece. Sure, the kid wasn’t even 2, but I knew she’d steer me away from golf towels and wind chimes.
“I dunno. A book?” she wrote back.
As I wandered the aisles of Target, making a beeline for the toys, I imagined showing up with hardbound copy of Cooking Light or “Guns, Germs and Steel.”
Shelves and shelves of sidewalk chalk, pool toys and figurines stared back at me. This wasn’t going to be so hard, I thought, before remembering the beading set I received for Christmas at age 12. I don’t even think I opened it. Suddenly, memories of spirographs, Lite-Brites, Chinese checkers, jump ropes, and endless stacks of construction paper washed to the forefront of my mind. “I used to be a kid, too!” I blurted out to the fourth-grader messing around in the car section. As he backed away to go find a sane adult, I saw the perfect present: a bubble machine, shaped like a teapot, but impossibly also shaped like Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage, covered in images of Disney princesses.
If Tilly doesn’t love it, she’s getting a pound of Sumatra dark roast for her fifth birthday.