(It's a long one, but it's worth - PROMISE!)
I just LOVE my birthday. I mean HATE it! A reminder that I spent another year swimming in chaos like a wild monkey in the Amazon river. As I flounder about always fighting against the current, I watch the rest of the world float by on their lazy river raft of peace and serenity, gawking at my dumpster fire life on full display. I stop and remember, I have four healthy, beautiful kids. A husband, who is charmingly oblivious to the madness. A roof over my head and Lego pieces under my bare feet. And for being ‘not-40-yet’, I am healthy and strong.
Just like any other Wednesday morning, I am up before the sun. I tip-toe across the kitchen, waltzing around the boards I know will creek and crack as I make my way to the back door to let Bambi out before she wakes the entire house. Luckily, Bambi scurries out the back door undetected by the rest of the house. I set the coffee pot to auto-brew last night, so the coffee is steaming ready by the time I get to it. I pull out my French Vanilla creamer from the fridge as I watch the morning blend turn to a perfect golden river of delight. I sit on the couch in the dark of the living room with the glowing green light of the Blueray player. I hold my “I’m so fancy” mug with both hands up to my nose as I smell the vanilla and coffee beans fragrances collide.
I close my eyes. Just like my meditation app tells me, I picture the peace roll through my mind and I take a deep breath. Yes. Peace. An unfamiliar feeling, so I enjoy this rare treat. I. Am. At. Pe…
HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOMMY!!!
My eyes bounce open as my fancy mug shatters into four thousand pieces on the hardwood floor. My robe is soaking wet and smelling like my vanilla bean coffee dream. I see my youngest son with a party hat on, no pants and an “oh-shit” look on his face.
Unfortunately, the celebration of my birth is not a national holiday, which means this life of chaos does not pause. Everyone must get to school. We have three practices after dismissal. I have a conference call with my supportive sales group for Be You make-up line, meet my girlfriends for lunch, run by the salon to touch-up my own hair and lastly, reservations at my favorite restaurant for the six of us.
Corey and Andi, walk back in from swim practice at about 6:30. It’s best no one speaks to her until she showers and is completely ready. Our baby boy, Austin, still pant-less, comes running out of his room and hits the breaks as Andi passes him in the hall. Austin believes she can turn us stone with her glare. After she passes and slams the bathroom door, Austin runs into the kitchen, swings open the fridge door, scales the shelves to reach his juice all before I can get his full name out of my mouth. Just as quickly he glides into my lap at the table, wraps his arms around me and kisses my cheek. “Sorry about this morning, Mommy. Hope it didn’t fu- I mean mess up your birthday.”
“Nice catch there, buddy, and no it didn’t ruin anything.” He is equal parts sweetness and mischief.
Laynie, who most likely has been up since 5:30, is already fully dressed quietly reading in living room. Her gentle spirit and old soul are a grounding force in this house. Without looking up from her book she soft but sternly says, “Leaving in thirty-five minutes. James isn’t up yet.”
I jump to my feet with the reminder, and yell down the stairs for James. I hear an inaudible grumble, but at least he is conscious. About thirty-two minutes later, James appears along with Andi who has transformed into her human self. James looks like he rolled out of bed into clothes from the floor.
Laynie is already heading out the door with book in hand and her to-go hot tea, “time to go.” Andi grabs Austin’s hand and he silently obeys, while James is head down in his phone walking toward the door. Corey kisses my cheek and says “Happy Birthday, Baby. I’ll see you tonight. Enjoy your day.”
Successful drop-off is checked off the list, so I head toward the salon get myself together. Just as I begin my old-school 80’s hair bands jam session, my phone interrupts and my mother’s face appears. The woman loves FaceTime and refuses to text or talk on the phone like regular people in their 60’s. I begrudgingly hit the accept button.
“Hey Mom.” Her picture turns to live action and I spot her huge sunglasses and a cocktail in her hand. It’s 9:15am in The Keys.
“Happy Birthday, Darling! How is your morning going?” She takes a sip.
Like a majority of people, my mother doesn’t want a truthful answer.
“Great! It has been a wonderful morning. What’s new with you?” Another question that does not really want a truthful response.
“Oh honey, we have been so busy lately. Daddy started in a golf league, so I started in a tennis league. The schedules do not coincide, so we are coming and going from the house to club and missing each other. It’s been so crazy!”
Thank the good Lord have on the largest sunglasses I own so I can’t reveal my true thoughts.
“Well that sounds like a lot to manage, mom.” That is all I can manage to spit out appropriately.
My mother is silent, which is an unusual behavior for her. I glance at my screen to see if the call froze.
“Ruby, take off your sunglasses. I want to see your face.”
I see that my mother has taken her glasses off and her judgement face on.
“Oh Ruby, you are so pale! And what is happening with your hair? I hope you aren’t planning on working like that today. It’s your birthday, sweetheart, take some time to fix yourself up. What’s the name of that make-up you are selling these days?” She shakes her head as she talks and finishes with a sip of her drink and putting her sunglasses back on. I do the same with my coffee and glasses.
“Well mom I am heading to the salon right now to fix the situation and to be honest this morning I didn’t have time because of the four children I had to get ready and transport to school after cleaning up a coffee spill and broken mug after my son tried to surprise me for my birthday. So, the hair and make-up portion of the morning was rescheduled. And the make-up is called Be You. I actually have a conference call today about the new spring products.”
She cuts me off quickly, “well good thing you have time to head to the salon first, Ruby. I don’t know how much make-up you can sell without putting it on.”
“I’m pulling into the salon, Mom so I will have to catch up with you later. Love you!”
“Oh, Happy Birth…” is all she gets out before I hit end and exhale. I am still 15 minutes from the salon, but that was all I could handle of my mother’s birthday wishes.
I arrive at the salon early enough to enter alone. I can throw some color in my hair and catch my breath under the dryer for a few minutes as I scroll the birthday wishes from FaceBook. My text messages disappear as the incoming FaceTime pops up from my up-line for Be You. What the hell?
I scurry to my purse, grab my calendar and feverishly turn to today’s date. I know it’s 1:00. She told me the meeting is 1:00. My reminder in my phone says 1:00. The notes in my calendar says 10:00.
I have color in my hair, no make-up on and a stained white tee-shirt. I am supposed to present on “Practicing What You Preach. Marketing Yourself to Sale Your Product.” I look in the mirror and shake my head. Seriously?!
I answer the call with audio only. I have to stall. “Good Morning, Team! How is everyone today?” I take out the foil in my hair as quietly as possible. I must think fast so I don’t screw this up.
“Good Morning, Ruby. We can’t see you. Do we have a bad connection?” I hear my up-line support nervous on the other end.
“That is so weird. I wonder what the problem is. I can see you all. Can you hear me okay? I never have this problem my phone or connection. Super weird. Let me move around and see if I can get a better signal. You know sometimes technology fails us when we are just trying to be more productive. Am I right?”
I keep talking trying to buy some time as I slick my hair back in a bun to avoid showing the fresh color that is still cooking on my hair. I throw on some eye-shadow and mascara and slap on some of the new bright lip gloss to ensure it is noticeable. Just as I hear one of the other call participants try to end the call, I take a breath and hit the video button.
“Oh there you all are! I almost gave up. So sorry about that. How is everyone this morning? I don’t want to waste any more of your time so I will jump right in. Today I wanted to present my new approach to focusing on our brand. Many times women try to hid behind their hair and I want to challenge that thought by no longer hiding your face but pulling back your hair to enhance your face. Show the world your beauty without the comfort of your hair barrier. This way, our product has a place to shine.”
The words are rolling off my tongue like I had been pitching this idea my entire life. I watch as the heads begin to nod and the smiles grow. My up-line even gives me a nod with a thumbs up. Before the call was over, I had all 10 people on-board for my brilliant new marketing scheme that I made up this morning.
The call was ending after thirty-five minutes, which was twenty minutes longer than the color was supposed to be in my hair. I hang up the phone and run to the sink to wash. I can instantly tell this is not a good look. Today, I have become a blonde.
When I shut the door to the van and turn the ignition, I realize it’s 11:05. I’m late for lunch! And I’m off again playing catch-up.
I roll into lunch on two wheels. I am only twenty minutes late so for me it’s right on time. I walk into Ramsi’s courtyard and scan the crowd for my girls. My friends have been my friends for 25 years. I sometimes think my level of maturity decreases the moment we get together, and the laughing begins.
I spot them at a corner table and as I approach, hippy-chic-all-you-need-is-love-Claire is wrapping up feeding her two-year-old…from her breast. I restrain from shaking my head at the fact that Samson is two, with teeth, and a full vocabulary that allows him to request “breast” when he is hungry, because this is Claire. Instead of her famous catch-phrase from high school, “Bring it bitches” she can now be quoted most days reminding all of us “It’s fine, it’s natural.”
Annalise is the first to rise and hug me. “Blonde, huh? Happy Birthday, Ruby! I’m glad you can join us.” She gives me an unapproving glance and I give her a shrug with a “sorry-not-sorry” expression and simply reply, “I’ll play the birthday card, Lise, thank you very much. Blondes have more fun, right?” Annalise, is a very successful marketing executive for a men’s clothing company, which prompts a constant stream of curse words flowing from her feminist mouth when her job is to build up male egos all day long. Diamond studs the size of my thumb nail, golden blond highlights, a runner’s figure and just-done-make-up-counter-face would make me hate her if I didn’t love her
“Okay, Ruby it has to be said, you must stop with the Snapchat. I mean I can’t even understand your voice and you look like an idiot. What the hell is so funny about you with a beard and the voice of a creeper? I was walking into a meeting when I click on your face to hear that horrific voice tell me ‘I’m too sexy for this hat.’ I mean seriously. What the hell am I supposed to respond to that?”
Claire snorting as she responds “I watched it twice! Samson and I were at the Farmers Market I couldn’t stop laughing! I love Snapchat! It’s therapeutic.”
“Thank you, Claire! I agree. It’s just fun, Lise. Live a little. Send me a Snap and see how it feels.” I grab her arm and urge her.
“I can’t even.” Annalise shakes her head.
I swivel to Claire, “And sweetheart,” I gently grab her arm, “for the love of all that is holy, please put your boob up before sending a Snap. I don’t need to see your breasts while you have butterflies floating around your head and a rainbow tongue.”
Claire giggles, “oh honey, it’s natural. I don’t know what the big deal is. You need to embrace your body and all that it can do. Get over yourself and be free, sister!”
“Oh hell! This is what I am talking about! Give me a freaking break! Boobs and SnapChat? Is this what we have been reduced to? I just can’t even.” Annalise’s head is in her hands and we all cackle.
With a whirlwind of aviator sunglasses, leather leggings and rock star zipper jacket enters Kate. Before she makes it to the table, she waves at the waiter and orders a martini with 3 olives and a bottle of champagne. I stand to greet her and she wraps me up in the biggest hug.
“Buon Compleanno, Bella!” Kate warmly wishes.
“Show off!” Annalise rolls her eyes.
“Grazie” I respond and shake my head at Annalise.
“Ladies, how is everyone?” Kate takes off her glasses and jacket as she sits down. Before we can respond, “I am so sorry my flight was delayed but I did not want to miss this. Anyway, so first to turn 39, Ruby, and blonde all in the same day? Do we need to call someone, is this the first signs of a breakdown?” Kate sips her martini as the waiter opens the champagne.
“Funny, Kate, but no. Not a breakdown. A new year, a new do.” I throw it out there to see if it will stick. All three of my girls go silent. “Okay, I forgot I had a conference call when I was at the salon I had to leave the color on too long while did my pitch and this was the outcome. Satisfied?”
“There is it!” Annalise raises her glass.
“You never disappoint, Ruby!” Claire is snorting and takes a sip of her champagne.
I join in the laughter because with these girls, it doesn’t matter. The laughter is filled with love not judgement and every woman needs a place she could be brutally honest and blonde by accident.
Rolling down the expressway at 80mph with the windows down makes it a struggle to hear my daughter, Andi, yell at me through my cell phone.
“Honey, I can’t hear you but I am getting off the expressway right now.”
“No way you are, Mom! I hear the wind! You are still on the highway!”
“I have to go. I can’t hear you. See you in 5.” I hang up because I am already late, so arguing won’t help the situation. After the shuffle of little people back and forth to the four corners of town, I hop out of the shower to get ready for my birthday dinner.
We are seated immediately due to my impeccable planning. I order a glass of wine. I request everyone’s devices and announce that my birthday celebration is device free. There is eye rolling and groaning, but at a surprisingly lower rate. I take a sip of wine and my shoulders relax just as I feel a hand on one of them.
“Ruby? Is that you? OMG! I can’t believe it!” I can hardly make out the words through her shrills, but I would recognize that vernacular anywhere. It’s Lindsey Liner. She graduated in my class, and not someone I call a friend, more like “mean girl bitch”.
I hesitantly stand up to greet her and meet her family dressed in coordinating outfits like they are fresh from a Vineyard Vines photoshoot. Lindsey with her designer bag on her arm, hair and nails freshly done, and party pink lipstick in tow.
“Wow, Lindsey, how are you?” The second time I asked that question today when I did not want the answer to it.
“I’m great! Just busy you know with four children, it’s always something. I barely have enough time to take care of myself, but you know you have to make sure you are taken care of before you take care of everyone else. That’s my mantra. YOLO!”
She really did just say “YOLO” out loud. Wow.
“What are you doing these days Ruby? I am so blessed to be at home with my babies. You know how important that is when they are young.”
I always hate the question about what I am “into these days” because I am into a lot of stuff. I get just a little self-conscience and feel like people will judge me, but today that feeling has left me for the time being.
“You know Lindsey, I am into a lot of things, but it all works out so I can keep these four busy. I’m sure you can relate.” That was the most mature response I can come up with. “We are here celebrating my birthday tonight and just relaxing after a busy day of practices.” I didn’t feel the need to run off the list of accomplishments of my kids, talk about my multiple businesses or our most recent vacation. I felt at peace keeping it light and not needing to compare. I must be growing up.
“OMG! So are we! We are here celebrating my birthday too!” She turns to her table of inattentive family members. “Did you all here that? Ruby’s family is here for her birthday too!” Isn’t that funny!” No one replied or even looked up from their devices. With her embarrassment showing, Lindsey turned back around and began to try and spin this. “They are so hungry I better get over here so we can order. You know bedtime isn’t too far off!” She raised her index finger and waved it at me like a scolding mother. I can’t imagine what life must be like in that family, but I am certain it involves a large amount of matching wardrobes.
My life and my home may be as chaotic as tornado season in the mid-west, but at least it is real and at least I am participating in it. My shit-show may be on full display and maybe I haven’t quite figured out how to hide my crazy, however this life is mine and these people, mix-matched and all, love me and each other. Just then Austin hands me a Santa Clause gift bag and I look at Corey who shrugs and smiles. I open the bag to find four handmade birthday cards from each of my darlings babes. I start to tear-up because that is what I do.
I dig into my Christmas wrapped birthday gift and find a soft black box I pull open to find a sparkling white gold ring with 4 stones in a vertical line. With the ruby on top, followed by rich amethyst, shimmering emerald and iridescent diamond to complete the stack of birthstones of my babies.
As I take the ring from the box to put it on, the waitress pops back into our picture-perfect moment, “are we good on drinks here?” And scares the living shit out of me! I toss the ring in air and it lands in the bowl of oil on the Hibachi grill.
There is a simultaneous gasp from my family of six as the chef approaches the table to begin our show. It was like one of the nightmares where you lose the power of speech. You are screaming and no one can hear you. The remainder of the restaurant staff is at Lindsey’s table next to our’s, serenading her and banging on the drums at the volume of a marching band. The ladle dips into the bowl and dumps not only oil but my ring! Austin hops up on the U-shaped stainless-steel table with no regard for his own safety. I grab him with one arm right before his little fingers hit the scalding hot grill. Andi is screaming his name, while James is flagging down the cook to get his attention before he starts to chop up my ring in the middle of his workstation. Corey is standing now, yelling with his hands cupped around his mouth with hopes of projecting his voice enough to stop the progression of the show. However, the chef is oblivious to us all, including Laynie who has come to her feet and shrieking in horror to stop this freight train of disaster slamming into our dinner.
The chef finally looks up with bulging eyes and stops right before taking his sword-like knives to the onion on the grill alongside my ring. I catch my breath long enough to say “Stop! My ring is on the grill!” He leans over and picks up my ring with his spatula and silently brings it to meet my hand. I take the oily bobble and graciously smile at the man, then begin to sit down only to find that Corey must have kicked over my chair in the commotion so my ass lands on the floor with Austin on top of me. By this time, I have noticed the quietness that has come over the restaurant and the pairs of eyes watching this catastrophic birthday celebration unfold for all to witness. Even the Liner family found our shenanigans more entertaining than their devices.
I take a deep breath and ask Austin to hop up to his feet. I stand up and wave to the crowd as the all applaud like they do at the kids ballgames when a hurt player makes it to their feet to walk off the field. Even the drummers give me a few beats as I come to my feet. Corey turns my chair over and I double check that it is stable before I go to sit back down. I open my hand to find my oil-drenched ring intact and I don’t even care about the rest.
“Thank you for my beautiful ring, guys. I love it.”As I am soaking in my tub with my third glass of wine, reviewing the day. My crazy life is entertaining, and I know exactly what I need to do. I pick up my phone and scroll through my apps. I pull up the filters and find the old lady with the mousey voice, big hair, glasses and horrible heart-shaped lipstick. I begin to tell the overview of my day ending with me on my ass and Lindsey Liner laughing. I hit send to my three girls and cackle to myself thinking of Annalise’s reaction when she watches it.
I sit down my phone lay my head back and think “Happy Birthday to me.”