Wednesday, September 2, 2015


We had a birthday (shout hooray) this weekend. My sister-in-law Natalie turned into an adult! Technically, her birthday was on Saturday, but we celebrated today. Would you like to celebrate with us? Good. You can sit there and observe.

While Natalie takes a nap upstairs, the rest of us Mama Shimp arranges the gifts on the kitchen table. Four matching black-and-white chevron bags, 3 matching pink bags, and one blue bag from Stephen and I. Then she sets about the much harder task of gathering everyone in. 

"Logan, Michael, get Heather up." I'm napping on the couch and get a rude awakening when Stephen sticks his tongue in my ear. I'm very emotional in those first waking moments and almost start to cry. 

"Michael! Logan! Stop that. Leave each other alone. Come in here."

They come in and start fighting over a chair. 

"Okay, stop. Michael, would you go get Natalie?"

He goes upstairs. "Mike! Stand up, come on. We all need to be standing around the table."

"Stephen!" (He's studying in the family room.) "Stephen. Come in here, we need to all be standing around the table."

Michael comes back downstairs. 

Mama Shimp fusses over the presents. "Okay, okay! Stephen!"

Stephen makes his way in and pours himself a drink. My face fell asleep during my nap, and while this is all happening, I'm freaking out because I think that a chunk is somehow missing off of my forehead. I wander pathetically over to Stephen and tell him "I need you to pay attention to my face for, seriously, five seconds. There's something that's like, wrong with it. Like, something is wrong. Just look at it, am I okay?" He massages my temples and says I look fine. Natalie does not appear. 

"Michael....where's Natalie? Logan. Will you go get your sister. No, Michael. Michael! Stay here!" 

Logan and Michael both sprint off for the stairs. 

"Mike, stand up. Stephen, over here. Heather. Are you....what are you doing? Are you not feeling well?" 

I'm poking at my forehead, and I feel a little bit like crying. "I think something's really wrong with my face. Like something happened to me. I don't know," I explain. 

"Maybe it fell asleep during your nap? Try putting your head down by your knees, and letting the blood rush to your head."

I try it. It's very good advice and I start to feel better almost immediately. Meanwhile, the boys are back. Michael picks up the lighter and plays with it for about 30 seconds before Mike takes it. Folds his arms. Grips the lighter tightly. Starts playing with it himself. Natalie still hasn't arrived. 

Mama Shimp is starting to get frustrated. "You guys, where is Natalie?! Brandon, will you - no no. Mike. Go upstairs and get Natalie, please. Brandon, stand up!"

"Why are you whispering?" Brandon asks.

"Because, I want it to be a surprise!"

"That's right," Mike jumps in. "She has no idea it's her birthday!" He smiles charismatically all around the table and suddenly Natalie shows up. Acts surprised. (She knows how birthdays work.) Everyone gasps and smiles and "Happy Birthday!"s in a disorganized kind of mumble. 

"Happy birthday!" Mama Shimp says brightly, grabbing Mike by the elbow to make him stand. "You guys, everybody let's sing." She reaches for her camera and we all start to sing. 

Most of us sing like normal people, except me and Logan. I still feel groggy and probably sound like a zombie. Logan still feels like he's not getting enough attention and sounds like he's trying out for the opera. But like, the clown opera. His knees bend unrealistically with each word, and his voice reaches a shrillness only achieved after years of careful study and practice. 

The rest of us kind of trail off until it's only Mama Shimp, trying to sing normally, and Logan, trying to sing abnormally. "I can't wait for him to see this video when he gets older," Stephen says, and we all feel a little better as we consider how wonderful that day will be. 

Everyone scoots in for a picture at Mama Shimp's request. Logan pulls his shirt up, puts it back down, makes a face, gets in trouble. We smile and take the picture.

We suddenly realize that the candles on the Cheesecake Factory cheesecake were never lit. Crisis! This birthday is ruined! Mike flicks the lighter about 50 times; it finally lights and the birthday is saved! All 18 candles are lit and Natalie poses for a string of pictures. By the time she poses for the "I'm blowing out my candles" pictures, the candles have all but melted.

Natalie pulls out a card and starts reading the sweet message inside. Stephen grabs a Sharpie and puts a dot on Michael's neck. Michael flails his arms in protest.

".....Love, Stephanie, Craig, Heather, and Stephen," Natalie finishes.

I frown. "That's not my card," I say. I wrote an actual note to her in a different card.

Natalie laughs: "I know how these cards work," she says. "If you're not here, your name gets signed anyway." She reaches for another card and starts to read that one. Michael and Logan start to pluck the candle stubs out of the cake, one by one, and lick the frosting off of them. It's a race to see who can collect more candles. When they're done, they each choose a candle and poke it back in the frosting for more.

All the cards have been read. Natalie opens the present from Stephen and I first, which makes me feel very honored :) Mama Shimp records me explaining why we got Poo-pourri for the birthday girl.

Natalie starts to open her second present and Michael and Logan poke their heads under her arms. The tissue paper ruffles and then quiets down as Natalie pushes her brothers away. "Okay, stop touching me. Stooooop. Touching me." The boys back off. Stephen follows them sneakily with a Sharpie and starts pretending to write on their necks.

The second present is some beautiful black heels. "I fell in love with these!" Mama Shimp tells her, grabbing one. "And the lady behind me in line loved them too."

"I love these!!" Natalie exclaims. I love them too, in my head.

"But then I realized, you already have like 3 pairs of black heels," Mama Shimp continues.

"That's true, I do have a lot of black heels...."

"So maybe I'll just keep these for me." Pause. "And we can go pick out some different ones for you tomorrow?" Natalie agrees. She already has some shoes in mind that she wants.

Natalie opens a third gift: Vera Wang "Princess" perfume. "Okay now....we kind of have a problem with this, because I got it at Kohl's, and they forgot to take it out of the box. So, Dad's going to have to break into it." Mama Shimp is laughing as she says this, but she's serious. Mike takes the box over to the island and starts sawing at the box with a knife.

Somehow in the midst of this, Michael has ended up on Stephen's shoulder. Brandon is following him around with the lighter.

"No please! Plea-he-he-he-hease!!" Michael cries earnestly.

"Dude, relax," Stephen says comfortingly. Brandon flicks the lighter behind Michael's ear.

"Oh, shoot!" Brandon laughs, pretending that he lit Michael's hair on fire. "No, seriously, dude, hold still." Michael squirms spastically, pummeling Stephen's back with his tiny fists.

"Oh, that's really nice," Mama Shimp says with a disapproving look. "You guys, stop it. We're trying to celebrate your sister's birthday."

Stephen puts Michael back on the ground and Logan calls everyone's attention to the perfume, which is almost free from it's plastic prison. Mike finishes cutting, grabs the warped plastic.....and burns his fingers on it.

Natalie spritzes some of the perfume on her wrist to test it out, sniffs it, and smiles. "Ooooh," she says. "I like it!" Mama Shimp grabs her hand to smell it, too. Brandon meanders over and suddenly snaps his head back in alarm. "Oh, I don't like that," he says firmly.

"Wait, you don't?!" Mama Shimp sniffs again. "Oh no. If a boy doesn't like it....smells are just so hard, you know?" Another whiff. "Do you - Stephen, come smell this. Do you like it?"

Stephen smells Natalie's wrist. "Yeah, I like that," he says.

"No. Oh, no." Mama Shimp is not happy with that response. "This is $35 perfume, if boys just like it, that's not good."

"Mom, it's fine, I like it. That's a good smell," Stephen reassures her.

"Okay but, if you were dating a girl, and she wore that perfume, would you like, think it was okay, or would you want to marry her? Just so you could smell it all the time?"

Stephen looks confused; Natalie looks amused. "Is that what we're going for here?"

Mama Shimp grabs her wrist and smells it again. "We can return it," she decides. "Unless you love it?"

"It's a little mature," Natalie admits. "We can go pick out another one."

Stephen, Michael, and Logan apparently got bored during this crisis, and are now wrestling in the living room. Michael gets a dead leg and rams his head angrily into a chair in response.

Mama Shimp cuts the cheesecake and starts serving it up. Michael and Logan run over and each grab a slice. Brandon isn't ready for dessert yet, so he goes into the living room and tries to flop down on the couch. He somehow ends up rolling around on the ground in pain. We look over at him in confusion. "Dude, I just like....knocked the wind out of myself," he moans, grabbing at his stomach. "Ahhh, man."

The cheesecake is the most beautiful dessert any of us has ever seen. It's all chocolate and peanut butter and Oreo cookies and chocolate chip and heaven all whipped up into a perfectly-layered work of art. Stephen and I share a slice and barely finish half of it.

"Hey stop!" Brandon suddenly says. "Everyone listen."


We all regret stopping to listen.

The birthday comes to an abrupt end when the boys all finish their 3 bites of cheesecake and leave their plates to kill each other again.

"I hate when they get like this," Mama Shimp laments. Then grabs my phone and tries to take a video. 

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