A double chocolate cake was served at midnight.
A deliriously tired little girl helped to blow out the candles, and then wanted to do it again.
So we re-lit them. Four times.
And somehow, watching her blow them out- with her excitement, determination, focus, pride, and joy- was even more exciting for us than it was for her, if that is possible.
And so began Gaby's birthday this year.
The next morning we rose and made our way to the West village. Biet and I had an early morning ballet class, Gaby had an hour-long date with his son. The weather wasn't quite sure what it wanted to do, sputtering storm-like drizzles on us one moment, and blanketing the city in a humid gray fog the next. No sooner had we dashed through the rain and purchased a blanket for poor under-dressed baby Lou (or rather, a huge beautiful scarf for me that would happily double as a blanket for baby Lou.. NYC with kids- its all about multi-tasking!), had the temperature shot up ten degrees and the air become hot and sticky. The day seemed odd, but we were determined to change that.
A stint at the Minetta playground brightened everyone's mood. Biet insisted on taking Lucien down the slide with her, and so, snug in the arms of his sister, he slid down his first slide. Sometimes I see the way she takes care of him: the way that she adores and loves him and wants to teach him, and I know in my heart how lucky they are to have each other. It's a bond beyond words with those two, and it's amazing to watch as it strengthens and deepens over time.
The winds began to change.
The sun began to shine.
And the day began to accumulate that NYC magic that it so deserved.
We stopped in to Pepe Rosso to pick up some Italian to-go. He loves the gnocchi. I love the salmon. But in honor of my man's birthday, I decided to go out on a limb and try some new dishes (stick with the gnocchi and the salmon, trust me). Gaby and I used to stop in for impromptu dinners here long before we had children, long before we were married, when we used to call each other boyfriend and girlfriend. We would pop into this little hole in the wall, snuggle into one of their three bright red candle-lit tables, and instantly feel like we owned the place. And when we were finished, our bellies full of home-cooked food and our souls full of good conversation and laughter, we would stroll down Sullivan street and instantly feel like we owned the whole city. Oh, Pepe Rosso.
As we carried our lunch up to the park in the warm afternoon sun, Biet suddenly yelled out "Beatles!" and began wiggle-dancing, as toddlers do, in my arms. She had caught the familiar sound of Sg. Pepper wafting out of the open windows of a tiny bar, and wanted to stop and listen.
And sing along.
And so we did.
And in that moment, dancing and singing on the street, Gaby was given, by his two year old daughter, just about the best gift imaginable. She may be more obsessed with The Beatles than he is.
Onward we went, to the prettiest of all downtown parks, Washington Square. While baby Lou napped, we lunched on the grass, finishing off our picnic with a couple of ice cream bars (or "chocolate popsicles," if you ask Biet) from the ice cream man. A four piece band boomed old timey music behind us. We sat side by side on a secluded park bench, and all was beautiful. Lucien awoke just in time to taste his first ice cream (Oh boy! How this boy loves to eat!), and to practice, at the insistence of his sister, his standing. Then with bellies full of pasta and ice cream, and souls full of the majestic ever-growing love of family, we walked down West 4th street. And we began to feel like we owned the whole city.
Westward we walked, past 6th Avenue and 7th, into the winding narrow streets of the far west village. Trees heavy with late-summer greenery draped overhead, and every once in a while a pulled curtain or open window would showcase a pretty little vignette from the inside of one of the mysterious and immaculate townhouses. Oh, west village, please give me back my heart. Gaby and I pointed out which apartments we would live in, and where the kids would go to school, and where they would play. One day, baby. One day.
As Biet slumbered in her stroller while it bounced along the old uneven sidewalks, we indulged in a banana pudding from Magnolia Bakery. As it turns out, baby Lou may just be the biggest Magnolia banana pudding fan in all of Manhattan. Gaby and I stumbled upon a little park in the middle of the road, and sat, once more, upon a city bench, to lounge and dream, talk and scheme. Now the clouds had all drifted, and the sun was beaming, and it really felt like a birthday kind of day. I realized as we sat there that it was in this exact spot that we had taken this picture when I was pregnant with Lucien. This city has an unparalleled way of constantly feeling new. It's something I've always admired about it.
We sat with our two kids. Our. two. kids.
The paths we've walked, the adventures we've lived, the journey we are embarked upon now- are all such testaments to the wonder of this life and the good in this world. It always becomes a little clearer to me around birthdays. Now our birthdays are celebrated and understood not just by us, but through the eyes of our children. Our world has grown so much bigger. Our love has grown so much bigger. As we sat on that little bench in that little garden in the middle of the street, it was just so clear.
It was indeed a happy birthday.
Until the sun set behind the buildings, we walked. Down through Soho, further west, then East.. we marched all over downtown. Just before ending the day on a stoop on Bond street with french fries and ketchup (At Biet's request), a car pulled up next to us with the windows rolled down and the unmistakeable sound of "Let it Be" blaring from the speakers. A dark haired gentleman with a big smile and a thick Brooklyn accent suddenly leaned out and yelled to Gaby, "Hey Man! You got a lottery ticket right there! Look at that beautiful wife, beautiful little girl, amazing son- healthy baby son! And you got New York City.. and a beautiful day! You better be counting your blessings at night!"
And as a big smile spread across Gaby's face, he turned to the man, with John Lennon blasting in the background, and yelled back, "Every night, brother!"
Happy Birthday Gaby. You're just amazing. Every year these birthdays get better and better.