Tonight I am Cinderella, back at her daily grind the morning after the ball. My husband and I spent last night at the Four Seasons hotel, a few miles away in Georgetown, while our kind friends Paul and Marie down the street took care of our two kids. There’s nothing like a night of pampering (dual massages, a wonderful dinner a few blocks from the hotel, a vast marble bathroom that brought out everything Leona in my character) to throw into high relief the drudgery of a feed-the-kids, go-to-the-Safeway, pick-up-the-living-room, make-the-dinner Sunday afternoon and evening. Just now I am listening pitilessly as my husband and my 3-year-old daughter duke it out in the hallway, on the other side of a locked door, over the Bath Question.
The reason for the getaway was our birthday. No, that’s not the royal “we”; my husband and I actually have the same birthday–same year, even. Any time we tell someone this, they say, Awwwww … But I actually (and petulantly) hate it, and not only because of the amount of time I spend explaining to banks and insurance companies that we have not made a mistake in filling out their forms. (Awwwww, they say, when I explain it to them.) Think about it: Who buys the cake? Who feels like saying, “Dearest, it’s your birthday–you sleep late while I get the kids ready for school”? Buying each other birthday presents has the sick excitement of Mutual Assured Destruction.
Tim, on the other hand, claims that he likes sharing a birthday with me. Aside from his generally sunnier disposition, I attribute this to gender: Until he met me, he had manly, deprived birthdays, where he’d go to work and never mention to anyone what day it was. Until I met him, I had girly, princess birthdays, on which I felt entitled to small attentions from everyone I met. When we got together, we averaged our birthdays, which was not a transaction in my favor. This is the serious part of my annual whining about the birthday: Every partnership has elements of competition–for resources, attention, and especially (if you have kids, anyway) time. In the course of things, if you’re both fair-minded people, equality takes care of itself; it doesn’t do to keep score closely from day to day. But somehow the joint birthday strips away everything but the competition and makes it more vivid than it should be. Almost every year, we have a stupid fight on our birthday.
By now you’re glad you don’t share a birthday with me. To leaven the complaint (and also because, well, it was my turn) I took a break just now to put Willie and Alice to bed. Tonight was one of the really nice ones. W and A chose a Babar for their bedtime book. I love Babar books partly for their strangely random story lines but mostly for the archaic translation, which makes all the elephants sound like Adolph Menjou. “The war is over!” the elephants exult, after routing some angry rhinos. “How perfectly splendid!” Then we turned out the lights and sat in a small circle on Alice’s bed, where she carefully spread one of her baby blankets on our three laps, and they told me all the best parts of The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars while I breathed in their bath smell. Willie, who’s almost 6, said, “Mommy, I wish I had bunk beds and you would sleep on the top bunk and I would sleep on the bottom.” Me: “And where would Daddy sleep?” Willie: “In his room.”