Being alive is surviving

A 5 year's old optimism, and birthdays

At some point in the last year instead of asking how old people were, Ada started asking them how long they had survived. My dad celebrated his 80th birthday in May, and she said, very deadpan, “I can’t believe you’ve survived 80 years,” which has more poignance at this stage of the pandemic than it did before. “I’ve survived 5 and three quarters years, and Julian has survived three and a half years, and you’ve survived for thirty-eight,” she will say, flippantly, talking about survival and being alive as though they are one in the same. 

Her anticipation for her birthday (in November) revolves primarily around the idea of cake. Her cake will be rainbow. It will have ice cream. It will have sprinkles and chocolate chips. It will have cherries and whipped cream on top. It will have 5 layers. It will have giant swirling spiral lollipops and gum balls on it, the way her friend Miles’ cake recently had for his 6th birthday, topped with sparklers rather than candles.

Then there are the gifts, of course. She doesn’t actually want anything in particular, she just likes the idea of gifts in general and likes the idea of receiving surprises. Last year her aunt and uncle got her a pair of light-up, pink unicorn rainbow roller skates, a rollicking success, which she stuck to with surprising diligence over the course of the year. She also remembers she got a stomp rocket, and a Frozen LEGO set of Elsa’s ice castle, activities we saw as time consuming and COVID-safe during a birthday that would have no friends to celebrate with. 

Ada likes to plan the granular details of her future birthday aloud as a daily exercise in imagination. The streamers will be pink and gold. There will be balloons. We’ll make some lemonade. Her baby bunny and her brother’s stuffed bears will be in attendance. We’ll need to wear sunscreen. We’ll get fun napkins. Maybe we’ll grill hot dogs. Her aunts and uncles and cousins will be there. Maybe she will eat pizza.  Maybe it will be a picnic. Maybe on the day of the party we could get fresh flowers and maybe some butterflies will come by. 

The details often change, and often the details don’t actually matter, and often the day is underwhelming compared to the the rigorous anticipation. But to her, the point is that it’s a celebration to look forward to and that part never disappoints. She often asks me and Jacob if we too, look forward to our birthdays, and the unfortunate reality is that neither of us could care about them—at all. But for her, it’s optimism, all year long. Just knowing it’s coming, and looking forward to it, is a reason to survive.

Recommendations for the kids:

Recommendations for the grown-ups:

  • Eat: Umami Insider is my kind of store and something I wish I’d discovered while upstate in the valley of little Asian food.

  • Watch: “Val,” the heartbreaking and intimate documentary about Val Kilmer, created primarily out of archival footage he or those around him created since his childhood, made in a moment of time where he’s survived but lives through the tremendous toll of throat cancer on his emotional and physical well-being. [Richard Brody’s review in the New Yorker]

  • Cringe binge watch: If you need a binge-y rom-com that’s not SATC (but created by Darren Star of SATC), then Younger is your show. Premise: a 40 year old divorcee from New Jersey reinvents herself as a 26-year old to get a job in publishing slash moves to Williamsburg. There’s 7 seasons to get lost in.

  • Look: Odd Apples, a photographic celebration of the apple genus Malus, made over many seasons by photographer William Mullan and designer Andrea A. Trabucco-Campos. The book is available for pre-order now. Honestly, this is the book I’ve always dreamed of making.

  • A take: Anne Helen Petersen’s take on Peloton instructor Ally Love’s wedding, which I have so many feelings about.

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