The 23rd is JB’s birthday, which is also his uncle Justin’s birthday. Having a birthday so close to Christmas, it’s treacherously close to being overlooked. But on the other hand, your family might be visiting your grandparents in Colorado, and your Uncle Eli and Aunt Cami can come to the party too. And your “Aunt Jonah” might be working that day and invited to the party as well.
You can’t attend a party without bringing a present, so I stopped by Wal*Mart on the way to work. Outside, a banner was hanging in the middle of the building between the two entrances. It said, “WE HAVE CHRISTMAS TREES!” Beneath it a couple of guys were setting up a huge grill and some tables, presumably to offer some sort of prepared food later in the day. Behind the grill and directly beneath the banner were, no, not evergreens, but a stack of cut logs. This put me in an extremely good mood, despite my foray into the world’s largest toy retailer.
Whenever searching for toys for a kid, I recess in my mind back to when I was that age. With babies it’s a little harder because I can only remember back to when I was old enough to pull myself up with the coffee table and before I could talk intelligibly. Some adults can’t really remember their childhoods, but I remember so much of mine vividly still. So while it looked like a 30-something was walking purposefully toward the toy section, there was actually a 6-year-old who was excited to go to school the next day and looking forward to cake and dinner that night.
JB already has the coolest toy a boy could own, his very own miniature 4-wheeler. So the 34-year-old thought, “Maybe something educational…” But then I saw them. Of course! I grabbed the cheapest one and headed for the checkout.
There was an empty line in the Express Lane, so I stepped up my pace to get there before anyone else did. I heard behind me, “Hit her! Hit her!” It was Max, telling his wife where to direct their cart full of toys. I waved my purchase at them and told them I’d see them in a few minutes. The 34-year-old swiped her credit card.
I got to the house to find 4-year-old Gloria dabbing at the kitchen floor with paper towels. “I couldn’t get to the potty in time,” she explained. I told her to throw the towels away and helped her untie the knots in her boots, then found a Swiffer and cleaned up the rest of the puddle. Then I wrapped my gift in an inside-out grocery bag wrapped in blue ribbon raided from Michele’s wrapping stash.
Max and Tamsey arrived with a miniature helium tank also purchased at Wal*Mart, and Max got busy filling balloons. “JB, you hold the wibbon, and I’ll cut it,” directed Gloria. Max laughed, “My little capitalist on the division of labor!” “She’s an industrialist, too,” I pointed out, “inventing the assembly line.” We laughed at our political jokes that the kids didn’t get.
Max tried several combinations of air and helium to get a balloon to float in midair, but they all ended up on the ceiling or the floor. 20-month-old Benaiah came over to my desk to proudly show me his balloon on the end of a ribbon tied to a balloon with regular air to keep it grounded. Max wisely tied ribbon long enough on several of the balloons so they could be reached after rising to the top of the vaulted ceilings. I pulled out my gigantic bag of rubber bands and started shooting at the balloons on the ceiling. This delighted JB, and he ran to retrieve the spent ammunition, return it to my desk, and request, “Shoot the blue one! Now the green one! YOU GOT IT!”
Uncle Eli and Aunt Cami arrived for lunch, which was delicious turkey sandwiches made by Michele. Max made his famous egg nog, Eli entertained us singing Christmas carols under the influence of helium (he can go a long way on his Olympic swimmer’s lungs), and Michele put the finishing touches on JB’s birthday cake. JB always requests a “tower cake” like the one he saw in the pictures of his mom and dad’s wedding. This year’s tower cake had a base of tiger cake (gingersnaps held together with generous amounts of whipped cream) with a Bundt carrot cake on top of that topped with sugar cones dipped in icing and liberally dusted with sprinkles. Topped, of course, by a giant 6 candle. Eli sang happy birthday with helium, several more versions of happy birthday were sung (this is the Bremers, after all), and then JB blew out his candle. Michele started dismantling the cake, promising a special adult treat in the layer of tiger cake. “Holy cow,” said Eli, “How much rum did you put in this tiger cake?” “Not very much! About a cup.” “Well, can I have another shot of tiger cake?”
Then it was time to open presents. JB opened mine first. Gloria exclaimed, “Oh, JB! It’s just what you wanted!” Max told me later that JB had been asking for one for months. It was a Transformer. Max extracted it from its packaging with his ever present Leatherman and transformed the truck into robot form. JB spent the next half hour trying to get it to go back into truck form in between opening other presents. He got a compound bow, a gigantic coloring book, and a day out of fun with Uncle Eli and Aunt Cami. But he never let go of the Transformer.
Back in my day when my classmates Jed and Nathan were playing with them, I seem to remember them being made out of metal. Now they’re made out of cheap plastic, and the piece of cheap crap’s right leg kept falling off. They were so popular when I was little that they inspired a cartoon series (which I was not allowed to watch), a rival set of toys, and that rival’s own cartoon series.
As Max was assembling the compound bow, I went over to where JB was sitting, trying in vain to make his robot back into a truck. I twisted a few hinges, tucked in a couple appendages, and then handed it back to him in truck form. JB immediately started rolling it along the floor. He didn’t try to transform it for the rest of the day.
When it was time for me to go home, Max came up to me and pointed at JB. “Look,” he said, pointing at his son, who was sitting in a tiny rocking chair and watching a video. “He hasn’t let go of it yet.” The Transformer was still in his grip.
The next day JB carried around the Transformer all day still in truck form, occasionally putting it down on my desk, where, I suppose, he thought it would be safe. Michele told me that he had talked to his Uncle Justin that night, who asked him what his favorite present was. “The truck!” he answered.