It's a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon, and our family has gathered to celebrate my grandson's birthday. The sweet sounds of songbirds float in through the open windows, wafting along on a soft breeze that carries the fragrance of fresh-mown lawn.
And I'm cranky.
I like no, need to have order. Tradition is important to me. A family dinner, especially one marking a special occasion, means a lace tablecloth over our polished wood table, the china and silverware arranged just so. It makes me grind my teeth to see plastic of any kind on a table, or containers of food or drink. In our house, dinner is prepared with care and patience; the food is placed on serving dishes or in bowls to take to the table. Drinks are poured in the kitchen, or from a nice glass jug.
But today, there are pizza boxes stacked at odd angles on the table. There is no tablecloth. Bottles of soda and a plastic jug of iced tea occupy one corner. A basket of plastic forks, knives and spoons sits haphazardly between the boxes and bottles.
We have a houseful of people, all talking and horsing around. There are iPhones and Kindles and electronic games on the table. My daughter is talking on her cell phone with a client. My youngest grandson wants to go home.
The slovenly state of the dining table is the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back. I'm already fuming because the ganache I made for Sebastian's cake turned too thin. The cake itself is lopsided at an angle that parallels my lopsided oven. I'm sweating and my knees, injured many years ago in a fall, ache.
The candles I had saved from previous birthday celebrations have gotten broken, and, taking my better half's good advice, I grudgingly salvage one shaped like a "2" and a couple of regular birthday cake candles from the trash, where I had flung them in a fit of pique.
Exhausted and frustrated, I plop down on the love seat across the room. I glance up to see Sebastian smiling as he cradles his baby daughter. I look around the room to see my family laughing, joking, catching dripping strings of melted mozzarella on their tongues. I see Sebastian's friends teasing each other and talking about career goals.
When did they become adults? Just a few days ago, it seems, they were racing small metal cars across the parlor rugs and creating bizarre Halloween costumes.
My family is together. They are all healthy and exuberant. Their zest for life is contagious.
Yes, they are a noisy bunch. Plastic cutlery, paper napkins smudged with pizza sauce, and plastic cups holding varying amounts of soda litter the table. The ganache is thin but delicious, a perfect marriage of bittersweet chocolate and heavy cream. It covers the lopsided cake in a glistening cascade.
The candles, such as they are, sit askew on the top.
We gather around to sing Happy Birthday, and Sebastian mugs for the camera as he leans in to blow out the candles. Reminded to make a wish, he looks at his daughter, then releases his mouthful of air in a whoosh. The candles wink out in tiny puffs of smoke.
I laugh as we watch our grinning Ellie clap her little hands to our off-key singing, and I feel my crankiness dissolve.
I've remembered what's important, and it isn't the thin ganache, the stacks of pizza boxes or the paper plates.