Updated: Jul 18, 2020
If you are a military kid with a summer birthday, I guarantee you have celebrated a birthday during a move. Let me break this one down. It means you have had a weird birthday party with your immediate family, usually in a cramped hotel room, with an unpersonalized birthday cake from the nearest newly found grocery store. You really haven't lived until you have had, or been invited to one of these "half-ass" parties.
Arden, my middle child, has celebrated two birthdays during a big move. One from South Carolina to California, and now, from California to London. So not only can she tell her counselor all the things typical middle children relay about their life as the "forgotten one," but she will have case-and-point evidence for her claim of subsequent neglect.
This past Monday, I was chomping at the bit to be done with quarantine and ready to sharpen my skills at hunting down the most perfect place for our family to experience the UK. I have stayed on Right Move constantly, waiting to see what's available as soon as it hits the market. With just a few short days to go until we could physically see properties, I started to make calls to every real estate company in every place from London to Gerrard's Cross. In an effort to stay organized and on top of it all, I have been carrying around my most favorite notebook full of notations about each property, and it's pros and cons. If you are now side tracked by my house hunting endeavor, so was I when I realized Arden was turning 8 this week. (Insert mom guilt here, I was consumed with my mission.) Zac brought to my attention that we had not even discussed how we were going to make her day special as I was jabbering away about all of the unique complexities of the housing market here. We had been sitting in the park when it dawned on me that I had zero purchased and zero planned for her big day which was now less than 36 hours away. So I do what any GOOD mom does, I bolt to the nearest grocery store where I saw a unicorn cake fit for my unicorn obsessed birthday girl. I am going to buy my way out of this one.
I enter the store like a crazed lunatic, hunting the bakery section like a sugar feen in need of a fix. Little did any of my fellow shoppers know, how dire my situation had become in my mind. I look, high and low, for the cake I had seen a day or two ago. Surely, there was one tucked away some where. I didn't even care if it was expired, that was more a cautious suggestion at this point. I could cover any stale flavor with ice cream if need be. I look. Nothing. Nothing but a cake with a bear and another with some horrible Marvel photo printed on that disgusting edible paper. Whoever invented edible images, we need to go back to the drawing board on that one. We can do better I think. I stand there looking desperate, no one cares, so I walk over to the lady behind the bakery counter. I ask her, "Maim, do you guys have any more unicorn cakes, I have a birthday I need to celebrate on Wednesday." She blankly stares back at me. I realize I am sweating, holding a can of half-drunk Gordon's gin, and I am sure my southern accent has just hit her between the eyes. I then slowly say, "Could I order a cake?" She says, "No orders, restrict with Covid." She has an icy Russian accent and I don't mess with Russians. I realize her blank stare may have been her sizing me up, or plotting my accidental death. It's a toss up. So I then do what any BAD mother does, I buy a cake on the discount wall that at least has sprinkles and looks sort of "Unicorn-ish." I rebound by spending more guilt-and-shame money on ingredients for an Arden worthy breakfast: pancakes, Reddi-wip, raspberries, bacon and chocolate milk. I refuse to have a bunk birthday in a hotel room again. I think to myself, "I have got to turn this around."
As I walk home I am beckoned into the most mesmerizing book store. The tidy front window display is packed with every best seller and classic book glowing beneath a romantic antique chandelier. Peeking out from behind the displayed books is a bright and whimsical bird print paper that looks like something out of a fairytale. I had to go in. When crossing the threshold it was like I had tripped and fallen into some cozy pit. I left behind the noise and chaos of the busy street, and now I was in some other world that wanted me to forget my present failures. If I were to guess, I think this book store pumped opioids through the ventilation system, much like the way Abercrombie and Fitch pumped college worthy cologne to make you buy over priced t-shirts. It was intoxicating. For over half an hour I am pinging from wall to wall reading every title that jumps out to me. I reach the children's section and find a perfect gift. A series of books about a girl and her unicorn. I select the one where the unicorn goes on her school trip, I think Arden will get a kick out of such a plight.
I am suddenly feeling better as I check out of the magical bookstore known as Daunt Books Marylebone. I have two great thoughts. One, special days can be simple. Just as simple as finding a magical place. Two, this city is so full of wonder and whimsy, it practically does the birthday party heavy lifting for me. I just need to open my eyes and find it.
The next day I get on the google machine. You can do anything, find anything, be anyone on the google machine. It's also magical. I search, "little girl best birthday in London." YAHTZEE. I am saved by a little place called, "The Tea Terrace." This little gem boasts an expansive list of teas and scones, walls covered in roses, and a cinderella carriage for that special occasion when you need to sit in a carriage, inside of a building. It is perfect. It's both over the top, and not in our flat, so I call and book it.
The morning of Arden's birthday arrives. Immediately following a massive sugar-filled breakfast and birthday song rendition, we leave for lunch. We have to boogie because we don't yet have a vehicle and our trip requires a tube ride to the train, a train ride to the bus and a bus ride to our final destination. This was an adventure from start to finish. Zac and I say nothing about where our trek is going to lead us, we just kept telling them we had an appointment. I realized later they thought they had a doctors appointment, which makes me laugh.
As soon as we turn the final corner of our journey, Arden's face lights up like a Christmas tree. When her eyes finally meet the terrace adorned in crystals, roses, gold gilded tea cups and pink accents from floor to ceiling, she gasps and starts to shake with giddy anticipation. She then says, "Mom, this was totally worth all the hours it took to get here." (Thank God, because mid way through I was like, WTF, the cake in the flat may have been better.)
We spend the next 75 minutes sampling teas, eating crustless sandwiches, buttering fresh scones and dissecting tiny pastries. Even Zac enjoyed himself. It was the perfect magical pit for my perfect and magical Arden. She left behind the crazy travel adventure and was beckoned to a land of sugar, flowers and butter. What else can a girl ask for? Even though her little brother was a total bull in a china shop, please note his unique way of taking tea, she grinned the entire time. The day was simple and special, which is really all I could ask for as a mom in the middle of a big transition trying to make a special birthday happen. I always go over the top with my parties, but this one fit just right, and felt just right.
After we arrived home, I took her on a little trip, just the two of us. We hopped a taxi to the nearest toy store and I let her pick a toy for her birthday. She then asked if she could get two more for her brother and sister, because she has the sweetest little soul. So while she may be the middle kid, she's really the glue that holds our trio of crazies all together. All of these birthdays she has spent in hotel rooms, eating discount cake, are no match for the memories she's making. Truly hoping her therapist reads this.