Mom said, “I’ve been tossing and turning ever since I went to bed. I’m going to go on the computer for awhile until I get sleepy.” I watched her to see if she glanced out the living room window, but she simply turned and headed back down the hall. I wasn’t sure if the balloons would show up in the darkness, but if they did, our surprise could have been blown.
To my surprise, Mom reappeared a few minutes later. She’d seen an e-mail from Diamondqueen asking what time we wanted to leave for our pre-birthday lunch the next day. I bit my tongue from telling her Diamondqueen and I had worked out the details while hanging balloons an hour ago, so I just replied, “Let’s get to her house at 10:30.”
I finished watching an episode of “Law and Order: CI.” It was 1 a.m. I strolled down to the computer room. Mom was still in there, intently leaning toward the monitor screen. “When you said you ‘tossed and turned,’ do you mean you were awake the entire time since you went to bed?”
“I dozed off briefly, then woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep,” Mom said. I turned back down the hall, marveling that she hadn’t picked up on the feverish activity in the air or heard me going in or out with the dog. I walked over to the living room window. A steady breeze tossed the balloons in the tree, and on the grass I saw a couple of softly glowing orbs that meant more balloons had blown down. I couldn’t go after them right then.
I went downstairs for a couple hours of late-night work. In my e-mail I had a copy of the message Mom sent to Diamondqueen about lunch, then a forward of that message from Diamondqueen to which she’d added, “Please don’t tell me she looked out the window!”
When I came back upstairs around 3 a.m., Mom was in bed. I glanced out at the lawn and saw not only additional balloons in the grass but several light-colored fragments. The balloons were popping as well as blowing down.
Rusty was dead asleep on the futon. I carefully pulled out the five or six balloons with ribbons in my trash bag stash, opened the living room door, and stepped outside.
I padded through the wet, chilly grass gathering up the blown-down balloons. Some had even traveled to the space between our house and the neighbor’s. The balloons I picked up looked warped and puckered; I wasn’t sure they’d make it through a few more hours, but I tied them back into the branches along with the handful from the house. Then I crept around cleaning up the bits of rubber littering the lawn. I figured at least five balloons had burst.
Back in the house, I blew up several new balloons and tied them with ribbons. Rusty woke up and regarded me groggily. I told him to go back to sleep, then slipped outside to finish perking up our balloon display. Inside, I changed, then slipped into bed, glad for Rusty’s warmth as he tunneled under the quilt next to me. I hoped I wouldn’t lie there hearing balloons popping outside.
I was so tired I don’t remember who woke up first, Mom or Rusty. Either way, Mom came out into the living room around seven. It was starting to get light outside. I usually go back to my own bed when Mom gets up (I sleep on the futon to keep Rusty company because he can’t jump up into my high captain’s bed in the bedroom), but I idled, waiting for Mom to catch sight of the balloons.
She didn’t. She asked Rusty if he needed to go out, then fed him when he came in. I hung around, starting to pick up the bed things. I also took down the nearest curtain Mom puts up in the evening to block the bottom part of the window. This opened a full view of the bobbing balloon tree. I cursed to myself at the site of a couple balloons on the ground and hoped additional ones hadn’t blown all over the neighborhood.
Mom came back into the living room as I was folding the quilt. Usually Mom insists I just leave the bed things so I can go back to sleep in my room, so she asked “Why are you bothering to make the bed?” Somehow the sight outside was escaping her vision. Finally, exasperated, I said, “For God’s sake, will you please look out the window!!”
She chortled and hurried over to the window. “I thought you might do something, but I thought it would be on my birthday.” Then, at last, she saw the tree full of balloons.
Her delight made the ordeal worthwhile. “I always think of those balloons on my sixtieth birthday,” she said happily. I pointed out there were 80 balloons on the pear tree (I hoped), plus a birthday sign. She thoroughly enjoyed all the details and mishaps of our balloon escapade, astonished to learn Diamondqueen had been there the night before and all this had been going on while she lay in bed trying to get to sleep.
Mom ran outside to see the tree from every perspective and to read the sign. Later, while I was asleep in my room, she went back outside to take pictures (see one above). When I got up in the late morning and checked my e-mail, I found this message sent to Diamondqueen and me:
The Birthday Angels Strike Again
I couldn’t imagine why Nancy was fooling around making up the futon and taking down the blinds when I got up at 7 AM. Then I caught a glimpse of what I thought was a blue ball that has been bouncing around between yards and saw a balloon on the ground and 79 more in the tree. Just the logistics of getting the balloons together, blowing them up, transporting them up here and getting them hung in a tree at 11:00 at night is one thing, but the fact that I was fighting Thai-coffee-induced insomnia at the time makes the whole thing amazing. I was just looking at the pictures of my 60th birthday balloon trees and always cry when I think of looking out and seeing that sight and now to have it happen again (with 20 more balloons) is astounding. I just looked out the window to see one of the fathers walking his kids to the bus stop and saw him cross the street and look at the sign. I wish I could have seen what the kids did. I told Nancy all of the people in my neighborhood who might have wondered at the age of the old woman walking the dog up and down the street 3 times a day now know.
I took a couple of pictures in the early light but I’ll try to get some more when the sun comes up and hope the balloons don’t all blow away.
A major surprise!
Somehow the general balloon display survived until Mom’s actual birthday on Sunday, although somewhat less than 80 balloons drifted among the changing leaves. We took turns cutting down deflated balloons, and I tied on new ones every so often. Saturday evening I blew up balloons for all the cut lengths of ribbon I had and added them to the tree. There were about eight little white balloons remaining out of the total 100 mixed balloons I’d purchased.
Late Sunday afternoon, with Mom’s blessing, Diamondqueen and I went out with scissors to cut the ribbons knotted to the pear tree branches. We made the Hooligans come with us, armed with large straight pins, and staged a balloon-popping party. (I hate popping balloons and had to continually shriek at one or another Hooligan to get away from me; J.Hooligan succeeded at popping one balloon right in my face anyway, although he claimed it was an accident.)
Diamondqueen and I had done our best to make Mom’s 80th birthday a memorable, over-the-top celebration. It probably seems like a lot, but future birthday celebrations are as loose and uncertain as those balloons tossed about in the cold fall night. It makes me fretful to even think about Mom’s 85th birthday, let alone her 90th. Will she still be here? Will she still be in her own home? Will she even have any use for the kind of eclectic gifts we bestowed upon her this year? Will it come down to a cupcake and a balloon in some facility bedroom sooner than we could ever dread?
It was better to forget about the future and pour everything we had into this 80th birthday with Mom well, active, eagerly savoring every moment. Carpe diem indeed. We were able to seize more than 80 days and make them all special. I hope that’s something we’ll always be able to look back on with pleasure, fondness, and reassurance, no matter what the future holds for any of us.