I was headed out to do some yard work. I had such mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I loved being outside and puttering around to make the house look cute. I would definitely rather have been out there doing that than any of the menial tasks that occur inside. On the other hand, I rarely had time to just devote to the yard. Undoubtedly our neighbors were chagrined at our apparent half-hearted attempt at maintenance.
As I walked through the kitchen, a voice called out, “Hey, Mom!” I looked over at Oliver and said, “What’s up?” He folded his arms and asked, “Are we doing anything for your birthday tomorrow?” I smiled at him and said, “I don’t know, probably nothing huge. Grownup birthdays are different.” He gave one quick nod and said, “Okay. I’m going to make you something for your Birthday. Where is the paper?” I reached out and ruffled his hair. I liked doing that because someday, too quickly, he would be taller than me and I wouldn’t be able to do it anymore. I said, “Come on, I’ll show you.”
We went into my bedroom where my home office took up one whole corner of the room. I dug out a couple sheets of paper from beneath the desk and handed it to him. “This is where I keep it” I said, showing him. “Okay!” he said. “You’re a sweet boy” I told him, grabbing him in a quick hug. He looked at me with his huge blue eyes and gave me a sweet grin.
I spent the next hour outside doing battle with my mortal sworn enemy – the pine tree that sat beside my driveway. Sometimes I looked up at his enormous mass and imagined a day where a team of professionals showed up and took him down. In this imaginary scenario, he was hauled away and transformed into a beautiful dining room table that would come back to my house and sit in my kitchen. There we would feast on his ruin every single day.
Since the day of his downfall was still a far-off dream, I grabbed the ladder and got to work removing the latest deposit of pine needles. The gutters on the roof were filled with them. One of the neighbors had informed me of the tree debris in the gutters when we had first bought the house. I wish I had been brave enough to tell him he was welcome to clean it out himself if it bothered him so much.
When I completed that task, I went back in the house. I paused in the kitchen to guzzle down a large glass of water, while the sweat rolled down the side of my face. Needing a shower, I headed to the bedroom. Oliver was still at work. There was a large amount of paper strewn across the bed. “Don’t look, I’m not done!” he exclaimed when I walked in. “I won’t look! I’m just grabbing my stuff and getting in the shower” I reassured him.
When my back was turned to him, he asked me, “Do we have any boxes?” Thinking for a moment I answered, “There are some empty shoeboxes under my bed and in the hall closet.” Laughing he said, “Okay. When I asked Mema what she wanted for her birthday one time, she told me, ‘I don’t know. Just some boxes!’” We both laughed.
When the shower was over, Oliver was just finishing up his project. “Don’t look at this, I’m going to hide it!” he said. “Okay, I won’t look!” I told him. I made myself scarce while he found a place to stash the gift he had worked on for hours. I could not imagine what had taken so much paper and so much time. Those hours had been quite an investment for a 9-year-old.
I had no idea where he stashed his work that night. The next morning, I was standing in the kitchen drinking my coffee after I woke up the boys. Oliver came walking in, sleepy eyed, and said, “Happy Birthday, Mom! Oh, I gotta give you your present!” He ran off to go get it, returning moments later with two shoe boxes. The first, smaller box held a card he had drawn himself, and another page full of writing. “It’s a word search!” he said. “Aww, I love it. Thank you!” I told him. He leaned down and picked up the larger box. “It’s a game” he said, “I made a game for us to play!” I was a little flabbergasted as I opened it and saw that the box was full of sheets of paper folded in half. There were pictures drawn on each page and words and numbers along the top in his signature scrawl.
“Well, this looks awesome, but I think we are going to have to wait until after school to play it” I told him. “Okay” he replied. I gave him a big hug and thanked him. It was endlessly sweet that he had been so devoted to making sure I had a gift first thing on my birthday.
That afternoon, we finally got down to business with the card game. I was sitting on my bed when Oliver walked in and asked if we could play it now. “Sure, let’s just do it in here” I said, gesturing to the bed. He grabbed the box and pulled out his homemade “cards”. Elijah came walking in just at that moment, and asked “What are you guys doing?” Oliver looked at him and said, “We are playing a game.” I asked him, “Can there be three players?” He nodded and said there could be more. Elijah hopped up on the king size bed and Oliver passed out our cards. Looking it all over, Elijah said, “So it’s kind of like Pokemon, right?” He was weirdly good at reading Oliver’s handwriting.
“Yeah!” Oliver said. As he started reading the cards, Elijah started laughing. He said, “This is hilarious!” Each of the figures on all the cards were members of our family. Elijah had a card with damage. There was also a leveled-up card called “Smart Elijah” that dealt more damage. Other examples were “Angry Alex”, “Annoying Isaac”, and even Poncho was in the game. He leveled up to be a wolf.
The attacks each family member had on their card clearly reflected Oliver’s perspective of, and sense of humor about his family. All the Mom attacks were things like “Long hug” and “boymom luck” undoubtedly since it was my birthday. The whole thing was incredibly imaginative and smart. As we played the game, others heard our laughter and joined in. Soon, everyone was in the room laughing as we went through each round of the game. It was one of the most fun games we had ever played. I vowed to myself I would find a way to have the game printed on actual cards so that we could keep playing in the future.
I was pretty sure that one of the sweetest things in this whole world was a boy who just wanted to make sure his Mom had a great birthday. I did, kid, I definitely did.