“If you could do anything in the world for your birthday — anything at all — what would you do?”
My daughter, Layla, mirrors the question that I asked her last month about her birthday when I was looking for clues as to what I should give her, what kind of party I should throw her. She’s only five, too young to be looking for clues.
If I say, “I’d spend the day in a field filled with kittens, puppies, baby tigers, and lion cubs, playing and rolling in the grass, kittens everywhere!”, no one will take that as a clue that my heart’s deepest desire is a kitten and then spend time researching whether the landlord will allow one, how much adopting one will cost, whether we can afford feeding it and taking it to the vet. And then feed it daily, and take it to the vet. I don’t want a kitten.
If I say, “Be a dinosaur! Roar!”, Layla will squeal and shriek, adorable and worked up until I find the energy to calm her down again.
I feel too tired to be imaginative, to say, “Ride a unicorn to the moon and go roller skating on rainbows.” I don’t want to roller skate. Everything fantastical is either impossible or turns into something that I don’t actually want to do.
All I want to do is not deal with this question, get through one more day without crying or yelling in front of Layla. Maybe grab myself a square of dark chocolate from the secret stash I keep in the top of the kitchen cupboard. But she’s been following me around our apartment like a puppy all day, needy and clingy since her dad walked out on us. I can’t grab a square of chocolate without giving away that secret — the one secret that’s holding me together.
“I don’t know what I want to do for my birthday,” I say.
All wide-eyed innocence and naive selfishness, Layla asks, “What about frozen yogurt?” She loves the yogurt place — she gets to serve herself and slather the yogurt in candy toppings.
I’ve never liked yogurt, but it’s a kid-friendly place. It’s easier to take her there than a fancy restaurant with real desserts — chocolate torte, crème brûlée. It’s cheaper than a vacation or even a trip to the beach. Gas is expensive. And — to Layla — it will feel like a celebration.
She expects a celebration.
“Sure, we can go to the yogurt place for my birthday.”
Mary E. Lowd is a science-fiction and furry writer in Oregon. She’s had more than eighty short stories published, and her novels include “Otters In Space,” “Otters In Space 2: Jupiter, Deadly,” and “In a Dog’s World.” Her fiction has won an Ursa Major Award and two Cóyotl Awards.