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Chandra's Blog


Entries in birthdays (4)


Twelve years is a long time

This time of year is always tainted by the bittersweet. The return to routine, letting go of the ease of summer, everything exploding, then disappearing like the spring-loaded touch-me-not seeds in the jewelweed clumps my brothers and I used to set off on our September walks to school. 

Twelve years ago on September 4, we welcomed little Jonathan Hayden into our lives. For years afterward, the anniversary effect of this event, coupled with the September 11 attacks and almost losing Hayden after his first surgery have made this time of year bittersweet. I wrote about it several years ago, here, and here.

But twelve years is a lot of distance between now and our baptism by fire into parenthood and the anxiety of raising a family in uncertain times. Twelve years later, I would say while our greater world is no more certain, things here have progressed to a point where I only see and feel the joy. I can still remember the dark, hissing pumping closet at the hospital, and how bewildered I was to find myself in there in a long dress and tights, what seemed appropriate attire for early fall but totally inapprorpiate for pumping milk for my baby living on machines in the next room. I remember seeing the footage on CNN while I was trying to negotiate this small dilemma, the jumpers from the burning World Trade Center, stick figures, really. And feeling numbness. I remember walking outside of the hospital, escaping for a brief breath of fresh air, and seeing the cabs by the UPenn with turbaned drivers and handmade signs in the back windows that read WE ARE SIKH, FROM INDIA. WE LOVE UNITED STATES. I remember all of this, but with distance and the luxury of hindsight. Twelve years is a long time. 

Today, Hayden is healthy. I no longer worry that the hospital will take him back, an irrational fear from the early half of his life. I sometimes Google anxiously, about the other shoe dropping, but mostly I try to just enjoy who he is and where we are, even in the face of world uncertainty. 


Hayden, Water Cay, 2013


La Vida Tranquila -- Birthday Week

The week surrounding Labor Day is typically known as Birthday Week at the Hoffstead. We have Max on Aug 31, Jonny Hay on the 4th and me on the 6th. A houseful of Virgos who are really good at lists, keeping each other on task, obsessive about what's coming next and a little tightly wound.


In our other life, we have been celebrating this event for the past seven years with a Labor Day weekend birthday bash. The guest list has grown to over a hundred and fifty (with most of those under 48") and potentially dangerous homemade piñatas and elaborate cakes that challenge the laws of physics (read: are designed and implemented by someone who has never actually passed physics.) This party is preceded by months of theme-scheming by the boys, weeks of anticipation, and days of baking and prep.


Supplies for a typical birthday week at home

I love this party. I love celebrating my birthday under the raucous excess and exuberance of a party for my favorite boys and their rowdy and fun-loving friends, and of course, their parents.

This year, that was one of the first things the boys asked about when we told them about our Utila adventure--would we still have our party? We plied them with a small substitute on a random Friday earlier in the summer, a micro-version that was equal parts going-away-party and in the words of Lewis Carroll, our very merry unbirthday, with a cake in the shape of the island we now call home.


Our going away Utila cake









Experiences instead of things

Here we are as the actual birthdays roll through. In our Utila life, we are trying to learn to live with less. We told the boys there would be little in the way of presents--this year we are trying to give experiences. We have promised them trips to go rafting on the mainland and ziplining through the monkey park in Roatan in the coming months.

J and Hayden on a diveWe are also lucky enough to have marine biologists Brad and Andi Ryon living right next door. Together they run Utila Realty, while also doing SCUBA, underwater photography, yoga, stand up paddling and ocean kayaking. J and Hayden have been getting up early to dive with Brad, follow the life cycle of a reef octopus and for his birthday, Hayden will go on his first night dive in hopes of witnessing the annual coral spawning.

Max will start his underwater training on the first calm day and they have been avidly snorkeling and setting their free diving records daily. 






 On August 31, we rode to town by boat at midday, Max perched in his preferred spot on the bow. Eight years old!

While Pip and I went off to a girlie playdate and Hayden to his iguana station internship, Max had a special smoothie date with his daddy in Munchies Iguana Garden. We then met up with our friends for the traditional Friday pizza night at Underwater Vision's beach.

There was swimming and dock jumping from the second-story. (I have been noticing that my boys measure Utila by proximity to places you can leap from high ledges into the water. I am asked regularly if I need to take the boat into Bush's grocery, as this is one of their favorite jumping spots in the bay.)


Sunset at Underwater Vision



After throwing themselves off the roof, gorging themselves on pizza and playing ball with Marty, their regular Saturday Animalates instructor who happened to be at the same beach, J and Uncle Nick disappeared to come back with two tubs of ice cream, and a dozen spoons. Instead of a fancy, gluten-free cake, they popped off the lids, and we had an ice cream free-for-all! 












In line with our philosophy of living with less, we only had two small, token Lego sets sent down by the boys' awesome Aunt Linden, and a flattish soccer ball I found in the back of a hardware store here. 

Instead, I asked each member of the family to write and decorate cards for the birthday boy. I was surprised by how seriously each boy took his card, how earnest the hugs were afterwards. Max wrote thankful replies on paper airplanes and zinged them at us all over the house. We also used our whiteboard to write name poems and decorated it with words and drawings to honor the birthday boy. Now I see the cards tucked carefully in their sleeping lofts.

I can't help but think that in our other life, these words might have gone unnoticed in the mayhem of gift opening. To see kind words and honest sentiment treasured means a lot to this writer mama.

 Macrae Maximilian is 8!Jonathan Hayden is 11!



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Dog Blog--Sampson's 1st Birthday

A year ago today my phone rang early with news from Opening Heavens Doors that our puppy had been born, and though we didn't meet or take him home for seven weeks, it feels like he has always been a part of our family. Just on the other side of his recent naughty streak and an ear infection that left him a little grumpy, Sampson is back to his old self. J and I notice more mellowing, a delight of the breed, and an eagerness to please us all. He is totally devoted to his kids. He followed them vigilantly on their Easter basket and egg hunts last Sunday--them on the golf cart, bikes and boat, Sampson loping and paddling after them like a circuit training course, sniffing their scent hound-style when they took off through the woods, and lying patiently outside their closed bedroom door while they glutted on the winnings. (He was the recipient of a lovely ham bone and many lamb scraps--better than chocolate for dogs!) 


While his relationship with the cats started out rocky, things are smoother today. This morning I spied Sophie weaving in and out of Sampson's legs under the bird feeder and Sporty and Samps were curled up in the bushes when I got home last night. Only Catty T, our elder stateswoman West Bay toothless rescue kitty who turns sixteen this year is not to be swayed--she exits our bed with an annoyed switch of her tail whenever Samps bounds in.


We have no idea of his stats these days. We will say that he is taller than Jonah was; we know this because he can graze at and rest his head on our kitchen counter without any effort. I imagine he won't grow much taller, but he is a lean, lanky guy right now so I think there is still weight to be gained. We are estimating him around 175 right now. 

His birthday began with poached eggs over dog food (he ate the eggs and will ignore the food until we're not watching later) much canoodling and affection from the kids, and now that they're off to school, some contemplative time on his bed. We'll take a walk later, there should be some pond swimming, and then tonight Piper has dreamed up a meatball cake for Sampson's celebratory dinner. Photos to follow. 


Happy birthday to our lovable, destructive, affectionate, slobbery hairy baby! 

in his favorite thinking spot


Samps comes in from a swim Easter Sunday 2012



Ten years ago today

There is something unmistakable about the way the light falls in early September, about the smells of late summer, about the way the lawns have gotten shaggy as the mowers get weary, and everyone longs for a fresh beginning, vows to start again with newly sharpened pencils and a future full of potential...

It was in the pre-dawn darkness of a day like this when my first son came into the world. Ten years ago, at the end of that day, I was chin-deep in the reality of his unexpected arrival, captured in my essay, Hayden's Story.

Ten years ago, things looked pretty bleak, yet in a blink, we've had a decade of wonder. 

The way the light falls in early September brings with it the bittersweet of new beginnings, the memories of what was almost an ending, the first fragile weeks of our parenthood and the tragedy for the thousands of Sept 11th. Each year that passes, we lay down new memories on this day and create distance between what was and what is. It is easier now to remember the feelings of that time, and cherish the miracles and gifts we have been given in the years since.

In light of that, the first week of September, we celebrate Birthday Week, where Hayden, Max and I all have important milestone days. We invite friends and family over for feasting and pond swimming and bouncing and roughousing and celebrating, and we bake enough so that we can have cake for breakfast all week long. 


Happy birthday to my darling boys and happy holiday weekend to you all! 



Hayden and Max turn 10 and 7