So, Marie turns 13 today.
Happy birthday, Marie. As cool as it will be, it’ll be hard to top her birthday two years ago.
See, that’s when Marie turned 11.
We might have told a few people this as we made our way through that day. Like, anyone within a 2-meter radius, or who even almost made eye contact with me.
This post appeared on Modern Parent Online (a now defunct website, so I can use this word-for-word) when Marie turned 11. How green of me, right?
Besides, I’m busy making Korean pancakes for her birthday breakfast.
Happy birthday, Marie.
Turning 11 on 11/11/11
My Marie is a muse to Lady Luck. Maybe it’s because Marie turned 11 on 11-11-11. Lucky. Marie will come away with sweets from every cake walk. She finished her first fishing trip with – a fish. Got a goal the first time she played in a soccer match.
Ninety percent of games, she wins. Checkers. Tic-Tac-Toe. Mario Cart.
Marie + Game = Winner. Lady Luck tolerates me. My good luck begins and ends with those claw games you see in CiCi’s Pizza and Walmart. You know, the near-impossible-to-win but near-impossible-to-resist glass box brimming with near-worthless stuffed animals.
It beckons you with color and flash and promise and allure of beating the man, the system, and the game, all with one authoritative plunge with a three-pronged claw into a sea of plush and stuffing.
I somehow win at this game.
Like, better than 50 percent of the time. Under pressure, even.
I retrieved three – three! – stuffed toys from a Walmart game in Greeley, CO, one by one, for each of my cousins. The last dropped in the victory bin while my youngest cousin, Levi, bounced around like he’d just won the Showcase Showdown on The Price is Right.
Once, at CiCi’s, I yanked a green pony with pink mane and tail out for Elise; with a swarm of kids pressing runny noses against the glass and whooping it up like liquor-soaked bandits at a cock fight, plucked out a turtle with a multi-colored shell for Marie.
She affectionately named “Arse.” (True story, the cheeky monkey.)
Marie chose Steak ‘n Shake for her birthday lunch. We had told anyone who would listen that she was turning 11 on 11-11-11 (OK, so mainly it was me saying that).
It’s a day of luck, my friend Junko said, for a lucky girl.
Marie wanted to play the claw game waiting in the corner. It was a big-time set-up. Big prizes. Tight squeezes. A huge claw. Fifty cents a shot.
We’d been told that she should buy a lottery ticket on this special day. Why not take a rip at the claw game?
Plans developed. Prospects were scoped from all three windows. Quarters dropped. Claws plunged. Prizes stayed put. Time. after. time.
Our pitiful handful of quarters exhausted, we had to trek back to the table to show the family our empty hands. “Have fun tossing away $2?” mom asked.
It gets worse. A boy came smiling past our table with – yes – that coveted toy Puss in Boots in his grasp. Bad enough that I came up empty; but now, this kid walks by and shows up the old guy, the one with the kid with a birthday on … well, you remember.
Let’s not make this about the coveted cat, and lose sight of the true battle: Man vs. Machine. It’s a triumph I had delivered before, but when the stars aligned, I failed.
Steak ‘n Shake became my Hamburger Hill, my elusive prize, the foil to my plan for my daughter’s perfect day.
I did what any other dad would do – I snatched it from his mitts and bolted for the door.
I didn’t … but I thought about it.
I complimented him instead. I acknowledged the new king, and hoped the meager pile of corn-dog bits and kiddie cup of root beer would dull Marie’s disappointment.
Then, a strange thing happened. This boy, Matthew, fresh off his first season playing middle school football as a left tackle – presented the prize to the birthday girl.
She smiled. He smiled. He sat down and turned to his father.
“See, dad?” he said.
So I did what any other dad would do – I got his name and told him that I’d write about him.
p.s. I hope you were watching me fail at the claw game, because I was definitely doing it for your benefit, so you could learn from my mistakes. Well done, lad.