We returned from London in time to celebrate Jaden’s 8th birthday at home. He had insisted on this, had threatened not to go with us if we didn’t agree to be here, home, for his birthday.

And we were. But it’s been over 20 years since I was in Europe, and I didn’t think about jet lag. 

We arrived back at the Oakland Airport the day before his birthday. Fortunately I’d bought his presents and wrapped them the day before we left. (Unfortunately I’d snapped a photo in the checkout line at Target to send to Jay just before our trip: Mission Accomplished! Smileyface. But I hadn’t thought it through, and while showing his uncles photos of Buckingham Palace guards, Jaden started hooting and hollering: here were his presents! Proof of what he was going to get. He felt he’d caught me at something and, luckily, knowing what he’d get didn’t seem to diminish his joy at the prospect.)

Our family routines seem to happen somewhat by accident. Somewhere along the line a pattern was set: on the birthday morning, presents magically appear on the dresser, balloons and party hats at the ready, and the birthday kid wakes up early to get their loot. 

But, jet lag.

I woke up at 2, and 3, and 3:30. Jaden woke up at 4 and started chattering to me about his upcoming birthday. Jay and Shayla were deep asleep, which seemed quite unjust because Jaden and I did as ordered: we napped on the plane in order to cushion the blow, while Jay and Shayla refused and stayed up for 20 hours straight. Maybe that was the right thing.

But anyway we were not going back to bed. And Jaden was getting crazy excited about his presents. In a dramatic whisper, I told him we should do a night walk with the dog. He’s been planning to train our dog for police work anyway, so a 4am walk sounded like a fun adventure. We put on clothes, got a flashlight, and went out into the world. It was very, very dark, not yet early morning. The shadows cast by branches and leaves seemed like dark shapes skittering away from us as we walked, but we braved on to the park, where a family of 6 deer were hanging out on the lawn (a record!), and they eyed us warily as we went around the edges.

There is an unreal quality to jet lagged consciousness, and  our dreamy conversations and his excited banter seemed both hyperreal and possibly imagined. We were in an altered state, to be sure, and I felt a deep connection to him, doing something neither of us had ever thought to do before.

Despite our best efforts we were back home and it was only 5am. So, in what I pray will not become a new tradition that has to be upheld each and every birthday, we went to the 24 hour donut shop for birthday breakfast.

Finally by 6, with the promise of sweet treats to soften the blow, it was time to wake the others. Jaden ripped into his presents as if he hadn’t reviewed in detail the Nerf guns and Pokemon cards on the Target conveyer belt. He was thrilled.

That night, friends came to celebrate. Pal Jonathan had made a cake, but during dinner Jaden was losing steam. He ended up napping on the couch, where we brought the candle-burning birthday finale confection. He opened his eyes and sat up to blow out the candles, but was fast asleep soon after.

Happy 8, little man of the world.