The girl is 10 years old today. Or as she puts it, in a voice that sounds as if she has been spending time in a casino: "double digits, baby."
It's a big deal. Here, for the sake of all those diary pages she has to fill, is a recap:
She wakes up so excited she can hardly stand it. We have a big evening planned and somehow she has to get through six hours of fourth grade before it is time to go.
But she manages. As school days go, it is not bad. The "awesome" new lock-and-key diary she ordered came in! She can't wait to write in it, click the heart-shaped padlock shut and then scout out a hiding place for the tiny keys. This one has a skull and crossbones kitty cat on a pink cover and is embossed with a firm warning for brothers and other busybodies: Keep Out! Her collection of lock-and-key diaries numbers about 10, I think. There are tiny keys all over her room.
She also gets to pick out a birthday book from the office. She chooses "Flat Stanley" even though she has already read it, because her teacher wants a copy. Also, lock-and-key diary is not one of the choices.
Finally, it is time to get on the train. We're off to see "My Fair Lady," a show she knows by heart but has never seen on the stage.
On the train she takes my hat, my purse and my umbrella and arranges them on the opposite seat.
The hat is on top of the purse. And because it is now wearing a hat, she begins a conversation with my purse. She waves out the window to people on the platform.
We get off the train and she begins skipping. She wants me to skip too, but I tell her that my purse will bounce off my shoulder so I can't. She lets me off the hook with this lame excuse. This is out of character.
At the restaurant, she orders the calamari appetizer and a kiddie cocktail. I have Chianti and a flatbread pizza with onions, grapes and pine nuts. She is all dressed up in a long black skirt and a black shirt that ties with a satin ribbon in the front. She looks very grown up, even though she has discovered a wobble in the table and is experimenting with its effect on my glass of wine.
"Stop it," I say.
She switches to a more casual pose in which she can pretend that any jostling of the table is unintentional, but I am not fooled. I keep my fingers on the stem of my glass the whole time.
"Tell the waiter when he comes," she says.
She is not talking about the wobble. Four hours from now I will have known her almost exactly 10 years. I can read the girl like an unlocked lock-and-key diary.
She wants everyone to know it's her birthday. Or at least as many people as possible. A spectacle would be ideal, with people dancing on tables and clapping their hands, but she will settle for a singing waiter.
"This is not that kind of restaurant," I say.
"I don't care," she says. "It's not that hard."
There is a Dunkin Donuts around the corner and she tries to convince me that we should go there for dessert. I talk her out of it. Ten minutes later, the waiter comes back with a candle-topped slice of flourless chocolate cake. He talk-sings his way through an abridged version of the Happy Birthday song, but she is pleased.
The cake disappoints her.
"It's rich. Too rich. I want to be rich so I can afford Dunkin Donuts," she says. Then she switches to dialect: "I lahk ma dunkin donuts," she says.
"I don't believe you are my child," I say, rolling my eyes. "You want the video?" she says.
At the theater, I splurge on a pink souvenir t-shirt for her. She wants to put it on, but I tell her no. Twice. We go to the bathroom before we take our seats. When she comes out, she is wearing the t-shirt. "I'm a good girl, I am," it says.
"You are not," I say.
But the show is wonderful and she smiles pretty much all the way through, especially after the intermission when we move to two empty seats in the very front row. Only once do I have to tell her not to sing.
During the ovations, she desperately tries to get the actors to notice her and wave. I try to rush her so we can get a cab before the entire audience is out on the sidewalk, but she insists on waiting until the last performer has completely left the stage.
Between "Wouldn't it be loverly" and "I've grown accustomed to her face," the temperature outside has dropped 40 degrees and the entire theater is lined up for a handful of cabs.
We run six blocks to the train station in weather conditions I have only ever seen before on the Discovery Channel. Snow is blowing against our faces in a straight line. Against my advice, she is wearing her open-toed shoes with the heels.
It is bad enough to make her cry, but she never stops running. All I want is a room somewhere, far away from the cold night air. We make the train with about a minute to spare. She puts her head in my lap and closes her eyes. Someone's head resting on my knee...