About four or five weeks ago, when I was starting to think about the girls' upcoming birthdays, I asked The Dormouse what she'd like to do for hers.

Here's the thing: I hate planning birthday parties. I hate it with a passion that cannot be matched. It's not that I don't want them to have a great time with all their friends on their birthday. It's not even that I don't want to plan a party, though I can think of... oh about six thousand and one things I'd rather do. We've just had some trouble inviting her friends from school to events. She's at the age where most of her friends she'd like to invite
come from school. The problem is I don't know their parents well. It's been a bit hard to communicate to them that a) her October-timed date of birth and desire to wear a costume doesn't mean that we'll be celebrating the Devil's Birthday (the Devil doesn't need a holiday to have a party, folks) and b) it would be nice if they actually showed up (a $300 trip to the bounce house for the four kids of twelve who were invited and said they'd come a couple years ago learned me that lesson all too well).

The Strawberry Shortcake doll her father promised her. *sniff sniff* Smells like... mmmm.... plastic strawberries.


I didn't want to let my poor experiences keep her from having the birthday she wanted, so I was willing to suck it up this year. I gave her two options: 1) have a party with a bunch of her friends or 2) go on a trip with Momma. That's all I said, go on a trip with Momma, no explanation of where or what we'd do. I figured she'd weigh the options of multiple presents and choose the former in about five seconds flat. Instead, she surprised me and chose the "me" option.

Fortunately, I actually did have plans.

First they involved a birthday candle:

No cake, you'll notice. That took the form of cake balls for her class. It's hard to put a candle of any kind on thirty-five cake balls. Cake balls... heh heh. Sorry.

Second, the long-awaited pillow pet:

This, folks, is what boundless joy looks like.

"Uni" uniting with her sister, "Bug."

This pillow pet would soon become the bane of my existence because it was to hang off my shoulder for the next three days in New York with its head peeking out of a shoulder bag, inviting everyone in the world to bump into it and push me. I would soon grow to hate its smugness, sitting there mocking me.

We gave her her presents on her actual birthday, but the trip came over the weekend a couple of days later. Like The Caterpillar's, we rescheduled her birthday celebration because her actual birthday was inconvenient to us. The next part of her birthday came a couple of days later and involved a trip to New York to sleep overnight in the Museum of Natural History at their Night at the Museum event.

This is probably one of the most ingenious ways to earn money for a museum I've ever heard. Going off the success of the Ben Stiller movies, the American Natural History Museum and the Hayden Planetarium has come up with sleepovers as museum events. Basically, they charge you an arm and a leg to get in, feed you stale muffins and rotting apples and call it "dinner included with the price" and then charge you for every kind of souvenir imaginable - including t-shirts and souvenir photos which you will be guilt-ed into buying because a) it's such a cute photo of your kid being a dinosaur or b) I'm going to freeze to death without another layer of clothing. At least I managed to stay out of the two-hour scheduled time period in the museum store.

We entered the museum at closing time when everyone else was leaving and got to set up our sleeping bags and pillows under the giant blue whale in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life.

This looked pretty darn cool until some docent said to me, "Every time I look at all these cots, all I can think of is Katrina." Thanks, lady, because I spent the next twenty-four hours trying to unsee that.

They had a whole series of events all over the museum: paper folding, freezing stuff in liquid nitrogen, movie in the planetarium, birthday party for the Rose Center for Earth and Space, and my personal favorite, flashlight scavenger hunt in a darkened hall of dinosaurs.

Finally, and not a moment too soon, it was time for lights out.

Here's the view we had looking up from our cots.

The Dormouse swears she woke up in the middle of the night and saw this whale's tail moving.

This is where the evening became slightly less enjoyable because it was, by my estimation, approximately thirty degrees below zero 65 degrees in that hall. I know they told us to bring sleeping bags and pillows, but I assumed that was just for convenience and the temperature inside the building would be kept at a comfortable reasonable livable temperature. To avoid looking like a Sherpa on the streets of NYC during the six hours before we could check in, I only brought a lightweight sleeping bag - one that's really just for indoor sleeping at sleepovers and not for camping, along with that damned pillow pet for The Dormouse. I intended just to make do for my own part and just sleep on the cot they provided in my clothes. I was so cold, I woke up every twenty minutes through the entire night. At one point, I woke up and found The Dormouse huddled up in a ball with her arms between her knees. I finally unzipped the sleeping bag, put it over both of us like a blanket, then pulled her onto my cot and curled up around her to keep us both warmer. That worked fairly well until at some point, she rolled off my cot and back on to hers, leaving me off-center on my own cot, which caused the cot to tip sideways, dumping me unceremoniously onto the floor and sending my cot upright into the air like a saluting soldier. I guess what I'm saying here is, if you're thinking about doing this and, like me, don't want to lug two zero degree sleeping bags, pillows and warm jammies around New York City before you can enter the museum, choose instead to find a hotel where they'd be willing to check your bags for the day for you because you will regret not having real sleeping bags, one for each of you, when you wake up every twenty minutes and have to sneak past the security guard at three in the morning to break into the kitchen, searching for something hot to drink.

Despite that, we had a great time, and there's nothing quite like being in a giant museum after hours. Totally reminds me of a book I loved as a kid.

Apart from the museum, we managed to suck the marrow out of our other hours in New York by:

Visiting pretty much every candy store in Manhattan.

Speaking of things you cannot unsee, the fourteen-year-old boy in my head cannot unsee this giant M&M guy sitting on a tiny toilet.

Dylan's Candy Store was a HUGE hit.
Related: I think I've come up with a Halloween Costume Idea: Chocolate Vampire

Enjoying lunch and a Frrrozen Hot Chocolate at Serendipity 3.

I would have gone for the $1,000 Sundae, but I didn't think to order forty-eight hours in advance.

Wandering through Central Park.

Checking out the giant ToysRUs and its in-store ferris wheel in Times Square.

LOVED the Wonka candy section of this store.

Even the subways were interesting.

And then delaying our return bus tickets in order to take in a Broadway show. The Dormouse's first.

Funny story about this picture. We went to the theater in the morning to buy our tickets and she wanted me to take her picture with the Mary Poppins sign. So I told her to go over there and while I was getting out the camera, this was the pose she struck.

After I took the picture, a man stopped me to say what a cool photo he thought that'd make and did I tell her to stand that way?

"No, she just came up with it herself," I said.

He raved and raved about how creative she was and asked me to see the picture on my camera. While we were talking, the guy who'd been standing in line behind me asked if I'd take a picture of him in the same pose. So I did. Then the first guy insisted that both this guy and The Dormouse pose together and then suddenly he morphed into Nigel Barker, suggesting stances and posing them in different ways while instructing me to take photo after photo. Originally, I thought the two men were together, but it turned out that the first guy didn't know either one of us and wasn't even coming to buy tickets to the show.

New York is awesome.

This was by far her favorite part of the weekend. The Dormouse LOVED her first Broadway show and declared it "Magical" as we left the theater. It occurred to me that I could have avoided the sleeping in the underwater tundra at the museum and just done this and nothing else and she would have been happy. My checkbook would have been happy too because Mary Poppins was about half the cost of the museum event. *sigh* Live and learn.

It's been interesting seeing her grow up this past year. In some ways, we're closer than we've ever been. In others, she's growing up and becoming her own person, wanting very much to do life on her own. I don't feel like I always know what's going on in her head anymore and sometimes... often... I worry that I'm losing her in some way. We've had some battles with her over her behavior in school this year. Finding the balance of encouraging her to be her own free spirit, feel good about herself and speak her mind versus follow the rules, learn when it's appropriate to talk and follow directions, has been difficult to strike at best. We spend the first three years of their lives hoping they'll learn to talk and walk and then the next eighteen telling them to sit down and shut up. I guess what I hope she knows over the next ten years or so, is that I may not always agree with her, but I'll always love her, I'll always hug her, and I'll always be on her side... it just may not always look like it to her. She may grow up and become an adult person with ideas and a personality of her own and that's fine. But she'll always be my Dormouse too.