Midst a crowd of friends and family, there was little chance the three year-old Max would notice me. Who’d blame him? Living in his world … surrounded by family — familiar  family — his is a three-year old realm which he holds (as our father would say), “by the betzim”. Content then I was last week to be a face in the crowd, quietly grasping the mosaic of his birthday.

They don’t play Pin The Tail On The Donkey anymore. (In this PC world perhaps they’re afraid to offend some jackass? Or that some dork will stick another with a pin and everyone will get sued?)

And they don’t, (at least out east) have the parties at home anymore. When Max was one it was at a deli and Year Two was rained out. Last week an indoor gym served as venue as children ran, bounced, rolled and played on soft, carpeted turf. (We played on tile when I was young. The fun was the same but we didn’t bounce quite as high).

Oh, they still have cake, of course. Yet the food, especially for grownups has changed. Sure there’s pop I MEAN SODA, but also there’s water (bottled)…and salad (romaine) and sandwiches (wraps). Forget Kansas—we weren’t even in Cleveland anymore! How’s a fella going to maintain his overweight?

And they still sing to the kid…

“Happy birthday to you…” (This hadn’t changed).

—Valiantly I held my “camera” mid-air, vainly trying to capture Max Parker on film.

“Blow the candles out Max,” someone yelled from behind.
“Who’s the schmuck with the Iphone? (thought my grandson).

Then the party was done. And my son, abetted by peers, shlepped food from the hall…and gifts.

“Can I help?” I asked.
“Just pull the car up,” he said warmly, somewhat ignoring my abs.

(I couldn’t remember, just then, if my dad helped as Michael turned three. Did Linick or Starkoff turn to him and say “We’re OK, Mr. Bogart? Or did Lomaz take the cigarette out of his mouth uttering “We’re OK, Al.”?

That was then and this was now. The world is Max’s and Michael’s. Not mine.

As it should be.

We went back to the house after candles. Not the children—just adults. I was still a face; it was still a crowd…but the scope had narrowed.

Bothered but an instant— I’d been hoping for more access to Max. (I was wrong, though, and thought myself through it). This was his party, his time, and just as I’d reveled when young, ensconced in a myriad of family…

—The Hoffmans, the other Hoffmans, the Ungars and Sharps…
—Twin Woldmans that never played catch…
—Three heavy-set sisters on my father’s side…the eldest named Nina… (second cousins I think), that my never-thin father called “The Fleet”

Just as I’d buoyantly bathed in the masses that come out ONLY for a youngster’s party….

So was Max!

The baton had passed yet another generation.

So we kibitzed a bit and caught up a bit and had a pie tasting contest and laughed among family. Trivial stuff, but all good. We were family—all of us—connected by one generation cemented by another. (At one point Max played guitar with an amplifier and yes it was funny, yes it was cute…but I couldn’t help thinking that somewhere above my mother now heard him and elsewhere above my father was cringing).

At 5-ish we left. Carrie and I. Back to campus. We had Michael’s car and would see them at breakfast. Pared down again would be the crowd….

In came Max, the next morning. Then Meredith…and Eli.

He knew me at the diner. It was there in his eyes. I think.

“Do you know who I am?” I asked Max, ‘cross the table. At an instant, Eli—from the carriage—peered out. Ten weeks old, and he was beaming right at me:

“I know who that is,” thought the baby, looking up at his brother. “That’s the guy from yesterday—the schmuck with the Iphone”.

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