HomeCommunity News‘Our Prettiest Prayers’ Surround Birthday Party

‘Our Prettiest Prayers’ Surround Birthday Party

First published in the May 14 print issue of the Glendale News Press.

My sense of history can be a little spotty, but we know this much: My ancestors came to California aboard the Mayflower in 1620. We were Dutch fur traders, falconers, wandering minstrels, you know the type. Some families never evolve much past the Renaissance. That’s us.
My grandpa once owned a gold mine north of Tahoe. Other than that, we really haven’t left many marks on the world — any vainglorious filigrees — though that same grandpa later developed a novel type of plane engine that is now in the Smithsonian.
FYI, nobody can find it. You know how it goes, you put something away and you forget you have it? Apparently, that’s what happened with the Smithsonian. “It’s in a box here somewhere,” they keep telling us.
Cut to today, as I hold this 1-year-old baby girl, Catty Cakes. Moments like this make you think of all the vagaries of life, all the winks and nods, the sly smiles that led to this baby being right here, right now. If her mom hadn’t flirted with her dad, for example. If my wife hadn’t accepted that rum drink I sent over. If one evening, a great-great grandpa said, after a long day of falconing, “I’m so tired, luv, can we canoodle in the morn?”
All those vagaries, all that stardust, all that happenstance, really, that leads to each human life. This life, the one in my arms, the first grandbaby in a long lineage of first grandbabies.
And so it is with Catty Cakes. In a single year, she has left a mark on my heart… her vainglorious filigree.
It was Cakes’ birthday the other day, and her parents pulled out all the stops, ordering trays of spam from the Hawaiian joint and two sets of balloons, neither of which they liked so much. It was windy on the hillside park, and everything twirled and spun — the balloons, the parents, their babes.

The birthday girl slathers her arms in frosting. She’s so her mom.

Cakes invited all her pals, and they showed up, as 1-year-olds are prone to do. They smeared cupcakes on each other, and played in the pop-up sandbox her daddy made. Laila, Navy, Beckett, Bullwinkle, Voltaire. Evidently, we are in a new age of baby names, and I like them very much.
These were all COVID babies, conceived amid a pandemic, born during a pandemic and now raised in a world so expensive, so racked with war and worry, that you have to be concerned.
Yet, when didn’t we worry for babies? In the age of cholera, we worried for them. In the Great Depression we worried for them. When hippies started blowing up science labs, we worried for them. When Ross cheated on Rachel, we worried for them (the big dolt).
Point is, did we ever not worry for our babies?
For these COVID babies, you have to think it will all work out. As always, they are our greatest prospects, our prettiest prayers.
A financial advisor warned Finn that by the time his daughter Catty Cakes turns 18, the price of a single year at a UC school will be $113,000, plus room and board. That could worry you a little. What would Stanford cost? Your spleen? Your essence? Your soul?
I hear about tuition debt forgiveness, and I think: “Forget forgiveness, give me tuition control, force these deans to live within their means, for what colleges are doing to the American Dream is nothing short of immoral.”
But we’ll leave immorality for another session.
Because everything happens in a heartbeat, you know … happens in a hiccup, a baby’s milk-bubble burp.
“One day, in your 40s or 50s, you will start to think that life is turning
into a long string of small extinctions,” predicted the poet James Silas Rogers.
Not me, Jimmy. Not me at all, though I get what you’re saying, dude — the incremental shifts in power and prestige, how growing older erodes your sense of purpose.
Grandkids, if nothing else, give us fresh purpose, in an age of small extinctions.
For now, though, Cakes has slathered her arms in frosting. She’s so her mom. Whoa, now she is face-diving in the birthday cake. That’s so her dad.
Does this make her Stanford material? Yes, probably.
Such a weird world. Such a magnificent world — all on display here at a 1-year-old’s birthday bash. The future of all these families — their lineage, their pedigree — hangs over this event, though I’m hesitant to point this out.
Heavy stuff, right? Captivating, too.
Somehow, a long family legacy survives all the extinctions, the hiccups, the massive challenges.
The future is in a box here somewhere, I just know it.

Email the columnist at Letters@ChrisErskineLA.com. To sign up for free
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