This is the place that holds my stories.
The moments and feelings in this post are the kind I never want to lose.
Bear with me, friends, there are a few photos.
This number is supposed to mark the beginning of the best years. And I'm beginning to understand what that means. I also know there wouldn't be any best in these years, if not for the people who got me here.
I would have loved to fill a room with all of them, but logistics and timing meant it wasn't possible. So JB suggested he plan something smaller; a night he hoped would be meaningful and memorable.
He tried to surprise me, but it's hard to pull a fast-one on a calendar control freak. I knew there would be a dinner in Toronto. I weighed in on the restaurant. The rest was up to him.
So while he made plans, I let my imagination take me to a 40th birthday celebration that would be intimate and simple, yes, but also involve some kind of hair and makeup. Maybe some nail polish, too.
If ever there was a day for vanity to rear its head, this was going to be it.
Well, my imagination forgot to communicate with my calendar, which told me there was a day-long cross-country meet in the blazing sun that would have to happen with a rambunctious three-year-old sidekick.
By the time I watched both kids run through the finish line, we were too late for preschool drop off, and beauty appointments and primping time evapourated with the torrent of sweat that was running down my back.
I met the big kids at the bus stop, emptied their school bags, and shouted out orders about packing dance bags. When JB came through the door after a long day at work, he made lunches for the next day (because we all know how I am about those lunches), while I ran through the shower. My parents arrived just in time to give the kids their dinner.
With no time to dry my hair, I put it up into several tiny buns and headed for the car. I was hoping the combination of elastic bands and damp hair would leave me with a tousled look by the time we made it to the restaurant. I was feeling a lot like I do when I'm trying to get the kids to school on time in the mornings. Dishevelled.
The big night landed right in the middle of a crazy week, so that of all our siblings and their spouses could be there. I knew having all of us together would be the best part. As we pulled away from the house, I did my best to forget about homework and after-school activities and let things happen as they would.
I wanted to be in the moment no matter what.
We arrived at our hotel without any time to spare. I released my hair from the tiny buns, ran my fingers through it a few times, swiped on some old lip gloss from the bottom of my purse and threw on a dress. We met our polished siblings in the lobby, where I borrowed my sister's mascara, and JB led all of us through the revolving door.
At that point, we were supposed to be met with a surprise.
I was the designated driver for my prom, because I didn't drink.
We were full-time students when we got married, so it wasn't it in the budget.
I have no idea when it came up that I had never been in a limo or that I always thought it would be fun.
It seems JB held on to that nugget of information.
Let me fast forward by saying three city blocks on foot, 30 minutes, and eight phone calls later, the surprise and its inexperienced driver (Hi, Winston!) pulled up.
Even though it didn't end up being the surprise JB hoped for—since it was clear there was something going on when we didn't get into any of the 100 cabs we walked past—I still felt all the same emotions.
You want to show someone how much you love them?
Remember their nuggets and pull them out at just the right time.
There is nothing better than seeing Toronto at night through landscape-sized windows, especially when the inexperienced driver and his wrong turns make the ride that much longer.
Much fun and tom foolery ensued.
After directing our directionless driver to Queen Street West, we finally pulled up at the restaurant we chose for the festivities. We put a fair bit of research into finding the perfect place. We wanted a space that was cozy and small enough for us to hear each other. We wanted good food, but didn't want to feel like we weren't fancy enough to be eating it.
We found all of that at Ursa.
The decor and space were exactly what we had in mind—even with the high volume of Dallas Green and Feist look-a-likes—and we happily settled in.
Since I don't consider myself a seasoned foodie, I will summarize by saying the food was exceptional.
The dessert, Textures of Chocolate and Caramel, which arrived on my plate with a sweet birthday candle, has a name that doesn't do it justice. It should be called Sweet Symphony.
Speaking of symphonies, the custom cocktails and Ontario wine were like a string quartet playing backup to a really great song.
But it wasn't just the food. It was looking down the length of the table and seeing the lit-up faces of my family. We've known each other for two decades, yet moments like this one, with all of us together, are rare. I am so fortunate to call every one of them my friend. In the earliest days of dating JB, I saw the respect he had for his family and the friendship he had with his siblings, and I knew he would understand the value I place on mine.
There were beers on the patio of a grungy bar, where the air was perfect, and cocktails on the rooftop of the Drake Hotel, where the shots were delicious.
There was really loud singing in the back of Winston's limo, as we made our way through the deserted streets of Toronto at 3 a.m.
There was champagne pouring and room service (oh poutine and burgers) at 4 a.m.
And then, breakfast on Degrassi Street at 10.
There wasn't any time for the hairspray or makeup or nail polish I imagined.
But as it turns out, the night was too beautiful to notice.
Thank you to everyone who made this story come to life.
I am forever grateful you were there.
JB there is nothing better than the best.