Big Celebrations


Nate turned 20 yesterday and began his sophomore year at SUNY-Cobleskill. Both milestones are sinking in slowly.

Nate loves his birthdays and anniversaries. When he realized he would be at school for a full day on August 30th, he announced that the day before would be his day to celebrate. Late Saturday night he mentioned, quite matter of factly, that I needed to wake him up at 8 AM Sunday for his McDonald’s breakfast. That’s when I knew he had plans.

When he was eight years old, Nate created the form of his birthday: all three meals were to be from his favorite restaurants. That year, we had McDonald’s for breakfast, Wendy’s for lunch and Burger King for dinner. Ah, a theme! The following year we had Walker Bros. for breakfast (a fabulous Chicago-area chain), Denny’s for lunch and IHOP for dinner. I can say that was the one and only time I’ve eaten dinner at The International House of Pancakes. My hands are still a bit sticky.

Sunday started off early with me dutifully getting his sausage and egg McGriddle (AND NO CHEESE!) and two hash browns, which he took turns biting. Lunch was New York Pizzeria, but, and this is a big but, we ate there. Wednesday night is our usual night to bring in pizzas; we always bring it home.

Around 1 o’clock, Nate came up behind me and said, “I think I’ll have my presents, ummm, NOW!”. Though Simpsons Season 13 had not arrived, there was another DVD (Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland) and an Xbox game called Split/Second. I handed Nate the unwrapped Amazon box. No surprises for this boy.

Giving Nate a gift provides no payoff for the giver. In 2000, I took the boys to see The Phantom of the Opera, the silent version, at the Music Box Theater in Chicago. It was a Halloween special and before the film began, a loop of cheesy old horror movie trailers was shown. One, It! about a black statue that kills people, made a huge impact on Nate, who would (and still does) say “Iiiiiitttt” in a guttural growl or talk about “It the black statue.”

While perusing eBay I found a beautiful lobby card from the 1967 release. It had Roddy McDowell prominently featured and, looming from the side, It himself. I was so excited to give it to Nate to hang on his wall. I handed the framed picture to him and got nothing in return. Worse than nothing.

“Ah, I don’t want it.”

Really? I was crushed. It was then that I realized giving the gift is enough, that I don’t need to feel good about it, or appreciated. I certainly shouldn’t expect a “Wow, Dad, that’s cool, where did you find it?” Now we ask him what he wants, he tells us and we hand it over.

For dinner, the whole family, as well as Nate’s one on one aide Elise and her husband Jason, headed south to Oneonta for Nate’s birthday dinner at Italian Kitchen. Nate got his usual: mozzarella sticks, spaghetti and meatballs, both with no garnishes. A sprinkling of parmesan or an offending sprig of parsley will result in an uneaten meal. As a bonus, the waitress gave Nate a cannoli in honor of his special day. It was dislike at first sight and Nate asked, “Who wants it?” But he did try the filling, loudly proclaiming, “I tried something new!”

Karen had made an ice cream cake for him and we headed home for dessert. Elise gave Nate his present, a bag of snack foods that he loves. Uh oh, here it comes.

He made a little face. I was ready for him to say “No,” or, “I have those already,” and hurt Elise’s feelings. Instead, he looked at the overflowing bag and, thinking to recent conversations I’ve had with him about overeating and snacking, said, “I’ll blow up if I have them.”

We all laughed and I explained Nate’s gift-receiving issues. It didn’t matter, it was a great day.


About Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.
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