My mom called it Queen for the Day. It was my ninth birthday, and spoiler alert: it was probably the most magical birthday experience I've ever had, and ever will have. At nine years old, I had already found two of my greatest loves: being treated like a queen, and musical theatre. And you guessed it - THIS BIRTHDAY HAD BOTH.
For starters, it was a school day. My sister gave me a bouquet of flowers, my mom made me breakfast, and then we hit the road instead of going to school. Score. All I knew was that we were picking up my grandmother, and driving somewhere special. We kept heading south...past the zoo, past Marine World, and then onto the Bay Bridge. I really had no idea what was happening. My mom kept making excuses - "oh yikes, I just missed the exit! I guess I'll keep driving..." I was nine, it was an adventure, there was candy, I didn't really question it.
We drove all the way to San Francisco, and pulled up in front of the Sheraton downtown. To my small-town, nine-year-old self, the Sheraton looked like a palace. The doorman held the door for us, and I really did feel like a queen. I liked it.
My mom loved surprises. She loved crafting the story, feeding me one little piece at a time. We went to lunch on Jessie Street, and took photos with me beaming underneath the sign. I was sporting my oversized denim floppy hat that featured a large pink sunflower smack dab in the middle of my forehead. It was a pretty great look, and I rocked it with pride.
That night we got dressed up, ate dinner at the fancy restaurant in the hotel (which yes, now I understand was probably a glorified Chili's) and then walked out to the street. My heart leaped - a limo was waiting for us. Bless my stars, a limousine was there to pick me up!
In the limo we had champagne glasses filled with sparkling cider, and I still had no idea where we were going or what we were doing. But what did I care? There I was, in my floral print, lace -collared dress paired with white tights (thank you, 1994), riding in luxury while sipping bubbly cider. I had arrived.
When we pulled up to the curb, I stepped out and saw a glorious sight: we were there to see The Phantom of the Opera, a show so spectacular, that I had spent months listening to the original cast recording over and over. I think I may have screamed, or burst into little-kid-laugh/tears at the sight of it. (See photo above.)
You're probably thinking, yikes, that seems a bit over the top for a nine year old's birthday. And yeah, I guess it was. But my mom knew me, really well. She knew I would absolutely love and be changed by the experience. She knew that celebrating me in that way would forever leave a mark on my heart, a mark that reminds me to this day that while she wasn't perfect, she really tried to say yes, Jess, I know you and celebrate who you are. It was incredible.
My husband Matthew jokes around that all future birthdays will never measure up, no matter how elaborate or celebratory. In truth, he's probably right. Nothing will ever replace that moment when I, as a nine-year-old diva in the making (I'm much more chill now guys, I promise), stepped out of that limo and realized my mom had taken me to the big city to see my favorite musical.
On the way home from San Francisco we stopped and I got a spiral perm. I was wearing an oversized black Phantom of the Opera t-shirt that stopped just below my knees. Still rocking the hat. But that's for another story.
So here we are, now at my 29th birthday. I am overwhelmed by the love that is in my life - my husband, friends, family - it is more than I could have ever hoped for. Thank you all for making my life wonderful!
Here we go, last year of my twenties. Let's do this.