I turned 23.
For the 10th year in a row.
To be honest, I was dreading my birthday this year. With all of the events of this summer, I was just not in a celebratory mood. A few friends had asked me if I wanted to go out and grab a birthday drink, and I promptly turned them down. The thing was, I just wasn't sure how I was going to be feeling. And the last thing I wanted to do was schedule a big night out only to have me crying uncontrollably and completely ruining the whole thing.
(The Strip lights have been hard to look at lately. My dad loved the Strip, and on the night we were at the Cosmopolitian with Uncle Jay, I had forgotten about this until I was comfortably laying in a chaise lounge by the pool. One glance at the Paris and Bellagio signs and I melted into a puddle of Kim. Not good. Kind of makes for an awkward night for everyone involved. Especially when I forget to wear waterproof mascara.)
So I made the decision to avoid the Strip at night. Except the next General Membership meeting for Junior League was being held at the Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay.
On my birthday.
And I had to speak for my committee.
It was kind of one of the those one-two punches where I was like, "How am I going to get out of this one?" but kept coming up with no answer. I had missed the last GM in June. I didn't want to send another proxy.
And so I sucked it up, gave myself a mental pep talk, and declined every invitation to celebrate my birthday that night. Because who knows how I was going to feel? I figured I would just keep my head down and go to bed early. No harm, no foul.
Besides, my dad has always sent me flowers on my birthday for every year I've been alive. He never missed a year. Ever. The idea of not getting flowers because of my dad's passing was like a total sucker punch, right in the gut. that took the wind right out of me.
Quite honestly, if the opportunity arose, I would have cancelled the whole day altogether.
Instead, I woke up on Wednesday morning only to find my forehead wrinkle to be bigger and deeper than ever. (I've been talking about my forehead wrinkle forever; it's the one right between my eyebrows. If I could, I would Botox that sucker into oblivion.) And on the morning of my 33rd birthday, my forehead wrinkle seemed to be mocking me, making it known that I wasn't getting any younger and future would be filled with fancy creams and injectables. Yay. Break out the balloons.
I was incredibly grumpy by the time I poured myself my first cup of coffee. Brian brightened the morning by giving me three of my favorite cupcakes from my favorite bakery (Retro Bakery!) with candles in them. Scotty sat in his chair, clapping and shouting, "Cupcakes! Cupcakes!" The gloom from the rain and my giant forehead wrinkle seemed to feel a little less heavy, though I wasn't sure what I was going to do all morning.
By 8am, I had my answer.
A loud knock on the front door revealed my very silly friend Deana, thrusting a giant cup of Starbucks coffee in my face, shouting, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!" Her kids were in the car, Courtney was on her way over, and according to them, I was off for the morning. They had booked me a mani-pedi at the local nail place, a blow-out with my stylist, and were on Bear-duty for the rest of the day.
Me? I was speechless.
Let me tell you, that forehead wrinkle didn't seem to be that big of a deal at this point. Ditto for the rain.
With a little convincing, I managed to stay for a bit of a play date with the girls (presents! Cards! Coffee!) and then head to the gym to get my miles in (this marathon isn't going to run itself.) Then it was back home to feed Scotty, put him down, and oh yeah, did I mention they had called the sitter to come an hour early, allowing me to make it to my hair appointment on time?
By 3pm, my nails were polished ("Ibiza" by Zoya on the toes, "Second Honeymoon" by OPI on the hands) and my hair was a bouncy, shiny cascade of curls. I joined Deana while she was getting her haircut, and the two of us sat there, sipping Pinot Noir and giggling. We changed into our nicer clothes for the meeting and headed to Mandalay Bay. I felt like a saucy, glammed-up version of my normal self. The shiny, Spanx-d kind.
Dawn, Deana's co-chair and a member of our provisional class, met us in the parking garage, with Popcorn Girl popcorn for me (swoon!) and champagne for all of us. Seriously? I felt like I was back in college, without a care in the world, as I sipped my Vevue Cliquot, except in college, there was no expensive champagne, no Cole Haan kitten heels, and no leaning against an adorable Mercedes convertible in a giant casino parking garage. But you know what? If this is what 33 looks like, count me in.
The meeting went great, I managed to not vomit on the microphone or trip over my new handbag (a birthday present from Brian, what I can only call "The Purse that Will Never Be a Diaper Bag," since all of my other purses seemed to have morphed into matchbox car-carrying, diaper-stashing bags.) I don't know if it was all the champagne, but I couldn't stop grinning. Even the sight of the Las Vegas skyline, lit up against the night sky, did not upset me. I felt great. I felt happy. I felt...excited.
And so five of us headed to Fleur for a quick birthday dinner after the meeting, and surprisingly, my heart did not hurt a bit. There were no tears on the horizon. Nancy purchased a mini-bottle of Vevue Cliquot to split (again, what is up with all of this great bubbly? Where has it been all my life?) and just as the croque monseuirs were arriving...
...so did a certain silver-haired Bravo TV Top Chef judge and contestant.
Be still my beating heart. It was Hubert Keller.
If you've read this blog, you know that I've been talking about Chef Keller for years. YEARS. And there were a few near missed for he and I over the years. The one time Brian and I were there for dinner, and he was there, but did not approach our table. Or the other time we saw him getting out of the parking garage elevator with his wife and we waved but he didn't hear us. Or the many, many times I've attempted to stalk him at the Burger Bar with my cute, camera-ready child in tow.
And then on all nights, with absolutely no pre-planning or pre-thought on my part, he just walked out of the shadows and up to our table and asked us if we were enjoying our meal.
I have no idea what my face looked like, but everyone started laughing hysterically at me. Apparently the first words out of my mouth were, "Hubert Keller! I LOVE YOU!" and I popped out of the booth and started vigorously shaking his hands.
Yup, that was me. Cool as a cucumber.
Thankfully, he was very good-natured about it and posed for a few pictures. (I even managed to touch his little ponytail...it's as soft and beautiful as he is.) He came back to our table a second time and asked if we had ordered dessert yet. Sonnya told him it was my birthday and without hesitation, he told us he would be happy to have our server make us Fleur's signature dessert, a fogado, tableside. I also told him we had an empty spot if he wanted to join us, but he politely declined.
Honestly, it was such a great night. It was so overwhelming and wonderful and exciting. The a fogado was made with liquid nitrogen (a nod to Richard Blaise, perhaps?) and was totally delicious. It reminded me of Ireland. I don't think I stopped talking about Chef Keller the whole night, either. I was still talking about it by the time I arrived home and Brian greeted me (Dawn had texted him a picture of the two of us.)
Amazing? Absolutely. And the whole day - not just the Hubert Keller part - was perfect, start to finish. For what could have been a really tough day, I'm happy to say my friends made it into something extraordinary. And when I woke up on Thursday morning, I didn't even notice my forehead wrinkle, mainly because the laugh lines around my mouth were so much deeper.
But those are wrinkles I will gladly take.