Renee is one in a million. The kind of girl who never really wants anything for her birthday, except a surprise. And it doesn’t matter much what secret gift is bestowed, only that it is planned in advance. Because all she really wants is to be remembered, and made to be special. Over the fifteen birthdays I’ve had the chance to give her a card and a kiss, Renee hasn’t changed much. She still displays the same innocent giddiness in being cherished in some small way. Lucky for her, I’m such a Romantic. (Ahem.)

Well, Saturday was Renee’s birthday again. (On Flag Day, that forgotten little holiday in June.) And she wasn’t expecting much – hoping perhaps, but not expecting. And just days before, I get a secret call from friends in Pennsylvania (whom we know from Kenya mostly) who offer to come on out to New York and watch our kids for the day. Part of the outrageous deal are tickets to a Broadway show. It’s all kept a secret, of course. Amelia is going nuts because she thinks she’s Nancy Drew and she knows I’m hiding something. Tell me! I’m going to explode! she implores. But I don’t give in.

And so everything unfolds according to plan and Renee is surprised by our visitors from far away. And I hand her an envelope which warns the holder “do not open til noon.” Renee gets smiley, which is great fun. Knowing something adventurous is soon upon us, and to stave off yesterdays fleeting migraine headache, she – caution to the wind – takes two Excedrin. For Renee that’s like four espresso. I’m thinking… well, she’ll be awake til midnight. (And she was.)

In the car she popped open the envelope which was stuffed with driving directions to the theater on 8th Avenue. Pumped up on caffeine, Renee navigated right to the parking garage first try and we hiked the rest of the way. What a great show. Loads of fun and a good dose of “New Jersey.” (We saw the musical, Jersey Boys.) I joked with Renee afterward that next time we would have to see “Oklahoma”, but she didn’t think that was funny. (Renee is from OK.)

It was raining pretty hard as we exited the theater. A thunderstorm parked over Manhattan was dumping blankets of warm water on the city, and so we dogged out and into an enclave of a nearby garage door to stay dry. We waited and watched drenched New-Yorkers run to-and-fro in a panic. The thunder reverberated off the glass and steel and stone of the city like something unnatural. We waited some more. Come on, lets go! she exclaimed at one point when the rain was so thick you couldn’t even see half a city block. Her eyes were all alight with caffeine and mischief. Her hair was coiling up in a frizz from the humidity. And all together she looked very cute. “You want to walk five blocks in this!?” I said in disbelief. “Yeah, it’ll be FUN! she replied.” I don’t think so, I said. Practical, that’s me.

The storm passed in fifteen minutes and off we went. We rounded out our New York date with a New York Strip steak split two-ways at Chillis. Back home the kids had baked her favorite cake with our guests and set two large wax numbers monumentally on top of it – 37. Meaningless really, since today she was 22. We stayed up way too late, somewhat irresponsibly, enjoying our friend’s company before Renee’s surprise birthday came to a close.

And she loved it. Because it was fun. But mostly because it made her feel special. Which she is anyway. (Thanks Paul and Tammy)