EXCERPT: 'The Kids Are All Right'

As we got out of the car, I could hear the hushed silence of the people waiting inside. Several silhouettes flickered across the drawn window shades in the living room. One shadow was hunched over, perhaps a person crouching down, another was walking toward the front door, and another looked like a four- headed blob. I walked ahead and flung open the front door. The lights flicked on, and "Surprise!" resounded throughout the house.

Mom rushed toward us wearing a floor-length chiffon gown the color of lemon meringue pie and pale peach high- heel sandals, the ones I always wore to play dress- up. Her hair was swept back off her face with two tortoiseshell combs. "Happy birthday, my darling," she said as she threw her arms around my stunned and smiling father.

Everyone who was important to Dad was there— his sisters and brothers and old college friends. My siblings stood in a line in front. Diana was dressed in green velvet. Her unruly red curls had been coaxed into two ponytails that bounced off her tiny shoulders as she shouted "Surprise!" in her sweet four- year- old voice that sounded more like a Sesame Street puppet than a human being. Dan stood next to her, and they looked like twins, despite the six years between them, with their red hair, freckles, and dimples that pierced their cheeks whenever they smiled. Everyone in the packed room was smiling, even Amanda, who usually wore her scowl like a badge of honor. A chubby sixteen- year- old with a Pat Benatar shag haircut, she hated dressing up, preferring her ripped jeans and concert T-shirts. To night, she was wearing a skirt.

I turned and looked up at Dad, who was beaming. "Nice job, toots," he winked, before being swallowed whole by the crowd of outstretched arms. I went upstairs to change, and when I came back down, the party was in full swing but Dad was gone. He then reappeared dressed in tartan slacks and a crisp white button- down shirt, a bow tie, and navy- blue blazer. Mom burst out into "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow," and the whole crowd joined in.

An hour or so later, Mom clinked a champagne glass to get everyone's attention. It was time for presents, she said, Amanda and Dan's cue. They entered the living room holding a large rectangular gift between them, which they handed to Dad. He was seated on our gold brocade couch, and the whole party gathered around to watch as he neatly untied the bow and then slid a finger beneath the taped corners, careful not to rip the paper. It was a family tree. Ever since she saw Roots on TV, Mom was obsessed with genealogy. She had spent the past six months in the New York Public Library working on our family history, unbeknownst to Dad, who thought she was going on auditions. She used gold and silver pens to painstakingly mark each name, birth date, and place.

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