Chapter 28 – Aryeh (אֲרִי) (Lion) – October 2022
Gibbs walked through the toy store to find the section with the toddler trucks and trains. He wanted to get some inspiration for something different that he could make for LJ's first birthday. All of the older DiNozzos had received handmade wooden toys for their first birthday; LJ would be no exception.
With five DiNozzos, it was a bit more challenging to come up with vehicles for the toddler that had not already been made. He did a quick sketch of one of the helicopters, and also of one of the pieces of road equipment that would be a new vehicle if he could make it work in wood.
With five sketches in hand, Gibbs turned to leave the store. As he was walking towards the doors, the aisle of plush animals called to him somehow. He figured no harm done in cutting across that aisle to get to the exit. About two thirds of the way to the parallel main aisle from which he had turned, a display of plush lions, sitting on their haunches caught his eye.
The animals were well-made and seemed durable enough for a one-year-old. 'What the heck?' he thought. So, on a whim, the infamous lion was purchased for LJ DiNozzo.
Nine days later, on 10 October, the family gathered at the DiNozzo house to celebrate the baby's first birthday a day early. Since all had the day off for Columbus Day, Ziva figured it would be a good time to have the birthday party. She and Tony decided to have the family over for pizza lunch and birthday cake afterwards.
Family began arriving around 1130 and the pizza was delivered shortly after. When Tony took the dozen pizzas from their regular delivery person, he joked about it.
"Feeding the whole extended family today for the baby's birthday, just in case you thought LJ was going to eat it all himself," he quipped.
"We remembered it was LJ's birthday; that small box on top is for LJ," the owner's younger son pointed to a small flat box on the top of the stack. "Pop says it's just for the birthday boy."
"Thanks, and tell your dad thanks; we'll get pictures," Tony grinned. He carried the stack of boxes to the kitchen and placed them on the counter. He separated the plain cheese pizza from the 'DiNozzo special' pizzas.
"What is in the small box?" Ziva noticed the pile of pizza boxes as she placed the large bowl of salad on the counter for family to serve themselves.
"Mr. Canizio made a special pizza for LJ," he explained. They opened the box to see a small six inch pizza cut into bite-sized one-inch pieces. The pepperoni and sausage had been minced to small pieces for the baby to be able to eat them. "I told Joey that we'd take pictures for his Pop."
"How very thoughtful of him," Ziva remarked. "We definitely need to share some pictures with them."
Ziva called the family into the kitchen for lunch. The kids all came from the playroom and the adults from the living room and family room. Plates were filled and the guests and DiNozzos took seats around the extended dining room table; LJ was in his high chair between his parents. Tony and Tim had put in leaves to expand the table to fit the twenty people.
Ziva placed the pieces of LJ's special pizza on a plate and put a few at a time on the baby's tray. He shoved them in his mouth with both hands, grinning the entire time.
Tony cut slices of DiNozzo special pizza into more manageable pieces for Rivka and Beth and put their plates in front of them at the table. The girls had decided to sit on either side of Aunt Dee, so Tim moved their booster seats as Tony prepared the plates.
After everyone had their fill of pizza, there were about six slices left. The salad was just about gone and Ziva handed the bowl to Anthony after he carried plates to the dishwasher. The boy finished the salad and placed the bowl with the other items to be loaded in the dishwasher. Tony packaged up the rest of the pizza and put it in the fridge.
The others drifted to various parts of the house; the kids returned to the playroom and the adults again split between the living room and family room.
"Do we open presents now or wait until after the cake and ice cream?" Tony inquired.
Ziva thought a minute, "I think we should have the cake and ice cream in about an hour or so. Give everyone a chance to let the pizza settle. Perhaps we should get LJ to take a nap so he is not crabby later on?"
"Good idea," he responded. "I'll take him into his room and get him calmed down to sleep. You can visit with the others."
Ziva checked on the adults in the family room; Tim, Clay, Ellie, Abby, Jimmy, and Leon were playing a game on the Xbox. The kids were playing with the dolls, blocks, and Hot Wheels cars in the playroom. She joined Gibbs, Delilah, and Breena in the living room to work on seven hundred fifty piece jigsaw puzzle.
It was nearly two hours later that she realized that she hadn't seen Tony since he took LJ to his room to try to get the baby to take a nap. She excused herself from the group and walked to LJ's room. She gently nudged the door open. LJ and Tony were both asleep in the rocking chair.
LJ stirred and turned to look at his Ima; he grinned at her and reached his arms to her. Ziva carefully lifted the baby from Tony's arms. She sniffed, "Uh oh, someone is a stinky mess." LJ giggled as Ziva put him on the changing table.
Tony's subconscious registered the baby's giggles and he groggily opened his eyes. When he realized that the little boy was no longer in his arms he sat bolt upright. That's when he noticed Ziva at the changing table putting a fresh diaper on LJ.
"Oh, thank goodness; I thought he got away from me!" Tony stretched as Ziva put the soiled diaper in the bin. His back cracked and he sighed.
"Did you have a good nap, my little hairy butt?" she grinned at him as she turned with the baby in her arms. "I came to find you and both of you were asleep."
"Uh, yeah, I guess so. How long were we asleep?" he looked at his watch.
"I realized that I had not seen you for about two hours when I came to check on the both of you," she replied. "Are you ready for cake and ice cream?"
"Yeah, give me a few to freshen up, if you get my drift," he headed towards the master suite as Ziva took LJ to the playroom to be with the other kids. She put him on the floor and walked across the entry foyer to the living room.
"We will be having cake and ice cream shortly," she announced to the three adults still working on the jigsaw puzzle. Gibbs felt a hand on his leg and looked down to see LJ standing by his chair.
"Pa!" the little boy reached his arms to his Grandpa.
"Hey there, birthday boy. Getting' fast on all fours are we?" Gibbs scooped the toddler into his arms as LJ grinned.
"That he is, and he stands without holding on to anything," Ziva added.
"Won't be long."
She smiled at her youngest cuddling with his Grandpa, "Tony says the same thing. It will be soon enough and I will be chasing three toddlers. I am going to go get the cake and ice cream ready. Are you okay with him?"
Gibbs nodded and Ziva headed to the kitchen where she met her husband pulling the cake box from the refrigerator. She'd ordered a half a sheet cake knowing that they would have a good bit of the extended family over to celebrate. The top of the cake had a cartoon lion, similar to the one in LJ's favorite book, and 'Happy Birthday LJ!' on the top.
Ziva grabbed the paper plates and cups from the pantry that had a safari birthday theme. Tony removed the cake from the box and carried it to the table. He returned to the kitchen for the ice cream as Ziva put the party goods on the table. She went back for a cake server and ice cream scoop. Tony put the gallon jugs of lemonade and fruit punch on the table and then went to call the kids and the adults to the table.
Gibbs stripped LJ to his diaper and set him in his high chair. LJ's eyes widened at the sight of the cake and when he saw the containers of ice cream he started banging his fists on the tray.
"Totally DiNozzo," Leon joked. "Needs his food ten minutes ago."
Ziva placed the number 1 candle on the cake as the others took their seats. "Time to sing to the birthday boy!"
The family sang happy birthday to the baby, and he grinned at all the attention. Tony helped him blow out the candle and Ziva cut a piece from the cake and placed it on a plate. Tony put the plate on LJ's tray and both of the baby's hands dug in almost immediately.
"Mmmm," he babbled with his mouth full of cake, eliciting laughter from almost everyone at the table.
Ziva served cake to the others and Tony added scoops of ice cream for those who wanted the cold treat. Tim poured lemonade and fruit punch into cups for the family.
"Ima," Beth tugged at her mother's shirt.
"LJ big mess," she pointed to her baby brother and giggled. LJ had cake on his face, in his hair, and on his arms and chest.
"Eat it or wear it," Anthony had just read the book Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and recited one of his favorite lines from the book.
Clay recognized the reference and high-fived with Anthony, "Those were some of my favorite books as a kid; have you read all five books yet?"
"Just the first one; Ima is going to take us to the Library later this week so I can get the next one in the series. I think it's Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great. But I really want to read Superfudge," the boy replied to his uncle. "Girls are kinda yucky unless they are my cousins or sisters, ya know?" he spoke in a half-whisper to Uncle Clay.
Ziva put the remainder of the cake and ice cream away as Tony tried to clean as much cake from LJ's body as he could. Thankfully, he and Ziva had taken turns spoon-feeding the ice cream or the boy would have been even more of a mess. He got most of the cake off the kid and put his clothes back on. Ziva had been smart to dress the baby in a one-piece playsuit that day; made for easy on and easy off.
He put the toddler on his hip and called the others to the family room, "Time for presents." LJ bounced on his Abba; he may not have totally understood the words, but he knew it was all about him. The gifts were piled on the coffee table in the family room and LJ's eyes widened when he spied the pile of brightly wrapped boxes.
"OOOHHH," he pointed and laughed.
"All for you, big boy," Tony sat on the loveseat next to Ziva and held LJ in his lap. "Ima's going to help you open them and Uncle Tim is going to get some pictures." LJ grinned as his mother held a package towards him. He reached out for the box and together he and Ziva tore the wrapping off.
Ziva opened the box and handed the set of baby-sized board books to her son, "This is from Uncle Leon." She made a note on the small pad of paper on the arm of the loveseat. Her plan was to write each gift and the person from whom it came so that thank you notes could be sent out during the ensuing week.
Several piles of gifts of toys, books, and clothes were stacked on the table when LJ opened the first box from Grandpa. Inside were three wooden vehicles, a helicopter, a road grader, and a fire truck. The four older DiNozzos had to inspect them of course and both Tali and Anthony remarked that the new vehicles were different from ones the family already had.
Tony handed LJ to his mother and pulled the large box from them towards the center of the room. Ziva moved to the floor and had LJ in her lap. Tony and Ziva both helped LJ tear paper from the box; the little boy stood up while they were tearing the paper and laughed out loud.
As they pulled the paper away, the others watched and laughed along with LJ. Tony cut the tape on the top of the box and pulled out the Little Tikes 2-in-1 Pirate Ship toy. It was a play toy with pirates and cannon and also a riding toy. LJ clapped his hands and laughed. Ziva set him on the seat and Tony pushed him around the room making pirate sounds. The baby laughed as did the others.
His Abba sat on the loveseat and sighed, "Getting too old for too much of that." He rubbed his lower back as he watched Beth and Rivka check out the pirate ship. Gibbs reached to the side of The recliner and pulled out a bright red shiny gift bag.
"One last gift," he showed LJ. The baby crawled over to his Grandpa and stood up. He looked inside the bag and reached in. He tugged on the toy inside as Gibbs helped him get it out of the bag.
The grin couldn't have been any wider when LJ hugged the plush lion to him and babbled. He wrapped an arm around the lion and reached the other to his Grandpa to indicate he wanted up into his Grandpa's lap.
"PA!" LJ snuggled into Gibbs with the lion firmly in his grasp. He grinned at everyone.
"Guess you like the lion, huh bud?" Gibbs placed a gentle kiss on the baby's head and smiled.