So I have been thinking about birthdays, in particular those ones that end in zero. My youngest turns twenty next year which means, given I had a zero birthday the year she was born, that I too will endure celebrate a milestone of my own.
So I was thinking about the irrelevance of the 21st birthday celebration and wondering why it is that we don’t simply start the zero tradition from 20?
The very first birthday celebration is… well obviously it’s the first one. Not for the child of course, they are too busy eating wrapping paper and wondering why we holding them over an open flame.
It’s only marginally less surreal for them than being forced onto the lap of a fat guy in a seasonally inappropriate red suit with a fake beard – eventually they realize this is an elaborate photo op purely for their parent’s entertainment. As is the first birthday celebration.
The second born will have a first birthday too but it will be a low-key affair and the cake may be bought from Coles.
The next exciting birthday is the tenth – Woohoo, double digits! They start to cotton on to the import of money in a birthday card commencing the lifelong habit of shaking out the envelope.
Open your card from Aunty Glenda.
Oh man, come on…nothing?! Did it drop out maybe? MUUUM, it’s empty!
Thirteen is a big deal and often involves a slumber party. The secret for boys is to take them somewhere late afternoon/early evening and run them like dogs. Exhaust them with as much physical activity as you can manage, ply them with pizza and then set up computer games. Easy.
Girls require greater ingenuity and counseling skills. There will be tears and despite cutting off all sugar supplies from 9pm, there will be no slumber – at all.
Sixteen. I may have harboured a somewhat romantic notion about turning sixteen due in no small part, to the depiction of ‘Sweet Sixteenth’s’ in the diet of American teen movies and television shows I grew up with.
There is absolutely nothing sweet about sixteen year olds.
Despite cautionary tales from more experienced parents, my ex-husband and I decided to go ahead with a sixteenth birthday party for the first-born. Ok, so I’m officially experiencing flashbacks now and I must warn you this will not be pretty.
Thirty kids MAXIMUM ok?
But MUUUM, by the time I invite all the girls from school, the gang from primary school, the Mount boys and the De La boys…
Sixty kids were invited.
My youngest brother was the doorman. An impressively proportioned man who looked especially intimidating in his motorbike leathers, he was also renowned for a particularly impassive expression – one of those blank stares that gave away nothing. Armed with a guest list he greeted each approaching teenager and may have padded down the shiftier looking boys.
Interestingly, not one parent braved their children’s displeasure and actually came inside to make sure they were not depositing them at a den of iniquity. Instead, they drove half way up the street and slowed down sufficient for their embarrassed teens to tuck and roll out of the moving vehicle.
Once the guests had been checked off the list their stash of virulent coloured vodka cruisers or cans of UDL were confiscated and left in the study where the thirteen year old presided over them like some crusading member of the temperance league.
I can’t believe my ex-husband and I had seriously thought that we would spend the bulk of the evening enjoying a convivial glass of wine and reminiscing about the birthday girl as a toddler, occasionally pausing to check if another tray of sausage rolls was required.
No, despite the dedicated dance floor and groaning table of party snack goodness, the entire evening was spent collaring couples attempting to get upstairs, tracking and eliminating furtive marijuana smokers and administering water to dehydrated and wasted teenage girls who, despite the evangelistic efforts of my youngest child, were still managing to source and consume alcohol.
My brother the bouncer had stopped at least twenty kids who were not on the list and there was a growing band of disgruntled would-be partygoers milling about the front gate. Forced to evict several boys for acts of unsociability we eventually realised that they were leaving by the front door and then scaling our neighbor’s fences to get back in again.
Having registered the party with the local constabulary, a car was sent out to disperse the uninvited boys who had continued to lurk about the front of the house. Once the police car taillights disappeared however, the entertainment starved youth reconvened.
My ex husband reluctantly agreed to security reinforcements in the guise of my then partner, the Serbian. A short, muscular man with distinctly paranoiac tendencies, he always looked like he wanted to hurt someone. Which in this case was perfect. I don’t know what he said to them, but eventually the entire group moved as one to a park at the end of the street.
The backyard, lit by discreet ropes of bud lights, had taken on a vaguely Sodom and Gomorrah vibe as I was forced to flush out couples in various acts of lewdness and commandeer soft drink bottles full of goon. At the height of this Bacchanalian revelry the youngest child discovered a nice young school friend and some random stranger engaged in an intimate form of introduction on top of her rabbit hutch.
“Stop it! You’re traumatizing my rabbit!!!!!” she bellowed at the top of her lungs.
This and the approaching midnight hour mercifully signaled an end to the ghastly event. Switching off the music and switching on all the lights, bleary-eyed teens stumbled out to waiting cars where their parents pretended not to notice the smell of alcohol.
Never again. Sorry, number two.
A woman once told me that she worried about her children until they turned eighteen. She figured if she could help navigate each of her four children to the official age of adulthood in this country, and they managed to avoid unwanted pregnancy, hard drug addiction or membership to a cult then her work was done. Extra credit if they emerged free of excess body art and visible piercings.
I now feel compelled to congratulate all parents of children who achieve this teenage evolutionary milestone. Mind you, even though we recognize that these newly anointed adults can vote, legally drink and line up to be refused entry at nightclubs various, we also realize they are still, essentially, as silly as wheels.
Or perhaps that’s just my experience.
The youngest will be back in America for her twentieth and I’ll be running away somewhere for my –