My (Not-So-Super) Sweet Sixteen

Lots of little girls dream about the perfect wedding – the cake, the dress, the man. I was never into wedding planning as a kid, and surprise of surprises, not much has changed on that front over the years. Instead, when I was a kid I obsessively planned my 16th birthday party.

For some reason, I had a very concise picture of the big day in my head. There would be balloons, streamers, and confetti, everything in bubblegum pink. I’d be wearing a beautiful party dress. No clue why, but in my imagination, all of the fashion at this party was straight out of the 1950’s, with crinolines making all the girls’ skirts extra-flouncy, and all the boys wearing letterman sweaters.

We’d play some games: Spin the Bottle and Seven Minutes in Heaven. My boyfriend (because of course I’d have a boyfriend by that ripe old age) would always be on the opposite side of the bottle when it spun. We’d also listen to records, and dance long into the night, but the best part would be when my parents gave me my own car. True to form, the car was also a 1950’s-era thing, with fins. I loved fins – still do. I believe that the car was also supposed to be bubblegum pink, but that part of the picture isn’t totally clear.

Where I got this idea of a perfect sixteenth birthday, I have absolutely no clue. Maybe it came from a movie or book, or from something Barbie-related, or maybe it just came from having a great imagination. Either way, even after I had grown to realize that no one at my party would ever be wearing crinolines, and my demographic didn’t include guys who lettered in sports, I still held on to some vestiges of the dream. Maybe I’d have a boyfriend, and of course I’d get a car. Didn’t everyone?

“1950’s Coupe at a Drive In” by Cindy Lewis

Weirdly enough, I can remember this fantasy party much more clearly than I can remember the actual day I turned sixteen. I don’t remember if I had a boyfriend, but probably so; I went through a boy a month back then. I don’t remember if I did anything special to celebrate the day, or if I was working. I only remember one thing: my parents gave me a car. It was one of the cruelest jokes anyone has ever played on me.

Around the same time I originally came up with the dream birthday scenario, my mother was driving a 1976 Chevy Nova. By the early 1990’s, the car was toast, and came to its final resting spot on the side of our driveway, up on blocks. One of the windows was broken, and various wildlife – squirrels, opossums, and even the resident cat food-stealing raccoon – eventually made the car “home,” eating the wires, nesting in the seats, and otherwise hastening the car’s return to a more natural state. When I turned 16 in the late 1990’s, the powder blue Nova was more of a rust color. Moss was growing on the insides of the windows. My parents had been talking about having it towed away for years, but that seemed unlikely. After all, no one wanted to disturb the raccoon.

My birthday arrived, as birthdays tend to. Reaching sixteen was a huge deal for me, because I was finally allowed not only to go on unchaperoned dates, but I would also now be allowed to wear makeup, and get a job. I was a junior in high school, a straight-A student, captain of the Quiz Bowl team, a member of the cadre in ROTC, and there seemed to be no end in sight to my opportunities for making out with cute boys on school trips. Sure, money was really tight at home, and we’d just gone through a major hurricane a few months before that had obliterated the first floor of our house, but overall, things were looking up. I knew that the dream for my birthday party was a no-go, but I still felt hopeful that maybe, just maybe, there would be a car in my immediate future. It’s hard to describe just how it feels to know that there’s no way you’ll be getting a car, AND feel like it’s your right to have one, so of course it’s going to happen. The teenage brain is a mysterious thing.

I knew that something was really weird when I woke up and both of my parents were awake, waiting for me at the kitchen table. I don’t remember if my mother had baked a cake for me, but there would be one by that evening – a carrot cake. She always makes me carrot cake for my birthday. I’m not much of a cake person. She was still in her peach-colored fake fur robe. I don’t know what he was wearing, but it’s always some combination of jeans, work boots, and t-shirt. Just like me 🙂

They wished me a happy birthday, and hugged and kissed me like normal, loving parents do. Then from her robe pocket, my mother produced a birthday card. The envelope bulged in a suspicious way…could this be a car key? Happiness burst through me – this was too good to be true! Sixteen AND a car!?!? I looked at them both – poker faces. But of course they were just waiting for me to tear open the envelope, right? Then they’d celebrate along with me, and we’d go out to the driveway to check out my new wheels. Everything was going so well!

I eagerly ripped open the envelope, glanced at the front of the birthday card (“Blah, blah, blah, you’re turning sixteen, beautiful girl, we love you, blah”), and opened it. I was right: A KEY! A key to a car! A key to a car that looked really familiar, somehow. A key to a…Chevy Nova that was up on blocks and infested with rodents of varying sizes. My parents started laughing. At me. On my big day. I didn’t start crying then, but I definitely cried on the bus on the way to school.

This story doesn’t end on a sour note; I was a pretty well-adjusted kid, after all. I got over the seemingly crushing disappointment of receiving a wildlife refuge for my birthday. It wouldn’t be long before my amazing grandfather gifted me with a real car of my own. The Nova was eventually towed away to make room for my 1984 Ford Escort station wagon. I’ve never figured out if my parents thought the joke was a funny one that I’d “get,” or if they really thought that giving me the Nova was an act of kindness. I do know that I never shared my ideal sixteenth birthday with them, so they couldn’t have known that they were stepping on something fragile and pure on that birthday morning. I’d still love to have a birthday in crinolines, and a car with fins. Maybe for my 40th…

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Watering pots | Vintage Photography
  2. My Floating Musings
  3. Bert Was A Thief (short fiction) | The Jittery Goat
  4. Daily Prompt: Sweet Sixteen | Under the Monkey Tree
  5. Daily Prompt: Sixteen « Vicariously Poetic
  6. Insert End of an Era Cliché Here | AS I PLEASE
  7. Daily Prompt: Sweet Sixteen | The Wandering Poet
  8. Inspiration of a Sixteen-year Old — A Haiku: Monday, January 20, 2014 |
  9. Sweet Sixteen | Geek Ergo Sum
  10. Not so Sweet Sixteen | Dance with the Rain
  11. Sixteen Candles and One Surprise Party | meanderedwanderings
  12. Daily Prompt: Sweet Sixteen | tnkerr-Writing Prompts and Practice
  13. It’s been an extremely long time since I was sixteen | thoughtsofrkh
  14. Daily Prompt: Sweet Sixteen | Vagabond
  15. Inside left blank for your own message | Kate Murray
  16. Sweet Sixteen – Quizmania | L5GN
  17. [M.M.X.I.V. 20] Hawai’i shirts | Never A Worry
  18. And this is why I lose my memories… | Rob’s Surf Report
  19. POEM: Sweet NOT Sixteen | Poetry by Nowelle
  20. 17 Again | Processing the life
  21. Was Hitler sweet at sixteen? | Mishe en Place
  22. Old and Wise… | Haiku By Ku
  23. Na segunda metade dos 15 | Sonhos desencontrados
  24. Sixteen Birthday | Flowers and Breezes
  25. Daily Prompt: Being Sixteen! | All Things Cute and Beautiful
  26. DP Daily Prompt: Sweet Sixteen | Sabethville
  27. Some Girls Got Mustangs/Daily Prompt | I’m a Writer, Yes I Am
  28. Daily Prompt: Sweet Sixteen | Chronicles of an Anglo Swiss
  29. Not so sweet sixteen | A mom’s blog
  30. Daily Prompt – Sweet Sixteen – You can always have fun | storyofmylife1993
  31. | all my likes
  32. Opening the Doors of Perception | The Silver Leaf Journal
  33. Daily Prompt: Sweet Sixteen | Poetry
  34. Sweet Sixteen | The Story of a Guy
  35. Sweet Sixteen – A letter to my 16 year old self | Stephen Chapman
  36. I’d Rather Remember My 39th Birthday
  37. Sweet sixteen | Sue’s Trifles
  38. The 5 worst pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten about high school | Never Stationary
  39. A Good Day to Celebrate | LenzExperiments
  40. Sweet Sixteen | Lead us from the Unreal to the Real
  41. Sweet sixteen, have you ever….. | bagofbuttons
  42. Daily Prompt: Sweet Sixteen | Winging it

Various Drivel + Birthday Plans

Blowing out my birthday candle in Vienna on my 23rd birthday, 2004. KT bought me this amazing birthday tart (and of course champagne - birthdays MUST have champagne).

2004 – my first trip to Vienna, Austria to visit KT. Here I am on my 23rd birthday, blowing out the “birthday candle” on a delicious fruit tart.

Man, drivel is a difficult word to spell if you pretty much never use it 🙂

So I have this feeling that my life is going to change in a big way tomorrow. I’m excited and scared, and maybe I’m putting all of my eggs in one basket, I dunno. Either way, I think that a great adventure is just around the corner, and I’m so ready to get started!

Also, did I tell you guys that I got my birthday plans all figured out? I’m soooo psyched; the last few birthdays have been a letdown, so I’m really happy to know that this one is going to be exactly what I want. Maybe it’s all my fault for getting it in my head that birthdays were made for big adventures (eg. trips to Europe), but The Man and I have birthdays within a week of each other, with his being the day after Halloween, so we pretty much always end up celebrating Halloween/his birthday and not mine. Now that I think about it, I can only recall us doing something cool for my birthday twice in the last seven years, and both times were completely left up to me to plan and arrange, which definitely kills part of the experience. This year he kept saying that we were going to go somewhere or do something, but he never got around to it so I decided it wasn’t worth waiting to be disappointed. Even though I had to plan my own birthday again, this time I’m doing 100% exactly what I want with no exceptions, meaning that it’s gonna be 100% awesome!

My birthday cake (and my friend Al) in 2005, during my evacuation to Chicago. It's a vegan mocha raspberry cake, baked by yours truly...and to this date, the most delicious thing I've ever baked.

2005 – my first hookah experience, on my 24th birthday. This is my friend Al & (to date) the best thing I’ve ever baked, an ugly-but-delicious vegan mocha cake with raspberry filling.

First off, I’m going to Austin. My bf Trin lives there with her immediate and extended family, and I love soaking up time with them any time possible. Trin’s parents always treat me like I’m just another of their kids, and I really dig spending time with her sisters and visiting family friends (there always seem to be a lot of us, like butterflies drawn to the brightest, most beautiful flowers in the garden).

In 2006, KT took me to see Aguntum, an ancient Roman town in Austria, for my birthday (among other treats).

2006 – my first visit to a Roman town. I was in Austria again to be with KT on my 25th birthday, and during this trip she took me to Aguntum in Tirol, AND treated me to a ride on the Riesenrad, my favorite ferris wheel, back in Vienna.

Back in college when Trin and I were roommates, we got into the habit of spending our birthdays together. Since 1999, I’ve spent almost every birthday either with her or with my other bf/college roomie KT, and the ones spent alone were definitely the lamest. I don’t care if we just sat around and ate vegan meatloaf, being with a best friend on your birthday is an automatic level-up to the birthday experience. If I can’t spend my birthday with either of them, I try to spend Trin’s birthday with her somehow. KT’s is a little hard to pull off, since she lives in Europe and travelling overseas in February isn’t exactly the smartest way to spend thousands of dollars. Maybe one day we’ll live closer.

In 2010, I took a few of my best friends to see the circus in Chicago.

2010 – My first visit to the “real” circus since kindergarten, on my 29th birthday.

To make things cooler, there’s also the whole deal about being in Austin for my birthday. I love that town, though I haven’t gotten to see half as much of it as I’d like. This time I’ll be attending a three-day yoga & music festival (I told you a tiny bit about this in an earlier post), and getting my inner yogi on! It’s going to be so much fun – the festival has tons of classes and workshops, musical performances, and even a little market. I signed up pretty early, so I had my choice of three classes a day in yoga, meditation or health, and I scored some really cool ones. One of them is aerial yoga, which I’ve been really interested in trying out. There’s a hula hooping class, and I’m even going to get to attend a kirtan, which my soul has been crying out for lately – they’re really hard to find around here, unfortunately. If you don’t know what kirtan is, and you 1) love yoga and 2) love to sing, drop everything you’re doing and find one. It’s a beautiful way to meditate while getting in touch with your breath and singing harmoniously with a roomful of people. It’s a lovely experience.

In 2011, The Man was away on assignment during my birthday, so he sent me flowers. (Shown here with a curious Munky.)

In 2011, The Man was away on assignment during my 30th birthday, so he sent me flowers. (Shown here with a curious Munky.)

So all of this sounds amazing, yes? But wait! You haven’t heard the best part! Even though I’m visiting Trin, and could probably stay with her, since I feel like this birthday is a bit of a big one I wanted to do something to make it really special. I decided maybe I’d get a hotel room, but then all the hotel rooms I checked out were just ugly and/or way too expensive. I wanted something beautiful and spa-like, but close to my friend’s house, and with some panache. On a whim I decided to check out the offerings at Air B&B, and by complete accident I found the coolest thing ever – my very own refurbished 1953 Airstream camper (also known as a caravan to those of you on the other side of the pond). How incredibly awesome is that?!?!

Not the trailer I'll be staying in, but the real thing looks a lot like this. Click through to check out this gorgeous 1954 Spartanette!

2013 – my first stay in a vintage camper! Not the trailer I’ll be staying in, but the real thing looks a lot like this. Click through to check out this gorgeous vacation caravan.

Another Year

I’m going to be 31 on Thursday.

It’s weird, because when I say “thirty one” I hear “old,” but I’m not old. Hell, I’m taking good enough care of myself that I don’t even have real wrinkles yet, other than my smile lines. I’ve been the same dress size since my freshman year of college, with slight gains and losses as the diets have flown by. My taste in clothing has clearly become more refined, though the other day I was listening to The Cranberries and thinking how I’d really like to have a pair of combat boots again sometime. I’m even POORER now than I’ve ever been – so how’s that for a kick in the face, Old Age?

But is staying somewhat similar the same thing as retaining one’s youth? In some ways, I’m Peter Pan-ing my way through life, I know. I mean, sure, my career ambitions have become defined and I’m finally where I want to be everyday. Otherwise, though…While my friends from high school all have two kids and mortgages now, I sometimes feel trapped just having two cats and a rental apartment. I’ve been dating the same guy for six years, with no intention of getting married any time soon, and definitely no wish to get bogged down by babies or, heaven forbid, a fixed address for more than a couple of years at a time.

The difference is that I’m letting myself age inside more than I wish to admit. I have been following only half of my heart for some time now, and I’m not exactly sure what to do to appease it. The REAL me, the inside me, is a nomad. She hates anchors, despises divulging her secrets, staying in one place too long. She longs to ride with the wind when the urge suits. She sails clipper ships and leads armies. She hunts down poachers in Africa, climbs treacherous mountain trails in China, seeks wisdom with yogis in India.

But me, I’m just 31, and I don’t know what I’ve been waiting for, really. Who will be looking back at me in the mirror when I turn 32?