what I think of when I see birthday cake

birthday cake
Originally uploaded by Liz Henry.

Half my weekend was spent here at Elia’s 10th birthday party. It felt like the kids are on the edge of being teenagers. Instead of a bounce house and formless running-around and a piñata, they played board games, video games, bocce ball, Dance Dance Revolution, sang karaoke, and danced campily. I don’t think I would have had the wits to dance with irony until I was 14…. wait… is that true?

No. I remember the 6th grade dance at which I slow danced with Derek Shotwell and then, in between long, sleazy, gossipy curling iron and joan-jett-raccoony-eyeliner sessions in the bathroom, I danced with a group of girls led by the queen of the Christian side-of-the-head ponytail girls, the wholesomely lipglossed Cherie Thrasher. I put in their real names for comic effect in case they google themselves. Hi y’all! Cherie and her sister did bizarre 60s dance moves, perhaps out of Elvis movies, like fake swimming, where you hold your nose and pretend to be going underwater… and other go-go dancing things that seemed hilarious and campy to me and yet it seemed everyone else was doing them with deadly serious intent to be cool.

This weekend, the adults hovered at this party, watching and feeling out of place, clearly all realizing the train was hurtling down the tracks and what if these kids all start dating each other, my god!? All Jo and Manny’s friends reminisced about the first times they met – at around age 12. Not so far off. Clearly they were thinking about the acid they dropped and the things they lit on fire at 3am after sneaking out of the house, and the spray paint administered — or whatever their equivalent delinquency. There was a feeling of appalled “steeling ourselves”. At 11, I was sneaking out to wrap houses in toilet paper, smoke clove cigarettes, and skinny dip in neighborhood pools, and I was particularly nerdy and uncool… it was only because of my exciting delinquent friend down the block, really.

We hope Elia will enter her double digits more gracefully and will find excitement in something much cooler than huffing glue out of paper bags. Perhaps a more idealistic delinquency like political activism. I just read Jessica Mitford’s “Hons and Rebels” and it was amazing because it was exactly the sort of life that my dad predicted for me. When I was only a little older than Elia, my family had yelling matches about how I was absolutely forbidden to do any sort of “study abroad” program because my dad was convinced I would run off into the mountains with Maoist guerillas. He was entirely correct, and that was my plan, and I would have ended up like Mitford, pregnant and not being revolutionary at all but working stupid odd jobs in order to survive, which is not far from my eventual fate, minus the machine gun repair lessons and mud.

One watches the innocent karaoke and wants to grab them all and shake them… “Do you realize you could do anything? ANYTHING?”

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