Sixteen Going on Sixty

“I want to make a reservation for my sweet sixteen party,” said the young woman, clearly on a cell phone, clearly on a cell phone inside a building that limited her coverage and made hearing her a little tough. “But it’s kind of last minute. For this weekend, around dinner time.”

I was only a little startled to hear the young voice of the birthday girl ask about such a party. Usually, mom or dad called to make plans, and they usually called a month or two ahead of the date, rather than a few days in advance.

I looked at both private room calendars and at general reservations in the computer. Not promising.

“Sixteen? Wow, exciting times,” I said, stalling as I flipped through my stuffed binder, knowing nothing was readily available at a time she’d like. “I guess you’ll be getting your license soon.”

“Oh, no, not yet. I don’t have time to do all the student driving. Neither do my parents. They said getting my permit can wait. Maybe I’ll try over the summer. But I don’t know.”

Okay, dumb thing to ask about drivers licenses.

“Anyway, is it possible? My sweet sixteen party? I guess I should have told you, I can only do it on Saturday.”

Yeah, not even remotely possible.

“Is that your actual birthday?” I asked her.

“No, my birthday is really Sunday, but Saturday’s the only day I can have my sweet sixteen party. My parents said they couldn’t do it any other time.”

Okay, dumb question to have asked about the actual birthday.

“Well, I could offer you a private room for lunch on Saturday,” I offered. “Would that work?”

“No, not really. I have my tutors until later in the afternoon. Besides, my parents said it had to be dinner.”

“Sweetie, I am so sorry, I just don’t have Saturday available. But I do have Sunday, on your birthday, available for dinner. Do you want to call them and ask about that possibility?”

She didn’t answer right away. In fact, she paused for so long, I wondered if her cell had cut off. Then she spoke up: “I mean, I would have my sweet sixteen party any day. But my parents said it had to be Saturday because of my AP test prep, and then there’s school on Monday, and they don’t want to be out late because they both have really busy days at their offices on Monday. They said it’s just a dinner, and it has to be Saturday.”

Right, because after all, it’s just your birthday. Just your sweet sixteenth birthday.

Did they also tell you that if you wanted to plan something as frivolous as a so-called “sweet sixteen party,” you’d have to organize it yourself? My guess is they probably didn’t give you permission to organize anything until they knew it was too late to actually book anything. Then they added the “Saturday dinner only” caveat, probably figuring they were off the hook for sure. Never mind when your actual birthday is. Never mind you just want to put down the books and forgo the tutoring and ditch the Type-A-student persona for one damn dinner, and call it “sweet.”

I was really angry with these invisible, inflexible parents.

“So, I can’t have my sweet sixteen party on Saturday?” she asked, sounding only a little plaintive.

“Not here. I am so sorry,” I told her. “But I can give you some names and numbers of other restaurants nearby, if you want to try them.”

“No, that’s okay. I don’t have time. I have to go to dance, now. But thanks.”

“Wish I could have been more helpful,” I said, feeling like I wanted to say more. Do more.

“It’s okay,” she said, sounding like she wanted to talk more.

“Well, happy birthday on Sunday! Happy sweet sixteen,” I said, knowing how dumb and cheery I sounded.

Again, the momentary silence.

“Um, thank you,” she said. “I really have to go, but thanks a lot.” She paused again, then added, “You’re really nice.” And then she hung up.

Actually, I wasn’t feeling nice at all. I was feeling pretty loathsome for not being able to make her sweet sixteen party happen for Saturday night. But I am sure she’ll do well on her AP exams in a few months, and she’ll likely ace advanced calculus as a sophomore, not to mention land the starring role in her spring dance recital. She’ll do well in everything she does in high school. She’ll then get into all the right colleges, go to the one her parents like the best, and do well there, too. Grad school, fast-track career–she’ll soar, for sure.

But on Sunday, I hope someone allows her a moment to turn sixteen and make a wish that’s all her own.






14 responses to “Sixteen Going on Sixty”

  1. Lisa Avatar

    How very sad when parents get so wrapped up in their own world they miss the important moments in their child’s life. Some day they may realize they can never recapture what’s been lost.

  2. Chuck Avatar

    RG, that was beautifully written. You found warmth and humanity where some others might have only seen a demanding teenager with an unreasonable request. Best of all, you took the time to let her know that she is important regardless of her test scores or dance recitals. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. angstycola Avatar

    i knew a girl exactly like her, a friend of my girlfriend’s. her parents were outright nasty people. i went to her graduation and couldn’t stand to be trapped in the car with them for 15 minutes. all they ever did was talk about themselves, on her own damned graduation, where she graduated with a 4.0 and honors… they bitched she didn’t get perfect attendance. my girlfriend and i did not sit with them.

    now she’s doing exceptionally well at her university, but they complain that they have to pay for anything and tell her she’s lazy because she won’t get a job.

    poor kid.

  4. Natalie Avatar

    Grrr…those parents really irked me. I wish I could slap them upside the head and tell them to let their kid enjoy life a little. How often to you get to be 16?

  5. Kim Ayres Avatar

    Well if her parents don’t screw her up, then what on earth is she going to talk about in therapy when she’s older…?

  6. briliantdonkey Avatar

    great post. It is, I am sure a fine line to tread between pushing your kids to excell and failing to let them be kids at all.


  7. Julie Avatar

    Back in my nanny days, the kids were enrolled in all sorts of activities. Thank goodness that they had a bit of control. They played soccer, t-ball/baseball/softball for one season to see if they liked it. If not, they didn’t get signed up again. The parents wanted them in at least one sport per year and only one at a time. They took music lessons until they weren’t getting anything out of it anymore as well.

    While their parents are both very busy, they made sure that the kids’ events were a priority as well. More than once, one of them would leave a dinner meeting that was taking longer than expected to make sure they were at the kids’ concerts or performances.

    While they were both wrapped up in their careers, they remembered that their kids needed them to be present — especially for the big things like birthdays and concerts.

    I can’t imagine them not making some elaborate plans for either of the kids and their closest friends for something like their 16th birthdays.

    Can I thump that girl’s parents on the head?

  8. Panda Avatar

    That is so sad. I used to work for a summer camp in a high-income area & so many of those kids were pushed so hard…the parents could barely let them be kids even when they’d paid thousands of dollars to get them into a camp. Someone was always having to leave for tutoring or swim practice or a performance. Just let them be kids!

    I hope she had a moment of her own.

  9. Ranx Avatar

    Hi RG, hope the melancholy bent of your last couple of posts is a new writing style your trialling and not an indication of your frame of mind. Lovely read anyway

  10. little miss Avatar

    That was one of my favorite posts in a long time! That poor girl. Good on you for brightening her day, even a little!

  11. Aaron DeLay Avatar

    Poor girl. She’s gonna be a wreck in a couple of years when she doesn’t know how to slow down and have a root beer float on the patio while listening to some Beach Boys in the sun. Stupid parents. Gotta teach your kids how to live, not how to race in the rat race.

  12. Michael V Avatar
    Michael V

    I feel really bad for this girl. To watch MTV’s show about those spoiled, selfish little brats and the parties they expect to have thrown for them, and then read about this girl who called your restaurant is depressing. I hope she found a place that could accommodate her, but being in the restaurant industry myself, I realize how difficult that is. What crappy parents.

  13. restaurant Gal Avatar

    Michael–That MTV show is exactly what prompted me to consider writing this post. Unbelievable contrast, almost trite. But very real, in this case. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  14. Katie Avatar

    That poor girl! I hope she was able to celebrate her birthday.