“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.