I love the concept of the sweet sixteen, the magical coming of age where everything is supposed to go your way. What I don’t love is the practice. So many people whose parents have too much money, too much time, and unresolved childhood issues, have such extravagant parties that it really makes you wonder: are they that spoiled or are their parents getting a divorce and trying to hide some money from the lawyers? If you watch those ridiculous party shows, you’ll see spoiled little rich brats threatening — and sometimes actually having — tantrums in front of their parents, friends, and guests, as well as the entire TV audience. It makes you think, can they see themselves? Can they see how ridiculous they are and how a mix-up with the cakes or a bad hairdo is not the end of the world? People get all worked up about Quinceañeras, too, but at least that has cultural significance… well, most of the time. I know girls who ‘ve had Quinceañeras and they aren’t even Hispanic!
The only sweet sixteen I enjoyed was the beach party my friend had. She invited a bunch of our friends and we all went to Will Rogers Beach, played ridiculous party games that I hadn’t played since I was six, ate pizza, swam, buried some people in sand (we even attempted the Friends’ mermaid body), and had cupcakes. It was perfect! Now compare that to the huge blowout parties where people rent out complete blocks — circuses: I’m talking acrobats, jugglers, fire breathers, the whole shebang. Those people are obviously compensating for their terrible or non-existent personalities, just as their parents are compensating for their total ineptitude at parenthood, as well as some deep psychological damage that they should definitely seek a full-time therapist for. As far as I’m concerned, paying a couple of thousand dollars for a DJ is a cry for help.
It’s not that I don’t understand the significance of the sixteenth birthday. It has long been the coming of age for many, especially in modern society. In some cultures it’s thirteen, for others it’s fifteen — legally it’s eighteen — but there’s just something about sixteen that makes it such an important rite of passage (I’m thinking it’s the license and impending car). It was the legal marriage age in some medieval countries and the day a boy became a man in some earlier. And besides, there’s something about ‘sixteen’ that just sounds so much older than ‘fifteen.’
But shouldn’t that be enough? — that driver’s permit, the promise of a future coming so near you can almost scratch it with your new car keys, and the strange privilege of being able to say ‘yes, I’m sixteen years old’? Why isn’t it? Some people are so greedy, selfish, and self-centered that they can’t imagine their birthday without a block party and a mountain of presents. Well, I can. I can imagine it with my closest family and friends, a chocolate cake, some Martinelli’s, and a small pile of presents from people who actually know what I like. And when they sing ‘happy birthday,’ I’ll know that they mean it and that they actually know my name, and when I close my eyes to make my wish, I’ll wish that every day could be as perfect as it because I am not so lonely, insecure, and unfulfilled to think that I need a thousand anonymous people screaming my name to make me feel like I matter. I don’t need a thousand presents from people who don’t know whether I like blue or pink (actually, neither; silver’s my favorite color). I don’t need a half-hearted song to make me blow out the candles because my wish would be for them to all disappear and for only the people who actually like me to remain (but let’s face it, if it was my party and my wish came true, I’d disappear in a flash).