Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sweet Sixteen

We moved to Georgia four days before my sixteenth birthday. I had spent a total of hours since my 1oth birthday picturing a spectacular 16th bash, with me as the star of the night. You don't get that kind of attention often, being one of 10 children.
I woke that morning to my mother standing in my new room with a Sam's Club bucket of Gummy Worms, singing "Nobody loves me. Everybody hates me. I guess I'll go eat worms." Looking back, I wish I could have been more lighthearted and enjoyed the joke. It was a rare occasion that she came up with something so clever. As it was, I was devastated and shamed by the mocking of my shallow teenage angst. The day went on with unpacking, feeding kids and changing diapers.
Then there was the traditional birthday dinner. Now that was a big deal. The one time a year you were guaranteed to have mom and dad to yourself was your birthday dinner. We were allowed any meal we wanted from a real restaurant! All of us understood, of course that we were never to ask for anything more expensive than Applebee's. I never even had the nerve to ask for that before. In California I professed an insane attachment to a local Mexican restaurant , knowing that all three of us could most likely eat for under $10 total.
But being new to the area, I panicked. I had no idea what to do. I was miserable and pouting, completely PMSing and in an area where I had no idea which restaurant would most protect my parents wallets. I felt sick not knowing how to protect them. I begged Dad to take me anywhere. Just chose for me. I couldn't do it. I didn't know how.
That presented it's own problems. You see, my father isn't particularly extravagant unless it comes to special occasions with his children. I know in his heart he would have given anything to have had the money to give us every luxury. Everyone has a love language and his is unquestionably the giving of gifts. Anytime he was able to give us anything extra, even a $.05 Fire Ball, my favorite because it was cheapest of course, his eyes took on a shine, his head lifted a little higher and his chest swelled with bride. I know without a shadow of a doubt that my father loves to shower his children with gifts, he just wasn't able to very often.
He came home from work talking about all of these nice restaurants. Places I'd never seen anywhere but on TV. Restaurants where Japanese chefs throw food back and forth, or pasta is made to your order. My panic deepened as I saw the bill getting higher and higher. Once he decided he that he was going to spend there was no stopping him, regardless of whether it could be afforded or not.
So in my parental inversion I attempted to save my father from himself. I changed at least 6 times and finally decided that if I wore a tshirt and jeans, he wouldn't be able to take us somewhere like that. I mean, how many times had I seen people on TV get kicked out of fancy restaurants for being improperly dressed? He would take us somewhere nice, a step up from McDonald's. I was sure of it.
Yeah, not so much. We grove around for what felt like forever. He was in his Super-dad mood. The one that came up so infrequently you were afraid to breath too loudly for fear it would burst like the bubble that some how rests on a blade of grass without popping. You know it can only last so long, so you hold your breath... The irony is that I feel responsible for the Super-dad. I see this giddy, vulnerable little boy in his eyes and I simply can't bear to hurt his tender feelings. It always gets me. I can't take away his joy in giving, even when it's clear there's no money for it, or time, or whatever the sacrifice may be. He thrives on it. I play along. He deserves the joy. He needs to feel prosperous. It's who he is.
We finally pulled into the parking lot of a place called Dave and Busters, just in time for me to reach the point of complete hypoglycemic breakdown. I was shaking and emotional, as I always get at that point. I should have eaten a snack. I should have spoken up and said "let's just try this place close by." But I was silent. I wanted the bubble to last.
So, hungry and near tears due to low blood sugar, I follow my cheerful parents into the Dave and Busters where we are to dine. I felt immediately out of place standing next to all of the businessmen with their cocktails and cigarettes. Choosing from the menu was a nightmare. I'm already incredibly indecisive about choosing food somewhere new. What if I hate it and the money is wasted? Then there is the cost. I found the cheapest item on the menu in under 10 seconds, but I had to be trickier than that. If I chose the true cheapest then Dad would know I was worried, but something 75 cents more? Now that wouldn't be so obvious, and water to drink please. I prefer it, really I do.
After dinner there were the games. Ugh. He wanted so much for me to enjoy, and I couldn't disappoint. I wanted to have fun, I just couldn't. He spent just enough for us to play a few games. It's like Chuck E Cheese. You get tickets for prizes. I purposely went for games I thought would not give tickets. I didn't want him to decided we needed lots of tickets for some cheap ball or toy. We ended up with 10 tickets, I think.
So with our few little tickets we approached the prize counter. You'd thing we were homeless or something, the way Mr. Counter Clerk looked the 3 of us with our 10 measly tickets. His disdain couldn't be more obvious. We didn't come for more tickets. We didn't WANT more tickets. I just needed something small to put in my memory box with all of the other napkins and trinkets from past birthdays. We were able to get 3 logo's buttons and a forest green balloon that wasn't blown up. I was so relieved when we were done and could head home.
On the way home we stopped at the grocery store for milk or something. I don't remember what. I worked up the nerve to ask for an 88cent box of Lil Debbie Christmas Tree Cakes. No one had made me a cake, so I thought it would be fun to have one. When we got home, I stuck a candle in the middle of one and looked at it for awhile. I waited, thinking that someone would come up and have a little traditional celebration with me, even if it weren't a real cake. They all Sat in the living room watching TV.
So, in a clever little display of teenage drama I walked down into the middle of the room. I did the unthinkable. I stood square in front of the TV, blocking the family view of America's Funniest Home Videos and I sang my own birthday song.
"Happy Birthday to me.
I'm turning 16.
I'm going to eat a Christmas tree,
'Cause nobody made a cake for me."
Yeah, pathetic and cheesy but it felt great. Perfect way to end the day after waking up to the worm serenade, right?
Ok, so why the heck are you still reading this pathetic story? Go do something. I just hit a stopsign on memory lane. I think I'm going to take a detour for a few days. This blog is sounding too depressing and that's not really me.

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