Monday, March 5, 2012


You'd think eleven was in between. Tween even. Not a girl and not yet a woman.

But you'd be wrong. At least wrong on the actual birthday. There was pushing and pulling about the nature of the birthday party in advance, but the day itself was filled with grace and lightness.

The girl dressed herself in skinny jeans, a lace shirt and a stunning red jacket. She wore medallion earrings and wrangled her hair into a messy bun on the top of her head. Maybe it was because it was her birthday but she glowed like a supermodel. Or possibly a supernova.

She had a plan: games, movie, presents, snacks. She had friends: four of them were able to come, all giggly, posturing, bouncing around.

The games involved a shoebox filled with dollar store items, wrapped in ten layers of paper. My job was to play Taylor Swift songs, stopping at intervals for paper to be ripped off. Their job was to toss paper in the air, laugh, snort, and pass the present. The last one to open a layer was allowed to choose among the items and then it was a free-for-all. The most desired item was a squishy plastic tube filled with blue water and frogs, but the girl who got the slinky glasses and the one who was left with the feather boa were pretty happy too.

They played Wii, but spent the vast majority of their time making their Miis, complete with birthmarks co-opted into black ("giggle giggle") boogers. I left to put the laundry into the dryer.

We made mixed drinks using eight kinds of juice, two turkey basters and wine glasses. Everyone's drink was different.

Three of the five were enthusiastic about wearing accordion-pleated yellow paper napkins as moustaches en route to see The Lorax. Two would not be caught dead. One commented that the moustache waved in the breeze. We crammed five girls into our micro-van and took them to the movies, where they ran into The Principal of their school in the bathroom. Quelle horreur! We crammed them back in again and took them home.

She opened gifts and they knew her: rainbow toe socks, a novel as thick as a brick, hairbands, a sweatshirt, a music gift card, an iron-on smiley face and a teeshirt.

They ate cupcakes and had no idea they were gluten-free and vegan. They mixed more drinks.

They collected lootbags: Chinese takeout boxes filled with necklaces made of Florida seashells, bright miniature cactuses, homemade lipbalm, weird crystal tree-making kits.

They went home.

The birthday girl had requested pulled pork for supper and so we went what she used to call Meat-i-tarian for the meal. We had a birthday strawberry-rhubarb crisp for dessert. We opened family gifts.

As I watched her face light up with joy as she found out she had been given six weeks of guitar lessons and a sewing box filled with proper equipment, it occurred to me that eleven was supposed to be in between. She was supposed to feel like we or her friends either thought she was more or less grown up than she actually was.

The great gift of this birthday was that everyone got it exactly right. The fact that this girl is creative beyond measure and has hobbies and interests made it easier for all of us to delight her with good presents.

The puppy's gift was his willingness to have a bath that day. Not every gift was a thing. We told her that every girl wanted to watch the Leafs play the Canadiens on the evening of her birthday, but she just wanted to snuggle with her freshly-laundered pup, to discuss whether she would go with acoustic or electric, and to cut a tuxedo for a stuffed animal with her new sharp sewing scissors.

She blew out her candles but I'm not certain there was anything left to wish for.

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