Saturday, March 27, 2010


My girl turns 16 tomorrow. I had been feeling guilty over not planning something big, like a sweet sixteen party, to mark the date. I'm a terrible party planner. I can't recall a single birthday party from my childhood, though I'm sure I had them, complete with cake and ice cream and zooming sugared-up children in their Sunday clothes. As I got older, my birthday always fell during end-of-year exams, so it was just, happy birthday, smooch, smooch and on to school.

Then a friend told me about this great party space in the city that's not too expensive. Just $300 to $500 to rent for a Saturday night from 8 to midnight, depending on whether it's for a soft use (lectures) or a hard use (a teen birthday party). Feeling triumphant, I announced to my daughter, you can have a party! Invite all your friends! She said, Mom, I don't want a party. What?! It's a great space, I said. We just need to clear out carpets, set up a buffet table and seating and dancing areas, hang Christmas lights and bring in music. It's big enough for all your different circles of friends. Just go ahead and mix them! No, mom, she said patiently. No party. But why?! Too stressful, she explained. I just don't want to deal with who to invite. Okay, I said, I am done feeling guilty about this. She looked at me perplexed. Why did you ever feel guilty? she asked sincerely.

A friend of mine, a wonderful artist, is part of a ceramic art group show at Greenwich House Pottery in the Village. The show opened last night and runs through the weekend. Her work is just wonderful. She does Masai-like clay sculptures with very mysterious symbols and objects and drawings glazed onto the statue-like figures. You really have to bring your own sensibility to each piece. They are so exquisite and unusual. The feelings they evoke are not easily described. There is something so spiritual yet visceral about each figure.

Afterward my friend and another friend and I went to dinner at Olive Tree on MacDougal Street, which has chalkboard-painted tables and pieces of chalk in a bowl in case you want to draw or write something for the next patron. It was so crowded and all the way live. It made me silently vow to get back out into the city more. It is the best antidote to the wistful aimless melancholy that descends as your teenage children grow away from you, into their own lives and all-consuming preoccupations. We three friends had a lovely time. We all have children the same age who went to school together from the time they were 4 and 5. That's how we met and became close. But our friendship now extends beyond our children. I suppose it helps that we are going through our life stages at the same time, so it's always easy to relate to what we each are feeling.

The artist has a daughter who will be turning 16 in a week (Interesting note: She and I are born a week apart, and our daughters are also born a week apart). She said her daughter also nixed the party idea. She suggested that our children don't want sweet 16 parties because they don't know how to handle to drugs and alcohol that some of their peers might bring in. They know their own parents won't allow alcohol at the party and they don't want to be embarassed if we see fit to speak firmly to any friend who flouts that rule and arrives intoxicated, as has happened at other parties they've been to.

It's so complicated being a teenager in this time and place. One of our other friends worries that her daughter doesn't go out enough. Part of the reason is she doesn't want to deal with the drinking and smoking that pervades so many teenage parties. My friend told her daughter, just go and pretend to be high. Don't actually drink or do any drugs, just pretend that you did. I think it's genius advice, actually. It's certainly one strategy for keeping the pressure off--although my daughter did point out that no one is really trying to make you do anything you don't want to do. "They're not really that eager to share," she said wryly.

Anyway, no sweet 16 party for my girl. Instead we've made reservations at Collichio and Sons, which is Top Chef judge Tom Collichio's new restaurant right next to the High Line (an elevated New York City park that runs along the old railway tracks). It was what my daughter wanted. Just her dad, her mom and her cousin, joining her in a culinary experience, then talking a nighttime walk along the High Line afterwards. Sweet.


  1. That sounds wonderful. What a wise girl! I hope her birthday was just perfect.

  2. ellen, she said it was her best birthday ever! She spent the night before with five of her six best girlfriends in the world and they went to a party, then had midnight milkshakes together in a diner with some more of their friends. I don't know if it gets better than that when you're sixteen!