Anna’s fifteenth birthday is just weeks away. If she were Hispanic, this would be The Big One, her quinceanera, a lavish celebration marking her transition from adolescent to young woman. Though Anna is Han Chinese, the connection is too close for Marsha’s comfort.
“Don’t get any big ideas about a party this year,” she garrumphs at our daughter. “Whatever your dad thinks,” she adds, throwing me a basilisk-like look.
Apparently the fallout from last year’s event still clouds the horizon. Though it wasn’t my idea, I cast the vote enabling Anna to take a couple of pals parasailing behind a speedboat on Lake Erie. What started as a quirky little venture, a prelim to the actual birthday festivities a month later, morphed into an all-day blowout costing over five hundred dollars. I should also mention that, though I ponied up my share of the expenses, I did not “materially participate,” preferring diphtheria to cruising at treetop height over open water. Just as not materially participating in a business can have negative repercussions with the IRS, it can haunt you maritally as well long after the sweat-sodden pizza-laden teen screechfest has ended.
But even before that, the subject of Anna’s birthday gatherings had become a radioactive pile. Perhaps suffering from birthday PTSD (Price Tag Syndrome) as the tab mounted higher every year, Marsha--- normally a traditional mom--- has lost enthusiasm for them to where even a frozen waffle fete is subject to filibuster. Whereas I still think commemorating your kid’s special day, even if less lavishly than an African dictator’s, is essential.
A former neighbor averse to parties used to say that every day should be your children’s birthday, a chance to celebrate their presence. Unfortunately, life has a way of diluting good intentions. The pinball game of daily obligations eclipses the s’more or Frisbee moment you’d planned. Events are needed to affirm ties and provide a sense of place. Perhaps not coincidentally, that mother is now estranged from both her sons.
Nevertheless, kids do have a tendency to think money spontaneously reproduces. They also have amnesia when it comes to whatever doubloons were showered on them yesterday.
Anna has just completed a trip to the Galapagos Islands with EF Tours, a weeklong eco-extravaganza of blue-footed booby birds and ancient tortoises with the gnarled faces of Delta blues singers, with a price tag rivaling the Beckhams’ latest hair styling. Prior to liftoff we cautioned her not to expect to go farther afield next year than Cedar Point, a local theme park, unless she plans to matriculate at a college where diplomas are signed with an “X.”
Barely a week after she returned, as Marsha and I left for a Mary Chapin Carpenter concert--- our first evening out since the Magna Carta was signed--- I heard Anna lament to a friend on the phone, “My parents have a more interesting life than I do.”
I confess, this had even me, a shade cynical about unconditional love, scratching my head. Would hang-gliding over Mt. Cotopaxi, an active volcano near Quito, where the tour began, have made a deeper impression? Whatever happened to the days when just staying at a Red Roof Inn was like a visit from Santa? I found myself wondering if I was obsessing about Anna’s birthday, succumbing once more to the adoptive parent bugaboo of trying too hard to help my kid find her way home. Especially as my own early birthday experiences--- cake but no party, cards and gifts from relatives in England whom I barely knew--- carried a whiff of embarrassment.
But as the Chinese proverb goes, “An invisible red thread binds those who are destined to meet.” So what if Anna’s birthday celebrations were also mine? Why shouldn’t that thread twine us to past life as well… and occasionally take the form of a parasailing towrope?
Break out the Eggos, Mom.