There is a lot of talk lately about the last days. The last days of President Kennedy’s life in this 50th anniversary of his death, the last days of confidence in the USA being the strongest country in the world, the last days of planet Earth as we approach the Apocalypse, you know, that sort of thing. Somehow, I got to thinking about the last days of being sixteen. Perhaps it’s because my granddaughter, who is coming to visit this Thanksgiving, turns seventeen in January. Wow, it’s hard to believe, already, these are the last days of sixteen for her.
My mother told me that it was very important to have a Sweet Sixteen Birthday Party, actually, a “Sweet Sixteen and Never Been Kissed Party.” I was probably about six at the time, and this thought captivated me. I pictured myself at that Exciting Party, turning sixteen. I would be tall and thin, like Barbie.
My hair would be in a long flip. I would be allowed to wear makeup! I imagined myself in a dress with a beautifully cinched waist and flowing skirt, cute high heels and happy friends all around me. I pictured a boy, he would be handsome like the new Allan doll, not like Ken. I thought Ken was kind of dull. So, Allan would be my date for my Coming Out Party (back then, Coming Out meant being allowed to date!). He would be dressed in a white suit with a black tie, bringing me a corsage of beautiful red roses, or maybe pink. Or even yellow. Anyway, they would be perfect no matter what color they were, and I would be so excited to have boys at my party. There would be plates stacked high with cool little sandwiches, sodas to drink, and a huge cake. There would be music and dancing, and maybe even a surprise pink convertible as my birthday present. I thought maybe I would have a luau theme, with flowers everywhere and a pool. Yes, definitely a pool. The thought of that huge party inspired me to vow there would be no way a boy would kiss me before I turned sixteen.
to Nixon’s Agent Orange and Watergate, “I am not a crook.”
I had been kissed–not only kissed, but I was a single mother to a one-year old. Life was about dragging myself out of bed, when most teens were sleeping twelve to fifteen hours a night, to get my beautiful, bright-eyed little Baby Girl’s diaper changed, get her bottles ready, get her dressed, keep her happy while I showered and got dressed, get us fed, and out the door. We walked two miles (sometimes I carried her if my mother was punishing me by not letting me use her stroller), to the sitter’s house, who was paid by government funding, so I could finish high school. I would kiss Baby Girl and be sad to leave her as I rushed to get to class on time. I was always late. After school I’d pick her up and we’d walk back home, another two miles.
We’d relax a few minutes, Baby Girl in her playpen or walking up and down the front sidewalk playing with the dog or a ball while I either played with her, did my homework or talked with a neighbor. Then I’d throw something together for dinner (Mom had long since abdicated her former role as homemaker and we all mostly fended for ourselves), get Baby Girl ready for bed, and begin the process of getting her to sleep. She didn’t go to sleep easily like some babies do. If I was lucky, I could use the stroller and walk her to sleep. Sometimes, during those last days of sixteen, we’d walk another few miles in the evening, me thinking, her gradually dropping off to sleep. I’d walk until I was sure she was SO asleep that she wouldn’t wake up as I lifted her gently out of the stroller and into her crib. I remember many nights like this. I’d pause as I pulled the cover up to tuck her in, gently kiss her goodnight and stand there for a moment thinking how beautiful she was and how much I loved her and wanted more for her. “Mama loves you honey.”
Flash forward, now Baby Girl is sixteen, going on seventeen. As it turned out, she had to put up with quite a strict mama. I didn’t want her to have to go through what I did. Things are better now, though. She has a step-father who adopted her. He does his best to be a good father. She is a cheerleader and ballerina. She is beautiful, compassionate, smart, and even relatively tidy. She has a few good friends and a lot of people who admire her, but inside, she is a little shy and not sure if she fits in. She drives a clunker, but it has wheels and gets her around. Her biggest problems are that her parents have some ridiculously strict rules and she is not yet fully aware of how wonderful she is, so she throws her emotions into boys who are not worth it. Oh, and she doesn’t have enough money to buy more than one pair of Giorgio Armanis.
Okay, so truth be told, there were a few more significant problems than these, but that’s for her to tell. Once again, no big Sweet Sixteen party. She’d been kissed, but she didn’t get pregnant. We had dinner out with her boyfriend. He wasn’t exactly Allan, but he wore a suit and brought her a corsage on junior prom night, and he drove a sweet car. Sixteen for Baby Girl was not the best year for her, but it was a pretty normal teen life overall: Teen angst, friend and boyfriend issues, parents with rules issues, riding horses, beach days, homework, weekend chores, the mall.
Jump again, and Baby Girl’s Baby Girl approaches her last days at sixteen. Things are even better as our family develops, but still, far from Barbie’s world. This year I’ve seen this precious child grow from a troubled fifteen-year-old who was pulling away from all that was good in her life, to a self-aware, deep, funny and dedicated young lady.
She rather reluctantly left behind a crowd who were too troubled for her to emulate, and returned to her first love, gymnastics, accepting that even if she was “too old” to make it to the Olympics (of which she dreamed and worked toward for years), she had to admit that she just loves the sport. I respect her for caring about troubled kids, but grieved over her exposure to some seriously dangerous and damaging mindsets. I am thrilled she has returned to her sport, and proud that she enjoys helping kids with disabilities participate in sports, too. She has a steady “Allan” who is more of a “G. I. Joe,” for over a year now. Her school life this year has been different than the typical teen’s; instead of school dances and weekends at the mall, she’s been on the phone talking with her long-distance sweetheart, and probably laid in bed worrying (with us) for G. I. Joe’s life on the front lines in Afghanistan.
He’s home now, for convalescence after a fractured leg, so my hope today is that my Baby Girl’s Baby Girl thoroughly enjoys these last days of being, simply, sixteen. Take lots of pictures and videos. Be as silly as you like. Write your heart out (Girl, you can write!). Draw (you’re so good at that, too!). Ride a merry-go-round and don’t worry if anyone thinks you’re acting like a kid. Hang out with friends. Jump in the pool with your clothes on. Do cartwheels and handstands even if I worry that you’ll break something. Sleep late and stay up late. Enjoy the people who love you. Enjoy being you!