My youngest daughter turned sixteen this winter, which is one of those Big Deal birthdays, surpassed only by 21 and Zero. Since her birthday is right after Christmas, I’ve always tried to make it a little special. I don’t want her to spend her 25th birthday in therapy, complaining about how her wrapping paper was covered in Santa Clauses and her decorations include pine trees and blinking red and green lights.
So we drove to Fort Wayne for decorations two days after Christmas, since I foolishly assumed the holiday rush should have slowed down by then. Silly me. Between returns and gift cards, there were so many people in the big city that the fastest way to get around by car was to get out and hop from one to another.
The idea was to get decorations from a factory outlet store, but we’d have been better off buying cardboard and paint, and making them by hand. To make matters worse, Jillian was armed with Christmas money that she wanted to hit the shoe stores with. She wanted “Real Converse, not knock-offs”.
They’re the exact same shoes, but one says “Converse” on them. Judging by the difference in price, apparently the word is hand laid in golf leaf on each individual shoe, by an artist who charges by the letter. Hey, it’s her money, and she seemed unaffected by my comment that she could buy five pairs of knock-offs and still have the money for a needle and thread to sew the brand name on herself.
Charis, my oldest, who will someday make a great wedding planner, was determined to get sixteen helium filled black and pink balloons to go with the other decorations. The party had a theme, you see, which was “Punk Rock Prom Queen”. Thus the black and pink, which apparently are emblematic of – wait for it – punk rock and prom queens. Or, since we’re dealing with teenagers, the pink might be symbolic of girls and the black of angst.
Two hundred and eighty-five of Jillian’s closest friends were invited to the party. When I was in high school, I had three friends. And I had to pay two of them to hang out with me. But that experience came in handy, because it gave me the idea to pay two hundred and seventy of her friends not to come to the party, which saved me not only a lot of food but the cost of renting a reception hall.
Anyway, we finished filling a couple of carts with decorations and got to the front of the party supply store, where Charis asked the clerk for 20 helium filled black and pink balloons. I gave her a strange look, but figured she knew what she was doing; she confessed later that she’d totally spaced out on her sweet sixteen idea, and was thinking 20 was a good, round number.
Of course, 16 is also a round number. And since we’re talking about balloons, pretty much any number would be round. But why pass up a chance to spend more of dad’s money?
To me, the most fun part of the whole week was when we got back to the car, and Jillian realized she had to share the back seat with 20 balloons. She looked – well, I don’t know how she looked, I couldn’t see her. Every now and then we’d feel the balloons shift as if someone was trying to fight them off, or we’d hear a muffled noise -- that was it. She could only have been quieter if she fell asleep.
Maybe she did fall asleep – but if so, that first balloon bursting surely woke her up. You see, we had three people and 20 balloons stuffed into a Nissan Sentra, in much the way you’d see a clown car in the circus hold more people than physics allows. It was inevitable that a balloon would pop, but there was no open space and all the windows were closed. It was like setting off a firecracker inside a tin can.
A witness would have seen the car actually expand a bit, for just a second. This was followed by high pitched, panicked screams that almost sent the car into the ditch, and I’m sure the girls yelled, too. I’m not sure if they yelled more than once, what with the whole deafness thing.
Now we had a car full of helium. I heard Donald Duck say, “Are you guys okay?” and realized it was me. Which is good, because Donald Duck freaks me out.
It was all worth it. Charis takes party planning very seriously, and it showed in the great job she did, and the success of the party itself. There were balloons in the air and on the floor, streamers, party favors, games, glitter on the tables, and enough snacks to feed Ted Kennedy at the Democratic National Convention. It was all very black and pink.
About 80% of the guests were teenage girls, another 10% teenage boys, and the rest relatives. I know what you’re thinking: lucky guys! But they’re at an age when whether they were thankful or panicked is up in the air. Just the same, all went well. While it’s true that I spent way more money than I should, I had that strange, unusual experience of actually having a little extra cash, so I was glad to zero out my checking account to give my sixteen year old a special day.
The next week, my car broke down.