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Sixteen Candles for Sophie

posted Tuesday May 21st, 2019


Fifty people packed into my kitchen, drinks in hand, ready for cake. I glanced around and realized I hadn’t seen the guest of honor for at least half an hour.

The back door opened and someone called, “Hey, Sophie’s ready for her entrance.”

I looked outside and there she was, standing in the driveway, waiting to be announced.

I winced. We’d been talking about Sophie’s 16th birthday party for months. Each year, as soon as Christmas is over, she starts planning her birthday party. Since February, every morning in the car on the drive to school, Sophie had buckled her seat belt, put on old Taylor Swift or new Vance Joy or demanded silence, and sat back, at which point the conversation went something like this:

“Let’s talk about my birthday.”

“Okay. Let’s talk about your birthday.”

“You first.”

“I have nothing to say. This was your idea.”

(Temper tantrum until I found something to say. Thankfully, the ride to school is short.)

Over the course of months, it was decided that we would watch movies at Sophie’s party. (But not Sixteen Candles because it’s “inappropriate,” Sophie said.) That her signature party colors would be pale pink and pale blue. (Anyone throwing a baby shower soon? I have a lot of leftover paper goods.) She wanted to serve chocolate bundt cake, lemonade and cranberry juice. All reasonable requests. I said no to the slideshow of photos of Sophie “through the years” and yes to a new outfit.

There was one more request, or maybe we should call it a demand. Sophie wanted to make a grand entrance. She had planned to have a close family friend who’s a dancer carry her in on his shoulders, but he’s out of town. I figured she wasn’t really serious, and that when she learned Brad wasn’t coming, she’d change course. But Sophie had a vision.

And since she was literally refusing to come inside, I stood in the middle of my packed kitchen and bellowed, “Attention! Now presenting Sophie Stern, the almost 16 year old!”

Sophie came marching in the door, beaming, hair curled and makeup applied, in the smallest dress we could find in the Target women’s section. It was still too big.

Everyone cheered and for a moment, I cringed, self-conscious over how different this party was, how different Sophie was. No one else’s 16-year-old demands an entrance. Or sneaks off (this happened later in the evening, several times) to open gifts after she has been instructed in no uncertain terms to wait till after the guests leave. Or sucks her thumb at her own sixteenth birthday party.

It’s too much, I thought, acknowledging that in some ways, it will never be enough. We were surrounded by family and friends, people who love Sophie, but I was thinking about all the kids from school she invited who didn’t come. I was glad they weren’t there to see the “entrance.”

And then, standing there, matches and candles in hand, I felt a shift, a sea change. It was physical, almost. I felt myself lean in.

I leaned in to Sophie’s vision for her birthday. I leaned in to Sophie.

What the fuck? I thought. Good for her. Why not make an entrance at your birthday party. Why not revel in being the center of attention. How much happier would I be if I adopted that attitude? What about you?

I joined in the cheers for the birthday girl as she settled herself at the table, waiting for the candles to be lit.

Sophie had a blast at her party. So did I.

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7 Responses to “Sixteen Candles for Sophie”

  1. My heart is happy for Sophie. I’m gonna try a “lean in” more to adventures thanks to Sophie.

  2. I don’t think this is that different from a Quinceanera or a debutante “coming out ball” I say make an entrance every chance you get. At least with the good old fashioned birthday party there is not the requirement you find a male suitor and have a dance. And tell her the through the years slide show is reserved for graduation.

  3. Treasure these moments. Tomorrow is not guaranteed.

  4. Love this, and completely relate. Max has no self-consciousness whatsoever. It used to make me hyper-aware of how others perceive him but lately, I end up feeling the same as you. If it makes him happy, so be it. Happy Birthday and Happy Whole Year to Sophie!

  5. I was wholeheartedly cheering for Sophie’s 16th, and excited to hear about it.

    I’m different, too and I give myself lot of permission to let myself be who I want to be. My guide is to think about what the consequences are for others and for me of that choice.

  6. Her entrance was spectacular and I expected nothing less. She has earned it. More than anyone else on their 16th birthday, she has earned it (with an A in geometry!!!!!!!!!!!) Here’s to a million tomorrows with our Soph– I can’t wait until 18!!

  7. Oh I remember cringing, thinking about how Beth would be perceived! I’m proud of you for accepting that paradigm shift and taking part in the joy that is your daughter. Our girls lead different lives from their peers but the older I get the more I realize we ALL lead different lives. I’m glad she had the birthday she’d been hoping for!

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