As difficult as this was for me to wrap my head around, Derek's 16th birthday arrived, regardless of whether I was in any state to accept that my oldest "baby" had reached that milestone. For many of us, nostalgia for the big 1-6 is tied to an undeniable sense of freedom, as it meant potentially receiving one's Driver's License--and with it, a ticket to the Open Road. However, we don't have to be the slightest bit concerned about that around here yet, as Derek has already been in possession of his Learner's Permit for 9 months, and during that stretch has managed to log...oh, approximately 4 hours...of the 60 he needs to become fully independent behind the wheel.
And speaking of things "not on our radar": at least he's a boy, so we don't have to wonder how, exactly, one celebrates a Sweet 16, these days, yeah? But then I began to consider whether we should do anything different from our usual celebratory activities, to mark this particular birth-i-versary. What would a teenage guy like to do for his special day? In the end I suggested that he invite his group of closest buddies--the Bus Stop Gang--over for dinner and cake on Friday night. Now, I don't know how I expected this to be greeted...with enthusiasm, perhaps? Or gratitude? What I got instead was more like...conditional acceptance...tempered by a distinct sense of...caution.
This was quickly explained by his next words, "What would we be serving?" Ohhhh, right--I forgot for a second that your friends don't eat much, and have extraordinarily limited palates. Inwardly sighing, I presented a choice: frozen pizzas, or chicken nuggets with mac and cheese. He nodded gravely and said he'd check with the posse at school lunchtime and let me know. The final verdict was in favor of the latter option, although one delightful child registered his preference for...I'm not making this up...Chik-Fil-A nuggets and Kraft mac and cheese. And then...even though I worked soooooo hard to bite my tongue, I could not help responding "What are these people, TODDLERS? I swear, it's like trying to feed a bunch of preschoolers all over again!" (Okay, okay, I didn't try that hard...or, you know, "at all", to hold that in. And I ask you, was I wrong? I didn't think so...)
Believe it or not, there was further negotiation on the stupid pasta dish. You see, the recipe I usually make--which our family LOVES, by the way--includes a whole bunch spinach, broccoli, and pimientos added to the pot. Even though I knew the answer ahead of time, I asked whether I was allowed to incorporate the healthy ingredients. This was met with the expected, resounding "NO!" Not to be completely deterred, I countered with, "Well then, can I use the pasta that's made with veggies, so they can't tell when it's covered with cheese? He agreed--albeit with an expression of obvious reservation--that this was acceptable. And then, in a mildly exasperated tone, he muttered, "You see why people don't come over here to eat, Mom?" Well, excuse me, darling--it's not my fault you hang out with a bunch of....vegetable shunners!
On the night of the actual meal, I'll have you know that everyone scarfed their cheese-smothered veggie noodles without comment or complaint. But Husband--and I seriously don't even know what he was thinking, because for crying out loud, he's MET these kids before--cracked me up by going to all the trouble to prepare them each a SALAD. Let's see...those who are vehemently opposed to sneaky green stuff hiding in their carb-laden side dish....and you're placing a bowl full of unadulterated raw rabbit food in front of them? How do ya think that's gonna go, dear? The answer is: there were some dramatic faces, along with a few minor grumbles...but the salads were consumed ...mostly. (Hey, they are nothing if not POLITE...produce haters...)
The next morning, on Derek's actual birthday, we squeezed in a few minutes before Riley and I had to head out to his soccer game for the newly 16-year old to open his presents. It was a bit more comical this year than in the past, beginning with the fact that Riley had gotten his brother a gift--something Derek had specifically asked for--but not bothered to wrap it, as it wasn't a surprise, anyway. However, Riley managed to create his own suspense when he handed Derek...the empty plastic shipping bag. After a chuckle...and perhaps a half-hearted punch...Riley forked over the Under Armour Captain America shirt he'd ordered at Derek's request.
Then there was the parcel from Mom and Dad, which was packaged in a telltale Amazon box (darn you, marketing!). Since Derek had wanted only one thing (due to its price tag) he knew what it had to be. But when he brought it in from the porch on the day it showed up (darn you, Prime delivery!) I told him with a perfectly straight face that it was simply "a large shipment of...my protein smoothie mix! Yeah, that's it!" His impish grin assured me that he didn't buy a word of it, but I stuck to my story....right up until he broke open the tape and revealed the PlayStation 4 he'd been anticipating. Finally there was the present from his grandparents in South Carolina....which they'd chosen to mail in a reused Mary Kay cosmetics box. "Okay, sweetie, you can open your makeup now!" was the perfect ending to the silliness of the a.m. (It was a couple of video games to go with his new console, by the way! NOT eye shadow, thank goodness....)
Then--after a crazy Saturday of all going in different directions--it was time to reconvene for the annual tradition of Pick-Your-Birthday-Restaurant. Team WestEnders had discussed this at length a few weeks ago, as it can be...challenging...to come to a consensus on a dining establishment that satisfies our somewhat stringent criteria. (For example: reasonably budget-friendly...but not fast food...interesting array of both meat and veggie entrees...you get the picture...) Oddly enough, we agreed on....Al's Burger Shack. (How we got there is a whole other saga for a different day...)
So we set off in search of, I don't know...happiness on a bun....or some such nonsense. But sadly, it was not to be, as we had forgotten the cardinal rule of living in a college town: Thou Shalt Not Attempt to Patronize Franklin Street on a Weekend While the University Remains in Session. (Amen...) We drove up and down the main road, gazing longingly at the many, many tantalizing eateries...that we couldn't get anywhere near, until we found a parking spot. (Hey, this sounds familiar...didn't we just do this last Saturday night? Apparently, we're not such quick studies, sometimes...DUH!)
We had to regroup anyway, since when we cruised slowly by Al's, the line at the counter stretched out the door and down the block. So we scored a space in the free garage in Carrboro (Win!) and walked, while we adjusted the agenda. Fortunately, it was a lovely Spring evening, and Breadmen's, the Plan B diner-type-joint I proposed, was practically empty, so the dinner dilemma was pretty easily solved. But one more essential step remained to complete Derek's birthday: a trip to Ben & Jerry's for dessert. It was only one more block on foot, and again we got lucky, as we strolled right up to the display case to ogle the gallons of goodness and choose our treats. Then we got the heck out of Dodge, since a crowd of squealing little kids--and their parents--filled up every available inch of the place just as we were paying for our cups and cones.
Thus we found ourselves meandering back toward our car--savoring our ice cream, appreciating the strains of live music emanating from some kind of outdoor event on campus to our left, sharing the sidewalk with many, many people sporting Carolina blue (evidently the UNC Spring Football Game was held at 3 p.m.) and formal wear (we still have no earthly idea why). And suddenly I was reminded of the just-as-important corollary to the aforementioned edict: With Proper Planning, and the Favor of the Parking Gods, Thou Shalt Enjoy the Bounty of the College Town (Hallelujah!) Successful commemoration of Derek birthday: check. Now from this experience, I know I'd better start figuring out what to do for MINE in two weeks!