Birthday built for a teen

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Teen Spirit turned 15 last week. Smartmom knew enough not to suggest a party, but she did ask if he wanted to invite some friends over.

“No, thanks,” he said.

Dinner at Belleville? Maybe he’d like to treat some friends to steak frites at his favorite Slope restaurant.

“No, thanks,” he said again.

Okay, how about a nice dinner with the family?

“No, I’m fine,” he said.

Smartmom was getting frustrated, but she tried to stay cool. Finally, it was decided: good food, immediate family, and no friends (too embarrassing). Keep it simple and don’t bug me. He agreed to let Beautiful Smile (their babysitter and so much more) prepare her delicious meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

And there was to be no cake. “You know I hate cake,” he told Smartmom.

Birthdays are way uncool when you’re 15. Forget the party, forget the fuss. And yet, the message is mixed: Get out of my way, but, hey, where are my presents?

“I’d like a left-handed acoustic guitar, if we can afford it,” he offered. “But that’s all. And only if you can afford it.”

Secretly Smartmom was thrilled that Teen Spirit felt too old for a birthday party. Surely, that’s a rite of passage as significant as learning to tie his shoelaces, scrambling an egg, or walking to Met Food to pick up milk and orange juice.

All are small, important steps in the journey toward adulthood. And for Smartmom, these milestones provoked mixed emotions — mostly happiness and relief, but also longing for the days when he needed her more. Or at least, he admitted to needing her more.

But she sure as hell doesn’t miss all the stress and mess (not to mention the money, time, and energy) that went into creating Teen Spirit’s birthday parties. And why, she now wonders, was it so important that they create the most fabulous homemade birthday party imaginable?

  1. He was their first and they didn’t know better.
  2. They did it for love.
  3. They were proving something to themselves and others.
  4. They were crazy.

In the early days with Teen Spirit, Hepcat and Smartmom seemed driven to prove that they were the most creative parents alive.

They may not have been able to afford private school, sleep-away camp or a co-op, but they could sure give their kid one hell of a birthday party.

They also did it to improve Teen Spirit’s status among his friends (now Smartmom is really outing herself). His friends (and their parents) would surely be impressed by these extravaganzas. Why, he would become known as the kid with the great birthday parties. Smartmom and Hepcat were, in a sense, giving him social credibility that would lead to increased popularity, which would lead to…

Only the best for their boy.

When Teen Spirit turned six, Smartmom and Hepcat “produced” a Beatles carnival complete with Ringo Ring-Toss, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds mural painting, and Beatles Name that Tune.

When he turned seven, soon after the release of the first Harry Potter book, and years before the movies and Harry Potter merch, they staged a Harry Potter carnival with make your own wands, Pin the Tail on Hedwig, a Quidditch-type game on top of Teen Spirit’s loft bed, and potion fruit shakes.

Later on, there was a “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” party, a video-making party, a Matrix-Reloaded party, and an artsy trip to the Museum of Cartoon Art and Comics.

Smartmom, like so many of her generation of Slopers, poo-pooed the themeless party. The Play Space party. The, gasp, bowling alley party.

To Smartmom and her friends in the mid-1990s, throwing a party at a place like Power Play was akin to feeding a child Gerber’s baby food rather making your own or choosing formula over the breast.

But by the time the Oh So Feisty One came along, Hepcat and Smartmom were very “been there, done that” about homemade birthday parties and OSFO has had numerous parties at The Dance Studio, Power Play, and even a bowling alley.

For her ninth birthday, she and two friends (and Smartmom) had a spa party/sleepover at the Brooklyn Marriott. Smartmom and Hepcat didn’t love her any less.

They just didn’t have it in them anymore to do it homemade.

Teen Spirit’s meatloaf birthday went without a hitch. Beautiful Smile’s comfort food was comforting and delicious. The birthday boy loved his new left-handed guitar and spent most of the evening figuring out chords from Smartmom’s Bob Dylan songbook.

When Smartmom brought out the key lime pie, he got to play out some of his more benign pyromaniac fantasies by lighting his own birthday candles. And everybody sang:

Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday Teen Spirit. Happy Birthday to you.

It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

Meet Smartmom, Design* Sponge and other Brooklyn bloggers at the First Annual Brooklyn Blog Fest, at the Old Stone House (Fifth Avenue between Third and Fourth streets) on Thursday, June 22, at 8 pm. For information, go to

Louise Crawford, a Park Slope mom, also operates “Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.”
Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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Reasonable discourse

Alma Schneider from Montclair says:
Keeping up with the Jones' is tough! but this year my daughter who will be 8 chose to have a semi expensive present instead of a wildly expensive b'day party. I am glad she still wants parties :-) Great post, thanks!
July 30, 2009, 12:53 pm

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