Observing Birthdays

J turns 10 tomorrow. This has meant a flurry of preparation at our house. Mostly, it’s food. Birthday Child gets to pick family breakfast and dinner, which means that Cute W is prepping his exquisite waffles, which will be ornamented with homemade whipped cream and overpriced raspberries. Dinner is artichokes, veal scallopini, mashed potatoes, and green beans with almonds, and then chocolate mousse for dessert. The mousse is better if you make it ahead, and so I went to work on that scrumptious recipe last night.  So, first of all, I was reflecting on how butter and chocolate together are even more wonderful than just butter, or just chocolate. Now, you know I can enjoy kale and roasted garlic and even pumpkin seeds, but none of these can approach the joy of butter and chocolate, melted together.

While I was concocting the mousse, I was fretting about M. She’d been invited to go out to dinner with one of her closest friends to celebrate her friend’s birthday. When she extracted permission for this outing (following a full day of school and a soccer game, occurring before any homework could be done at home), my first thought was, “Wait! What about her locker?!?”

In our middle school culture, loving girl relationships acknowledge birthdays in two crucial ways: first, you decorate Birthday Girl’s locker and fill it with candy. In 6th grade, this was deeply, deeply important. It’s just so. . . public. I sort of hate it. In fact, I kept trying to convince M that she and some friends should get together and be, like, a Secret Locker Fairy Club who could go around decorating people’s lockers if they weren’t getting decorated. She rolled her eyes at me and said that the teachers took care of that sort of thing, and basically, I should butt out. I argued that it was an easy and fun way to spread joy. She rolled her eyes some more. Then, throughout the course of the year, there would be Maternal Fretting about one locker situation or another. In my presence, a girl M knew gave a broad hint about getting her locker decorated. M was unreceptive. “We’re not close friends,” she scoffed, “Someone will do it.” And I was all up in her grill: “Nobody hints like that unless they’re afraid that no one’s going to decorate their locker. If you’re not going to help decorate it, you need to make sure somebody’s on it.” That locker got decorated, but with only a bit of assistance from my kid.

Here’s the thing: M doesn’t sweat over this sort of thing. She’ll get invited to a party where they say “No presents,” and so she refuses to bring a present, and then everyone is there, toting presents, and this does not bother her at all. I guess what I’m saying is, I am far more a victim of peer pressure than she is. But I digress. The point is, when I found out about the birthday dinner, I said, “Wait! Why are you still here? Shouldn’t you be decorating her locker?”

Here’s another thing: even though I appear to sweat over this sort of thing, it’s nothing compared to other moms. Other parents remember kids’ birthdays and take their kids shopping for locker decorations and drive their kids in to school early. I remain mostly oblivious. M will clatter downstairs and say that she’s leaving a half-hour early because she’s decorating a locker, and she buys stuff at CVS with her own money, so I’m mostly not involved, unless I’m pledging to “sponsor” the decoration of some kid’s locker, which she pretty much ignores, and so it’s totally useless.

So I’m usually clueless, and ignorance is bliss, because when I get a shadow of a clue, I start stressing out. “Why aren’t you decorating her locker? Won’t she be upset? Wait, is it only a 6th grade thing?” I am following her around, throwing out questions.

“I forgot to get a pass, she doesn’t really care, we’re thinking of doing it tomorrow.” My daughter was slacking. To my knowledge, they never decorated her locker. Or maybe someone else did. Or maybe 7th graders are way too cool for that. I have no idea, and if I bring it up again, it will only become an ugly conversation. So I was stirring my chocolate and butter and fretting.

I said that Middle School Birthday Love is shown in two crucial ways, and number two is: a post on Instagram, usually comprised of a photo of the Birthday Girl and a long, ardent comment, including at least three (and possibly more) of the following statements, “I love you SOOOOO much. . .  We’ve been friends since. . . . . .  You’re so beautiful. . . . . You’re so funny. . . . .Remember how we. . . . Happy Birthday!!!!!”

Really, it’s adorable. I sound like I’m making fun, but I think it’s sweet. Would I like the girls to focus more on their friend’s winning personalities and special talents instead of how great their hair is and how their shoes are always so cute? Well, of course. But generally speaking, it’s a lovely tradition.

My child has no interest. Because I’m an Instagram Stalker, I scrolled through lovely, heartfelt messages for the friend. “Hey M,” I asked, “are you going to do an Instagram birthday tribute of some sort?” [Did you predict the eyeroll here? Good for you! You win a cookie! Go get yourself a cookie.] She said, “Mom [eyeroll], you know I’m not into Instagram.”

I sighed. Because what am I supposed to do? Insist that she conform to middle school society and get on social media? That’s stupid. But as a grown woman who made it through 6th, 7th, and 8th grade, I fear this hazardous combination of taking girlfriends for granted during an era of massive hormonal fluctuations. I’m worried because I want her to be kind, but I’m also worried that people who aren’t required to tolerate her frequent bouts of seeming-indifference (as her family must)  will drop her like the proverbial hot potato.

So I must have been fretting about that more than I realized, because this morning I opened the fridge and saw a bowl full of egg yolks. The egg yolks that I was supposed to gently beat into the butter and chocolate mixture when I was making mousse.

“On NO!” I moaned. “I ruined it. I have to make it again.” Cute W laughed. “I think we’ll be able to choke it down.” Sure, it was 7 am, but we each got a spoon to test the product. It was actually still pretty delicious.

In a way M’s lack of enthusiasm for the sort of treacly middle-school girl effusiveness that feels essential to 7th grade friendship is a lot like that mousse I made. Okay: no egg yolks, so the mousse is lighter, without that rich, nuanced egg yolk texture. But it tastes the same. And, like M’s straightforward, no-nonsense friendship style, my defective mousse is absolutely less likely to induce nausea.



  1. Aliza

    Silly! It is precisely that confident indifference that keeps her revered by all the others that wish they could be that cool. She’ll always be the alpha.

  2. @Aliza, ha! That reminds me, I asked about her dispute with Bo and she was all, “What. . . ? I don’t remember anything. . . we get along fine.” So there it is again! But in the “battle,” and blonde girl is soccer team captain.

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