Susan's Super Citizen Showcase

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A day for celebrating birthdays - be you 6 or 40...

“There will be no seconds!”

So announced six-year-old Tea Hennig-White, gripping her karaoke mic in the dining room of her Burnaby townhouse as her party guests tucked into their Disney Princess birthday cake.

Tea turns six

With flushed cheeks and a plastic tiara tilted on her brow, our earnest young hostess had enjoyed a busy afternoon of musical chairs, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, and making sugar cookies with her friends. Despite a few uproarious crying spats among the three-year-old crowd – fighting over various toys and “who gets to sit in the blue chair” – the day was a success, even with a drizzly autumn chill outside. Incidentally it was the first kids’ party held in the family home bought by Tea’s moms Alex and Christine, who became first-time homeowners this past July.

When it was time to open the presents, everyone gathered around in an excited hush, waiting for their gift to fall under the spotlight. Tea politely read each card aloud, before opening the presents with gentle care. She passed each piece of gift wrap and discarded tape to Alex, who took the time to admire each gift with great enthusiasm – showing each proud gift-giver how much their offering was appreciated.

Among the colourful assortment of gifts, the set of Barbie walkie-talkies was a big hit – along with a few Dora the Explorer items: dominoes, checkers, and talking crayons that speak and spell the colours in Spanish and English. I wondered how much Dora merchandise ended up on the present piles of Tea’s peers – and ended up simmering this curiosity on my mind’s back burner til I got home to my computer and Googled “Dora.”

(After visiting Wikipedia, Hispanic Online, and the Nick Jr. website, I learned that Dora the Explorer – seen in 74 countries in 15 languages – has generated more than $3 billion in licenced merchandise since the show was launched in 2000, with $1 billion sold in 2004 alone.)

At one point during the party, a giggling Tea paused in front of me, looking down at her Barbie walkie talkie, waiting for the sound of someone else’s voice to emanate from its tiny speaker. I took this chance to ask if she felt any different now that she was six. She looked up into my eyes, and quizzically cocked her head to the side. “Noooo!” she answered suddenly, running off again.

Later that same day, after the gray Vancouver sky had dimmed to misty black, the joy that is birthday took on a different (yet similar) shape at the Commercial Drive house party held in honour of Doug Kellam’s 40th.

Doug turns forty

With flushed cheeks and a stylish blue cowboy shirt, Doug did his best to introduce all arriving guests to one another - until there were so many guests, it was no longer possible.

I asked Doug, who I first met at Simon Fraser University in the 80s, if the day had been a good one. He said (and I paraphrase) that there was a certain weirdness to turning 40, as if there were an impending pressure to “grow up” and get started quickly if you are thinking about having a family or going back to school or anything that might be threatened by the mortality that seemed a bit more apparent.

Then one of the guests jumped into the discussion, and with a laugh, said it was only a couple of years til he turned 50. Doug moved on to accept more gifts from his enthusiastic well-wishers, and I enjoyed a laughter-filled conversation with the 48-year-old about various birthdays and how they struck us at the time. He said he enjoyed turning 30, but found 31 particularly disturbing. I said turning 30 had been quite distressing for me because I was no longer in my 20s – but now the thought of turning 40 seems quite exciting because I will have a chance to call myself “venerable” which is a word I really enjoy for some reason.

At six, we run with our new walkie talkies, unaware that time is passing – and then we get older and enter new decades, telling ourselves stories about our ourselves, envisioning a narrative of our lives. But regardless of our age, it’s a happy birthday when we stand with our cheeks flushed, surrounded by friends and music and love and presents.

To Tea and Doug – I wish you happiness in the next year, and always.

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kids birthday parties


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