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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Writing Prompt: Twenty-six Still Counts as Mid

This week my sophomores are finishing up a series of readings about culture, one of which was called "Thanksgiving: A Personal History" by Jennifer New. She talks about how her perspective on Thanksgiving changes over the years, from childhood to adolescence to young adulthood to married life and beyond. I wanted to mix it up and do a little creative writing for once before we jump into the stress of finals, so I had them write a series of stories about a holiday or celebration. As usual, I promised that I would write mine too. Here it is. 

Twenty-six Still Counts as Mid
It’s hard to say what early birthdays are like, because you never know if you really remember, or if it’s all just from that old home video. Do I remember the itch of the party hat elastic under my chin or is it all just feeling via the VCR? Maybe I only watched my purple-painted fingernails scratch my neck before blowing out the five candles – the chorus sings Cha cha cha! And many more, on channel four! And Scooby Doo on channel two! A big fat lady, on channel eighty!
I do remember the money balloon on my seventh birthday. By some magic, my Mimi and Grandpa put coins and even full paper bills into this latex gift-wrap. I popped the balloon to get the money, of course. Advanced strategy led me to the dry, prickly lawn, but my creativity wound up losing me a few coins to the labyrinth of blades of grass.
For my eleventh birthday, every girl in my class was invited over for a party. The theme was – what else – “Flower Power.” We raided my mom’s old clothes and after selecting the grooviest tops, most far out bell bottoms, and tallest platform shoes we could find, my sister, cousins, and I teetered around the house, decorating with the rest of the clothes suspended from hangers and the wall and glow-in-the-dark daisy flower decals on the ceilings. I was glamorous in the mirror (picture the classic Charlie’s Angels pose) but geeky at second glance. Flat hair, stick-straight bangs, glasses, a cross-bite, hula-hooping and singing along to “Sugar” by The Archie’s and Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.” We were having fun, so who cared if we looked like crazy hippie wannabees?
In high school, my friends and I cared even less. Nothing could stop us from making our friends the center of attention at school for their birthdays – even if that meant embarrassing each other beyond belief. Looking back, I can honestly say that I have no idea how we came up with some of those props: a mystery pineapple in a pre-How I Met Your Mother era; suspenders with little paper goldfish stapled to them; an actual live goldfish in a jar around my neck à la What About Bob?; an orange jumpsuit; a plastic, foldable chair covered in stickers, stale marshmallows, glitter, and a beach umbrella; a trash can; gold, pointy Aladdin shoes; and a hula skirt made of caution tape. I couldn’t make this up if I tried. And if you had a boyfriend, flowers and balloons only added to the embarrassment, making you look like a walking Fry’s Marketplace.
Ten years later, birthdays are different. Instead of a flood of ridiculous props, I get an inbox overflowing with “Happy Birthday! Hope you’re doing something fun today! Miss you!” I write back, “Is 26 still mid-twenties? Or late twenties?”
            “Oh, definitely mid.” That was a close one.

Instead of a party complete with cone-shaped hats, I celebrate the weekend before and my curly-haired nieces blow out the candles. The night of, I go to trivia night like it’s just another Tuesday.
I look across the room and see a group of college students, twenty-one years old if a day. At our table, we are a preschool teacher, a supply chain manager, a server, an IT guy, a high school teacher, a doctoral student, and then some. Nearly three hundred years between us, but we’re still stumped on the final question. This close to winning first place, but we lose because of Sanka decaffeinated coffee.
“Put the following beverages in the order that they were introduced to the United States…” Three I never drink and one I’ve never heard of.
“Tang, Gatorade, V8, and Sanka?”
            “No – V8, Tang, Sanka, Gatorade…?”
“Maybe Sanka, Tang, V8, and Gatorade?”
If we were cheaters, we’d sneak a peek at Wikipedia, but we’re not, so we don’t. When we hear the host reread the question and say Sanka decaffeinated, we second guess our answer, but fifteen points, and lose.
“Sanka in 1923, V8 in 1933, Tang in 1957, Gatorade in 1965.” They’re all decades before I was born and I don’t feel so old anymore.

A collage of birthdays courtesy of my dad last year

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