Sixteen Candles

On Saturday, I attended the Super Sweet Sixteen for my cousin Gabby. It was at a fancy catering hall in Queens, NY and it was quite an affair! As I mentioned, it was a Tiffany-inspired birthday party, which meant that everything was decorated in that fantastic Tiffany blue, down to the seating cards, which were little blue boxes filled with white M&M’s, and the cake, all fondant-ed out as a stack of blue boxes with white ribbon. Also, there was a lovely light projection on a curtain that read ‘Gabby & Co.’

Gabby is a pretty creative girl and I know that she and her friends do all of these big cheerleading competitions. That, combined with the fact that her father works in TV production, made the entrance to the party quite spectacular. Several of her best girl friends, all dressed in little white dresses, were called ‘VIP’s’, and they stood on the dance floor while a video of Audrey Hepburn standing in front of Tiffany & Co played. And then Gabby came out from behind yet another Tiffany blue box in a wild blue dress that looked like something out of a fairytale.

Beyond all the theatrics, it was a very ‘sweet’ party. Probably the most impressive part was the candle ceremony, in which she presented sixteen candles to the people in her life that meant a lot to her. The speeches she made about her family and friends were wonderful. It reminded me that young people can be such smart and confident individuals. And Gabby is a truly caring person who considers her grandparents celebrities and her older cousins, Aunts, and Uncles, friends. Having grown up with three macho, older brothers who are ready to pounce on any boyfriend she brings to the house, she knows how to hold her own, and I think it accounts for her maturity. She values her friendships and the people in her life and it is very refreshing to see.

When I was sixteen, I was a pretty awkward girl. I didn’t have a lot of friends and I spent most of my time just figuring out where I belonged and how to avoid being such a social disaster. I had a lot of things to be confident about: I was good in school, a hard worker, and a good athlete and I had the support of two parents who I was often more embarrassed of than grateful for. Despite all that, I was kind of a mess, and I’m not sure I would have had the confidence to stand in front of people and share my feelings in such an articulate and mature way.

As an ‘adult’, I still wonder if I have the confidence to stand up and say how I feel about the people in my life and how grateful I am for them. I wonder who those sixteen people might be and if I have the guts to tell them what they mean to me. In general, it’s not something we always have the opportunity to do. But, I hope I find those moments in my life and embrace them because I’d like them to know.

As you can see, the party was enlightening in many ways. The idea of a ‘Sweet Sixteen’ is certainly the stuff that young adult novels are made of. And as I find myself writing about a sixteen-year-old protagonist in a genre I never thought I would try, this party made me realize that the audience I am writing for is truly full of ‘heart’. Maybe they are Tiffany-inspired girls or social disasters. But they are wildly intelligent and they value the relationships in their lives.

Maybe we all didn’t have such spectacular parties to celebrate sixteen. I had my friends over and we watched movies in the basement. As my Uncle Anthony joked, ‘When I turned sixteen, I got my brother’s old bike. Maybe I had a cake. I’m not sure.” But, I think we all remember what it meant to be sixteen and how we had to navigate our way through all the relationships we had and understand what the people in our lives meant to us.

Do you remember your 16th birthday? If you turned sixteen today, who would you give those sixteen candles to?


15 thoughts on “Sixteen Candles

  1. (sorry if you get this comment twice, my connection isn't strong right now and I keep getting bumped)

    I think I was doing something I wasn't supposed to on my bday, like skipping school. I definitely couldn't have stood up and spoke like your cousin did. I still don't think I could. Back then, I pretty much hated everything, now I'd get so emotional, I'd start blubbering all over the place.


  2. I had girlfriends over and had a slumber party. We had music, danced like no-one was watching. Giggled, told stories talked about boys we fancied and how we saw our lives shaping up. Your cousin Gabby sounds like a well-rounded and competent young woman.


  3. Wow, it'd take a bit for me to draw up those memories. I know I did turn 16, but can't really separate that bd from the others. We don't really do Sweet Sixteen in Canada, it gets the same attention as all the others. So glad you had a good time.


  4. What a cool party. Hearing about the speeches she gave was my favorite. It's amazing to me how confident young people can be, since like you, I felt way more shy and awkward at that age. And I definitely didn't appreciate my amazing grandparents or parents. She sounds like a great person.


  5. Wow, what an awesome event! It sounds like “G” is an amazing girl with a great heart. I would have a hard time giving the 16 candles to people both then and now…I have a hard time hurting people's feelings and I'm afraid some people would get their feelings hurt. I will say my 10th grade biology teacher would be one of the people I would have given a candle to both then and now. She has been a positive influence in my life since I was 14.

    I hope “K” lets me throw a sweet 16 party for her.


  6. I'll be heading to a friend's Sweet 16 in a couple weeks, but it won't be that elaborate. Her parents are making burgers. She doesn't like cake, so I'm making a buffet of cookies. The theme is a sock hop. Should be fun.


  7. That was almost 16 years ago. Actually I remember it. My friends decorated my locker at school. After school my parents gave me my gifts–a stereo and some CDs and then a little after that I was back at school. I was in the orchestra and we had our Christmas concert that night so I spent the evening at school in a black skirt and white blouse performing. My friends got me a cake and decorated my music locker, too. That was my whole day. I got home late that night after the concert and had to do my homework.


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