I’ve been thinking about my 11-year-old self a lot lately.
As I planned my 37th birthday party, as she always does, 11-year-old Rose piped up, “No boys allowed! No way!” (Not even my husband or son get invited— they are expected to lavish me with attention earlier in the day, secure in the knowledge that I will save them each a slice of cake).
When a friend texted, “Hey, my birthday is just a few days after yours— some time we should have a joint party!,” 11-year-old Rose laughed out loud. Besides the fact that I insist on having the party on my actual birthday, I assured my well-intentioned friend that, practical though it may be, 11-year-old Rose would definitely not be willing to share. What day besides your birthday gets to be truly, guiltlessly, indulgently about You?
At the party itself, over peach pie, chocolate mousse, and whiskey, someone said “This is so fun! No one ever has birthday parties anymore.”
Why ever not?
I’m pretty sure I’ve thrown myself a party almost every year since I turned 21, when I reserved a couple lanes at the Bryant Lake Bowl and bought a taco bar— surely not a small expense compared to my rent-to-income ratio at the time— and totally worth it.
And just a month after we’d moved to India with a toddler, when I was still getting used to a new culture, checking my child’s shoes for scorpions, and living at 7,000 feet of elevation, I asked the most extroverted person I’d met to organize a ladies-only dinner party. I felt pretty shy, I had no idea who would come, and I had to borrow cash from a motherly near-stranger before going out for the night because my bank card hadn’t arrived yet. But I was turning 29 and that warranted a celebration.
I know I’ve missed a few here and there, but the standard is: It’s my birthday and I’m having a party. There will be delicious desserts (which I will bake) and probably some lake-lounging time, and all my favorite ladies. (And I can invite more than three people because we don’t all have to fit in my mom’s van!)
It’s sort of a surprising thing, more than 25 years later, to see how much of my attention and energy goes toward resolving and/or delighting preteen desires. But it also makes total sense: 11 is the age of the true self, a foot in both worlds.
11 is a big transition time. It was the year before 7th grade for me: the era of intense girlfriend drama, my first boyfriend, and, in our little town, the start of high school with 7-12 all in one building.
At 11 I was not yet a teenager or an adult, but I was no longer a little kid. (Though it took another year of pleading with my Mom, and finally an outright boycott at age 13, I was old enough to stay home by myself after school without a babysitter, and even be responsible for my younger sisters.)
I knew at 11 I wanted to be an actress and a writer; and that’s what I’ve done ever since, for fun and for money. I still stand by my fashion sense from 1993 (one distinctive sweater dress comes to mind, and for my birthday this year I wore an extravagantly beaded and sequined top; I also recently bought a 12 color eyeshadow palette, because, why not?).
11 was a quick window between little kid-hood and the angst of crushes and social hierarchies and adult expectations. It was the beginning of being fabulous, the start of choosing to become the person I am today; 11-year-old Rose is the goal, the true north, the notes all ringing clear and in harmony with each other.
I wonder what your 11-year-old self has to say to you. What she loves, fears, longs for. Because the upside of being an adult is that it’s all possible. And the fears aren’t as scary as they used to seem: I’m the kid and the mom— I have kept another human alive for 9 whole years, after all; a really nice, thoughtful, funny, clever human, no less, who can cook really good scrambled eggs! I have only rarely fed him cereal for supper. I have faked bravery and held his hand when he got stitches. I have helped him do what interests him even when it doesn’t interest me (Legos, Snap Circuits, Dungeons & Dragons). Without a doubt, I can do that for my younger self, too.
I don’t need anyone else’s permission or money— though I do wish for a windfall now and then, I have saved up and replaced a house’s worth of windows, I have gotten cars repaired, I have paid rent and mortgages, I have researched how to fix a leaky toilet: I can definitely buy a nyckelharpa / get braces/travel to beautiful places / learn to sew my own clothes / get a stray cat fixed / whatever.
I also don’t have to be a Grown-Up about it all. I don’t have to be a 1950’s clock-in-at-9-cocktail-at-5-wax-my-car-on-weekends sort of creature.
Now that my son is out of the I-have-no-skills-to-stay-alive-on-my-own stage, I get to return to my younger self, I get to be playful, I don’t have to focus on survival— my own, as a kid in a grown-ups’ world, or his.
When we move beyond survival, we can thrive, and it turns out I really like the ideas 11-year-old Rose had. She had no mobility, no money, no autonomy other than in her imagination; now I get to have all the resources of adulthood and her wise instincts and dreams.
I hope you do too— I hope all of us return to those younger, wiser, magical selves and bring all the grown-up skills and resources to not only be safe, but to live in delight.
Every year at my party I hand out index cards and instruct the guests to write my fortune for the coming year. No one ever writes “Your stocks will go up,” or “Your bathroom will be spotlessly clean.”
Every prediction, every magic wish is one of which 11-year-old Rose would heartily approve.