The Darling Daughter turns sixteen this week. In America, this is a Big Deal, mostly because popular culture has decreed it. We make movies and write songs and novels about girls turning sixteen. We make television spectacles of the lavish parties wealthy parents stage for their arrogant, ungrateful offspring. Creating the perfect Sweet Sixteen experience is a cottage industry. Expectations are high.
Sadly, Americans are lousy at coming-of-age rituals, and sixteen is an incredibly lousy age to have one. At sixteen, whether male or female, you’re only partway through high school and puberty, you can’t vote, drink alcohol, hold elective office, or serve in the military. You can’t get married or do much of anything without parental consent. In some states, you can’t drive a car without adult supervision except under strictly limited conditions.
So why do we do it? Why do we make such a fuss over a totally arbitrary point in our daughters’ lives?
Because we love them, of course. At some point, we have to acknowledge that they’ve crossed the threshold from girlhood to womanhood, whether we like it or not. We may be ambivalent about it, but they can’t get there fast enough, and because we love them, we celebrate this milestone, real or imaginary, with them. As much as I’d love to keep my daughter exactly as she is right now and protect her from all the hardships of this often cynical and nasty world, I can’t stop time, and it would be wrong and selfish to try.
Besides, her optimism and courage are qualities I cherish. Heaven only knows where she got them. Probably from her mother and her grandparents. Certainly not from me. When she encounters an obstacle, she takes it head-on, and revels in the challenge. She is bright and bold and beautiful and absolutely unwavering in her convictions. She brings light and joy and music into my life when the sky is dark and disaster looms on the horizon. She is compassionate. She has a good heart.
Yes, there’s a lot to celebrate in the life of my Darling Daughter. To be truthful, if I had the money to burn, I’d throw her one of those ridiculously indulgent parties with the live band and the light show and the towering cake and the three hundred guests, and, yes, the shiny new red convertible. She’s worth it. Reality being what it is, she’ll have to settle for a modest family gathering, a very small cake, a few gifts, a driver’s license, and permission to drive the family car on her own when necessary. She’ll take it in stride, but I hope she’s not too disappointed.
Because she’ll always be my little princess, no matter how grown-up she is.
Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen.