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Inside a Teenage Birthday Party

Photograph by Getty Images

There are two kid birthday parties in our house every February; the little girl's, and the big boy's (the middle child's, thank goodness, doesn't hit until April). The little girl's party is easy. We invite her closest friends from her Brownie troop, plus her cousin, and throw a sleepover party. They eat pizza, make ice cream sundaes, watch The Princess Bride and try their best to stay up past midnight. Pancakes in the morning, and parents pick up at 9:30 a.m. Done.

The big boy's is another matter. L turns 14 next week, and he wants to celebrate in a manner that befits his teenage status—whatever that means. Well, actually, I have some idea of what that means.

First, the celebration should appear to involve his family as little as possible. Ideally, his guests would believe he materialized whole and fully formed onto this earth, not beholden to parents or siblings, except for such pesky but inescapable needs as chauffeuring and bill paying, when the balding doctor guy and the curly-haired writer lady will be called upon for their discreet assistance.

Second, the party concept must be "cool." This does not mean innovative. Innovation is risky, and with risk comes the possibility of failure. Failure is so uncool. We are after that sweet spot, somewhere between untried and old hat.

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Third, the guest list must gel. Dude has friends from the neighborhood, friends from temple, friends from sleepaway camp, friends from his old school and friends from the new magnet school he started this fall. None of the groups know the other groups. If they have nothing to say to each other, the event could collapse into chaos. Plus, he had the bar mitzvah blowout last year, and we have the reduced bank account to show for it. No way anyone's throwing him a bash for the big 1-4. So he's got to come up with a guest list that works.

We invited five—two can't come—which is a momentary crisis, because it might make him look unpopular.

As you can see, the planning process had its complexities, but L and I persevered through nail biting and Internet searching and door slamming and apologies and more door slamming and more apologies. He now, I am relieved to announce, has a party we both believe will make him proud.

He will have just the friends from the new school, because he sees them every day and it's a good way to tighten that bond. We invited five—two can't come—which is a momentary crisis, because it might make him look unpopular in the eyes of those who did attend. But we persuaded him that, at least in this instance, cool is as cool does.

They will go to dinner at an Italian restaurant nearby, then come back to our house to watch a movie. He went to a birthday party dinner at that same restaurant last year, with a different group of kids and everyone agreed it was a good choice. For the movie, we've been given a recommendation of Super 8, from one of the hippest 20-somethings we know.

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And as for the parents and the sibs, well, old party planning mom here will skedaddle with the two younger sibs to a temple event for at least the first half of the evening. Meanwhile, doctor dad will play chauffeur, then slip away to the restaurant bar, where he can keep an unobtrusive eye on the dining foursome. We will all be available for the cinema portion of the night, as some things can't be helped, particularly in a house with only one decent television.

Sounds good? I hope so. Personally, though, I don't have much riding on the outcome. I've already gotten my wish. After all, he's not so grown up that he wanted to plan and manage the whole thing without me.

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