My son turned fourteen last week, and his birthday promised to be one enormous letdown.
The year before we had celebrated his Bar Mitzvah, marking this 13th birthday, in grand style. He surprised the congregation with a hilarious yet meaningful speech about the commandment “Though shalt not covet,” complete with him riffing off the Bruno Mars lyrics, “I wanna be a billionaire so freaking bad, buy all of the things I never had!” At his party that night, his uncles lifted him high in a chair and danced him into teenagehood, surrounded by all of his clapping friends. And the presents – oh, the presents!
But turning fourteen was different. His birthday fell on a Monday this year. In kid terms, it doesn’t get any worse. After school he had a mandatory rehearsal for a play and a ton of homework to do when he got home.
Seeing this doldrums of a birthday coming, it was my 10-year-old who suggested we celebrate by making an ungodly mess. We were in Manhattan’s Chinatown for the annual Chinese New Year’s parade, watching the crowd set off gigantic red and gold cylinders filled with colorful confetti. My older son was at another rehearsal, missing it all.
“We need to get some of those,” my little one said with zeal as he pointed to the confetti launchers. “We’ll fire them at him when he gets off the elevator on his birthday. It will be epic. He’ll love it!”
We quickly shelled out a few dollars for the confetti cannons and set to work. Over the next 24 hours, we secretly invited our neighbors on the floor to join in the hallway for the celebration the following day. My younger son made a continuous loop of his brother’s favorite song to play off the iPad.
On the appointed evening, seven of us gathered in the hallway for the big moment. We watched as the elevator lights rose. L, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5… the door opened, my son stepped out and we all yelled “Surprise!” as specks of gold, silver, pink, blue and green came raining down on him. The neighbor’s children came running to give him a hug, presenting him with their handmade cards. He bent down and opened his arms to them all, smiling a smile that rivaled that of his Bar Mitzvah night.
And I – well, I’ve spent the past week with a DustBuster in hand, trying to suction up all of the tiny flecks on the hallway floor. It’s given me plenty of time to reflect on the things that make a day special. How a little brother’s love and a simple idea can transform a routine into a party, and how some of life’s best memories are made up of seemingly tiny moments. Just like those sparkly spots of gold and silver I’m still finding everywhere I look.