How to Survive the Sweet 16: One Mom Shares All

How to Survive the Sweet 16: One Mom Shares All

Planning a Sweet 16 is a huge undertaking, but it will all be worth it in the end.

We'll do (almost) anything to make our kids happy and show them they're special, including planning the epic blowout birthday bash that is the Sweet 16. Here's one mom's account of planning her daughter's Sweet 16—and how it compares to planning her own wedding.

My daughter, Kasey, just had her Sweet 16.

That thing sucked up more time and energy than my wedding did. The extravaganza, from what I can tell, is a phenomenon unique to our area and coastal California. Relatives and friends in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Ohio, and, for that matter, Canada, were all like, “What are you talking about…?”

Kasey has been invited to six Sweets (as the girls call them) in as many months, with plenty more in the pipeline. Not a one is what we might remember from our high school days, i.e., a backyard barbecue in summer or a sleepover. Among them was a Vegas Night blowout of 150 guests at country club. Another invitation, to an Under the Sea gala, came wrapped in an aquamarine tulle ribbon adorned with a real sand dollar that had been sealed to keep it from breaking in the mail.

Yes, this is all nuts for a seemingly random birthday. But as a mom, you want your kid to have and do what her friends have and do. It’s a hard emotion to resist, even if your brain knows the money could be better spent.

I had heard tell of this sixteenth year from friends with older girls. It’s marked not only by the planning of your own daughter’s party, but at the same time, anteing up for gift after endless gift. Oh, and each party requires a different dress. To wear the same dress twice to a Sweet 16 is verboten. About halfway through the year of Sweets, the mothers rebel, and the girls start swapping dresses, a merry-go-round of mostly black, short frocks, often delivered without notice (to you, anyway) at 9pm the night before it’s needed. You will always be wearing rags. Your home will always look like 9 miles of bad road. The mom of the girl dropping off her dress will always come in to say hello.

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Sobered by veteran-mom tales, I asked Kasey if she wouldn’t like to take a family vacation—she could bring a friend!—in lieu of a big party? She concluded, “I have my entire life to take trips, but I only have this one chance to have a Sweet.” This seemed so logical, I relented.

And before long, was asking anyone who’d listen, WHAT. HAVE. I. DONE?

Here’s how Kasey’s fete compared to my 1994 wedding:
   

Creating the Centerpieces 

Wedding: The caterer asked what color flowers I wanted on the tables, since they came with the standard wedding package. “Red, I guess, since the bridesmaids are wearing red.” The End.

Sweet 16: To come up with the perfect centerpieces for Kasey’s Fashion theme, we evaluated 8,997 Pinterest images. We settled on square glass jars with Chanel labels and a drop of pink food coloring in the water (One drop! Not too dark!) so they look like perfume bottles, but with light pink, white, and blush wildflower-esque flowers in them. No roses. (Even the florist didn’t know the difference between blush and light pink.) I had to go to a craft store to buy the exact right glass jars....well, two craft stores, because the first one didn't have enough. Then we downloaded and printed out Chanel perfume labels, changing No. 5 to No. 16 (get it?), bought food coloring, and picked up strands of fake pearls to drape over the flowers, because wasn't Coco Chanel famous for her pearls? After presenting all of this to the florist, he informed me I had to Mod Podge the labels in case water splattered on them.
 

Finding the Dress

Wedding: I ordered the second dress I tried on. It came in. It fit fine...I didn't really love the sleeves, but I didn't want to complain because the lady was nice. The End.

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Sweet 16: I took Kasey to nine stores over the course of six Saturdays before she found The Dress. These outings were always accompanied by Kasey’s BFF, Molly, who would buzz around fishing out about a dozen dresses she thought Kasey would like. Kasey wound up trying on eight to 10 of Molly’s dozen at each of the stores, so you do the math. At the end of each exhausting expedition, the three of us were hungry, and given Molly’s undying patience, I felt the least I could do was treat her to the diner. I spent I don’t know how much on diner meals capping off fruitless dress searches, listening to the girls discuss high-level matters (should the boyfriends of Kasey’s friends get their own invitations?). We finally secured The Dress at a shop 50 minutes away, and Kasey needed not one, not two, but three fittings at this far-flung locale.
 

The Speech

Wedding: The best man gave a short, nice speech. The End.

Sweet 16: The candle ceremony, during which the birthday girl recites a short poem in honor of each important person in her life, has more moving parts than 16 candles (Sorry. 17. I kept forgetting the one for good luck). Kasey decided on floating candles, so there were canisters of varying heights. Don’t even ask about the water. A specially decorated candle lighter was needed, as was her name spelled out in big sparkling letters in front of the candles.

Then there was the matter of drafting 17 poems that not only (obviously) rhymed, but suitably encapsulated Kasey’s history with and feelings for that person, yet wouldn’t take longer than 45 seconds to recite. One candle had two people attached to it (her Girl Scout co-leaders), so that poem alone took an entire evening to craft. Then the DJ reminded us that Kasey needed to pick a song snippet for him to play as each person was called up. Seventeen song snippets that suitably encapsulated Kasey’s history with and feelings for that person (or Girl Scout co-leaders). And I had a few issues with her list of honorees. (“You can not give a candle to Aunt Donna but not Aunt Lindsey. I will never hear the end of it! And are you sure you don’t want to give a candle to Olivia? She has been your friend since preschool. And we invited her parents! In what world is it okay for Olivia’s parents to sit there and see Olivia is not getting a candle when girls you have known one-fifth as long, whose parents I never even met, are?”) It was not my finest moment. There were tears. Poem drafts were ceremoniously ripped in half.

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I asked one sympathetic veteran mom, “Please tell me it will be worth it?!” She said it would be when I saw how happy Kasey was. She was right. My Kasey was beaming all night long. The restrained, quiet, hard-to-read teen was gone, replaced by a silly, laughing girl, clapping, spinning, and jumping up and down, and not just on the dance floor. The last candle lit that night was for me. Kasey said she saved the best for last, and thanked me far more eloquently than I had ever heard her speak. The feeling I couldn’t shake in the weeks running up to the big day, that I had done ALL THIS and she wouldn’t appreciate it, was unfounded. My song snippet was from “Wind Beneath My Wings:” It might have appeared to go unnoticed; But I've got it all here in my heart; I want you to know I know the truth, of course I know it; I would be nothing without you.

Now I’m among the veterans. Molly’s Sweet is up next. Kasey’s been running around with her dress shopping (payback is...well, you know). Her mom asked if she could use our floating candle canisters. When I dropped them off, she said, “This is a lot!” I said, “Yep...Let me know how I can help. But it will all be worth it.”