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Winter middle school concert, solo concert, birthday brunch (ordering and cutting herself!, indoor miniature golf (Wisconsin’s best on a freezing rain day) and lunch with a friend.

Certainly, a very sweet birthday and a busy week.

The elaboration.

The past week has been full of honey and vinegar and I’ve been trying to marry the two and writing into long, mucky-dark holes of ambivalent emotions. Not surprising, and yet, I can make a lovely honey pesto salad dressing with honey and vinegar. Perhaps I just don’t have the word pesto I need.

And so, the honey—

Julia’s 16th birthday. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. How lovely to share the day and also to have the day off.

Last Thursday, Julia played in the school orchestra concert. She is the only cello in eighth grade and she can play loud enough to be heard over the gaggle of violins. I could hear that she was not always correct, but more often than not, her sound blended. She spent more time watching her teacher and the music and less time scanning the crowd. Though not perfect, Julia seems to be learning a bit of orchestra norms.

Then on Sunday, Julia played in a local string teachers concert for solo strings. Julia played in a solo concert more than a year ago, and although she made it through the piece, it was rough going. The audience seemed to rattle her and it was hard for her to focus on her music. Instead, she spent time looking for and at me and her teacher as well as scanning the crowd. I saw her hyper-vigilence surface (so long buried now) and I was a mess watching her. This time she knew the piece very well, she practiced with the accompanist before the concert, the audience didn’t seem to phase her and besides glancing over at me a few times, she was able to focus on her music and play quite well. She was proud of herself when she finished and afterwards she had no trouble listening to the rest of the very long concert. (Listening to concerts which his a learned skill for anyone is easier with frequent student concerts. Cheshire had this with the Indy Strings Suzuki School she went to. For Julia, learning has come from professional concerts we attend. And though, admittedly better played, professional concerts do not offer peers playing and growing into music. I miss that.) Julia pointed out a few advanced cello pieces that she particularly liked and asked if she would ever play them. Of course, I said. So did her teacher. Monday, after cello lesson, her teacher asked me if I was nervous for Julia and confided that she was as well. Perhaps we two stole a bit of Julia’s hyper-vigilance from her. Using our magic.

Between the two concerts, on Friday, we had supper at a cooperative house. Invited by one of Julia’s grammar school teachers, who we both particularly like, many people there had already heard Julia stories and a few had met her long ago during school activities. Almost all of them were happy to talk and listen to her. We sat down to eat at a very long table with at least twelve other people and it was delightful! I never lived in such a large cooperative but it reminded me of my days in Boston living in cooperative houses. I don’t think I would be willing to give up so much house autonomy right now, but I am ready for community meals and shared chores. Co-housing could lure me easily. The larger circle was intoxicating. Julia seemed to thrive and I wondered about her social development in such a setting.

Saturday night saw us at church for a dinner to raise funds for our partner church in Transylvania. I’ve thought about going to this yearly event in the past but there was always a reason not to which sometimes amounted to really wanting to go home on a cold Saturday evening or allowing the fear of finding no one to sit with rise. This year, this weekend, I was craving company like an intoxicant and I noticed happily that there were at least three tables other than the one I sat at where I would have been very comfortable and welcomed. This church of community has become one for me. Two of the folks at our table were the librarian from Julia’s grammar school and her teenage daughter. The daughter had paid some attention to Julia during the meal and when it was over, Julia asked her to play legos with her. This was a very sweet girl who kindly went off and played legos. I was impressed with Julia’s completely appropriate question and her desire to share the activity with someone.

More of that desire to share the day came on Sunday when Julia asked to invite her classmate, M, and another girl who goes to (theraputic social skills) book club to do something with us for Julia’s Monday birthday.

Yes, just slightly late.

The girl from the book club didn’t work out because I needed to go through the therapists to get in touch with her parents. But her classmate’s Dad was happy to oblige and we headed for the indoor miniature golf course. Using very relaxed rules and not scoring at all, Julia and M played through the 18 holes with only one break for lunch. Our entry fee came with tokens for a small arcade and we played ski ball and endless games of chance for tickets. The tickets were eventually exchanged for a very large “gem” ring that Julia had set her heart on.

We finished the day with a trip to the mall to visit Justice and Hot Topic. These stores are close to age appropriate and it is fascinating watching Julia develop a fashion sense. Her eye is much better than mine. She has a slightly odd, colorful way of putting her clothes together. Rarely does her slightly off coordination fail and sometimes it is amazing how well pink and red can live comfortably on the same small body. I don’t let her wear her jewelry to school (because of the possibility of needing to perseverate on the fall of a necklace, or exact placement of a bracelet) but I’m sure she could make any piece look splendid.

She was, as she told me the next day, disappointed not to have wrapped gifts to open or a candled cake to blow out. For years, I have done all of that and many times, many, many times, she did not seem to care at all.

Well, she does.

And our dear weekly dinner friends filled the hole. On Wednesday, they put up streamers, served Julia’s favorite pizza and had a bag full of cool gifts. I brought a cake with happy birthday, Julia, written on it. My girl appreciated her party. Perhaps more because she needed to ask for it? I don’t know but I will plan next year.

This was not a sweet 16 like I had or like Cheshire had, filled with giggly friends partying and/or spending the night. It was, however, Julia’s.

And, as in so many things, her path is her own.