I was born on January 29 in the midst of a snowstorm. When you have a birthday in January in North Dakota, you have to be prepared for the inevitable birthday blizzard – meaning you need to either be okay with postponing your celebration or invest in one of those snowmobile busses my husband swears he needs.
Or you need to be my family, who created what is now known as Amandamanium Pandamonium, the thirty days surrounding my birthday. Anything that happens during Amandamanium Pandomonium is considered part of the festivities. Go for coffee? Amandamanium Pandamonium coffee. Get your oil changed? Amandamanium Pandamonium oil change.
When you have a month-long birthday extravaganza, the party itself takes a back seat. Ninety-nine percent of my childhood birthday parties were at home playing toys and eating sheet cake. Only two were held off-site, and they are my most memorable of the bunch – not because of the location, but because of Love.
The first, a bowling alley birthday, was where my deepest, most passionate third-grade crush(’s mother) gave me a poster with two dogs sitting below the words “Puppy Love.” Upon opening this 18″x24” unintended declaration of affection, the boys at the party immediately retreated to the bathroom and the girls began to plan our future wedding. I’m not sure I even bowled that day, but the memory of our thirty-minute unrequited romance carried me through to my next birthday; or until I fell deeply, passionately in love with someone else, which probably came first.
The second was my 13th birthday. Not counting the bowling extravaganza, all of my childhood birthday parties had been at home playing toys and eating sheet cake. But I was sure becoming a teenager required something more than mint chocolate chip ice cream and the board game “Mall Madness” in the living room. And by more, all I wanted to do was take my friends to the movies.
Specifically, the movie Alive.
Alive is the devastating TRUE STORY of a rugby team whose plane crashes into the Andes Mountains and the survivors are pushed to the limits of self-preservation in a series of battles against weather, hunger, and time; including having to make the terrible decision to cannibalize their dead friends in order to keep from starving to death. Allow me to summarize that: it’s a TRUE STORY of people EATING each other. Like the movie Titanic, there was no mystery about what direction Alive was gonna go. “It’s a TRUE STORY of people EATING each other” was possibly the tagline in the commercials.
Up to that point, the most violent show I had ever seen was the stage play of Oliver! The Musical. My favorite movie was Cinderella. Even now, my husband has to forewarn me “I think someone dies in this” before we head to the theater. Life’s second-greatest mystery is why I wanted to see Alive, but the heart wants what it wants.
Life’s first-greatest mystery remains how I convinced my parents to not only take me to see that movie, but somehow also assured a group of other parents that it was totally fine if their kids came along. I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV until I was in college, but for whatever reason the R-rated Alive didn’t throw up any warning signs on the Mommy Radars.
So, on a snowy Amandamanium Pandamonium 1993, a handful of friends and I (and my parents and 10-year-old sister – because she had to grow up sometime, apparently) traipsed to the South Forks Plaza for what would become the most romantic day of my young life.
I was wearing what I knew to be the coolest outfit in the history of the universe: a mustard-colored one-shoulder sweater over a maroon body suit, tight-rolled stone-washed jeans, and penny loafers with the laces curled. I had just had my braces tightened and had specifically selected maroon- and mustard-colored rubber bands to match. And I had brushed my curly hair to a puff, and pulled up one side with a barrette that was covered in a waterfall of beads so robust that my hood of my jacket barely fit over it. The whole ensemble was so striking that I’m still surprised Teen Beat magazine didn’t bust into my house and put me on the cover.
Whether it was the radness of the outfit or just the sheer power of Amandamanium Pandamonium, two minutes after we walked into the lobby one of my guy friends pulled me aside and said, “Hey, do you want to go out with Lucas*?”
And because I did want to go out with Lucas, my latest deepest and most passionate crush, more than the power of a thousand suns or a billion beaded barrettes or even this once-in-a-lifetime showing of Alive, I naturally said, “Yeah, I guess, whatever.”
I had put on my super-awesome mustard sweater earlier that day as a single girl, and now, laden with popcorn, soda, and a boyfriend, I took my seat in the theater. Because the world of dating was brand-new to the majority of us, we first fell into our usual pattern – girls in one row and boys in another – before there was some wordless shifting and suddenly, Lucas was sitting next to me. The lights went down.
“Hey,” he whispered.
“Hey,” I whispered. All of the girls started to giggle, including me.
On the screen, an airplane filled with innocent souls headed for its fated destination.
For the next thirty minutes or so, Lucas and I alternated putting our elbows up or down on our shared armrest. Our friends alternated between pretending to watch the movie and side-eyeing us.
On the screen, the survivors debated the morality of cannibalism and determined the best part of the body for consumption.
And then, as an avalanche of snow came crashing down on the remnants of the plane, Lucas verrryyy slllooowwwly stretched his arm up and lightly laid it across my shoulder.
It was a good thing I was wearing those penny loafers because I melted right into them.
My giggling girlfriends stopped giggling. One of boys spilled his popcorn leaning forward to look. My best friend pinched me hard enough that I may still have a bruise.
My heart thumped until my cheeks and ears were as red as my bodysuit. I sat as still I could, trying to will that movie to last for eternity. But fortunately for those involved – and Lucas’ arm, which had started to go limp from holding the same position for so long – two of the brave rugby players hiked to safety and the remaining few were rescued from the mountain.
Lucas and I dated for a whole week; a week that also included a school dance where we did that thing where he put his hands on my hips and I put my hands on his shoulders and we swayed and didn’t look at or talk to each other. After those enchanting seven days the friend who had originally asked me out came up to me at lunchtime and said, “Lucas wants to break up,” and I said, “Okay,” because a love like ours that had burned so hot was naturally going to cool as quickly as it had ignited.
I’ve had other birthday romances; in fact, I met my husband during Amandamanium Pandamonium and knew there was something serious going on when he provided the appropriate amount of enthusiasm towards the holiday despite barely knowing me. But my thirteen birthday is one for the ages.
So, whether you like birthdays or not, I wish you the heart-pumping, popcorn-spilling happiness of Amandamanium Pandamonium. And, if the weather is cold, come on over and we’ll make beaded barrettes. They go great with Cinderella.
By Amanda Silverman Kosior, (c) 2019