13th Birthday in Style

Breakfast at the Westin in Cape Town

As of yesterday, we have another teenager in the house! That sounds like a lot but we’re hopeful the second time around is easier than the first. After all, we’re only halfway there yet. Or less than half-way, some might argue, as the next two are going to be girls.

But I wanted to talk to you about our thirteenth birthday tradition. Being brought up by very normal (and somewhat thrifty) German parents, neither Noisette nor I have any kind of intriguing family tradition to draw on when it comes to this important rite of passage for our kids. We don’t have any Bar Mitzvah’s to offer like many of our Jewish friends back in Overland Park. We’re not South African and therefore can’t bring ourselves to open up our house to 70 rowdy teenagers for a disco party, and we certainly don’t practice any manhood rituals where our boys get sent into the woods for a week to meditate and slaughter a bull and perhaps get circumcised in the process.

We did, however, want to do something special for our kids at the age of thirteen, and I have my friend Jenny back in the U.S. to thank for inspiration. We decided to copy the family tradition she had started, which was taking each child on a special weekend trip with just the two parents right when they turned thirteen.  For Zax two years ago the obvious place to go was New York City to see a Yankees baseball game, and we also visited the U.S. Intrepid and NBC Studios while there, all of which he greatly enjoyed.

Yankee Stadium August 2009
It’s always nice when the home team wins (10-0 against White Sox, for the record)

When you’re one of four kids, I’m sure it’s pretty cool to go travelling with your parents all by yourself for a change (just before it becomes very uncool to be travelling anywhere with your parents). But you know the really nice thing about this tradition? Every two years, Noisette and I get a nice weekend away, practically without kids. It is so easy to just have one child with you. I’m sure this wouldn’t be the case if you only ever had one child, but if you’re used to the tempest created by four, one is a breeze. There is no arguing where to go for dinner. No fight over who gets to sit where. No debate, in fact, about anything! Just a few polite exchanges about lunch plans, perhaps, and serenity all around. A tad boring, in fact.

Not bad waking up on your birthday with Cape Town spread below you

What to do with Jabulani though? It’s not that easy when you live in an entirely new continent. Back in the U.S., we could have just trekked back to New York and substituted a Mets game into an otherwise identical itinerary (for some reason our two sons picked these two opposite poles of the spectrum when it comes to baseball) but here in South Africa we needed something a bit closer to home. (Impatience, in true Impatience-fashion, is already plotting a trip to Paris but unless Europe is our next expat assignment, she’ll probably be disappointed).

Early-morning view of the V&A Waterfront from the Westin Hotel

The solution presented itself this April when we visited the Two Oceans Aquarium during our Cape Town trip (prodded to no end by our kids, if you’ll remember). A poster there informed us that diving among the sharks was on offer for those who are scuba certified, which Jabulani is. He was instantly intrigued, which settled it, and so we set to planning the event. Just to be able to stay at the Westin again with those great views and the gorgeous breakfast buffet was enough to get me excited. But a half-hour scuba tank dive didn’t seem quite “big” enough to warrant the trip, so I got the special bundle including “cage diving with great white sharks.” You won’t believe this but I foolishly signed myself up for that part as well.

I’ll be telling you all about how that went in my next post.