The aisles of supplies illustrate a lifetime of partying. Before an American baby is delivered, its genitals are a topic of heated debate. “Girl or boy? Girl or boy?” the decorations ask. One can declare one’s allegiances with plastic glasses that say TEAM BOY and TEAM GIRL, or, more creatively, TEAM STACHES and TEAM LASHES. (Do American males lack eyelashes?) These teams are present at a social ceremony called a gender reveal party. I wonder how the gender is actually revealed. Is the baby disrobed for all to see?
There are more elegant solutions: Party City offers gender reveal balloons (“He or she? POP to see!”) and gender reveal candle kits, which tell you if the baby is a pink candle or blue candle. Many years ago, my Chinese friend balked at the term “baby blue,” because “babies aren’t blue!” Today, I learn that actually, male American babies are blue, and female American babies are pink.
I walk into the next aisle. Sweet Sixteen headbands. Sweet Sixteen photo backdrops. Sweet Sixteen balloons. The packages feature white girls in pink dresses; everything is pink and gold and girly. I wonder what is so sweet about being a sixteen-year-old American girl. When I was sixteen my first boyfriend broke up with me, and I spent the year mourning what I was sure was the love of my life.
The next birthday worth celebrating is the twenty-first. Everything proclaims, “Finally legal.” You might be thinking, is it celebrating the crossing into adulthood? The attainment of legal voting rights? No. Suffrage is not worth celebrating. Instead, American youths celebrate the attainment of the minimum age to legally purchase alcohol. They can stop committing identity fraud now. For this party you can buy shot glass holders and rubber bands that say BOMBED, TRASHED, WASTED, TANKED, and LOADED.
Thirty, forty, and fifty are a generic glittery stretch. Then, things start to get wonky. There is a “Senior Moments Decision Spinner,” featuring options such as “Be Grouchy” and “Dye Hair Blue.” There is a traffic cone labeled “Danger: sagging body parts,” even though sagging body parts seem very harmless to me. There is a tote bag labeled “Old Bag,” which is factually inaccurate because it’s actually a new bag. There is an “Old Lady Survival Kit,” which includes “Old Man Repellent” and “Spare Underwear for the unexpected accidents! Just in case you: sneeze, laugh, jump, breathe.” The decorations for younger parties are serious and sincere, but by the time Americans are eighty, it seems that they have realized that life is just a laughable farce.
I picture myself growing old in this country. Next year, I will turn twenty-one, finally legal. Then I will turn thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, and I will throw a cringey party and receive an Old Lady Survival Kit. My parents thought they were giving me a bright future by sending me to America, but this is all that lies in store.
What comforted me was the thought that maybe the Filipino American, the Chinese American, the Minnesotan American, and Mountains will also be at that party, and they will also be old, and we will reminisce about going out after work and playing with squishy chickens at Party City.