Call me a killjoy, but I am not a birthday person. As in, I dislike my own birthday. I enjoy celebrating the birthdays of friends and family as they see fit, and will happily go along with whatever shenanigans are planned as long as they are legal, but I prefer to keep mine on the down low, so I haven’t had a traditional “birthday party” since I was a kid. Dinner and a movie with some family or friends and I’m solid for another year. I don’t like a big to-do about things.
My sixteenth birthday was a little different.
The “sweet sixteen” is often seen as a milestone birthday (at least in American culture) and a lot of teens throw a big bash in celebration. Some are luxurious, exorbitantly expensive affairs, as shown in that old MTV show My Super Sweet Sixteen that aired while I was growing up, which featured whiny brats who get Hummers or BMWs as a birthday gift and then have the audacity to complain about the color, while other sweet sixteens tend to be more subtle and subdued.
My sixteenth birthday was the latter sort of event. To the extreme. Also, it was very, very indicative of the area where I grew up.
When I turned sixteen — which was over eight years ago, a nice, cringe-inducing realization I just had — I was going through a bit of a difficult time. After having reconstructive knee surgery the previous October and enduring a long rehabilitation process, I’d just learned, fairly early in the track season, that I was never going to be able to come back from my initial injury at the same level I used to be, effectively ending my athletic career for good. That, and I was a typical moody teenager, dealing with the daily problems that moody teenagers face, which are pretty insignificant in hindsight. So all in all, a pretty angsty time in awkward-Allie’s teenage life.
On the day of my sixteenth birthday, I left the athletic trainer’s office after an extra rehab session, and, since I didn’t have to go to track practice any more, I waited for my sister to come pick me up and take me home. I don’t think we had any other plans for the evening birthday celebration-wise, considering it was a school night and birthday festivities were probably being delayed until the weekend. But when my sister pulled up and I got in the passenger seat, she informed me that we were not going home, we were going somewhere else. I asked where, and she said it was a surprise — which, if you know my sister, set off warning bells in my head.
And then she drove me to a local dairy farm.
Now, in rural PA, dairy farms and farms in general aren’t what I’d call rare. But they aren’t really a place to go, if you know what I mean. There aren’t crazy parties or hangout sessions at the local dairy farm — those are reserved for the local 24-hour convenience store/gas stations, which are the place to be during summer vacation. The last time I’d been to a dairy farm was when I was in kindergarten, about five or six years old, and my class took a tour of one as a field trip. During the trip, my entire hand ended up in a cow’s mouth, which wasn’t a pleasant experience to say the least. I might have cried, but I think I buried the details of that memory very, very deep in my subconscious.
So when we pulled up to the farm, and my sister gleefully informed me, “We’re going to go pet some baby cows!” I was a little leery. Naturally, of all the things that could have happened on my sixteenth birthday, petting cows was not on my radar at all. Also, I should mention, this wasn’t some weird delinquent episode where my sister and I snuck into a dairy farm to pet cows, this was something that the farm permitted. As in, anyone could go and do this if they felt so inclined, or to satisfy some cow-petting urges, or to see where some of our local milk comes from.
So, we got out of the car, approached the cow pens, and we pet some baby cows. I was a little nervous due to my traumatic past experience with similar cows, but my sister took the lead, and, seeing as her hand did not end up in contact with a cow’s esophagus, I eventually reached a tentative hand out to a calf named Ringo. Ringo was adorable, with his soft fur and his big, sweet brown eyes. He sniffed my sleeve, as you can see in the embedded photo, and it was the start of a fledgling bovine/human friendship. After a bit, one of the employees asked if we wanted to help feed the calves, and thus, we ended up each taking a large bottle of milk and letting the baby cows go to town. We were only there for a little while, but I had an unexpectedly enjoyable time. Def recommend and absolutely would go again.
Of all the things to do on my sixteenth birthday, I ended up petting cows at a dairy farm. I don’t think a lot of people can say that, except for people who live on dairy farms, but unorthodox as it was, it actually meant a lot to me that my sister thought to take me there, considering I don’t like to make a big deal about my birthday. No, I didn’t have a big bash with all my friends and no, I didn’t get a car, and no, I didn’t throw a tantrum because my parents didn’t pay to have my favorite popstar sing happy birthday to me. But it was an awesome sweet sixteen nonetheless, and one of my most memorable birthdays yet.