Susanna has wanted an Instax camera for a long time. We told her the reasons why we would absolutely not get her one: we already have enough cameras in the house, the film is expensive, the picture quality is poor and it’s another piece of plastic that will eventually end up in a garbage dump. Then, ten minutes before we sat down to eat her birthday lunch, I rushed to Walmart and bought her one. I couldn’t resist. Perhaps it was a terrible mistake or perhaps it was the right thing to do. In either case, she has one now. But the pictures don’t lend themselves to sharing online, so here’s my Polaroid version of of our thirteen-year-old Susie.
Susanna stands in front of the computer monitor. She wears her slouchy toque, plants her feet shoulder-width apart and holds her violin to her chin. She’s learning a new song and prefers listening, over reading the notes, to mimic the melody and phrasing.
I’m reading The Magic Fish to Vivian but I’ve read it so many times I barely need to look at the words. Instead, I watch Susanna. Even if I intended on concentrating on the book I’d be distracted. Susanna’s turned the volume up while Youtube-man plays Mazurka by E. Mlynarski as loudly as if he were playing right beside my head.
Susanna sets her jaw and purses her lips as she digs in with the bow. Her mouth twitches while she pulls hard across all four strings to emphasize each note of the chord, along with Youtube-man. In a few minutes she will switch to Madame Neruda, a fiddle tune that is fast, furious and showy. It is the kind of song that could drive a listener bonkers if they heard it repeatedly. It is also happens to be Susanna’s favourite.
Older siblings shoot baskets while the thirteen-year-olds jump on the trampoline. Parents roast wieners and drink home-made cherry mead. When the sun sets, Belén and Tyler hide a trumpet in the park while the rest of the kids wait in our basement. Whoever finds the horn and blows on it first will win the game. Parents spread out across the park with strips of torn-up bed sheets, ready to tag and tie-up children to impede their progress.
After kids are hobbled, then set free; a cell phone is lost, then found; the trumpet is discovered, then blasted, we gather for birthday cake around the fire. There is a lull in conversation and I am tempted to introduce my trivia-game idea, but reconsider. Earlier in the day Susanna had instructed me—or rather, pleaded—not to bring up the game under any circumstances.
“It’ll just be some fun questions,” I countered, “to get people talking. A little competition to see how well parents know their teenagers.”
She resisted so I didn’t push it any further then. Now, with the embers glowing and people relaxing after running around in the dark, it seems like the perfect activity.
“So do you think this would be a good time for a little trivia?” I ask out loud.
Susanna buries her head in her gloves.
“There’s a big prize!” I add.
Susanna looks at the friends sitting beside her and groans. She’s monitoring their response to her mother who just won’t stop. Her face is flushed in the firelight. I am definitely one of the perils of her teenage life.
“I’ll go get the mail!” Susanna calls while stepping out the back door. When she returns she spreads the Canadian Tire flyer across the counter, eager to begin browsing.
“Look at this,” she says, pointing to a Roomba. “This week the price is way down!” She continues reading the details carefully and then looks up to check if anyone is listening. “Can you imagine? Clean floors without doing anything!”
No one responds. Belén is studying for her math test, I’m tearing up lettuce for a salad and Vivian is lolling around on the kitchen floor. Besides, it’s certainly not the first time we’ve heard this information.
When Susanna realizes she’s lost her audience she flips the page.
“Whoa! This is the deep-fryer we should get,” she continues. “Do you see that? It’s self-cleaning!”
Unlike her older sister, who has always dreamt of living in a sparsely decorated tiny-home, Susanna declared (at age 5) she was going to have a mansion in New York City. It appears she’ll need the space.
On our way home from Colorado this summer we stop at a gas station, buy a frying pan, find a stream near Mount Rushmore, and pan for gold. All because of Susanna. She’d been researching gold-panning techniques and paraphernalia for weeks before our vacation. The frying pan wasn’t exactly on her list of tools (and we didn’t get any gold) but we use it for cooking eggs sunny-side up and they turn out beautifully.
We’re waiting to board plane for the West Coast when I notice Susanna’s carry-on beside me on the bench. The backpack is partly open and I see packages of all shapes, colours and sizes jammed to the top.
“What on earth do you have in there?” I ask while I pull it towards me.
She grabs it quickly and pulls it back.
“For the plane!” she chirps, even though it’s 6:30 am and we’ve been up for 2 hours.
While we settle into our seats and stow baggage overhead, Susanna is busy. As usual, she’s sorting through the bags of chips, candy bars, suckers, gum and random treats she’s slowly acquired in the past year.
“Here, take this,” she says, handing me a piece of Juicy Fruit before the plane takes off. It will help your ears pop.” Then she turns to Vivi. “Do you want a red sucker or a purple one?” she asks her little sister.
“Red,” Vivian says, stretching out her hand. Meanwhile, Belén paws through the stash, finds some chocolate Susanna won at a birthday party and unwraps it.
It happens like this on every trip. Susanna cheerfully doles out tasty morsels that she’s been collecting for months, seemingly unfazed by sharing with family members who immediately consume everything they’re handed on the spot.
Susanna is sitting on a park bench at the lake’s shore, reading a Prince Edward Island tourism guide. She’s rooting for a maritime family vacation now that she’s working her way through the entire Anne of Green Gables series—for the third time.
While her dad coaches her older sister in the rowing shell, Susanna hunches over the glossy pages that she’d mail-ordered and studies each line. She will remember all the details, the layout of the biking trails, the museums and the geographical highlights, because even though we have no plans to visit the island now, we might just make it there one day. And because that’s the kind of remembering brain Susanna has.
Happy Birthday Girl!