As I've mentioned before, Dakota is my dad's grandchild, my sisters Heidi, Hilary, and Brandy's niece. When it comes to social behavior, she is nothing like me and every bit like the 4 of them, in varying degrees. Life of the party? Not a chance. Center of attention? Oh NO thank you. Thrives in big crowds of people? Never. Being a homebody and socializing with only your family and your couch? Oh YES please. This has been a bit of a struggle for me to "get" because it's just not how I operate. I have to remind myself on a regular basis that she's NOT me and just because she prefers her solitude to socializing doesn't mean there's something wrong with her and that she's an outcast who will grow up to be the weird cat lady living alone. Although, I have a feeling regardless of her social status the cat lady part of that won't be far from the mark.
When planning her 12th birthday celebration she grudgingly decided to invite 6 of her friends out because "they've been wanting to come out and see the animals and stuff for awhile so i GUESS we can invite them for my birthday." So we did. Let it be known that this is only the SECOND time in her scholastic career that she's invited friends over. GI Joe says that's pretty typical for country kids or at least that's the way it was for he and his brother growing up but to me, Miss I Got Mail @ My BFF's House in 6th Grade, it seems a travesty. She was moderately excited but that had to do more with the kind of cupcakes I was making for the party than it did the actual party. Milky Way Cupcakes, who could blame her?!?
The day finally came for the party and I picked the girls up from school. I'd met most all of them before and already liked them. We had a very LOUD ride home, as you may or may not know that 6 6th grade girls + 2 elementary aged boys talk, sing, and shriek at ear piercing volume when they are in Friday afternoon PAAAAAARTY mode. I was relieved to see that Dakota was participating as well.
The girls were in hog heaven (pun totally intended) when we got to the Koons Zoo, they dumped their stuff and immediately headed to the barnyard for some farm fun. This is where Dakota was in her element. These were her animals, her pride and joy, so showing them off to her friends, was no big deal to her. They stepped in poo, got muddy, gathered eggs, and had a grand old time. They came in for a snack and then it was time for the Scavenger Hunt. I wasn't exactly sure what was appropriate party planning for a bunch of 12 year old girls that didn't involve manis, pedis, or Justin Bieber so I decided on a fun, no-matter-how-old-you-are scavenger hunt in the yard and barnyard. The clues were Class A corny and led them to such locations as the chicken coop, the rabbit hutch, the Hillbilly Hotel (a lean to shelter for the animals in the barnyard), on the four wheeler, and in a rotted jack o' lantern, just to name a few. This scavenger hunt was a direct hit as the girls thought it was the coolest thing ever. (Chalk one up for Mother of the Year!) After finding their treasure (a King Sized candy bar for each of them hidden in the fireplace) they went back out to ride the 4 wheeler, play in the hay fort in the barn, and sled down the hill on the miniscule amount of snow that was there. Dakota was thoroughly engaged during all of this, except for the brief time that she wondered off to check on her kitties (without mentioning to her friends where she was going or inviting them to go along with her) and eventually, her friends realized she was missing and Blade led them to her. The great part is that while I was apalled at the rudeness, her friends didn't think any thing of it.
Finally, the sun was setting and it was getting cold so they came in to eat. GI Joe smoked some pizzas (because that's how we do frozen pizzas in this house and OMGoodness they are so delicious that they have now been requested for every kid's birthday.) I also put out a spread of Dakota's favorite snack foods which included but was not limited to: apples with caramel, chips and dip, giant dill pickles, olives, black olives, pickled peppers, and crackers and GOAT cheese. Yes, you read that right, GOAT cheese. Dakota while a hillbilly at heart has some very sophisticated tastebuds. Homegirl can put away half a log of goat cheese as an after school snack. I put it out mainly for her, figuring that her friends would stick to the more normal items like chips and dip. Imagine my surprise when they were eating the crackers with goat cheese at a faster rate than I could put them out. They were amazed to discover that they were eating goat cheese. The food highlights of the party were definitely: Cupcakes (duh), Goat Cheese & Crackers, and the Giant Pickles. In that order. Barnyard scavenger hunt, gathering eggs, goat cheese and cupcakes. Do I know how to throw a party OR WHAT?!?
I wasn't sure how I would entertain the girls for the rest of the evening, but as it turned out I needn't worry. They entertained themselves by making a goofy movie on their Macs and sliding and spinning across our hardwood floors.
Who needs bounce houses or jugglers when you've got slick floors?!?
A couple times during the festivities, we'd look around and I'd see Blade and Ryder in the heart of the action and Dakota sitting on the couch in the living room or in her room with her sketch pad, off in her own little world. GI Joe had to gently remind her that she did have friends over and that perhaps she should, oh i don't know, hang out with them?!? GI Joe & I were sitting in the kitchen when one of the girls came in to get another helping of, you guessed it, goat cheese. She proceeded to educate us on the social hierachy of 6th grade. Completely unprompted by us, she told us all about how the "populars" were already "dating" but of course they were dating other "populars". She then told me about the other groups in 6th grade and who was in them. There are the populars, the smartacles (the very very smart, dare i say, nerdy kids), the weirdos, and the just normal kids. You know what I had to do right? I said, "Is Dakota considered a "weirdo"? You can tell me." Her answer cracked me up because let's be honest, anyone that knows Dakota knows she leans to the weird side and is proud of it. Her friend sweetly answered, "Oh no, she's not a weirdo. So what if she's told people it's ok to call her DragonGirl?!? Everyone knows that's just Dakota." Love it. She then let me know that she and Dakota and their other friends were the "just normals" who were friends with people in all the "groups". That was a relief. Nobody wants their kid to be in the weirdos or outcast group. When I discussed the populars group and the whole "dating" thing with Dakota later she said and I quote, "Isn't that so stupid? I mean, we're in 6TH GRADE, we're way too young to be dating. Besides dating is sooo overrated." I'm documenting those words here so when she's 17 I can remind her of this. Oh YES I AM, so take that 17 year old Dakota.
Anyway, the party was a smash success and 9pm (party end time) rolled around. The girls were not excited to go home and were saying how they wished they were spending the night. But of course, Dakota had drawn her line in the sand from the git go and put a party end time on the invite of 9pm. Listen, we were stretching her social boundaries by asking her to entertain or at least be present for 5 1/2 hours, overnight might have pushed her right over the edge into hermitdom forever. So it was time to go and I told the girls to get their things so I could take them home. Dakota being the ever graceful hostess got them each a peacock feather to take with them and then they each wanted to take the egg they had gathered. So yeah, party favors were a peacock feather and a farm fresh egg. Redneck much? We were getting ready to load up into the car for the trek to return every one to their rightful owners when I noticed Dakota was still sitting on the couch drawing.
"Dakota, come on you have to go with me to take your friends home."
"Oh man, I do?!? Why can't I just stay home? I'll see them at school on Monday." followed by a deep sigh.
Meanwhile, Ryder and Blade were already in the car chatting up the ladies.
She did go with us and once we were in the car with her friends she was fine. And they explained to me how they were all friends "Well see, Dakota is my complete opposite so that's why it works" and "Dakota and I are soooo much alike that's why we're friends," and so on. It was kind of sweet especially since I didn't fish for this feedback and we all know Dakota certainly didn't, it just came up.
On the way back home we were recapping the party and she told me, "That wasn't so bad, we might have to do that again sometime. Maybe next YEAR." :)
Baby steps, we wouldn't want to rush things you know.
And by the time I got home, 3 of her friends had friended me on Facebook. Which is so odd to me, but I put my feelings about 12 year olds on facebook aside and accepted because you know what they say, "Keep your friends close and your tween daughter's friends closer".
I cannot wait to see what the next 12 years holds for this one in a million girl. I'm sure at least ONE or TWO more parties, and that's probably a pretty accurate number. But you know what? I wouldn't want her any other way. What a girl.
And because it was her magic, once in a lifetime birthday, 11-11-11, (too bad she was 12 and not 11) I got her out of bed @ 11:11 p.m. to do this..
She'll thank me someday. Probably in a champagne toast at a big, fancy, black tie party she's hosting.