You only turn 12 once.
But if you play your MasterCards right, you can keep the celebration going for months.
No one knows this better than the girl we call McGallon. (First, because it rhymes, and later because we discover that she can eat an entire carton of mint chocolate chip ice cream in one sitting.)
McGallon's birthday begins around Christmas and ends by Valentine's Day if we are lucky. How she accomplishes this is never really clear until it is over and we arrive exhausted and bankrupt at her plans for spring break.
This year's birthday begins on schedule with the Christmas shopping.
McGallon helpfully identifies items that members of the family might want to consider for her upcoming birthday, since it falls only a month after Christmas.
Afterward, she pretends not to be paying attention so we can surreptitiously buy them with the understanding that they will be put away until January.
These gifts are opened at Christmas.
A new birthday list is proposed by New Year's. I do not understand exactly how this happens, year after year. (In my defense, I can only plead a recurring fantasy of time management.)
But it is the party planning that really tends to spiral out of control.
Unless firm limits are established early and often, McGallon has a tendency to dream big. Her idea of the perfect birthday party? Think Tyco.
This year, I propose an alternative to recreating Dennis Kozlowski's birthday bash. How about flying her best friend up from Fort Lauderdale for a girls' weekend instead of a party? A great idea, right? Easy. Elegant, almost, in its simplicity. She agrees immediately.
She is the most agreeable child ever. The girls have a great time. McGallon begins planning a birthday party before her friend's return flight has even left the airport.
There will still be cake, right?
"Well of course," I say. "I will make you a cake." ($1.99)
An ice cream cake, she says. With a theme.
"Sure," I say. An ice cream cake. ($28)
Could a couple of girls come over to have cake? Well, I think, we can't eat a $28 ice cream cake by ourselves, can we? But that's it. An ice cream cake, a couple of girls. No one stays longer than it takes to eat cake.
A movie? she asks. Could we watch a movie?
All right, I say. But no sleepovers.
Balloons? There were balloons for her brother's birthday. He didn't want them. How does that count? He only wanted cash. I bought the balloons to make it seem less like a transaction. The balloons were for me, when you think about it.
She has already thought about it. She thinks balloons would be nice.
Fine, I say. But no ice sculptures. I mean it.
Photo: A girl of simple tastes.
Past rallies: Wall Street surges on reports of fifth-grade supply list