Happy Leap Day. If it wasn’t leap year, the twins would already be 11; as it is, they are counting down the hours till the auspicious day itself. Ilsa is planning on having breakfast in bed, if you please.

Abel: “I don’t need breakfast in bed. Mom and Dad have enough to do tomorrow!”

Ilsa: “Abel, that’s sweet, but one word: Our Birthday!”

Abel: “That’s actually THREE words, really.”

I am still putting the finishing touches in place for their party (ok, in real life? The first cake is in the oven, and I’ve finished and sent out all the invitations. So perhaps not exactly finishing touches. I’ve got hours, though). This party has been stressing me out, because there’s a lot of weight riding on it, their only American birthday in memory, and likely their last until they’re university age and won’t be as excited to go to Build-a-Bear (hopefully, although given Abel’s attachment to stuffed animals I’m a little worried…) or the Lego Store or another of America’s riches.

Part of my stress comes from their friends, these American children whom I barely know. I read the news, I follow the trends, and I know that in choosing to raise my children overseas, I have placed on them a burden of being not quite like their peers. In many ways, the twins are mature for nearly-11: for example, if they meet an elderly Mauritanian man wearing filthy, baggy pants and a long robe, raised under the wide skies of the desert and still living in a tent, they can shake his hand and greet him with composure in their mangled Hassiniya; in the same way, they can kiss the cheeks of a American woman that they don’t actually remember, and chat with her. They are decent at navigating strange airports, and don’t complain much when forced to stay up all night to catch flights departing at 3:30 a.m.

On the other hand, they are young in their entertainment values and in much of their outlook on life. I see the local kids and their cell phones and iPods and working knowledge of R-rated movies, girls with manicures and lipgloss at 10. And I think of Abel, who seems to spend most of his time in character; life with him is like living in a Looney Tunes cartoon; and Ilsa, who still proclaims at least that boys are yucky and still doesn’t care if she gets her ears pierced, much less anything else. They are nowhere near bored or cynical; they only roll their eyes at us when they know we’re teasing them; they get excited about hand-me-down clothes or flowers blooming or going out to lunch.

I’m no doubt exaggerating my worries: after all, although I don’t know all the kids, at least half of the invitees are the kids of our friends. But I really don’t know what’s cool in the tween set, where it seems the majority of parties take place someplace a little more fun than my house—at a water park or a bowling alley or ice-skating rink. How do I combine all these elements into a party that will be enjoyed by all without going into debt? Complicated by the fact that I’m not doing back-to-back parties, so I’m combining boys and girls, ranging in age from 8 to 12, 15 in all (counting my 3).

I don’t really care, one way or the other, what these American kids with potentially supercilious stares think of me, but I don’t want my kids to suffer from my own cluelessness.

So I went online, of course. I asked the redoubtable Beck, who instantly shot back many good suggestions, and I also found a great site called BirthdayPartyGamesLady, who does all the work for you but charges (as she should). I borrowed and combined ideas, not wanting to plagiarize, and this is the invitation we sent out:

First, a plain brown envelope with the words TOP SECRET printed in red on the front, and on the back, the words: AGENT (name of child): FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, which made me sing that song for the next day and a half.

Inside, on plain paper, the following:

Our intelligence reports suggest that the notorious international jewel thief Diamant Rouge has infiltrated our plans for Abel and Ilsa’s 11th birthday party.

Your mission is to come to xxxx in xxx (zip code: xxxxx) to help them search their house and surrounding areas for clues leading to the arrest of this renowned criminal.

We expect you to arrive by 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 1st, and leave by 5:00.

You will have to blend in with children at a birthday party; we suggest you wear casual comfortable clothing and smile.

To accept this mission: call Agent J at HQ 503-xxx-xxxx.

So what do you think? Will this work for modern tweens? Or will they roll their eyes?

It’s too late to change anything of course—I’m up to my elbows in writing clues and I still need to make the second cake (twins compromise a lot—I don’t make them compromise on cake flavour, so I’ve made two since they turned 5). I also need to make them Welsh cakes, which is a tradition since they were born on St David’s Day, who is to the Welsh what St Patrick is to the Irish. So it’ll be a late night, and I should get back to work.

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