A teenager’s 16th birthday is one of the biggest days of their life. In many cultures, it signifies the transition from childhood to adulthood. Nearly every American girl is even more excited about their 16th birthday now thanks to MTV shows like My Super Sweet 16.
Of course, not every girl wants a huge, elaborate party like on television, and that was the case with one teen, Lauren Blank. She had her perfect sweet 16 already planned out but she never expected it to take a completely different turn, all thanks to her grandfather.
Awaiting The Day
Lauren, or "Ren" as most of her friends call her, felt like most teenagers leading up to their sixteenth birthday. She was overwhelmed with excitement and wanted to make sure the day was absolutely perfect.
Rather than pull out all the stops on a huge party, Ren decided to plan the perfect low-key event. She wanted an intimate party with the people she loved and appreciated most in the world. Little did she know, her grandfather had something else in mind.
A Present A Decade In The Making
While Ren was busy planning her small party and figuring out a list of things she’d want for her birthday, she had no idea her grandpa had something much bigger in store. In fact, he’d been working on Ren’s 16th birthday gift for more than ten years!
The gift was so secretive that not even Ren’s parents knew about it at first. It seemed like Ren’s 16th birthday was shaping up to be absolutely unforgettable.
A Special Bond
Ren and her grandfather, Ron Petrillo, had always been incredibly close. Instead of sending Ren to daycare, her grandfather watched over her while her parents worked. She spent nearly every day until she was five years old with her grandpa.
It was during this special time together that her grandfather already began to think about how to honor and cherish his special granddaughter. As soon as he thought of the idea, Ren’s grandpa put his plan in motion.
A Unique Heirloom
Most teens love to use their 16th birthday as an excuse to ask for a totally over-the-top birthday present. Ren wasn’t very interested in a fancy gift — she just wanted to spend the time with her family.
That’s why her grandfather’s gift would blow everyone at the party away. In fact, he decided to give Ren a different sort of gift. The thing Ren’s grandfather spent 10 years preparing to gift her wasn’t your ordinary heirloom.
Using Their Time Together
The heirloom Ren’s grandfather was about to gift his granddaughter wasn’t going to be your typical piece of jewelry or furniture. Ron and Ren’s special bond began when Ren was so young and he didn’t want her to forget a moment.
That’s why, during the time Ron cared for Ren, he began to do one little thing every day that would turn into the most incredible gift. All he had to do was make sure he kept it secret until then.
Growing Up In A Small Town
Ren grew up in a small town of only around 45,000 people called Keller, Texas. It was part of the Dallas-Forth Worth metroplex which meant you got a small town vibe with the perks of being close to big city living.
Her parents loved raising a daughter in Keller and it turned out by the time she was approaching her 16th birthday, she’d grown into a mature young woman. Everyone in the family wanted to show her just how proud they were on her special day.
Keeping A Secret
It wasn’t exactly easy for Ron to hide his secret project from Ren. The two were practically inseparable even after she grew up and started going to school. Still, Ron managed to find ways to work on the project even when the two spent time together.
Ron began the gift in February 2003 and had to hide the item every single time Ren, or her parents, came to visit. It wasn’t easy but it was worth it.
Watching Her Grow Up
The gift Ron worked tirelessly on became more and more meaningful as he watched Ren grow up. Just like her parents, Ron watched Ren grow and mature. He said that he thought it was important to watch her "being a good person and being nice to people."
Seeing Ren become a kind young woman proved to Ron even more that he had to make sure to give her the gift at the perfect time.
Three Different Options
According to Ron, he had three different dates in mind when it came to giving Ren the special gift. He figured that he could give it to her when she was 16, 21, or when he was gone.
Ron realized that when Ren turned 16 he’d be 72. Of course, people can live much longer, but he didn’t want to risk missing out on enjoying the moment with Ren, so he knew that was the perfect moment.
Spilling The Beans
As Ren’s Sweet Sixteen approached, Ron decided to share his secret with her parents. He had worked tirelessly on the gift for years but he wanted to make sure they approved and agreed with the timing of the gift.
As soon as the parents saw the gift they burst into tears. If they could get so emotional about it, then Ron knew it would be a home run when he gave it to Ren.
The Final Reveal
Finally, Ren’s Sweet Sixteen was approaching. In March 2017, Ren’s family and friends gathered at her home for the low-key, intimate party she had planned. They laughed, had cake, and then finally it was time to open presents.
Ren received many gifts that she expected for a girl her age like clothing and jewelry. Finally, she reached down to open the one gift left from her sweet grandfather. It wasn’t big or heavy, but she had no idea just how special it would be.
When Ren finally opened the present she could honestly say she was a little disappointed. She had such an incredible relationship with her grandfather and all he had got her on this special day was three different spiral notebooks. Did he think she had run out at school?
Then she looked closer and realized the notebooks were labelled "Lauren Book 1, 2, and 3." Ren was still completely confused and decided to investigate further.
Soon enough Ren’s confusion turned into curiosity. While her grandpa watched on nervously, Ren opened up "Lauren Book 1" and began to flip through the pages.
She quickly noticed that every page began addressed to her by name. Were these some sort of letters collected over the years? No, she realized they were written in pen right on the pages. She browsed the pages but still had no idea what the books were about.
Waiting For A Reaction
Slowly, Ren turned back to the first page and began to carefully read the first few sentences. She sat there silently reading the first page and her friends and family watched on. It was at this moment that Ren started to feel a tug on her heartstrings.
By the time she got to the end of the page, she looked up at her grandfather. He was sitting there waiting to see how she’d react.
The first line of Book 1 began "Hi Lauren; I’m just starting this so someday you might read it for fun. It’s going to be a day to day record of you & me."
It turned out Ron had spent every day since February 16, 2003, writing a journal entry about his days spent with Ren. She was only two years old at the time he started it. He comically called it "Tales of a Two-Year-Old."
An Elaborate Gift
As Ren and her grandfather shared a moment at her Sweet Sixteen, she flipped through the pages and realized they would always be able to share moments no matter where they were in life. Ren realized her grandfather’s inspiration to do this was because he worried she would forget about some touching moments because she was so young.
And Ron was completely right. As Ren read through the pages she discovered just how many things she’d forgotten.
One of the first pages Ren read through was about a game she would play when she was very young. The game was called the "see ya" game. It involved her grandfather doing just about anything to make Ren laugh and stay entertained (which is pretty hard with a toddler).
One thing Ron would do is feign running into the wall "over and over" and it would make Ren crack up. But that wasn’t the only touching memory inside the books.
Riding The Alligator
Another touching memory Ren and Ron shared was going to the department store and riding the alligator. No, not an actual alligator, but Ren had no idea what her grandfather was talking about.
It turned out the alligator was the only way Ren could pronounce the word "elevator." The journal talked about Ron taking Ren to the department store for the first time and watching her become so captivated by the elevator.
The ‘alligator’ played a part in many different stories. After their first ‘alligator’ ride together, Ren would insist on visiting the department store frequently with her grandfather.
Ren was overcome with emotion reading about one day where they had to go do some shopping and didn’t buy a thing because they rode the ‘alligator’ up and down for several hours. She was overwhelmed hearing about how much her grandpa had done for her.
Days At The Zoo
One moment the two shared together nearly every day was visiting the rescue zoo in town. Ron recalled taking Ren there every single day they spent together "except Monday when they were closed."
Ren got to see the different animals and then Ron would buy her a trinket in the gift shop. By the end of their frequent visits, Ren practically owned every item in the gift shop! It sounded like a perfect day with grandpa.
At first, Ron was worried Ren didn’t like the gift! He figured that she might show some emotion but she was silently sitting in shock. Looking back, Ren said she "couldn’t cry at first but then all the emotions…really hit me."
Thankfully, it didn’t take long for Ren to express just how much she loved the gift her grandfather had made. She quickly realized "how much time he took to do this."
Forgotten By Both
Shockingly enough, some of the memories in the books even Ron had forgotten about. Although he spent more than ten years working on the books, the memories are only from when Ren was two-five years old.
It made the journals so much more meaningful because Ren and Ron could flip through them together and relive the memories. Sometimes, one remembered more than the other and could fill in the blanks.
One Of The Most Important People In Her Life
This type of gift would have been meaningful from any family member, but for Ren, it was especially heartwarming receiving it from her grandfather. Ren said that “my papa has been one of the most influential people in my life.”
It is rare to see a relationship between a young girl and her grandfather like this. Many kids nowadays don’t understand the value of their grandparents.
A Glimpse Into Ron’s Feelings
One of the most incredible parts of the journals was that Ren got a glimpse into how Ron felt about his relationship with his granddaughter. One passage said “She and I think alike. We never argue. She looks out for me.” Ren agreed that the two have always just shared a special bond.
Ron even went so far as to write “I never thought I could love anyone like I love Lauren,” once again proving just how close their bond is.
Sharing Their Story Online
Ren was so overwhelmed with the gift she felt the need to show her Twitter followers. It didn’t take long for the Tweet to go viral. It now has more than 560,000 likes and 160,000 retweets.
Ren tried to explain to her grandfather, who "does not understand Twitter" how much his journals had touched others. Hilariously, Ron didn’t really understand it until Ren told him that "hundred of thousands" of people saw the books.
Spreading The Love
Ren’s Tweet sharing the story of her grandfather’s gift seems to have had a serious impact on people around the world. Many Twitter users responded that the post also made them cry.
Ren has even gotten feedback from other teenagers online saying that the journals made them want to spend more time with their grandparents. The precious gift wasn’t just life-changing for Ren, but for kids around the world.
She Says It Didn’t Make Her Famous
Despite people thinking Ren found internet fame, she thinks it was quite the opposite. Ren insists that “it wasn’t me being famous, it was about my grandpa’s love for me becoming famous.”
If you look at the replies on Ren’s Tweet, it is true. In an age where people can lie easily on the internet, no one believed she was posting the photos from likes or fame. They truly could see just how special the gift was.
Ron Got What He Wanted
Of course, Ron was terrified for more than a decade that Ren wouldn’t like the gift. Now, seeing her reaction and the reaction for the public, he knows he made the right decision.
Just like how other teenagers have been inspired to spend more time with their grandparents, Ron hopes it inspires other people in their 40s and 50s to do the same. Ron hopes the journals can spread love to more than just Ren.
Copy And Paste
The most incredible part is how willing both Ren and Ron were to share their story with everyone. Rather than be protective of the gift, they both welcomed hearing people online say they want to copy the idea and do the same thing.
Ron said that “if that’s the only thing that comes out of this then that’s just fine.” They hope one day more people get to feel how they felt.
Returning To Reality
A Sweet Sixteen can be overwhelming for any teenager, and it can be even harder to return to reality after receiving on of the greatest gifts of your life. For Ren, it wasn’t a problem at all.
She knows that the gift only strengthened her already amazing relationship with her grandfather. It was also a nice reminder that as you get older and grow apart to remember the people who influenced you and helped you become the person you are today.