Sockpants and Super Heroes: Birthdays
My dislike of birthdays is something that has evolved over my tenure as a mother. My two oldest boys, Isaac and Tyler, were born Irish twins. For those of you about to Google the term, I’ll save you a step. It means that someone didn’t stress the importance of birth control after delivering my first child which meant that I found myself hosting his first birthday with his baby brother strapped to my chest.
Having Irish twins had some fantastic advantages. For one, I never felt bad that I didn’t achieve my pre-pregnancy weight after having Isaac. I just wore my maternity clothes for an additional nine months. I also never had to put away the baby clothes Isaac outgrew. Tyler was big for his age so it was an easy transition. One of the other great benefits of my Irish twins was their birthdays were close enough that I could justify a combined birthday party. It was just the excuse I needed to throw some larger than necessary parties and bake ridiculously elaborate cakes. After all, it was for two boys, right?
I’ll admit that after Isaac died, celebrating birthdays came with conflicting emotions. While I was grateful for every year with Tyler and my two children, Caleb and Kelly, who blessed my life after Isaac’s death, I still mourned the birthdays that I was missing with their oldest brother. As a coping mechanism, I slowly dialed down my elaborate parties and themed cake creations to tamer and more manageable birthday events.
As the years passed, however, I noticed that my birthday blues weren’t so much about mourning those I was missing with my oldest son but more about the sadness birthdays created for my youngest son, Caleb. Birthdays, whether for him or other people, come with a considerable amount of anxiety. While his high functioning autism provides him with many exceptional gifts, making and maintaining friendships is not one of them. Autism also makes him very picky about who he considers a close friend which is why I can count on one hand the number of “close buddy” birthday party invitations he has received and accepted in his life.
In January, Caleb turned nine. We celebrated it with our family but he asked to plan his own party with friends. Week after agonizing week, he poured over decisions. It took him weeks to decide on the perfect party theme and decorations that he felt his friends would enjoy. It took him another several weeks to plan out the itinerary of pizza, trampoline jumping and a sleep over. Another week or two passed as be second guessed having the sleep over. Another week passed as he finalized the artwork for his own personalized birthday invitations. As June 1st approached, I finally asked, “Why are you so worried about this party?” He sighed and said, “I want it to be perfect or my friends won’t want to come.” My resentment of birthdays escalated to a whole new level. He was right. There was a real possibility that these friends may not value him enough to show up for the party.
As a seasoned autism parent, I am well-skilled at helping Caleb navigate the nuances of day-to-day life. Yet following him around school to navigate his friendships wasn’t a realistic solution to his problem. “Caleb, I have an idea! Instead of doing a jumping party, why not instead do something that can only be enjoyed during the summer months. What if we invited your friends for a birthday at Splash Down!” His face lights up and he does fist punches in the air with excitement. “Isn’t that going to be really expensive, mom?” Tyler asks. I shrug my shoulders, “I see it more as a culmination of all the gifts I have never had to buy for his friends for their birthdays.” Tyler, laughs, “So what happens in a few years when you can’t bribe his friends with a day at the water park?” I smile, “Aw, Tyler, I’ve already thought of that. By then his friends will be teenagers and the draw will be your little sister and her friends wearing bikinis.”
I know in my heart that with time and some practice, Caleb will find his tribe of friends who will enjoy spending time with him regardless of the birthday location and potential of girls in bikinis. But, in the meantime, we’ll just chalk this birthday up to another adventure of Sockpants and Super Heroes.