It is the Sweet 16 birthday party day!
The invitations went out last week. The menu is set. The balloons are ordered. Some food is prepped. The final touches to the cake will be made later.
When the idea of a birthday party was announced, I took a huge breath and with a positive outlook said YES. My past experiences with birthday parties for my girl can be described as the gnawing hurt of an old sprain that just won’t heal. Sometimes you forget you have the sprain until something bumps it and then you remember.
Birthday number 3 was the start of what I now know to be a the start of our journey with Autism. Lots of people were gathered around the table. Kids, family, neighbors all set up to sing to my girl who sat terrified in front of her homemade M&M cake. Terrified described as eyes wide open, fingers in her ears, tears pouring and the shrill of her screams. I stood back watching as she screamed attempting to take pictures and soothe a girl who historically, I was often unable to soothe.
Birthday 4 was scaled back to a few family members and some older neighbor girls that loved to babysit. And no singing of the birthday song. This time no tears and yet my mom heart was sad for what seemed to be ‘different’.
Turning 5 brought a small carnival type outdoor party with games, pinata and food. Still no singing. By this time she was in preschool but was connecting more with the finger paint and spinny swing than peers, so the lovely neighbors were the guests. I don’t recall inviting friends from school. No tears this time (from either of us) as I was accustomed to walking on egg shells, still not sure as to what was making my girl tick.
And now the hard stuff. The next two birthdays were events that can crack a mothers heart. They blend into a combined memory of pain that was the beginning of disconnect and lack of understanding. It was after these two birthdays that I released and let go of what a birthday party ‘should’ look like, and just let it be.
Imagine a pool party–balloons, cake, games, water, food and all the makings of a great summer birthday party (twice). Invites were passed out and the excitement was building. At the time that guests should be coming, I remained hopeful that although we had invited 15 kids (twice) I had only received two RSVP’s that their child was unable to come. The clock continued to move and still no guests except the consistent neighbors and family. That is it. The first party, my girl was oblivious to the lack of attendance as she was madly digging in the sand making mud or swimming in the pool. There were enough kids at the pool to make it seem chaotic, except sadly none of the kids were invited to the party. My heart silently broke and yet, I needed to experience this twice to fully get it. Same scenario the next year complete with invited peers and lots of anticipation. This time, my girl asked, “mom, when are my friends going to come?” That heartache was so real. When it looked as though, again, there was not going to be any friends coming I recruited some not so familiar kids to sit around the cake table. Having to ask kids to come sit and eat a half sheet birthday cake for a girl they barely knew because those she invited didn’t bother can rip the heart out of a mom. And yet, she was happy–she had kids around and cake.
The following birthdays up until this one were celebrated by a dinner, cake and time with family. No invitations or balloons. We were still not singing the song but she was content and happy. I was silently sad with what I had perceived to be the norm. Another reminder of what wasn’t.
So today the groundwork has been laid for a party to celebrate. I am reminded of past letdowns and hopeful for a making of a memory that will take the pain of the old sprain away.