H turned 13 this week. Today is his party. In the past H’s Birthday Party has been a themed event that took me weeks to plan. The theme was based on his current area of interest and was meticulously designed to engage him with other children in a social way that would highlight his abilities, cooperatively include each child, and be fun for all involved. In contrast, this year it is a small affair. We invited just two friends:
City Mouse – is staying over night and has been good friends with H since the boys were 4 or 5 when both of our families learned our boys were on the autism spectrum. City Mouse and H are alike in many ways, they have many interests in common and they are an important part of each others’ life.
And The Lovely S – an amazing girl who has championed H since the second grade. This girl has won my heart many times over. She can steer H in the right direction and guide him in a friendly way with a quiet word – yet she never judges and she says the most supportive things. She is socially gifted I suppose – and my heart swells for this kind young woman – because she has truly been there for H. She is fiercely loyal, strong willed, and I love that she is not a cookie-cutter kid who is trying to be like everyone else.
H’s birthday present from Craig and myself is the Wii game The Michael Jackson Experience. He has been sort of playing this and learning the moves on YouYube for a couple of months. When the game finally arrived we almost gave it to him early – just because we knew he’d be so excited about it. Then we considered the joy he was getting out of just watching the demos on YouTube and decided to let him enjoy it at that level. We think it is good for him to have the chance to want something. We gave it to him earlier today – before his friends arrived so that he would have a chance to play it for a while – and we managed to fit in a brief discussion that City Mouse and The Lovely S might not be as interested in the game as he is.
Last year I prepped crafts and games and all sorts of activities and then only two kids showed up. It felt awkward… It felt like I was the one that had struggled with the transition. I remember feeling badly for H and I wanted to shield him from any sense of rejection. I felt crushed for him – but really – this feeling of disappointment was mine to own. I was the one who was unprepared that things had shifted, the rules had changed and I hadn’t kept pace. H enjoyed his party – small as it was – and seemed oblivious to the efforts of the adults to show enthusiasm and involve themselves so that the activities didn’t fall flat.
So I suppose I am a little smarter this year. I’m prepared for a different way of doing things and I am sitting back and letting the kids organize themselves. This year we have invited just these two fabulous children. We planned loosely: some Wii with controllers for 3, a suggested movie (Spy Mates), pizza for H and The Lovely S, chicken nuggets for CityMouse, and veggies, and red shoe-string licorice (Aaaack – red dye), chips, and popcorn and other nibbly things.
13 is interesting… they are so in-between childhood and their next destination. They are definitely on the path… but one foot is still completely in the child zone and they can still be swept up in the enchantment of their earlier days.
So – the three of them are on the couch. They have played some Wii and have swung virtual cows around the living-room – now they are watching Spy Mate. Gales of laughter drift to the kitchen:
City Mouse: Wow that was hardcore!!!
H: What is ‘hardcore?’
CM: It means incredibly awesome!
The Lovely S: Ya… (pause) H you are ‘hardcore!’
They are watching the show and then breaking into mini intermissions of social. Talking of gross YouTube videos they have seen depicting skate board accidents… and other sundry items. Craig and I are listening… amused and delighted at the emerging social skill of the two boys – and trying desperately to keep out of it!! We whisper our observations to one another – proud parents working hard to hang back.
And as the movie winds down they move on to new activities. It is spectacular to hear them negotiating and working to listen to one another. The Lovely S is an artful mediator, and manages to keep things so cool without once coming off as what the boys might perceive as a bossy girl type.
And then, surprisingly enough, they all move toward playing the new Wii game. I can barely describe how absolutely charming it is to see them all dancing. I am so moved that H is not alone in his love of MJ, and so amused – so much so that the video camera shakes with my laughter as I try to suppress my giggles. They are delightful and hilariously earnest in their pursuit of the perfect dance move.
These children give me hope!
30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.
©Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2011)