Every year, starting with kindergarten, we made a big deal out of his birthday, but every year the party consisted of our Birthday Boy, his mom and a whole lot of adults. Kids never came.
So after a few years we changed it up and took the party to the kids-- At school-- bringing treats to the classroom to celebrate. Elementary school kids love sweet treats, even if they weren't from a "popular" kid. But it wasn't the same as a real party and our B-day Boy knew it. So did his mom and I.
Every year we'd try to think of something engaging to celebrate another candle on the cake-- Miniature golf, the zoo, the movies-- But every year, still no kids.
It got harder and harder to talk up the big day with B-day Boy as if it was a special occasion that everyone wanted to celebrate. Last year, for his milestone 13th birthday, we had a party of three, including the B-day Boy. We decorated like it was a huge bash and made his favorite cake, but he was old enough to know that his invitations had been rejected again and his party with Mom and me felt more like the consolation prize.
It was heart-breaking. For him, and us, but especially for him.
B-day Boy is a special needs child who often gets set aside, dismissed and ignored by typical kids. Over the years they've outgrown him on different levels, in part because they never got to know him in the first place-- but outgrown him nevertheless.
He spends half his school day in mainstream classes with typical kids and half his day in a class with other high functioning special ed kids working one-on-one with teachers and tutors. It's a meaningful combination of learning opportunities and this year has been an especially rewarding experience for him.
I'm not laying blame for our B-day Boy's lack of friends by any stretch of the imagination, I'm simply saying that being "different" is tough for any kid. Being a kid who's "different" and knows he "different" is heart-breaking, confidence-shaking and miserable a good amount of the time.
But this birthday was different, very different. This year, thanks to a great group of kids and an amazing group of teachers in his special middle school class, we had a party and A LOT of kids showed up--
Every one of them had a great time! Every one of the kids will remember this particular birthday party. And every one of them will invite our B-day Boy to their birthday parties in the future because now they'll have their own birthday parties too-- With kids.
Not only was it was the very first "real" party our B-day Boy ever had, we realized it was also the first "real" birthday party any of these kids had been invited to-- Ever! In other words, these kids (and their parents) were all in the same boat we were.
We had an age-appropriate, hands-on, have a blast, kind of birthday party with 12, 13 and 14 year olds (and their parents who sat by happily watching the fun). You would have thought these kids had been to countless birthdays as they easily slipped into party mode laughing, joking and going with the flow. But every now and then someone would hesitate and let out a soft "whoa" in awe at a birthday activity that most kids have come to take for granted. It reminded the parents and adults in ear range how special the day was.
Towards the end of the party, one parent asked B-Day Boy what his favorite part of the birthday was. Without a moment's hesitation he said, with a huge smile on his face, "Having all the kids show up."
At which point I excused myself and cried.
Welcome to www.TheFiftyFactor.com - Joanna Jenkins
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I'm headed out of town. I'll see you again next week. jj