Why would I decide against a birthday party when we are NEVER invited to parties and would LOVE to be?
The answer is simple and very complex. I am afraid.
Truthfully, the decision came over a lot of tears (why am I crying so much lately? No, I am NOT pregnant, don’t even suggest such a thing) and a more-heated-then-I-would’ve-liked conversation with my husband.
Here are my problems with the party:
Every kid in the class was invited and you all know that when this happens, I have no real way of knowing whether or not this kid actually wants to be friends with my kid, if he really wanted Gabe, specifically, to come to the party, or if he even likes my kid. Worse, does this kid wish my kid wouldn’t come? Birthday Kid’s Mom: Hey son, Gabriel is coming to your party! Birthday Kid: BOOO! I wished he wouldn’t come! *sigh*
The party, as previously mentioned, is being held for the ENTIRE class: This means that there could be 20+ kids there, plus whoever is considered ‘family friends’ or ‘neighborhood friends’ or even just extended family of the birthday kid. LOTS of people. Never good for my sensory kiddo.
The party is “Laser Tag/Video Game” themed: You may think that sounds fine, maybe even fun, especially for 8 year old boys, but this is the company that is sponsoring it: http://www.g2u.com/. And aside for being over-kill in my opinion for 8 year olds, their set up is a ‘mobile’ gaming truck that comes with video stations and provides the semi-automatic-weapon-looking Laser Tag guns that each child gets. Now you may start to understand why I am a little nervous.
Gaming and guns are not my son’s strong suit: I am not saying he isn’t a good shot (lots of Star Wars play at my house), or even that I am against gun play as a whole. No, what I am saying is that when Gabriel plays video games, he gets a little obsessive. Maybe he gets too into the game. Also, fairness and cheating cause problems for him. Add a game like laser tag, with explicit and implicit rules and team dynamics that I know he won't/can't immediately pick up on, and it would require a great deal of restraint on his part. Heck, what if they picked teams? What a nightmare that would be.
And what if he ‘shot’ someone and it registered that he didn’t? Or he missed, but THOUGHT he shot the kid, and was terribly pissed off that it wasn’t ‘fair’ and that the other kid was ‘cheating’? That is totally likely – not just probable. Those are big triggers for Gabe.
Can I take the chance that, knowing this is a bad environment, and knowing that he may or may not be really wanted at the party, and knowing that he would be on overload, can I take him anyway? I say no. Jeff didn’t agree.
So here is the debate my husband and I had:
Jeff thinks that Gabriel would ‘hold it together’ for the party. That the social pressure would keep him following along with the status quo and that it would be fun for him. Maybe even socially elevating. Even if he had a meltdown.
“You know that isn’t the part he remembers. He remembers he had a good time.” Jeff insists.
“But I remember the meltdown. And the parents remember. And their kids remember.” I argue.
“Who cares what they remember?” He says in his black and white way. Jeff sees no grey area in worrying about what other people think in this case. He has learned, as have I, that we aren’t going to change Gabriel, so Jeff kind of takes the, if they don’t like my kid, F ‘em, approach.
The truth is that I do care. Because Gabriel cares. Not when he is having a meltdown, but later, when he has no friends, and I have to explain to him that his behavior in public can make it hard for kids to be friends with him. That he has to try and make the kids want to be his friend (we are talking the most basic of ways, like letting the other child have a turn, or letting their ideas be tried during play, etc.).
I try to arrange a play date with kids from his school, one on one, where Gabriel has the chance to ‘shine’. Where he can be at his best, where they can play and do things that Gabriel will succeed at. So those kids can see there is more to Gabriel than just a quirky kid who is terribly behind academically. I work for that.
And one birthday party induced meltdown could ruin it. For both of us.
Jeff wasn’t convinced.
“So what if he has a meltdown? You know how to handle it. That's nothing new.”
“So what?! If he has a meltdown, that would be something else that those kids could hold against him. At this point, he is quirky and strange to them, a bully too, but they haven’t seen him lose it. That would suck for Gabriel. After my almost-9 year old cries over his need for things to be 'fair' in front of his entire class and their parents, throws the gun at someone—or worse yet points it at them and in his usual daggers-out-of-the-eyes-way yells, “I’m GOING TO KILL YOU!” then I have gone backwards in trying to help him. That’s SO WHAT.”
I am fuming. Angry that Jeff doesn’t see how hard I am working for this. Gabriel wants friends so badly and he needs my help.
“I’m just saying that it wouldn’t change as much as you think. And I don’t think he is going to meltdown. That doesn't usually happen.”
“OH, but it does. Do you remember in first grade, when he had a meltdown at school over the teacher accusing him of touching the stapler?” I am really crying by this point. I think because I feel like Jeff is over-simplifying something. But in retrospect, maybe I was making a mountain out of this mole hill.
“Yes, I do.” He stands, with his arms crossed over his chest, looking at me calmly through my office door as I get more and more upset.
“Well, those PARENTS called my house and demanded that they know things about my kid—his whole medical history. Those PARENTS called my child dangerous and tried to hold ‘secret’ meetings with the Principal to get him sent to the full inclusion room, to get him kicked out of his classroom!!”
I have bad memories of this, which were recently stirred up again when Gabriel brought this event up at our appointment with Dr. King, making clear that the teacher and other students were the liars, and that Gabriel didn’t touch the stapler; just was accused of doing so.
Jeff wasn’t convinced this was an argument not to attend a birthday party.
I wasn’t either, but it was really clear to me as our argument continued, and eventually gave way to Jeff saying he was open to whatever I decided, that I was afraid.
The plain fact here is that I'm affraid. Maybe I care more than Gabriel, maybe I don’t. But it is me that will be here picking up the pieces (Jeff is in class when the party is, so he won’t be home) when things go well, or not. I can’t take the risk that my son will lose it and it will be another two steps back socially.
It is a HUGE emotional risk for me.
And then the tears are not for my frustration with my husband not understanding any more, now they are for the fact that Jeff does understand, he understands this is about me. Not just Gabe.
Watching Gabriel get older scares me. It really does.
As he is given the opportunity to spread his wings, there are times that I am not sure how I am going to know when he is ready to fly. Maybe he is ready for this party, and it is just me holding him back. I definitely seem to carry more emotional scar tissue than he does from the years of special needs parenting, but I am not sure that makes me more or less able to make these decisions day to day, or year to year.
There isn’t a manual for parenting a kid like mine. You can’t look at other parents for guidance, you can’t do things without thinking, and doing what your parents did with you is probably not going to work.
Which leaves me making the best decisions I can and moving forward.
The one thing that has always worked is following my gut. And not that sick feeling that comes when you think you’ve made the wrong decision. I am talking intuition.
And today, my intuition says that this birthday party is not a good idea. So, we’re staying home.
There will be more chances for him to spread his wings and I trust I will know when the right time is to let him soar.
Photo: Gabe's 8th Birthday, May 2009
Header: Did you see my new header? I LOVE it! :)