Birthday Party Nausea

Gabriel was invited to a birthday party for one of the boys in his class. The party is this weekend and I have made the decision he isn’t going.

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: 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! :)


Patti said...

Nice header... did you do the artwork, too? And nice blog... but where do you find all the time for blogging? I struggle with that part, as my body wants to be up and moving... not sitting in front of the screen and keyboard all day. Anyway, cheers... and thanks for sharing. I was once a Mom of three boys, too. Well, I still am, I guess, though I've added a girl now, and the boys have left the nest. :)

Stacey,momof 2 said...

I love the new header... LOVE it...

I was going to say that I have also declined to let my son go to a birthday party that I knew would be just too much for him... and also for me.
With such a large group of kids, would their really be that many adults to watch the kids? I know that "typical" kids do fine with less observation, but I KNOW that our kids need more adult supervison-- we know what the worse case looks like and it gives us nightmares!
I'd ask for a one on one at a neutral space-- park or fun place with a time limit-- That way no one is overwhelmed --
I hope I didn't say too much, ubt this is a re-occuring converstation at our house also.
I think our men, are forgetting how emotional our kids can be in the aftermath of an event like that.

Anonymous said...

Oh, how often I have had the same internal battle. For what it is worth, I think you have made the right choice. The party seems tailor made to trigger sensory overload and, once that happens, all bets are off as you well know. We do need to gently nudge them into situations that will challenge them and where they can find success in overcoming those challenges. However, there's a big difference between gently nudging them into those situations where they is a chance of success and pushing them into situations where the risk of failure is too great. If he isn't ready, he isn't ready. I do like Jeff's attitude of f' em if they can't accept Gabe but there can be a high cost to that attitude also. You're inner mom voice is screaming that this isn't the right situation for Gabe to test his abilities. You've earned the right to listen to that inner voice.

Gavin Bollard said...

I started off reading this post and feeling my eyes "glazing over" at the thought... "oh no, another mother choosing her son's friends..", "being controlling...", "being obsessive..." etc.

but I kept reading anyway.

If it had been a talking/argument and being a typical father, I'd probably have closed my ears/thoughts and not listened to any more. Perhaps I'd have argued back.. maybe even shouted.

It's easy to do when talking but much harder to do when reading.

I can see Jeff's point of view. If you can imagine that he's only heard the first paragraph and not thought about anything else, then perhaps you can too.


Reading on, I found myself thinking more and more. Hartley has really thought this one through. It's scary how far mothers see - much further than fathers who don't get as much one-on-one time with their kids.

You're right. You're absolutely right - and you've probably saved Gabriel from making social mistakes that would have followed him for years.

I don't know what will happen eventually of course - you're not going to be able to do this all the time and he's going to have to find some way of dealing with it himself. Right now though, you've saved him - and that's all that matters.

BTW: Your header is fantastic - wow, really amazing.

Heather B said...

I know well the battle you are going though. Unfortunately, you have to wonder how Gabriel will have friends if he's not allowed to experience things. I worry about my son all of the time. Yes, he's younger than Gabriel. I'm certain I will worry more and more as he ages. My thought is just that you have to let him have the experiences, good and bad, if he is to grow into the healthy young man you hope for. Either way, the choice you make will not be wrong. You are only doing what you feel is best for your son. That is the very best thing you can do. Good luck.

Hartley said...

Patty: I did not draw the header, the illustrator, Brandon Fall, who did my book did. And writing for me is theraputic. My body craves it. :)

Stacey: All parties scare me, but this one just sent up the red flags immediately. I told my husband (a MUCH longer conversation than I wrote about) that if the party was Legos, or Star Wars, or Science or something that he was really good at and in his comfort zone, then throwing him out of his comfort zone in the social arena wouldn't be so bad -- but out of his zone in all areas was just too much. Thanks for the compliment on my header! Love it!

Anonymous: Thank you for the comment. I know there are many moms going through the same thing I am, and it is nice to know you are right there with me.

Gavin: It is always good to get your feedback! I can be too controlling and too protective, but as Gabe has gotten older I am trying to encourage him to learn to play to his strengths. This wasn't one of them -- not just the social piece, but the details of the party too. I really believe that he will find his niche of friends as time goes on...but right now, protecting him from making HUGE social mistakes at age 8 is important to me. THANK YOU for taking the time to read the post -- and see my point of view. And thanks for the compliment on my header, I truly am THRILLED with it!


Megan said...

Hartley, I so understand about birthday parties. The grief our kids experience socially because they occasionally act out is so immense. Caroline did not go to birthday parties for YEARS. There was just too much that could go wrong. Plus she stopped getting invited to parties because she was asked to leave a school even though her teachers loved her, but another parent complained about her playground roughness. Please. I should have fought for her. That was the last year she had true friends and that was four years ago. She was invited to a birthday party fall of 08 and it was with her soccer team girls, a sleepover. She had not been invited to a party in so long, so we let her go. BIG mistake. No more sleepovers. Bad things happened because the parents were not supervising. So basically we just do family parties, and that is actually just fine for her too.

About changing schools: I so wish she could go to a Christian school where the other parents are on the same page about music, tv, facebook, myspace, etc. The school she is at now is full of kids whose parents have given them WAY too many freedoms for their age. And the school is so small there are only two other girls in her class of 7th and 8th graders (10 kids total.) One of the girls has been awful to her, so it would be nice to have more choices. There is a great Christian school 3 minutes away, but I have been so afraid to try to put her back there because of her former reputation in the lower school. And it is a LOT easier to get kicked out of a Christian school whereas the private school she is at is more tolerant. Caroline needs tolerance and understanding . The whole school thing is so hard. I tried homeschooling her and it didn't work well at all. I wish it would because it would be ideal.

Hartley said...

Heather: Sorry I missed you! The comments didn't show up? Odd... Anyway, when Gabriel was younger: 3, 4, 5 and even 6 things were very different. There were very few social rules that were implied in his peer groups. The older he got, the more these unsaid rules of play were expected to be understood. This is something that is one of his HFA/Aspergers traits. Our social skills teacher told us that 2nd grade would be the mark of a more complex social structure, and so far, that has been the case. And you are right, we absoultely have to let our kids make mistakes and learn. But that is something that can best be done step by step -- can't throw him in the deep end with the sharks just yet! :) Hope your boys are doing well!


Caitlin Wray said...

Hartley, I am not usually a middle-of-the-road kind of girl, but I think you and your husband are BOTH right.

Your job is to set your kids up for success. Sometimes that means having the insight to predict when they are going to fail in a way that they must learn from as part of life. However, sometimes it means predicting a failure that has no benefit of any lesson, and carries instead the risk of longterm harm. You are making the decision that you feel sets your son up for future success.

Your husband is also right that it doesn't ultimately matter what others think - it matters what Gabe thinks. His ability to see things less emotionally is a useful asset. And just like us mom's have a wicked intuition, I've found that I need to start giving my husband more credit for having some insider info on the guy stuff. Your husband may have a fatherly man-to-man insight that we mom's just don't get.

The beauty of both of you being right, means there is no wrong answer :)

You have done your self, your son, and your husband a great service by putting as much self-analysis and honesty into the post as you did here :)

PS. The header is stunning!


Shelley said...

I completely understand your fears. I do my best to avoid situations that I know could easily be too much for my son.
Has Gabe expressed anything about being excited about going or wanting to go? I would offer an alternative for him but stress that he was invited therefore he was wanted. (I believe in white lies if it helps our children and you don't know that he wasn't wanted, right?)
I can be overprotective too, I think it's a mom thing.
My son has few friends, mostly the son of my best friend. I think he accepts my son so easily because they have known each other since birth. I worry about him needing more friends at school though.
I wish we lived closer so we could have play dates! I wouldn't worry so much about a potential meltdown since I know you and Gabe wouldn't hold it against us!

Your header is awesome by the way.

Hartley said...

Shelley: I too wish I lived closer for playdates! I should've mentioned this in the post, but we were invited to another birthday party this Saturday too. Same time. This one is for a friend of Gabriel's (with Aspergers/SPD/Tourette's) younger brother. Our whole family is invited, and we will be attend a fun afternoon of hanging out without the pressure of conforming. I also told Gabriel that I would invite his friend, his "Angel" (post on left nav), to come over and play video games. All he wanted to do was play video games (a little obsessed, did I mention that?). That way, he feels like it is a win for him in more than one way. :)


the 6 of us said...

My son is only 3 but I can see already that I have this same situation in my future. I feel you. I get it. Sometimes going with your gut is the only thing you can do. And it's usually the right thing.
We have a birthday party coming up that I was stressing over. They have a train table. Noah + trains + other kids = recipe for disaster. I know this & yet was still considering trying it. Because MAYBE it would be ok (even though my gut was screaming that it wouldn't.) A week ago, our doctor called & scheduled Noah's ear tube surgery for 2 days before the party. An excuse! Dodged a bullet there. A million more to come, I'm sure.

ShesAlwaysWrite said...

I know this post is almost a year old, but what can I say? I'm still catching up on your previous work : )

I just had to say that I absolutely, positively see exactly where you were coming from with this. I see this exact scenario playing out in my future. I am terrified for Bear to get older and add social standing to the list of things we struggle with.