I was worried about Little Man’s birthday party. I held my breath until the first RSVP came in. There were five enthusiastic YESes, including one from his regular 3rd grade class!
“My son is so excited to come. He never gets invited to any parties.”
That was what I heard from TWO different families. Both boys are in special education. One is like Little Man and only goes to the class when he checks in or needs a break. The other spends a bit more time there due to his more complicated learning differences (high functioning autism).
One boy came over earlier than the rest and Little Man had one of his first solo play dates. I was thrilled to see the mutual joy and appreciation they had for this time together (see video below):
We invited the boys to come play legos, see Star Wars with the possibility of video games for a “late over” birthday party. Little Man really had his heart set on a “sleep over” party but we eventually convinced him that might be too much for this age (9-10) and that most of these boys were going to their first party, too. Everything went more or less according to plan. I learned later that boys this age do not tend to sit in the theaters if there are arcades just down the hall. Thankfully, I had a sitter to help with the boys who needed to get up and take breaks.
During pick up at the end of the night, one family said to me, “We knew we had to get our son to this party when we got his invitation.”
“Oh? Why is that?” I asked.
“Because, he wrote this incredible note to go along with it and we just knew that we had to get to know him and your family better. We were so touched by it. It was obvious he really cared about this party and each person he invited.”
What? What note? I had filled out all the invitations for him since writing is painful for him. He doesn’t write ANYTHING unless he has to.
The mom sent me a copy.
First of all. HUGE amount of writing. Voluntarily. And some of his best so far.
Second, my heart swelled and broke all in the same moment imagining Little Man sitting down at school to do this before handing out his invitations. He wanted to make sure that the boys he invited AND their parents knew all the details and would be excited to come. He was afraid no one would come. But he put his best foot forward anyway.
Last year, I took him to Legoland rather than subject him to the disappointment of a forced or scarcely attended party. He had so many struggles with his peers. I couldn’t even get him one play date during that year (believe me, I tried…that’s another blog post). Even during our mostly pleasant trip, he upset kids and parents with his wild antics, running, pushing, hogging the ball machines, “zooming” legos off ramps despite younger kids being in the line of fire. I remember feeling really hopeless because it was clear he could not fully control all these impulses. Sensory overload exacerbated his weak impulse control.
Oh the glares I got from parents who were bold enough to say, “He deserves a good spanking.”
But for every critical and rude comment, I got just as many compliments. The guy at the restaurant who thought he should be in movies because of his radiant joy and humor. The woman at the hotel who was charmed by his manners (he does have them). The little boy who was crazy about him and wanted to play Minecraft “even after we go home” though he was confused about Little Man’s foul mouth (me, too).
Last year was a study in constant contrast. Here is a child who is clearly very bright and yet has learning and behavior challenges? Here is a boy who is desperate for friends but fails to manage himself enough to be trustworthy. Here is an experienced mother (of four) who thought she knew what she was doing as a parent only to find this child with mysterious challenges and no obvious solutions. After a while, it became easier to just stay inside, stay at home, avoid the inevitable collisions between expectations and reality. It was an isolating year for both of us.
This year has been RADICALLY different for Little Man and our family. I don’t know which of the many therapies and treatments have had the most impact (I need to do a thorough review of each of them here), but I do know that things are changing rapidly for him now. He now has a few friends. His classmates all had very kind and complimentary things to say in his birthday book (funny, nice, kind, helpful). He now has more control over his impulses than ever before. He now has a sense of calm and confidence as he masters expectations at home and at school more consistently. He is maturing in the best possible ways.
The morning after his 9th “late over” birthday party, he left me this note on my laptop. As you can imagine, I burst into grateful tears.
PS: If you would like to stay in touch with me and my writing on my main blog, I will be sharing some amazing tools and insights on mind+body+spirit. I just recently recorded an incredible interview with my mentor and friend, John English, on “Taking the Hero’s Journey” in our lives. It is a free gift to those who subscribe to my blog email list.