This past weekend we experienced what will go down in our family history as “THE Birthday party”. The first class party B was invited to.
Maybe daddy and Blake won’t have such a remembrance of it as I will, because, moms tend to remember this stuff more than everyone else, but it sure will be one I remember.
Last month I wrote a blog post about a surprising conversation I had in a bowling alley parking lot with a parent in B’s classroom. I braced for the worst initially, and it ended up bringing me to tears.
Leaving that parking lot and walking into the bowling alley, it gave me the last bit of confirmation I needed to know we did the right thing by moving him. I can’t reiterate enough what an amazing year we’ve had for multiple reasons, but I think some of it can be attributed to the fact that the school is very small, he’s attending where I don’t teach (I really needed to have this separation), it’s Math and Science driven which is right up his alley, and he gets 2 recesses a day. The Principal at the school is also amazing and B came home a few weeks ago excited to tell me that the principal sat down next to him on the bench and talked to him. He replayed the conversation, and it went something like this, according to Blake.
*Blake sits on the bench and Mr. V sits next to him*
Mr. V: Good morning.
B: My mom said I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.
*Blake then tells me in the car as he’s retelling the story…*
B: MOM, he said you’re a really good mom because you talk to me about important things like not talking to strangers. So I told him, yes, you were a really good mom.
Me: Oh? Thanks! What else did you talk about?
B: A bunch of stuff. He’s the Principal! Don’t worry, I didn’t have to go into his office. I wasn’t in trouble or anything.
Oh my! This kid! He’s too funny! I’m not sure where he got the idea of going into the Principals’ office, knowing that was bad. He’s never had to be in there before!
His principal is very present, and talking to him is like speaking to a celebrity it seems. He’s always walking around the school and getting to know the kids on a personal level. It’s inspiring, and exactly the kind of atmosphere I want B in. And he’s thriving.
After the parking lot conversation, B was invited to a class birthday a few weeks later. Proud mom moment getting that invite. A part of me was nervous, knowing how he reacts at birthday parties.
This summer we attended a birthday party with some friends who were kind enough to invite us. I knew it was going to be hard for him but we went anyway, and I was sure to communicate with the parents that I wasn’t sure how it might go, still, B does need to get accustomed to these things and avoiding them forever isn’t to going to help him in the long gun.
The party took place at a Taekwondo studio, and I figured it was a safe bet since he attends Taekwondo himself. I should mention here that in his Taekwondo studio B is the youngest in his belt group because he was initially supposed to be with his own age group when we started, but the young kids were very loud and the noise was off-putting when they yelled commands. He cried, covered his ears, and didn’t want much to do with the class. The instructors were quick to notice and asked us if we wanted to move him up to the older kid division, so we did, and it was night and day. He generally gets along better with kids who are older than him anyway (generally 3rd to 5th graders are his “jam”, is what I say. Which, I’m told, is completely normal for ASD kids), so it all worked out.
I mention that story because I was certain that because this birthday party was at a Taekwondo studio we were going to be perfectly fine since he already had the familiarity.
It was the first time I found out that there are different types of Taekwondo, and B noticed it immediately. The kids were loud, yelling commands, playing games, running around, and having a fabulous time. B cried, said it was too loud and was angry that it wasn’t the kind of Taekwondo he was used to. For the kid who likes routine and things to always be the same, he was mad at me because he said I lied to him because it wasn’t Taekwondo. The familiarity of Taekwondo was what he was relying on, and I think he felt the absence of that. Crying is kind of an understatement. It was a complete meltdown. We stayed at the party because Michael and I think the only way to help him through these emotions is to stick it out and help him cope with tools in the moment. So, we took frequent breaks. I set a timer on my phone and for every 5 minutes, we took a 5-minute break. He never participated in what the other kids were playing, but he sat on my lap and would watch them for a few minutes, then we’d step outside into the quiet and race cars back and forth with one another (I never leave home without cars in my purse!). We did this for about an hour. Once the kids gathered around the table for pizza and cake, once the noise had calmed and kids were less chaotic running around, that’s when he felt comfortable enough to sit and relax and join in.
That’s my baby boy.
We attended another party in August with his best (girl) friend and that one had its issues as well. I’m generally not the mom who can sit down and chill at parties because I’m having to tend to him and his social/emotional needs, which I don’t mind, please know, but when I see other parents who can relax sometimes I wish I could, too.
But, it is what it is, and I’m happy to help him navigate because he’s still learning to cope. At that party he was frustrated the whole time and I think because it was loud. One of the good things he did was move to a quiet area and put himself in a “time out” in a quiet corner when he recognized he just needed time away. He even asked me to not come near him, which was fine. I complied. He wasn’t saying it disrespectfully, but I understood he just need to gain some composure and have a moment alone. (Don’t we all need that sometimes?)
This past weekend we attended our first classroom birthday party! Yes! He actually got an invite! Big deal in our household! Still, B went back and forth on attending, and I told him that whatever he wanted to do was fine with me. He finally settled on going. So we did!
Most of the children in his class were in attendance, so it was nice to be able to chat with other parents.
Two of them talked to me positively about Blake. TWO!
Mom #1 volunteers in the classroom and said, “He’s such a great artist. I’m highly impressed by his drawings! You should consider helping him to hone in on his talent with some extra art classes. His drawings are far above the other kids in the class. Way above my daughter’s!”
(something I never would’ve known myself)
Mom #2 also volunteers in the classroom and said, “I went in to work with the kids on their rotations and, oh my goodness, I just love how his mind works! He’s so methodical and independent. I showed the group how to do something and he insisted on doing it on his own and would not move on to the next part until the first one was done perfectly. He’s so organized and smart, it’s amazing to watch!”
I responded to this mom saying that it looks like he’s being methodical and independent, but it’s mostly that he wants control of the situation and he’s stubborn. We both laughed.
I also talked with a dad who said we needed to get our kids together because his son talks about B all the time. And Visa Versa, B talks about this kid all the time, too!
NIGHT AND DAY.
I watched B run around the playground, imaginatively playing with his friends. At one point he fell and 5 kids came to his rescue to ask if he was okay. Of course, he dramatically walked to me and said he was ready to leave, but I convinced him to stay. 😉
He played for a solid 45 minutes before coming up to me and saying, seemingly out of the blue, “Okay. I’m ready to go now.” It was at that point I knew he needed a little break, so we walked to the bathroom behind the playground area and took a breather. I just let him hang away from the crowd for a bit, we chatted, then I finally asked, “Are you ready to go back out?” and he eventually moseyed back, then took off running as soon as he saw his friends. A few minutes later he had an issue that came up where he wanted to leave again so I coached him through it. There were a lot of kids, and I knew that, but we were able to work through it and I gave him some water, a snack, and he sat alone for a bit to eat and drink, and that seemed to help.
We stayed for the gift opening, where all the kids just naturally sat in a semi-circle around the birthday boy, eager to watch him unwrap his mound of gifts. I noticed that all the kids were seated criss-cross on the concrete, eyes on the birthday boy. All except B. I always knew he had trouble sitting still but I don’t think I’d ever seen it so blatantly in context. He had trouble sitting on his bottom, he moved around a lot, switched spaces in between people, stood up, laid down on the ground, got back up, and dramatically fell to the ground when the birthday boy unwrapped a gift he wanted himself. He kept making really goofy faces, sticking his tongue out, and being my silly boy that he always is.
I mean, it was pretty comical to watch in a lot of ways, and I more or less had the “Yep, that’s my kid” smirk on my face, as all the other kids were perfectly poised and intently watched all the gift unwrapping as my kid rolled on the floor.
It is what it is!
A part of me wondered what the other parents were thinking, but the other part of me didn’t care.
I knew they already seemed to embrace him for who he was, and his difficulty with sitting still is part of his territory and who he is. So, I just went with it.
We left the party shortly after the gifts. It was time. He was done, anyway.
I’m so glad we went, though. So glad he enjoyed himself and was surrounded by amazing parents and kids.
I just want to bottle up this school year forever and clone it.
Because of the positive outcome of attending the class birthday party, we invited quite a few kids from his class to his upcoming birthday next month. It’ll be the most kids he’s had at his own party before. We intentionally have kept it small in the past because socially, having multiple kids around there’s usually some problems, but Michael and I are feeling a little daring, and into trying this out.
Whatever happens, however it goes, I’m so proud of this little guy. Every moment. Every day.
I’m also grateful to the parents who told me great stories about B, just because they wanted to in the context of our conversation.
I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating…
We HAVE to do a better job as parents to tell one another those sweet stories of one another’s kid. Oftentimes we think of compliments, but we don’t always say them. And other times it’s hard to find a compliment. But, find it. One is there!
Promise you’ll do a better job of going out of your way to tell another mom or dad something awesome about their kid?
I promise to do the same.
It could be just what they needed to hear.
B’s party is in just a few weeks and he’s really excited! So am I. Slightly nervous, but trying to embrace it for what it is and hoping everyone is understanding.
The world needs a little more understanding.
Even at birthday parties!