Tomorrow is my friend Elliott’s birthday – he’ll be 12 years old. Gulp. That’s crazy, isn’t it? He’s already counting down the days until he can begin driving, and I’m remembering his passion for John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” as an infant needing to be soothed to sleep by music. Wow, life does have a way of keeping on, keeping on, doesn’t it?
This is not easy to admit, but there is much about birthdays, specifically E’s birthdays, that are difficult for me as a Mom. While he has overcome (and continues to overcome) a multitude of challenges in his life, he is not your average 12-year-old guy. I can’t help that sometimes that hurts. Don’t get me wrong – we are grateful beyond words for all he’s been able to achieve in his young life, and against all odds at that, but as parents, you always want more, right? It’s a fine line that I teeter on – acceptance and always believing more is possible.
Our reality is that Henry & Ada just have fewer challenges in their lives. Sure, I wish Henry’s 10-year-old vocabulary expanded beyond every sentence beginning with the word “dude”, and while I can appreciate a passion for superheroes, I’d love to spend a day with Ada rather than Batman once in a while, but for the most part, they are hanging in there. When birthdays come, they each have a little party, invite a few friends, eat some pizza and take turns sitting on a whoopee cushion (ok – maybe that was the 10-year old “dude” party). For E, things are just different.
Elliott is challenged with friendships – I mean real, meaningful back and forth friendship stuff. He’s always been more interested in adults. Yes, now and then he asks me to come to the red couch to ask me why his autism makes things difficult for him (including friendship stuff), and while even the questioning of why he does not have friends is an important development (you need to recognize and care about it before you can accomplish it), it is no less painful for him.
This year was no exception. He was determined to invite a classmate and his family to our house for his birthday party. Granted, this was an awkward situation in multiple ways. Most of all because E’s interest is primarily in this classmate’s Mom rather than the classmate, as she is a wonderful, kind person, and has been exceptionally welcoming of him since he started in his new school last year. The whole situation has made us all sad over the last week, because as much as Tom & I have tried to explain why this would not be appropriate, all E knew was that he wanted a party, and that he was not going to have one because Tom & I were mean (we are kind of awful to be fair).
Then something kind of awesome happened in the midst of the ugliness that has turned our frown upside down (can you tell I live with a Kindergartner?) Saturday, while E was once again tearing up at his lack of what he considered amazing birthday plans, our fabulous friend (& healthcare provider) Gretchen, sent me a message. She was touching base about whether or not to hold one final “Family Walking Club” of the season on Tuesday evening, having remembered that Tuesday was E’s birthday.
A tiny bit of background here – Family Walking Club is one of Gretchen’s ideas for the clinic we belong to that would encourage families to gather once a week from spring to fall to exercise together in a group setting. Frankly, I thought she was a bit cracked in the head originally, only in terms of our ability to participate because of the needs of our kids. But I was wrong – dead wrong in fact, because it has hands down been the most successful accomplishment we’ve had in 2012! Not only have we exercised together for the past 6 months, but it has been great fun for all of us to interact with other kids & families as we’ve roamed the streets of Eagan & Burnsville and played at a variety of parks, and solved many of the world’s problems.
So, I posed the idea to Elliott, who was sort of coming to terms with the fact that his birthday would be spent only with his immediate family at IHOP, and well, his smile could have lit up Las Vegas. He asked if he could bring a Halloween themed cake and share it with the group, and Gretchen agreed that along with apples (it is, after all, supposed to be a healthy exercise group) cake seemed perfectly fitting. How she even remembered it was his birthday on Tuesday I don’t know as she’s way too busy in her own life. But I’m ever grateful to her for making my son smile, and for somehow knowing that this was what he needed.
So, tomorrow our boy turns 12. And while his celebration may not be typical, it will be perfect, because he’ll be surrounded by friends & family that care deeply about him. We’ll be hanging out with a group of people, many of whom have their own family challenges, but who have come to be very meaningful in our lives. Meaningful people and cake – sounds like a perfect 12-year-old birthday, don’t you think?