It doesn’t happen very often, but Nate was recently invited to a birthday party. The pink, Little Mermaid-themed envelope was handed to him by a classmate after school, and Nate’s shy smile told me how much the invitation meant to him. Not surprisingly, the invitation put more than merely a small smile on my face. I spent the afternoon beaming! My child was being included! My child was part of the community! Nate’s classmates like having him around!
But my elation eventually faded, and by the evening it was replaced with gnawing concern. I can’t just send Nate to a party without supervision. He isn’t much for group-activities, and quietly fitting in is not his strength. Did the parents of Nate’s classmate want me to attend the party with him? Is it weird if I go? Is it weird if I don’t go? Will they be doing an activity that Nate will be able to participate in? I know the birthday girl wants him there, but what about the other children at the party? Maybe the birthday party isn’t such a great idea for him…
Nate’s world is more than just his home and his school, where the people around him accept and accommodate his eccentricities and special needs. His world includes places where he’s expected to conform, behave and fit in. As his parent, I have a constant goal to widen his world. I want him to feel he belongs, be it at the grocery store, the playground, Sunday School or a classmate’s birthday party. However, keeping his world wide means a lot of effort, work, and stepping outside our comfort zones. It means letting Nate sit in the drivers seat of the enormous shopping carts with steering wheels even though he’s way too old. It means overhearing children making fun of him on the climbing structure because he’s acting strange. It means pre-planning, preparation, practice and hard work.
This month, it means calling the birthday girl’s mom to ask her thoughts on Nate coming to the party. It means taking some extra steps that typical parents don’t have to take, including finding out what the party activities will be and writing a social story to help Nate prepare. It will probably mean attending the party with him, and working hard for 2 hours to keep Nate interested and involved in the games of his peers. It will definitely include a degree of sadness when the other parents wave goodbye and leave their kids for 2 hours, and I have to stay behind and monitor my child.
Keeping Nate’s world wide, vibrant and multi-faceted is not always for the faint of heart. It takes effort and commitment, time and energy. More importantly than what it takes, however, is what it gives back. Nate smiled when he was invited to a birthday party. Nate will find joy in giving his friend a present. Nate will love singing happy birthday with the other kids. When the party is over, and I’m no-doubt exhausted from the effort, Nate’s world (and the world of his peers and their parents) will be that much richer, and that much broader.
We’ll keep our eyes peeled for the next birthday party invitation.