If your kid’s in school, you probably get more than your fair share of birthday party duty. It’s an obligatory rite of passage for most parents. Dodge them if you can, but unfortunately there’s a revolving door of these things each year. Hopefully you actually like some of the other parents at the parties you do have to attend. That makes it a little easier.
Whenever I’m on birthday party duty, it’s always on my mind whether it’s going to be one of those physical birthday parties with sports and running around. Maybe even teams and some sporting competition. That’s when I usually get the unsettled ball of stress in my gut.
“Will he keep up? Will he stay involved? How soon will he get tired? How much is he going to stand out? Is he going to fall down? How do I make sure I don’t look concerned? And, what the hell’s the big deal if he’s not good at those sports? Lots of kids aren’t good, or don’t even like sports! Some just aren’t coordinated, and most of them don’t have any particular condition or special need.” This is usually how the inner monologue goes on in my head. I’m there physically, but my mind’s racing as I absently engage in sideline parental small talk about this or that.
It’s hard to explain how you could get stressed about your son going to a birthday party, but maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you’ve had that same feeling in your gut when you see that football-themed birthday party invitation arrive in the mail, hoping that the party will just be decorated in the theme, rather than the kids forming actual teams out in the yard or on the field.
But the latest couple parties I attended with my son, I’ve had a different mindset. Rather than be preoccupied with my son keeping up, I kept thinking about all the kids with his condition that cannot get up to participate fully, let alone run. I’ve heard about kids not even getting invited in the first place, because of their condition. I’ve met some of those kids and it makes you think about the entire thing in a new way. I’m not talking about the way you process one of those feel-good videos. You know, where the kid with cerebral palsy gets invited to the popular kids’ parties and the “Really Special Moment” brings all those warm feelings home. That’s a nice feeling, sure, even as unusual as it may be. The feeling I got was more a feeling of empathy and some appreciation for the depth of isolation those kids and families must feel. Before the experiences with my son, I think I would have felt sorry for families like that, and maybe I would have had an “I couldn’t imagine” perspective about that. Now I’ve evolved to a “there but for the grace of God goes my family” perspective when I think about those families.
It makes me all the less likely to chafe the next time I get the “you’re really lucky, you know” line. My son’s at the party, and he belongs. Those other kids belong there, too, but too often they’re not even at the party. Unfortunately, that’s one more hard side of life with a special need.
– CP Dad
Read the next post in this series here!