Birthday party planning is a difficult challenge when your adolescent has special needs.
My daughter, like most children, couldn't wait for her birthday. She spoke about it for a whole year. She was already arranging the next birthday as soon as the last one was done. When someone else had a birthday, she'd get jealous and shout, "I wish it was my birthday!" she'd jokingly (though genuinely) remark.
I'm probably to fault for her believing that every birthday should be honored in the same way as the Queen's Golden Jubilee. Em was diagnosed with a brain tumor as a newborn and experienced multiple operations and therapies, which resulted in various adverse effects, including physical handicap and cognitive impairment. With all of the adversity she endured as a youngster, it's easy to see why.Every year, we had a great party for her birthday, complete with balloons and cake.
But as she grew older, particularly in her late adolescence, it became increasingly difficult to locate those pals to come over and paint a project, play Pin the Tale on the Donkey, and eat cake from princess plates. Emily was still in primary school, enjoying the basic things in life with zest, while others her age were into driving, dating, and other so-called "cool" adolescent activities.
I began to hate the month-long countdown to her birthday, which came every January, as she neared sixteen, a wonderful milestone for most other families. It was frustrating and unpleasant to see her eager excitement for a celebration that I had no idea I could pull together.
But I couldn't possibly let this girl down.
Outside of school, Emily had only a few pals. They, too, had cognitive deficits and other medical issues that made getting together challenging. Their parent would also have to remain for the party, and I would have to select safe activities that everyone could enjoy for a few hours.
It was feasible. But was I up to the challenge?
I was exhausted from my daily activities. Managing doctor visits, her nightly baths, medication runs, service management — not to mention my career and other kid — demanded a lot of time (and most of my energy). And, to be honest, I was sick of organizing birthday parties.
I battled with the reality that I simply didn't have the energy to throw another celebration.
More than that, I knew Emily had in mind a gathering surrounded by hundreds of children, not just the two we generally get together with socially. She desired the type of celebration she recalled as a youngster and watched on the animated PBS kids shows that still played on a loop in our living room.
Then an idea began to form in my mind. I asked Emily's high school teacher a few weeks before her first birthday if I might bring cake to school to honor the occasion.
The teacher said, "Of course!"
Then I went a step farther with it. I asked if I could bring in projects for all of the children to complete before eating cake and call it a celebration.
"Wouldn't that be great?" The instructor of Emily responded.
My body was relieved of a wave of stress. Thank you for this teacher.
Emily and I went shopping for princess plates, goody bag fillers, a project that all 10 of her classmates would appreciate, and unique candles for her cake. I baked the cake the day before her birthday, while Emily prepared goody bags for everyone in her class, including the instructors.
Emily was overjoyed to be spending her birthday with her friends, her classmates and instructors. Her entire class painted a project for her, sang her a happy birthday song, and celebrated with cake and ice cream. Emily grinned as she handed out her goody bags to everyone, including the resource officer, cleaning staff, and a few administrators who had heard about the party and decided to join in on the fun.
"That was the nicest party I've ever attended!" Em shouted as she slept off in a chocolate-induced stupor that night.
I never had to worry about who to invite to Emily's birthday celebration for the rest of her adolescent years, owing to her great instructor. Every year, we threw a great party for Emily's birthday, surrounded by the many friends she envisioned.
I never had to worry about who to invite to Emily's birthday celebration for the rest of her adolescence, owing to her amazing teacher. Every year, we celebrated Emily's birthday in grand style, replete with princess dishes, goody bags, and chocolate cake.