Ah, it's February, and even though it may be bitter cold (it was a cool -17°F here in Chicagoland last weekend!), it's getting fever pitch hot here at the Patel household! Why you might ask? Well, we will soon have a teenager in the house!!! Say what?
Yes…. T will be turning 13!
This will be his second birthday during the pandemic since we had to cancel his bounce party last year right at the start of the first lockdown. So not wanting another birthday to just slip by because of Covid-19, I’m constantly racking my brain for ideas on how to make this event fun, memorable and exciting.
Exciting… hmm… now that brings up memories.
You see, when I was growing up, birthdays were a big deal, and were always celebrated in a big way. I couldn’t just invite a few friends, it had to be big, and it had to include my brothers, who brought their own loudness, chaos, and fun! It was something I would literally be counting down to for weeks!
And yet, when it came to some of T’s earlier birthdays, I’m embarrassed to say that counting down to birthdays was a little more out of anxiety than joy. Let me explain why.
Naturally, when my T was born I was super excited to make his birthdays every bit as fun as how I remembered my birthdays. I threw all kinds of themed parties for him (I am after all a Pinterest and craft mama at heart).
But oh boy, did I get it wrong! And not just once, I just kept getting it wrong.
What do I mean? Well, I would go full force into organizing an over-the-top, theme-decorated party with activities, food, music, games, and lots of people! And guess who did not like loud noises, being the center of attention? Imagine who really didn’t like lots of people, surprises, and candles being thrust in his face, then turning into scary smoke when blown out? Yep, that would be T! So the party would inevitably end early, with T falling asleep out of sheer sensory overload, with one of us parents comforting T in a quiet part of the house, while the other tried to make the most of the party for the guests. Lesson learned?
Nope. 12 months later, we’d do the same thing again!
As the years went by, we got more and more anxious, not just about the impending birthday, but more so about the fear that T was starting to dread birthdays rather than desperately look forward to them. It was even impacting his experience at friends' birthday parties, and I can’t remember how many we, unfortunately, had to decline. So we eventually sought help and made it one of our goals with our therapists, to help T love birthdays!
And you know what, he actually already did, but just not in the way we thought he would.
As it happens, we just had to learn what the perfect birthday meant for T. So rather than starting his birthday morning in shock on waking up to see his familiar home transformed into a multi-colored party house, we eased him into it. We start decorating maybe a week before his birthday with mini-overnight surprises throughout the week. Instead of thrusting him into a bunch of new party games with excitable and loud friends for the first time on his big day, we practiced the games as a family (and with therapists!) to get used to how to play, More importantly, how friends might react. Rather than letting known triggers become an issue on the day, we prepped our guests ahead of time too. For example, sing ‘Happy Birthday’ quietly, to not overcrowd him, to minimize sudden outbursts, to not be overly huggy or touchy-feely(!), etc., etc.
It was amazing to see what a difference these small changes made.
T went into his birthday more confident, more aware, more ready. We started to see him really have fun! As T got older, having him be invested in the planning also made a huge difference. We could help him think about what theme he wants and who he wants to attend (e.g. him wanting us to invite his therapists when he was younger… or K-pop girls groups and even Carrie Underwood now!).
And now fast forward to this year….aggghhh! 13!!!! Well, the funny thing is now T is able to tell us exactly what he would like for his Covid style birthday. He has requested a drive-by parade, he would like the subscription to Just Dance Unlimited and Sushi for dinner. He has now come to expect over the top decor and simply loves the fact that Daddy and I transform the room overnight. Oh, the difference a few years has made!
While the parties might not be the Pinterest parties I always wanted to throw, his parties are now the ones I always dreamed of throwing:
The ones where my special boy had a FANTASTIC time!!
Can you relate to having to grab your screaming kiddo away from parties (their own or others)? Then I hope my experience helps you. I know that when we were going through this, it seemed hard and we felt a little lost. That is why I wanted to share some changes you may too be able to try to enjoy birthday parties in the way that works for your family!
As always I would love to personally invite you, to come and join me and other parents at one of our many virtual parent hangouts… lets parent together!
Stay warm and have a super February