It is safe to say that Hein-Chris is not a natural party-goer by any stretch of the imagination. The sensory overload that is typical of kiddies’ birthday parties is way too much for my darling boy, and I can spot the tell-tale signs of a subsequent total sensory malfunction a mile away, barreling down on me like the steam train to Tsitsikamma.
Needless to say I am not a fan of kiddies’ parties. In fact, scenes from parties past will haunt me until my dying day. While I am being a little over-dramatic here, I need other mommies to understand the greatness of the disastrous collapse inside a child with SPD attending a party, in stark contrast with the enjoyment experienced by the neurotypical child. There is quite literally nothing a kiddies’ party can offer that will not present as immediate and eminent danger to the child with SPD, irrespective of whether Mommy is hosting the party, or has kindly accepted an invitation from an unsuspecting other mommy.
The first three years after Hein-Chris was born were certainly the worst when it came to bracing for the impact of kiddies’ parties. Strangely enough I reckon the worst of the lot were his own first, second and third birthday parties. It would take hours preparing snack buckets, wrapping party favours, and ordering every conceivable, theme-appropriate decoration from PartyNet, only to have Hein-Chris crumble into a screaming ball as guests arrived. Yes, there were smidgens of enjoyment here and there, but for the vast majority of these parties Hein-Chris would be hiding in his room, steadfastly refusing to leave this darkened space. I would watch, in utter disbelief, as invited kiddie guests would have the time of their lives while my darling boy would have none of it.
While it broke my heart to learn my son had SPD right after his second birthday, it did make dealing with his fear of parties several metric tons easier. At least I had an inkling of what I was dealing with and could prepare myself mentally for the inevitable.
While there are not many photos of him, he gets all excited about the décor, and the birthday cake, and which friends attended, and whether Oupa and Ouma were there. In an unbelievable way I get to see the enjoyment I so wished to see in him on the day, today. I am relieved that I never had to explain to him that he did not have proper birthday parties at that age. Via the photobooks, he has been able to generate his own memories of these parties, and to his mind, they were great. He will light up talking about the cupcakes at his Mickey Mouse party, or the Barney t-shirts him and I wore at his second.
I would like to add a note on attending those other mommies’ parties. These too quickly became the bane of my existence. Having run the gauntlet, I made peace with the fact that kiddies’ parties happen, and Hein-Chris had to be exposed to each. I recognized that these were in fact a brilliant exercise in sensory integration for Hein-Chris.
During the party, as soon as I noticed that steam train hurtling my way, I would leave almost instantaneously with a polite “goodbye and thank you” (and a sincere thank you note to the hostess the next day).
I tried not to exit with remarks about the difficulties of raising a child with SPD or rolling my eyes to demonstrate my exasperation. Kids pick up these cues in a heartbeat, and it sets you up for an even worse experience next time. The same applied with regards to offering a busload of apologies. I didn’t. I remained polite and as gracious as I could holding a child in the throes of a raging fit, then waved, smiled and exited as quickly as humanly possible.
All this, only to face the same music the next time the phone beeps, and WhatsApp cruelly announces that I have been added to a group with a merry old party icon. Yay (no exclamation mark required whatsoever).
I never relented though, always hoping that the next time would be better. And it was - gradually. Hein-Chris (very) slowly learnt that parties were not as scary as they seemed.
Today we still accept all birthday invitations, and it is only in the last 6 to 8 months that Hein-Chris looks forward to, and enjoys, the parties. I still have to attended the party with him and leave when he starts getting over-whelmed, but it’s a journey, and Hein-Chris and I are committed to the ride.