Thursday, May 22, 2014
I hate birthday parties.
I used to love birthday parties. In fact, my husband has always found it a bit odd that I think birthdays should be celebrated to the extreme. There should be a family party, a friend party, cake and presents all day long, you should get free everything, and people should let you go first. Your birthday only comes once a year, and it should be the best day. What can I say, I'm weird about it. I can still remember the first birthday party I went to with Brooklyn once we realized that her body did not work quite like it should. I remember watching children her age do things that she was nowhere close to doing... and wanting nothing more than to beeline it out of there. I had to think about things like the food textures, the activities, the uneven ground, the overstimulating sensory environment... the fact that when you went to Pump It Up, you had to take off shoes AND smo's... and then how would you be able to jump? Kids very clearly articulated "thank you" and sang "happy birthday" as mine smiled sweetly... and silently...at me. I grew to hate birthday parties. I thought I was over it. The birthday party roller coaster went on... and while time does NOT heal all wounds... you do get used to them. You learn to cope, you make friends who have walked the same road, you laugh at yourself and find the positive in each situation. You look back at how far you come and how you were all torn apart after that first birthday party and you know that you have grown a thousand years older in wisdom and strength and you know that you will be fine. You have loaded your child into an ambulance and spent time in the ICU. You can attend a birthday party. Then Saturday came. I was tired. My work week had been full of insane, 12-hour days. My house was a mess. But there was a birthday party to attend, and I was excited. It was one of Savannah's dear friends and her mommy was one of my favorite people. It was a gorgeous, sunny, breezy day, and the party was at a park we had never been to before. All of the settings were right for the perfect morning. The girls and I arrived at the park and they were full of excitement. After arguing all morning, they tumbled out of the car hand in hand. There were excited hellos and the fun chaotic chatter that is 7 girls all contributing to snippets of conversation. The girls took off running toward the playground and the ground was uneven. Brooklyn was lagging behind the others, but determined. I almost called out to her to be careful, but she seemed to have steadied herself. And then it happened. Almost as if in slow motion, she stepped down the hill and her body couldn't figure out how to balance. It was too late for me to stop her. She tumbled forward and skid across the gravel, face first. I knew she would be okay. Kids fall on playgrounds all of the time, and I'm not one to panic over scrapes or bruises. But my heart plummeted in that instant. There was screaming and crying, and a valiant effort to dust her off and distract. Her face looked bad, but she wanted to play. And like the tough girls we have learned to become, we moved on. At least physically. My nerves were shot and we had just arrived. I tried to adjust my spirit and felt I did well for the most part. Then I was feeding Harper a bottle and I noticed that Brooklyn was throwing a frisbee to herself. My heart ached again. Often kids who are delayed show parallel play... they play beside other kids but not with them. It is hard for them to relate to someone so different. But then something happened. A dad jogged over and picked up the frisbee and asked her to play with him. She brushed him off, a little unsure, but he persisted. He got out a soccer ball and kicked it. She laughed. She wanted to swing, and I took her to the swings. A friend came over and chatted with us. Brooklyn spoke, and my friend listened. And instead of the usual "Mmm-hmm" when people cannot understand her, she listened closely and responded. The day was filled with moments that were hard to watch. Moments where Brookie was playing off to herself or with children much smaller than her because she couldn't keep up with the others. Moments when she struggled to climb something or run on the uneven ground. But more than that the day was filled with love. And laughter. And friends. And compassion. People who love Christ love others so well. There were parents who blew bubbles with her, helped her climb the ladder, knelt down to listen closely to her, supplied neosporin, hugs, and kindness. I don't even know how to put into words how good it was to see people making such an effort to help and include... just because they loved us. By the time we left, I was overwhelmed with emotion. Which seems ridiculous for attending a birthday party, right? But nothing seems that ridiculous when you are trying to reconcile the atypical in the midst of the typical. I had felt the ache of knowing my child struggles so much more than others her own age. I felt emotionally drained, and worried about the future. She didn't notice it, but I felt it acutely. But I also felt the love of friends and the comfort that we don't walk this road alone. And they either don't notice the differences, or they don't care. They loved us so well, and thankful isn't quite enough. They showed us Christ, so very clearly. They thought they were celebrating a little girl's birthday... but they were soothing an aching heart unaware. When we got home later, Brooklyn asked me why she fell. I told her that sometimes those things just happen. She said, "I fall a lot." I said, "Yes, you do." Then she asked a question that broke my heart into a million pieces. "Why I fall a lot?" I don't know. But I do know this. It doesn't matter. Falling or steady, speech delay or not, she is tough. But more importantly, she is loved and valued. And I think I love birthday parties again.