My birthday has always been a holiday for me. When I was a kid, I would start hounding my mom in July about my birthday that wasn’t until January. I couldn’t wait for the day that was all about me! I loved the parties, the cake, the ice cream, the singing, and of course opening all those presents! Some things will never change, that is until they must.
The stress over birthdays began when Debbie was a toddler. I remember going to family parties and singing to every single person who had a birthday during the current month. Debbie would burrow into our arms. Sometimes she would cry. Other times she would just simply curl up into a tight ball. I would make my typical excuses. “She’s tired,” or “I think she must be getting sick.” Anything to deflect attention away from Autism. As she grew, the burrowing and crying gave way to blood curdling screaming, hitting, throwing, kicking, and, on the rare occasion, eloping. In fact, just this past summer we went to Red Robin for lunch because Debbie had asked to go there. She knew there would be singing and clapping and sure enough there was. Yet, she still managed to chuck a mostly empty glass across the table.
We realized early on that her birthday parties needed to be modified. We sing to Debbie but there is no clapping unless she initiates it. That works for Debbie and what works for her works for us. When the unexpected birthday celebration happens, however, it’s a whole new ballgame. At least it was until recently.
Last night we went to Red Lobster for dinner for my birthday. We had a long wait for everything from beginning to end. We had neglected to bring Debbie’s Abilify with us. If I was a betting woman, I would have bet against us coming out on the successful side of this trip. All signs were pointing to at least a tantrum. I’m glad I’m not a betting woman. I would’ve lost the bet!
There were three separate birthdays complete with singing and clapping on top of everything else. I could feel myself tense up each time. I held my breath and waited to be smacked. And yet, those smacks never came. There was no yelling either. Instead, Deb held her ears while she leaned into my chest. And then each time it was over, she looked at me and said, “Clapping is all done. Happy Birthday is all done.” She was more concerned about getting her chicken fingers than she was about the birthdays!!!
So it’s okay that my birthday didn’t come with all the fanfare and hoopla from my childhood. It’s okay that we didn’t sing or eat cake or open presents. My present this year didn’t come in a box. My present came from Debbie. She was calm and patient through other peoples’ celebrations and that, my friends, is the best birthday present ever!