Presents and toys, birthday badges and party invites.
Balloons and banners, fancy dress outfits and homemade cakes.
Silly games of pin the tail on the donkey, musical statues, and ‘who’s the best dancer?’
A hot sweaty house full of giddy kids high on fizzy pop, cup-cakes and E-numbers.
Class friends having a ball as they fling themselves around on an oversized Minion bouncy castle.
And my son laughing and smiling in the middle of it all.
The playground mums huddled around a table laughing and gossiping about the antics of the chair of the PTA at last week’s school disco.
Enjoying a glass of wine and picking at posh nibbles whilst declaring that the diet starts tomorrow.
We air kiss as they leave, and we plan to arrange our next coffee morning with a text tomorrow as they walk down the driveway and clamber into their family cars.
I collapse in a heap on the sofa happily content as I watch him delve into his pile of pressies. Filled with a sense of relief that he has enjoyed all the fuss and that everyone had turned up.
This is what birthdays are all about for kids, aren’t they? We plan lavish events that make us go overdrawn just so we can boast about having the mobile Zoo at the local church hall for our little kiddo’s special day.
Unwritten protocol states that we have to invite the whole class to the party, even the ones we don’t really want to be there.
And then on the big day we pack our kids off to school wearing a flashing birthday badge holding a bag of goodies for them to hand out at the end of the school day.
Well at least this is what I used to think my son’s birthday would look like when I daydreamed about his future all those years ago.
In fact 12 years ago this very day… I was pacing the floor of the maternity ward waiting anxiously for the surgeon to give us the all clear to go down to theatre for my planned C-section.
I was 38 weeks pregnant, tired and hungry. But none of that mattered as were hours away from meeting our little baby boy. I couldn’t wait to hold him in my arms and my mind was full of all the possibilities that lay ahead.
Where have the years gone? I for one am not the same person I was back then. And my little baby boy is now on the cusp of adulthood. Today my gorgeous smiley little man turned 12.
I quickly learned as my son was growing up that birthdays for him would not look like the images I had created in my mind. Don’t get me wrong I tried. For many years I forced him to conform to my idea of what his birthday should look like. I booked the church halls, invited the class and made the cakes.
But my son would cry, he would not want to join in and he wouldn’t want to open his presents. Then the invitations stopped coming his way, and the mums in the playground did not become the friends I had once expected they would.
We had become the ones that weren’t invited and those that did try to invite us didn’t know what to say to me when I had to make excuses for him not being able to go. When I would ask for the exact itinerary of the afternoon’s events, or even worse when he would get upset and cry in front of all his friends, they would look at me with a puzzled sort of confusion that I will never forget.
But I have adapted. I have had to learn that my idea of a perfect birthday isn’t the same as my sons.
So there may not have been a cake in sight today, or a donkey pinned on my living room wall for that matter. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had a nice day! He tucked into his favourite food for his tea with one of his closest friends, played multiplayer on his PS4 and snaffled down a whole chocolate brownie with delight.
There was no flashing birthday badge pinned to his school jumper or treat size chocolates being sent into his school this morning. But that’s OK! He woke up and his smile melted my heart. He enjoyed his birthday croissants and cup of tea whilst reading the texts from his family giggling at the lovely messages they had sent him.
There was no giant bouncy castle or dainty cupcakes today. But I’m OK with that because he was. He has bounced on his trampoline, snuggled in his new sleeping bag and brushed the salty popcorn out of his teeth with his new vibrating toothbrush (for longer than he’s ever brushed his teeth before… bonus).
The process of learning to accept this difference hasn’t been an easy one I have to be honest with you. Sometime I have pangs of thinking “if only”...but then I see his happy face, and get such joy from seeing him flapping with excitement as he slides into his new sleeping bag - and those feelings slip away to be replaced with all-consuming pride. His joy of life is infectious at times like this.
So now I find myself giggling at the things I wrap up as presents sometimes (ice pops, popcorn and shaving foam spring to mind). But it’s what my son loves. It what makes him tick so why not?
And part of my journey as a mother is learning that my son’s journey is his own. It’s not mine, I am merely along for the ride. Its his day, not mine.
So this weekend instead of booking a mobile Zoo for the whole class, I am taking my little man to his favourite Zoo for the day. So he can spend 9 hours doing what he loves surrounded by his favourite animals. Free, happy, flapping and loving life!
Unwritten protocol, having to do what others think you should, giddy kids high on sweets and a mountain of crappy presents that you end up donating to the Christmas fair kinda go out of the window when you have a child with autism, and I FOR ONE AM GLAD OF IT!
Happy birthday darling boy xx