Johnny turned seven years old last weekend. This year he told me that he wanted a birthday party, cake, decorations and games like I did for his little sister’s birthday. When his sister asked him who he wanted to invite he said “you Princess are invited, Mommy and Daddy and Grandma and Grandpa.” Princess was confused because she was already going and wanted to know which friends he was going to ask. Johnny didn’t want anyone from school coming to his party. The challenge is his last playdate for him was last summer when we met one of his good friends at a park and then she came back to our house with her Mom. He has a few friends at school who play with him and help him but he seems to want to separate school and home life and doesn’t want to invite them to his house. The exception was the little girl from last summer who would like to come over but her mother’s daycare schedule makes it challenging for us to all meet up unless we are at church. Over the summer Johnny has been happy to just hang out with his sister. She has had many playdates and he enjoys tagging long with her and her friends and this has worked out. I decided to not worry that he’s not hanging out with his peer group and instead let him practice navigating social stuff with his sister’s friends who he seems comfortable with. They know he is older then them (3 years) and he doesn’t act like a three year old but he doesn’t feel the pressure when he’s with them. They look to him as the older child who can make them feel safer at the playground by his presence and size (he looks like he is nine.) I would stand back and watch him be more confident as he plays with them.
So what do I do regarding a birthday party? Because his birthday is in the summer I don’t have the convience of just going to the school like the other parents do and drop off birthday invitations to the kids. Then the opportunity for Johnny to attend a Surfers Healing event if I can get a spot for him but the dates are around his birthday and we would have to be away on a road trip. Johnny likes his routines and enjoys the fun rituals of a birthday as a marker showing him that one age has ended and he’s begun a new age. After all endings are important to Johnny so can we do this on a road trip or will he not thinks its his birthday if we don’t do it in the familiar environment of his home? Do we pretend his birthday is when we get back? No he follows the calendar now. So I decided to give Johnny the choice of going on a road trip for a beach holiday on his birthday so he can try surfing or to stay at home and do his birthday here. He immediately decided he wanted to do Surfers Healing and try surfing. I asked him if it would be okay if we took a bunch of party decorations with us in the car and have him help me at the party store and buy a bunch of party stuff to take to North Carolina and set up his birthday party there. It seemed as long as I promised to bring all the party stuff and do it there he was fine (and bring the birthday gifts too.) I then decided to let him have more control and pick all the party stuff himself including whether he wanted 7 candles or one candle that was the number seven. He was very meticulous about what he wanted right down to the colour of balloons. I remember when he was little and non-verbal that I wondered if he really liked all the birthday rituals and I guess now I have my answer. We took him to Toys R Us and he walked around and chose his gifts himself. Then on his birthday in North Carolina we let him choose a selection of cupcakes himself for his party. We hung all the decorations at the beach house and did the birthday rituals that we always do including having his Grandparents present. It seemed that by letting him have control of the event it helped him handle the big change of party location and hang on to the rituals and celebrating with family instead of getting caught up in the change.
He was a very happy little boy on his birthday and still got to get Grandpa’s cupcake icing like he always does. He got to surf the next day too for the first time and going by the constant smile on his face during that event it was the best birthday….ever.
Psst for Johnny’s Daddy and I watching him surf was our present but the bigger one was that he could tell us what he wanted for his birthday and advocate for himself.
*Yummy cupcakes from the Hot Pink Cake Stand Bakery in Wilmington, NC