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One Boy, Five Birthdays

No matter how hard I try – and I have tried, very, very hard – I can’t seem to remember how exactly I found out about Elaine Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Child. But I will never forget the words that led me to check it out.

My child hates birthday parties,  said someone on the internet.

What? A child, other than mine, hates birthday parties? I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I read it over and over again assuming I may have misunderstood. But I hadn’t. There it was, a real comment from a real mother of a child who hated parties.

Yes, some kids do actually hate birthday parties: A Highly Sensitive Child and Birthday Parties

For the first time since my son was born, I felt like we may not be alone in this. We were not the only ones who had to explain to other parents why we couldn’t go to their children’s birthday parties, ever. We weren’t the only ones who had to explain why our son was sitting in a corner and crying at the ONE party we did go to, when all the other children were having fun.

So I quickly read the rest of this comment, which I had stumbled upon by pure chance, and there was the name of the book that changed this lady’s life. Almost immediately, I went to Amazon and bought it.

Birthday parties were bad for us, and not many people can say the same thing. There was a time when I would find a party invitation every week in my son’s backpack, and every time I’d feel nauseous.

Ugh, what am I going to say this time?

We had missed every party we’d been invited to, and I’d used every excuse I could think of. To make matters worse, all the other moms were now friends, and I was always given the cold shoulder during morning school drop offs.

Yeah, birthdays were very bad for us.

When it came to our birthdays, be it mine, my husband’s, our relatives’, and even our son’s, we always had to exercise great caution in the way we did things. If the party was at our place, we tried to time it so that our son was either asleep, or awake, energized and content. If not, then we’d either come up with an excuse to take him to another room during the singing and clapping, or ask that we do very little singing and preferably no clapping at all. With time, our family started to understand how important it was for us to avoid certain traditional rituals because the consequences were quite unpleasant for everyone and certainly not worth it.

We celebrated our little boy’s fifth birthday last Saturday, and we gave him a proper party with loads of people, balloons, games, music, singing, and clapping. We celebrated that way because that’s what he wanted. And as I watched him play with his friends that afternoon, I couldn’t believe how far we’d come in just five years. This year he screamed, only this time his screams were those of sheer excitement and joy.

Throughout most of the party, I found myself trying to remember how the last four birthdays went down; what exactly happened, what we’d been expecting, what we had to say to the folks who stood there, completely baffled as to why a child could be this unhappy at his own party. And quite honestly, had someone told us that our son’s fifth birthday party would be this much fun, we wouldn’t have believed it.

Would you have believed it if this is what your child’s birthday parties looked like?

One Boy, Five Birthdays: A Highly Sensitive Child and Birthday Parties

First Birthday

It had been a year since our baby was born. We couldn’t believe he was already one. Although everyone pointed out how fast the year had gone by, we didn’t feel the same way. That first year was rough, and it felt more like about ten. The reason why we couldn’t believe our son was one wasn’t because time had flown. It hadn’t. It was because we were hopeful that things would start to get easier. One was a big deal. One year olds slept through the night, and they had better tolerance of the world and of the people around them, and they were easier to manage than infants.

Things, however, would not change today because he was now one, and so for his birthday celebration, we had to take some precautions. Plus, this wasn’t really a celebration for him, but more like a celebration for us and everything we’d accomplished (and survived) in that year. After all, a one-year-old couldn’t care less if we celebrated or not. He had no idea what was going on. So we told our families that we’d have some cake over at our house and sing and blow out some candles. We knew how bad things got when lots of people came over at the same time, and especially when they got loud, and even more so if he hadn’t had a proper nap yet. So we worked on our timing to ensure he was in perfect-as-can-be shape to have some loud relatives over. And just to be safe, we had his favorite Baby Einsteins DVD in the player in case we needed to calm him. Just in case.

Things went surprisingly well. There was no crying or screaming. We sang and clapped softly. We had cake, we talked, we laughed. And baby was smiling most of the time.

At the hand puppets in the television.

Second Birthday

The second birthday is an even bigger deal. Even though at two they still don’t really know what’s going on and they still couldn’t care less if you celebrated the big day, this time they’re aware enough to actually enjoy a good celebration and some cool gifts. So we decided to do the same thing as we did the year before, but to try and make it more fun for him because now, we thought we knew what he liked.

Two year olds like parties and cake and presents, right? So went all out and made and extra special cake; the only thing he liked about it was the McQueen car I had use to decorate it. We got loads of presents that were wrapped with beautiful, brightly colored paper; he didn’t even attempt to open one. I got him a nice big helium balloon; it scared the living lights out of him.

Our timing didn’t work out this time around. By the time he woke from his nap, everyone was already there. There was crying; there was arched-back-screaming. But the player was ready with his favorite DVD, just in case this happened.

Sure enough, the only thing that made him happy was that hand puppet in the television.

Third Birthday

Shortly before our son’s third birthday, my husband had to move away for work, and sadly, we had to celebrate this big event without him.

To make up for Daddy’s absence, I wanted to throw my son an extra special party and give him everything he wanted. We browsed Pinterest together for weeks, going through hundreds of Mickey Mouse, Cars and Peppa Pig cakes until we found the perfect one.

We invited practically all our relatives, close and distant. At the time I thought surrounding him by people who loved him was a brilliant way to make sure he didn’t miss his father’s presence.

When the party food was ready, the garden decorated with “regular” balloons, and our guests had arrived (some having driven over two hours to be there), my little boy decided to hide in the house, and nothing I could do or say would get him to join the party. He was overwhelmed. Truly and completely overwhelmed. On the one hand he was so happy to see some of the people he loved most that he couldn’t control his emotions; but on the other, he was intimidated by the number of people who were waiting outside for him, enthusiastically calling out his name.

I felt like an idiot. How could I have thought that having all these people over would be good for him? Why didn’t I know that he’d already figured out that balloons pop and the sound they make is excruciatingly loud and scary.

At some point he did join us thanks to the bright red remote control Ferrari his grandparents had got him, so we decided to wrap things up and sing. And for the first time after we’d finished singing, my son quickly put his hands on his ears and screamed like something had bit him. Everyone stopped clapping and watched, not really sure what to make of all this.

I was embarrassed; I was angry; and I was really sad about what I’d put my baby through. That was the day I started to dislike birthday parties with quite a passion.

Later than night, my sister and a very good friend of the family’s came bearing gifts that my little one loved. To him, the party started at 8 o’clock that night, when he got to enjoy his gifts with only two people he loved deeply. No singing, no clapping, no cake, no balloons, no pressure. He was really excited at that point, but it wasn’t too much for him to bear. It was just enough to make him happy and keep him up untill 11.

Fourth Birthday

Birthday number four was just around the corner, and I was scared. True, there had been loads of play dates that year, and our little boy had made such incredible progress that I could hardly recognize him, but still. I could never forget how the last birthday went and how upset, and possibly traumatized, he was. I wondered if he remembered, but I could never bring myself to ask him.

I did however ask him what he wanted to do that year to celebrate. “I want to have a pirate birthday party and I want to invite everyone!” was his answer.

I tried to explain to him what ‘everyone’ meant. I told him it would be loud, and it would be crowded. I told him there would be singing and clapping. But he wouldn’t budge. He would have it no other way.

We’d been to one party  a month before his birthday, the first party in a long, long time, and although we were worried and on edge the entire time, our son had a really good time! He played games with the other kids, and even put up with the singing and the clapping. AND he got in a ten foot trampoline with about fifteen other kids. My jaw dropped at the sight of him happily bouncing in there with everyone else, and it stayed down throughout the rest of the party. Maybe this is it, I thought.

And so we decided to go for the party that he wanted, and I have to say that both my husband and I were impressed at how well he kept it together. We must’ve had about sixty guests (his friends, their siblings, and their parents). Sixty people sang happy birthday and then clapped, and all he did was blow out the candles. Granted, he did play by himself most of the time, very happy with one of the cars he’d received that day; he stayed away from the few balloons we had, and didn’t have any cake, but that was it.

He wasn’t super excited and carefree like most kids are at parties, but he was content, and that was more than we could’ve ever hoped for!

Fifth Birthday

After a very successful fifth birthday party we was fun for everyone there, and only one meltdown after everyone had left which only lasted about ten minutes, our little boy went to bed happy and grateful for everything we’d done for him.

And to show his gratitude, he gave us a trophy he said we both deserved.

One Boy, Five Birthdays:  A Highly Sensitive Child and Birthday Parties

It may have been the tiniest trophy we’d ever seen, but it certainly was the biggest award we’d ever received.

What about you? How does your child cope with parties? Please share your stories with us in the comments section. They might make someone feel a whole lot better!

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