The holiday season is in full swing all over this great nation of ours. Thanksgiving has come and gone, suddenly thrusting us into December and all that entails each of our own traditions. For most of us, that involves gatherings among family and friends near and far. But sometimes, that doesn’t happen. Sometimes, it’s because of weather; sometimes, it’s health; and sometimes, it’s just the busyness of the season preventing everyone from gathering. Of course, there are a whole host of other reasons people don’t gather together to celebrate birthdays and holidays. The reasons are as personal and varied as those who choose to stand by them, but if we’re lucky, relationships remain in tact and time shared comes when it’s possible.
To me, it really doesn’t matter if our extended family Christmas happens on December 24 or July 30, what’s important is being with my people. The same is true for birthday celebrations in our family. There are seven of us. We have birthdays in February, March, April, June, November and December, yet our middle kids typically choose to celebrate their birthdays with friends in the summer months so they have the freedom to enjoy being outside with their friends. Considering they are the March birthdays, it’s also a huge blessing to me to take a break after all the hoopla in November and December, and trying to find our way back into a routine through January amidst the hectic schedules of what is typically also basketball, rec volleyball, and the beginning play season for our family.
I’ve never really had a set plan for when our kids would begin having “friend birthday parties” but rather just kind of went with the feel of each child and when they seemed ready. Our Ben just turned seven, and truly, this is the first year he has seemed to really understand the concept of birthdays, especially the gathering, the laughter, the playing, the celebrations. So I really wanted to give him this right of passage into childhood: the friend party. While he has been invited to parties of classmates, I can’t honestly recall that he has attended any simply because of the sensory onslaught that comes with most kid parties: loud laughter, sometimes coupled with screaming (happy or not, screaming is screaming to hypersensitive ears), lots of people in little spaces, and a host of smells different from his norm. It’s just never seemed to be a good idea, so the idea of hosting a birthday party for our little guy has always been a bit overwhelming until I thought about a concept shared in one of my all-time favorite shows, Grey’s Anatomy: that of “my people.”
The idea is that your people always have your back. Paraphrased from the online entertainment world of buzzfeed: You are always on the same team even if it means doing something you don’t want to do. Even when you’re incredibly busy, you will make time to check in with one another, even if it means you sit with them while they work. They will listen to you complain about your life. They will listen to you in your craziest moments and tell you exactly what you need to hear, even if what you need to hear is shut up. You understand each other’s logic even when it makes zero sense because you seem to have your own language. Sometimes, you don’t even need to say anything, you just make a face and they can read it word for word. You know you can share secrets because they will always keep them. On your worst days, they’ll hold you. You know that family doesn’t always mean a blood relationship and you don’t have to worry about losing them because they will always be your people.
I have been blessed with a couple of people to share my life and all the ups and downs in it. I do not take these relationships lightly. Without them, I would be a mess. Life on the spectrum scene, blessed as it is, it is not always an easy one. My people keep me grounded. They laugh with me and cry with me and give me the reality checks I need when I need them and I do the same for them. Challenges don’t matter because they are my people and I am theirs.
So when I decided I wanted to try to give our son birthday party with friends, I knew exactly what to do. I didn’t invite the whole class of first graders, that would have been too much of a sensory overload for the birthday boy. It would be perfect for most kids, after all they spend more time together in their classroom at school than the kids spend with their own families, but that many people is simply too much for our spectrum son to process. I stuck with his people: his little sister and two friends, a set of twins who have been his people literally since the day they met.
It was a small affair: one hour at the firehouse with a football, a bouncy house, and one big Charlie Brown cookie. And it was magical. I saw my son interact with his people. There were hugs. There was laughter. There was jumping and running and eating cookies and opening presents and more jumping and more and more and more laughter than I have ever heard from my young son. Laughter and love, even when his guests wanted to play a different game and he said, “No.” Love and hugs even when he got frustrated because I wouldn’t let him flip the power switch for the bounce house off and on multiple times so it would deflate on them and then blow it back up again. Love and hugs when he was sad it was time to go our separate ways. It took me more than half my life to find my people. My son is seven and he has found his people. What a lucky, blessed little guy!