The Birthday Gift
My daughter’s birthday party…… gave ME a gift and taught many lessons
Every year I struggled with what to do for my daughter’s birthday. Of course, my daughter starts planning for her next birthday as soon as we have eaten the cake of the current birthday. Still, I struggled with what to do? Do I invite my friends and their children, whose children are not really friends with my daughter, but come out of obligation to their parents? The other kids take over and how much fun does my daughter really have? Plus, I struggled with myself and the hurt and pain I feel that my daughter’s life is neither easy, nor typical.
On this particular birthday, I decided to make it easy on myself. I was busy at work and just wanted a simplified birthday. I had thought about what my daughter would like… she would like a party with her friends (who were her friends and not just the kids of my friends). But, that again always caused me pain (because my daughter does not have very many friends). But, her friends, the ones she talks about, were from her ESE classroom. This presented a problem because several of the children were in wheelchairs and their parents did not normally bring them to parties. We had experienced this at another child’s birthday….where we were the only ones that attended, when, in fact, the whole Gen. Ed. class had been invited. The disappointment the family felt showed in their faces. I decided to go at this from a different angle.
I went to her ESE teacher and asked if we could have a party in the classroom at lunchtime. A REAL party. One with a theme, invitations, perhaps play a game, and extend lunchtime from 20 minutes to an 1 hour, so as to not disrupt too much education time. After getting permission from the principal, it was a go!
My daughter chose the theme of Princes and Princesses. We made handmade invitations (doesn’t everyone like the feeling of being invited to something….the sheer excitement) and sent them in advance of the party date. We made the boys a crown and the girls a princess hat, and, of course, a goodie bag. Decorations were a tablecloth, paper plates and napkins. Lunch was McDonalds (the teacher took the childrens order in advance and we went and got it) and the game was the classic Pin the Tail on the Donkey.
It was the best birthday ever. She had such a good time, as did her friends. I noticed that I was actually enjoying the party and I wondered “what was different”? Then, it dawned on me that not once did I have to say “Kailee stop. Kailee, don’t do that or we don’t act /behave like that”. I was actually able to relax and enjoy the party. Everything she did was ACCEPTABLE. Everybody there, her teacher, aides, and friends all loved her for her. Shouldn’t I be more accepting of who my daughter is and let her be? Perhaps my own insecurities and pre-judgments were holding my daughter back …that birthday actually gave ME a gift!…
The gift of accepting my daughter for who she is. While I now try to be more accepting of who my daughter is and the things I cannot change, I don’t allow this knowledge of acceptance to stop me from encouraging, pushing, and expecting her to be all that she can be. Like the Serenity prayer, I pray for the wisdom to know the difference.
Parent tips – Regarding birthday parties and inclusion: I think we, as parents, need to start early helping our children make friends. We may have to move out of our comfort zones, but, we shouldn’t be afraid or insecure of opening the lines of communication to other parents about our children. Everyone needs friends, they are an important part of our lives. Those with different abilities are no different. By talking with other parents (those without special needs children) and being upfront , we may begin to break down the barrier that exists and dismiss some myths that would benefit all involved.
Teacher Tips– After the birthday party, the teacher said the birthday party had been a wonderful practical teaching tool as well. The teacher was able to pull many lessons out of the party.
- Invitations: children had to read the invitation, plan for the date ( look it up on a calendar) and time ( look at the clock) and respond (telephone, dialing a phone and speaking a proper response……giving a RSVP).
- Writing: What is a Birthday and why do we celebrate them? They all got to write their date of birth and year they were born.
- Birthday presents – proper etiquette for a party – (bringing a present and sharing). Teaching that a present is given to the child that is having the birthday. The teacher had all the students make a birthday card (writing and drawing a picture)
- Playing a Game: Pin the Tail on the Donkey taught taking turns, sharing, measuring or judging the distance of who is closer?
It has been 2 years since that birthday party. We continued to ask her teachers for permission to have these parties and have the party in her ESE class, along with her ESE classmates. We now feel strongly that it is a great teaching tool for the kids and my daughter loves it. This year, the teacher had the students call and let me know they would be attending the party, as well as what they would like to order from McDonalds. But, more importantly, because I am now more accepting of my daughter and who she is (and yes, less prejudiced of others) my daughter has FRIENDS! She has a life…. “her life”… with play dates, a sleepover and now plays soccer in Special Olympics. What a GIFT!!
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This post originally appeared on our July/August 2014 Magazine