Last week I discussed Dar’s IEP; next week I’ll discuss it a little more; today is time to mark the occasion of Dar turning seven.
I realize I’ve had years to get used to this, but it still bothers me that Dar doesn’t know when it’s birthday. I know this isn’t helping anyone, but I feel children are supposed to know about birthdays, especially their own. There’s meant to be a certain light in their eyes when they say “birthday party.”
Dar has never shown any sign that his birthday feels special to him. He “tee-tee-tees” the same amount with or without a birthday, he cries for no reason the same amount with or without a birthday. People wonder, because Dar is autistic, if crowds bother him. We also wonder; the jury is out; it’s been out for seven years now. And Merrick Garland thinks he’s waited.
We dutifully go through the motions anyway. Friday, I brought cupcakes to Dar’s first-grade class. I was told to come about 20 minutes before their day ended; I arrived a little early with my materials in a large shopping bag so the students couldn’t see. They poked in there anyway and squealed “CUPCAKES!!” I asked the two teachers if I was allowed to light one candle, and they said yes. I had with me the kitchen lighter and a little candle with a “D” on it. I asked if a student helper might help Dar blow out the candle, and five kids volunteered. The teachers picked one. Dar saw the cupcakes and began to freak out to not receive one, so I gave him one early. He only ate the frosting, anyway.
Dar’s teachers gathered the 15 kids on the class rug, and for the first time, Dar’s penchant for walking away from them seemed appropriate. Dar’s new aide Erica tried to keep Dar near the circle while I tried to light the candle. But it wouldn’t light. We gave up. The designated blower looked sad; Dar didn’t care in any way. They all sang “Happy Birthday” to him. They could have been singing it to another kid, or yodeling in verse, or doing nothing at all. Dar didn’t react. Not even to 15 kids singing his name. On the other hand, he did love his cupcake, and didn’t seem to notice the melted candle wax on his frosting. It was all we could do to keep him from the other kids’ cupcakes.
And then it was over, and the kids were asking the teachers whose birthday was coming next. As they left out the door I had party favors for them – just little Japanese-designed creature-like erasers. Academic and sporty!
The next day, Saturday, was his actual birthday, October 15, and we had a tiny party. We wanted to have it at a playground but the forecast was for rain, so we relocated it at the last minute to our house. I don’t love our house right now for guests; the lawn outside is dead, and we were waiting for rains before replanting it. I thought, well, no worries, it’ll be raining too hard for anyone to play out there. It never rained a drop during our party, and the kids were out on our trampoline most of the party. At least I think they were; it was hard to see them through the termites. We suffered this massive invasion of about a thousand flying termites hovering around the backyard. I had never seen termites in 35 years of living in and returning to this house. Minutes after the party, they were all gone, as though they’d never been. They hung out just long enough to make our yard look like a waste dump, then sayonara.
Other than that, good party! We had toy train tracks sectioning off four “play stations” of different sorts of Legos/building blocks that were entirely ignored. Food, especially pastries, was a hit. People were very generous with gifts. Our party-favor gift bags for kids were stuffed, over-brimming with…previous party favors and odds and ends. Dar did his usual tee-tee-tee-ing. We served some suspiciously familiar cupcakes…well, to me, anyway. The guests hadn’t seen their like. This time, I successfully hid them from Dar until the last minute. This time, I designated Dar’s brother as the official candle-blower-outer. This time, I actually got Dar’s candle lit. This time, Dar’s brother blew it out with the insistent help of another 4-year-old who pushed her way into the role (that’s fine). Everyone sang. Dar may have noticed, it’s hard to tell.
It’s one thing to teach Dar words; he eventually shows he knows the ones he likes. It’s one thing to teach Dar swimming; that’s a life-saving skill. But there’s something more existential, more Sisyphean about doing things like birthday parties for Dar. Might he remember them someday? Maybe. Will the photos be a comfort to him or us? Maybe. Are these events really for us, the parents? Maybe, but if so that’s working about as well as kissing your sibling. The effort is barely worth the day after.
Maybe we’re naively trying to convince ourselves that Dar is having a normal life. Maybe we’re touching an alternate universe where Dar was born on October 15 as healthy as any other kid, and he loves these parties and looks forward to them.
Or maybe we just like cake and friends.
(Dar loved this dolly; great gift for a stimmer like my kid.)
So now he’s 7 and non-verbal. These are supposed to be the great years, right? 5 to 9, or so? When the kid loves you unreservedly, and every day is a new discovery? These are the years that “go by like greased lightning,” as I saw a recent Facebook comment put it.
Dar’s years go by like the sludge in a French-fry grease pit.
He had barely, barely gotten used to saying “ix” when people asked how old he was. Now I have to teach him a new two-syllable word, which for him is like your kid doing a backflip to land on her feet.
But for everything I just said, Dar’s Seven will still be more heart-warming than David Fincher’s Seven. So there’s that. And I appreciate you reading this.
Happy birthday big guy.