Over the weekend, some dear friends invited us to their little boy’s first birthday party. I try never to miss these things. First of all, it gives us the chance to catch up with friends that we hardly ever see due to the fact that we have all become indentured servants to our respective tiny overlords. Second, it gives us the opportunity to get all of the tiny overlords together in a display of unrestrained frivolity and debauchery that illustrates that none of us are alone in our attempts to turn these little animals into well-behaved, upstanding citizens. Misery does indeed love company, especially when its old friends.
That said, I also approach these occasions with a fair amount of trepidation. The fact of the matter is that Footloose can become easily overwhelmed in a party environment. Lots of people, lots of noise, going to a strange place, all of these things can combine to put him into a sensory overload his little self can’t handle. The other side of the coin, though, is that if we don’t get him out and expose him to these types of events, he’ll never get used to them. This doesn’t even take into account the fact that I’m terrified of an event getting disrupted by a meltdown. The last thing I ever want to do is mar the occasion for my friends, or put a negative spotlight on my son. What to do? IT’S PROS AND CONS TIME!!
- Catch up with old friends we never get to see
- Prevent the impending coup by getting stir-crazy boys out of the house
- Opportunity to teach social skills, starting with “Daddy’s the only one you get to boss around like that”
- Chance for the boys to interact with some other kids close to their same age
- Show off how wonderful Footloose really is
- Demonstration of the “Cray-Cray Dance” will render the “Electric Slide” and “Chicken Dance” passe’
- Earn brownie points with Roundbottom by offering him cake, potentially avoid nightly beating
- Frivolity will exhaust them so much that not only will they go to bed on time, they might actually sleep in
- Potential disruption of event may lead to never being invited back to another; alienation of old friends
- Momma Angel has to work, means I’ll be flying solo (remember the mall?)
- Chance for the boys to recruit other kids closer to their age into their cult of personality.
- Put a spotlight on how different Footloose really is, and not in a good way
- Add to the nightly beating when Roundbottom is denied second and thirds on the cake
- All the excitement will get them so riled up that they not only go to bed late, but keep me up all night while trying to get them to sleep
8 to 6, the PROS had it.
That’s not to say that I was going to go in without a back-up plan. The first thing I did was contact my friends, letting them know how excited we were to be invited. I also let them know that it was entirely possible we would have to make an early exit if it looked like things were going to be too much for Footloose. I wanted to assure them that I wasn’t going to let anything disrupt the celebration, especially since I could remember oh-so clearly all the stress and anticipation when we threw Footloose’s first. If it looked like he was having a bad day, we wouldn’t show up. If we did show and he started, we would make a discreet exit.
That’s where Granny Awesome came in. Turns out she lives only ten minutes from where the party was being held. In case of emergency, break glass and call Granny. She was on stand-by for a drop off if Footloose needed somewhere safe and familiar to go to. That way I could always return to the party with Roundbottom if necessary, hopefully without drawing any attention from the hosts or party-goers. Pretty ingenious, right?
How can someone be so smart and so dumb at the same time?
Footloose had been having a decent day, so we went for it. We got to the clubhouse where the party was being held. I opened the door, walked him and Roundbottom inside….
….and all hell broke loose.
It was my worst fear. It was just too much. Too much noise, too many people. My boy instantly got overwhelmed. While Roundbottom made a bee-line for the balloons on the other side of the clubhouse, his brother started wailing. I tried to calm him, offering him some juice. When that didn’t work, I offered him his I-Pad to play on. No joy. The next thing I knew, he was on the ground, flailing in the entrance to the clubhouse.
That’s when I got kicked in the face.
It happened so quick I didn’t even realize what had happened. All I knew is that my face was stinging and my glasses had flown halfway across the room. My friend’s sister just happened to be by where they landed, grabbing them and bringing them straight back to me, a look of commiseration on her face. It was as about as embarrassing a situation as you would think. I wasn’t feeling embarrassment, though. What I was feeling was white-hot ANGER.
Not at my boy. My rage was strictly focused on myself.
What the hell had I been thinking? I KNEW it was probably a bad idea to take him. I KNEW there was every possibility it would be too much for him. Now here we were, my boy with tears streaming down his face, the focus of attention. The last thing I wanted. I wanted to hit something, or to scream myself. There was no time for that, though.
I knew I had to get him out of the situation. I picked him up and walked him outside. Once we got out of the clubhouse, he instantly calmed down, taking a seat on the sidewalk to play with a leaf he found. I called Granny Awesome and let her know we were coming. Aunt Angelic (our host) rounded up Roundbottom for me. When I told him I was taking Footloose to Granny’s, he looked at me and responded, “I go!” (Translation: “Where my brother goes, I shall follow. Especially if it’s to Granny’s”). I made apologies to Aunt Angelic and told her I’d be back as soon as I dropped the boys off.
As far as I was concerned at the moment, I had to go back. 1) I hadn’t even had time to get the presents out of the trunk before the meltdown. 2) The concern on my friends’ faces meant they would be spending at least part of the time worrying about me instead of concentrating on the birthday boy. Unacceptable. 3) If I don’t go back, the meltdown becomes a story that is focused on the rest of the party. I go back, a few words are said, but the story dies once everyone is assured that both I and my boy are alright. Basically, doing what I can to downplay the whole ordeal.
It all sounds so reasonable and thought out now, but it wasn’t at the time. Driving the boys to my mother’s, I was shaking. I was holding on to the steering wheel so tightly my knuckles had gone white. I tend to joke a lot about how “inept” I am as a father, going on about how “clueless” I am to get a laugh (it works for Jim Gaffigan, after all). At that moment, though, it all felt true. You see, I have no problem ever embarrassing myself. I’m a clown. Always have been , always will be. Embarrassing my family or friends though, is a different matter. My poor judgment lead to creating a scene at my friends’ event. I was embarrassed for them, even though they were nothing but understandable and supportive throughout the whole ordeal. I felt terrible.
Worse, I put a spotlight on how different my boy was. My son is a beautiful, loving, funny little man who just happens to be autistic. The reality is that as wonderful as he is, things aren’t always easy. He has meltdowns from time to time. He lashes out unexpectedly. He gets upset easily. These are not the things I want people to focus on. These are the exceptions, not the rule. Truth is, every parent has challenges when it comes to raising their kids. Ours are just a bit more acute. I want people to look at him and see all the beauty and wonder I see. Those are what define him. Not the realities of his condition. What happened wasn’t his fault. It was all mine. I just need people to realize that.
All said and done though, everything worked out in the end. I went back to the party, caught up with my friends, got to play with the birthday boy some, and went back to Granny’s to pick up a set of perfectly content hellions (I swear, she puts something in their juice). It’s not an event I’m likely to forget for a while, though, and it leads to an important question, “what about next time?”
If there is a next time after this is read, I can honestly say, “I don’t know”. As much as I love my boy and want to share him with the world, I don’t want to do it at the expense of himself or others. I know I have to push him if there is ever any hope of him learning to cope with these everyday situations, but putting him in a bad situation seems thoughtless and a bit selfish. On top of that, I don’t believe that just because we have a son with autism that the world owes us any special consideration. Don’t get me wrong, any that we get is greatly appreciated, but not expected. The world doesn’t revolve around us. We need to learn to adapt to the world, not the other way around.
Still, all I can do is take what I’ve learned here and move forward. Take this as a learning moment. Next time, maybe we need to go early, before too many people show up, or later, after the majority have gone. I might also look into those noise reducing headphones I hear so much about that are designed to cut down on sensory overload. It may be awhile before we try again, but I can’t give up on my boy. I won’t. He deserves a chance to experience everything life has to offer, and I have a responsibility to provide those opportunities, so long as they don’t come at the expense of others. We’ll keep trying until we get it right.
Tell you one other thing I learned; boy has a roundhouse kick that would make Chuck Norris cry. He keeps up at this rate, ol’ Chuck will be wearing Footloose pajamas…….
Keep kicking it with us on Instagram at fatherhood_in_the_trenches or on twitter @jmwilson3055