happy birthday candles

We just celebrated a monumental time of year: Kane’s birthday.

The holiday fog barely departs around here when the birthday planning is upon us. In fact, we have a continuous stream of celebrations because my birthday and Jeff’s also fall shortly after Kane’s. Typically, by the time that Valentine’s Day comes along, it’s greeted with a burnt-out, un-festive muttering of “Love you, Love you too,” accompanied by the lackluster blowing of party horns and a quick toss of glittery hearts in the air. (Just kidding. We would find it way too labor-intensive to hunt down party horns, and we’re too neat-freakish around here to throw glitter.) [As an aside, others don’t know what to call “party horns” either, because Google fully supported my search for “new years blow thing.”]

For Kane’s birthday, we’ve never thrown a peer party. It’s never felt right for him. In part, he struggles to understand levels of peer relationships and might consider his like of someone to mean they have a closer relationship than they actually do. He’s also not yet ready to navigate the social constructs of inviting some classmates and not others. My third reason revolves around self-care, and it’s incredibly valid: I am not a person who can throw a party for an entire class full of kiddos. It’s partly the stress of planning, partly the ambiguity around who will come or not come, and I am not convinced that it would be fun enough for Kane to be worth the effort and cost.

Sometimes family birthdays are iffy enough, and those are with people who love us, accept us, and put up with the occasional bout of unexpected behavior. Throw in a group of peers and an extra large dose of targeted attention, and we might be in for even more unpredictable behavior. Furthermore, Kane might like the idea of an event, but when it comes down to the actual event, he can easily become overwhelmed and anxious about it, want us to get him out of it or cancel it, or struggle to act in expected ways during it. Although this happens much less frequently than it used to, the anxiety leading up to an event and the challenge of getting through it can also lead to a meltdown afterward.

Once, after attending another child’s party, Kane asked if he could have one. My answer was, “Oh honey, Mommy doesn’t do those parties.” I know that caring for myself and my own limits is just as important as caring for my child’s. We might have a peer party when he’s a little older and it feels right to have one, and we might never have one. And if we don’t, that’s okay. What we do instead is host a family party. We feed them delicious food and help Kane practice hosting. He has fun, he’s spoiled rotten by the people who love him the most, and we all get through it feeling like it was special, but not overwhelming.

Growing up, my birthdays were typically cozy events with my immediate family or an occasional small group of friends. Most often, a birthday meant picking a special dinner and choosing a cake that my mom made. So, I started that tradition with Kane (except for the part about actually making the cake). With a little guidance, he gets to pick his birthday party dinner, choose his birthday theme, and design his cake. The cake especially is a big deal.

For Kane’s earlier birthdays (ages 1-6), we selected grocery store cakes. Starting at age 7, we found an amazing cake decorator who can create some phenomenal and incredibly creative cake designs. And from that day on, the ante was upped.

For his 7th birthday, she created a Disney Planes themed cake, complete with the Taj Mahal on one side and the Eiffel Tower on the other:

Disney Planes cake right sideDisney Planes cake frontDisney Planes cake left side

For his 8th birthday, she created a Cityscape cake, with specifically requested vehicles, each in specifically requested colors, a bridge, and skyscrapers:

Cityscape cake right sideCityscape cake frontCityscape cake left side

This year, all I can say is that the cake was serious business and the discussions were intense. I felt like I was negotiating peace talks. Don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s this little ol’ movie franchise called Star Wars. And Kane is now a HUGE fan.

Originally, he requested three fight scenes, representing the original trilogy, the prequels, and the sequels, with particulars around the placement of each character and lightsaber colors. On the top of the cake, he wanted Luke Skywalker, Yoda, and Darth Vader. On one side of the cake, he wanted Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn, and Darth Maul. On the other side, he wanted Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren. We had a loooong discussion about whether Finn should hold a lightsaber or a laser gun, and settled on a laser gun because we’re apparently Star Wars purists.

When our lovely cake decorator said she wasn’t sure if her piping skills were George Lucas worthy, he decided that my original idea of Darth Vader would be a good alternative…except that he wanted Darth Vader to be 3D.

Finally, I talked him into something more reasonable. We settled on The Phantom Menace cake. With toys that I could buy online. And battle droids with guns. And Naboo starfighters. For which I supplied online images and assurance that we’d be happy with whatever they could manage. One thing Kane will never be accused of is not knowing what he wants, nor lacking specificity.

Star Wars cake right sideStar Wars cake frontStar Wars cake left side

As you can see, our cake decorator came through in spectacular form again. The cake was fantastic.

I hope that all the best events in your life are special, but not overwhelming. Practice self-care. Design your celebrations in whatever way they make sense for you and your family. Eat some cake. Blow some party horns. Throw some glitter (if you roll that way).

And of course, as always, may the Force be with you. 🙂

About Tabitha MacGowan

Hi, I’m Tabitha. I’m an author, autism parent, and advocate of acceptance, compassion, and love. I believe that we are all here for each other and we can co-create the world we want to live in. My book, Phig and the Eaven Prophecy, is a delicious fantasy written from the perspective of a boy on the autism spectrum. I invite you to join me and be a part of my magical world!

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