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For He's A Jolly Good Fellow

For He's A Jolly Good Fellow

Image: Ray Cross

“I remember a game we played once.”

We’re driving in the car and Max has launched into a rare spontaneous conversation.

“We sat in a circle and passed around a package with lots of layers. When the music stopped, if you were holding the package you got to unwrap one of the layers. The last layer had a present inside and that person got to keep it!”

And with that he returns to his silent contemplation of things whizzing past the window.

I know exactly which game he’s talking about. It’s called Pass the Parcel, and every kid in Australia has played it a zillion times at countless birthday parties. Except Max. He played it at early intervention therapy.

It would take me a mere second to count the countless birthday parties to which Max has been invited. Two. That’s all, just two. He turns fifteen this week. I don’t do this little counting exercise very often because, well, it breaks my heart into ouchy little shards that poke through my lungs and make it hard for me to breathe.

It hurts so bad that he’s missed out on such an important part of growing up. That Pass the Parcel is a vague memory of something that he did once. Once.

Happy kids at birthday parties. We see them everywhere, in commercials and Pinterest and parenting blogs. Parties are part of our collective experience, one that’s talked about in songs and books and TV shows. So in many ways being excluded from them feels like being left out of life.

But I remind myself that I spent years feeling heartbroken that every day at school he sat and ate lunch on his own, only to have him finally tell me last month that he liked it that way and it annoyed the crap out of him that people kept asking him if he was okay. The anxiety I’d been having about it, the sadness I’d imagined, were based on stereotypes and had nothing to do with what he actually wanted.

I know that if Max was ever invited to a party, he would choose not to go. The stress of trying to navigate crowds and unspoken social rules would far outweigh any potential fun. 

So really I’ve being going about it all wrong. My goal is not to try and get him invited to more parties, but figuring out what it is that he likes about them so we can give kick-ass parties at home, to celebrate our birthdays in a way that is fun and memorable for him.

Over the years I’ve discovered that this is what he loves most about birthdays:

  • The happy birthday banner

  • A birthday cake made just for him

  • Party foods

Oh and he likes presents, of course. But only in a low-key kind of way, without a lot of fanfare or cheering (and he hates surprises, so no gift wrap). Pretty standard birthday party stuff, with one major exception: people. He doesn’t need or want to celebrate his birthday with other kids. Once I understood that this is the way he likes things it freed me up from trying to give him the birthday experience that everyone else says he should be having. 

So this week I will spend many hours baking Star Wars themed foods. I will call on all my culinary know-how to create some kind of elaborate Star Wars birthday cake extravaganza. Over the weekend we’ll spend all of the money that used to go into a party for dozens of kids on a day full of activities for one. We’ll do anything Max wants - movies, video arcade, the insanely overpriced aquarium. And the best bit of all, the thing that he waits all year for... a double scoop ice cream with as many toppings as he wants. It will be an over the top and awesome party for one. 

Because there's nobody like Max.

Monday, 26 November, 2012