I can’t believe my son is going to be seven. His birthday is right around the corner and, just like his sister, each year that passes in his life makes me feel just a touch more ancient.
Lucas’s birthdays used to be bittersweet. When your child is non-verbal and has Autism, especially early on, birthdays can be seen as missed goal dates in your mind. You’re so focused on what milestones they fell short of by three, four, or five that the celebration itself gets lost in the shuffle.
As I mentioned, though, time moves on and, as it does, it brings perspective. My little guy grew into his own person and I love him for it. He might not be who I expected him to be, but no one ever fully becomes who you expect them to be. The best you could hope for is that they turn out to be spectacular and that’s exactly what my little man became. The cloud of uncertainty cleared a bit as I watched him come into his own and I was able to finally celebrate all the things my son was, rather than what he wasn’t.
There is one question, though, that I do hear from people. I’ve been asked on more than one occasion by more than one person and it’s enough to knock you for a loop.
Does he know it’s his birthday?
Before anything, I want to say that I’m not offended when this is asked. Sure, I’d rather not talk about it in the middle of his birthday party or another inappropriate time, but as long as it’s said without malice, the question itself is fine. Frankly, I’d rather friends ask questions they have about Lucas rather than wonder from afar.
When it comes to his awareness of the reason behind birthdays or holidays in general, there are actually three possible responses to it.
The first answer is “Of course he does!” That’s the feel good answer of optimism that you expect to read in a blog. It’s like when someone assures you 100% that a relative who passed away is looking over you. It feels good to say it. It feels good to think it. In the end, though, you know it’s a guess. I don’t do that with Lucas and his understanding. That wouldn’t be fair to him and would make assumptions I have no right to make. If the answer isn’t a definite “yes”, I won’t say it is. I owe him that.
The second answer is “Nope.” That’s the pessimistic answer. It’s the one that would earn me a sympathetic hand on the shoulder and a hug to help me cope with this horrible joyous birthday celebration. However, just like offering a resounding “absolutely” with my chest puffed out with pride, a pitiful “no chance” with my head hung to the floor would be just as disingenuous. The answer is no more the hard “no” than it is the uplifting “yes”.
The third and true response is “I don’t know.” Yeah. Feels flat in some ways, right? People don’t like to hear “I don’t know”s. There’s nothing satisfying in that. We want to know things for sure and, when we don’t, it can drive us crazy.
While I don’t’ have definite answers, I do have a few clues that he does understand the day more than we may realize. When Lucas was about four, he and I attended his classmate’s birthday party at a local play gym. It was only about a week after my son’s birthday and all went well until it came time for the cake.
Why? Because he broke into tears right in the middle of the song. Both surprising and heartbreaking, I had to take him out of the pizza/cake room until the singing had stopped.
I wasn’t sure what happened. He had just celebrated his own day and had no issue with the birthday anthem being sung then. In fact, he liked it. When I explained what happened to his teacher at the time, she offered an explanation that I thought was crazy, but have come to realize was actually pretty spot-on.
Maybe he was jealous.
I think about that every once in a while and, with each passing age, I believe it a little more. In fact, every year just as we hit his birthday month, I start singing Happy Birthday to him at random moments. He smiles big and I can see that he knows it’s special. He has never cried when it’s sung directly for him.
My son’s birthdays aren’t traditional. He doesn’t get excited over gifts or beg to do something special. He does, however, love cake and being around us as a family. Whether we’re swimming in a pool or just sitting in the living room, Lucas is an easy-going low-maintenance kid. We might not do the things another seven year old wants to do on their birthday, but we do what my seven year old wants to do on his birthday. That’s what’s important.
Sure, I wish I could ask him if he knows the reason for our singing or if he understands what it means to be seven. I wish he could tell me that definite yes or no. In the end, though, it doesn’t make any difference at all. I don’t need to know that. What I need to know is that on that day, Lucas will be happy and it will be because we make sure of it. That’s what family does for each other on special days.
When you think about it, that’s actually the only thing that really matters. If I had a day full of my favorite food, entertainment, and people, I’d be ecstatic. Not knowing the reason or why it’s happening on that precise date wouldn’t make it any less awesome.
I may not have a lot of definite yeses when it comes to my kid’s birthday, but the one yes I have is the most important one. Did I give him the best day possible? As long as I can answer yes to that, nothing else matters.