Lots of my friends groan at the thought of their children’s birthday parties;
the relentless competition for the best theme , most outlandish games (often based on reality TV shows and requiring about as much pre-production), food which caters for everyone’s tricky diets – wheat/gluten/ lactose/sugar/nut free) and the trauma of the goodie bags- $2 shop pre-assembled tat or home-made carefully compiled expensive trinkets?
Or just a piece of cake to take home? But wait! The cake may contain traces of nuts and almost certainly has a great big dollop of A4 E129!
I can understand why it can be all too hard.
But we grew to love Claudia’s birthdays and went to some effort for them.
When she was 7 and that first really big gap between her peers and her started yawning so blatantly, we realized that unless we engineered some social interaction for her she’d be likely to drift away into a comfortable but isolated twosome with her Teacher Aid at playtimes and lunchtimes.
But asking one or two friends over to play with someone who wouldn’t really engage with them in a socially satisfying way, for an ordinary 7 year old would be really really contrived – and a bit cruel.
So we thought – “Bugger it, lets ask everyone once!”
And so once a year for her birthday, Claudia had party to which every girl in her class, her Teachers, Therapists, Teacher Aids, some family friends, their children and our own family were invited.
Luckily we had a big indestructible house in the country and could be as loud as we wanted to. Because Claudia loves noise and activity and dancing and watching other people even if she doesn’t always want to join in.
It began with her 8th birthday – a team of little girls poured into the house and we were a bit shocked at how screamy and excited they were en masse – how quickly they churned though the usual party games and how restless for adventure they were. They were dispatched upstairs to the dress up box and to be “made up” by Claudia’s older sister and her friends while we quickly devised a more complicated and time consuming game.
By the time we’d had a fashion parade down the stairs we were ready with enough dares in balloons for everyone there. There was popping and more screaming as every girl lived vicariously with the next through their dares – (I learnt only recently that one girl was absolutely terrified sitting in the dark cupboard with our smelly panting dog for a whole minute- she’s never forgotten it!)
We really didn’t know 8 year old girls very well because our 8 year old wasn’t typical.
For her 9th birthday we had a Gypsy theme , with a fortune reading gypsy, a drummer, a bonfire, some wine for the adults and a high old time. Claudia absolutely loved it and so did her friends.
Her 10th birthday was in the middle of a horrible year of surgeries, a full hip spika (plaster waist to both ankles) hoists, wheelchairs and being in hospital or housebound for most of the time.
But we had a party anyway – with a “Rock Star” theme.
She’d just had the paster off and was coming to terms with her feeble, unresponsive legs. She was in a wheelchair and had been very knocked about but we borrowed a friend’s SingStar and despite some adults being shocked at the sophisticated musical tastes of the 10 years olds present, everyone had a great time.
For her 11th birthday, her final at Primary School with this great gang of girls, we had a “Concert for Claudia” and everyone provided an act.
This was right up her alley and apart from a terrified scream when the lights went out and the show began, she loved it all and sat there like Queen C having her own private Royal Variety show. The staff that year went all out and came in full Rocky Horror regalia for their performance. It was FAB.
We knew it would be the last – that once we all hit High School things wouldn’t be the same.
One of the problems that came with the High School physical separation of Claudia from the others was that they didn’t really know what she was doing, so the incidental chit-chat they would once have exchanged with her dried up altogether. Their paths ceased to cross and if they did they had nothing to say.
As the years went by Claudia really lost touch with those girls and what was going on. That other “7 year” age of 14 when most people begin their own individual social lives, heralded some lonely times where Claudia had absolutely no social life at all.
Then Facebook came along and as I began to be ‘friends” with people Claudia’s age I realized the potential value of “social” media. I got her a Facebook account.
Claudia quickly got loads of friend requests from those original friends – and others.
When she updated her statuses people had something to say to her when they saw her around the school. The could comment to her in real life about what they knew she was up to.
And that’s been great.
She loves her Facebook page and checking out the comments from people she knows. She loves seeing their pictures and remembers them all.
When we run into her friends in real life, we can short cut the small talk and refer to what we know has been going on recently.
It’s a relief for everyone because I know people struggle to hold a conversation with her – she’s not great at conversation beyond “hi” and “bye” – the bits in the middle that others can now put in make her happy because she, her life, activities and interests are being acknowledged.
Facebook is great for Claudia. It keeps her in people’s radar and that’s all we really want. That she’s not forgotten by the people she remembers still so fondly as her friends.
When she left Primary School I made a film of thanks from Claudia to those friends which you can see here
and if you want to be her friend she’s here