Sunday, February 10, 2008

Fourth Birthday

After a bit of a lull due to a business trip, too much work, illness, and generally being too tired at the end of each day to write, Hyperlexicon is back.

In the interim, Ben celebrated his fourth birthday.

Every year on the two days leading up to his birthday, I think back on what I was doing at various moments in 2004 and make remarks like these to Chris at regular intervals:

“Well, right about now we were walking up and down Ulloa Street and I was stopping every once in a while for a contraction.”

“This is right about when I started throwing up.”

“Four years ago right now, they were giving me the epidural.”

“This is when I had been pushing for three hours and they kept saying ‘any minute.’”

The whole experience lasted more than 36 hours from first contraction to Ben’s surgical arrival into the world. The birth I had envisioned as natural and drug-free ended up as a sampler plate of every medical intervention known to modern obstetrics. “If this was 100 years ago,” my OB told me during my follow up exam, “one of you might not have made it.”

In the end, Ben got here his own way. His birth gave me a preview of how hard it is to transition him from one place to another, and it taught me the first, most important lesson in parenting: chuck your expectations overboard and hang on.


My first requirement for Ben’s birthday party was that it be held anywhere BUT our house. Since it generally rains during this time of year in California, this meant that we find a place indoors to rent.

We scheduled a party at a local gymnasium where Ben took a gymnastics class last winter thinking that several trampolines, a foam block pit and an obstacle course would perfectly suit a group of 3 and 4 year olds. Plus: no house to clean, no toys to fight over.

But when several key guests were unavailable for that date, we decided to have the party on different date. Unfortunately, the gym was already booked. We put our fate in Mother Nature’s hands and invited guests to gather at a local park instead.

It started to rain a week before the party and it didn’t stop. When I realized that we’d have to go with Plan B and host the party at our house, I felt a deep dread in the pit of my stomach. When a few parents called to politely decline due to illness or other conflicts, I was secretly relieved.

You see, Ben is extremely territorial. Usually, when other kids touch his stuff – especially trains – Ben unravels. Would the intrusion of friends from school into Ben’s inner sanctum be more than he could stand? With a house full of kids, we’d certainly have to put the trains away, but what about every thing else?

We set up a few stations around the house with games, musical instruments and art activities, and borrowed my mother-in-law’s enormous box of Legos.

The Legos were a godsend. They were the hit of the party. All the boys gathered around the box and were content for about 45 minutes of calm parallel play. Ben seemed perfectly happy to have the house full of people and since the Legos weren't HIS per se, he didn't seem to mind that everyone else was enjoying them, too. I buzzed around nervously, wondering if this was the calm before the storm. But everyone seemed so…happy.

We seated the kids for pizza and cupcakes. Ben ended up at a little table with two friends who are also into Thomas trains, Aidan and Sawyer. Aidan and Sawyer were talking about the story “Percy’s Chocolate Crunch,” recounting various plot points.

With a little coaching from Chris, Ben joined in the conversation.

He talked ABOUT the story. He didn’t RECITE the story. He sat at a table with two typical peers and CONVERSED about a shared interest, taking TURNS. While it wasn’t exactly the Algonquin Round Table, it was an amazing sight.

In fact, there was really nothing about Ben’s behavior that day that made him stand out to a casual observer as different from this group of neuro-typical peers. My feeling of dread dissipated into euphoric relief.

After nearly 2 hours (I thought we’d only last 45 minutes) the guests from school left, each getting a hug from Ben. His cousins stayed to play longer. When I suggested that they watch a video that Ben didn’t want to watch at that moment, he lost it and melted down into a tantrum.

I think he had worked pretty hard keeping it together, being such a sparkling host. And after all that plus 3 cupcakes, I’d say he did remarkably well.

Happy Birthday, buddy.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a terrific 4th Birthday! Gives me hope for the 4th birthday coming up here this summer.

I have read that many Hyperlexic have dramatic improvements/changes between age 4 and 5. Maybe you're seeing that with Ben!

Sounds like a wonderful party!

KAL said...

What a great birthday celebration! You must be so proud of him. I'm with you - chuck those expectations (high AND low) and hang on! Happy 4th.

Anonymous said...

great story!