Monday, July 31, 2000

Pity party

On Sunday, we went to a party that I really didn’t want to go to. Truly, desperately, deeply dreaded. I said I didn’t want to go when we got the invitation. I said I didn’t want to go when the RSVP time rolled around. I whined about going right up until the time we left, at which point I threw a major embarrassing screaming tear-filled tantrum. And still, we went.

It was a graduation party for a relative of my husband’s I don’t know. The graduate’s mother, one of my husband’s five million or so cousins, I could pick out of a line-up if I had to. There were some cousins I knew, many many cousins I didn’t, lots of kids, lots of noise, lots of food, lots of mess, lots of cars, lots of distractions, lots of stuff not to touch, lots of disruptions. Which is why I didn’t want to go. Or why, more specifically, I didn’t want to bring my son.

One of the things I’ve always tried to do with my active, distractible, impulsive, sensory-integration-disordered boy is to control the environments I put him in. Short, specific trips with specific intended outcomes. Trip to the mall for an in-and-out visit to the toy store, yes. Trip to the mall to stand in line for an hour to see some loser in a Disney-character costume, no. Party close by with people we know and a clear escape route, yes. Party two hours away with strangers and an equally endless ride home, no.

I want my son to have as normal a life as possible, but I also know that when he’s put in a position where he can’t behave, he won’t behave. Sometimes, there’s not an option: Church, for example, is a nonnegotiable part of our week, and even though it is a sensory and behavioral disaster for our youngest family member, there’s never a question of not going. But a party—a party too far away—a party with too many relatives—a party that made me exhausted just thinking about it—that party, surely, we could skip.

Especially when it was raining the morning of the party, which was supposed to be a pool party. Especially when my son started coughing and seemed tired and out of it and vaguely pre-cold all morning. Especially when I had a stressful week at work. Especially when I went to all the trouble of throwing a tantrum. But my husband—whose policy in all such events is just to ignore emotional outbursts and keep moving forward in the belief that things will just work themselves out without our help—just kept putting people in the car. And so, we went, with me sulking and sniffling and predicting bad behavior and bad health all the way.

So of course, it wasn’t so bad.

The party was mostly indoors, very crowded and very loud, which instantly put my son into hyperdrive. But his dad took him outside, and walked around looking at cars, and then walked around looking at cars some more, and then gave him some food, and then walked around looking at more cars. They were at the party, in that they were in the same town and on the same block, but out of the four hours we were there father and son were on party premises for about one.

During that one hour, the small boy asked everybody, but everybody, for their keys. Old people, middle-aged people, young people, teenagers, everyone got hit up for their keys. That’s his thing—his party parlor trick—looking at people’s keys and telling them what kind of cars they have. Sometimes people find a small boy sticking his hands in their pockets annoying. Sometimes people find it cute. In this gathering, the latter outnumbered the former, though maybe they were just being polite. At any rate, he looked at a lot of keys and conned a few people into actually letting him in their cars to play.

He didn’t melt down. He didn’t break anything. He didn’t have a screaming fit, or cause one of his parents to have one (though actually, I’d already had one, hadn’t I?) It was, all in all, a successful day. Which is a triumph of sorts for him, coming at a time when he’s had lots of experiences in which people felt he was just the worst little boy on earth. And my appreciation of this is only slightly dampened by the fact that I behaved badly for nothing.

Although I still think it wasn’t necessary. And if he does get a cold, I'll know what to blame it on.

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