The Birthday Girl Gives Everyone Else a Gift

birthday cake
birthday cake (Photo credit: freakgirl)

This Saturday my son and daughter went to a birthday party of a very close friend, let’s call her the Birthday Girl, who recently moved to another town. Though the Birthday Girl’s older sister has been acutely aware of my son’s developmental differences for the past few years – I wrote about out a wonderful moment we both had last summer – the Birthday Girl had never seemed particularly conscious of his differences.

Based on my observations of the Birthday Girl and my son together, I assumed that my son would just blend right in with this group of fifteen birthday-horn-tooting, sugar-high seven-year-olds. Boy, was I wrong.

It hadn’t occurred to me that because this party was in another town, many of the kids attending wouldn’t have met my son before. In fact, I wonder if many of them had ever met any child with a cognitive disability as great as his before. It made for an interesting party.

A few minutes after we arrived, the kids were invited to sit at the large dining room table for pizza. At the head of the table, the Birthday Girl had set a place for herself and my son, and insisted that he sit next to her. On either long side of the table, many pairs of eyes stared at him, curious about this boy who moved differently, talked differently, and looked very different, too. They weren’t rude, just quiet and clearly very curious. I tried to facilitate somewhat but was really at a loss as to how to turn this in to a teachable moment.

After pizza the kids went out to the back yard to play for a while, then came back in to have cake. Again the Birthday Girl took my son’s hand and led him to the head of the table.

A few moments before, the kids had been asked not to blow their mind-numbing birthday horns indoors a few minutes before; somehow my son missed that message and proceeded to toot away.

“It’s OK that he’s tooting,” Birthday Girl said. “Because he’s…” and she stopped short, not knowing how to end the sentence.

“Cuckoo,” another child said.

“DON’T COMMENT,” she yelled insistently. “Well, you can comment, if you want to say something like, ‘He’s so nice.’”

And that was that. The party proceeded on. The kids watched a movie, and my son had the darnedest time trying to stay focused. He made noise, climbed on the kids, and eventually, I brought him outside with some toys to play while we grown-ups had a beer.  I felt satisfied that on some level progress had been made. I wondered what it would be like for these kids the next time they met a child like him. Maybe they would consider that child a little less strange, a little less cuckoo.

Recently Kara Baskin wrote a nice piece in the Boston Globe about the simple wish list she has for qualities she hopes to see in her child: graciousness, gratefulness, kindness to strangers and kids who are bullied and old people. Who could disagree?

It struck me that that was probably what all these birthday party guests’ parents wanted for them, too. But it is Birthday Girl who is all those things, and part of why she is is because she has been given a many, many chances to practice being patient, considerate, compassionate, and accepting; many, many chances to see my son laugh, struggle, and love her, too.

If we want our children to be good baseball players, we have to give them a ball and a bat. If we want them to play piano, we have to get access to a piano. If we want our children to be compassionate, we have to give them situations to practice compassion. Not just write lists about it, but do it.

Here is a girl, freshly seven, standing up for someone vulnerable, speaking out to her peers and telling them not to bully. Modeling for her friends how to not just tolerate and accept, but to welcome and appreciate difference. How amazing her life will be. I am excited to watch her grow and am grateful to learn from her.

Happy Birthday, Birthday Girl. You are already wise beyond your years.

Published by Cristin Lind

Facilitator, consultant, speaker for better health and care through patient-professional partnership. Passionate about helping change agents build courage and agency. She/her.

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  1. BG is a heroine. And you helped put a positive spin on Kara’s post, which actually really bothered me. All those dreams she has for her son made me feel (and yes, I know I project here) that no matter how he turns out, he will disappoint her. Because he will be real, human, and therefore imperfect, not comsistently, if ever, the vision of which she wrote.

    I suspect BG will have her moments of imperfection as well. But in this one moment she was just the girl we all dream someone would be. I am proud of her. Thank you for sharing your moment with her as true inspiration for us.

  2. Thanks for articulating so well what it is about spending time with my son and your son that makes people better. If I get on the board of our local organization advocating for people with intellectual disabilities (I’m going for my “interview” next week), I’m going to have that description in mind as I try to keep focused on what’s really important. Great story.

  3. I have been feeling a bit “reactive” lately and darn it-it shows.
    My well is running dry and heat it on!
    So being that it is Friday, it is time to fillith my cup!
    Time to hit Cristin’s blog.

    Per usual it hit the spot.

    Both Birthday girl and Cristin made me cry.
    In that good way that helps me remember … during this dry, hot, stretch, how lucky am I to find a long cool drink, delivered by a 7 year old Bithday Girl and a wise dear soul.

    Why I am simply misty, and humbly greatful.
    Thank you both very, very much.

    1. Isn’t she great? Glad I could top you off with a good story. We all need good ones from time to time. And once again I wonder, “How did I get so lucky?”

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