Are you new here?

Today is my birthday.  I’ve been on this earth for 49 years.  Thank you in advance for your warm wishes. 🙂

Because my husband has an evening meeting tonight we celebrated my birthday yesterday.  In our family the birthday person gets to choose whatever they want for dinner (last night I chose Chinese) and whatever they want for desert (almost ALWAYS ice cream cake for us!).  Once the dinner is over we have the traditional candles in the cake and the singing of “Happy Birthday.”  This is a little tricky for us since our autistic daughter has BIG problems with “Happy Birthday.”

We’ve never been able to figure out why, but it started when she was VERY little.  She would have a full blown meltdown whenever she heard the song – kicking and screaming and crying.  It made birthday parties impossible.  We would try to remove her from the area when we knew the song was coming, but eventually her panic over the song spread so that she hated birthday parties altogether.  As an autism parent you learn pretty quickly that you have to pick your battles – and this was not one of them I had the energy to fight.  After the first few miserable attempts at attending birthday parties of her classmates at school, I just started declining the invitations.

Eventually it became something they worked on in school, but even that was an ordeal.  It was a long process, but she got to the point where she could stay in the room without being disruptive (although crying in the corner isn’t exactly what I would enthusiastically call success).  The past few years the crying has stopped at school, but she still hates birthday parties and will NOT join in to sing for her classmates.  At home, whenever we’re celebrating a birthday we have allowed her to go in her room while the rest of us sing to the birthday person.  That’s worked out fairly well.

Then last night something momentous happened.  My husband called the kids to come and sing to me and watch me blow out the candles AND SHE STAYED IN THE KITCHEN.  Even as it was happening I couldn’t believe it.  She didn’t sing, but she stayed.  Then I couldn’t believe what I did next.

You see, my daughter also hates being singled out.  In a group she’s just fine accepting praise, such as the clapping and cheering when the school chorus sings – but as an individual – no way.  We never clap for her, never cheer her on at school or at home, because that’s another cause for a meltdown.  The closest we can get to open praise for her is a high-five, with a cool “good job.”  Anything more sets her off.  Which made my reaction to her last night even the more brainless.  I got all excited, pitch went up in my voice, I announced to daddy and siblings just how proud I was of her for staying to watch me blow out my candles, and clapped. 

Almost immediately, even before I stopped clapping for her I saw her eyes well up with tears.  Her face contorted with anxiety.  She froze.  Then she yelled, “Stop it!”  Happy proud moment gone.  And all I could say to myself was, “What the hell, are you new here?”  I got so caught up in my pride for her that I lost my senses.  I reacted the way any parent would when their child did something new and brave.  Except I can’t be a typical parent with my atypical child.  How could I forget where I was, who I was with – our life?

As she stood there crying I felt so badly that I had gotten so excited for her.  One of the many things autism parents have to manage – being proud of our children while sometimes holding back, or even feeling grief over an accomplishment, especially if they’re reaching a goal at 12 that most children would reach by FIVE.

I apologized to her for upsetting her and told her she could leave the room and go somewhere to calm down, then apologized again.  She chose then to take her nightly shower, while the rest of us had our ice cream.  And it was okay.  Except, it’s really not.  I loathe it when autism sneaks up on us and bites us in the butt, especially when I should’ve known better…


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4 thoughts on “Are you new here?

  1. Suzanna Catherine December 2, 2014 at 11:12 am Reply

    It must be heartbreaking to see your child so upset. I can only imagine the emotions. Keeping you both my prayers.

    • lisaleben December 2, 2014 at 11:18 am Reply

      I really did feel bad – I should’ve known better – but for that split second I wasn’t paying attention… By the time she was done with her shower she was fine.

  2. Frances December 2, 2014 at 2:53 pm Reply

    I am sure you felt for a moment like you were a terrible parent, but I think your reaction was a beautiful, albeit painful, teaching moment for your daughter…in a safe place, with safe people. You are an awesome mother in my book!

    • lisaleben December 2, 2014 at 8:22 pm Reply

      awww thanks. I try to be a good model of humility – I apologize when I’m wrong or when I’ve done something to upset them (like last night). I always tell my kids I’m not perfect, but I try to do my best.

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