I sit here, three birthday invitations in hand, wondering what to do. In case you’re curious why, it’s because I have a love/hate relationship with birthday parties. I’m not talking about the parties for my children, which while painful at times to organize, are totally worth it in the end because of the smile on their faces. I’m talking about the birthday parties my food allergic child gets invited to. The ones where she’s the odd girl out, to belong for two hours in a world of normal, as defined by most people.
When my daughter was younger, birthday parties were oh, so easy. All I needed to do, besides bring a nice present for the birthday child, was to bring my child’s cupcake. I made sure it was Ooooh worthy–puffed high with fluffy icing and sparkly sprinkles. And, since parents were allowed at the parties, I could protect my daughter’s cupcake and make sure she had her sweet treat when all the other children received their slices of cake. My daughter didn’t mind not having the birthday cake, because her friends wished for a cupcake like hers. Martha Stewart would be proud.
Now that my child is older, birthday parties are BIG EVENTS–no parents allowed. Movie theaters, pizza places, dance halls, gyms, and beauty spas–places kids think are cool. Coupled with these events, comes food. Always, food. Pizza, a variety of snack foods and take-out food, ice cream extravaganzas and cake. Food items kids love, but ones that present a whole new worry to me and my child.
Not to mention, I have to alert the birthday child’s parents (who I don’t always know) to my child’s allergies and entrust them with my child’s food and cupcake. When the parents want to devote their attention to their own child’s day, I’ve handed them a wrench so they also have to concern themselves with keeping my child safe. And while most parents are gracious and kind to accept this extra responsibility, it isn’t fair to them. They want to celebrate their child, and that is as it should be.
But, it also isn’t fair to my child. Because, most times, my daughter gets her food and cupcake after the fact. And while I can understand this and appreciate the efforts the parents make for my daughter on their child’s special day, it is difficult for me as a mother to watch my child’s face, her melancholy after she leaves a party, when she holds the package of food she wasn’t able to eat, or opens up the goody bag and has to hand it over because of something she can’t have. For when it really comes to it, as much as I want my child to experience the normalcy of childhood, of life, it eludes her at times, the dividing factor being food.
I resent the power of food, the way it slowly eats away at her confidence
and her feeling of belonging. It shouldn’t be this way. But, it is.
When it comes to my other children, it’s a no brainer if they get invited to a birthday party. As long as it works with the schedule, my children can go. And that’s the way it should be; childhood fun should be easy. But, when it comes to my middle child, I sometimes grapple with the decision of whether I should allow my child to go to a party. And I dread that. All because of food.
Lest you think me a total curmudgeon, let me be clear. I love birthdays. I think birthdays should be celebrated big time. In my family, we do it up and have week-long celebrations. We love planning birthday surprises, presents and ways to make the birthday person feel special.
It also makes me happy when my children get invited to birthday parties or over to their friends’ homes. My children are welcome to invite their friends over, too. It’s not uncommon for us to have anywhere from six to fifteen children playing in my yard. I love it that my children are social, developing solid friendships, learning about the care of other people and of themselves. Friendships are very, very important. A dance of give and take, of commitment and compromise.
That’s why it makes it so hard when I’m confronted with a decision of whether or not my middle child can go to a birthday party. I want my daughter to enjoy the celebrations of friendship, yet, there are things I need to do before I can allow her to attend a party. I need to do my own research on a place, sometimes calling the party place, ie: beauty spa, to find out what types of ingredients are in their products and how they handle food allergies. I need to call the parents to find out what kinds of foods they plan on having and make sure I plan the time to prepare similar foods so my child can have it at the party.
It is never carefree–trying to balance being cool and calm to the other parents while knowing that I’ve created an imposition to them–because I want to keep my child safe. On bad days, this can just be the thing that puts me on edge.
And, if I believe the dangers outweigh the fun factor, I need to explain to my child why she can’t go to a party, deal with her tear-filled pleas, come up with an alternate plan to spend the day, appease parents who get upset when my child can’t go to the party, and devise a way my child can celebrate with her friend at another time.
All this for a two-hour birthday party.
For a child, who is not mine. Because my daughter wants to celebrate with her friend. I do this. For my child’s chance at normalcy. In honor of friendship.
I am happy when my child is invited to parties. Because the joy my child experiences from her friendships far outweighs the minor burden to me. And most especially, for the wonderful surprises that are given in the name of friendship, that are more precious than you can imagine.
For the children who beg their parents to make sure everything they have for their party is safe for my child, who are willing to give up food they love on their big day, for the sake of my child. For the parent who remembers my daughter’s food/cupcake, and serves it at the same time the other children eat, letting my child take an active part of the celebration. For the parents of my daughter’s friends, who call out of the blue, because they want to serve food my child can eat, to make my girl feel like part of the crowd. For the parents who create a special goody bag for my child by remembering not to put in the candy, who go above and beyond on a busy day of celebration for their own child, and make my daughter feel normal.
These are the treasures we keep, that help my daughter know her value. Her worth. This is what allows me to go on, despite the days when people are not so understanding. For as much as my husband or I tell her it is so, my daughter would not believe it, if not for the incredible people, who make it their concern, to let her know how much she is respected, honored and cherished.
And for that, I will always be grateful. More than you know.