On Saturday, we loaded up the four wheel drive sleigh and headed a few towns over to celebrate Jack’s fifth birthday. Jack is my hanai (adopted) nephew, the middle child of my big sister from undergraduate school. Both Chad and I have a soft spot in our heart for Jack. He attended our Hawaiian wedding in his Mom’s belly. He is boisterous and loud and all boy yet he is one of the sweetest, kindest kids we’ve ever met. In short, we love Jack. So we were thrilled to join his family as they celebrated Jack’s birth five whopping years ago.
What we weren’t looking forward to was how Nate would react to such a large crowd. A lot of Jack’s friends, family friends, and relatives would be there. Kids of all ages–ranging from just a few months to seven years–would be there, too. Couple that with pool time fun on a 90+ degree day and that equals loud and unpredictable, which Nate doesn’t do with grace. The party also started at 12, which is usually when Nate went down for a nap, so we knew he would be overtired, too.
We talked to Nate before we went to the party. We showed him Jack’s presents and explained who we would see. We told him it would be loud and there would be crazy kids running around everywhere but there would also be a yummy lunch and cake and a big, giant in-ground swimming pool that held many more people than our above-ground wonder. While we were hoping to stay for a good chunk of time, we were prepared to make a graceful escape to our car at a moment’s notice.
We got to the party right at the start, so it was still pretty mellow. Since it was after Nate’s lunch time, we made a bee-line for the food and made Nater Tater a plate. A booster seat was set up in the dining room for Jack’s brother, Ryan, who is about two months younger than Nate, and Ryan graciously shared the seat with my boy. (Ryan only said, “Mine!” about five times before giving up.) Nate looked like such a big boy sitting at the giant dining room table, noshing party food off of a Pokemon plate. We stocked his plate with his favorites: fresh mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, and bread. We gave him a few bits of chicken fingers, which he refused (a new texture — Nate usually only eats chicken in sauce), as we adults enjoyed some really tasty sandwiches.
Seeing as it was a party, the dining room table held two huge bowls of chips. Chips are a new phenomenon to Nate. Potato is the only kind Nate’s had but he loves them. If he won’t eat his lunch, a few strategically placed chips can get him re-interested in a sandwich and fruit. But this was a party so there were two kinds of chips: potato and nacho cheesy Doritos. Last week in a restaurant, Nate stole a lemon from Chad’s water and proceeded to eat the rind. (You read right.) We told Miss Katy about it (Nate’s OT) and she said that was a sign of sensory seeking: put some spice in his food! So, instead of naturally reaching for a potato chip, we ventured out of our comfort zone and gave Nate a Dorito.
It was love at first bite. Nate could not get enough Doritos. Mozzarella and bread and tomatoes were wholeheartedly abandoned for the electric colored tasty chip. And while my other hanai niece, Grace, who is four months younger than Nate, politely ate her Doritos with a fork and spoon (no lie — she used the fork to scooch the Doritos onto her spoon and then lifted it to her mouth), Nate fisted as many chip bits as he could to get the greatest possible bite.
I came into Nate’s conversation with the Dorito late. I was socializing when I returned to the dining room and found Nate’s hands to be an unnatural color. Chad was so thrilled that Nate had a new food that he kept offering him one chip after another after another. Neither of us had really seen him eat something with this much excitement before. But I put on my Mom pants and called an end to the fun. A last chip was had. Diaper wipes were procured and Nate’s hands returned to a natural color. We lured him away with the prospect of a bathing suit and swimming in the giant pool.
Nate enjoyed swimming, even though the pool was crowded, but eventually told Chad that he wanted to get out by signing “all done.” He played with a really cool pirate water table for a bit and then we came back in the house to help the family get ready to sing Happy Birthday to Jack. That’s where we went wrong.
We found ourselves alone in the dining room with two bowls of chips and a giant sheet cake. Nate was in Chad’s arms and had an eagle eye view of the goody buffet. He didn’t know which he wanted more: cake or chips. So he started to point. Distally point. With very firm intention. When he pointed to the cake, we explained that the birthday boy was still in the pool (Oh, Jack! Would you just hurry up and get out of the pool!!!) and it was impolite to eat a birthday boy’s cake before he had a piece himself. But when he pointed to the chips, there was no social taboo attached to just one more chip.
We tried gently to explain that it was “no more chip time” but Nate didn’t agree. Chad set Nate down on the floor, hoping that a different vantage point would resolve the situation. Instead, Nate pulled an adult-sized chair out from the table and proceeded to show us that, indeed, he could get himself into a big boy chair by himself and sit politely and properly, a first in front of Dad. Once situated, Nate proceeded to distally point to the chip bowl and then the cake. Clearly, it didn’t matter which he got: he just wanted one. Would we please get with the program???
As adults were hollering for kids to get out of the pool, we gave Nate a chip. And as the room started filling with wet, dripping kids, parents galore, and the birthday boy, who proudly sat behind his cake, I whispered to Chad that we better get ourselves to the back of the room. Last year at Jack’s birthday party, before Nate was diagnosed, the singing started and Nate freaked. It was easily written off as a tot spooked by kids obnoxiously singing a song at the top of their lungs and hollering about who got more frosting. But now we know that it was sensory overload times twenty for Nate. Naturally, I was anxious about the singing ritual this year. But Chad sensed something different. He felt Nate could stay in the room, close to the cake. Nate had bonded to that cake and I think Chad was more worried that Nate would lose it if he lost sight of the dessert than if kids were singing loudly.
So, Nate stayed fairly close to the action. Nary a tear. Just eyes glued to a cake. When the song was sung and photos were taken, I quickly grabbed a cupcake, smartly purchased by Bubbie for the kids who can’t wait for the cake to be cut. Chad found a kid-sized table in the corner and Nate went to town on his vanilla cupcake with a mounded swirl of chocolate frosting topped with a Lightening McQueen ring.
After Nate was de-fudgified, we headed home. We were stunned to learn that we had been at the party for three hours and Nate was going strong. But five minutes after we drove away, our boy was sound asleep.
So. Lessons learned: 1) Nate’s really getting the hang of distal pointing and is realizing that it can get him things that he really, really wants. 2) I’ve got to give Nate more credit in social situations, especially when cake is involved. And 3) my kid needs more spice in his diet. Hopefully, the spice will come from food found in nature. Doritos don’t grow on trees, after all.
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