The day after Chad’s graduation (which you can read about here and here) was Nate’s fifth birthday. It fell on a Tuesday so we threw a birthday party for Nate on the Saturday prior. In honor of Nate’s big day, we had his party at Bounce U, a giant warehouse filled with bounce houses and inflatable activities (slides, a soccer ring, obstacle courses, etc.). We have been to Bounce U before; the bouncing is actually really good for kids on the autism spectrum and they host a special Sensory Bounce for kids on the spectrum and their siblings/neurotypical friends on Sunday mornings. Nate’s been a few times and loved it. They offered a spectacular birthday package – one hour of bouncing plus a 1/2 hour of pizza/cake eating for a reasonable price. They managed the set up, had two hosts assigned to us who took pictures of all the kids, served the food and cake, cleaned up, and loaded everything into our car!
The party package allowed for fifteen kids, including the birthday boy. It sounds like a lot but it’s really not. Nate’s class alone has eight kids, including Nate, and some have siblings. And we had friends and family that we definitely wanted to invite. So we decided to only invite Nate’s classmates whose parents I saw on a regular basis; that was two kids and those two kids had three siblings total. That left us plenty of room to invite the friends and family near and dear to our heart!
Chad and I were particularly excited about this birthday because, just the week prior, Nate blew a “wish” (a dandelion) all by himself. The pucker-and-blow phenomenon had been out of his gross motor skill grasp all these years and it finally showed up just in time for his birthday candle!
A few days in advance of the birthday party, we began explain to Nate what would happen on Saturday. We mentioned his friends and hanai aunties and uncles would all gather at Bounce U just for him. There would be bouncing, pizza, and cake. In the cake, there would be a candle and it would be on fire. Everyone will sing a song and Nate will blow out the candle and then everyone will enjoy a treat.
Then we rehearsed. We had store-bought cupcakes, we stuck a candle in it, we set it on fire, and we quietly sang as we continually signed “wait” so Nate wouldn’t gobble up the frosting. As the wax was melting, we prompted Nate to blow, trying to demonstrate without blowing out the flame ourselves. In our enthusiastic demonstration, one of us adults accidentally snuffed out the fire so Chad re-lit the candle in front of Nate, sulfur flaring from the match, light blazing as it headed toward the candle.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog and know our boy, you know exactly what happened next. Nate lost it. It seems that the lighting of the match so close to Nate brought flashbacks of that chef who drew a huge happy face in oil and set it on fire for Nate at our horrific Easter teppan yaki (or hibachi) lunch. The fire was sudden, it was uncontrollable (though most certainly contained), and it was unexpected. Chad and I quickly snuffed out the candle, apologized a million times as we tried to explain what happened, and kept shoving frosting Nate’s way. Nate calmed down, he ate his cupcake, all was good. Until bedtime.
Nate and I have the most lovely bedtime routine. We have a big chair in our living room that I sit in and there’s exactly enough room for the two of us. Nate crawls on up with me, the blanket of the day, and one or two friends. I recount all the wonderful things he’s accomplished that day and we snuggle and he drifts off to sleep. However, sometimes, if something particularly traumatic has occurred during the day, he retains that anxiety and it comes out in one giant cloudburst. It’s the ugly cry, the one that Oprah fires people over. The tears are rolling, Nate can’t catch his breath, and he’s inconsolable. For twenty minutes, Nate hyperventilated as he sobbed about the match that lit the candle. Finally, he fell over in exhaustion and went to sleep. Needless to say, on Thursday and Friday, we continued the birthday cake ritual rehearsal sans fire.
On the big day, we were ready! We got there early to meet the staff that were managing our party. Bounce U was incredibly professional and they were a birthday party machine. That day, there were fifteen birthday parties planned. There are two bounce rooms with a divider between them. Our party got 30 minutes in the first room, 30 minutes in the 2nd room, and 30 minutes in the pizza/cake room. Parties started every half hour and were just moved right on down the line. (Pretty brilliant if you ask me!)
As we had the room to ourselves, it didn’t matter if Nate played appropriately or not on the inflatables. There was a giant slide and Nate thought it was much more fun to roll a ball up and down the slide.
Nate’s pal, Emma, patiently waited her turn to play ball.
Nate’s hanai cousin, Grace, really loved the big slides.
And the twins rode down slides together!
Of course, the birthday boy shot also shot some hoops.
Chad and Nate also (unsuccessfully) tried to get velcro flags off of a giant inflatable mountain!
And when Nate needed some alone time, he went into the “hurricane booth.” It only worked if you fed it money (we didn’t) so Nate thought it was a pretty nifty way to get a moment of respite.
After we bounced to our hearts’ content in both rooms, it was time for pizza and cake. Of course, at a bounce house, the boy of honor will sit in a bouncy throne!
Unfortunately, every picture with the birthday boy and his cake looked like this. Nate was distrustful. Nate was fearful. Nate just wanted cake.
We got a big “5” candle, put it in his cake, and did not light it. We explained the no-fire rule to all of our guests and asked them to sing Happy Birthday very quietly to Nate. They wonderfully obliged and Chad and I pretended to blow out the candle. And then Nate got to eat frosting to his heart’s content.
We asked for no gifts; if people wanted to do something, they could donate to Nate’s fifth birthday wish. However, Nate did get a few things including the Daniel Tiger Bungalow from his friends Matthew, Sunny, and Sophia (he instantly knew what it was and hasn’t stopped playing with it since) and a Toys R Us gift card from his Tutu June. He used part of the gift card to buy a Fisher Price corn popper toy. It’s meant for infants learning to walk but he found it, hugged it, and made it pop everywhere throughout the store. Sometimes we worry when Nate gets out of sight; on that day, you could hear him a mile away.
In between Nate’s birthday party and his actual birth date were Chad’s graduation activities and commencement ceremonies. On Nate’s birthday, we sent him to school with a “BIRTHDAY BOY!” t-shirt and Ms. Mechelle made him an extra special crown to wear. Rather than serve left over birthday cake, I went to Whole Foods and got Nate a special chocolate cake and Chad came home early so we could have a celebration and open presents from us, Mam, and Super Grandpa. But Nate wasn’t feeling right. He had an rash on his back and slowed down in his activity considerably. By four o’clock, he didn’t want to eat. By five, when we showed him his birthday cake, he fell asleep. We didn’t even get a picture of him on his big day because he was so ill. Nate had also been sick the week prior with something different and, all told, Nate wound up being out of school for almost two weeks.
The celebration kind of stopped there. I turned into caregiver and then Nate’s driver to various doctor’s appointments. And then we anxiously waited for him to get better because we had a celebration weekend away planned in Boston and we didn’t want to go if Nate wasn’t well….
Stay tuned for the next episode of Nate is Great….Beantown!