There's a young boy in Hayden's grade-- from a different class-- who has befriended him this year. I had been hearing about J & was finally able to meet him on Halloween.
Side note, speaking of Halloween-- shame on me for not blogging about Hayden's awesomeness in the school parade! And his UPS costume was the biggest hit! Complete with his hand truck of boxes... playfully addressed to all of his favorite dudes from TV:
It was then that I got the idea for Hayden to pretend to be shipping to Danny, & that might be a way to incorporate The Count into H's costume... without having to change his costume. I eventually thought why not just add boxes for all of his favorite guys from TV! Furthermore, the following week or so after Halloween, I emailed Count's Kustoms to share a couple of pics with them. They loved hearing about H's costume & sent him a whole bunch of stuff in the mail! T-shirt, keychains, magnets, tattoos, stickers... the works!
Awesome-est Halloween ever.
So anyway, as I was saying Halloween also allowed me a chance to meet H's new friend J. He is adorable & very sweet. Fast-forward a little more than a month later to the night of the 3rd Grade Winter Concert. We're in the parking lot heading back to the car after, & we see Hayden's new friend. Then I noticed who he was walking with & I recognized his mom! Both of us are volunteers on a local Foundation, but neither one of us realized who the other one was.
After a very funny reciprocal exchange of "I didn't know you were his Mom!" ... we were thrilled to have "met" & put the pieces together.
So it turns out that J's birthday was actually coming up. His party was scheduled in just a couple of weeks. The thing is... it is inexplicably important to help shape friendships with H's same-age peers & encourage his inclusion in activities-- particularly ones outside of school-- are immeasurably beneficial to Hayden's growth & development. All birthday parties are a great opportunity for Hayden in general, because he is very social by nature. But at this age there are also fewer of them. So needless-to-say we were SO EXCITED to get the invite-- especially with this one being a birthday party for his new buddy J.
There are some things I would have to think about ahead of time, though. For example, Hayden tends to eat at atypical times & his meals throughout the day are extremely important for helping to balance his mood (not to mention, getting medication in). But it turns out for this particular party, that wouldn't be all...
I took a closer look at the invite & saw the words: Laser Tag Party.
(Insert imaginary sound of Pac-Man dying.)
Try to imagine how a toddler might react to a dark room, with blinking & glowing lights, very loud sounds, & people who are wearing combat-style gear running around, while aiming dangerous-looking objects at one another. And try to imagine how you would explain to the toddler, that this is just for fun.
Now imagine that the toddler is the size of a 9 year old, has a tough time with transitions, needs to understand a beginning & an end, how long something will take, & has difficulty regulating sensory input. In other words, they have sensory processing disorder which could range from causing them to overreact, under-react, simply become fixated, or potentially not notice something at all. This also includes difficulty with food textures, by the way.
But never mind the refreshments menu, how would their brain interpret an environment such as laser tag? What behavior might the child exhibit if the environment was just too much? Not to mention how might other kids react to this behavior?
As parents to a very unique child our anxiety was certainly heightened over this one. We didn't know what to do. Bring him? Keep him home? Try to participate for just a portion of the party? Would that be rude? It was also about a half hour away which wasn't helping. Yes it's true for many children with special needs that the more you expose them to, the better their chances for enjoying different situations. But that being said it is equally crucial to approach such situations with close care & careful planning.
Otherwise it could be a complete disaster.
It just so happens that the local Foundation I volunteer with-- which J's mom is also a member of-- usually meets monthly. We had one more meeting coming up for 2014 & it was scheduled during the weeks in between the school concert & J's birthday party. Since I do not know his mom too-too well, I figured that I would just speak to her in person at the next meeting. This way I could explain a little bit about Hayden, & she could perhaps offer insight as far as how the party might be structured. Would it be play, food, & then more play? Or just an hour & a half of play & then food? Was it just laser tag or other activities too? We looked up the facility online & they offered a lot of choices.
That was it-- I was feeling better already-- I would just talk to her when I saw her. That seemed like the best approach & I felt good about it.
Well as luck would have it we got some bad weather & the next Foundation meeting was cancelled. Oddly, at this point, I just thought fuck it. I am going to bring Hayden to that party. He likes this kid, this kid likes my kid, & we liked that kid, too! Shouldn't that be enough? (Of course in the back of my mind I'm thinking what if this doesn't work out... what's worse... coming up with a polite lie to not bring Hayden or Hayden going to the party & potentially _____ ... who knows... it's like fill-in-the-blank. Really.)
I talked about it with my family & votes were tied for bringing him vs not bringing him. So much for that being helpful.
There is one other thing-- hard to explain, but important to mention-- about the lasers. They of course look like guns & are pointed at people the same way. When Hayden is feeling overwhelmed it may turn into being upset or angry or both. One of his unfortunate new habits when this happens involves not only curse words, but also putting his hands together & "appropriately" pointing his fingers to mimic a gun. This is usually accompanied by phrases which Hayden knows have something to do with guns, & what these weapons result in. (Let's just leave it at that.) But the last thing we need is Hayden misinterpreting a game of tag as people acting out in a mean way towards one another.
I could go on & on about this dilemma but in my heart I really just wanted to allow Hayden an opportunity to have fun with familiar kids. My fears remained present, but that's not what it came down to-- the socialization is. We waited until just a couple days beforehand, if that, to even tell Hayden about the party in the first place. This way he had some time to let it simmer, but not too much time that we would constantly have to explain when it was coming up.
Hayden was in a good mood when the day of the party arrived & he was so excited for it. Like I said the place was about a half hour away-- not so much because of the mileage but rather due to traveling on several county roads to get there. (We are near a major highway that runs east/west, but not north/south... so those directions sometimes take longer from where we are.) #country
Mind you we are driving through areas with a lot more land than homes & at about half way there when we came to a crossing, Hayden saw a parking lot a short distance away with a whole bunch of cars (it was just a church with a lower roof line). I remember he asked if that was the party-- I'm sure he was wondering where the heck we were going. You have to remember this is a kid from school, so I think Hayden expected we'd be in the car 5 - 10 minutes. I guess they chose this place because we don't really have a similar venue near us. (There are party facilities in the area-- we're not completely in the middle of nowhere-- but no laser tag.)
Hayden was one of the last to arrive at J's party but in this particular instance that was absolutely fine. From the moment he hurried into the party room-- seriously, he was so eager I think he was skipping-- I heard a bunch of kids greet him & I knew we made the right decision.
When it was time to start the laser tag they had to first write their names on little score cards (I didn't realize this at first). J very kindly & patiently went over to H & showed him where to write his name. Hayden proceeded to draw one of the most deliberate & controlled letter H's I have ever seen him make. It was his typical crooked-style & had an extra vertical line... but I'll tell ya right now I don't think I could have possibly been any more proud. I snuck right next to him for a second, told him he did a great job, & said I would plug in the rest (which I did, adding the a-y-d-e-n). J saw me do this, but I don't know that he thought anything of it.
So next up they would gather in the little area outside of the laser tag room where the kids get suited-up, & also instructed.
I waited in the observation room (with the window) with some of the other moms, & Dan went to make sure that H was ready to start. One of the instructors knew to kind of keep an eye on H-- as did J's dad-- so for the most part, he was in there without us for practically the entire first half of laser tag play. If you can make out the one adult & two kids in the pic below, H is the blurry kid-figure on the right (J to his left):
There was a break in between the two sessions & the kids had pizza, which was perfect. For round two some of the dads joined in as well-- H's father included, of course. After the games were done they took a group pic & I don't even know how to put into words how awesome this felt for this mama <3 (Hayden is bottom-left, green top:)
So aside from one tiny thing that happened right before ice cream cake was served, everything was basically perfect. We just had a little moment of (probably) overwhelming-ness catching up with H... & when J was taking a birthday picture with his parents & siblings... our son was sort of photobombing... but not exactly in a cute way. I think Hayden was sort of confused-- may have felt like his participation in the picture was expected of him-- the same way we encouraged him to not run away before the group shot was taken. Not sure. But J & his family were unbelievably cool about it. Could not have been nicer & more understanding.
It all ended well. Hayden didn't really touch his piece of cake, which was completely expected, but he moved it around a little with the fork :). That was still participating as far as I was concerned!
The last activity-- (very busy party--) was video games! At that point we were ready to exit, & so was H, but the birthday boy was beyond thrilled to receive extra tokens that Hayden would not be using. So it was all good!
I did end up getting a cute shot of the two of them :) I am trying to keep this somewhat anonymous so in lieu of actually sharing that photo, I will leave you with a description of an adorable kid, hands in his pockets, wearing a casual closed-mouth smile, standing in front of bright bluish-purple wall, with an enormous "Happy Birthday" sign above his head, & turned slightly towards my son who is standing right next to him.
That is the image I am left with.