Birthdays. As kids we look forward to them and countdown the days until we are able to say we are really one year older. We look forward to the cake, the candles, the ice cream, the people, the party, and most of all, the presents! Luke turned 10 this week, but his interest in any of the typical joys of birthday celebration are anything but typical. We celebrated Luke’s special day at my parent’s home. This has become our norm whenever we have get togethers of any significant size since our kitchen table, chairs, and any other form of seating were, “Luked,” long ago. We have simply given up replacing such items and have opted for a small, folding table and a couple of sturdy thrift store benches for the rare instances that the family actually sits down to eat together.
The struggle with birthdays for Luke is that the number of people who love him and want to celebrate with him greatly exceeds the number of people he can tolerate in one room. The chaos and chatter is simply overwhelming and sent him quickly to the basement, away from the party. His pain was so clearly evident as the tears welled up in his wide, sad eyes. He choked them back, just like any other ten year-old boy would do and clung to my arm while I tried to coax a bite or two of spaghetti into him. I knew what was wrong, but I ask him anyway, ever hoping that he will miraculously start verbalizing his feelings.
“Oh, Luke, I want you to be happy on your birthday. What’s the matter?”
“Do you want to work for a tractor?”
“Of course, you want a tractor! It’s your birthday, and one of your presents has a tractor in it. Should we go find it?”
We interrupted the family’s dinner and quickly lit candles and blew them out. Luke dutifully sang to himself through the tears. He blew out his candles and ripped open the first gift he was handed. Clothes. Toss them aside. Open the next gift: clothes. Toss them aside. Finally, the tractor. A remote controlled excavator that I knew he would love. And he did. The new toy bought us an hour or so to visit with family and then head for home to deliver medicine and tuck the birthday boy in.
The birthday boy, however, had endured an entire day of changed up routines and over stimulation. He completely lost it in an epic meltdown of kicking, screaming and self-injury. None of my typical soothing techniques were up to the task of calming my raging son. In desperation, I broke out a gift I had tucked away for him for Christmas – a handheld electric massage tool. I tried to massage his back – usually his favorite – but not tonight. Head? No. Feet? No. Finally, he grabbed my hand and placed it on his tummy. We crawled into a sort of fort under the blanket on my bed massaged his bare little belly. Slowly the tears were replaced by smiles and cuddles. In the quiet stillness of our sleepy house, Luke finally had his happy birthday. No noise. No light. Just a tummy massage and a mamma’s attention all to himself.
“I love you, sweet boy,” I whispered to him.
He didn’t respond, but his little hand squeezed mine just a little tighter.
No words necessary.