The bittersweet of birthday parties

Having now been in “the city” for 6 months now, we’ve made friends that have children more or less our girls’ ages.  Consequently, we’ve been invited to their children’s birthday parties.  A little gathering to celebrate a precious little life, and make the little birthday girl or boy feel particularly loved and valued. I have always loved seeing the delight in a child’s eyes, as they see their birthday present pile grow, as each new friend arrives.  What’s even better is the moment of the cake and candles.  What child doesn’t love this part!  I have very creative friends, so the cakes are always much anticipated by everyone, as we know it will be something that has been decorated and crafted with much love and effort.

My girls, when arriving at a little party, make a bee-line for the food.  Eden generally finds the spot near the potato crisps, and literally, will not budge until the bowl is finished.  Tahlita’s new favourite sign is “to share”.  Of course it’s used liberally when it best suits her. It’s always at the party table that she points to every single snack or treat, offers a colorful paper plate, and very sweetly, reminds me that this would be a good time for “sharing”…sharing everything with her, that is.  Hadassah is growing in confidence, and from time to time is graceful enough to muster up a smile for a stranger instead of a defensive frown.  She likes to use the sign for “friend”. Where we live, this is a very cute little sign, which denotes hands being held between friends.  When she recognizes a child who arrives, she points to them shyly, and then with her little smile that wrinkles up her nose, signs “look, friend.”

I, however, find kiddies parties really hard.  I try so hard to focus on the little munchkin being celebrated, but every now and then throughout the party, I kind of zone out and just observe. And what I see are groups of children, chatting and playing, engaging with music, little groups of giggling girls whispering to each other, kiddies having long stories to report back to mom, the birthday angel expressing delight in their gifts or there cake…there is a lot of very fluent spoken language going on, and much enjoyment of sound.  The activities like “pass the parcel”, and others that I grew up loving, typically involve music or sound of some kind. During these activities, I find it difficult to explain to my girls the concept of the game, and then, in spite of help from friends, it’s obvious that they simply don’t have nearly as much fun with these games as the other hearing children do.  Looks like I’m going to have to get creative again, when it’s their little party, to find games and activities that are not reliant on sound.

And then an unavoidable part, are the guests who do not yet know me or my family. There’s still lots of staring as the hearing aids are spotted, and chatter between themselves about their kiddies’ schools, and activities, and funny things that their children had said. This is completely “normal”, but it’s these times of feeling quite separated, that I struggle with challenging my concept of “normal”.

When Eden was first diagnosed, someone said to me that in a way, it was a blessing that Eden was also deaf.  Initially, I was almost offended by this, but it didn’t take long, before I realized what she meant. My girls are different, and in a group of hearing, chatting children, may very well feel a sense of isolation.  However they have each other –  the three of them, at this stage are like a little trio of signing, babbling little munchkins adorning six little pink friends between them…their relating to each other, gives them that sense of belonging, and as a result, almost a sense of oblivion to the fact that they are different.  I really noticed this at a recent party, the three deaf Birdsey girls, as “happy as Larry” because they have each other.  They really are funny to watch – they catch each other’s jokes, find some tiny idiosyncrasy of their sister’s hysterically funny, correct each other and help each other all the time. In spite of only being 60 seconds older than her sister, Hadassah really has taken the role of “big sister” quite seriously, and happily reports any mischief, like when Eden is stuffing her cup of juice with popcorn, or when Tahlita sneaks an extra box of Smarties (which she insists is just practicing “sharing”!)

As a hearing person, very comfortable in my ordinary hearing world, it is a strange thing not to view the world through a lens called “normal”. The everyday actives are constant reminders that my girls are different.  But they also serve as constant check points ensuring, that I don’t for one second, slip back into any comfort zone of viewing anything as “normal”. Instead, at the next party that I find myself, I’m going to make an effort to look for the extraordinary in every child. I’ll try rather, to see all the little friends as unique little bodies, defined far beyond whether they have the ability to hear and speak or not. The segregation created by the word “normal” is largely in my own head, and I have the power to toss out that lens. Normal is boring, anyway, let’s go looking for the extraordinary instead!

I found this quote that sums up how to handle the tough experiences of every day life: “Don’t forget you’re human, it’s okay to have a meltdown.  Just don’t unpack and live there.  Cry it out and then refocus on where you’re headed.”

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One thought on “The bittersweet of birthday parties

  1. Love it, my twins (hearing) had their party last sat, and I saw things from their perspective and myself as a child again and saw again, or afresh what my parents may have seen when i had parties and was left out and misunderstood for being deaf and different. But i was delighted to see how my girls explained to their new friends how to communicate with their deaf dad, proud of them too. Our kids can surprise us, they need to know us and we need to know them too.and that sharing is so important. Look forward to your next installment!

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