Connor had his 8th birthday last week. He didn’t really know it, but there was so much more to celebrate than just being a year older.
Second grade is almost complete. He is reading on grade level. Although he still struggles with math, he has worked really hard at it this year (thanks to some IEP goals I fought hard for). So hard, in fact, that he participated in something the school calls “Math Marvels.”
Math Marvels is something the school does each week, where students can come to the cafeteria and test their math skills by doing so many problems within two minutes. There are different levels, from addition of numbers 1-9, and so on. Connor showed a lot of interest in testing, especially since passing means you earn a medal. He passed the first level of Math Marvels on his second try, and came home with his medal around his neck. There are no accommodations for Math Marvels, because it’s not part of the regular curriculum. That’s what I was told by the teacher. So this was accomplished without any extra support.
This spring Connor played on a recreational soccer team. There were 10 weeks of practices and games. He enthusiastically looked forward to it each week. He participated and never complained when it was his turn on the bench. He scored one goal this season, and somehow that one goal was more special to me than if he’d scored a hundred.
When the season ended, the coach had a special pizza party at Gattiland, the Texas version of Chuck E. Cheese. Each player got a medal. One mom and her son arrived a little late. Her son was arguing with her, whining, and she was exasperated. She warned him that they would leave. I could see she was at the end of her rope. I approached her and put my hand on her shoulder, and told her that Connor has Asperger’s and ADHD, and I’ve seen my share of meltdowns, and pulled him out of many places. I told her I knew how she felt, and it was okay.
Her eyes got big as she said, “I had NO idea.” She’d never suspected that he was any different. And although that shouldn’t be a source of comfort to me, it was. Yes, I feel some shame at that, but it’s true. To hear someone say that he just blended in, and they weren’t aware that he was any different, well that made me happy. I was happy for him, that he could have that experience without being branded as different, odd, or special. He was just Connor.
Yes, this birthday was special. So special that I dropped the ball on planning it, compared to past years. I didn’t call ahead and order a special cake, decorated with super heroes or movie characters. I didn’t go overboard with gifts. I didn’t even plan a party.
We got him the Skylanders game for the Xbox and a Spiderman web shooter. We, our little family, took him back to Gattiland for pizza and games. We came home and had the cake I picked up at the last minute at Wal-Mart, where I hastily had them add his name (and a shoddy job they did).
And he was happy with all of it. Not one complaint.
In fact, he insisted on cutting the cake, and said he’d cut it into equal parts of four, since there was four of us (don’t worry, I talked him into smaller pieces).
And at school, they have cupcakes and make a birthday book. Each child writes something on a page to wish him a happy birthday. Most of the pages were pretty ordinary, like this:
But there were a couple that didn’t disappoint in the humor department. Like this, from a girl that knows what she likes:
And this kid, who’s all about the cake (a boy after my own heart):
This past year was truly a gift. It may have been his birthday, but it was really a gift for me. Thank you, Connor, for the amazing gift of being your mother. You humble me. You bring me to my knees with your spirit and humor. You remind me to never stop believing in your ability. You’ve made me stronger and fiercer, while shattering my heart into a million pieces. It’s the most fulfilling, rewarding, and frightening experience I’ve ever had.
I couldn’t have asked for a better gift, even though it was his birthday.