Sunday, December 30, 2007

Push or No?

I'm looking for advice here. But first, a little bit of background: I've talked so much about N's social issues--and about how much better things have been of late--that it's hard to find one post that summarizes them. Suffice it to say, he has social issues. He's had them for a long time. Also suffice it to say that those social issues are becoming squished into a smaller and smaller area of his area with an epicenter that sits squarely over his school. Put more bluntly: He has many social problems at school, not so many outside of it.

More background: His birthday, last year, was an unqualified disaster...if only from my point of view...and it's taken me almost a full year to shake off the feelings it engendered in me.

So, on to the advice-needing. In order to avoid last year's birthday mistake, I resolved to begin planning (and inviting) EARLY this year. And so, today, I started talking party-planning with N. We came up with the idea of having a golf party here--OK, so it's actually an idea my friend Deb had a year ago, but I remembered it and brought it up and N thought it was great, so I'm taking credit--for which we will set up a little miniature golf course in the backyard, and I'll give all the kids plastic putters and golf balls as their goodie bag gifts, and they can play with/beat each other over the heads with them while they're at the party. Fun for all! And N is already planning the 'golf cake' I'm going to make for him...with PINK grass. (Since he was three or four, this kid has had it in his head that the only yummy cake icing is pink cake icing...and he's insisted I use it on every cake I make for him.)

Then we sat down to make up an invite list. First up, of course, was WeeyumWise, the Best Friend Since the Beginning of Time. Then, in quick succession, the names of all the kids in The Gang. And six kids from our block, five of whom are significantly older than N. Then silence. And so I prompt: What about your friends from Hebrew school? His face lights up. "I forgot! We have to invite Zach! And Lex!" Great. And who should we invite from school? My pen is poised to write, until he says: "Nobody. I don't want to invite nobody from school."

He won't budge. "I just don't want to," he says in reply to my repeated entreaties, to my suggestions of individual kids he seems to like. "Nope, not him. Not her either." Finally, I ask: Do you feel like you don't have any friends at school? He nods, then shakes his head a little and names a couple of kids who are his friends. But then adds, "But I don't want to invite them to my party. I just want these people on the list already."

And so my question: Do I overrule? Do I assume he won't remember this conversation a month from now, and send out invitations to his classmates anyway? Do I keep pushing him on a regular basis to rethink this decision? Or do I simply respect his opinion, and invite the 16 kids he DID put on his list, and leave it at that? Because that's a lot of kids, right? Even if about half of them are really Em's friends?

I know this is mostly about me. It's about me wanting him to have lots of friends, and thinking that his not wanting to have anyone from his class at his party means he's an outcast there. As if inviting them would change that if it were true. As if attending a birthday party is a sign of true friendship. I'm just being stupid. That list has seven or eight little boys and girls who N really enjoys spending time with. They are his friends. They are his real friends. That's good. That's a victory.

Truth is, when I got over feeling the gut-punch of hearing those words come from my sweet little boy as he sat on my lap planning his party...when I got over that, I had to admit that choosing not to invite the kids from his class--the kids he chooses not to play with on a daily basis in the school yard--was a pretty mature thing to do. It felt like something he meant, that he was sure about. It didn't feel like it was coming out of thin air, or out of some external pressure he was picking up on, like so much of what he says and does. And I guess I should respect that. Because he is asking me to. Because he is telling me what he wants.

Right? Wrong?


Meg said...

Does he have playdates with any of the kids in his class? Are there one or two that he genuinely likes and plays well with and that you can see fitting in with the group? If so, I would be inclined to want to invite one or two kids from school, not to make him more popular but to move towards making those kids into real friends. Is there a child or two who he likes, playws well with, and who has invited him to their party? In that case, you can simply make it that he is politely reciprocating the invite. It will not make him popular, but may make him more comfortable with the child (if he seems them having fun with his real friends). From what you have written about N, being uncomfortable with certain kids (or adults) seems to make it hard for him to be friendly. Having a potential friend share in his party, may pave the way for someone to pal around with at lunchtime.

Green said...

I hope this isn't too weird and you can take it how I intend it: I love your son. I have been babysitting for over half my life, I've worked in schools and at camp. I've known many, many kids. And your son can articulate his feelings like nobody's business. And behind his ability to articulate is logic.

Having said that. Tell him you're sending out invitations in one week. Point out that there are six (five? whatever) more months of school left, and in those months, kids in his class will have birthday parties. Tell N he has a week to think about how he'll feel if nobody from school invites him to their birthday parties.

Explain that the way it works is if you invite a kid to yours, they'll invite you to theirs. Tell him he's got a week to really think about that and he should consider if there are any kids at school he thinks he'd have fun playing mini-golf with.

Ask him again at the end of the week. If his answer stays firm, send out the invitations as is. It's HIS party, HE should get to dictate what will make it a fun party for him. If later on, or at his party he gets upset about it, well, sorry. It's something to keep in mind for next year.

If N were a dumb kid who couldn't make decisions or didn't have logic to them I'd say invite some kids from his class that you think he likes. But this is not a dumb kid.

If he will not care that school kids are not there, then you need to feel the same also. There is no other day of the year for a kid when they should be able to dictate who they play with more than on their birthday.

kristen said...

I am not a fan of birthday parties. Take that as you will. I'm not going to give advice, but I will simply tell you how we've handled parties on our end. We keep our birthday parties small. 8 kids, tops. We never invite the whole class. And my son always chooses. A couple of friends from here and there and in the end, we've had great success. He's comfortable, the "crowd" is manageable and everyone is happy.

In my opinion, it's all about keeping it simple.

Anonymous said...

You must have noticed over the years that John never has kids from his class at his birthday parties - it's really not his thing. He likes the gang and of course Katie and a few kids we've picked up along the way and that's it. Even the DI kids are a collection - none are in his class. It also isn't important to him that he doesn't get invited to parties (usually just Katie's every year). He is not an outcast at school and doesn't appear to be a target or anything, he is just not like those kids. We let him do what he wants - they are his friendships, his interests, and for the most part he gets to decide who comes to his parties.


Deb said...

If you asked him who he wants at the party, you should stick with who he said. It's not that big a deal if he doesn't want the kids from school. It's not like the average school day has tons of time for the kids to bond with each other. My son only became good friends with kids he saw outside the classroom.

Elizabeth said...

I think the advice you've gotten already is terrific.

Valle said...

Sounds like the issue is friendships at school, and I don't think a party will change that one way or another, so I wouldn't push him on adding more kids (frankly, I'd pare down the list to give him a chance to have real interactions with the kids who do come)..

So, the party issue aside, on the issue of friendship-building..if there is a kid or 2 at school that you think he clicks with, invite them over, or invite them along when you're going to the movies or whatever.

I have been to a few workshops with a woman who has some awesome tips on helping kids w/social skills, and one of the primary things is that the adult really has to facilitate (which sucks for me, cuz i'm not into playing with little boys).

Anyway, I'm rambling...happy new year!

Denise said...

I think that since you offered him the power to decide who comes to his party, sticking with that is very important. If you want him to have more friends at school, work on that through some other venue than his birthday party. It's good to keep an eye on him, and make sure he has a social circle, and it could be your general worry about this is spilling into the birthday party.

Let his birthday be his birthday, and just roll with it.