“Phil, I’m not bothering to search your bedroom for my birthday presents. I’ve been on your Amazon Account and found them all online. Someone needs to be in between 2-4pm so they don’t go next door”
This will be the 9th birthday we have shared with this Kid.
The first 2 or 3 were, more or less, unmitigated disasters.
We tried to do what we’d done with our birth kids, and what most people do with most kids.
The chronological order of stupid things we did is as follows:-
1. We told him that sometime in the future it was his birthday.
2. We used the word BIRTHday.
3. We asked him what he might like for his birthday.
4. We asked him if he wanted a party and if he wanted to invite some friends and family, as many as he wanted.
5. We asked him if he wanted some special food.
6. We were excited and we showed him that we were excited
What took us years to learn, now seems bindingly obvious to us.
This young man, like so many of his care experienced compadres, needed predictability, bordering on the ‘boring’ and ‘tedious’.
Trauma, beginning at conception, had given him an internal narrative that he was not worthy of love or attention, or presents. The subsequent years of chaos meant he’d developed a hyper vigilance that denied him any real deep rest or peace.
Anything different, even if meant with the best of intentions, caused his amygdala to inflame and his ‘lizard survival brain’ would kick in.
We realised our birthday preparations had to be dialled down, significantly.
His birthday became a two or three month event.
We would visit The local High Street or Car Boot Fair on a Saturday or Sunday and let him choose something, usually a phone case or something to do with Harry Potter, We gave him agency and a modicum of power. Our little trips proved to be an enjoyable outing.
My wife and I had discussed budgets and we were prepared to spend some cash.
However, this Kid had no interest in monetary value. The £1 wand had caught his eye and was what he wanted. A birthday tea would be sausages or a Meal Deal. Yes, we felt tight, and to use the local parlance a bit ‘sly’, but this what He wanted and this what He could manage.
As we head into the teenage years, birthdays don’t yet resemble the Disney ideal, but they are perhaps more recognisable to the general population.
Friends and family will visit. He will open some presents on the day. There will be a cake.
He’s even set up a countdown on his phone.
He’s learning that our home is safe enough, and predictable enough, for just a little bit of anticipation and excitement.