School ended today at 12pm. By 12:20pm I had four extra kids in the house – two friends of my son and two friends of my daughter. They all came home from school with us and will all spend the night. It’s a huge “Welcome to Summer” celebration.
Earlier today as I was leaving work and heading to the grocery store to stock up for 6 hungry kids, I told my co-workers that this party was either the best idea I have ever had, or the worst. So far, so good. They ate enough food to feed a dozen kids at lunch, they’ve played video games, had water fights, and nerf battles. All together in a big pack. It’s been so much fun to watch (as I have been attempting to get in a couple more hours of work sitting in the yard.)
Right now the boys are in the living room playing video games, and the girls are in my daughter’s room whispering and giggling. There is peace and harmony and joy in the land of preteens as they ease into their summer break. And the current view from my outdoor “office space” is this…
That is the remains of water balloon fights, nerf battles and hot tub dunking. It is the loveliest, most joyful mess I have seen in a long time. Its existence proves how far my son has come since this time last year. The beginning of last summer was right after my son had hit rock bottom in his battle with anxiety, panic and depression. While this was clearly hardest on him, his behavior, actions and choices for many months last spring and summer had the net result of our entire family being hostage. We did not have people over because there were too many possibilities for the visit to end poorly.
This time last year, we were all just trying to survive. This time last year, the long and empty days of summer seemed desolate and daunting. This time last year, there was no celebrating.
But today there is laughter, and joy, and fun, and friends, and beautiful messes. Today there is celebration and eager anticipation for what the summer will bring. Today the view from where I sit is incredibly good.
Today is my son’s 11th birthday. This past weekend we had a small party for him and 4 of his buddies. This was huge. For the past two years he has not wanted a party – too many people, too much unknown, too many potential triggers. His solution to avoiding all of that was opting out of a party when he turned 9 and again when he turned 10.
This year he asked to do “something fun, but not crowded or loud” with “only 4 friends.” We talked it through and came up with pizza & cake at home, nerf gun battles at the park, and seeing the movie Middle School at the theater with the reclining seats (where you can reserve your seat thereby assuring he doesn’t have to sit next to anybody he does not know). It was a full and fun afternoon. There was joy and silliness and so much laughter. I haven’t seen or heard my son that happy in a very long time. It was soul stirring.
There is so much to be thankful for when I look back on that party, but I know without doubt that when I think about it years from now the one thing I will remember most is a plastic sun catcher shaped like a cat that one of the boys gave to my son as a part of his gift.
My son uses “cuddly animals” as a way to self soothe. When he is overwhelmed, if he can pet, or look at, or sometimes even just talk about kittens or puppies, he can calm his anxieties. I wasn’t aware that this was something he had shared with any of his friends, but he did. At least one of the 4 boys who came to the party knows about this – and he went out of his way to make a gift that would make my son happier and calmer on bad days. This thoughtful 10 year old boy made my son a plastic sun catcher shaped like a cat. When my son removed it from the wrapping, his friend said “I thought this would make you happy.” I don’t think my son has ever received a more thoughtful gift.
Never has something so small meant so very much.
We’re halfway through summer break, and my son finally was able to attend and enjoy a day camp this week. He and my daughter both spent the week with my parents and went to a horse camp. It was the one thing he REALLY wanted to do. They attended last summer, and talked about it all year long. Last weekend he was excited, but also anxious about that “what ifs.” He’s doing a little better most days, with the panic attacks coming further and further apart. I was nervous for him, but knew he needed to do this. So he did. And it was great. And he came home full of happy stories of beloved horses and a new friend. And for that I am so, so grateful!