Part of our bedtime routine involves Looking At The Calendar. It's a big monthly calendar taped to the back of Ryan's bedroom door. We put little pictures on it to represent whatever is coming up - school, Chrissy Time, holidays, haircuts, my practice schedule - so he knows what to expect. The calendar is also a sticker chart, so as he crosses off each day he adds whatever sticker he has earned, and it's easy for him to see how many more stickers he needs to get a prize.
Last night at calendar time, Ryan crossed off Sunday and started counting how many stickers he had earned. He counted back a day and started sobbing, pointing and screeching at Saturday. At first I thought he was upset he had not earned a sticker that day, but then he told us the problem: he had missed a birthday party.
On Friday Ryan had come down with fever and a runny nose. I told him Friday night that if he was still sick in the morning, we would have to skip his cousin's birthday party. He looked at me hopefully and said, "We CAN go to the party?" I told him we would have to wait and see.
Saturday morning he still had a fever, and I announced we would be staying home to as not to infect the birthday boy and his friends. Ryan was miserable enough with his cold that he seemed content with that.
But on Sunday night, looking at the little picture of a birthday cake I had drawn on the calendar, Ryan was devastated. This was the first time I had seem him demonstrate any sort of desire to go to a party at all. I asked him what aspect of the party he was most upset about missing.
"Is it the playing with other kids?"
"Yes!" he sniffled.
"Is it the balloons?"
"Yes!" he wailed more emphatically.
"Is it the cake?"
"Yes!" Tears and snot soaked into my shoulder.
"You're disappointed, I understand." I hugged him tightly. I suggested we could have our own party after school Monday, even though it wouldn't be the same.
And in Ryan's misery I found great joy: the joy of my child experiencing a perfectly typical feeling, for a perfectly typical reason. The joy of knowing that he really does want to interact with other kids, even if he's not always sure how to go about it.
Now I have to thaw some cupcakes and pick up a few balloons.