Swap-N-Play, the fabulous sharing and playing space in our neighborhood, had its third year and hosted a massive birthday party to celebrate. Simon spends a lot of time there; it’s his substitute for the socialization of preschool and it’s a big, well stocked place to do home occupational therapy. Usually, when he goes, it’s during a mellow time, when most kids are in school.
This, though, was an EVENT. Swap-N-Play members, past and present, were showing up in droves with, potluck food, excited kids, and rainbow clothes in tow. Every room, even the often calm library, was full of kids, and the nap room converted to a photo booth. As Simon shouted to us during the night “people are running everywhere!”
Even with all that stimulation, Simon participated, talked to kids, and truly had fun. This four year old has had major improvements in dealing with children recently, and with that, a lot of food, his headphones, and a plan, we had a good night.
We started this morning when we were writing his daily list on his dry erase board. “Make Coffee,” I wrote, because I can’t do anything else with him until I’m caffeinated, and he likes to help. “Breakfast, vitamins, brush teeth, playtime,” we continued. I wrote lunch and quiet time, then paused. I told him we had something to do that afternoon, and explained the party. He was excited, as any four year old would be about throwing things and eating cake, until I told him the plan. Every so often, about every fifteen minutes, we’d go find a quiet place and take a break. He was distressed, but when it came down to the choice between going with breaks or staying home, he accepted the breaks. “Swap N Play Birthday Party,” I wrote, and in parenthesis, “with breaks.”
Fifteen or so minutes after we arrived, I told him it was time for a break. He whined a little, not wanting to stop and not wanting to head down the dim hallway, but once we were sitting down there, he let me squeeze him and give him “hand hugs,” and he willingly pressed hard against the wall with his feet and hands. At my instruction, he bolted to the trampoline and jumped the prescribed twenty times.
The second break Simon whined some more when I told him he had to wear his headphones, but his growing self-awareness must have kicked in, because he put them on and did what I asked. He took them off after his 20 jumps on the trampoline and I carried them in my hand, just in case. “Just in case” came when the music started. Simon bolted into the middle of the circle, dancing his wild dance in front of all the politely, properly seated children. I pulled him aside and put my hands by his eyes like blinders, told him he had to stay on the carpet square. He jumped from one to another getting too close to the woman’s guitar, and I offered him his headphones. He declined. I offered again, he accepted.
He still wiggled, and he grabbed my hands when I tried to follow the snow dance motions, while the other kids and parents danced along as directed. But he stayed on his carpet square. Until he asked to take the headphones off, when he jumped into the middle again and screamed when everyone lifted wiggling fingers into the air. The rest of the night went by with breaks, headphones, cheese, and cake. Simon kept his headphones on, almost completely willingly, and he ran, dodging kids and sliding in front of adults.
We left shortly after cake, and aside from a brief tussle over brushing teeth, he kindly and happily went to bed, with far less whining, kicking, hitting, and screaming than usual. I’m exhausted, I didn’t talk to anyone all night, and barely enjoyed my cake, but this night was a wonderful, exciting, fabulous, success. The list, the effort, the OT, the intervention, the money, the stress, the exhaustion – all of it - was proven worth it tonight. My son had a good night at a big event full of kids, and that is truly worth it all.