What to do for a kid on his birthday when he loathes attention?
This is the annual question with Carson, who turned 12 years old last Friday. A day off from school was a good place to start for the “baby” of the house, but Pam and I wanted to do something else for him. All the while we knew a birthday party or even small gathering would not be what he wanted.
No matter his age, he has always been afraid of the spotlight. He’s incredibly shy and has social anxiety. Pair these with Autism and lingering impacts from the sheltering nature of the pandemic, and he’s as introverted as they come.
I will never forget his first birthday party. When it came time for everyone to sing to him before he blew out his candle, he cried hysterically the entire time. Once the singing stopped, he went to town on his cake, crying the entire time. At one point, I even stood in front of him to give him the privacy he sought. The pictures from the day tell the story. There he was in all his toddler cuteness sporting a candle hat with the big number 1 on it, crying with cake all over his face. His tears mixed with icing for the memory picture. He was a mess.
Fast forward 12 years and we have learned the last thing the kid wants is attention. Long gone are elaborate plans to celebrate him. He prefers low-key affairs.
We started his day with a COVID vaccination since he was turning 12 years old. He took it like a champ. We then hit a couple arcades and then to lunch for his favorite foods these days – wings and shrimp. Later on, we surprised him with many of his favorite scones from the Sconer.
Throughout the day, Pam and I hoped he was having fun. He seemed to be but he’s getting tougher to get a read on as he gets older. He shows his emotions differently. He does not get as excited about things as he once did.
For instance, his big gift for his birthday was a new iPad. He’s always used his brother’s old iPads in the past. It was time for him to get his own. When he opened it the morning of his birthday, his reaction was odd. He seemed happy but there were no smiles. As he looked at it, he started tearing up. It was the strangest thing. We asked him if he was okay and if something was hurting. He shook his head “no” (remember he is nonverbal). He said yes repeatedly when we asked if he liked his gift. It’s an Autism thing we ultimately concluded. I like to think he was moved to tears because he loved the gift so much, but my knowledge of his disabilities tells me it’s not likely the case because that level of thought depth is not typically present. Nonetheless, I am sticking with that conclusion because it does my heart good.
The birthday fun continued a couple days later when he got to put his age in coins in the birthday cake at church. He opted to go with a nickel and seven pennies to match his age of 12. The plan was for Beckett to help his little brother. I ended up having to go up as well at the last minute. I even had to put the money in. Of course, when it came time for the congregation to sing happy birthday to him he nearly ripped my hand off dashing back in a sprint to our seats. It was that disdain for the center of attention.
All in all, I think it was a good weekend for our guy. On Sunday night, I went through with him all the things we did over the weekend to determine his favorite thing. It was tough to ascertain, but he showed the most excitement when the list came to his big brother having school on his birthday when he did not. This is 12 with our guy.
Beckett and I went to Stephen Decatur’s football last Friday. It was more like I drove him, paid for him and then we never saw each other until it was over.
All week I was wondering when he was going to ask if he could go and meet up with friends. Since it was his brother’s birthday, I was not going to broach the subject.
Of course, at 6:15 p.m. Friday Beckett stormed down from his room asking if I could take him to the game as a bunch of his friends were there and he wanted to hang out. Since I was prepared, I said I would. I could also take pictures of the game for work.
I knew full well as soon as we got into the stadium the kid would want to take off. Therefore, we talked the whole way about where we would meet after the game. I checked on him from a distance throughout the game and he seemed to be having a great time. After the game, I let him hang with his friends for a bit. When my patience grew thin sitting in the parking lot, I called and told him it was time. When he got in the truck, he said, “That was the best time of my life.”
I couldn’t help but marvel over that comment, considering all our trips to wonderful places and all the memories made. I didn’t obsess on the point and instead just let him talk. He went on the whole way home, telling stories about this and that. I got a real kick out of it. When he saw Pam at home, he said the same thing. She had the same look of astonishment I had.