Robert was invited to a classmate’s birthday party. Not only was it going to be the first classmate’s birthday party he’d been invited to attend, but it was also going to be a pool party. Needless to say, I was feeling a bit nervous about it. I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Robert has taken swimming lessons. In fact, he is currently in weekly swimming lessons at the local YMCA. Despite his love of water, he has some trouble understanding water safety, and to objectively gauge his own abilities in the pool.
I had decided, in advance, that I would stay with him at the party. I wasn’t sure how many parents would stay behind, nor was I certain on how many would be in the water with the kids, but I knew for my own peace of mind, I needed to be in the water with him.
We borrowed a puddle jumper from our local ‘Buy Nothing’ group. I had hoped it would help Robert to be more confident in his swimming abilities, and in the water with so many kids. On the morning of the party, my husband went to pick up the puddle jumper from a neighbour, and I frantically looked through my drawers trying to find a swim suit (and one that would fit my post-partum body!).
I found my swimsuit, put it on under my clothes, packed our bags (triple checking to be sure I didn’t forget a towel, underwear or any other important items), and off we went to the party.
Robert was excited. When he heard he was going to his friend’s birthday party, he couldn’t wait for the singing and the cake. He kept telling me he was looking forward to the “Bonne Fête”.
As soon as we stepped into the party room, my worries whether or not Robert would fit in just melted away. He immediately started running around and playing games with the other kids. They called out his name in excitement as he joined them! Since Robert goes to French school, and most of the guests were classmates, the kids automatically began speaking to each other in French.
I noticed not many parents were staying. I knew for Robert’s safety in the water, I was going to have to stay, but I was hoping to see some other moms in the water with me. It’s not easy putting on a swimsuit in front of a room of adults sitting on the poolside, but I kept telling myself that it was more important for Robert to have fun and be safe than it was for me to feel good in that swimsuit.
When the time came to go swimming, I changed Robert into his swim suit and took him to the washroom quickly (just in case). As soon as we got to the pool deck and he saw his friends in the water, he just could not wait to join them.
I tried to get him to go slowly. I tried to convince him to take his time. But he was just too excited. His friends were all jumping, swimming and splashing, and just like them, he was looking to have a good time.
I quickly took off my clothes, tossing them onto an empty pool chair, and went to enter the pool at the stairs. As I did this, I was keeping an eye on Robert, who was preparing himself to jump in with both feet.
I got to him just in time.
He jumped in full force, just like his friends. He did so with such gusto that what happened next totally caught him off guard.
Puddle jumpers are not meant to be a personal flotation device, and as it turns out, our boy sinks quite easily!
I grabbed him as he came up to the surface, eyes wide open as he gasped for air with a look of panic. That moment shook him up. For the next 20 minutes he stayed on the deck playing “basketball”, flat out refusing to get back in the water with his friends.
I finally convinced him to try entering the water again. Reluctantly, he joined me in the pool, holding on to me tightly as I encouraged him to practice his kicks and his back float.
Back in the party room, Robert was once again treated like he was just another kid at the party. And while my head knows that he IS just another kid, my heart is always seeking to protect itself from pain. It’s especially bracing itself from seeing my children, especially Robert, in any pain.
Despite knowing he was invited by a friend, and knowing these were classmates of his, I was still worried that he would be excluded. I worried that outside of the classroom, he’d be ostracized in some way, and I wasn’t really sure how that would make me feel, how I would react, or how he would handle it all.
But there he was. Sitting next to his friends, eating his pizza, fruit and cake (and later, checking all the juice boxes littering the table to make sure they were empty *sigh*).
After a fun-filled afternoon of swimming, singing, cake eating, and playing, the party was over. Robert fell asleep on the drive home, further proof that this birthday party was the best party.
For other parents, a classmate’s birthday party might not seem like much more than a simple childhood activity with the added stress of picking out a gift for a child relatively unknown to the parents.
For us, this invitation was proof that other people see him as we do. This invitation was proof that Robert is accepted and included. For us, this party meant so much more than we could put into words.
Happy Birthday, Fin! Hope you enjoyed your special day.