This was the first year that L. didn't pick an actual theme for his party-at-the-pool. In recent years we've had a Hardy Boys themed party, and a cat themed party, but this year when I asked L. he just shrugged. The only thing he knew he wanted for certain was the cake from the Portal 2 computer game. I don't quite understand the whole Portal 2 cake business at all, but I did get the basic idea that it's at heart a German chocolate cake topped with maraschino cherries. There are recipes out there for a Portal 2 cake, but I have to say I was pressed for time and a little daunted at the thought of baking a German chocolate cake the night before L.'s party. I also was pretty certain that he wouldn't touch a bite of it. Instead, I bought my favorite cake mix from Whole Foods, and the matching icing, and I decorated the cake just like the Portal 2 cake and L. was thrilled. He didn't really eat any of it, but he spent a lot of time looking at the cake and smiling from ear-to-ear and that was worth it all for me.
We discovered, years ago, that the sooner L. gets to open his gifts, the better it is for all present. He does not handle surprises well, even the good ones, and he also has trouble processing the feelings of anticipation and excitement. These are all perceived by his body and mind as stress, and it's so hard to watch him struggling to enjoy his own birthday party. Two years ago we finally woke up and got it and let go of the presumption that presents should be opened after cake. Since then, we usually do them about 30 or 40 minutes after all the guests have arrived and then L. is much more relaxed and busy and everyone can enjoy the party.
While he loved and appreciated all of his gifts, I think his favorite that day was from good friends who gifted him a real cigar box filled with miscellaneous office supplies. He carried the box around much of the afternoon, and kept exclaiming over how wonderful a gift it was.
I think this year L. was more relaxed and happy and content at his party than he's ever been. I'm not sure why--maybe after four years of the same type of party at our neighborhood pool we finally got it absolutely right and he settled into the groove of things. I know I felt so very grateful for the family and friends who gathered there--for the friends of ours, especially, who have come to know and love and appreciate L. and who patiently roll with the ups and downs of the party each year, never questioning, never judging. I felt, as I often do at such times, as if I were the one receiving the greatest gift of all.