I have a party to plan this week--L.'s eighth (eight years old!) birthday party. I think this one will be, by far, the easiest party we've ever had for L. He wants things simple this year--no friends, just his four North Carolina cousins and an assortment of grandparents and aunts and uncles. We're having our first ever pool party, which I wouldn't have undertaken at all if L. had wanted to invite several of his school friends. I don't mind being responsible for kids at my own house, but having to keep an eye on a handful of elementary school kids at a neighborhood pool is something I'm not sure I want to ever undertake.
I still can't believe my son will be turning eight in less than a week. When I think that to myself, or say it to others, I hear my parents' voices superimposed over my own as they exclaimed, birthday after birthday after birthday, over the fact that we were suddenly 9 or 12 or 16 or 30. I think parents will never stop exclaiming in that mixture of wonder-tinged-with-sadness over these milestones, the years passed that take their children further into the grown-up world and away from the magic of the childhood years. And while I celebrate my children growing older and (hopefully) wiser, I also know that I'm there right along with them, growing older and wiser with each passing year.
One of the ways in which I have grown wiser is to realize, finally, what types of parties work best for my kids--especially for L. It took me a while to realize that my desire to invite all or even half of my children's preschool, then elementary school, classes, was just that: my desire. Since L. rarely seeks out social interactions on his own, I particularly wanted him to have the parties I liked so much when I was little--lots of friends, lots of games, lots of noise and fun--none of which makes sense for L., really, when you think about it. When my son told us this year that he didn't want to invite anyone from school, I felt sad at first. My visions of various themed party ideas fizzled before my eyes (Backyard carnival! Treasure hunt!). Then I realized that this was all me, this sadness, and that for L., a no-friends party was just something he wanted this year, plain and simple. He's remarkably adept at knowing just what he needs and wants to feel good inside and outside, and for him, this year, it is a safer, quieter, more predictable party at our neighborhood pool in the woods. And, most importantly, he's excited about his birthday, and that's all that really matters in the end.
One of the biggest challenges parents face is letting go of our instinct to view the things our children experience through our own eyes--transferring our own dreams and wishes and likes and dislikes onto them. This has been hard for me to learn, this stepping back part of parenting. But learning this is worth celebrating, I think, right along with yet another birthday--another chance to see that, together with your child, you are blossoming, too, into the kind of parent and person you most want to be.