The other night Ben told me he wanted a birthday party (his birthday is Monday) and he wanted friends to come (two index fingers interlocking then trading places).
Given Ben's lack of friends, I was stumped.
"Well, I'm not sure who I would invite?" I said, trying to mentally manufacture some friends. "You're going to be going out with Sallyanne (worker) and Matt on Sunday. Let me think about it."
I turned to D'Arcy -- out of Ben's sight line -- and signed the word 'sad,' fingers drawing down my face like tears.
Ben hasn't made solid connections at his new school and he doesn't have contact with friends he had in elementary school. He does enjoy a couple of kids who are younger than him who sometimes go on group outings with his workers. In particular, there was a boy who petitioned to have him come on the recent Niagara Falls trip.
So I called Marjorie and asked if she thought this boy might be interested.
The next day, Ben was dropped off after school at Holland Bloorview for an orthotics appointment. He shares a cab to school with another boy he met when he was at Davisville/Metro School for the Deaf.
As I opened the door, Ben burst out, signing 'party,' (two letter V hands pointing down swaying back and forth like dancers). He then turned back and gestured at the boy, indicating he wanted him to come to the party.
I was speechless.
My son was going to show me who he wanted at his party. He was going to take matters into his own hands.
"You want Liam to come to your party?"
I showed Liam the 'party' sign.
"What do you think about that, Liam? Do you think you might like to come to Ben's party?"
My chest hurt, but in a good way.
Ben is isolated at school because he has anxiety that manifests itself in compulsive skin picking and nose-blowing. I mentioned his wish for his party and I received this e-mail from a teacher last night.
"Today I asked a few of Ben's friends if they would like to attend Ben's birthday party. A few of the boys said yes! They asked for an invitation. Could you send an invitation to school with Ben tomorrow?...Today after discussing Ben's birthday party together with his friends, Ben came up and hugged me and a couple of others!"
The teacher wrote that when she mentioned the party, "Ben became alive!! He was so happy! Ben mentioned that you are serving pizza and cake! All got excited!"
We hadn't talked about the pizza and cake but I guess Ben felt they were solid standbys.
I then had a call from Marjorie to say that she had spoken to the boy who went to Niagara Falls with Ben and he was very excited about attending his party. And we thought about a couple of other boys who might be interested.
Today I was talking to a colleague about how we get so hung up on what constitutes a 'friend' -- particularly during childhood and the teen years. How is it that I can have friends who are significantly older or younger than me, but when it comes to children and teens we follow an unspoken edict that they must be 'the same age.'
It got me thinking that friends can come in many shapes and sizes, and friendship can be made richer by differences and diversity.