At the Monster's previous birthday parties, I used to stress about whether he would enjoy himself.
Crowds, noise, too much attention - these things are not for him. He hates it when people sing happy birthday, for example. And he is not particularly generous with hugs and kisses and thank yous, which some people like to force on little people whenever they can, regardless of how well they are received or how willingly they are offered.
He can get whiny and clingy, and I can feel pressured to try to manage and compensate for him. I can sometimes forget that these things are supposed to be fun for him, and not for all of the guests who come with their own expectations about what a birthday party and a birthday boy are supposed to be like.
Well, I was still worried about whether he would have a good time - his moods can be kind of unpredictable - but he and I have both gotten better at dealing with other people's expectations.
I don't insist that he kiss everyone, as is the standard greeting here in Argentina and is expected of everyone. It makes him seem unfriendly or grumpy to those who don't know him or don't 'get' shyness, but who cares, really? Kids are like that. He'll figure it out.
'Thank you', on the other hand, seems important to me. I guess it is just another adult convention, and there are lots of other ways of showing gratitude, but it is also a simple and tangible way for him to acknowledge other people's efforts or their kindness, and I think that matters. I've struggled with this because I don't want him to say it without meaning it, so I don't want to just force it (as if I could!), but I do want him to say it.
We had a great talk about 'thank you' on the morning of the party. I reminded him how good it made people feel to know that he was happy, that he wanted them to be there, that he liked the presents they had chosen for him, and so on. This making-people-feel-good explanation seemed to click with him - he seemed to get it.
And he told me this:
I do say thank you. I just don't let anyone hear me say it.What can I say? When I was his age I was waaaaaay shyer than he is, so I get it. When I was little, I said so much more in my head than ever came out of my mouth. I was quite a friendly and gracious and thoughtful person in my head, but appeared to be a rather silent, unhappy little snob for many years.
I told him I knew how he felt. We talked about how it couldn't make people feel good if they couldn't hear it, and left it at that.
Then, during the party, after each present he received, I asked him if he had remembered to say thank you. About half of the time, he went right up to the person and (shyly) said 'thank you', and ran away with a proud smile on his face. The other half of the time, he asked me to say it for him (instead of refusing to say it, which is different). He would come with me, and I would say, 'Monster wants me to say "thank you for the present" for him.'
I think we were both really happy with this arrangement, it felt like a real accomplishment. And to my relief, others received his thanks in a way that didn't compound his embarrassment.
We got through the 'happy birthday' song (in two languages) with him in my arms, not loving it, but dealing with it. It all got better when the kids decided that it was OK to eat all the chocolates off the cake before we cut it.
That night, in bed, when I told him how much fun I had had at his party, he said,
Me too. The only part I didn't like so much was when everybody sang. But it was okay.And it was okay.
All this, of course, would not have happened had he not been having an excellent time. So I am thrilled to report that the Monster's long-awaited 4th birthday party was an unqualified success, despite our unprecedented departure from birthday party tradition, here in Macondo.