Sarah has her birthday parties planned until she is 7 years old. This year, she planned bowling, next year when she’s six, she wants her party at school. And when she turns 7, she’s planned a craft party at Michael’s in their special birthday room. Easy. What do I do for Catherine, though, who is blind and can barely move?
Planning parties for Catherine is tough. I want them to be relevant to her and fun for her, and that’s hard to know. I always have to manage Brian’s question of “Why are we doing this again?” And I’m left to wonder, “Who do we invite?” Mostly, though, I struggle with figuring out how to make it relevant and enjoyable for her. I succeeded in that when she turned 3 and we had a pool party and rented the therapy pool at Severna Park Community Center. They did an amazing job and even cleaned the pool deck and all the toys because they knew getting sick was harder to deal with for kids like Catherine. We also had a sensory event that I created. Normal kids and disabled kids played together and it was magic. I wanted that to happen again. And I wanted Catherine to have fun.
I read an article in some girly magazine that said a mark of maturity was knowing how to throw a party where you didn’t do all the work. True confession: Part of the reason the party for Catherine was so hard was I just didn’t have the energy to pull it all together. This article talked about how to pick a theme and ask guests to participate. That’s when it hit me! What if I could invite people to bring some sort of musical instrument or something that made noise from their basement or Goodwill – nothing fancy – and I’d find a “crazy, creative music teacher” to orchestrate whatever came into the house. I even thought about prizes for the instrument from furthest away in the world, and the most beautiful sounding non-instrument and the smallest sound-maker. I could see it all; I just had to find the teacher.
Immediately, I sent emails to some friends. No one knew the right person and I almost gave up hope. Then, I was sitting in the lobby of ballet class and asked some of the moms there. I didn’t find the “crazy teacher.” Instead, someone suggested drumming. Hmmm – that could be interesting.
Long story short, I found Nellie Hill – a certified drumming facilitator who had worked with kids with special needs and loved the idea of having everyone bring something – she called it a “Found Sound.” She immediately embraced my idea, told me she’d bring the drums and we picked a date. Wow! It was amazing.
I’ll let the pictures tell the story from here. I wound up going overboard on decorations and food and the theme. The energy just came. Our whole house filled with energy and Catherine opened both eyes, relaxed enough to let us move her arms up over her head (she normally doesn’t do that!), and even the “normal kids” – siblings of some of the invited guest, had a blast. We had 5 kids with disabilities and their parents. It was a treasure to figure out how to fit four wheelchairs in the house and help these families feel a sense of togetherness that is often void. I hope everyone had fun. I did. And I genuinely believe Catherine did as well.
Happy Birthday Catherine! I love you.