What a Birthday Should Look Like

June 4, 2015

We just celebrated my son’s ninth birthday. If you had asked me ten years ago what my future son’s ninth birthday would look like, I might have described the perfect summer pool party. Something rambunctious and loud and perfectly planned. Water balloons and canon ball contests and twenty sun-kissed kids clamoring around a cake shaped like a surfboard. Hot dogs and music and grown up drinks in red plastic cups for the adults.

Guess whose ninth birthday looked absolutely nothing like that.

This is what we do, we special needs parents. We compare what we think a childhood should look like to what our kid’s experience actually is. I play this game a lot, and it’s like Tic Tac Toe. Nobody wins.

This birthday, I stopped myself from creating a day I thought my son should want. I didn’t plan a thing. There were no invitations and no guests. I told my son to plan his perfect day, and I sat back and followed his lead.

His plan involved sleeping in my bed on his “birthday eve” so he could “wake up really early to a birthday hug.” He wanted me to decorate the chandelier over the kitchen island so he “could feel happy all day.” He wanted waffles, he wanted his ABA therapist to make him a card, he wanted his dad to come over after work. He wanted Hailey, his long-time sitter, to take him to see his favorite airplane, he wanted a funny video from his uncle, and he wanted cheese pizza with candles on it.

There was no fanfare, no plethora of ticky-tacky presents, no big to-do. It was simple and easy, and pared down to only those things that were important to him.

As I tucked my son into bed at the end of the day, his eyes half-closed with exhaustion, I asked him how his ninth birthday was. He smiled. “It was so awesome, Mom. I sure am loved.”

I sure am loved.

My son has such a difficult time in so many areas, but he knows exactly how to make himself feel happy and loved. It makes me wonder who is really teaching who here.

My son’s ninth birthday was nothing like I would have planned. But for the first time, it was everything it was supposed to be.



  1. Tiffany N. Kilby

    Love it! Congrats, Jax!

  2. threehandsoneheart

    Reblogged this on Never Less Than Everything and commented:
    I absolutely love this post. It is so much about letting go of OUR expectations -giving in to what someone else wants and needs- without feeling a loss for our own desires. Such a touching moment. Such a testament of true love. <3

  3. Liza

    You might be my favorite person ever.

  4. Laur

    Thank you. My son’s birthday is in 13 days…I can’t wait to him to tell me what he wants (he is non verbal).

  5. Cindy

    I read your blog regularly. You are an amazing parent.

  6. Annemarie

    Drew’s 17th Birthday was Saturday & it was everything he wanted, no matter how untraditional no matter how “unbirthday” but as anyone’s birthday should be, no matter who, or their situation it should be all about them. Happy Birthday Jax!??✈️

  7. Mimi

    I just started following your blog and I’ve loved every post! You’re an amazing mom! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  8. Trudy

    So touching, sounds like your son has his priorities in order!

  9. Sydney

    Xia’s day sounds like it was perfect;)

  10. Deirdre

    Thanks and nice job! It’s a good reminder to me as I plan my daughter’s 10th birthday. Unfortunately, she also has in her mind how a birthday should look and longs to want that perfect birthday party, even though she wouldn’t enjoy it. I need to keep in mind your son’s great day and help her plan a day she will actually enjoy. Thanks Becca!

  11. Kate

    Dude- we can all learn so much from this little man. Thank you for sharing Xia’s wisdom and reminding us what is important in life. Happy birthday Xia!

  12. Laura

    What a beautiful and inspiring post! My oldest, autistic, will be turning 14 this month. For his first three birthdays, before I knew he was autistic, I did the pool party, invites, cake and present thing. Now we kind of play it by ear. But I think this year I’ll try your idea and as what HE wants 🙂 Thanks again.

  13. pattimoed

    What a beautiful tribute to your son, and to you–for understanding that a special needs child requires our love as the foundation and a willingness to put aside our pre-conceived expectations of what our child should do and want and accomplish. We also raised a child with special needs and together we went through those intense highs and lows and learned a lot about ourselves in the process! –Patti

  14. Mom Sees All

    Wow, Becca – great post! So many times we do try to live vicariously through our kids. I had to constantly remind myself, I’m not making my memories, I’m making theirs. My kids are grown now, so I appreciate the opportunity to remember pieces of their childhood.


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