Josiah will be turning 6 in a couple weeks (sappy reflecting on that is sure to come in a future post) and I'm in the thick of planning for his birthday party. Birthday party planning is a challenge no matter what your kids are like, even for people like me who adore planning parties. Don't get me wrong, it's a blast to put everything together and watch his excitement (and impatience) grow :) It's just that it's also a lot of work, and with a sensory seeker who doesn't modulate well, there are also unpopular decisions to be made.
It may not be as big a problem if his birthday were during the summer when sunny weather would provide us with more options, or if his sensory seeking didn't have him desiring highly active physical activities (think climbing, jumping, swinging, hanging, sliding, and spinning constantly -- even gift opening and eating are done on his feet so he can stay moving). But it's not, and it does -- and so we search for affordable indoor active options every year. And this is where the unpopular decisions sometimes come in.
The top two location requests we hear from Josiah regarding his birthday party are Jungle Playland and Chuck E. Cheese. While both can be fun, they take a bit of extra planning to be successful (i.e. with only minor meltdowns during or afterwards) even on a "good" day, where Josiah's systems are working decently well AND the location isn't already overcrowded (we usually try to hit Chuck E. Cheese at 3:00 on a Thursday afternoon, for example). Trying to hold a birthday party at either location, though, is sensory overload and a major meltdown waiting to happen.
Oh, we tried it once -- we had his 4th birthday party at Jungle Playland. Silly me! I hadn't been there on a busy late-fall (read: crappy weather) Saturday before, when every other child within two counties with a November birthday was also hosting a party (remember, we try to plan these places for non-peak times), so I really had little idea what I was getting myself into. The volume level alone was enough to challenge even the most sensory-adjusted adult, let alone an excitable sensory-challenged 4-year-old birthday boy. Add to it the cramped "party room" for cake and presents, the sugar (from said cake), and the constant tactile input from being bumped into by dozens of other party-going children in the play areas, and it equaled major meltdowns for the rest of the day. The thought of forking over $100 for such a meltdown again makes me nauseaus --and that's just Jungle Playland. Chuck E. Cheese, which is even larger, adds in the extra sound and visual stimulation of lighted arcade-style games and a dancing robotic mouse show, and pizza which is neither gluten- nor dairy-free, is an even worse idea.
And so we promise a near-future visit to each of those places, at a time we can better manage the sensory input they involve, and gently steer him towards more sensory-friendly locations for his birthday party. Some days this works better than others, and it seems to be getting more difficult every year (a trend I expect will continue). But at least for this year, the promise of a Lego themed pinata and a swim in the pool at a more calm location did the trick. Birthday parties with a roomful of his preschool-early elementary aged friends can never be described as calm or incredibly sensory-friendly, but I'd rather he got the message that people are more imporant than things by encouraging the sensory overload to come from playtime with good friends, not a dancing mouse with arcade tokens and screaming children we don't know. Unpopular as it may be at times, it really does work better for our birthday boy -- Chuck and the Jungle Animals will be there the following week for us to visit on a day that Josiah is nmore in control and can better enjoy them anyway.
So the invites are out, the pinata-making is planned, and the birthday countdown is in full swing. I still need to find pinata stuffers (ideally some fun stuff that doesn't involve food allergens, dyes, and sugar overdoses), order the cake (specially made without gluten or dairy), charge the videocamera batteries and actually make the pinata, but those tasks are much more fun!
Note: Jungle Playland is actually an awesome facility, with great play areas that are awesome for Josiah's proprioceptive system, and if you're local I'd highly recommend a visit. It's just the birthday-party-on-a-crowded-November-Saturday part that didn't work out so well for him!
Thanks for joining me along the journey! I'd love to hear what you want to know ... do you have questions about sensory processing disorder, gluten-free/dairy-free diets, homeschooling, faith, life in general? Send me a note or post a comment and I'll try to write something that addresses your interests and questions!