Turning Pain Into Joy On My Daughter’s 4th Birthday, Part 1

Turning Pain Into Joy On My Daughter’s 4th Birthday, Part 1

Editor's Note: Today we are sharing part one of a mother's beautiful blog. Look for Part 2 tomorrow.

As far back as I can remember, I have always loved and awaited my birthday. When August arrives, I am already full of expectation, even though I was born at the end of the month. So much so that when my siblings want to tease me, they say to me: "If August would only come already …" My birthday is my day: I spoil myself on that day and do things that I love. I enjoy the attention from those around me and feel very special.

Since my Neta was born, her birthday is a complex and tumultuous day for me. I want to celebrate and be happy in the way that I know birthdays to be, but I cannot help hurting. On this day, the chronological age that we "celebrate" and according to which we place candles on the cake confronts the developmental age that she has reached.

From year to year, the gap between the two increases, and so does my pain. Every year, as we blow out the candles, I make the same wish for Neta, and when another year passes and the wish remains just that, I fear and wonder if it will ever come true. In the first year or two, we managed to slip the fact of her birthday under the radar relatively easily. After all, what do children understand at this age? When Neta turned three, after much consideration and uncertainty as to whether or not we should celebrate and whether or not she will understand, we gathered the family together and marked the day with mixed feelings.

About two months ago, the realization hit me that Neta's fourth birthday was fast approaching, and again the thoughts arose: Does she understand the significance of this day? How do you celebrate for a little girl who prefers to be quiet, to keep to herself and who is stressed and distanced by all the noise and commotion around her? It was clear to me that in order for Neta to enjoy a birthday party, we would have to make it appropriate for her.

To our great joy, we are blessed with an amazing family, supportive and tightly knit, that accept Neta with love and a wonderful level of sensitivity. We spend a great deal of time with the family, and feel most at home and comfortable around them. At family gatherings, the children play and go a bit wild, and Neta is always with us, the adults. As the years have passed, the children have grown, but as far as they are concerned, Neta has remained a baby. They don't understand why she doesn't speak and why she doesn't want to play with them. They don't understand why she still wears a diaper and why her mother feeds her with a spoon. When our bright nephew, who was born just two months before Neta, heard that Neta is also four years old, just like him, he couldn't get it: "How can she be my age when she's just a baby?"

And this is when the idea was born. This year, instead of hurting and examining what we had achieved on her fourth birthday, we would celebrate in a way that Neta deserved. I had three principles in mind for the celebration:

1. Neta must enjoy herself, and to do so, she needed to feel relaxed and safe.

2. Her guests would be her cousins and they must have a good time, just as children know how to do.

3. The cousins would be exposed to a Neta that they didn't know and this would create an opportunity for future close relationships.

Based in Israel, Chen and her husband Dudi are parents to their gorgeous and unique daughter, Neta, who is diagnosed with autism and extensive developmental delays. After completing two wonderful years at Beit Issie Shapiro's Early Intervention Center, Neta is now in a Special Education Pre-School. Neta loves to swim in the pool, enjoys singing and above all, loves swinging in the playground.

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