We moved into our house 9 years ago summer. It was shortly before Romany’s 4th birthday, and I threw a party for her with a few family members. She really enjoyed it, so despite not having had birthday parties for her in the past, I decided to throw her another party for her the following year, inviting friends as well. And nobody came. The year after she had spent her first year in a special school and again I threw her a birthday party, this year inviting her school friends too and some of my friends who have children around Romany’s age and were familiar with her. Again, nobody came.
I started to be a little more realistic – perhaps parties for Romany weren’t an option. Maybe people were nervous about coming because their children (in the case of Romany’s classmates) have their own difficulties and find parties too much for them. Romany’s best friend was on holiday – she was the only one to even RSVP if I remember correctly. Perhaps I didn’t give people enough notice? Maybe some people were worried that their children were too boisterous or that they might say something that offended me. Perhaps they worried about their children being hurt by Romany – it’s not as if that’s impossible after all. Or maybe people just didn’t want to come full stop. Whatever the reason, that was when I made a decision. No more proper birthday parties for Romany. We still have little parties for our family and we still have a cake, sing happy birthday and blow out candles for Romany. We just don’t invite other people to join us any more. Often we take Romany out for the day somewhere she’ll really enjoy as well. She doesn’t miss out – we celebrate in our own way – and it stopped hurting years ago now. But there is one thing that still hurts…
It’s not just that we don’t throw parties for Romany, she also doesn’t get invited to parties. In her lifetime she’s been invited to three parties, all of which we went to and all of which Romany thoroughly enjoyed. I think facebook is the thing that makes it hurt all the more – I wouldn’t even know how often Romany is overlooked if there weren’t the posts there to show me. Unfortunately her exclusion is practically advertised, which is hardly the fault of the person posting, but it still stings.
The thing is, I do get it. and I don’t actually resent it, perhaps surprisingly. Romany sometimes finds groups of people overwhelming, especially if things get excitable. If that happens I have to find a quiet space or take Romany home so she’s out of the situation and can feel calmer, which could mean her pretty much missing the party anyway. There is also the fact that Romany is strong and she can be aggressive. Putting her in a room full of children who are likely to be very giddy increases the risk of her lashing out through panic or confusion. It might not even be aggression – Romany has scratched, hit, pulled my hair and bitten me while actually trying to be affectionate. It’s a lot to expect parents and their children to put themselves in a position where those kids could get hurt.
Then there’s the food issue, which I absolutely understand. It can be very difficult to work around Romany’s dietary need because so much food – especially the food kids want for their birthday parties – has wheat or dairy in. Of course, they can’t put a full spread on that suits Romany – it costs more and I’m guessing most people imagine it tastes pretty foul too. It doesn’t – I have put on a full party tea for Romany every year for the past 7 years and enjoyed every mouthful. Pizza, crisps, chips, various pasta salads or suchlike – it varies every year – plus buns, biscuits and of course a delicious cake. As I said though, it doesn’t come cheap. Anyone with a child who has any type of additional needs knows that certain labels turn up the costs (disability, special needs, sensory – it all adds to the pound signs in the eyes of the company making whatever product they’re selling) and its exactly the same for dietary needs. A bag of pasta that would feed a maximum of 5 or 6 people a single meal is around £1.50 rather than the 50p or less it costs for a normal pack of pasta that’s the same size, for example. I’d actually bring food from home quite happily, but there’s still the pressure that Romany might get hold of someone else’s food. As much as it’s my responsibility to stop that from happening, I realise that any parent would still worry – eating the wrong food can cause agonising pain for Romany and my friends know that. They’d feel terrible if she got hold of food she shouldn’t, even though I’d never hold it against them – it happens and it can’t be helped.
Another reason for the lack of invitations is me. Socially I’m very isolated these days. I have 3 days through the week where I can meet up with people, and one of those days is taken up getting some valuable time with my mum and visiting my grandma who is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. So two days isn’t much time to keep our social life going, and everyone has things to fit into their week, so I don’t really see many friends any more. I don’t hear from people often either. After a while, if you’re taken out of your social circle by the circumstances you’re in, people tend to “forget” you. Not because they don’t care, but because you’re not really current in their day-to-day life, and that means people don’t think to get in touch very often. Of course, when I mention that I have a day where people remember me and get in touch, but it doesn’t last. Occasionally I feel a bit resentful, but mostly I just accept that it really is just one of those things. And if my friends and I are out of touch with each other’s lives, it stands to reason that they’d not think to give us a shout for parties either.
There is also another consideration… Maybe the kids themselves don’t want Romany there. I stopped taking her to visit friends quite some times ago for all the same reasons that we don’t get party invites. I’m not going to sit there telling my friends children they can’t run, play and be excited because Romany is there. I don’t want my friends to worry about whether they have snacks in that Romany can have so she doesn’t get upset that all the other kids have crisps and chocolate. As kids get older they want to choose who is at their party, not have the decision made for them, and why would they want somebody they don’t normally see at their party?
I’ve never had more than one or two friends who visit us at home regularly, so we stay happily contented in our little bubble. It’s not perfect, but we manage and – perhaps surprisingly – we’re happy. Romany can come first and I don’t have to explain to anyone, make excuses, apologise – we just live our life the way we want to live it. That’s why it’s easy not to be offended or hurt all of the time. I’ll admit, yeah, I do sometimes say to myself “How come if I want to see friends I’m expected to go to them every time, or I’ll never see them?” but those moments last less and less time now, because I have less time to contemplate it anyway. And if I’m honest, I’m starting to care less and less because there is so much more to worry about. It sounds heartless, but would it be better to dwell on it? Feel wounded every time people exclude me from nights out or parties or days in town? That’s a path I’m not going down if I can help it. It can only lead to people feeling upset, surely, and definitely isn’t going to help matters!
I’ve stopped doing anything for my birthdays too – I don’t really drink any more, so it seems a little pointless to have a night out. The last time I went out for my birthday was about 3 1/2 years ago and I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t surprised to see that only a handful of people showed. I was already slowly slipping into isolation because things were starting to get difficult again with Romany, and taking her out was becoming much harder work, so my contact with friends was already slipping. Now I think that without facebook I wouldn’t even know what’s happening in anyone’s life. It would be so easy to be bitter – if I’m feeling down I’ll admit that it can creep in unexpectedly – but for the most part I’m fairly contented. I miss my time with my friends, but that’s just something I’ve learned to accept rather than resent. I’m sure there have been times in my life where I’ve let friends down myself – everybody has at some point – so it would certainly be hypocritical of me to hold it against anyone.
After posting this is possible – likely even – that worried friends will contact me quickly to try to arrange to meet up, concerned that I might be referring to them. It’s possible that there will be an influx of party invitations, but that depends whether there are any birthdays coming up in the next month. The buzz will die down within a few days, and we’ll settle back into the routine we’re in now, and that’s got to be a good thing. There will also be people out there whose immediate reaction is to say think “What a bitch!” because I’ve been so honest about what really goes on on. Seriously though, I’m a bitch because I’m honest? Or do those people actually feel guilty because they’re the ones who completely forget about until I post something on facebook, and prefer to be angry with me rather than honest with themselves… Or perhaps they’re the ones who don’t even see my posts any more because they never comment, and we all know about the dodgy facebook algorithms cutting posts out of our newsfeeds don’t we? If people feel guilty and turn it into anger, that’s a shame, but it’s not my fault…
The thing is, Romany is perfectly happy with how things are. She likes the way we live our life and for a lot of the time she’s very contented. That means that, for the most part, so am I. I’ll admit there are moments where I have to put my phone down and stay off facebook for a while. Despite the fact I don’t often go on nights out, it’d be nice to still be invited once in a while. Don’t get me wrong, I have a couple of friends who have invited me out, it’s just a case of finding the time to fit it in around when I have Romany, and I know I’ll have fun when we do go out. I’ll spend the day after in hell, but once in a while I can cope with that. And my best friend absolutely always has time for me. We’ve had to concede that days out with both our girls aren’t practical any more, but in the future we’ll be able to pick those days back up and start getting out more again. And we do still get time to meet up in that little window of time I have free…
I do wonder how things would be different if Romany didn’t have Rett Syndrome, but those thoughts pass quickly. It really doesn’t matter what it would be like – that’s not my life so how is thinking like that going to help? Our life is different. People rarely visit, but the handful that do are always welcome and almost never turned away (obviously there are exceptions, but they’re very few and far between). I’ve never really had a lot of friends who come to see me, and less so the older Romany has got, so it’s not been a sudden change.
I wonder, too, if there are people out there thinking “She shouldn’t post things like that – it’s not fair to make people feel guilty” but that’s not why I posted. Let’s be honest, I’ve repeatedly said I understand a lot of the issues people have, and I’ve also said that for the most part I don’t get bitter about it. If I wanted people to feel guilty I’d talk in detail about the brief periods where I do feel resentful, but what would a guilt trip achieve anyway? This blog was, and is, somewhere that I’m probably more honest than I am elsewhere. So I acknowledge that less positive side of my life is there, because it’s a part of who I am and what life with Romany entails. I’m actually extremely lucky in my life and also happier than I have ever been before. I’m pretty sure any of the friends I do see could tell you honestly that this is the happiest they’ve known me. So I’d rather not have people trying to offer unnecessary sympathy, or have people panicking and messaging me to arrange to meet up because they feel bad. The fact of the matter is that I don’t contact people much any more either. I stopped a while ago – I suppose it was a bit of an experiment to see who I still heard from – and my phone has never been quieter. I thought it would bother me, but it just didn’t. It made life much simpler in the end; I was often upset because I kept making an effort to contact people, kept trying to arrange to meet up, but more often than not was let down. Life is simpler now, and it’s happy. Of course I miss seeing my friends and hearing from them – I’m not suggesting I don’t care – but it becomes much easier over time. And I still care just as much and just as deeply as I always have. It’s a shame that life has got in the way of so many of my friendships, and I could say “If they really cared they’d be better friends” but considering I don’t contact people much any more I can hardly complain.
The thing is, life is good. In fact it’s FUCKING GREAT thank you! I have an amazing daughter, a wonderful son and an incredible fiancé. I have our house, our crazy cats and dopey dog. I have so much more happiness than many people do, so what on earth would complaining do? I’ve never had so much love in my life. I’m lucky, for a million reasons. Who cares about birthday parties? The only party I’m planning is my wedding, and of course my friends will get an invitation – I want the people I love to be there! My friends are still my friends, regardless of whether I see them – I know they still care about me. It’s gonna be an interesting day, mostly geared around one particular young lady, and it’s going to be a hell of a lot of fun!
Anyway, here are some pics of Romany’s 5th birthday party – just cos it was a LOT of fun! 😀