Louie's birthday is coming up in just a couple of weeks. I love birthdays, most of all my kids' birthdays, because I have the opportunity to shower them with love and stuff, surround them with nice people and throw a great party.
As my kids get older, I find that the birthday planning process gets incrementally more complicated and difficult. The complications and difficulties are different for each kid. Marek and I wrangle over the party details (because for the Type-A older child, only the perfect party will do), and I struggle to choose a reasonable selection of gifts from the thousands of dollars of electronic gadgets and plastic junk on his current wish list.
With Lukas, birthdays are both simpler and more complicated. Louie is not terribly picky about party themes and details. When I suggested this year that we have a party at his gymnastics studio, he readily agreed. He rattled off a substantial guest list that included our family friends' kids and all the boys in his class at school. Here was the first bump on the road to a great party.
Lukas seems to like all the kids in his class, and he's a very outgoing, if socially awkward, first grader. He's also new to his school this year, so I have had very limited opportunities to witness his interactions with the boys in his class. He hasn't had any playdates with kids from school, and he hasn't been invited to any birthday parties. Earlier this year, I was helping out with small groups of kids in his class, and one of the boys pointedly told me, "I'm having my birthday party on Saturday, and Lukas is not invited." Marek tells me this same boy is sometimes mean to Lukas at school, something I've asked his teacher and paraprofessional to watch for.
All of this makes me worry about how he's fitting in and whether his classmates will come to his party. I know I shouldn't worry; if only our family friends come, Louie will still be surrounded by many kids who will happily celebrate with him. But I want so much for him to have a secure place in the social order at school, and, for better or worse, I will be studying the RSVP list for this party like tea leaves revealing Lukas's social future.
After all that worrying, buying birthday presents should be the easy part, but any parent of a child on the spectrum knows that these kids' wish lists can be a challenge. Like a lot of autistic kids, Lukas has special interests. Sometimes these special interests are mainstream, and it's easy to find the things he wants. Around Christmas, he was focused on Minecraft, like every other elementary-age kid on the planet, and his desires were easy to meet. He also goes through periods of fixation on roller coasters, superheroes, and Thomas and Friends toys.
But then there is The Legend of Zelda. Any video game fanatic of a certain vintage knows this series of video games, but the general public is blissfully ignorant. The Legend of Zelda's hero is Link, a pointy-eared warrior elf who explores, battles evil characters, and solves puzzles to complete his quests. I played the original game back in the day (cough - 1987), and I confess to a deep understanding of Link's charms. Well, Link lives on into the 21st century, and Lukas is obsessed.
Two years ago, Marek and Lukas both decided to be Link for Halloween, leaving me in quite the bind. Custom-made costumes were available to the tune of $200 each, mostly targeted to adults wanting to dress as Link for Comic-Con. That was a bit beyond our costume budget, so I enlisted the help of a friend to sew the tunics and caps. I made the belts and accessories myself. Halloween came and went, and Lukas continued to wear the costume around the house (and sometimes out of the house). He outgrew his tunic and moved on to Marek's larger one. Now Marek's tunic is starting to get a bit snug. He has also burned through several replica swords, shields, and other accessories, and since the character always gets new-style stuff in every new iteration of the game, Lukas's needs grow.
When I asked him what he wanted for his birthday, Lukas listed most of the swords and shields from Skyward Sword, the latest version of the game. It's hard to find Legend of Zelda items for sale, and most of those items center around Ocarina of Time, the version of the game popular in the late '90s. After hours of combing Amazon and eBay, I was able to find a non-lethal (foam) version of the Master sword and a relatively durable version of the Hylian shield for less than our weekly grocery bill. On Etsy, I vacillated over a hand-sewn leatherette backpack styled to look like the Hylian shield ($70 plus $20 shipping from Portugal) and a hand-carved wooden Deku shield that looked like it could survive an actual sword fight ($60 and well worth it, but not a shield on his list).
And then, success! I found a lady who advertised wooden Viking shields with leather and metal details for a very inexpensive price. After a short email conversation, she agreed to make Louie the Banded shield he wants, complete with wood, leather, metal studs, and a riveted grip. She even promised to get it here for his birthday. Add to that the other sword and shield, and a spanking-new tunic sewn by his Aunt Veronica, and Link Lukas will be standing tall.
This little sip of victory is enough to settle me down a bit. I can't control Louie's social standing at school or make sure his classmates come to his party. But I can equip my little warrior elf for his imaginary battles. That will have to be enough for now.