Monday, May 28, 2012

Party Notes

I was watching James yesterday at a family party and woke up to a few new things I need to think through and help him with.

To my eyes, it was a small group of about 18 people. I come from a large, Irish-Catholic family on my mother's side, and it doesn't start getting sizeable until about 30 or so people show up. 18 is cozy.
   - It's not cozy for James or his sister.

I have over 40 years to learn to schmooze and pass time pleasantly at a party.
  - James hasn't. He's been to maybe a handful of parties like this one,
    which I got to experience larger gatherings at least 3-4 times a year
    at Christmas, Easter, birthdays, and any graduations/communions, etc.

I grew up with 18 first cousins, and too many second cousins to count right now before coffee. We were each others' play dates the whole summer (which was a full 3 months long).
  - My kids have 6 first cousins, 1 of whom is new and we hope to see soon,
    3 we might see once a year, and 2 we see occasionally. While we do meet
    up with second cousins who live near us, it's definitely a much quieter life
    for our kiddos.

My cousins and I were very used to lots of people in a social gathering, and we were fine not knowing everyone (we'd probably heard stories about them, which was good enough). We expected random adults to suddenly zero in on us and ask us questions, and learned how to answer and evade as needed. As children and then young adults, we learned where to go if we wanted more action and less boring grown-up talk.
  - My kids really haven't got a clue when confronted with a group of more
    than, say, 8. I watched them go into "freeze" mode until the part dwindled
    a bit. Then they were fine. They don't talk with me after about who is related
    to whom or why that person was there. So I am reminding myself that now a
    good time to talk about the people we met yesterday and give a bit of family
    history. Because that's important, in so many intangible ways. I can tell them a
    little more about my summers growing up, and maybe give them some more
    chances to talk about social gatherings and what to do at them.
My mother's family lived a kind of Mad Men life on each other's back porches/decks in the summer, with a cocktail happy hour that sometimes was dinner. Us kids got very used to chatting and gnoshing. I love the fact that without cell phones or the internet, everyone along a river and big forested hill just knew whose house was hosting the next happy hour.
  - It's good to see our kids developing some of these same skills,
    but I have to keep remembering that if they're quiet, it doesn't
    necessarily mean they're doing ok -- they might be overwhelmed,
    and in need of a quick touch-base.

I really would like to figure out something to help James. He is a social guy, but while he loves the people and commotion, he doesn't know what to do with himself. I saw him do extreme verbal stimming for the first hour (plus some hand flapping and jumping) and then all kinds of stunts to get attention, one of which almost broke his arm. His breathing became different and the head shaking/banging started, but he kept insisting on being in the middle of people. Again, this got better when the group became smaller and more familiar.

I refuse to bring the iPad. The idea is to get him more relaxed in social situations. Also, the idea of a quiet spot to retreat to seems moot, as he wants to be where the people are. All I can think of now is maybe some social stories about what to do at a party, talking about the party more beforehand and descussing what he can do if he's at loose ends, and normal parenting for when the stimming gets too out of hand.

This is so weird for me. I was not a popular social butterfly growing up -- I am sure I had to learn social behaviours too ... it just seems like it came more naturally (especially in hind sight).

Summers were one big, lazy kaleidoscope of random activities and soaking up social behaviours. I just accepted it as a way of life. I really miss it, looking back now. Even if we'd had more normal lives, I'd be wanting to encourage this with our kids. It's just that with the kids I have, I have to work at it a little more.

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