His party was at ChuckECheese. An odd location for a teenager, but my son's developmental age is much younger.
I wish it hadn't bothered me.
I was happy to see Ben happy. He loved the games, the pizza, and seeing ChuckECheese in costume.
But a part of me was embarrassed that my 16-year-old wanted to go to ChuckECheese. Ben is the size of a six- or seven-year-old, so it wasn't like he stood out particularly.
We've had other birthdays where only one friend has shown up. This year four kids came. Two teenagers from his school – one deaf and one with autism – his younger friend Liam and a teenage girl Ben knew when he went to an alternative school.
The deaf boy clearly found ChuckECheese uncool, but the others enjoyed it.
Whenever Ben's birthday rolls around I feel a tinge of sadness. He's not doing what other kids his age are doing, and he never will. He wants to have lots of friends come to his party, but the truth is that he doesn't have friends – not the kind that he sees on a regular basis and is able to maintain an ongoing relationship with. There are kids who have been fond of him over the years, and sometimes we’re able to get them out.
I wish I didn't feel this way. I wish I didn't have any ambivalence about his slow development or inability to follow social norms. Sometimes I feel Ben's presence in my life is a constant reminder of where I'm lacking as a person: I don't have enough patience. I'm not as accepting as I need to be. I care too much about fitting in.
And I couldn't help thinking, what will Ben do for his 17th birthday? Or his 25th? Will we become lifelong regulars at ChuckECheese?
The bottom line, I guess, is that it doesn't matter what Ben chooses for his party next year, as long as he enjoys it.
Today my younger son came up with this brilliant idea: "Dad, why don’t you go to ChuckECheese for your 50th?!"
Now at least then, I wouldn't have to worry about Ben being the oldest kid in the place.