When I returned from IMFAR I want back to “routine” work days, parenting, preparing for our CSE meeting, and some housekeeping. And an extra project that had been in the works for 3 months: creating a Sweet 16 birthday party for my daughter, Isabelle. So, now I had only two weeks left to prepare for the party that I was hosting at our house on June 2nd.
I had already arranged for a tent for the back yard, for a DJ who had experience with kids with various special needs, and I had a menu of finger foods that I was going to prepare. I ordered a special cake featuring the party theme of an enchanted forest. The cake needed a tree for the top and after a search I decided to make one myself.
I had shopped for dresses for months for Isabelle and we had 4 at home to decide between. Always trying to find teachable moments, I thought this would be a good opportunity to teach Isabelle how to make a decision based on several factors: (My own version of What Not To Wear). So she modeled each for mom and dad and we took photos from three angles, printed them out and then I had her look carefully at her appearance. We also asked for feedback from friends. (But we did not follow my mother’s advice to start over. “They all look trashy. Is that what they wear in Westchester?”)
I had sent out invitations at the beginning of April. Then a week before the party, having heard from only 64% of the invitees, I sent out a reminder post card to 25 kids and a are-you-coming postcard to a dozen others.. (Did I tell you I am a professional marketer?) So who was invited? Of course her Camp Northwood gang (there is a group of kids who are current or alums of this camp that serves kids with various learning/social/communications disabilities and who live in the NYC area and get together about once a month for outings).
And then there are the students from school (While we live in White Plains, Isabelle goes to school out of district in a town 17 miles north). Pleasantville High School friends fall into categories: kids in her special education program (a program that provides supported inclusion), kids in her modified academic classes, and kids in mainstream.. Because Isabelle was in mainstream classes in 7th and 8th grade in this school district she became friendly with a number of TD girls – they were often paired with her for class projects and school trips. In addition to 9th graders,
Isabelle has a special relationship with a seniors (Marisa, Rebecca, Jillian) who had helped her with homework when she was in middle school, and junior who Isabelle has admired (Emily) from the school play. These are young ladies who appreciate Isabelle.
Since her school is in a town 30 minutes away I was advised that I should offer transportation otherwise the kids might not come. So I made that offer in the invitation I had sent out.
The party theme was A Midsummer Night’s Dream (With Isabelle’s love of fairies, I was able to convince Isabelle to use a more age appropriate fairy story, and it was of course, her favorite Shakespeare play) so we were prepared to make the yard look like an enchanted forest. To create the look, I made a half dozen trips to craft stores AI Friedman and Michael’s, and Strauss’s party supply.
So why was I making this Sweet 16 party a big deal? Because I wanted to celebrate my daughter: since her last milestone, her Bat Mitzvah three years earlier, she has made great progress socially. And besides, as mothers of girls with disabilities know, our girls don’t get invited to parties of typical developing peers (TDs). So if I did not host a party for her she would have no Sweet 16 party to go to.
Thursday the tent came and it was the wrong size, and the salesman did not understand why I was upset. (note: do NOT use Westchester Tent for future parties). But decorating it had to wait. It poured Friday and into Saturday morning. (WHY??) But finally it let up by mid morning so Isabelle and I wrapped the tent poles with crepe paper and fresh cut greens, put flowers, butterflies, fairies and birds everywhere, hung strings of lights and lanterns, covered tables with shimmery cloths, confetti and vases of fresh cut roses, set up serving tables, arranged chairs around the dance area, and had balloons filled. I was delighted at how Isabelle worked on the decorations with me. She was really engaged and helpful. I must say the place looked pretty good. While she went off to her curly girl hair salon (Devachan) I moved to food preparation.
My friend Shera – mother of Isabelle’s best friend Cici – and her youngest daughter came to handle food prep and cooking (lesson learned: have parties catered when you have only one oven), and did an amazing job. We served burger sliders, pigs in the blanket, gluten free rice and corn coated chicken tenders on a skewer, cheese quesedillas, French fries in mini Chinese food containers, frozen lemonade in margarita glasses, enchanted forest layer cake from Beescakes, vanilla ice cream with toppings, and strawberries on skewers.
Who came? All 4 of the older girls! And most of the Pleasantville mainstream girls who were invited and all of 9th graders in her program (3 boys, 1 girl). And over a dozen kids from camp, mostly boys, and a boy she has known since 2nd grade, and her two current Friendship Circle friends. And our neighbor Katie performed bartender duties. All in all we had 28 guests. All the girls came dressed in party dresses. The boys, well most showed up in shorts and tee shirts (they must have misinterpreted the invitation which said: come in Shakespearean costume or party attire). I hear this is not that unusual.
DJ Rob kept the party moving. And we had unexpected live entertainment from John, an NYIT student and leader of the camp get-togethers, who brought his electric guitars and amps and accompanied Isabelle as she sang Love Story (Taylor Swift) and Part of Your World (Little Mermaid).
Everyone danced and enjoyed the hats, glasses, and glow sticks. Isabelle’s Friendship Circle friends took photos and printed them to hand out. One of the boys in Isabelle’s program told Julia, one of the photographers: “I want to make out with you”. She responded: “I know.” He went home with a photo of himself with her.
No neighbors came to complain about the noise (I forgot to circulate my note letting them know about the party). The party broke up a little earlier than planned – about 9:30 – but three hours was enough from most guests. While Paul drove the Pleasantville girls back home, Isabelle opened gifts. On the drive home the girls said they had a wonderful time and Paul asked if they would invite Isabelle to their parties if they had one (they won’t be 16 til next year.)
Perhaps this was one of the most “inclusive” Sweet 16 parties of all time. Everyone was there to celebrate Isabelle and share her joy. It was a beautiful thing! This is what I worked so hard for all these years.
As Isabelle types her thank you notes and I stuff the envelopes with photos, we relive the evening and I feel so thankful to all her guests.