Sometimes things just don’t click in my brain. Maybe it’s my Youngest Child Syndrome, but I admit that sometimes I think that because I behave a certain way, everyone else in the world
should does as well. It takes some time to wrap my head around the fact that there are people out there who would talk on the phone, eat cheese, and listen to country music at the same time. Or watch baseball. Or not drink coffee. Or vote for Donald Trump.
Anyways. We had our first birthday party at CRECER on Friday! Cindy turned 12 and I was sOoOo excited to celebrate with her and the other girls.
When she arrived, I immediately jumped into !!!!CrAzY pArTy FuN CeLebRaTiOn!!!! mode and started jumping up and down, hugging her, and screaming “FELIZ CUMPLEAÑOS!” at a pitch and volume that can best be described as “drunk banshee.”
What I expected to hear were giggles, “que loca sos, Jilli”, and for everyone to immediately break into a “happy birthday” song chorus while hugging Cindy. What actually happened was…nothing. Silence. No giggles. No happy birthday song. No one calling me crazy. At first, I thought maybe I had gotten the date wrong and Cindy’s birthday was actually November 16, not October. And then I looked at her face, and I saw it. The same expression I get when someone asks me to play soccer: pure discomfort.
While I, the babbling bafoon, stood there confused by why she would feel uncomfortable at her sUpEr FuN BiRtHdAy pArTy, the girls got ready for lunch and Franklin found a moment to ask Cindy if she had ever celebrated her birthday before. “Mmm..no,” she said.
Foot, meet mouth. In an effort to make her feel important, loved, and celebrated, Cindy felt overwhelmed and uncomfortable- two things we never want the kids to feel when they’re with us.
So !!!!cRaZy pArTy FuN CeLebRaTiOn!!!! became “Let’s have fun in a way that everyone feels comfortable.” We made the party more group-oriented and less -all eyes on Cindy-. We played board games, had icing fights, and wrestled for stray piñata candy in the pouring rain. It was then, in the comfort of not having 100% of the attention on her, that Cindy had the opportunity to celebrate turning 12. And there were giggles and smiles and dancing that lasted all afternoon.
It’s so easy to look at these girls and think of myself when I was their age. It’s easy to forget that, despite it being her 12th birthday, Cindy has been treated more like an 18 year old for several years. She worries daily about making enough money by begging on the street to support her family, something no 12 year old should have to worry about. When I was her age, my biggest worry was whether or not there was a new Gilmore Girls episode that week. (Privilege has been checked and rechecked.) So when it comes to celebrating childhood and forgetting about adult responsibilities, there’s a good chance that life hasn’t given these kids many opportunities to do that.
Since the beginning, our primary goals at CRECER have been to provide education, opportunities, and love to children who are at risk of turning the street into their full-time home. But on Friday, I added another goal to our list. We must, must, must let them be kids. We can’t let their childhoods slip by while they’re being rushed into adulthood. We can’t let them not celebrate another birthday.
We also, depending on the kid, really can’t run around screaming like a drunk banshee. Lesson learned.