Bull in a pottery shop (alternately titled: When autism crashes the party)

Hope had a girly girl birthday party with a small group of friends at a pottery studio.

Shelves of bisqueware reaching to the ceiling, glass cases of handmade ceramic art for sale, a wet clay room, paints and glazes out on tables with serious artists at work, the kiln

As soon as we walked in the door and just before Rhema took off running she and I stared at each other with the same question: What in the world were you thinking???

The party room was located in the back — through the studio and around the corner. B and I were juggling bags of party favors and cookies and snacks, and I lost Rhema several times along the way as she darted around tables and dove under stools.

Things might have gone smoothly if she could have started painting right away. But we needed to wait for the rest of Hope’s guests. Rhema’s anxiety was palpable – the new environment, the sights and smells and sounds – she didn’t know what to do, where to go, what would happen next. She refused to sit, and paced frantically through the studio. I felt my own heart rate triple. How could I be a proper host to Hope’s friends and parents and chase Rhema at the same time?

I discovered we’d forgotten the drinks for the kids. We quickly decided Brandon would go for the drinks, and Rhema would go with him. Stat. But when we put her coat on, she realized she was leaving. She finally stilled, dropped her head and put her fists to her eyes to stop the tears.

My heart wilted, and I knelt down. I saw the battle within her. She understood this was her sister’s party and while every cell in her body screamed Run!, she desperately wanted to stay, she desperately wanted to be a part.

Looking up at B I said, “She can stay. We’ll make it work. Hurry back.”

She continued to bolt and weave through the studio, and I could only follow close behind. To grab her or try and restrain her would result in a wrestling match and Aboriginal-inspired pottery raining down on our heads. Finally Rhema found a window-corner near the entrance to take refuge. She hummed and hopped and would not leave the corner. A studio employee came over and asked if she could help. I assued her that we seemed to be doing fine. At that particular second.

But my mind was on my sweet Hope in the room at the back of the studio, her mother, father, sister nowhere in sight. She’s always understood that Rhema’s needs usually demand more of my attention, but this was her day and she deserved all of me. 

On cue, my sister appeared at the door. “Go,” she said simply. “I’ll stay here with Rhema.”

The evening progressed and Hope and her friends painted happily while the moms chatted and helped out. My sister came back and informed me that Brandon had arrived and taken Rhema outside.

Frustration, anger and sadness swept through me. “She should be here. This is her sister’s party, and she should be a part of this somehow.”

Later Brandon came back, carrying a fighting Rhema in his arms. She was weeping loudly. As he struggled with her, the girls looked up from their pottery. Hope’s big sister was crying at her birthday party. I glanced at Hope, and she just smiled a gentle smile and went back to painting.

I tried coaxing Rhema to the table, knowing that if she saw there was an activity to do she would be ok. “Rhema. Paint? Wanna paint? Look!”

Suddenly she stopped fighting and climbed up to the table. In a flash I grabbed some paint, a brush, and the closest piece of pottery and plopped it in front of her.

It was a mug. And instantly Rhema went to dumping paint inside and stirring her brush around and around with great intensity. I looked at my twin and we burst out laughing.

“Smart choice, sis.”

The way Rhema sees it,  a mug is for putting liquids inside. End of story. Why in the world would you ever dream of painting the outside?

And that’s when the party really started. My relief coming out in the laughter, watching both of my girls at the table, and enjoying the good company of friends. My friend Laurie eventually tried to show Rhema how to paint the outside of her mug with a brush, but in the end my sensory girl was more interested in finger- painting her hair and her clothes.

Overall it was a smashing success… because nothing got smashed. (!)

And most importantly, Hope declared it the ‘best birthday ever!’

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15 thoughts on “Bull in a pottery shop (alternately titled: When autism crashes the party)

  1. choked up because you really captured the truth of what was going on. She was all messed up until she was participating. If all the paint can ever possibly dry on the inside of that mug, it will be a family treasure!

  2. You did a great job being there for both of your girls!

    Hope is such an encouragement to me. I constantly worry about my daughter getting jealous/tired of all we do for her older brother. But then I read about how Hope is such a good sister to Rhema, and it makes me feel, well, hopeful! She’s a pretty awesome little girl!

  3. Oh my gosh I read this with my heart pounding. I am so glad it had a happy ending! I took both kids into one of those pottery shops to pick up something Anna and I had made and was so stressed for just 5 minutes trying to make sure Ethan didn’t break something! You are amazing to attempt this with both girls, and a party to boot. I am so happy Hope’s special day turned out okay!

  4. I was doing OK until you wrote … “On cue, my sister appeared at the door. “Go,” she said simply. “I’ll stay here with Rhema.” … I teared up with happy tears. I love that you have support and help and people around who understand what you need when you need it. No explanations needed. I’m super duper happy that Hope had a great birthday and that Rhema was able to get to a place where she could join in the fun (in her own special way). 🙂

  5. Unintentionally, I started to hold my breath when I read the title. I don’t think I exhaled until the end. Phew! So glad the party went well and I hope Rhema’s mug is on the mantle. You never cease to amaze me with your courage and willingness to try. You remind me that often the lessons and the blessings come in the trying, regardless of the outcome. I’ve never even considered taking my crew to one of those places. One at a time, maybe, but the whole crew no way. This almost makes me want to try. Almost.

  6. Beautiful. Just beautiful. I felt like I was one of the pieces of pottery of the shelf watching the birthday party unfold. I could identify with everytihing you wrote.As always your writing a gift. My ceramic coffee mug is filled when I read your words…..Thank You!!!!
    Happy Birthday to your sweet hope!

  7. I just recently found your blog and this story made me tear up a bit. We had a very similar situation with my two boys. I always feel like our son with Autism is taking away from our other son’s special days, and especially at birthday parties and holiday events. I know it’s more of an issue for me than for my sons, but it’s nice to know I am not the only one who has felt this way. Your story is beautiful and you are very blessed to have family who support and understand. So glad to have found your blog!

  8. Always the balancing act that could go dreadfully wrong…but suddenly doesn’t. And the most ordinary day turns into a success to be celebrated! And doesn’t that make us all better parents? Stopping to celebrate the small glories that we probably would have taken for granted but for autism. (Of course I would have rather learned all this from a TV-after-school-special-starring-Kristy-McNichol than from living it each day! :))

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