A Very Curly Birthday Celebration

“You’re such a good mom, Evan is so lucky to have you,” said Debbie as she and her two teenage daughters left my son’s surprise 12th birthday celebration.

And it really was a surprise.

From my Evan’s perspective, this was the first year he wasn’t having a birthday party, and he was disappointed. He kept asking if anyone was coming over for dinner. “Just grandma,” I told him.

What he didn’t know was that at 7:30 on the night of his birthday, a garage full of women with curly hair would be gathering to give him a memorable birthday surprise.

Evan is obsessed with curls (and obsessed is an understatement). I don’t even think there is a word to describe his deeply intense passion for curly hair. He is constantly approaching strangers to complement their curls. Roberta at the post office asked about him the last time I went to buy stamps. “Her son loves my curls,” told a coworker. Susie, Carolyn, Joy and Jennifer are just a few of the curly girls who have received marriage proposals from my son.

This child squeaks with pure joy at the sight of a head full of curly locks. He’s even invented words for girls with curly hair: “beatsyonna” (pronounced beats-see-ah-nuh) is a girl with curly hair, and “beatsy” means beautiful curls. We really need to add this word to the dictionary so that we’re not constantly explaining what it means.

Getting back to Debbie’s compliment, while I appreciate it, putting together Evan’s birthday surprise was super easy. I posted a few things on Facebook, went to Costco where I picked up a $20 cake that was large enough to feed a small army, and put a note on the door asking everyone to wait in the garage. That was it; three simple steps and Evan’s birthday surprise was done. When I told this to Debbie, she said she wished she could think of something creative for her kids.

At that point I looked over at my two neurotypical kids and had the same empty feeling that Debbie expressed. I told her that I doubted that I could come up with an especially original idea for their birthdays because what would make them happy on their birthdays are things. The curly hair party was an experience. And it was an experience that gave Evan more happiness than anything I could ever buy. We recorded Evan’s reaction when he saw all those curly girls, and the level of joy that radiated through that cold garage was beyond huge. The beatsyonnas were equally happy to be included in this moment.

My sister sent the video to a site called “Love What Matters,” and in less than 24 hours it had almost 12,000 views, 1,300 shares and just shy of 1,000 supportive comments, including hundreds of pictures of girls and guys with curls.

Here’s how the evening played. After dinner, we told Evan we had a surprise for him in the garage. After a slight miscommunication about whether Evan was coming out of the house or the curly crew was coming in, Evan opened the door to our garage.

“Surprise!” everyone yelled in unison.

“What is this?” asked my confused 12-year-old. Then after a very short pause, it clicked. “Wow. Look at these beatsyonnas! They’re all beatsyonnas!” And the beatsyonnas spontaneously burst out into a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday,” during which Evan began playing with one of his guest’s curls and then invited everyone to come play in the basement.

Throughout the night Evan kept shouting things like “This is what I’ve always wanted,” “Best birthday surprise ever,” “Thumbs up everybody. Thumbs up!”

There were approximately 22 people in our house to surprise Evan. Most of them had natural curls, but a few who wanted in on the action came with wigs or used a curling iron.

Jon and I were humbled by the outpouring of love and support for our son. We know that it’s easy to plan on coming to an impromptu event like this, actually getting out in the middle of the week can be difficult. The first guest to arrive asked me how many people were coming. I didn’t know because I really didn’t follow up. Almost two dozen people showed up, and I know they were all glad to be a part of this. They couldn’t stop smiling and laughing because Evan’s happiness was contagious.

“We celebrated him as he celebrated all of us,” commented one of our guests.

So to Debbie who said that Evan is lucky to have me as a mom, I think the opposite is true. I’m the lucky one. As much as parenting is difficult and parenting a child with autism presents its own set of challenges, Evan – with his ability to show gratitude for the simplest of things – makes it unimaginably rewarding.