Birthday parties used to be sensory hell for Mei, she couldn’t tolerate the overwhelming attack on her senses. The crowds, loud music, clowns, magicians, bouncy castles, even lighted candles were a sensorial attack. The few parties we attended were miserable failures. After turning down several party invites, the invitations dwindled down to nothing.
Even the girls’ own birthdays were a disaster. There are no GFCF bakeries in Malaysia, so I baked and decorated GFCF cakes which usually tasted as bad as they looked. We invited the girls’ one remaining friend and sang Happy Birthday in our quietest voice to the accompaniment of Mei’s shrieks and Min Min’s sobs. By the end, I would be close to tears.
Mei and Min Min’s birthdays were always a sad reminder to me, of how life took such a hideous turn. A week leading up to their birthdays, I would fall into a deep funk. Dreading the ‘party’ that I had to throw, knowing it would be anything but joyous. To be reminded once again of how autism viciously ripped our lives apart. I had imagined throwing fun theme-parties for my daughters, what they got instead was a lopsided, unpalatable cake and misery. Hubby and I compensated by giving lavish presents to the girls, all quickly broken or left untouched because they didn’t know how to play with them appropriately.
As the girls overcame their sensory disorders and recovered from autism, they were finally able to enjoy birthday parties. Though thrilled that they were invited to parties again, I worried about dietary infractions. Mei and Min Min can sniff cake from 20 paces, to them the birthday cake was the highlight of the party. The girls are no longer on a strict diet, but neither do I want to load them up with gluten, casein and sugar. Luckily, in Malaysia ‘jelly cakes’ are just as popular as the conventional baked cakes. They are glorious creations of jelly layers made from agar-agar, coconut milk and flavored with pandan leaves. There are many variations of jelly cakes but Malaysian-style jelly cakes are generally gluten-free, casein-free and low in sugar. Jelly cakes are also popular in Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and other asian countries. Unfortunately, being the gluten snobs that they are, Mei and Min Min would wail in dismay when they see a jelly cake.
The girls can now enjoy their own birthday parties. For Mei’s 5th birthday, I planned a small, intimate party in a children’s spa, complete with mini pedicures, manicures and hair braiding. The joy I felt when Mei blew out her first birthday candles in 5 years was priceless. The pleasure on Mei’s face surrounded by her friends was pure delight. For Min Min’s 4th birthday, we threw a fairy princess-themed birthday party complete with dress-up box, crafts corner and face-painter artist. Seeing the children in sparkly dresses, fairy wings, homemade tiaras and adorned with glittery tattoos was sheer happiness. When Mei turned 6 years old recently, we decided to throw a Junior MasterChef-themed party. The children measured, chopped, stirred and baked, it was absolutely brilliant!
My friend asked whether I baked the cake again this time. After baking nine abysmal GFCF birthday cakes in the past 6 years, it was time for me to hang up my apron. To order a beautiful and delicious cake from a bakery was pure luxury. No stress, no mess. The girls are able to tolerate a moderate amount of gluten and casein now, but we still give lots of digestive enzymes beforehand. No jelly cakes for Mei and Min Min, yet!
In the past 2 months, Mei has attended 4 birthday parties. That’s 3 more than she’s been to in 3 years since autism entered our lives. Birthdays are no longer tragic reminders of what we have lost, instead birthdays are now occasions to celebrate and appreciate what we have regained.