Sixteen Candles

When the phone rang early Sunday morning, we didn’t need to check the caller ID. Clay’s Grandpa Tony (aka “Goots”), an early riser, is invariably the first to serenade the little guy with a rousing version of Happy Birthday, a tradition on my wife’s side of the family. Moments later, his Aunt Ann called, leaving her own version on voicemail.

Clay’s 16th birthday was underway. And we had some decisions to make.

We’ve learned the hard way over the years to take things slow and easy on Clay’s birthday. We don’t plan to do much. Last year, when we asked what he wanted to do he typed, “Stay home.” We did manage to get him to a restaurant for dinner, where he had a grand time, but that was the extent of the festivities.

Likewise with gifts. Clay rarely asks for anything and rarely responds to any gifts beyond Dr. Seuss books and videos. (You can only buy so many of them.) His favorite gift is quality time with his family. So, we stopped forcing other presents (and parties) on him a few years back. And we’ve learned not to wallow in the pesky thoughts that can loom over birthdays as you inevitably look back and ahead. Nothing productive comes out of that.

We had thought tentatively about a trip to the zoo, even did a little Googling to find one that might not be crowded. It was raining when we woke up, though, and the forecast was not promising, so that was scrubbed, along with trips to Clay’s favorite nearby parks. We decided to make no decisions. Although, technically, we never actually decided not to decide. We just let the day (and Clay’s mood) take us where it would take us.

A bunch of happy birthday messages came into Clay’s Facebook page from family and friends. Phone calls and texts arrived. Cards were opened. Clay typed out a response on the keyboard he uses to communicate, “so cool thanks everybody so stupendous.”

By mid-afternoon, the little guy (guess I can’t call him that too much longer) was running laps between the kitchen and the living room, laughing manically at some private joke (long weekends at home will do that). My wise wife proposed a trip to Target to look for music or books for Clay (and get him out of the house). He typed “sure,” and we were on our way. Of course, Clay shot right to the Dr. Seuss collection, but we fought that off, and settled on an anthology of P.D. Eastman classics, and a copy of Goodnight Moon, which you should always have in the house. (Who is that old lady whispering “hush”?)

For his birthday dinner, Clay chose a nearby diner. We knew they had the required booths and guessed correctly they wouldn’t be overly crowded on a holiday weekend. Good choice, Mr. Clay.

Waiting for Dinner

Back home, we broke out the gluten free/dairy free birthday cake.

A Little Help Blowing Out the Candles

He ended the day running between the kitchen—where the newly downloaded “Toy Story” movie was playing on his iPad (thanks, everyone for the iTunes gift cards), my wife’s office—where his favorite Mister Rogers video “Making Music” with Yo Yo Ma was running, and the patio—where his brother and I were setting off fireworks. It was July 3, after all.

Celebrating the Holiday

At the diner, while Clay was scarfing the London broil and french fries (along with my salad, my wife’s hash browns and everything else within his surprisingly long and quick reach), my wife asked what he thought of his birthday so far.

“So silly to celebrate birthdays” he typed. “We are special every day.”

So wise at 16.


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  1. #1 by autismmommytherapist on July 6, 2011 - 9:59 am

    One of the hardest transitions I had to make after my son was diagnosed was accepting that his idea of a great birthday might not mesh with mine. Once I gave him the lead, I’ve found he’s much happier. And since it’s his day, not mine, that is the way to go. Sounds like he had a great day!

  2. #2 by merle on July 6, 2011 - 11:20 am

    HAPPY 16th CLAY!! Sorry I missed the actual day but you are right…you (and all of us) are special EVERY day. Just a comment…my Godson Philip will celebrate his 52nd on Saturday Nite and requested to go back to Flemings where we celebrated his 50th. I have been in his life since he was born and have been on his journey through autism…
    Sending best wishes to all,

    • #3 by Roe on July 6, 2011 - 2:51 pm

      Thanks, Merle. And tell Philip “Happy Birthday” from us! We must get together soon!

  3. #4 by Lynda, Beacon, NY on July 6, 2011 - 12:35 pm

    Thank you for sharing your life with Clay. I feel that he is a friend who is very special to all who know him.

  4. #5 by Loretta on July 6, 2011 - 10:28 pm

    Happy belated birthday to Clay. Sorry we missed The Day (not on FB any more so miss some of these important notices). Looking forward to seeing you all in a few days!

  5. #6 by Larry Blumenthal on July 7, 2011 - 7:46 am

    Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts, advice and birthday wishes for Clay. Much appreciated.

  6. #7 by Rozella on July 16, 2014 - 4:43 pm

    I couldn’t resist commenting. Perfectly written!

  1. “It don’t mean a thing …” « Life With Clay

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