I wrote a little while ago that I found this cool website called Autism Sucks, where people who parent people with Autism Spectrum Disorders can "let it out" without having to be politically correct about how bad it can sometimes be. As they say there, "Autism sucks, but our kids never do."
Well, I've got a new problem: I now have to face the co-planning of my mother's 75th birthday party (as mentioned here). My sister and I are taking it on, with some input from our brother. I live four hours away. They live closer but still plus/minus an hour away, with some heavy traffic spots along the way.
What I don't mention often is that there are a lot of mental health issues involved with my parental unit, major issues that have been around for more than six decades. It's not appropriate for me to discuss them here. Suffice it to say that planning a party for her is fraught with pitfalls that cover all aspects:
- Dates -- The actual birthday is New Year's Eve, which is obviously not an option. We asked her to give us dates around then. She wants a Saturday in October because, "It might snow in December," and "November is still hurricane season." (So is October, but apparently that doesn't fit her thought processes.)
- Guests -- We requested the invitation list, now a revised invitation list, of family and close friends she would like to have celebrate her day with her. (Bear in mind that she has only about 15 - 20 relatives, including us, still living.) The first list, at 82 people, was immediately followed by a list of 113. That's a small wedding reception, larger than the one my sister held a few months ago when her daughter got married! We just can't budget it. We might just be able to make a list of 50.
- Party Type -- The truth of the matter is that my mother wants an "I-want-to-thank-everyone-who-has-been-nice-to-me" party for her church "family." (There's a lot more to that, but that's the nutshell version.) We can throw her only a birthday party.
- Location -- She wants it at her church hall. We can't do that. Family from out of town cannot come into a church and take it over to host a party for one of its members. Aside from that, there are layers of why we aren't comfortable holding it there. That leaves locations such as her community center ($250 with a $400 deposit, so already ruled out), restaurants, fire halls... with constraints of our availability to set up and break down.
- Food -- She says she wants only coffee, cake, and ice cream (related to her wanting it at her church hall). How do you, long distance, set up coffee and ice cream for 113 people? How do you serve cake and ice cream to people from several states away and send them on their way again? And what do you do for the other 90 minutes of the party?
- Presents -- My mother was adamant that she wanted no presents at this party. If a guest felt so inclined, s/he could give to one of her church's missionary funds in her name. As of today, she wants presents. Why? Apparently, someone told her that people will be upset if they aren't allowed to give presents. (What do you want to bet that someone earlier had told her that people would be upset if they had to give presents?) Her response to my question of whether she wanted presents or not was, "I just want everyone to be happy."
So after I told her "no" to 113 people, she immediately called her friends and told them that they can't come. (We don't even have a date, a location, or a guest list yet.) Argh....
I know that these things sound paltry, but I'm asking you please not to poo-poo them; when you overlay the above with the issues that skew reality, they become major stumbling blocks. I can't describe to you the intensity, the stress that surround even the most mundane of interactions with a person with such mental health issues. I can't explain how difficult it is when expectations are skewed and hidden. I can't make clear to you how anything we say or do is misinterpreted, with those misinterpretations spread to all and sundry as fact. I can't express the frustration at knowing that no matter how nice, how mentally healthy, we make this party, it will never satisfy her.
I'm not sure that if I publish this post, I won't delete it later because of the sensitivity of the topic and how few people understand the impact of mental illness on the family. I don't want to be viewed as a whiner, nor do I want to be told that I should be happy that I still have my mother, that she's turning 75, that she has so many friends... I'm going to suck it up and do the best I can to make this a positive experience, but I need a release valve. I need an equivalent "Mental health issues suck, but our parents never do" outlet.