My Son Taught Me How To Do the Holiday Season the Right Way
It’s November; the ghouls and goblins are safely tucked away in storage containers, and for the next two months the sights and sounds of Christmas will be imposed upon us everywhere we go. Black Friday advertisements and Thanksgiving Day sales will be encouraging us to take time away from our families and instead spend it in stores spending money.
I’m not a Grinch or a Scrooge. I love the holiday season, but admittedly, I’ve become hardened to the commercial aspects of the holidays and a little cynical about all the hoopla.
I have many fond memories of lovely Christmas mornings at my grandparent’s home. We had our family traditions of donuts in the morning and some sort of Jello salad at the dinner table. We’d get together with my aunt and uncle and their three girls, and it was all very nice.
I have only a few memories of Christmas mornings with my biological parents. One of them involves calling my grandparents at some ungodly hour to come over so we could start our paper ripping rampage. I remember getting a hat and muff and an Easy-Bake oven.
Another Christmas memory involves being 7 years old and left alone with my brother, who was 6. Left alone while my mother went to spend Christmas with her new boyfriend (who would someday become my stepfather) and his family. We were left alone with a few unwrapped gifts and no food in the fridge and told to stay in the house. I vaguely remember a teenage neighbor coming over to check on us, and I have some recollection of trying to make a pan of brownies only to find that the oven didn’t work and the brownies remained a paste of brown goo. I don’t remember if we followed the orders given to us, if we remained in the house, if we ever had anything to eat that day or if anyone tried to make our Christmas special in any kind of way.
Of course, I knew, when I grew up to have children, all would be perfect. The holidays would be a blissful portrait that would put Norman Rockwell paintings to shame. It would be all about buying the perfect gifts, making the perfect meal and having the perfect day, because that would lead to perfect memories of a perfect life and perfect parents.
Well, we all know that no one and nothing is perfect. So to have those lofty goals was unrealistic and unattainable for anyone — especially when autism and Ring 22 syndrome was thrown into the mix.
For so many years, I found myself wandering aimlessly through the toy aisles. Ultimately I’d end up in tears because I had no idea what to get my son and because even when he was 10, 12, 14 (and even now), I found myself in the toddler toy aisle rather than shopping for game systems or the latest teen craze.
I would purchase some things I thought he might like — typically a stack of videos, board books and some clothes. I wrapped each of the gifts, filled the stocking and went through the motions because it was what I thought was important. We encouraged him to sit with us and open gifts even though he didn’t want to, because I thought it was what was important. We dragged him to holiday gatherings making him sit still for hours because I thought it was important. When things didn’t go perfectly or when the perfect holiday expectations were not to be found, I was filled with disappointment and dread because I thought it was important.
None of that was important. The perfect gifts wrapped with bows, the perfect meal, the perfect tree… none of it mattered to Zach. Sure, we found some things he enjoyed to play with. Sure, he enjoys the holiday food and he always looks handsome in his new Christmas duds. But none of it truly matters to him. What means the most to Zach is having us all at home, taking him for car rides to see holiday lights, favorite holiday movies and snacks, extra time to snuggle in the mornings and extra time with the people who mean the most to him and care about him.
Wow. My nonverbal son with autism and Ring 22 syndrome has had it right all along! The materialistic aspects, the stress to shop and bake and cook and wrap and make everything perfect is not only silly, it’s unnecessary and it’s not what’s most important.
I’m not saying we won’t follow our typical traditions, that I won’t shop or wrap or bake special cookies; I just will not let myself stress and strive for the perfect holiday extravaganza. I will take Zach’s lead; if he’s not up to travel on Thanksgiving or Christmas, I will have Plan B in my back pocket. It isn’t always easy, but after many years I have finally learned my lesson… caring about what matters to my kids and my husband and even myself is what is important.
I suppose in retrospect we did some of this with the best of intentions. We wanted the holidays to be fun and festive and perfect for our daughter, too. She deserved that and that was important. Our girl had to gain maturity and patience at a very early age, and I have no doubt that at the top of her Christmas list for many years was that somehow her brother could talk with her. I hope no matter how untypical and imperfect our holidays have sometimes been and will continue to be that she still has special and fond memories of our holidays together.
DISCLAIMER. Santa, if you are reading this… if my boy came up to me and said, “X-box” or picked out something he wanted, I would be the first one in line at the store.
Read more from Michelle Rice on The Mighty:
What This Mustard-Colored House and My Son Have In Common