Christmas has long been a bad word in my mind. There have been memories ranging from frustrating to disastrous. Over time, they combined to create a feeling of dread each year, starting at Halloween and slowly reaching a crushing crescendo right around New Year’s.
This year, however, has been the exception.
I feel good this year. I feel festive, jolly, and all the emotions that come with it. Surprisingly, I’m not forcing it, either. It all just sort of happened. I checked the calendar and checked my mood. On days that I would normally be frozen to the couch, I was up and preparing to make holiday memories.
The main difference this year is, well, me. My first Christmas after the divorce has placed all the onus on decking the halls squarely on my shoulders. There are no plans to be broken or invitations to get denied. There are no car rides to fight through or insane screaming phone messages. Don’t save the drama for your papa this year, ’cause he ain’t havin’ it.
My kids and I are spending the day with Lucas’s best friend Christian, his mom, and grandmother. That may be how we met them, but they’re much more than that to me. They’re family. All three of us are lucky to know them and thrilled to be able to share Christmas with them. It’s my first time hosting a holiday solo and I feel blessed to have them in my life to share it with.
There may be yuletide happiness in the build-up to this year’s celebration, but there’s more to past Christmas issues than the worried anticipation. Years ago, before our Christmas dinner invites fell off, there was always the concern that things would fall apart once we arrived. The worry, to be honest, was how Lucas would be.
I spend a ton of time on here talking about how great my non-verbal son with autism is. I give stories of concern that he “won’t be able to handle” something, only to have him prove his abilities in the face of adversity. The success stories of my boy pushing through a school concert, public ceremony, or movie are well documented. He usually knocks it out of the park, when you worry he’ll strike out.
Except, of course, dinner parties. Dinner parties are almost always an epic debacle.
Truthfully, I get it. Being expected to sit nicely at a table for a prolonged period is hard for anyone. When you factor in impulse controls, food sitting out in the open, and “loved ones” insisting we wait until it’s most convenient for them before we eat, it can be a fast track to melting down. It’s happened more times than I care to remember.
This year, it’s not.
As the host, I’ve already gone into the event with both Lucas and his buddy, Christian, who is also on the spectrum, in mind. For the first time ever, my son will not be wedged into a day where we celebrate our way and lament that he can’t handle it. His needs, wants, and obstacles are being addressed beforehand.
This year, it’s Christmas for everyone.
The first thing to change is going to be the food placement. Rather than putting bowls of tuna or guacamole on waist-high tables and then getting upset when he shoves his cute (but nasty) little fingers in them, I’m going to keep the food out of reach. We will be served dinner on plates, behind a child gate in the kitchen, rather than filing into an open room to help ourselves. It may be less convenient for us, but more convenient than seeing it all get destroyed by a little boy who can’t help himself.
For Christian, who is a much pickier eater than my son, I am getting his favorite foods. In addition to the buffet, pizzaria pizza and Chicken Nuggets will be available for him and anyone else who wants it. You are supposed to eat foods you love on Christmas. Those are the foods he loves. He’s getting them for Christmas.
Perhaps the best plan I made ahead of the day was to resurrect the ol’ wading pool ball pit. This classic favorite was deflated around June to free up space, but will be returning for the big day. It all but guarantees that the boys will have a fun place to go while we open gifts or play a game. It creates fun for them, instead of making them sit there and watch us have the fun. It gives them a non-screen outlet for when the iPads become too overwhelming. It makes the day special for them too.
Does it guarantee things will go perfectly? No, but it’s the right step in the right direction. We all deserve a Merry Christmas and this is a way to include us all. No more shaking of heads, averting of eyes, and people being OK with us leaving early. After all, “He must be tired.” This year will be the most inclusive holiday yet. This year will be special.
God bless us. Every one.
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