As I reflect just on the last year alone the holiday season for us has been so drastically different. Last year at Thanksgiving Caleb was almost 3.5 and we were hyper-aware of the holiday festivities being newly diagnosed. We’d researched how to prepare him and considered all of the recommendations. We opted out of going to see family for both Thanksgiving and rather had family over, hoping Caleb would be better off in his own home if we had to be around people we didn’t see too much throughout the year. It didn’t work out as planned and Caleb spent a good portion of thanksgiving in our room having a meltdown and barely ate. This year, however, was different! I explained that we were going to see cousins. He has a better sense of family now and he LOVES his family. We were going to see my 3 pre-teen cousins who adored him and who he lovely referred to as “the girls” and he couldn’t wait. He still didn’t eat much but he ran through my grandmother’s house the whole time squealing and giggly, clutching his ipad for comfort mostly, but he didn’t want the day to end. It was then I realized what a year had made.
When it came to Christmas, last year, we went to brunch at my grandmother’s house and didn’t stay too long. Caleb wasn’t a fan of Christmas he didn’t seem to grasp the concept of Santa, gift exchange and he definitely didn’t like the idea of a tree in the house. In fact, for the last 2 Christmas’ (when he was 2.5 and 3.5) he was insistent that “tree outside”. He hadn’t been speaking much but that much he did know, that trees go outside! We’d even purchased a small Charlie Brown tree, about his height on the floor but could also sit on a table, and that was unacceptable. My poor Christmas loving mother who’d gone all out every Christmas since I was a child was devastated. Gemma was not a fake tree kind of girl and definitely not a tabletop tree, but as she had done for the past 3.5 years she made accommodations for her grandbaby. For those new a mama bear and her cub, Gemma is my mom who lives with Caleb and I full time to help me through this single autism mom journey.
So last year our little Charlie Brown tree sat out on the patio, with a few lights. We tried hanging garland around the house with little success. He just wasn’t responsive to any of it. To try to get him into the spirit we attended the local tree lighting at the outdoor mall in our area. The trees light up to the sounds of Christmas carols and fake snow is blown from machines (we live in Florida) it’s a whole experience. An experience Caleb didn’t appreciate AT ALL. We were there for 3 minutes, it literally took me longer to find parking. I was defeated that evening and went home to tell mom Christmas of 2018 was canceled. As you can imagine, I had little hope for Christmas of 2019 but the change in Caleb from one Thanksgiving to another had me a little hopeful. I had friends here from out of town the week before thanksgiving and we started mentioning Christmas then.
“Caleb are you going to have a Christmas tree this year?” she asked
“Christmas tree?! YES!!!” he exclaimed
At that moment, in those 3 little words, there was hope! I jokingly told mom we better put the tree up. I didn’t care if it stayed bare until Christmas Eve if we could keep it up. Hell just get it into the house, we could have some real progress. Over the next few days as my friends visited we mentioned the tree and each time the answer was the same “Yes!” Finally, we went for it. We had mom dig out the tree one day when he was at school. We all waited for him to get home to see if the reaction would be the same actually seeing the Christmas tree. Yes, it was the same Charlie Brown tabletop tree but who cares!! That day Caleb came in from school and we all waited. In true Caleb fashion he looked, he smiled, and then he said,
“IT NEEDS A STAR!”
WOOHOOO! Christmas was back! Our little tree didn’t get decorated much initially, we put some lights on and we pulled out the star but we were still playing it by ear day-to-day. As the days went on, Caleb started asking for the lights to be turned on as soon as the sunset outside. “3, 2, 1 LIGHTS!” he would exclaim as Gemma happily lit up her little tree. With Christmas now 6 days away our little apartment is fully engulfed in Christmas. The tree is decorated with lights and ornaments. Reindeer surround the foot of the tree on the table along with a small Christmas village. There is garland around the doorway, lights and stockings hang from the breakfast bar. The patio has lights and Gemma’s prized possessions an African American Mr. & Mrs. Claus that move and light up were the last of the décor to make an appearance. Thanks to his great teachers at school Caleb often comes home singing a new Christmas Carol and his favorite 12 days of Christmas is now part of his bedtime routine. And last but not least (Caleb’s favorite catchphrase) we have a countdown to Christmas calendar because he has requested that Santa bring him a Thomas and Friends Super Station.
This season I am grateful for growth, hard-work, patience, and grace. Every day is a conscious effort. Some days we fail miserably. This holiday season, however, has been a win. I don’t know what next year will bring, I don’t know what tomorrow will bring but at this moment I’m grateful.