Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas Survival Guide

Last week, I told you all about Nanny and pie on Christmas eve, and how she started enjoying a bit of Christmas before the day of.  I also talked about how now that's the best way for us to approach things. Over the weekend, I thought you might like to see a little more of how we plan to... and have been... having a bit of Christmas every day.

There are things here that are easily copiable, if you think they'll help you... and some of them might even stretch your own perception of how things should go.

If there's anything I've learned from Ryan... from autism... from parenting in general... it's that those perceptions aren't the most important thing.  Okay, so I re-learn that one daily.

Anyway, there are a few thoughts I've had between meltdowns (his and mine) and I thought I'd share.  Just remember as you're reading this that these are things we are currently working through in the trenches, not just throwing off the cuff at you as I neatly dress my children in their perfectly matching outfits and snap the most amazing Christmas card picture ever while baking the latest perfect Christmas treat.  Know that I'm telling you these things not from a stance of "look at me, I conquered this and you should be more like me and everything would be fine" but from the shards of thought I've pieced together while hoping my son will still eat the reheated Totino's and not scream when I tell him he's had enough.  I'm writing from the brain of someone who is riding the roller coaster (okay, being dragged by the truck of) Christmas with a child with autism.  And I'm sharing ways I've found that help me ride instead of be dragged.  Because that's what I'm hoping for.  Enjoyable, not vomit-enducing, scarring, and bloody.

Here goes...

1. There are 24 days of advent. Use them.  Trying to get a kid like Ryan to sit still and listen to the Christmas passages straight from the bible is like nailing jello to a tree, especially if you expect to read from Genesis straight through to the maps while those presents sit there unopened on Christmas morning.  If this is a huge tradition in your family, try to tweak it.  Break it up.  Start early.  We're using nightly readings from our Jesus Storybook Bible to get the message of the gospel in bite-sized, kid-friendly, truth-packed chunks.  They even offer videos, and you can follow them on Facebook, if you like.  They have a daily advent reading thing, too.  It's been helpful.  He still wants to sit and giggle, but it's shorter and the other kids are enjoying it.

2. Ryan has a need to know what is coming.  Our helpful home trainer suggested making a visual calendar of the things that will occur.  We're gonna try this one this year, especially when time is not as regulated when school is out.  It's also as simple as placing what I like to call "anchors" throughout the day.  When he gets up in the morning, I'll tell him he can have his favorite things at this and this time... say iPad after lunch and YouTube at 3:00.  Then he has something to go back to.  I have to stick to it, but it helps.

3. Shut the Pinterest window.  Seriously.  Now.  The closest I got, and it was a little too close... was having Ryan write "Merry Christmas" on construction paper circles... in pencil... to go inside clear ornaments.  It was NOT fun for him, but his teacher and two aides do so much for him that I thought it would be great for him to do something for them.  And believe me, that was enough to drive both of us up a wall.  Know that if you do try these things, it might go great, and it might end up going down in flames.  Give 'er a shot if you want, just be ready. Which reminds me...

4. Give yourself grace.  Be merciful to yourself.  Let go of a few things.  Do a few things early.  Usually make cookies Christmas eve?  Go ahead, plan to do that.  But make some and have them ready prior to that.  Or let the Keebler elves do the work for you.  Santa doesn't care, does he? If you can stand it, bake those cookies early.  If the 24th rolls around and all is going well, go ahead and make some more.  But no guilt if you don't.  None.  If anyone tries to make you feel guilty, they're wrong.  You know what your family can handle.

5. You know your kids.  Stand up for who they are and what they're capable of.  If there is an outing they simply will not do well with, realize that you do have a choice.  It may not seem like a choice, but you do have a choice.  Do what they're capable of doing, stretching the envelope as you will.  We're about to do some major envelope-pushing this week with a special trip to a Christmas-themed place.  We shall see.

6. Don't be afraid to try.   Give it a shot.  Going to the mall might be an awful experience, yes.  But maybe twenty minutes would be fun.  I've done a lot of just trying it on the basis of if not now, when.  If I don't try these things with him now, will he ever try them?  There is a lot of scary in the world, yes. But there is also a boat-load of amazing.  And I want to give him that chance to see the amazing.

7. Be willing to accept some of the scary.  Not life-endangering scary.  I mean the "well, they'll look at us funny" and the ever-popular "we might disturb some folks with our noise" scary.  Go somewhere you've always wanted to take them, but were afraid to try.  Or had forgotten to try.  If it's within your reach, why not?  If you're up to it...

8.  If you're not up to it, admit it.  But don't make that a crutch.  Last week, I considered going grocery shopping with a short list after therapy because Ryan needs the practice, but it was raining and cold, the kids were hungry, and I wasn't ready to deal with the whining.  We forewent that trip and went home.  If you don't feel up to it, see #4.

9. Realize that the holidays are hard... period.  It's an emotional roller-coaster time for everyone, and when you add that to your everyday life with a kid who is on the autism spectrum, well... buckle your seatbelt.  The most wonderful time of the year is also the most stimulus-packed time of the year.  From the colored, blinking lights to the peppy music to the sugar-packed treats, it's a wonder any of us come out of December with any nerves or clothes that fit.  Now imagine that your world is guided by these comfy boundaries we like to call routine, and smiling adults remove these soothing bumpers and replace them with very little structure, leaving you to flounder for a boundary here and there.

10. The meltdowns will come.  Stay calm.  Don't take them personally.  They're not aimed at you, or your aunt Bessie whose pretty vase your kid just pushed to the floor to watch it shatter.  Remember, above all, that your holiday celebrations and traditions must be worked around your sweet one's autism, not the other way around.  And aunt Bessie probably knew that might happen.  She loves you, or she wouldn't have invited you.  Explain to those who don't know, if they're really interested.  

You might disappoint some people by not staying long enough, or by saying no to that one thing they wanted you to do, or wanted you to attend.  That's okay.

More than anything, remember what we're celebrating.  We're celebrating the start of our redemption.  Others' judgment of you and your decisions, your child... has no teeth.  Christmas is God coming to save us from our inability to get it right, to have Christ stand in the gap for us.  We do Christmas as a remembrance and a thanks for that, and trust me... he sees you in your struggles.  They're not lost on Him.

So do what you can, out of a heart of gratefulness and wanting to help tell the story to your kids... and of course, for fun.  And for goodness' sake, give yourself a break.

Thanks be to God for Christmas, its traditions, and especially for the grace and mercy it brought.

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