Today’s post comes from Tif, who writes regularly about family life over at MIDST.
“’Tis the season to be jolly… Falalalala… la la la ala la.”
I sing (under my breath) with the utmost of sarcasm. How can we be jolly… with all this “stuff” and with all this “noise” around us? As children we are surrounded by the excitement, the traditions, the little happy spots of the holidays. We have parties, ice skating, parades, lines for Santa, cookies to bake, neighbors to sing with, and of course, the Christmas pageant. All these things we loved as children made the season so bright in our eyes. Now, as moms, we want to share that same giddiness, that same excitement, with our own children- so we pile it on. Why not, right?!?! “The more the merrier,” isn’t that what “they” say!?!
I remember the spark in my first son’s eye… the wonder of it all…. The staring at the colors and lights, the chewing of ribbons and hiding in boxes. Having a child changed my life. It changed the way I saw Christmas- seeing it through a child’s eyes again made me feel young at heart… and in such awe.
Then Bjorn was born. He was a boy who would hide away in his room all day long; he had no desire to interact with others. He could sit in his room, in his quiet safe space, never speaking. Never connecting. Never touching. A boy who could disappear from it all…. living in a space of void.
As a mom of a special needs child, my life had changed from experiencing life with my child to advocating for him. I sought out what was best, what might work, and worked through all of the trial and errors. All year long I fought for my child- for his voice, for his touch, for his very existence in a world where relationship and connecting is key.
Then the season of Christmas came- and I want so much to share this season of “jolly” with him. I froze… How? How did I bring a world of big, bright, loud, full, crowded, and more into the life that desired routine, structure, calm and quiet reign. We had a problem… our two worlds collided….
Our first three Christmases, Bjorn never joined us for more than 5 minutes. He would open one present, walk away, and go back to his room. We rarely went out, we never went to parties… and decorations never came out until two days before the 25th. I was sad. Not just for him, but for (I’m being honest here) myself. Here I wanted to “do” all these things… to experience all these with my boys… and I couldn’t. Let’s be real here… I was having a holiday pity party with the table set for one- me!
Then I began to pray and pray and pray. How was I going to bring the Light of the World to my child who didn’t know how to be part of the world? I then began to listen. Listen to my son. Listen to my Lord, and listen to the Truth. It was amazing what happened when I took my eyes of what I wanted and looked at what my son needed.
This is what I heard… STOP. SIMPLE. SHARE. And BE.
The first thing I learned was to STOP. Just STOP. I had to stop my expectations for what I thought was important and begin to listen (really listen hard) to what my son needed. This listening was hard to do, because it meant putting myself in his place, a place I had never known. But I had to listen to what he heard during this time of year. Once I did, I was shocked when I figured out he heard a “hum”, a hum that was loud, piercing, and really painful. It wasn’t an audible hum… but a hustle-bustle type of hum that scared him. At times the hum was so inaudibly loud that he would just cover his ears, wanting it to disappear.
The second thing I learned was to keep it simple. Simple meaning…. Not too much, and as little instruction as possible. I would plan one activity for that season… one thing that would show him the “holiday spirit” and invite in the story of our Savior into his little life. Simple and sweet…. If it went well I could add the experience to the next year. Doing this was allowing him to process, to digest, and to experience at his level. Honestly, sometimes his process time took weeks… weeks! So, in the Spring he would say something about Christmas that would knock my socks off – and that is how I knew, giving him too much never gave him the time to process the experience- but once he processed it, he could relate to it.
Thirdly, was to share. I talked and talked and talked. I shared about what we were going to do, when we were doing it, what it was going to look like and what possible surprises we could expect. This was intentional preparation… basically “covering the bases”. I also shared with him the safety things he could do if he was overwhelmed or needed to communicate that he was not feeling right. We began to set up a signal that he could make if I needed to get him out of the room to a quiet area for him to just seek out the calm he needed. I became his trust…. He knew that he and I were a team, and that I had his back in times of trouble. This moment was huge for us! HUGE! (side note- make sure you keep your sharing simple too. Limit your words to 3-5 word sentences. Be direct and to the point. As a mom, I always forget this rule… and over share… you know… the TMI rule. With Special needs kids… there is such a thing as TO MUCH INFORMATION! Trust me.)
And Finally… BE. Be in the moment. Be Christ to your child. Be the gift that the Lord gave to us… Be your child’s hope. Be your child’s love. And Be your child’s peace. May we all see the season as one that is focused on BEING with each other… Once I realized that the holiday season was not so much about the excitement of doing but in the magic of being, it wasn’t my son who changed… It was me.
Now I sing a new song… a song that is beautiful and perfect…