I’m a sucker for tradition. I wore my mother’s wedding dress and veil on my wedding day and repeated the same “traditional vows” my parents did to my husband. For every family and close friends’ birthdays, we call and sing “Happy birthday” to them over the phone, even if we see them for their birthday. (Although we have admittedly not been perfect in this tradition.) My mom made my brother’s and my Christmas stockings from a pattern that she passed down to me so I could make my 3 sons’ stockings from the same pattern because I loved my stocking so much and couldn’t imagine using any other kind. Growing up, we always made fudge to eat with our egg nog as we decorated the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. The beaded angels my great-grandmother made for me were always hung on either side of the tree topper angel at the top of the tree.
Every year, my brother and I sarcastically sing the “Christmas Tumbleweed” song in honor of my father and in memory of the live tree he butchered one Christmas Eve by trimming too much off the bottom, then trying to even it out on the top… it wasn’t pretty and we ended up digging out our artificial tree that year and keeping warm by the “Christmas Tumbleweed” used for firewood. My brother and I relished in decorating the tree together with my parents after Dad put on the lights and Mom unwrapped our treasured ornaments. I’m sure things were not always as glittery and pretty and happy as I’m remembering them, but that’s how I remember Christmas. I couldn’t wait to have a family one day to reenact those perfect memories with my “perfect” children, my “perfect” husband, the “perfect” decorations and to create the “perfect” memories.
Anyone who is human knows none of this is actually attainable, whether autism is part of your world or not. Hardly anything in life really goes the way you want, or expect it to. People let you down. Circumstances disappoint, and you end up making concessions. LOTS of concessions.
“Yes, I’d like Combo #1: a large bag of ‘Not What I Was Thinking’, an iced ‘Dose of Reality’ and a snack bag of ‘SERIOUSLY?!’ with that.”
But being the pie-in-the-sky optimist that I am, Kyle dug out the Christmas tree and decorations for me when I asked him to. I bought the stuff to make the fudge. We had the glasses for the egg nog. We had the lights for the tree. And the concessions began. We had made plans to attend the National Christmas Choir concert since our friends who are in it graciously bought us tickets as a gift, but we had no sitter.
Saturday morning, I was out toy shopping (when I had wanted to go the night before, but couldn’t.)
I got a text from my husband saying we had a last minute sitter and to come home NOW. I had planned for that day to be our big family decorating day with fudge and egg nog. Not anymore! We went to the concert, came home and had about an hour before dinner plans with friends (thinking we would have decorated by then since we had no sitter for the concert).
The decorations sat in our small living room, taking up all the space for a few extra days.
Finally, we got the tree up, and Kyle went to do the lights (as my dad had always done our lights), but NONE of them worked. That’s right.
It was late on a Tues night, and not only could we not decorate the tree, but we also had no fudge or egg nog. I had forgotten to buy the chocolate for the fudge… and the egg nog!
The next night, Kyle stopped by the store on his way home from work, but they didn’t have lights either. *Sigh.* Finally, Friday came, and we blocked it off to make it our family decorating day… again.
Kyle put on the lights with Ben’s help, and he got 3/4 of the way up and discovered the BRAND NEW box of lights didn’t work – and the replacement bulbs they included were the wrong size. *HEAVY SIGH*.
But no matter – the tree was up, lights were mostly on, and I was sick and tired of these boxes everywhere. So I sat down to unwrap the ornaments and hand them out to the kids to put on the tree. Joshua was the most excited, at age 4, exclaiming at every ornament he was handed, “Yay! This one is MINE!” Ben liked digging out “his” ornaments (since we each get an ornament every year to add to the collection). And Sam…. well, Sam was being Sam. Engaged in the world of Cars 2, he was scripting and playing with Lightning McQueen and Finn McMissile and Francesco. I was able to break him away a couple times to hang an ornament on the tree, which he dutifully did, but didn’t seem to get the big deal about it asking lots of questions.
And here we have CONCESSION #8.
Of all the concessions I had to make surrounding this year’s Christmas traditions, this one nagged at me the most. The fudge the kids and I made together didn’t set right, so we didn’t have it as we decorated the tree, and that was a bummer. The top of the tree is dark, but ornamented anyway, and that’s okay. The bottom of the tree is sagging because that’s where the little munchkins can reach to put ornaments on, and that’s okay too. Everything got done a week later than I desired. Oh well. But here I was, with this grand picture of family togetherness, happy kids talking and laughing together, drinking egg nog, talking about the ornaments and who made what and when, who gave that one to us when we moved into our first home, our first baby ornaments, etc… and everything was different because one member of the family couldn’t participate the way I wanted him to.
I think that as parents, we have a lot of letting go to do with our kids. As they get older, we loosen our grip a little more (against our nature to grab a stronger hold) giving them more freedoms, and maybe letting go of our expectations they didn’t meet because they either didn’t want to, or couldn’t. I didn’t cry, and I didn’t get mad. I just let go. My heart was sad because I know that with all this sensory overload and chaos in what we consider “normal” family traditions, I have a son who is going to experience it differently than we do, and because he experiences it differently, so do we, against our wishes and/or expectations. It’s not wrong. It’s just different.
This year has certainly taught me a lot about tradition. Tradition may be what has always been and following in that to keep it the same. But it’s also what you make it to be from here on out. Christmas doesn’t have to look like my childhood – and it won’t! It can’t because we don’t live in my childhood. We live here, in the present – with 3 rambunctious boys, 1 with autism. The present is different from the past. Some things may stay the same – I’ll still make fudge at Christmastime and buy egg nog. We’ll still decorate the tree and hang the homemade stockings and buy new ornaments. But I’m learning not to care so much about the things of tradition. As long as I have my family, and we’re together, that’s all the tradition I need.