note from Laura: Hi, lovelies. Some shameless favor asking today. A version of this piece appeared on The Mighty last night. If you’re not familiar, The Mighty is sort of like the Huffington Post but with a positive spin–its tagline is “We face disability, disease and mental illness together.” If you’re so inclined, would you kindly click on my post on The Mighty site and “like” (or better yet “share”) it on Facebook? I’m vying for a part-time editing job with The Mighty, and it probably won’t hurt my chances if my latest essay for them gets some eyes on it. Odd (or God?) fact: The founder of The Mighty has a daughter with the same rare chromosomal abnormality as Sadie. Thank you–and blessings!
My autistic kiddo loves Christmas from her curly head down to her red cowboy boots.The party started for 14-year-old Sadie in late October, when she first spotted the lighted plastic trees at Target. She trembled with delight. But on December 25th, while most folks are tearing into gifts and stuffing their faces with ham, Sadie will likely be checked out. She can’t handle Christmas Day.
It’s Too Much. Too much glitter and paper and sugar. Too many exclamations of “Look, Sadie! It
sings when you push its belly!” Everyone watches Sadie’s every move, looking for a glimmer of a grin. Most of all, I think there are too many expectations (on our parts). It’s Christmas Day! Tell that to Sadie, who has been celebrating since–well, the trees at Target. (And she’ll still be singing “Up on the Rooftop” in April.)
We try to keep things low-key. We set up a quiet corner with Sadie’s toys and blanket at my parents’ house in the mountains, where we spend the holiday. We take walks in the woods. And we let Sadie wander at will during the morning’s big event. She drops in to peer at the fuss around the tree, unwraps a present, and then exits to the quiet corner to regroup. We dole out her gifts s-l-o-w-l-y and then joke that Sadie will once again get her presents Hanukkah-style, over eight days–receiving one daily into the New Year. Then we watch Sadie do damage to my mom’s homemade cinnamon rolls, her favorite, and we hope the day goes smoothly.
Though we’ve ratcheted things down in an effort to keep Sadie calm, think about it: Who the heck is calm on Christmas Day? Between drinking an unholy amount of hazelnut-perfumed coffee and playing oven roulette with half a dozen 9 X 13 pans, are we really relaxed? No matter how much I belly-breathe, my attempts at Zen aren’t fooling Sadie. If her mood detection radar could’ve been used to spy on the Soviets, the Cold War would’ve lasted five minutes.
So this year, I’m letting it go. I’m seizing the moments as they come. Because heaven knows I can’t manufacture the following:
~ Sadie sitting under our shining tree, gazing up at it and inhaling its Fraser fir-ness. I’m in the middle of dusting, but I plop down next to her. I’m rewarded with two gleaming brown eyes (prolonged eye contact, to use a clinical phrase) and a smile that could melt snow.
~ You can never be sure which foods Miss Sadie will find palatable—and which she’ll chuck on the floor. I give her a gingerbread man, and she lights up. Bingo! She asks for another. And another. “You can’t catch me!” she says, reciting the story. I hand her “just one more.” There might have been six, in total.
~ Sadie and I go for a walk down our street, and she wants to sing carols. One neighbor is setting up lawn reindeer; another is sitting in his front yard on a bench. They give us strange looks. Ah, well. Our offbeat rendition of “Joy to the World”—“don we now our okay parallel!” won’t kill ‘em.
It’s a catch-as-catch-can Christmas. The 25th may be a bust for Sadie, and that’s alright. Call it resignation if you want. I call it acceptance. No, it’s more than that. It’s taking a cue from Sadie, who knows Christmas can’t be confined to one day.