Firstly let me start by wishing you all an extremely Merry, Happy and Joyful Christmas! I hope you all had a fantastic and restful, fun-filled festive period. It feels like forever since we last connected and I have missed you, my blog friends. Sending you all an enormous ‘it’s-nearly-2018-and-we-made-it-through-Christmas’ hug!
The run up to Christmas was the usual crazy dash to buy presents, wrap presents, post presents to far-off family before the posting deadline, procure a “Christmas jumper” (sweater) for the last day of school, fit in two haircuts (me and the boy), an optician’s appointment and then a separate appointment for collection of my new glasses (first varifocals for my middle-aged eyes: oh, how I feel old), a dentist’s appointment for the boy, order the Christmas groceries, shop for bits in between and all the other myriad things to think about, with the implacable deadline of Christmas Day looming ever closer on the horizon. The tree was bedecked (Thomas can now decorate the tree himself and reach the top to put the star on. Suddenly he’s enormous!), the house decorations put up, the advent calendars dragged out of the loft and displayed. Everything, somehow, was ticked off and completed at the allotted time.
“I thought you were Santa and I didn’t want him to find me awake so I hid under the covers. Now I’m all sweaty!”
Then, finally, we were there…. Christmas Eve. With one exceedingly excited child unable to sleep for fear that Father Christmas would find him awake and exit stage left without leaving any presents. The horror! Add to that the excitement of not one but TWO teeth falling out during the week (yes, baby molars are still falling out – do you remember your teeth falling out at age eleven? I don’t!), creating the drama of guessing who would arrive first: the Tooth Fairy or Santa. I am not sure that Thomas actually believes in either of them still but I am certain that for financial reasons he has decided it’s in his best interests to pretend that he still does, to ensure that he continues to receive monetary compensation for his retired baby teeth and to keep the Christmas present train rolling. Mind you, if he doesn’t believe in Father Christmas any more then he puts on a jolly good act. I caught him twice hiding under the covers in breathless anticipation as he heard my footsteps approaching his door. When I whispered, “are you awake?” he replied sotto voce, muffled from within his covers, “yes, I thought you were Santa and I didn’t want him to find me awake so I hid under the covers. Now I’m all sweaty!” He was still hiding and holding his breath at twenty-to-one in the morning, at which point I gave up trying to sneak a present under his mini-tree in his bedroom and went to bed. I had earlier managed to, casually and with my hands behind my back and in the dark of his room, swap teeth for coins in his Tooth Fairy pot without him knowing, dexterous and swift as a magician performing a card trick, so at least he had that to wake up to in the morning. Believe me, until I had a child I never knew that I would develop ninja stealth, a sleeper-cell level of effortless deception and the reflexes of a cat but there you go, parenthood bestows gifts as and when needed.
I’m not sure if he’s now at the age where he’s kidding the kidder
I’d already transferred the mince pie and milk for Santa and the carrot for Rudolph into the kitchen “because I was afraid Santa would miss them in the dark if we left them in Thomas’ room”, ie because I wouldn’t be able to eat them and leave crumbs to ‘prove Santa had been’ if he was still awake; it would bust the myth wide open for him to catch me eating them. This year, he’d also stated a hope that Father Christmas would leave him a thank-you note for the vittles, so there I was at midnight writing a Post-It note of thanks from Santa and Rudolph, gulping down a mince pie washed down with milk, and biting the end off a carrot to prove Rudolph had been. The sack of presents was under the tree in the living room. The ‘reindeer food’ had been sprinkled on the lawn. Usually I buy it from a charity shop but hadn’t got round to it this year so I used some of my Breakfast Berry porridge oats and added some glitter in an attempt to make it look like the previous years’ offerings. Thomas eyed it suspiciously and asked me if this was my breakfast but I swerved that by claiming I had bought Rudolph “the healthy option” this year. (Thank you, the gift of casual, glib deception). He seemed happy enough, but again I’m not sure if he’s now at the age where he’s kidding the kidder. Maybe he wants to believe. He asked me last Christmas if Santa was real and I said he was real if he wanted him to be. (Should I take up a career in politics? This ability to answer a question without actually giving a definitive answer seems too good to waste.) I told him some people believe and some don’t and if it made him happy to believe then carry on, and he seemed content with that. I think maybe it comforts him to hold onto the tradition of mince pies, milk and carrots; reindeer food; the Santa key on the door to let Santa in (we don’t have an open fireplace in the living room); the “Santa Please Stop Here, Thomas has been a Good Boy” sign and all the familiar rituals that make up a family Christmas. Maybe it’s his autism keeping him “younger for longer” as I refer to it, maybe it’s his autism encouraging him to hold onto ritual and tradition or maybe he just likes the fun and joy of believing in Santa. Who cares? So long as he’s happy and it makes his Christmas special. We are young and innocent, possessing a naïve wonder and joy of life for such a very short time; let him believe if he wants to believe. He’s right on the edge of knowingness and maturity, it’ll come soon enough, maybe even before next Christmas. So for now we all act as if Santa were real. Which, of course, he is!
And so he went to bed, excited and anticipatory and unable to sleep until the early hours. I went to bed, exhausted and running lists through my head to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything that would ruin the willing suspension of disbelief but happy to create the magic for one more (one last?) year. I even managed to sneak a present into his room and under his mini-tree when I woke in the middle of the night, so that he would know that Father Christmas had been. Everything was ready.
Thomas burst into my room at 8:30am to tell me that Santa had been. Really? Who’d have thunk it? We all trooped downstairs to open presents. Breakfast was chocolate for everyone, two cups of tea for me and then the cooking and preparations for Christmas Dinner began. Thomas, being Thomas, ate what he always eats: turkey dinosaurs, turkey Jetters (breaded turkey aeroplane shapes), fish fingers (fish sticks) and fries. Well, it’s turkey so it’s appropriate! Christmas dinner is one tradition he is not keen to adopt, being made of chunky, “real” meat and slimy vegetables and wet gravy. But he did eat some chocolate Yule Log and mince pies later. Funny how he can manage the sweet stuff, isn’t it?
Then he disappeared to his room to watch DVDs, having had his fill of human interaction for the day and husband and I were left to clear up the wrapping paper and packaging and flop in front of the television, another Christmas completed. I opened the wine and saw out the rest of the day in a haze of wine-infused relief and exhaustion, riding a sugary chocolate high and smiling that another Christmas had passed successfully.
Will he still find magic in Christmas without Santa?
What will next Christmas bring? I don’t think he’ll keep the dream alive next year, he’s becoming so mature and worldly wise in so many ways, it seems inevitable that he will grow out of Santa by next Christmas. Will he be terribly disappointed, will he think us awful liars? Will he still find magic in Christmas without Santa? What will Christmas be like without the reindeer food and the mince pies and the hiding from Santa? One thing’s for sure, we’ll find out sooner or later. This year was the first year he made a list of presents he wanted; up until now he’s trusted Father Christmas to produce presents on his own. This year he was specific about his wants, a small taste of the future. I hope he still finds joy and comfort in the tradition of putting up the tree and house decorations. Maybe he’ll invent some new rituals. Maybe we’ll make new ones as a family.
Part of me wants to hold onto the small boy and his excitement but all things must pass and the magic of Father Christmas will pass too. Maybe it’s the wine I’m drinking as I write this, but I feel rather mournful about that. For so long, Christmas was an incomprehensible, unwelcome affair in our household. Autistic toddler Thomas couldn’t understand why we would suddenly put up a tree inside the house and decorate the rooms. He didn’t like the pressure of all the grandparents and aunties and uncles descending upon him to watch him open presents that appeared for no known reason. All the talking and gasping and exclaiming was so noisy. The surprises beneath the wrapping paper were unnerving; he’d insist that we opened the presents for him in case something scary lay within and then he’d briefly inspect the gifts before laying them down and going back to what he was playing with before. He hadn’t asked for those presents, why should he stop what he was doing and play with unknown and unapproved toys when he was in the middle of something already? And the food! What on earth possessed us to try to push untried and unauthorised food upon him? All these people, chattering and eating and taking up space in his house; he would hide upstairs and play with his toys in peace. Photographs and videos of those early Christmases and birthdays tended to show a tight-faced, suspicious boy attempting to get out of shot.
It’s only been in the past few years that Thomas has really been relaxed and confident enough to enjoy the concept of Christmas. Finally, we’ve had a smiling child, a happy boy, indeed an excited boy to share the experience of a family Christmas with us. It’s not that I wanted to be a “normal” family so much as I wanted him to be able to enjoy Christmas in the way that his peers do. It’s always been about the richness of his life experience and his grasp of the neurotypical world, and that usually includes celebrating Christmas rather than avoiding or ignoring it. I’ve been so happy that he’s grown to understand and enjoy birthdays and Christmases.
Yet now, after a few fleeting years, we may be leaving Santa and all the accompanying excitement behind. One day Santa’s plate and mug will go in the Memory Box in the loft, joining all the other mementos of a passing childhood; Thomas’ first outfit, his first toy, his first book, his early paintings and scribbles, his first school award and all the other treasures that mothers can’t let go of. But we had those years, we had them. At least we had them.
Teenage Christmas approaches. Maybe next year, maybe the year after. We’ll be ready for new experiences, new adventures and new traditions. Until then, I’ll keep the magic alive for so long as it’s wanted. Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas, one and all!
Featured image by LOOPita on Pixabay.com