Five Minute Friday: Writer… choosing real over perfect

I never called myself a writer.

I always just knew that I could write better than I could speak. My feelings were best expressed when I couldn’t see my recipient’s reaction.

A one-sided conversation of sorts.

I used to write in the backseat of our 1979 wood-paneled station wagon. I was the youngest of five kids. I never thought my opinion mattered… so I wrote it down instead.

When I met my husband, he brought the “writer” out in me. He is the best writer I know and he marveled at the hidden layer I rarely revealed to even my closest friends. It is his encouragement that brought about my blog. It is his voice I hear when I sit down and just tell myself, “write dammit!”

Writing is my best friend and my worst enemy. It brings out my worst self doubt, but also helps me release the Mommy guilt which would surely eat me alive.

My story isn’t neat. It doesn’t unfold in a linear pattern. My characters aren’t in my head, they are tugging on my pant leg right now as I type. This is real life. It’s raw and emotional. Things are often left undone. I hit “publish” and my heart is left on my sleeve every time.

I am evolving as a writer and a mother. Most days, I can’t separate the two.

My story will never be completely told.

The neat bow will never be tied.

And so I write…

This post was written in response to Lisa Jo Baker’s writing prompt “writer” for “Five Minute Friday.” I was supposed to write this blog post without worrying about perfection or typos or grammar. Perhaps you can tell. Perhaps my honesty supersedes my typos. You can check out Lisa Jo’s blog and all the other 5 minute Friday submissions here

Practice makes… less regret

I lay in bed last night with the boys just after finishing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It took us 9 months, but we were finally done. Now we can watch the movie! The boys were thrilled. I lay with each of the them, snuggling and talking about their days. I giggled along as Charlie declared he would no longer call Chap-Stick by its given name, rather (in Doofenshmirtz’s voice) “the lip un-chap-inator.”

I felt light.

I felt jovial.

I realized it was because I hadn’t yelled at the boys in a few days.

Instead of lying with them, hoping to undo the day’s regret with a nighttime snuggle, I felt at peace. I didn’t have to apologize for my transgressions and hope that they would be resilient enough to forgive their fallible mom… yet again.

And it wasn’t like the past few days haven’t been wrought with temptations to yell.

Finn had an epic meltdown yesterday morning. It was one of those meltdowns where no matter what I did or said, he continued to spiral out of control. I offered a “Finny wash.” I offered a calm down space. I offered help. I tried rationalizing with him. (He was upset because he woke up an hour later than usual. He thought he would be late for school even though he still had an hour to get ready– um, yes, we normally wake up pretty early in the morning!) No matter what I did, he could not recover. He was “going to be late for school” and it was getting later by the minute. He was spewing offenses at me and throwing anything in his path. When I didn’t respond, he took to insulting Henry and Tallulah. Admittedly, I wasn’t exactly zen throughout the meltdown, but I didn’t completely lose my temper (or yell!) and that felt really good.

I know that the temptation to yell is lurking around every corner, but small successes like the past few days give me confidence and hope. Not to mention that “Orange Rhino” tweeted back at me and actually read last week’s post!

Thanks to everyone who reached out and commented on my post last week (despite my Lenten ban on Facebook!) Knowing I am not alone in my quest for parental peace gives me strength. As Momastery says, “we can do hard things.” Boy, can we ever!

My yelling’s smallest victims

My heart was so heavy as I tucked the boys into bed tonight. 

Charlie has been detached lately. I’ve tried to chalk it up to growing up, but I fear it’s something more.

He came home today in fits of uncontrollable sobs. He was worried about a project that’s due next week and he doesn’t think he’ll finish in time. I tried working through a solution with him, but I still couldn’t calm him down. He snapped at Henry and Tallulah, which isn’t like him. He lay on the couch still sobbing with the blanket pulled over his head. I curled up next to him and said, “What is it, baby? We will work it out together. You are not alone in this.” When he didn’t respond, I asked, “Are you sure there’s nothing else bothering you?” I always fear he is being bullied at school or having trouble with friends.

He said, “It’s home.”

I said, “What about home?”

Biting his lip, he said, “It’s just that you and Daddy are always so frustrated.”

I was horrified.

He was right.

I am so frustrated.

I am so embarrassed to admit it.

I could have a million excuses, but none of them justifies my crying child on the couch.

I swore I would do better when I vowed to stop yelling at my kids and I have failed in every possible way.

When Joe saw that I was going to try to stop yelling at them, he questioned why I would do that to myself. He said I was going to bottle up my frustration and drive myself crazy. He felt I was putting too much pressure on myself to be perfect. I didn’t see it that way. Perfection is never my goal. I just want to stop feeling guilty every time I put my head on the pillow at night.

I have tried. I started writing down my triggers (like Orange Rhino suggests). I’ve found that I yell when Finn hits one of his siblings and when everyone is crying at the same time (don’t laugh, it happens a lot!) I was working on it, but then I just gave up. I slipped back into old habits.

I can’t seem to get a handle on my anger. When the twins are crying and pulling each other’s hair and then Finn freaks out because he refuses to get a wrong answer on his homework, who could possibly keep a level head in that situation? Certainly not me. (Have I told you that I’m not perfect?) But I also have to concede that I am also the one causing some of that stress. My frustrated response escalates their frustration and sets a bad example. Do you know how many times I have yelled at them to stop yelling? Ugh. Worst of all, I fear that Charlie is the one who suffers the most. He suffers because he either forces himself to be a helper or he sacrifices his own needs to avoid burdening me with another request.

It has been said that autism parents have stress levels similar to that of combat soldiers. (I’ve always hated that analogy.) But, if that were true, what does it say about the stress levels of autism’s siblings?

Charlie has always had a light about him. He is a leader. He has a moral compass unlike that of many 8 year olds. We’ve always said he is an “old soul.” He always chooses right over easy, but lately I fear it’s becoming harder for him to choose happy over sad.

My little extrovert playing the role of "Hansel" in his theatre company's summer play.

My little extrovert playing the role of “Hansel” in his theatre company’s summer play.

He cries himself to sleep on Sunday nights. Some mornings, I can barely get him to get out of the car and onto the bus. He seems disinterested in his friends. I fear he is depressed and I don’t know what to do. What’s worse is that I fear he is depressed and there is something I can do.

I have to stop yelling at them. 

In my head, I am justified when the explosion comes out of my mouth. I’m pretty sure 9 out of 10 moms would do the same thing in my situation. But it still doesn’t make it right. I need to be the beacon in their storm, not the storm itself. This is not the mother I set out to be.

When Charlie was a newborn, Joe and I were walking him on the boardwalk in his stroller. We saw a Mom with a crying four year old. The child was hysterical; the mom clearly at her wit’s end. She yelled at the child, “Stop crying!” I recoiled. I couldn’t believe this mother could be so insensitive to her child who clearly needed her comfort. I remarked to Joe, “Let’s never tell Charlie to stop crying like that.”

Oh, karma, you are a cruel mistress.

Now here I sit wondering how many times I replaced anger with what should have been comfort– parenting from a place of frustration instead of compassion.

Well, once again, I say “no more!” I am recommitting myself to parenting with purpose. I don’t know that I will NEVER yell, but I have to try for Charlie– for all of them and for me.

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Nothing as it seems

I’ve been the recipient of the “you’re a bad parent” glare enough times to be impervious to it. Knowing that the look is inevitable is almost comforting. Call it a chip on my shoulder, but I prefer to call it a thick skin. I know that where ever we go, I am going to piss someone off. Or leave them misunderstanding our situation.

I once had a woman on a motorized scooter chase after me in Shop Rite to tell me what an awful job I was doing raising my children (at the time, I only had two.)

I’ve had people tell me that an “old fashioned smack on the butt would straighten (Finn) right out.”

That was before his autism diagnosis. Before I had a rebuttal that would shut down even the most ignorant person. It was a time when I was struggling so hard to figure out why. Why was it so hard to go grocery shopping? Why can’t he just sit with the other kids at story time?

Eventually, I just stopped going anywhere. It was too damn hard. Not just for me, but for Finn. And for Charlie. It was too disappointing to have to leave in the middle of something fun for Charlie, but excruciating for Finn. Onlookers would stare as I gathered up our belongings, scooped up the screaming two-year-old under my arm while the four year old straggled behind. A look of longing and disappointment on Charlie’s poor face, but ultimately knowing that it was beyond his control.

I recently went back to story time with the twins. It had, for so long, been off our radar, that I forgot that it was an option for us. Back in the day, we used to do well at story time… for the first 5 minutes… until they brought the instruments out and Finn would go nuts. I couldn’t figure it out. But now, the twins do everything. They play instruments. They sing the songs. They sit next to other kids during the puppet show. Tallulah marvels at other little girl’s “sparkly shoes.” It’s amazing. It’s effortless. And yet it’s bittersweet.

I sat back and watched Henry and Tallulah in awe. I even got to have a conversation with another mom while the twins played with her daughter. It was every bit a “normal mom” moment and yet autism is always on my mind.

You see, there was another mom there and I knew her. Well, I didn’t know her, but I’m pretty sure she was me four years ago. I knew the look on her face. Frustration. Fear. Confusion. Her boy would run from her arms for a moment or two, perhaps to grab an instrument or sit on the rug, but he never stayed long. He was all over the place. She kept trying to wrangle him back to the group, but he didn’t want anything to do with it. All the kids were watching the puppet show and he was trying to climb behind the curtained stage. All the kids were singing “Open shut them” and he was crawling under the tables and chairs.

Any “normal mom” would look at this mom and say “what the heck is wrong with your kid?” But not me. What I saw was a little boy in a lot of pain. He was dysregulated. He was in panic mode. He didn’t know how to calm himself down and his mom looked at the end of her rope. I know that feeling. It’s taken me years to recognize it in myself and in Finn.

I wanted to give that mom the “I know” look, but I’m not sure I pulled it off. The poor woman was sweating from head to toe. I’m certain all she saw were disapproving eyes. I had no idea if her child had a diagnosis. I certainly didn’t want to say anything to her, but I wished I could’ve eased her pain.

I recently got an email from an old college friend. She told me about a recent visit to a Children’s Museum where she and a group of Mom friends were gathered with their toddlers. Another Mom was there with her seemingly “out of control” child. It was only a matter of time before this poor Mom would frantically gather her tantruming-ear-covering child’s things and skulk off to avoid a scene. My college friend said the other moms exchanged disapproving looks, but she said that because of my blog she knew better. I was so happy and humbled that I opened her mind to see more than just a tantruming child. She saw more than just a frustrated Mom. Perhaps that boy didn’t have autism. Perhaps that Mom is not on the same path as me, but my friend empathized with her pain and she certainly didn’t join in on the “bad parent” glares. She realized that perhaps things aren’t always what they seem.

Can you see a disability here?

Can you see a disability here?

Even “normal moms” have to skulk off with their tantruming child every once in a while. Sure, it’s far less often than some of us, but the innocent onlooker doesn’t know how many times (today) I’ve had to drop everything and run out the door.  And sometimes seeing another mom who says “I know” or “I don’t know, but it’s not YOUR fault” or “wanna have coffee someday” can be a lifeline like you wouldn’t understand.

Because we are all just trying to row our boats and stay afloat. Some of us seem to do it better than others. Some of us are constantly bailing water out of our boats. Some of us dropped a paddle and are set adrift. And some of us, despite our boat’s perfectly cleanly appearance, feel like we are clinging to a dingy. But the truth is that most of us have been in every one of those boats at one point or another and  there’s comfort and strength to be found in another person who realizes that nothing’s as it seems.

“Oh you are not a kid with autism”

Finn spends quite a bit of time drawing in the playroom. I don’t always see what he draws because he crumples it up and throws it away. He didn’t “draw it right” or “one of the babies messed it up.” But on this particular day I noticed what he drew because he drew this:

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He drew the logo for “FACES 4 Autism,” which is our local autism support group, and he wrote, “Oh you are not a kid with autism.”

When I read “Oh you are not a kid with autism” my heart sank. Does he think he doesn’t have autism? What could he possibly think about autism to also think that he doesn’t have it? Any conversation I have ever had with him about autism was always positive… His autism is what makes him good at math. His autism is what makes him really organized. His autism is why he loves lighthouses so much.

I was baffled and heartbroken, so I asked him what he meant. He said, “I was writing it to Courtney” (his cousin). I said, “You were telling her that she doesn’t have autism?” He said, “Yea. She’s lucky.” I said, “Why baby? Autism makes you so special. Why do you think someone who doesn’t have it is lucky?” He said, “Because we always have to go to walks and parties with your friends at Faces.” (A little background– we did the Polar Bear Run / Walk for Autism in subzero weather last year. I thought the kids were going to be Popsicles when we were done!) I laughed and said, “Honey, those things are things that we do to get out and help other people. They have nothing to do with your autism. We don’t have to do those things if you don’t want to.” He said, “Fine.”

And we left it at that.

Until today.

If you read my post last night, you know that today is Henry and Tallulah’s birthday. Finn and I were talking about the day he and Charlie and the twins were born. I always tell Finn about how he didn’t open his eyes for the first three days of his life. And it’s the truth. He didn’t. I remember asking the pediatrician if he could see and how would we know because he didn’t open his eyes.

Finn joked, “I didn’t open my eyes, huh Mommy?” I said, “Nope, baby, you weren’t ready to see the world yet.” He said, “It was just too bright.” I said, “Yup.” He said, “That’s one of my things: too bright and too loud.” Astonished at his awareness of this, I eloquently said, “Yup.” He said, “I’m just sensitive.” Again, a master of words: “Yup.” He said, “I don’t want to be sensitive and I know it’s because of my autism.”

How does he know that? I’ve never told him anything about that, but more importantly, why is it bugging him so bad lately?

I sat on my bed stunned and searching for an answer that would bide my time. This autism thing is unraveling like a sweater and I don’t know how to stop it.

I know plenty of parents who don’t tell their kids they have autism. I’ve always felt it is a parent’s perogative to tell or not. Joe and I have always felt that telling Finn was the right thing to do for our family. We didn’t want him to grow up feeling different and not knowing why. We didn’t want the word to feel taboo. We didn’t want him to feel like we were keeping a secret from him. We are proud of who he is and we didn’t want him to think that there was any part of him he should feel ashamed of.

But now, here he is at 6 years old feeling ashamed anyway. Here he is in a mainstream classroom, barely requiring any modifications or sensory breaks and he is resenting this label he doesn’t even understand. I have always felt that keeping the autism dialogue open would help Finn in the long run, but is there a chance that I started it too early?

When Finn was first diagnosed, things were really hard. We didn’t know why Finn did the things he did. He seemed to intentionally want to break things or torture his older brother and then got pleasure out of it. Time Out did nothing. He was really aggressive and the twins were newborns; we were worried that he would hurt them. It seemed quite apparent to us that our child was different. He couldn’t stay in a room of more than 5 kids without hitting or biting someone. He walked on his toes. He wore headphones in loud places. He used “Perry the Platypus” as his alter-ego when he was in uncomfortable situations. Telling Finn about his autism seemed like a no-brainer. Perhaps he wouldn’t feel so different if we told him that he was a little bit different, but that we are all different and that’s ok.

But Finn is different in another way and he knows it. He knows that Charlie doesn’t have a team of behavior people who come to our house and discuss the latest goings-on. He knows that Charlie doesn’t need a token board to reward his good behavior. He knows that Henry and Tallulah don’t “earn” Ipad time. And he knows that no one else needs a “steam roll” with an exercise ball to calm down.

Earlier tonight, Tallulah ran crying into the office and said, “Henry pulled my hair.” I did what any lazy Mom would do and yelled into the living room, “Henry! Go in time out!” One minute later, I heard heavier footsteps than I should have and a heavy sigh as Finn resumed his well-worn spot in time out. I said, “Finn, you didn’t do anything wrong. Why are you in time out?” He said, “I heard you say time out and I thought you were talking to me.”

That was not a good feeling.

Finn knows he’s treated differently no matter how hard I try. He gets in trouble more than the other kids and he is praised more than the other kids. There’s nothing I can do about it. It’s not as if I can take all our supports away just because Finn is aware that they are there. We would be set adrift. He would regress, and I surely would lose my mind. I keep reminding myself how far we’ve come since those early days of biting and Perry the Platypus. I keep reminding myself that Finn being aware of his differences is a good thing and that some parents would kill just to have such a self-aware conversation with their child. I keep reminding myself that in the spectrum of our spectrum’s problems, ours aren’t so bad.

I only wish I could convince Finn.

To Henry and Tallulah on your 3rd birthday

I sit here on the eve of your third birthday and marvel at the human beings you are becoming. With each milestone comes new challenges, but new triumphs as well. I love those moments in the wee hours of the morning, the ones when it is too early for me to come get you, but too late for you to go back to sleep. I hear the two of you talking to each other and it is the sweetest start to my day. Henry, you usually pretend to be “Honey” while Tallulah pretends to be “Mommy” and you pretend to need things and care for each other. The dialogue usually ends with Henry calling Tallulah “too sassy” and then the silence of the morning is broken.

We bound down the stairs, all five of us, and start our day with a snuggle on the couch. Tallulah, you and Henry usually sit right on top of me in “Mommy’s ‘nuggle’ spot.” I can barely see over you to glimpse at the Today Show or Barney or Sophia the First, whichever show won the favor that morning. I sit, smothered by tiny almost-three-year-old hineys and soak in your stinky morning smells. They are the last vestiges of babyhood and I am savoring them.

All too soon, we will be dismantling your cribs, irrevocably transitioning into “big girl” and “big boy” beds. And for the first time in 9 years, we will soon have no children in diapers. And I’m sorry. I’m sorry that Mommy will have a hard time accepting all of these (glorious) milestones because they mark the end of your babyhood. I’m sorry that Mommy tears up when, instead of crying and running to me when you fall, you dust yourself off and say, “I’m ok, Mom” (that would be Tallulah, NOT Henry!) I’m sorry if I do that weird long hug once in a while as I soak in your delicious little baby smells for a few moments longer. I’m sorry if I linger outside your pre-school door next year. I may even climb over a bush to peak in the window or seem to have misplaced my keys just to be sure you didn’t forget your snack… or you need another hug.

But I know you won’t.

You see, you have done a bang-up job of growing. It’s your Mommy who can’t catch up. Watching the two of you grow into conscientious, caring, talkative, boisterous little people has been one of the greatest joys of my life. But it is going by at the speed of light.

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Thank you for getting it and knowing when to stay out of Finny’s way. Thank you for cleaning up Finny’s toys before he gets home, so he doesn’t know you played with them. Thank you for moving from the seat you want to sit in (even though it’s Finny’s)… somehow you just understand even when he doesn’t. You ask before you touch Finny’s towers because you know that “Finny’s gonna get so mad!”

There is so much empathy wrapped in those tiny little bodies.

Yet so much mischief, too.

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Henry, you are like the Mary Tyler Moore of kids– you can turn the world on with your smile. Kid, there is nothing stopping you! I still can’t believe that Cerebral Palsy is a thing of the past for you. You finished with your final therapy in August. What was once 3 therapies a week is now none. I could sit for hours and marvel at the wonder of you. You will move mountains one day, of that I am quite certain.

Tallulah, you were a born leader. I knew from the first time I held you that you were going to teach me about strength. You have a zest (some may call it sass) and a confidence about you that I hope never goes away. You are going to set the world on fire, I just know it.

So, forgive me if I have a teary smile while we blow out your candles on Sunday. I’m just so darn proud of my babies. 

Happy birthday… to me

Today is my birthday. It’s always a bit melancholy for me.

Reflecting over the past year as a stay at home Mom can seem uneventful. My accomplishments are my kids’ accomplishments. I don’t have projects at work or deadlines to meet. My successes are measured in milestones and they rarely have deadlines. I don’t have drinks with friends after work. I have Crock Pot meals and a glass of wine after everyone is tucked in tight. I don’t have work clothes or even clothes that are fashionably relevant. Most days, “getting dressed” involves changing from my pajama pants to my yoga pants.

The days all seem to blur together. The routines are so steadfast and, well, predictable.

It’s not glamorous, but really, whose life is? I wouldn’t change a curve or straightaway on this road. Staying at home with the kids was always a dream of mine (one in which, after 6 years of higher education, my parents must be supremely proud of). But, deep down on those days when I was buried in research writing my thesis, I was pining away for the day I would throw it all away to change diapers and watch Sesame Street all day.

And here I am at 37 with everything I always dreamed of. I am not a mover and a shaker in the business world; not too many people in the real world know my name. But when it comes to raising kids, I’ve got this down.

Yes, I’m 37 today. I don’t mind admitting it; I’ve earned every one of these years. Every worry line on my face and every gray hair are exactly where they are meant to be. I am proud of this journey and the four precious souls who are my life’s most important work. They are my greatest accomplishments. Just as they are. Not tomorrow or in 20 years.  Not once Charlie masters his times tables or Finn is finally released from physical therapy. Not when Tallulah is out of diapers or Henry is finally all caught up to his peers (which he is, by the way. I can brag on my birthday, right?) But, right now. Today. Not when they grow up and make something of themselves. Right now. While they are still mine. For everything they are… Sticky fingers and dirty faces. Tantrums in the supermarket and hiding in the clothing racks at TJ Maxx. Arched backs while I try to strap them in their car seats. Spilled milk EVERY morning. Runny noses and toilets never flushed.

This is the stuff of life. These are the real accomplishments. The thankless work. Six people’s clothing all folded and put away just where they all need it to be. The cereal bowls ready every morning. Being here when they bound off the bus every day. Filling and refilling juice cups. Signing tests and agenda books. Pinning artwork to the bulletin board. Knowing what is being served in the cafeteria for lunch. Writing notes in lunch boxes. Reading them Harry Potter at night. Wiping little butts and sniffly noses. This is the grit and the joy.

Loving them is what I want to remember most. Feeling loved is what I hope they will remember most.

This is motherhood. And I’m right in the thick of it.

Exactly where I want to be.

Tallulah dug her fork directly into the cake right after this shot was taken.

Tallulah dug her fork directly into the cake right after this shot was taken.

I entered this post into the “Yeah Write Weekly Challenge (except I have no idea how to put a “badge” into my post so that you can click on the pretty picture to vote for my post.) Click here instead and please vote for my blog (if you liked it!)

Christmas Magic

I need to wean myself and my kids off of Christmas.

We woke up this morning and the radio stations were back to playing their usual garbage. ABC Family went back to playing “How I Met Your Mother” all day.

It’s like everyone pretends yesterday never happened.

But it’s all just too fast for me. I prefer Christmas to fade out in a slow burn.

I always let the kids leave their presents under the tree for a few days. I like to watch them play with their things before they just become more stuff I have to pick up and put away. Before all the pieces get lost in the abyss of the playroom. Before they are simply trampled under the stampede of little feet running around this house.

I still like to snuggle with the kids on the couch, watch Christmas specials on DVR and gorge ourselves with Christmas cookies.

I’m still secretly hoping it will snow.

I’m not ready for it all to be over.

As I wrote the Elf on the Shelf’s goodbye letter this year, I cried just like I do every year. Not because I would miss having to move that Godforsaken thing, but because it symbolized another year under our belts. Next year is another chance that we will have a non-believer in the house. And that just hurts my heart.

I love that the kids race down the stairs to find the elf in the morning. I love that Henry and Tallulah ask all day, “Where’s Runny?” and then giggle when they rediscover his (extremely unimaginative) location. I love the boys’ questions about the logistical probability of Santa. I love when they open the present that they really, really wanted and squeal, “thank you, Santa!”

When parenthood came with a Santa suit, I immediately started dreading the day the truth would unravel his threads. Being Santa is one of the greatest joys of parenthood. Keeping his secret is one of the hardest, but most rewarding lies I’ve ever told. Charlie, who is in third grade, seemed on the fence this year. A fifth grade neighbor planted the seed on the way to the bus stop one day, but Charlie never said anything about it. I’ve been dreading the conversation. I’ve been preparing for it; worried about how to let him in on the secret without making him feel duped.

I don’t remember how old I was when I found out, but I remember having trouble accepting it. I thought Santa still came for other kids, just not for me. For me, Santa was my parents, but he still came for other kids. Because I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around his utter nonexistence.

I was heartbroken.

I’m just not ready for that heartbreak for them.

Santa doesn’t overindulge my kids. He is not about fulfilling their every wish. His spirit is more than that. His spirit is more than just one day.

As I walked around to check on each child on Christmas eve, their usual sweet faces looked especially angelic. I knew they were dreaming of magic. And you just can’t replace that feeling. I’m not ready for Christmas’ magic to be over.

For them or me.

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All I want for Christmas… is for my kid to not kick Santa

That quintessential picture on Santa’s lap. Whether the kids are smiling or crying, it’s always adorable. Parents get their kids all dolled up in their Christmas best. The kids make the finishing touches on their Christmas wish list. They head off to the mall for what will be the keepsake picture of the year. All the kids pile onto Santa’s lap. They say, “cheese,” get a candy cane and everybody’s happy.

That’s the way it happens, right?

I wouldn’t know.

Everything about going to see Santa is a nightmare in our house. We talk about it beforehand. I let the kids wear their jammies (so there’s no fight over the fancy clothes– and they look adorable!) Everyone’s excited about seeing Santa (including Finn). But, once we pull into the mall parking lot, it all goes to pot…

Have you ever tried to bathe a cat?

Because if you have, you will know what what it is like to try and get Finn to sit on Santa’s lap. He is all arms and legs, kicking and scratching, as he forces all his weight against me to try and escape.

Finn's first Christmas. Typical situation... Charlie is happy as can be. Finn is skeptical. But both cute as can be.

Finn’s first Christmas. Typical situation… Charlie is happy as can be. Finn is skeptical. But both cute as can be.

Things have gotten easier over the years, mostly because we’ve learned what he needs. Most of the early pictures involve lots of crying.

Poor Finny! He sat for me, but he didn't like it! If he could've jumped off he would!

Poor Finny! He sat for me, but he didn’t like it! If he could’ve jumped off he would!

Two years ago, my arm made a guest appearance in the picture. Finn refused to stay in the frame. Sweating bullets and searing with anger, I refused to let this one go. I held Finn in the picture while leaning out of the shot. Picture perfect, right?

Henry and Tallulah's first Christmas. Finn was ready to bolt! Oh yea, there's my arm!

Henry and Tallulah’s first Christmas. Finn was ready to bolt! Oh yea, there’s my arm!

Before Finn was diagnosed with autism and we discovered the world of sensory processing disorder, we just thought he was being difficult. We didn’t realize how truly stressful that experience was for him. The standing in line. The sitting on a stranger’s lap. The scratch of Santa’s beard. The flash of the camera. The people staring at him, trying to get him to look at the camera. It was all just too much for him.

Meanwhile, I was sweating bullets trying to get Finn to walk up to Santa and the picture lady is like, “What package do you want, Mom?”

Last year, we wised up (a little) and Joe stood in line while I took the kids into Gymboree. The kids watched the little Gymboree TV while I looked on the clearance rack for bargains for Tallulah. When Joe got close to the front, he texted me to come back. That worked a little better (but I was still a nervous wreck!) I don’t think the Gymboree people were too happy that we watched their TV for 15 minutes and then bolted, but they were really the unsung hero of our Santa picture last year.

What!? A smile? Sitting on Santa's lap? Holy Smokes! Thank you, Gymboree, for your TV and for keeping Finn from standing in line! You saved the day (and didn't even know it!)

What!? A smile? Sitting on Santa’s lap? Holy Smokes! Thank you, Gymboree, for your TV and for keeping Finn from standing in line! You saved the day (and didn’t even know it!)

But this year, I’m hoping our Santa visit is going to be a lot easier. I’ve heard of the Sensory Friendly Santa events all over the country. Friends of mine have sent me links to these kinds of events, but they are always too far for us to drive. I feel like I am always complaining about the lack of services we have in our neck of the woods. I wanted a Sensory Friendly Santa right here at our local mall; the Santa we always go to. So I decided to do something about it. I thought it would not only benefit my kid, but the many other kids (and parents) who struggle with this very same thing.

I started out by calling the corporate office of the picture company who does the Santa stand at the mall. I’m not sure if she understood what I was asking for, but she offered us a private event on a Monday or Tuesday when they are their slowest. I told her that simply wasn’t going to work. Many of our kids (including my own) have siblings who are in school. We just couldn’t make it work on a weekday. I so badly wanted this to work. I wanted to cry on the phone to this woman and say, “Don’t you understand how hard this type of thing is for us? We just want to go see Santa (the REAL mall Santa) just like everybody else. We don’t want to go to a cheesy, fake beard Santa just because they don’t have a long line and they will put up with my kid’s antics. WE WANT TO DO WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE DOES!” But, for once in my life, I bit my tongue, held in my tears and thanked the woman for trying to help.

But I didn’t feel satisfied. There had to be a way to get this done! So, I took to Facebook. I posted my problem on our FACES 4 Autism page and a Mom in our group read my post. She happened to be at the mall and she marched over to the Santa stand and talked to the manager. The manager said, “Of course we will do that for them!”

Later that day, I talked to the manager and she was like Mrs. Claus herself. She completely empathized with our situation and she said that they accommodate special needs kids all the time. She said that in the past they have asked the parents if it’s ok to ring the bell. (I could’ve cried right then!) She was like an angel. I could hardly believe it! I was going to save Christmas! Ok, so I wasn’t really saving Christmas. And it wasn’t all my doing, but just go with it…

We got a date on the books right then and there. They are going to open an hour early just for our families. We are going to have a craft table where the kids can make a free ornament while the parents wait in line for Santa. And she was open to any tips or suggestions I had to try and make the event as stress free as possible. I wrote a two page document with tips and suggestions for “Sensitive Santa” and his elves. (Click the link if you want to read them.)

Here's the flyer I made!

Here’s the flyer I made!

I am so happy and excited and humbled that this group of people is getting together to help our kids have a happy Christmas. But what is more important to me is the relief it will hopefully bring to their parents. Because I know the stress and the sweat and the tears that go into doing the smallest of tasks. Sometimes just getting in the car is a major catastrophe. So, if this eases some families’ stress this holiday season, then it will be the best present of all!

PS- I will be sure and post pictures after the event on Saturday.

Diagnosed and confused: A guest post for Pioneer Momma

When my son Finn turned 3, we went to his annual well appointment. He was walking around the room on his toes, grazing every curious surface he could reach. The doctor asked the usual litany of questions and asked if I had any concerns. Sheepishly, I said, “He has really bad temper tantrums… for like an hour.”

“Uh huh,” the doctor replied, “that is very typical 3 year old behavior.” I jokingly retorted, “You don’t understand. I think his head spun around.”

She just stared at me.

“You know… like in the Exorcist?”

Crickets.

I left that appointment feeling frustrated and desperate. Could all these meltdowns really be “normal?” Were other parents of 3-year-olds this frustrated and confused by their child?

The rest of this post can be found over at my new friend Ashley’s blog called a Pioneer Momma. I was the guest blogger today, so please click here to continue reading the post. And while you’re there, check out the rest of her blog. She’s down to Earth and really inspiring! You can also enter to win a really adorable Christmas craft she created here.