Last night, our older son started his usual Sunday night lament, detailing all the things he hates about Mondays (and Tuesdays and Wednesdays . . . and any day that involves school or interruption to his preferred routine). Glass-is-half-full person that I am, I tried redirecting the conversation to his impending winter break.
“Just five more school days. That makes tomorrow your last Monday until January!” To which he replied, “I wish it was already January. And then I wish we could go to school every day, even Saturdays and Sundays, and just get it done.”
I know darn good and well that he doesn’t really want an endless stream of school days. His comment was spoken in autism’s clever code: middle school boy + request for more school = desire for more consistent routine.
I am someone who loves to look ahead. Anticipation of something enjoyable in my future has gotten me through many a sleepless night. So, it requires a shift in gears and an occasional reminder each December that the build-up to Christmas brings little joy to someone on the autism spectrum.
Over the weekend, we received the most wonderful surprise – a basket of gifts, one for each day between now and Christmas. There was no clue as to who left this on our doorstep and the note with the gifts told us not to try and find out, just to enjoy and consider doing this for someone else next year.
Our younger son helped me sort and place the gifts under our tree, then gingerly unwrapped the first gifts – snowflake window clings and a sticker story of the first Christmas. Our older son hung back, feigning a bit more fear than he felt, to ensure we were aware of his discomfort. Next he started expressing concern there might be something dangerous in one of the packages. In the end I had to promise I’d peek inside each one and confirm it was “safe” before unwrapping anymore.
Although the situation is different each time, this is not an uncommon scene in our household; each of our boys representing a different set of emotions under the exact same circumstance. The good news is they seem to take turns with their outside-the-norm behavior, to which we’ve modeled the response, “He’s just being him.” What started as just something to say, when we didn’t know what else to say, has taken on deeper meaning over the years and crept into how we try and understand others.
After all, what’s “normal?” There are certainly things we expect to feel at this time of year (and expectations we put on others), but there’s so much more behind what we feel. If only we all knew how to read each other’s code. Shorter days and less sunlight bring depression. Self-imposed to-do lists, made with the very best of intentions, can result in heightened tension and frustration, taken out on the ones we’re “to-doing” it for. The absence of loved ones, by choice or by chance, makes a lot of us say, “I wish it was January already.” But it’s rare to share this over Christmas dinner, so instead feelings get hurt, casual comments are internalized, and everyone slips into a holiday funk.
My holiday wish is that you are allowed to be you, just as you allow others to be themselves. Look for ways to relieve another person’s anxiety and share with someone what’s making you apprehensive, so they may do the same for you. Listen to what is being said, not what you expect to hear and, no matter what your loved ones do, remember, “He’s just being himself.”