Just some brief background before delving into this as it’s important for context.
My wife suffered from caregiver burnout and that lead to an almost two-year separation while she was focusing on getting the help she needed to recover. We never divorced but she lived with her parents and I raised the kids on my own.
This past June, we put our lives and our family back together. Having spent two Christmases with our family being fragmented, this Christmas is/was very special to us.
Christmas is different for every family. Some families can go all out and others not so much. Everyone is different and that can prove to be especially true when it comes to a family like mine.
Having three kids with special needs changes just about everything in your life and holidays are no exception to that.
This Christmas was the first Christmas we were spending together as a family in almost two years and that has really helped to give us perspective. This year we wanted to focus on ourselves and the boys. It’s important to us that we take advantage of this new start and do things differently.
Rather than try and cram in to many things, we have chosen to simplify our lives this holiday.
With Autism in every aspect of our lives, we have to be careful what we do and where we go. The main reason for this is that our kids can become overwhelmed easily and that leads to a great deal of distress for them. This is especially true for Gavin who suffers from a form of schizophrenia and will rapidly deteriorate when distressed or overly excited. In many ways, he’s already hanging on by a thread and we don’t want to push the envelope.
With this in mind, we opted for a new tradition this year and while it requires sacrifice, it’s in all of our best interests.
Rather than venture out on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, we opted to stay home and focus on having a nice, calm and quiet evening. It’s not that we don’t want to visit family, we’ve just learned that the calmer we keep things, the better the kids do.
Truthfully, most of the time Lizze and I are already on the edge of a nervous breakdown (as I know many can likely relate to) and any time we can avoid taxing a structure that’s already not up to code in the first place, it’s the right move.
To that end, we stayed home on Christmas Eve and started some new traditions that were pretty excited about. It’s nothing fancy and that’s part of why we like it so much.
After dinner, we claimed our spots on the two couches in our living room and I picked out a movie that I knew would surprise everyone because it’s one of our favorites but we haven’t seen it in years.
I put on The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and we had the lights off but the Christmas tree on. The room had a warm, glowy kinda feel to it and everyone loved the movie.
We had some snacks and the movie finished up about 8pm.
As calm as we kept things, the boys were still wound up tighter than a two dollar watch. After our bedtime routine, we tucked them in bed and reminded them that they don’t have to worry because Santa will still make his visit, even if it takes them a long time to fall asleep.
They were so worried that if they couldn’t fall asleep by some arbitrary time, Santa Claus would skip over them this year.
After fielding a few bedtime worries, we settled in for some binge watching of The Man In The High Castle on Amazon. Totally not a Christmas show at all but we got sucked into it and besides, we had to ensure the boys were sleeping before we shut the house down for the night. We couldn’t have any creatures stirring when Santa arrived.
I was able to keep tabs on the kids through our Vivint Smart Home cameras. This allowed us to relax and enjoy our alone time without having to guess what the boys were doing or running up and down the stairs to do a visual check.
Unfortunately, as calm as we kept things that evening, Mr.Elliott was so worried about everything that he couldn’t shut his brilliant brain down long enough to fall asleep.
Elliott didn’t fall asleep until almost 3:30 am and as soon as he fell asleep, we made sure that Santa knew he could visit. I physically stood guard in the hallway upstairs while Lizze made all the preparations for Santa’s arrival.
We finally collapsed in bed about 4:00 am, only to have Emmett wake up and not be able to fall back asleep. He tried but the anxiety and anticipation was just too much for him.
He and I ended up going downstairs to sleep on the couch because Santa had already arrived. Emmett was aloud to go through his stocking but that was it.
We watched some cartoons and before I knew it, 7:00 am was upon us and that was our designated present opening time..
Lizze sent me to bed after the presents were opened and later that afternoon, we went to her parents house for an early dinner. It was just us and them. Things were quiet and we all had a good time.
This was really special for me because it was the first time in two years that I was able to spend a holiday with my in-laws. I know some people dread their in-laws but Lizze and I have been blessed with amazing parents on both sides.
The rest of the day was really laid back. Some of us took naps, while others played with their toys.
Everyone went to sleep without any issues tonight and after last night, I welcomed that.
We will be visiting my parents on Monday afternoon and that will bring our Christmas celebration to perfect end.
Having been through all we’ve been through has given us perspective. We’ve realized just how important it is to find balance in our lives. Our kids require a great deal from us and that can leave us exhausted and not wanting to do much. Having said that, we’re working to better balance our needs as a family, with the need to spend time with our families on the holidays.
Life is a work in progress but I feel like we have been able to strike a fairly fine balance this holiday.
It’s not easy and if I made it sound that way, I’ve missed the mark. So many families like mine go through these same challenges year in and year out. I’m hoping that maybe reading this will help to inspire new approaches for those who may need it and better understanding from those who may have a special needs families in their lives.
Merry Christmas 🎄