OK, let’s be honest. Holidays and autism are a tough mix. And there are some particular traditions that one could easily argue were established for no other reason whatsoever than to, well, torture our children. Case in point – the Santa visit and photo-op.
Some of you might remember that last year, at the age of seven and-a-half, Brooke had her first-ever successful visit with the big guy. There were myriad factors that made it work, but none that was more important than a patient and gentle Santa who intuitively seemed to understand that our girl needed a little extra room, a little extra gentleness and a lot of extra patience. He was a gift.
After last year’s success, we were emboldened to try again. Because that’s what success does, doesn’t it? It builds on itself. It gives us the confidence to try again – to push the envelope ever so slightly farther, to expect and demand just a little bit more.
So we headed out to the Christmas Park on Sunday night with high hopes. We talked about what we would ask Santa to bring for Christmas. We prepped as though we knew it would work, because we knew that it *could*.
When we walked into the park, Katie was eager to ride the rides and take in the lights, but Brooke was all business. She was there to see Santa; the rest would follow. Katie convinced her to ride one ride and then we all followed her on a beeline for Santa’s cottage.
The line wasn’t easy. Babies cooed and cried and toddlers whined. Santa went on a break to ‘feed the reindeer’. Gotta love *that* euphemism, eh? So we split up. I waited on line while Luau and the girls wandered through the cottage, poking around and looking at the various displays. As Santa came back to his station, the girls followed on his heels, rejoining the line to wait for a chance to see him up close.
When it was her turn, Brooke approached Santa slowly. She went up to him on her own, but stopped a couple of feet from him and pointed. “You say, Ho! Ho! Ho!” she said. It wasn’t clear if it was a declarative statement or a command, but Santa had it covered.
“That’s what I sound like when I laugh,” he told her. “But there’s only one way to make me laugh. You have to tickle my beard.”
She was happy to come close enough to oblige and he was quick to reward her with a hearty, “HO! HO! HO!” She couldn’t have been happier.
He asked her what she wanted for Christmas and she told him. “I would like a hamster.”
God bless him, Santa looked over toward me and Luau before responding. I shook my head ever so slightly so he said, “Oh, gosh. Wouldn’t you know, my dear, Rudolph’s pet hamster had babies but we JUST gave the last one away today. If I don’t bring you a hamster, what else would you like?”
I could have kissed the man on the mouth. Except that would be creepy, so ya no, not really.
After a few more tickles of the beard eliciting a few more HO! HO! HOs! it was time for the obligatory picture. “Over here, honey. Look over here!” the kid behind the camera yelled. I snapped back, “Please don’t worry about where she’s looking.” I sounded like a – well, um, yeah. Hey, I’d said please. I felt badly, but hey, those pictures always suck anyway, right? I mean, right?
Maybe not so fast.
After Katie took her turn with the big guy (and just to mess with him told him she wanted a unicorn), we grabbed the photographer’s information and went on our merry way, half-heartedly promising to look up the photos online.
I was perfectly happy with the photos I’d snapped with my phone. I mean, I had this ..
And this ..
And this .. (What, you thought I’d leave her out?)
So really, why on earth was I going to need or want anything else?
And then I went online. And I saw this ..
(Ed note: We did pay (a LOT) for the digital image of the following picture. The company has yet to send it via e-mail but I have the receipt and want to be clear that I am not stealing anyone’s property here. Moving on ..)
(As soon as we get the actual image, I will replace the proof so there isn’t writing across my kid’s face.)
Upon seeing the picture, I wrote a note to some of my Mama friends. This is what it said,
Last night we went to see Santa. Last year was the first time B had ever gotten close to him / talked to him.
This year? Holy effing AMAZING batman.
And a picture. We got a picture. You know the stupid one they try to get you to buy? And you don’t cause it’s stupid and a rip off and you took your own anyway? That one? I bought it. I couldn’t pay fast enough.
The experts can say all they want about stagnation and regression and growing social / academic gaps. And I know that it’s all true — in context.
But this picture tells a different story, Mamas. One of progress and development and quantum leaps forward.
So Merry %$@#!& Christmas.
If your kiddo has yet to embrace Santa, please don’t lose hope. It can happen. And when the time is right (and the Santa is right) I promise it will have been well worth the wait.