And although Ryan is the ripe, old age of 13, he still believes, without a doubt, in all things Santa and Christmas magic because why wouldn't he? I mean, if his mother, the one person in this world he has the strongest connection to, the one person he trusts with all that he holds near and dear, the one and only person who is allowed to trim his toe nails on the second Tuesday of the month if the moon is full and a new episode of Gumball isn't on, says it is so, then it must be so.
Ryan does not lie. He sees, black and white, truth and lies, there is no room for anything in between. So, if Dan and I have told Ryan that Santa is real, then Santa must be real because certainly the two people who are to lead by example, the two people he has grown to trust would never, ever lie to him, right? (gulp)
Once the jig was up, the lights didn't seem as bright, the cookies didn't seem as sweet, the wrapping paper wasn't quite as shiny and the gifts no longer seemed as magical. The realization that little elf hands didn't dress the Bionic Woman (which I realize now just sounds sort of creepy) took away part of the joy. For many years, I did not tell my parents what I saw that night for fear that would mean the end of it all, so I continued to play along. My Christmas Eve discovery, did, however, cause me to question everything my parents told me up to the point, the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, even the Big Guy upstairs. If my parents lied to me about the most sacred day of childhood, how could they every be trusted again?
AWEnestly, and selfishly, I am less worried about the social implications of Ryan's childlike heart than I am worried about the fallout that may occur by telling Ryan the truth. I worry that, like it did for me, the truth will change how Ryan sees Christmas, how he feels about all our traditions, and most importantly, how Ryan feels about me. The "little white lies", the fabrications, and the tall tales will be hard for Ryan to understand why we did it and quite possibly even harder for him to forgive that we did. Would changing Ryan's beliefs change everything?
It wasn't all that long ago that I found myself in another to tell or not to tell position. Only it wasn't about an elf and his flying reindeer, this time it was about The A Word and a little boy who was "different". This time, to tell or not to tell, could not only impact a moment, or one day on the calendar, this time, to tell or not to tell could make a difference that would last a lifetime. No pressure, AWEnestly.
I did my research. I must have Googled, "What age to tell your child he has autism?" and "What is the best way to tell a child they have autism?" as well as, "Is there anyone I can offer a large sum of money to tell my son he has autism?". Needless to say, there were various opinions on the first two, and as for the last one, well, there was only a blank computer screen with my face in the reflection as my answer.
Of course we started with all the things that Ryan was so amazing at, like his musical ability, his phenomenal memory and his big, gigantic heart. We talked to him about how we are all different and how some things come easily to us and how some things are harder for us. We used the example of Kyle's severe peanut and shellfish allergy and how that makes life hard for Kyle in some ways, but, in most ways, Kyle was just like everyone else. We talked about how different Dan and are, how I am much more social and love to spend endless amounts of time in the company of friends and how Dan enjoys and loves his friends, but, also enjoys being alone more than I do.
Then finally we said it, we said the words, "You have an Autism Spectrum Disorder and that makes some things harder for you, like making friends, knowing what to say to friends, how to talk to people and it makes your sensory system more sensitive to different noises, foods, and feelings." I remember as I waited for Ryan's response, shaking from the inside out and feeling certain I was going to hurl all over my bedroom floor. Was he going to scream "noooooo....", was he going to cry, was he going to lash out at us for telling or waiting to long to tell? As my palms grew sweatier and sweatier, Ryan looked at us and said, "Is that it? Can I go to bed now?". That's it? I had this whole ABC Afterschool Special Moment playing in my head for weeks, months, years and all I got was a request to go to bed? Pffft.
It's funny, I swear Ryan has a sixth sense and knows when I'm in worry mode. Just last week I was worried about his confidence over something silly to only find out that same week in chorus, Ryan's chorus teacher told the other students that he would miss Ryan when Ryan goes to high school since Ryan can always find the right note for the class. When I talked to Ryan about this moment and told him how proud I was of him and how AWEsome he is, Ryan said, "Yeah, I'm pretty freaking amazing aren't I?". Clearly, he still believes in himself regardless of the words I decided to tell him a few years ago.
I believe that no matter what words I choose or how I phrase it, when it comes time to tell, Ryan will at first be horrified over my years of lies and schemes and it may take a lot of explaining for Ryan to understand that some deceptions fall in between the truth and dishonesty, but, in the end, just like when we decided to tell about The A Word, my words did not change how Ryan believes in himself and I don't think my words will completely alter Ryan's belief in the magic of Christmas. I don't believe one word, will determine the joy Ryan feels at Christmas, just like I don't believe one word will determine how he feels about himself.
A little proof that there is more to Christmas than Santa. Just last week Ryan assured me that there was a "slightly greater than 50% chance" that he will come back and visit me once he is grown and on his own. When I asked, "What about at Christmas time?" he looked at me, like the idiot apparently I am, and said, "Of course I will come back at Christmas. Why wouldn't I? Christmas is family." Even a gift giving elf and flying reindeer can't take that from me, as long as by then I'm forgiven for being a big, fat liar.
Ryan may not always believe in Santa, but, I hope he always believes in himself, because that is a magic that even the Bionic Woman can't take away.