Yes, each and every year, I torture my kids (and Dan) by loading up the car, heading to our local Christmas tree farm, where everyone within a 60 mile radius goes, in search of the perfect, family, pagan Christmas tree. Tis the season! It is a family tradition we love (at least this is how I choose to remember it in my mind), until the yelling, the fighting and the cursing begins! Andy Williams must have smoked something green that is not found on a Christmas tree farm when he sang, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year."
It's funny that for a kid who lives for routine and fights change, you would think the pagan ritual of decorating the house, moving things from one place to another, and disrupting the routine of his surroundings would be an offense punishable by law in Ryan's mind. For some kids with an ASD, these disruptions are indeed difficult, but, fortunately (unless you are the dad carrying the 200lb Christmas tree) for Ryan, it isn't too stressful as long as every holiday tradition, every decoration, and every Christmas tree continues to be the same year after year. Including the fun filled, making memories, perfect, pagan Christmas tree search....at least it's fun for the first ten minutes.
I have a vivid memory of a navy blue coat with orange trim and matching orange mittens and hat and the boy that I reluctantly stuffed into that coat, hat and mittens. I also have a flashback, um, I mean memory of that same boy lying on his back in the snow melting down faster than Frosty in the greenhouse while I tried desperately to shove those chubby, toddler, bluish hands into those new, fuzzy mittens. I may or may not have sat on top of that boy to put those mittens on...some memories are foggier than others. WE. ARE. HAVING. FUN. DAMMIT. And that fun continued until either we found the perfect Christmas tree, Ryan got frostbite or I slipped deeper into madness with Denial and Clueless by my side.
I glared at the happy families with their smiling children running row to row among the trees, only pausing long enough to taste the December snowflakes on their tongues, while I secretly hoped those snowflakes had just a wee little bit of pollution hiding among the ice crystals. It was in these angry, resentful moments, when Clueless sat down amidst the overpriced Christmas trees with me as I held my melting son in my arms, that I would think, "Why do we do this? We are not like other families."
It wouldn't take me long to get over myself and count my blessings on my frostbitten fingers as I tried to warm up one of my blessing's mitten-less hands as he cried, grumbled and melted down in the cold, wet, snow.
Yes, sometimes autism makes traditions hard and sometimes traditions makes autism hard. It was easy to understand how our forefathers would have most certainly crossed themselves if they were able to enter our glowing, green, pagan home.
Whether you are the "other" family or a family more like mine, sometimes we get caught up in trying to make memories that our kids will remember well into adulthood that we forget to enjoy the memories of their childhood that are happening right here, right now. That's why it is easy for my selective memory to block out the ugly moments and in 356 days or less, load up the kids, and my begrudging husband and head out to the tree farm...again.
Ryan likes routine, Ryan "needs" routine, but, Ryan would still enjoy Christmas if we opted not to spend an entire Saturday during the quickly passing holiday season in search of the perfect tree. Sure, Ryan would grumble that "it is what we always do", and he may cry a little, like he did two nights ago when I said I didn't know if we will have time to put up the 3,000 twinkling lights outside, "but, it's our tradition". I'd love to tell you that Dan's biggest hold out on changing our tradition of a live tree would be Ryan, but, AWEnestly, it will be me. I guess if Ryan can accept change, so can I????
I plan to try and sit back and enjoy this holiday season without thinking so much about what the kids will remember as their "traditions" when they are grown. I will try not to stress over changing and evolving traditions and I will spend a little time being grateful that the scrooges of the 1659 General Court of Massachusetts opened up their hearts and changed the anti-Christmas decorating law, because I most certainly would have been burned at the stake. Just to be sure though, if that time machine of Dan's shows up anytime soon, I will set it to December 2015, when we are out at the tree farm again and I will make sure we all are smiling.