Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Thank You Letter

My little dude,

We made it through our first Christmas together, just the two of us. I can admit to you now that I moved about it reluctantly. I went through the motions hoping my heart would catch up. I knew it would be different and yet I was so bull-headed about making it feel the same. I tried so hard to keep as many of our Christmas traditions intact. I've never chopped a tree down but we did it. I wasn't feeling the Christmas spirit, but I decked the halls anyway. I let you listen to "Santa Baby" and "Little Drummer Boy" over and over in the house while I retreated to my world between my left and right ear buds. Christmas can be so wonderful when all is well but for some it only highlights what is missing.

I confess I didn't know how to celebrate a Christmas for two. I grew up in a household of seven. It was always loud and full of energy. Our house was the social intersection of the neighborhood -- kids shooting hoops on the driveway or hanging out playing Atari in the basement. I don't recall ever needing a key to the house when I was a kid because someone was always home and the door was always ajar. So you can imagine what Christmas was like - a swirl of moving bodies, a steady hum of noise punctuated by occasional uproars of laughter or discord.

Our Christmas was nothing like that and yet you were fine. You didn't seem any less excited - so much magic in your eyes. You believe and your spirit carried me through the day. Every year I look forward to seeing the expression on your face when you first come down the stairs and see that Santa, indeed, paid a visit. But that wasn't my favorite moment this year.

Do you remember when we were eating our French toast and strawberries? You squealed because you couldn't believe low-carb mom was allowing herself a sugar splurge and mid-laugh, it hit you. Your eyes wide, you looked at me and said, "Mom, you didn't open any presents. Why didn't you get any presents?" And you were right. It was a first for me. I don't recall a Christmas I didn't open a single present on Christmas morning. I admit there was a twinge of sadness about it but surprisingly not so much. It was overrun by the moment.

I was told that your autism would make perspective taking difficult for you and feeling empathy for anyone was a long shot. Before you were born and before autism ever came into play, I made a short list of the most important life lessons I wanted to teach you and empathy was one of them.  Autism stands tall as a hurdle but I will not concede to a diagnosis. How long have we worked with therapists on social skills -- trying to teach you what is socially expected? So many things other children know intuitively, you had to learn. How many times have we played the feelings game or sat in a waiting room or a park watching strangers and guessing what people mean with a simple gesture of the hand, a tilt of the head or hunched shoulders? I went to conferences, lectures and read books about social thinking -- the "why" behind social skills and then signed you up for as many social thinking classes and camps we could afford. And that's when I saw you begin to stretch outside of your own mind. Keep going.

And look at you now. Not only did you see Christmas through my eyes, you felt my sadness with your own heart. You make me so proud. It's true, my dear son, you saved Christmas for me and I am ever so grateful.

Love always,


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