by Karen Vossen
Child Development Center of America
Today, I was wrapping my children’s presents. Maybe it was the 6 cups of coffee, maybe it’s the menopause, or maybe I am just a sentimental Mom. I got a little sad and shed some tears. I thought about a TV show that I loved as a child, The Waltons, and the episode was The Homecoming: A Christmas Story. At that time, December 19, 1971, I was 8 years old.
I loved The Waltons. I had no idea what The Depression was, but I thought I would be great to have 6 or 7 brothers and sisters. The story was about ‘Christmas miracles’. The whole family was worried that John Walton, “Daddy,” wouldn’t make it home for Christmas with the family. The oldest son, John-Boy, went searching for him. Long story short… Daddy got home and the Baldwin sisters returned home with John-Boy. Everyone was happy and they all got presents. John-Boy, who aspired to be a writer, got pads of paper. It was 1933. As an 8-year old, I just couldn’t imagine getting pads of paper for a Christmas gift. Who would ever want that? Jump forward, 40+ years and what am I wrapping up for my son…pads of paper!
You see, unlike John-Boy, my 14 year-old son, Jake, has Autism. All he wants for Christmas is paper. Drawing paper, copy paper, notebooks, you name it. He loves drawing. He has always loved drawing, even when he was very little.
You can believe me when I say that he has received some really great gifts. My husband, John, has bought him every remote controlled car, helicopter or robot that has ever been on the market. He opened the present and was excited. But, what did he play with all day? A drawing pad and crayons. It’s just what he likes. Every year, we think this will be the year he desires something different. But, he doesn’t. I know that I am not the only parent of an Autistic child with limited interests, as well as a limited Christmas list. It’s all part of our world. For Jake, it’s drawing or his iPad. No matter how accepting I am of my son’s disability, I wish it was different. I can’t lie.
I am, however, a person who counts her blessing in life. As Practice Administrator at The Child Development Center, I see many children who experience varying kinds and degrees of disabilities. I know how lucky I am that my son has language, can read, and can and does tell me every day how much he loves me! My son is so helpful around the house. He does chores and is always the first to get ready to go out. My son is happy.
I am thankful that my husband and I are still married! As peculiar as that may sound, it is fairly common for many couples to break up over the stress of having a child with Autism. My daughter is the best therapist and teacher my son could ever have! She loves her brother and he listens to her. Well, not always, as she would tell you, but that’s OK, ’cause that’s typical. And we all love typical moments, even if it is sibling rivalry.
So, as I wrap the rest of the paper pads, these are the things I try to remember. I will be happy when he opens his presents because Jake will be happy. And, if my well-meaning family says, “I’m not getting him notepads or markers again, isn’t there something else?” I will smile and wish I had invited the Baldwin Sisters, because they make bootleg whiskey. Gotta see the episode! Hey, if it’s good enough for John-Boy…
“Merry Christmas Jim Bob,”
“Merry Christmas Mary Ellen,”
“Merry Christmas John-Boy,”
And…Merry Christmas Jake! I love you!
For myself, I am a bit on the unimaginative in my gift giving in recent years. I gladly give the same kind of toy every year [Magformers building pieces]. I have the great good fortune that the recipients supply plenty of imagination when using them. I see that your outside family do not realize that feeding your son’s imagination is quite entertainment enough for him. Darn! Does he also need pencils/pens/colored markers? Has he tried pastels [which can be jewel bright or neon bright, unlike their name]? I’m just a dummy askin’.
Merry Christmas! Happy New year! Happy any other holiday that might apply!