So, it’s still Christmas. Which means we are still celebrating, but we are still also working on sidestepping triggers and trying to craft a happy successful holiday. Today many of my kids head back to school (just over half of them) and I’m reviewing our holiday break.
So I think it’s time for an updated turn key post – holiday style.
For another link in a similar vein, go here, to the always wonderful and insightful Thankful Mom. She inspires me always, and is a good online buddy. I know we’d chat for days over coffee if only we lived closer!
Anyhow, so this Christmas we had a much better holiday than last year. Which kind of blows my mind. Because last year was so very hard. It was full of drama and trauma drama triggers and grief and rage and crying and all such things. We should have expected it, I suppose. But somehow, even as you are treading water in the new deep end of parenting with kids who have special needs and hard backgrounds…you (or I did) think that the “magic of Christmas” will carry you through. Um, not so much. Instead, what happens is your discombobulated, hypervigilant, disregulated child(ren) only become more so.
All that is to say, this year, we went searching and thinking in advance for some keys to avoid some of those pitfalls. We are getting slowly smarter, in that we don’t expect hopes and wishes to carry us over bumpy ground. This year we opened up our toolboxes and tried to think in advance. We lowered our expectations and prayed like mad. And guess what? We have had a much more successful Christmas holiday! I’m not saying it was perfect, because I’m not crazy or stupid. But I’m saying, it was better. I’m saying that we even had some real progress, for which I am terribly grateful. We all are. I’m saying, Christmas was full of some subtle but very big gifts.
There were a few keys, turn-keys if you will, to the progress.
One of the keys is a given, it is time. Simply put, she has been home now 17 months and she has one Christmas under her belt. It was not all new. That is huge. For a hypervigilant kid, to know precisely what is going to happen, when and how is absolutely critical. It pains me to think how hard last year was for her, knowing her intense need for routine and fear of change. This year, however, we had something to build on, and that allowed her to relax somewhat and even enjoy bits of the holiday that repeated from last year. This year she had ornaments that were repeats from last year, and it tickled her to put each of them on the tree….just like the other kids.
Another holiday key was again the scheduling in advance. We laid out the schedule in advance, the days were clearly marked and spelled out, so she knew exactly what to expect and when. We had to go over it again and again, but that is standard and so we did. It helped. And we piggybacked it on the key of time, reminding her that we did it this way, the same, last year.
We did a lot of direct assignment of tasks. Giving her tasks that contributed and helped her feel both part of the preparation and also productive. Sitting around bored is a killer. Tasks are good, if well considered.
We did a lot of checking in. Checking in with her as the day(s) went on, with a word of encouragement or praise and a quick hug and smile with connected eyes. Such simple things, so easy to forget and so critical to the ongoing mood regulation.
Perhaps the biggest best key this year was Christmas specific: gifts. She got to give every one in the family a gift. Sounds like an “of course, doh” kind of thing, right?
Not at all.
Stupidly, last year we were all just so overwhelmed by all the changes that we kind of gave a pass to the kids on giving gifts to each other, individually.
I mean, when you have eight kids, that adds up to a huge logistical nightmare of trekking to stores and buying and wrapping and sorting and oh my goodness I start to swoon just typing about it…….
In fact, this year I advocated with my husband for the large-family classic mode of drawing a name between the sibs, one name/one present. He wisely enough thought about it and said, “No, I think they should all give gifts to each other.” At which point I promptly got a massive migraine. Then he (again, wisely…he may be many things, but he’s not stupid) said, “And I’ll take them, I’ll be in charge of it.” At which point I promptly gave him a big smooch.
Anyhow, being able to go and pick out a small gift for each member of the family…wrap it, put it under the tree, and then watch it being opened…was just a hugely important thing to her. No surprise I suppose, it is the joy of giving. And it enabled her to really participate in Christmas, for the first time in a way that she understood.
So this year, Marta got to get presents but also give them. And that, perhaps, was the greatest turn-key under our tree this year. It was the one all fancy, above, that helped us all have a much more relaxed and happy Christmas. It was a tool and a key, yes, but even more so, it was a gift to us all – literally and figuratively. It was a key to healing, which is the greatest gift, once again, that any of us can be given.
Attachment only comes, truly, with time and healing and I will gather any and every key I can find to unlock it and bring it closer. Those keys, they are gifts of gold to me. They are gifts of family.