Month: December 2017

Holiday inclusion

Holiday inclusion

It’s fair to say that Speedy and Wonder Boy, for all of the ways in which they drain us of energy, have also worked really hard and have come a long way developmentally.  It’s also fair to say, though for different reasons, that Wonder Boy has been more excited about Christmas this year than he has ever been in his entire life.  Since Thanksgiving he was asking when we would decorate for Christmas, and luckily for him we tend to do just that the day after Thanksgiving.

He has been walking around singing Christmas carols and has learned about Chanukah and Kwanzaa, and wants to know why we aren’t Jewish (we aren’t Christian either, but I’m not here to go into the derivation of most Western Christmas traditions…).  He has watched all the movies about Christmas, and has visited with Santa three times so far.  Let’s just say, this kid is super stoked.

A few weeks ago, my husband came to me and asked me to take December 15th off of work.  I looked at him and said “We’re going on the Polar Express, aren’t we?”

I love doing that to him, I won’t lie.  Not taking away his chance at a surprise, but being able to guess the secret.  He does not like this as much as I do, I promise you.

A mix of incredulity and humor washed over his face, and he asked me to please keep it a secret from the boys.  We invited my mother, who has really been our anchor, to join us.

If you’re not familiar with the story, The Polar Express was a book written by Chris Van Allsburg, and it was published in 1986.  It tells the story of a boy on the brink of no longer believing in the magic of Christmas.  As a 43 year old who still believes in this magic, I have a hard time understanding his viewpoint, but whatever.  I believe in Santa and I always will, and you will never tell me otherwise.  This holiday, and others like it, bring out a magical love between family, friends, and even strangers.  Our homes glitter with lights and kindness and good smells of things that we share with everyone.  We open up our homes and our hearts.

In 2004, The Polar Express came out as a movie and many were captivated once more by this beautiful story. Tom Hanks voices several characters, and you can even see a little of him in each of the characters faces.

Across the country, there are towns with active train stations and some of them host “Polar Express” excursions.

When we arrived at the cavernous marble train station, two hours from leaving our house,  I was hit with blaring music of the holiday variety.  There were so many people- a mix of pajama-clad Polar Express riders and regularly-clothed people about to embark on a trip to New York City. There were people in wheelchairs.  There were children with Down Syndrome.  There were autistic children, including my own.  There were -gasp- people without any disability whatsoever! This was a truly inclusive environment.

Wonder Boy quietly took it all in, as he does, and Speedy happily chattered about this person and that person and OHMYGOSH there’s a mechanical Santa! As we rode the train, Wonder Boy discovered that if he flapped his hands, the lights inside our train car looked very interesting, indeed.  Speedy listened for the train whistle and his eyes widened whenever he heard the sound.  Actors playing the parts of the characters in the book came around and chatted, letting Speedy chatter at them and kindly answering their questions. Wonder Boy barely said a peep for two hours, and even turned down the cocoa that was offered.

After a two hour ride, Santa finally arrived in our train car, with his elves giving out the “first gift of Christmas” (one of the reindeer’s bells) along the way.  The tension was palpable for the boys, and they seemed about to pop when he finally reached our seats.  He asked my mother if I’d been good, and then asked me if my husband had been good.  He never asked if the kids had been good, because he KNOWS.  He always knows.

After the ride, we stopped for a quick bite to eat on the way home.  Being the very literal person that he is, and a person who only eats in the restaurant or at home, Wonder Boy refused to eat in the car, insisting on eating when we got home.  There is no point in forcing a child to eat in a way which makes them uncomfortable, so I said okay.  And at nine o’clock at night, tired and happy, he ate cold nuggets and cold french fries.  And you know what?  That’s totally okay.

It’s okay to admit that you’re sad

For the last couple of days, a sadness has washed over me.  More than washed over me- swallowed me whole and left me feeling like someone had opened me up, removed my insides, and stitched me back up again. To the point where when someone asks me how things are going, I plaster an empty smile across my face and do what I’ve done for years, I pretend. I often get sad during December, but it typically hits me mid-month so I was surprised by this.

Yesterday at work someone asked me “How are you always so put together?”

When I finished laughing thirty minutes later, I admitted to her that my “together” is a facade.  I appreciate what she was telling me- I’m glad that my total hot mess of an existence isn’t utterly obvious to everyone- but I had to share with her that this is NOT “put together”.  Here’s why I didn’t just simply say “thank you” and move on with my day:  so many of us are walking around telling everyone that everything is fine and plastering a big fake smile on our faces and presenting a filtered Instagrammed version of our lives.  The result of this is that so many people are sad or struggling or suffering or all three, and are also assuming that everyone around them is perfect and happy and put together.  She and I connected over the fact that we really struggle to put ourselves together and get kids out the door each day, let alone accomplish anything above and beyond that.

Later yesterday afternoon, someone else in my office asked how I was doing.  “Stressed, actually.  Really stressed.”

While that change in approach didn’t take away my sadness, it did something more: validated it.

Sometimes, we are sad.  Sometimes we might be struggling.  And it’s really vital to acknowledge that, and to go forward from there.

Last night, my husband turned the tables on me, saying to me what I so often recently have said to him.  “I’m worried about you” he said, as he rubbed my back.  I was in bed at 7:30pm and crying.  “Will you please call your doctor on Monday to talk with her about this?”

With that conversation, and having finally opened up to him about being sad and not knowing why, I felt the 1,000-pound weight lifted off of me.  Suddenly the loneliness was replaced by the sense that I have someone with me to get to the other side of this.  It didn’t remove my sadness, but at least I knew that I had an ally.

As we plow headlong into the holidays, it’s important to acknowledge and validate when you are sad.  So many people feel that they are all alone, particularly at Christmas.  If you are feeling alone, if you are in crisis and need emotional support, please consider reaching out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or use the Crisis Text line by texting HOME to 741741.

By the way, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline website (linked above) has something called the “Safe Space”, a series of YouTube videos meant for helping you find calm and get back to center if you are feeling particularly anxious.

And remember, it’s okay to admit that you are sad.