Archive for December, 2010
“Toyland, toyland, magical girl and boy land. Once you cross its borders, you can never return again.” (Babes in Toyland)
There’s No Santa
Aaron and Tommy got off the school bus and our world changed.
Tommy walked in the front door, threw his backpack in the corner and announced “There’s no Santa Claus.” Apparently, Billy and Josh minced no words on the bus ride home. And, they were third graders who knew these things.
Aaron, my son with the label of autism, went straight to the refridge.
But what is a mother to do?
I got Aaron settled with a snack and his music and then sat next to Tommy on the couch. We both were facing the Christmas tree and feeling pretty glum when he crawled into my lap. That action alone choked me with tears. Tommy was seven years old and seldom let me hold him on my lap any more–yet another reminder my baby was growing up.
His happy world was just turned upside-down.
Like all parents, I knew this moment would come. And, I wanted to send coal to Billy and Josh for ruining the fun.
I knew this was one of those rite-of-passages, a transformational moment in his young life–but darn. It seemed just yesterday he was three and running down the steps on Christmas morning, diving into the presents from Santa–darn, darn.
For a long time, we watched the reflection of the lights on the tree ornaments and didn’t say anything.
It was a treasured moment but I was desperately trying to think of how to keep the magic. How could I patch up the hole of a Santa that no longer was real?
Sure we’ve had some close calls, i.e. St. Nick and the Batman socks. But this time, there was no going back.
Tommy finally started talking and asked some questions. He said he had suspicions because the whole Santa-goes-around-the-world-in-one-night is a little hard to believe. But, but, but.
There were the things he said: “So there’s no Easter Bunny, or Tooth Fairy…?” “Was God real?”
And the things he didn’t say: “Did all adults lie, trick kids and play games with them?” “Who could he now trust?”
I tried to put myself into his world and think of ways he might understand. My explanation that Santa was a make-believe superhero bombed. Later, I could talk about Jesus and the gifts of the Magi, but that seemed abstract for the current moment.
I’m not sure what inspired me, but as Tommy sat in my arms with his chin on his chest, I suggested Santa was a tradition about giving.
“The Santa tradition” was a fun way for everyone to be an actor in a giant real life magic play. It didn’t matter your age, it was about finding someone who needed cheering up, or needed help and giving it to them.
I told him little kids didn’t understand this, but big kids like him, now got to be part of the fun by becoming a Secret Santa to others. This seemed to make sense to Tommy.
Okay, who could we surprise? Who needed some Christmas cheer?
Tommy’s grandparents had just separated after a long and unhappy marriage. Grandpa had moved into a basement apartment in a not-so-great neighborhood and told the family, “This year I’m keeping it simple and not putting up a Christmas tree.”
So that minute, Tommy started to plan a Christmas makeover for Grandpa’s apartment. Tommy decided to become a Secret Santa.
For the next few days, Tommy spent every minute making decorations, planning how to sneak into Grandpa’s apartment, going shopping for supplies and a small tree….
He decided we needed cookies and put me and Aaron to work.
Aaron was nine years old. If Tommy (two years younger) no longer believed in Santa, then it was no longer age-appropriate for Aaron to believe in Santa either. Tommy was always my measure of “normalization” for Aaron.
I know some parents who, when they are told their child has severe intellectual disabilities or Down syndrome or…console themselves, “Well, at least they will always believe in Santa Claus.”
I know parents, special needs charity groups, care providers and teachers who take adults with disabilities to sit on Santa’s lap at the mall. In groups. UGH!
I know some adults with disabilities who have flat-out refused to go saying it embarrassed them. I know others who do it just to please others. I know some adults with disabilities who just haven’t had the guidance to know better.
The RULE for age-appropriate and normalization is: “Would a person without a disability do this?” “Will this activity add or subtract to a person’s positive image in the community?”
In this case, an adult with a disability sitting on Santa’s lap in the mall makes them seem like an “eternal child” not an adult who will live and work as a contributing member to the community.
This is a difficult concept for a lot of people. But this was the right move for Aaron and our family.
On Christmas Eve Tommy, Aaron, Tom and I got the key to Grandpa’s apartment and put on our red Santa hats. In under an hour, we decorated the tree, put holiday towels in the bathroom and kitchen, added colorful plants and pillows to his living room and his favorite snacks in the fridge. Tommy posted his drawings all over the apartment with a note next to a plate of sugar cookies:
I heard you were a good boy this year.
Babes in Toyland
Tommy glowed as he locked Grandpa’s door. As we got into the sleigh (er, car) we giggled, reviewed our Christmas caper, sang carols and drove out of sight.
When we stopped for burgers and fries (even Secret Santas have to eat) Tommy decided to continue wearing his Santa hat. Aaron–not so much. But my babes had transformed.
There was still Santa and giving and Christmas. But they were no longer the “Babes in Toyland.”
From now on, Mom’s IEP for the holidays would have to include our new roles as Secret Santas.
Over the next years, more innocence would be lost. There would be new lessons and transformations–but that is all part of growing and learning. It is all part of the magic of being a child. Being a parent. And, all part of the Santa Tradition.
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
All my best wishes. Ho-HO-HO. Have some fun this holiday and we’ll see you next year.
Share your Santa story:
How did you find out about Santa Claus? What are some of the ways you continue the tradition of giving? Any Secret Santa stories? Any thoughts on normalization and age-appropriate?
Aaron’s Building Community Mix
Making New Friends
In my previous post: St. Nick| Community Building and Batman Socks, I talked about using the folk-story Stone Soup to begin a discussion about differences, scarcity, gifts and building a community.
To avert our St. Nick kindergarten disaster, the next day I brought in the ingredients for our Building Community Mix.
With other groups, I’ve made stone soup in a crock pot or adapted the activity in a couple different ways. One time, I had everyone bring in a piece of fruit and we made a community fruit salad. But the biggest success was always making Community Building Mix.
Each of the children participated and added their ingredient into our community pot–which was a large empty popcorn tin. Each student took a turn stirring and then rolling the tin to “cook” the ingredients. We shared our “Soup” and filled an extra baggie to give to a stranger, a child they didn’t know that attended our school.
The actual recipe is just a takeoff of ole Trail Mix.
It becomes a community building activity when each person in the group brings in one ingredient for a shared experience of working together.
I have used this activity with all age groups: pre-schoolers, special education students, Boy Scouts, university students, teachers, senior citizens…. A friend even used it with her Ladies’ Church Group as their culminating activity of friendship and sharing after a month long Bible Study.
It has also worked well for many holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Birthdays, Summer Camp…
Great Holiday Gift Idea
It also works great as a homemade gift.
Aaron, my son who has the label of autism and intellectual disabilities, gave this as his annual teacher gift (one to each of his teachers, school secretaries, bus drivers, job coaches, therapists….). Since we wanted to include and thank as many people as possible, and have the gift be something that would enhance Aaron’s status as a person with skills and talents, this was perfect.
Twenty years later, his high school teacher still talks about “the mix.” It was a great way of thanking all the people in Aaron’s school or work community. And he got to be an active part of making it.
In a related post I talked about how Tommy and Aaron “partially participated” in making Halloween treats.
Aaron would “partially participate” by picking out the items at the grocery (his favorite were M&Ms), dumping the ingredients into the large popcorn tin. (Tape the lid on the tin.) He would roll the tin around to mix it up. Aaron would also help put the sticker: Aaron’s Holiday Mix on the top of the small holiday tin containers, snack bag, paper cups or plastic containers.
Tommy would also help pick out the ingredients in the store (he favored Skittles). His job was to help stop Mom and Aaron from eating the M&Ms, as well as scooping the mix with a large ladle into the containers.
Since Aaron had fine motor issues and Tommy had great fine motor skills this worked out well. Each of the boys got to use their skills to make the mix.
Building Community Snack Mix
Box of Granola
Package of Mixed Dried Fruit Bits (found near the raisins in the grocery)
Can of nuts
M & M’s, chocolate chips, or Skittles
Other ingredients could be marshmallows, coconut, peanut butter chips, white chocolate, popcorn, cheese fish or crackers….
Invite your friends over and ask each to bring one ingredient.
Get out your biggest bowl, or put in a large popcorn tin (tape it shut). Combine all ingredients by shaking or stirring. Ladle into paper cups, plastic baggies, or in bowls. This is a great recipe for lunch snacks, parties, and teacher’s gifts. The mixed dried fruit bits are the magic ingredient.
Add Your Comments:
Have you used any similar experiences to build friendships, share gifts? Have you used “partial participation” to include others with various levels of skills? Is this an activity you can use?
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
All my best, Mary
St. Nick and the Batman Socks
In Christmas 1981, Cincinnati Public Schools was involved in two class-action lawsuits. Our family was caught up in both of them.
The first concerned the right of Aaron, our then seven year old son, who had an IQ below fifty and the labels of autism and intellectual disability, to be able to attend public school instead of a segregated handicapped-only school, “with his own kind.”
The second lawsuit was about racial segregation and the development of “magnet schools” to bring together children of different races, socio-economic backgrounds, and learning styles. We voluntarily enrolled our youngest son, Tommy, age five, into Sands’ Montessori School in the inner city to promote desegregation.
While the lawyers thought the two cases were different, our family knew they were both about building an inclusive community, valuing diversity, and learning from each other.
One of our first lessons about diversity came on St. Nick’s Feastday, Dec. 6th.
In true German tradition, the evening before St. Nick’s Feastday, Tommy wrote letters to Santa for both himself and Aaron, tucked them inside their shoes and placed them outside their bedroom door.
The next morning, Tommy was thrilled to find St. Nick left a note asking him to help spread the spirit of Christmas, be nice to his mother (ah-hem), a couple of candy bars and a pair of Batman socks.
Tommy was always shy. But he was so excited to show off his Batman socks he strutted in front of the mirror, decided his pants covered too much of the socks, and tucked his pants legs inside his socks. Batman socks ruled!
I of course, thought this was darling, took pictures for his Kindergarten scrapbook and drove him to school thinking I was one terrific mom, er, St. Nick.
Tommy joined his class, and I was hanging out with the school secretaries when Tommy’s teacher called into the office asking me to come to the kindergarten room. Over the PA I could hear Tommy sobbing and the rest of the children clearly agitated.
It took a couple of minutes to sort out the details, but apparently Tommy had proudly shown his Batman socks at Show and Tell.
What he learned was no one else in the class had ever heard of St. Nick. And what was worse, St. Nick did not pick up anyone else’s note to Santa. So using sophisticated kindergarten logic, that meant no one–except Tommy–was going to get anything for Christmas.
Further, Tommy felt terrible he hadn’t told them about St. Nick. He reckoned this mess was all his fault. He was “not spreading Christmas cheer” as he had been told in St. Nick’s message, so Santa would be mad at him and not give him anything either.
Tommy’s tear-streaked face would have been bad enough, but he was curled under a desk in the corner with his bare feet hanging out. His Batman socks were inside-out in the garbage can.
Well, this was clearly a kindergarten disaster of monumental proportions. Tommy’s caring teacher and I exchanged those adult looks that said we were supposed to fix this. We settled the children.
I brought Tommy back into the circle, held him in my lap and reassured two other children who were sitting nearby.
Mr. Leedom read Marcia Brown’s story, Stone Soup.
Stone SoupThe moral of the story is if we think in terms of “gifts” instead of “scarcity,” and if we see the unique beauty in our differences, customs and traditions, we will all have a richer life.
After the teacher finished the story, I fumbled out a few words about our class being a community just like the people in the story.
Sometimes our family or religious traditions are not familiar to everyone. Just like each of the families in the story Stone Soup, our class was full of families that could contribute special stories and traditions to celebrate the holidays.
(Kindergartners are very generous in allowing grown-ups to tell stories to make themselves feel better.)
I told them St. Nick came to our house because we were of German descent. I asked if anyone else had other traditions around the holidays and one student told the story of Kwanzaa, another about Hanukkah. I reassured everyone they needed to talk with their families about their holiday traditions, but that if Santa brought them gifts last year, he would surely bring them gifts this year.
As I looked around the circle at these children I had come to love, it dawned on me this was not the all-white, German Catholic, middle-class community school in which I had grown up.
This was exactly the kind of learning experience we wished for our sons.
Intellectually, I knew this was why we chose this school. This sharing was the gift of diversity and inclusion.
But this was more. This experience was a transformational moment for me, Tommy and perhaps some of the students.
Community Building Mix
The next day I brought in the ingredients for our own version of Stone Soup– “Building Community Snack Mix” and gave each of the students a Batman sticker.
For more information click on the community building mix.
Batman Socks Rule!
Tommy did get his Batman socks out of the garbage can. He wore them all kindergarten and into first grade until they were faded and had a hole in the heel. The Batman socks are part of his childhood legacy.
New St. Nick Traditions
Each year, for the last thirty years, we have placed the worn, torn Batman socks on our Christmas tree.
Now Tommy has a little girl of his own.
I want to wait a couple Christmases. But when our grandbaby goes to Kindergarten, the Batman socks are again going back to Tommy for his St. Nick’s Day present.
Hopefully, the story of “St. Nick and the Batman Socks” will become a cherished tradition to share with his daughter…and will continue to teach about diversity, community building and inclusion.
Do you have any St. Nick or holiday traditions that are unique to your family? Do you have any school memories about lessons in diversity, community building or inclusion? Do you have other ideas on how to build community during the holidays?
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
All the best, Mary