Archive for the ‘Ulrich Family’ Category
Helen Otten, my mom, died April 3 at the age of almost 93. I’m posting this in her memory. I’m also reminded of the importance of family.
The twelfth day of Christmas is Jan. 6th–Little Christmas, The Feast of the Magi.
Actually, it’s all the Magi’s fault. They are the ones credited with giving the first gifts.
Based on the number of people in line at the return desks last week, I’d say many people had problems with their gifts. (Actually I could see Mary and Joseph thinking the gold was useful, they could buy a wagon or better donkey, but what were they supposed to do with Frankincense and Myrrh. Myrrh–really????)
I know it is supposed to be the “thought that counts,” but it really is much more. Gifts are a whole cultural phenomenon.
My mother is 89.
Recently she’s had hip replacement surgery and has trouble shopping for herself.
Two months before Christmas she told me she wanted slippers. Slippers it is. I don’t have to guess her gift. And this is great…EXCEPT
Every day for the next month she would call me on the phone (usually at 6 AM because that is when she wakes up and is thinking about slippers) and define what kind of slippers. They had to have rubber soles so she could wear them outside if she wanted. And this is great…EXCEPT
She couldn’t tell me her size. It seems some Large slippers are size 8-9, some Larges are size 9-10. And the manufacture, design, model, production all make a difference.
I went to three different stores and brought her “Pair number one” on Thanksgiving. She didn’t even try them on. Which actually made it easier to exchange them, which is great…EXCEPT
She really wanted black. But none of the stores made black slippers. So, I picked out some navy size 8’s and 9’s and 10’s, and some pink (everything she owns is pink) in a size 8-9, and 9-10. And I figured I’d give her a choice. Which was great…EXCEPT
She decided she wanted slippers that weren’t slip-ons. “Only the devil would make slippers with open backs” and she has had slippers that covered her whole foot, well–her whole life. And, she thinks she has ugly toes, so–none of those slippers with toe cut-outs. So, I boxed up and returned the slippers. And it was great…EXCEPT
The next three stores didn’t have black or whole foot slippers. But they did have navy.
You know where this is going, right?
Yep, I rebought her the same slippers (that she wouldn’t even try on) from the first round. She opened them on Christmas and said they were perfect.
So, it makes you wonder.
Was the gift really about slippers at all?
Grandma and the Thong
The picture above is from a previous Christmas. My sister Martha worked in a lingerie store and gave each of the girl cousins a pair of thongs. They thought they were nice. Certainly something practical they could use. EXCEPT
She also gave one to Grandma.
The gift became an urban legend in our family. It brought down the house.
Even though mom didn’t even recognize the thong as underwear—it was the shared experience with her grandkids that made it the perfect gift.
Which again makes me wonder about gifts.
Aaron’s Christmas Gift and Charity
This Christmas Aaron went to a Christmas Party sponsored by a local non-profit. These are kind folks. Many of the people with severe disabilities are the poorest people in the county and don’t even have family members who can give them gifts. So, this is not only a nice gesture, it is an opportunity for these poor souls to get a little something extra.
This year the non-profit got items donated by local businesses to give as gifts. Over 150 adults with disabilities came to the Christmas Party and Dance.
There are so few recreation opportunities, many of the people put on their best clothes and showed up early. Many more wanted to come, but there was little transportation and they depend on staff–who didn’t want to bother.
At the party, even though they arrived early, there were only chairs for 100 people. So Aaron and Jack, his roommate, had to stand and hold their coats.
Since Aaron has balance problems, and couldn’t understand why he couldn’t sit down (people were guarding their chairs) he started biting his hand and pinching others. Not good behavior at a party.
Their staff person made the sensible decision to leave (even more people were coming in the already over-crowded room). Aaron and Jack were each given a “gift bag” at the exit. Which was nice… EXCEPT
The gift bag had a pair of donated slippers. Yea! I would be laughing too, slippers… EXCEPT
The slippers were size 11.
Aaron wears a size 9.
Now, no one with balance issues is safe wearing a pair of slippers two sizes too big. And, unlike my mother, these slippers were charity—donated. So there was no gift card or receipt, most people had no dutiful daughter, family or staff who cared to make an exchange.
And, Aaron couldn’t understand why anyone would give him slippers he couldn’t use. So he just carried the slippers around the house—making me crazy that good, kind people could be so dumb. After all who is the “intellectually challenged” person here? Did they think they wouldn’t notice the slippers didn’t fit? Or all people wear size 11?
Is “Just getting something to open” the point? Even if they can’t use it?
What is Charity?
If you plan a charitable event and are giving gifts:
Don’t just arbitrarily pass out slippers, or coats, or T-shirts with misspelled words.
Don’t give radios with no batteries—because they want to use the radio that minute and staff often won’t be bothered with batteries.
Don’t give them things you couldn’t sell or are broken.
Don’t make your interaction a one-time-event.
Do have a party with chairs and refreshments for everyone.
Do get to know people as individuals
Do think about what YOU would want to get
Do think about normalization, age-appropriate entertainment and gifts.
Do think about transportation and staff and family members
Do consider that the shared experience, like Grandma getting the Thong, may be the best gift ever—no excepts.
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
All my best,
Okay, best/worst gift stories? Am I just being an ungrateful jerk? What is the role of charity? Is it appropriate to give broken, torn things to Goodwill/charity? Only 258 shopping days until Christmas????
Jolly Ole St. Nicholas| Christmas List Disability Style
(Parody on popular Christmas carol)
In our family, December 6 is the night you leave your Christmas wish list in your shoes or stockings. The German tradition says St. Nicholas comes when you are asleep, exchanges your list for a small bag of goodies and then delivers your list to Santa.
Aaron turns 38 years old next week. So what would a Christmas wish list look like for a parent of an adult with autism and developmental disabilities?
The old kindergarten teacher in me thought you might want to sing along as I make a parody of the popular Christmas song, Jolly Ole St. Nicholas, and send my Christmas list out to virtual Santa Land.
Jolly Ole St. Nicholas, lean your ear this way.
Don’t you tell a single soul what I’m goin’ to say?
Christmas Eve is coming soon, now you dear ole man.
Whisper words of hope for us, reassure us if you can.
Aaron’s survived the ups and downs of another shaky year,
Thank you for our family and friends who are so very dear.
We did our best to make things work, but the path’s not clear.
Please St. Nick, we beg of you, hear our fervent prayer:
Aaron needs a roommate quick, one with family ties.
Someone who will be his friend, could be girl or guy.
An IO waiver would do the trick, at least a level 5.
Someone who‘s a gentle soul who wouldn’t harm a fly.
Aaron voted for our President he knows his fate depends
On Medicare and Medicaid and the generosity of friends.
He wants to know HUD will exist for the house he now calls home.
He wants to meet his neighbors not spend his time alone.
Keep him safe and free from harm, find us staff who care.
No more elves with phony smiles, who do whatever they dare.
They’re now suspended by the state and deserve lumps of coal.
Assure us our government has the resolve to fill their role.
Aaron wants a healthy life, join groups and have some fun.
He wants to swim and ride a horse before next year is done.
Aaron’s mom and dad love him so, but worry night ‘n day.
Dear St. Nick we count on you–Aaron’s in your hands today.
What other things would you ask St. Nick for? Any stories to share?
Did you check out the Batman socks story link, it’s a good one. 🙂
Keep Climbing: Onward and upward.
All my best,
Related Posts about St. Nick and Christmas:
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
Celebrating St. Nick and Two Special Sons
Because of our German heritage, St. Nicholas’ Feast day on Dec. 6th was the start of the Christmas season. The tradition of putting out our socks (or shoes) was always great fun.
Aaron, our son with the label of autism, and Tommy, our son with the label of normal are now 36 and 35 years old. Last post I wrote about how our holiday celebrations are evolving: St. Nick meets Disney Princesses.
The first year we were married, my mother-in-law Jean, hand-made Christmas stockings for our mantle. Of course, we were living in a small apartment with no fireplace or mantle, but it began a family tradition. You know this was a long time ago because while Tom’s sock was a typical crew man-sock, mine was shaped like silk hose plus garter. (Do they even make those anymore?)
To personalize the stockings, Jean lovingly sewed small schoolhouses on both of our stockings because we were teachers, adding a felt wedding ring on mine and a felt set of golf clubs on Tom’s. When I was pregnant, she made an “Our Grandbaby” sock for Aaron who was going to be born in December. Later I store-bought some Christmas stockings for both my sons but glued and sewed some Christmasy trim on the socks.
Now a generation later, I captured our family’s own Norman Rockwell moment—Isabella pointing to the “Our Grandbaby” stocking on our mantle.
Making New Family Traditions
Lots of families put up Christmas stockings, some find stockings that are personalized with each person’s name, or hobbies, or interests like socks for dog lovers, Barbie dolls, sports fans, or ….
But, our family made the old tradition our own by adding a token of some special moment each year on St. Nick’s Feastday.
Adding a Memory a Year
Throughout each year, Tom and I look for small tokens and give them to each other on St. Nick’s Day.
Vacations and trips were easy. There were always ready-made patches, pins, buttons we could pick up at souvenir shops. Scouts, school events, sporting ribbons and awards also were small and could be easily attached to the socks. We even added some mementos inside the socks, like Tommy’s business cards for each new job and Aaron’s first pay check. Now the front, back and inside of the socks carry magic moments to remember.
Our socks have become treasured scrapbooks of our lives.
What do you think? Does this tradition meet the test of inclusion+ normalization? Are Aaron and Tommy’s socks alike? Age-appropriate? Do these socks also celebrate their individual gifts and interests?
You can see Aaron’s Trolley Bus pin from our trips to the Smokies, the pin from Carlsbad Bat Cave, his school bus and Lakota Pin, his prom key chain, his Boy Scout patch from Woodland Trails, a horse pin from Cincinnati Riding for the Handicapped, National Park patches where he hiked with our family…
Tommy has Boy Scout pins, school patches from the cross-country team, buttons of him looking fierce in his junior high wrestling uniform. Tommy also hiked the same easy trails in the National Parks but those patches were not the same accomplishment they were for Aaron. Tommy was proud of his week in Philmont and the more difficult mountain hikes on the Appalachian Trail with his dad…
So both Aaron and Tommy had hiking patches. The difference was the intensity, duration and difficulty of the trails.
Both were proud accomplishments.
Tommy’s wife, Ana, bought Christmas stockings for their first Christmas together. Each year I give them some token to add to their sock. This year, Ana became a United States Citizen. After the ceremony the Daughters of the American Revolution passed out little flag pins. I asked for an extra one, planning to add it to her sock.
Aaron just moved into his new house, I have stockings ready for his first house decorating party, he will get a house key on his sock.
And so the tradition continues:
“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hope that St. Nicholas soon would be there.” (Night before Christmas)
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
I hope you’ll share some of your family’s holiday celebrations. Is this an idea your family can adapt? Does your family celebrate St. Nick’s or have some unique tradition?