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Celebrating St. Nick + Two Special Sons

Celebrating St. Nick and Two Special Sons

St. Nick: New traditions

"The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hope that St. Nicholas soon would be there."

Family Traditions:

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.

Old Traditions

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.

Tommy's Christmas Sock 35 years

Tommy's Christmas Sock 35 Years

Aaron's Christmas Stocking

Aaron's Christmas Sock 36 Years

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.

Transition

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)

Wishing you many happy memories this holiday season.

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward

Best,
Mary

Comments

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?

Other stories you might enjoy:

Tale of Two Brothers: Sibs of People with Disabilities

Circles of Life: Family Reunions

St. Nick Meets the Disney Princesses?

St. Nick and the Batman socks

St. Nick and the Batman Socks

St. Nick and the Batman Socks

I shared my story about St. Nick and the Batman socks. I told you I would give the Batman socks to our granddaughter when she went to kindergarten.

Well, as you can see in the picture above, Isabella picked the Batman socks right off our tree, made a face…and a new family tradition began.

As we learn in early childhood and special education, we take our cues from our children, right? Use those “teachable moments.”

New St. Nick Traditions

I don’t know if Tommy and his family will decide to put Isabella’s worn socks on their Christmas tree, but I’ve been trying to figure out how to continue our St. Nick’s tradition of fun plus lessons in diversity, inclusion and building community.

I’m not sure it will work, because two year olds are pretty young to understand sharing, but I’m thinking of giving Isabella two sets of Disney Princess socks for St. Nick’s.

One for her, and one to share.

I don’t want this to be a “charity” or “pity” model, but rather a gift of joy. I have read research which says giving is the best present you can give yourself.

Charity is tricky. I want Isabella to learn that she is giving a gift. It is something she would like, it is pretty and new (or gently worn), she can try to envision what the new little girl will feel like when she gets it.

If all goes well, this can be our new tradition.

Who doesn’t need a new pair of socks?

And even though the Disney Princesses are all young and beautiful, they are from different cultures and had to overcome some diversity, right?

Hopefully, the story of “St. Nick and the Batman Socks” will become a cherished tradition…and will continue to teach about diversity, community building and inclusion. And hopefully, our precious little Isabella will also learn about giving and sharing with others.

Comments:

Want to take bets? How will this little experiement work? Do you have any holiday traditions that promote community building? Do Disney Princesses rock?

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward

All the best, Mary

Check out these other posts about the Holidays:

Grandma Gets a Thong

What is Charity and Love?

Thanksgiving: A song about autism

Kill the Turkeys: Life lessons for people with disabilities.

Thanksgiving: Inclusion and Interdependence

St. Nick and the Batman socks

St. Nick and the Batman Socks


Old World Santa
Creative Commons License photo credit: frannie60

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 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.

Community Building

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.

Comments:

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

Thanksgiving | Inclusion and Interdependence

Squanto helps the Pilgrims

Thanksgiving Week: Day 1

I love the story of Thanksgiving. It is a story of inclusion (click here) and interdependence.

A group of pioneer families risk it all and travel to a strange land. They gratefully accept the help of the Native Americans who look different, speak a different language, have different cultural and religious beliefs. At first they are fearful of the differences, eventually they peacefully trade, share and learn from each other. The Native Americans welcome them into this new people and environment. But the Native Americans save the pilgrims from starvation (yea, corn, pumpkins, turkeys…) and disease (yea, the cranberry). Both groups still value their own cultural beliefs and traditions, but as neighbors they become an interdependent community which shares the hard work and sacrifice. Then, after a successful harvest, they do what every culture since the beginning of time does, they are thankful and celebrate.

As an early childhood teacher and special education professional I looked for ways to teach about cooperation, collaboration, and community. I looked for ways to include my students with special needs into the “normalized” (click here) holiday school programs and activities. I looked for ways to differentiate the curriculum so even the students with the most severe disabilities could partially participate.

Inclusion success stories for ALL children:

White Gifts for the Food Bank:

The entire school sponsored a “white gift” program for Thanksgiving. Each child brought in a non-perishable food item for the local food bank. The children decorated and wrapped the gifts in white tissue paper and put them into donated laundry baskets to distribute.

Thanksgiving Day Program:

I paraphrased and adapted the songs and dances so everyone could participate. We used the songs below in both large whole school programs and our individual class programs.

Bringing in the Community:

These were always crowd favorites. We would sing the songs, have someone dress up like a turkey and strut around. (One time it was the principal, one time a favorite music/gym teacher, sometimes a parent or a student from the high school drama club.) The turkey also lead the rhythm band for a couple songs. When we had a music teacher, she taught the rhythm band, after the cutbacks the teacher did it.

Each student made a picture for their families. If they were able, they wrote and read a sentence of what they were thankful for to the group. If the student couldn’t read, write or talk, they had a picture or the actual object they were thankful for (A picture of their family or a grandparent, a flower…) They might use a tape recorder, or ask their friends to say it with them.

For the grand finale, the class would line-dance to the traditional music of Turkey in the Straw and Old Joe Clark (the gym teacher helped teach the dances).

Finally, we ask the parents, brothers – sisters to join in for the Turkey in the Straw square and Old Joe Clark square dance classics.

The students created and colored/painted the programs, created unique tickets if we had limited seating, and they collected the tickets at the door. The words to all the songs were in the program so the children and parents could read and sing them together at home.

Refreshments:

The day before the program we had everyone bring in a piece of fruit for each person who was coming, the class made fruit salad, corn bread and cookies for the refreshments. Extra parents volunteered the day we made the fruit salad, corn bread and cookies. We had about 6 different kinds of fruit and vegetable peelers. We set up “stations” with a parent as supervisor of each station. Everyone participated, or partially participated according to their abilities.

Disabilities were not the issue, it was how can this person participate.

Decorations:

The students decorated the room and bulletin boards. We made several large murals of fruit cornacopeia, or a farm or grocery fruit and vegetable stand, or garden….

During our group story time, we used poster board to plan what we would do, and who would be responsible. We divided up the chores. The children chose how they wanted to do it. We usually combined the farm,Thanksgiving, food and/or autumn thematic units so the bulletin boards and room were decorated at least a week ahead of time. All learning activities focused on the thematic unit, were tied to standardized goals and IEP goals.

Children Giving the Tour:

Before the program, the students gave their parents and guests a tour of the classroom explaining what we were doing, what they were learning.

After the program, the parents got to take all their child’s work home to show grandma and grandpa or other friends on Thanksgiving day.

On Thanksgiving Day

Many families told us the whole family sang the songs and some used the “On Thanksgiving” song as part of the grace at Thanksgiving dinner. It really was a nice way of bringing the families into our program and letting the children be the experts and teach the songs, games to their families.

SONGS:

Ole Mr. Turkey

Who’s that struttin’ round lookin’ mighty perky?
Looks like it might be old Mister Turkey.
Strut Mr. Turkey that’s a fancy way to walk
Strut Mr. Turkey that’s a fancy way to walk.

Gobble, Gobble, Gobble

I’m a mighty fine turkey and I sing a fine song,
GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE, GOBBLE, GOBBLE, GOBBLE
I strut around the barnyard all the day long and my head goes
BOBBLE BOBBLE BOBBLE.

TUNE: FRIERE JACQUES – Round

(In our school program, I took a song the children knew, rewrote the words, and chose one child to be the “conductor” for each part of the round. Another time in a whole school program, three different classes each sang a different part of the round.)

On Thanksgiving, on Thanksgiving
We are glad, we are glad.
For all the special blessings, all the special blessings
That we have, that we have.

(repeat 3 times)

TUNE: Turkey in the Straw

(I paraphrased the words so we could act it out.)

Oh, a turkey is a bird, just as proud as can be.
He struts around with his tail in the breeze.
He makes gobble noises at everyone he sees.
But thanksgiving is coming, and that’s not make-believe!

RUN TURKEY, HIDE TURKEY
Turkey in the straw, turkey in the hay,
Where oh where will the turkey be
When the table is set Thanksgiving Day? (rub tummy)

In Winter

(Transition verse- putting on coats, getting in line….)

In winter when it’s cold and snows
I have to wear a lot of clothes.
If only I were like a bear
I wouldn’t have all this to wear.
Whatever weather she is in,
She grows her coat right on her skin.

Comments:

What are some of your memories? How did the teacher include ALL students, including the students with disabilities in their activities? What were some of the lessons of that first Thanksgiving that apply to building community and celebrating diversity?

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward

All my best,

Mary