Over the years, there are certain traditions that we adjust in order to make the holiday season more comfortable for my son. We do most of our shopping online and drive by the holiday parade instead of standing with the crowd. We purposely do not over schedule our weekends and stick to a normal routine during the week. I have adjusted to the fact that he doesn’t share my love of looking at holiday lights, so he brings his Ipad in the car and we enjoy the drive around the neighborhood.
Some traditions we have been able to maintain. One of these annual experiences is getting Santa pictures taken. My son has gone every year since he was 6 months old and the trip has always been a memorable experience that ended with a candy cane and a darling photograph. These photos are among that short list of items that would be taken if the house was on fire. Throughout the holiday season, I find myself admiring these pictures. When looking at these pictures, I can’t ignore the fact that he is growing up (too fast for me). I can remember what he was like at each stage. I remember which photo was close to his adoption finalization. I remember when he started talking. I remember when we realized that he was unique and I remember when our journey of discovery began.
The trip to see Santa, is a long-standing tradition that dates back to my childhood. My sister and I would tell Santa what we wanted and then went to pick out a new ornament for the tree. At some point, my parents were added to the pictures. I imagine this was my mother’s way of getting a few more years of photos before the tradition came to a close. I shared the idea of picking out his own ornament and my son explained why that wasn’t necessary. “No, thank you. We have so many ornaments already that you didn’t put them all up this year.”
This year, we sensed a bit of uncertainty and so we included him in the decision about what he would wear and also prompted him about what would take place during the brief, but very important chat. In an attempt to avoid some of the crowds, we went early and were glad that there were only 3 families ahead of us. Immediately, we noticed a few changes from last year’s set up. We were now next to the elevators and the customer service area. It seemed a bit squished and a lot of action was going on around us. Instead of really enjoying the experience, I found myself on “high alert” and holding my breath. As we waited, the line got longer and louder and I was hoping that the distraction from the Ipad would allow us to get through the waiting without a meltdown.
Then it happened…
The photographer started getting more animated with the family ahead of us. His voice got louder and his gestures got bigger. I’m sure this was his attempt to make his victims smile or even laugh. Unfortunately, it had the reverse effect on my TBP.
“No Way! I’m not doing that!”
Here is where the panic and coaxing began. I stood close to him in line and whispered quietly that it would be done very quickly. He continued to say that he was not comfortable doing it. The line moved forward and we were getting closer to our turn. At one point, he agreed that he would do the picture and continued to focus on his game. Soon it was our turn and the photographer came over and started his bit with my son. The harder that the photographer tried, the more resistant and stiff my son became.
I don’t know how…but I got him to walk closer to the decorated trees and large chair. He stood about 2 feet from Santa and froze. He stared off in the distance and did not respond to my requests (actually begging). I was sweating by this point and grew increasingly aware of the fact that the crowd was watching. At this point, Santa joined the photographer in trying to coax my TBP closer. He tried to talk to him, he got a book out, and he even held up a candy cane thinking that would be enough of a bribe.
After what seemed like a really long time, the photographer says to me…”I’m sensing Autism, right?” I didn’t find it necessary to explain his true diagnosis so I nodded my head. This label was something that the photographer seemed to understand. He leaned towards Santa and whispered ( a bit louder than a whisper) “Autism” in Santa’s ear. Santa gave me a “thumbs up” as if he was trying to tell me that he understood. He wanted me to know that he knew that this wasn’t a case of being naughty, but that it was a boy (a whole family really) doing the best that he could.
At this point, I’m thinking that we are done. I’m sure that we are leaving without a picture this year. For whatever reason, my last attempt worked. I walked over and said to my son, “You don’t have to sit on his lap. You can stand next to Santa and tell him what you want. You can look right at me. You don’t want to come back later, right?” The idea of coming back must have been so unpleasant that he scooted next to Santa and shared his XBox wish quickly. I turned to the photographer and said, “Take the picture!!”
When I look at this photo in the future, I will know that this is the year when my son was able to overcome his embarrassment and fear. He did something that he really didn’t want to do. When we got back home, he spent time looking at the previous photos. I’m not sure what he was thinking when he looked at them. Maybe he understood that this was a traition that was important to me. Maybe he was surprised that he was smiling in the other pictures. Whatever the case… I am glad that we made it another year with this tradition.