I don’t quite know when the pressure of anchoring Celebration to specific dates and days became a source of intense and traumatic pressure.
I do know it is closely linked with my lovely Offspring and their difficulty in coping with changes of routine. Eldest’s first birthday is best described in terms of sadness and tears rather than giggles and cake. His birthday falls two days after Christmas, and the little boy was already rather overwhelmed with presents and the general “otherness” of the day. Opening more presents, coping with more smiling adults, and another day of “otherness” in routine was simply too much, and he cried, and cried.
My initial instinct that a due date of Christmas Day necessitates an “alternative” birthday was confirmed in that experience. Since then, both Eldest and Sweet Girl celebrate their half birthdays in June as a main celebration. The “birth” day is marked with a small cake and cards, and much much love, but presents and parties come in the summer.
As time has passed, I have watched these Days approach with increasing dread. The pressure to have that one perfect day, to order, is just too much.
I live, well I try to live, in the now. Each emotion I feel, or those I love feel is as valid as the next, and actually as the old song goes, “it’s my birthday and I’ll cry if I want to”. If I feel sad, should I not cry simply because custom dictates I must be happy? (Oh… I haven’t cried, nor felt the need today – just saying!!)
The true joys of life parenting children with special needs is that the little joys inherent in every child’s life are celebrated in their moments. Each time Eldest comes to hug me, I relive the utter joy of his first hug, aged 2. He is now 13 years old, and still every single hug is a source of immense joy and gratitude.
Each time Sweet Girl feels happy is a cause for celebration. We mark the moment by talking of it, by enjoying that wonderful emotion. No pressure, we both know it may not last and it cannot be simply replicated… it simply is, and in that being comes wonder at simple happiness.
Each time Little Man reads a little book and enjoys it, we are filled with glee! He did it, he deciphered a story and enjoyed it!! Each hurdle reached is a source of quiet celebration, each hurdle overcome brings with it immense pride and a determination to seek out the next one.
Do I document each of these moments? No.. I would love to, but the celebration is so intense, so “present” that getting the camera out, or stopping to find a “way” to mark the occasion, would interrupt the celebrating itself.
And in the smallness of these moments, they are so numerous that marking and documenting them is simply unmanageable in the business of living.
To the naked eye, I shy away from celebrations, I tuck myself away in the comfort of routine and sameness.
That routine and sameness gives us all a sense of safety that we desperately need. But make no mistake: in that sameness and routine, I find my celebrations, and my hope is to make life itself a celebration.
Each year in September, or October, or November, I hope to find the courage to break with traditions imposed on me by the outside world and convention and do away with Christmas Day. I want to simplify it (I do love more and more the home made gifts, and yearn for far fewer gifts received more preciously), and also in some way to lengthen it. I want to wake up one morning, notice that all the children and Darling Man are happy and relaxed and decide: Today is Christmas! Just because we are all ready for such a day and days like Today are rare. We simply cannot produce that kind of togetherness to order on the 25th of December, just because society tells us: this is the day you should be happy together.
I haven’t found that courage yet, but each year I get a little closer. I suspect in the future, not too far from now, we will have a family confab, and decide how “we” will celebrate.
Similarly each year around June, the stresses of celebration perk up. Birthdays, parties, gifts, the intricacies of friendships in a world of autism and disability all combine to make Birthday a difficult day. How to mark the important (?) passage of time? Is it important to us, to the children, or is it simply important because everyone else says it is… Certainly there is something wrong if we continue to mark these “special days” in spite of our emotions. I do not want to celebrate a birthday if the birthday boy or girl is unhappy – far better to accept that today is an unhappy one, and celebrate another day.
Today is my birthday. I am 41, yet I still haven’t celebrated my 40th birthday. I still plan to, but I haven’t reached a plateau of tranquillity that allows me to do so in a fashion that I feel appropriate. And I’m absolutely happy with this.
So you may get an invitation to help me celebrate “40” this year, next year… or maybe in ten years time. Does it matter? I hope not. I will simply enjoy and twirl and laugh my way through what I hope will be a wonderful celebration – when my heart is ready to rejoice unfettered!
Today has been a quiet day. Such love with dozens of people wishing my a happy day through the magic that is Facebook. Family surrounding me with love as well. I made a cake, because the date was a good excuse to do so!! And it was good, and absolutely enough.
But when I call to say, come and help me celebrate my birthday, do not wonder that the date bears little or no relevance to the date I was born. Wonder and enjoy that I am happy and have joy to share, and that on that day I choose to honour being alive, being born to rather lovely parents who grew me up beautifully and continue to follow my journey through life with love and respect. Lucky me!
My darling Eldest is home for the holidays.
He is growing well, I am ever so proud of him.
He is having a hard time, and mental illness is hovering over him, but he is able to relax at home for the first time in years.
Yet the reality of Asperger’s syndrome, or autism, or whatever name you give the neuro developmental condition that defines so much of who he is remains ever present.
At the slightest hint of confusion, or the mere idea that he may be asked to do something not of his choosing, he changes. His non compliance makes a joke of that phrase, his utter closure to anyone in his environs is staggering, and his emotional distress is all encompassing.
The impact on the other children (not to mention Darling Man and Myself – both Me Within and Me Without) is such that I am at a loss to describe it.
This afternoon, we asked our dear boy to have a shower… an innocuous enough request especially given that it happens every single day at the same time.
For the following two hours… no, three hours, our entire family including grandparents suffered a state of hostage like proportions. Dinner became a bitty, camp fire affair as each person tried to find time and emotional space to get a bite to eat; Little Man was denied a good night hug from his big brother and required a cuddle from Mum while he tried to control his tears and emotion; Sweet Girl was overcome by panic, worry and sadness and needed a vast amount of support to eat a little something and control that anxiety enough to eventually go to bed an hour late, pale and exhausted; Grandparents stayed as little as they could.
Darling Man tip toed gently around Eldest all this time, not so much to get the boy washed as to bring him back to what we affectionately call “the real world”… using up his limited supply of patience, calm and diplomacy.
I was told by both my Eldest and Darling Man that I should stay away – I had, it seems, inadvertently caused some confusion and was thus “the baddie”.
Eventually I was able to sit with Eldest and find that saner place. We fed him, and finally, eventually, four hours after the first request, Darling Man talked him through a shower.
The evening concluded in rather typical fashion, with a friendly viewing of a silly film, Eldest not really the wiser for the trail of emotional destruction in his wake.
The rest of us will pick up the pieces in the morning and try to rebuild… once again…