Twelve months to the day I wrote a brutally honest piece about how our Christmas was so very different to many of our friends’ Christmas. I was frustrated with all the preparation that goes into the Big Day itself and then disappointed with the results.
I wanted to speak out so that other families could see that we weren’t all having the ‘Perfect Christmas’ and that not all families could generate a series of pictures that would be trending on Instagram.
From the reaction it received, I could see that we were not alone, which was reassuring to say the least. You see, Christmas with autism is something I hadn’t planned for when I envisaged how Christmas would be with kids. I’d built it up into this picture perfect idealism but now we had autism in our house, most of it was never going to be possible.
This year, I decided not to put any pressure on myself or Joseph. So what if he didn’t want a Christmas dinner, write a letter to Santa or be excited for 30 days before about what presents would potentially be delivered? I resigned myself to the fact that we could have just as wonderful day as everyone else, even if it had to be a little different and we’d not been strategically placing a small elf on a shelf for days on end.
Our other difference, which many other families also share is that Joseph’s dad and I are no longer together and this year was his turn to have Joseph to sleep on Christmas Eve. By the time Joseph got to me, he seemed relatively happy and I asked him whether he wanted to open his presents now or after lunch. He didn’t seem overwhelmed by any of it and he was happy to start unwrapping.
I wasn’t too surprised when he dutifully read the label, unwrapped each gift, described what it was and put it to one side.
“It doesn’t matter”, I told myself.
When he finished opening them all and he asked me where his paraglider was (something he had been asking about for weeks), I tried to explain again that we couldn’t get a paraglider. The other half told him it wouldn’t fit through the door, so Joseph pointed out that we could get a small one.
“He’ll be ok, he’s not disappointed”, I told myself.
And when he realised we were having dinner and he boldy told me “I’m not having meat”, I pointed out that he didn’t have to have ‘meat’ because we had done his favourite, sausages.
“It’s fine, there’s just too much going on”, I told myself.
He didn’t stop there and went on to tell me how he wouldn’t have potatoes or the vegetables (all the things we had made sure he liked) but stopped short of telling us he wouldn’t have the Yorkshire puddings. I smiled on the outside, it wasn’t a big deal.
“If he doesn’t want it, it’s fine”, I told myself.
I wasn’t even going to get into a flap if he wanted the (bastard) iPad instead of all the lovely presents that had been bought for him. I had even suggested to other people that he may like Duplo or a toy from In The Night Garden despite it being for under 3s because I wanted him to have toys he liked.
“It’s just one day, it’s not worth the argument”, I told myself.
We had decided to take all the children to London next week and knowing that Joseph wouldn’t understand what London was, I had written a story with pictures telling him about the train, hotel, zoo and Winter Wonderland. His response, whilst whining, “I don’t want to go on a Wonderland, I don’t want the zoo”.
“I’m gutted. It’s not fine”, I told myself.
The other half had poured his efforts into making our Christmas Dinner for all of us. He had taken over the gift buying because he knows that this particular day is stressful and he had eased that burden and not once did he roll his eyes when Joseph seemed to reject any part of Christmas. He just carried on.
Despite all my best attempts at not being bothered and saying it was fine, it wasn’t fine for me. I didn’t mind that he didn’t want to do the parts that tradition usually dictates, I wanted him to be happy. When the point came that he told me repeatedly he wasn’t going to smile and he wasn’t going to be happy, followed by, “when are we going to see the paragliders?”, I felt like I had let him down. I had asked for ideas weeks before and a number of people had suggested taking him to see some paragliding but my list of never ending tasks had not been completed and it was something I had completely forgotten about.
I felt a failure.
I quietly took myself upstairs and cried. Cried not for me and the Christmas I had once dreamed of, but the Christmas I had failed to give Joseph.
By the time evening came round, he had stopped telling me what he wasn’t going to do and played with some of his toys. This mainly consisted of him drawing paragliders on his last minute gift of an easel (well what else is there to draw?) and trying to cut my hair with the toy chainsaw - it’s fine!
His final request was to sleep downstairs, with me and his step-brother. Knowing I would rather stick red-hot pokers in my eye and more in need of a good night’s sleep, the other half stepped in and volunteered himself up for the task.
I realised at that point that I could have done a whole lot worse and despite my moment of self pity, I had plenty to be happy for.
My ex-husband once said I had no sense of occasion (I’m certain it was when I wasn’t cheering on the local football side but who knows) and maybe Joseph inherits this trait from me. I’m not the one to suck the life out of an occasion (I don’t think I am?), but Christmas for us is over-hyped, over-rated.
Next year, we’ll reevaluate and have another game plan. In fact, there may not be any plan.
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