The Christmas Competition

frustrationIt’s Christmas evening, and I’m sitting here with a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

No one had a serious meltdown.

No one got hurt.

I didn’t give in and take up drinking as a hobby.

Our day was split up, as it always is- we spent the morning opening presents at home, and then went to Gran and Papa’s house, and opened more presents there. It’s not Jack’s first Christmas, obviously, but it’s his first truly interactive one. He finally understands the concept of unwrapping presents, and I had been looking forward to seeing his reaction to the whole experience and the new-found freedom that is represented by tearing into brightly wrapped packages.

Now, my kids’ autism means that I can usually expect some sensory or behavioural issues to pop up when they are in an environment that is hyper-stimulating. After all, there are blinking lights everywhere, little decorations piping a constant stream of carols, a television on, tons of things with different textures, and a lot of general chatter going on.

Still, I had somewhat rose-tinted expectations. You’d think this was my first rodeo, or something.

In my head, Christmas was going to go something like this:

I’d get the kids out of bed. They wait in their bedroom every morning until I open the door. It’s freakin’ awesome.

I’d sit them at their table, and hand them the usual peanut butter and jam toast, before we all gleefully tore into our presents and stockings.

I expected giggling and happy faces on both kids, lovely mealtimes, and a general sense of wellbeing and accomplishment at the end of it for us parents.

I figured that after we all happily ransacked the space under the tree, I would get them dressed in their good clothing, and we’d bundle them into the van and truck the whole damn family off to Gran and Papa’s house for more presents and dinner.

In my head, it was going to go smoothly and not morph into a game of “Us Against Them.”

For Jill, this was pretty much how it happened. Well, more or less.

For Jack… not so much.

We managed to get them out of the bedroom and fed with no incident.

Parents: 1

Kids: 0

They finished cramming their chipmunk cheeks full of peanut butter and jam toast, flung their thankfully plastic plates onto the dishwasher and then high-tailed it (with cheeks still full) over to the tree, where they gazed raptly… at the blinking lights.

Getting them to sit next to each other on the floor so they could have space to tear open their gifts was a bit like herding cats. We’d get Jill to sit down, while Jack wandered out of the living room. Then, we’d get Jack to the floor, and Jill would stand up to play with one of the ornaments. This went on for a good ten minutes. Every time we managed to talk one of them into sitting down, the other would find some reason to get up and walk off.

Parents: 1

Kids: 1

The thing that worked was a stroke of genius on my partner’s side. He set up his camera. Did I mention he’s a photographer? Jack and Jill saw the camera, and promptly sat down with a big smile and a resounding chorus of “Cheese!” (it’s sort of a reflex). The only problem was, they were facing the camera, and not the tree. It was really half a victory, but hell, I’ll just round up the number. This one’s ours, baby.

Parents: 2

Kids: 1

When I started handing out the presents, Jill did her part with flair.

Jack… not so much.

He took the first present, and gently started to tear off the wrapping paper. I think perhaps one piece of tape was actually pried off.

Then, the wailing started. I figured he was frustrated, so I bent down to show him what to do. Every time I held the present out, he started crying again. Even though I know that he knows how to rip paper, I had to “show him what to do” over and over again until the entire present was unwrapped.

Parents: 2

Kids: 2

It was a couple of colouring books, to go with some crayons that were still wrapped and under the tree.

He fixated on the colouring books, and wouldn’t unwrap any of the other presents that we put in front of him. He accumulated quite a little pile of gifts at his feet, and wouldn’t so much as take his eyes off the colouring books until I took them out of his reach…

Parents: 3

Kids: 2

… and then the crying started again.

Parents: 3

Kids: 3

Jill, for her part, eagerly tore into her gifts, and only had something to say when we went too long without giving her something else to unwrap.

I figured the waterworks would stop when we bundled the kids into the car, and headed to Gran and Papa’s house.

Nah…not so much.

When the gifts came out from under their tree, Jill gleefully went into action. She was in her element! Jack… sat with the first present on his lap, and started crying. This bit kept on, until all the presents were doled out and Jill was happily playing with her new things. It has since dawned on me that I really don’t know what makes my son “tick”; I just got frustrated with all the crying, when the kids should have been happy, and “showed Jack what to do” until all his gifts were unwrapped.

By that time, it was past noon, and I hit upon a brilliant idea: I would stuff his little chipmunk cheeks full of peanut butter and jam sandwiches. It was lunch, after all, and he couldn’t wail if his mouth was full.

Finally, I found something that made the crying stop.

Parents: 4

Kids: 3

The afternoon was blissfully quiet, more or less. Jack and Jill took turns stealing each other’s toys, and then they each took turns being pissed off because the other one stole their toys. Dinner, which was delicious, was pleasant and only marred by the occasional frustrated wail when Jack couldn’t get food in his face fast enough. A lovely dinner was topped off by an equally lovely Christmas pudding.

My kids do love their Christmas pudding. If it had been the sort to be made with alcohol, they would’ve gotten rip-roaring drunk on it.

Thank the gods for small miracles.

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