Greg’s brother, who wishes to be called Jack, got married to a wonderful girl who wishes to be called Amelia on Dec 28th, so this year’s Christmastime for our family was going to be very, very different than usual. Marvin doesn’t do well when things are different, so Greg and I spent about 2 months strategizing how to make things go more smoothly. Our extended family helped us out quite a bit, especially with their Christmas gifts, which were purchased with this trip in mind.
There were many, many things to consider and prepare for. First, we would be driving to the wedding, which would be about a nine hour drive if road conditions were good. So we planned for the trip to take 2 days, which meant leaving on Christmas Day. That meant celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve, which was also a work day for Greg. Since we would be gone for about a week, I felt it would be a fire hazard to have a live Christmas tree this year, so we borrowed a pre-lit, artificial tree. So some of our normal Christmas traditions were going to be very different. We were not going to go out in the woods and chop down our own tree this year; instead we would have an artificial tree. Instead of putting colored lights all over the tree, it came with white lights. Instead of going to church in the late afternoon on Christmas Eve, we would be opening our gifts and packing, and on Christmas morning, instead of opening our gifts, we would get in the car and drive for hours.
That’s a lot of things that would be different. But Marvin is 13 now, and can understand the “why” a lot better than he used to. So we spent a lot of time talking about why and how Christmas this year would be different. He did complain about the artificial tree, but not too much, and he understood the safety reasons, and agreed that it was better than no tree at all. And we were opening presents a day early, which he didn’t mind at all!
The drive was going to take 2 days to get there, and 2 days to get back. That’s a long time in the car. So I stocked up on snacks, and included some things that the boys don’t normally have, like cookies. We have a portable DVD player that works in our van, and the boys wanted to get each other movies as Christmas gifts. So they had 2 brand new movies to watch on the drive. My mother sent cash this year and let me do her shopping. I found a Transformers paper craft kit that contained 10 robots, 2 wind up motors, and a battle arena. My boys LOVE Transformers. And they LOVE to build things. (They frequently raid our recycle bin and build robots out of cardboard boxes and water bottles.) They also love origami. So this looked perfect! I got one for each of them, and also got for each of them a plastic tub with scissors, tape, and small brads. I wrapped them up and told them they could open those gifts in the car on Christmas morning. I grabbed 2 cookie sheets (the jelly-roll ones that have a small vertical edge) for them to use as lap tables in the car. They were so happy! I also saved some of the cash from my mother, and gave it to the boys the day we started back home. There is no Toys R Us where we live, but there were several where the wedding was. So they each bought themselves a new toy from Toys R Us to play with on the long drive home. Greg’s sister, who wishes to be called Samantha, got each boy an iPod shuffle in his favorite color, and I got them headphones to match because I was unsure whether Marvin would like having the earbuds in his ears. So for the long car ride they had – new movies, music on their iPods, Transformers crafts, snacks, and new toys. They did great! And the headphones I got them worked with the DVD player so Greg and I didn’t have to listen to their movies over and over again! We also made sure to stay at hotels where the boys could swim (Marvin loves to swim).
So that takes care of our very different Christmas, and the long drive. We also needed to get through the actual wedding. And since it was a close family member getting married, this meant helping to set up, going to the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner, the ceremony and reception, pictures, and helping to clean up. And, seeing family members that we haven’t seen in years, and meeting Amelia’s family for the first time. And mealtimes. And not having dad sit with us during the ceremony because he’s the best man. And the dancing and very loud music. And all the people. It makes that other stuff look like a cakewalk. I admit I was very nervous and anxious. Greg said that it felt like we were bringing a brick of nitroglycerin to a crowded event. YES!!! That’s exactly how it feels! Because if you handle everything just right, everything might be ok. Or there could be a giant explosion. And we didn’t want to ruin Jack and Amelia’s wedding. And we really needed and wanted to be there.
The first piece I tackled was mealtimes. I decided that this was not the time to fight over food — the focus needed to be on building family relationships and social interactions, and those things were challenging enough on their own. I told both boys that for the entire trip they didn’t have to eat anything they didn’t want to. I had tons of snacks and protein bars, and even stuff for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that they could eat instead. I told them that they couldn’t say anything negative about any of the food, and if they were asked directly if they liked something that they didn’t care for, they had to say, “It’s not my favorite,” and say nothing else. That was a very good decision. At the hotels, Greg made breakfasts successful for us. Instead of waking the boys in the morning and trying to rush them to get to the lobby for breakfast before it was over, Greg let the boys and I sleep in and brought breakfast to us so we could eat when we got up.
The next thing we worked on was making sure that Amelia’s family was aware of Marvin’s Asperger’s, so that the inevitable awkward social interactions would be a bit less awkward. That meant checking and double checking with Jack that he and Amelia had told them. And then we checked again. And again. (I fear that we may have overdid that one a bit!) We also made sure we got a schedule for the weekend so Marvin could see when we would be at the hotel, when we’d need to help set up, when the ceremony was, and when pictures were….. We also asked Jack to scout the location of the reception for a quiet spot that Marvin could go to if/when things got to be too much for him. Then we told Marvin that there would be a spot for him to go be alone, which made him feel less anxious. So the minute we arrived to help set up, Marvin went straight to Jack and asked where his quiet spot was. And awesome uncle that Jack is, he was more than happy to show him right away. Marvin’s Aunt Samantha went above and beyond, too. She’s in the Air Force, and bought Marvin a pair of blue (his favorite color) noise reduction headphones – the same kind they use on the flight line and on the shooting range. We told him he couldn’t wear them during the actual ceremony, but other than that, he could wear them whenever he needed, and he wore them a lot! Later that evening we had to tell him that he shouldn’t sleep in them….
The whole thing went really, really well. I’m so very proud of both of my boys for their fantastic behavior. Wesley chatted with and charmed everyone, and really enjoyed the dancing during the reception. The boy’s got moves!!! 🙂 Marvin really impressed us with his maturity and self-advocacy. When we got to the house where the rehearsal dinner was going to be, he went on his own to find the hostess/homeowner and explained to her that he may feel overwhelmed and need a quiet spot to calm down. Then he stayed in that quiet spot for roughly 45 minutes. When he came back to the party he was smiling and happy and interacted very well with the small children that were there. He looked so calm and relaxed and, of course, wore the noise reduction headphones the entire evening.
Amelia’s mother noticed that the boys were reading a Lego Play Book (full of ideas for things to make with Legos they already have) that they had received for Christmas from Greg’s mom. She said that she had a big tub of Legos that she could bring to the wedding so the boys could build stuff before and after the wedding. That was a big hit with the boys, and so very thoughtful of her, especially considering her daughter was getting married the next day! Everyone was so very gracious, and so very helpful. And the wedding was beautiful. And my boys ate peanut butter crackers and trail mix instead of the soup and salad at the reception, and nobody cared. And Marvin wore his headphones for the entire reception, and then made a mad dash for his quiet spot as soon as the music started for dancing. The whole thing went better than I had ever hoped possible.
So how did we pull this off? Many reasons and people –
Marvin’s age and maturity level have gotten to a point where he can help us know what he needs.
We decided to not fight about food.
Family members pitched in with awesome, helpful Christmas gifts.
Family members did prep work to make sure the things Marvin needed were available.
Everyone was kind.
It was such a blessing to have such a successful trip. Greg and I have been working at this parenting-a-special-needs-kid thing for so long that sometimes it feels like all we’re managing to do is tread water and we don’t actually make any progress. God used this trip to show us that much progress has been made. It’s working. And it’s worth it!