Tag Archives: Christmas

The Fun and the Not Fun

It’s that weird time of year – too busy to make sure my head is on straight, but enjoying fun family traditions at the same time. For about four years when the boys were younger we used to go up into the mountains surrounding our valley and cut down our own Christmas tree. I LOVED doing that, like Little House on the Prairie. We would obtain a tree-cutting permit, pack a picnic lunch, and drive up into the mountains, hike around in the snow, pick out our tree, saw it down and tie it to the roof of the car. Then we’d drive back home, bring it inside, and decorate it while listening to Christmas music. About eight years ago, on our way back down from the mountains, we slid on some hard-packed snow and nearly collided with another car as we headed toward the edge of the road. I don’t even want to think about what would have happened if our car hadn’t stopped – inches from the other car, and inches from the edge of a scary ravine. That did it for me. No more getting the Christmas tree in the mountains.

So the next year, oddly enough, I started seeing signs for a local U-Cut Christmas Tree Farm, and it turned out to be in a lovely rural area just seven minutes from our house! I was so excited – all the fun of choosing and cutting down your own Christmas tree without the danger of driving off the edge of a snow-packed mountain road! (I was also excited that I didn’t have to plan and make a picnic lunch, but that’s not really worth mentioning.)

Thus began our current tradition of going to the charming U-Cut farm mere minutes from our home, in the foothills of southern Oregon. We sleep in on Saturday morning, have brunch, and then off we go to pick out our tree. Last year Nigel did the cutting, so this year Aidan wants to. He picks out a gorgeous specimen, and Nigel gets the sawing started for him, about an inch into the trunk. I pull out my camera and Nigel retorts, “There’s no need to document the strain of sawing the tree,” (!) at which point I suggest that Aidan take over.

After ten minutes of valiant effort, Aidan successfully cuts down the tree and poses for one of my favorite shots of him, ever:

We get home and Nigel elects to put his tired, grouchy self in bed for a nap (more on that in a minute). Aidan helps me get the tree in the stand, and we notice that it is the largest we’ve ever had – the tallest and the fullest. We cut a little off the bottom and the top, get it upright, sweep the surrounding area (at which point we discover that Aidan had stepped in dog crap at the U-Cut Farm), and clean everything up. Finally, we put on the Christmas music, and I string the lights while Aidan plays with the ornaments.

Since the boys were toddlers we’ve had the same star on top of our Christmas tree – an impressive 16-point tin star with holes punched in it for the light to shine through. I think it had been made in Mexico, and it was so pretty. But last year it just fell apart and could no longer be used. So this year I had to get something really special to replace it. Something I knew that the boys would love. See there? That green glow at the top of the tree?

Yeah, that’s right. I got the Yoda Tree Topper.

We save some ornaments for Nigel to hang, and I get him out of bed after two hours, not wanting him to nap too long. Here’s the thing: I think something’s going on with him lately, like, possible seizure activity. At first I thought it was jetlag, but we’ve been back for two weeks, and there have been other signs, some that appear to be postictal. Ironically, the week before I noticed anything, we had already gone to the neurologist’s office at the request of Nigel’s regular doctor as a follow-up to his major seizure in June. And so when the neurologist suggested doing both an MRI and an EEG, at first I thought Fine, we’ll just do it, even though I didn’t think it was necessary. But now I do. Something’s going on, and it’s not just residual jetlag. And it just so happens that his tests are scheduled for next week.

The staying up with him next Thursday night for the EEG? Not fun. The worrying about what’s going on in his brain? So not fun. But I do feel fortunate that the appointments had already been made before I started noticing stuff – an example of things coming together just when they need to. I’m anxious, but hopeful, as always. It’ll be good to get the tests out of the way so that we can enjoy the holidays – and all the rest of our traditions, old and new.

***UPDATE: 12/17*** Both tests are now out of the way, and Nigel did really well with them! We just got back from the EEG a little while ago, and he is now napping 🙂 Of course, we have to wait a few weeks for the results, but at least we can catch up on sleep this weekend! Thank you all for your prayers and well-wishes.

For the Love of Toys

The Christmas that Nigel was two, he found the toy hiding place. Yes, early on that boy was probably skeptical about Santa.

I had been on the couch breast-feeding four-month-old Aidan, and out of the corner of my eye I saw Nigel coming out of my room with an odd look on his face. I somehow knew that he had found the toys in the closet. I stood up with Aidan still on my breast (I got very good at that) and walked down the hall to where Nigel was standing. He walked back into my room and stood in front of the now-open closet and said in a flat but certain voice, “Toys.” Much to my surprise, not only had he had spoken (which he rarely did then), but he had also not taken any of the toys out. They were still neatly stacked in the closet where I had put them.

“Yes, those are toys,” I said. “But those toys are for Christmas, and if you open them now, then you won’t have any toys for Christmas.” It was a shot in the dark. I was expecting a full-blown tantrum, mostly because I figured of course the two-year-old wants the toys! But also because I figured there would be no way that he could comprehend what I had said to him.

After I explained about the toys, I closed the closet door, and much to my shock, he just quietly followed me out of the room. I asked him if he would like to watch a Disney video, and he got on the couch with the utmost compliance. It was as if he understood what I had told him about the toys and accepted it! I was floored!

Toys are rather magical things. They can prompt an autistic two-year-old to talk, and they can motivate his behavior in anticipation of receiving them. For years, they also served as therapy objects, teaching him how to play, how to engage in social behavior, and eventually encouraging spontaneous speech.

I wrote this post today because I had noticed several incoming searches for toys for autistic teens. I think the rule of thumb with what would be appropriate is along the same lines as my advice for books for autistic teens: it depends on their cognitive level and individual interests. The difference with selecting toys is that it also depends on their level of emotional maturity. Nigel, for instance, is fairly high cognitively, however, his emotional maturity is a few years behind his peers. I think this is why, going into eighth grade, he still loves his stuffed animals and toys from his favorite movies (Jurassic Park dinosaurs and Thomas the Tank Engine).  He is really not into video games, but he’s always had an interest in science, so he has a microscope, telescope, chemistry set, and volcano model. He is also entertained by robots and remote controlled cars. And Lego. That has to be his all-time favorite toy. I don’t think he’ll ever outgrow it! He hasn’t outgrown looking in closets for toys, either. I’ve had to get really creative as the years have gone by.