Kissmassth in Autismland (#181)

This is the first year that we have not gone to visit my family in California at this time of year and, while not saying so in words, I do think that Charlie’s internal calendar feels out of sync. On Christmas Day, my family always goes to the cemetery where Yeh-Yeh, my father’s father, is buried, on a steep slope with a majestic view of the San Francisco bay. “From here Yeh-Yeh can see all the way back to China,” my dad once said to me and it has been part of my Christmas to stand on that hill and look and imagine the world on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.
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And yet, the transcontinental trip from New Jersey to California and back after a week has always left the three of us out-of-sync for several days at least. We love to visit my family and to have “Christmas in Cal” as Jim puts it–but the adjustment to the three-hour time difference and the travelling are grueling.

But often laughably memorable: There was December 2003 when we drove four hours to Long Island only to discover our Southwest Airlines flight had just taken off. We proceeded to drive to Baltimore, check into a cheap motel, get up really early and fly out for Christmas Eve. It was only when we were sitting at my parents’ kitchen table that it occurred to Jim and me that we had tickets back to Long Island…..and our car was in Baltimore.


There was December 1998 when we had Christmas dinner at Rio Bravo in St. Paul because Charlie (on the verge of being diagnosed with autism) had such a bad ear infection that our pediatrician forbade us to travel. There was December 2001 when Jim dropped Charlie and me off at the Newark Airport and drove up to Boston to attend a good friend’s daughter’s baptism (before he was to join us in California). Charlie and I got bumped from our flight (as the jetway door closed, Charlie said an insistent “open door!”) and spent the next several hours in mega-lines and the night in a hotel. (This was before Jim had a cell phone and he only found out–to his horror–where Charlie and I were when he called my mom in California.) Or December 2004 when Charlie was the best traveler and then spent Christmas and the days after on my parents’ couch with a terrible stomach flu.

The three of us spent a decidedly low-key Christmas Day in Autismland: Charlie got up early and took a two-hour nap; was a gentleman at a meal of turkey and potatoes prepared by Great-Aunt Joan and ate up apples from the pie Grandpa joked he himself had baked (along with Mrs. Smith); gave Grandpa several backwards hugs and said “Mehee Kiss-maasth” to his ailing grandmother; opened An Irish Night Before Christmas from Aunty Jen (who had already given him an early present in the form of half of her bonus from her job); yowled for “school bus” and “Gong Gong Po Po no Californy”; took himself up to bed at 9.45pm and tossed and turned until midnight.

Like Christina at MommyGuilt, I am sitting down with Charlie tomorrow and explaining next week’s schedule with its too many unfilled hours. Yet I know that it is a crucial part of Charlie’s education to learn to live with these changes. Holidays are one of those aspects of Autismland that are like looking in a fun-house mirror, to understand why vacations and days off, so welcomed by many of us, can cause such strain and stress to Charlie and kids on the spectrum.

That’s why Charlie–who wolfed down Great Aunt Joan’s turkey and snuck in a taste of vanilla ice cream–was mighty relieved when I cooked him a small bowl of “whiterice” and fried him a “burg-ger” later in the evening. Isn’t one reason we like holidays because we get to do the same things–trim the tree, wrap the presents, bake the gingerbread boys–time after time? For all the challenges we encounter in Autismland, a little ritual comfort and the coziness it brings, can mean a lot to one small boy who has had to travel so very, very far.

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Comments
One Response to “Kissmassth in Autismland (#181)”
  1. Eileen says:

    We brought Andrew’s quilt with us to my in-laws house in Christmas Day for “the little ritual comfort and coziness it brings”. It helped.

    Glad to hear you had a good day!

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