For the first couple of years of Brennen’s life, I would dread going to toy stores. Who am I kidding? I still do. I avoid them at all costs, knowing that there is very little available that Brennen can “play” with.
Christmas shopping has become a challenge, and though I try to resist it, every year I inevitably find myself in a toy aisle, tears streaming down my face with the realization, once again, that I am living in a starkly different world. While I dream of wrapping up the one thing my child will adore, the one thing that will attract his attention, ignite his creativity and give him opportunities to play and learn and grow, it is unfortunately not that easy.
Finding products and toys that will work for Brennen is difficult. I look at items, analyze their potential, and ultimately decide that they are not suitable—that he can’t physically manipulate them on his own, and will be a complete waste of money. Sometimes I will purchase the toy anyway, in hopes that some miracle will happen and his skills will improve.
Sometimes I just want to feel like any other parent shopping at Toys R Us, who can pick out a present for their child without having to stress about whether or not it will be used for its intended purpose, or be added to the pile of stuff that goes into a closet and never comes out.
Christmas is different with a child with special needs. Brennen can’t write a letter to Santa. He can’t tell me anything that he would like to ask for, or what he hopes to find underneath the tree on Christmas morning. He can’t get up in the middle of the night to exclaim his excitement that Santa has come, and he can’t unwrap his own gifts.
I don’t even know how much he understands about Christmas or Santa Claus or traditions or magic, but we do it anyway. We bring Christmas into our home and we celebrate with all of the things that a little boy should have around him—love and light and wonder and joy. We do it for him, and we do it for us, as a family.
My most cherished Christmas memories from when I was a child are never related to a present. They are memories of going to mass on Christmas Eve with my father and grandfather, Dad reading The Night Before Christmas to my sister and I no matter how late it was (every year until we moved out), having turkey dinner on Christmas Day with my Mom’s family, and a sing-along at my parents’ annual blow-out Boxing Day party (that is still a tradition today!). My favourite memories revolve around people, family, spending time with loved ones and celebrating the holidays together. This is what matters most to me, and this is something that I can continue with my own little family.
Brennen enjoys the sights and sounds of Christmas. He loves to look at the twinkly lights on the tree, and we have Christmas music playing constantly. He is happy when he is surrounded by people, and he certainly knows that he is loved.
We have also started some new traditions. On Christmas Eve, instead of going out, our family and friends now come to our house to see Brennen before he gets tucked into bed for the night. Our schedule of events now includes the Janeway Children’s Hospital Christmas party, Easter Seals Breakfast with Santa, and the Rainbow Riders Live Nativity. These have quickly become our favourite and most anticipated events of the season!
We don’t go overboard with gifts. On Christmas morning, we take time to help Brennen unwrap each one, enjoying the sound of ripping paper, and the anticipation of what’s coming next! We focus on the importance of what the holidays are truly about—family and togetherness, kindness and giving, magic and wonder.
If I were to give advice to parents of children with special needs this Christmas, I would have to say not to put too much pressure on yourself, and don’t expect things to be ‘perfect.’
The holidays are stressful for all parents, but our children’s special needs add an extra degree of difficulty. Try not to get caught up in the details, and just enjoy the time with your family. It may not look the way you had envisioned it, and it may not run as smoothly as you had hoped, but it can still be special. Focus on the positive things, and think of all the things you are thankful for. Find happiness in your child!
Julie Brocklehurst is a writer, an advocate and a mother to a little boy with cerebral palsy. She created her blog Tiptoeing Through as a place to share some of her thoughts and feelings about life, love and the unexpected journey that is raising a child with special needs. Every month in her Tulip Tales series, Julie features a child with special needs from Newfoundland and Labrador and shares their amazing story. Julie is a director on the board of the Cerebral Palsy Association of Newfoundland and she runs a child care program for children with disabilities.