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The holidays are here.  Those four words make me break out in hives every single year.  As a special needs momma, I’m giving my best effort to parent two kiddos who have Down syndrome, who are non-verbal, and who have sensory processing issues.  When the holidays come around with bright blinking lights, merry music, frigid temps, Santa, Rudolph, and those darned elves…well, it unravels all of the progress I’ve made throughout the year.  My sweet children turn into wild leaping monkeys who make baby dinosaur screeching noises every time they hear Feliz Navidad.  Why, oh why, must that song be played constantly from Thanksgiving day on?  While others sit with hot cocoa admiring their twinkling tree and holy manger scene, I do well to make sure the baby Jesus doesn’t get flushed down the toilet.   At this moment, he’s missing…and what is a $29.99 nativity set from Walmart really worth with an empty manger?  Wherefore art thou baby Jesus?

Determined to survive, I’ve come up with five tips to take on the holidays:

Tip 1:

Be willing to make changes.  For instance, if you would spend the holidays pulling your child off the Christmas tree because he or she is determined to climb it, then don’t put a tree up.  It’s not the end of the world to not have a Christmas tree.  My daughter is eleven years old…and I haven’t had a Christmas tree in eleven years.  It wouldn’t last a minute in my house, especially now that I am outnumbered with two of them.  And why would I want to fight about a tree?  The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy for everyone…including me.  So, if it’s going to be a battle, it’s out.  Period.

Tip 2:

Create new traditions.  While I don’t put up a Christmas tree, my house is decorated both inside and out.  My walls are covered in sparkly red and white snowflakes, I’ve hung a large felt banner that says “Merry Christmas”, and ornaments are hanging from every door frame.  Holly drapes from windows and sparkly tinsel hugs the top of my kitchen cabinets.  Everything is secure and placed out of reach of little fingers.  The kids love it, and because they love it, so do I.  It works for us.  And if I want that cup of cocoa while sitting around a perfectly decorated twinkling tree, I’ll hire a babysitter for a few hours and find a coffee shop or a fancy hotel for that.  It’s all about balance.

Tip 3:

Be willing to have everyone come to your house for family holiday celebrations.  Chances are your house has been proofed for special needs kiddos while other family members’ homes have not, so to make life easier on everyone involved, just have celebrations at your house.  Don’t take on too much, though…order a pre-baked turkey or ham and have everyone else bring a side dish.  While it’s normal to want to go out to enjoy festivities away from home, it isn’t always practical.  Why not give your family the best chance to have a successful celebration?  Keep it at home when it involves the kids.

Tip 4:

Let your child dictate what she wants her holidays to be about.  Don’t get hung up on reading The Night Before Christmas, stringing popcorn, and making a gingerbread house.  Perhaps those were traditions you enjoyed when you were a child, but your child is unique and will have her own preferences.  My two kiddos love music and enjoy dancing more than anything else, so every night leading up to Christmas, we jack up the holiday tunes, put on our socks, and dance through the house like a bunch of crazy kooks.  Waving our arms around, jumping up and down on the beds, and sliding across the wood floors…Christmas is a celebration.  They have a blast as I burn off all of my extra peppermint bark calories.  It’s truly a win-win.

Tip 5:

Don’t put Christmas in a box.  Gifts are meant to be placed in boxes and wrapped up in bows, but Christmas is not.  Too often we get hung up on what Christmas is supposed to look like.  Hallmark Christmas movies drip with romance…church musicals usher in holiness and majesty…while tv commercials pull on our heartstrings (and pocketbooks) with tradition and nostalgia.  Christmas is all of those things, yes, but so much more.  It’s about love, acceptance, and celebration.  Whatever that looks like to you.  So, you are hereby granted the freedom to create your own thing.  Step outside of that box and go for it!

As you prepare to bring in the season, keep in mind how unconventional that first Christmas really was.  Jesus came to us by way of an unwed mother.  Born in a cave that was inhabited by animals, his first visitors were the poorest of the poor who had nothing to give.  There was no Christmas tree, no turkey dinner, no tales of St. Nick…and the only twinkling lights were from the stars in the heavens.  The gift that day was simple, and it’s a profound gift that has continued to be given each and every year since.  Jesus had a mom and dad who loved him and who would protect him.  And that was enough.  In fact, it was perfect.

images-2These are my thoughts on the holidays…may you and yours have a blessed season!