I used to get a lot of toddler feelings when the reality first started sinking in that the Pickle was not just going to ‘catch up’ with other kids. My toddler feelings and tantrums got worse when Pickle started having meltdowns, and worse again still, when the word ‘autism’ began to crop up.
These feelings would mostly consist of feeling extremely sorry for myself, not being able to enjoy life (some days I could barely get myself off the sofa), I would cry a lot, and think “It’s not fair. Why has this happened to my child?” Actually if I’m really honest, I would think “Why the hell has this happened to me?”
The toddler feelings have become less frequent, but they never completely go away. There are good days and bad days. The good days are fab, but the bad days are hard. General day to day life is better for me now, but there are always a few things that are guaranteed to press my buttons without fail, and send me into toddler mode. One of them is Christmas.
Pickle’s first Christmas – 6 months old. Dressed him up as an elf. Very excited. He got spoiled lots by the family. Pickle’s dad and I decided not to spoil him too much ourselves as he wouldn’t understand much about Christmas yet, and the big stuff would best left until next year as he would understand more, and we could spoil him rotten! Exciting!
Pickle’s second Christmas – 18 months old. Dressed him in a Christmas jumper. He doesn’t seem to understand still. He likes the baubles on the Christmas tree. I have high hopes for the day itself. Pickle gets spoiled lots. He still couldn’t talk. He wasn’t interested in unwrapping presents. He took no notice of what was going on. That was slightly disappointing for me, as some of his little friends seemed to be grasping the basics now, and I had felt excited about giving him his presents and seeing his little, happy face as he opened them, even without the understanding of why; but that never happened. Ok, never mind, he will definitely get it next year. We will be patient and next year, things will be fab!
Pickle’s third Christmas – 2 and a half years old. Dressed him in his normal clothes. What’s the point in dressing him up? I know something is wrong by this point. His friends are talking about Santa, presents and leaving carrots out for Rudolph. They’re all nattering away and singing Jingle Bells. The parents are all buzzing with their plans. Still nothing from Pickle. No understanding, no interest, no conversational skills. Christmas day is stressful. He won’t go near his stocking in the morning. He only wants to open and close the door repetitively. Refuses to look at or open any of his presents. Everyone has bought him lovely things and he doesn’t seem interested in anything. He won’t eat any Christmas dinner. I know by now that I can’t make him eat, or reason with him. Or explain anything. Or get him to enjoy it and feel the magic. Life sucks. I just wanted to enjoy Christmas time with my child. Why can’t I do that? Why does everyone else around me get this joy? Why me? Why my child? It’s not fair. (stamps foot).
So here we are, a year on, and we’re heading towards Pickle’s 4th Christmas. We have a diagnosis now. We have better understanding of the PIckle, his strengths and his limitations. We’ve had some time to adjust and get our heads around the fact that Pickle cannot understand the future, so I can’t get him to understand what Christmas is or what it involves. He only lives in the present moment. I’ve put together some simple, cheap sensory toys for him in a stocking; things that bounce, flash and spin, because I know he’ll really like them, and I think he might actually look inside his stocking this year! Not sure what we’ll actually get him for Christmas yet, but it’s not massively important. He won’t be expecting anything. Of course we’ll get him something nice, but I’m not obsessing or worrying about getting the latest toy or him changing his mind after I’ve bought it! He’ll be happy with whatever we choose.
So as you can see, this year, I’m managing my own expectations so that I cope and feel better and become a better mum! No toddler moments. Just acceptance for things being the way they are, and we will all enjoy the day for what it is. I planned to not let myself get depressed, so I won’t surround myself with too many excited children in the run up to Christmas (that is the most depressive thing EVER!), so all Christmas stuff, so far, has been good.
Then something comes along and BANG!! I’m back in toddler mode.
Nearly everyday on facebook at the moment, I’m seeing posts from nervous, excited, happy parents who child is in the nativity. They’re an angel! Hurrah! Where on earth will I find a brown sack for my child to customise into a wise man? Oh this nativity thing is such a stress! What if my child won’t say their lines or calls out to me in the middle of the performance? There’s lots of Christmassy action going on now all my friends children are 3 years old. Lots of cameras at the ready and proud parents about to shed a tear.
The Pickle’s nursery is also running a nativity play. Only Pickle isn’t in it. Pickle doesn’t have the understanding to be able to take part and learn lines or a basic routine for it. Pickle can’t even be a tree because he has difficulty standing still or staying sat in one place for 30 seconds and will probably fuck it all up. So the executive decision was made, that the nativity wouldn’t be suitable for Pickle (although he is welcome to come along and watch).
Now I’m not criticising anybody, including the nursery for this decision. The sad thing is, I know deep down, that it’s the right one. It would be more stressful for Pickle being made to do something he neither understands or cares about then to force him into something that he will probably make a very loud fuss about. And then it would be a nightmare for the nursery trying to hold the whole performance together with 30 other kids, and the parents probably wouldn’t be too impressed at a stimming child making strange noises, taking the show into his own hands whilst their child tries to say their part. So I get it. And it’s ok, because Pickle doesn’t really know that he’s missing out on anything anyway. He’s quite happy doing his own thing. So everybody is happy. Aren’t they?
When we get into the car, Pickle bursts into a surprise rendition of Jingle Bells. In the middle of November. They’ve obviously been practicing for the nativity.
It’s like I’ve been punched in the stomach.
I’m overwhelmed. I can barely start the car. I can’t see out of my windscreen because I’ve started crying all over again. Because Pickle has been enjoying learning the songs, whilst the other children have been rehearsing, and he’s doesn’t get to be part of the funny, happy, joyful Christmas experience that every other child and parent is going to get.
And I WANT my child to be involved in the nativity. I WANT to go along and see my son be an angel. Or the narrator. Or a tree. And I CAN’T HAVE IT.
And right there, in the middle of the car park, my heart breaks all over again.
Maybe he can have a small part next year when he’s at school depending on how his development comes along in the next year. Maybe not. Who knows. But in my toddler head, I’m starting to get pretty pissed off with being a parent at this time of year. Christmas is supposed to be amazing when you have kids. Christmas is supposed to be fun. Christmas keeps kicking me in the teeth. Piss off Christmas!!