A Norman Rockwell Holiday?
By Jo Pelishek
Holidays. House bursting with family and friends. Everyone present. Aromas transcending to past traditions. Board games. Laughter. Memories shared. A long and comfortable afternoon talking and playing. Enjoying togetherness. Precious moments. More laughter. Holidays.
When our first two babies were stillborn, I was painfully aware we would never have all our children home to celebrate the holidays. Not in this life. Our family was created through birth and adoption, blending different backgrounds, needs, and dispositions. For our two biological children, traditions were rich and embraced easily. Our son with autism struggled with changed decor and schedules. Our youngest daughter, diagnosed with Dubowitz syndrome and developmental delays, found parties and celebrations extremely stressful. And our teenager with reactive attachment disorder (RAD) kept her distance, wary of family interactions. She was more familiar with chaos and tended to create it when things were going well.
Early on, I spent part of each holiday in tears. Celebrations were not what I remembered or how I thought things should be. Eventually I learned to accept our new normal more often than not, and to relax my expectations. Our family was precious just the way it was. We discovered how to adapt to the differing needs of our children and to make and maintain traditions within the chaos. Sadly our oldest daughter died some years ago, leaving another empty spot at the table. I still long to have all my children together. Some day.
We recently celebrated Thanksgiving with three of our children. Rather than shared conversation, dinner was dominated by our son’s fixation with war, robots, and how he intends to save the world. He talked. Nonstop. We did manage to express things we were thankful for – with our candy corn tradition. And we enjoyed all the fixins.
Board games were out. Short attention spans, varied reading, and cognitive ability, and a running monologue are not good partners. My husband’s disability means little energy and constant pain. Our visits must be kept short. Like I said, not a Norman Rockwell scene. But I’m learning that’s okay. It’s our reality.
Holidays. Small gathering. Aromas transcending to past traditions. Tolerance. Laughter. Frustration paired with understanding. Short celebration. Enjoying togetherness. Accepting today. Precious moments. Holidays.
About the Author
Jo Pelishek draws on her experience of raising five children, three of whom had disabilities. She has a background in journalism with a B.A. from Augsburg College, Minneapolis. Jo has worked as a disability advocate for several years, doing individual as well as systems advocacy. She and her husband live on a lake in northwest Wisconsin. When not working or writing, Jo enjoys time with family and Skyping with her granddaughters in California.