Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Christmas Comes but Once a Year

Home then to the laden table;
Ham and goose and pints of beer,
Whisky handed 'round in tumblers,
Christmas comes but once a year!
       -- Christmas in Carrick

Einmal ist keinmal.
What happens but once might as well not have happened at all.
       -- German saying, quoted in
The Unbearable Lightness of Being

We decorated our Christmas tree last week, at Rose's insistence. Our older daughter has been the nudge for quite a bit of the Christmas preparation that we've done so far, including a gingerbread house (from a kit) that she decorated almost entirely by herself.

I wrote about Joy and our tree last time the holiday rolled around. We trimmed our little fake tree without her assistance in 2008. My reasoning for doing it that way: I was afraid that she would be confused by being first allowed to touch and decorate the tree, and then having it be off limits for the rest of the season. We were not at a point last year where she could be trusted not to stim on the branches, or grab the ornaments, or knock the thing over altogether -- though I did have hopes for Christmas 2009! So the tree went up on the stereo cabinet, substantially out of reach, trimmed with non-shatter ornaments just in case.

Well, here we are approaching Christmas 2009. And Joy is just as perseverative when it comes to ribbons and stringy-things (though not her hair right now, thank goodness!) and perhaps even more mischievous about deliberately getting into things she knows are "no."

So the tree is up high again, once more decorated with non-hazardous trimmings.

Christmas Tree 2009
This year I felt differently about Joy's participation, though. It's not fair to shut her out from this activity that Rose enjoys so much, and that is such a holiday tradition... surely there could be a way to modify the activity such that it could be at least somewhat successful for her, and not too confusing?

Rose and I unpacked the little tree in my bedroom, put on the lights (colored ones this year), and hauled out the ornaments. I enlisted her help in choosing six ornaments for her sister to do. They had to be not too heavy, with big enough loops on the holders to be not too challenging to put on -- and the ornaments couldn't be too stimmy-stringy themselves.

We found six that fit the bill, and then carried the tree out to the living room, where Joy (supported by her barista) helped put on those six ornaments. She wasn't in a great mood and didn't really "get" it, I think. But she at least cooperated. And then the tree went back into the bedroom with me & Rose, and we trimmed it all up the rest of the way, and then carried it directly to its display perch on the stereo cabinet. Joy is tall enough to reach the lower branches now, a bit of a concern. I've only caught her in one stealthy reach for the tree, though, and all it took was me saying her name in the "stern voice" to get her to back away.

One iteration of putting on a few ornaments.

When other than on holidays do we ask of Joy that she learn things in ONE annual iteration?

At Halloween, for example, her WonderWoman daycare lady Lynda does a great job of setting up a trick-or-treat practice at the daycare. But it, too, is a one-time shot, and some years it falls on a day we're not there. So Joy gets maybe one practice, then one shot going out to knock on doors and beg for candy in costume. And then it's a whole year before we require it of her again.

Talk about confusing!

Easter baskets? Once a year.

Birthday presents? Once a year.

Trimming the tree? Once a year.

Yet, how does Joy learn routines? Repetition, repetition, repetition.

She's gotten very good at getting into and out of her seat in the car, and helping to close the car door. We do that daily.

She has learned to use fork and spoon, and is making progress at drinking from an open cup. Meals come three times a day, with two snacks.

She is learning to turn noisy-toys on so that she can use them. We enabled this with a full-court press, communicating to her entire school team and autism-therapy team that toy-turning-on was a priority. It didn't take her long under those conditions to get the hang of it.

Einmal ist keinmal. If you're only going to do something once with Joy, perhaps you almost may as well not bother. One iteration is not enough to stick.

It's been different with Rose, of course. We've seen a steady progression from one year to the next of these once-annual rituals. At Thanksgiving she's gone from stirring the pumpkin pie filling, to dumping in the measured ingredients, to learning to crack eggs, to (this year) actually learning to crimp the edges of the homemade crust!

On the other hand, Rose hasn't learned it all in one shot either. It does take at least the annual repetition.

For Joy, maybe we need to think about it as a different timeline, a different number of repeats.

Of course, I don't really believe that einmal ist keinmal in a philosophical sense. Just look at what we're about to celebrate, the singular, holy miracle of God-with-us, Emanuel. Once and for all...

Then again, I think we need the annual celebration too. We need to remind ourselves anew, experience the wonder once more and yet once more, coming back to the story again and again.

I still don't have a sense of how to communicate that meaning of Christmas to my younger daughter.

But I do think that perhaps next year, I might figure out how to set up a practice-tree elsewhere in the house that is Joy's alone, with ornaments selected just for her, that she can hang again and again.


Anonymous said...

LOVE this post, JM. Agreeing wholeheartedly with your conclusions. And plans for next year.

I tend to look for some other reasons for one time per year traditions. Participation.period.
Rose learning to include Joy.
Your own satisfaction that she participated in trimming the tree. The presence of the tree allows for repetitively learning the name of the tree and descriptive words like pretty and reminders "Joy put ornaments on the tree."

Love reading about Rose's progress in cooking. You know I like cooking! BRatK

Niksmom said...

"I still don't have a sense of how to communicate that meaning of Christmas..." this sums up my struggle with Nik, too. You articulated it so well. I wonder if ou could maybe get Joy her own little tree and some unbreakable ornaments that she could practice hanging over and over? I'll be interested to hear what you do and how it goes...we're in the same boat together.

Pie Maker said...

The tiny tree for Joy alone is a wonderful idea! I have been doing this with Piper for years. She has her own little tabletop minature tree with tiny ornaments (one year we even found a string of mini lights). She decorates and undecorates and can tree stim as much as she likes! It's a happy compromise! Now if I could only do this for the cats, they are more troublesome about the decorations than Piper these days, sheesh!

jess wilson said...

i love the small tree of her own. both my girls have tiny trees in their room decorated to their own taste. kendall's is sesame street and dora, while darby's of course, lend itself far more toward the ornate.

but this ..

I still don't have a sense of how to communicate that meaning of Christmas to my younger daughter

i call challenge.

i don't think the meaning of christmas comes in words or has the darndest thing to do with decorating a tree. truth be told, i can't imagine a family who imbues each other's lives with love and empathy and grace more than yours.

and well, ain't that christmas?

JoyMama said...

Pie Maker - hello & welcome... I like your name! :-) Glad to hear that the little-tree idea works for you & Piper.

Jess - thank you for the vote of confidence! (hugs) I should perhaps differentiate. The warm love-and-empathy meaning of Christmas, we can embody and work on all year round. The specific, "God-on-earth among us in a humble stable" meaning -- I can begin to discuss that with Rose in a way that I cannot with Joy. Not being able to do that is... difficult for me.

datri said...

What's wrong with a year round Christmas Tree just for Joy? Her name just goes with Christmas every day!

Alas, Kayla has had no interest in the tree. We haven't put our tree up this year yet, so I'll see what happens!

mama edge said...

Feeling your pain. Hug to you.

Tanya @ TeenAutism said...

Such an important concept - reiteration - and how integral it is to how our kids learn. I forget that from time to time. Thanks for the reminder!