The Day Sensitive Santa Came to Town

A few weeks ago I saw on Facebook that a local hospital was having a Sensitive Santa event.  Children who have sensory issues and/or autism could schedule a special time to visit Santa.  No waiting in line at a crowded mall.  This is amazing.  I decided I was going to call the next morning and make an appointment for Mikayla and Hope to meet Santa Claus.

A very nice lady named Mary answered the phone.  She began to ask questions about the girls.  Is there anything they needed to be aware of that might bother the girls?  Do they have any food allergies?  Is there a special snack they would enjoy?  She said there would be a photographer and we would receive a flash drive with pictures free of charge.  Santa would be giving each of our girls a gift.  Mikayla and Hope would meet Santa on December 17th at 1:00.

The girls were super excited when they woke up on the 17th.  Hope kept saying “Santa’s gonna give me a present!”  I asked her what kind of present she thought he would give her.  She said “A candy cane!”  I knew Santa was going to give them something much better than a candy cane.  But it was nice knowing Hope would be happy with just a candy cane.

We were met at the front door and a nice man led us to Santa’s private suite.  I told Mikayla and Hope to go first and we would follow them.  The girls were acting a bit shy but they were brave and went through the door first.  Santa gave a jolly greeting.  “Well…….Hello Mikayla and Hope!”  Santa had a jolly laugh that made all of us giggle.

Mikayla marched right up to Santa and sat on his lap.

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He told her that he had a present for her.  Mikayla’s eyes lit up with excitement.  Santa helped her open the package.  It was a set of Melissa and Doug stainless steel pots and pans for her play kitchen.  dsc02094

Hope got really excited as she watched Mikayla open her present because she knew that Santa was going to have a present for her too.  What did Santa get for her?  It was finally her turn.  She quickly ran up to Santa and jumped in his lap.

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And sure enough Santa had a present with Hope’s name on it.  She grinned from ear to ear as Santa helped her unwrap the package.  It was a Melissa and Doug Mixer set.

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The girls stood and gazed at their new presents.  They talked excitedly about their new toys and what they were going to cook in their play kitchen. Santa asked them to make him some cookies.  He said chocolate chip cookies are his favorite.  The girls thought that he was funny.  The ladies  who were helping Santa kept saying “They are so cute!”  Yes they were.  Our girls were absolutely adorable.

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They hugged Santa and thanked him for the presents.  Then we went to the snack room.  The girls ate goldfish crackers and drank milk and juice. All four of our girls were given a gift card to McDonald’s.  A lady printed out some pictures of the girls with Santa for us to take with us.  I was so thankful for such a wonderful day with Santa.

This day wasn’t just about our girls meeting Santa Claus.  It was so much more than that.  Kids who have sensory issues are often overwhelmed by the world they live in.  They spend every day of their life trying to adapt to a world that is too loud and overwhelming.  Standing in a long line to see Santa in a loud, crowded mall can end with tears, a meltdown. and a lot of disappointment.  But on this day the world adapted to our girls.  We didn’t wait in a long line.  We were escorted to see Santa as soon as we entered the building.  Santa booked a quiet, private suite.  He set aside 20 minutes of his time just to be with our girls.  There was chocolate milk for Mikayla and white milk for Hope.  Our older girls were recognized and given a gift because someone who planned this day understands that having 2 sisters with special needs isn’t easy.  Taylor deserves a couple of frappes from McDonald’s and Brynna deserves some french fries, an apple pie, and a large Sprite.

This day brought hope back into my life.  The hope that there will be more days like this in our future.  That our future won’t always be spent adapting to an overwhelming world.  But that maybe, just maybe, the world will find moments to adapt to our girls and help them to not be so overwhelmed by their world.  I’m so thankful for this day.  This day when we didn’t have to stand in a line.  This day with no tears.  This day with no meltdowns.  This day when our girls found total acceptance.  The day that Sensitive Santa came to town.

When Your Child Asks for the Toy of the Year

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A few weeks ago I asked Hope what she would like for Christmas.  She didn’t hesitate to give me an answer.

I want a Hatchimal for Christmas!

A Hatchimal?  What in the world is a Hatchimal?

I went on Walmart’s website and here’s what I found out:

Hatchimals are magical creatures that live inside of eggs. Who’s inside? It’s a surprise! Each egg contains one of two interactive Hatchimals. Love and care for yours inside the egg and its eyes will light up as it makes cute sounds, telling you how it’s feeling! Once you’ve played with it enough, you’ll see rainbow eyes—that means its time to hatch! Hatchimals can’t hatch on their own. Your touch encourages them to peck their way out of the egg! It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience! Now you get to raise your furry Hatchimal through 3 stages, from baby to toddler, to kid. Your Hatchimal sings “Hatchy Birthday” each time it enters a new stage! Teach yours to walk, dance, play games and more! It will even repeat what you say in its own voice!

That sounds like the perfect present for Hopey.  A couple of clicks and we’ll have a Hatchimal on our doorstep in a few days.  Online ordering.  It’s the most magical thing about Christmas.

Uh-oh.  Walmart’s out of stock.  I’ll check Toys R Us.  Oops.  Out of stock there too.  So I checked Amazon.  They’re in stock.  Wait a minute!  You’ve got to be kidding me.  $200-$300 for a bird that hatches out of its egg?  They were $50 at Walmart.  I’ll keep looking.  I checked Ebay.  $150-$300?  And suddenly I realized that something was happening to me that has never happened in my 19 years of being a mom.  My little sweetheart had picked the toy of the year.

Every time Hope was asked what she wanted for Christmas the answer remained the same.  And she would say Hatchimal with so much enthusiasm that it would send me racing back to my computer.  I’m going to snatch my sweet girl a Hatchimal if it’s the last thing I do.   Let me rephrase that.  I’m going to snatch my sweet girl a $50 Hatchimal if it’s the last thing I do.  I’m not paying $150-$300 for one.  I signed up for in-stock alerts.  I checked multiple websites several times a day.

And then I saw the announcement on the manufacturer’s website:  The consumer response to Hatchimals has been extraordinary, exceeding all expectations. Some of our first shipments have already sold out. While additional product will hit retail shelves in November, we anticipate this inventory will also sell out quickly. We have increased production and a whole new batch of Hatchimals will be ready to hatch in early 2017.

Great.  Looks like Hopey isn’t going to get a Hatchimal for Christmas.  What am I going to do?  What if she cries on Christmas morning because there’s not one under the tree? I don’t think my heart can take that.  Should I talk to her and explain to her that Hatchimals are hard  to find?  Will she understand what I’m telling her?  Or will she keep insisting that she’s getting one for Christmas?

I decided to sit her down and be honest with her.

Mommy is having trouble finding a Hatchimal for you for Christmas.  A lot of kids are wanting one and the stores are sold out.

Hopey:  They’re sold out?

Yes.   They’re sold out.  It’s really hard to find one.  I think it’ll be easier to find one after Christmas.  Maybe we could get you one for your birthday.

Hopey:  Get one for my birthday?

Yes.  We’ll try to get you one for your birthday.  Will that be ok?

Hopey:  Stores are sold out.  I want a Hatchimal for my birthday.

And just like that I witnessed our Christmas miracle of 2016.  The miracle wasn’t that Mommy was able to snatch the toy of the year.  The miracle was in that moment that I looked at my little girl and I saw her process a situation that she once wouldn’t have been able to process.  Hope understood what I was telling her.   She didn’t cry.  She didn’t stomp her foot and insist that she is getting a Hatchimal.   She decided to patiently wait for her Hatchimal to arrive on March 29.  We won’t have any memories or pictures of Hopey smiling this Christmas as she opens her Hatchimal.  But we have a greater memory than I ever expected.  We have a little girl who has processed a very disappointing situation and she handled it with grace.  And I couldn’t be more proud of her.

Christmas Traditions

I love Christmas traditions.  To be totally honest I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to Christmas traditions.  We’ve always put our Christmas tree up the day after Thanksgiving.  But several years ago our oldest daughter discovered Black Friday.  What?  Why in the world would she want to be out in the middle of huge crowds when she could be home decorating the Christmas tree with me?  I still don’t understand it.  But now we decorate the tree on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  And it’s ok.

We always listen to Steven Curtis Chapman’s The Music of Christmas while we decorate the tree.  As we were decorating the tree this year something very strange happened.  I wasn’t hearing the voice of Steven Curtis Chapman.  I was hearing the Christmas songs of David Crowder.  Really?  Which one of you did this to me?  I guess it was ok.  But it was better when David Crowder finished singing and the sweet voice of Steven Curtis Chapman singing Hark the Herald Angels Sing began to fill the room.  Yes.  Now we can have Christmas.

My favorite Christmas song is O Holy Night.  I have to hear David Phelps sing it every single year.  It’s just part of Christmas.  Ask my family what my least favorite Christmas song is and they will answer without hesitation.  Carol of the Bells.  That song is like fingernails on a chalk board to me.  The other day Brett put in a Christmas cd for us to listen to while I was paying bills and he was working in the kitchen.  All of a sudden the volume got really, really loud and I’m hearing the Carol of the Bells.  So I got up out of my chair, walked across the room, and affectionately slapped his sweet head.  And then I kissed him.  Oh, how I love that man.

Mikayla and Hope have added a new tradition this year.  They like to watch Frosty the Snowman in Spanish….and then in French…..and then in Spanish….and then in French.  Mikayla prefers Spanish and Hope prefers French.  They have no idea what the characters are saying but it makes them laugh.   They laugh like crazy every time they’re watching it in French and a character says oui.  They don’t realize that they are saying yes.  They think the character is talking about a Wii.  And it just makes them fall in love with Frosty all over again.

You can mess with the day we put the tree up.  You can mess with the music we play while we’re putting up the tree.  You can watch Christmas cartoons in Spanish and French.  You can even bring in the Christmas season by playing the Carol of the Bells just to irritate me.  But there are some traditions that just simply can’t be messed with.  Don’t tell me that Easter Seals won’t be having their Christmas lights or that Taylor’s Christmas violin recital has been canceled.  If you have to tell me either of those things please bring chocolate.

Every year we drive an hour to see the Christmas lights.  These aren’t just any Christmas lights.  These lights have a very special purpose because all net proceeds fund therapies at our local Easter Seals.  When the community drives through the lights they are changing lives.  They are helping a child learn to walk, talk, dress and write her name.  They are helping an adult receive the therapy he needs after a car accident.  They are helping people to gain their independence and to have the best life that they can have.   We’ve enjoyed this event for years.  Now that Mikayla and Hope receive services at Easter Seals this event is even more special to our family.

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Every year Taylor’s violin teacher holds a Christmas recital for her students.  I always enjoy the new students who play Mary Had a Little Lamb and Jesus Loves Me. They are so adorable.   We enjoy hearing Jingle Bells, O Come All Ye Faithful, O Holy Night, and so many other Christmas favorites.  I’m amazed at the more advanced students as they play Bach and Beethoven.  I’m always proud of our Taylor as she plays her song.  This year she played Llanthony Valley.  An afternoon of listening to violin and harp music is good for the soul.  And it’s part of what makes our Christmas special.

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Here we are and it’s now only 1 week until Christmas.  Our house is filled with little voices asking “It’s almost Christmas?”  Several times a day I hear the words “I want a Zoomer kitty! A black one!” and “I want a Zoomer kitty! An orange one!”  I’m thankful that Zoomer Kitties are easy to find and have shipped to your front door.  I also hear little voices reminding me “We need to read the book!!!”  We all gather on the couch each evening to read the Advent book.  I’m thankful for our little girls who get extremely excited about Christmas and want every toy they see.  I’m thankful for our teenage young ladies who are so content that they don’t ask for much for Christmas.   They make me proud.  And I’m thankful that I get to spend my 25th Christmas married to the guy who plays Carol of the Bells at full volume.

The Gift Of A Lovely Family

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Maybe you saw us at Dairy Queen a few days ago.  We were the family sitting at two separate tables.   Mom, Dad, and one little sweetheart at one table.  Three sweethearts at another table.  Life is all about strategy for our family.  If our two turtles sit at different tables then they can’t kick or hit each other. We get to enjoy our meal and those around us get to enjoy theirs.

Maybe you heard our two little girls burping.  I’m sorry if that bothered you but they don’t often get to drink soda.  It was a big deal for them.  When foreign fizz enters their bodies it makes them burp.  They really can’t help it.  They said excuse me almost every time they burped.  That made me proud.  Maybe you heard the dad across the room burp while eating his meal.  I did.  I also heard his family scold him and it made me happy.  Someone burped in public and it was someone from outside of my little village. It was a good day.

I know that you heard us in the toy section at Target.  The two little girls who were talking way too loud belong to us.  I put my finger up to my mouth and said the words “Shhhh.  You’re too loud.  I’m standing right beside you.  You don’t have to talk that loud.”  I don’t have any idea why I always do that.  It never works.  But at least I’m attempting to do my parental duty.  Right?   When the word Christmas is mixed with a Target full of toys it makes our girls have only one volume.  Loud. Thank you to all of my fellow Target shoppers who were understanding.  Thank you for not holding your ears or rolling your eyes.  You made my day.

Did you notice how loud the music was in Five Below?  I sure did.  Shoppers didn’t seem to notice the volume of our girls voices because the music overpowered them.  Thank you Five Below for taking the focus off of our girls.  It was nice.  But if you want a family with sensory processing disorder to shop in your store you need to turn the music down.  And a restroom would be nice too.

I wish you could’ve met the nice employee who greeted us as we entered the Family Christian Store.  She smiled as our girls got excited about the Christmas tree at the front of the store.  She enjoyed our girls even when they were talking at full volume.  She smiled as Mikayla and Hope brought me almost every Veggietale dvd and said “We have this one!” As she rang up my purchase she said “You have a lovely family!”  I’ll have to admit that her comment caught me off guard. It was the first time that a stranger has told me that I have a lovely family.  I could tell that she truly meant it.  I smiled, I thanked her, and I floated out of the store on cloud nine.

You have a lovely family.  I knew in my heart that what she said is true.  It’s true even though life sometimes doesn’t feel lovely.  There’s nothing lovely about sensory processing disorder.  There’s nothing lovely about having a language disorder.  When I find myself in the middle of the burping and the behavior issues and the therapies it doesn’t feel lovely.  When I spend the majority of the day being a referee and telling our two little lawyers-in-training to stop arguing with each other it doesn’t feel lovely.  When life constantly feels like a series of one strategy after another it doesn’t feel lovely.  And when I’m so tired at the end of the day that I have to ask for help getting the girls to bed it doesn’t feel lovely.

But then God sent a stranger into my life.  She looked at my life and she saw lovely.  She saw our girls find joy in the simplicity of a Christmas tree.  She didn’t mind when our girls were talking much more loudly than they needed to.  She enjoyed watching them get excited over virtually everything that they saw and touched.  And she decided that it was lovely.  And that’s exactly how God looks at each of us.  He sees everything that we go through.  He sees every disorder.  He knows when our behavior needs a little work.  He sees us when we’re irritated, depressed, and ungrateful.  And He still sees lovely.

I didn’t realize when I entered the Family Christian Store that I would receive an early Christmas present.  But I did.  I received a gift from a stranger.  It wasn’t a gift that could be bought or wrapped.  But it was a gift just the same.  Perhaps is was the best gift that I could ever receive.  It was the gift of a lovely family.

Jesus came to fix the broken pieces

As we were decorating the Christmas tree this year, I watched in horror as an ornament tumbled off of the tree, landed on the carpet, and broke.  It was a special ornament because it was a gift from grandma.  I’m extremely sentimental.  I’m amazed that I didn’t cry,  but my heart was heavy because I knew that the ornament was never going to be the same again.

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My husband said he would try to glue the ornament back together, so I picked up the pieces and placed them in my bookcase.   One day as I walked past the broken pieces,  I realized that it was a symbol of the true meaning of Christmas.  Jesus came to this world because we’re all broken.  He wants to put our broken pieces back together and give each of us a new life.  Jesus looks at our brokenness and He says “I can fix that.”

Each of our girls have an ornament like the one that was broken.  I had no idea how I was going to decide which one of the girls would get the broken ornament.  One day Mikayla walked past the ornament and said “Daddy’s gonna fix MY ornament.”  I asked her “You want the broken ornament to be yours?”  She said “Yes, it’s MY ornament.”  I wondered what went on in her mind that made her want the broken ornament.   Most of us look at something that is broken and it has less value than something that is not broken.  Mikayla saw value in that which was broken.  Does she know that sometimes people look at her and they think that she is broken?  I believe that she knows that she is valuable even in the midst of her brokenness.  Jesus looks at us, just like Mikayla looked at the ornament, and He sees value in that which is broken.

Brett glued the ornament back together and it’s new again.  When Jesus comes into our life, He does the same thing. He mends our broken hearts, He heals our hurts, and He makes us new again.

 Therefore, if anyone is in  Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 

~ II Corinthians 5:17 ~

If I look really hard, I can see that the ornament was once broken, but it’s still beautiful.  This is true for our lives as well.  People may look at us and remember that we were once broken.  But they will also see that Jesus is able to take our broken life and make something beautiful out of it.

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A change in our circumstances this past week gave me a small glimpse of another reason that Jesus came to this world.  My husband was sent home from work and within 3 days we were sitting in the hospital waiting for him to have surgery.  A nurse took me to see him before they started the surgery.  I have never seen my husband in a hospital bed, and it was pretty upsetting.  I held his hand and I told him that I would take his place if I could.  If the doctors and nurses had come and said that they were taking me to surgery so that my husband wouldn’t have to go, I would have done it.  I would do that for him because I love him.

God loves each of us so deeply that He sent his Son, Jesus to the cross to take our place.  Jesus was without sin, yet He went to the cross and died for the sins of the whole world.   That kind of love is truly amazing.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins    ~  I John 4:10 ~

I’m so thankful this Christmas season that Jesus came to fix our brokenness and that He loves us enough to take our place.  Jesus is the best gift that we will ever receive.  May each and everyone of you experience the joy that only He can bring.

All I Want for Christmas is a Jar of Jelly

It happened every Christmas.  Grandma always gave us a box of her homemade goodies. The box was full of peanut brittle, bread, grape jelly, and apple jelly.  I loved Grandma’s gift and anticipated it every single year.  I will never forget Grandpa sharing his wisdom with me.  He told me that if I would spread the jelly really thin then my jars would last longer.   He said it with a grin that told me that he preferred to spread his jelly thick because it tastes better that way.

In 1999 our family was devastated when we found out that Grandma had lymphoma.  She passed away in September, only 6 weeks after her diagnosis.  As we neared the Christmas season, my heart ached because Grandma was gone.  Christmas was going to seem empty without her.  How could we have Christmas without Grandma and without jelly?  I decided that I needed to fill in for Grandma and make sure that everyone got jelly for Christmas.  The only problem was that I had no idea how to make jelly.

I came up with a plan.  I asked a wonderful lady named Eva to help me make jelly for my family.  She was absolutely thrilled to help me.  We spent a fun afternoon visiting and making grape jelly.  I was so excited about surprising my family with the jelly.

A few days before Christmas there was a knock on our door.  As I opened the door, there stood my Mom and Dad with a box.  My heart skipped a beat as I realized what was in the box.  It was a box of Grandma’s jelly.  Grandma had made the Christmas jelly before she got sick.  It was a true Christmas miracle.  Grandma had put a label on one of the jars that said  Brett, Patricia, Taylor.   My legal name is Patricia and Grandma & Grandpa were the only ones in the whole world who called me Patricia.  I always secretly wished that they would call me Tricia like everyone else did. But as I saw “Patricia” on the label it was like hearing Grandma say my name one last time.

I sat and stared at my last jar of Grandma’s jelly for months.  I didn’t want to eat it because I knew once it was gone, Grandma could never give me anymore.  But I could hear Grandma saying “Patricia, just eat the jelly.  Don’t let it go to waste”  So, I finally allowed the last jar of Grandma’s jelly to be opened and eaten.  I always made sure to spread it thin, so that the jelly would last longer.

My last jelly jar from Grandma is displayed in my curio cabinet.  It still has the sticker on top that says Brett, Patricia, Taylor.   This year I filled the jelly jar with red jingle bells and have it displayed with our other Christmas decor.

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Every Christmas we load up in the van and go to my Mom and  Dad’s house.  We drive by Grandma and Grandpa’s house on the way, and I always look over at their house and get a lump in my throat.  I miss them and I miss Christmas jelly.  My Grandma had figured out that:

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Grandma’s jelly was special because it didn’t come from a store…..it came from her heart.

My Dad has followed in his mom’s footsteps.  He doesn’t give gifts that come from a store either.  He makes something for his daughters and for his grandchildren each Christmas.  He has made numerous Christmas ornaments and last year, he made each grandchild their wooden name.

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Most Christmas gifts that are bought in a store are torn up or forgotten by the next Christmas.   The best gifts are gifts that are given from the heart.  I can look at all of my Christmas ornaments and always remember that my Dad made them for me.  The grandkids will always remember that their wooden name was made by Grandpa.  I have no idea what we’ll be getting this year, but I know that a special Dad/Grandpa is spending a lot of time crafting something out of wood that his family will treasure forever.