Sunday, December 19, 2010


This morning, we packed up the kids and headed to the local shopping mall for the annual Santa visit. Like almost every family I know, this is something we do every year. Daniel strongly believes in Santa and had already sent a letter to The North Pole detailing the many gifts that he would like to receive this year. And, even though they don't see things that way, Rachel and Simon have become familiar with the concept of "Santa Claus" even if they don't seem to realize that they can request specific gifts, between television, school, their older brother, etc.

But for the last 3 years, we have brought these 3 kids (together) to Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg, MD to see Santa Clause. We've also been purchasing the "USB thumbdrive" with the pictures every year, regardless of how they turn out. In our minds, this is a good way to chronicle the experience and any improvements/regressions for this traditional experience. The first year it went pretty much as expected. We had no clue that the twins were on the spectrum at that point and, even though they weren't cooperative, they were less than 2 years old and they were crabby and not cooperative. Also, we were beginning our experiments of walking through public places without strollers as early practice for our planned vacation to Walt Disney World. We didn't think anything of their behavior. We assumed they were upset because we weren't allowing them to run all over the place. And we felt that it was relatively normal for kids to be apprehensive at that age.

Last year, it was a minor nightmare, and this time we knew what we were dealing with so we were mentally prepared for problems. We were hoping for (but not expecting) better this year. But this is one of the few things that we do pretty much on a whim, with absolutely no preparation (of the kids that is). We don't want to bring it up in case we change our minds if the line is too long or their behavior has us turn around to go home. If we were to say where we were going and begin the work in preparing them, that would just lead to disappointment for Daniel if for no one else.

Just because we don't prepare the kids for the experience doesn't mean that we don't get things set up for ourselves. Last night, we went online to learn when (1) the mall was opening for shoppers and (2) the hours that Santa would be in his "workshop". We were happy to learn that the mall was opening at 9:00 and that Santa would begin seeing kids at 11. That gave us time to get to the mall, walk around, perhaps do a little shopping (and get Rachel into the bathroom before dressing her in tights [MUCH harder to do "potty runs" in tights]) and still be on line early enough to have as short of a wait as possible. We arrived at the mall around 10:15 or so and made a stop or two on our way to the center of the mall where Santa's Workshop had been set up. There was already a small queue (only about 4 families). Kevin and I looked at each other and he took Rachel and got on line (at this point it's about 10:30). I took Daniel into a store to get him a nice sweater for the mandatory pictures. Simon was already dressed and Rachel would be changed when I brought her to the bathroom after returning to the line. Simon didn't want to stand around the store, but he was all right. We found a nice sweater for Daniel, made the purchase, and joined Kevin and Rachel on line. Time is ticking away.

It's time to take Rachel to the bathroom. Kevin has already pulled out his iPhone and is playing a video for Simon which is keeping him entertained. Daniel is just excited and is behaving reasonably well. Rachel and I head off to the bathroom and we get her dressed and ready. Then we get back there and she heads straight to the little boy in front of us in line and starts playing with him. It's now closing in on 10:45 so we still have 15 minutes to wait. But the time is passing with little to no fuss. Between the 2 iPhones, the kids in front and behind us, singing songs, and just in general being silly, we pass the time and we get to go into the workshop. And we only have a short wait since there are only a few families ahead of us.

When it's almost our turn to see Santa, I inform the woman working there that both of the twins are on the spectrum. I'm hoping that perhaps they have some tricks to help them to minimize the trauma that we experienced last year. Fortunately for us, her own son is also on the spectrum so she understood exactly what our concerns were and she had us come in and allowed Rachel and Simon to acclimate to Santa a bit more slowly. It only took a few minutes and then Rachel climbed into Santa's lap!!!!! Once that happened, we got moving and we got 4 decent pictures taken. Daniel was able to tell Santa the one thing that he had forgotten to include in his letter that he wanted for Christmas (a scarf) and we went off to sit on the side while Kevin paid for and received our USB key. All 3 kids were given lollipops for doing such a good job and Daniel and Rachel were both anxious to have theirs. When we offered it to Simon, he didn't want it and just went over to the top of the steps to play with the mulch. But he did such a good job with Santa, we weren't going to worry about it. He needed to do something that made him comfortable.

So this was our most successful Santa visit to date. Hopefully next year will continue where this year left off, but perhaps it won't. Either way, we will continue to do this. They deserve to visit Santa Claus every year, just like all the other kids. And I get to keep the memories (the good and the bad).

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