The holidays can be hard on a marriage.
On top of jobs and taxes and kid stuff like math facts and teacher conferences, there’s wrapping paper.
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For years, I raced around searching for wrapping paper. I sat in our basement, surrounded by scissors and tape, and alternated between Santa patterns.
Then we have wreaths.
Travel to see family.
We hang lights. We set up the tree. We buy matching pajamas. We take family photos. We try to make it all perfect.
Our son Jack has autism. He is nineteen.
He was diagnosed when he was a toddler. It was early November, between Halloween and Thanksgiving. None of it felt real that chilly afternoon—not the chairs in the waiting room, or the doctor’s tender gaze, or the words hanging heavy in the air.
Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Our son had a disorder.
I called my husband Joe and told him. He was quiet for a moment. Then he suggested we get pizza for dinner.
Life alongside autism can feel like a lot of broken dreams piled up on top of each other.
Last summer we dropped Jack off at a college program, and Joe openly sobbed.
On the ride home, he ran his hands through his hair, worrying that he never showed Jack how to get out of the building if there was a fire. I worried I didn’t buy enough socks.
We worry about different things.
Joe’s grief is internal. It is strictly after-hours, on the couch, when the house is asleep.
Mine is loud. It takes up space. It fills the room. It is a daylight affair.
We are different, and yet we are the same.
You are going to argue this holiday season. I am sorry to say it. But how can you not?
The holidays take the everyday, ordinary pressures of life and add Elf on a Shelf.
I can’t tell you how many car rides home Joe and I sat in stony silence because a holiday didn’t go well. It didn’t go according to plan.
We watched Jack openly reject gifts and in general, act quirky and defensive.
And I’d think to myself, why? Why does everything have to be so hard?
Why does everyone else have it all together while we give each other the silent treatment?
What if I’m not enough? What if I can’t do this?
I can’t say these things out loud.
I can only whisper them to Joe, under the covers, late at night, after the meal and the gravy and the glares and the shame.
This year, choose each other.
Choose each other for late-night confessions and heartfelt conversations.
Do all the things we didn’t do.
Forgive the small slights, the petty resentments, the little irritations.
When it comes to wrapping paper, the right wreath, the perfect pajamas, the arguments, ask yourself three questions.
Will this matter in five minutes? Five days? Five years?
Dance in the kitchen.
When the day feels long and insurmountable, order pizza for dinner.
The problem is, we want a plan. We want a plan for life, for parenthood, for autism, for wrapping paper.
There is no plan.
There is simply this beautifully messy thing called a family.
There is no such thing as perfect.
The truth is, kids don’t remember any of that anyway.
They remember the bloopers.
They remember running through the airport, trying to make the plane.
The year you burned the turkey, how you sang in the car, the time the tree fell over on the floor.
They will remember your silhouettes in the kitchen, holding, clasping, trying, laughing.
Make new dreams out of the pieces. This is the only thing we can do. This is our surrender, our survival, our breath of blue fresh air.
Find your language.
Hold the tender moments dear.
Sometimes, in this wildly ordinary life we call our own, they are all we have.
Nothing is real until I tell it to Joe.
You are enough.
You can do this.
The chairs were blue. In the waiting room. Blue with a pattern. I will remember them for the rest of my life.