I'm hoping to start a new Thanksgiving tradition this year.
Here's why: our current tradition, as it has played out in recent years, typically involves Bud dissolving in a muddle of tears and dysregulation by bedtime. I understand it. I really do. Thanksgiving is a high-build-up, low-pay-off holiday for Bud. It gets bundled as part of "The Holidays" in our national culture, aligning it closely with Christmas, as though it's the first installment of a spectacular series of events, and not just a precursor of spectacular things to come. There's build-up in school, with the promise a long stretch of time off. But, then, when the "big day" comes - well, for Bud, it's usually a whole lot of nothing. No egg hunt and basket. No trick-or-treating. No pile of presents in front of a sparkling tree. Just adults who are distracted making foods he doesn't want to eat, a TV showing parades and sporting events he doesn't want to watch, and, ultimately, a heaping helping of disappointment and let-down.
And, then: Cue the tears.
With memories of Thanksgivings past weighing heavily on my mind, I've spent the past couple of weeks trying to come up with a new Plan A - something to build Bud's day around. There were some built-in challenges to my brainstorming. First, I am still forced to hyper-vigilant about Bud's food intake, which meant that the new "extra special something" could not involve the preparation and consumption of high-calorie treats. Second (and not surprising for anyone familiar with autism), the introduction of new people - either by visiting them or by inviting them to our house - would probably not help, since it might add to the dysregulation instead of diminish it. Third, Bud is not a crafty kid - so the whole "make a Thanksgiving centerpiece out of macaroni, tissue paper and yarn" thing was out. Fourth, I am battling daily to keep the Christmas-frenzy from overtaking him full-tilt (a battle I am not sure I'm winning, incidentally), so I wanted to avoid anything that might even HINT at Christmas-preparation. And fifth, I really wanted to avoid turning Thanksgiving into yet another present-getting occasion, as our festivals of consumption are plentiful enough.
So, working around all of those potential landmines, here's we're we've landed: Bud and I will be having an indoor camp-out. On Thursday, in between the potato mashing and the table-clearing, we'll be turning the playroom into the great outdoors: setting up the tent, rolling out the sleeping bags, and firing up the battery-powered lanterns. We'll have stacks of books, lots of pillows, and, I imagine, a gathering of stuffed friends around us. We'll pop some popcorn and eat marshmallows that we've pretended to roast on an open fire that I imagine we'll make out of paper.
The plan is still forming, of course, so I'm open to suggestions of additional ways to make the day special - camping-related or not. So, please - send your ideas this way. They may become part of our Thanksgiving tradition for many years to come.