Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Breaking with tradition

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.

17 comments:

kristenspina said...

Just a wacky thought: why not create a Thank You Note scavenger hunt. Each thank you (or I'm grateful for...) note could be a clue to lead Bud to the next note. And finally, at the end, the payoff could be a favorite photo you have of the two of you framed for his room, or a new song/app for his iPod. Not a big gift... just a thanks for being you gift.

Lydia said...

Does he like to read? Thanksgiving books from the library, perhaps?

Maybe take a "fall leaves" walk or bike ride or skate?

*m* said...

I love Kristen's idea. Along similar lines: We once made paper trees (just a brown trunk sketched on a paper) and covered it with paper leaves. On each leaf, we wrote something for which we were thankful. Might be a nice thing to do over the course of the day/night, and in keeping with your outdoorsy theme.

Have a happy one!

Anonymous said...

I like to think of Thanksgiving as a harvest holiday. Maybe there is a way to connect him to that, without it being about treats? I imagine root vegetables aren't his favorite thing either, like most kids, but maybe there is something in that realm he likes? How about buying a bushel of apples to store and eat throughout the winter? Something along those lines, that it represents getting set up for winter -- not christmas, winter.

Sue

Anonymous said...

I like the ideas about writing notes about what you're thankful for, and the tree too. I understand this might not be possible for everyone but I live in SoCal and I like to go on a hike on Thanksgiving. I have also thought about visiting the zoo on Thanksgiving Day. It will be virtually empty, but the animals get special Thanksgiving treats.

Victoria

MOM-NOS said...

These are great ideas! Thanks, everyone. (And please keep them coming!)

Eileen said...

How about along the lines of the thank you notes, but keeping with the camping theme, you can make fishing poles and catch paper fish that have thankful notes written on. You can use magnets on the end of the fishing poles and put a paper clip on the fish to catch with. Or if you have one of those magnet puzzles with the fishing pole already made, better yet.

Enjoy the Great Thanksgiving Campout of 2010!!!

VTBudFan said...

Glow-in-the-dark stars for your camp-out!

Guitar around the campfire!

Anonymous said...

Maybe a pilgrim hat and an Indian head-dress just to connect the traditional Thanksgiving theme? And maize-popcorn! This camp-in could be the beginning of your annual Maize Craze tradition. If you don't mind a little (lot) clean-up, you could possibly pile some autumn leaves around your tent.

adiaryofamom said...

omg, now i so want to have an indoor camp-in and fish for thank you notes!

my brooke loves watching charlie brown thanksgiving, so that's one of our traditions. though it did get us in trouble a couple of years back when she started yelling in the middle of dinner, "You call this a thanksgiving feast? where's the toast? where's the mashed potatoes? where's the JELLO?", so maybe not the best plan. stick to fishing for gratitude.

Christine said...

We dealt with this a couple of years ago. Not for the same reasons though: mostly I just found that the old holiday traditions didn't fit the needs of our family. So for the past three years we've turned the day into one of service. We help prepare, serve and clean at the local homeless shelter. Each of us takes part as we can and each year the day seems to hold more meaning.

AmyLK said...

I LOVE the fish for thank you notes idea! I will have to steal that one for our day!

Spectrum Mom said...

These are great ideas, thanks for them and to you for bringing up this problem of the holiday. My boy is now mature enough for the non-denominational Thanksgiving Service I grew up with, but unfortunately around here it was on Tuesday night. The idea of community service is actually another struggle because my son's challenges sure don't lend themselves to serving others, but we have come up with picking up litter as we hike.

Niksmom said...

Wow, I LOVE this idea of a new tradition that's NOT about gift giving or consumerism. I hope you had/have a wonderful time.

I might have to try this next year for my immediate family and just skip the whole dinner with grandparents, aunts, cousins, etc who just don't get it.

Bea said...

I know! You guys should move to Canada! We have a much more low-key approach to Thanksgiving up here AND we get it all over with in early October.

But I guess that would be more Plan B, right?

Jenny said...

Our Thanksgiving was quiet, with Nana as our one guest. The night before she came over to watch Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving which ended in a very keyed-up spectrum child. However, actual T-giving Day went quite well, with him being able to do projects w/Nana when little brother rested. It was so nice not to have to cater to other people and wonder how my son was influencing the day.

I love that you are able to make your own T-giving and not worry about expectations of others. By the picture you posted, it looks like it was a success. Congratulations!

Jaxmom said...

That is too funny! A few weeks ago, trying to include my 10 yo with major food issues in the Thanksgiving plans, I asked him what he'd like to eat for the big feast. "Bread, olives and sparkling cider." How much simpler cooking Thanksgiving dinner would be if we followed his menu!