This Halloween, we drove to a neighbourhood where I knew it would be filled with young families who lived at houses with short driveways; two prerequisites for successful trick-or-treating with two boys with short attention spans.
I wasn't taking any risks and a lot of math went into my decision: 13 years of Halloweens with about a 70% success rate (cut that in half if you consider that usually one boy out of two never made it past the first house); two hours of preparation and coaching before each outing; five pounds showing on Mom's scale every year after devouring all the collected candy that the boys didn't eat; one year of regret for giving up on the holiday and realizing it was a mistake.
My thirteen-year old boys, 'O' and 'W', are twins and they both have autism. To be completely honest, the best way to sum up how Halloweens have gone for my boys each year is that it's been a whole lot of fuss for a photo op and a checkmark on the good parenting checklist for my effort.
And each November 1st, as I scrolled through Facebook and clicked 'Like' on fellow parents' photos of their costumed kiddos and watch the 'Likes' rack up for my own, I felt more and more guilty that I put the boys through all that angst for something they just didn't really seem to care about.
Fighting O to keep his costume on and to take off his iPad headphones and trying to motivate them both to go through the motions of walking to people's doors to collect candy they don't even eat just started to seem pretty pointless.
"After 13 years of nothing coming easy, 13 years of aforementioned preparation and coaching, and teaching and coping and surviving and striving and advocating and fighting and praying.. I got tired."
So a few years ago, Halloween started turning into one of those holidays that we just didn't pay too much attention to. Costumes were still purchased, pumpkins still came home from school, but I never even mentioned the word Halloween until the day of, and I was indifferent to walking out our door to trick and treat our way up the street.
But instead of feeling like I had honoured my boys' (silent/non-verbal) wishes to forego this silly holiday tradition, I felt that nagging Mama guilt that seems to follow me every step of the way of my journey as I parent these kids.
Because recently, I have become aware that something seems to be happening in our little autism family bubble. I'll name it Autism Fatigue. After 13 years of nothing coming easy, 13 years of aforementioned preparation and coaching, and teaching and coping and surviving and striving and advocating and fighting and praying.. I got tired.
So having two non-verbal boys who appear pretty indifferent themselves to all things holiday-related, it was easy to just let it go. But when I took stock of how many other things I had just let go, I realized that my Autism Fatigue might be more of a catalyst than the boys' lack of enthusiasm.
I had dropped the effort to continue Christmas traditions like decorating gingerbread houses and getting their pictures taken with Santa, I didn't even bother to wrap gifts anymore because they didn't seem to care about unwrapping them.
With all the unpleasant stinky, hormonal changes that come with puberty and the teenage years, a new maturity and understanding also seems to have arrived with my boys. With 'W', I don't seem to have to spoon-feed him information like I used to have to; he seems to be putting things together all by himself.
About a month ago, he was pestering for something he saw on the Internet that he wanted me to buy for him. I told him that he would have to wait until Christmas. Next thing you know, he shows up in the kitchen dressed head to toe in a full Santa costume he had found in the crawl-space, booming "Merry Christmas everyone!" By golly, he gets it! Time to shake the sleep out of my eyes and get these guys back into the game -- and for me to get back into making memories.
So we rounded up one avocado and one banana costume; we painted one pumpkin and carved a couple more at school; we counted down the days on the calendar until we hit October 31st. With our loot bags in hand, we wove through the throngs of miniature superheroes and princesses and I shadowed my boys and prompted their "trick-or-treats" and "thank-you's" on Halloween Night.
My 5"2 boys (and their 5"4 Mama) have taken 13 years to figure out what Halloween is all about and appreciate each treat that lands itself in that loot bag. I am grateful to every homeowner who greeted my boys with a smile and compassion and who seemed to understand that their age and size didn't represent kids who were milking Halloween's freebie candy beyond the appropriate age limit.
I really believe that we are all just catching on to what the boys have been trying to tell me along -- that Halloween is worth the effort.
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