Whatever you are doing, wherever you are….STOP!!!
Take a deep breath and slowly breathe that breath out as you prepare yourself for what I am about to tell you. Here it is….THE WORLD IS ABOUT TO CHANGE. For many of you who are like me (Mama Maremma) and who constantly monitor news regarding climate change, this may not surprise you. The change I am talking about however involves the season we are all about to be (or already are) engulfed in. This season is called Christmas, which also includes New Year and for those of us in Australia, school holidays.
So what changes?
PEOPLE: All of a sudden, everyone desperately needs to “catch up” with you. This can of course be flattering, but strangely enough, I have been in the same place all year and this sudden desperation from people to seek my company adds a lot of hype to the atmosphere of the world.
SHOPPERS: A saying from my childhood springs to mind when I think of people shopping during this season…. “Headless Chooks”! I certainly don’t mean to offend any headless chooks out there, but the image of a chook with a goal to shop, shop, shop seems to describe the shopping situation. There is an overwhelming need to buy the perfect gift for every member of the family, neighbours, friends and even the postie, aiming to be inducted into the “Gift Giver Hall of Fame”. Frenzy is added to the world.
LIGHTS: Just when we have all committed to (or are trying to, or maybe thinking of) reducing our use of technology and shutting down devices early in the evening to allow time for our minds to calm before sleep, December comes and everywhere we look we are hit with lights, lights and lights. Coloured lights, white lights, flashing lights, rotating lights and of course the latest hit….lightshows in sync with music, but not necessarily Christmas music. So, our world is now aglow with more and more overstimulating un-natural light.
MUSIC AND DECORATIONS: A quick outing to collect essential items at the shops can bring with it an inundation to our ears and eyes, through music and decorations. Music telling us how wonderful Christmas is and all the great things that have and will happen, often fill us with a feeling of hopelessness as we realise that when we care for someone living with FASD, the reality is vastly different. The decorations not only can be overstimulating, but are too tempting for fingers that are unable to control themselves from touching, smelling and then often breaking those brightly coloured artificial adornments. For many, there is a sudden need to hibernate and shut themselves off from the world until the “season” is over. Hopelessness is a common feeling.
INTERACTIONS: Earlier and earlier in December, the first thing most people seem to blurt out of their mouth is “Are you all organised for Christmas?”. All of a sudden, thoughts run through my mind of what things I am supposed to be doing to be “organised”. Do I need to fill all my cupboards full of supplies to last well into the next year? Should our family hold an Emergency Management Meeting to prepare for the event? Enter into the world…desperation.
EXPECTATIONS: This is a biggy!! There are SO MANY expectations about the BIG DAY for those living with FASD:
- What will we be doing?
- Who will be there?
- What food will there be?
- What presents will I get and can you write down this list of things I want please?
- What time (exactly) will we be leaving or will people be arriving?
- I want things to be exactly like they were when..(insert exact date, time and place)
EXPECTATIONS FROM OTHERS:
- Behaviour needs to be acceptable and not embarrassing.
- Let them eat whatever they want, because after all it’s Christmas.
- Let them do whatever they want, they’re only kids. (This is pre-meltdown of course)
- Only appropriate language can be used and information shared must also be appropriate. Obviously bad language can be a problem, but some people just aren’t keen to hear about the history of toilets….strange about that!
Imagine being a person living with FASD and being bombarded with all of the above. In some cases, this can be over and over again. It is hard enough living and surviving in our “jungle” of a world on an ordinary day, but all of the additional sensory overload from the lead up to Christmas and on the day, leads to behaviour escalation, which results in additional stress for the person living with FASD and those who care for them. HOW DO WE GET THROUGH IT???
I wish there was some magic Christmas dust I could sprinkle that would create a “bubble” to shield us from all the stresses that come from the changes of this season. I know I can’t, but it helps me to imagine! Instead, I will share my strategies that are not solutions, but help me to reduce the impact of the changes in this world during the month of December for my child, for me and for my family.
- Pure management. Every day is completely ordered (as much as possible) and if we don’t need to attend an activity, we DON’T. Over many years of trying to make sure my child doesn’t miss out on the things other children get to experience and then suffering the aftermath of behavioural outbursts, I have FINALLY realised, it is not worth it. I will never receive an award for the most attended Christmas parties and functions, but I will enjoy quality time at home with my child.
- Enjoy being yourself and enjoy your child. This is not meant to be a warm and fuzzy statement, but instead a realistic goal. I don’t set high expectations of what we will achieve, but instead aim for enjoying the good things that happen each day, knowing that there will be many difficult moments and challenges. I work hard to build on the good moments and use the memory of them like a treasure chest, recalling and thinking of them during the not so good moments.
- Set up for success. Using management and strategies, I put extra emphasis on eliminating anything that could de-rail a positive outcome. If I can arrange for someone else to run errands for me, I do. I break down household chores into bite size pieces, so that I can constantly interact with my child, as he is unable to entertain himself for long on his own at any time, but at this time of year it is even less. The little things such as these, make a BIG difference.
- Constantly take deep breaths. The other night in bed, my husband said to me, “Wow…that was a big breath!” I had not even realised that it was….I had been holding on to it for so long, just taking short breaths whilst getting through my day. I realised that I REALLY need to purposely breathe throughout the day, which will help me to relax more and hopefully send some great relaxing vibes to my child!
I’d like to share a quote with you that I often recite to myself as I’m faced with the many challenges each day brings….
I look forward to hearing your angelic voices, singing your way through this season of change.
Mama Maremma is a full-time carer for her child who is living with FASD. She likens herself to the Maremma breed of dog who are renowned as guardians and protectors.
Read more Preparing for Christmas strategies by NOFASD Australia.