Home > Community, Events, Recommendations, Social Activities > 5 hours til dawn; 4 more gifts to wrap, 3 tired kids, 2 are still awake, and the organ was playing too loud: how we feel gratitude this holiday season

5 hours til dawn; 4 more gifts to wrap, 3 tired kids, 2 are still awake, and the organ was playing too loud: how we feel gratitude this holiday season

**Updated on 12/7/11**

Christmas in NYC has been one of my favorite things about moving to the city – the light displays, the skating rinks, the sidewalk tree stands. But with small children even the best of holiday intentions can turn into chaos. Add a special needs child to the mix and the spiked eggnog becomes more necessity than festivity. So it will come as no surprise that with two toddlers and a disabled preteen many of our family efforts at tradition have only been successful in creating stories that will be retold for years to come.

Something as simple and beautiful as Christmas mass can be a nightmare for a child with autism or sensory issues. There are lights and decorations everywhere, extra people (lots), noise and music, even strange smells. And the holiday services are much longer than usual. Much, much longer. By the end of the evening (or well before), James has his hands over his ears, a coat over his head, or is asking “is it almost over?” in his not-so-subtle worried voice. The organ is too loud, the music is too “sad,” the incense is too smelly, it is too hot, a baby is crying too much. And God forbid there is a brass quartet or a Christmas pageant. Add to that not one, but two toddlers climbing seats, rolling on the floor, screeching, whining, spilling fruit snacks and grapes underneath the pew, fighting over books, and a beloved family tradition begins to resemble  anything but tidings of joy.

Then there have been the unforgettables – the Christmas Eve that James, thinking he had discovered a secret chocolate stash, inhaled an entire bar of ex-lax. Or the children’s mass that invited kids up for a front row view of the pageant – I don’t think they envisioned my 2 yr old gleefully riding another child around the altar as part of the play. Or my personal favorite, the Christmas Eve toilet explosions (yes, plural). Among James’s special needs is a plethora of medical issues, one being megacolon (even worse than it sounds). As we found out the hard way, megacolon and prewar plumbing don’t mix.

Despite it all, wrapping presents at 3am on Christmas Eve is always special, even though we are dead tired. There’s something magical about turning around as we finally head to bed and taking one last look at the gifts spilling out from the glow of our Christmas tree – the tree that we excitedly picked out at W. 99th and Broadway and spent hours decorating. There’s even something endearing about being woken up 2 hours later by our ridiculously delighted children. And there is nothing quite so cozy and heartwarming as staying in all day, watching the children open presents, preparing and enjoying a big feast and watching Christmas movies replay on TV, all in our pajamas, and all together as a family.

We consider ourselves very, very lucky. We want our kids to know that there is no amount of tears, ex-lax, altar rodeos, plumbing crises or spilled fruit snacks that will change how amazingly blessed we feel to be their parents, and how simply happy we are to be in this family.

The best way we can think to pass this feeling of gratitude on to our children is to show them the joy of giving. And what better season to demonstrate this tradition? Though our children are still young we have started in small ways – participating in toy drives with scouts, baking holiday treats to pass out to the homeless in our area (and tucking a little $ into the box), organizing Christmas caroling and inviting neighbors to join us for hot chocolate and cookies afterward.

This year we’re kicking it up a notch. On December 16th we are collecting non-perishable food items, household goods, and wrapping gifts for families in need at a local shelter. Many families at this shelter have been touched by domestic violence and have children with special needs. One particular family is a mother with three children, ages 14, 11 and 8, all of whom have some kind of mental health, medical and educational needs. However, the more items we collect the more families and children we can provide for at this city shelter – consider that a challenge!

My day-to-day struggles pale in comparison to having special needs children (or any children) without a home, financial and emotional security, a loving family, even a warm holiday meal. It is my deepest wish that my own children grow up experiencing the pure, simple joy that comes from helping others in need, and some of my proudest moments as a parent come from observing how naturally James shares with others already.

So, do you want to help make someone’s holiday a little bit more merry, a little more worry-free? Please consider bringing a donation to the next meeting of The Foorce (see below for ideas and specific requests by the children). Or if you prefer, you can provide a treat for the volunteers to enjoy, help wrap gifts, or make a card to send along with the care package. The meeting is on December 16th at 9:00AM in the cafeteria of PS 163 (163 W. 97th Street). Can’t make the meeting but still want to help? Email me and I will let you know where you can send donations and gifts.

It is my sincere wish that the gift of giving touches you and your family this season and that you have a happy, magical holiday!


Gift/Donation Ideas (this list will be updated as I find out more details about the family so check back often):

Canned goods (vegetables, tomato sauce, soups)

Dry baking mixes (breads, cakes, cookies, pancakes)

Uncooked Pasta, all kinds


Shampoo, soap, toothpaste, other toiletries

Hats, scarves, gloves (can be new or gently used, clean and in good condition)

Clothing: for children ages infant through 16 years old. Some specific sizes requested are Misses size 7, Boys size 16 and Girls sizes 14/16, but all children’s clothing is needed. **Clothing can be new or gently used (clean and in good condition only, please).

Gift cards (one of the most versatile donations for families): local grocery stores (for perishable goods), drug stores, barber shops (everyone needs a haircut!), Target, Barnes and Noble (specifically requested), movie theaters, Toys R Us

Family gifts: PG movies, board or card games for ages 5-14 (email me if you need ideas), arts and crafts supplies

  1. December 2, 2011 at 8:45 am

    And yes, the title should be sung to the “Twelve Days of Christmas” for optimal enjoyment 🙂

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