As the holidays approach, I am reminded of all of the times I've opened gifts for my oldest daughter, Gwen. It's been nine Christmases now.
With the big day being less than 30 days away, I'm anticipating opening gifts for my youngest child just like I'd done with Gwen. She and Gwen are both children with cerebral palsy.
This means that those tiny moments when the anticipation of opening presents intersects with physically getting to open them, doesn't happen - at least in the traditional way.
When Gwen was three all of the 'toys' she received started changing from being 'play toys' to being therapeutic ones. I remember all of the age-appropriate ratings on the toy packaging stirring up reminders of the failed (albeit standard) milestones that Gwen didn't reach.
Every time I read the big white letters printed inside the even larger red starbursts, I would feel loss, even during the height and joy of the holidays. The packages read “ages three and under, ages three-plus or only for children five and above.” Each gift I opened usually meant more big blatant letters and starbursts.
Over the years, Gwen would get more three-and-under toys than I'd like to think about, many of which we still have. I've watched her younger sisters play with these toys as recently as last week, and keep replaying my memories of some of those earliest family Christmas gatherings.
At that time, I used to focus too often on aspects of loss that I was dealing with while often making Christmas time more bittersweet than it needed to be.
Once I focused more on Gwen, seeing that she loved to receive and open presents, I forgot about the age-ratings on the toy packaging, and also saw that she really didn't care that she wasn't actually opening the gifts. Most importantly, I made the shift from letting my 'adult problems' interfere with my child's enjoyment (something I still have to constantly remind myself of).
As I look ahead, I'm guessing that there will be times when I need to embrace my own feelings of loss. However, I do think the second time is easier with my youngest daughter – after all she is not Gwen and I am a much different person than I was in those memories.
These kinds of details, those that so many other parents and families don't get to experience, unite families like mine (and maybe yours, too). Most importantly they remind me that the holidays are about feeling connected with my children.
While this year I know I'll be opening gifts for my daughters, I wonder what you'll be doing. What are your families' non-traditional Christmas traditions?
Tim Gort is a writer, public speaker and advocate who shares his personal challenges and triumphs of being a father of three, two with cerebral palsy, at the family’s bog.