I’m tired from last night. We celebrate the “birthday” not just on the day when you’re born, but at the minute you were born. That means that Ray finally got to eat cake and ice cream and open presents at 8:55 last night. I got flowers from James. There was much giddiness, much excitement over the Lego set and the goldfish aquarium, and walking of friends home- friends who were up past their bedtimes, too. Much excitement much too late. And it’s our tradition. Thank goodness, all of us were born during the day. No nighttime babies in this family.
We’ve moved- a lot. Elizabeth has lived in 8 houses in 9 years.
- The duplex house she was born in.- Retirement community
- The ranch house we moved into right before Ray was born- Palm trees, a pool, live oaks
- The Cape Cod house in Indiana, PA- Cute, in the middle of town
- The Colonial house in RI- on a hill, cold
- The lovely Victorian on Cherokee Road- that burned six weeks after we got there
- The ranch on Yale that was too small but had a pool table
- The turn-of-the century house on Speed that had the retreat upstairs
- The slightly contemporary house here in GA on the circle of children
We’ve followed James around in his various consulting jobs; we’ve had houses that just didn’t work, and we’ve had houses burn up. The children know architectural styles. We all know how to pack a box. We’ve learned how to take down furniture and figure out where it goes in a new place, a new configuration.
When we move, we not only bring the couches- once white and now vaguely spotted gray- and the bookshelves that sag a little more each time, and the dining table. We also haul autism around. And children with autism love consistency. They love structure. They love routine. They do not love changing houses.
And so we have VERY strong, VERY firm traditions. We celebrate birthdays on the minute. We have Christmas ornaments from our various travels. We have Vicki over for Thanksgiving and Dampa for Christmas. We watch the sunsets on the Solstices. We bake Vasilopita cake for New Years. The Easter Bunny and Santa Claus can always find us. James brings me flowers on the children’s birthdays. We open Christmas presents from each other on Christmas Eve and Santa comes f0r Christmas morning (and Santa doesn’t wrap, either, which is always nice for immediate gratification). We have turkey and jellied cranberries for Thanksgiving. We use the “good” china and the “real” silverware for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. We try to have Pizza/Movie nights most Friday nights.
Traditions provide us with a way of providing structure for the children, for us. We can remember how old the children were by remembering the background of certain traditions. That Christmas when Ray was so sick…? Oh yes, that was the house with the Christmas tree next to the big patio doors… it must have been the Florida house… he must have been 1. I love to hear the children gasp when they decorate the Christmas tree and say “Oh, I remember when we got this…”, when they see the familiar in the new. As they make connections between past and present.
The other day, Elizabeth was talking about her friend Emily, and with a tone of amazement, she said “Did you know that Emily has only lived in one house her whole life?”
“How do you feel about that?” I asked cautiously.
“I feel sorry for her,” she said. ”That would be boring!”
Despite the upheaval that frequent moving brings and the feelings of being set adrift, I can say that it’s been a weird form of therapy for all of us. That no matter how much things change, some things stay the same. That it is so important to be consistent.
The sense of building and holding onto traditions has also helped root us in our marriage. A friend of mine said once that after an accident in which he was hurt because of a foolish risk he took, “No child deserves to feel that their world is that unsteady”. James and I work hard, very hard sometimes, very, very hard sometimes, at providing a sense of stability for our children. It’s hard, especially when the outside world has other ideas, autism has other ideas, or our own frustrations, angers, jobs, etc. have other ideas. We don’t always win. We don’t always succeed. But we try. Last birthday of Ray’s, I had to be in KY for teaching, so I flew in for the day and flew out- at 6:00pm. The year before, James was in CA doing consulting and couldn’t come at all. This year- this year, we were all together.
So last night, when Ray knew that he was not going to get to open his presents until 8:55, not 8:54, not 8:00, but 8:55, he glowed with the thrill of it all. He opened up his Lego set (the beach house, but of course!) on an old table, in a new room, with less light than last year, because we’re on the eastern side of the Eastern time zone, not the western edge like the last few years. He had Andrew over, not Jack. James and I were both there. And it was still 8:54, and the 8 candle was alight on the ice cream cake- the candle that was passed down from Elizabeth when she turned 8 last year. We have kept the candles from 1-9, used twice, except for the 9. Ray looks longingly at that 9 candle, so recently used for Elizabeth’s birthday. He knows it’ll be on his cake next year… hopefully here, but the same candle. This year, he gets the 8 candle.