Wednesday, December 26, 2012
I know that many of you are checking in to see what a glorious Christmas we had. You want to see Kai’s smiling face and the excitement as he opened his presents. We certainly had all that. But I’m not in the mood to talk about that. On Christmas afternoon, after we had opened all of our presents and played with some, we drove over to Kai’s aunt house. We usually see her at Hanukkah, but she did not make it this year, and invited us to her house on Christmas instead. She had recently gotten engaged, and this was to be her first Christmas hosting her fiancé's family. We were the first guests to arrive, but it wasn’t long before the others came. This was our first time meeting most of them, including two kids who were near in age to Kai. My wife and I were amazed at how much Kai wanted to interact with them. We don’t see him with other kids too often, but we remember back when he was in preschool that he was very uncomfortable around unfamiliar children and rarely interacted with them. All was good as they chased each other around the house, especially enjoying going down to the “man cave” that Kai’s aunt’s fiancé set up in the basement. In the midst of all that playing, Kai noticed that the Christmas tree had presents beneath it, and he made sure to check each one to find the one with his name on it. “Mine is a small one,” he noticed. I reassured him that good things can come in small packages and forgot about his concern as dinner was served. Kai sat nicely through dinner, though he ate quickly and asked when it would be time to open presents. But he was surprisingly patient and while everyone was finishing their meals, he went to the living room where I heard him chatting to the other kids, first about Jesus Christ, and then, something about the Maccabees. When everyone had finished eating, his aunt gave the go-ahead to start unwrapping presents. Kai’s present was a game called Spoons that you play with a deck of cards and bunch of spoons. It looked like a cute, fun game. The other young boy unwrapped his present. He received an Angry Birds game. Kai was jealous. He loves Angry Birds, and was disappointed that he did not get that present. As the other boy took out the contents of the game, Kai stomped on the box. I pulled him away and told him to stop that. Before I go on, I must mention that Kai’s aunt had already very generously given Kai several gifts for Hanukkah including those “credit cards” that he is anxious to spend. The other kids at the party do not celebrate Hanukkah, so this was the only occasion for them to receive gifts from her. Kai talked about his dissatisfaction with his present. My wife came over and we both tried to show him what a fun game Spoons is. I gave him the plastic spoons that came in the box, but he threw them on the floor. We pulled him aside once more. We quietly explained how his aunt had already given him great presents for Hanukkah, and how he had received so many other presents just that morning. But instead of understanding, he got angrier. He started shouting. “This is a stupid present!” “I hate this party!” “I’m never going to come here again!” And with that, all of our good cheer on Christmas vanished. We thought it was best to leave. Though we did give Kai one last chance at the door to say he would calm down and have dessert. But when he continued to complain, we said our goodbyes and made an abrupt departure. In the car and even after we got home, Kai continued his rant. It frustrated us to no end that he just could not comprehend what awful things he said. Kai’s disappointment with that Christmas present doesn’t begin to compare with our disappointment over his attitude. How can you teach a child about gratitude when he does not seem to feel any in his own heart? Is any of this due to his autism, or have we just failed miserably as parents? Where do we go from here? We told him that Mom would not be taking him to the Lego store today to spend his gift cards. That is a start at teaching him a lesson, but it feels like it will be a long time before he truly learns to appreciate the things he has. Addendum: I wrote the above on my train ride home from work. When I got home, my wife informed me that Kai talked to his aunt on the phone and apologized. I asked him what he told her, and he said he was "sorry for ruining the party and destroying the boy’s present.” Okay, perhaps he learned a bit of a lesson. Still a long way to go, I’m sure. But perhaps my Christmas cheer is starting to creep back just a bit.