Steffan and I had three aspirations when it came to ‘Firsts’ for Ash and Christmas this year. Two of them have now been met with enough success that they aren’t even bittersweet. The first involved getting Ash to help us decorate the tree. The second involved taking him to see Santa for the first time.
This year there were “Sensitive Santa” events all over the country, something I find exciting, heartwarming, and a big relief. We didn’t have one we could get to, but a fairly new local venue advertised having a Santa, and after calling ahead I discovered that their special feature was getting almost no traffic, and had a minimalist set up. That sounded workable.
Last night, Ash was really excited by the idea. He wanted to meet Santa, yes. Santa was a “magical man” (this is currently the most important part of the Santa mythos for him). He hoped there would be reindeer too. …Naturally, this morning Ash triggered himself with his own excitement, and then couldn’t handle the idea. We spent several hours with him short-circuiting over the idea, going back and forth from second to second about whether or not he wanted to go. I started getting a tad dejected, knowing full well that as soon as it was too late and daddy had to leave for work, Ash would end up being able to settle his mind, and would really want to go — but we’d have run out of chances to pull it off this year. Thankfully, Ash’s desire for, “Mommy needs to be happy agAIN!”, combined with his amusement over the sounds I made when hubby poked me, distracted him enough to break him out of the mental loop he was stuck going around. We finished getting him ready, and off we went.
There was one toddler interacting with Santa as we approached, who left before we got there. By the time Ash’s giddy prance slowed with tentative consideration, the area was clear. The set-up was distinctly in its early stages. There was just Santa sitting on a box covered with gold cloth, his back to the “Christmas Train” enclosure, and a basket of miniature candy canes next to him. There were no lights or music that weren’t spread out in the larger environment, and no thematic props. Ash was immediately disappointed that there weren’t any reindeer, but aside from that, I think the spartan planning was probably for the best, since it was also Ash’s first time even attempting one of these things.
Ash spent a minute or two slowly and hesitantly crossing the last few yards to Santa. Theory and reality are two very different things for him, because the latter is incomparable and unpredictable when it comes to what his processing and sensory experience will be like, regardless of what the input is. Santa had good instincts, and just quietly smiled and slowly waved, and waited. I got Ash to agree that I was going to talk to Santa first, so he could see that it was ok. Naturally, I gave Santa some heads-up when I did. Santa continued to be good about things.
In fact, Santa was better about adapting to my special needs child than he was at being Santa. It was his first time, too, and the gig had been something of a whim. Maybe because he thought it wouldn’t matter, but I think largely because he was not settled into the acting groove yet, this Santa reflexively pulled down his beard to talk, and said some rather out-of-context things like, “You know, this is my first time with the whole Santa thing, too. I’m a biker.” Ash being Ash, and his grip on any sort of details involved in the idea of Santa being rather fresh and new this year, none of this bothered him a bit. He will remember it forever, of course, and it might make his next Santa experience require a little more improvised explaining, but….ah well.
Once he’d acclimated to the reality of the idea, he had a nice time meeting Santa, even if Santa did say some strange things and have a loose beard. Santa didn’t really have a lap, because of what he was perched on, but Ash stood right next to him and they hugged. When he couldn’t carry on the traditional dialogue, Santa immediately switched gears and started singing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” to him. They probably spent about 15 minutes being freestyle cute with each other, before another child was brought close by her parents.
Ash didn’t mind leaving, to give the next kid a turn with Santa. Of course, it helped that the Christmas train was right there. I was a little annoyed with that feature, because:
1) The price per ticket was higher than what the website had told me. Considering I was buying the ticket with spare change, this was very nearly an even touchier point.
2) The glum and slightly surly gate-mistress had zero intention of letting a parent in or on unless they bought a ticket too, and no matter that this was a special needs child who also happened to be the only child in line at the time.
3) The same why-is-she-working-a-Christmas-attraction-for-kids woman immediately retracted the Conductor’s (he helped Ash into a seat, and turned the ride on and off) offer to let us go into the middle of the loop of track after Ash’s ride was over (since no one else was waiting for another ride yet), so that he could get a closer look at the tree, snowman and reindeer decorations there.
BUT….but but but….aside from some tease-compounded disappointment at still not getting a good look at a reindeer, Ash once again had fun. He sat right up front in the engine.