2014 Military Special Needs Network Holiday Guide Winter 2014 - Page 20

Great Expectations

By Dr. Heather Dierolf

Director, Springall Academy

Imagine if you will, the busy-ness of the winter season. A season filled with fun and

anticipation. Winter includes family holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas,

Hanukah, New Years and many other special family events. Families gather around

food and traditions. You might spend the whole day planning for every detail, then

Grandma comes late, you burn the pumpkin pie and the whole plan changes. You

quickly shift gears and the merriment continues. Shift gears? Merriment continues?

Not in your house!

Having a child with special needs makes changing gears and shifting plans a mere

impossible feat. It simply doesn’t happen. One small change effects so many aspects

of your lives that it is can be hard to recover. A small event in our adult minds

equals a catastrophe to our children. Our unique children simply don’t do well with

change and unpredictability

At Springall Academy in San Diego, we work with children age six through

twenty-two with a variety of special needs. One tip that I would like to share with

you is the use of the terms expected and unexpected. We work with the students on

what to expect in certain situations. For example, What do you expect on the first

day of school? Reponses could include, I will meet my new teacher, I will find my

new desk. I will meet new students. The same is true for the unexpected. The

response could be I don’t expect the class to be the same as last year. I don’t expect to

sit next to the same student. We then discuss how it feels to experience what you

expect as well as the experience of the unexpected. Whether the child can verbalize

the feelings or not, it is a meaningful conversation to have with the children.

Prompts and guidance about how someone might feel will be helpful for everyone.

You can use a similar structure in helping to prepare your student for the holidays.

Review through conversation or even a role-play in your own home; What is

expected on Thanksgiving? Who do you expect to be there? Who can you expect to

sit next to? Having this conversation will help alleviate both your worries and those

of your children.

Conversely, like fire drills in schools, talk about and practice what to do if

something unexpected happens. What if dinner is later than expected? What if you

have to wait for Grandma to get there? What if your favorite cousin can’t make the

dinner? Having a plan for the expected and unexpected will go a long way. This

direct practice of planning for disappointment or change has proved successful at

Springall during the school year and I am confident it will help you too!

As you enjoy this holiday season, I have great expectations of the sharing of love

and the building of memories. I wish you all of that and more.

and celebrate. You don’t have to do anything fancy. Sometimes just getting together with friends can help give you a boost. If you are alone, without a social network. Check in with your base’s Fleet Family Support or the equivalent of that. They always have activities going on around the holidays or at least they will have information of things going on around the base for both you and your children. It is also a good way to meet new people who are rowing in the same boat as you and understand the emotional aspect of Holidays. What is important is that you take care of yourself. It’s ok if you need to take a moment for yourself, to just reflect or to gather your thoughts.

Maintaining the holiday cheer, can be a feat in its own, let alone trying to remain strong for your children. You know that you are not the only who is missing your spouse. Daddy or Mommy is also missed more during the holidays. There are been things that I have done, to help my children navigate through the holiday season. When you are getting your spouse’s holiday care package ready, let your children be part of that process. Let them add things that they think Mom or Dad might like for the holidays. Pictures drawn, ornaments made or even a handwritten letter. Let your children pick out the holiday goodies, they want to send to their parent. I have gone to the Dollar store and let my children pick out one small gift they thought their father would like. Nothing big or expensive. But it was something they had put a thought into and wanted their father to have. Just so he knew that they were thinking about him.

Communication was also the one thing that was hit or miss on the important Holidays days. Due to the fact that lines were busy or there was too much going on at the time. But whether it be a phone call or a skype visit, sometimes just hearing someone’s voice can mean the world. But if your spouse can’t phone you or skype on the important day, that doesn’t mean that you are not in their thoughts. You will hear from them when it is quiet and less busy.

I am not going to lie, juggling the holidays as one person is hard. I wish I could say it was easy. It’s not easy trying to remain strong, while battling your own raw emotions, through the carols and good tidings. During this time you need to be kind to yourself. Know that you are doing the best you can with the circumstances you are in. It’s ok to feel sad, but it is also ok if you are enjoying the holidays. I know that some spouses, including myself, often feel a little guilty that we have had a moment of joy, through all the craziness, but yet our spouse isn’t here to celebrate that. That too, is ok and it’s a natural feeling.

As for the children, make sure they know they are loved and that is too shall pass. Every holiday is not going to be like this. But also let them miss their parent. When they have moments of sadness about their parent, encourage them to talk about how they feel. Let them know that their parent also misses them too. But when they come home, think about all the memories you are going to be making. One thing we did, is we had a memory box. All the important things that happened in my children’s lives that they wanted to share with their father, they put in this box. So when he came home, they could talk about all the cool and wonderful stuff that had happened to them. Holidays were always included in that box. The toys they got or the parties they sent to. That kind of stuff.

Remember, your spouse is with you. They are in your heart with the memories you have with them. As you are with them. Looking back, it’s the songs that always got me. And “I’ll be Home for Christmas” was always the one that made me think fondly of my spouse. Not because it was a promise, we both knew that couldn’t happen, but more that he would be home when he could.

Andrea has been living the dream, married for 12 years to her Sailor. She pretty much been all over. The Navy has sent her to some pretty interesting places from England to Hawaii. She is the mother of three very awesome children, two of which have Autism and one with ADHD. When she is not hip deep in the momma business you can find her writing her heart out over at Spouse, Kids and Special Needs Aren’t Things Issued in a Seabag? and over on Facebook. You can also follow her on Twitter @ImmaNavyspouse.