Ho, ho, ho! Ho, ho, ho! These little syllables blurted out in quick succession can make anyone seem a little...well...nutty. Justifiably so. Christmas is one of those times of year that, for all the joy and excitement of the season, nevertheless always seems inescapably emotional, intense, and stressful.
A few days before school ended for the holiday, I was over at the school as the first graders were returning from a rehearsal for their Christmas program. Ben's teacher stopped in the hall to chat with me for a moment as the kids headed outside for some much-needed fresh air. I asked her, "So, how is it going?" She replied, "Well, it's definitely Christmas."
She went on to explain that Ben was having a hard time dealing with the changes in his class schedule, and with the heightened energy that electrified the school as hundreds of children anxiously anticipated school vacation and holiday gifting. It seems he wasn't able to get up from his desk for any reason without feeling compelled to rush over to any random nearby classmate and issue a push, or a hit, or some other intrusive form of touching. I wasn't sure if he'd make it to the last day of school or not, but he seems to have gotten through (much to the credit of a very patient, caring teacher).
Yet out of chaos, Ben managed to create order. As he came home from school on the last day before Christmas break, he produced from his backpack two pages of very intricate pin-hole art. I can't imagine how many hours he had spent at school carefully poking hundreds or maybe thousands (I am not exaggerating--I would not have had the attention span required to accomplish this project) of evenly spaced holes into his construction paper with a push pin, following complex patterns to create images of candles, holly, and candy canes. I could sense from his short demonstration of the process that the project had soothed him, offering him a chance to focus his mind on a single, simple task while simultaneously shutting out external stimuli. Once home, he located more construction paper and spent a few more hours sprawled out on our living room carpet punching patterns into the colored paper with a small push pin. I suppose it's the same rhythm and motion that calms him when he works puzzles or creates mosaic art with small foam shapes--both good "go to" activities when he's uncontrollably upset.
I was humorously reminded of Ben's need for order when he discovered one evening that I had wrapped a gift for myself and placed it under the tree--a clear violation of the gift-giving custom. He read the package: "To mom...from...mom?" Then he called out to me: "Mom! Why does this present say 'to mom, from mom'?" I explained that I had given myself a present. "You gave a present to you?" he repeated. He thought about this for a moment, puzzlement lining his scrunched up face, and finally said, "Oh. Well...do you know what it is?"
Ben loves Christmas. He is delighted when we extricate the tree and decorations from the attic and set them up throughout the house every season. He looks forward to "Christmas milk" (his title for egg nog) all year long, and drinks gallons of it by himself as long as we bring it home. And yet, I think that in some ways, like all of us, Ben likes to put Christmas away when the season has ended. He won't admit that he does (quite the opposite, actually), but I sense the calm that comes over him when our home is restored to its original decor, and when the routines of school and family are reintroduced. Out of chaos comes order; out of Christmas comes a new year. I wonder what this one will bring...