Our second Christmas with T went a lot better than the first. We were smarter.
This year, we better understood that a lifetime of disappointment makes surprises very unsettling, and we let T make a wish list of desired gifts to guide our giving.
I didn't get a Christmas tree this year - I've learned that too much festivity just produces anxiety. We just had Christmas lights - like the frosting without the cake.
This year, I was better prepared for his...flawed etiquette around receiving gifts, and I didn't expect any display of happiness or gratitude. I just gave him things I wanted him to have.
And of course, in synch with my reduced expectations, T better managed his complex feelings about receiving gifts and even managed a polite thank you!
This year, I kind of got a present from T. T told Tim to get me something. I bought myself some nail polish. Tim gave it to T and T gave it to me. He took great delight in taking all the credit. Making himself emotionally vulnerable enough to make a passing gesture at giving a gift is a big step for T.
This year we didn't let the chaos of his birth family compete with our time with him. Instead, we gave him his gifts on the morning of the 24th and had a nice breakfast together. This worked well for him and he announced that forevermore, the 24th is "our Christmas".
We arranged the same Christmas Eve visit to the birth relatives we facilitated last year, and stressed less about it. We knew the visit would be chaotic, disappointing and depressing and that we can not control or prevent his feelings. (SocialWrkr24/7 had a great post about the complexity of holiday birth family visits here.) We kept in touch with him by text message, made sure he got fed, but didn't freak ourselves out completely when the adults took off and didn't supervise the kids. Their chaos is familiar to him, and he can manage it for short periods, particularly if he knows we are nearby and available.
I'm particularly pleased that T let us take charge of his visit with his brother this year. He was a "parentified" older sibling for many years and it badly frayed his nerves. This year, we made the plans for him: we bought his brother a gift, drove out to a neighboring county to pick him up, and delivered him to the relatives house on Christmas Day. We decided on the timing and duration of the visit. When T got frustrated with his brother in the car, we soothed them both and got them settled down. I felt really gratified by his concession to let us be the parents - that indicates a great deal of trust on his part.
I didn't feel so badly about missing out on T's company on Christmas as I did last year. Tim and I planned Christmas Eve as a treasured date night and we had a blast.
This year, I had a better understanding that the best gift I can give T as his parent is to reduce the burden of my emotional expectations and normalize and help him balance his scattered loyalties and relationships.
This year, my mom included his photo in her annual Christmas card collage, alongside my nephew. He plucked it from the mail, stared at it for a long time, then set it aside in a prominent location. Thank you, mom.
This year, he hoarded all the Christmas cards that had his name alongside ours on the envelope. "They're addressed to me!" he exclaimed. It is hard to explain the significance of Christmas cards and packages to a neglected kid.
This year, my parents joined us for a short ski vacation the day after Christmas. This year, T. referred to my dad as his "grampz".
This year, my cousin's 4 year-old daughter approached T and asked him sweetly if it would be alright if she called him her cousin from now on, and he smiled and nodded.
In our own way, it was a merry Christmas.