Sometimes It’s Okay to Find Your Holiday Joy In the Small Things

This time of year, the weight of anticipation and expectation grows. It’s hard to shake the feeling that there’s something we should be doing and planning, and there are a host of special events of which we should be a part. As holiday music and messages announce from all sides, “Big things are afoot! Get up, get out, go find the magic,” it’s easy to forget that magic means something different to everyone.

“Do you think we’d try the Nutcracker with Erin this year?” my mom asked the other day. Over the years, we have taken my daughter, Erin, who has autism, on many holiday outings. As my mom’s question hung in the air, it was evident we had chosen to ignore the ghost of Christmases past and to indulge in an alternate vision of holiday cheer.

Holiday joy can be found in the small things. Twenty20 @karena.dorleybrown

The ghost of Christmases past visited us

Dressed in festive apparel, we glide down city sidewalks admiring the glimmering lights and jubilant sounds, startling bright and loud yet do not trigger any sensory issues. It’s neither cold nor wet nor windy — no pressing crowds. No lines. No unforeseen delays. As we arrive at the theater, the crowd parts as if Moses stands at the top of the stairs, ensuring our safe entry.  

The seats are neither too close to the stage nor too far from an exit. Erin sits serenely for the duration of the performance. The out-scaled army of mice does not freak her out. She does not stand up and announce that she is DONE in the middle of the Dance of the Sugar Plum fairies and does not beeline back to her happy place: the concessions stand. I am not dripping in sweat and chocolate, having chased her up the aisle and pried a gigantic Hershey Bar from her vice-like grip. 

“I think it might be a lot,” I said. My mother, whose cheery thought bubble likely imploded at the same time, agreed as we headed out to the grocery store. I joked it’s probably better to stick with Stop ‘n Shop and reminded Erin to bring the grocery list. 

Instead of the Nutcracker, we opted for a trip to the grocery store

Holding fast to a crumpled piece of yellow paper, Erin methodically checked off each item. Aisle by aisle, we filled the cart with bananas, broccoli, cereal, and snacks. Some favorites. Some surprises. Popcorn in a purple bag!  

Heated negotiations took place in Ice Cream and Desserts. A round of karaoke erupted in Prepared Foods, where Erin belted out Castle on the Hill by Ed Sheeran, who accompanied her from the speakers above. Though we lost a container of pineapples at checkout, everything else slipped onto the conveyer belt and into a bag unscathed. 

“That was awesome,” Erin said as we exited the store. And it was. It was the height of the ordinary, and it was divine. A perfectly timed reminder that sometimes that’s all you need. 

It’s important to embrace joy wherever you find it

This is not to sound bah-humbug. I love the holidays. Erin REALLY LOVES the holidays. Sometimes though, it’s ok to dial it down to remember the joy that can be found in everyday outings, hearing a favorite song in aisle nine, preparing and sharing a meal, or reading something that makes you smile. 

It can be hard to ward off December’s pull and pressure to create, do, and document something special, something spectacular. And this is not to say these things should not be done. “These things are good, these things are fun!” to quote Dr. Suess. As Erin reminds me, at every turn, it’s the joy you derive in the doing that matters most.  

This holiday season, whether the doing entails travel to Lincoln Center, London, or the living room, if it makes you happy, if it makes your kid smile, if it makes anyone say: “That was awesome!” be grateful and know that it is just that. 

More Great Reading:

How a Special Dog Helped My Daughter With Autism

About Eileen FloodOConnor

Eileen Flood O'Connor is a writer and mother of four, the oldest of whom has an autism spectrum disorder. She writes often about parenting and the joys and challenges of raising a special needs child alongside three 'lively' boys. Find her at Eileen Flood O'Connor

Read more posts by Eileen

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