“Remember, this program is for Santa, so if you’re naughty, Santa will see and he won’t come on Christmas,” I said to Natalie as we settled down into some chairs. We were at Tommy’s school, all set to watch his Christmas program, and I was worried that Natalie wouldn’t behave.
It’s just....okay, she’s good a lot of the time. But she has her moments. And these moments seem to occur in public. I could picture her running up to the stage like that kid did in the movie Parenthood. I could see her pushing down the Christmas tree or maybe even grabbing it while shouting, “It’s mine!” Then she’d struggle to pull it off the stage and all the audience would see was the tree bobbing across while I was off to the side going, “Natalie! For the love of God! Drop the tree!”
So yeah, I lied and told her that Santa wouldn’t come if she didn’t listen. I know the experts frown on saying stuff like that, but those experts aren’t stuck raising two kids alone for a year.
“The elves will bring me presents then,” Natalie replied in a haughty tone as she smoothed down her ultra adorable gingerbread skirt. She may act like a total brat at times, but at least she’s well dressed.
“The elves work for Santa so no they will not,” I said simply, moving my legs inward so another family could slide past.
“They WILL!” Natalie snapped, crossing her arms over her chest, a move that she mastered when she was only one. Funny, I thought it was cute then (“look Tom, look at how she’s crossing her tiny arms over her tiny chest!”) but now I panic when I see her arms folded like that because shouting usually follows.
“Just behave. Okay? Just sit down, watch the singing, and everything will be great,” I said.
“I WILL!” Natalie barked. “I WILL, I WILL!”
The family in front of us turned and frowned. What? The program hadn’t even started yet. And ew, the father totally had a nose hair poking out from his left nostril.
“Thank you,” I said, my teeth clenched. It was times like those when I wished I could afford a nanny. Then I could have been like, “Inge, if Natalie acts up, please remove her from the room so I can stay and watch my son.”
“Mommy,” Natalie said sweetly, about five minutes before the show was supposed to start. “I have to pee.”
“It’s about to begin,” I answered.
“I have to PEE!”
Nose Hair Dad turned around again. I hope his wife got him a set of clippers for Christmas.
“Natalie, it’s just, I’m not sure when Tommy’s class is set to sing and I don’t want to miss it and—”
“I have to pee.” Natalie emphasized this by gripping her crotch.
I took Natalie’s hand and led her to the bathrooms. Naturally, she didn’t do a thing. We rushed back and settled back down.
“Why does she always have to see the bathrooms?” Tommy complained. He was sitting with us, because his school isn’t that big so there was no room for all the students to stay separate from everyone else.
“Good question, Tommy,” I said right as a kid plopped down beside us.
“Who are you?” the strange kid asked me. “Hi Tommy.”
It took all my willpower not to say, “Who are YOU?” Instead I said, “I’m Tommy’s Mom.”
He blinked at me. “Oh. I thought you were the babysitter. Hey, why doesn’t Tommy talk that much in school? I’m in his class and he barely says a thing.”
I saw Tommy’s face turn red and my heart squeezed a bit. How do you explain Aspergers to another child? How do you explain that Tommy doesn’t really understand the purpose of small talk and only speaks when he’s passionate about the subject?
“He talks when he has something to say,” I explained.
Tommy dug into his pocket and pulled out a snowflake that he cut out from paper. Some of his designs are impressive and they seem to be his latest obsession. So it was no surprise when Tommy told the kid, “Look what I made for Anna.”
The kid snorted. “You like Anna?”
Tommy looked confused. “Yes.”
The kid laughed. “You LIKE Anna?” I could see exactly where this was going. Tommy didn’t understand that the kid was implying that Tommy like liked the girl. To Tommy, he liked Anna as a friend and didn’t understand what this kid meant. It’s just another thing he struggles with, understanding this social world that he’s a part of.
“Anna is his friend,” I cut in. “He wanted to make a snowflake for his friend.”
The kid opened his mouth to say something but then the program started so he shut it.
Natalie did not want to stay in her seat. She kept doing this:
“I’m swimming,” she said.
“Please get in your seat,” I hissed.
“I’m swimming,” she insisted. “I can’t sit down because I’m swimming.”
I took deep breaths and counted to ten. I’ve never had my patience tried so much by one kid. With Tommy, he was always hyper, but I worried more about him because he wasn’t talking, because he wasn’t interacting, because he was so behind than the other kids his age…
Tommy eventually went up:
Natalie thankfully sat down on my lap.
“That’s my brother,” she said proudly. “That’s my brother up there.”
Then when it was all over, she did not want to leave.
“Natalie,” I said. “Let’s put on your jacket so we can go.”
And she did this:
Yes. That’s her PLUGGING her ears, pretending that she couldn’t hear me.
“Santa isn’t coming then,” I said.
So she cried and said that yes, Santa was coming.
“Put on your jacket then. Mommy wants to go home and watch Grey’s Anatomy. I’ve had a very long day.”
“Come on Natalie, you’re so loud all the time,” Tommy chimed in.
This insulted her.
“Tommy. Please. You aren’t helping,” I said.
“Why are you yelling at me?” he griped.
“I’m not. I’m just—” I rubbed my temples. When Tom comes back, I’m taking a weekend for myself. “Natalie. Put your jacket on now. I am the parent, and you will listen to me.”
Natalie, whose moods can dissipate in a matter of seconds, sighed and went, “Okay then.”
“I want to go home and make more snowflakes,” Tommy said excitedly. “Do you want one?”
He’s already made me ten.
“Sure, Tommy,” I agreed.
After all, aren’t all snowflakes different?