This past weekend, we went with friends and families from school to see a Christmas lights tour at a local farm. The owners had converted the dirt roads around their farm into a holiday hayride trail decorated with Christmas displays, and they take visitors on a 30-minute, slow, peaceful ride through the woods on a flatbed trailer.
The owners thoughtfully let us come about a half-hour early to avoid the lines. An unusually pleasant December breeze blew in and around us as we waited for the ride to start. They also turned down the loud holiday music for our trailer full of sensory-anxious riders. The J-Man was distressed before we started to move. He didn’t want to sit down. Then we pulled away from the barn, and the motion and vibration instantly calmed him.
It’s dark out there in the country, which made the light displays that much more vibrant. Dale Jr. was beside himself with glee as each set of lights burst into every Christmas shape, figure, and character you could imagine. The J-Man sat there, body still and close to my arm, eyes looking around, taking it all in. The two of them sat between Mary and me, the four of us soaking in this holiday moment together.
Dale Jr. narrated each amazing thing he saw, which was everything. Each new moment was a revelation to him. I felt the J-Man’s body relax into the right side of mine. His passive, inscrutable face began to brighten. That twinkle we know and love as much as life itself appeared in his eyes. His mouth went from grin to smile, that perfect smile that makes him look like Mary’s little twin.
We rode on through the night surrounded by thousands of lights, our children’s faces filled each with their own unique wonder. Mary and I met each other’s eyes and knew without ever saying a word. That moment was pure magic, a moment you wait and hope for. The four of us together awash in the joy and peace that truly represent what the holidays are all about.
We are surrounded by friends – children and families from the autism program at our school. Everybody has their own needs and challenges, but there we were together, out in the wilderness, literally encircled by light. And I think, there is no more perfect symbol for our lives than this.
I thought about how challenging public outings have been for us over the years, sometimes completely impossible. Going out as a family has been painfully hard at times with two kids with very different personalities and needs. I thought about how much we’ve practiced all the skills and strategies. To the unknowing observer, we looked like any other family enjoying the lights and each other. Deep down we knew that this Christmas gift was years in the making, coming through faithfully working and waiting, attending to what is important, and believing in all the goodness that comes into our world just because of who we are together.
The hayride ended, we got off, and we went in search of Santa. We hadn’t had a successful, formal Santa picture in years. We honestly stopped trying. We’ve seen no need to stress our J-Man out at our mall over a picture. But a very understanding Santa was there in a large sleigh (no crowding or needing to be too close). J-Man cautiously climbed in at Santa’s right, Dale Jr. nervously to his left and completely in awe of the mythical figure. Mary and I stood on either side of the sleigh, and the photographer snapped our picture. This would be our first family portrait in over two years.
While we waited on the photo to print, we all sat outside together at a picnic table next to a roaring fire. For a minute, no one made a sound, not even the normally chatty Dale Jr. We just stared into the fire as its light danced and flickered up to the heavens.
Before we left, the J-Man and I walked over to a light display.
“Did you like the lights?”
Grinning he says affirmatively, “Yites!”
I see a sign, point to it, and say, “Do you know what that says?”
And so much more. One we will always remember, this time of peace and joy and light.