When our youngest son, Finley, was diagnosed with autism in March, I knew my relationship with my husband might change. Although Finley was still the same two-year-old we had arrived with that day, I knew that his official diagnosis ushered in a new period of our lives that would include therapy and insurance battles alongside the delays, meltdowns, and sensory issues we were already dealing with together. What I didn’t know was how much more I would start loving my husband, David.
As a stay-at-home dad, his duties have expanded this year to include hosting in-home therapy sessions several days a week, contacting agencies with questions and concerns, and implementing strategies we have learned from Finley’s therapists. He has always been an incredible father to Finley and his older brother, Gavin, but this year, he has proven time and again just how much he is willing to do for our family. However, the special surprise he had for Finley recently tops the list as my favorite.
This year, Finley has taken a special interest in Christmas. He loves the Christmas tree and all the lights, gets excited every time we watch a Christmas movie, and smiles from ear to ear when we listen to Christmas music. My favorite, however, is when he says, “Ho ho ho!” every time he spies Santa, even though his only other consistent words are “no,” “go,” and “bye bye.” We thought that his love for Santa would result in a sweet moment when he met him at an area mall recently, but although Santa was kind and patient, Finley was still scared to get close to him (as many kids his age are) and overwhelmed by the busy mall atmosphere that day, and so his visit resulted in tears. We didn’t push him or try to force him to sit on Santa’s lap, and as we walked away, he yelled “Ho ho ho!” over my shoulder.
A few days ago, David told me he had arranged a little surprise for Finley for that evening. My sweet husband had rented a Santa suit so that Finley could experience meeting Santa on his own terms that evening. Even though my husband does not remotely resemble Santa—even in a costume—the result of his surprise will forever be one of my favorite moments, both as Finley’s mother and David’s wife.
Although Finley was a little apprehensive at first and only watched from the couch, seeing his big brother, Gavin (who was privy to the secret) play with Santa and snuggle in his lap made him curious, rather than frightened. Before long, he began venturing closer and closer to Santa, and when Santa gently picked him up, the result was smiles instead of tears. He sat in Santa’s lap, played with him on the couch, and squealed through tickle fights with him. I snapped a few photos, Santa said his goodbyes, and I cried tears of happiness in my husband’s arms once the suit had been packed up to return to the costume rental facility.
Finley’s reaction to Santa during our mall visit might not have had anything to do with his autism at all. It might very well have been the result of being a toddler instead, and although we have since learned of a couple of autism-friendly Santa events in our area, David simply wanted to do something special for our little boy. Dressing as Santa and allowing Finley to experience a Santa visit in a completely comfortable environment resulted in a priceless moment for our family.
There are many elements of our lives that are definitely made more stressful as a result of Finley’s autism, but having someone like David to help us all through them has made life infinitely sweeter.