load up on learning for christmas

Two beautiful pre-teen children who, against all odds, still believe in Santa, barrelled down the steps this morning — for the first time, ever, asking to go ahead of me. They no longer need me to “check” to see if he came.

Did they expect to find… eyeballs? And a fileting knife? Well, those are among the things they did find. Since the cross-section of disability and puppetry is so central to my work I have been able to get both kids an online course in puppet sculpting with Irish puppetmaker and puppeteer Corina Duyn. A sculpting tool and pair of eyes were the physical symbols of this class that arrived with our vouchers. Béla, cook that he is becoming, also got an olive wood cutting/cheese board of his own, plus a pizza cutter (since he is now responsible for homemade pizza dinners on weeknights — with the Trader Joe’s kale and broccoli crusts) and he has been saying he needs a proper cutter.

And yes, he also received a very sharp and very professional fish fileting knife. (Shortly, I will post about Béla’s first episode of his first class on MasterClass.com and how it immediately led to the request for “a salmon”, and Béla making not only a VERY good dinner — but editing a very well-done video. look for it soon.)

On Christmas Eve day, I allowed Claudia what would have been a truly forbidden fruit in my childhood — having a friend over to play Sims. (Christmas Eve day was a boring prison of a day when I was growing up — it was “for family”, but it certainly wasn’t for family enjoying each other.) Claude was happy with her friend, and Béla was very happy to watch Trading Places with me — as he has just discovered Eddie Murphy, and because he loved seeing all the Philadelphia settings (including the very building where he had met his Big with Big Brothers Big Sisters the very day before.)

A package came for me mid-day — a box of marzipan fruits, and a carved horn lucet — a Viking cord-weaving tool, from Tante Juls in Athens, Georgia. I learned the basics and sat and made medieval cord. I’m hoping both of the kids will be interested in trying it.

The lucet went very nicely with the gift I received from Tucker Christmas morning — an entire set of hand-carved nålbinding needles. Nålbinding is a Viking-era yarncraft akin to knitting, but much, much more permanent and hearty — it was said, if you liked someone, you’d knit for them. If you loved someone, you’d make them something with nålbinding.

Tucker took deer bones he has carried talismanically since his teen years — and carved them into a set of needles for me, the largest with its own case. Another set of needles, he carved out of ironwood.

I’m hoping that the kids try this craft as well (nålbinding, not carving bone or ironwood yet). They certainly learned a lot about giving this year, more than in Christmases past.

It really was a very transitional Christmas in many ways. They are maturing. They still believe in Santa, somehow, but other things are evolving around the way they see this holiday.

After joking about it for weeks, we decided we would use Christmas Eve — and the fact that the animals were sound asleep — to prepare their gifts for them. We have spent months inventing the concept of Salmon Claws, who could come for Marble’s Christmas and give her her heart’s desires. The kids loved being Salmon Claws. Béla assembled the ridiculous portal-and-two-rooms structure that Marble received with her giant stocking of catnip-soaked toys.

Our old lady Danpung received her bed a few days ago — there was no reason to wait — and she has not yet eaten it, which is a pretty good record. She’s much slower and older these days, but — as this beautiful portrait by Béla will attest — her eyes are clearer than they have been in years. And look at that smile! she got a soft toy, and a hard chewing toy, and she was quietly as grateful and happy as any dog can be.

While getting dolls has never been an unusual thing for Claudia — you’re a lucky being on this Earth if you are a doll of Claudia’s, and you will receive care past the point where you are even recognizable as a doll — Béla has never really had any kind of doll that wasn’t a Marvel or DC superhero figure. I think this has limited their dramatic play together with dolls, and I’ve been very careful to assure them that no one is too old for dolls (it is a fear for Claudia to be told she is “a young woman”, and she immediately worries that she will be found out and somehow stopped from play with dolls — she can play with dolls until she’s a hundred and thirty, of course).

But I also realize this might be the last year where she actually asks for a doll.

A company called Creatable World has made a multiracial collection of really lovely, genderfluid dolls. And so each of the kids got one. And what a hit they were.

Add to this that Claudia and Béla had exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve, and Béla is up to THREE dolls — the first mortal, civilian, human effigies he has ever owned — one of them gender fluid, all three of them Asian, and two of them specifically Korean. (Claudia gave him two of the boy band BTS’ figures. He had asked for “the one who looks most like me”. We were nervous for a minute that we’d get it wrong. Claudia got it right. And she threw in an extra for good measure.)

I feel like this ownership of dolls that are representative of parts of himself — and being proud to have them and use them — is also strengthening a part of Béla’s identity that, at this delicate age, could so easily be shot down, for any child.

He also got a melange of percussion instruments — a metal banana banger, and this lovely three-tiered drum that looks OH so perfect for upcoming festal activities with the new communities we have created and been welcomed into this year.

This mythology book — well you’d think Claudia didn’t need another mythology book, but this series has beautiful design, and this volume is full of introduction to pantheons she has not learned much about yet, but will need to if she continues the academic path she wishes to. There were many titles in this series and I intend to see that they get the others!

Also, in their sharing pile: a gorgeous book of Greek myths illustrated in huge, lavish mazes (I can see Béla lost for hours in it), and the “Witch Boy” trilogy of graphic novels, which Claudia finished by mid-afternoon. (She also got the newest translation of The Odyssey, which is the first ever translation by a woman, and the sequel to a novel she had loved recently but for which we had a very hard time finding the second volume. Bingo!)

A Velocity of Being is worth finding out more about if you don’t know about it.

A Velocity of Being is something I think we’ll be working on together, like the Big Life Journal. In homeschool, as we are approaching more affective topics, and in a more intellectual manner, and looking outside the opinions and limitations of our own household’s thinking, to encourage Claudia and Béla to question authority, and popular opinion, and to relish the process of discovering who they are.

There was also a huge fold-out book of world history, so stuffed with information and such tiny print that it came with its own magnifier to be able to better read it.

Both kids have said that this year, they enjoyed the giving — to each other, to the animals — a lot. Shopping for Tucker is always intentionally low-key, as autistic holiday overload is not an unusual thing. A subscription to his favorite tea, some new t-shirts, and a lot of new stim tools to share — we joked that Sensory Santa had arrived along with regular Santa — was plenty for him, as he waits for his framed Masters degree.

And I… was completely bowled over.

I have been bowled over by gifts from my kids before. The origami cube that Béla made me for my last birthday — with personal notes about our relationship peeking out of each side, to be read and re-tucked — is one of the most meaningful gifts I have ever gotten. And a very simple, rather shabby now, purple fleece scarf that Claudia bought for me at age three, from the school store at Blessed Virgin Mary she went to preschool at age three — it brings me to tears to think of it, and it is never far from my sight.

This year, they worked together with Tuck to make me an accordion book of multiple use “coupons” for self-care. They know I put things aside to make, or do, or buy things for them. They saw Tucker researching and getting me an exercise system for the house which is specifically for people who need to improve joint use and range of motion and strength, but who have mobility and balance issues (like the Chiari “stumblies”). I have been very excited about getting this system. And I think they noticed how excited I was earlier this fall when I replaced all my underwear.

I heard them working on this together and heard Béla questioning Claudia making the darkened rectangles midway through each page. “It’s a bar code!” she snapped. “It makes them more like real coupons!”

Each coupon gives me multiple opportunities to do something I need for myself, and also gives me a reminder of my worth in their eyes. I love it. How could I not love it? Most importantly, I think I can honor it better than I would just doing it “for myself” without having the accountability to them, for modelling self care.

We’ve decided tomorrow to go out for Mongolian Hot Pot, as we skipped it on Thanksgiving but are getting the hankering.

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