The kids give me a hard time when I take a photo when we’re at church. MOM, it's not allowed. MOM, you should be paying attention. MOM, you know you’d be mad at us if we did that. They liken it to a mortal sin (it’s not). They tell me it’s distracting (but I do it so stealthily). They tell me I should wait ‘til later (but then the moment is gone). So I snap photos when I see something that needs to be more than just a memory. I did that on Christmas Eve when Ronan did more than just go with us to the Vigil Mass.
I had to.
Not only did Ronan walk into the little chapel by himself (just walking in is a feat), not only did he sit without fussing (it can take some coaxing to get to the pew and then stay in the pew), but he was showing interest in what was going on–without any prompting from any of us!.
For many years, I’ve shared that we’ve had to split up for Mass. Ronan just can’t handle it. So that the rest of us can still attend, my husband will go to the early one, and I’ll go to the later one. None of us likes that set up, so every few months we try, try again to bring Ronan to the church. Since the end of September, Ronan’s been able to join us every few Sundays (or Saturdays) once again. Depending on which church we go to, and also what time we go, he is finding success in joining us. We don’t know if it’ll work until we go back each weekend, but it's been an exciting part of our weekends to have Ronan right there with us at church.
I was really hoping that with all of the recent practice, and with the on-going encouragement from the siblings, that we could all go to Christmas Mass.
Could he handle one that might be a bit longer than a regular Mass? Could he handle the lateness of the time of the one we picked (9pm)? Could he sit through the whole thing, or would he and I be back in the car even before the entrance song began as happened last weekend? Christmas is my favorite holiday. Christmas Mass is the most important Mass of the year for me. I had my heart set on our family, plus extended family who were visiting, going together instead of being forced to split up.
Before we left the house, we’d told Ronan the plan. He seemed agreeable. Then we packed his favorite book and picture. But I’d forgotten those in the car. Things could’ve ended poorly without those comfort objects. But they didn’t. When I thought he might decide 12 minutes in was plenty (out of a typical 60 minute Mass), he surprised us. He stayed! And he started to follow along. Ronan even gently held my hand.
That feeling, when your non-speaking, super sensory, severely delayed adult child with autism reaches for you and holds your hand in his - what an amazing feeling!
The rest of the time Ronan was with us was absolutely perfect. He didn’t sit, stand and kneel with us, but he sat ever so patiently waiting and listening.
Like previous times, Ronan looked through the missal at the Readings with me. He followed my finger as I pointed to the words of the Responsorial Psalm. He looked at the words of the hymn being sung. After the cantor sang The First Noel, Ronan kept the missalette in his lap and looked for more. Song after song, he flipped from one page to the next. While the rest of us participated in the liturgy, Ronan continued to read. He flipped to the beginning of the book and scanned one page after another.
He was definitely looking.
He was absolutely reading.
He was engaged in The Word in a way that gave me a great amount of hope.
Once we got home, Ronan sat at the dining table waiting for the quick snack I promised he’d get. As he waited, he tried his very best to unbutton the ironed, collared button-down shirt I never ask him to wear but once or twice a year. Even though it didn’t bother him at all while we were at church, he immediately wanted it off, off, off. Starting to get frustrated, his youngest sister and I quickly helped him.
Back in his comfy clothes, he began to play a favorite song on his iPad. He kept asking/signing for French fries, a favorite snack, but was happy for a few bites of the frozen cherry cheesecake I’d made for friends who brought us Christmas Eve dinner. He stayed happy despite how late it was and then slept in on Christmas morning.
Ronan’s been sleeping in late every day since the kids’ schools started Christmas break. A luxury, I never wake him up early on our days off unless it’s absolutely necessary. Hoping he’d get all the rest he needed, the Christmas morning excitement was building as each of the typical siblings made their way to the living room where our tree is. One, two, three, four…almost all five Jameson kids were present. They asked for Ronan as they gathered, but I asked that we let him sleep.
Every few years, I go overboard with shopping for presents. Some years I stick with the kids’ wish lists. Other years I go rogue and we’ll get them things they’ll never expect. It's God's honest truth that each of my kids made out like bandits this year, including Ronan. So grateful not for the amount of presents but for the thought that went into them was apparent. Their grins, from ear to ear, were our biggest clue that the kids were so grateful for what they received. Shopping for Ronan can be difficult, but even he was smiling after successfully opening the presents he was given.
The rest of our day was filled with being with family. As I puttered in the kitchen prepping dinner for ten, I thought back to the evening before with Ronan sitting quietly next to me at church. He sat there thumbing through the Gospel stories that lead up to baby Jesus’ birth. He was purposefully turning pages, scanning, and looking for something in the text. My busy life needed that little bit of slowing down I did - to stop and enjoy what Ronan was doing and to take a deep breath and relax because he was content. Getting Ronan to Mass would be my biggest challenge.
It turned into the greatest gift I could’ve received.
That and hosting visitors who traveled from many miles to join us in the Christmas celebration, we were so happy to share some time together and to make memories. Making memories is what life’s all about. I hope and pray that you got to make some good ones with your family this season like I got to make with mine.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.