It’s hard to believe that Christmas Eve 2006 is one week from tomorrow.

Between now and then, the masses will descend in droves to shopping malls with too few parking spots, or attend work parties and family gatherings that test our social graces and sanity and latest diets, and take part in last-minute online shopping. All this in our determined, if sometimes frantic annual effort to uncover the perfect gift, enjoy a perfect family moment, or create a sense of holiday magic that too often will elude us.

In our rush to create holiday perfection, most will become sorely disappointed and increasingly disallusioned.

Many of us will overspend, overeat, and fly through this season taking little or no time to embrace the true meaning and spirit of this sacred season. Too few will sit silently mesmerized by the power of those tiny white lights on evergreens to charm us. Too few will stop to actually think about why those Salvation Army kettle bells are ringing outside the busy shops,or stop to ask others how they are doing with their own life challenges, then really listen to the answers.

Too few will question the magical appearance of those oversized snowflakes that often fall unexpectedly on Christmas Eve, or stop to pay tribute to those who no longer grace us with their physical presence.

Too many adults will miss the enchanting ways in which children, wise little creatures that they are, mirror the true magic of this season in their gentle faces, bold questions, and wide-eyed wonder. Children are great teachers.

Far too few of us will put down our cell phones and have a face-to-face conversation with another human being, including with those busy store clerks.

Instead, we often fly through the very life moments and spiritual practices and experiences and personal reflections that can help fuel us on to face the difficult life challenges presented us during the rest of the year. In a world overcome by high tech and bad news, this is one time of year when we have permission to slow down and be transported to a quieter, more beautiful place that can help recover from the madness of the prior year. No wonder so many of us are so exhausted.

My gift to you this holiday? Some simply words from a newspaper column I wrote a few years ago about my definition of the word holiday gift, and how having a child with special needs redefined that term for me. I share it with you today, with one week before Christmas, in the hope that during this season of wonder and retail madness, you will slow down long enough to read it, then reflect on your own priceless blessings, most of which will never be found in any store. I know.

I wish each one of you a joyful holiday season and a terrific New Year, one that again offers us all the exhilirating promises of sparkling new beginnings. I hope you make those new choices matter, and I’d love to hear all about them.

Please visit my website to find out how you can share your life experiences with me.

Happy Holidays!!!


“What do you want for Christmas?” my twin sister asked me.

Janice had e-mailed me from her home in Los Angeles, the land of movies stars, gold Mercedes and physical perfection, far from her deep Midwestern roots.

Before I became the mother of a child with special needs, I recited wishes easily: silver jewelry, fine cotton garments and anything from Tiffany in Beverly Hills.

But that was before I had a child with cerebral palsy, something that forever changed my definition of a gift.

My reply to Janice was vague.

“I love books and good tea and uplifting classical music,” I e-mailed back. “But I really don’t need anyting.”

Why was her question so tough, and my answer so obvious?

I began a list that started in my head and traveled to my heart. I want more sleep, gentler circles under my eyes and increased energy for superhuman parenting demands. I want freedom to pursue my career with no personal constraints. I want more time to nurture my marriage and quality child care for all kids.

I want to make a difference in the lives of others.

My wishes quickly gathered emotional steam.

I’d love to see my son walk and tell me about his day. I wish adults would look past his wheelchair and risk inviting him to their house to play. I want Eric to ride a bike or skate through his neighborhood on a hot summer day or chase fireflies or do a human cannonball into a pool.

I want Eric to sneak out of bed early on Christmas morning and marvel over Santa’s magic or swat a pesky mosquito and confidently voice his hopes and dreams, something made nearly impossible with his limited motor skills. I want him to ask me the tough questions about cerebral palsy, including “Why?”

But I already know that if these gifts never grace my life, I won’t love Eric any less, or marvel more when he struggles to say, “I love you.” His physical challenges have demanded that I stop long enough to savor fireball sunsets, and freed me from the commitment of Sunday morning soccer, which grants our family a sacred day of rest.

Our daughter, Jenna, was only six when our special needs adventure began. Now she towers over me, resplendent in ballerina toe shoes. Her sophisticated and heartfelt poetry puts my own poetic ramblings to shame. My first-born helped prepare me to successfully parent a child with special needs, because it was Jenna who first taught me how to love unconditionally.

I wish I could give her back all those moments stolen by the demands of having a special sibling. Yet, I would never trade the compassionate young woman she has become, embracing the skills that empower her to champion over future adversity.

My children’s gifts are priceless, indeed.

In return, I wish them a more compassionate and tolerant world. Yet in this day of hate crimes, road rage, global warming and escalating war, I am not naive enough to believe this is guaranteed.

The intensity of my parenting journey has blessed me in countless ways. My faith in God has been solidly nurture and keeps me on course. I have gained valuable communication skills while advocating for needed societal change.

But I would love more precious moments with nurturing friends who remained loyal when Eric’s parenting demands made reciprocation impossible. They understood, and when I returned from exhile, these incredible, talented women warmly embraced me.

Today, I still overindulge in books and fine clothing and silver jewelry, but I no longer need these things to feel complete, a gift in itself.

So I suggested my sister send me a gift card from a national bookstore where I will probably buy another special needs resource to help me better meet my daily parenting demands. My decison won’t make me a poster child for the retailers, but it will make me proud of whom I have become.

Fact is, I already have enough gifts to last me every Christmas for the rest of my life. If I never again received an enticing, ribbon-draped parcel or prized blue box from Tiffany, I would still be rich beyond measure with gifts that money can’t buy.
Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs