This year will be our second Christmas with our boys but it’ll be our eldest son’s 4th and our youngest’s 3rd in their lifetimes.
I don’t think we really appreciated how big a deal a stable Christmas with the extended family and lots of presents was until last year. It was something both my partner and I have always had, so it is the norm for us, for our children though it was not.
It started to hit home a little bit with the lack of excitement from our eldest the night before. I know it was only his 3rd Christmas, so he may not really have remembered his previous ones anyway, but no matter what we said to him it didn’t really register. He just went to bed as normal and woke up the next morning 12 hours or so later, as normal. Even then though we weren’t really comprehending what was happening.
So, there we were on Christmas morning, video and normal cameras at the ready, with a child who didn’t really know what on earth was going on. He had two excited dads, a pile of presents and no knowledge of what to do with them.
It was then that things started to become clear in our minds, we had been so wrapped up with making sure our sons had the best first Christmas with us that they could, we forgot that perhaps they weren’t used to this kind of thing.
We began to think about what they had experienced in the past.
We knew that the Christmas before they were in a foster placement, not their last one who we know would have given them a great Christmas, but with another Foster Carer who we have never met nor spoken to. We do not know what kind of Christmas they had with them, but on the basis they didn’t come with any toys that seemed to be previous Christmas presents, we could only conclude that it was pretty much a non-event. The one prior to that our eldest had been with his birth family, and again we do not know the circumstances of that. He did know what a Christmas tree was, it wasn’t a complete mystery to him, so he obviously had some recollection of previous Christmases.
When it came to unwrapping presents we again found ourselves in uncharted territory. We had been anticipating that our eldest would see his pile of presents, get excited and jump into them tearing off the wrapping paper in some sort of toddler frenzy. Of course that didn’t happen.
Instead we got a very subdued boy open a single present and be so totally made-up with his new toy that he had absolutely no interest in the others. I’m not convinced he had any comprehension of the fact that those other presents were his. Why would he? He’d most likely never had a proper Christmas or Birthday before.
I have to admit being disappointed in his reaction. It took some major convincing to get him to even acknowledge the other presents were for him. I’m not sure if he thought we were lying to him, or whether he just could not believe he was worthy of so many presents. Given what we know, it was most likely to be the latter. A boy of 2 should not have that kind of burden.
Things could have been a lot worse, our family is fairly big on regular gatherings anyway, so Christmas is like a normal get together except with more food, more chocolate, and more sleeping relatives on the sofa, all lit up by a few more colourful lights.
We are fortunate that our children came to us young and are now absolutely superb at bouncing back from things, if we had gone at Christmas with this kind of naivety with an older adopted child we could have sent them into a world of regressive pain. Turning what should be a positive memorable event into a reminder of their past, triggering bad memories of family conflict.
We know what to expect this year, we think things will go differently this time, and maybe we’ll be able to use that video camera a bit more. Perhaps now that they know what to expect from our Christmases our children may start reacting in the same way we did when we were young.
But perhaps they won’t.
And that is okay too.