I’m learning to embrace Christmas chaos

You know that feeling of panic you get when what you thought “could” go wrong suddenly does? Yeah, that was me at my 6-year-old daughter Rhonda-Rene’s very first school Christmas concert. She sang along as best she could for being non-verbal. She loves music and can harmonize with the rest of us non-singing Parkers to just about any tune on the radio. I knew she’d enjoy the music, but I worried about her ability to contain her movement on stage.

Rhonda-Rene is not autistic. However, she has several autistic characteristics. One of them is a sensory processing disorder, which causes continuous movement.

I was seated in the front row, snapping away through the lens of my Nikon. “Oh boy, aw geez,” I nervously stated while squirming in my chair. Within the course of the kindergartners two-song selections, Rhonda-Rene had hiked up her Santa dress to reposition her tights and dropped her gum on the riser below, of which she bent down, picked up, and popped back into her mouth. At one point, she took a short stroll, bobbing in and around the other kids, who didn’t seem fazed because they continued right along singing. When “Jingle Bells” began, that was it! Rhonda-Rene went into a full blown bunny-hop and once that settled, she started dancing like she had just received the Holy Ghost.

I sunk down into my seat, worrying over the ruckus she was causing when a lady sitting behind me touched my shoulder and whispered, “She’s making this the best Christmas show ever!” That was nice of her to say, but I didn’t see it that way. I was thinking, “People that don’t know she has special needs probably think I’m raising one of the Herdmans.”

If you haven’t heard of the Herdmans, then you may not be familiar with the classic tale, ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” It originated as a book written by Barbara Robinson in 1971. It tells the story of Imogene, Claude, Ralph, Leroy, Ollie and Gladys. These six delinquent Herdman children were always engaged in some kind of misfit behavior. They go to church for the first time after being told that the church offers snacks. Despite protests from other church members, they are given roles in the Sunday school’s Christmas play. The book was adapted to a play in 1982 and into a movie in 1983. Coincidentally, my 9-year-old daughter, Donae, couldn’t attend Rhonda-Rene’s performance because she was rehearsing for her role in ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever’ at the Beverly Art Center (BAC).

Donae’s been acting since the age of 5.She’s had several leading roles in student productions but this was her first time being in a professional series. Shellee Frazee is the artistic director at the BAC. She said, “I was very impressed when I saw Donae as Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmatians, I’m very happy to have her in this cast.”

The rehearsal schedule for a professional play proved to be far more demanding than Donae’s previous production schedules. She began rehearsing in October and spent 12 to 15 hours a day, four days a week being immersed into becoming her character, Ollie Herdman. The show ran from Dec. 9 to Dec. 18 with a total of six performances. I had a ticket every night and each time I saw her up there being a sassy-mouth Herdman talking out of turn, dancing off mark and causing a disruption to her peers, I swelled with pride. And, on occasion, a tear or two slipped down my cheek.

Both of my girls performed to the best of their abilities in their Christmas productions this season and I’m proud of both of them. We aren’t a perfect family. There are many days where we don’t have it all together. But, as the saying goes, “Together we have it all!”

You can prepare the “perfect” family gathering only to have someone in your family flip everything upside down. Remind yourself that the true meaning of Christmas is to pause and celebrate that Jesus was born. He was sent to fulfill the divine will of God to undo the damage that was caused by the fall of Adam and Eve. Because of Jesus, those that choose to believe will have eternal life in Heaven.

Let’s choose to focus less on how we think the day should go and turn our attention to ways we can bring happiness to someone else. I’ll bet if we let go of our expectations for things to go perfectly, we will have the best Christmas day ever!

A big thanks to all of my loyal readers. I appreciate every one of you that I bump into within the community. I’m wishing you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I can’t wait to share the things yet to unfold in 2017!

Claudia Parker is an author, photographer and a reporter. Her columns appear every second and fourth Thursday of each month. She can be reached at [email protected]    

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