Pass The Mashed Potatoes

By Brigitte Shipman | Dec 4, 2020. | Autism, Life Lessons, Holidays, Sensory Issues, Parenting

I would say without a doubt I have always loved the holiday season. I can remember as a little girl going to church on Christmas Eve and then going home to open our presents. It was always so festive both at school and at home. My mother did such a great job of making each holiday special. I would get “over the moon” excited about Christmas. This is still my favorite holiday and I look forward to it each year.

I kept the love of the holiday season that my mother created for me as a child into my own life as an adult. I loved creating crafts for my first-grade students all the way through my teaching career. Every year the holidays brought back my childhood which made me excited and child-like as I prepared for the festivities.

When I got pregnant with my son Joseph I decided that my son would have the same magical holiday season that I had as a child. Even when I was pregnant, I was preparing for Joseph’s childhood Christmas that would be magical and would twinkle all around him and through him. I couldn’t wait until he would participate in this wonderland of joy and giving.

Once Joseph was old enough to get excited about the beauty and magic of the holidays, we did arts and crafts, played Christmas music, baked cookies, and cooked our traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas recipes that we all loved. I knew he gladly engaged in the arts and crafts, baking, and Christmas music and videos. I was enjoying this time with my son. It seemed like passing the happy holiday torch to Joseph was going well.

One area in our holiday festivity, however, was presenting a challenge, and it started around the holiday dinner table at my parents’ home.

At the time, we didn’t know that Joseph was autistic as we sat down for one of my mother’s wonderful Thanksgiving meals. As I reflect now it amazes me that we just kept trying to feed him one of our favorites.

Well, one of those favorites that we kept giving him was mashed potatoes and gravy. It was perfect for a child getting used to eating table food, or so we thought. The first year, I was so excited that Joseph would get to have some real food rather than the baby food.

As we were all gathered around the dinner table, I was feeding Joseph and I was so delighted to feed him each delicious bite. The background noise was full of table utensils clanking, conversation, and laughter. So perfect.

Then as Joseph was about to take his last bite I could tell something was not agreeing with him. He didn’t want the last bite so I thought he was full. Then in one second, he projectile-vomited every bite he had taken.

The background noise became quiet, then I heard some Oh’s and Eww’s, and then my reaction and thought was “I hope he isn’t sick.” After we all moved on from that holiday meal and knew that he was not technically sick, we all just decided it was one of those things that kids do.

For the next few holidays, the same thing would happen except that the background noise was quiet with anticipation for what we all thought might happen, and then as anticipated it all came back up. He got sick each time he ate mashed potatoes. Finally, we decided no more mashed potatoes. We couldn’t understand why he could eat french fries, but not mashed potatoes.

Well, we discovered when our son was diagnosed with autism that he had food sensory challenges with smell and textures. I remember feeling so guilty that I kept giving my son this food that would make him sick. That was not the outcome I had been dreaming of when I wanted my son to have a magical holiday. It became very stressful as more sensory challenges presented themselves.

Not only was it smell and mouth sensory issues, but also routine, sleep, noise, and his cousins wanting to play with his new toys. I used to look forward to going to our big family holiday celebrations and now I was stressed out and I didn’t know how to manage my favorite time of the year.

The more I learned about my son and autism, the more I implemented transition tools, different foods that he loved, and shared tips with my family about what would be helpful to keep Joseph from a holiday meltdown. Knowledge is power.

If you are a mom who is stressed out because the holidays are challenging for your child, then take a breath. This time of the year can be joyful if we give ourselves permission to scrap some of our own beliefs and traditions and make new ones that fit our kids.

Joseph is now 28 years old and loves the holidays. He is famous for his gift-giving. He makes each family member a gift using his beautiful artistic talent. We all get excited to see what Joseph has created each year. We also reminisce each holiday when someone wants to pass the mashed potatoes and gravy. What once was horrible, confusing, and stressful is now a humorous memory.

Joseph lets us know each year that he does not like any kind of potato. The background noise today is chuckling at the memory, conversation, and joyful laughter as we enjoy our time together.

5 Tips To Reduce Stress During The Holiday Season:

  • Scrap what does not work. If you are trying to keep sacred family traditions and it is causing meltdowns for your child then scrap them. This is simple and you will find new ways to enjoy the holidays.
  • Remember to find a few minutes for “me time.” Without a few minutes to yourself, you will do more dreading than celebrating.
  • Create Transition Time. When your child is out of a routine make sure you take time to walk them through each daily schedule. Let them know what the plans are so they can adjust to them.
  • Get Enough Sleep. Without sleep, we are all more apt to have meltdowns. Go to bed earlier and the stress of the holidays will not feel as big to you or your family.
  • Find humor in whatever you can find each day. Trust me, when we laugh at our lives every now and then it lightens our energy and everyone's around us.