Saturday, December 24, 2016

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

Thank you so much for stopping by our table yesterday at iHOP and for your willingness to spontaneously take a picture with my boys! They were really quite excited to see you! As a human services person, I really appreciate what you're working on for the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation here on the Olympic Peninsula.

We don't really go to restaurants much, because my older son is on the autism spectrum and has a lot of sensory issues: strangers, too much noise, many different smells and bright lights tend to overwhelm him. He has a hard time regulating his body and "acting normal" in public. Add the holidays and the lights and the snow we've been having and a major surprise seeing you--I'm just thankful his head didn't explode at that very moment! He's been known to get pretty loud, because he has a hard time controlling his impulses.

I know he physically looks like he's 13-years-old, but he's chronologically only 10-years-old. My son has several developmental disabilities; the myriad testing he's been through, both at school and through Seattle Children's Hospital, put him, developmentally, at about 6-years-old. His 7-1/2 year-old brother is ahead of him developmentally; my older son will likely not catch up. I know you don't know this, but I do, and that's why I'm writing you this letter.

You see, Santa, when my husband and I each stood up yesterday to let our boys out of our respective sides of our booth, all of us hoped for a "normal" encounter with you. Each time we're out in public, we take a risk. It's a reasonable risk, I mean, I want my children to know how to act in a public setting. But it never occurred to me that you, Santa, would pull my son's Bite Saber out of his mouth.

One of the things I'm trying to teach my children is about consent. You reached up to him, pulled on the string, and pulled a comforting object out of his mouth, without his consent. Not cool, Santa. Not cool at all. Would you do the same to a toddler who had a pacifier? You may not agree with the parent letting their child have such an object, but is it your place to make that decision?

Also, you invaded my child's body space. His bubble. My son has body space issues in that he isn't aware when he's standing close to someone. Is he too far away from them? Or too close to someone? It's called vestibular sense. You are probably aware of where your body is in relation to other people or objects. But my son, he doesn't get this at all; my husband, the team of teachers my son has at school, and I are constantly trying to teach this unwritten etiquette to my son.

My son also has a rare form of epilepsy, and has frequent, rapid seizures each day. Don't worry, he's medicated, but he still seizes. When you pulled that Bite Saber out of his mouth, he may have had a seizure, but you didn't know because his seizures only last about 2 seconds. He may not have known you pulled his Bite Saber out of his mouth. But I saw you, Santa. And it seemed unnecessary for you to do what you did.

Now, I know that I'm an over-protective mom. And I know that my son has a slower reaction time. But I know that you invaded his space just before I snapped the picture of the moment he was so incredibly happy to see you. Guess what, I don't care that he's chewing on a Bite Saber. I don't care if it's in the picture. His Bite Saber helps him release anxiety. Why did you pull it from his mouth? What do you care? Why did his chewing on what is essentially a way for him to stay calm bother you enough to take it from his mouth? I mean, you're Santa. Aren't you accepting of everyone?

And I mean, you have a PIPE in your mouth, for fuck's sake. So, the hypocrisy of the action you took is a little lost on me. I'm confused. Why is it ok for you to have a little something that brings you peace and comfort in your mouth, but not ok for my son? What would happen had I done the same with your pipe?

After the Bite Saber was pulled, but before the whisper occurred....

Not to mention the fact that I was the Tobacco Prevention Queen for Clallam County Health and Human Services before my kids were born and I know that, according to the Master Settlement Agreement, the use of cartoon characters promoting tobacco products is banned. AND, according to Washington State law, smoking is banned in public places. Not that you were ACTUALLY smoking. When I worked in Arizona, we said that smoking is a "tumor-causing, teeth-staining, smelling, puking, habit." That was back in the mid 1990's...and of course, today, we know using nicotine is an addiction, and needs to be treated accordingly. But, you were promoting a the use of tobacco, there, Santa, and I really think you should ditch the pipe.

But then...then, you bent down and whispered something in my son's ear that was incredibly quiet, and I just...something didn't sit quite right with me. It was the kind of thing that I thought about on and off throughout the day as my family ran errands, including buying a few presents for our faithful dog, and getting almost all the way through Costco my son had a meltdown.

I like to think you said something kind and encouraging like, "you are getting to be so big and don't need that chew toy!" Or maybe even, "what's that thing you were chewing on? Does it help you?"

And each time I thought about and wondered what you so secretly whispered into my son's ear, I got a feeling in the pit of my stomach that I just didn't like. It even came to me twice while I was reading my book in bed last night.

So today, I gently worked my way up to asking my son what you said. He replied that you said, "you don't need to chew on that thing." Now, I'm taking it with a grain of salt, I recognize that my son is a child. But, because of his autism, he doesn't lie. My hope is that you did not intend to do him any harm. I mean, you're Santa Claus. I hope that you're intent wasn't malicious. But you provided a learning opportunity for my son so that we again talked about the fact that people need to respect his body space and they need to ask permission before they touch him and that permission needs to be given by him before he is touched. Consent. You did not obtain consent before you took my child's Bite Saber from his mouth. I'm not too happy about that, Big Guy.

I have the upmost respect for you. I get to play Santa on Christmas Eve, after all, and it is kinda exciting for me! RIGHT!? Coolest part of being an adult at Christmastime! But, because my son's developmental delays are what they are, I have found myself wondering if my husband and I will play Santa every year for the remainder of our lives on behalf of our son. Will his cognitive ability advance past the age of six?

Of course you don't know. I don't expect you to, Santa. But, I do have a request, Mr. Claus, and that is that when you are working in the community, will you please be so kind as to remember how much excitement you bring to children, regardless of their physical size or developmental age?

Because, someday, my son will be man-size, but he may only developmentally still be under the age of 10. And, if he has a Bite Saber in his mouth at that point, will you be so offended by it that you remove it again? Eventually kids with developmental delays grow to be adults with developmental delays.

Please, Dear Santa, I am asking you to be kind and spread joy, and not judge books based solely upon their covers.

Thank you for considering my request.

Respectfully yours,

Rachel Anderson

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