Mother’s Day can be a treacherous holiday for moms of children with autism. Mother’s Day conjures up images of homemade cards, hugs and kisses, and sweet though messy attempts at making a special meal for mom. Disappointed hopes and expectations can feel very painful. What can we do?
My neurotypical third grade son has an angel for a teacher. Every year she gets the children involved in a big project- the third grade Mother’ s Day Tea Party. A couple weeks before each child writes a letter to his/her mom based on a template, answering questions like “Describe your mom. What are some of the things you like about her? What are some of the things she does for you that you’d like to thank her for? What is your favorite activity together? What are some of your favorite places? How do you feel about your mom?” The teacher uses the opportunity as a writing project with first drafts, edits, and rewrites, during which she can also make sure each child has an acceptable letter for the big day. The children start practicing a special Mother’s Day song, complete with hand motions and simple dance moves. They paint a little wooden tray complete with their handprints, which the teacher lacquers as a keepsake for the moms to take home after the party. A week before, she has the children secretly ask their fathers or other special relative to help them squirrel away a nice teacup or mug for their mother in their backpacks to take to school. She has them plan the food and drinks, which she purchases herself out of a voluntary classroom project fund set up at the beginning of the semester. The children also make invitations to bring home the week before. The day before the party she cuts a big paper tablecloth for each set of 4 desks she arranges together, and has each child draw something special and cheerful for his/her mother on a quarter over his/her desk, where mom will sit. The day of the party, the children set the table. When 11:00 rolls around, the teacher opens the door and all the moms flood into the room as the children all say, “Happy Mother’s Day!” Then the children give their moms their seats and serve as their waiters and waitresses. After the tea, each child reads his/her special letter out loud to mom (while the teacher stands by ready with a box of kleenex!). This is the most beautiful part, the kind of moments you live for, for yourself and also the privilege to witness the special relationship and all the love between each mom and child couple. Then the children sing their special song. There is never a dry eye amongst the mothers in the entire room, and some of the children also have tears of joy.
I love this idea. It is brilliant as a meaningful writing project, executive function and social skills training, includes the arts (painting, dance, and music), and builds community. It teaches children how to honor their parent, to be thankful, and how to show thankfulness. I especially love this teacher because she conceived of this idea which is like a dream come true for a mom, when she herself is childless. How did she know exactly what to do, that so hits the spot and touches the heart? Where does she get the love and grace to do this, when she herself has not been blessed with a child of her own to have this kind of relationship? Yet her face is all joy when she does this year after year. She has a beautiful heart, and has brought the love of God to many a grateful third grade mom. Certainly to this one.
So if you are a special education teacher or father or other close relative or friend of a mom with a child with special needs, please consider adopting some version of this project, with adaptations and accommodations of course. Take turns- moms can also do a family party like this of sorts for fathers on Father’s Day. Birthdays and other major holidays are other opportunities to teach this kind of appreciation for each other and learning how to express it, regularly. It can start with just one part of the project, and grow through the years, along with the ability of the child. What a lovely way for a child to grow in his/her capacity to love and express it.
I’m sure this kind of formation will take a lot of time and continuous efforts, but that’s what makes it become a part of the child’s character. And gratitude is such an important virtue to train, as it is most certainly a key to happiness. It’s so easy to not do this with our special kids because so much of it seems over their heads. So start simple and little. The seeds may grow.
In the meantime, one can always imitate the teacher, her face full of joy as she blessed others and their children while waiting patiently for her own.