It's actually been a pretty good Christmas.
Yesterday Ethan managed to stay calm, sociable and jolly through a Christmas Day packed with people, noise and chaos.
What seemed to make the difference this year was a lot to do with me, I think. Not that I'm taking all the glory but I'm learning - slowly but surely, to accept Ethan's limitations and not to take the odd outburst or badly-phrased comment to heart.
On Christmas Eve I took the three kids to meet up with visiting family for the day while Ethan had an afternoon and evening of blissful solitude. Of course, it raised the question of why he'd not come, but it meant that, by Christmas Day, he was re-charged and ready for the onslaught of Christmas - safe in the knowledge that, by Boxing Day, it would just be our family again, the TV and the kids occupied by their Christmas presents (today's actually been the most stressful day yet - overtired kids and no outsiders to make us all behave but that's beside the point). The downtime beforehand meant that, on Christmas Day, Ethan felt able to throw himself into conversation, family games, present exchanges and church.
In years passed, I've felt that he's needed to be present at every family event - meaning he gets socially and emotionally and physically exhausted and shuts down part way through the season: I get embarrassed and frustrated and hurt and disappointed and tell him how he's spoiling everything which, in turn, sends him retreating further into himself. Meaning I get more embarrassed and hurt, etc etc.
A little adjustment of the event-planning and adapting of expectation and we're all happier. Forcing too much social time on him, I've discovered, is counter-productive to all concerned - it doesn't make for a happy time for me, him or the people we're supposed to be socialising with.
It's not easy - being solely responsible for my three loud, wriggling children in a church Christingle service or in other people's homes - but it's easier than having Ethan with us and me still feeling solely responsible because he's zoned our, or too overwhelmed to do anything other than shout at them, be too heavy-handed with them and make them cry.
I'm learning that I can depend on Ethan for all kinds of things such as putting a table football game together without any instructions, fixing the leaky sink in the bathroom and doing a good job of basting and carving the turkey. But, for other needs like laughing 'til my sides ached over ridiculous tomfoolery, keeping the kids engaged and happy, and enjoying good conversation, I generally have to rely on other people. And that's OK.
It's not all rosy, of course, but relationships rarely are - and we're a work in progress.
Yesterday Ethan even managed to just say nothing when he opened one of his more obscure gifts from a family member. His silence said it all, or course, but he didn't actually say what he was thinking. Believe me - that's a great step forward!