The Safety Sleeper

Making Sure Special Needs Siblings are Special, too.

Making Sure Special Needs Siblings are Special, too.

I only JUST put away my Christmas tree. Not because I’m behind schedule, but because we tend to keep that guy around until mid-January. But by then the ornaments marking milestones of childhood are long gone and in its place is a tribute to my daughter, Macie.

Macie is our youngest of three. She’s the quiet one of the bunch, who gets lost in her own imagination. She’s the sister of a special needs kid, and when her brother gets in a mood sometimes she just gets lost. And, she has a January birthday, which is all too easy to lose in the post-holiday shuffle.

So we’ve created some untraditional traditions just for her. My favorite untraditional tradition celebrates her birthday by transforming the Christmas Tree into Macie’s Birthday Tree. Here’s how we do it (and I highly suggest this to anyone with a Christmas-adjacent birthday):

Pine tree decorated with blue and purple lights in Rose Morris's home

Step 1: De-Christmasify the tree. We strip it down to its piney green naked forest splendor.

Step 2: A whole new theme. We redecorate with whatever colors and shapes strike our Birthday girl’s fancy. At the moment, she’s into blue and purple. Abram’s happy to get new lights going. We also hunted down some ornaments and other decorations that completely transform the tree. You can’t beat those after Christmas sales!

Step 3: Birthday underneath. We stock the space beneath the branches with a whole fresh set of birthday-paper wrapped gifts, giving Macie her own personal round two. No holiday paper for a birthday! She knows, the entire tree is all about her.

Even if it’s never a request she seems to make, I think it’s so important to find ways to make her birthday all about her. In addition to the birthday tree, our yard was also decorated with a custom, tie-die yard sign from “Card My Yard.” With a brother on the spectrum, Macie’s rarely a kid who is at the center of attention. The moods, parade of therapists, frequent appointments...even our business! It’s so frequently Abram-focused. She takes it in stride.

Rose's front yard decorated with large letters that say "Happy Birthday Macie"

As of late, there’s also been a shift in their dynamic. Macie’s rarely in Abram’s shadow anymore. If anything, he’s in hers. As her social world is opening up, Abram’s stays limited. But, Macie is his window into friendship. When she’s having a friend over, Abram is beside himself with excitement as soon as he hears of the plan. When the friend appears, it’s Abram who retreats--but he watches his sister, almost voyeuristically experiencing her friendships, and she keeps him along for the ride.

They also surprised me just a few mornings ago with another new trick, if you will. Abram pulled his surly teen act and refused to get out of bed. I chased Macie away, ready for a fight.

“Mom,” she said. “Let me try.” 

She disappeared into his room. It got quiet. After a few minutes… one could say TOO quiet. I hollered down the hall to see what was up.

“Quiet, MOM!” Macie’s voice was stern, a whispered yell back. “We’re cuddling!”

Abram gives his sister Macie a piggy-back ride

I resisted the urge to peak in on this, and within a few minutes, both came down the stairs and calmly headed out the door for school. Add “Abram whisperer” to her many, many talents.

She really is something, my Macie. We celebrate her everyday...but come January, you’ll see the most visible of tributes--and please, DON’T call it a Christmas tree!

Rose Morris and her daughter Macie


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