Christmas can be hard, or at least strange, when you have a child at a residential facility.

As a family, we had wonderful, if overwhelming, Christmases when my children were small. While the days of, and after, the celebrations with extended family were sometimes just too much for my daughter to take in, the feeling of love and the anticipation were wonderful…even for her. She has never doubted she was and is well-loved.

When my son left for basic training, Christmas was somewhat subdued, without him here at home.

The next year, he was home, but my daughter was in a residential facility placement. He and I traveled to spend Christmas day in the cafeteria of the facility, with other families and their children celebrating at other tables. I’m not sure I can adequately explain to you the strangeness of it all. This was not a Norman Rockwell Christmas! The three of us could celebrate together…. but that in itself was part of the strangeness: our extended family was not there!

This facility reminded me of visiting a friend in the mental health ward at an adult hospital. At this facility, and I want to stress that the facility was clean, caring, and safe – the staff were WONDERFUL – there were very rigid rules about what we could bring my daughter. When you arrived, you locked up your purse and phone and you could not take in food or drink. These rules were for client safety, as well as the safety of staff; rules necessary because some visitors – adults – do not use or have any common sense. Some of the gift restrictions were: no aerosols, no glass, no shoestrings or drawstrings, no metal – this includes staples in books, spiral notebooks – you get the idea – nothing that can be fashioned into a weapon or device to harm others or yourself.

When my daughter opened her presents(toys, clothes and books), we used a sharpie to put her name on each item – like you would at a nursing home. Tags and some of the packaging had been remove before we wrapped them. We shared ham, scalloped potatoes, and dessert, provided by the cafeteria. My son and I stayed and visited the allowed two hours and headed home.

Did I mention it was a 2+ hour drive each way? Over the course of her two-year stay at this facility, I made the trip at least 110 times. Sometimes alone, sometimes with my son or sisters(they took turns). On a very few occasions, her behavior was deemed safe enough to take her out. We would go out to eat, go to the salon, and maybe pick up an item she needed at Gabe’s or the mall. Whether or not she could go out, I never missed a visit. If my daughter can’t be home, I have made and will make every effort to see her as often as possible.

Her current placement is slightly different – better for her needs – farther away. I will write about this placement, and Christmas there, in another post.

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