I’m having terrible trouble deciding how to write this post.
Do I start with this paragraph -
Dave and I have been married for 45 years, and if only we’d known at the start that he had Asperger syndrome (or autism, as you’re now supposed to call it) things would have been easier. Take Christmas, for starters.
or should I start with this paragraph -
In my Christmas mailing from the National Autistic Society I received this card, which illustrates beautifully why a lot of autistic children have huge problems at Christmastime:
Maybe I should start here -
I have a lot of new blog readers this year, who don’t know that at Hepworth Towers we have a custom of alternating years when Christmas is ON, with years when Christmas is OFF. When we started the scheme, neither of us knew anything about autism or Asperger syndrome. Dave was moaning about Christmas, one November, as per usual, and then he jokingly suggested the ON/OFF Christmas (or Christmas in the Shed as it is popularly known).
I then wrote a piece for the Times about it:
Our ON/OFF Christmas
Are you and your partner at odds as to how to celebrate Christmas? Does one of you want to go and sit by a peat fire in a bothy in the Outer Hebrides, while the other wants to stay in the thick of things and party every night ?
Although we have tried to find the perfect Christmas compromise, for us there is no middle ground. It was somehow not a problem when we were first married. As impoverished students we both thought it fun to have a second hand Christmas tree and to make baubles out of painted eggshells. Now – forty years and three children later – we disagree.
You may need some background. I come from a meat eating, sub-Walton family of five children, with a history of jolly Christmases - not extravagant, there was no money for extravagance - but certainly festive. I don’t ask for incessant parties, or for spending overkill. For me there is nothing more heart warming than having the house packed with people I love, sharing good food, conversation and games, and to have decorations and a tree.
For my teetotal, vegetarian, atheist husband, who is an only child, and who is not one of life’s natural celebrants, an empty, quiet house is the ideal. He is allergic to visitors, cards, tree, seasonal food and tinsel, and his idea of jolly activity is a spot of DIY, whilst his only concession to over indulgence is an extra carton of natural yoghurt.
Last Christmas I tried to be selfless and to accede to his puritan yearnings by having no decorations and by giving up the tree. This was painful. Admittedly we missed out on the annual row about where to place it (the issue for him), and whether or not it was perfectly vertical (the issue for me), but still I was bereft. I lasted out till Christmas Eve, but failed to go cold turkey, and resorted to assembling all my over-wintering geraniums in the dining room, and stringing the fairy lights on them. It was sad, but it was better than nothing.
This year he floated the idea of the Christmas Shed. I was suspicious, because we already have a potting shed, a storage shed and a workshop shed, and I know he harbours an evil imperialist plan to have the garden covered with a vast shed complex. But actually his idea has promise.
Firstly, we would alternate a Christmas ON year with a Christmas OFF year. In an OFF year (his year) we would have no visitors and the house would be declared a festivity free zone. I would decorate the Christmas Shed to my taste, with a tree, cards, holly and tinsel, and there would be a stash of Christmas goodies in there, and a radio for Christmas music. If friends or family visit I would entertain them in the Shed. If no-one calls (who would blame them ?) and if the sitting room is not available for a surreptitious screening of It’s a Wonderful Life, I could seek refuge from the monastic desert and go out to the Shed for a mince pie and an invigorating blast of Jingle Bells.
In an ON year, the house would be mine to fill with whoever and whatever I liked. My husband could slink off to the Christmas Shed with a bowl of yoghurt and sit in a deck chair in his boiler suit reading Walden. If he wanted a little light activity he could mend a few broken chair legs.
We could have a sign inside the front door saying “Next Christmas: December-” and then give the year. That way, adult children visiting the house during the year would be able to discreetly note it in their diaries, and no-one would suffer embarrassment or hurt feelings when the subject of Christmas was raised in those difficult parent-offspring telephone conversations that often occur in September. Outside the house, my husband could erect a sign directing carol singers and other assorted revellers towards the appropriate location.
So, that’s decided, then. We’ll buy a Christmas Shed and get started. The only problem now is to decide whether we start the new regime with an ON Christmas or an OFF Christmas. He says we’ve had Christmas for thirty years, so this year should be OFF. I say I did without the tree last year, so Christmas should be ON.
© Sue Hepworth/Times Newspapers 2009 published here with kind permission of Times Newspapers
This year Christmas is OFF, which means all decorations will be confined to my study, and nothing special is happening on Christmas Day (unless Dave brings me breakfast in bed in the form of a bacon sandwich and a mug of tea, as he did last OFF Christmas. Hint, hint.)