Proudly Supporting all Military Families with a Special Needs Dependent
“Would it be OK if I hold your daughter in my arms?” was a question that will forever be written on my heart. For the first time in my daughter’s life, Santa Claus didn’t just see right through her. He saw her, noticed her, held her in his arms and brought the magic of the season to her life.
You see my daughter Addie has quadriplegic cerebral palsy, developmental disabilities, and is non-verbal. In years past, the booming music, long lines, and general over-stimulation of the mall were the fastest ways to send her into a stressful meltdown. In fact, we haven’t been to visit Santa since she was one. A friend from Special Needs OC told me about the Caring Santa program, an event designed for families like mine, who struggle with wheelchair accessibility and sensory triggers.
Registration was easy, and when we arrived, it was like being treated as royalty. The music was turned off and escalators were shut down. Arts-and-crafts tables were set up for the children, and breakfast snacks were available. Because this program was held prior to opening hours at the Mall, there were no lines to wait, and no anxiety.
The kind and compassionate staff told us to take our time – Santa would wait for whenever we were ready. So my older daughter, Emily crafted and read stories about Santa, as my mom and I wondered in disbelief whether this was real or not.
When I felt that Addie and Emily were ready, an Elf escorted us to Santa’s fully wheelchair-accessible area. As his jolly, cheerful eyes reached mine, he uttered those words that no Santa has ever said before: “Can I hold her?” As a mom to a child who is differently-abled, you can’t imagine the overwhelming feeling of generosity and kindness.
Santa spoke to both Addie and Emily with genuine care. Addie was a bit shy at first, but soon relaxed and began smiling and laughing. There was no rush; rather he took his time, making sure that both girls felt special and loved.
As I was lifting and loading Addie back into her wheelchair after photos, I glanced back over at Santa, who was having an intent conversation with Emily. Her eyes were filled with wonder as Santa told her what a big helper and a good big sister she is. I was so touched at how he not only allowed Addie to have this experience, but made Emily feel so special, too.
I would have gladly stopped time to relish in this moment where my daughters were able to experience what most families with typically developing children tend to overlook. This wasn’t just about getting a photo with the Big Guy, but the experience of inclusion. That day, we felt the magic of the Christmas spirit. For all that you have done and all you have given me and my family, I am forever grateful.
Have a Merry Christmas,
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