An Au‑some New Year

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Jan 12, 2016

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When I was a teenager and into my twenties, the months leading up to New Year’s Eve brought so much anticipation. It was the one evening of the year that we were allowed to stay out all night and party until dawn; for those 24 hours, we were young and free, and the world was ours. We buzzed with excitement, with uncertainty: Which party would we be invited to? What would we wear? Would we be kissed at midnight? Anyone who grew up in the 80s in Bombay will remember a host of “traditions” from this time, one of my favourites being no matter which party you got invited to, in the end we would all meet for breakfast at the shamiana at The Taj Hotel and watch the sun rise over the New Year in a golden moment together at The Gateway of India.

A lifetime later, I must admit that the allure and importance that I gave to 31 December has dimmed. The arrival of our son, Tristan, seven years ago and the ensuing sleepless nights left me sleep deprived and annoyed with the concept of staying up until 12 or being awakened by fireworks. Other holidays dulled, too. Tristan didn’t react well to having people, even family and friends, in his home for Christmas dinners and brunches. We learned to adapt, downplay and downsize our family festive spirit. But one thing that didn’t change was the uncertainty of the holidays; if anything, it amplified as we raised a boy who found the rearrangement of furniture unsettling and twinkling lights and fireworks frightening.

With each passing year, Tristan grew and changed in ways we could not have imagined. We learned to experiment, to accept that everything was going to be about trial and error. There was no way to predict the kind of night he would have, the mood he would be in, or his reaction to something he had been disinterested in or anxious about the previous year. We realized we had to challenge the very concept of tradition, of celebrating in the same way each year, in order to raise our son.

It was a daunting prospect; for most people, ourselves included, holidays were about tradition. There may be variations on a theme, but there’s a continuity that ties the years, the generations together. But it was also thrilling, in a way. Cut loose from expectations and custom, we were filled with the spirit of adventure, and my love of surprises was constantly fed.

We decided we were going to try everything.

We started with aisle seats at movie theatres and musicals, in case we needed to leave, then we advanced to Disney on Ice, a two-hour show that Tristan loved and sang and danced to. In 2015, we took him to Universal Studios in Singapore, where he went on his first roller coaster, dragging me on repeat rides before he told me he had had enough. On another holiday, the boy who previoulsy couldn’t bear having goggles or a snorkel on his face made me stand in a long queue to go snorkelling. This was a surprise I wasn’t thrilled with. In fact, I was panicked, warning all the lifeguards that my son had autism and please help if we needed it. But Tristan snorkelled without a problem, right next to me, while I cried into my mask with pride.

It has left us with a new, unexpected holiday tradition: trust. Trust that everything will be the way it’s meant to be, and — good or bad — we will deal with it together. I have virtually retired the word “expectations” from my vocabulary and have replaced it with “surprises.” I give credit to my son for this realisation; when I expect, I am almost always disappointed. When I don’t expect, when I trust instead, I am always surprised in a good and positive way.

Last year, Tristan started waking up to be with us on New Year’s, to sing along with whatever countdown television show happened to be on or cuddle and doze before watching the fireworks from inside our home.

This year was the first time we actually left our home together.Tristan had his ear warmers on and stood between his grandmother and me while his father set off a beautiful fireworks display on our street. It was the first time he didn’t panic. Instead, he gave his father a verbal countdown for every firework that was lit. We were surprised.

Oprah calls moments like these her “Aha” moments; I refer to mine as my “Haha” moments because my son has shown me how much fun a revelation and a surprise can be. When you don’t take yourself too seriously and remember we’re works in progress, autistic or not, it becomes easier to embrace the unexpected. We may not have holiday traditions like most people, but we have them all the same, and they are precious. So, we keep pushing boundaries; sometimes, we try the same thing every year and hope for a different reaction from Tristan. As Ellen Notbohm said, “When you lapse into thinking of all the things your child with autism cannot do, remember to add ‘yet.'” You never know what will happen next year.

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Written By Shalini Sawhny Braxhoofden

Shalini Sawhny-Braxhoofden was born and brought up in South Mumbai where she lived until her early twenties. She has always expressed herself through art and writing. Travel was a passion and she has lived in Oman and Bahrain where she worked and lived as cabin crew. She met her Dutch husband in Bahrain ; they currently reside in the Netherlands . She has embraced motherhood and her role as au some mummy to her autistic son. She is the resident hug giver, late night dragon slayer, mentor, advocate, domestic engineer and (sometimes)arm candy par excellence. Away from her support system in India, and having to understand the ” clogic” of the cloggies has not been an easy road. She has also realised that she is fortunate to use resources in both countries and avail of occupational therapists when she visits the land of her birth. She hopes that by sharing her personal stories that it will help other au some families.

See all articles by Shalini Sawhny
  1. amitabh

    Have a great year ahead, Shalini!
    You put both the “awe” and the “aww” in your response to Tristan’s autism

    • Shalini Sawhny -Braxhoofden

      Thank u Amoo . Happy New year to you and yours.

  2. Anjana

    Shalini I love your Au some articles you write so well as always I really enjoyed reading your articles . Thanks Shalini for sharing yours and Tristan’s experiences xx

  3. Nomita | Ebabee

    Shalini – this is such a beautifully written article. I so enjoy reading about your and Tristan’s journey because you are always frank, real and very eloquent. xx

    • Shalini Sawhny -Braxhoofden

      Thank you nomita . Im so happy to hear that.

    • Shalini Sawhny -Braxhoofden

      Thank you mahtu. Im blessed with my friends and family . Xx

  4. Ninotchka

    Very well written Shalz! Writing has always been your calling.. So glad you have found the avenue!! Looking forward to many more!

    • Shalini

      Thank you Ninotschka,passion and purpose collided at the Swaddle and im very grateful .

  5. archana

    loved your writing… i too have a child on the spectrum.. am gonna follow your advice and TRUST!!!

    • Shalini

      Dear Archana,
      Thank you so much. You are the reason I am writing,I’m so glad you liked the article and that it helps you .Loving a child on the spectrum is something we have in common and just remember you are an au some mom!

  6. Shalini Sawhny Braxhoovden

    Superbly written Shalz. You’re breaking your boundaries and creating such beautiful memories for T. So proud of you!

    • Shalini Sawhny -Braxhoofden

      Thanks for cracking me up! The encouragement , support and praise anisha !

  7. Geneviève

    Oh Shalini! What an incredibly beautifully written piece on your little treasure T. You really are opening a bright new door of courage, strength and trust to people without realising it!! I can’t wait to read your next piece. XX

    • Shalini

      Thank you so much.Your comments mean alot . Im grateful for the support, encouragement and kind words.

  8. Avantika

    Loved it 🙂 and hope life has many ,many lovely surprises for you ♥️

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