Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Around Thanksgiving, Alex apparently was not in an attitude of gratitude, for he was rather disgruntled, muttering and complaining. Since he’s usually good natured and pleasant, we tried to figure out what might have irritated him. Ed and I assessed what Alex had eaten, whether he was picking up on our pre-holiday stress, and even how weather changes affected him since he seems to be a human barometer sensing when low and high pressure systems develop. Of course, we tend to forget that he is a teenager, after all, and some of his behavior may simply be typical teen moodiness. Nonetheless, we figuratively walked on eggs for a few days, watching and waiting for muttering to magnify into meltdowns. Once again, we were thankful for the soothing effects of the sedative Ativan. Fortunately, we had not had to give him Ativan for quite a while, so we had forgotten how effective it truly is for Alex when his anxiety rages out of control. In addition, we looked for other ways to soothe him and remembered that music usually calms him. As a result, we discovered that Christmas carols make him remarkably happy and serene.

After we came home from a good session at music therapy last week, Alex sat on the couch scowling but wouldn’t tell us why he wasn’t pleased. I offered to teach him how to play “Jingle Bells” on the piano and began picking out the tune and writing the letter notes for him so that he could play the song if he wanted. Since he didn’t follow me into the room where the piano is, I assumed that he was still sitting on the couch in a foul mood. I was wrong. Ed came and told me to keep playing because Alex was acting the happiest he had in a week. Bringing my holiday songbook in for Alex to choose a song for me to play, I discovered that Alex was indeed much happier than I’d left him; he had a huge smile on his face. Returning to the piano, I played several Christmas carols for him and could hear him in the other room clapping and even doing what we call the “happy hop,” a gallop he does whenever he’s delighted. Had I known that he enjoyed listening to my piano playing—despite my limited ability, I would have played for him sooner. Since then, we’ve had Christmas music playing on the CD player or the Music Choice cable channel, and his mood has improved significantly. Instead of being Ebenezer Scrooge, he’s become more of a jolly Santa Claus, laughing and enjoying the Christmas season.

Like many children, Alex’s favorite Christmas song is “Jingle Bells,” with its repetitive lyrics and instantly recognizable melody. This year he has another Christmas carol he especially likes, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Since he likes numbers and counting, that song with all its numbered gifts holds appeal. For some reason he also currently has a fascination with the number twelve, always betting twelve chips when he plays video poker and giving “high twelves” instead of “high fives” as greetings. (He does this by giving “high fives” with both hands, and then putting one finger up on each hand and slapping those index fingers against the other person’s hands: five plus five plus one plus one, equaling twelve.) Besides the traditional “Jingle Bells” and “Twelve Days of Christmas,” Alex is quite fond of a contemporary Christmas song sung by gospel quartet Ernie Haase and Signature Sound, “Glory to God in the Highest.” Besides the beautiful four-part harmonies of this song, it has a catchy rhythm that makes Alex want to clap along to the beat as he listens to the CD. As we celebrate the Christmas season, we are thankful for the blessings God has given us and for the joy found in the carols that praise Him. In the words of Alex’s gospel favorite: “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth and good will to men. Heavenly angels announce His arrival in the little town of Bethlehem. Hallelujah to the Lord, sing holy, He was born to save the world from sin. Glory to God in the highest glory, hallelujah to the Lord. Amen.”

“The Lord is my strength and my shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.” Psalm 28:7

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