The first time I read Kathy and Kate Hennessy’s Christmas story in their book Anything But Silent, I cried happy tears. And yesterday when re-read it, I cried again. And then when I told my husband this story, well you guessed it … those tears started flowing again.
Because this story is that good.
This feel-good story is for every parent who has a child with apraxia and has dreaded the traditional visit to “tell” Santa what you want for Christmas. It’s also a story for SLPs and parents who have children who are blessed with the gift of communication.
Kathy Hennessy is the Director of Education at CASANA (Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association of North America) and was also one of its founding members. Kathy has an intimate connection to this nonprofit group because her two children, Kate and Andrew, were both diagnosed with childhood apraxia of speech when they were kids.
I wish I could take the two chapters that tell Kathy and Kate’s account of their annual visit with Santa Claus and copy them into this blog post word for word. The story was so touching, I fear leaving out the details might take away from the sparkle of their tale. Their words made the story come alive and I could feel exactly what Kathy must have went through.
In 1996, when Kate was seven years old and Andrew was four, Kathy got her kids all dressed up and took them downtown to visit Santa. The kids were at the perfect age to experience the true magic of the season. Kathy was concerned that Santa wouldn’t be able to understand what Andy wanted for Christmas because he primarily used sign language to communicate and so she cut pictures of the toys he wanted out of catalogues and glued them onto a list.
Kathy writes …
But that Christmas, my concern was Santa Claus. Kate, at seven-years-old was excited and ready for the holiday season. But for the first time, Andy was really aware of what was going on around him at that time of year. It was more than bright lights and yummy smells. It was SANTA CLAUS! And he was ready for it. But I was more than a little nervous. What if Santa didn’t understand what Andy was saying? What if Andy finally reached Santa’s lap and Santa just didn’t get it?
While we waited in line, both kids practiced what they were going to say. Andy was of course supplementing his grunts with amazingly accurate sign language. As we got closer to Santa, my stomach started to churn. I desperately wanted this to be a good experience, yet I had absolutely no control. What if Santa didn’t get it?
Finally, it was our turn. Santa reached out to Andy and took him into his lap. Andy started with the sign language and the paper with the pictures on it. I held my breath. Somehow Santa got it! He signed right back to Andy and used Andy’s picture list to find out exactly what this little boy wanted for Christmas. I couldn’t help it, I started to cry. He spent the next fifteen minutes with my child and made him feel like the only kid there. And then he did the same with Katie. This department store Santa had made my child feel like any other kid that went to see Santa. As we were leaving, Santa got up and tapped me on the shoulder and whispered in my ear, “You’re doing a good job, Mom.” All the way home, I couldn’t stop talking about this wonderful Santa. Katie and Andy couldn’t figure out what the big deal was. Wasn’t Santa supposed to be all things that are good?
Are you melting yet? Well, the story doesn’t end there …
The next year Kathy couldn’t wait to take her kids back to see that same special Santa, but when they arrived at the department store, he was not there! Their Santa was gone and she had no idea what his name was. After a few phone calls, Kathy tracks down their Santa – Wayne Brinda – only to realize that it is December 20th and it’s his last day on duty at another local store.
But, what does this awesome Santa do?
He says he will make a special house visit and he and his wife surprise the kids by showing up at Kathy’s home after dinner on December 23rd!!!
Kathy writes …
When the appointed hour came along and the doorbell rang I let Katie and Andy open the door, and standing there was our Santa. He was so amazing. He sat with Andy in our big comfy chair for almost an hour.
He never forgot Katie and made her feel special too. I couldn’t stop crying and tried to hide behind the video camera. He made communication with Andy seem effortless, even though Andy was so excited that any speech skills he had were forgotten. Santa asked each child what was one special thing they really wanted for Christmas. Both kids decided that Beanie Babies were the one thing they had to have for Christmas. Santa promised them Beanie Babies. Then he was gone!
I was trying to figure out where we were going to get Beanie Babies the day before Christmas when the phone rang later that night. It was Wayne and he wanted to thank me for the opportunity to get to know my children. I started to cry some more! This incredible man was so generous and here he was thanking me.
Kathy goes out to fight the crowds the day of Christmas Eve day on a quest to find Beanie Babies. She finally finds them, wraps them up, and puts them under the tree.
Kathy closes the story by saying …
You would think that was the end of the story, but then again you don’t know Wayne. When I opened the door the next morning, there on the front porch, waiting patiently to be found, were the Beanie Babies Santa had promised. I was totally overwhelmed by this man’s kindness and generosity of spirit. He was truly Santa Claus – our Santa Claus.
The next chapter in Anything But Silent is Kate’s memory of this story and is titled “That’s not the way I remember it!”
Kate gives so much good insight, but my favorite words are these …
Even though my mom was worried about how the speech thing would go, Andy and I never connected Santa Claus with our inability to communicate like other children. And yet, ten years later, I have conversations with my mom and realize there was a whole other side to most of the everyday things that Andy and I took for granted. Not once in all those years did I ever think of not being able to tell Santa what I wanted for Christmas; not once, not ever.
When I read this book a year ago, I dreamed of sharing this story during the holidays. Thank you Kathy and Kate for gifting us with this story. As far as I’m concerned, you ladies have a shot at turning this into a holiday movie on Lifetime or Hallmark. After all, with Christmas movies starting daily in November; I’m sure there’s a demand! Kate, you got connections, girl … go for it!
* To read more about this book, click here to read the review I wrote back in May of this year.