Last Thanksgiving, we’d gone to visit family and were staying with my energetic sister who had planned for us to take our four young children to see Santa. I was exhausted from several sleepless nights with Rachel and my husband was ill. But I didn’t want to disappoint anyone, so I pressed on.

We’d just bathed the children, and our older two girls were fighting over a Barbie instead of getting dressed. I had chased Rachel down the hall three times and was almost in tears with frustration as I tried to wrestle Rachel into a fancy dress. I knew she didn’t want to wear the dress, but we were on a schedule, and I had to deliver.

I felt so sorry for myself. Why did she have to be autistic with so many sensory issues? Why can’t she just cooperate? I was nervous about Santa, too. How would she react? Would she destroy things, scream in terror, stand still for a picture?

I’d just made an impressive leap to catch Rachel when my sister’s two-year-old son waddled up the stairs. “Aunt Den,” he said in his garbled toddler speak. I turned to answer and my mouth fell open. He held out a chubby hand and grinned. “Dip tick, Aunt Den!”

I swallowed. My sister’s freshly bathed son was now decorated for Christmas—in bright red lipstick. He had done a thorough job, too. He was only in his diaper and had smeared thick layers all over his chest, face, ears, hair, legs … He was so proud.

“Dip tick, Aunt Den!”

“Um, Tristan, give Aunt Jenn the lipstick please.”

He looked sad, but handed it over. What was I going to do? We were supposed to leave in just a few minutes. This was going to ruin my sister’s day. I held my breath and carried him to her bathroom.

When we walked in, Tristan held out his arms and grinned.

“Dip tick, Mommy!”

My sister turned around. I waited for her to scream then burst into tears, but instead she started laughing. Not just a chuckle, either. We’re talking belly laughs. Soon we were all laughing, especially Tristan.

“Dip tick!” He clapped his hands and jumped up and down like he’d just won a prize. My sister put down her brush and ran out the door, telling me to hold him there. I thought she was getting wipes or something to clean him off with, but she came back in with her camera. Then she handed him the lipstick and said, “Say, ‘dip tick’!”

It took three types of makeup remover, a bottle of baby oil, and thirty minutes of scrubbing to clean him up, but my sister taught me a huge lesson that day. Don’t take life so seriously and treasure the little unexpected moments. Her reaction turned a stress-filled morning into a joy. After the big Tristan clean up, I did manage to get Rachel into the dress, which she soon spilled lemonade on.

But you know what? I thought back to the “dip tick” episode and decided to take it with a sense of humor.

The visit to Santa wasn’t easy, but Rachel did smile once for him … after she’d knocked down part of the stage decorations and held her dress over her head.

Ha, ha, I reminded myself.

Okay, so it wasn’t as funny as the “dip tick,” but at least I didn’t have to use any makeup remover.