My, How Things Change

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I think one of the best pieces of encouragement I could give to a parent whose child is newly diagnosed with autism is that things change. The way things are RIGHT NOW are not the way things will be six months from now, one year from now, or five years from now. It is hard to remember, at times when we feel so overwhelmed with what is happening right now, that this is not how it will always be. The foods they won’t even look at now, might be more palatable to them in a year or two. The diapers that they (still) wear, may be a thing of the past in time. The haircuts that make them scream now, may be comfortably tolerated in a year. We just never know what will change, and it does a disservice to our children to think there is anything they can’t do. Doug and I went into this world of autism with the mantra that Monkey can do anything in his own time. As parents, we are so focused on milestones and developmental timelines that it can be especially discouraging when we are unable to check off the milestones at an age appropriate time. But fear not, because the only thing that limits our children is us. When we say our kids can’t or won’t ever do something, why should they even try?

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Time changes everything. We have seen so much development in Monkey over the past six months. His speech has really come along, and his understanding of certain concepts has improved greatly. Last year I felt a lot of discouragement, because where his peers were excitedly talking about Halloween and birthdays and Christmas, Monkey was still clueless, still struggling with the changes in routine that come with holidays and special events. This year, though, he dressed up and went trick-or-treating (last year he had a meltdown before his costume was even on). He only made it to four houses, but it was amazing! He went up, and happily took candy from our neighbors. He didn’t say anything, and tried to walk into their houses, but progress is progress. This year he understands birthdays, especially the cake! He’s very excited for his birthday in two days. This year he understands who Santa is (to a degree, he doesn’t understand that Santa gives presents or lives in the North Pole, but he understands that Santa and Christmas go hand-in-hand), he loves the lights and Christmas trees and decorating cookies. He still greatly struggles with the changes in routine, but again, progress is progress.

The past few years he has been very adverse to footed pajamas. It had been sad for me, as I love how cute he looks when he wears them, and it had felt like a waste of money. This year, though, he’s voluntarily wearing footed sleepers and, in fact, won’t wear any other kind of pajamas.

Nothing stays the same for any person, there is always development and growth when we work at it and when we believe it is possible. It’s not going to be the same for everyone, but the bottom line is still there. Don’t give up hope. Things change.

Autism at Home: Mass… or not.

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*Note: I’ve had this post in my drafts for two months. I have debated on whether or not to post it for various reasons. I finally had the push needed to post it, and hope someone finds this post useful, or that it makes others feel not so alone.*

Monkey has been in school for two weeks now. He’s doing pretty well, and we’re so proud of him! It’s still a huge adjustment for him, and he does struggle, but he has a great team working with him, and we’re just overall very pleased with how things are going. We’ve seen so much improvement in his speech, and his fine motor abilities!

We decided to take him to church recently. Now that he is in Junior Kindergarten, he is able to go to Sunday school, which is held during the scripture readings and homily (for reference: we are Catholic). Mass has been really difficult for us for years. I think we stopped actively attending Mass as a family when Monkey was 10 months or so. As we believed to be typical, he was unable to sit quietly for an hour, even if we brought toys or quiet activities for him. For a long time we would take turns taking him to the back of the church (none of the parishes near us have cry rooms). One of us was always ending up missing Mass. We assumed things would get better for us, but it didn’t. In fact, it got worse. We hit Monkey’s 2nd birthday, and still he couldn’t last more than 5 minutes in Mass. Then we started learning that he may have autism, and things started making sense. We stopped trying. He couldn’t do it, and it was really frustrating for us, so we just stopped going. Every once in a while we tried, but no luck. Monkey has not attended Mass properly since he was a baby. It became even more obvious that it was not just a typical behaviour when we had Baby Bear. He IS able to attend Mass, and can sit mostly quietly for almost the entire hour. We don’t expect young children to be perfect angels in Mass, just that they are able to keep relatively quiet and sit mostly in the pew. Monkey has not been able to do this. We have learned that he has a “fight or flight” mentality with things that overwhelm him, and his usual response is flight. The social expectations in Mass are a lot to handle. One second it is loud without warning, the next it is quiet, one second we stand, the next we sit. There are unfamiliar smells, and lots of people, and unknown things happening up front. It’s just a lot for him to handle. We decided to be okay with that. It’s not what we’d imagined, but it is what it is. We ended up with a routine that worked for us, with taking turns going to Mass (me on Saturday evening, Doug on Sunday morning). Truth be told, I have skipped Mass more times than I have attended, but that’s neither here nor there.

We were pretty excited when Monkey was old enough to go to Sunday School. In our minds, we thought that would mean at least half an hour of Mass we could both attend. We talked to the teachers about Monkey, and they assured us they would take care of him, and he’d be fine. We got there last week, and Doug took him to Sunday school, and he freaked out. I ended up sitting with him the entire time. The next week, the same thing. Sunday school, as it was set up, was not going to be a good fit for Monkey. It was, again, more sitting and listening to someone tell a story/read scripture, and more reciting prayers, and then a few minutes of colouring. Not that this is a flawed set up, it’s great for the typically developing 4-8 year old. The typical world is all about round pegs fitting in round holes. Autism, as we’ve learned, is a square peg world.

I’ve spent a lot of time being embarrassed by our inability to attend Mass, and my lack of desire to keep trying. I’ve spent years being frustrated about not being able to go to Mass as a family, I’ve been guilty about it for a long time. Now, I’m not sure where I stand, and I still think Mass will eventually be a family thing again, but for now, we’re content to continue as we are now.

If you can’t find the good, BE the good.

Photo By Jacquie at Muse Photography

Photo By Jacquie at Muse Photography

I’ve been writing this post for three days. I keep sitting down, writing, and then erasing everything I’ve written. Nothing is good enough, and most often my words get tangled up in my emotions and they don’t come out quite right. Inside I feel so conflicted. I’m sad, and scared, and angry.

I wanted to write about depression. I wanted to write about mental illness. I wanted to write about how love is sometimes not big enough, but that it doesn’t take away the value of loving. I wanted to have words that were uplifting and encouraging, but they kept coming out angry and hopeless. I knew there was hope to be found, but I couldn’t find it. I kept getting more and more angry, with God, with people, with life.

Last night I saw the movie The Giver. I won’t write a review (but you should read the book), but I did want to touch on one aspect of the movie that I thought was important given the state of affairs in the world right now. When there are terrible things happening in the world, our instinct may be to hide our heads in the sand. It might seem appealing to hide away from all the bad things, and make everything good, and erase the possibility of bad things by creating a world of peace, and sameness, where there is no trace of the bad things that have happened before. But in that, you miss out on so much. When you eliminate everything bad, or everything that could possibly lead to something bad, you think you’re safe, and happy, and good. But there is still so much good in this world. It might seem like all we see is hate and violence, poverty and pain. It might all seem hopeless, but in spite of all of that, there is love. There are people helping each other. There is music and laughter and dancing. Even with all the horrible things that happen in the world, there are things that really make life beautiful and meaningful. Hang on to those things.

I challenge all of you to find the good out there. Set a goal to make a list of five things every day that are GOOD.  And if you can’t find the good, be the good.

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Autism at Home: traveling and dysregulation

getting a quiet break at the sensory heavy Great Wolf Lodge

getting a quiet break at the sensory heavy Great Wolf Lodge

A lot of times, I feel life with an autistic child has two faces (or more!). Monkey is often able to hold himself together pretty well outside of our home. He does have his meltdowns and behavioural issues, but it’s much less severe than his behaviour at home. This is both a blessing and a curse for us. Sometimes it makes me feel as though people don’t believe me when I talk about his behaviour, or they may not take me seriously when I talk about his limits and needs for sensory breaks. He puts on a really good front for other people, and I’ve been told on a number of occasions, “he doesn’t seem autistic!”

Then, we get home and he has violent meltdowns, where I have to put him in a safe space so he won’t hurt me, his brother, or himself. He comes apart at the seams as soon as he is in his comfort zone. And no one sees this. He gets incredibly dysregulated when his routine changes, even slightly. When we have a three day weekend and Doug is home for three days (and he misses a day of daycare), he gets dysregulated. When we have visitors, even if his daily routine is not affected, he gets dysregulated. For him, dysregulation leads to more frequent meltdowns, more aggression (specifically toward Bear and me), more self-injurous behaviour like head banging, an inability to sit and eat (and he becomes even more picky than usual). It’s really tough for us at home.

We, as parents, do our best to advocate for him, and to listen to him when he is trying to advocate for himself (asking to go home, telling us “no” when we ask about doing various activities, etc). As his mother, I know when Monkey needs a sensory break, and I know when a particular activity will be too much for him to handle. But it’s tough, because sometimes I’m the only one that knows his limits. Even he tries to push himself, and as much as I’d like to let him, I also know that he will feel better if he isn’t overstimulated, or if he isn’t made to keep himself composed in public.

This weekend we are visiting Great Wolf Lodge, Niagara. I will post a full review later this week, but I will say that autism makes it difficult. Traveling anywhere with young kids is difficult, and requires a lot of planning and packing, and preparation that you just don’t need when traveling with adults. Traveling as a parent is far from the relaxing vacations of traveling pre-kids. Adding autism to the mix makes everything that much more difficult. There are more things to consider, more work goes in to making sure that our kids have everything they need to make their vacation as smooth as possible.

All that said, I’m expecting Tuesday to be a bit rough on Monkey, as he comes down from the dysregulation, and winds down from the excitement and overstimulation from the weekend. As we move back into our regular routine, we will fight with swinging moods and the frustrating way kids tend to unleash their frustrations. And so, after an exhausting weekend dealing with autism in public, I am mentally preparing myself for dealing with autism at home.

How I Coupon in Canada

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My friend Heather at In Good Taste and I have been chatting about sticking to grocery budgets and couponing. She’s awesome at it, and her post  has some nice tips on sticking to a weekly budget when food shopping. Our conversations, along with other conversations about grocery budgets got me thinking about how different it is to save money on food here in Canada. You have those extreme couponers in the states, and while there are some people who do go to the extreme side of things, couponing in Canada is way different (and less common). Until fairly recently it was really hard to find coupons here. Additionally, food in Canada (specifically meat and dairy) is more expensive than it is in the states.

Canadian Money Rainbow - Jonathan Hayward-Canadian Press

That said, it is 100 percent possible to keep to a tight budget here! For my family of four, we are able to stick to a pretty decent budget without bending over backward to find and use coupons. Keep in mind that, while some people say otherwise, healthy eating is NOT cheaper than eating crappy foods. If you are expecting to eat only whole foods, expect to increase your food budget, rather than decrease it. If you’re able, shopping farmers markets and growing and preserving your own produce will go a long way in helping you save money. We fall somewhere in the middle on this one, and it works for us.

In this post, I will share some of my money-saving tips. Remember that food budgets are not a one-size-fits-all thing. Do what works for you and your family.

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These tips are somewhat specific to Canada, as that’s where I live, but some tips are universal. All coupon websites will be listed at the end of this post. And now, on to my couponing and money saving tips!

1. Subscribe to coupon websites to get printable coupons and coupons mailed to you. This seems like a no-brainer, but there are a lot of coupons available online. Most of them are print-at-home coupons, but some will be mailed to you. Set up a day once a week to sift through websites and print out the coupons you want. Even though it may be tempting, don’t use coupons just because they are available. You’re not going to save any money that way.

2. Get a store card. If your local grocery store offers points cards, sign up! We stick to our local grocery store, and they recently began offering PC Points cards. I get points for every day items like broccoli and bananas, with occasional big points items like diapers or toilet paper. I save up my points until I have 60,000-100,000 and then I spend my points to get a week’s worth of groceries for free.

3. Price Match. Many stores now offer price matching. Mrs. January has a great post with a list of stores that price match, along with links to their price matching policies. Scour your Thursday flyers or use the Flipp app to keep your price matching simple. In order to price match, you have to show the ad from a competing store, and the Flipp app saves you from needing to carry around half a dozen store flyers. Price Matching also saves you from having to shop at many different stores in order to get all the sales. I typically do my shopping on two different days. I get the bulk of our groceries (meat and produce) from the local grocery store (using my points card) and then hop over to the mall later in the week to hit up Walmart (where I price match and use coupons on paper goods, diapers, pet food and miscellaneous grocery items) and the Dollar Store (where I typically buy paper goods, garbage bags and miscellaneous household items).

4. Keep bulk shopping to a minimum. Stores like Costco seem really great (and CAN be), but many times people go in with a short list, and come out having spent $500 on a cart full of items they didn’t know they needed. Be sure you know if you’re really getting a good deal on bulk food items (take note of unit prices). Try to stay away from buying things you don’t normally use. I typically make a Costco trip every 2-3 months to stock up on dog food, baby wipes and lunch snacks. I always set a budget and keep track of my spending as I go. Remember: you don’t need to fill your precious storage space with a year’s supply of toothpaste and ketchup. Buy in bulk only what you expect to consume within a reasonable amount of time.

5. Use rebate apps! Apps like Checkout 51 are great, because you get cash back on things you already buy. Take a picture of your grocery receipt and upload it to the Checkout 51 app to get your rebates. You can choose to have rebates mailed to you when you hit $20, or wait until it adds up a bit. I like to wait until it hits $100, so it pays for a week’s worth of groceries. Again, don’t buy something just to get the rebate. If you don’t normally buy International Delight Iced Coffee, it doesn’t make sense to spend an extra $6 just to get the $1 rebate (though I do love some International Delight Iced Coffee as a high calorie, high sugar treat).

6. Double up sales with coupons. This is one of my favourite things to do. Every Friday I go through the store ads and cross reference them with my pile of coupons. I love to use a coupon on an item that is already on sale (double check the coupons and store policies, though, because some stores don’t allow coupons on sale items).

7. Make shopping lists smart. When you’re making your shopping list, make note of items that are being price matched, as well as those items you have a coupon for. You don’t want to be that person who holds up the line, digging through coupons and flyers.

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Target Store Coupons – print
WebSaver – print and mail
SmartCanucks – print, mail, deals
GroceryAlerts – print
Free.ca – print
Save.ca – print and mail
GoCoupons – print and mail
P&G Everyday – print and mail

What are your money saving tips? Share them in the comments! I’d love to hear from you!

Color Run Review (aka: I have the best friends ever)

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Color Run 2014. Source unknown

I posted this image on facebook Sunday morning. I felt inspired by this when I found it online a few days ago, and felt that 2014 really is my year. I’m making big changes in my mental health, physical health and emotional well-being. 2014, for me, has been all about embracing myself and loving myself for who I am, but making positive changes, as well. Several months ago, my friend J roped a group of us in to signing up for The Color Run 5k. I agreed, though never intended to run. I thought I’d give it a shot and see what happened. Surprisingly, I enjoyed it. I’m not a great runner, and I struggle a lot, but I run. I do my best, and that’s all I can ask of myself. Initially, I figured I’d sign up for the 5k and walk it, supporting my friends who ran it. Silly me.

 

Photo by Jer, Jer or Chris

Photo by Jer, Jer or Chris

I started the Couch to 5k program with the rest of the girls, but struggled. I started 2014 off at 260lbs. I’m not light as a feather or fit as a fiddle by any stretch, and unfortunately, my weight puts a lot of pressure on my poor joints. I also have exercise induced asthma. It is what it is, and I’ve just given up using these excuses as a means to not try things that may be a bit challenging. Yes, I’m fat. No, fat doesn’t stop me from doing things. I have had many a road block in running, but I worked my way up from barely making it through 30 seconds of running to being able to run 1km without stopping. I worked my way from zero running, to being able to do running-walking stints for a whole 5km. I’d been giving up after 3km, and then finally worked up to 4km. I did my first 5k on Friday night. I ran 1km straight, and had to speed walk the remaining 4k. Two days later, I woke up terribly early, too nervous to sleep. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to run at all. I was afraid I would come in last. I was feeling a whole lot of self doubt.

Team ‘Mamas on the Run’ stood in line for an hour before we were finally able to run. That hour was a fantastic build up of nervous energy from all of us. We were excited, we were nervous, we were crossing our fingers that the rain would hold off. We group hugged when the “lady-who-was-supposed-to-get-everyone-pumped-up” asked who was running with their best friends, and told everyone to hug their friends. We danced and stretched and caught bracelets that were thrown into the crowd. We whined about the long wait. And then…. we ran.

Color Run 2014: photo by Chris (I think)

Color Run 2014: photo by Chris (I think)

I ran the first 1km with my friends J and B by my side. They cheered me on. They told me I could do it. They told me to keep going when I wanted to stop. They cheered for me when I made it to the 1km mark.

It started raining. Then it started pouring. J stuck with me the whole time, giving me markers to run, telling me it was okay to walk for a bit, letting me use her inhaler. We cursed the raindrops that felt like tiny needles hitting our exposed skin, we scoffed at the people who took shortcuts through the track, we laughed about our soggy shoes and socks. We ran together. J was understanding when I needed to walk, and she encouraged me to run when I could. I ran more on Sunday than I have at any other time in my life.

A note about The Color Run: each kilometer is marked by colour stations, where volunteers throw coloured cornstarch at runners, cheering them on, giving high fives and making the run the happiest 5k on the planet. We got a bit annoyed at the people who would stop at the colour stations to take selfies, and I nearly ran a few people over. There were a lot more walkers than I expected, and a lot of people who would stop and take pictures right in the middle of the course. The rain was probably a bit of a blessing, as it prevented us from choking on too much colour powder, but it did make us soggy messes!

As a team, we had decided to meet up at the 4km colour station, so we could cross the finish line together. I had decided I wanted to run the final 1k. I wanted to finish strong. It was so hard. I was wheezing, my left knee was hurting, and I wanted to just be done. I didn’t stop, though. I kept running. And my friends cheered me on. They said I could do it, they said they were proud of me, and I did it because of their encouragement.

Crossing the finish, together

Crossing the finish, together

As we crossed the finish line, I began to get really emotional. I’ve had a hard time making friends as an adult, and being new to Canada was really hard. I wanted a good local girl friend SO badly, and it wasn’t until very recently that I’d found friends. These women are some of the greatest women I’ve known. They’ve supported me through postpartum depression, through my parents’ divorce, through Monkey’s autism diagnosis process. They’ve encouraged me when I felt like giving up, when I was having a hard week, when I felt like a failure. They’re more than just my friends, these girls are my sisters. I love them, and I feel so very blessed to have them in my life. I did something this day that I’d never dreamed I could do, and I had them with me (physically and emotionally), cheering me on and believing I could do it.

Dousing ourselves in colour

Dousing ourselves in colour

We did it! We ran 5k! We each had to work at it, in our own way, and I am proud of each one of these ladies! And I couldn’t have asked for better teammates. And much thanks to J, B and S’s husbands for snapping pics of us. :)

Like a boss

Like a boss: Me, S, L, J, B, and M

Thanks, friends, for your support. I know I’m incredibly sappy, and I know it’s probably a bit silly, but you’re my sisters. I’m so glad to have you. I couldn’t have done this without your support. I ran a 5k!!! Like a boss! I’m so proud of my whole team. We all were physically challenged by this run, and even through the pouring rain, we came out of it successful and still smiling.

Mamas on the Run

Mamas on the Run

I’m absolutely positive that I won the friend lottery. I can never adequately express how much my friends mean to me, but I have amazing friends, near and far. I don’t know how I got so lucky. And I am really grateful to these women, and to all my friends who supported me in getting to this point! I’m going to keep going and I’d like to full out run my next 5k (in September).

All in all, The Color Run was a fantastic 5k. I was a bit disappointed that they ran out of colour at the last colour station, and it was a bit frustrating to have to wait so long for each wave of runners to actually set out on the course, but it was great fun and a really really fantastic experience. My tips for those interested in running a colour run:
-DO IT! It’s a blast!
-Run with a group and have matching outfits! It’s more fun that way. We’re already planning our outfits for next year.
-Don’t wear anything you will regret having stained various colours.
-Cheap sunglasses from the dollar store are great at protecting your eyes from flying powder!
-Be sure to get there EARLY so you can be in one of the first waves of runners. We were in the second to last wave, and we waited an hour between the time the first wave left, and the time we actually got to start running.
-Bring sheets and garbage bags and towels to line your car with, plus a change of clothes to change into after the race. Dye will be everywhere.
-Don’t expect to PB. There are tons of walkers, and lots of people stop at the colour and water stations and apparently people forget to move aside for those who are trying to run.
-If you need to walk or stop, don’t stop in the middle, and try to keep to the side so no one bumps into you!

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When all is said and done, I had a blast, and can’t wait to hit the pavement again, and try to work up to running the full 5k.

Friday Five: Friend Edition

Monkey and his BFF

This week’s Friday Five post is inspired by a wonderful playdate I had with two of my good friends yesterday. During the winter of 2012-13, when we all had crazy toddlers and new babies, we frequently got together for what I called “sanity playdates”. As it so often does, life carried us away into work, and moving, and preschool, and appointments and we haven’t gotten together in far too long. Yesterday’s playdate was long overdue, and was a good reminder to me of why friends are so important in our adult years. So this Friday Five is dedicated to all of my wonderful friends. Here are five things I’m loving right now:

1. Sanity Playdates (and phone conversations, and texting, and mommy dates….). I have been so blessed to have a great circle of friends who I can go to whenever I need to vent. My friends are always there for me (and they know I’m always here for them, too). Sometimes life gets tough, and you just need a break from the day-to-day difficulties. Texting your girlfriend to let her know you need a break sets things in motion, and before you know it, you’re sitting on your couch, gabbing with the girls while the kids throw toys everywhere. And even though it’s a bit of chaos, there’s a peace that comes with finally getting to see your friends, sharing stories of kindergarten preparation (and anxiety), and having someone else to entertain the monkeys.

2. Pen pals (and far away friends). There is something really amazing about sitting down to write a letter by hand. Setting aside time to write out your thoughts and feelings on paper takes more effort and thought than sending a text or facebook message. While any form of communication is good, there’s just something very special about snail mail. And seeing a letter in the mail from my pen pal can instantly erase and entire day’s worth of frustration. If anyone is looking for a snail mail buddy, let me know!

Mamas on the Run

3. My running mama friends! I am running my first 5k run this weekend. I would definitely not have been able to do this, or have been motivated to even try running without my friends. Together we have learned to run, and together we will cross the finish line. I love these girls, and they are my inspiration, my cheerleaders, my teammates.

10407600_291106414382762_177366736480381136_n4. The Color Run! This isn’t necessarily “friend” themed, but I’m running with my friends, so it sort of counts, right? I’m SO super excited for this! I’m ready to get all decked out and covered from head to toe in crazy coloured corn starch. Never in my life did I think I’d ever sign up for a 5k, much less be excited about it! I can’t wait to come back here and tell you all about it!

5. New neighbors. We’ve been pretty fortunate to have pretty good neighbors over the years. As is normal in an apartment, we’ve seen a lot of people come and go. Our “wall sharing” neighbor has been here as long as we have, and we love them. We try to talk to all of our neighbors, especially the ones with young kids. A few doors down we had a neighbor that we’d gotten to know pretty well, and we really enjoyed seeing them outside and swimming with them in the summer. They moved out this past weekend, which made me sad. I was hoping Monkey would get to go to school with their little girl this fall. Instead of focusing on the loss of good neighbors, I am choosing instead to think of the new people who will one day move in. I hope and pray they are kind and tolerant people who won’t mind a little bit of wackiness from the neighbors in the corner unit with the little Monkey who talks a bit funny and likes to flip peoples’ mail slots, and who finds the garbage chute fascinating, and his little brother Bear who greets friendly faces with a smile and a high five, but who won’t speak when spoken to.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Welcome to Holland

Holland-Tulips

We are finally here. We made it through the long wait, through the two part assessment, and all the way to diagnosis day. We made it to Holland. We got the call on a Friday afternoon that a spot for assessment had opened up if we were available with short notice. The appointment would be the following Monday morning. We immediately agreed, not willing to say no and chance not getting another appointment for months. We scrambled to find childcare for Bear (luckily my friend J was able to do it!). Hubster took the morning off and we went. I was a bundle of nerves, though the boys took everything in stride. After 90 minutes of answering questions and having the doctor play with Monkey, we were asked to come back in the following morning for a more in depth assessment and to receive official diagnosis.

I won’t go into too many details, as it was rather boring, but the doctor had an official assessment form, which tested Monkey’s development in various skills (social, cognitive, fine motor, gross motor, speech, etc) and then, after 45 minutes of this, she tallied up the scores. To get an autism diagnosis, they have to have a certain number of points (or be delayed in a certain number of specific developmental categories). Monkey met that number, and we were given the official diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

Rock on, little dude

Rock on, little dude

 

As I’ve mentioned before, we have been expecting this diagnosis, so we were not shocked in any way, and we were just very relieved. For a long time we thought we were just bad parents, and it was a real relief to know that it’s not us. We are not sad about this diagnosis. We know that our son is meant for great things. We know that he CAN do whatever he sets his mind to. Yes, it is hard to be a square peg in a round hole world, but we are going to make the world create some square holes for Monkey and all others like him. A spectrum is a beautiful thing that brings light and colour to the world. Without it, this world would be a gray and dreary place. So our lives would be gray and dreary without our little autist.

So where do we go from here? Well, we are currently waiting for a meeting with autism services to find out what we are qualified for, and to get on the wait list for various therapies. We continue with speech therapy. I have a pile of paperwork for various funding resources that need to be filled out by our family doctor and sent off. And in September, Monkey starts junior kindergarten, where he will receive more help and speech therapy. There are lots of doors and windows out there, we just have to find the open ones. All is well here in Holland. And I’m quite fond of the place now.

On Self-Love: loving me, body & soul

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It’s taken me a long time to get here. I’m 30 years old, and I can’t remember the last time I actually liked myself. Specifically, my body. I think most people (men and women) don’t like what they see when they look in the mirror. It’s sad, really. We are all beautiful people. Our bodies can do amazing things, from the extremely physical, to the gentle caress. At some point in time, we as a society came to idolize a specific body type that can only be achieved naturally by a small percentage of people. As a society, we have made it normal to spend thousands of dollars and undergo major surgery and painful recovery just to alter appearances for purely aesthetic reasons. Why? Why are we so unhappy with who we are and how we look that we have to change it? It makes me sad.

Not long ago, I woke up one morning and looked at myself in the mirror and instead of the self hate that usually plagues me when I mentally pull apart my body and reduce myself to excess fat and wrinkles and scars, I looked at my reflection and smiled. I am beautiful. My skin is the topography of my life. My wrinkles tell stories of happy times and sad times. My scars are proof of challenges overcome by the strength of what is inside me. These things are beautiful.

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I started running not too long ago. I really enjoy it, especially now that I’m not quite as plagued by the internal torture of worrying what other people think upon seeing a fat girl run. At the same time, I had also joined a fitness challenge, wherein I was promised great physical changes if I could only manage to work out for 30 minutes every single day for 90 days without fail. Once a week I stepped on the scale, and once a week I met with disappointment at the lack of movement. I worked out 6 days a week and ran 3 days a week, and there was no change. Mentally, this broke me. I tried not to let it get to me, but it did.

My wonderful husband saw me agonizing over the scale and looked at me and said, “they are just numbers. Stop weighing yourself.” And I scoffed at the idea, because really, don’t all fat girls have  to weigh themselves? Isn’t this the measure of success? Is this not the standard of health? He said it wasn’t. And he was right.

I stopped weighing myself. I told myself I’d work out because I enjoyed it, and loved the physical challenge as well as the feeling of accomplishment when suddenly doing 15 burpees wasn’t such a big deal, and when I could hold a plank for 45 seconds without crying. I kept up with running, because I like it. I love the mental break and the measure of success in being able to run without stopping for longer today than I could yesterday. My fellow Mamas on the Run have been an incredible inspiration to what my body can do if I put my mind to something.

My body is beautiful. Maybe you don’t think so. Maybe you look at me and see only my fat belly and double chin and the flaps of fat that hang from my upper arms. Maybe you see my dress size and wince. But then, you aren’t really seeing me. And shame on you. Shame on you for seeing only what is skin deep, for I am much more than that. I am beautiful.

Feeling happy with the way my body looks doesn’t mean I am now content to be obese. That’s not what I am saying at all. I want to be healthy, and I want to live a long time, but I no longer think that seeing a certain number on the scale will achieve a level of health that is attainable or practical for my physical and mental well being. I’m throwing away my scale and measuring my health based on how my muscles move when I run, or how long I can have a dance party with my kids before feeling winded. I’m measuring my health in moments of pure happiness, and in the way I cope with difficult situations. I’m choosing to live a healthy life because I enjoy it, rather than because I am obligated to spend 30 minutes a day three times a week doing some torturous physical activity and spending my life eating foods I don’t enjoy, solely because they are healthy.

My dear friend Cassie at Back to Her Roots has always inspired me to live a healthy life and to see that healthy living is about moderation of all things, and doing what you love. She’s the healthiest person I know, and she reached this amazing self-love organically. I’ve been trying to force myself into self-love for years, but it’s only very recently that I’ve reached this place. I love myself, body and soul, and I want to do whatever I can to ensure that my body knows I love it. Treating myself with respect and love in all areas is new territory for me, and I’m excited to finally being here.

5 Rules for raising happy, healthy children

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I hate seeing articles and blog posts circulating online that claim to be a sort of guide to parenting, or a list that bashes certain parenting styles. Parenting isn’t a one-size-fits-all deal. Even in one family, each child requires their own unique style of parenting. I used to be all over being a tough mama with rules and guidelines and strict routines and bedtimes. My husband and I watched supper nanny long before we had Monkey. We were taking notes and having conversations about time out and cosleeping and family meal times and chores. Monkey was born and we threw our notes out the sixth floor window of the bedroom that we shared with our baby.

Now that we have a child with special needs, those blog posts and articles infuriate me. I realize now, more than ever, that there isn’t really any right way to parent so long as you are making decisions out of love for your family.

If there’s any common thread in all parenting styles, and one thing that EVERY parent does, it’s winging it. I’ve never met a parent who knew what they were doing from the get-go. I have friends who have half a dozen kids (or more) and even they, those wonderful parenting gurus, don’t have it all planned out. Every child is different, and every parent is different.

But there ARE some guidelines you can take with you. Here are my five ABSOLUTE MUST rules for raising happy, healthy, well-rounded kids. And being a happy, healthy, well-rounded parent.

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1. Sleep train (or don’t). There are five dozen books on sleeping in the “Parenting” section of the bookstore. Surely your kid must fit into one of those books. And if he doesn’t, it’s totally okay to try every single sleeping trick in every single one of those books. All in one night, if you must. Let your baby sleep in your bed if you want to. Or have your baby sleep in that beautiful crib in her room from day one. Rest assured that no matter where your baby sleeps, you’ll be exhausted from now until the end of all time. And STOP PLAYING THE SLEEP CHALLENGE with your friends. Stop comparing your amount of sleep to anyone else’s. We’re ALL tired, no matter how much we’re sleeping. Instead, let’s all just toast a new day with our coffee and tea and agree that parents are tired for MANY different reasons. Okay?

2. Feed your child organic, home made foods. Home grown, if possible (or, you know, frozen chicken nuggets drowning in ketchup). The food issues start from the very beginning. Breast vs. bottle, formula vs. breastmilk, solids at four months or six, purees or finger foods… and on and on and on. We defend our feeding choices as though we are going to have stones thrown at us! There is NO SHAME in any way you feed your child. As mamas (and daddies!) we want what is best for our kids. But there is no recipe for success here. It’s tough, especially if you have children with special diet needs, or feeding disorders. Or if you just plain ol’ can’t afford to feed your kid all organic, or if you don’t have time to make all your foods from scratch. Life is life, and we all feed our kids as we see fit. Monkey loves those disgusting Handisnacks crackers and cheese. Only the flat crackers, only the Handisnacks brand. He loves homemade apple sauce and hates the kind that comes in a jar. He pretty much sticks to the three main food groups of fruit, dairy and popsicles. Sometimes he has popsicles for breakfast. Baby Bear on the other hand is a major lover of leafy greens, butter chicken, and crayons. He’ll really eat everything! Both of my kids are happy and well fed. That’s all you need to worry about.

3. Limit your child’s screen time (or, wear out the Frozen DVD like a boss). Do what you need to do to stay sane. If you’re a rock star mom who can keep the TV off for days on end, and you use screen time as a treat- WAY TO GO (also, HELP ME!)! And if you’re a kick ass mama who keeps the TV set to Treehouse or Disney Jr. all day- HIGH FIVE! There is no wrong or right. If your first action is to love your kids, and do whatever you can to help them succeed, you’re doing just fine. No judgement here. And can we keep the mama wars on screen time far far away? We don’t need to be making mamas feel guilty for the amount of TV or iPad use her kids have. She feels guilty enough as it is, for goodness knows what. We’re moms, after all. Guilt is just always there.

4. Sign your kiddos up for as many activities as you can afford (or, none). I see a LOT of criticism on moms for having their kids be TOO busy. And I see an equal amount of criticism on moms for not putting their kids in any activities at all. This is totally an EXTRA thing. If you have the time and money to sign junior up for hockey and gymnastics and karate, go for it! He’ll have a blast! But if you would rather not put your kids in any activities at all, there’s no reason you must. Do what works for your family. Your kids will be happy if you are happy. You know your limits.

5. Don’t discipline your kids (or make that naughty spot a second home!). Discipline is a tough one. Kids are crazy and wild and they just love pushing their limits (and ours). Some kids respond well to time out, or restrictions, or having privileges removed, or whatever else. If it works for your kid, by all means, do it! But if your kid is sensitive and responds poorly to firm discipline, but instead needs a gentle hand and some “time in”, do that instead. Most importantly, don’t let your anger or frustration run the show. We ALL lose our tempers. We have ALL yelled at our kids and then felt bad for it. Teach your kids that making mistakes is okay as long as you apologize and move on. Don’t get stuck in your anger, and don’t discipline your kids while angry. And know that doing your best is the only thing you can do. Your kids will be alright.

 

 

If you don’t read any of that, please read this: love your kids. Stop judging other parents for making decisions you wouldn’t make. Stop feeling guilty for not being a perfect mama. Love yourself. Love is really and truly the best thing you can do, and if you are putting your love first and foremost into your children, everything else will fall into place. Let your arms be a safe place for your kids when they are young, and they will seek your embrace into adulthood. Love really is all you need.