Finding Resilience In Adversity & Gratitude

“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”

– Eckhart Tolle

I spent the last morning of this decade building a fort with T and then playing Snakes and Ladders, a Christmas gift from his grandparents, inside our tiny hideout, slightly hunched over. My back was going to be sore after, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It was poetic that we were playing this game, because if there was one way to describe this past year with our little guy, it was that it was filled with ups and downs; some moments were sweeping highs and some were what seemed like a win that became a downhill slide.

Three particularly shitty slithering moments still reek in my mind:

  • In late winter, I was in my Director’s office, on a call with partners, when I received a text from my hubby. He sent a picture of a letter we received from T’s Montessori, where he was completing his preschool year. The school notified us – on the day that registration forms were being sent home for the 2019-2020 school year – that T was not invited back. Several parents had complained about his disruptive behaviour. “Our recommendation is for you to seek an alternative program for (T) that will better meet his needs,” it read. I was devastated but held it together until the meeting ended and went for a walk and screamed in the silence of my head.
  • A few weeks later, while picking T up from school, I stood on the doorway of the classroom. I loved to watch him play. Most of the time, things were positive. But on this day, T was in one of his moods and annoyed one of the kids by taking his toy. The kid started to complain and one of the older kids said to this kid, “Don’t worry. He’s not here much longer.” I’ve never wished ill will upon a child in my life, but I was tempted to at that moment. I was particularly bothered, because I wondered how this kid would know about T’s situation. But I kept quiet and was thankful T didn’t seem to notice the comment. His face lit up when he saw me and he ran towards me and I gave him the biggest hug I could muster.
  • On a Wednesday morning in late November, at 6 in the morning, I was having breakfast while everyone was still in bed. It was dark outside and I stumbled across a Global News article reporting that the specialized kindergarten program that T was enrolled in was being cancelled after the current 2019-2020 school year. It was particularly heartbreaking, because the news came out of nowhere; to find out about it through the news, rather than the school board, was in poor form. My hubby and I were particularly upset, because in just three months of being in the program, we’ve noticed a lot of positive growth and changes in T.

I’ve never been one to be afraid of a challenge or shitty situations and people. I’ve had – and will continue to have – my fair share of them. But as a parent, adversity takes on a different meaning when it is happening to your little one, who does not yet have the life experience or skills to understand and to face them. These three aforementioned moments stand out from a gallery of good and bad ones this year, because of the anger, awfulness, and helplessness that I felt.

When my hubby and I found out about T’s prognosis of at-risk FASD in late 2016, I thought a lot about resiliency and the importance to help T develop the skills and ability to understand and to overcome the challenges that he will face as a result of his medical condition. It is something we think and talk a lot about.

There’s a lot that’s been written about gratitude as a mechanism to build resiliency, including helping you reframe how you perceive and tackle challenging situations.

One habit that I began to practice in recent years is to start my day with a gratitude reflection. During my seven-minute walk from our house to the bus stop to transit to work, I meditate and give thanks for three things from the past 24 hours that I’m grateful for and think about three related goals for the next 24 hours.

This is an easy exercise when I’m feeling awake and high with positivity. This is challenging and a chore when I’ve had a stressful start to the day – usually because T was in one of his challenging moods. But I force myself through this exercise, because it helps reframe things in my mind.

And so as I look back at 2019, I acknowledge it was a particularly challenging turd-filled year with T. But they are far outweighed by the many bright moments. And I’d like to spend part of the final hours of this year and this decade expressing my thanks for three of many awesome things from 2019:

  • Our Supports – We’ve been very blessed since the early days of when T came into our lives to have had amazing support from family and friends. We’ve also had invaluable life-enhancing supports from a variety of social and medical services, including Surrey Place, Community Living Toronto, and the school board’s amazing and soon-to-be-defunct Kindergarten Intervention Program. T’s academic, personal and social growth have all been possible because of them. One moment that resonated with me this year was after T’s final meeting with the Special Needs Resource Consultant from Community Living Toronto that worked with T in the Montessori classroom every two weeks. As we said our goodbyes, I thanked her for the difference she’s made and she started to cry and said how much she was going to miss T.
  • Our Adventures – We’ve had so many fun adventures this year, whether it was going to Mexico in March (pictured above), doing day trips to a lavender farm (pictured at the top) or the Toronto Island, or doing a fall hike in the nearby national park (pictured below). T is now at the age where he can express his excited recollection of a happy memory or his anticipation for an upcoming event. He’s easier to travel with – and his public meltdowns are less frequent, although not less unpredictable or unnerving to experience. I always tell people that one of my favourite things about being a parent is to experience the world through the innocent and wonder-filled eyes of a child and this year brought us so many joyful moments!
  • Our Little Big Moments – It is the little moments that always feel the biggest in hindsight. This rang true when I was looking at pictures on my phone from the past year this morning. A selfie of T fast asleep next to me, a candid photo of T on my hubby’s back while he was working from home and the two of them laughing, or a photo of a smiling T hanging onto a spinning bar in the playground, basking in the orange glow of the sunset. I don’t remember the exact details of each moment, but I remember how happy and content they made me feel.

And I also give thanks to the crap that 2019’s thrown T’s way, because in hindsight, they’ve been a blessing. Getting booted out of the Montessori program brought us to the amazing kindergarten program that T is now placed in. I’d like to think – and hang onto hope – that there will be an eventual silver lining to this program being cancelled.

When we first introduced the game Snakes and Ladders to T over the Christmas break, we explained that sometimes you’ll land on a ladder and go up, and sometimes you’ll land on a snake and slide back down, but you just keep going until you get to the finish line.

As I’m finalizing this post, T finds me in my room and climbs up on the bed and asks me to play in the fort with him. And the Malaysian Curry Beef Brisket that my hubby ordered from Uber Eats has just arrived. And I can’t think of a better finish line to this year.

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