The hardest moments are those when he is set off in the blink of an eye – over seemingly small things, like asking him to brush his teeth, go to bed, or focus on virtual learning.
Thankfully, the majority of our time with T are positive. But it’s important to intervene while he is young, so we can set a foundation for later life.
The hubby and I have read on private groups about kids with FASD who have explosive moments, damaging things at home or physically turning a classroom upside down. Kids with FASD may be at risk of issues with the law in adolescence.
I don’t think – and hope – we’re on that path but we’ve seen things at home that have given us pause and at school and daycare, there have been a few moments related to disregulation.
Most recently at daycare, staff reported that a colleague was bothering T. He got frustrated and threw a wooden block at this peer, causing a bump on their forehead.
Granted, it’s not all T’s fault, but the mother was not happy and asked for T and the friend – who love to play together – to be separated.
That was hard to take in as a parent and it was hard for T to understand the consequences of his – and the peer’s – actions.
Life is a work in progress and here are a few strategies Team T is currently using to help him work on his emotions.
After T outlined his sunflower, he said he was done and got up to play with his toys. I told him he needed to finish his work and to colour the sunflower in.
And just like that, he blew a big fit. He threw his artwork to the ground and stomped off. Started telling me to shut up and saying that he was tired and his arm was going to fall off from all that hard work of coloring.
I had to restrain myself from laughing or losing my shit – because it was both hilarious and incredibly frustrating.
But I kept my cool and calmly reminded him that he would not earn tablet time if he did not finish his work.
After a two-minute tantrum, he came back to the table, started chuckling again and proceeded to finish his work.
For about two minutes, the two of us quietly completed our sunflower. Afterwards, I asked T to share his work with the class.
His teacher praised him for a job well done and after we went back on mute and turned off the camera, I told T how happy I was that he was able to control his emotions and finish his work.
It was truly a sunflower cheerful way to end our morning.
T’s teacher recently started a Reading Log program; one new book is sent home every day for us to read with him at night.
These are simple books with patterned structure (e.g. Here is a box… Here is a bat… Here is a broom) to help T build his sight word vocabulary and learn about simple sentence structure.
I’m glad to see this program, because giving our kindergartner T the building blocks to learn how to read in grade 1 next year is one of the goals we established in his Individualized Education Plan.
Research consistently shows the importance of early literacy and for caregivers to read to children at home. As noted by the American Library Association, a study of 3 to 5 year olds who had been read to at least three times per week found the children were two times more likely to recognize all letters, have word-sight recognition, and understand words in context.
Bedtime stories was a routine the hubby and I established with T from when he came into our lives at 14 months. It’s one of my favourite times of the day – and not just because it’s one step closer to T falling asleep!
I truly believe that reading to him has helped T develop his receptive and expressive language; he was once considered speech delayed.
As he matures into a little boy, I believe that books will be good tools to teach him about complex issues, challenging emotions, to build his empathy – all while growing his knowledge.
We’ve been so blessed to have family and friends who’ve gifted and continue to gift T with great books. We also borrow books from our library.
The nuance and depth in this book are likely lost on T but I know this is a book that we will revisit in the years to come and will reveal new layers for T with each later reading.
T also has other Munsch books in his personal library thanks to friends, including The Paperbag Princess, 50 Below Zero and The Fire Station.
How To Catch A Star by Oliver Jeffers
This charming surrealistic book tells the story of a boy who wants to catch a star and never gives up until he catches his very own star.
This book speaks to the limitless imagination and possibilities of the curious and determined child’s mind – which is why T enjoys this book so much.
Giraffe and Bird by Rebecca Bender
This charming story of frenemies Giraffe and Bird learning to get along is an excellent example of how books can help teach kids about complex concepts such as friendship and learning to respect each other and get along.
Show not tell as I was often taught in school and what better tools to help show T and not tell about concepts such as friendship than a beautifully illustrated and humorously told story such as this book.
The Family Book by Todd Parr
I’m a librarian and libraries talk even more so these days about the importance of diversity and representation.
T has two copies of this picture book – gifted by two separate colleagues when T first entered our lives – which illustrates, using animals, that families come in all forms.
Some families have two parents, some have a single parents, some have two mommies or two daddies, some families adopt children. All families love to celebrate birthdays and all families are sad when they lose a loved one.
I think that kids are ok with differences more so than adults are, because their innocence allows them to be more tolerant – especially when you tell them about things in plain simple terms.
I Love You, Mister Bear by Sylvie Wickstrom
My Aunt is a garage sale fanatic and often gives T books by the box full and we are more than grateful to receive them.
This book is a garage sale find and is about a girl who rescues a tattered worn down bear from a garage sale and restores him. Talk about meta!
This story resonates with me, because to me it mirrors an adoption story – the little bear moving from one family to another.
I also like that it teaches T that a toy does not have to be brand new for it to be valuable or to bring you enjoyment.
Just Me and My Dad by Mercer Mayer
I grew up loving the Little Critter series by Mercer Meyer and we got a bunch of them from my Aunt’s garage sale find.
This is a story of a little dog named Lulu that believes it is a rhinoceros, despite all the other dogs telling her otherwise.
One day, a chance encounter with a bird takes her to a zoo where Lulu finds her peers.
For a young boy like T, it probably is a whimsical and silly story. But through repeated readings, I hope the message sinks in that there is power that can come with belief in one self.
Little Tree by Loren Long
This is a wonderful story of a little tree who goes through the Spring and Summer seasons but come Fall, he refuses to let go of his leaves. As a result, his fellow trees around him sprout and grow into tall trees while he is stagnant.
Eventually, he learns to let go of his leaves and let nature take its natural course and grow.
This story provides a great reminder that we are all on our own journey and that some of us may take a little longer to get to our natural destination, but we will get there in due time.
Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld
Like most boys, T loves his trucks.
This is a fun book about the different and hardworking trucks on a construction site winding down for the day.
It gives a nice reminder to work hard and to also make time for play and rest.
We celebrated my 40th birthday this week and I reflected on what’s happened and the what ifs.
T and I recently read a picture book adaptation of Robert Frost’s classic poem “The Road Not Taken,” beautifully illustrated by Vivian Mineker.
The poem presents the character, out for a walk in the woods, with a fork in the road. The character decides which road to take and the question is then, what if they took the other path?
There certainly were key points in my life where I had to make decisions about which path to take: which university, which career, which person to spend my life with, which home to live in.
As an enthusiast of science fiction, I amuse myself at the thought of parallel universes where multiple versions of my life live out based on different decisions I make.
One of the most important decisions the hubby and I made was to start a family.
We began this process in our late 20s, attending a wonderful workshop series called Papas and Daddies 2B.
Almost 7 years after we began the adoption journey with no progress, we were ready to call it quits, when we received a call out of the blue from Children’s Aid Society.
Not only were we presented with one match for a child, but we were presented with two matches!
The first child was a 14-month old boy whose birth mother had admitted to drinking during her first three months of pregnancy and consumed hard drugs throughout her pregnancy.
The second child was a 4-year-old Chinese and Iranian child, who had faced severe neglect. I still get haunted by the description of the child who’d often be left alone while his parents partied.
We were given very little time to decide which child to adopt. It was a hard decision, but we decided to adopt the younger child, our T.
I am a firm believer about life working out the way it should and that you are meant to meet the people that you are to meet and to have the opportunities and challenges that you face.
But I did think recently about the 4-year-old that could’ve been our son.
In a parallel universe, he would be 9 years old today. I wonder how our life would’ve been as we faced the direct effects of the neglect from his early life. I wonder about the memories we would’ve made with an older child.
I am not a person who dwells on the what ifs or to have regrets about the paths not taken, because it is a maddening and futile waste of time.
I am so thankful for the path we took in life that led us to our T.
This Saturday morning, T climbed into bed with me – bright and early, as a woodpecker pecked away at a tree in our backyard.
“My fart woke me up,” he said.
I didn’t want to wake up yet, so I shoved my phone in T’s face, hoping it would buy me a few more minutes.
T started scrolling through the hundreds of photos we’ve taken from the last five years.
He kept watching a video over and over of him walking down a set of stairs, while holding onto the railing, as the hubby stood by closely.
He was only 16 months old and still not familiar or comfortable with going up and down stairs.
T rested his head on my chest watching this video and I opened my sleepy eyes to watch it with him, marveling at how time has flown by.
If a genie gave us an opportunity, would we wish away our child’s invisible disability?
I thought about this question all weekend after T and I watched Disney’s Aladdin.
On Saturday morning, with a bowl of popcorn, we snuggled on the couch and watched the movie T had recently enjoyed in class.
I chuckled when T said, “That bird has a potty mouth” in reference to Iago, the villain Jafar’s foul-mouthed sidekick bird.
I told T that’s what he sounds like when he uses bad words. Then he gave me a priceless look in return. If only I had my camera.
When the genie granted Aladdin his first wish, I asked T what he would wish for and without hesitation, he said, “A dog.”
T has a soft spot for dogs but with two cats at home, that ain’t happening – unless that Genie is also a dog walker!
Then naturally, the question was asked of me, “What would I wish for if I ever met a genie?”
Instead of doing house work, catching up on fitness or something of substance, I spent the final moments of my staycaytion thinking about what would happen if I encountered a genie.
Naturally, one of the first thoughts I had – and I imagine it’d be similar for other parents with a special needs child – is to wish away T’s disability.
But the crazy thing was it wasn’t such a clear cut wish for me.
If it was a physical disability, I think the wish would be clear and straightforward.
But T’s invisible disability manifests through his behaviours – and in turn, his personality – and so I would practically be wishing for an entirely different kid.
There is so much of T to love just the way he is.
Even his most frustrating behaviours end up being sources of amusement for the hubby and I once we cool down and commiserate about how fucking irritating yet so wonderfully lovable he is that you can’t help but to keep rooting for him and working hard to help him succeed.
But I also think so much – practically daily – about how his behaviours will impact his future.
So Genie, this is my wish: First off, I love our T for the way he was brought into this world and I do not want a different child.
What I do wish for is for the effects of his prenatal alcohol exposure on his life to be minimal and for him to be continually blessed with the love, supports and good luck to maximize his happiness, good health, independence, positive relationships, success and fortune in all stages of his life.
That was one wish by the way. The trick is to cram it all into one sentence without having it be a run-on sentence; use semi-colons if you have to.
We spent the rest of Saturday out in soothing nature.
Facebook kindly reminded me that two years ago, we were on a family vacation.
The pandemic put a hold on our family tradition to travel during March Break.
March Break has also been deferred this year until April to help curb COVID cases, so T is in school this week.
We’re very grateful to be safe so absolutely no complaints here. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t longing to be somewhere far away from home.
So here’s a short walk down memory lane to March Breaks past with T.
2018 – Caribbean Cruise
The hubby and I used to do more adventurous trips pre-parenthood but with a young and very hyperactive child, we knew to take it easy.
So we went on a cruise – and we all loved it.
It was a very relaxed trip and T loved the waterpark at the top of the ship.
We did one off-ship day trip to a nice beach resort at Turks and Caicos and T got his first Caribbean beach experience.
I will always remember T’s look of wonder as he approached the water with hesitation and then his face transformed into joy once he knew the water was ok.
One of my favourite memories was during a formal night dinner. We had just started to potty train T and I took him to the bathroom.
On the way back, he proudly announced repeatedly to everyone in the dining room that he had used the potty!
T still talks about the trip. While we likely won’t do another cruise for a while – potentially being stuck on an infected ship for weeks doesn’t seem appealing – it’s nice to look back at our memories.
2019 – Mexico
T was very excited about this trip.
So on the day of departure, when I told him at 5 a.m. that it was time to get up, he shot up from bed. Half awake, he bumped right into a wall.
This was an even lazier trip of doing absolutely nothing.
It was T’s first resort experience and he enjoyed lounging by the pool and we let T have all the cold fruity drinks he wanted and didn’t fuss about the sugary consequences afterwards.
One night, in the middle of the night, T woke up and told me that he loved me. I told him I loved him too and two seconds later, he puked his dinner all over me.
I still remember the smell of French fries mixed with vomit. Thankfully, he wasn’t sick – just had a lot of love and indigestion to share!
T very recently asked the hubby and I, “When coronavirus goes away, can we go back to Mexico?”
We all agreed that we will do another family vacation when we are able to safely do so. It gives us something to feel hopeful about.
For our first roadtrip with an 18-months-old T, we naively thought we’d do a 15-hour overnight drive to New Brunswick.
After a day at work, we headed off at 8 pm.
That was how the hubby and I used to roll. We did the long drive to his parents’ cottage overnight, taking turns, drinking lots of Coke.
For the first three hours, it was smooth sailing. T fell asleep. Then at 11, near the Ontario-Quebec border, he woke up screaming.
He cried throughout the night drive through Quebec – my shift – and I thought about driving into a ditch to end the torture. Then when the sun was rising, he passed out for the final 5 hours.
It was painful to live through but it was also a great bonding moment.
Now that T is 6, we’ve since learned to leave during the day for our long drives!
There are so many fun summer roadtrip memories and I’ve been thinking about them as the days get longer and the weather teases us with hints of Spring.
I’ve been dreaming about roadtrips, because there’s only so much of “Which window am I going to look out at today?” that I can take.
The hubby and I are feeling optimistic we’ll get to venture out this summer. But we know it’ll be different again. We’re likely not able to visit his parents again until we’re all vaccinated.
So our plan is to stay within Ontario and we’ve already mapped out an itinerary.
We think local travel will be popular this summer, so we will reserve our accommodations soon – with free cancellation, in case there’s another lockdown.
It felt fun and hopeful to look back at roadtrip memories.
That joyful feeling of anticipation in the days leading up to departure. That moment of logging off work. That excitement of picking T up from daycare and he knows that adventure awaits.
We always start our roadtrips with a family selfie in the car. I love looking back at them, because they capture the raw happiness we all felt.
Summer roadtrips are usually about visiting T’s Grammy and Grandad at their cottage in a small Acadian town in New Brunswick.
T absolutely loves it there because there are vast areas of sandy beach for him to run on.
He loves getting wet and muddy.
Our entire family always sleeps so well at the cottage with the windows open; the cool salt water breeze calms us down.
The summer after our first roadtrip with T, we started to add a second destination on our way to New Brunswick.
In 2017, we did a 3-day detour in beautiful Nova Scotia, taking in the stunning views at Peggy’s Cove…
… and historic Lunenberg, visiting a retired colleague at her century-old home.
In 2018, we did a 3-day detour at Quebec and our wonderful memories included a day hike at stunning Canyon Sainte-Anne…
… and visiting Old Quebec City.
Last summer, we had planned to visit New Hamsphire in the United States on our way to the hubby’s parents, but alas, it was not meant to be because of the pandemic.
But we ended up exploring Northern Ontario for the first time. We were so blown away that we look forward to visiting favourite spots this summer, while venturing into new spots that we missed last year, like Bruce Peninsula.
Reminiscing while planning this summer’s roadtrip has made us all excited. It gives us something to look forward to with optimism.
One time, after I responded to T’s tantrum in not-the-most dignified way, the hubby asked, “So how’s that positive parenting going?”
As I chopped vegetables, I told him to leave the kitchen or I was positively going to stab him.
There are countless resources that describe positive parenting in great detail.
I like Kars4Kids’ Parenting’s definition, which describes positive parenting as “focused on developing a strong, deeply committed relationship between parent and child based on communication and mutual respect. Positive Parenting focuses on teaching children not just what but also why. Positive parenting means training children toward self-control.”
The websites describes three components to positive parenting:
Rules and consequences are laid out, discussed often, and followed through.
Parents focus on helping children internalize discipline, rather than obey orders based on fear of punishment, in order to develop self-discipline.
Parents use active listening to understand children’s thoughts. This allows parents to correct misunderstandings or mistaken links of logic.
Two years ago, I took a free three-part positive parenting course offered by Surrey Place.
These courses and resources you can find online provide fantastic advice. But as I always say, theory vs practice are two different things.
When you’re in the heat of the moment, it’s hard to think, “OK, what page of the positive parenting manual are we at now?”
But T had a loving stable first year of life with just one foster family – adopted children often go through multiple homes before finding their forever home (and sometimes not!) – who were just incredible.
I was also blessed to take a 30-week adoption leave and spend those key months building a bond with T. How I miss those early days.
I would say that attachment was, for the most part, not a big issue for us but there was certainly a period for me of feeling insecure as a parent.
When T was 2, about a year into living with us, we went through a period where he went back and forth in favouring Daddy (the hubby) over Papa (me).
Not that it was ever a competition, but I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t nice or enjoyable when I was the centre of his attention.
Vice versa, it was never fun when I would try to console him, pick him up, carry him, or play with him and he’d scream loudly, “I want Daddy!”
It was the absolute worst when it was always in public or in the company of family and friends.
I remembered feeling so annoyed whenever my mom would make comments like the hubby seemed like a better parent. Again, Asians have that no filter bluntness!
It is a healthy and normal part of a child’s development to favour one parent or another.
So our kindergartener is done with carrots and said as much during lunch at school!
T had a great first week back at school and we hope the momentum continues.
But on his first day back, we got a note in his daily log that he dropped the F-bomb after he opened his lunch and got frustrated we packed carrots after he said he didn’t want them anymore.
His child and youth worker heard the incident and put him in timeout for five minutes.
The hubby’s eyes widened when he read the log and told me about it as I chopped vegetables.
“He must really not like carrots,” I said and wondered if I should pack a bar of soap with his lunch the next day.
The F-word was the bane of our existence last year. He picked it up from a kid in his class and although he didn’t know what it meant, he knew it got a reaction out of people when he said it.
Our behaviour therapist advised the best response is planned ignoring. Thankfully, we haven’t heard the word again since last Spring nor have we heard it again this week!
To be safe, it was cool cucumbers for lunch for the rest of the week!
And I’ll probably wait a bit before I introduce Brussel sprouts. Who knows what kind of a verbal reaction that’ll get out of him!
Our T is a very picky eater.
I know it’s not uncommon for kids to be picky eaters, special needs or not.
In T’s case – and for other kids with similar prognosis – I wonder if it is a taste, smell, and/or texture issue. I’m not sure!
I miss the early toddler days when we could just shove anything in his mouth.
These days, all he will eat is toast. He’ll gladly eat plain toast for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sometimes, he’ll tolerate butter and if he’s adventurous, he’ll have jam. No peanut butter or deli meat though!
He’ll eat instant noodle ramen without the broth or spaghetti without sauce.
Don’t even try meat. There was a time when I could pulverize ground beef into pasta sauce until it’s unnoticeable, but those days are behind us.
There was a time when he loved to eat cheese and yogurt and that’s where he got his main source of protein. Thankfully, he still drinks milk.
He loves fruit – all kinds of fruits, so he gets his main source of vitamins from fruit as well as his daily multivitamin supplement.
The only vegetables he’ll eat are carrots (not anymore), cucumber and corn on the cob.
So the hubby and I resort to giving him a bottle of Pediasure – or vanilla milk as T calls it – once after breakfast and once after dinner, so he gets the key nutrients each day. Boy, do we ever feel judged when we tell people about this!
T has very slowly become a bit more willing to try meat. He went through a recent phase of wanting protein-rich eggs every day, but he’s over them.
He loves his McDonald’s nuggets and chicken tacos from Taco Bell. We try not to do fast food too much but we also recognize it means he’ll eat “meat” and something other than toast.
As the hubby points out, there’s lettuce and tomato in a taco. So there you go – judge away!
I long for the day when T can have an adventurous love of food like the hubby and I.
It’ll be fun to share our love of food with T one day – not to mention, it’ll be nice to not have to prepare two different meals!
The hubby and I like to explore all kinds of cuisine and we are lucky to live in a part of the city that is very diverse in cuisine and the prices are cheap compared to the downtown core.
During the current lockdown, we look forward to every Saturday night being a night to get takeout and try a different restaurant.
It’s a nice break from having to cook and to eat our own cooking.
It’s also a nice way to support local businesses during these challenging times.
Some highlights from the last few weeks included Caribbean…
… And last night, we tried Malaysian.
I’ve also been cooking a lot to pass the time and as a wellbeing and therapeutic exercise.
I recently made a Hong Kong style Tomato Beef on the Instant Pot that was a hit with the hubby.
Every time we have these meals, we always ask T if he’d like to try some.
Raising explosive children like T is hard but ultimately rewarding.
One of my favourite verses in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 4:13 which states that “Love is patient, love is kind… it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs…It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
It’s the belief that love is unconditional.
In T’s trying moments, I can tell you I ain’t reciting feel good Bible verses. Rather, I’m praying for restraint not to strangle him. I’m calling to heaven to exorcise my hell spawn.
The thing with T that I want everyone to know is that his great moments far outnumber his explosive moments. He is such a bright, funny, caring, gentle, sweet boy and he tries so so hard.
I’m always mindful to point this out, because I don’t want people to form a certain impression.
But the thing with impressions is that people remember the explosive moments.
It takes a real special person to see beyond the explosive moments.
In our journey with T so far, we’ve been blessed with these special people. So it hasn’t been all bad!
Remember, it’s Brain Not Behaviour.
One virtual schooling moment I can now laugh at was during virtual gym class.
T’s teacher was teaching the class about mindfulness to help calm their inner “Angry Beast.”
T was off camera having a full-on meltdown. He was screaming, pushing chairs down to the ground and yelling at us to shut up because we kept encouraging him to participate.
I looked at the hubby and joked that we should go on camera and turn on our mics so the class could see T getting an A+ for his angry beast.
FASD is a spectrum so every individual is affected differently. But there are commonalities.
For T, it manifests in hyperactivity, difficulty in focusing, challenges with regulating his emotions and extreme impulsivity.
In the past few months, T has started to have explosive moments of rage.
A little thing can set him off and he’d go from 0 to 60 in seconds, often times screaming loudly and storming off into his room. Doors are slammed, followed by intense bursts of screaming.
He is often able to calm himself quickly but just like a real explosion often only takes seconds, T’s moments leave behind emotional debris.
For an already stressed out family dealing with the challenges of virtual schooling, working from home and lockdown measures in a pandemic, T’s moments throw our day off track.
I do not always react in a calm or measured way. I’m trying to do better but we’re all human.
One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned – and one that I am still trying to internalize – is that it is brain not behaviour.
Because of the effect of prenatal alcohol exposure to T’s brain, there are certain things that will be lifelong challenges for him.
When he has a meltdown, I remind myself that he is feeling overwhelmed and he does not have the executive functioning to calm himself down.
Similarly, when he is having an explosive moment, I remind myself to not douse the moment with gasoline by trying to lecture him. I ride it out, because they are often short lived. Then I try talk to him.
Kids like T are not intentionally explosive. They are triggered by something and they are not wired to deal with it in the same way a neurotypical child is able to.
It is every bit as challenging and hard to deal with as you are imagining!
But we are working on it. We are thankful to have an amazing team supporting T and our family.
It is not going to be easy. I envision harder days ahead. I am prepared to meet people who will make life hell for T simply because they do not understand his condition.
As always, we are taking it one day at a time.
I love our T for who he is.
T is the complete opposite of who I was as a child.
He was probably the kind of kid I would never have hung around or would’ve been irritated by.
But I love him for who he is, even though he can be irritating as hell at times.
And that, I think, is what he teaches me every day about love: to embrace the imperfections and to always persevere and to hope.
We all got into the Valentine’s spirit.
After I gave T his Valentine’s gift, we went out for a morning walk.
The sun was shining so beautifully and felt so rejuvenating and he sled in the park.
When we got home, the hubby was up and shoveling the driveway.
“Happy Valentine’s, Daddy!” He shouted and ran down the sidewalk to him. The hubby scooped him up and gave him a big hug.
When we got inside, I gave T a heart-shaped box of chocolates to give to the hubby.
Then the hubby gave T a Valentine’s card the two of made together at class to give to me.
Then I asked T to give the hubby the card we made together earlier in the week.
I love how his hearts have smiley faces, arms and legs! And lately, he’s been adding very pronounced eyebrows to all his faces!
We relaxed at home all day and then went for a family walk together in the afternoon. I couldn’t get enough of the sunshine.
It was also Chinese New Year, which my family celebrates, so I picked up takeout for dinner.