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Saying Thanks For Things I’m Grateful For

T’s teacher gave a wonderful assignment that asked T to watch a video explaining what gratitude is and to create a thank you card for something he was grateful for.

The hubby and T worked together to create a simple card (pictured below) and T said he was thankful for the playground, even though it is closed these days.

T gave me the card and said thank you for taking him to the playground and the sentiment made me happy, especially since I was in the middle of a busy day at work.

The global COVID-19 crisis has impacted everyone in different and difficult ways. I’ve certainly written about its impact on my family as we self isolated the last nine weeks.

It is so easy to slip into negativity, as I find myself wandering towards when I’m having a hard day, and I’ve always found gratitude is a helpful remedy in reframing my view of a situation.

So I’m doing T’s assignment and sharing my list of things I‘m grateful for these days:

The cherry tree in our yard is in bloom.
  • I’m thankful my loved ones and myself are healthy and stable and this is something I remind myself of every day, especially during the moments, and there sure are many of them these days, when I’m having a hard time dealing with this all.
  • The gift of concentrated time with my family is the most wonderful thing in this situation. Being able to wake up and ease my way into the day with my family, eating meals together, going for a walk during work breaks with T, and getting a more focused front row seat to T’s incremental growth.
  • The invaluable supports we get from T’s teachers has made the challenging tasks of T’s schooling less painful. The detailed and daily lesson plans and varied activities, our daily video check in calls and our weekly class hangout have all helped in keeping T learning each and every day.
  • Community supports from the Surrey Place and Community Living Toronto are helping our family cope. We have regular check ins with T’s behaviour therapist. I speak and purge every few weeks with our child psychologist. The wonderful staff from both organizations email us frequent tips and resources for T.
  • Amazing colleagues and collaborators have inspired me with their adaptability and ingenuity during this pandemic and have made the challenge of simultaneously working, parenting and schooling from home less painful and even fun!
  • Having a roof over our heads is something I will never take for granted, especially when I think about how home and food security are even more of a concern for so many during this crisis. I’m thankful we moved into our home a year ago that has the space and a yard for T to run around and burn his endless energy.
  • I have amazing friends, some of whom I have known for nearly three decades. Seeing their hopeful updates or humourous rants on social media, communicating with them on messaging apps, or my Sunday afternoon Zoom calls with my junior high friends all help in reminding me that we’re all in this together, for better or for worse.
  • Finding unexpected humour in the absurdity of life right now like when T farts out loud while I’m on a work call or when I’m unknowingly singing the SheRa theme song out loud in the shower while the hubby is on a work call are moments we never had in normal times. And I love these spontaneous moments of laughter.
Spotted the oriole for the first time!
  • The resilience of nature reminds me that even in somber times, nature prevails all around us. Beautiful white cherry blossoms (pictured above). The purples, oranges, red, yellows and greens popping up in our garden. The beautiful colours and songs of birds – cardinals, goldfinches, blue jays, orioles – in our yard. Even the yellow dandelion-covered field behind our home all remind me that there are bright spots in our world that counter the darkness. We can refocus our gaze towards them.
  • Everyone who is working hard so our family can stay home. Healthcare workers, grocery store and restaurant workers, public transit workers, and those demonstrating tremendous initiative in mobilizing the community to help those in need. This list is long and every one of these individuals are heroes and awesome in my eyes.
  • Being able to relax a bit. While I feel a lot of stress, parental guilt, anxiety and scatteredness these days, I do get to sleep in during the work day, take naps on weekends and stay up later, because I don’t have to sleep at 9 like I used to. I use the additional time to watch TV (a luxury for me!) and I’ve been enjoying the reruns of Y&R and watching childhood favorites and introducing these movies and shows to T.
  • The hubby has been my rock through this all. We’ve certainly been getting on each other’s nerves and have been very testy at times with each other. But it’s because we are both dealing with a lot. I’m thankful we have, for the most part, worked very well as a team and keeping one thing in mind – T’s best interests. He’s been pulling insane hours at work, staying up till 1 or 2 am every night, and so I’m thankful he has a week off work this coming week to rest.
  • And lastly, our lovable pest, T, continues to teach us so much about life and ourselves. He is the number 1 source of our stress these days, directly and indirectly, because he is at an age that requires so much hand holding. But he is also the number source of our joy. He’s made so many gains during this pandemic and it’s been a pleasure seeing them up close. Seeing his young imaginative mind work, like when he made a game out of avoiding the dandelions in the open field (pictured at top) like they were land mines, fill me with amusement and happiness.

That list above is by no means a complete one. But I feel better having spent time on this quiet exercise – even telling T to leave me alone and him actually listening!

I acknowledge that despite the challenges and frustration I feel, I am in a good spot and I’m not dealing with hardships many others are. I remind myself – and try to teach T in a way his young mind can understand – not to take the positives in our lives for granted.

Whatever you are dealing with and wherever you are right now, I hope that you are and that you can stay well and take good care.

Learning and Fun in the Summer

On a scorching Friday morning, T and I went for a hike in our city’s beautiful Botanical Garden.

We explored nature, had a picnic of apple juice and Goldfish crackers in the shade of a willow tree, and he saw and learned about cactus plants. Oh, and he spotted a beaver up close too.

This was the first week of T’s summer break. It was also my first week of vacation all year. While it was not as work free as I had looked forward to when lockdown began in March, there were pockets of time to relax and to spend time with T.

We took a break from homeschool this week and let T just relax with tablet games. We all needed a respite from the routine and schedule for our collective mental health and wellbeing.

But we plan to keep learning happening all summer long to avoid the summer slide that often happens. More so than ever, it is important to keep T on track.

We plan to keep learning more relaxed, play based, hands on, and interactive this summer.

  • Reading regularly is a simple way to grow his literacy skills. Although the online resources his teacher had provided are expired, there are plenty of other online resources, like Scholastic and read-aloud videos on YouTube. Our library also now provides curbside pickup.
  • Practicing handwriting is something T needs to work on. His teacher gave us lots of worksheets that we made duplicate copies of. We’ll keep working on writing letters and numbers this summer.
  • Self directed discovery is something I want to tap into. What is T curious about? Like the other night, he was asking me if his brain slept on a bed too. I thought it was an odd question. But I made a note the next day we would learn about how the brain worked. It’s a good sign that T is genuinely curious and so I want to build on those interests.
  • Making stuff is fun and builds creativity and skills, whether it’s building a tower or baking a cake. Also very therapeutic.
  • Outdoor time and getting physical activity are so important to keeping him regulated and healthy. I’m thankful we have outdoor pools and nature trails within our reach.
  • Building social skills is something I think about a lot with T. I am thankful his day camp is open. He will be going back for two weeks in July and August. It will give him needed time away from home and to be around other kids and adults again. I can’t wait to get personal and quiet time too!

We’ve also started T on medication for ADHD.

It’s only been a week since we started the medication so it’s too early to tell what the long term benefits – or detriment, Lord help us – are.

Putting T on medication was something I struggled with but I am going into this with an open mind, for the sake of his long term outlook and ability to learn and to get along with others.

Most importantly, summer is about fun!

As a child, summer break always felt long.

Life has not fallen into a routine and rhythm. Each new grade coming up is filled with mystery.

Life does not yet feel predictable and time doesn’t seem to fly by in the blink of the eye.

So for sure we want to keep the learning going. But we also want to have fun. Especially this year, we want to have fun. And we have a few surprises planned for T.

I wish all of you a summer filled with fun, learning, wonder and time well spent with loved ones – and yourself!

Return to the Pool!

Our City opened outdoor public pools this week and T and I leapt into its refreshing water this afternoon like reuniting with an old friend.

It brought me so much joy to see how giddy he got in the water, the first swim since early March.

We’ve always gone to indoor pools, but we’re not about to get fussy about swimming outdoor.

The City set it up so the pool is opened at the top of every hour for 45 minutes. Then it closes for 15 minutes of cleaning and opens again.

People line up outside using markings on the ground that are two metres apart.

When guests get inside, a lifeguard asks a short set of assessment questions (e.g. “Do you have a fever?”) before letting you proceed.

Indoor change rooms are not available. Good to know for next time!

The second I gave T the permission to go in the water, he ran right in.

I loved seeing how much fun T was having. Splashing water, dunking his head in – I told him beforehand to keep his mouth closed – and chasing me while pretending to be a shark.

The water was cold and the scorching sun had vanished behind thick dark clouds.

I thought back to when the hubby and I first took T swimming when he was a toddler and he cried because the water was so cold and we had to cut swim time short. How much he has since grown!

There were only two other families at the pool; eight people, including T and I, so physical distancing was not hard to do!

T asked if he could jump off the ledge. I told him to ask the lifeguard. And he did in his meek voice. Very politely, I might add.

The dark clouds burst open for a few minutes, drenching us from above and it felt glorious. And soon after, the blue skies returned.

The 45 minutes flew by very quickly.

After our swim, I took us to McDonald’s drive thru – plain sundae for him and ice coffee for me.

It felt just like the old days. But I am very aware we are still in a pandemic – and to remain cautious and safe.

I intend to do that, while also embracing the new liberties being allowed by City officials.

I know it did a world of good for T to be in that pool. We’re moving forward for T with a balance of physical safety and overall wellbeing.

When we got home tonight, I let him have free time on the tablet while I lounged quietly catching up on the news.

We had a homemade cheesecake – my very first! – which T and I baked together earlier in the day.

The first week of summer break for T is off to a wonderful start!

A big heartfelt thanks to the lifeguards and everyone who worked hard to bring this service back for everyone. It is so appreciated!

Love is Love: Celebrating Pride at Home

Pride celebrations are different this year, but its spirit is even more relevant and important.

Pride was born out of protest 50 years ago, from communities saying enough was enough.

Activists and allies paved the way so that today, we – at least in our part of the world – can love who we want to love, marry, have families, be ourselves freely.

The past few weeks have seen global protests in support of Black Lives Matter. It has also seen aggressive counter protests.

We are headed towards another boiling point and hopefully positive lasting change and good will prevail from this necessary tension.

The photo above was from our first Pride weekend with T, who had only come into our lives for a month.

We were walking around Church Street after brunch with friends and met up with a friend’s family at a Family Pride event.

Looking at this photo, parenting seemed so much simpler when we could tie T to a stroller and shove a soother in his mouth.

We painted this rainbow on our window in the early days of lockdown to spread cheer to our neighbours. It is still up for this year’s Pride Month celebrations.

I came out when I was 14 years old in Grade 9. It was both a scary and an exhilarating moment.

It took me three weeks to build up the courage to say the three words, “I am gay” to the first person I told. Then each successive outing became easier. Also, the trick is to tell someone with a big mouth and they’ll help do the job for you.

Looking back, it is so silly that people even have to come out about who they are inside.

But that’s the sad reality, especially in parts of the world where you can be punished or even killed for being gay.

As a teen, I never imagined I’d grow up one day being married and having my own family.

I am able to do so because there were people before me who helped pave the way.

Every year, I work with colleagues to organize a contingent to march in our city’s Pride parade, which is attended by over a million people.

It is both a celebration and a reminder to do our part to keep the fight alive and to never be complacent or take things for granted.

I have yet to take T marching with us. I know he will find the crowds and loud music overwhelming.

But I know he feels proud of and loved by his Papa and Daddy. I love how he reaches to hold both our hands when we walk down the street. I am so grateful for these moments.

And we will continue to teach him to love and respect himself and others and to stand up and speak up for those who are unable to do so yet.

That to me is what Pride is all about. Not just in June but every day of the year.

Happy Pride weekend to you all!

A Father’s Day homemade art gift from 2017 the hubby created with our footprints, a few days before Pride celebrations. It hangs on my office wall.

Camping in Our Backyard

The hubby and I were not going to let a pandemic take away our family camping tradition, so we pitched our tent in the backyard this weekend.

It was also camping week at homeschool this week. T’s teacher gave a series of camping-themed learning activities, from books and poems, to math exercises, and more.

T went for a walk around the block with the hubby and took pictures of bugs and learned about them on an educational website.

He learned about planning skills when we worked together to create a layout of a campsite and a list of things we needed to pack for a camping trip.

The week’s activities culminated on Friday night when we set up our tent in our backyard.

T was super excited Friday morning. So so excited. He could barely contain it. And it was a wonderful incentive to use to motivate him to complete his school work.

At night, as the sun was going down and the sweltering heat subsided, the tent went up.

Camping Night 1 was not what we expected. T was so ramped up about it all day and couldn’t wind down.

Close to midnight, I called the hubby (who was still working) to take him in. Apparently he had a 30-minute long meltdown but the hubby stood his ground and did not let him come back out.

It was still a super fun evening. We read camping-related books and T explored the nooks and crannies of the tent. He poked his head out to see if there were raccoons.

But I had a great sleep outside on Friday night by myself! It got nice and cool overnight and I was snuggled in our comfy sleeping bag.

Being a horror movie fan, I did think about the possibility of someone murdering me in the middle of the night. The few hours of peace and quiet were worth being butchered for!

All by myself in the tent at 4:45 Saturday morning.

The birds and daylight woke me up at 4:45. I was surrounded by calming soothing chirping. Then after 10 minutes of chirping, I wanted them to STFU. I fell back asleep around 7 and the hubby called me at 8:30 to come in cuz T was up and I have the Saturday morning parenting shift.

The second night was much better. We warned T ahead of time that he had to calm down or he would not get to stay outside.

He fell asleep in no time. The hubby stayed inside because he didn’t want the entire street to hear his snoring.

I woke up around 5:30 this morning, on Fathers Day, and watched T sleep next to me. He is at his most lovable and peaceful best when he is asleep!

We had a very leisurely Fathers Day. We lazed around at home in the morning.

Then in the early afternoon, we went for a hike in nearby Altona Forest. It was our first time there, literally a forest in the middle of suburbia.

It was a scorching hot day. We all wore light colours and hats. But we forgot to pack bug spray and I got eaten alive by mosquitoes.

But it was worth it to be lost in nature for a short while. T is in his element when he is exploring nature, picking up sticks and lost in his imagination.

It was a nice hike and we said we’ll come back one day and be better prepared for the bugs!

We drove to a nearby gas station afterwards and ordered ice cold slushy drinks and enjoyed it in our air conditioned car.

When I got home, I had a sun-induced headache so I took a nap while the hubby and T kept themselves busy.

When I woke up, the hubby had a late lunch/early dinner prepared – takeout from one of favourite restaurants, Dumpling King. It was just what I was craving. Very camping themed, I know!

Today is Summer Solstice and it indeed has felt like such a long day. But it’s not over yet. And I am glad and thankful for that.

We still have one more camping-themed surprise for our beloved little T later tonight – s’mores!

I bought this s’mores kit a few weeks back and I’m excited to finally tear it open tonight.

It’s been a wonderful week. While camping in the traditional sense is out of the cards this year, I am glad we were able to bring its essence home for T.

And the wonderful thing about our sweet little boy is that he teaches us to make the most out of any situation – even a pandemic.

This has been a low key but wonderful Fathers Day weekend. And I wish all of you had an equally fantastic weekend.

Fathers Day Reflections: 5 Favourite Moments So Far

The hubby and I are celebrating our fifth Fathers’ Day this weekend. Time sure does fly!

I’ve written openly about the ups and downs of raising a child with great potential and challenging needs since launching this blog in December.

This weekend, it’s all about celebrating the positive and favourite moments on this unpredictable and joyful journey of life with T.

There are too many to list, so I’m picking just five, one from each year T’s been with us.

Wishing all the wonderful dads, dads-to-be, and father figures a Happy Fathers Day!

Our First Camping Trip (Summer 2016)

Beautiful Killbear Park

At 17 months old, we took T on his first camping trip to beautiful Killbear Provincial Park.

The hubby and I have been camping annually since first meeting each other in 2003 and we wanted to instill that love of the outdoors with T.

It was certainly a memorable experience, including setting up T’s portable crib inside our tent.

I loved seeing the genuine look of wonder on his face as he stood on the rocky shores, looking out at the breathtaking view ahead of him.

We’ve taken T on five camping trips so far and marvel at his maturity and growth with each successive trip.

We look forward to many more camping trips in the years to come.

Our First Family Cruise (Winter 2017)

We didn’t know this when we took this picture, but he had poop in his trunks.

Two friends got married with a destination wedding on a Caribbean cruise.

The three of us were happy to tag along and it was T’s first time going on a cruise.

T had multiple cringe-inducing meltdowns on the flight and boarding the ship, including one at the airport that was so bad that the kind staff let us bypass the 45-minute line up. Silver lining!

T had awful night terrors in the middle of the night that must’ve been heard by the neighbouring rooms.

But you know what? It was a wonderful trip filled with great memories, beautiful sights, amazing food, and stories we can laugh about now.

A few weeks after returning home from this trip, we finalized our adoption in court.

Visiting Grammy and Granddad (Summer 2018)

A beautiful windy gray day at Grammy and Granddad’s cottage.

It’s a summer tradition to spend a week visiting the hubby’s parents at their waterside cottage in the East Coast of Canada in a small Acadian town.

T loves it there, because there’s a nice beach to run around in, it’s not very crowded, and he sleeps so well at night with the sound of the waves and the salt water air.

It is also nice for the hubby to see his parents whom he only he gets to see one or two times a year (if they visit us). I get to see my family in town much more often.

We’re lucky to have wonderful and supportive parents and family on the hubby’s side and on my side too.

Mexico! (Winter 2019)

In beautiful Mexico.

For our family trip in 2019, we stayed at a beautiful resort in Mexico.

It was T’s first resort trip and the hubby and my first time in Mexico.

At our prior resort trips, we liked to pack our itinerary with day excursions and activities.

This trip, we took the complete opposite. Zero plans. Slept in during the day, lied down by the pool and beach. Did nothing but eat, drink fruity cocktails and be merry.

T had such a great time. He still talks about it and asks about going back. We will one day when things return to a bit more normal.

Staying Home (Most of 2020!)

This year will be remembered as the pandemic year when life came to a screeching halt, when we were forced to slow things down, when stress levels reached new records of high.

But it was also the year we were gifted with an unexpected amount of concentrated family time and to get a front row intensive look at T’s growth and maturity.

We’re not out of the woods yet and I will be a little sad when we do emerge out of this experience – to be honest.

I have so much gratitude in my heart for this unexpected experience.

“I’ll Never Give Up On You…”

One day, in the early weeks of lockdown, I was so worn down and T was out of control. In a fit of anger, I yelled to the hubby, “I‘d never have adopted if I knew it was going to be like this!”

I regretted it as soon as those hurtful words left my mouth. Thankfully, T was in his little world and I stormed off into our bedroom in a huff to cool off for the afternoon.

I thought about this moment when I recently read about the online backlash that YouTuber Myka Stauffer received after rehoming her young son, whom she adopted from China, because of difficulties related to his disabilities.

The furor was heated. Many people accused her of adopting the child for attention and rehoming him once she had her limelight. Numerous sponsors dropped her.

My immediate reaction was in line with the outrage choir. I thought to myself, “I would never give up on my child. How is this poor kid going to feel when he’s older?”

But then I thought back to how I felt in the moment of anger and sheer exhaustion in the early days of the pandemic.

I don’t know who this woman is, so I don’t want to make any assumptions or to project my own experience onto hers. But I do know a few things.

One, we have been very fortunate with T. No matter how hard some days have been, he is a great kid. The positives and the joy far outweigh the difficulties.

Two, taking care of a special needs child is incredibly hard.

Three, the sad cold truth is there are families who are in situations where the child’s needs are so severe they have to be rehomed or placed in special care facilities, like a group home, for everyone’s best interest.

It is very heartbreaking to think about the parents and children in special care who cannot see each other during the lockdown. This story of a mother who cannot visit her autistic son in his group home was very devastating to read.

Reading about Myka Stauffer’s story made me think of two things.

First, I don’t ever want to judge another parent – but most of us do anyway, including myself! – for the decisions that they make. Especially when I know from my reading and journey so far with T that there are many situations when a child needs to be rehomed or put in special care.

And secondly, with Fathers Day coming up, it strengthens my resolve to continue to try hard and to do better with T.

The hubby and I feel very hopeful from the trajectory he’s been on – and as we’ve heard from his doctors, his school and his supports – that things will ultimately be ok for him.

There will be a lot of hard work, sweat and tears in the days, weeks, months and years ahead – but that’s what makes life so interesting and worth living.

I hope and pray that we will never have to put T into special care one day. When I get into my awful moments of descending down a path of negative thoughts, I take a deep breath and remind myself to focus on the here and now.

I don’t know what the future will bring. But I can focus on the present and the now and how I respond to the challenges.

While watching T sleep one night and laying next to him lost in my own thoughts, I whispered to him, “I will never give up on you.”

A Rejuvenating First Nature Hike Since Lockdown

A family of swans, Canadian geese, ducks, and a deer feeding from afar. My family basked in a feast of nature this afternoon, our first outing since lockdown began three months ago.

It was a beautiful Saturday. Sunny and a comfortably cool 16 degrees for t-shirt and shorts. A steady breeze.

We headed for Lynde Shores Conservation Area in Whitby, Ontario, a short 25 minute drive from home.

It felt surreal driving on the highway for that long, as if we’ve forgotten what it was like to go beyond the small radius we’ve grown accustomed to while homebound for the last few months.

My family loves the outdoors. We missed the outdoors. We lament that we will likely not camp this summer.

But we are thankful that we live within minutes to many wonderful natural grounds.

We enjoyed a two-hour hike today. It was an easy hike. Flat trails. Lots of space.

We brought masks and wore them when we got close to people. But in all honesty, while there were lots of people out, there was lots of space to spread out safely and I didn’t wear mine half the time.

I enjoyed seeing T be carefree. Picking up rocks and sticks and throwing them into tall grassy fields. I loved seeing him dash ahead or stay behind while he explored his surroundings and then caught up to us when he saw us departing.

Deer feeding from afar.
Deer tracks.

The air was fresh. I loved hearing the soothing sound of swaying tree branches and the swooshing of the dancing leaves.

There were many families and kids biking on the paved trails. I told T that next summer, he’ll be able to bike here without his training wheels if he keeps up his practicing. He’s getting so good.

There were numerous benches along the trail and we stopped periodically to sit down to munch on the snacks we prepared – Oreo cookies, gummy worms, a tall bottle of ice cold water.

It was wonderful to see the maturity in T compared to last summer. How he was able to keep up and not whine about wanting to be carried. How he peed in the bush twice – washrooms were closed. How much taller he seems in just one summer.

After the hike, we stopped by a corner store. The hubby treated us to our own ice cold sweet slushy drinks. Well earned sugary goodness!

As we drove into our neighborhood, I noticed a family of four twirling bright pink ribbon sticks in the park and next to them, a group of young boys throwing a frisbee around.

It was wonderful to forget for an afternoon that we’re still in a global pandemic – and to see people enjoying this beautiful day. Living life!

We had our own alone time in the early evening – each watching videos or browsing the Web on our devices – before the hubby fired up the BBQ to grill pork steaks I had marinated last night.

A perfect end to a blissful afternoon together.

Making the Hard Decision to Medicate Our Child for ADHD

I’ve avoided this for four years. But this week, the hubby and I face an important decision in our 5-year-old’s journey: medication.

We adopted our beloved T four years ago – feels like an extra year in there with this pandemic! – and shortly after, he received a prognosis of at-risk fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

Thanks to this prognosis, we became quickly well versed in early intervention services, such as speech therapy and behaviour therapy, which have made a world of difference on his development.

We could not be more proud of how far T has come.

But T continues to struggle with a few key challenges, which became apparent during lockdown the past three months: hyperactivity, attention deficit, impulsivity, and emotional regulation.

Since his prognosis from Surrey Place, a wonderful organization that works with individuals with intellectual and development disabilities, T has been monitored by a developmental pediatrician every six months.

We had a check in with Dr L this week. In attendance were T’s teacher, principal, and behaviour therapist.

We encouraged them to speak honestly.

Everyone was in agreement about T’s tremendous progress. But everyone was forthcoming about his challenges.

Prior to the appointment, the hubby and I and T’s teacher completed a SWAN assessment separately. It’s a tool used to assess possibilities for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

While ADHD and FASD are two different conditions, many FASD children receive ADHD diagnosis, because they exhibit the behaviour and associated challenges. This behaviour was blindingly obvious in T at an early age.

After the discussion, Dr L brought up whether or not the hubby and I wanted to consider medication for T.

I have been so torn about medication for several reasons.

I’m not a medical professional nor expert on medication. The following are simply my honest thoughts as I struggled and continue to struggle about this over the last four years.

  • I worry about the side effects I’ve read about on online forums – such as sleep issues, loss of appetite, triggering emotional issues such as rages, anxiety, depression, etc.
  • I worry about how medication will affect his long term health.
  • I worry medication will make T into a zombie and we’ll lose his special and fun personality.
  • T’s birth mother continues to struggle with addiction and I worry that medication will open up a gateway to drugs for him.
  • There’s a part of me that feels that T has made so much progress, let’s give him a fighting chance and see how he will do in senior kindergarten without medication.
  • Part of me feels that we’re taking the easy way out with medication, like we’re conceding defeat, raising and waving the white flag, and that we’re not even trying.
  • I worry a lot that we are going to fuck things up big time for T by putting him on medication.

We want what is best for T and what will help him reach his life potential.

I will always say this: T is a child with great potential and challenging needs.

He is smart and bright, so so bright. An incredibly caring person. So tenacious, determined. Funny as hell.

As his parents, we want to remove barriers for him so he can maximize his time, learning and growth – and not waste time by all the distractions that lure his mile-a-second moving mind.

This is how we’ve always moved forward – what is in his best interests.

Dr L gave us a medicine decision tool and we told him we’d get back to him soon.

The hubby has been wanting to do this for a long time. I wanted to wait.

I know where we are headed. I just have to take a deep breath and take a leap of faith.

The great thing is that this is not a one way street and point of no return.

There are options. There are opportunities to course correct.

I just need to take a deep breath and proceed as I’ve always done in life… long before T came into the picture… and certainly now with T.

Believe that things always work out the way that they should in the end.

Deep breaths…

Our Budding Little Baker

Learning comes in all forms, as we’ve learned from homeschooling in lockdown. Making a no-bake keylime pie with T reinforced lessons in measurement, chemistry and having fun!

The hubby enjoyed the strawberry and rhubarb pie that T and I made last week and asked us to make this no-bake keylime pie recipe from A Million Moments.

The ingredients were simple to gather and the prep took only a few minutes. Then I called T over and we got to work.

What I enjoy about baking with T is that it teaches him about completing a project from start to finish and that he can then immediately see and enjoy (hopefully!) his work.

Baking teaches him about measurement and that different ingredients combine to create something magical, so we get simple math and chemistry in there too!

The prep work in baking, like crushing and spooning graham crackers into mason jars, helps T work on his fine motor skills, which we knew early on would be an issue he needs to work on.

I love that T is learning to use basic tools like an electric blender. We make sure he wears his noise-cancelling headphones as he has heightened noise sensitivity.

T is still very young but it’s never too early to teach him to take a little pride in presentation. This is the hubby’s area of fussiness… I mean, expertise. So I let him lead.

And of course, we have to remember the most important part of baking and learning is to have fun… and lots of whip cream.

We Can and Must Do Better

Like many others, the horrifying murder of George Floyd weighed on my mind this week.

Since we adopted T, I often view and process news and events through the eyes of being his Papa.

I often think to myself about how I can protect T from the horrors of the world while he is young, how I can educate and prepare him to face these horrors when he’s older, and how I can ensure he contributes positive things to the world and helps combat these horrors.

I will never – thankfully – experience the inequities that black people have faced simply for the colour of their skin.

There was something enraging this past week in seeing how some politicians and individuals have reacted to peaceful protests. Those in power focused on the separate group of looters and used that to distract from or try to discredit the larger issue: a broken system that continues to allow black people to be subjected to police brutality.

Like the pandemic, I am glad that T is young and innocent and oblivious to these injustices. But unlike the pandemic, which will pass, racism is deeply rooted in our society and it’s going to take more than a vaccine to eradicate it.

I don’t have all the answers to give T nor do I even know how to talk about something like this with him should he ask me about it today (the Sesame Street video below helps a little!).

As he gets older, starts noticing differences and asks questions, I will need to be prepared.

To do that, I need to do my part to ask questions, to listen and pay attention, to speak up, to not be silent, and to better educate myself.

And the hubby and I will teach T to do the same.

Because we all can and must do our part to make things better.

Magical Colours and Ingredients in Our Garden

T and I made our first strawberry rhubarb pie thanks to the garden lovingly nurtured by the family who lived in our home for over half a century.

We are the second family to live in our late 1950s side split. The home is old and we are slowly fixing it up over time but the bones are good.

The best part is the garden, so lovingly cared for in the family’s lifetime.

This is our second Spring here and it’s been so calming to spend time in the backyard and watch the rainbow of colours emerge the past few weeks.

The mesmerizing purple of the checkered lily (pictured at the top) and many other purples, oranges, yellows, pinks and blues.

We learn to be present because the moments are so fleeting, like the white cherry blossoms, which we enjoyed with delight during a recent week.

The garden has been a Godsend during this pandemic, because it is a space for T to run around in and burn his energy.

Now that the weather is warmer, our family enjoys spending time outside. We miss the public pool so much and so we set up our backyard sprinkler to give T a taste of the water park.

The unexpected delight has been the crops the family planted – which yield wonderful ingredients.

We never took advantage of these perennial crops last year, but this year, we were prepared.

We used these wonderful chives as garnish for a recent chicken congee that I made.

And we harvested this lovely rhubarb today to bake my first ever strawberry rhubarb pie, using this wonderful recipe from In Diane’s Kitchen.

The best part is T helped out. Because we are taking advantage of every opportunity during lockdown at home to turn into a learning moment – whether it’s getting him to help out in the garden or with cooking and baking.

We never have T’s attention for very long – but in the short moments that we do have him engaged, he does such a great job.

This pie was baked lovingly together with my sugary sweet little boy.

I am thankful he saw the process from the ground up – literally, seeing the rhubarb we harvested to the pie coming out of the oven. Having T appreciate hard work and see the fruits of his work is so important for us to teach him.

The hubby worked hard in the garden in the late afternoon, planting new vegetables like beans and carrots, while T ran around outside with him. I baked the pie inside and T came in to help.

While we waited for the baked pie to settle, the hubby cut T’s hair and mine and then I cut his. We’re all getting showered now before enjoying dinner and then the dessert.

This was a wonderful way to end our weekend and we look forward to seeing what other delights – and learning and bonding opportunities – will bear fruit from our garden.

Learning About Social Skills and Friendship From His Cats

It took four years and a pandemic but the Cold War between our hyperactive and loud five-year-old son and his skittish fur siblings has thawed.

T and our two cats, Kyrie and Lanaya, had a rocky start. We adopted the cats, both at 1 year old, in 2015 and T came into our lives and in our tiny condo in 2016, at 15 months old.

The two cats hated him at first sight. They found him loud and hyperactive – and stayed under our bed all day, only coming out at night or when T was in daycare/school.

Even though we’ve lived in our larger home for a year now, it is still very much an under-the-bed existence, which has increased exponentially with T and us in lockdown.

Social skills are important developmental milestones for kids with special needs.

For kids with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, of which T has an at-risk prognosis for, being able to relate to others and understand social cues are often a challenge.

Among my worries during this pandemic is T’s lack of interaction with other children and missed opportunities to build social skills and friendship during these key developmental years. This anxiety is exacerbated when the hubby and I have busy work days and T is left to his own devices.

During moments of boredom and loneliness, T would go to our guest room and lie down on the floor at the entrance, resting his cheek on the floor so he could have a good look under the bed, where the cats would sit quietly, glancing back with apprehension at their little tyrant.

Then I had my eureka moment: the cats would teach T about social skills during the pandemic.

And so our daily routine began. Every day, T and I visited the cats every few hours. When I didn’t feel like it, he’d plead with me, “Just for one minute. It will make me happy!” How do I say no to such a heart-wrenching guilt trip like that?!

I’d lie on the floor across the length of the bed as T’s human shield – he insisted, after Kyrie hissed and swatted at him – and T would lie behind me and poke his head over to look at the cats.

Immediately, Kyrie would growl and hiss at him, while Lanaya laid next to him making nervous grunts. T would hiss back and bang the floor with his hands.

I’d repeatedly tell T to stay calm and be gentle or the cats were not going to be his friends. But my advice would be deafened by his loud hyper rebuttals.

This would go on for a few weeks. Eventually, T learned to simply peek his head over my leg quietly and to look at the cats and tell them in a soft, gentle and quiet voice, “Hello… hi guys.”

Then T learned to bribe the cats with Whiskas treats. He’d throw the treats under the bed nervously, afraid that Kyrie would charge towards him. Lanaya was a sucker for treats and she’d eat them all, including the ones for Kyrie.

T finetuned his strategy and targeted his charm offensive towards Lanaya, eventually getting her to come to retrieve a treat.

One day, she smelled T’s hand and licked it. T got so excited that he went from 0 to 60 in no time, scaring Lanaya back under the bed and breaking whatever progress he had made.

The hubby had the brilliant idea to take out the cat toys that he had put into hiding after T came into our lives: a red pointer light and a cat wand. 

With T next to me, I waved the cat wand. Like instinct, Kyrie came rushing out and swatted at it. He realized T was in the room and retreated under the bed.

I then turned on the pointer light and Lanaya started swatting at the red dot until she saw T and also retreated.

While the victory with the toys was shortlived, it sparked a new angle for T to pursue. Several times a day, he would ask me to go see the cats – with the cat wand in hand. He started by sitting on the bed, trying to lure the cats out with the wand. It worked at first until the cats caught on.

Then T would lie on the floor and poke the cat wand under the bed, swatting the cats. I would get angry and tell T to stop and pay attention. “Do you not see Kyrie and Lanaya going away? That means they don’t like it.”

Every day, I would emphasize to T a few key words – because it’s important to keep instructions short and clear with kids like T: stay calm, be gentle and be patient.

The breakthrough happened last weekend.

On Saturday night, it was way past T’s bedtime and he was beyond tired. He insisted on playing with the cats. I took the cat wand away after he refused to stop poking the cats under the bed with it. He sat on the ground and cried.

Then Kyrie came out from under the bed and started meowing at him. T stopped crying. I whispered to him to stay calm and to extend his fist out – like I’ve taught him the past few weeks.

Kyrie slowly approached him and sniffed his hand and then rubbed his head across T’s palm.

T opened up his hand and proceeded to pet Kyrie on the head.

In anticipation of T revving up from 0 to 60, I told T to stay calm and be gentle. And he listened. T and Kyrie played together for a few minutes and then I told T to go to bed.

The next morning, I thought the breakthrough would be shortlived, but again, Kyrie came out from under the bed and allowed T to pet him and play with him.

And this scene repeated itself every day this past week.

Last night, the hubby, T and I were lying on T’s bed watching videos on our phones when Kyrie came in the hallway and meowed at us. We convinced him to jump on the bed and T gently petted him.

This breakthrough is such a big deal, because it teaches me that while it sometimes takes double the effort to teach T something, he can and does and will learn.

And just like you can teach a dog new tricks, you can teach our T and his fur siblings how to co-exist and to even get along with each other.

School is going to be out for a while longer, so the cats will continue to have to be T’s main source for friendship and interaction outside of the hubby and I.

There will no doubt be more twists in this saga, but I can only expect things to be mainly positive from here on out, as T matures into the wonderful caring little man I know he will become.

It’s All About Perspective

For today’s home learning activity, we gave T a magnifying glass and went for a nice walk to look at ants and the beauty of nature up close.

T has been learning about ants for school this week. His teacher gave us a series of online books and videos about ants, fictional and factual.

One story, Hey Little Ant, taught T about the importance about respecting all living creatures, even the small ants.

I also taught T that ants are able to accomplish a lot through team work and hard work.

We were blessed with a warm and sunny weekend. We had a nice walk around the block with the magnifying class.

Wait till he learns that he can burn things with this!

It was so enjoyable to see T so engaged in his activity, holding the glass right up to flowers or ants on the ground and pressing his eyes close to the glass to examine each object.

It was the best return on a $1.50 investment at the dollar store for fun and interactive learning.

During our walk, T asked if he could see the germs that’s been keeping us at home with the magnifying glass. I told him he’s going to need a much stronger device to do that!

But it did make me smile warmly and feel good inside to know that the wheels in his head are turning and asking these kinds of questions!

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Bonding Over Video Games With My Son

I’ve unlocked another fatherhood badge: Playing video games with my five-year-old T.

For all the worries that I have about the learning gains that T may be missing out on while in lockdown, I have full confidence that he is excelling in digital literacy skills.

Last weekend, T pulled up a chair and plopped it next to his chair at our dining room table – which has been doubling as our work and study spaces – and asked me to sit and play Sushi Slicer with him. My heart just soared. My little boy wants me to play video games with him.

It is mind-boggling to think about all the video gaming options available today – console based, online communities, mobile apps, and more.

I grew up loving and owning several Nintendo consoles and had a big affinity for role playing games, because it allowed me to immerse myself into fantasy universes.

I don’t game as much these days, because work and parenting consume my life. I enjoy more simple puzzle or word-based mobile games when I do have time.

As a parent, you often romanticize your childhood and dream about introducing things you loved to your own child. I often thought about how fun it would be to game with T.

I was reluctant at first to introduce gaming, because I knew about screentime limits (which we’re far exceeding these days!) and because T already had hyperactive behaviour at times. But the 10 weeks that we’ve been in lockdown has changed my mind. 

Here are a few reasons why gaming is awesome for T:

· Kids Learn Best Through Play – T’s amazing teacher introduced many incredible learning games that has allowed T to learn about math, shapes, letters, reading, science, social studies and art in the way he learns best: hands on, interactive play. The learning games on ABCya! are amazing.

· Kids Learn That Rewards Are Earned – I’ll always remember the excited scream from T a few weeks ago when he got a high score on Sushi Slicer and he asked me to look at his high score. The screen displayed an “Improved” badge and he was so proud.

· Kids Learn About Perseverance – The nice thing about video games is that if you die, you can try again. And if the game over, you can start from the beginning. There’s been several times when I’ve been on a work call and T would scream and I’d explain to a colleague he hit the bomb on Sushi Slicer. I’ve turned these into teachable moments and explained that it’s ok to fail but it’s important to try again. It’s been awesome to see him repeat these messages when he stumbles.

· Kids Build Digital Literacy Skills – It’s incredible to think that this kid has figured out my password and how to log on my tablet and navigate to his gaming websites by himself. Technology is key to daily life today, so T is building important skills while playing.

The Papa and T bonding time is the best reason for gaming, if I do say so myself!

T enjoys having me sit next to him and watch him play Sushi Slicer.

I can sense his pride when he gets a good score and knows that I watched him earn that milestone. I enjoy watching him play and get excited when he is nearing the possibility of beating his previous high score. We cheer loudly and hug each other when he earns a high score.

I love that when T finishes his turn, he lets me take a turn – turn taking was something we worked so hard on over the years – and I get such a kick when he coaches me with advice. I love that he wants me to beat his high score. Sportsmanship and teamwork – what more can you ask for?

I look forward to the day when I can introduce console gaming to him and turn him into a Nintendo fan. I can’t wait to play a Mario game together or to dive into and lose weeks of our lives immersing ourselves into a Final Fantasy or other RPG game.

Life is most enjoyable when you are having fun together and games have been a wonderful catalyst for T and I to have fun together, while learning, growing and bonding.

Lessons I Learned About Parenting from Ma

They say that children are always watching and learning from their parents.

One memory I have of Ma that has made a lasting impression is from when I was a teenager and Ma came home and told us she was unemployed.

For context, my parents lived in the Philippines where I was born and spent the first eight years of my life at.

We were a working class family. My parents had school administration jobs they loved and were respected in their circles.

Although Ma was the principal of the school that I attended, she made sure her kids worked hard and were not given special treatment by her staff.

In hindsight, I now realize how stressful and difficult that following year must’ve been for Ma when she didn’t have her job. My family scraped by with Ma’s tutoring job – she tutored the children of her grown up students from the Philippines. Pa was already retired.

My parents sacrificed a good life to come to Canada in their middle age, so their kids could have a better life here.

Then a year later, Ma got a job as a bank teller. It was not a glamorous job, but she got up every day and went to work to support her family.

It was the job that allowed her to accumulate savings to buy a house. It was the job she worked until her retirement and I am thankful she can now enjoy the fruits of her hard work.

I am blessed to have a comfortable life, thanks to the foundation my parents built for their kids.

As a parent, I am facing a different set of challenges that my parents did not have: raising a wonderful boy with great potential but who has challenging special needs.

When I think of my Ma, I think about what I learned from her growing up, the three key lessons I take forward as T’s Papa are:

  • Be resilient
  • Be tenacious
  • Have a work ethic

These are the life lessons I also hope to instill into T, through leading by example, as he grows up to be the wonderful young man that I know he will become one day.

To all the moms, moms to be and caregivers near and far, wishing you all a Happy Mother’s Day!

To Our Son’s Birth Mom on Mother’s Day – Thank You

Every Mothers Day, T’s teachers create crafts with the kids to take home to their moms. As T has two dads, the hubby and I alternate giving the craft to our moms every year.

We know about T’s birth mother and it is a story we are prepared to share with T when he asks us about her one day.

All I will say is that it is a sad story and one that is not uncommon when it comes to children that are adopted.

When Mothers Day rolls around each year, I think about T’s mother. This year, I especially think about how she is coping during these challenging times. And I wish her well.

We do not know each other nor do we communicate. We do send her pictures of T through social workers every year around Mothers Day and Christmas.

My feelings for T’s mom are a double-edge sword. I do not know her but I do know that it is because of her actions that T will be dealing with very hard challenges his entire life.

Specifically, T’s mother drank heavily. In T’s medical history, it is reported she claims to have drank for only the first three months because she did not know she was pregnant. She also reported using heavy drugs like crystal meth throughout her pregnancy.

It is because of T’s medical history that he was given a prognosis of at-risk Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder at age 1.5 and it has haunted our family for the last four years as we await for him to be old enough to be formally diagnosed while we observe tell-tale behavioral signs emerge the last few years.

It is so easy to blame the birth mother but I do not want to, as angry as I feel at times about how avoidable FASD is. I believe that most people do not intentionally set out to harm their child.

If I were ever to have a face-to-face conversation with T’s birth mother one day, I‘d say thank you.

Thank you for giving life to our beautiful, sweet little boy. He is the centre of our family. For all the challenges and tears we face as his parents, we can’t imagine life without him.

I‘d say, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that she had a very difficult life and that she continues to have a difficult life.

I’d tell her that the hubby and I will do everything we can to ensure T has a good life and to avoid a similar journey as hers.

And lastly, I’d tell her that T is a happy, caring, funny, energetic and bright child who wakes up every day like it’s a blank slate and gives life his hardest try.

Because every mother, every parent, no matter how lost they are in the world, wants the peace of mind knowing their child is doing well.

And we are so thankful that, despite some of his ongoing and most likely lifelong challenges, T is doing well.

“Papa, you’re my hero.” – Heartfilling Moments In Isolation

I feel worn down from this self isolation marathon and on some days, it is hard to remember the many positives.

What I find so difficult is this unsustainable balance to work and take care and school our T. Two very different full time jobs compressed into time allowed for one.

The level of anxiety, guilt and scatteredness I feel on a daily basis is overwhelming. I try to focus on the tasks, because there is no use complaining as it wastes the already little time and energy I have.

“Grateful to be alive, healthy, employed and have a roof over our heads” is often my go-to reminder that we are blessed. But even saying this on some days feels forced when I feel so fed up.

But then I look at T, our happy go lucky five year old sweetheart who has a cheerful and innocent outlook of the world.

Our T has a prognosis of at-risk FASD and individuals with FASD, for all the challenges they face, also have a spirit of tenacity. As T’s school youth worker tells us, every day is a new day for those with FASD.

No matter how hard the previous day was, no matter if our evening ended with tears, T wakes up every morning with a smile and cleared slate.

And I am so grateful for that.

For all the hand holding T needs to stay focused on a task – it wouldn’t surprise us if he gets at least an ADHD diagnosis – he is so attuned to our emotions.

When I sprained my left leg two weeks ago and I felt crippled and was bedridden for a weekend – and the mind feared COVID-19 – T showed genuine care and empathy. He calmed down and came into my room to ask how I was doing with a genuine look of concern on his face.

A week or so ago, I sat on a chair in our living room and rested the back of my head against the wall and closed my eyes. He sat next to me. I told him I was tired. He disappeared for a few seconds and came back with a cup of water for me. I gave him a big tight hug and kiss on his head.

We started our evening family walks again. As he often does, during a recent walk, he got tired by the end and asked the hubby to carry him. He then leaned towards me and wrapped his left arm around my neck, his right arm wrapped around the hubby and gave us both a tight squeeze as we walked the final steps towards our home.

On a recent Friday afternoon, after I had packed my work away, T and I were putting our shoes on to go for a walk. Out of the blue, he said to me in a soft sweet voice, “Papa, you’re my hero.”

After the long week that I had, I really needed that. I gave him a big hug and told him that he was my hero. And he really is.

It’s hard to believe it’s only been eight weeks that we’ve been in self isolation. I am so worn down from this gauntlet of work and child care that it’s sometimes hard to put into perspective just how fortunate we are to be healthy, employed and together as a family.

For all the anxiety, guilt and scatteredness that T often causes, he is the one that puts everything into perspective for me.

The hubby took him out for a walk this recent Friday afternoon. T took the opportunity to do six continuous front rolls down the hill in the field behind our home.

Watching the hubby’s short but amusing video of the incident later put an important lesson into crystal clarity for me: When the world feels upside down, do what T does – just roll with it and you will eventually find yourself right side up again.

The Magical 5th Cow

I don’t think I would’ve been a good math teacher.

Third try at a simple addition question:

Me: “How many cows are in this box?”

T: “2”

Me: “And in this box?”

T: “2”

Me: “How many cows are there together?”

T: “5.”

Me: “Where is that 5th cow?! Show me!”

On a chippier note, four years ago this Monday, the hubby and I met our sweet little boy at his foster family’s home. That photo above was from that fateful first meeting.

It was love at first sight.

We had only found out four days earlier – out of the blue, after a seven year wait – that we were matched with a child. Then 10 days later, he moved in with us for good.

I sometimes long for the days when every problem could be solved by shoving a bottle of milk in T’s mouth – maybe it’s being milked from that fifth cow!

But I would not trade the sweat & tears – there sure are lots of tears these days – for anything. Not even a magic cow.

Self Care in a Pandemic for the Special Needs Parents

The one thing I often half joke about is that T can have a full blown meltdown without consequences, while us adults have to be more dignified about our emotions.

Well, midway through this week, I had a grown up meltdown. My bottled up stress of the pressure to keep up T’s schooling, my work, to deal with T’s meltdowns and regression around simple things like potty training burst open like a dam wall.

I said some things that should’ve been left unsaid and retreated to my room for the evening and told the hubby he’s on his own.

The one thing only a special needs parent will truly understand is how hard parenting a special needs child is. Every victory is celebrated and every struggle is emotionally, mentally and physically taxing.

I’m a big proponent of self care and have always made time for it. But in a pandemic, self care takes on a new meaning and challenge when your physical world has significantly shrunk; ditto your time and capacity for personal time.

Even though it’s been seven weeks in isolation and I don’t have all the answers figured out, here are a few ways I’m thinking about self care:

  • Make Time for Yourself – As hard as it is, I try to carve out time in each day for myself. It could be as simple as retreating to my room for peace and quiet on my phone, to go for a walk by myself, or to do groceries or to the dollar store to find supplies for the coming week.
  • Be Forgiving of Yourself – These are anything but normal times, and the faster one accepts that, the pressure to get it all right can lighten.
  • Try to Find Laughter – I found this video, through a parenting webinar, of a mother of four losing her shit over distance schooling her kids. And it made me feel better just laughing with tears coming down my eyes of someone else suffering a worse fate than I am. We are in this together, parents!
  • Find Exercise or a Hobby – I miss the gym and I wish I had not thrown out my two free weights when we were decluttering before our move. But I find other ways to exercise, like going for walks with T. I also try to keep busy with hobbies like cooking.
  • Rest, rest, rest – In this pandemic, I feel like every minute requires two minutes worth of energy, because that’s how much is being demanded of working parents. So I make sure to get lots of sleep and nap during the weekends. It helps reset me for the next day.
  • Leverage this Gift of Time – Work on a home project that you’ve never had the time to do to help take your mind off things. We spent this weekend putting up photos, finally, one year after moving into our home. It was nice to take a walk down memory lane, revisiting photos of furry friends no longer with us that have been sitting in storage and caked in the dust for the last year.
  • Find Something to be Grateful For – As hard as it feels to do this on some days, expressing gratitude helps re-focus and re-centre me. My family is healthy, I’m still employed, I have amazing family, friends and colleagues, T’s teachers have been superb supports, T is making daily progress despite driving me up the wall. Once I start listing these things in my mind, I find a calmness sweeps over me.

To all parents and non-parents – special needs or otherwise – this is a very hard and challenging time. I’m not even sure if there’s an end in sight yet. So I hope everyone continues to take good care and stay well.

It was nice to spend time putting up family photos this past weekend.