Homemade Bird Feeders to Help Our Backyard Friends

We’ve reached the point in the pandemic where we’re now coating pine cones in peanut butter.

Jokes aside, these home-made bird feeders were a nifty craft idea suggested by T’s teacher and he worked on it with the hubby last night while I got some personal rest time for myself.

During last night’s walk, we picked up a few pine cones. T coated them with peanut butter and bird seeds. We then hung them on the trees in our backyard.

They now provide additional nice options to our bird feeders.

I like that this activity helps T to think about helping others, in this case, our backyard friends.

And if self isolation extends beyond June, look for an update post where I coat myself in peanut butter and seeds and offer myself up to the birds.

Homeschooling in Quarantine – Finding Our Groove a Month Later

In my prayers the last year, I often asked for T to get the one-on-one school supports he needs to thrive.

God, I should’ve been clearer the one-on-one support wasn’t meant to be the hubby and I in a pandemic. Devil is in the details!

We‘re now five weeks in and things are mostly well at a high level. The hubby and I have mostly found a rhythm to get through each day.

Learning about the different states of liquids.

We divide and conquer T’s schooling within pocket of time during our day and thus our own work extends into the evenings and weekends. It’s not like we have anywhere else to go!

Having T’s teacher support – second week now – has been a godsend. His schedule of activities and our daily check ins help us so much.

The dollar store has been a lifesaver to find supplementary activities and I now understand why teachers have endless rolls of stickers. They’ve been a great incentive for T to do worksheets. They also give me a nice weekly mental break. Yes, I now go to the dollar store to get some time to myself!

Starting our home garden project.

We started a home garden project. T helped plant tomato, cucumber, radish, carrots, sunflower, etc. into starter pots which we’ll move to our backyard in May. I’ve watched lots of zombie movies and just being extra prepared in case the undead start to rise!

Jokes aside, I still find this all so hard. But I’m letting go of the small stuff and focusing on the big picture, our wellbeing and on this once-in-a-lifetime – better be once-in-a-lifetime! – gift of time with my family.

And what a gift it’s been to see T blossom over the past few weeks. He’s completing the worksheets now, he’s sitting longer on our daily video chats with his teacher, and he’s adapted well to this new (lack of) routine.

This is all so hard, I know, and I hope you are all taking good care!

Stickers are a great incentive, I’ve learned!
Our zombie apocalypse nutrition plan.

Discussing Feelings and Building Empathy

“You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself.”

– John Steinbeck

For all the anxiety and exhaustion our little T often causes us, one consistent strength we can always count on is his caring nature.

Last summer, during an after dinner outing to the playground, an older boy, who must’ve been nine or 10, got stung by a wasp.

He started crying. All the other kids started running away from the playground & one over-the-top kid screamed, “Everyone stay away from there!!!” Cue big eye roll from me.

T stopped peddling on his tricycle and kept staring at the boy from afar.

I explained the boy got stung. T saw the boy standing by himself, so he got off his tricycle and went into the “danger area” while the older kids stood around the perimeter.

The boy’s mother arrived. She was upset and told me the boy’s friends dared him to disturb a nest.

The entire time I was talking to her, T had his hand on the boy’s back. He had a genuine look of worry. Remember, this is a hyperactive kid who can’t sit still or focus on one thing for two seconds. He then hugged the boy!

I still remember this moment so vividly. Almost a year later, I’ve been thinking about this moment as families around the world are self isolating.

The hubby, T and I are in constant contact 24/7. This means there are inevitable moments during the day when one of us loses our cool or we get on each other’s nerves from the stress of being confined in our home during a pandemic.

I was not raised in a household that talked openly about feelings. When a parent lost their cool, there was never a talk about what happened. You just moved on.

Our sweet T has a prognosis of at-risk FASD. One common thing about these kids, according to the research, is they often lack social cues to navigate in a social situation and it may affect their ability to have lasting friendships.

That makes me sad. Very sad. But there’s always reason to feel hopeful with our T.

In the four years we’ve been a family, I’ve observed strong caring qualities. For every moment he pushes our buttons, I can think of many more when he’s expressed care, like when I’m lying in bed sick or when he asks one of his parents to apologize to the other for making them upset.

One of my favourite memories is when we made our first visit to his future daycare when he was not even two years old. There was a room full of crying toddlers and T walked up to one of them and hugged them!

There has been a lot written about empathy and how to build it. I am not an expert, but one thing we try to do in our home is to talk openly about our feelings and thoughts, even those that may not be positive.

I’m often the one lying in bed with T after bedtime stories and we take the time to talk. He’s 5, so these are not deep conversations.

But I tell him about my day. If I had a good day, I’d tell him why. If I had a not so good day, I tell him and I add that it’s ok to have not-so-good days. You learn to move on and you do.

Similarly, when I get upset, I try to talk about it after. I ask him why he thinks I got upset.

Mind you, we’re not always successful. We’re humans. But I like to believe these conversations make an impression.

Now that we are homebound indefinitely during this pandemic, building empathy and understanding is even more important.

We see each so much that losing our patience or cool is inevitable, especially with a child with challenging qualities like T.

I remember one recent difficult night. It was past 10 and T was still up. I just had it and lost my cool. I retreated to my room in a huff. A few minutes, I hear a light knock on the door and T walked in. “I’m sorry I made you mad,” he said quietly and then reached out for a hug.

I was still pissed off but by the smile on his face, he knew he did well. And how could I stay mad for long at that?

Easter and the Resiliency of Nature

“The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived.”

– Robert Jordan

It has been a long week. But we get a reprieve from the insanity of simultaneously working and parenting from home with this four-day Easter long weekend.

The big change this week was T’s teachers are online and we are so glad to have their support!

T’s teachers give us a daily list of literacy, math and fun activities to do and it’s reduced the prep we need to do and T loves them.

We’ve played connect the dots (to 100) and counting games, learned about sight words and T is sounding out more words, made a spaceship and homemade tattoos & did more child labour, I mean, life skills.

We have short daily video calls with his teachers and it’s helping things feel more normal. We’re going to try a chat with his classmates next week. The teacher says it’ll be a shit show. Actually, the term he used was “gong show” but we know what he meant! T’s class is a gang of misfits and we can’t wait for the comedy!

As we told his teacher, we’re hanging on by a thread. It‘s still challenging to balance our work with T. Each day is not a consistent routine and it throws T off. But the hubby and I are getting better and we’re cutting ourselves more slack. No need for perfection, just need to get to the end of the day.

We spent a relaxing and quiet Good Friday at home. I mean, where else would we be?

We introduced T to the movie Home Alone and he loved it. He laughed out loud numerous times.

We also dyed eggs. We bought plastic eggs to be animal friendly but the dye didn’t stick well. So we sacrificed one egg for T to see what it was supposed to look like.

After dinner, I stood by the kitchen and enjoyed the calming glow of the setting sun as it cast a mesmerizing glow over the backyard.

The perennials are starting to poke out from the ground. The dull dead dark tones from the last few weeks are slowly being erased by greens and colourful accents.

I also reflected on the meaningful symbolism of Easter; of sacrifice, death, love and resurrection.

Nature is resilient. Through the death of winter and the hope of Spring. Everything passes. Through hardship, nature endures and blooms once again.

Wishing everyone a wonderful Easter long weekend and please continue to stay well and take good care!

Cooking & Finding Calm in Isolation

“Life itself is the proper binge.”

– Julia Child

Cooking is something I enjoy. I’m not artful at it, but I like to try to new recipes or to recreate childhood comforts.

In the three weeks that we’ve been in isolation, I’ve been cooking more.

It brings me calm to be in the kitchen silently chopping up vegetables, seasoning meat, seeing ingredients mix in the wok, or watching a stew thicken and bubble in the Instant Pot.

We’ve also been including T in making simple kid friendly recipes. He is a fussy eater and I’ve read that getting kids involved in making their meals provides an incentive for them to try it.

And it worked! He normally doesn’t like meat but we made pigs in the blanket and he ate not one, but two hotdogs!

Here are a few recipes I made in the last while. I’d love to hear about the recipes you suggest to get through this period of isolation.

Congee is an Asian style rice porridge. This chicken congee recipe was so easy to make on the Instant Pot and it was great. I enjoyed it with boy choy and kimchi on the side and some chili oil (very top image).

It wasn’t until about two years ago that I started to like Brussel sprouts after seeing a Laura Calder recipe on her French cooking show. Let’s be honest here, everything tastes better with bacon! Seasoned lightly with pepper and rosemary salt.

We’ve been even more mindful about using the ingredients that we have at home. Scavenging the fridge one day, I found red peppers, mushrooms, green onions and then some frozen cooked lobster meat our in laws gave us at Christmas. With a little bit of rice, two eggs and vegetable oil, I made lobster fried rice!

Hakka Kau Yuk – aka pork belly and taro – is a delicious and hearty comfort food. There are many easy-to-make recipes, like this one for the Instant Pot.

We’ve been making a lot of Instant Pot stews – beef, pork (above), chicken. Gonna try a turkey stew next with frozen turkey parts in our freezer. They’re so easy to make and so comforting during these uncertain times.

I made this Kare Kare dish – Filipino ox tail peanut stew – before this pandemic became very serious. It’s one of my favourite dishes growing up and this was my first time making it. I plan on making it again and making a few tweaks to the recipe that I used.

Fried eggs are one of my comfort foods. I like to have the edges be extra crispy and the yolk half hardened. For the portion above, I added drops of leftover butter chicken sauce. Gave it a nice Indian twist!

And the best part of cooking in isolation is finding ways to get T involved. He’s helped us bake cookies, make pigs in the blanket, and I introduced him recently to the sweet joy of homemade chocolate milk!

It’s nice seeing T help out and show enthusiasm and ability. I’m looking forward to seeing what else we’ll make together in the weeks to come.

Focusing on Wellbeing and Family Time During Self Isolation

“In times of test, family is best.”

– Burmese Proverb

Three weeks & several meltdowns later, we’re finding our groove with this stay/work/school at home 24/7 without killing each other thing.

We’re accepting things are not business as usual & letting go of the pressure to keep things as such.

As scary & uncertain as these times are, I acknowledge we’re getting an unprecedented gift of time to spend together as a family.

Three weeks together, with now an additional 12 weeks – at least – to spend concentrated time together, for better or for worse.

It’s the simple things I am so thankful for: Sleeping in and waking up next to T, who climbs in bed in the middle of the night. We eat together. We’re experiencing in-depth big milestones, such as T sounding out words, showing interest in numbers and counting, and learning to tell time.

When else would I have a work arrangement where I get to take breaks with T & go for a walk outside, do a learning activity, or just hang out?

This mini trampoline has been a great investment.

We’re better at giving each other quiet time & space for work & rest.

The hubby, T and I have set up shop in our dining room and we each have a section of the dining table for work, learn and play. Sometimes, we are on top of each other. Like the other day when I was on a work call and T farted loudly next to me and I had to convince my colleague it was not me!

The biggest shift for us is letting go of the pressure to stick to a rigid homeschool schedule. It was stressing me out and we had more than a few fights and meltdowns over this.

We still do lots of learning, creative, fitness & family activities with T every day. Instead of a rigid homeschool schedule, we use a checklist of daily goals and we get to them in however way we can. It’s been way more fun & less stress.

Making slime!

We’ve done scavenger hunts where T surprised us with his memory skills and his letter and word recognition. We’ve done kitchen science experiments like making slime, a baking soda volcano and a homemade lava lamp.

We incorporate chores as part of his learning. Who knew child labour could double as a life skills class? T’s helping put laundry away, rake leaves, and cook simple meals. He shows great enthusiasm and ability.

One of the best lessons I learned is that learning also comes in organic ways. Like T getting an impromptu science class when he found a caterpillar while doing yard work with the hubby outside. Now that’s hands-on learning that a textbook can’t provide!

These are valuable memories I will treasure when we all emerge from the other side of this dark cloud. And we will.

Making a lava lamp.

I think about how the world has changed in just three weeks. You feel the heavy anxiety, stress, fear and paranoia. I think about how our collective mental state will be after this isolation.

This is why it’s so important for me to focus now on T’s well-being and our family time rather than this need to keep things business as usual. Things are not status quo and we need to acknowledge that for the sake of our children’s well-being.

T is eating candy on a weekday? So be it. He’s still up at 10 pm? Not gonna stress over it. He’s being more defiant than usual. That tells me he’s anxious rather than being purposefully willful.

There’ll be time to course correct all of this later.

T found a caterpillar while helping do yard work!

There are so many reasons to feel anxious & stressed these days. I certainly feel these emotions every single day.

But there’s also so much to be thankful for, including being healthy & able to stay/work at home. I know others, such as health and other essential workers, do not have this luxury. I’m gonna try to focus on the positive things, because there’s still a very long road ahead.

I hope you are all continuing to stay well & taking good care!

Child labour in exchange for Goldfish crackers.

“Go for it. Step on all the puddles!”

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

– Heraclitus

It’s been two weeks since we’ve started our self isolation, when everything came to a standstill.

I am thankful my family is safe and healthy and that we’ve only been lightly inconvenienced.

But I think about what this pandemic has taken away from our sweet T: his school, routine and structure, friends, daycare, community pool, McDonald’s Playspace, playground and sense of normalcy.

I think about how he broke down in tears when he saw the cautioned-off playground.

We are in this for the long haul. We need to pace ourselves for a marathon, not a sprint. And we need to change how we respond to things.

During our morning walk today, it was lightly drizzling. It had rained heavily for hours overnight. There were puddles everywhere.

T was in his favourite blue rain boots and I saw that glint of mischief in his eyes. He has high sensory seeking behaviour and there is not a puddle that he can’t resist. Mud? Cherry on top!

I normally get obsessive about keeping him off the puddles, but the last two weeks have already taken so much from him.

So I said, “Go for it. Step on all the puddles!”

He started running and stomped through an 8 foot wide puddle, laughing with full belly heartiness.

We continued our walk around the neighbourhood, the empty school yard and past the cautioned-off playground. He looked at me, “I’m not going to cry!” And I smiled at him and patted his head.

He found more puddles on the damp soaked empty soccer field. Stomp, stomp, stomp. And I ignored his increasingly wet pants and amassing flecks of mud on his boots and clothes.

By the end of our walk, when I had to return to my work, he yelled, “Water got in my boots!”

I could sense his irritation rising and I quickly asked him stomp his boots. I made duck noises as his boots squeaked loudly. “Quack quack.”

We laughed together as we walked home. I inhaled the fresh cool rainy Spring air as I listened to his laughter and squeaky boots.

Our Fixer Upper Renovation – One Year Later

“There’s no place like home.”

– Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz

A year ago this week, our family made the leap and moved into our house.

The hubby and I had previously lived in a small townhouse for over 10 years. T spent three wonderful years in that condo with us, but it was evident that we outgrew the space.

We bought an old fixer upper house built in the late 50s. We are only the second owners. The original owners were teachers and raised teachers too. So while the home was very old, I love the sense of family and history that I felt when I walked around during the open house.

We also bought this home, because it was within our budget in this insane urban real estate market, because it needed so much work.

The hubby and I knew this would be a long term fixer upper journey. He’s a huge fan of HGTV shows and we both saw it as a project that we would do while watching T grow up.

The first reno we did was to add a furnace, because the home was so outdated that it was being heated by electric baseboard heaters, which gets very pricy in Canadian winters.

We hired a contractor to reno our upstairs, which had three bedrooms and two baths.

When you are watching a reno show, everything gets wrapped up in 30 minutes. Our experience was not neat and short.

From the first day when our bedroom ceilings got ripped open, so that duct work could be added, I felt the stress.

We would come home from work and our entire house would be covered in dirt. I wasn’t even sure if it was safe to be in our house.

The hubby, T and I set up our sleeping space in our barren living room. We slept on mattresses and used boxes as our closet system.

But you know what, those five months living together in that tiny corner brought so many warm memories and moments of bonding.

I loved falling asleep with T next to me and waking up in the morning while the rising sun came in through our kitchen window and seeing the hubby and T still in their dreamy state.

T became a wonderful helper. Where it made sense and it was safe for him to help, we got T to do reno tasks like pulling old nails from the floor. T was so keen to help and did a great job.

Our upstairs reno is now complete. Our hubby asked for a craftsman style look to our doors and trims. We chose neutral colours for walls and doors.

For T’s room, we went with a sedate and grown up look and feel for two reasons. First, this was a room he was going to grow into. Second, for kids with special needs, it’s best to keep the bedroom room simple and uncluttered to minimize sensory overload.

We are now taking a pause with renovations to save money for the next phases, which include updating the kitchen and main floor.

The hubby and I are in no rush, because this is the home we will grow old in and watch T grow into the wonderful young man that we know he will become.

Supporting My Little One During These Challenging Times

“Even a happy life has a sad day. We fail to provide a context which says it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to be sad.”

– Marianne Williamson

Against the backdrop of a beautiful warm Spring afternoon, our little T finally broke down in tears for the first time since our self isolation started.

The afternoon started off wonderfully. I took time off from working to focus on T.

We played in the backyard. He recently discovered with the hubby the joy of climbing up trees. He also stepped on top of our compost bin in the back corner and rested his elbow on our fence and peered over to say hello to our neighbour as he raked his autumn leaves.

We started to spend more time in the backyard, because the City recently closed playgrounds as further measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.

As I raked our endless pile of leaves, T amused himself. He also did a great job helping me scrub, clean and refill our bird bath.

Afterwards, we went for a walk in the park. I had warned him ahead of time the playground was now off limits. But he did not grasp what it meant.

The two of us noticed the yellow caution tape from afar. I reminded him again why they were closed. He said he wanted to see the yellow tape.

When we got to the playground, I reminded him that he couldn’t go on the swing. Then he walked to the ramp that he loved to climb to go up on his beloved slide. It was also cautioned off.

Then he saw that another favourite part of the playground was also sectioned off.

Then he burst into tears. “Why is everything closed?”

This was not his usual tantrum tears or meltdown that I’ve learned to just roll my eyes at and endure.

This was genuine heartbreak and grief.

My heart felt like it shattered into a million pieces. I felt warm tears well up in my eyes and I fought them back.

I knelt down on my knees and tried to hug him. He refused and we walked over to the long blue slide and he lied on top of it on his belly and sobbed.

I ignored the urge to lecture him about not touching his face on the slide and I just let him cry it out for several minutes.

Kids like T with special needs thrive and depend on routines. The past two weeks have seen our hard-earned routines go out the window.

My hubby and I are trying our best to roll with the punches. We are trying to carry on business as usual. But today was a good reminder that these times are not business as usual.

We are dealing and adapting to a new normal where routines and favourite structures have gone out the window or are off limits for the foreseeable future.

The good thing about T is that he is a resilient and generally a happy go lucky kid. But it was important for me not to minimize this moment, not try to dismiss it nor to try to downplay it.

It’s so important that kids learn that it’s ok to not be ok. And so I let the moment ride itself out.

On the way home, he was angry on his tricycle and peddled really fast. I ran after him and then he stopped his tricycle, got off and screamed at me. “Stop running after me!” He charged towards me and started beating me with his fists.

I did not take it personally. I knew it was his way of processing his anger at how everything in his life is not the way it used to be.

And he did calm down soon enough.

And he was fine by the time we got home. I told him to wash his hands. Gave him a bowl of ice cream with rainbow sprinkles and put the TV on.

A few minutes later, he was on his mini trampoline, happily bouncing up and down, while Snow White and the Seven Dwarves played on Disney+.

These are not normal or easy times. Please stay well and take good care of yourselves, everyone.

Celebrating My Birthday in Self Isolation

“There is still no cure for the common birthday.”

– John Glenn

Today is the first time – and hopefully only time in a hopefully long life to still unfold – that I will celebrate my birthday in self isolation during a global pandemic.

Schools are closed but supposed to be officially back in business after the March Break. So I split my day between homeschooling T and keeping up with my work from home.

Homeschooling is so hard! Teachers have such a hard important job. We are relying a lot on online resources. It was also a rainy day but I still took T for an hour-long walk for all our sanity.

For today’s home economics class, I asked the hubby to bake a birthday cake with T (pictured above). They did a wonderful job and I love it!

I never wish for much for my birthday and every year’s wish is the same: happiness and good health for my loved ones and myself.

This year, the particular wish is even more resonant and relevant and I extend and share that wish with all of you.

Please take care and stay well, everyone. As this sign that T and I created together (below) for today’s art class to post on our front window reads: We are in this together.

Ideas to Keep Our Little One Learning During Social Distancing

“Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it, you can never get it back.”

– Harvey MacKay

I am thankful that T is oblivious to how serious the COVID-19 pandemic is. We’ve let him know there is a bad germ making a lot of people sick and this is why he is staying at home and has to wash his hands a lot. Beyond that, there’s no need to freak our five-year-old out with grim details.

This past week was March Break, so we’ve let structure and routines go straight to hell. Daily screen time limits have been far exceeded, bedtime is late and he’s been sleeping in past 10 a.m. Anything to keep the hubby and I sane as we adjust to this new normal of social distancing.

We are so thankful that our employers have allowed us to work for home. For me, this started on Wednesday. Taking transit to work on Monday and Tuesday was surreal. Rush hour was a ghosttown and I sensed the social distancing in the way people stood apart from each other.

We’ve mainly stayed inside with T, trying to fill each day with activities to keep him engaged. He told me on Wednesday that he missed his teacher and “Miss Kiki” at the daycare. It made my heart break but also fill up, because it reinforced to me just how amazing his school supports are.

While I’m expected to work from home, I have indicated to my manager that chunks of my days will need to be focused on T and ensuring that my hubby and I work together to maintain his academic momentum while schools are closed, which I could see lasting until September.

Routines and schedules are so important for kids with special needs like T, so we want to do whatever we can to sustain the progress and momentum he’s gained this school year.

I’ve started to create daily schedules for T. I’m focusing on the upcoming week and will undoubtedly need to tweak for future weeks. I have a fantasy ideal of what homeschooling will be like and I have no doubt that we will have this dream crushed by T’s reality checks!

It’s been so amazing and appreciated to see friends and strangers on social media share valuable online resources. These have helped me flesh out ideas for activities for homeschooling T.

Here are the different ways that the hubby and I plan to carve out each day with our T, who is now in junior kindergarten. This is gonna be a test of our will, patience, and sanity. Wish us luck!

  • Alphabets and Numbers – T’s interest and ability in counting and reading grows by the day. I want to keep this momentum up. I bought a series of activity books from Costco that have laminated pages. Activities, including tracing letters and numbers, can be done repeatedly with washable markers. You can also find free printable activity sheets online, such as from Education.com.
  • Books – Reading together is a great way to pass the time and helps build T’s vocabulary, knowledge and reading skills. Thanks to family and friends, T has a nice personal library. Public libraries around the world have also increased the availability of their eBooks, so check your local library to see what they have. You can also find online resources, such as OpenLibrary.org.
  • eLearning – Keeping screentime limits in mind, we will undoubtedly rely on educational TV shows such as Sesame Street and TVOKids, websites and apps to supplement T’s learning, while giving the hubby and I time to do our own work. Our family loves Khan Academy Kids, a fantastic app with wonderful short and relevant school-aligned activities.
  • Music and Dance – The librarian in me loves music and dance time. It supports learning, creativity and physical activity. YouTube is a fantastic resource for finding a plethora of child-appropriate song and dance inspiration. Here’s one of many examples of librarian-created story and rhyme videos that parents can use with their little ones.
  • Arts and Crafts – We stocked up on supplies at the dollar store to help T pass the time and to minimize his screen time. I actually dread arts and crafts, because it’s not something he particularly enjoys. So we will use this time to create things that he will enjoy, such as forts and pretend castles. Here are a few other ideas from Parents.com that we’ll be relying on.
  • Science Time Honestly, all I have on this list so far are baking soda and vinegar volcano, Coke and Mentos rocket launch, and home-made slime. I’m sure I’ll find lots of inspirations online as the days drag on and desperation sinks in.
  • Cooking – Thank God for snacks, lunch and dinner time to help fill up the daily schedule! The hubby and I will use these moments to get T to help us make the meals and clean up. I also plan to carve out time each day for cooking activities, like making cookies, jello, popsicles and since it’s my birthday next week, I’m asking the hubby and T to bake me a cake!
  • Chores – I believe it’s important for kids to build and learn independence from a young age, so I guess we have time to practice and build these skills in the coming weeks. Leaves from the fall need raking, laundry needs to be put away, rooms need cleaning, cats need to be fed, birdfeeders need to be refilled, and the list goes on.
  • Outdoor Play – We’re lucky to have two playgrounds and a school field in our backyard. We’re aware of the risks of playgrounds during these times, so we’re exercising precaution and social distancing. We’ll also vary up outdoor time with T’s tricycle, kite, soccer ball, pavement chalk, etc. And evening walks, we love our evening walks and nature hikes on the weekends.
  • Free Time – And thankfully, T’s at an age where he can also amuse himself. We’ll make sure we pace ourselves each day with ample free time for individual play and rest.

In the grand scheme, the next few weeks will be a minor inconvenience. We are so thankful we’re in good health – and hope to stay this way – and that we have the privilege to work from home, while essential workers are out there fighting this pandemic or filling crucial roles, such as keeping grocery stores open. We’ll share this message of gratitude with T.

Please stay well and safe. I wish you and your loved ones well during these unprecedented times.

COVID-19: Our Little One and His Wonderful Bubble of Oblivion

“It’s calm under the waves, in the blue of my oblivion.”

– Fiona Apple

When I was a boy growing up in the Philippines, I remember schools being closed because of typhoons. I would then spend the day or days playing, not a care or worry in the world.

I thought about this as I was lining up for two hours this Thursday evening at our grocery store, feeling like I was trapped in a zombie film, everyone stocking up on rice or toilet paper, while I wanted to make sure I had enough potato chips to last through social distancing.

Welcome to these surreal COVID-19 times.

The hubby and I had done emergency prep a few weeks back – stocking up on two weeks of items – because we like to be prepared and want to avoid panicked crowds. So this recent trip was a regular run to get items for the coming week. Still, this crowd felt ridiculous.

T is fairly oblivious to what’s going on – other than knowing the box of non perishables in the corner of our dining room is for “Emergencies” – and we are happy to keep it that way.

There is no sense freaking a child out who does not have the life experience to put it all into context. We’re sharing the bare minimum of what he needs to know, which is school is going to be out for the next three weeks and to wash his hands often.

When we learned the news of school and daycare closures, I felt disappointed – as well as panic of what to do about childcare.

On a very selfish note, T has made so much progress at school. We see the tremendous gains he’s made. So I worry that with three weeks off, he will lose that momentum.

But such is life. You roll with the punches!

In the grand scheme of things, we are lucky to be in good health, good spirit, living in a city and country that is prepared and measured in its response to this unprecedented situation.

We will make the most of T’s time off. The hubby will be spending quality Daddy and T time with him next week. I am so thankful for this moment for them to hang out.

The following two weeks are still a mystery but we will figure it out.

I also find it surreal being a parent during these strange times. Staying calm for T, when it felt just like yesterday my parents did that for me. Now, I also remember to check in on my Ma – like doing a grocery run for her today.

Alas, I simply try to bring myself back into T’s world, where it is business as usual. For our five year old, the world is still a safe and fun place full of play and wonder. As a parent, you want to hang on to and cherish that innocence for as long as possible.

My 5 Year Old‘s Surprising Connection to the Real Life Dennis the Menace

“Mischief just seems to follow wherever Dennis appears, but it is the product of good intentions, misdirected helpfulness, good-hearted generosity…”

– Hank Ketcham

Sixty nine years ago today, Dennis the Menace made his comic book debut and soon became a worldwide success. At its peak, the comic strip ran in over 1,000 newspapers, 50 countries and 20 languages and spawned TV and movie adaptations.

The story of a mischievous five-and-a-half year old boy, who can’t help but get into trouble, speak bluntly, and annoy those around him, especially his elderly neighbour Mr Wilson, certainly reminds me of our T.

T and Dennis are around the same age. Like Dennis, T has wavy blond hair, blue eyes, a good heart and self-determined nature, but also a mischievous streak. If you didn’t know about T’s condition, you’d think he is an intentionally wilful, non-compliant child, who likes to terrorize others with his mischief. And T looks adorable in overalls too.

But it turns out, they have a deeper connection.

As we learned a few years ago at an information session about FASD offered by the Children’s Aid Society, the real-life boy that inspired the character of Dennis had FASD, which T has an at-risk prognosis of.

Dennis the Menace was inspired by Dennis Ketcham, the son of series creator Hank Ketcham.

As told in a 2001 New York Times article, written at the time of Hank Ketcham’s death, he was working in his studio one day, trying to come up with a name for the character, when his wife stormed into his office, after their son had destroyed his bedroom, and screamed, “Your son is a menace!”

And the rest was pop culture history!

I found this connection very amusing and also enlightening. I mean, my mom even used to jokingly call T “Dennis the Menace.”

But there is also a sad side to this connection. It turns out the real life Dennis did not have as happy of a future as his ageless cartoon counterpart. His mother died of a drug overdose when he was 12. He struggled academically and was sent to a boarding school, where he dropped out. He enlisted and served in the military and suffered from PTSD afterwards. Perhaps the saddest part of the story was that he became estranged from his father, even up until his father’s death.

I found this part of the story very sad, because it is often tempting to project these same outcomes onto our little T. I have the same fears for him around his academic, social and overall future – all because of a four letter prognosis that has way more control over his and our lives than I would like.

But having this connection to an iconic character does have its advantages. It helps me better explain T’s prognosis and struggles to other people when I am able to draw a parallel to a well-known character.

And I am one to always try to look at the positive in every situation. And here’s where I ultimately focus on: Dennis the Menace, no matter how much trouble he lands in, he always finds a way to endear himself to others in the end with his good-hearted and charming nature. I see the same qualities in T.

Like a comic book strip, life gives us a new day, every day, that is a blank page filled with possibilities. We are ultimately the authors of our story. So my hubby, T and I will all do our best to make it the best one that we can for each other. And like a good comic book strip, find some laughs along the way.

Evening Walks with My Little One Are the Best Part of My Day

“Freedom: To walk free and own no superior.”

– Walt Whitman

Spring is not officially here till next weekend but you can feel it in the air.

We just had our first warm sunny weekend. Families and kids came out of winter hibernation to play in our park.

My evening walks with T, which we start when the weather gets nicer, are my favourite part of my day – other than bedtime, let’s keep it real here. I look forward to our walks, especially after a long work day.

I prioritize and make time for them, because they are important to me.

We try to wrap up dinner by 7:00 and then head out. Sometimes, it’s a walk around the block. Other times, we take his tricycle. Most times, it’s a long detour in the nearby school playground.

It’s almost a year since we moved to our house and we love our neighbourhood. It has a sense of history with its 1960s homes and tall strong trees. You feel the family values. Our neighbours on both sides grew up as kids in the area and are now near retirement.

Our home is near a school and so the playground and field are our little kingdom on evenings and weekends.

Although it’s an older community, more young families are moving into the area and it’s nice to become familiar with the kids in the area.

What I love most about our walks is that it’s quality time with T. I am disconnected from my phone, we talk to each other, we laugh, we play.

We enjoy each other’s company in silence, not saying much, but knowing what the other is thinking and feeling from the smile, laughter and exuberant play.

The time together helps us come down from our day. And the best part is that being outside in the fresh air helps T burn his endless energy so he often gets to bed earlier at night.

It truly is the simple things in life, like our evening walks, that mean the most to me and that matter the most in the long run.

On our first weeknight walk, just last night, there were still plenty of puddles in the playground from the melted snow. T wore his blue rain boots and the hubby and him dug little trenches, with their heels, so the puddles became canals.

They worked quietly but you felt their connection and enjoyment. I stood back and enjoyed watching them work together. The hubby is often busy with his work – working long shifts – so it’s a treat when he joins us for these walks.

As we walked home in the setting sun, T reached out for the hubby’s hand and extended his other hand to me. We walked, hand in hand, Daddy, Papa and T down the street towards home.

He had a content smile on his face. Not a care in the world.

Celebrating 17 Years with the Hubby

“It’s been a while.”

– Britney Spears, Break the Ice

Anniversaries are important to me. I celebrate these milestones to remind us where we’ve come from and of the journey still ahead.

March 8 is the day that the hubby and I started dating 17 years ago. It was around 3 in the morning, in an emptying nightclub, when we made it official, both drunk with giddiness.

Neither of us would’ve imagined the life that laid ahead of us, especially the possibility of even being married or adopting a child.

But life is full of surprises, if you just leave yourself open to receiving them.

T has changed our life for the better. Life is busier and hectic, but the hubby and I appreciate each other more. While we’ve never been tested like this, as individuals and as a couple, I feel we are stronger when it’s the three of us together.

It’s inspiring to watch the hubby be Daddy to T. T adores him. The hubby is a great father and he’s certainly more patient and chill than I am with T!

Today was a beautiful day. Bright, sunny and warm, the first sign of Spring.

The hubby let me sleep in a bit while he got T settled into the day. I woke up to them playing in the living room.

We then ran errands and had lunch at a ramen restaurant. Then lazed at home with a nice nap while the hubby and T watched Frozen 2. T adores the characters of Anna and Elsa and refers to them as his “Girl Puppy Team.”

We spent the late afternoon going for a walk in the neighbourhood, soaking up the warmth, inhaling the fresh air, and enjoying the extra daylight – yay, daylight savings time! There was noticeably more families in the park.

For dinner, I made Kare Kare with the Instant Pot. It is a Filipino style ox tail peanut stew, filled with eggplant, green beans and bok choy. Served with a steaming bowl of jasmine rice. I’ve been wanting to make this for a while. It was a bit of work but worth it for this special day!

I could not have asked for a more simple, relaxing and worthwhile way to celebrate 17 years together.

“I Love You, Alexa!” – Technology & the Child with Special Needs

“It’s not a faith in technology. It’s faith in people.”

– Steve Jobs

I was washing dishes one morning when I overheard T talking with our smart home assistant device, Alexa.

T: “Alexa… I love you.”

Alexa: “That’s nice of you to say.”

T: *Repeats over and over again* “Alexa…”

Alexa: “Sorry, I’m having trouble processing your request. If you continue to have issues, please contact support.”

Travis: “Alexa!”

Alexa: *shutting down noise*

It turns out that even an Artificial Intelligence being finds our little guy to be a handful!

When I look at the abundance of technology and the possibilities they present for T, I can’t help but compare it to what I had when I was his age. Personal computers were still a luxury. Nintendo was in its starting days. Betamax was on its way out. My family had a rotary phone.

Today’s technology opens up so many ways for children to learn, play, create, express themselves, and connect.

It also presents alternative options for children with special needs and their parents and educators.

T is a hands-on learner and we’ve started to incorporate different types of technology into his day-to-day life and they have benefited his growth:

Educational apps – Khan Academy Kids is a great free app that provides play-based learning activities that are short and range from alphabets and reading to numbers and counting. T and I do 2-3 activities in the morning and in the evening. ToDo Math and Interactive Telling Time are two other apps we’re playing with to build his interest and familiarity with math and telling time.

Creation apps – My hubby downloaded a bunch of free creation apps that T likes to play with that lets him pretend to be a baker by decorating cupcakes or to be a hair stylist by cutting pretend hair. T also likes digital drawing apps. It’s fun to see T’s imagination grow.

Communication apps – T’s Grammy and Grandad only see him once or twice a year, so they use FaceTime to keep in touch. When my Ma went overseas for four months recently, T chatted with her via Facebook Messenger.

Camera apps – T sneaks off with my phone from time to time and it’s fun to see the photos he takes. I often see them by surprise when I am on my commute to work. They bring big smiles to my face as I see the world through his eyes in snapshots of time.

Smart devices – T is comfortable and chatty with our Alexa smart home device, often asking her to play music, tell him the weather outside, and even to ask her to fart. It’s very amusing to see Alexa grow weary and tired of him.

It’s incredible how quickly kids figure out how tech works. As T gets older, I have no doubt he will dabble with video games (can’t wait to game with him), social media, and whatever comes after.

I look forward to introducing him to maker culture, such as robotics, that will allow him to build STEM skills. T loves to break things, tinker with them and to put things together. I am optimistic he will enjoy and do well in this area.

As with all technology, monitoring its use by little kids is important. I’m mindful but not overly obsessive about screen time recommendations.

I also expect the important conversations we’ll have one day about online safety, data privacy and how to navigate himself as a digital citizen.

But for now, I will enjoy the time we spend together playing, learning and having fun on Khan Academy Kids. We’re usually half sitting and half lying down on his bed, his head pressed against mine, my hand holding my phone away from his face, and his fingers tapping on the screen, following the instructions provided by the friendly digital teacher.

These moments illustrate that the human element in technology is so important, as we play, learn and grow together. As T’s profession of love to Alexa shows so well, the most impactful technology are those that enable meaningful human connection.

The Healing Therapy of Pets for Children

“An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.”

– Martin Buber

When we lived in our former home, T and I would enjoy early Saturday morning walks in the park. At around 9, a group of regulars would gather with their dogs and T would never be shy or afraid about going up to pet them.

One time, he got so excited to be amongst the dogs that when one of the owners threw a ball and yelled, “Catch,” T screamed excitedly, “I got it!” He bolted out into the field, while the half dozen dogs stood and watched him chase the ball.

There is a lot written about the therapeutic powers of animals for children, including those with special needs, in helping them overcome challenges, regulate their emotions, stay safe, and to learn about friendship and social behaviour.

I see this on a regular basis when T and I go for our walks. Whenever a dog comes around, T gets very excited. But I also see a genuine kindness and care. His voice softens, he pets the dog gently and he even tries to kiss them.

Most of the time, I don’t get scared of the dogs harming T; in fact, it’s often the opposite. I worry that he’ll get over excited and aggravate the dog, like pull his tail.

My hubby and I have been together for 17 years – this Sunday! – and we’ve had a long history of pets. In 2005, we adopted a cat named Harley and six months later, his childhood cat kittyboi moved from the East Coast to live with us. They passed away long before T was born.

The summer before T entered our lives, when we had just about given up on adoption working out for us, we adopted two young cats, a bonded pair named Kyrie and Lanaya.

The two cats were the centre of our home life and then T came along and shook everything up. Little did the cats know during the early days – pictured below – that T would be a long-term tenant.

I often feel guilty that we don’t spend as much time with the cats these days. They are often hiding in the basement when T is awake, because his loud and hyperactive nature – stomping his feet, chasing after them – does not mesh well with their calm and subdued personality.

We always coach T to be gentle and calm around them and to tell him that although he means well and is just trying to be playful, his approach scares his fur siblings.

Truth be told, T would be really well suited for a therapy dog. If we didn’t have Kyrie and Lanaya already, we’d consider a therapy dog for T. But it wouldn’t be fair to our dear cats to add another member to the family.

But life is a journey and we all grow every day. And it’s such a pleasure to see T grow in his skills to relate to others, including his fur siblings.

One recent Sunday, as I was cooking in the kitchen, I heard T call out to sweet but skittish Kyrie. And I poked my head out to see what was going on.

Instead of his usual loud and hyperactive approach, T sat down on the stairs and called to Kyrie calmly. Kyrie reluctantly stayed at the top of the stairs, eyeing T apprehensively.

We’ve taught T the best approach is to stick your fist out and offer it to the cat to smell. So he did that.

I expected him to rev from 0 to 60. But I watched him slowly go to the top step and sit down.

“Hi Kyrie,” T said gently and Kyrie slowly came to sniff his hand and even allowed T to pet his head and arched back. At one point, the arch in his back – a sign cats are scared or threatened – relaxed.

It was a nice heartwarming moment to witness.

T with our friends’ dog at a bbq hosted at their home.

My 5 Year Old Takes Photos With My Phone Without My Knowing & For My Later Surprise

“There’s no greater joy than that seen through the eyes of a child, and there’s a little bit of a child in all of us.”

– “Walt Disney,” Saving Mr. Banks

One of the things I love most about being a parent is seeing the world, experiencing the joys of childhood, and living the firsts through the eyes of our little boy.

The world is filled with wonder, curiosity, innocence, newness, excitement and fun.

Seeing the world through a child’s eyes takes on a literal meaning when our 5-year-old takes my phone without my knowing and snaps photos. It’s a joy scrolling through my album on my commute to work and seeing little glimpses of T’s view of the world pop up unexpectedly for me to enjoy.

My favourite pic – which caught me by surprise on a subway ride to work – was the close up shot of his beloved stuffed giraffe (above). And I gotta say, the way he cropped the photo and focused on the giraffe’s happy smile had a flair of playful artfulness to it.

Here are a few others that offer a glimpse into what captures T’s attention and interest. Anything with my hubby, little T or myself visible in the shot – while treasured photos – are not included.

Cute Little Toes”

“Daddy’s Work”

T generally gets interested in trying to figure out how things work.

Thinking about the waterpark.

One of T’s countless cars. And yes, our dining table is filthy!

T’s beloved ladybug. He’s had this since he was a baby, living with his foster family. This face and smile kill me every time. It was a nice surprise to see this pic on my phone one day.

Watching Our Little One Learn About Friendship

“We didn’t realize we were making memories, we just knew we were having fun.”

– Winnie the Pooh

On a recent Friday evening, my hubby and I were watching T play at our local McDonald’s PlaySpace; it’s our weekly weekend ritual. T ran around in his usual excited way, making loud dinosaur roars. After a few minutes, he came out of the massive structure and said, “No one wants to play with me!”

I encouraged T to go back and ask the kids, who were older, to play with him. T tried to no avail, but then another girl started to play with him. They had a lot of fun running around, until the girl got very excited, which then irritated T and he ended up slapping her on the arm. We asked him to apologize, which then caused a tantrum, so we went home.

On the drive back home, we talked about what happened. I told T the girl was just trying to play with him and that next time, he should use his words to tell a kid to step back, instead of slapping them.

Friendship is something I think about often. Research and anecdotal data consistently shows that kids with FASD – of which T has a prognosis of – often have a hard time making and keeping friends. Common reasons include a lack of understanding of social cues and behaviour or dysmaturity, when one behaves at a less mature level than their peers.

I find it very sad when I read the stories on our online group of other parents who talk about how their children’s friends outgrow them or how they get bullied. Having had a few, thankfully not many, bullies as a student, I think about preparing T to respond to and to be resilient about potential bullying situations.

When I observe T and how he interacts with children, including his seven-year-old cousin, the common observation I make is that T has a challenge with regulating his emotions. I can see how social issues can arise and how his behaviour can alienate other children, despite good intentions.

One evening last summer, while we were playing in the park after dinner, a group of kids ages 9-10, asked T if he wanted to race with them. T got so excited and revved up from 0 to 60 within seconds. He ran to get his tricycle and charged past the starting line, while the kids were still gathered there on their bikes. He was so excited that he ended up just cycling on his own, moving ever so quickly, rather than playing together with the other kids.

In the grand scheme, no biggie. It was actually quite adorable to watch, but the kids ended up just playing without T, who couldn’t calm down from his excitement.

As a parent, the instinct is often to want to solve your child’s problems for them – as a parent should. In the case of friendship, my hubby and I think that the best thing we can do as T’s parents is to help guide and coach T and to help him foster the skills and intuition to navigate a social situation, without us holding his hand. For example, we were certainly not going to ask the other kids to play with him at the PlaySpace. That is something T has to learn to do on his own.

And he will learn.

As I’ve written many times, T has so many incredible strengths. Among them is his charming, funny and friendly personality. Once you get to know him, he will win you over. We are working with him – with thanks to amazing expert supports – to help him learn how to regulate his emotions, to control his response to situations when he is overwhelmed or over excited, and to vocalize his feelings.

It’s a work in progress, not just for T but for my hubby and I, as his parents.

And the wonderful thing about young children is that they often see the good in others and enjoy and live in the moment. They’ll generally make any situation into one of play.

One thing I am better at now is enjoying the moment. As a parent of a child with special needs, you are often on edge all the time when you are in a public setting – anticipating or responding to a social situation caused by your child’s behaviour.

I often read about parents who avoid going out in public to avoid unpleasant situations. This is not an option for us, because the only way T will learn about social behaviour is to be in social situations.

And this kid has come such a long way. Let me also say that when things go well, they go really well and it just fills my heart with unadulterated joy.

T has developed a great bond with a boy his age – let’s call him J – at our weekly McDonald’s PlaySpace outings. It is a treat watching them play together and I think to myself that T and J found kindred spirits in each other. Right before Christmas, J invited T to his 5th birthday party. Unfortunately, we were not able to attend, because we were out of town for Christmas. Sadly, we haven’t seen J since December and have a gift card we’re waiting to give him. If we see J again, I will ask his mom about having regular weekend play dates.

Late last summer, on one of our evening walks, T and I saw a little boy coming down the street on a big toy jeep that was being remote controlled by his grandmother, walking next to him. T’s eyes grew big real quick and he ran towards the jeep. This was the third time that week that we had seen them.

The grandmother offered me, in Mandarin, to let T go in the jeep with her grandson. The previous two times she offered, I had said no. I didn’t want T to get overly excited and end up either accidentally hitting the little boy, two years younger, or damaging the toy. But this time, I said yes.

I knelt down on one knee and asked T to look at me in the eyes as I succinctly explained – because you only ever have a few seconds of his attention, before his mind wanders elsewhere – that he is going to sit as the passenger and he is not going to take over the steering wheel from the little boy.

For the next hour, I watched T and the boy being driven around the pavement area near the park by the grandmother. It was so heart filling hearing the two boys’ loud hearty laughter and to see the uncontrollable wide smile on T’s face.

These are the moments that I bottle up in my mind and heart as a reminder that although every step of the journey forward will have social challenges, with focus, work and a determination to enjoy the moment, things will be ok.

Focusing on Potential and a Growth Mindset

“Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you’re climbing it.”

– Andy Rooney

At the last parent-teacher interview at the Montessori, the last year before T got booted out, I went into the conversation expecting how it would transpire and I was right. The teacher told us all of T’s challenges: not sitting still, running around the classroom, still needs to work on his pencil grip, not socializing well with classmates. Halfway through the 20 minutes, I asked the teacher, “What would you say his strengths are?”

As a parent, it’s very easy to focus on the things that don’t go well or that need improvement. I can ramble off T’s challenges in my sleep. On the flip side, it’s easy to take for granted the things that are going well and to neglect finding the time to recognize, celebrate, and amplify the positives.

I started this blog to provide an honest portrait of raising a child with great potential and challenging needs. One of my goals is to help reduce the stigma of the label “special needs.” In T’s case, an invisible disability makes many things hard for him, but with the right supports, I truly believe that he can accomplish great things.

With a special needs child, the day-to-day challenges and the long-term worries consume so much of your finite mental, physical and emotional energy. You are constantly reacting to their behaviour or to the issues that are created due to their behaviour or you are proactively trying to mitigate unpleasant and negative situations. There’s often little time to reflect on the good things.

But it is so important to recognize the many strengths in a child with special needs. As the Edmonton Fetal Alcohol Network noted in a recent blog post, the vast majority of FASD research is focused on the challenges and impairments associated with the disability and the simultaneous lack of strengths-based studies can perpetuate a sense of shame, suffering and victimization and contribute to the stigma already associated with FASD – of which T has an at-risk prognosis of – and thus fail to recognize the immense potential and unique contributions that those living with FASD has to offer.

I first saw this video at a work training session. While the context was about how to manage change, this video resonated with me as a parent. The premise of this “How to Find Bright Spots” video is simple. As parents, we obsess over the things that are not going well. Imagine what happens if we obsess over the things that are going well and to find a way to amplify these areas of strengths.

T indeed has many strengths. He is bright, caring, funny as hell, very athletic, confident, charming, resilient, tenacious, determined, very helpful, very savy with technology and loves to tinker and build things. Recently, we’ve noticed what a great imagination he has and how he is a good storyteller.

We want to continue to build on his strengths. He enjoys our Saturday afternoon family swim time and I look forward to having him start swimming lessons. We get him involved at home with chores. We want to get him to try out a SportBall class this summer to build his athletic and teamwork skills.

Focusing on strengths and potential – while being realistic and pragmatic about the challenges – requires a big shift in mindset. It is not easy and there are many days when I struggle with this.

One thought exercise that always helps is a gratitude reflection at the start of each day. It includes a daily reminder to myself to focus on T’s personal journey and to remind myself the only metric that matters is who he and I are today in comparison to who we were yesterday, and the potential of who T can and will be tomorrow.