Moo Moo and Crab

Say hello to our T’s adopted children.

T has never played much with stuffed animals when he was younger. But at age 6, they join him everywhere.

He started taking his kids to the car to sit with him for the drive to and from school (when they were open!), to sleep with him, and to join him when he’s brushing his teeth.

During virtual schooling, we have an army of stuffies sitting around the tablet and he’d often bring some of them right up to the camera.

Not the bath time I was expecting!

I now have to floss Moo Moo and Crab (it’s really a lobster) before I can floss T in the mornings. As I brush Moo Moo’s teeth on some mornings, I think to myself this is what my life has come to. 😂

All jokes aside, it is quite a cute phase to experience as I know I will miss this when T is older. And I quite enjoy being their Grandad!

Every night before bedtime, T needs to have all of his stuffies with him in bed and the hubby and I have to hug and kiss each one of them as part of bedtime routine.

You may also have seen our recent puppet show productions! Below is a never before seen clip we did for Easter a few weeks ago!

A few weeks ago, as I laid next to T before bedtime, I overheard Moo Moo and one of his other stuffies, Patchy Patch, have an argument.

It turns out Moo Moo was angry at him. But they were talking it out and resolving the conflict with T’s help.

I shared this with T’s behaviour therapist and she said these toys could be a great outlet to help T process and learn about relationships.

I will say that it does make me sad – and pause to take deep breaths sometimes – when I’m having a busy day at work and I see T playing by himself with his stuffies.

I know it’s healthy play but it makes me sad and mad that schools are closed and T is missing valuable interactions with other children at such a critical point in his development.

But I know this is not final and it will pass.

So in the meantime, Moo Moo, Crab and friends will provide wonderful companionship and even some life lessons for our endlessly restless and lovable little pest.

Lost in an Odyssey

Mario Bros has provided great bonding moments with T and is teaching him about patience and perseverance.

During these virtual schooling and work from home days, it’s common for me to be on a work call and for T to walk into the office unannounced.

He’d walk past behind my chair, his little head seen on my video, to take the Nintendo Switch plugged next to my desk and then plop himself on the bed behind me and start to play while I continue to chair my meeting.

I love these moments. I find them cute and his presence mostly brings calm comfort.

Unless he loses a game or encounters a particularly challenging portion of the game, that is, and then he screams with frustration.

I’ll then have to explain with a laugh to my understanding colleagues what’s happening and to reassure them that a child is not being murdered in our home.

The Switch was a gift we got for T for Christmas and I’m sticking with that story – even though I’ve been playing it just as much, if not more, as him.

I’ve enjoyed gaming my entire life and have a particular fondness for the family friendly, cleverly-designed and super fun Mario games.

When we first adopted T, I always taught how fun it would be to share the things I loved growing up with him, including video games.

It turns out we have quite the gamer in development.

At just age 6, I am amazed at how quickly he is figuring out the games and the complex controls; remember when controllers only had two buttons and not like 2 million buttons?

He loves watching gamer videos on YouTube and is undoubtedly picking up lots of tips and tricks from them.

We are currently playing Super Mario Odyssey. What I love about this game is that there is a main story you have to complete but there are also hundreds of side challenges that you complete to earn Power Moons.

T loves exploring the vast digital worlds and searching for Power Moons. I am so impressed at how quickly he finds them.

I let him play along with the specific game that I started. With T’s capable help, the two of us have found close to 500 of the 999 possible moons in the game.

This represents two months of teamwork for us, finding one Power Moon at a time – see sample walkthrough video below.

I just love the proud look on his face every time he finds one. Sometimes, he’d barge into the office while I’m on a call to tell me he’s found one.

Sometimes, we play by ourselves. But the best times are when we’re sitting next to each other, shoulders touching, and watching the other play.

T is still not very good at sharing, so often times he hogs the game.

But what I love is when he gets stuck, he is learning more to ask me for help to push through a roadblock. I think that is a wonderful new skill he learned.

T still has hilarious meltdowns when he loses or encounters a hard moment. But I keep reminding him – as video games are so great at teaching – that failure is not final. Just try again until you get it right.

He still hates losing but I do see that he’s bouncing back from those moments faster and sometimes even with a laugh or a shrug.

We do try to be mindful of his screen time consumption, as he is getting way more screen time than ever – with virtual schooling and the hubby and I generally tied up with work.

So the Switch has also provided us with a great tool to offer to T as an incentive to sit through his five daily school lessons, to participate in class and to complete his work.

If he does what we ask, he gets the Switch at the end of school. If not, tough luck.

It’s been a good incentive to get him to practice his learning on weekends too. Our goal is to do 20-30 minutes each of reading, writing and math practice during the weekend.

We sandwich these learning practices after breakfast and before the Switch, while he’s still fresh and not crabby.

The Switch has provided a great incentive for T to do his work. His writing has come a long way!

This past weekend was the best one yet. He did a great job with his reading exercises, did nice writing (he’s come a long way since September) and he whizzed through the math exercise I created in record time.

So thank you Mario, Luigi, Toad and Princess for helping give us some much needed escape and family time found during these challenging pandemic days!

Math is a strong suit for T so far. He whizzed through two pages of these questions very quickly. Yes, he writes his 2s and 7s backwards.

The Power of Having Someone Believe in You

An understanding, accommodating and compassionate teacher is a true blessing.

We have been so lucky that T has had amazing supports in his junior and now senior kindergarten years.

There are ongoing struggles, especially in the daily hell of virtual learning. But we are taking it a day at a time.

Gym class has always been a challenge. Even during in person schooling, T rarely participates. In the early days of virtual learning, he refused to even sit down for the session.

We think it’s related to confidence and not wanting to look stupid in front of his peers.

So we skipped gym class and did one-on-one sessions with his Child and Youth Worker instead – which worked well. They did activities such as scavenger hunts and T came out of his shell.

He recently had a new gym teacher and according to his CYW, the teacher has a real soft spot for T and really wants to find a way to include him in class.

So when we went back to virtual schooling five weeks ago, we tried a different approach.

Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, T sits in on gym class. There is no pressure to participate but he needs to sit, watch and listen.

Tuesdays, Thursdays, we continue to meet one-on-one with his CYW to maintain familiarity in his routine.

His gym teacher and CYW have been amazing in collaborating. The CYW shares things T enjoys, like scavenger hunts and Mario Bros., and the teacher incorporates them into gym class.

During this Monday’s gym class, the teacher structured it as a math movement class – see above. Kids were given multiple choice questions; a movement action is associated with each multiple choice answer – like jumping jacks, jogging on the spot or push ups.

As expected, T just sat and listened but I pushed him to answer the questions to me even if he didn’t want to do the related movements.

Then out of nowhere, T’s teacher called on him. “T, what’s the answer?”

T, with his camera off, looked apprehensive, but I reminded him that he knew the answer and so I unmuted the mic and he answered.

The teacher praised him in front of the class and I gave him a big smile and high five.

I thought that was the end of that, but every question, she kept calling on him.

With each passing time, T’s hesitation lessened and I could see how happy he was to answer correctly in front of his peers.

By the end of the class, the teacher called on other students as well – which was good, because I didn’t want other parents to feel like she was playing favourites.

Then T turned to me and asked, while the mic was muted, “Can I answer the question?”

I was floored. He had never ever wanted to volunteer an answer before.

It goes to show what a difference it makes to have someone believe in you and to champion for you – to help build your confidence and self esteem.

I know it is not always going to be like this on this academic and life journey with T.

The hubby and I made sure to share our deep and sincere thanks with the teacher through T’s CYW. We thanked them both for always trying new things to include and bring T out of his shell.

I always pray and wish for T to be surrounded in his life, outside of his home, with people who believe, champion and support him.

The power of belief, and knowing that others believe in you, make such a positive difference.

5 Years

Cherry blossoms are a beautiful reminder to live in the present.

The cherry tree in our yard is in bloom and we’re gonna enjoy their beauty for the week or so that we have them this and every Spring.

They remind me that lovely moments in life are often fleeting and so we should enjoy them while they are here.

But the good news is they will return again and again.

That’s probably one of the most important lessons I’ve learned as T’s parent.

This weekend, on May 2 specifically, marks the 5 year anniversary of when the hubby and I met our beautiful little boy for the first time.

May 2 was a Monday in 2016. We had found out unexpectedly just four days prior that we were matched with not one, but two children. We ultimately decided to pursue adoption of T.

I left work halfway through the day and went on a one-hour transit ride through the subway and bus to a home in the West end of our City.

The hubby drove from his work and met me there. We arrived a few minutes before our appointment.

We rang the doorbell. T’s foster mother, whom we met a few days prior, opened the door. In her hands was our tiny little T, wearing a very sharp looking Hudson Bay hoodie.

The very first time I held T in my arms and the very first photo we took together. Time flies.

We spent the afternoon playing with him and his foster brothers.

Over the course of the week, we made daily visits – sometimes during the morning, sometimes the evening – with each visit becoming longer.

Then he stayed over our home for the first time in the weekend then 12 days after our first visit, he moved in with us.

As starry-eyed first-time parents who had waited over seven years to be matched with a child, little did we know the adventure that we were going to embark on.

I’ve written a lot on this blog about the ups and downs of raising a child with great potential and a challenging prognosis of at-risk FASD.

But the message I always return to is that while there are so many hard moments, often on a daily basis, there are many beautiful moments that bloom throughout each day.

The first steps, the first words, the first “I love you,” the first hug, the first family roadtrips and adventures, the first day of school.

And like the blossoms of a cherry tree, I sometimes forget to take the time to enjoy them. They often feel fleeting in the daily chaos and they are blink and gone before you know it moments.

But thankfully, life is often filled with grace – and these moments will come into beautiful bloom again and again.

Teaching Kids To Not Fear Failure

Failing can be a good thing.

I recently had a coaching conversation with a colleague. The night before, they had delivered a presentation that did not go as rehearsed.

They were mortified. But I was impressed with how they owned their “failure” and identified how they would’ve done it differently.

Fear of failure is natural. It’s certainly embedded in us as children and in today’s perfection obsessed world.

I grew up in a culture where failing is frowned upon. If I brought home a test score of 90%, I’d be asked where the other 10% was.

One of the best lessons I learned in adulthood is that failing can be a good thing and be one of life’s best teachers.

It is these moments that allow us the biggest growth and maturity.

Well, the good news for parents of special needs kids is that you will get plenty of opportunities to fail, almost on a daily basis.

We enjoyed a walk this weekend by the water.

Potty training that takes years. Super prepared plans for virtual schooling that go out the window. Outbursts in public that make you feel so judged by others.

But it is through these moments that I gain perspective, gratitude, resilience and even a sense of humour – sometimes at the expense of my ego and sanity.

Children with T’s prognosis – at-risk fetal alcohol syndrome – are often described as anxious.

We can see some of this anxiousness in T, including when it comes to schooling.

His Child and Youth Worker commented that he is often reluctant to participate during group activities, like circle time.

I see this very clearly during virtual learning, when I encourage him to put his hand up to share an answer he clearly knows, but he refuses.

We also see this when it comes to learning to read. When we try to practice his sight words or reading simple level books, he is very reluctant to sound out a word.

When I ask him to guess, he gets upset and frustrated and asks me just to say the word for him.

His CYW theorizes it has to do with his confidence and I tend to agree. I think he’s afraid of getting something wrong in front of others.

When he’s playing one of his online games, he gets very upset when he loses.

It’s almost hilarious how upset he gets to the point of calling the game all kind of names and vowing never to play it again.

Video games actually provide a wonderful metaphor about how failure is not final. You get to try again and through failing, you learn what not to do next time.

Just like we’re working on helping T process his emotions, we’re trying to teach him it’s ok when things don’t go as planned.

Water and playing in sand, two things that T enjoys and that bring him great calm.

The hubby and I try to remind T it is important to try – and if he doesn’t get it right or win, it is no big deal. Just try again. But not trying is not an option in our family and in life.

T’s CYW is also trying to teach T about perseverance.

This week, they watched an online read aloud story together called Jabari Jumps, which tells the story of a boy who overcame his fear of heights to jump off a diving board.

Overcoming the fear of failing is a skill that takes a significant amount of time to learn. I’m 40 and still struggle with this on some days.

T is not often lacking in confidence but he does get anxious about trying something if he thinks he might not do well in it, especially if it’s in front of others.

And so, it’s something we’re gonna go work on together with him – to reinforce and to remind him that failing is not fatal. You can recover and will bounce back from most failures.

A Bouquet of Dandelions

The beauty of one’s actions lies in their intentions.

One often views dandelions as pesky weeds. The hubby spends at least one weekend each Spring digging them up from our yard.

But viewed through the eyes of a curious six year old, they offer an often overlooked beauty.

Our world has contracted once again thanks to a return of stay-at-home orders. T is back to virtual learning and day camps are closed.

I’m too tired to complain and we’re focusing what’s left of our energy on keeping T calm, happy, and up-to-date with his school work.

The past week was supposed to be Spring break and T would’ve been in camp with his friends.

Instead, we camped at home. As the hubby and I had work, we kept learning stuff to a minimum.

Each day, we did 30 minutes of reading practice, took him for long walks and did one activity, like baking and kitchen science. The rest of the day, he fended for himself.

Baking project this week: No bake keylime pie.

I reminded myself about this post I wrote last year about teaching and letting kids to be bored.

T did great. Yes, there was lots of screen time. But there were also hours lost of him just playing with his toys and talking to himself. Meltdowns were a minimum.

I enjoyed when our guest room door would open while I was on a work call and he’d poke his head in and I’d ask him if he’d like to say hello to my colleagues and he’d scream loudly, “No!”

After work on Wednesday, T and I went for a long walk.

He noticed the dandelions. He stopped every few steps to pluck one from the ground.

I noticed after a while that he had bunched them into a bouquet in his hands.

“What are you doing?” I asked him.

“I’m making a gift for you and daddy,” he said.

He held them on our walk back. When we opened the front door, he held the bouquet behind his hands and told the hubby he had a surprise.

The hubby put T’s bouquet into a glass of water.

In these pandemic days, these small gestures of genuine childlike kindness make our days.

Very soon, the school field behind our home will be covered in a yellow carpet of dandelions. We’ll be sure to take out a larger basket for T on our walks at that time.

During bedtime, I told T how proud and thankful I was that he was doing a great job keeping himself busy. He wrapped his arms around my left arm and snuggled for a few minutes.

Shortly after, he was out for the day.

A field of dandelions from last Spring.

“Alexa, Pull My Finger!”

Our boy has reached the developmental stage where farts and poop are the best thing ever.

As a parent, you always worry about whether your little one is hitting milestones.

Well, let me tell you, our T is exceeding expectations with the farts and poop phase, even using technology in innovative ways.

Of the millions of dollars spent in research and development of smart devices, I bet the inventors never imagined the sheer joy their creations would bring to kids at bedtime.

On a recent evening, I spent 20 minutes trying to stop T from repeatedly asking the Alexa next to our bed to “pull his finger.”

I never imagined that Alexa even responded to that. But sure enough, the usually classy elderly British lady would just let it rip.

Then she asked, “Would you like me to do that again?”

I screamed, “No, Alexa stop!”

But T’s giddy, loud laughter and screams of, “Yes!” consistently overpowered mine.

And I secretly loved every minute of his laughter and enjoyment.

A few days later, last Friday, on the last day of virtual school before the current Spring break, T’s class was doing a group language activity.

The teacher worked with the class to create a postcard message together, imagining that they were astronaut Chris Hadfield sending a message to his family down on Earth.

“What else can we add to the message?” the teacher asked the class.

I always encourage T to participate more in class, because I know he has something interesting to say when it’s just to the hubby and/or I.

“T, can you put your hand up?” I asked. “What is the astronaut doing in outer space?”

T said to me, “He’s pooping in his pants.”

To which I quickly replied, “Put your hand back down please.”

Magical Stop Motion Animation

On this rainy Sunday, T and I played around with creating stop motion animation.

It was two Sundays ago that we experimented with creating puppet show videos.

I like doing activities that encourage T to build his creativity and digital skills.

With April Break camp cancelled this week because of stay at home orders, I’m planning activities to keep him busy as I still have work.

Stop motion animation is something I’ve always wanted to try. I found this video explainer helpful.

I have a phone camera and tripod. I downloaded the Stop Motion app from the Apple App Store.

As soon as I showed T the sample stop motion animation above, he got off his tablet and asked to help out.

I told him to pick any toys he wanted to use in his video and he came back with his giant stuffed animals. And here’s T’s very first animation.

I don’t think he got the concept at first. But it was all about having fun and experimenting.

Then T, who has the attention span of a gnat, got bored and went to build a robot with his blocks.

So I suggested we create an animation of his blocks coming to life as a robot.

It took convincing, but he bought into the idea. He didn’t want to place and move the blocks, as he found it tiring (oh, the child abuse!), so I asked him to be the camera man.

I moved the blocks around and T snapped the photos and the app brought it to life.

As soon as T watched our work, his smile was all I needed to know he was pleased with it.

Then T wanted to do an animation with his wooden train set. He was already quite restless by this point, so we kept it short and sweet.

This was probably my favourite one that we did and I have ideas of how to make a more elaborate animation with the train set.

But I want to do it with T and will wait when he can focus. The whole point is to have fun together and I want the final output to be a reflection of our time together.

The imagination of a young child is so pure, innocent and limitless – and I can see that T has a wonderful imagination.

As tiring as it can feel at times to help channel his energy and creativity sometimes, the end result is always fun and worth it!

Oh, and here’s another one done later in the afternoon in T’s room!

“When I Feel Angry”

Team T have been trying different strategies to help our sweet boy process his emotions.

Emotional regulation is often a challenge for children with T’s prognosis – at-risk FASD.

We experience a full spectrum of emotions, from happy, sweet, caring to explosive moments.

The hardest moments are those when he is set off in the blink of an eye – over seemingly small things, like asking him to brush his teeth, go to bed, or focus on virtual learning.

Thankfully, the majority of our time with T are positive. But it’s important to intervene while he is young, so we can set a foundation for later life.

The hubby and I have read on private groups about kids with FASD who have explosive moments, damaging things at home or physically turning a classroom upside down. Kids with FASD may be at risk of issues with the law in adolescence.

I don’t think – and hope – we’re on that path but we’ve seen things at home that have given us pause and at school and daycare, there have been a few moments related to disregulation.

Most recently at daycare, staff reported that a colleague was bothering T. He got frustrated and threw a wooden block at this peer, causing a bump on their forehead.

Granted, it’s not all T’s fault, but the mother was not happy and asked for T and the friend – who love to play together – to be separated.

That was hard to take in as a parent and it was hard for T to understand the consequences of his – and the peer’s – actions.

Life is a work in progress and here are a few strategies Team T is currently using to help him work on his emotions.

Books are a great tool to share lessons with T in a non-lecturing way. Visuals are so helpful too.

His behaviour therapist recently recommended a list of great books and we found some of them as read aloud videos on YouTube.

Two books – “When I Feel Angry” and “When Sophie Gets Angry – Really Really Angry” – provide relatable characters and teachable moments that feel relevant to T.

What I like about these stories is they don’t shame kids for feeling angry and at the same time, teach them a more productive way to process and express those emotions.

We are so blessed to have really understanding and supportive daycare staff. They may not entirely get T’s prognosis but they have been so genuine and open to learning and trying things.

I often chat with the staff during pickup and she runs ideas and questions by me.

We’ve connected daycare staff with the Special Needs Resource Consultant from Community Living Toronto that supports T at daycare.

The consultant recently provided a role play Conflict Card Game to daycare staff to try out.

Credit: ConnectAbility.ca

The game presents a series of scenarios – sample above – and it provides the staff and T with a play-based way to talk about how to emotionally respond to common scenarios.

We are also incredibly blessed and grateful to have the dedicated one-on-one support of his Child and Youth Worker at school this year.

She has been such a godsend and allocates time each day at school to work with him on soft skills.

What we appreciate so much about her is her willingness to learn and apply things that we and the daycare staff are using, so there is consistency at all touch points of T’s life.

At home, we try our best to role model the expected behaviour, because kids learn best from observing their parents.

The hardest thing about parenting a child like T is the difficult behaviour and I confess to not always being the most graceful in my responses to his actions.

Such as when we found out with very little notice this Tuesday that we were returning to virtual schooling the next day and that day camps next week were cancelled due to a return to shutdown.

My anxiety level shot up and I was not very calm in responding to T’s tantrum during bedtime.

But thankfully, every day with T is a new start and you just have to let the previous day go.

This morning, T’s class did a virtual art lesson – which we’ve done and loved in the past. They drew a sunflower – the symbol of good cheer.

After T outlined his sunflower, he said he was done and got up to play with his toys. I told him he needed to finish his work and to colour the sunflower in.

And just like that, he blew a big fit. He threw his artwork to the ground and stomped off. Started telling me to shut up and saying that he was tired and his arm was going to fall off from all that hard work of coloring.

I had to restrain myself from laughing or losing my shit – because it was both hilarious and incredibly frustrating.

But I kept my cool and calmly reminded him that he would not earn tablet time if he did not finish his work.

After a two-minute tantrum, he came back to the table, started chuckling again and proceeded to finish his work.

For about two minutes, the two of us quietly completed our sunflower. Afterwards, I asked T to share his work with the class.

His teacher praised him for a job well done and after we went back on mute and turned off the camera, I told T how happy I was that he was able to control his emotions and finish his work.

It was truly a sunflower cheerful way to end our morning.

The Renewal of Spring

An Easter egg hunt, yard work and COVID vaccine made for a rejuvenating family long weekend.

It was a Good Friday after I took Ma for her first vaccine. I felt thankful for how organized the site was; we were in and out in 30 minutes.

Our province is facing an intense third wave, so knowing Ma and many others are vaccinated makes me feel more hopeful.

On Sunday, T woke up early knowing the Easter Bunny had visited. He wasted no time finding the eggs and the basket of goodies left for him.

He then made me hide the eggs again – and in their original hiding spots, he insisted – so he could find them again.

Easter is a symbol for resurrection – and Spring is a season when the decay of autumn and the death of winter give way for renewal.

Spring was very evident as our family spent a satisfying Sunday afternoon doing yard work.

While the hubby took T to the playground, I raked up the dried leaves that coated the perimeter of our backyard.

I made three huge piles, which T took no time to jump into after they came back from the park.

The magical glow of the late afternoon sun bathed our backyard as the hubby, T and I worked together to bag away the leaves.

T alternated between playing in the pile of leaves and helping the hubby and I.

I watched with amusement and pride as he raked up the piles of leaves and gathered giant piles of leaves and dropped them into the bag.

It is my hope T develops a strong work ethic as he gets older and we try to encourage him to do chores around the house.

But we also don’t want him to grow up too fast. And it’s ok if he just wants to goof off.

It was a t-shirt kind of day and there was a warm gentle breeze. The signs of new life and rebirth were everywhere and it felt reinvigorating.

Bedtime Stories We Loved: Volume 2

T’s teacher recently started a Reading Log program; one new book is sent home every day for us to read with him at night.

These are simple books with patterned structure (e.g. Here is a box… Here is a bat… Here is a broom) to help T build his sight word vocabulary and learn about simple sentence structure.

I’m glad to see this program, because giving our kindergartner T the building blocks to learn how to read in grade 1 next year is one of the goals we established in his Individualized Education Plan.

Research consistently shows the importance of early literacy and for caregivers to read to children at home. As noted by the American Library Association, a study of 3 to 5 year olds who had been read to at least three times per week found the children were two times more likely to recognize all letters, have word-sight recognition, and understand words in context.

Bedtime stories was a routine the hubby and I established with T from when he came into our lives at 14 months. It’s one of my favourite times of the day – and not just because it’s one step closer to T falling asleep!

I truly believe that reading to him has helped T develop his receptive and expressive language; he was once considered speech delayed.

As he matures into a little boy, I believe that books will be good tools to teach him about complex issues, challenging emotions, to build his empathy – all while growing his knowledge.

We’ve been so blessed to have family and friends who’ve gifted and continue to gift T with great books. We also borrow books from our library.

I’ve previously shared a list of favourite books we’ve read to T from his toddler years up to age 4.

Here are a few additions to this list of a few favourites from our bedtime reading this year.

Love You Forever by Robert Munsch

This much-beloved book by beloved Canadian author Robert Munsch is a deceptively simple-looking but profoundly deep story about the universal love a parent has for their child.

I dare anyone to read this book without breaking into tears by the end. I’ve previously written about what this book means to me as a parent.

The nuance and depth in this book are likely lost on T but I know this is a book that we will revisit in the years to come and will reveal new layers for T with each later reading.

T also has other Munsch books in his personal library thanks to friends, including The Paperbag Princess, 50 Below Zero and The Fire Station.

How To Catch A Star by Oliver Jeffers

This charming surrealistic book tells the story of a boy who wants to catch a star and never gives up until he catches his very own star.

This book speaks to the limitless imagination and possibilities of the curious and determined child’s mind – which is why T enjoys this book so much.

Giraffe and Bird by Rebecca Bender

This charming story of frenemies Giraffe and Bird learning to get along is an excellent example of how books can help teach kids about complex concepts such as friendship and learning to respect each other and get along.

Show not tell as I was often taught in school and what better tools to help show T and not tell about concepts such as friendship than a beautifully illustrated and humorously told story such as this book.

The Family Book by Todd Parr

I’m a librarian and libraries talk even more so these days about the importance of diversity and representation.

T has two copies of this picture book – gifted by two separate colleagues when T first entered our lives – which illustrates, using animals, that families come in all forms.

Some families have two parents, some have a single parents, some have two mommies or two daddies, some families adopt children. All families love to celebrate birthdays and all families are sad when they lose a loved one.

I think that kids are ok with differences more so than adults are, because their innocence allows them to be more tolerant – especially when you tell them about things in plain simple terms.

I Love You, Mister Bear by Sylvie Wickstrom

My Aunt is a garage sale fanatic and often gives T books by the box full and we are more than grateful to receive them.

This book is a garage sale find and is about a girl who rescues a tattered worn down bear from a garage sale and restores him. Talk about meta!

This story resonates with me, because to me it mirrors an adoption story – the little bear moving from one family to another.

I also like that it teaches T that a toy does not have to be brand new for it to be valuable or to bring you enjoyment.

Just Me and My Dad by Mercer Mayer

I grew up loving the Little Critter series by Mercer Meyer and we got a bunch of them from my Aunt’s garage sale find.

T and I have read this specific title – when the Critter goes on a camping trip with his Dad – countless times, including this past summer when T and I camped out in the backyard.

Lulu is a Rhinoceros by Jason Flom

This is a story of a little dog named Lulu that believes it is a rhinoceros, despite all the other dogs telling her otherwise.

One day, a chance encounter with a bird takes her to a zoo where Lulu finds her peers.

For a young boy like T, it probably is a whimsical and silly story. But through repeated readings, I hope the message sinks in that there is power that can come with belief in one self.

Little Tree by Loren Long

This is a wonderful story of a little tree who goes through the Spring and Summer seasons but come Fall, he refuses to let go of his leaves. As a result, his fellow trees around him sprout and grow into tall trees while he is stagnant.

Eventually, he learns to let go of his leaves and let nature take its natural course and grow.

This story provides a great reminder that we are all on our own journey and that some of us may take a little longer to get to our natural destination, but we will get there in due time.

Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld

Like most boys, T loves his trucks.

This is a fun book about the different and hardworking trucks on a construction site winding down for the day.

It gives a nice reminder to work hard and to also make time for play and rest.

When Kids Feel Sad

The best and worst parts of being a parent is feeling your child’s emotional highs and lows.

Little children carry big emotions that they often do not yet have the life experience to process.

When T has a super high, excited or proud moment, we all celebrate together. On the flip side, we’re in the trenches of the lows with him.

Recently, we received a message from T’s Child and Youth Worker that the friend that he sits with on the school bus told T he doesn’t like him.

T then told his CYW this made him very sad.

The CYW explained to T the kid was upset about something else – T later told me the kid had lost his shoes – and he didn’t mean what he said.

I received this message while I was on a work call and it made me very sad.

I often think about friendships for T, as I read on private support groups about kids with T’s prognosis having challenges with maintaining friendships.

So as T’s parent, I am even more sensitive to these kind of incidents – even if in this instance, it wasn’t related to anything T did.

For me, it’s important to let kids experience the wide spectrum of emotions.

The worst thing I could do as T’s parent is to shield him from experiencing negative emotions like sadness, anger or frustration.

We work hard to give T the tools to process and verbalize his emotions, including encouraging him to talk to us or a grown up.

In the recent incident, T told the bus driver who then alerted his CYW. So while it sucked that T experienced this, we were glad he told a grown up. That is a sign of maturity, I think.

A few days later, his CYW shared even more devastating news. The classmate that T had grown close with and played with at school was leaving for a different school.

The CYW wanted to give us a heads up because she felt that this would be a huge loss for T.

So we strategized. The CYW told T about it a few days beforehand and she arranged a proper goodbye for the two boys.

The kid’s last day at T’s school was this past Tuesday. I asked that evening about his classmate. T explained he was going to a different school.

I asked T how he felt about it. He said he felt sad. And that was a perfectly normal and healthy response.

School friends will come and go – and hopefully some will also be long lasting – and I remind myself we’ll get through these moments with T together.

That night, as I was lying down with T during bedtime after stories, he snuggled up very closely to me and wrapped my arm around his chest. He fell asleep tightly in my arms.

Having Fun With Puppetry and Video

T and I spent this rainy Sunday being silly and creative with filmmaking.

T and I made up what we were doing along the way – and it was more fun this way!

We put chairs together and draped our brown blanket – usually used for building forts – over them and it became a mountain backdrop.

I asked T to pick a few stuffed animals to be the characters of our skit.

They recently learned about what characters are in class. I also explained what “plot” and “setting” were – although that went over his head.

I set up a tripod for my phone camera in front of our stage and off we went.

It was all about improvising and having fun. We did three skits altogether – the second of which is shared below: “Moo Moo Goes Sledding.”

It is amazing what you can do to edit a video on a phone these days!

We used the iMovie app and T helped me pick the video filter. I didn’t have his attention long enough to show him how to add audio or the title; although he did ask me what the title was.

T is a very funny and creative storyteller and I want to do more of these video projects with him.

They will get him to flex his creativity, learn about expressing himself, build his digital literacy, and more importantly, have fun!

And here was the first video we did. I should’ve made sure my head was not in the video. Haha. Consider this a blooper reel!

The Road Not Taken

We celebrated my 40th birthday this week and I reflected on what’s happened and the what ifs.

T and I recently read a picture book adaptation of Robert Frost’s classic poem “The Road Not Taken,” beautifully illustrated by Vivian Mineker.

The poem presents the character, out for a walk in the woods, with a fork in the road. The character decides which road to take and the question is then, what if they took the other path?

There certainly were key points in my life where I had to make decisions about which path to take: which university, which career, which person to spend my life with, which home to live in.

As an enthusiast of science fiction, I amuse myself at the thought of parallel universes where multiple versions of my life live out based on different decisions I make.

One of the most important decisions the hubby and I made was to start a family.

We began this process in our late 20s, attending a wonderful workshop series called Papas and Daddies 2B.

Almost 7 years after we began the adoption journey with no progress, we were ready to call it quits, when we received a call out of the blue from Children’s Aid Society.

Not only were we presented with one match for a child, but we were presented with two matches!

The first child was a 14-month old boy whose birth mother had admitted to drinking during her first three months of pregnancy and consumed hard drugs throughout her pregnancy.

The second child was a 4-year-old Chinese and Iranian child, who had faced severe neglect. I still get haunted by the description of the child who’d often be left alone while his parents partied.

We were given very little time to decide which child to adopt. It was a hard decision, but we decided to adopt the younger child, our T.

I am a firm believer about life working out the way it should and that you are meant to meet the people that you are to meet and to have the opportunities and challenges that you face.

But I did think recently about the 4-year-old that could’ve been our son.

In a parallel universe, he would be 9 years old today. I wonder how our life would’ve been as we faced the direct effects of the neglect from his early life. I wonder about the memories we would’ve made with an older child.

I am not a person who dwells on the what ifs or to have regrets about the paths not taken, because it is a maddening and futile waste of time.

I am so thankful for the path we took in life that led us to our T.

This Saturday morning, T climbed into bed with me – bright and early, as a woodpecker pecked away at a tree in our backyard.

“My fart woke me up,” he said.

I didn’t want to wake up yet, so I shoved my phone in T’s face, hoping it would buy me a few more minutes.

T looked at photos and videos from this nature outing just two months into our life together.

T started scrolling through the hundreds of photos we’ve taken from the last five years.

He kept watching a video over and over of him walking down a set of stairs, while holding onto the railing, as the hubby stood by closely.

He was only 16 months old and still not familiar or comfortable with going up and down stairs.

T rested his head on my chest watching this video and I opened my sleepy eyes to watch it with him, marveling at how time has flown by.

The hubby treated me to steak and frites for my birthday dinner.

Three Wishes

If a genie gave us an opportunity, would we wish away our child’s invisible disability?

I thought about this question all weekend after T and I watched Disney’s Aladdin.

On Saturday morning, with a bowl of popcorn, we snuggled on the couch and watched the movie T had recently enjoyed in class.

I chuckled when T said, “That bird has a potty mouth” in reference to Iago, the villain Jafar’s foul-mouthed sidekick bird.

I told T that’s what he sounds like when he uses bad words. Then he gave me a priceless look in return. If only I had my camera.

When the genie granted Aladdin his first wish, I asked T what he would wish for and without hesitation, he said, “A dog.”

T has a soft spot for dogs but with two cats at home, that ain’t happening – unless that Genie is also a dog walker!

Then naturally, the question was asked of me, “What would I wish for if I ever met a genie?”

Instead of doing house work, catching up on fitness or something of substance, I spent the final moments of my staycaytion thinking about what would happen if I encountered a genie.

Naturally, one of the first thoughts I had – and I imagine it’d be similar for other parents with a special needs child – is to wish away T’s disability.

But the crazy thing was it wasn’t such a clear cut wish for me.

If it was a physical disability, I think the wish would be clear and straightforward.

But T’s invisible disability manifests through his behaviours – and in turn, his personality – and so I would practically be wishing for an entirely different kid.

There is so much of T to love just the way he is.

Even his most frustrating behaviours end up being sources of amusement for the hubby and I once we cool down and commiserate about how fucking irritating yet so wonderfully lovable he is that you can’t help but to keep rooting for him and working hard to help him succeed.

But I also think so much – practically daily – about how his behaviours will impact his future.

So Genie, this is my wish: First off, I love our T for the way he was brought into this world and I do not want a different child.

What I do wish for is for the effects of his prenatal alcohol exposure on his life to be minimal and for him to be continually blessed with the love, supports and good luck to maximize his happiness, good health, independence, positive relationships, success and fortune in all stages of his life.

That was one wish by the way. The trick is to cram it all into one sentence without having it be a run-on sentence; use semi-colons if you have to.

We spent the rest of Saturday out in soothing nature.

I enjoyed my solo hike at the Moccasin Trail from the previous day so much that I took the hubby and T with me for a late afternoon hike.

We let T lead the way which meant we skirted the water rather than stay on the paved path. I loved watching him freely explore, including walking under a giant iron train bridge.

There was a branch tied to a long rope tied to a tree, so he had to give it a swing… or twenty. Brave kid!

The late afternoon sun was magically soothing.

It was the last day of winter and Spring was hours around the corner.

It was 13 degrees and the air was fresh and all of our moods were so positive.

At that moment, as the sun was setting, I really couldn’t have wished for anything more.

And what about you? What would you wish for if you had the chance?

The first signs of Spring are everywhere!

Respite, Rainbow, Recharge

On the theme of R words, this week was about R&R.

Rest and recuperation are especially important when raising kids with additional needs and endless energy like T.

Our family has been going full speed for the last three months, with unexpected health issues and a return to virtual schooling on top of the regular responsibilities of daily life.

It’s amazing how your body and mind allow you to keep going but come crashing down when you have a moment to relax.

Respite is defined as a short period of rest or relief from something difficult.

It’s a word I didn’t even know until I became T’s parent and learned more about the world of FASD, of which T has an at risk prognosis.

Respite can be as short as a few hours to either rest, to do an errand or to have time to yourself.

It could be informally provided by a family member or a friend or could be more formal through a respite care provider.

For a while, we received infrequent respite from Ma and the hubby’s parents when they visited.

Our first-ever evening of respite!

I still remember how rejuvenating it felt to get our first night off to watch The Bodyguard musical four years ago, a year after starting the parenting journey.

The last time Ma watched T two years ago, he snuck out of the house while Ma went to the bathroom and it caused a panic.

Given Ma’s health these days, respite support from her is no longer an option.

The hubby and I are thankful we have each other.

We value the time the three of us spend together but we also value our divide and conquer approach to give each other alone time to rest.

I consider myself a high energy person, but raising children like T is so incredibly exhausting mentally, physically and emotionally.

I can’t emphasize enough how hard it is – at the risk of sounding like I’m whining. It is so hard!

So I am a huge advocate for self care and respite – because they allow you to be a better parent.

Taking regular time off is my number one respite strategy.

I’m very fortunate that my employer values work life balance and I schedule a week off per quarter to recharge, often time by myself.

This past week, I’ve spent most of it lying down, like a vegetable. I spent most of Tuesday in bed.

You know you’re exhausted when you’re looking at popcorn on your carpet the entire week and trying to will yourself to pick it up but it’s almost the weekend and the popcorn is still there.

But I was also productive in a self care way!

I went for walks to enjoy the sun and almost Spring weather, exploring nearby trails I’ve never explored before, like the Electric Corridor.

An empty field of electrical towers is certainly one way to… wait for it… recharge!

Walking by water, even a small pond, always cheers me up.

I surprised the hubby with a mid-week sushi lunch. We’ve rarely had sushi during the pandemic and it was such a treat!

I also made updates to my blog. I’ve been wanting to redesign the home page and to add a navigation menu and Resources page for a while and finally found time this week!

I listened to a lot of cheerful music, revisiting the boundary-pushing pop of UK band, Girls Aloud. How I wish they’d get back together. The world of pop misses them!

On this beautiful Friday, I went for a late morning walk to explore the Moccasin Park Trail after I Googled hiking trails near me.

What drew me to the trail was this Rainbow-painted tunnel.

I’ve driven by it for nearly 30 years, always wondering about it, and today, I finally got to see it in person and walked underneath it.

I love that our City encourages and promotes public community art.

It was a rejuvenating walk.

It’s surreal to think this is steps away from our City’s busiest highway.

It almost felt like a rural oasis and I love and appreciate our City’s intricate ravine system.

I could only imagine how beautiful this trail is during the fall and I pledged to bring the hubby and T next time to enjoy the fall colours.

The most responsible thing I did all week, other than make sure T was fed, was to take Ma to a rehab appointment and to register her for a COVID vaccine (hooray!).

It felt good to be almost responsibility-free and I’m sad my week off is coming to an end – but ever so thankful for the recharge.

Oh, I still haven’t picked up that popcorn off the carpet. I’m feeling hopeful that it will get done sometime over the next two days!

(Not) Leaving on a Jet Plane

Facebook kindly reminded me that two years ago, we were on a family vacation.

The pandemic put a hold on our family tradition to travel during March Break.

March Break has also been deferred this year until April to help curb COVID cases, so T is in school this week.

Is this not the most adorable leash, I mean, backpack? My mom got it for T.

We’re very grateful to be safe so absolutely no complaints here. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t longing to be somewhere far away from home.

So here’s a short walk down memory lane to March Breaks past with T.

2018 – Caribbean Cruise

The hubby and I used to do more adventurous trips pre-parenthood but with a young and very hyperactive child, we knew to take it easy.

So we went on a cruise – and we all loved it.

It was a very relaxed trip and T loved the waterpark at the top of the ship.

We did one off-ship day trip to a nice beach resort at Turks and Caicos and T got his first Caribbean beach experience.

I will always remember T’s look of wonder as he approached the water with hesitation and then his face transformed into joy once he knew the water was ok.

Formal night.

One of my favourite memories was during a formal night dinner. We had just started to potty train T and I took him to the bathroom.

On the way back, he proudly announced repeatedly to everyone in the dining room that he had used the potty!

T still talks about the trip. While we likely won’t do another cruise for a while – potentially being stuck on an infected ship for weeks doesn’t seem appealing – it’s nice to look back at our memories.

2019 – Mexico

T was very excited about this trip.

So on the day of departure, when I told him at 5 a.m. that it was time to get up, he shot up from bed. Half awake, he bumped right into a wall.

This was an even lazier trip of doing absolutely nothing.

It was T’s first resort experience and he enjoyed lounging by the pool and we let T have all the cold fruity drinks he wanted and didn’t fuss about the sugary consequences afterwards.

One night, in the middle of the night, T woke up and told me that he loved me. I told him I loved him too and two seconds later, he puked his dinner all over me.

I still remember the smell of French fries mixed with vomit. Thankfully, he wasn’t sick – just had a lot of love and indigestion to share!

T very recently asked the hubby and I, “When coronavirus goes away, can we go back to Mexico?”

We all agreed that we will do another family vacation when we are able to safely do so. It gives us something to feel hopeful about.

I would’ve worn a face shield if I had known he was going to vomit French fries all over me!

A Change of Scenery

“You’d think we were going to Disneyland,” I thought after T got super excited when I told him we were visiting a different park last Sunday.

Like everyone, we’re all feeling so restless about these “Which window am I going to look out of today?” days.

So a change of scenery, even if it was just a few steps further down the street was so welcomed.

There was a giant hill that T enjoyed running up and down over and over again.

We stood at the top and enjoyed the setting sun. It was such a nice relaxing end to our weekend.

This Saturday, we ventured out even further and spent a nice afternoon out in nature and sunshine at Darlington Provincial Park.

We could almost feel Spring in the air.

The park was only a 30 minute drive from home but felt like a nice escape from the City.

We enjoyed standing at the windy beach and listening to the calming sound of waves.

T did what T loved to do most; pick up rocks and throw them into the water.

He got lost in the moment at one point and stepped too close into the water. A wave splashed icy cold water into his rain boots. Oops.

We then did a short hike in a trail, which took us to an empty amphitheater.

T played around at the fire pit, pretending to build a fire, while I walked up and down the wooden benches, lost in the moment of the loud waves nearby.

As the sun set, we headed home, stopping by McDonald’s to pick up a Happy Meal for T – while the hubby and I had shawarma takeout.

Today was a very relaxing day and our family really needed this after the last two months.

It made me even more excited for more outdoor fun this summer!

Reading Award

A thoughtful gesture of recognition brought a wonderful moment of confidence for our T.

In addition to his handwriting skills, Team T at school and at home are working hard with him on reading.

Reading with T, especially at bedtime, has been a favourite activity since he was a toddler.

So many wonderful stories read over the years and snuggling together at night while reading with him is one of my favourite parts of my day.

T recently turned 6 and we’re aware that at this age and as he heads into Grade 1 next year, reading is a skill he will need to ramp up.

I sometimes feel that because his JK and SK years have been so disrupted with pandemic virtual schooling, he may be a bit behind with reading.

But there have been many great strategies and tools introduced by his school.

During virtual learning, they provided us with free access to a fantastic online resource called RazKids.

We continue to practice with it on the weekends even though he’s back in school now.

Using this online resource, T can have a story read out loud to him and then he can record himself reading the stories.

Now that he’s back in school, his teacher and Child Youth Worker send home a simple book to practice with him at night. He recently moved up to Level B books – hooray!

His teacher assigns very simple books – much more simple than the books I read to him at night. Books with simple repetition and simple sight words – such as the one pictured below.

I notice with T, he often reads by rote and takes a lot of cues from the pictures. So in one sense, he’s accurately describing the picture but not exactly reading it word for word.

And I know that’s ok, because this is part of the process of learning to read.

And it’s also ok he doesn’t know a lot of sight words yet, as it’s also part of the journey. Although his Child Youth Worker let us know this week he’s making incremental progress.

So I remind myself to be patient, because there was one point when T didn’t know how to talk either and now he’s a chatty little guy.

Recently, there was a special extra item included with his daily book sent home by his teacher: a Reading Award, pictured at the top, that recognized him for Outstanding Reading Ability.

I realize this is more like a “participation award” but the hubby and I were nonetheless delighted.

We excitedly showed T and we read the message on the award word by word, with proud smiles, and told him how awesome he’s been at working hard on his reading.

I wish I could’ve taken a picture of T’s face but then I would’ve have been able to just simply enjoy the moment like I did. How his face slowly relaxed into a proud beaming smile.

It was a short lived but genuinely pure and proud look on his face, and an image and a feeling that I have tattooed into my mind.

Dreaming Of Summer Roadtrips

For our first roadtrip with an 18-months-old T, we naively thought we’d do a 15-hour overnight drive to New Brunswick.

After a day at work, we headed off at 8 pm.

That was how the hubby and I used to roll. We did the long drive to his parents’ cottage overnight, taking turns, drinking lots of Coke.

For the first three hours, it was smooth sailing. T fell asleep. Then at 11, near the Ontario-Quebec border, he woke up screaming.

He cried throughout the night drive through Quebec – my shift – and I thought about driving into a ditch to end the torture. Then when the sun was rising, he passed out for the final 5 hours.

It was painful to live through but it was also a great bonding moment.

Now that T is 6, we’ve since learned to leave during the day for our long drives!

There are so many fun summer roadtrip memories and I’ve been thinking about them as the days get longer and the weather teases us with hints of Spring.

I’ve been dreaming about roadtrips, because there’s only so much of “Which window am I going to look out at today?” that I can take.

The hubby and I are feeling optimistic we’ll get to venture out this summer. But we know it’ll be different again. We’re likely not able to visit his parents again until we’re all vaccinated.

So our plan is to stay within Ontario and we’ve already mapped out an itinerary.

We think local travel will be popular this summer, so we will reserve our accommodations soon – with free cancellation, in case there’s another lockdown.

It felt fun and hopeful to look back at roadtrip memories.

That joyful feeling of anticipation in the days leading up to departure. That moment of logging off work. That excitement of picking T up from daycare and he knows that adventure awaits.

We always start our roadtrips with a family selfie in the car. I love looking back at them, because they capture the raw happiness we all felt.

Summer roadtrips are usually about visiting T’s Grammy and Grandad at their cottage in a small Acadian town in New Brunswick.

T absolutely loves it there because there are vast areas of sandy beach for him to run on.

He loves getting wet and muddy.

Our entire family always sleeps so well at the cottage with the windows open; the cool salt water breeze calms us down.

The summer after our first roadtrip with T, we started to add a second destination on our way to New Brunswick.

In 2017, we did a 3-day detour in beautiful Nova Scotia, taking in the stunning views at Peggy’s Cove…

… and historic Lunenberg, visiting a retired colleague at her century-old home.

In 2018, we did a 3-day detour at Quebec and our wonderful memories included a day hike at stunning Canyon Sainte-Anne…

… and visiting Old Quebec City.

Last summer, we had planned to visit New Hamsphire in the United States on our way to the hubby’s parents, but alas, it was not meant to be because of the pandemic.

But we ended up exploring Northern Ontario for the first time. We were so blown away that we look forward to visiting favourite spots this summer, while venturing into new spots that we missed last year, like Bruce Peninsula.

Reminiscing while planning this summer’s roadtrip has made us all excited. It gives us something to look forward to with optimism.