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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I am so grateful for that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Magical 5th Cow

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

Third try at a simple addition question:

Me: “How many cows are in this box?”

T: “2”

Me: “And in this box?”

T: “2”

Me: “How many cows are there together?”

T: “5.”

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

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

It was love at first sight.

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

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

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

Self Care in a Pandemic for the Special Needs Parents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing A Little Love, Hope and Cheer on Our Windows

We started drawing art on our windows to share cheer and positive energy with our neighbours.

We used washable markers that we ordered from Amazon and got the idea from a neighbour down the street.

Our time and energy is admittedly all focused on T and our work, so we don’t get to focus more outwardly. So we want to do something, even if it’s more on the symbolic side, to pay it forward.

We drew the outline of the shapes and got T to help fill in some of the colour. He got bored pretty quickly after one shape, but hung around to watch us finish.

It’s very important for us to convey to T just how lucky we are to be healthy and safe.

I asked him why we wanted to draw these pictures and what we want our neighbours to feel when they see the art.

And he said, “So they can feel happy.”

Okay, so the sun I drew looks like a giant coronavirus and not quite what I had in mind. Sigh. The rainbow and heart turned out better!

We’ll keep adding to our mural over the coming week. Gotta pace ourselves before we run out of things to do with T!

Oh and here’s a chuckle. T wanted to draw Santa. I told him no, because I didn’t want him to jinx how long we have to stay inside!

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.