Training Wheels

The sandwich generation experiences the joys of kids growing up and the sorrow of aging parents.

Earlier this summer, T showed interest in bike riding again after having no interest last year.

While he loves zipping down the park, he doesn’t yet feel comfortable taking off the training wheels.

And that’s ok.

I thought about the milestones T has experienced and the ones ahead – and it feels like a series of buildups to taking off the training wheels.

Hands pressed against the wall as he learned to walk. Holding my hand as he learned to go up and down stairs. Hand over hand as he learned to eat with utensils. Getting him potty trained. Hours of practice to help him learn to read.

For me, training wheels also represent the additional scaffolding supports we’ve been blessed to have for T.

Speech therapy to help him learn to talk. Behaviour therapy to help us support T in his early years. His amazing Child and Youth Workers who supported him in kindergarten and Grade 1.

In my prayers, I often hope for T to be successfully independent one day.

It’s too early to tell what the future holds, but I am aware there may be a future where the training wheels don’t completely come off.

Enjoying kayaking with T during our recent visit to his grandparents.

Life is a circle – our youth a mirror image of our twilight years.

As I coordinated and took Ma to her appointments the last two years after her stroke and then her muscle disease, I thought about how training wheels return in our elder years.

I watched her work hard during physiotherapy appointments to learn to walk with balance.

I listened with amusement as she told me about working with a speech therapist after her stroke caused her to slur her speech.

I am aware of how limited time is as she asks to hold my hand when we walk outside.

Being part of the sandwich generation is an inevitable part of growing up.

The most trying moment to date was a very stressful week this past March.

As we looked forward to a long-awaited Spring Break vacation, I had to plough through four busy days of work plus four appointments for Ma.

Then T got sent home sick. So we also had to take care of a sick child and virtual schooling, plus the anxiety of our vacation being in jeopardy.

It all worked out – but the stress taught me I can’t do it all and to set clearer boundaries.

One day, T will kayak on his own without me.

A morbid person might say the second we enter this life, we are taking steps towards our exit.

But I choose to enjoy the incremental milestones, detours and side trips along the road of life.

Take it a day at a time and have faith that things work out the way they should and that every life lesson is a quiet teacher.

As with most milestones, T will move at his own pace – sometimes faster, sometimes as anticipated, sometimes needing more time.

This summer, he decided he would finally brush his own teeth without help from the hubby and I.

During a recent morning, he zipped through getting ready in the morning – which can be torture at times – getting dressed, brushing his teeth and combing his hair. All on his own.

Then said with a big smile, “Don’t I look handsome?”

He sure did. And very modest too, apparently!

Sanity Savers for Enjoying An Outing with A Neurodiverse Child

Some people joke their restless kids are “climbing the walls.” Kids like our T actually climb them.

I’ve seen memes of this boy climbing a pillar in an airport (below) many times on social media.

This kid is not T but he might as well be.

I empathize with this kindred spirit. Even though it’s never disclosed why this kid was climbing, I infer and understand how a restless impulsive ADHD/FASD mind can respond to a stimulus-rich environment.

During a recent outing with friends to the Bluffs, the hubby and I wondered where T had gone.

There he was!

Aside from his incredible upper body strength – I want to start him in parkour lessons – T never stops moving, climbing, jumping.

While it can make for tiring outings, we have lots of fun together.

Here are a few sanity saving tips the hubby and I have picked up on how to enjoy an outing with a neurodiverse child.

Preparation is Key

We give T a heads up about our plans, sometimes showing photos or videos of what to expect. Social stories can work for other kids too.

We don’t pack too much into our day, because at some point, kids crash – and that’s when tantrums can happen for T.

We pack a survival bag: snacks and water – avoiding sugary stuff like juice boxes – and extra underwear/pants, sunscreen, hats, etc.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

You gotta pick and choose your battles – or you’re gonna lose your shit.

When we went to the amusement park with T’s cousin last month, T was the one kid in the long rollercoaster rides standing and moving on the railings. I remember a bewildered mom staring at him.

The way I look at it: if he’s not getting in people’s space or at risk of hurting himself or others, I’m not gonna sweat it.

Oh look, here’s T climbing a tree – one of many – during our downtown outing with his visiting Aunt and cousin A – while waiting for ice cream.

Be the Calm

We are fortunate that most outings are fine, but boy, do things get harried when he has a tantrum or meltdown.

These moments test even those with nerves of steel.

It sounds easier said than done, but it’s all about deescalating. The lecturing, debriefs etc. can wait until after the storm has passed.

Reward and Incentive

We give T something to look forward to at the end – ice cream, funnel cake (below), etc. – because it can be used as motivation throughout the outing.

Yes, I’m not above bribing my child. 😂

If T does earn the reward, we pair it with praise and positive reinforcement.

A trip to Canada’s Wonderland is not complete without funnel cake at the end of the day!

Avoid Comparisons

It’s tempting to compare your child with others – like at a restaurant when every child is sitting still and T is hopping on seats like a frog or crawling under tables.

But I stopped comparing nor caring, because I know what makes T exhibit his behaviours.

If a parent ever called me out, I’d tell them to count their blessings their child do not have the daily struggles that T does.

Find Activities They Enjoy

When T’s cousin came to town, we took them to the museum and Ripley’s Aquarium (below).

As expected, T zipped through both places, so I never got to immerse myself as much as I would’ve liked.

But there were moments that had his sustained attention – like the dinosaur exhibit or the jellyfish tank (below).

And that is the key: finding things they enjoy and build on them. Like camping, swimming, hiking.

When kids like T are engaged in something they enjoy, that’s when magic happens and positive memories are created.

Watching hypnotizing jellyfish at Ripley’s Aquarium.

Build in Rest Time

We try to build in quiet time at home at the end of our outings for ourselves.

We all need to decompress. This means I’m sitting in my room quietly and the hubby is watching TV – and if T is looking at a screen, so be it.

We try not to pack our weekends and limit outings – especially with others – so there’s lots of time to just our family and for individual downtime.

Have A Sense of Humour

As I always say, it’s best to find a way to laugh – even at how crazy the FASD journey can be – because the alternative is to cry.

In 2017, the first time we travelled out of Canada with T, who was just under 2, we flew to Miami to attend a friend’s wedding (below).

T had a massive meltdown at the airport checkin line. It was likely due to lack of sleep as we were up very early and it was noisy and bright.

The hubby and I started to panic. Thankfully, a sympathetic staff rushed us to the front of the line and we skipped a 45-minute wait.

When the hubby and I got over the embarrassment, we joked that next time we should see what else we could milk from a meltdown.

Maybe get bumped up to first class? Or at least an extra bag of peanuts?

We made it to the wedding, despite the meltdown. T looked adorable in his tiny dress shirt!

At the end of the day, every child is different and what works for T may require a different approach for another – and vice versa.

The hubby, T and I have lots of fun together. They make the extra preparation and occasional tantrum or meltdown worth it.

We build memories, because childhood – and summers and life itself – is so short.

Once the outing and meltdowns have long passed, the excitement, fun, laughter and happiness are what remain.

The Dance of Life

Music can be such a revelation.

Every August 16, we celebrate Queen Madonna’s birthday; she turned 64 on Tuesday.

I discovered her music in high school in ‘98 and continue to admire her tireless work ethic, tenacity, fearlessness, and advocacy.

Just as she redefined music, it’s interesting to watch her age on her own terms, while centering her life, work and philanthropy around her children.

I loved her recent NYC Pride performance (above) – which included her son!

I turned 40 last year and I want to be as energetic, curious and to keep challenging myself, like M does, in my 60s.

The pandemic reminded me that life is short. We have to seize each invitation in this dance of life.

“Let me whisper in your ear

An invitation to the dance of life.”

– Madonna, “Celebration”

We all have a platform in life.

M uses music to speak up for women’s and LGBTQ rights and to speak against hypocrisy and injustice.

Writing is my outlet. My platform is microscopic compared to hers – but I believe we can all use our gift to create space on the dance floor for others.

“Don’t want to get to the end of my days

Saying I wasn’t amazed.”

Madonna, “Messiah”

As a parent, I celebrate life with and for T.

I embrace life for the ups and downs – and with, and in spite of, the cards we are dealt.

M has said she’s not the best singer and dancer, but she maximized her deck of cards to succeed and to bounce back from setbacks and criticism.

The hubby and I seek to guide T to achieve his potential with the cards he’s dealt.

NYC 2006: Holding a balloon that fell from the ceiling of Madison Square Garden in the finale of the Confessions Tour. I still have it!

Legend has it M first arrived at New York City with only $35 in her pockets.

Life is about opening ourselves up to surprises.

Like taking a weekend roadtrip to NYC (above) to catch M’s awe-inspiring Confessions Tour in 2006.

Or in 2011, thanks to a friend, I sat unplanned a few seats away from M at the premiere of her directorial debut, “W.E.,” at the Toronto International Film Festival (below).

As T’s parent, life is about keeping him open to surprise – be it a roadtrip or the call of the wild.

Life is not about the destination – we all end up at the same final finish line, celebrity or not! – it’s about the journey.

So we might as well dance along the way.

As M sang in the opening of her Rebel Heart Tour in 2015 – the last concert we attended (below), six months before T entered our lives: “Never let the fire inside you leave…”

Music can indeed be such a revelation.

M’s music showed me why we should always be inspired.

T continues to teach me that life itself is the greatest inspiration.


As we normalize conversations about mental health, how do we support neurodiverse kids?

I love watching T and kids play tag. I’m amused by how they apply “TO” (timeout) – whenever they don’t want to be tagged or need a rest.

As I thought about this more, kids should be encouraged to take a TO whenever they need.

During our recent roadtrip, T asked to listen to Shawn Mendes’ “When You’re Gone.”

Mendes made headlines recently when he cancelled his world tour, citing the need to focus on his mental health struggles.

In the past, this would’ve been a career-ending move, but he’s getting praise and support.

I think it’s fantastic he’s sending a message to his young fans that normalizes mental wellbeing.

Growing up, I seldom heard mental health discussed – at least, not in positive ways.

As T’s parent, I often think about how mental health issues can affect people with FASD.

This Edmonton Fetal Alcohol Network post provides sobering facts:

  • 90% of people with FASD experience an additional mental health diagnosis.
  • Individuals with FASD may be at a higher risk of suicidal thoughts.
  • A disproportionate number of people in conflict with the law have FASD.

I firmly believe T is on his own journey. Nonetheless, these stats sometimes make it feel like the odds are stacked against him.

A few weeks ago, T started telling us that “everyone in the world doesn’t like him.”

T is often a happy and happy-go-lucky kid. So it made me sad hearing this.

The hubby and I since observed T makes this comment when he is told not to do something – e.g. getting in personal space – or when someone he wants to play with wants to be left alone, because he is so intense.

We try to explain to T that many people like and love him – but they do not like being talked to rudely, him getting into their personal space or repeatedly doing something after being asked not to, and that people sometimes need peace and quiet – especially when he’s disregulated.

It’s a message we need to keep repeating, because it’s important for him to distinguish between people liking him for who he is and him needing to build social and regulation skills.

I understand and empathize deeply with how kids like T can develop low self esteem and negative self talk when they feel treated as a “problem child.”

We can’t shield T from feeling hurt, misunderstood or sad. It’s a part of life, neurodiverse or not.

We can, however, help him develop skills to build mental and emotional resiliency – to help him live his best life, despite the ups and downs.

I don’t pretend to be an expert – I am getting lots of hands on learning though! – and this is too complex of a topic to cover in one post.

So I’ll share a few recent ways the hubby and I are approaching this:

  1. Be clear of why we correct/redirect him or take away privileges (e.g. tablet time) and it’s never because we don’t like him.
  2. Talk to him – at bedtime, post meltdown, car rides, etc. – and try to coach him about social situations, as this is where he struggles and ends up alienating others.
  3. Advocate and raise awareness with family, friends, school and daycare staff about FASD to create understanding and empathy about T’s exhibited behaviour.
  4. Encourage T to express his emotions (T is a kid who’ll tell you what’s on his mind whether you want to hear it or not!) and tell him it’s ok to not feel ok sometimes and that feeling bored, sad, or angry are normal.
  5. Encourage T to find calmer ways to express his anger, such as walking away to his room for “peace and quiet” – and preferably without slamming doors!
  6. Find ways to create fun and joyful moments every day – as simple as playground time to more complex plans like a roadtrip – as I genuinely believe happy memories help us get through stormy times.
  7. All of us, especially kids, need reassurance. We try to start and end each day on a positive note – and remind T he is loved.
  8. We still haven’t shared T’s FASD diagnosis with him yet. We hope to do so soon and I believe this will help him understand himself better.

We try to be kind with each other and ourselves when we don’t get it right – we often don’t! – because the FASD journey is unbelievably hard!

How do you build emotional resiliency? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

As mental health matters become normalized, it will build awareness and empathy, increase advocacy and resources, and reduce stigma.

In turn, I hope those distressing aforementioned stats will decrease over time.

As T’s parent – and “external brain” – it is essential I also prioritize my mental health.

There are many ways I do this – self care, hiking, setting boundaries with people, not taking on things I don’t have capacity for, counseling, blogging – that I’ll write about in a future post.

I started this post on the last day of our three-week vacation and I felt thankful for the rest and recharge – and the fun times we had with T.

On Friday afternoon, I took T to the outdoor pool. He loves it there and enjoys splashing, jumping into the water, doing front and back flips, and playing “shark chase.”

As I “chased” him in the water (a parent moves slowly like Michael Myers in Halloween when playing tag with kids), T made his way as fast as he could to the side of the pool, laughing excitedly.

As his hand touched the pavement deck, and I was inches away, he screamed, “T-O!”

“Hold on

I don’t wanna know what it’s like when you’re gone

I don’t wanna move on

I don’t wanna know what it’s like when you’re gone for good

You’re slipping through my fingertips

A little bit by a little bit

I didn’t know that loving you was the happiest I’ve ever been

So I’m just trying to hold on…”

– Shawn Mendes, “When You’re Gone”

Here Comes The Sun

“Nothing makes the darkness go like the light…”

Earlier this week, the hubby and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary.

The day began with dark clouds and high winds.

Instead of seeing it as an unlucky #13 omen, I loved that the winds brought high waves in the usually calm bay – and with the gray sky, we got quite an atmospheric mood!

This driftwood was washed on shore!

It was cold, so T stayed inside.

As I walked down the beach, I thought to summer 2018, when T joined us for a similarly moody walk.

T’s red sweater popped against the gray day.

When we were going through our seven-year adoption journey, a colleague shared that friends told her that adopting children with FASD ruined their marriage.

I think about this conversation from time to time, especially during the truly difficult in-the-trenches moments with T.

T has impacted our marriage in many ways. We’re busier, always tired, recurringly on edge, and always craving some free time. There is rarely a moment of quiet in our home.

I’m thankful to have continued opportunities to step back to view the bigger picture. And that is T has made our lives better, more fun and rewarding. Our adventures are always enjoyable because I experience them through his eyes.

I did reflect on my conversation with my colleague during T’s disregulated moments at his grandparents’, a difference from last summer.

Thankfully, the hubby and I continue to be aligned in our goals, priorities and approach – even if we get testy with each other during T’s moments.

And really, what more could I ask for?

This reddish heart-shaped rock I found during my walk on our anniversary morning agreed!

As I wrote on a recent morning note to T: “Rainy days help the flowers go. The sun will shine again soon!”

Our rainy moments help us grow – as individuals, parents, a couple, and as a family.

The sun did come out later that day. Thankfully, the wind continued to make lovely waves.

T joined us for an afternoon walk and I quietly took in the puffy clouds and rolling white waves slicing into the water. Just beautiful.

That evening, we took T and his cousin A to see a movie: DC’s League of Super Pets.

It was not how I’d imagine spending a wedding anniversary 13 years ago – but I was that grown man crying at the end of the animated movie about Superman’s superhero dog.

I loved that there was a positive message in the movie about adoption too!

Two days later, we got up at 4:30 am (Eastern time) to head off on our 16-hour drive home.

As we were packing our things into the car, I noticed the sun rising over the bay.

It was a cloudy day. Beams of warm orange light pierced through the dark clouds, casting a heavenly glow over the water.

First Sleepover

A cotton candy sunset on the beach was the backdrop to a memorable first for our boy.

Our three-week family vacation is flying by. We are creating happy memories while navigating super trying moments.

Last Sunday, the end of week two, T was reunited with his cousin A, who was visiting for the week.

As space is limited at T’s grandparents, his Aunt graciously set up a tent outside the cottage.

Camping at the beach, hearing the waves and smelling the saltwater air are so appealing.

T asked if he could sleep with them and his Aunt said, “Yes” – and boy did he get excited!

I often think about the missed opportunities during the pandemic for T to build bonding experiences with classmates.

I have fond memories of my countless sleepovers with my cousins growing up and I want T to have similar experiences.

Rebecca at Quirking It recently blogged about childhood sleepovers from the perspective of someone with FASD.

Sleepovers to me are about staying up late, eating ice cream, playing video games, creating forts, laying every blanket in the house on the living room floor and watching movies together.

As T’s parent, I believe in not dwelling on the what ifs and to focus on the what nows.

For the rest of the afternoon, T and A played together by the beach.

He showed her the fort he had built beforehand.

After dinner, we were blessed with a spectacular cotton candy sunset.

The oppressive heat from the last few days cooled and it was a comfortable evening.

When night came, we reminded T about the sleepover rules: Respect his cousin’s personal space – something he struggles with – and to listen to his Aunt; otherwise, he would be sent inside.

He changed into his PJs and initiated teeth brushing with little fuss.

When he got inside the tent and the sleeping bag, he had the biggest heartwarming smile.

He then gave the hubby and I a big hug, before climbing back into the sleeping bag.

Part of me felt sad he was sleeping away from us, even though it was just outside. After I walked inside the cottage, I sang excitedly, “Freedom!”

Rushing Rivers Lead to Calm Waters

When you feel like you’re being pulled under by chaos, it may be best to go with the flow.

We’re still at the hubby’s parents for our annual summer vacation – and T is having a blast with his grandparents and vice versa.

While T has made so many gains since last summer, his use of inappropriate language has increased.

During dinner on Tuesday, after repeatedly telling T to stop saying things like “Shut up,” “Shut your mouth,” and “Be quiet,” I had enough and took away his tablet for the evening.

T got angry, screamed at me and even threatened me with his fork.

I kept my cool – and everyone around the dinner table did as well – and our disregulated child soon calmed down.

Raising a child with FASD can feel like you’re being washed down a never-ending river.

Some moments are very frantic and you feel like you’re going to drown.

When we recognize it is T’s brain – impaired with a lack of impulse control and emotional regulation – and not “bad” behaviour, we can stay calm, ride it out, and things quiet down again.

The following day, we enjoyed an afternoon hike at beautiful Pabineau Falls.

The hubby and I last visited in summer 2015, when my Ma joined us for our annual visit.

This was T’s first visit. He quickly found large rocks to throw into the gushing water.

T is a natural curious explorer and he wanted to venture further down the river – something neither the hubby, his parents nor I have done in the many times we’ve visited.

As we hiked down the river, I reflected on the previous evening.

For those unfamiliar with FASD, T’s shortlived outburst and threat may seem horrifying.

I thought instead about how T was able to deescalate, thanks to everyone staying calm, when the intuitive thing to do was to respond and reprimand.

This is not always the case: I’m human and I don’t always stay calm; the hubby’s parents have in the past said things in the heat of a moment.

So this was a winning moment of teamwork.

Our journey down the river of life with T often leads us to unfamiliar territory.

When we leave ourselves open, we encounter the simple joys – like climbing rocks or wild blueberries quietly growing under tree canopy.

When we don’t resist against the futility of angry currents, we are led to calmer waters – like an unexpected swim spot enjoyed by locals of all ages.

During the calm moments, we are blessed with higher firmer ground to take stock of the path travelled and to prepare for the rushing waters inevitably around the corner.

When we returned home, the hubby and I made dinner to thank his parents for their hospitality, spending time with T and giving us a break.

I barbecued chicken kebabs and romaine lettuce hearts, the latter I last made for the hubby’s 40th birthday pandemic celebration in 2020.

They went well with the hubby’s chicken fried rice.

Crab Semetary

A child’s ability to find fun and enjoyment is as limitless as their imagination.

The calming breezy saltwater bay ushered in the next wave of our family summer vacation.

After a short visit from T’s aunt and cousin, we headed off early Friday morning on a 16-hour drive for our annual visit with T’s grandparents, who live in a small Acadian town in New Brunswick.

T loves it here, because his grandparents adore him and he enjoys running around the beach.

I believe in the soul-soothing healing qualities of saltwater air and the sound of waves.

Children like T need this calm from the storm – as do their parents! – and I am thankful for this break for T and us to create positive memories.

T quickly loses himself in play on the sand or throwing rocks into the water.

He even made himself comfortable in the crawl space under their deck – which transformed into a cave in his imagination.

After breakfast one morning, T and I went for a long walk by the water.

There’s always something interesting to find on the beach – shells, rocks, sea glass or dead crabs.

T decided to collect crabs and I helped him carry as many as I could.

Then T dug up several holes and buried them one by one in the ground.

He then found round pebbles and used them as tombstones for the crabs – humming The Bee Gees’ Staying Alive as he laid them out.

This kid has a wicked sense of humour, whether it was intentional or not.

Afterwards, he found a flat patch of sand and used his fingers to spell out Crab Semetary (sic).

The next morning, T went out to look for his graveyard and said that it was gone.

I explained to him the tide must’ve come and washed it away.

Instead of getting crabby, the new day brought a clean slate for T to find another adventure for his imagination to run wild with.

Summer in the City

Sometimes, you only need to look at your own backyard to find lots to enjoy.

The big day finally arrived: T’s cousin A’s big summer visit. He’d only been counting down since they last saw each other at Christmas.

After spending the weekend cleaning, I sat down Sunday afternoon to enjoy a cup of tea, when T ran in screaming, “They’re here!”

I greeted them as they got out of the car and T ran full speed at his cousin to hug her.

Their visit coincided with my long-awaited three weeks off work.

First up: four days with T and his cousin to explore the City, their first visit to Toronto since 2019.

We spent Monday at Royal Ontario Museum, T and A’s first time visiting.

A is a Harry Potter fan and enjoyed the Fantastic Beasts exhibit.

We have yet to introduce the books to T, but he found the whimsical exhibit interesting.

As a kid, I found museums boring. As an adult, I appreciate the amazing historical artifacts on display – such as the China exhibit.

As a fan of the manga, Sailor Moon, I looked in the minerals exhibits for the ones that the villains were named after, including Beryl.

There was so much to see and it felt overwhelming at times.

T is child who will tell you and show you if he’s simply not interested.

There were many moments when he grew restless and whined about wanting to go home.

Thankfully, there were exhibits that he loved – especially the dinosaurs.

It was cool for T to see a T-Rex up close.

This moment of T looking up in wonder at a pterodactyl fills me with joy.

Afterwards, we went to Kensington Market for dinner, a part of the city known for authentic Mexican and Jamaican food.

As we approached the parking lot, I told the kids they were getting ice cream after dinner because they were so good.

“Well, I was not,” said T, referencing the moments he was restless and, frankly, downright irritating.

I chuckled, because this kid is so self aware.

But that comes with the territory of parenting a child like T. You take the good and the challenging and focus on the big picture.

It was a fun afternoon in the grand scheme and that was how I will remember it.

As we know all too well, ice cream doesn’t solve everything – but it never hurts to try!

The Homeless Man

Slowly, our little one’s innocence will be tempered with lessons about the hardships of the world.

On a drive home this weekend, we stopped at a red light and a disshelved man approached each car, with a cup in his hands.

We found two loonies in our car and I rolled down the window and put it in his cup.

T asked why he did that, so I explained the man was asking for money and it was important to help others when we are able to.

He asked why the man asked for money.

To keep it simple for a 7 year old, I explained the man was probably homeless.

“What does homeless mean?” He asked.

I explained that it means he probably doesn’t have a home to live in, which means he doesn’t have things that T has, like a bed, shower, or toilet.

“So he poos on the ground?” T asked in a bewildered tone.

The matter of fact way he said it made me chuckle, because it reinforced just how innocent his view of the world is.

The hubby explained he probably has to use a public washroom or borrow one at a restaurant.

T agreed that it was sad.

I often think about how fortunate we are that T has an innocent childhood.

As he gets older, he will undoubtedly be exposed to the uglier realities of the world.

As his parent, I want to hang onto his innocence, while providing him with the skills and knowledge to face those realities with grace and to do his part to making this world better.

The hubby then told T that his birth mother is also homeless and that was why she was not able to take care of him.

The suddenness caught me off guard but I appreciated the hubby using the conversation to share this story – as we try to find opportunities to slowly piece T’s story in his mind.

As with the other times when we talked about his birth mother, T took the news in silently.

We sat quietly in the car for the next few minutes, listening to music and watching the beautiful sunshine outside.

Early Morning Goodbyes

One blessing during the pandemic was spending more time together as a family.

When I was losing my mind with virtual schooling, I stopped to think when else could I take a break during work to go for a walk with T or to eat breakfast together when I’d normally be at work.

This summer, things have returned to as normal as they have been in two and a half years.

In June, I returned to the office on a hybrid work schedule, which I am very thankful for.

Let’s keep it real: getting up earlier and a 1-hour commute each way really suck.

But there are benefits: getting time to mentally transition into and out of work and in-person collaboration with colleagues whom I’ve missed.

For most of the last two years, my morning routine consisted of waving bye to T on our steps as he left for school or daycare with the hubby.

His car window would roll down as he screamed and waved, “BYE!”

It really is the simple things in life that bring the greatest happiness.

In the mornings I now head to the office, I often sneak a kiss on his cheek while he’s still in bed before I head out.

His breakfast, vitamins, his lunch and snack, and his “post it note” are all prepared beforehand.

One morning last week, T got up as I was leaving.

He walked out with me and stood on the front steps in his PJs, barefoot and waved as I left.

As I walked halfway and then all the way down the street, I turned around and saw him on the sidewalk, repeatedly screaming “BYE!” at 7:15, waking up the street.

I shouted back for him to get back in the house. But inside, I felt a warm fuzzy glow. It was certainly a wonderful way to start my work day.

Finding the Calm in the Storm of FASD Parenting

Any parent of a child with FASD will tell you that “calm” is like a mythical unicorn.

A few weeks ago, a Saturday morning in the playground started off well enough.

Then a little girl with her grandmother came over to the slide and T didn’t want to share it.

I reminded T the slide is for everyone. Irritated, T said, “Do you want me to go home and get something sharp?”

The look on the grandmother’s face was priceless.

The situation escalated as he piled sand atop the bottom of the slide and I told him to stop.

Huge meltdown. I had to carry him home screaming.

Finding the calm in the chaos is a journey of trial and error.

There is no one standard formula, because every child and parent-child dynamic are different.

What I continue to struggle with is that even the best laid plans that align with routines and anticipate triggers can still go belly up.

The pandemic years have had truly hard moments. Some days felt like I was at the breaking point.

Somehow, we made it through each storm, whether it directly or indirectly involved T.

The calm after each storm provides moments for reflection of lessons learned and relearned.

Brain Not Behaviour

I try to remember “brain not behaviour” and that T struggles with emotional regulation, impulsivity and hyperactivity.

It’s hard to practice this during a storm – like when he sprayed bug spray in my mouth during our camping trip and refused to take responsibility.

I was livid. In hindsight, I know his brain just can’t help touching every object that catches his eye.

Self Care Is Vital

I believe in carving out time for myself, no matter how limited, to exercise, cook, read, blog, sleep – and other things that nourish my spirit.

I don’t believe in suffering in silence and believe in seeking out help. This includes connecting with FASD professionals, finding online communities and continuing to get counseling.

The pandemic reinforced the importance of setting boundaries to protect my family’s wellbeing.

Create Joyful Experiences

As one of T’s teachers diplomatically put it, there’s never a dull moment with T.

The truth is, as frustrating as this kid can be, we love him to pieces and our positive moments outweigh the challenging ones.

We create regular plans – big or small, local or away from home – to create anticipation and memories that lift us through the harder moments.

Celebrate the Victories

When I’m in the trenches with T, like frequent battles to do his school work, it feels soul sucking and at the worst of times, soul crushing.

These moments make the wins that we do experience so incredibly satisfying – and we go all out with celebrating them.

It’s not just for us as his parents but it is important for T to know, think and feel that he is very capable – and will get to where he needs to.

Be Kind to Yourself

The wonderful thing about kids like T is that every day is a new day.

But while T can quickly move on, the emotional debris left behind from his stormy moments takes longer to process as an adult.

You feel it all – anger, frustration, anxiety, stress, regret, guilt, doubt, defeat, sleeplessness, exhaustion. I remind myself to feel these emotions, because the alternative is to turn my heart into unfeeling ice.

Then I try my best to move on and, as T teaches us, tomorrow is a new day to try again.

Enjoy the Calm

When we got home from the park that Saturday morning, T was still crying and disregulated.

I left him with the hubby and went to the home office for quiet time.

I felt livid, embarrassed and frustrated as to why these moments still happen.

Those feelings soon turned into guilt, self doubt and regret as I wondered how I could’ve handled the situation differently.

An hour or so later, I heard a knock on the door and when I opened it, I found a group of T’s favourite “pets” on the floor.

He didn’t need to say sorry for me to know how he was feeling.

I looked for him in his room, gave him a quiet hug and we lied down on his bed and enjoyed the calm silence for the next few minutes.

Exploring Flowerpot Island and the Grotto at Beautiful Tobermory

We kicked off T’s summer with a camping weekend filled with nature at beautiful Tobermory.

The highlight was Flowerpot Island at Fathom Five National Park, known for its rock formations, scenic caves and lighthouse.

Our ferry ride to the Island on Sunday morning started with a tour of sunken shipwrecks along the Tobermory coast.

T was mesmerized by the shipwrecks, while I was in awe of the clear blue water.

The Georgian Bay air was refreshing and the trees and rocks along the island’s edge were calming.

We enjoyed a mid-morning hike on the Island. T enjoyed exploring, lost in his thoughts.

This was the smaller flowerpot formation.

It was charmingly beautiful up close.

The rocky shore, blue water and thick wall of trees made for inspiring views.

T can’t resist a pebbled peach and we gave him time to toss rocks in the water. It calms him.

When we made it to the large flowerpot, another shape came to mind.

The hubby, our friend and I mused about what would happen to the local tourism if these structures tipped over one day.

I think it would still thrive because the island was beautiful with and without them.

T wistfully said goodbye to the island as we left.

After a campfire hotdog lunch at our campsite, we hiked to the Grotto and Cyprus Lake at Bruce Peninsula National Park.

I loved how well maintained the trails are.

I had wanted to visit the Grotto and Cyprus Lake for years, a 30-minute walk from the parking lot.

It did not disappoint.

The rocky shores and clear turquoise water were otherworldly beautiful.

I felt thankful that a place this amazing was relatively close to home.

As warm and appealing as it looked, the water was freezing cold.

We dipped our bodies in for a few minutes and then relaxed on the rocks, while T threw pebbles in the water.

It was a wonderful way to end our long weekend, three days filled scenic hikes – like Burnt Point Loop Trail on the Saturday (below).

The outdoors are healing. They are a key part of my self care toolkit and we immerse T in nature because it calms him.

It was a great way to start T’s summer break after an up and down school year.

On our last morning, as we got up early and frantically packed our tent before the rain hit, T lamented he didn’t want to leave.

We promised we’d return one day and that there was a lot of summer left to enjoy.

As we drove back to the City, and the gray sky loomed, I thought about the blue waters, tattooed in my memory.

Ignite the Night and Let It Shine

We started T’s summer with fireworks.

On Canada Day last Friday – T’s first day of summer break – we headed off early morning to Tobermory for our first camping trip since 2018.

Once we got past city traffic and into the country, the scenery was beautiful, including plentiful fields of golden yellow canola.

I love that T can now spend long drives looking out the window and enjoying the scenery.

We really lucked out with weather. Our drives there and back were rainy but our three days in Tobermory were sunny, warm and breezy.

This was our home for three nights.

T’s feet used to dangle in the air when he sat on the green chair gifted by a friend.

Our meals were simple and delicious. A fire roasted hotdog tastes so good.

T roasted marshmallows, while we kept a close eye on him. His impulsivity and hyperactivity make me nervous when he’s near an open fire.

T mostly sat well, although there were a few tantrums when we reminded him to stop poking a stick in a fire and light up things outside the pit.

Bathing in nature’s green was healing.

Tobermory had been on my wishlist for years and I am thankful we made it out. Our good friend, T’s “Auntie E” helped organize and joined us.

The scenery and the nearby national parks were breathtaking – more of them in future posts.

On our first night, we drove to nearby downtown Tobermory – alive with summer tourism.

We hung out at the marina and had Mexican for dinner. We were really roughing it!

We experienced a first: T ate an entire hamburger! We could not believe it!

We made more beef burgers for him that weekend at the campsite and it was not a fluke! A big win!

After dinner, we claimed a bench by the water and waited two hours for Canada Day fireworks.

It was very chilly and some whining here and there from T, but we made it.

There was still daylight – golden orange – at 10 pm.

At that moment, I longed for these long summer days to last forever.

The fireworks started shortly after 10.

I had worried the loud noises would bother or disregulate T but he got lost in excitement.

He paced and bounced about excitedly. He looked up at the exploding colours in the sky and rolled his hands in the air – most likely a stim.

The show was done in a few minutes. T shouted excitedly that the fireworks were so awesome.

We got back to our campsite and rolled into bed close to midnight.

It was pitch black and the sound of the leafy branches rustling in the moderate breeze quickly lulled us to sleep.

His First A!

As flowers bloom in our garden, T reaped a sweet harvest this week.

Report cards were sent home during this last week of school.

The hubby and I spotted T’s very first A right away – given for reading!

We were so thrilled, because of how hard T – and all of us at school and home – worked on his reading.

As I waved bye to T as they drove off to his last day of school, I looked at our flowers, glistening under the sun, wet from the overnight rain.

What started as small blooms, blossomed through the hubby’s care and nature’s sun.

I beamed with pride and happiness as the memories of the last year came flooding back.

The moments of seeing the hubby and T reading and doing homework together.

My Saturday and Sunday morning reading practices with T.

The pride T felt as he went up a reading level – exceeding the year-end target his teacher set for him in his Independent Education Plan.

We also highlighted and celebrated all of T’s gains in other areas. He had Bs across his other subjects, including a B+ for math.

To the hubby and I, As are wonderful but the most important part is consistent growth and T showed improvement from his previous report card where he had many Cs.

He still had 1 C in this report card for drama. But I’m not losing sleep. I know this kid can laugh, cry, scream and do the whole range of emotions when he’s motivated!

His teacher and CYW kindly agreed to our request for a year-end debrief.

We appreciated hearing their candid feedback and we were aligned in what his strengths, needs and areas of concerns for next year.

The hubby and I are worried how T will do without a dedicated support in Grade 2.

But we can only live one day at a time.

Like a garden, we will enjoy this moment of bloom.

We will celebrate his achievements, because summers – in the literal and the figurative sense – are short before winter arrives again.

We plan to have a super relaxing summer with T.

Like last summer, we asked his teacher to lend us a stash of DRA level books we can read with T. We’d like to devote 20-30 minutes each day for reading and learning.

Because routines are so important for kids like T.

His teacher, who is so organized, also prepared a binder of worksheets for T that we plan to tackle with him over the summer, in a relaxed pace.

But for this upcoming long weekend, we’re letting the reading and learning go.

Because we’re kicking off summer fun tomorrow morning – on the first day of summer break – with our first camping trip since the pandemic!

T helped me pull our camping gear from our basement crawl space. They’ve gathered a ton of dust!

We all can’t wait to get up tomorrow and head off on our adventure!

Stewing Over Things

Letting emotions stew is never productive. Stewing with tofu is a healthier outlet!

One of the most challenging aspects of parenting a child with FASD are when they get emotionally disregulated.

T’s meltdowns are hard. There are days when the hubby and I feel we are being verbally and physically threatened and attacked.

As life with T teaches us, focus on the big picture. The positive moments far outweigh the challenges.

There is a reason for why T has these moments and we’re learning to better support him before, during and after these moments happen.

One blessing of individuals with FASD is every day is a fresh start. In our experience, T is not one to stew much over things.

For better and for worse, he moves on – even though the rest of us are still reeling from his explosive moments.

It takes me longer to process things, especially when the time and space in my life to do so are so limited.

Writing continues to be my outlet to reflect and to process – so thank you to the blogger community for having coffee together.

Cooking is another outlet. Prepping ingredients, hearing the sizzle in the wok, and smelling the aroma fill the air are soothing to the soul.

Stews and stewy dishes are especially comforting. Here are a few recent dishes that I made:

Mapo Tofu

Mapo tofu is a popular spicy Chinese dish from Sichuan province. Key ingredients are firm tofu, minced pork, sichuan peppercorn and chili oil.

It’s one of my favourite comfort meals and I was glad to finally make my own using this Wok of Life recipe.

Kimchi Jiggae

Jiggae is a type of Korean stew and the foundational ingredients are tofu, kimchi and gochujang (red pepper paste).

Kimchi jiggae is made with canned tuna or pork belly. I’ve made both many times – and made my recent one with pork belly.

Cà ri gà

Vietnamese goat curry is something I love to order at the restaurant. I stumbled across this chicken curry recipe and had to make it.

It was interesting cooking using lemongrass. It turned out pretty well. I will try this recipe with lamb next time!

Silkie Chicken Herbal Soup

Silkie chicken (aka black chicken) soup was a comforting medicinal soup my parents made.

This was my first time making my own and I bought a pre-packaged herbal mix that included ginseng, goji berries and red dates – which made the broth soothingly sweet.

Braised Pork and Soy Sauce Eggs

Out of all the comfort foods I had growing up, this is at the top of my list. This is a staple in many Asian cultures and I recently used a Malaysian variation called Kong Tau Yew Bak.

As a kid, I thought it was a magical ingredient that made the eggs brown and so tasty. It turns out it’s just soy sauce! 😆

Cilantro Lime Rice

A good stew needs a warm bowl of rice. I don’t have experience making Mexican food (unless you count opening a bag of nachos and a can of salsa!)

I stumbled across this Cilantro Lime Rice recipe and had to make it because I didn’t know such a juxtaposition of ingredients existed. It was a perfect match for the braised pork and soy sauce eggs.

Chinese Cucumber Salad

A good stewy dish needs not just rice but a pickly salad.

To be honest, I only made this side dish cuz it looks so cool. As this Instagram recipe shows, it’s easy to make but looks impressive.

As I’ve written in the past, cooking helps me keep cool as a cucumber through the trials and tribulations of FASD parenting.

The Power of Anticipation

After starting his countdown right after Christmas, the big day is finally near.

T had a blast spending Christmas in New Brunswick with his cousin. When we got home, he asked how many more days till her visit this July.

During a recent bedtime, I told him that it was 45 days until she visited us in July. He got all excited and took a while to fall asleep.

He’s been counting down every day since.

As a parent of a child with FASD, I’ve learned that maintaining a positive mindset helps weather the disorienting storms and deflating setbacks.

As explained in this PhillyVoice article, creating things to look forward to helps provide positive mental and emotional boosts to motivate one through challenging times.

As an FASD parent, each day can have moments that go sideways and sometimes explode.

The power of anticipation helped us weather the two years of the pandemic by providing emotional buffer and motivation.

Whether it was scheduling self care days, our roadtrip during the first pandemic summer, or our recent Spring Break, it gave us something to look forward to away from the stress of simultaneous parenting, virtual schooling, working, and managing my Mom’s appointments.

There are also simple economical ways to build anticipation. For me, these include daily lunch hour walks during the work day with the hubby, Friday Netflix nights or a weekend hike with T.

In building moments of anticipation, it helps me reframe things in my life and take stock of how the blessings far outweigh the challenges.

The hubby and I started planning our summer back in the dreary days of winter and it helped the last few months fly by.

We’re looking forward to our first camping trip since the pandemic, the outdoor pools opening (next week!), and spending time in nature.

When I recently told T about our camping trip and how many more days until he visited his Grammy and Grandad, he lost it in the car.

“Today is going to be my last day on Earth,” he said.

“Oh, why is that?” I asked.

“I’m going to die tomorrow of happiness and excitement.”

A previous visit to Grammy and Grandad’s.

Reading and Parenting with Pride

When those in power seek to maintain the status quo, they target access to information.

I read with dismay and anger about Republican leaders seeking to ban books that discuss diversity, specifically 2SLGBTQ+ people, and to ban school curricula that discuss critical race theory.

Reading is one of T and our favourite activities.

In addition to being enjoyable, it helps him build his knowledge and literacy and to open his mind to the world.

Todd Parr’s “Family Book” was one of the earliest picture books we read with T that talks about families in all their forms.

“And Tango Makes Three” is another book in T’s collection that tells the real life story of two male penguins that raised a baby.

“And Tango…” was once banned for its “homosexual overtones” and was the most challenged book in US schools and libraries in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Conservative politicians are targeting and banning books that talk about gay, lesbian and trans people under the guise of protecting children from inappropriate sexual content and from being groomed for inappropriate lifestyles.

I encourage anyone to read these books and give a rational and common sense reason as to how they are inappropriate.

It must be these deviant penguins! 🙄

As someone who grew up with stories, movies and media imagery about heteronormative life, I turned out very gay. How odd is that?!

I think most politicians know these books are harmless but they use their message to grow and embolden their base.

For decades, LGBTQ people have been labeled as mentally ill, predators, sinners – and in 2022, homophobia and transphobia are packaged as “concern for children.”

Do you know what hurts and even kills children?

It’s not books nor drag queens reading to kids.

Guns kill kids. Yet no Republican is risking their re-election by lobbying for gun control.

In what mad world is a rainbow more dangerous than a gun?

It’s also interesting to watch conservatives get flustered about critical race theory.

Jerry Craft’s graphic novel, “New Kid”, is a recent example of an award-winning book targeted and banned for exploring issues around race.

It tells the story of a 12-year-old boy, who experiences culture shock when he enrolls at an affluent private school.

Access to knowledge and critical thinking are dangerous to those that do not want the status quo to change – a status quo that benefits their narrow-minded exclusionary beliefs.

When information can’t be controlled, there is an effort to discredit it as “fake news.”

There is an effort to create an “other” to unite followers against, because it’s easier to create a distraction than to do actual good.

Fundamentalists can champion their efforts under the guise of protecting children from imaginary predators, they can deny or try to rewrite a history of racism – but hate is hate.

Love always finds a way in the end.

We can and we must do better.

In our home, that means sharing books and messages that affirm and uplift others and to help spread positive messages.

It means being open to learning and re-learning.

The parent of one of T’s peers at daycare recently shared with the hubby and I that they are a trans man.

It was a good re-learning moment for me as I had wrongly assumed their gender.

We excitedly chatted on the park bench about summer plans, as our kids played together in the playground.

Part of the Pack

A coyote and pine cones. Unlikely ingredients for friendship for a 7 year old.

With warmer Spring days, T and I play outside after daycare pickup before heading home.

There is a group of moms and kids that are there every day.

It’s amusing watching T try to initiate play. He likes to be chased but these kids are younger and stick to their activity of stockpiling pine cones.

T often struggles with personal space, social cues, and impulse control, so his strategy to get their attention is to take their pine cones and run.

This would annoy the kids. On one recent outing, one boy saw T arrive and whined, “Oh no, not that kid again.”

This upset T and he vented during bedtime about how rude the kids were.

T is quick to point out others’ faults but fails to see these same faults in his actions.

The hubby and I try not to be helicopter parents. He has to learn to figure things out with ongoing coaching from us.

So I asked T to reflect on how his own actions may cause the kids to act that way and what he can do differently next time.

This past Wednesday, there was much excitement when we arrived at the park.

One mom said there was a wolf in the field.

I squinted my eyes at the animal lying down. It looked like a fox. Then it stood up. Yup, a coyote.

The kids were all excited and I pointed out the animal to T, who went from 0 to 100 in a flash.

I told T that coyotes are dangerous and we need to keep a safe distance and not agitate it.

So Mr No Impulse Control started shouting at the coyote and throwing pine cones at its direction.

The kids gathered close to T, who told the kids the coyote was dangerous. They huddled close together and it felt like a bonding moment.

On Friday afternoon, as T was swinging by himself, the kids went up to him and offered him pine cones from their pile. One kid at a time.

T stockpiled them on the side and kept swinging.

After he jumped off the swing, he approached the kids, who let him into their group play.

The hubby and I let T stay and play for while.

At bedtime, T asked about the kids in a positive way. The hubby and I praised him for a great afternoon of play and we asked him if it felt good to have a positive interaction with them.

We then gave him a hug and turned off the lights.

Gym Coach

I will soon add wannabe basketball coach to my CV.

As a student, gym was not my strong subject. I did well in sports like cross country and baseball, but basketball terrified me.

Similarly, participating in class, including gym, is an ongoing struggle for T in Grade 1, his first full year of in-person learning.

T’s gym teacher and CYW noted this Spring that T enjoys and is good at basketball.

The hubby and I try to take a strengths-based approach to learning for T. It’s important to build on things he feels good about to buffer the difficult moments in school.

Part of this requires both T and us to adopt a learning mindset: to be willing to try new things, make mistakes, and learn together.

We recently bought T his own basketball to practice and play with during weekends and over the summer in the nearby school.

Do I know what I’m doing? Not really, but we’ll learn and have fun together!

Basketball net for kids at nearby school.

Physical activity and the outdoors provide a great way for kids like T to burn excess energy and regulate emotions.

T picked up biking again after showing no interest last summer. We’re optimistic the training wheels will come off this summer.

Outdoor pools open this month! The hubby is registering T for his first lessons and looking for instructors that support kids with ADHD.

Last Sunday, we took T to his first rugby game.

T’s gym teacher recently invited rugby players to present to his class and they invited the school to their final game of the season.

It was really fun to do something different during our often quiet weekends at home.

We had no idea what the hell was going on, but watching buff guys colliding against each other was appealing. 😆

Toronto lost the game and it gave T a good introductory lesson in sports life:

You don’t always win, but you keep trying, have fun, pick yourself up, and move on.

Just wait till T becomes a Maple Leafs fan!