Running For Autism Has Moved!

23 May

I am thrilled to announce that my new website is now live!

If you are currently subscribed to this blog, I really want to continue to connect with you. Please visit Running For Autism at the new location and re-subscribe using the link in the right-hand sidebar.

I will be keeping this site live for a week or two, and then it will be decommissioned.

I hope to see you over at the new site!

Taking Off The Parenting Hat To Go On A Date

22 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

The last time I saw a movie with my husband – a real movie, in a movie theatre, with a giant bucket of popcorn to share – my firstborn son was about a year old. Because we just had the one child back then, and because one-year-olds who aren’t yet fully mobile are easier to manage than hyperactive eight-year-olds, my ageing mother-in-law was able to babysit.

We have gone out on other occasions, of course. We are regular patrons of a nearby dinner theatre that’s run in a barn – if once or twice a year can be considered “regular”. We go to the annual Christmas gala organized by my employers, and on the odd occasion, we’ll go to a party or a wedding.

For the most part, though, our outings include the kids. We frequent parks with slides and swings, and we go to restaurants where the waitstaff bring paper cups filled with crayons along with menus that the kids are allowed to draw on.

I am always hearing and reading about the importance of a couple going out on their own to spend time just with each other. I fully subscribe to that idea, and from time to time my husband and I make a commitment to have a date night once a month. But the logistics are so difficult.

People often assume that living with my mother-in-law gives us a built-in babysitter whenever we need it, and while that may have been true to an extent at one time, it’s not anymore. My mother-in-law is almost eight years older now than she was when we went to the movie that time, and instead of having one one-year-old, we have a six-year-old and an almost nine-year-old.

Finding a trustworthy babysitter is hard enough for any parent. There’s something very frightening about entrusting the most valuable things in our lives to people who usually aren’t old enough to vote. And when one of those valuable things is a vulnerable special needs child, the angst about it increases ten-fold.

Most babysitters do not know how to handle a special needs child. We have to find people who have some understanding of autism, are quick on their feet, and have the physical strength and presence of mind to restrain a child for his own safety. If it’s someone who can take the time to actually get to know the child while I am home, so much the better.

Usually, it’s just easier for us to not go anywhere by ourselves at all. But then our relationship definitely starts to take strain, because we are not paying enough attention to nurturing our relationship. Eventually, because of our increasing levels of stress, it starts to take some kind of toll on our parenting, in spite of all our efforts to the contrary.

Last night, we had the opportunity to go out to a concert – meaning that my husband had free tickets – and we had to scramble for a babysitter. The free tickets had come about unexpectedly, so we hadn’t exactly planned for an evening out. I desperately said to my husband that I didn’t even know who to ask.

My husband came up with the perfect solution. He asked M, one of the guys who works for him, if he would be willing to watch the kids for the evening, and M willingly accepted. M has kind of become a friend of the family. We invite him to the kids’ birthday parties, he came over for Easter dinner, and we eat out with him from time to time.

We completely trust M with the kids. He is so used to George’s autism that he doesn’t bat an eyelid when autism-related things happen. George knows him and likes him. James downright hero-worships him, and when we told him that M was babysitting, he practically pushed us out the door so he could hang out with his idol.

Safe in the knowledge that our kids were safe and happy, and that they might or might not tie M to a totem pole by the end of the evening, my husband and I headed into the city to see a live performance by Paul Weller, former member of The Jam and Style Council.

The music was every bit as good as we had hoped it would be, and my husband and I felt that buzz of happiness that you get simply from being with someone you love. M didn’t get tied to a totem pole. The kids behaved like model children. They were like the kids on those reality TV shows after the Super Nanny has whipped the family into shape. M said he would babysit for us again anytime we needed him to.

Last night, my husband and I renewed our intention to have regular dates nights to connect with one another, enjoy each other’s company, and just be.

How important do you think it is for couples to spend time together away from the kids? Is it something you manage to do regularly?

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

Running With Purpose: A Photographic Record

21 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

I am currently reading a running book that has a lot of great advice in it. Since I will be posting a review of the book in the near future, I will not give away too much about it now, but one thing it says is that every run should have a a purpose. You shouldn’t just go out for a run for the sake of putting miles onto your running shoes. You should have a specific goal to improve endurance, train for hills, work on form, and so on.

It’s really too bad that I got this book so late in my training for next weekend’s half-marathon. I confess that my purpose on many of my long runs has been to simply get through the 18km or 20km without dying.

In general, though, my training has been a lot more focused than it was last season. I have incorporated hills and speed training. My long runs have included race pace segments, and in a couple of cases, actual races. I have done some strength training, although I have not been as consistent with it as I’d like to be. Since I started reading this book, I have been paying more attention to form, and in fact, one of my runs last week was entirely devoted to practicing my form.

Today was my last longish run before the half-marathon. At this point, my training is done. I’m either ready to race 21.1km or I’m not. Apart from keeping my limbs loose and relaxed, no running I do over the next seven days will improve my chances for a good race.

Therefore, my purpose for today’s run was simply to enjoy myself. And to take pictures.

A beautiful day is a welcome sight for a runner heading out of the front door

A perfect day for a run in the Rouge Valley

Beautiful reflections in the Rouge River

Lake Ontario in all of its springtime glory

A family of Canada geese enjoying the sunshine

Waving to my American friends on the other side of the lake

My favourite graffiti

Aerial view of the river I ran along earlier in the run

(Photo credit for all pictures: Kirsten Doyle)

A Kind Of Magic

20 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

When James was about four, he got himself an imaginary friend. The friend’s name is Albert and his age varies from 3 to 12, depending on the day. According to James’ descriptions, Albert is a yellow monster with tall hair. He stays at home and sleeps while James is at school, and he is responsible for every single mess or piece of mischief-making that we blame on James.

Although Albert the monster features less in James’ incessant chatter these days, he still makes the occasional appearance – inasmuch as an invisible, imaginary monster can make an appearance.

I have come to recognize that Albert has served an important dual purpose in James’ life. First, James talks to him when he’s lying in bed at night, using him to process the events of his day and work through any conflicts he might be experiencing. And second, the monster fuels his imagination. James makes up a staggering variety of monster stories, and it is enormous fun to see where his mind takes him.

Monster hasn’t been around for a few days, but yesterday, someone else showed up.

I was industriously working wasting time on the Internet, and James was dancing around, chattering away to someone or something that only he could see. All of a sudden, he was by my side, telling me about a giant pink rabbit that was bouncing around in the kitchen.

“You should see it, Mommy!” said James, quivering with excitement. “Come on, look at it!”

“But I can’t see it,” I said to him, raising my hands palm-side-up in anI-don’t-know gesture.

Without missing a beat, James said, “Close your eyes and you’ll see it.”

His words instantly infused me with a sense of that childlike magic unique to six-year-olds who still know the true meaning of imagination.

As adults, we only see with our eyes. Most of us don’t take the time to look beyond what is literally in front of us. Children know how to see things with their minds. They can see possibilities of magic where most of us don’t even know there’s anything there. They are the ones who truly have vision.

I did what James suggested. I closed my eyes and really tried to look. And sure enough, there was that giant pink rabbit, dancing around my kitchen.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sebilden/3984605154/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

I Survived A Stressful Week Without Going Completely Insane

19 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

This last week has been fraught with stress. Along with almost everybody in my department, I spent the first half of the week waiting to hear whether I still had a job. I work for a large corporation, and they do these organizational shuffles from time to time, and invariably not everyone survives these. While we knew that this reorganization was underway, no-one was telling us anything. Throughout Monday and Tuesday, several familiar faces quietly disappeared. And those of us who remained were wondering who would be next.

On Wednesday, the new organizational charts were finally released. I had a brief moment of panic when I couldn’t immediately find my name, but located it under a new manager. I was not thrilled about that – I loved my previous manager – but at least I was there, doing more or less the same work I’ve been doing.

On the same day, I received notification that I had been accepted into the Professional Writers Association of Canada as an associate member. This was big news indeed: it gives me access to all kinds of tools and people that could help me in my quest to get a foothold in the freelance writing business.

While all of this has been going on, I have been trying to resolve some technical issues that have been preventing the upload of my new website. Last night I had to log onto a couple of sites, and click a couple of buttons that would finalize the transfer of my domain name to a new registrar.

My website broke.

I went into emergency fix mode, calling customer support lines and harassing my long-suffering website developer. I was able to put in place a band-aid fix, which will work just fine until my new website is uploaded after the weekend.

Then my email broke – the email that’s associated with the domain name.

It didn’t take me long to figure out what needed to be done. I had to kill off the email address in one place and recreate it in another. Which meant that I first had to sift through the emails in the old place to figure out which ones I wanted to keep. And we all know that nobody keeps their inboxes nice and tidy, right?

Sheesh.

I got the email address set up in one place, but now it would appear that I didn’t succeed in fully killing it off in the old place. So the Internet thinks the email address exists in two places. While I’m getting most mail in the new place and none at all in the old place, there is the odd message that simply doesn’t get delivered. Kind of like lost snail mail.

I am trying to muddle through and sort all of this out while coming down from a week of stress.

And deal with an autism meltdown that happened this morning when George couldn’t find his box of DVDs.

All of this is happening as I go a bit mental leading into the final week before my half-marathon.

At least everything that’s happening is, in some way, a step in the right direction. I still have a job. My writing career took a big leap. The infrastructure is in place for my new website, and I can always change my email address.

Even George’s meltdown was a positive thing, because he was able to communicate what the trigger was.

I am ready for a relaxing weekend, and I hope that anyone reading will relax right along with me.

5 Tips For Moms Who Want To Run

18 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Today’s post is also a part of the 2012 Fitness & Health Bloggers Conference Blogger Challenge, in which bloggers are invited to write about an aspect of women’s health.

James and I taking part in the Whitby Waterfront Races

At the time my older son was conceived, I was an active runner. I wasn’t as into racing as I am now, but I was in good shape and I hit the road regularly. Running was logistically easier in those pre-baby days, when I didn’t have to worry about whether I’d had enough sleep and who was going to watch the kids.

I had intended to continue running throughout my pregnancy, but my body had other plans for me. Pregnancy wreaked havoc with the fluid in my inner ear, so I developed the inconvenient tendency to simply fall over without warning. This obviously meant that running would be too much of a risk, especially during the tail-end of winter when there was still a lot of ice on the ground.

After my son was born, I started running again, but only for a few months before I got injured. That was when my six-year break from running started. There was always something that kept me out of it – injury, illness, post-partum depression, plain old garden-variety depression – before I finally found the right motivation to start running again in earnest three years ago.

Combining motherhood with running can be a tricky endeavour, especially when you add a full-time job and special needs parenting into the mix. But with a bit of practice and planning, it is possible to strike the right balance, and it is very worthwhile.

Today, I offer you some tips on how you can successfully combine running with being a mom. These tips do not come from any books or websites. They come from my own experiences.

1.       Lose any preconceived notions of what a female runner “should” look like.

Pregnancy and childbirth can really do a number on a woman’s body image. Our post-baby bodies include new wobbly bits (unless you are blessed with spectacular genetic material), larger-than-before breasts that now serve a practical purpose, and stretch marks that make our bellies look like a railway network. Some of us are self-conscious about the way our bodies look, and we are reluctant to go out in public wearing shorts and tank tops.

We tend to have this idea that in order to run, women have to be skinny and flat-chested. I get a lot of women telling me that they would love to run, but cannot because they are not built for it, or because their breasts are too big. From experience, I can tell you that those are not good reasons not to run. I am not skinny by any stretch of the imagination, and I am definitely not flat-chested. Barring any serious medical conditions, anyone who wants to run can run, no matter what size or shape they are.

Yes, it is true that the women who win the Olympic marathons are skinny and flat-chested, but you’re not trying to win the Olympic marathon. You are doing this for yourself. And if you have a post-baby body to contend with, wear it with pride. It serves as a reminder of the life you have borne.

2.       Remember that women have unique nutritional needs.

Women have to deal with all kinds of stuff that men never have to think about. Our bones start to degenerate after a certain age, and this increases our calcium needs. We have periods every month that deplete our iron stores and can throw our entire bodies temporarily out of synch. For the time we are nursing babies, our bodies are directing all of the good nutrients to our breast milk, leaving us with just the leftovers to live on.

There are scores of books out there that talk in general terms about what runners are supposed to eat and when. The material you read can be confusing and downright contradictory. I have come to the conclusion that different things work for different people. Whatever eating plan you end up adopting, you need to ensure that the nutritional needs unique to women are taken care of.

Here are a few basics:

  • Eat foods rich in iron and folic acid, particularly during your menstrual cycles.
  • Increase your consumption of Vitamin C: this has been shown to improve the body’s efficiency in absorbing iron.
  • As you get into your 40’s, start taking calcium supplements to compensate for the hit that your bones start to take in middle age.
  • If you are nursing, you need anywhere from 500-1500 extra calories per day, and that’s before you take into account the calories you burn while running. Make sure you are well fed on nutritional stuff, and take along an energy bar when you go running.

3.       Get the right support structure.

Whether you are small- or large-breasted, or somewhere in the middle, a good sports bra is essential. The last thing you want to deal with while you’re running is your boobs bouncing around like ping-pong balls. It is not only uncomfortable, it is downright painful. Although I speak from the standpoint of someone with large breasts, I have spoken to women who made the mistake of thinking that their breasts were small enough for them to do without a sports bra. With a couple of exceptions, they have bitterly regretted it.

If you are small-breasted, you can probably get away with getting your bra from a sporting goods retailer. Larger-breasted women could benefit greatly from being professionally fitted at a specialist bra shop that carries sports bras. No matter where you get your bra from, it is important to ensure a good fit. Not only can ill-fitting sports bras add to the bounce, they can lead to very painful chafing.

If you have just had a baby, be aware that the size of your breasts probably changed during your pregnancy. Don’t assume that what fitted you before will still fit you now. The same applies to moms whose babies have recently been weaned from the breast. As your body’s production of milk slows down, the size and shape of your breasts may alter.

Nursing mothers who want to wear breast pads should take precautions to ensure that they don’t shift during the run. When I ran as a new mother, I secured my breast pads with surgical tape and that worked well enough.

4.       Make it a family thing.

You don’t have to force your husband and children to go running with you, but at least enlist their support. Tell your significant other about your intentions to run, and let him or her be a part of the planning. You will need someone to watch the kids while you are out, and if that same someone massages your aching feet at the end of the day, so much the better! Most running moms I’ve spoken to report having supportive partners, and that makes all the difference.

For those with young babies, running can be logistically very easy. All you need, apart from your running gear, is a baby jogger – a three-wheeled stroller designed for motion. Look for a baby jogger that can be adjusted to have the baby forward-facing or rear-facing. These strollers do not have wheels like regular strollers, they have tires that look almost like bicycle tires. That makes them suitable for a variety of terrains and weather conditions. Not only is this a fun way to bond with your baby, pushing the extra pounds as you run is a great booster of upper body strength!

Running with older children can be immensely enjoyable as well. My younger son, now six, is showing an interest in running. He ran his first kiddie’s race last year, and he plans to more. I often take him out with me on a Sunday, just for a kilometre or two, and then I drop him off at home with my husband before heading out for my longer run

5.       Enjoy the me-time

People run for different reasons. Some runners are competitive, and are in it to win the races. Others want to get fit, or lose weight, or address some specific health issue. Some people simply run because they like it. Whatever your primary reason for running is, use it as an opportunity to switch off from the day-to-day business of parenting. Allow your mind to wander a little – bearing safety in mind, of course. Get an iPod and listen to some music. For a busy mom, it can be incredibly liberating to pound the pavement for a few miles. It is a great stress-reliever, it loosens the joints, and it refreshes the mind. When you get back home after your run, you will feel ready – and eager – to step back into role of Mom.

Disclaimer: The information given in this blog post, or anywhere on this website, is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

Autism And The Art Of Conversation

17 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Every night, I give my older son George a piggy-back ride to bed. These days are numbered, of course. George is almost nine and he’s all arms and legs. Someday soon, he will too tall and heavy for me to cart around on my back. For now, though, I treasure these last days of being able to pick up my son.

We get to his room, where I dump him unceremoniously on his bed. He tucks himself in while I turn off the light, and then I lie down beside him. For the next few minutes, it’s just him and me, alone in the entire world.

We talk. I ask him questions. He answers them.

Who does Mommy love? She loves George.
Who does George love? He loves Mommy.
How do you feel? Happy.
Did you have a nice day? Yes.
Where did you go? School.
What did you do there? Math.

Always the same questions. Always the same answers.

I follow this ritual for the sense of closeness between me and my son, because it’s a comforting part of our time together. I also do it to help him practice the art of conversation. His verbal communication skills are worlds behind those of typical kids his age. He knows how to talk, how to make requests and the occasional joke. He is starting to make the odd remark for social purposes, and not just when he needs something.

But he does not know how to have a conversation. So I am teaching him.

When George was first diagnosed with autism, he did not know how to point. Over a period of eleven painstaking months, during which I followed the same routine every single night, no matter how futile it seemed, I taught him how to point. I still cry when I think of the first time I was rewarded with him pointing independently.

If I could teach him how to point, surely I can teach him how to have a conversation. After all, they are both forms of communication, right?

From time to time, I switch up the questions during our nightly routine, and ask him something else. When I do that, he never answers the question I ask. He gives an answer to the question he was expecting. I don’t mind. It just shows that he’s not yet ready to move to the next level. There’s no rush. I can wait. It will happen when he’s ready for it to happen.

It’s OK that he has memorized the sequence of questions and answers. Children learn to read in much the same way, rote-repeating sentences that they have heard many times, before making the connection with the printed text. There is every reason to believe that George’s relationship with conversation could evolve in much the same way.

While I’m helping him learn a skill that will be of value to him for his whole life, I am treasuring those nightly moments we spend together.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

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