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My Favourite Things

13 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 13 – 10 things I couldn’t live without: Write a list of the ten things you need (or love) the most.

When people ask me what one item I would grab if my house was on fire, I never know what to say. I mean, who can pick just one? I’m a woman, for Pete’s sake. Women need stuff, just like they need chocolate. It’s a scientific fact.

So in my hypothetical fire, I’m allowed to grab ten things. How I will carry them from a burning building while I’m simultaneously ferrying my kids to safety is not a cause for concern. When my hypothetical fire breaks out, all of the items are easily at hand along with a large duffel bag, I have superhuman strength and an extra pair of arms, and my kids are being fully cooperative.

The ten things I would save from the fire (apart from my family, who technically are not things), are as follows, in no particular order.

1. My Garmin training watch and accessories. I love this gadget. It combines my love of running with my love of technogeeky things. It is the coolest device ever. I can go for a run anywhere in the world, and when I am within range of my computer, it downloads a nifty little map of where I’ve been. The desktop app also tells me stuff about my pace and heart rate, and that appeals to my inner math nerd.

2. My smart phone. This thing does almost everything a computer can do, only on a smaller display. It functions as a camera, a Skype interface, an e-reader, an email client, a music player, and many other things. To be completely honest, I hardly ever use it as an actual phone.

3. My laptop computer. I would be lost without my computer. Seriously. I do everything on there. I don’t know how people like my grandmother coped without technology. Sure, that generation may have been more resourceful and better able to cope in a crisis, but they didn’t have Facebook or the ability to connect online with fellow autism parents when things were getting too overwhelming.

4. My notebook computer. I know, I know. I have a large number of technology devices for one human being. But I love my notebook. It goes everywhere with me. It’s a great little device for writing and web-browsing when I don’t feel like lugging my full-sized laptop around with me.

5. My coffee machine, along with ground coffee and filters. Because, well, obviously. My house just burned down in a fire. I’m stressed. I think I’m entitled to some coffee, and if it’s late at night the coffee shops might not be open.

6. A selection of my older son’s Mr. Potato Heads. George would be at a complete loss without his Potato Head family. These little characters have been with him since he was first diagnosed with autism. They were the means by which he started to tentatively explore language, and they were the tool that my mom used to teach him his colours. As a child with autism, George does not play in the way other kids do, but when he’s got his Mr. Potato Heads, he’s in heaven.

7. A selection of my younger son’s Disney Cars cars. When James first saw Lightning McQueen, it was love at first sight. Thomas the Train and his friends instantly got relegated to the toy box. Now it’s all about Lightning McQueen, Mater, Finn McMissile and all the rest of them. James would be heartbroken if his Cars cars got burned up in a fire.

8. My favourite shoes. Those who know me well know that I hate shoes. They are uncomfortable and don’t look good on my ugly, non-dainty feet. Shopping for shoes to go with my wedding dress was probably the most stressful part of my wedding planning. The only shoes I actually like are my running shoes. My mantra is: There’s no such thing as “too many running shoes”. I would grab my favourite pair and rescue them from the fire.

9. My purse. You never know what will be in my purse from one day to the next. Delving into my purse is like going on a scavenger hunt. It has all of the staples, of course. A little bit of cash, drivers’ license, maxed-out credit card, and the most essential item of all – a tube of lipstick.

10. A clean pair of knickers. From the time I was a little girl, I was taught to always have clean underwear with me. If I was in an accident and I was wearing dirty underwear then, you know, what would the ambulance men say? I would hope that the ambulance men would have better things to do than inspect the state of my knickers, but the lesson stuck.  Besides, if my house has just burned down, I don’t want to be wasting time worrying about the state of my underwear.

What are your favourite things? Share in the comments!

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

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The Angst Of Back-To-School Shopping

6 Sep

I’m a last-minute shopping kind of girl. Despite my annual promises to the contrary, I am still running around doing Christmas shopping at noon on Christmas Eve. While my husband greets family members as they arrive for our annual Christmas Eve dinner, I am upstairs frantically wrapping presents.

When it’s back-to-school time, I put myself through a variation of the same thing. It would make far too much sense to get the necessary shopping done early in the summer, when the stores are less crowded and the people are less manic. But instead, there I am, the day before Labour Day, scrambling to get shoes and backpacks for the kids. The only reason I don’t do my shopping on Labour Day itself is that nothing is open.

You’d think I’d know better. You’d think that I, special needs Mom, would take reasonable endeavours not to expose my autistic son to last-minute crowds of frenzied children and their equally frenzied parents.

But no. Try as I might, I just cannot seem to get myself into the stores until I absolutely have to. Either I have some kind of illness or I thrive on the pressure of last-minute shopping.

It therefore comes as no surprise that I found myself and my two boys in a shoe store on Sunday afternoon, along with every other family in the Greater Toronto Area. The kids’ feet were measured without incident, and then we started browsing the aisles for shoes that would fit them.

I started with George, just because the display of shoes his size happened to be right where we were standing. Initially, I had trouble distracting him from the girls’ display, where he had seen shoes with castles on them. Once I got him looking in the right direction, he picked out a pair of shoes that he wanted to try on. He put them on, and then, in a moment of verbal clarity that was utterly astonishing, he said, “The shoes are too small.”

While internally celebrating the fact that he had clearly verbalized a problem instead of simply melting down, I found the same shoes in the next size up. They fit, and George was happy.

While all of this was going on, James was walking down the aisle, removing shoes from their boxes and leaving them on the floor. My stern warning looks morphed into verbal reprimands that gradually increased in intensity and desperation. James’ innocent explanations that he was “just looking” did nothing to dissipate the cloud of dark thunder that was slowly but surely gathering above my head.

I succeeded in getting him to stop and put all of the shoes back in their boxes by threatening to take away his Bumblebee Car. He did, of course, cry and loudly declare me to be a Mean Mommy, but there you go. Sometimes a Mom’s gotta do what a Mom’s gotta do.

James ceased and desisted from crying when I told him it was his turn to pick out shoes. All of a sudden, I was the best mommy ever and he loved me “all the way up to space”. The Plight Of The Bumblebee was forgotten.

As we waded through masses of squiggly kids, I held firmly onto George’s hand. He was not having a meltdown, but he was visibly restless, and I could tell that he was itching to make a dash for it.

James picked out a pair of Lightning McQueen shoes and tried them on. I let go of George for a moment to help James with the Velcro strap, and just like that, George had taken off at the speed of light. Yelling at an assistant to keep an eye on James, I took off after my firstborn, dodging and leaping acrobatically over children. I flew after George into the stockroom as startled assistants looked up from their stockroom tasks. I finally caught up with him at the end of the stockroom. He only knocked down two large piles of shoeboxes. I crouched down and started picking up the shoes, but a kindly man with an Irish accent waved away my efforts and said he would take care of it. I apologized for the extra work we had caused, and he gently said, “Looks like you’re the one with the work, love”. He added that I should go and get myself a lovely cup of tea.

He was a nice, nice man.

Fortunately, James was sitting exactly where I had left him, and the Lightning McQueen shoes met with his approval. We paid for our purchases and left.

Calm gradually returned, and later that night, I took the advice of the kindly Irishman. Except instead of tea, I had wine.

Next year, I will do my back-to-school shopping at the beginning of summer.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8136496@N05/3900289380/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

Letting Go Of The Old

2 Aug

Yesterday afternoon, I found my living room floor. It had been missing for several years, buried beneath layers of toys that the kids have, over the years, played with and outgrown.

On several occasions, I have made efforts to organize the toys, painstakingly separating them into categories and storing like with like. But these toy organization systems that I have spent hours creating have lasted, on average, for about an hour. My older son sometimes copes with his autism meltdowns by picking up boxes of toys and dumping out the contents. Even as I wistfully watch my hours of work come to naught, I recognize that I would rather see my son throw toys around than bang his head against the wall hard enough to put holes in the drywall.

Quite apart from the side effects of autism, kids under the age of six don’t really get that the cars should go with the other cars, or that the Legos should be in the same container, or that the gazillion Mr. Potato Head parts are meant to stay together.

This weekend, me and my husband – ably assisted by our five-year-old son, took another crack at organizing the toys. But there was a difference in the way we did it this time.

A big difference.

This time, we actually got rid of stuff.

I thought getting rid of toys would be a nightmare, but once we had the buy-in of our younger son, it was actually quite easy. It was never going to be a problem where our firstborn was concerned. As long as he has his Lego, his gazillion Mr. Potato Heads, his measuring tapes, his alphabetic fridge magnets, and his math workbooks, he’s happy.

After a day of sorting, storing, and being bossed around by our five-year-old, we had reduced the volume of toys by a staggering amount. All of a sudden, we had enough toy boxes to contain all of the toys that we kept, without them spilling over onto the carpet. We rediscovered the concept of walking from one end of the living room to the other without getting Lego-shaped dents in the soles of our feet. It was an incredibly liberating experience.

There’s just one thing…

These are the toys that my kids played with when they were babies. The little teddy bears. The Winnie the Pooh ride-on toy. The blocks, the nesting cups, the First Words books. Getting rid of these remnants of my kids’ babyhood was like saying goodbye to a phase of my life, and acknowledging that my babies are no longer babies, that they are little boys.

As sentimental as I felt about the toys, what really made my breath catch in my throat was sorting through the little shoes that my kids wore as babies. It was the shoes that served as a physical reminder of how tiny they once were. As I held the shoes in my hands, the memories washed over me.

My older son’s very first pair of baby slippers, given to him by my Dad when he was just a few days old (no way am I getting rid of those).

Feeling my boy’s fingers grasp my hand with absolute trust as he tentatively walked in shoes for the first time.

My younger son’s face, alive with excitement, as he wore the shoes that were a miniature version of the ones his Dad wore.

My two boys laughing together as they splashed in rain puddles, wearing their new galoshes.

Their joyful oblivion as they tramped snow into the house in winter, leaving tiny wet footprints all over the floor.

The memories fade out and I reluctantly come back to reality, sitting there on the floor holding these tiny shoes in my hands. All but a couple of extra-special pairs must go. It is time to allow to the old to make way for the new, as my boys enter new and exciting phases of their lives.

Just because it has to be done though, that doesn’t make it easy.

It represents a letting go, and that is a bittersweet pill for any Mom to swallow.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ophilos/2564467134/ This photo has a creative commons attribution license.)

With These Shoes I Thee Wed

19 Jan

In 102 days – or 3 months and 12 days – I will be getting married.  I’m OK with this.  The list of things to be done between now and then is staggering, but as long as there are more than 100 days to go, I will feel as if there is plenty of time.  Lots of time to get the wedding dress finished and make sure all of the bridal party have their outfits sorted out.  Time to book the DJ and the photographer, and get our invitations sent out. Time to arrange hair and makeup trials, speak to the florist, decide on guest favours.  There is time for us to make up our friggin’ minds what we want the cake to look like (we both want something highly original, but we have differing ideas, and mine is definitely better).

As long as there are more than 100 days to go, there is loads of time to take care of this and everything else that I haven’t even thought of.

On Saturday, when there are 99 days left, I will probably go into total meltdown.  I even know what the meltdown will be about.  It won’t be about all of the stuff I just mentioned, which might stress me out, but I know it will get done on time.  Most of it has been started in some form or another.

It’ll be about the shoes.

On Saturday, I will wake up and realize that I have only 99 days to find, purchase, and break in the perfect pair of shoes.

I hate shoe shopping with a passion.  I find it next to impossible to find shoes that meet both of the following two basic criteria:
1) To be comfortable
2) To be pretty

When I look at the shoes that other women wear, it boggles my mind.  How are these ladies able to squeeze their feet into tiny little capsules that compress their toes and are on four-inch heels, and still walk normally?  If I tried to pull that off I’d stumble around like a drunk giraffe and then fall over in a very undignified manner and twist both of my ankles.

My feet, you see, are too important to me.  I am addicted to running, so I kind of need my feet just for the sake of maintaining my sanity.  I need to take care of them, so my shoes have to be comfortable and stable.  I have to have space to wriggle my toes around.

“Open-toed shoes!” I hear you call out.  Yes, open-toed shoes do tend to be more comfortable for me, and in the summer I wear them a great deal.  Open-toed shoes do have a lot of potential to meet the “be comfortable” requirement.  The “be pretty” requirement is another story altogether.

My feet are ugly. I do not say this with embarrassment, but with pride.  My feet with their calloused heels, and with their blackened and missing toenails, are a testament to my running. They tell the story of many hours of training in the gruelling heat and the biting cold, the accomplishment of personal best times, the amazing feeling of triumph at half-marathon finish lines, and most importantly, the funds raised through my running to benefit people with autism.

Yes, I am proud of my feet in all their butt-ugly glory.

They look crap in open-toed shoes, though.

I am looking at getting running shoes for my wedding.  On Friday (when I have 100 days to go) I will start my quest for running shoes with bling. Shoes that will be comfortable and look pretty, and have the added bonus of reflecting who I am.

Or maybe I should just go barefoot.  No-one’s going to see my shoes anyway.