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When I Grow Up: Six-Year-Old Musings

27 Mar

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be an air stewardess. I was a very well-traveled kid, and every time I boarded a plane I envied the slim, pretty ladies in their smart uniforms. They were always so elegant and friendly, and they were unfailingly kind to me and my brother. A career of jet-setting around the world meeting all kinds of people greatly appealed to me.

Of course, now that I am a well-traveled adult, I cannot think of a job I would like less. When I board planes, I want to be given my mini-bottle of wine and left alone. The last thing I want to do is walk up and down a narrow aisle handing out peanuts and smiling at strangers until my face hurts.

Anyway, when James was about three, he started having his first When-I-grow-up-I-want-to-be discussions. I clearly remember the day it started. Our walk to the daycare he attended at the time took us past a little restaurant that happens to be a popular breakfast spot for the local police. As usual, all of the parking spaces in front of the restaurant were occupied by police cruisers. James stopped to count them, and then said, “When I grow up, I want to ride in the back of a police car.”

Well! That wasn’t what I was expecting to hear! No parent wants to know that their three-year-old aspires to a life of crime.

Fortunately, he met a cool policeman a short while later and changed his goal to driving the police car.

Since then, James has changed his career aspirations several times. He has considered being a fireman, a race car driver and a builder. Sometimes his sole ambition is to be a dad – hopefully not too soon. Other times he wants to be a Transformer, but he doesn’t say exactly how he will become a thing that’s sometimes a car, sometimes a scary robot.

It doesn’t bother me unduly that James is so undecided about what he wants to do. I mean, the kid is six. He has time to decide.

This weekend, he suddenly came up with a new career idea. The conversation we had went something like this:

James: Mommy, we’re going to have a party.
Me: Oh?
James: Yeah! We’re going to bake a cake and put out some snacks and juice. But the cake will take longer to do so we have to get started on that right away. So I’ll find the juice and Daddy can go and buy snacks while you and George start looking for ingredients.
Me: Silence. Goldfish-impersonation. Thinking: cripes, this kid is bossy!

After a pause, the conversation continued.

James: Mommy, I know what I want to be when I grow up.
Me: Oh good! What’s that?
James: I’m going to be a caterer, and I’m going to tell everyone what to do.

So, he’ll be a caterer. Other than that, nothing much will change, since he tells everyone what to do now.

At the end of the day, I have the same hope for both of my boys: that they will find careers that will make them feel fulfilled and happy, and that they will not ever feel limited into doing something that they do not really want to do.

What career aspirations have your kids told you about? Did you end up doing anything remotely close to what you thought you would as a kid?

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Blog Beginnings: A Funny Guy Made Me Do It

17 Mar

Tim "Red Barren" Carter, who gave me the idea for my blog

Two years ago today, my blog was born. When I wrote my first post, I didn’t really give much thought to where it would all lead me. I wouldn’t have even started the blog if I hadn’t been pushed into it.

Here’s what happened:

Over a decade ago, a super-cool dude by the name of Bruce started a super-cool ezine called Really Good Quotes, and I was one of the original subscribers. In the early days of the ezine, Bruce did everything himself: the research, the writing, the sourcing of quotes, and the compilation of the issues. Five days a week he did this.

After a while, Bruce realized that it would be nice to have a life, so he cut back from five days a week to three, and he started enlisting help. He recruited a couple of writers and asked me to be the editor. And so it became my responsibility to collect everyone’s submissions and format them into something resembling a respectable ezine. When I’d been doing this for about a year, Bruce offered me my own column. I handed off the editing responsibilities to a guy named Cliff, who does it far better than I did (and writes an awesome column to boot), and I started focusing my attention on writing.

Through this whole process, I became friends with the other writers on the ezine. We were a close-knit little group from the start and our friendships started to extend beyond the bounds of Really Good Quotes. One of my fellow writers – a guy who, sadly, is no longer with us – was called Tim. Tim had a heart the size of Texas and he was an amazingly funny guy. He was also a technogeek, so in addition to being a friend, he became my unofficial tech support person.

It was Tim who got me into writing outside of Really Good Quotes. My older son’s autism diagnosis came when I was in the midst of post-partum depression, and I felt myself buckling under the weight of everything. Tim contacted me during this dreadful time and told me that perhaps I needed an additional forum for my writing.  He offered me a space on his website where I could write whenever I wanted. There was no requirement to post, there was no pressure and no expectation. I simply had a place to go when I needed to vent.

One day more than a year later, Tim told me I needed to spread my wings. He wasn’t booting me off his site, and in fact he wanted me to stay and continue posting, but he felt that my writing was good enough to warrant a wider audience. He encouraged me to sign up with one of the well-known blogging platforms that came complete with a large community of bloggers. At first I was resistant to the idea. It sounded like more hard work than I was in the mood for.

Tim’s idea would turn out to be a bug that, once planted in my mind, kept nagging at me. After a couple of months, I thought, What the hell? I signed up, and here I am, celebrating my blog’s second birthday.

Many things have happened since then, both in my blog and in the broader context of my life. I have seen all kinds of growth in my kids, I have watched my son beat out all of the doctor’s predictions, and I have done some growing up myself. I have run all kinds of races and beat my own personal best times. I have voted for the first time as a Canadian citizen, I have tied the knot with my long-time partner and I have taken on extra responsibilities at work.

As far as my writing goes, I still write for Really Good Quotes. I am also a writer and scheduling editor for World Moms Blog and I participate regularly in the Indie Ink writing challenges. I have been invited to participate in the Health Activists Writers Month Challenge which runs in April. I have been voted as one of the Top 25 Canadian Mom Blogs. And very soon, my website will be going through an overhaul. I am excited at the prospect of launching a new look to showcase my writing.

I feel like I am entering a whole new phase and I cannot wait to see where it brings me.

Happy 2nd birthday, blog!

(Photo used with the kind permission of Kristen Carter)

Beautiful Disaster: A Love Story

8 Mar

When Kathy first met Howard, she didn’t like him very much. She had met him on the Internet, and they had always gotten along great during their online chats. But the second she met him in person, she knew that the chemistry was not right. In spite of herself, she said yes when he asked her to be his girlfriend the third time they went out.

The attraction isn’t always there in the beginning, she rationalized.

The truth was that she was lonely. She had moved into the city six months previously and she didn’t know anyone. She had yet to make any real friends and she was desperate for a human connection. She knew this relationship wouldn’t last, but she thought it would keep away the loneliness for a while.

Kathy’s quest to avoid loneliness would turn out to be very costly. Howard slowly sucked her into a web of manipulation and control. He alienated her from the small amount of social contact that she had, took her for weekends away and “forgot” to bring his credit card to pay the hotels, and forced her into sexual games that she did not feel comfortable with.

One day, Kathy arrived at Howard’s weirdly sterile apartment to find another woman there. When he introduced the woman as his wife, Kathy staggered back in shock. She’d had no idea he was married. He’d always claimed to be divorced.

By the time Kathy left that night, she had discovered that Howard shared everything with his wife. Everything. Including his girlfriends. She limped to her car, broken and humiliated, and wondered about going to the police station.

What would she tell them, though? Hello, officer. I’ve just been raped by the man I’ve been having consensual sex with for the last four months, and his wife. Kathy had not even known until this day that it was possible for a woman to be raped by another woman.

She decided not to go to the police. They wouldn’t believe her. They would laugh at her and she would feel even more ashamed than she already did. She pointed her car towards home and started to drive. What a disaster this had been. She would never use online dating again.

All of a sudden, Kathy was overcome by tears. Great big wrenching sobs that shook her entire body and blinded her vision. She pulled over to the side of the road, lurched out of her car, and stumbled into the park. She sat on a bench and hugged herself tight as she wept. Thank God it was late enough for the park to be empty. If there were people around she would have been making a real spectacle of herself.

She buried her head in her hands and tried to breathe deeply to calm down. She needed to get out of this park and into the safety of her apartment. She needed to lock herself away from the world and wash this nightmarish day from her body.

A shuffling sound made her look up in alarm. A man was standing a few feet away, keeping his distance and looking distinctly uncomfortable.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” he said, as if he could smell her fear. “It’s just that I heard you crying. I wanted to see if I could help. I’m Frank, by the way. My name is Frank.”

He stopped talking abruptly and moved a little closer, staring into her eyes. He peered at her intently, as if he had just had a revelation.

“I hope you don’t mind if I say this,” he said hesitantly. “But you are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

Kathy stared back at him. In that instant, through the layers of her pain, she saw her future in this shy, gentle man.

Yes, Howard had set her on a path of disaster. But it was a disaster that had led her to be in this place, at this time, having a chance encounter with the man who would become her destiny.

It was a beautiful disaster.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, k~ challenged me with “Beautiful disaster” and I challenged Jason Hughes with “Chasing rainbows”

The Versatile Blogger

17 Aug

We all know how the Internet knows everything, right? So if I read on the Internet that I am a Versatile Blogger, who am I to argue? It’s true! I have been given a Versatile Blogger Award, and I am now going to bestow this same award on fifteen of my favourite blogs.

This isn’t like winning an Oscar, where you hold a bizarre figurine and thank everyone from God to your mother to the guy who lived four doors down from your uncle when you were two. No, this award is all about bloggers giving each other well-deserved recognition.

There is a certain protocol to be followed when accepting this award, which involves writing a post on your blog. In that post, you first thank the person who gave you the award and include a link back to their blog. Then you tell the world seven things about yourself. Finally, you pass the award on to fifteen blogs that you feel are noteworthy.

So here goes…

A big thank you goes to Deanne, who is an autism mom like myself. Deanne’s blog, Small But Kinda Mighty, is a fantastic resource for autism parents looking for information, support, and hope. Whether you are directly involved with autism or not, I highly recommend that you hop on over and take a look at what Deanne has to say.

Now, seven things about myself that I bet you didn’t know:

1)      I am afraid of spiders. I’m not talking about a vague grossed-out feeling that many people get. I’m talking full-on, panic-inducing arachnophobia. Other creepy-crawlies I can handle. Spiders are pure evil.

2)      I think I have shared this one in a previous long-ago post, but it’s too good not to include here. When I was trekking around in the Sinai Desert in the early 90’s, I purchased dried tea-leaves from a Bedouin Arab. I didn’t know what to do with dried tea-leaves in the middle of a desert (heck, I wouldn’t know what to do with dried tea-leaves anywhere), so me and my friends attempted to smoke them. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

3)      I have shaken hands with Nelson Mandela. Truly one of the greatest moments of my life.

4)      I’m too much of a sissy to get a tattoo, but I did get a belly button ring years ago. The guy I was dating at the time, who happened to be a couple of years younger than me, told me that I was too old to do anything adventurous. I went out and got the belly ring to prove him wrong.

5)      I have a recurring dream in which I am chased into a forest by a giant teapot. Seriously. Even I cannot make this stuff up.

6)      When we were kids, my brother and I climbed onto the roof and dropped a soccer ball down the chimney, believing that it would fall into the fireplace below. We got into a L-O-T of trouble.

7)      I met my husband in a park ten years ago, and we went home together that night because neither of us wanted the date to end. It really was love at first sight.

And now – drumroll, please – I am really excited to share fifteen of my favourite blogs. All of these bloggers have touched my life in some way, and made me a better person, a better mom, a better something. I thank all of them for the impact they have had on my life, and I urge you to visit their blogs and see what they’re all about. Here they are, in no particular order.

–          Autism Dad – This man devotes the better part of his life to caring for the ones he loves. He lives with his elderly father, and is a single dad to two stunningly gorgeous kids, one with autism. When you read his blog, his devotion to his dad and his love for his children jumps right out of the page at you.

–          Asperger Mom – This stay-at-home mom to three children writes about the general challenges of life and parenting, and the more specific challenges of raising a child with Aspergers Syndrome. 

–          These Little Waves – Galit has three children, one husband, and one dog. She also has a good heart, a big smile, some well-earned wisdom, and a great sense of humour. Her blog has something for everyone.

–          Farewell Stranger – Robin is a mom who writes about her journey through the hell of post-partum depression with bravery and honesty. She strives to raise awareness of PPD so that women who suffer from it can get the help that they need.

–          Stuart Duncan – This dad of two boys, one with autism, is truly an advocate for autism awareness. He offers intelligent, informed opinions about the latest in autism news and research, and he’s not afraid to take a stance that may be unpopular. This blog is on my must-read list.

–          Transplanted Thoughts – Bravery takes many forms. It can be a soldier going to fight for his country, or a fireman risking his life to save others from a burning building. Or it can be Amy, who sat by her son’s bedside for five months and then cradled him in her arms as he died. This is an amazing blog by an amazing mom, and you really should give it a read. But first, get out the tissues.

–          Behindhersmile – Michelle, mom of two, is an advocate for liver disease awareness. She brings to light a medical issue that is frequently brushed off by doctors, and she gives pointers on how we can lead healthier lives and keep our livers happy.

–          S Club 4 – S Club Mama has several things in common with me: she is a mom of two, one of her kids has autism, and she is a runner. A girl after my own heart! Her posts cover a variety of topics, both informative and entertaining.

–          The Alchemist – I love reading stories of this mom’s life on the other side of the world. She used to be some kind of engineering guru, then she became a mom, and now she’s finding her way as a writer. She’s awesome. Go on over and read her blog. You know you want to.

–          Mama Wants This – Alison (just one “L”, please!)  is mom to a cute little boy named – um – Monkey, although he apparently has a “normal” name as well. She has a fondness for online quizzes and her toes are funny. If this information doesn’t entice you to visit her wonderful blog, I don’t know what will.

–          Quintessentially Burrows – Asta lives in Norway with her English husband and their “wee lad”. Her blog is wonderfully diverse. She talks about parenting, shopping, paternity leave, and even the weather.

–          Gingerheaddad – Jim’s blog is one of my favourite favourites. He is Dad to three, two of whom are on the autism spectrum.  He is caring, he’s a good dad, and he’s funny. And he has red hair.

–          New Day New Lesson – Susie lives in Israel, a place I spent time in many years ago and that I will always have a special fondness for. Here’s the thing about Susie. She’s into positive thinking, learning stuff from the nonsense life throws at you, and kindness. How could I not promote this blog?

–          Julie Anne – This is a woman I can relate to. She loves to write. She loves to read. She’s a bit obsessed with social media. She has a true appreciation for the value of coffee. I started reading her blog relatively recently and it’s already on my “Blogs I Must Check Daily” list.

–          DC Blogmama – Born in Pakistan and raised in New Jersey, this mom of one is now a lawyer living in DC. Her blog offers a wondeful glimpse into her life as a parent, and I really enjoy reading it.

Lucky Number Six

12 Jul

Being a parent is hard. You have to deal with conflicts, challenges, lack of sleep, lack of privacy, loss of self-identity, turmoil, guilt, worry, heartache, tears, and the reality of never being able to eat a full meal without interruption. And that’s just with a regular kid.

When you add autism into the mix, you also add the sensory challenges, meltdowns, communication issues, various other autism-related challenges, guilt piled on you by the media and other parents because you chose to vaccinate your child, and uncomfortable stares and rude comments from strangers in grocery stores.

All parents need a break sometimes. Especially parents of children with autism or other special needs. We love our kids, and recognize that in order to be better for them, we need to take care of ourselves.

This is why God created respite workers, and for some lucky parents, the funding to pay for them.

Our respite worker adventures are in their fourth year. In that time, we have gone through five workers, and we have just started on our sixth.

Our first worker was fantastic. We found her at the daycare George went to. She was his favourite teacher there. And so, when she left the daycare and asked us if we would like her to do respite work with George, we jumped at it. Both of the kids loved her, and George eagerly anticipated his times with her. After two years with us, she called me with the news that she had suffered a relapse of breast cancer and needed to take time out to focus on her health. We were sad to see her go, but we completely understood.

After a search of about three months, we found a new respite worker. George took to her right away. She was organized but creative, firm but kindly. She engaged George in a very positive way. She was a lovely, lovely person, and we could tell that she had a gift for working with special needs children. Unfortunately for us, one of the therapy centres recognized the same gift in her, and hired her full-time as an instructor/therapist. She gave us plenty of notice, so that we could find a replacement before she left.

Respite worker #3 was easy enough to find. On paper she looked great. Lots of experience with special needs kids, working towards an early childhood education qualification, and sister to someone with autism. We thought this woman had it all, right down to the personal experience with her own brother.

She turned out to be spiteful and vindictive. She lasted for precisely two sessions, one of which had been a handover session with Respite worker #2.

On to Respite worker #4. We found her through an ad we placed in a local newspaper. She came for an interview, and seemed to interact well with George. We liked her, we hired her, and she agreed to start the following week. Unbeknownst to us, though, she had been actively seeking full-time employment and got offered a job a couple of days before she was due to start with us.

At this point, I was ready to throw up my hands in despair. Good respite workers – the ones who are good at what they do, are nice people, and stick around for longer than it takes to make a cup of coffee – are like gold dust.

I placed another ad, and got a number of responses. We settled on a very nice, down-to-earth lady. When she came for the interview, she produced a binder containing her resume, police clearance, references, and various CPR and First Aid certificates. The details that impressed me on her resume were that she had been with one of her respite families for about ten years, and the other one for even longer. This woman had a history of staying with her families, and she even spoke about the benefits of building a long-term relationship with the child. We liked her, we hired her. She started the following week.

And then, as fate would have it, a close family member of hers was seriously injured in an accident, and another close family member had a heart attack and needed bypass surgery. Our new respite worker had to temporarily suspend work so she could take care of her family. After a break of a month or so, she came back, but that only lasted for two weeks. One of her family members relapsed, and she had to take time off again. She stopped replying to my texts and returning calls, and as nice and all as she was, I had to make the decision to cut her loose.

And now, as of yesterday, we have started with Respite worker #6. I am hesitant to make any sweeping statements at this point, but she seems to have been dropped into our laps by the smiling gods of fate. She has been a student volunteer in George’s classroom for the last two years. She knows him, and she seems to like him. He seems to like her.

I am really hoping she will be our Lucky Number Six.

Running Through The Fields On A Summers Day

20 Jun

My next half-marathon, which takes place a month from now, will involve a variety of running surfaces. The route will take runners along trails, on the streets, through a tunnel going under the highway, and through a number of fields in the farming community hosting the run.

Training for this event is proving to be interesting. For one thing, I have to do my training runs on a mix of terrains – easier said than done, for someone who lives in a definitively urban area. But still, there are ways and means, and I’ve been trying to incorporate the trails in our local parks into my routes.

The bigger challenge for me is the fact that this race is happening on July 17th, in other words, slap-bang in the middle of summer. Although I hail from sunny climes, and probably have more endurance for hot-weather running than most North American runners, I’m not a complete masochist, and still opt to run in cooler conditions where possible.

But this race, taking place at a time of year when the mercury is already hitting 30° Celsius by eight in the morning, is forcing me to change my usual training strategy. Because where I would usually go running at 5:00 a.m., I am now looking for opportunities to run later in the day, when it’s warmer. It’s all about acclimatization. When race day rolls around, I don’t want to be the weasel who cannot handle running in the heat. I want to be the one who runs strongly throughout.

And that is why I voluntarily headed out for a 16km  run shortly after lunchtime on Saturday. It was hot. Blisteringly. Although the actual temperature was only 19° Celsius, the humidity reading was pushing it up to the mid-thirties. Although this would never have potential to be a run I would describe as “pleasant”, the heat in itself was not the whole problem. I had not fueled myself properly for the run. More importantly, I had not hydrated myself. So not only was I hot, I was intensely thirsty as well, and I just didn’t have the energy stores I needed.

After 6km I gave up, and decided to do the long run the following morning when it was cooler. Usually I would hate the idea of cutting a run short, but since I had initially intended to run on Sunday anyway, I felt OK about it. I just chalked this up as a bonus 6km run.

When I got home I looked at my training schedule and saw that I wasn’t even supposed to do 16km this weekend. I was only supposed to do 10km. If I’d realized that I would have stuck out my Saturday run for the full 10km.

Maybe next time I will consult my training schedule before I hit the road.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stamargo/4894061863/)

Why I Can’t Eat Mangoes Even Though They’re Yummy

14 Jun

Whenever I’m at the grocery store with George, the first thing we have to do is get a pineapple. In the earlier days of the pineapple obsession, he would take the pineapple home and stick Mr. Potato Head parts into it. He doesn’t do that anymore. He just likes having a pineapple to carry around.

Weird, I know, Other people’s kids carry cuddly teddy-bears around. My son carts around a piece of fruit that could take someone’s eye out.

Anyway, a couple of days ago when we went shopping, I allowed him to pick up the obligatory pineapple. And because fair is fair, I had to allow James to select some fruit as well.

“I want a big, juicy mango,” said James.

No, no, no, no, NOOOOOOOO.

Much to James’ chagrin, I cannot let mangoes into my house. I’m afraid of them. I won’t even walk past them in the grocery store.

“Anything but mangoes,” I said to James, who sulkily selected some pears instead.

I was never really exposed to mangoes until I went to Israel in the early 1990’s. When I had been in Israel for almost a year, I found myself working for a farmer in the Golan Heights, right in the north. For several months, I was a real farm-girl, doing real farm work. I would be up and in the fields by four in the morning, driving my tractor, spraying crops with pesticide, repairing irrigation systems, hanging bananas, you name it.

The pay wasn’t great and the hours were long, but my employer treated me and his other farmhand well, kept us stocked with beer, and allowed us to knock off at lunchtime on Fridays. Best of all, he allowed us free rein to eat the crops we farmed whenever we liked. As a result, most of our breaks were taken under the trees with mango juice dripping from our fingers as we consumed the delicious fruit.

Let me pause for a moment to say that Israel produces fantastic mangoes. They are big and juicy, and oh-so-sweet-and-delicious.

One frightening day, however, my mango-eating heyday had to come to a screeching halt.

On the morning of that fateful day, I noticed a strange-looking mark on my wrist. It was roughly oblong, and looked a bit like a railway track. It was as itchy as hell. I didn’t think anything of it: me and my fellow farmhand, Alan, were always getting cuts and scrapes without really noticing. So I ignored the mark and went on my merry, crop-spraying, mango-eating way.

That night I felt a little under the weather – that feeling you get when you’re coming down with a cold. Assuming that I was, indeed, coming down with a cold, I took some headache pills and went to bed early.

I woke up with a jolt at about midnight, with the nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right. It didn’t take me long to figure out the problem: I wasn’t breathing. No matter how I tried to expand my lungs, I just couldn’t get any air past my larynx. And so, perhaps understandably, I started to panic.

I realized that somehow, I had to get the attention of Alan, my coworker and room-mate. I would have screamed, only this would have required me to draw breath and that was a problem. So I did the only thing I could think of: I raised my fist and pounded on the wall.

I was aware of Alan stirring and groggily using some colourful language. My persistent banging forced him to get up, though, and he only had to look at me once to realize that something was seriously wrong.

What happened next is a blur, but I know involved a lot of frantic rushing around and a trip to the hospital, where I was diagnosed with a serious and potentially life-threatening allergy to mangoes. I was treated and released the following day, and given a life-long ban on anything to do with mangoes.

I cannot eat them. I cannot touch them – those marks on my skin turned out to be burn marks from mango juice. I cannot even inhabit the same airspace as them, because inhaling their scent can be as bad for me as actually eating them.

Giving up mangoes was tough. Not only the fruit, but the fields. All of a sudden, I was deprived of the fields full of mango trees, with their mixture of hot sunshine and cool shade and of course, the fruits themselves. And I was banished to the banana plantations, with the oppressive overhead leaf coverage, the scorpions hiding in the bunches of bananas, and the fact that the bananas weren’t ripe.

And the fact that twenty years later, I would have to deal with a whining child who couldn’t get a mango in a grocery store.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/digital1/3060425819)