Tag Archives: appreciation


15 Feb

A life can change in the blink of an eye. A missed subway train, time spent looking for car keys, spending ninety seconds to finish the chapter of a book. A fifteen second delay, a chance look at a piece of garbage, a single step in a particular direction. You never know what your “thing” will be – that seemingly insignificant event that ends up changing, taking, or saving your life.

One day just before Christmas, my husband was delayed by about fifteen seconds when leaving a coffee shop. Those fifteen seconds saved his life. Because if he had left on schedule, he would have been right in the path of a car that unexpectedly lost control on the highway.

Many years ago, when my life was in tatters, I accidentally glanced at a piece of scrap paper before tossing it into the garbage can. The advertisement on the piece of paper ultimately led to me travelling to Israel in a trip that changed the course of my life.

Two weeks ago, my aunt took her dogs for a walk. It was a warm sunny day, and she was happy. When she saw a car approaching, she took a single step to avoid it. If she had stepped in one direction, who knows what would have happened? But she stepped in the other direction, and within seconds she was dead.

Life takes us in very unexpected directions. We find that things don’t always happen according to plan. We realize that fate or coincidence – depending on your beliefs – has given us a reprieve, a second shot at life. We suddenly find ourselves winging our way from this world to the next.

We cannot prepare for everything that life throws at us. We can plan for old age, but there’s no guarantee that we will get there, or that our plans will work out if we do. We can resolve to make amends with someone “tomorrow”, only to discover that tomorrow did not come for that person.

There is a message in all of this:

Live your life to be happy because you don’t know how much of it you have.

Love your friends and family hard because things could change at any instant.

Don’t let the sun set on an argument. For some people, it will not rise again.

Take a chance now and then. Don’t grow old regretting opportunities that were missed.

Live for the moment – this moment – because you don’t know what will happen in the next.

10 Useful Skills For Autism Parents

23 Jan

Autism parents frequently have to do things that other parents don’t. Our kids are so different, what with their limited communication skills, their sensory challenges, and at times, their superhuman physical strength. It is impossible to parent a child with autism in the same way you would parent a typical child (which means that when you have both an autie and a typical child you have to adopt two different parenting styles, but that’s another post for another day).

In the beginning, it’s hard, knowing what to do. And in a way, it never really gets any easier. But there are things I have learned from experience, that are now second nature. Here are ten of my favourites.

  1. Drywall repair. Many auties, my son included, are headbangers. They may bang their heads out of anger or frustration, or simply to get attention. And then they bang their heads, they don’t mess around. They give the wall a good solid WHUMP that’s enough to make the room shake. The drywall invariably takes some punishment. The inside of my house looks a bit like a pitted golf ball, and there are places where the impact of my son’s head has caused actual holes – big, gaping holes.
  2. Mixed Martial Arts. My husband likes to watch Ultimate Fighter on TV, and although I don’t watch it myself, I have absorbed some of it through osmosis. This has proved invaluable in times when my son has had a meltdown. When most kids have meltdowns, they simply lose their tempers. When auties have meltdowns, they thrash on the floor, bash their heads on the closest hard surface, and can risk hurting themselves quite badly. Even as they are kicking and screaming, they have to be kept safe. Hence the MMA skills. I have become quite the expert at using my bodyweight to restrain my son from hurting himself. The difference between me and the Ultimate Fighter guys, of course, is that I try to avoid causing pain, I don’t get paid big money for my efforts, and I have a mental age that’s higher than my shoe size.
  3. Dishwasher Racing. My son hates – and I mean hates – for the dishwasher to be open. Anytime I have to unload it and repack it, I have to deal with this kid repeatedly – and with increasing volume – telling me to close the dishwasher. He plants his bum on the kitchen floor, right in front of the sink, so I cannot get to the dishes. Sometimes I actually have to slide him out of the way. I have taken to setting the oven timer whenever I start doing dishwasher stuff, and the idea that he can visually see how long it will take does seem to soothe him. But God help me if the dishwasher is not packed, closed and switched on by the time the timer expires.
  4. Stealth Hair Cutting. My son, like many other kids, dislikes haircuts. But he doesn’t dislike haircuts in the same way most other kids dislike haircuts. He dislikes haircuts in the same way most people dislike having a kidney forcibly removed while fully conscious and able to feel pain. Rather than risk traumatizing my child, I give him haircuts while he is sleeping. This involves a lot of patience, as I have to wait until he is very asleep. If he’s not asleep enough, he will wake up as soon as I touch his hair and he will scream loudly enough to startle the llamas in Peru. I have to creep around in the dark like a burglar, and sometimes it takes several nights to get the job done.
  5. Mediation. OK, this is a skill that any parent with more than one child has to learn. But when one child has autism and the other doesn’t, you have to raise your mediation skills to a whole new level. It’s a bit like trying to sort out a dispute between one person who only speaks Zulu and another person who only speaks Icelandic, when you only speak Pig Latin.
  6. Jumping Through Hoops Of Fire That Are Constantly Moving. OK, that may be a slight exaggeration. But dealing with school boards can really feel that way when special needs concerns are brought into the mix. I am getting really good at making suggestions to teachers and therapists that are phrased in a way that makes it sound like it was their idea. If it gets what my son needs, I really don’t care who gets the credit for it.
  7. Improv. If I had a dollar for every time a random stranger made a stupid remark about my son needing “a good hiding” or “proper discipline”, I’d have enough for a five-star trip to New Zealand, including flights, hotels, meals, and a Lord Of The Rings tour. I have learned the art of the Quick Comeback. If someone is being rude and intrusive while my son is having a hard time, I am no longer shy about saying things like, “My child has autism – what’s your excuse?”
  8. Distraction. This is a concept that most autism parents are well aware of. Sometimes I can just tell that a meltdown is just around the corner, and I want to do everything in my power to head it off at the pass. I get favoured activities or treats within arms’ reach, try to stop or somehow control whatever is winding him up, talk to him, sing to him, throw out mental arithmetic problems at him (the kid’s like Baby Rain Man with numbers – what can I say?) I have about fifty-fifty success with my efforts – but I will take that over ninety-ten in favour of the meltdown.
  9. Planning for Change. If there’s one word that makes autism parents everywhere tremble with fear, it’s change. Our kids don’t do well with change. They like the same places, the same people, the same routines. When we go on vacations, we have to take most of our family’s belongings with us so that we can replicate our home environment as closely as possible. Every summer, we put together social stories in preparation for the new school year, that include pictures of the new teacher and classroom, and we take our son to the school so he can get used to – or stay used to – playing in the playground there. I contingency-planned my wedding like it was going out of style – and all of those efforts paid off.
  10. Appreciating the Little Things. Where an autism parent is concerned, there is no such thing as a small accomplishment. All achievements, ranging from new words added to the vocabulary to giant cognitive leaps, are causes for celebration. As the parent of a child with autism, I have really learned how to smell the roses. Life is full of challenges for me and my family. But every single day is a blessing, and every single night, when I kiss my children goodnight, I am grateful for the people they are. And no matter how hard the day has been, I feel like the richest person on the planet.

Thank you for being there

1 Apr

Every now and then I have a run that is so great that I do a happy dance at the end of it.  I mean that quite literally – I stand in my driveway and do this weird little hoppity-hop thing that I’m sure makes the neighbours more than a little perplexed.  I had been looking forward to this yesterday’s run since the weekend.  I am currently enjoying some time off from work, so instead of dragging myself out into the dark at 5:00 a.m. yesterday, I was able to wake up at my leisure, get the kids safely off to their respective places, and hit the road at about 9:00 a.m.

I woke up feeling a little rough.  Although I had a reasonable amount of sleep the previous night – meaning I got more than six hours – half the night was spent on the sleeper couch with James, who had woken up feeling lonely (quick diversion: I want my kids to know that they can come to me at any time of the day or night. There are people who believe co-sleeping with their children is a Very Bad Thing.  I am not one of these people).  Here’s the thing about the sleeper couch: it ruins my back.  When I sleep there I wake up feeling as if someone has spent the night pounding on the back of my neck with a rubber mallet.  However, I was determined to go running – I am a bit weird that way, once went for an eight-kilometre run with a sprained ankle – so I did some stretches, laced up my shoes and went out.

It was only 5km, but it was a really fantastic run.  For the first time since returning from my illness/injury, I actually beat my virtual partner.  Maybe I should explain the virtual partner.  A few months ago I upgraded my training watch to one that has GPS.  The new training watch has a feature that allows you to set a target pace per kilometre, and throughout the run you can visually see how you’re performing compared with the target pace.  The virtual partner “runs” at the target pace.  Since recovering from my illness I have been consistently running fifteen to thirty seconds per kilometre behind the virtual partner.  I have been OK with that – I have, after all, been in recovery mode.  Today, though, I finished my run several seconds ahead of pace.  The psychological boost I felt from that was tremendous.

Yesterday’s run was part of what is turning out to be a phenomenal week.  On Tuesday, I had my first consultation with Brandon, my holistic lifestyle coach.  Under his guidance, I am going to take steps to get my life in balance.  It will have a positive impact on all areas of my life – parenting, running, work, my relationship with Gerard.  I feel as if I have entered a new positive phase of my life.  I also have a maid of honour for my wedding!  There are no words to describe how amazing my friend Michelle is.  What started as a simple car-pooling arrangement has turned into a deep friendship, and it will truly be an honour to have her standing beside me when I get married.  My friend Jenny also deserves a special mention.  She has been my best friend since we were both ten.  She has put up with all kinds of crap from me, seen me through some very intense crises, and just been there for me no matter what.  The fact that she lives on the other side of the world to me has not lessened our friendship one bit.  And because distance will prevent her from being here for my wedding in person, I know that she will be here in every other sense.  She will be as involved as she can be in the planning of the wedding – thanks to the joys of the Internet.

Yesterday I went to the airport to pick up my friend Fran.  Fran is a South African who moved to Vancouver (well, an hour outside of Vancouver) a few months ago.  I have known her for years, and have not seen her for a long time.  She is staying with me for a few days: we are planning to hang out, relax, have fun, go running together (even a race on Saturday!), and gossip about people we both used to spend a lot of time with.

In talking about these people – my family, my friends, people like Brandon who are helping me in a professional capacity – I realize just how blessed I am.  I am surrounded by really incredible people.  I am very lucky, and I hope I can always remember that when things get rough.  And I want to say to these people – Gerard, my boys, my Mom, my late Dad, my biological parents who did such an amazing unselfish thing to give me a better life forty years ago, my wonderful, wonderful friends, everyone who touches my life in such a special way – thank you for being you.  Thank you for being there.