Tag Archives: James

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.)

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Autism Through A Child’s Eyes

8 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 8 – Best conversation I had this week: Try writing script-style (or with dialogue) today to recap an awesome conversation you had this week.

I’m not much of a person for conversations. I suffer from social anxiety, so talking is difficult. I tend to be more comfortable finding my voice in the form of the written word.

Obviously, this is less of a problem when I am among friends and family. I am married to a man who, in addition to having a totally off-the-wall sense of humour, has no “inside voice”. The conversations I have with him range from the baffling to the downright hilarious.

I also have some great conversations with my younger son, James. For a six-year-old, his vocabulary is astounding, and his imagination knows no bounds. He weaves in and out of topics at will, and you can never tell where the conversation will go next. One moment he seems to be wise beyond his years; the next, we are reminded that he is still a kid finding his way in this world.

A few days ago, we had this conversation while I was cooking dinner:

James: Mommy, can you buy me a water gun?
Me: Why do you want a water gun?
James: So I can spray Granny on the nose.
Me (after snarfing on my coffee): Why do you want to do that?
James: Because her nose is dry and that means she’s sick. Roger (a classmate) said so.
Me: Roger said that Granny is sick if her nose is dry?
James (looking at me as if I’m nuts): No. He was talking about his dog.
Me: Ummmm, James? Dogs and people aren’t the same. Granny’s nose is fine.
James: I think Roger’s dog has autism.
Me: What makes you think that?
James: He doesn’t talk and he knocks down Roger’s Lego towers. It’s not his fault, though. He doesn’t know what he’s doing because he has autism.
Me: James, that’s just the way dogs are. Dogs don’t have autism.
James: How do you know?
Me: Ermmmmm (thinking: the kid has a point)
James: Mommy?
Me (wondering about James’ sudden sombreness): Yes, buddy?
James: Will George always have autism?
Me: Yes, baby, he will. Autism is not something he can grow out of.

I want to pause this account briefly to say that where autism discussions with James are concerned, I find that honesty is the best policy. I don’t try to sugar-coat anything, and I answer questions without elaboration. This approach seems to be the one that works best with James.

James: That’s OK. I love him.
Me: I know you do. And he loves you too.
James: Yeah! Mommy?
Me: Yes?
James: Will George die from autism?
Me: No, people cannot die from autism. We just have to make sure we keep him safe.
James: It’s OK, Mommy. I’ll take care of him.

Yes, I cried.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

The New Runner’s First Race

21 Nov

It was a magical moment…

My son James, who is all of five years old, stood beside me at the start line of his first-ever race. He wore his newly acquired official race T-shirt and proudly sported the number 857. I went over some basic rules with him one last time. Look where you’re going, not at me – I will be right beside you. Go at the speed that’s comfortable for you, without worrying about what everyone else is doing. Most important, have fun. He added a rule of his own: keep your eyes open at all times. Sounded perfectly reasonable to me.

And then, with the blast of the starter’s siren, 41 kids started their 1km race. The vision of 41 little pairs of legs dashing off down the road was the cutest sight ever. Many parents ran alongside their kids, myself included. At first, James had a little trouble focusing and I had to keep telling him to look where he was going. Once his attention was on the road ahead, the kid took off like a shot. I almost choked on his dust.

Throughout the 1km, James was weaving a path for himself, overtaking other kids. From time to time he slowed to a walk for a few seconds, and then he’d be off again. He started to tire in the last two hundred metres or so, but by then he could see the finish line, and in the spirit of a true runner, he kept going and finished the race at a sprint. The smile on his face as he received his finishers’ medal could have split his face in two. He was immensely proud of himself, and rightly so.

He finished in a time of 7:06, coming in 23rd out of 41 kids. Pretty darned good for a five-year-old running his first race.

Then it was my turn. James joined his dad and I lined up at the start for my 10K race. I didn’t really expect anything from this race. My running has been somewhat sporadic lately, and I hadn’t bothered to train for this race. I was approaching it more as a fun run than anything else.

Fun run or no, 10K is still 10K, so I was a little alarmed when I ran my first kilometre in 6:10 – way too fast considering that I was aiming for a ballpark average of 6:30 minutes per kilometre. If I kept going at the pace I started at, I would burn myself out somewhere around the halfway point. I tried to rein myself in to a 6:30 pace, and ended up having a conversation with my legs that went something like this:

Me: Legs, you’re going too fast. Slow down.
Legs: What do you mean, slow down? It’s a race.
Me: If you keep going at this rate, you’re going to conk out in the seventh kilometre.
Legs: But I feel gooooood. And look, you’re already in the fourth kilometre and you’re doing just fine.
Me: Hmmmm, you make a good point. We’re almost halfway already.
Legs: So will you please chill out and let me do my job?
Me: OK, go!

During the eight kilometre the wind came up strongly and I started to tire.

“Told you so,” I said to my legs, that had slowed down considerably.

“Shut up,” they replied, picking up the pace again.

With about 400 metres to go, I was spent. I was on the verge of just packing it in and walking the rest of the way, but standing on the corner, cheering me on, I saw my husband and son. If James could do it, so can I, I thought. I dug deep and kept going, and all of a sudden I was crossing the finish line amid cheers and applause.

In the end, my legs turned out to be right. My time was 1:02:54, which pretty much squashed my previous personal best (1:05:25).

The biggest triumph of the day? Being there for my son’s first-ever race. You can run half-marathons and marathons, set personal best times and win medals. But is there any greater honour that can be bestowed on a runner than to witness and be a part of the emergence of a brand new runner?

To Serve And Protect

10 Nov

This morning, I got up extra-early – despite my body screaming at me in protest at being yanked out of bed at such an ungodly hour – and went to the gym. It was so early that, even with the recent time change that gives us an extra hour of daylight in the mornings, it was pitch-dark.

My drive to the gym was uneventful. It usually is. There’s not really a lot that can happen during a two-minute drive. By the time I got there the parking lot was already about half-full. I parked the car, grabbed my bag and got out. When I turned around I was surprised to find myself face-to-face with a large policeman who was standing beside his cruiser.

“Good morning!” he said.

I looked blankly around me for a few seconds before concluding that since no-one else was in the parking lot, the policeman was talking to me.

“Hi!” I said brightly. Remember that “bright” can be a relative term. It was just a smidgeon after five in the morning.

“This your car?” he asked.

Again, I looked around, this time at the other cars in the parking lot. Gesturing stupidly at my old Chevy van, I said, “This one?” as if the policemen could have been referring to any of the other fifteen cars that I had just gotten out of.

“Yes,” said the policeman, without showing any trace of impatience. He probably encounters a lot of dimwits early in the morning.

Cripes, I thought suddenly. Does he think I stole the car?

I assured the policeman of my status as the car’s rightful owner, and the conversation that ensued was very boring. It involved a headlight that was out, a promise (on my part) that it would be taken care of right away, and an assurance (on his part) that he would not write me up for the $110 ticket.

Coincidentally, when I was riding the subway to work about ninety minutes later, the pair of men sitting across from me were talking about the evil entity that is the police force. From what I could glean, one of them had received a speeding ticket over the weekend and was now fighting it. This story led to a rant about how policemen as a breed are awful money-grabbers who are rude to the public and never do anything useful.

As I listened to this, I thought back to my earlier encounter. The policeman had been very nice to me, even though I was displaying the intelligence of a dead tulip. Technically, he would have been within his rights to give me a ticket; instead, he had done me the service of telling me – helpfully and non-confrontationally – that my headlight needed fixing.

This all makes me think back to a day about two years ago when I was at our local coffee shop with James, who was then almost four. My two boys had been playing the back yard, and George had pushed James into a brick wall. James had ended up with a bleeding face and more than a few tears, so I left George with my mother-in-law and took James out for a donut.

We sat next to a window in the coffee shop, James proudly sporting the gauze patch on his cheek. When a police cruiser parked outside, James waved enthusiastically at the policeman, who waved back cheerfully. When the policeman entered the coffee shop, he came right up to our table and started chatting with James. He introduced himself as Larry, told James about his own little boy who was about the same age, and on James’ request, he took James outside to look at the police car. He capped off the exchange by pulling a Thomas the Train sticker out of his pocket and putting it onto the gauze patch.

James thought Christmas had come early that day. He spoke about Larry the policeman for weeks, and a couple of years later, he still remembers him. What I remember of that day is that a police officer took the time to speak to a child. He instilled in my son the idea that the police are there for the community, and that they are trusted sources of help.

There are exceptions, of course. There are the policemen who will  be rude and arrogant, and who will power-trip you right into the middle of next week. But it is important to note that the exceptions are just that – exceptions. It seems a bit harsh to diss the entire police force based on the actions of a few of its members.

I want my children to know that if they are ever in trouble, they can go to the police, and the police will help them.

I am truly grateful for everything the police do. These people, who willingly put themselves in dangerous situations in order to protect their communities, are heroes.

(Photo credit to grainger. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

Autism Brothers

8 Nov

Sometimes, when you’re five years old and your big brother has autism, life just isn’t fair.

This weekend I spent a lot of time worrying about my son James. The worrying was prompted by reports from his before- and after-school program that he’s been acting up and is “always in trouble.” Initially, my husband and I put this down to James’ independent nature. He is a strong-willed child who is currently going through a phase of pressing other peoples’ buttons and seeing how far he can go.

But my gut instinct is telling me that I shouldn’t be giving James a hard time about his behaviour in the program – at least, not yet. Not until I have had a meeting with the program administrators to get a clearer picture. I have this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that there is something else going on here, something that might be making my baby unhappy.

About six weeks ago, we went through a decluttering blitz at my house. We got rid of toys and clothing that the boys had outgrown, and we threw out stuff of our own that has been lurking in boxes in our basement since Noah built the ark. One of the items we found was a calendar from a Chinese restaurant. It has the entire year on one long piece of fabricky-type stuff that rolls up like a mini-blind. James was fascinated with this thing and asked if he could have it. I said yes, and passed it over.

Last week while James was playing with the calendar, George kept grabbing at it and saying, “Mine!” James was getting upset because George was bugging him, and George was getting upset because he wasn’t getting the calendar. The situation escalated to the point of George having a meltdown and trying to headbutt James. And in order to stop George from going off the deep end, my husband took the calendar from James and gave it to George.

James was devastated. He sobbed his little heart out. It was bedtime anyway, so I carried him to his bed, lay down beside him, and held him tight. My own heart felt like it was breaking.

James didn’t see that my husband had been trying to stop a bad situation from going completely out of control. He just saw that we had taken away something that belonged to him, and given it to George.

There have been other times when George has gotten what James must perceive to be preferential treatment. We have to make allowances for George’s tolerances and levels of understanding. When James gets a timeout, he understands that he is being punished for something. This is completely lost on George: consequently, George never gets timeouts. We have different expectations of the two boys where it comes to sharing their toys with each other. Sometimes, family outings have to be cut short because George is not coping.

I cannot help asking myself: is it any wonder that James is trying too hard to assert himself in an environment other than home? Could it be that his perceived lack of control within his family is leading him to try and establish it elsewhere?

I try hard to make it up to James in other ways, but I wonder if I am doing enough. My mind keeps coming back to the idea that this poor kid probably doesn’t even have faith that his toys will remain his own. I worry about whether we are expecting James to have more coping ability than he is developmentally capable of.

It is clear to me and my husband that James loves his brother. He is always – with increasing success- trying to get George to play with him. When George is being reprimanded for something, James is standing up for him. And sometimes, when James wakes up from a bad dream in the middle of the night, he crawls into bed with his big brother and the two boys snuggle up to each other.

As much as they love each other, though, it seems to me that at times, the happiness of one has to be sacrificed for the needs of the other.

And that just isn’t fair.

(Photo credit to the author)

Three Generations Of Runners

2 Nov

James preparing for his first run

One of the best races I ever ran was my first-ever 10K event starting at Mel Lastman Square, on the northern fringes of Toronto. This was back in 2001, before my long hiatus from the running scene. The run was called the Ismaeli Run For Charity, and although it was a small event with only 300 or so runners, it was festive and well-organized. This particular race stands out in my memory not because of the run itself (I actually remember it being a very hard run: race day coincided with the start of an intense heatwave in Toronto), but because my dad was there. It is the only time my dad got to send me off at a start line and cheer me on as I crossed the finish.

Dad played a pivotal role in my running. Having been a top-class marathoner in his youth, he became my mentor when I first took up running, way back in 1996.  He gave me advice on everything from race-day strategy to the importance of having the right socks. He showed me how to tackle hills and demonstrated how incorrectly laced shoes can make your feet hurt. He advised me not to rely too much on technology in my training, pointing that in his youth, the only tool a runner really had was his own body. He told countless stories of the races he had run and the people he had encountered on the way.

He was immensely proud when I started running. Passing on his stories and his wisdom to me meant a lot to him, and the day he stood waiting for me at the finish line was absolutely momentous.

Now, I get to pass on the legacy as a third generation is added to the line of runners. My son James, who is all of five years old, has been taking an interest in my running for the last year or so. He wishes me well as I set out for my long runs, and stretches with me when I get back. He fussily makes sure I have enough water to drink, and for some time, he has been talking about going running with me “one day”.

Recently, when I registered for the upcoming 10K event at the Whitby Waterfront Races, James asked if he could be in the race too. Deciding that he was ready, I registered him for the 1K kiddies event. And this weekend, his dream of going running with me came true as I took him out for his first real run.

I did not have any real expectation for the run. I just wanted to see how James would do over a full kilometre, and more importantly, I wanted to get a sense of whether he would really enjoy it. I made it clear to him that he could stop anytime he wanted, and that he didn’t have to do it in the first place unless he was sure. This earned me an eye-roll so intense that I thought his eyes would fall out of his head, and he said impatiently, “Mom-meeeee! Can we please go now?”

I needn’t have worried. Although he briefly slowed to a walk three or four times, he ran the kilometre I had measured out with no trouble. I marvelled at his natural form as his body just fell into the posture and rhythm that articles in running magazines are always saying we should adopt.

I also needn’t have worried about whether he would enjoy it. He loved it. He wants to go again, and as the day of his first race approaches, he is getting more and more excited.

I realize that anything could happen: the kid is only five and he could lose interest tomorrow. But by all appearances, he is really interested in running being a part of his life, and what I do as a parent could either cement that or dissipate it. I feel that I am witnessing the emergence of a new runner: a runner who I get the privilege of nurturing and mentoring, just as my dad did for me.

I feel that in guiding my son, I am a part of something big, something special, and something that I consider to be a great honour.

I only wish my dad could see this. Who knows? Maybe he can.

Welcome, James to the world of running. I hope you choose to stay here, and if you do, I hope we get to run many miles together.

(Photo credit to the author)

Sleep Interrupted

18 Jul

Sleep – or lack thereof – has been a big issue in my life lately. I’ve never really been one to sleep for long stretches, and particularly since entering the world of motherhood, I consider six hours to be a good night’s sleep. But these days, even getting that amount of shut-eye is a challenge. There are a number of reasons for the recent sleep deficit, ranging from a run of kids’  tummy bugs to the fact that I’m an occasional insomniac.

Saturday night was particularly brutal. I went to bed early enough, because I was planning a long run early on Sunday morning. The kids were asleep, and James, who had been afflicted with a tummy bug, seemed to be on the mend.

At about midnight, when I had barely been asleep for half an hour, I woke to the sound of James crying his little heart out. My husband and I went to investigate, only to discover that the poor child had had a tummy-bug related accident. I whisked James off to the bathroom to clean him up and comfort him; my husband took care of changing the sheets and throwing soiled sheets and pajamas into the washing machine. James, bless his precious little soul, kept apologizing, even though I assured him that it was OK.

We got James settled and went back to bed. By the time I got back to sleep it was well after 1:00 a.m. A couple of hours later, I was roused to consciousness by a light tugging at my arm. I squinted in the darkness and saw James standing beside my bed. He took my hand, wordlessly led me to his bed, and plaintively asked me to stay with him. How could I refuse, right? So I climbed in and got settled, and James promptly threw up all over me.

As quietly as I could, I got James and myself cleaned up, threw yet another load of sheets and PJ’s into the washing machine, and having run of clean sheets, settled the two of us on the futon in our living room.

We went to sleep, and until about 4:00 a.m., I slept the sleep of the just.

At that point, George started to feel lonely, so he abandoned his bed and went in search of me. His first stop was my own bed, where he apparently found his Dad alone, and woke him up just to say, in a tone riddled with indignation, “You’re not Mommy.” Then he found me on the futon and squeezed in beside me.

There is not enough room on the futon for me and two long, lanky kids, both of whom sleep splayed out like starfish. But my discomfort was outweighed by the fact that I had my boys, one on either side of me. And so I (sleeplessly) passed the rest of the witching hours squished between my two gently snoring kids, with elbows and knees poking into my back, and my head bent at an uncomfortable angle.

Eventually, I gave up on the idea of sleep. I made coffee and drank some, and then, with my body screaming in protest, I went out for a 12km run.

It was not a good run, except in the sense that I actually finished it. By seven in the morning it was already scorching hot, I was not properly hydrated and above all, my body was utterly exhausted.

And because I love being there for my kids whenever they need me, at any time of the day or night, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/doortoriver/2903845014/)