My Little Lioness

lion_cubWhen you get down to it, there isn’t much in the world that can put out the fire in little Jill’s heart. She has a smile that would melt the frozen tundra, and somehow she manages to be both delicate and strong. Within her tiny frame, all 3 and a half feet of her, is the spirit of a lioness.

Jill has a love of horses.

Although she already spends her days at a farm, she would stay there all night, too, if she could. She would probably curl up in some clean corner of a stall, not far away from one of her four legged friends, if we but turned our back on her for long enough.

Last year, a few months after she started attending therapy at the farm, she made friends with a pretty little white pony, named Crystal.

Crystal has a love for her human friends that shines as bright as Jill’s smile. She is a “hog” for attention, and is just the right size for little Jill. With her therapist walking at her side one day, Jill rode Crystal around the field of tall grasses, and around the old cottage at the foot of the driveway, and around the decrepit old shed that is overgrown with ivy and other vines.

Jill’s father and I were chatting with the mom of another little boy who attended therapy there, talking animatedly about how we were going to haul the family away right after Jill’s therapy session, for a blissful weekend of camping at French Beach. Jill and her little brother Jack were excited to go, too. They were looking forward to playing with their glowsticks in a darkened tent, and getting filthy and not having to shower for a whole three days.

So, the smile that we had on our faces as we turned toward the sound belied the intensity of the bloodcurdling shriek that came from the direction of the ivy-covered shed. We looked in that direction, naturally concerned, but stayed where we were. It sounded for all the world like a typical meltdown, and we knew full well the therapist could handle it.

Call us callous, but we’re used to the meltdowns, and we know when we can let others deal with it. Before long, however, we saw the therapist walking back up the driveway with Jill in her arms, still in the middle of a full on screaming meltdown.

We had to shout to be heard over Jill. Still, we managed to ferret out the gist of what had happened- as she was riding along on Crystal, a fern wrapped itself around Jill’s arm, setting off her sensory issues. She started screaming and crying, and launched herself off the pony and onto the unsuspecting therapist, who wasn’t prepared to catch her. Although we didn’t know it then, Jill had broken her arm by landing on her therapist.

Since we had all our worldly goods stowed in the back of our van, in preparation for a weekend away, we also had some children’s Tylenol. Without really knowing why, but figuring it would take away the inevitable headache that results from your run of the mill Epic Meltdown, we laced her thoroughly with it. Also figuring it would sort itself out before long, we ended the session, carefully bundled the kids into the car, and headed to French Beach anyway.

Alas, we got there to find out our reservation hadn’t “stuck”… our spot had been given away, and so had all the others. So, as we turned back home, we had two kids melting down in the back of the van. Jack was new to the whole thing, but he knew he was missing out. As for Jill, there wasn’t much that could tear her away from the idea of camping for a whole weekend. Having to turn around when she could see the trees and the other kids playing was as close to the Apocalypse as you could get.

It wasn’t until the next day, when we realized Jill couldn’t lift her arm without screaming bloody murder, that we knew something was actually wrong. After spending half a day in the hospital to get the verdict, my partner and I were ready to throw in the towel.

“I guess we’ll have to stay home this weekend,” I said, heaving a sigh.

Jill, her arm already in a sling, issued an emphatic “no”, in her own way; to wit, crying and wailing about how she still wanted to go camping.

We did go, after all. It wasn’t to French Beach, but rather to Saltspring Island- the only place we could find a spot, but also the best place we could have ever landed. Throughout that weekend, I watched my little girl play, almost as if nothing was wrong. She couldn’t lift her arm, or put weight on it, however, which meant she couldn’t climb or help us carry things. She did get good and dirty, though. I don’t think there was a single spot on her that was still clean by the end of the weekend. She gloried in all the dirt, and did her level best to take most of it home with her by wearing it.

When we came home, all exhausted and sunburned but oddly happy in spite of all things, I fully expected our little city-bred farm girl to tell me she wanted nothing to do with horses anymore. After all, she did break her arm jumping off of one. Between the three of us, her therapist and my partner and I, we hoped we could at least talk her into attending her sessions at the farm, even if she didn’t want to be near the horses. There was even mention of letting her choose which horse or pony she wanted to ride, out of all of them.

Now, Crystal doesn’t stand very tall. On my 5’8” frame, her head might come to my shoulders. She is not the smallest on the farm by a long shot, but neither is she the biggest. The biggest horse there, in fact, is a Percheron gelding by the name of Viktor. His withers are just about level with the top of my head; he is perhaps twice as tall as Crystal, and at least three times as big, overall…

And my daughter wanted to ride him.

The very next Friday she sat astride the huge horse, looking not much bigger than a Lego figurine on his back. She sported her bright pink riding helmet, a dark blue arm sling, and a proud smile to put the sun to shame.

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The Flat-Packed Life

build-all-the-ikea-furnitureI’ve heard it said, once, that building a life is a lot like building a fine piece of furniture.

I can’t remember who said it, but I would really love to smack that person.

I can only think they must have been talking about building a life without children, or the limitations that come with illness of any sort, or financial hardship. They certainly weren’t talking about raising multiple children with special needs, on a very restricted income, while trying desperately to cobble together something of a career. That effort is like constructing the Taj Mahal out of popsicle sticks and white glue, or at least that’s what it often feels like.

Now, I’m not totally inept when it comes to building things, whether it is a piece of furniture, a child, or a life. Prior to having Jill, I researched everything “baby” like a madwoman- I took in every bit of advice I could, whether it was useful to me or not, and tucked it away in my mental filing cabinet. I learned how to do things- things like canning my own baby food, and how to get disgusting messes out of clothing. I hoarded baby gear like a… well, like a hoarder.

I came into this whole parenting thing, feeling pretty confident about showing off all my new-found awe-inspiring knowledge and devastatingly incredible supermom skills.

I was all of that, and humble too!

I was going to build that piece of fine furniture.

I was going to show it who was boss.

When the baby came along, though, all that confidence got up and left the building. As the years have gone by, it’s become increasingly obvious that my life is not going to be at all like a fine piece of furniture, hand-crafted by yours truly.

Really, it’s more like a piece of flat-packed furniture from Ikea, built with a lot of determination and swearing.

More to the point, it is like a piece of flat-packed furniture from Ikea that came with a poorly written set of instructions, an inadequate supply of screws, and dinky little tools that seriously sucked at doing what they were supposed to do.

If I have learned nothing else in my life to this point, I have learned how to make something good out of what you have got.

So, here I am, in the middle of the bits and pieces. Here I am, the instructions thrown away, cursing and swearing a blue streak, and building until I have put together a bookshelf or something that looks more or less like the one on the package. There at my feet, are the leftover screws (from the inadequate supply) that should have been up there on the project with their buddies but are somehow lying on the floor among the leftover packaging.

Instructions be damned- I’m winging it.

An Open Letter to the Lady at Tim Horton’s

being-judgemental-300x300You stood, a little to the left of the line-up, waiting for your food at the local Tim Horton’s. Well dressed, and with your hair done “just so”, you almost seemed too posh to be standing where you were. There was a scowl on your face that seemed so etched in that one would almost say it was permanent. You made no sound to anyone, but you didn’t need to: your general disdain was like a perfume whose scent you’ve become so used to that you can no longer tell how much you’ve put on.

I stood in the line with my family, 5 or 6 people back from you. We were there to treat ourselves to something nice, in an effort to shake off some of the residue of what had been a bad week. The expression on my face mirrored my partner’s: worn out, irritated and a little sad.

My daughter, thank the gods, was being on her best behaviour. She quietly eyed the display of delicious-looking cookies and donuts, knowing full well that one of them would soon be hers. This was rare for her. No, it’s not terribly rare for her to be getting a treat at one of her favourite places, but it is rare for her to be so well behaved while waiting for it.

Usually, she is one to act out the most out of the two kids.

My son, on the other hand, was determined to lie down on the dirty floor in spite of the grip I had on his hand. I must have told him to stand up, in a normal tone, about 10 times all told. He kept doing it regardless of what I said because, frankly, he can be single-minded like that. That inherent single-mindedness is not only part of being a little boy, but it’s part of being a little boy with Autism.

You wouldn’t know that he- and his sister, for that matter- was Autistic, unless you knew him well, or even just knew what some of the characteristics of Autism were.

It must have been after I had told him to stand up for the 8th time, that you turned around and looked at my son (who was still sprawled on the floor just then) with a roll of your eyes, and then shot me a dirty look. It was a look I’ve seen before, no doubt like many parents of special needs kids.

It’s the look seems to suggest I ought to discipline my child better, or maybe that I’m not a good parent.

It’s the look that asks, in silent judgement: “What’s wrong with your child?”

I ignored you then, despite wanting to tell you off for staring so rudely.

After the 10th time of wearily telling my boy to stand up and hauling him to his feet, his father chimed in, with a stern tone of voice- a command.

It was not a yell. It was not belittling or abusive. It was just a tone that brooked no argument. Our boy shot to his feet and stayed there.

That’s when your food arrived (thank god). You grabbed it off the counter, and stared at my partner and I in judgement and disdain. I didn’t say anything, but stared right back until you passed behind me.

As an Autism parent, I meet a lot of people like you- people who think that Autism is just an excuse for “bad” behaviour.

People who don’t think there’s really anything different about kids like mine, and that they should be treated- and expected to behave- like every other “normal” child out there.

People who call kids like mine retards.

People who think these kids’ “bad” behaviour is the result of bad parenting.

Your attitude, and that of many like you, is one side of a coin. On the other side are those people who believe all the clichés about Autism: that people with this disorder are always geniuses, or they have some special gift (think Rainman), or whatever.

I don’t have as hard of a time tolerating those people, no matter how irritating it can be to try to dispel the myths that have cropped up around Autism, because I know they aren’t saying them out of any disdain. It comes from a place of assumptions, but not from a place of judgement.

I can be at peace with their attitude, no matter how misguided it may be.

People like you, though, make my job as an Autism parent all the harder. As it stands, I find myself constantly having to advocate for my children’s rights and needs more than a parent of “normal” children might. Even though my kids are only 5 and 3, I have already had to stand up to quite a few ignoramuses on their behalf.

I know that my children will likely have a lifetime of dealing with bullies and people like you, simply because they don’t behave like other kids, and that truly hurts my heart.

I wish we lived in a world where people remembered that there are always two sides to a story. Things are not always the way they look on the surface.

Confessions of An Evil Parent

suspiciously-evil-sloth-meme-generator-hehehehe-all-is-according-to-plan-0229e8.jpgI had my kids by C-Section.

As I lay down in the hospital bed, carefully holding my oldest (Jill) for the first time, I was bemused and still a little addled from the morphine that they knocked me out with.

My first thought, as I looked down at this tiny little bundle that had just been literally plucked out of me, wasn’t “Wow, I’m a parent now.”

It wasn’t “Oh my god, she’s gorgeous”.

It wasn’t even “I love you”.

Really, it was more like “I’m going to apologize in advance for screwing you up royally. Your therapy is going to cost a fortune, but this is going to be so much fun!”

See, I don’t believe there is such a thing as a perfect child, and that’s in large part because I don’t believe there is such a thing as a perfect parent. We all mess up from time to time. The thing that determines just how much your child is scarred for life is both how badly you mess up and how evil you are.

Now, I’m not talking about abuse. I’m not talking about being a drug or alcohol addict with no intention getting off the substance. I’m not talking about anything that is blatantly harmful to you or your child. In my opinion, that’s not screwing up your child, it’s outright failing them.

I’m talking about the kind of thing that makes your child embarrassed to be seen with you out in public. You know: the not-so-subtle evil that only parents are truly capable of achieving.

As you may have figured out by now, I’m not a perfect person or a perfect parent. Not only that, but I pride myself in being evil.

I’ll give you an example.

One fine summer day, before there was any serious talk about having children, my man and I were out hiking an old forest here on Vancouver Island. We were bantering happily back and forth, our little bear bells jingling merrily as they dangled off our backpacks.

Being outdoorsy on this island means that having a bear bell or two… or twenty… is just plain smart. Bears are common, and therefore an encounter with one while you are hiking or camping is a very real possibility.

Anyway, back to my story.

As I walked along the trail, a little smile crept across my lips.

“You know, if we ever had a kid, they would come in pretty handy when we go out hiking,” I said to my partner.

My man, being both awesome and equally evil, naturally encouraged the obvious set-up. “Oh?” he asked. “Why is that?”

“Well, we could get them one of those little walking harnesses,” I began. “You know: the ones that look like a stuffed animal backpack, and have a leash attached? We could sew a bunch of bear bells all over it, and put it on the little tyke whenever we go out hiking. Then, all we’d have to do is give the leash a little jerk every few minutes to make the bells jingle.”

“That sounds like a great idea,” my man added. “In fact, while we are talking about scarring our future child for life, why don’t we name it Horatio Zaphod?”

The thing with the leash and the bells hasn’t happened yet. I haven’t given up on the idea- I just think it would be a lot funnier if we do it when our kids are teenagers. Especially if we’ve invited some of their friends to come along on the hike.

I all-out vetoed the name idea. I mean, I know I’m an evil parent, but that’s just plain cruel.

The Band-Aid Challenge

i_love_band_aids_round_stickers-red53d5b717c34fd3ab536312eacf0355_v9waf_8byvr_324Jack is accident prone.

He is almost never without some kind of bruise, goose egg, or cut on him somewhere. He bumps into things for no apparent reason. He trips over air. He runs into walls, and introduces his face to the pavement more often than I would like to admit to. I chalk it up to him being a little boy- after all, aren’t little boys made of bumps and bruises?

It’s a sad fact that one of the best pictures I have of my son is of him (barely 3 years old), sporting a great big smile… and a golf ball sized, angry red patch of road rash right smack-dab in the middle of his forehead.

Jack is what you might call top-heavy. Basically, that’s a nice way of saying his head is bigger- and thus, heavier- than most. As a consequence, it’s the first thing to connect when he decides he has been out of touch with the concrete for far too long.

Two days ago, he must have figured that his face really needed to get up close and personal with the gravel driveway that leads up to his preschool. I wasn’t there when it happened, but if the thumb-print size spot of dried blood on his hat is anything to go by, the introduction didn’t go too well.

It must have been a real doozy, too, because he was acting pretty concussed between the time I picked him up- which was about 30 minutes after it happened- and the time we seated ourselves in the doctor’s office. My normally sunny little boy was in a seriously crabby mood, and could hardly stay on his feet.

Basically, he was acting like a pint-sized angry drunkard.

The gash on his noggin- because my son doesn’t do anything by halves– was about 2cm long, and needed 2 Steri-Strips to close it. I actually asked the doctor to use proper stitches, because I’m well acquainted with my kids’ almost superhuman ability to separate things that shouldn’t be separated. He insisted on the Steri-Strips, though, saying that they- coupled with a bandage and some extra adhesive- “oughta do it”.

If it weren’t for the fact that he’s been our family doctor for a few years, I would almost think he has never met my children.

Indeed Jill, alone, could probably “unwrap” a box that has been covered entirely in duct tape. It might take her 10 or 15 minutes, but she’ll do it.

When we went back to the school to pick her up at the end of the day, my partner and I made a special effort to tell Jill about Jack’s “owie”, and why she shouldn’t touch the bandage on his head.

We went on at length about it.

We told her, over and over, not to touch the bandage.

Each time, she nodded and said: “Ok”.

What I think she actually meant was: “Challenge accepted.”

The Art of Having Good Manners

rude-behavior1When I was growing up, manners were everything. If you didn’t mind your P’s and Q’s, you didn’t get what you were asking for, and it was as simple as that. More than just saying please and thank you when it was appropriate, we were expected to excuse ourselves when it was called for, and say “bless you” or at least “gesundheit” whenever someone sneezed, and what have you.

My partner came from a similar household, so we do our best to instill good manners in our children- especially when we are bombarded daily with a distinct lack of courtesy: kids who demand or take something without saying please and thank you, people who let doors shut in others’ faces, and so on. It makes me wonder what the parents were doing while those kids were busy growing up.

Now, I’m not perfect. My partner is not perfect, and neither are my kids. We all slip up now and again, but at least the effort is there. I can honestly say that, at age 5, Jill has a firm concept of what good manners are. Whether she always uses them… well… that remains to be seen.

One thing she never lets pass is the opportunity to say “bless you” when someone sneezes. I would even go as far as to say she is practically militant about it.

Although she has said “bless you” to a sneeze since we first taught her to many moons ago, a little while back she must have come to some decision to take it up a notch.

On the evening in question, my partner was lounging on the couch while working on his laptop. I was in the kitchen gathering up the dishes to put in the dishwasher. I had literally just put the kids through their bedtime ritual not moments before, so they were playing out all their leftover energy in their room. I could hear them talking and giggling and jumping on the bed.

My partner sneezed.

Out of the kids’ bedroom, there came Jill’s tiny voice: “Bless you!”

I don’t think their dad heard it. Not even a moment passed before Jill got a little more assertive.

“I SAID BLESS YOU!” she screamed.

I yelled back that Daddy said “thanks”, even though I know he hadn’t heard her at all.

After that evening, she started being almost obnoxious in her courtesy, when it came to sneezes. She let it be known that she expected a “thank you” when she gave her blessing after someone sneezed, only she didn’t really give them a chance to answer before launching her inner diva at them.

Lately, Jill has taken it up another notch.

About a week ago, we were in a similar sort of position. I had just put the kids down for the night, and was putting away some dishes while their Daddy worked on his laptop.

He happened to sneeze a few times (how dare he?).

Out of the bedroom, there came that tiny little voice again: “Bless you!”

And then, not seconds later: “I SAID BLESS YOU!”

My partner heard it this time, and said “thank you”, but I don’t think Jill caught it because it wasn’t a few more moments before I heard: “Did you say thank you?”

We both burst out laughing. If it weren’t for that fact, we would’ve answered her before she screamed: “SAY THANK YOU!”

I think her next step may be to come out of the bedroom and get right in the poor sneezer’s face. You know, before my daughter, I never would have thought simple courtesy could be aggressive.

The Snob

1010338_10153911115360058_1524378486_nI’m not what you would call a coffee connoisseur.

I don’t go into cafes and order a Venti Extra-Hot Sugar-Free Caramel Macchiato with Skim Milk, an Extra Shot of Espresso and Extra Whip Cream, although I did wait behind that guy in line one time. I don’t buy Kopi Luwak, or, for that matter, any other obnoxiously expensive coffee whose seeds were eaten and crapped out by small cat-like animals.

I have never been the girl who rhymes off a laundry list of coffee expectations for the poor confused and annoyed barista.

I have never been the girl who buys the most expensive coffee, as if by doing so, she has asserted her position in some sort of invisible hierarchy that only she is aware of.

I have, however, been the girl who patiently asks for a Caramel Latte, and then just as patiently listens to the old “you know it’s made with milk” reminder when she asks for extra cream in it. I have gritted my teeth, and resisted the urge to lecture the poor barista about how the word “latte” is in fact part of “caffe latte”, an Italian term which literally means “milk coffee”, and that only a complete twit wouldn’t know it was made with milk.

The fact of the matter is, I like the taste of cream in my cup better than milk.

In a sense, maybe I am not so much a coffee connoisseur as a coffee snob. I prefer what I brew at home. I don’t like most of what’s offered in cafés, unless I’m desperate for caffeine.

It’s a bitter mess, like my views on the rampant misuse of apostrophes.

Some pretty nasty potions that have had the gall to call themselves coffee have passed these lips of mine, however. I’ve choked down vile mixtures of instant coffee, powdered whitener and artificial sweetener that were, at worst, “humane” ways of torturing prisoners of war and, at best, suitable test material for sewage treatment plants.

I took one for the team; I choked them down for the good of all, so that no one would die or suffer horrible injuries that day as a result of me not being properly caffeinated.

In the morning, before I have polished off the contents of my mug, I- like Medusa- could petrify mere mortals who so much as looked at me. After one coffee, I’m almost presentable. Not necessarily literate, though- that comes after two cups.

This is why I get up and have my breakfast before even waking anyone else up- because I love my family, and want to keep them alive.

Coffee saves lives, people, at least in my house.