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Archives May 2013
Have you heard about Kristine Barnett and her genius son who also has autism? Her memoir The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius just rose to the top of my to-read pile after hearing her on CBC’s The Current this morning. (The link goes right to the episode, if you want to listen.)
In very broad strokes, her story is that her child is autistic, and he also is a true-blue genius, and started university at 11. He’s also a very articulate young man, judging from The Current.
But this is the part that caught my attention: Kristine Barnett told the story of how, after Jacob was diagnosed with autism (he regressed at 16 months, eventually having no language at all), she was running a home daycare. Jacob was receiving 40 or more hours a week of all kinds of therapies. And one day, she took her daycare kids outside to play in the sprinkler, and they were slipping around on the grass and having so much joy.
Then she realized her son was being deprived of his childhood.
So at night, after all the therapy was over, she would drive him out to a pond in the country, and put on the fog lights, and play Louis Armstrong on the car radio, and be with him. And then they would lie out under the stars on the hood of her car.
And every night she would say (I am paraphrasing from memory) “Goodnight my baby angel, I love you.” One night Jacob hugged her back, and said “night night baby bagel” back. She described it like a child gets lost in a crowd, and you panic, and then you find him…but for parents of children with autism, they are lost in the crowd and don’t come back. Jacob did. And she believes that being together experiencing what she calls “muchness” was instrumental.
I honestly had to pull the car over at this point because I was crying. Not just because her story is so powerful and unique (believe it or not, her son has a huge interest in…astrophysics.) But because it is also universal. Isn’t it true that we all get bogged down in the work of parenting our kids? And then it does get hard to reach each other.
But making that time to take our kids out to listen to Louis Armstrong under the stars…or to play in the sprinkler…that’s connection. And I have no idea if that was the critical piece, and would never, ever put on a mother or father that somehow any concern about their child can be fixed by connecting in that way. (And I don’t think she was either. And Jacob clearly said on the radio show that he is autistic.) But –
That bond, whether it is all-healing or not, is powerful. And it is one of the best things about being a family, ever.
I happened to hear this story on a day where my morning went right. I’d actually left the two loads of unfolded laundry and taken my boys out on the porch to enjoy the sunny morning, and we had gone up and down the sidewalk just for fun. It was maybe 15 minutes, but it was joyful. We don’t always get there, but I am glad.
Like I said, I haven’t read The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius yet. But Kristine Barnett did add a spark to my morning.
How do you find time for joy with your kids? And if today’s not a particularly joyful day, I promise: No pressure.
It’s not just kids who say the darndest things.
Parents do, too.
When I was a kid, my parents just didn’t make any sense to me.
They’d be saying things like: “This hurts me more than it hurts you.”
And: “Because I said so, that’s why!”
As a kid, I swore I would never repeat that kind of nonsense to my future children.
Well, here I am, all these years later, pretty much eating my words.
You see, I’ve moved over to the other side.
I’m one of “them” now… and I get it.
All of that crazy talk…
I GET IT NOW!
Here are the Top 3 things I swore that I would never say to my own kids, but that I do (more often than I care to admit).
1. It hurts me more than it hurts you.
I most recently used this phrase when I didn’t allow my son to go to a much-anticipated sleepover party after he was “too sick” to go to school that day. Miraculously, he felt better as soon as party time arrived. I know that it upset him to see everyone run into his friend’s house (he lives right across the street) with sleeping bags under one arm and pillows under the other. It really did hurt me, but I just couldn’t let him go. A lesson needed to be learned – and I think he learned this one the hard way.
2. Because I said so, that’s why!
This one always baffled me as a kid.
But now I know…
Sometimes, it’s best not to explain why.
I don’t want to explain to them why they can’t jump off of the quarry or why they can’t swim out “just a little bit farther.” I don’t want to take away their fun-loving, full-of-life spirit, but I’ve heard too much and seen too much, and I need to protect them as much as I can.
So, instead, I’ll just say “Because I said so, that’s why,” and leave it at that.
3. Sometimes you just have to learn things the hard way.
I struggled with this one when my daughter showed me her hastily put together school project. She was adamant that it was her best work and, although I knew otherwise, I let her hand it in anyway. I knew her mark would be poor and my initial instinct was to jump in and save the day. Instead, I decided to let her hand in her “best work” and deal with the consequences. Sometimes, a lesson is best learned when learned through mistakes.
What are some of the things your parents said to you that you swore you would never say to your own children?
In the wake of last month’s tragedy in a garment factory in Bangladesh, where more than 1000 people lost their lives because of appallingly unsafe work conditions, it’s impossible not to look at where the clothes I have are made.
I agree with Loblaw chairman Galen Weston that pulling out of Bangladesh is not the answer. Instead, it’s about creating safe work environments and paying these folks a living wage. I’m definitely going to use my consumer dollars to show support for those companies that treat their workers fairly and safely, unlike those refusing to sign the Bangladesh safety pact or take any responsibility for what happened.
I also like to support companies that do good in the world instead of just mass-producing piles of cheap clothes. I’m sure most people are aware of TOMS One for One movement. This is the sort of corporate social responsibility I like to throw my money behind.
I’ve also recently discovered a Canadian company that produces incredibly well-made kids’ clothes, and also supports great charities. Peekaboo Beans clothes are designed for play because they believe that playing is a critical part of being a kid. I agree.
To demonstrate this belief, they’ve partnered with Playground Builders, which is a registered Canadian charity dedicated to building playgrounds in war-torn countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian Territories. They use local contractors and work with the communities to determine where best to build the playgrounds. Jen Daramola, a Beans stylist, tells me that she makes a monthly donation from her commissions, which the corporate office matches.
Daramola is also a mom of four, who was so impressed by the quality of Peekaboo Beans and what the company was doing that she quickly signed on to be a stylist last year. “I was so interested and excited by this clothing brand, I just really wanted to be a part of it all,” she says. “I love how comfy they are for my kids to play in. The quality is amazing and the resale value is fantastic. But more than just the clothes, I love what Peekaboo Beans stands for, which is play. Children need to be able to play in order to grow and truly experience life.”
Let us know about other clothing companies you love that do good in the world.
Kate Middleton’s birth plan is one of the hot topics around the ‘net this week.
As the veteran of three very different births (first: a cord accident that resulted in the death of my daughter; the second a labour that was under 4 hours from when I first started to care about oddly evenly-spaced “Braxton-Hicks” to the end; the third a lengthy no-painkiller delivery of a “sunny-side-up” baby) here’s what I would like to see on Kate Middleton’s birth plan:
1. Guidelines, not a set of rules
Sometimes I think the emphasis on a joyful birth is a part of the same trend that leads to over-the-top weddings. Yes, I am all in favour of a really good experience for everyone. Your baby’s delivery day is definitely a big deal. Create your playlist, ask for dimmer lights, see about pain management, choose your birth team. If something like delayed cord clamping or cord blood banking is important to you, get that in there. (Here are tips for a natural delivery, if that’s your thing.)
At the same time, there are at least 18 years ahead…and in labour, a lot of things can happen. Of course I realize Kate Middleton’s wedding was an international event (in fact, I watched it from a hospital admission with my youngest) but I worry that the degree to which she is able to orchestrate the rest of her life will lead her to believe that hypnosis is going to control her delivery. Sometimes things will change for a medically necessary reason. And sometimes, something will just plain not happen the way you wanted.
That’s a hard thing sometimes in the context of labour because it’s a physically demanding, emotional, hormone-laden time — but that’s exactly it, it’s a biologically complex process. You can practice hypnosis, but as I learned, you can’t make a baby turn face-down.
2. Failure actually isn’t an option
I have so many friends who have tried for a natural delivery and felt that they failed because they either asked for painkillers or needed other interventions. And they weren’t reading about “Kate Middleton’s birth plan” in all the tabloids the next day!
The trouble with a lot of decisions in labour is that you are weighing risks and benefits during a pretty stressful time. When mums change course to get a c-section, for example, and the baby is fine they may feel that they could or should have kept going. But as someone who experienced the reverse angle on that decision — the extremely rare case where a c-section would have worked and wasn’t performed — I think that kind of hindsight is flawed.
If you end up making changes to your birth plan along the way, that’s okay. The current push towards natural delivery, while it has brought some benefits for women’s health along with it, may lead some women to believe that any intervention is bad. Trust me: If things are truly going wrong, intervention is a really good thing. The trouble is, sometimes your team will want to intervene before the situation is clearly awful, and that’s where I think it’s all too easy to second-guess afterwards. Because it’s true: If the emergency never develops you don’t know if it would have.
Make the best decision you can with the information you have at the time, and then let it go.
As for pain relief, it’s very personal. I’ve done it about all the ways. With my last I regretted that the first ten minutes after he was out were spent recovering…and other than that it was kind of a wash. (Elation kicked in later…which I had with all three babies, even with my daughter in a NICU.)
If you are the kind of person who wants to experience every gritty moment, go for it. If you want to hypnotize yourself so you can deal with the pain, go for it. If you want an epidural, it’s probably a good idea to understand what it involves and what it doesn’t, but it’s generally pretty low-risk, and…go for it. Every labour is different: Different women, different sizes of baby, different positioning…even different sleep in the nights before.
One thing I will say about pain management: When someone breaks their arm and takes painkillers, I’m not sure they have to deal with people commenting about their choices. It would be nice if women in labour could get the same respect.
3. Bring lip balm.
Even Kate Middleton’s birth plan needs this tip.
Which tips would you share with Kate Middleton?
(Here’s more on planning your baby’s birth!)
As bathing suit season looms, I thought I’d check in our our food guide to make sure I’m keeping my family, and my waistline, balanced.
But since statistic show we’re an increasingly overweight nation, I thought I’d take it back a few years and revisist the Canada Food Guide, or Canada’s Food Rules, from 1944.
Bit of an eye opener, isn’t it.
Sure, they were in the middle of a war and rationing was de rigueur, but the focus then was on fresh, simple, local and by default organic.
I’m wondering if we could survive on that diet, and if maybe the key to cleaning out our obesity is by going back to basics.
A bowl of whole-crain cereal plus four slices of bread and butter is a bit unfathomable for me, but then so is only having 2 fruits a day. But maybe they were on to something…
Roughly 8 ounces of sugar was all a person was allowed per week. Victory Gardens abounded, which meant tilling your own soil (aka exercise with a dash of social responsibility), and if you look closely, leafy greens and fish oils, aka Omega 3′s, are on the list, making them vital even back then.
Only 1 serving of meat or fish per day, plus eggs and cheese, which were all rationed, at least 3 times per week, Makes the whole meatless meals movement seem retro now.
They also recommend at least one serving of potatoes per day. Did they have sour cream and onion chips back then?
I attended a really interesting information session Friday about an extra-curricular programme. The pitch, as I understood it, was: Math helps brain development, so sign your child up for more math.
(Just to be clear, in this case extra-curricular means a class outside of school that you pay for monthly, not a club you go to during lunch rather than playing “Orange Crush.”)
One thing that stunned me: Part of the sales pitch is that this particular math curriculum has a competitive element. Our presenter straight out said that we all know how hard it is to reach the top of any profession right now, and it is tough times for anyone not at the top. So besides the benefits of increased brain development, learning to compete to win at math will help develop that killer instinct in our kids. Then they’ll win at life. (We’ve got more on helping boys, in particular, succeed in school.)
At that point I had to look around as if I were listening to Fifty Shades of Grey at a potluck. I’m Canadian. Are we allowed to be talking about killer instincts if we’re not in a hockey rink? Or to be saying flat-out that our kids may have a tough time succeeding if they don’t get a competitive edge? What happened to the level playing field?
You know…I’m pretty sure my parents were confident that if I did well in school and went to university I would be okay. And “okay” was good enough for them for the most part. And they were not completely wrong, but I don’t feel like that is good enough any more. If that fear’s correct — what do we do next?
On the one hand, I believe kids should be kids and we should give them down time and trust in their abilities to learn and grow and develop within the context of a caring and connected family. And there should be a way to get, if not to the top, at least far enough along in a cooperative manner. I probably listened to Free to Be You and Me too many times as a hippie child, but killer instinct seems harsh for the under-10 set.
On the other hand, I myself like to succeed, which often does mean beating the competition. Given that there is competition, I do want to make sure my child has the experiences he needs now to develop that competitive muscle. How to win, how to lose — how to prepare in advance and beat the pants off everyone else from time to time. Free to Be You and Me did not have songs about off-shoring the knowledge economy, nor has it ever helped me negotiate a better salary.
I’m pretty sure I know what our family’s decision will be about this particular activity. But I would love to know what you think about how parents should set their kids up for success.
Ah, the alleged war between parents and everyone else.
Two reports from the front lately: The first letter in this Dear Prudence column where a junior lawyer stated that parents leave on time from the workplace, leaving their work to be done by the childfree. The second, Elizabeth Renzetti’s piece in the Globe and Mail about persecution of the childless.
First, on the persecution-of-the-childfree angle. Dear childless person: Do people say obnoxious things to you about your reproductive choices? Yes. Guess what? They do to moms as well. (Moms: Share your experiences in the comments.)
This is part of the problem of being a woman in the 21st century. The fact that we have more reproductive choice than ever means that all of our choices are questioned a lot. (One of the standout moments I’ve enjoyed: I shared my age in the waiting room at my obstetrician’s office and one of the other expectant moms said “aren’t you scared to be a granny mommy?”) (Yes.) There’s a word for people who question other people’s reproductive choices and that is not breeder or childfree: It’s rude. But I’m not sure that qualifies as persecution.
As for the junior lawyer in the Dear Prudence column: That may be your workplace, but I am guessing that for every workplace where parents jet off merrily for soccer practice, there are an equal number where if they do, they are stalled on the mommy (or daddy) track.
It is absolutely true that my choice to have kids has resulted in more last-minute days off in the past 7 years than I racked up in my entire life previously. And it is true that occasionally I have left early so as not to be That Mom That Didn’t Come To The Mother’s Day Tea And Made Her Child Cry. (If you would drop word at the world’s daycares that we mothers do not need a 4 pm tea on a Thursday, we would appreciate it.)
That said, I have the same days off as everyone else; I just end up using them in a slightly different way than I did before I had kids. And to my childfree colleagues: When you break your arm playing Ultimate Frisbee, don’t worry. I’ve got your back. We’re all on the same team. Peace out.
You don’t need a special occasion to celebrate time with your children. An after school tea party is a simple way to spend some quality time with your little ones talking about their day.
Last week, my three year old and I baked a delicious cinnamon loaf while the older boys were at school. When they got home, we surprised them with milk in teacups and a yummy treat. It was a simple “tea party”, but we all had a great time and a lot of wonderful conversations. I love that we are making special childhood memories of after school snacks and time spent together.
I found the recipe for the Cinnamon Streusel Loaf in the March 2013 issue of Canadian Living. (I am always ripping the great recipes out of my magazines and sticking them in my recipe book drawer, aren’t you?) You can find the recipe online here.
This loaf was delicious, and it made the house smell fantastic. I will definitely make it again… maybe for our next tea party. :-)
♥ Gina Bell (aka East Coast Mommy)
New research suggests that Canadian youth exposed to a schoolmate’s suicide may be more likely to consider or attempt suicide. The study was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal and looks at this phenomenon known as “suicide contagion”.
The idea that suicide can be contagious is a worrisome one, especially for vulnerable kids who see suicide being romanticized, with outpourings of love from a community. The study found that exposure to suicide was associated with suicide attempts, and was highest among 12 to 13 year olds though the risk also existed for older youth. It also found that teenagers did not have to personally know the person who had committed suicide to be affected. Simply being exposed to the suicide presented the same risk, and effects could still be present two years or more following the event.
This is important in terms of intervention–it’s not only those close to the individual that require support, and the risk window can be much longer than previously thought.
While not every mental health professional buys into the idea of suicide contagion, hopefully, this new research can bring more awareness to the issue of teenage suicide and prevent even one unnecessary death.