Category Archives: Parenting

Goodbye GoodNites!

Sleep has always been a challenge for Bennett, so much so that we make sure nothing disrupts it. We’ve done the same bedtime routine for years, complete with having him wear a bedtime diaper, reading him two stories and giving him two big sips of water right before lights out. We keep the bathroom light on, the room temperature cool, and hope that he sleeps through the airplane noise.

Bennett asleep holding Peppy, his lovey.

Bennett asleep holding Peppy, his lovey.

Before he started sleeping through the night at age seven, nighttime potty training wasn’t even on our radar. It seemed cruel to take away the GoodNites and give him yet another reason to wake up — soaked through and smelling like pee, no less — in the middle of the night. Not to mention I didn’t fancy stripping sheets in the dead of night, either.

And yet, despite his new sleep awesomeness, for the past year we’ve continued buying Bennett nighttime pull-ups because he woke up every morning with a wet diaper. I just assumed he wasn’t ready to ditch the GoodNites. He certainly wasn’t showing any of the “signs of readiness” I had written about for a recent assignment. And because Bennett’s expressive language is delayed (a function of his autism and a genetic condition called 18q-), he never said, “So Mommy, you realize that I’m holding my pee all night, only to wake up in the morning and take a giant whiz in my diaper, right?”

We suspected that was his M.O., but we had no proof. And anyway, the routine was comfortable and it worked. I feared that taking away the diaper and the bedtime water — two crucial parts of the nighttime routine for Bennett’s autistic brain — would be cataclysmic for all involved. Picturing the bedtime meltdown, I was okay with buying GoodNites for eternity.

But one night last week, Bennett botched his plan to continue wearing nighttime pull-ups into adulthood. He was having a hard time settling and he ended up using the bathroom (No. 2) at about 9:30. At that point I checked his diaper and saw he had already peed in it (while awake!), so I put him in a new one. When he woke up at 6:30 the next morning his diaper was dry. There it was, proof that his bladder is mature enough to hold urine all night long. And also proof that when given a diaper (and water at bedtime), Bennett will pee in it rather than the toilet. It’s like we’d been enabling him.

Not wanting to squander our window of opportunity, we acted quickly. At afternoon snack I announced the new rules: “Bennett, now that you’re eight and such a big boy, you don’t need to wear a bedtime diaper anymore. And since you won’t be wearing a diaper, the new rule is no water after dinner.” (I didn’t bother getting Bennett’s buy in for this daring diaper experiment — as my Today’s Parent story suggested — because I knew if I asked him, “Do you want to wear underpants to bed instead of a diaper?” he would just say, “No!” We’ve learned many times that we have to the architects of Bennett’s developmental milestones — he’d probably still be wearing daytime diapers if we hadn’t taken them away four years ago.)

At bedtime, Bennett was not down with the new rules. He refused to put on underpants or his sleeper (I had to mostly dress him for bed that night) and even ran to the bathroom to try and fetch a GoodNite (I had hidden them). When it came time for the bedtime water, I reiterated the new rule and was met with resistance: “Water, Mommy. Please. Please? I want water! Please, Mommy!” I mean, it was rather sad, like he was approaching dehydration in the desert, but mean Mommy wouldn’t let him slake his thirst. It wasn’t the tantrum I had envisioned, but it did take him a good two hours to fall asleep, and then he was up about three times in the night and he peed in the toilet at about 1 a.m. I imagine the GoodNites had become a sort of security blanket and he was scared to sleep without one. He awoke nice and dry in the morning. Success!

It’s been a week now and Bennett has only had two accidents, both early last week — one because we weren’t strict enough with the water rule in the evening, and another because he had swimming one night and I think he swallows a lot of pool water. The crazy thing is, he now wakes up dry and goes about his morning of watching Super Why and eating breakfast without using the bathroom first. Mr. Iron Bladder can evidently hold it for 10 or 11 hours. To think of the money we could have saved if only we’d said goodbye to the GoodNites earlier!

I jest, of course. Who knows if Bennett would have been ready even six months ago? As the week has gone on he’s accepted the fact the diapers are gone and that water ends at dinner, forming a new routine in his head. He’s settling better at bedtime and sleeping through the night again. Really, it hasn’t been as painful as I thought, and I can breathe easier knowing I won’t have to source astronaut-sized diapers for Bennett in a few years’ time.




Consider this our family Christmas card 4

The Kadane-Ford family Christmas card: 2015

Family photo on Playa Grande beach on our last evening in Costa Rica.

Family photo on Playa Grande beach on our last evening in Costa Rica.

It’s been another exciting year for our family that included spring break in Costa Rica and a road trip to Denver and Salt Lake City, as well as lots of hiking, trips to Fernie and Game of Thrones book bingeing for me (yes, I read all five and have become one of those nerds people who knows what R + L = J means. See you next year at Comic Con! I’ll be dressed as Brienne of Tarth.). In between the fun we made 220 school lunches, read over 600 bedtime stories, cooked salmon (Avery’s favourite!) at least 50 times and spent 57 hours planning future holidays. Here are some 2015 highlights for each family member.

Blake continues to enjoy his time away from an office job and has begun to cultivate some hobbies including wood-working and tending bonsais. He began to take an interest in the tiny trees on a trip to Japan and we now have two. On the same trip, Blake crossed off a bucket list item after he ate blowfish, a.k.a. fugu. The empty Tokyo restaurant seemed like a bit of a red flag, but Blake dug in with enthusiasm to the sushi, deep fried and weird congee-style blowfish and told me not to worry when his tongue went numb.

Poison, poison, tasty fish! In which Bennett makes like Homer and lives.

Poison, poison, tasty fish! In which Blake makes like Homer and lives.

Upon returning to Canada, Blake had a closer brush with danger when he hit a tree while mountain biking on his last ride of the regular season and suffered a subdural hematoma dark bruise in his kidney area. Fortunately, he stopped peeing blood after a week  healed in time for winter fat biking!

Avery continues to enjoy Girl Guides and piano and she tried jazz dance this fall. She is also keen to try archery after secretly reading The Hunger Games books at school. “What’s the big deal?” you might be thinking. “I read Flowers in the Attic in grade six.” Yeah, well, I guess Katniss offing fellow teens isn’t as bad as Catherine’s sibling love with her brother. Still, it pains me to see her growing up so fast and it makes me want to hide the Game of Thrones books (killing AND inappropriate sibling relationships!).

Avery was in her element in Costa Rica and loved all the wildlife including this red-eyed tree frog.

Avery, age 10 (grade 5) was in her element in Costa Rica and loved all the wildlife including this red-eyed tree frog.

There are still plenty of little girl cuddles, though, even if Avery has started giving us the hairy eyeball when we sing dorky witty made-up songs about Piper in public. She is signed up for the Fernie Extreme Club again this winter and I will die a little be a proud mama if this is the year she surpasses me on the slopes. Avery has also mastered her back flip on the trampoline, taught Piper how to “play dead” and “sit pretty” and is on her way to being a math whiz (even if we will never ever understand regrouping). We are thrilled by how much she loves to travel, and humbled by her desire to help others, including four-legged friends — she’s volunteering at the SPCA this year.

Bennett has had another busy year that included learning how to doggie paddle and chew gum, and trying new tricks on the trampoline including diving head first into the net. He has also branched out with his vocabulary and after-school activities. We had him in therapeutic horseback riding this fall, which he loved, as well as swimming every week through the Special Olympics.

Bennett loves horseback riding. Here he is on a pony ride in Grand Lake, Colo. this summer.

Bennett, age 8 (grade 3) loves horseback riding. Here he is in Grand Lake, Colo.

And, I don’t want to brag, but I am happy to report that Bennett has reached the life-changing (for me) milestone of being able to vomit into a toilet when he has the stomach flu — rather than all over his sheets or the carpet; that is such a dose to clean up at 2 a.m. We are so very proud. There are still many challenges with Bennett’s autism, which I wrote about in a Today’s Parent story, but for the most part he keeps making progress and finding new ways to torment the dog.

Speaking of Piper, she has calmed down considerably now that she’s closing in on three (that’s 21 in dog years — time to move out and get a job, Pipes!). The only time she still really loses it is when there’s a squirrel in the backyard. Then she trembles and whines and barks like a ninny as she bolts down the stairs after her ever-elusive quarry.

She has also started grazing like a cow on long blades of grass. This poses a problem during elimination as she swallows them whole and then they don’t necessarily come out all the way, if you get my meaning.

Piper stops for a rest at Nose Hill Park.

Piper stops for a rest at Nose Hill Park. Wouldn’t she make a great cover model for Gun Dog magazine?

We have also begun to question her intelligence as every morning when she exits her kennel, instead of running straight for the food bowl, she takes the time to stretch and thus gets herself caught in a steer wrestling headlock by Bennett as he seizes the opportunity to manhandle his favourite playmate. But for all her idiosyncrasies, she teaches us every day about unconditional love and she never takes us for granted. I can leave the house for just five minutes but when I return, there’s Piper, tail wagging, holding her lovey in her mouth as an offering.

Lisa (that’s me) has finally succumbed to ageing and has invested in a bookish/sexy pair of reading glasses. It got to the point last summer where I was hardly reading A Feast for Crows because the light had to be just so and I needed a selfie stick to hold the book three feet from my eyes. Alas, the “librarians” are LIKE A MIRACLE and I no longer need large print books.

Hangin' with the hairy coos on Islay, Scotland.

Hangin’ with the hairy coos on Islay, Scotland.

I stay young at heart through travel and this was a banner year. I enjoyed a press trip to Scotland where I drank my face off gained a deep appreciation for peated whisky. I also visited Churchill to test the limits of my cold tolerance see the polar bears. And Blake and I jetted off to Japan on a couple’s trip to tour the temples of Kyoto, stay in some ryokans and feed the aggressive deer in Nara. I continue to write about travel, parenting and cocktails, and I even appeared on TV mixing holiday drinks.

We’re looking forward to a busy winter break that includes skiing, snowmobiling, time with family and, hopefully, a visit from Santa. Happy holidays!


Illuminasia at the Calgary Zoo

You can see the glow as you cross the zoo bridge from Inglewood to St. Patrick’s Island. Bright, multi-coloured lanterns in the shape of animals and plants illuminate the night inside the Calgary Zoo. They beckon to moms like me — whose kids love the zoo — to come and see the Illuminasia Lantern & Garden Festival, running through Nov. 1, 2015.

Illuminasia at the Calgary Zoo features 366 plant- and animal-shaped lanterns from China.

Illuminasia features 366 plant- and animal-shaped lanterns from China.

We’ve been big fans of Zoolights for years, so I was eager to see how this shoulder-season event — designed to attract visitors during a non-peak time of year — stacked up. As luck would have it, I was invited to check it out by the Travel Media Association of Canada (I’m a member) for a great price, but it was an adult media mixer so I left the kids at home.

Illuminasia features 366 lanterns (183 plants and 183 animals) of varying sizes built in China and then shipped 12,000 km to Calgary. The lanterns are made of a silk-rayon fabric that’s been stretched over a frame, with details such as stripes (tigers) or facial expressions (check out the zebras!) airbrushed or hand-painted on.

Some of the Illuminasia lanterns, like this lion, almost look like they're made of glass. Very cool.

Some of the Calgary Zoo’s Illuminasia lanterns, like this lion, almost look like they’re made of glass. Very cool.

We walked past delicate cheetahs, a fierce roaring lion, hunting velociraptors, a giant moose and a flock of flamingos, among many others — all animals that are represented at the Calgary Zoo (the zoo obviously doesn’t have real dinosaurs but rather features animatronic giant reptiles in its Dinosaurs Alive exhibit). A favourite are the panda lanterns, likely because the zoo is gearing up to welcome real giant pandas in 2018.

The pandas are the most popular lanterns at the Calgary Zoo's Illuminasia festival.

The pandas are the most popular lanterns at the Calgary Zoo’s Illuminasia festival.

In addition to the lantern walk, Illuminasia features programming tied in to themes that celebrate different countries in Asia. Experience India, for example, runs through Oct. 25 and offers a chance to see a performance by Bollywood-style dancers (free), or the opportunity to get a henna tattoo or make a block art print ($10).

Colourful elephants add flair to Illuminasia at the Calgary Zoo.

Colourful elephants add flair to Illuminasia at the Calgary Zoo.

I’m all for the zoo enriching its programming and thinking of creative ways to broaden the zoo experience (now that Avery and Bennett are older, there are only so many times a year we want to go see all of the usual animal suspects). I only wish the zoo would make these extra offerings more accessible.

For a family of four to go to Illuminasia it costs $84 (note: it’s $76 for regular zoo admission for two adults and two kids), plus $5 parking. And it’s not like you can pull a twofer take in the lanterns and the real animals at the same time, since the lanterns turn on at 7 p.m. but by then it’s too dark to see the animals and/or the animal buildings are closed. There is a discount on Illuminasia tickets offered for Engage or Inspire level zoo members (20 or 25 percent, respectively, plus free parking), but, for comparison’s sake, the member discount price still works out to be more than regular Stampede admission (which is $54 for a family of four). It seems like a lot of money to look at lit-up animals, and I can’t help but think that by lowering prices or offering more member incentives, events like this would attract a lot more people and ultimately earn the zoo more money.

I liked Illuminasia, but the cost might leave you feeling cheetah-ed.

I liked Illuminasia, but the cost might leave you feeling cheetah-ed.

So the question is, will I bring Avery and Bennett to Illuminasia before it wraps up for the season on Nov. 1? I really liked it, but for $84 for our family, I’d have to say no (we are no longer zoo members now that the children are older). Yes, we pay for Zoolights every year, but for us that’s become a Christmas Eve tradition so we don’t mind the cost. The zoo has plans to make Illuminasia an annual event, so perhaps it too will eventually become a tradition. Time will tell.

Bennett = Dog Singer? Things I learned at the Chromosome 18 conference

A couple months after Bennett’s Chromosome 18q- diagnosis three years ago, Blake, Bennett and  I travelled to San Antonio, Texas for the annual Chromosome 18 Registry & Research Society conference. We wanted to learn more about his condition and meet other families going through the same thing. But at the time — partly because his diagnosis was so new, and partly because his symptoms were somewhat different from other 18q- kids (he has mostly developmental delays that express more like autism, than health problems or visible disabilities) — we left that conference feeling unmoored. Like we didn’t quite fit in with the chromosome crowd or the autism people (Bennett’s autism diagnosis preceded his genetic diagnosis by six months).

Bennett's love affair with horses continues during a Chromosome 18 field trip to the National Ability Centre in Park City, Utah.

Bennett’s love affair with horses continues during a Chromosome 18 field trip to the National Ability Centre in Park City, Utah.

But we decided to try again. So we drove to Salt Lake City in July to attend this year’s Chromosome 18 conference. We brought both Bennett and Avery with us this time, thinking Avery, now 10, would get a lot out of it and expand her knowledge and understanding of Bennett, and empathy toward him and other children and adults with extraordinary needs and challenges. This time, it felt right.

Bennett and other children with Chromosome 18 conditions try out a range of adapted bicycles on a field trip to the National Ability Centre.

Bennett and other children with Chromosome 18 conditions try out a range of adapted bicycles on a field trip to the National Ability Centre in Park City, Utah.

I sought out families with 18q- kids similar in age to Bennett. I asked questions about behavioural issues, challenges, schooling and medications. I attended workshops on autism in children (it’s quite common in 18q- kids), and anxiety and depression (also common). And I listened and really opened my eyes when photographer Rick Guidotti gave his presentation, Positive Exposure, on capturing the beauty in people with genetic differences. I saw this same presentation three years ago, but I didn’t really see.

Bennett gets a hug from Elsa during the dance after the Chromosome 18 Registry & Research Society conference gala dinner in Salt Lake City.

Bennett gets a hug from Elsa at the Chromosome 18 Registry & Research Society conference gala dinner in Salt Lake City.

But Avery saw it immediately — that’s the beauty in children. She embraced the conference with her whole heart, making friends with other siblings and helping affected children, whether riding bikes with them on a field trip to the National Ability Centre in Park City, pushing a new friend on a swing, or giving hugs. There was a “sibling track” at the conference that explained Genetics 101 to brothers and sisters of affected kids, and let them talk about how having a special needs sibling impacted them. I realized Avery doesn’t see Bennett as having special needs; she sees him as her brother and loves him unconditionally.

Avery is Bennett's sister, mentor, protector and friend. It's wonderful to see the kind, loving, empathetic and beautiful person she is becoming.

Avery is Bennett’s sister, mentor, protector and friend. It’s wonderful to see the kind, loving, empathetic and beautiful person she is becoming.

During one session the siblings were asked to imagine their affected sister or brother as having a superpower — what would that superpower be? They drew pictures of the superpower and all the drawings together were made into a collage that was auctioned off to raise money for the Chromosome 18 society. Bennett’s superpower, according to Avery? Dog Singer. (I think she’s referring to his amazing power of bugging all kinds of dogs, from trapping Piper in her kennel then serenading her with Tammy — pictured below — to laying on Percy James in Colorado, to squeezing Beatrice’s head and constantly removing her collar in Dallas, to riding Anouk in Calgary. Sigh.)

In which siblings draw their Chromosome 18 sister's or brother's imagined superpower

In which siblings draw their Chromosome 18 sister’s or brother’s imagined superpower, from their helping hands to their ability to adhere to strict schedules.

It was another way for the siblings to think about their brother’s and sister’s strengths. Just as many of the Chromosome 18 kids aren’t superficially “beautiful” when viewed through a conventional lens, neither do they necessarily possess conventional abilities like “good at math” or “good at sports.” Bennett really excels at bugging dogs — in part because he loves dogs and that’s how he expresses it. He has perfected the genuine belly laugh too, and he’s tops at jumping on the trampoline. He’s also good at swimming and watching Super Why. Part of what makes those things his “powers” is that he truly enjoys them. And that’s what really matters — Bennett is happy. So many of these Chromosome 18 kids are happy, and they are so, so loved. And that is beautiful.

Looking back now I realize it was my issue that I felt out of place at our first conference in San Antonio. Three years ago, I hadn’t come to terms with Bennett’s diagnosis. I hadn’t accepted it or owned it. I think I felt that he could somehow still be cured and returned to “normal” rather than simply treated. I wanted a magic pill that he could swallow, that would fix his broken DNA. I realize now that I was one of those people who saw physical differences and disabilities and became uncomfortable. No matter how I framed it, I had a hard time seeing beauty in difference. Instead of seeing possibilities I saw only challenges. Of course I loved Bennett. But I didn’t love his genes.

I’m not sure when my perspective shifted; it happened some time between writing an essay for Swerve and writing a personal piece on living with autism for Today’s Parent two years later. In the Swerve piece I am still filled with despair, while the Today’s Parent story radiates hope. That’s not to say every day is a love affair with his genes now — they are still challenging, but like a pair of Levis that gets broken in over time, they are a much better fit for our family.

At this conference I saw families living with a range of genetic configurations, but each child fit into his or her family, and each family was doing its best, loving its hardest and celebrating the beauty in difference. And that — combined with more research through this amazing society — will help these kids reach their potential, whatever it might be. Forget dog singer. Maybe one day Bennett will be a horse whisperer.

Bennett has a moment with a horse at the National Ability Centre in Park City, Utah.

Bennett has a moment with a horse at the National Ability Centre in Park City, Utah.

Sleeping through the night

When you have a baby, one of the first questions friends ask you after enough time has elapsed is, “Is he sleeping through the night?” This milestone is viewed as the utmost achievement of babyhood, a feat far more applauded than rolling over, popping out a first tooth or even crawling. Seriously, show me what you can do when you’re unconscious, baby, and I’ll get excited!

Some moms have dream sleepers from the beginning, others sleep train when sleep deprivation threatens sanity, and a few struggle into the toddler years as zombie-moms, determined their kid will eventually stay in bed all night. Right? Right?! And then there’s Bennett.

Bennett asleep! A rare sight.

Bennett asleep! Like the Sasquatch, a rare sighting.

A poor sleeper from infancy, I hired a sleep consultant out of Vancouver to put together a sleep plan for my son when he was seven months old. He was still waking up several times a night and was difficult to settle after I nursed him. Plus he weighed, like, 20 lbs., and he no longer needed a midnight snack or three. The plan worked, and for a couple glorious years everyone in the family slept. Until we didn’t.

I blame the slippery slope back to night wake-ups on the big boy bed, where we moved him at age 3-1/2. He started getting up every now and then, and then it became a habit. Night terrors began at age four, and the night waking gradually grew worse until it got so bad we started seeing a “sleep psychologist” at Alberta Children’s Hospital two years ago. Who knew such a thing existed?

“Kids with autism are poor sleepers,” we were told. “Reward him with a sticker chart,” she suggested (he couldn’t care less about stickers). “Isn’t there something we could give him?” we implored. “Like a sleeping pill for kids?” Clonidine stopped the night terrors, but he kept waking up… unless he was sleeping next to his sister in Red Deer or Fernie. Then, oddly, he slept like a dream. We begged Avery to share a room with him in Calgary.

Life went on, a sleep study was performed and mild sleep apnea diagnosed (non-surgical). Our paediatrician recommended switching him to Intuniv, a new drug for kids with autism and/or ADHD, with the bonus side effect of better sleep. Still he woke up. And believe me, when your kid is seven, no one asks you (thankfully), “Is he sleeping through the night?” We stopped seeing the sleep psychologist.

All of this led me to pitch Today’s Parent magazine with a story idea about school age kids who are problem sleepers. When they assigned it I hoped to find a solution to help Bennett stay in bed.

Even researching and writing a story about the issue didn't help me find a solution.

Even researching and writing a story about the issue didn’t help me find a solution.

We’d already tried most of the tips and tricks I uncovered from the experts. But then, about six weeks ago, something happened. Bennett slept through the night. And then he did it again a few nights later. Now, he’s staying in bed all night five or six nights a week. It’s a huge improvement.

Blake and I are almost afraid to question why this change has occurred, for fear we might jinx it. The best I can guess is that it was the combination of coming back from Costa Rica (where he slept great because he shared a room with Avery) and moving his Intuniv pill earlier in the afternoon. But who knows? I won’t question the amazing gift of unbroken sleep, but I will celebrate this milestone, finally achieved in childhood.

“Is he sleeping through the night?” Dare I say, “Yes?!

Selling Girl Guide cookies

The reason we didn’t want Avery to join Sparks back in kindergarten, or Brownies in grade two, came down to cookies. Essentially, we didn’t want to spend Saturdays sitting outside of Walmart trying to sell chocolate mint cookies or the lesser chocolate and vanilla sandwich cookies to people who had probably just bought a bunch of junk food in the store. (Note: America has waaay better Girl Scout cookies than Canada. I craved Samoas and Trefoils as a child.)

We finally caved and let her join up as a Brownie last year. She graduated to Girl Guide at the start of grade four (I still call it Brownies though. I just can’t get my head around “Girl Guides” — who is she guiding, exactly?). Instead of hawking $5 boxes of cookies at the mall, she sells them door-to-door. And by she I mean we. I hold the case of cookies and she negotiates the transaction.

Wouldn't you buy a box of cookies from this Girl Guide?

Wouldn’t you buy a box of cookies from this Girl Guide?

Avery: “I’m selling Girl Guide cookies. Five dollars a box. I only have four boxes left.”

Customer: “What kind are they?”

Avery: “The sandwich kind.”

Customer: “Oh, too bad. I like the mint ones.”

We get that every third house. Everyone likes the mint ones. I have yet to meet anyone who would rather trough on the sandwich kind. Dear Girl Guides: it’s time to retire the sandwich cookies. (Why not just sell the mint ones all year? Or better yet, imagine how well those Girl Scout shortbread Trefoils and caramel-chocolate-coconut Samoas would sell here. It’s criminal we don’t have more options. Truly.)

Because spring is the season for the sandwich cookies — and because I’d already seen Facebook posts from parents of cookie selling competitors, trying to unload their boxes to other parents at school pick-up — I knew Avery and I needed a strategy to get rid of our case.

Using social media to sell sugary goodness. Genius!

Using social media to sell sugary goodness. Genius!

The plan: Pick a nice hockey playoff evening when the Flames were playing and go door-to-door before the puck dropped in the hope that anyone not at a bar would be in the market for munchies while they watched the game on TV.

Day 1 (Game 2/Away): We sold a case in five minutes! Our neighbour and his friend purchased eight (8!) boxes, and another neighbour snapped up the remaining four. Wow, cookie selling is EASY! Imagine if we had more cases, we could’ve sold them all! So, I emailed the Girl Guide leader and asked for another case.

Day 2 (Game 4/Home): Where is everyone? They either think we’re door knocking for the Alberta election, they’re at a bar, or they’re at the game. One woman (who I know is home because I saw her go in the front door when we were half a block away) just ignores the doorbell. Another man answers, takes one look at the Girl Guide box, and tells us no thanks, he still has half a box of the mint cookies left over from December. WTF? Those are the good ones! Evidently, his two kids aren’t allowed to eat cookies.

We make our way down the street, practically begging people to take them off our hands.

Lady: “I’ll go see if I can scrounge up some change.” She returns with eight quarters and three loonies. “I raided the loose change drawer because we’re almost through the two boxes we bought from another girl earlier this week.”

At least someone likes the sandwich kind.

Avery: “Oh, really?” (Wondering who beat her to this street.)

Lady: “She had a big wagon of cookies.”

Ah, the cookie wagon. It takes dedication to haul cases of sandwich cookies around in a wagon. And possibly all day to sell them.

Finally, a reprieve. With only two boxes left to sell Avery rings one more doorbell. The man who answers takes one look at Avery, all dressed up in her shirt and kerchief, holding a case of cookies, and his hand dives into his pocket for money. When it surfaces empty-handed he checks his wallet, despairing that there’s no cash. But then he remembers his wallet’s secret cash stash, pulls out a ten dollar bill, and buys the two remaining boxes.

Selling the lesser sandwich cookies? Not as hard as I’d imagined.

Dear Diary…

I picked up a pen on October 7, 1984,and wrote the words “Dear Diary.” I didn’t stop writing about life’s highs and lows, friendship triumphs and betrayals, love found and lost and found again — all penned in looping teenage girl cursive — until sometime in my late 20s.

My diary, circa 1990.

My diary, circa 1990.


Dear Diary, In 25 years I will laugh at this entry!  P.S. That relationship didn't last another month!

Dear Diary, In 25 years I will laugh at this entry!

By then, with a husband and a house and a blossoming writing career, life became predictable enough that I no longer needed to use blank lined pages as a sounding board for my deepest thoughts and dreams. I put down that pen and the privacy of a diary, and took to a keyboard, typing stories of my trips and travails for the general public as a journalist.

And then, after I left the Calgary Herald in 2011, I started this blog as a way to record bits of the next chapter of my life: the one about raising kids. Blogging is easier than writing — my hand never cramps — and I can add pictures too! It’s like a scrapbook journal. I like to think that Avery and Bennett will read these posts and remember their milestones and laugh at all the crazy things they did.

The modern journal.

The modern journal.

But it’s not always light and cheery. Parenting has its dark moments, especially when raising a child with special needs. I’ve “put it all out there” a couple times in parenting posts and stories about my son and our family’s struggles with his genetic condition and autism. I know this open talk of our sadness, and subsequent coming to terms with our new normal, can seem foreign to people. Sometimes they use words like “brave” or “honest” to describe my words.

The words are honest in the same way my teenage rants were honest in the late 80s. They are brave only in the sense I am writing them knowing that thousands of people will find my “modern journal” and read it cover to cover. I have another word for it, one that’s now backed by research: therapy.

It turns out a Clarkson University professor has written a paper on how mothers raising a child with autism can manage stress through emotional disclosure in journal writing. The article appears in the December 2014 issue of the Journal for Autism and Developmental Disorders.

“If people can really comprehend what’s happening to them, if they find meaning in it and find tools for managing it, they are healthy and resilient,” said author Rondalyn V. Whitney, the director and founding chair of Clarkson’s occupational therapy program, in a news release about the paper. “Journal writing is one of their tools in their toolkit, and it helps them find meaningful coping strategies.”

I’m not sure that writing about Bennett helps me find coping strategies, but it does put our challenges into perspective and help me see them in a new light. I also think it’s important to share our struggles, so that others can come one step closer to understanding what we’re going through. I’m not one to beat the disability drum, but I think we can learn valuable lessons from children and adults with differences. As I wrote in a Today’s Parent story this month:

“I wonder at times if I’ve become a better person because of his autism, and I think I have—I’m more patient than I ever thought possible and I’m continually amazed by my perseverance and my ability to adapt to a new normal every few months as behaviours come and go.”

Maybe everyone should have a little Bennett in their lives, I think. And so I write. Because life is no longer as stable and predictable as it was when I was 28, and my keyboard and a blank screen — and you, my readers — have become my new sounding board.