Waiting = Meltdown?

For years, Gracie struggled with waiting. Patience was not her strong suit. Gracie liked to do things when Gracie liked to do them. And when she wanted something, she wanted it now. I can say that those feelings probably haven’t changed. However, her reaction to them has. Screaming, yelling, spitting, and hitting. Bending her joints, scratching herself and pulling her hair. Those were her ways telling me she was done and that she didn’t want to wait any longer.

When eating, Gracie used to throw her dishes across the room when she was done. Made sense to her. She was done and didn’t have the words to tell us. Quickest way for them to disappear is to throw them. Being in a restaurant Gracie would finish her meal in less than 5 minutes. Then, scream, because she was ready to go even though the rest of the family still had most of their plate left to finish.

Standing in line at MarineLand, the Ferris Wheel, Maid of the Mist, Wonderland, or even waiting for her turn on the swing or slide at the park or school was torture for her. Gracie didn’t have time to waste and she continues to always think ahead rather than stay in the moment. Not having the words to express herself was another reason for these reactions.

So, we started small. I mean, very small steps. We started with counting to 10 when she was done. Before she had the chance to eat her last bite and whip that plate across the room like a frisbee, I’d grab it, count to 10 and let her out of her high chair. We counted to 10 for several days before moving to 15 seconds and then 20 seconds and so on. Once we were getting to about 40 or 50 seconds, I bought a timer from the dollar store and we put the timer on. We still counted with the timer at the beginning until the beeping alarm went off. It became a game for the whole family. The kids would join in with counting and big smiles. Once we mastered the timer and she could wait 5 minutes, we attempted it at a restaurant. I would call ahead and order our food because the timer had only been practiced at the end of her meal. Gracie was able to successfully join the family, eat her meal and wait 5 minutes at a restaurant, then her dad or I would take her outside or to the car while we waited for the others to finish their meal in peace. We continued to do the same thing with the timer as we did with the counting. Increasing by 30 seconds at a time. Beginning at home and practicing in public. We had timers everywhere!

This strategy worked for waiting in lines as well. We would still get the pass that was offered to those with special needs, but we would make sure to not use it for the rides with a much smaller line. Having a timer on (we added a few more minutes on than expected just in case) would help Gracie stand in line. Seeing the numbers decrease was all she needed eventually. Of course we had snacks and fidgets, etc. But seeing the time count down reassured her that what she wanted was about to happen.

Today, Gracie waited in a line to advocate for herself to get the pass at Wonderland. She explained to the lady that she has autism and has a hard time with waiting longer than 45 minutes, noise and crowded spaces. All while dad was laying in the grass on a hill, reading a book, in the parking lot. This is something to celebrate!

Gracie and her cousin Heidi with Linus at Canada’s Wonderland
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Sibling Love

Our Christmas this year was spent at Lake Louise with the 5 of us sharing one hotel room and spending every minute together. We didn’t know how this was going to work out. They love each other. But let’s be honest, they each have their own needs, likes, dislikes, and routines. And one of them (miss Gracie) can get very excited and anxious over a change in her routine. And no matter how much we try to prepare her, there are always unexpected mishaps that occur. A lot of patience was needed in order for this trip to go smoothly. And smoothly it did. For the most part. I was so amazed at their level of patience and friendship with each other. I don’t know if it’s because they are all growing up and maturing or just plain luck. I’d like to believe they’ve matured.

Gowing up wasn’t always easy. Having three kids and only two hands made it difficult to be there for all 3 at the same time. The screaming and meltdowns, refusals and challenges were at their peak when Gracie was younger. Screaming in the middle of night and waking the entire house up made it difficult to get a good night sleep which made dealing with those challenges even harder. For everyone. The kids got good at going to their rooms and shutting the door to minimize the noise. Emma was more of a helper if she thought she could help calm her. She became Gracie’s go-to person at school. And when Emma graduated from high school, Josh took on that role.

I know we can worry about siblings having to grow up faster, feeling pressure to behave more or do well in all areas of their life, taking on more responsibility than a child should, and we worry about not being able to meet their needs when they have a sibling whose needs exceed theirs. Especially if there are health related concerns that require you to travel to doctors appointments and hospital visits. But what can happen is each sibling becomes more patient and understanding. Non-judgemental and kind to others, helping those who are in distress. My kids aren’t perfect and I know as they were growing up, they’ve said or done things that I wouldn’t be proud of. But behind the scenes, they’ve done some pretty amazing things that have helped others who didn’t feel like they fit in or were struggling with life, in tremendous ways, and little ways, that know one else will know of.

I have another post called “Sibling Sanity” that shares some strategies on how to best deal with challenging times and how to best support those siblings. Click on the link above to bring you there.

Please know this post is meant to share with you the growth and positive outcomes that can arise as the kids get older. It will be okay. You’ve raised great kids! Trust that all you’ve taught them will present itself. And if they can’t stand each other right now, they will soon enough!

If you haven’t been told this yet today….YOU are a GREAT parent!

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A-ha Moment! Teaching vs. Correcting

Ok, I know I just posted a new blog post yesterday. And I still feel the same way and true to what I wrote. BUT…I had this a-ha moment as I was doing the hashtags on the Facebook group when posting the link. Specifically the hashtag #whenisteachingtoomuch…the same wording as the title. My first thought was, “Am I teaching or correcting?”

I’ve always seen it as teaching her. Helping her grow. She has to learn these life skills if she’s going to live without me someday. She has to know how to PROPERLY do these things. But does she really? If she manages just fine when I’m not with her every single moment, does she really need to do them properly? And what does that even mean? Properly. My way? My way of doing things doesn’t mean that she needs to do them the same way. Even though I like the dishwasher filled a certain way and she may leave cups facing up that get filled with water, but hey, they are still getting washed, even if a little bit LOL Does that spatula need to go in the drawer that I’ve allocated it to? It’s still put away, even if it’s in another cupboard. Looking at these sorts of things and picturing her in her own home someday, I realize that she will be just fine! The kitchen, living room, fridge, etc. are not her space. But, she knows where everything is in her own room and manages to do a fine job of keeping herself organized.

She is keeping track of her work schedule by printing it out and adding it to her calendar. She plugs her phone into its charger each night so it is ready for the next day. She makes sure her uniforms are washed and clean and ready to go for her next shift. She showers and uses soap, even though we are starting to notice she’s not rinsing her hair long enough, so that is something I can teach her about. The constant correcting is probably equivalent to constant put-downs. And I get reminded sometimes by Gracie that “I’m on her a lot today”.

I am grateful she has the words to tell me that when I need to hear it. And if your child doesn’t have the actual words, watch their body language. The eye rolls, the vocalizations, stimming, ignoring, whatever they do that shows you they aren’t happy…you know your child best.

I think for myself, I’m going to actually write down the things that are my “pet peeves” list that won’t matter if Gracie does them when living in her own home. I will try to focus on the things that will make a difference if NOT done “properly” like hygiene, cleanliness, and safety.

This isn’t going to be easy! I’ve created a habit that will be hard to change. But I’ll do my best. I’ve also heard that for every negative comment a child receives, they need four positive ones to counteract that. So I best get my lovin’ on!!

Thanks for listening! Sometimes just saying things “out loud” or writing them out helps me see the bigger picture.

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When Is Teaching Too Much?

Gracie and her love of everything Christmas!

The last thing we want is for our kids to feel like they are not good enough. But I have to say, I was someone who, unintentionally, consistently crushed Gracie’s confidence, every time I tried to teach her the “appropriate way” to do something. I think I still do. I know I do! It’s just hard to admit. My heart was in the right place. If I could teach her these life skills and help her be the most independent person she can be, her life will be full. I just need to figure out what a full and happy life means to her. It’s her life. Not mine. I forget that sometimes.

Correcting her has actually become an automatic response, even though I’ve been trying to “teach” the same things for years! As a parent, it just seems to be in us to instinctually teach our young. Even when I make myself consciously aware, and tell myself I will let the small stuff slide, I can’t go 5 minutes!

I did become aware of this when I saw her sweet soul defeated. Grade 7 & 8 were the hardest years of her life. Not only did she have a mom that was on her at home, but she also had support staff trying to help her. Yet, she didn’t want to be different than her peers. She was embarrassed to need the help. That developmental gap between her and her peers had been growing since grade 2 and was at its peak! She was now considered weird for liking Treehouse tv, Scooby doo, and Santa Claus. The demands and expectations for someone her age grew and grew.

At times, I wish I had done things differently. I do, however, realize that my reactions were based on fear. Fear for her future and wanting the best for her. I needed (and need) to remember that she learns a different way. Her actions aren’t out of spite or a wish to push my buttons. (Even though it often felt that way!) But when I look at her “behaviour” as brain-based “symptoms” and see her at her developmental age as opposed to her actual numerical age, this helps me tremendously. I still need reminders though! It’s hard when you live this life of autism (or insert diagnosis here) day in and day out. It becomes your new normal. So if you are feeling guilty because you aren’t getting along with your child, or you are feeling more frustrated than normal and just don’t know what to do at this time, try looking at your child with a different lens. See their actions as symptoms instead of behaviour. Obviously, intervene when appropriate, especially when there is aggression.

Teaching our kids proper etiquette, manners, cleanliness, self-advocacy (in a strong, firm but kind way) are a few of the skills they will need to excel in this world they are forced to fit in to. We have to teach them because the world isn’t going to change for them. Just try and remember to meet them where they are at, try not to take it personally, and react in a frustrated way. But also, don’t be hard on yourself when you do react. You’re human. It’s okay.

This developmental age is something I keep coming back to because it helps me help her. Here are some links to past blog posts, when I’ve written something similar:

http://wellbalancedlife.ca/index.php/2020/07/25/developmental-age-is-my-saving-grace/(opens in a new tab)

http://wellbalancedlife.ca/index.php/2020/07/23/what-is-your-childs-developmental-age/(opens in a new tab)

I hope you have a fantastic day!!

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Thankful for the Little Things…

It’s been a whirlwind since Aaron and I got back from our trip a couple of weeks ago. My hubby’s appendix burst and he’s been in and out of the hospital since. Turns out he had two abscesses (infections the size of a couple golf balls) that were taken care of and now he is home and on the mend. Today has been the quietest and least busy day since we’ve returned home. Today is a day I am able to take a breath and reflect on all that I have to be thankful for.

Many of you are dealing with challenges every day and it can be hard to feel like you have anything to be grateful for at times. Life is hard. Yet, life is precious. When things are going well, it’s common to take those moments for granted. But when someone you love gets ill, (even if it’s minor) you start to realize all of those things that should not be taken for granted.

Today, as I have some quiet time to reflect, I have so much to be thankful for. I am thankful for my husband and all he has provided for us. I am thankful for my children who rallied together to tidy, clean up after themselves and set the house up for their dad to be comfortable in. I’m thankful for my parents who held the fort while I drove kids here and there and stayed with Aaron when I could. I am thankful for family and friends that are always there, just when you need them. I am thankful for this quiet moment to come to the realization that Gracie was worried about her dad because to her, any surgery is serious. She’s never seen her dad in an unhealthy way. I realize every one of my frustrations with her came out because that is how she deals with her anxiety, and I couldn’t see that. And I realize, I need to give the kid a break. So what if she left all the frozen fruits on top of the fridge instead of in it. So what if she asks me a gazillion questions a day that she knows the answer to, or sits/stands a foot away STARING at me. Non-stop. So what, if she is obsessed with food and constantly asking to eat, especially the sweets. So what if she is always there. Always. I need to get over it. I need to remember how far this girl has come!

Today I am grateful our family is healthy and happy. We have a roof over our head and food on the table. We have family and friends and teachers and EAs and coworkers who we are blessed to have in our lives.

What can you be thankful for today? If you don’t have family or friends around, or feel like you don’t have anything to be thankful for on this day, please know you have a wonderful group of parents who are living a life similar to yours. The special needs community is a fierce one! We are there for each other. You are not alone! If you are feeling that way, please head over to our Facebook group and join our crew! Just click on the Facebook icon at the top right of this blog. Send me an email and we can chat. We are here for you. I am thankful for you. And if you haven’t heard this in a while, you are loved.

Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving day. xo

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Developmental Age Is My Saving Grace

Patience. We either wake up with it or we don’t. Some say we choose it or we don’t. I like to think I’m patient, but I know I run out of it sometimes. I’m only human. As parents we have a lot going on in our lives. Regardless of whether we work full time, are a single parent or if we are a stay-at-home mom or dad. We all have our own busy lives.

The last post I wrote was on our child’s developmental age vs. their birth age. That post had more to do with how to teach and treat our children. One thing I didn’t add but wanted to share was how seeing your child’s developmental age can help us as parents, caregivers and teachers to have more patience.

Gracie will tell me she loves me a hundred times in a day. Seriously, I use a counter to track how often sometimes! It feels like a million times! She wants to hug me just as often. She wants me home. She follows me around. She is learning but still interrupts conversations to say what she wants to say. She gets excited over the smallest things. Christmas and Santa and the Easter Bunny and all other magical beings are the most exciting times in her world. She loves candy and anything sweet and always wants the first and biggest piece of cake. She wants to cuddle (and would get on my lap if I let her). She watches Treehouse TV and cartoons galore. She is completely innocent when it comes to sex, drugs and alcohol. She is emotional at times. Up until recently, she had meltdowns like a toddler. Imagine that in an adult body.

On the flip side, she listens to rap music. Has her sister do her makeup some days. Is able to have very mature conversations at times. She is very tall and grown up physically. She says swear words (limited to her bedroom only). She deals with all the same hormonal changes girls her age go through. She likes some name brand clothing and wants to fit in with others (although she seems to have gotten past that and is happy in her own skin). But, she posts selfies, some that include that duck face pose and likes the comments she receives! She has a boyfriend and best friend. She wants to be like every other teenager in the world.

Now here is what I mean by “her developmental age is my saving grace”. When I look at Gracie as her young 4-8 yr. old self, when I see the child inside her, I have much more patience when dealing with certain things. When I see her developmental age instead of her birth number or size of her body, her symptoms make complete sense to me. When I don’t realize that, it makes it much more difficult for me to understand and be patient with what she is doing. So give it a try. The next time you are starting to lose patience with your child or student, try seeing them at their developmental age and see if it makes a difference to you. How would you react to a 3 yr. old vs a 13 yr. old?

As I just explained to Gracie, she is a teenager but still has that “small kid inside her”. One that she is so blessed to have! How many of us have grown up wishing as a child to be an adult? We couldn’t wait to grow up and our parents would tell us not to rush it. She has the luxury of growing up, but still has the innocence, excitement and magic of a child we all wish we still had. That is something she is so fortunate to have! And we as her family and friends are so fortunate that we get to see life through her eyes. Her excitement, energy and belief of magic is contagious. Holidays will always be exciting because she will always hear that bell ring, because she will always believe.

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Don’t Think Your Child Will Be Able to Camp? – Part 2

Part 2 is on practicing the skills needed to camp, especially for those families who are pretty certain this will never happen. That may be true. But I urge you to read on if there is even a tiny thought that your child might enjoy camping if they could just handle some of the challenges they may face. Obviously I don’t want you to traumatize your child. Go at their pace and read their body language and listen to their words or gestures. Camping isn’t for everyone, and that’s ok. You just don’t want them to miss out on it if they too want to join the family but just don’t know how.

First off, you know your child best and if you are 100% sure that they will NOT handle the sensory experiences or sleeping in a tent or trailer (or anywhere else other than their own bed), don’t rush it. But why not give it a shot? It will just take some time and practice. Think about each activity you might do when camping and practice each one, little baby steps at a time if you must. You can start with having a campfire in the backyard roasting s’mores one night. Then on another day take a few minutes to go to the beach. Some of you might be thinking “Are you kidding me?! My kid won’t let any sand touch him!” or “My child hates the smell of a campfire!” There are many many things that deter some of our children from the joys of camping but it might not be impossible to get to the point where your child can join in on the fun.

I’ll jot down below some possible concerns with some strategies but if your child struggles with something I haven’t mentioned, send me an email at wellbalancedlife@rogers.com and I’ll see if we can help you out. I don’t want to overwhelm you, so just take a look at the bold sentences and choose to read what applies to you.

My child won’t sleep in a tent – if your child is too afraid to even go inside a tent, let alone sleep in one, put the tent up outside and leave it open with some pillows, sleeping bags and some of your child’s favourite stuffies, activities and food in it. I’m sure they will take a peek inside no matter how frightened they are and may develop the courage to go inside. If your child won’t go outside because the tent is there, try putting up a small tent inside your house. Or, build an indoor tent with sheets, play and sleep in it together. Keep the tent up as this may take several days/weeks until your child feels comfortable with it. If the child’s first step is playing inside the tent, when you feel your child is ready, try pretending to sleep in it during the day. Instead of playing house, play camping. Then extend that to sleeping in it at night. If your child doesn’t make it through the whole night, that’s ok. Keep trying and hopefully your child will stay longer and longer until they finally do it for an entire night – I would reward my child the next morning with going out for breakfast to their favourite restaurant, take-out or favourite dish made by mom or dad!

My child HATES the smell of campfire – I’m not a big fan of this either so I make sure I wear my least favourite clothes to a campfire. Clothes I won’t mind getting smelly or burnt by the small ashes that sometimes land on me. Help your child pick out some “campfire clothing”. Again, I would start small. Have a very small campfire outside. (If that’s still too much, I would make a “campfire” out of yellow and orange tissue paper on logs and pretend to roast marshmallows). You don’t need to sit around it just yet, but have it burning so your child can get used to the smell. If your child won’t even come outside because of the campfire, I would place a sweater near the campfire and bring it in the house and drape it over a chair in an area that your child is frequently in. It won’t be as strong as the campfire but it might be faint enough where he/she can handle it and slowly get used to it. If you need to hold the sweater over the campfire for 5 seconds the first round, then 30 seconds, then 1 minute etc. to make the scent slightly stronger each time to gradually increase their tolerance to it, then that is what we do. Eventually, the goal is to get your child outside around a campfire.

Would your child be willing to wear a mask to the campfire to block out some of the smell? With Covid, there are many places and people making masks. You can find one with their favourite character or even a pattern with campfires on it that is meant to wear only at the campfire. Add some essential oil under their nose to help drown out the campfire scent. Lastly, grab a plastic bag that is labelled (campfire only). Your child can then change out of their campfire clothes which will go directly into the campfire bag and sealed tight until it is washed. They can have a shower or bath if needed to get the smell out of their hair. There are many ways to gradually increase your child’s tolerance level to just about anything, we just need to be creative.

My child only eats certain foods – This is where you will have to do a lot of planning ahead. You may need to spend a weekend baking your child’s favourite breakfast muffins, waffles or pancakes that you can cook ahead and just drop in the toaster when camping. Cook up that favourite noodle dish or stockpile their favourite cereal. I highly recommend investing in a good plug-in cooler. The ones that can also be plugged into your car. This will allow you to bring milk, eggs and meat without worrying about keeping ice in it or the food getting soggy as the ice melts. That is a nightmare! Precook, pre bake, preplan! It can be done.

You can also make the campfire more exciting with s’mores and wieners and these fun and easy foil packet meals from Little Family Adventure Blog. There are tasty treats like eclairs, popcorn and cone s’more packets and meals for the child who prefers to eat like a king or queen. Something for the picky eater and something for your foodie!

My child can’t handle loud noises & fireworks – we never leave home without our noise reducing “protection” ear muffs. They are the ones people wear in construction or to concerts where the noise is so loud it can do damage to the ears. You never know when loud noises will appear! You can pretty much guarantee there will be fireworks on long holiday weekends, but honestly, I’ve been hearing fireworks almost nightly this summer and July has just begun! Bring the headphones with you everywhere so you will be quick to place them on their sensitive ears! If you’ve never tried them before, buy them ahead of time so your child can try them out at home and get used to wearing them. If they don’t like the feel of them, you can try different brands out, or desensitize your child to it by trying them on for 5 seconds, then 6 seconds, then 10 and so on. They were a lifesaver for us when we went to see the fireworks or concerts or amusement parks. You can also wear the small ear plugs that squish into your ears if that helps. Another option is to go to a campsite during the week when there are less crowds. Many provincial parks and private parks have certain areas of the park that have reduced hours where noise is permitted. Just do your research. Even calling ahead to the campground and explaining your story a bit so they can direct you to the most quiet and most secluded area for you and your family. Especially if you don’t want to be near the water as that might be too hard to keep your child away and too dangerous.

Not having a routine will be too hard for my child – No matter where we go, I would make a visual schedule for Gracie. Our weekend or weekly camping trips would be fully scheduled. We would keep her routine as much the same as possible, such as meal times and quiet time. But I would research the area we were going to and plan each day out accordingly. Keep in mind the weather when you are scheduling something. If the day needs to be sunny to experience an activity, you may have to include IF IT IS SUNNY on the schedule and what you will do instead IF IT RAINS. Always have a back up plan. Check out this link from The Inspired Treehouse on how to make a visual schedule.

My child wakes in the night. How do I keep her safe? – Tie some bells to the zipper of the tent so you know you will hear them if your child tries to leave. You can even get zip ties or twist ties and zip tie yourselves in there but have scissors easily accessible only to you (most tents have little hanging pockets) so you can quickly cut it off if you need to. ** This is not meant to “lock” your kids in a tent while you are sleeping in another one! I just mean that if you are so worried that you might not wake up if your child tries to leave, even if they have to climb over you to get there, that you could potentially use a zip tie or twist tie on the zipper and a tie back loop if needed to make it more difficult for your child to open it and leave. **

If you have more than one tent, make sure an adult is with the child who wakes in one tent and another adult (even a friend or family member if you are a single parent) sleeps in the other tent with the other children. If your child normally wakes in the night but you know he/she is safe at home and you are still able to sleep at home while they are awake, this obviously won’t be the case when camping. So keep your camping trip short. Even if the first time is just one night. Although two might be better because it might take your child a full day and night to understand what this camping thing is all about. Call the campground ahead to make sure you are not located near the water or pool. Better yet, borrow or rent a trailer so you can lock the door! You might want to test the waters before buying your own. **If you don’t think this will be safe, don’t go camping! Safety comes first!**

My child doesn’t like public washrooms – This is something that is pretty common. Think about all of the sensory experiences in a public washroom. Loud flushing. Large line ups and crowds. Extremely loud hand dryers. Crying babies. Awful smells. Using a public washroom will be a skill in itself that many of our kiddos will have to learn. Again, start with baby steps. Go to a public washroom where there is just a one room washroom to start. Most areas have a “handicap washroom” or family washroom where there is a one room option. Start there. Marinas have single washrooms with showers etc. in them. I’m sure if you asked to borrow one on a regular basis to teach your child the skill of using a public washroom, including the shower since that is what you will find at campgrounds, most would be open to the idea.

Here is an explanation about what I mean when I say break EACH activity down into small steps:

Take the washroom for example. There are several challenges just to using a public washroom. One out of many sensory experiences in the washroom is loud flushing noises. Start there. If your child won’t even flush the toilet at home because the noise is so loud, try using ear plugs or noise reduction earmuffs. If that still doesn’t work, have your child stand outside the door while you flush the toilet for them. Explain that you are going to be helping them get used to noise. They can cover their ears while standing outside the door or even down the hall. Then work your way closer to the washroom. And even closer until you are standing right in front of the toilet. A further step would be to record the toilet flushing so your child can listen to it at a quiet volume and you keep increasing the volume as they can handle it, until they can flush the toilet themselves. This is a great idea for the loud hand dryers as you have no control over who will start it and when. Using a recording at home in their safe space is a good place to start. Practice this daily. Some children are scared of the water twirling and going down the bowl. A simple fix for that is to close the lid before flushing.

Now look at each thing your child despises about the public washroom and break each one down like I did with the toilet flushing. This post is getting too long to do each one, but I think you get the idea. Work on each skill one at a time until they’ve mastered all of them. Then you can attempt a public washroom with many stalls once you think they are ready.

Obviously, there is a lot of prep work to be done. Lots of skills to teach. It might be a lot of work and this isn’t going to be a relaxing holiday for you as the parents/caregivers. It will be exhausting and you will probably need a mini vacay after this family vacation. But if you go into it with no expectations and just the hope that you will have even the smallest success, it will be priceless. Just remember that this camping trip is for your child/children to learn and grow and experience. And the more you do it, the easier it gets. Patience. Time. Baby steps. Practice. That’s all you need. And remember, all of the skills mentioned above won’t just be for camping. They can transfer these skills to other areas in their life. Yes, you might have to practice these skills in other areas as some of our kids have a hard time transferring a skill they’ve learned to somewhere else, but you’ve got the hardest part down!

Good luck! I wish you and your family a safe and memorable summer! xo

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Don’t Think Your Child Will Be Able To Camp?

Neither did we! But boy were we wrong. That’s why I never like to assume G can’t do something. We have had some great family camping trips and some did have a few challenges along the way. But it sure was worth it!

I will always have great childhood memories of camping with my family in Honeymoon Bay. Days spent swimming, fishing, creating fantasy worlds in the forest that surrounded us, finding “furniture” and homes within the shapes and grooves of the granite rocks and cooking over the campfire. The whole family including grandparents, cousins and pets would be there. These were memories I hoped to make for my family. That reality became a little more challenging when the kids were young and Gracie struggled with meltdowns and sensory issues more than she does today. But most importantly, how could we be sure she would be safe when she was known to take risks when she didn’t understand the danger?

Well we did manage to go camping several times and make memories I hope they will cherish like I did. It wasn’t always easy though and there was a lot of preparation to make the trips a successful one!

I still remember the time Gracie was about 10 years old and having a doozy of a meltdown. We didn’t want the entire campground to hear her or have her siblings embarrassed because all eyes would be on us. So I managed to get her in the car and drove around the campground and parking lots. I can’t even remember what it was about. But boy did G scream! She screamed and kicked the windows, kicked my seat, tried to hit me and tried tearing off her seatbelt (she was too distraught to think clearly enough to remember to just click the button) but that is why we stuck with the camp roads and parking lots. I don’t know how long this went on for but it seemed like forever. She finally stopped and we went back to our campsite like nothing had just happened. Emma and Josh were still having fun with their dad and grandma and the other campers were still going about their business. I asked Gracie if she was all done and ready to try again before we got out of the car. She said yes, got out and joined her brother and sister. Now I’m sure this meltdown was about something she wanted, when she wanted it as this was usually the antecedent. So if she asked again for whatever it was she had to scream about, the answer still would have been no. We need to be consistent with her or the meltdowns would be 100 times worse. She would’ve realized that I wasn’t changing my answer and moved on or if she started with another meltdown, we’d get straight back in the car and start all over again. She obviously didn’t want to do that again so she chose to move on. A few hours later, when she is fully calm, is when we talk to her about what happened, how she reacted and what she can do next time she feels that way.

During that same camping trip we visited Ottawa and Quebec over Canada Day weekend. We saw fireworks, made s’mores, visited museums and saw concerts. There were crowds and noises and chaos. But we managed. And even though the meltdowns and tough times are still remembered, it’s the good times that stick with me the most.

I share this with you because I know many of you have these same sort of challenges plus some, that might make you believe there is just no way you could ever go camping! But no matter where your child is in life right now, you can still provide the experiences of camping one way or another. Whether that’s at a campground or in your own backyard.

I realized sharing this story and adding in some specific strategies can make for a very long post so I decided to make this a 2 part blog post. Click here for Part 2 if you would like to keep reading on how you too can have a successful camping trip.

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Honesty… it’s not just my story. It’s theirs too.

It’s been a very long time since I published anything on here! Almost a year! I’ve been struggling a bit with what to write for so long because I don’t want to write anything but the truth. The good, the bad and the ugly! I feel that writing about our life story is the best way to help others understand that we are all in this together. If I can’t be honest, then what is the point? Social media is affecting so many people in wonderful ways but can also be so unrealistic! When I was dealing with health issues and feeling like crap, I could not even look at Reese Witherspoon’s IG posts! Her perfect outfits and perfect hair in her clean house with her happy kids and well behaved dogs! You know what I’m talking about right?? My house seemed to be in complete disarray and I didn’t have the strength to even do my hair for work let alone cook a delicious healthy meal for the family AFTER work! Are you kidding me?!? Seeing her posts plus the many others (even from real life people I know) was too depressing! The guilt I would feel for not being like that! It’s crazy, I know! Don’t get me wrong, I love Reese and I’m sure she’s had her fill of struggles too. But the perfect persona shown on social media was just too much for me to handle at the time! I also see many moms on social media who post videos of their toddlers and lives, and I LOVE their honesty! That’s what keeps me coming back to read their blogs or watch their videos. The problem for me is that my kids are teenagers and have a more “shy” personality. Mine get embarrassed if I show people their baby pictures let alone post it for the world to see! I’ve wanted to post about many things over the past year. Where Gracie was and where she is at today. The struggles that all 3 of my teenagers have faced over their high school years. The problem is, it’s not just my story to tell. It belongs to them too. I’ve talked to Gracie about how telling her story can help others, especially since she’s come so far. She shouldn’t be embarrassed by the things she’s done in her past, the choices she’s made or the struggles she’s faced because that has made her who she is today. And to us, she’s pretty incredible! She has agreed to share some things now and I will post them (with her permission of course) as often as I can. But for now, what are some things you would like to know? What are your biggest challenges and how can we help? Shoot me an email or comment below and we will do our best! I just wanted to let you know that we’re back. Hopefully with some inspiring info. that can help you and your family live a well balanced life!! Or at least somewhat balanced!

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Waiting For the First Day of School

Every year our G goes through a bit of a rough time a week or two before school starts. This year we got her school supplies at the beginning of August and she thanked me because she had been worrying about that for a month (which would be the beginning of July) but she knew I would say that was way too soon to worry! lol I had know idea she was worrying for that long. And I guarantee you she has worried like this every year of her life! She just didn’t show it until a week or two before school. Or maybe she did show it. Looking back, our summers were a big struggle. She would have meltdowns ALL the time! I remember going camping in Ottawa over the July 1st weekend. I  had to put her in the car and drive around while she screamed and kicked the windows so she wouldn’t disrupt the other campers trying to enjoy a relaxing time. We used to think it was the change in routine. And maybe it was. But now I think we can add in the unknown of the following school year for her. Not seeing her “people”, her teachers and peers everyday. For a child with adoption issues, this can be traumatizing in itself. People coming and going in her life.

This year has been one of huge success! Instead of crying and screaming and laughing, she has directed all of her anxieties into singing and playing her guitar. She makes up songs as she “plays” (she strums incredibly well so we’re going to start guitar lessons in the fall). Her songs are all about her starting school, who her EAs and teachers might be, and how she would like the year to go. Right now, she’s singing about how it will be ok. She had a good year last year and this year will be the same. She is singing whatever she needs to in order to feel better about it. The guitar is going non-stop, ALL DAY LONG. I wanted to take it away yesterday, but that is when I realized, she is directing her anxious fears in a healthy way. I can’t take that away from her. I would much prefer to hear her playing the guitar and singing, rather than screaming and laughing hysterically. And when I can’t take it anymore, I leave. I go for a walk or a drive. Some might think she should do something else in her day. Wonder how I can let her do this all day long. Well, for G, she needs to let all of this “out” before she gets to school, otherwise, it will all come out AT school. She told me she had her big cry yesterday too. She’s like a volcano ready to erupt and she will. I would just prefer she do it at home instead of at school where she would be embarrassed. A couple of days playing guitar in her room is the healthiest thing for her at this moment.

So whatever your child needs to do to prepare themselves for their new school year, especially if they are starting a new school such as high school, let them do it. In a safe and loving environment. Trust that they know what they need. If it’s still aggressive behaviour like it used to be for us, it will pass. You will get through it just like you did the last meltdown. And the one before that. And the one before that. You just need to do what you need to do to keep them safe.

You aren’t alone. Several families are going through similar situations as you are reading this.

So to you, I am sending a big hug, strength and love! You’ve got this!!

 

Mel

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