Awareness, acceptance and fundraising for #autism

There was a blip of excitement last week when Willie Geist and Uzo Aduba were challenged during a fundraiser for autism. Meredith Viera then repeated the gimmick on her show with Geist and tagged Matt Lauer and Kathie Lee Gifford to go next. It didn't take long to see the string of articles asking if (or prematurely predicting that) the #TwizzlerChallenge was going to be the new #ALSIceBucketChallenge.

One would assume that this would be the tipping point of what many are calling "the new ice bucket challenge". But I have my doubts. For one, it's just not a challenge that will easily catch on given the slightly more intimate nature compared to the ice bucket challenge. There's also the little catch of having a big brand name attached, which some people are going to balk at because there may be suspicion that it's a marketing ploy. Not to mention that many autistics who avoid gluten won't eat Twizzlers. (The challenge is distinctly flawed when the people supposedly benefiting cannot participate.)

As a parent of an autistic child, I don't see the #TwizzlerChallenge as a tool for awareness. There's already a lot of awareness about autism, which includes many misconceptions as well. So, when I read this post by Amethyst Schaber, it really resonated with me, even though it isn't specifically about the #TwizzlerChallenge. This quote nails it for me:

What these non-autistic led awareness campaigns tend to impart to the average non-autistic person is that autism is as a vague, scary childhood “disease” (that alone is misinformation enough to harm the autistic community) that is rapidly becoming an “epidemic” and for which parents are desperately seeking a cure. They learn that having an autistic child is very hard on parents, and that autistic people lead sad lives with little to no value, and that any disability or difference is something that needs to be totally eradicated through the application of medicine.

I feel that autism acceptance— the respect, the equal rights and opportunities, and the societal inclusion of autistic people— is a goal that would actually change society for the better and help to make better lives for autistic people and our families.
— Amethyst Schaber

Here's the thing I struggle with:

Because I live day-to-day with the unique challenges of my autistic son, this "awareness" campaign doesn't speak to me. It's a gimmick that may raise funds, or generate viral videos of people doing silly things. But in no way does it tell the world what it's like to be autistic or educate people on how to work with and relate to people who are autistic. That, to me, is true awareness.

And true awareness leads to real acceptance.

He was so excited to go to school dressed up in his green shirt. :)

He was so excited to go to school dressed up in his green shirt. :)

Funds are great. (Trust me, if you want to eat Twizzlers with someone and write a cheque to your favourite local - please support the local charities - autism charity, by all means don't let my views stop you from doing so. We/they need the support.) My dear friend, Suzanne Jacobson, is doing phenomenal work in Ottawa with QuickStart Autism. If she starts seeing an uptick in donations, it means that families with children who are very young can get into the KickStart program so they're identified as early as possible. Early identification allows children to receive interventions at the age when it is most critical for overall development. How amazing is that? Don't you want to donate now?

In less time than it would take me to do the #TwizzlerChallenge or #LightItUpBlue, I've helped every person who reads this post learn about a great cause that can truly help children and their families. I could write another post about all the amazing progress my son has made since his diagnosis because he started therapy right away. I can tell you how our lives have changed. I can tell you how much easier it is for my son to cope with things that used to overwhelm him. But I'll save that for another day. 

For now, I'll just say that if you want to have the kind of awareness that leads to acceptance, have an open, honest conversation with someone who is autistic or the people who live, work, and play with them every day. Get to know them. 

Only then will you experience true awareness.

Why I should go invest in a helmet

When I was 12, I got braces and wore them for almost 3 years. They came off a few weeks into my sophomore year of high school (10th grade). I have always been glad I had braces to straighten my teeth and get rid of the gaps, though I haven't always loved the shape of my teeth and how they look in pictures. 

As a typical pre-teen/teen, I had to be reminded regularly to brush my teeth. My dad often told me that he wasn't spending all that money (thousands of dollars) for me to let my teeth rot out of my mouth and need dentures. Fortunately, I developed the habit and I've taken good care of my teeth since - other than the whole not going to the dentist thing. (I finally went last fall, for anyone who is wondering.)

As of last Friday morning (July 11), my dental avoidance is officially over. 

One of several #WWCRoadTrip selfies Lara and I took on our way to the MomBiz Mastermind retreat. Note the lovely straight teeth that I took for granted.

One of several #WWCRoadTrip selfies Lara and I took on our way to the MomBiz Mastermind retreat. Note the lovely straight teeth that I took for granted.

I took a trip with Lara down to a business retreat in Mississauga for the weekend. We drove down on Thursday, had dinner with the group, then everyone spent a few hours hanging out  and having drinks. I was pretty dehydrated from being careful not to drink too much (and need too many stops on the trip) and, of course, drinking alcohol can cause dehydration as well. When I went to bed, I was fine but woke up not feeling great. 

Without going into all the gory details, I managed to smash my face against something and nearly knock my front teeth out of my mouth. I had to wake poor Lara up to take me to the ER where I was thoroughly checked (and poked and prodded), but pronounced perfectly healthy. Before they let me go I was given firm instructions to make my way to the dentist to have my teeth looked at. 

I had given Lara the green light to head back to the retreat because there was no sense in both of us being there. When I saw how close the dentist they referred me to was, I decided to walk. I wasn't in pain (the nurses couldn't believe I turned down pain meds) and I was feeling absolutely fine. Even my horrible dental anxiety wasn't cropping up. However, the dentist I went to first found me an oral surgeon who could work on my mouth instead since I told her about my anxieties. She was lovely and didn't charge me an arm and a leg even though she took x-rays - it was good that I had a positive experience because that helped me keep any anxiety in check.

Post oral surgery - much, MUCH better than after the accident (I did not take pictures of that), but I miss my pre-accident teeth a lot. Those aren't braces - it's wire and glue holding my teeth in place. Nice, eh? 

Post oral surgery - much, MUCH better than after the accident (I did not take pictures of that), but I miss my pre-accident teeth a lot. Those aren't braces - it's wire and glue holding my teeth in place. Nice, eh? 

The oral surgeon they found was right back across the street by the ER, so I walked back over and found yet another lovely group of people intent on helping me. The surgeon was so kind and compassionate - especially when I told him that my dehydrated state was going to make it extremely difficult for them to get an IV in me (it took seven tries at the hospital). He agreed that I have crappy veins and did the procedure with just a pill sedative and local anesthetic. 

This was huge for me. I did really well, stayed calm and got through it without the anxiety getting the better of me. I can honestly say that the staff being so wonderful was a huge factor in my ability to cope so well. 

The surgeon was able to do the procedure in a way that will (hopefully) save my teeth, though I also have a huge chip in one of my front teeth. I've also continued to have no pain. 

I don't know if my teeth are definitely okay yet - that will take a while. But I feel really good about how I dealt with a situation that could have caused me a great deal of anxiety. I stood up for myself when I needed to in the ER and I made it through a crazy day with a lot of help from my friends. I have such wonderful friends and this weekend was a good reminder of how very blessed I am to have so many wonderful people in my life.

Dad, I'm so sorry all those years of braces got messed up. The bright side is that it could have been worse and, of course, you aren't having to pay for me to fix it all over again. :)

Learning about lobsters at Sobeys


The closest grocery store to our house is Sobeys. It's not the cheapest, but I shop there anyway because I like it. They have wonderful staff, a clean store, and great selection. It's so convenient too!

Brandon's school recently had a cake raffle as a fundraiser. He had a hard time understanding how the raffle worked and that he might not actually win one of the cakes. And even though the draw wasn't completed the day he selected the cake(s) he wanted to try to win, he still had a major cake craving. (#shocker!) So, we went to Sobeys to get cake mix and icing, as well as dinner makings for the next day.

After we finished going through the produce department getting everything I needed from there, we headed back through the seafood area where Brandon always needs to stop and look at the lobsters. On this particular day, there was a very nice gentleman working who offered to show Brandon a lobster up close. He then proceeded to tell Brandon all about the lobster's pincers and what they do with each one, then how they move around on their legs, etc. I was so impressed that this man took the time out of his day to teach Brandon all about the lobsters that B was clearly interested in.

When he got through telling Brandon, who was mostly just enthralled looking at the lobster up close, Brandon said, "Thank you for teaching me all about the lobster." 

I am so proud of him for being so polite.

10 reasons I won't ban my son from using mobile devices

The recent HuffPo article on 10 reasons why handheld devices should be banned for children under the age of 12 bothers me. A lot. I have seen and heard so many comments about children and the use of technology and most of it doesn't have a balanced perspective at all. Part of why this article irked me is because I was at an event recently with someone who admitted to growing up in a family where sports were a huge focus. Affection wasn't readily given, even when it was craved. This person indicated that their siblings were basically going the same route with their children. They made the decision to create a life of greater balance for their own family, limiting the number of sports activities, encouraging their child to do their best rather than BE the best and fostering an affectionate relationship. The person also raised criticism of children who use tech, saying "It's [sports] better than playing on an iPad." 

Please tell me how over-scheduled children in sports don't get the same criticism as children in general who are using technology - both are interests (or non-interests), both can be overdone. 

Now, I recognize that the HuffPo article specifically cites overuse of technology and I agree that is a problem, but this article also calls for parents to ban the use of tech for the first 12 years of life and I can't imagine a worse solution to a lack of balance.

Two of my friends have posted this article in the context of being open to discussion about the content, and I gave my two cents but I decided upon reading the article a second time that I have more to say. In the article, the author says:

I'm calling on parents, teachers and governments to ban the use of all handheld devices for children under the age of 12 years.

Here's why I don't plan to jump on this ban-wagon:

1. Rapid brain growth

When Brandon started talking, it was a slow start. He had zero interest in TV of any kind until I showed him a Baby Signing Time video at 20 months old. We rarely ever had the TV on in his presence prior to this time. The first time he watched BST, he said 5 words. FIVE words in half an hour where he'd said said only a handful previously. He got hooked on Baby Signing Time videos, learned lots of signs, but only watched a couple times a week. I liked that the videos were furthering his development and gave us the opportunity to interact and learn. We tried to be smart about what Brandon watched rather than making it a free for all. I have often wondered if he had it in him earlier, but just wanted to observe the world a little longer. Watching TV did not delay my son's development; that was already happening before he watched any TV.

2. Delayed Development

The author states that "Technology use restricts movement, which can result in delayed development." This is a symptom of overuse - not balanced use. Further, she states, "One in three children now enter school developmentally delayed, negatively impacting literacy and academic achievement (HELP EDI Maps 2013)." 

Brandon is developmentally delayed because he has autism (PDD-NOS, to be specific). In fact, the first apps I ever downloaded for him have all been educational games or interactive books. He's become proficient with puzzles, reading, and knew all his colours, numbers and shapes well before entering school - all because he was interested in technology. Today, Brandon reads beyond his age level and continues to have an avid interest in books. I read at least one book a day to him - more of than not, it's two or more. He re-reads books over and over as well. He's also reading to himself for long periods. This makes my book-loving heart absolutely giddy.

3. Epidemic Obesity

This is another symptom of lack of balance - both in activity and dietary habits. Brandon has physical activities through his daycare and sometimes school (it's harder with half-days), but he is also interested in and I will sign him up for one sport at a time. Beyond that, his father and I play with our son. Sometimes it's not as physical and it's definitely harder in the winter. Brandon has difficulty with the cold and it's a sensory issue. His diet isn't as good as I'd like it to be, but it's something we work hard to keep balanced. 

These are just a few of the things Brandon get's exposed to - playing with Daddy on Mommy's laptop, geocaching, touring the local recreaction centre, reading in bed at night with a flashlight, meeting Chewbacca at Kidsfest, playing soccer.

These are just a few of the things Brandon get's exposed to - playing with Daddy on Mommy's laptop, geocaching, touring the local recreaction centre, reading in bed at night with a flashlight, meeting Chewbacca at Kidsfest, playing soccer.

4. Sleep Deprivation

60% of parents do not supervise their child's technology usage, and 75% of children are allowed technology in their bedrooms (Kaiser Foundation 2010).

From the time he was born, Brandon slept like a dream. I always said when I was pregnant that the 9 months of insomnia would improve after the baby came. People laughed at me. (Totally understandable since it's a crapshoot whether you get a good sleeper.) My son slept through the night (7 hours) at 10 weeks, then maintained two 2-hour naps every single day until he was nearly 2.5 years old. Then he continued to need a single nap until just a few months ago when he about 5.5 years old. He dropped his nap on weekends before he dropped it at daycare. He now sleeps about 10 hours a night. And he's allowed to use his iPod or iPad without supervision and in his room during certain times we've set that he's allowed to have access to them. The two devices he uses are his and have controls set up to prevent him accessing anything we don't already approve of. If he wants to watch YouTube, he has to do it with us and we rarely let him. You would be amazed at how proficient he is at using the technological tools he has. It's increased his confidence so much!

5. Mental Illness 

Autism is a fact of our life. I firmly believe that it was a fact before Brandon was even born, so this assertion that, "Technology overuse is implicated as a causal factor in rising rates of child depression, anxiety, attachment disorder, attention deficit, autism, bipolar disorder, psychosis and problematic child behavior (Bristol University 2010Mentzoni 2011Shin 2011,Liberatore 2011, Robinson 2008)", is disturbing to me. Technology use did not cause my son's autism. I do believe that his autism puts him at a higher risk for depression, anxiety, and attachment disorder. An unbalanced life puts anyone at a greater risk of those things as well. Is that a reason for me to take tech away from him? Not in my opinion.

6. Aggression 

Violent media and games have been blamed for violence by various studies for many years. And many other studies have disproven this correlation. I think aggressive behaviour is complex and cannot be reduced to one cause. Can violent content contribute? Sure. Do I allow my son to watch violent movies or TV shows and play violent games? Not unless it's Star Wars at this stage of his life. I'm more of a Mario and Luigi kinda girl. But even if he starts to be interested in more violent games, TV and movies in the future (hey, I like Law & Order: SVU and that's violent), I believe that the example that he has from myself and Matt will far outweigh any influence a video game or TV show can have. 

I never would have guessed that Star Wars/space would be such a huge interest. But it is, and I'm okay with that. There's a lot worse things he could like.

I never would have guessed that Star Wars/space would be such a huge interest. But it is, and I'm okay with that. There's a lot worse things he could like.

Besides, you'd think that putting Brandon on restrictions from using his devices would result in major upset. It doesn't. He understands our expectations and has been accepting when we've had to enforce consequences. "No iPad for the rest of the day" gets a very compliant "Okay, Mom." 

7. Digital dementia

I agree with this wholeheartedly: "Children who can't pay attention can't learn."

This is an area Brandon struggles with. I believe it's an issue that can be addressed by incorporating strategies in his learning environment through regular communication with his teachers and the school. We're on top of that for him. But here's the thing: I don't think technology is the reason Brandon struggles with paying attention. I think the reason varies. Sometimes it's the way information is presented, sometimes it's the topic. We've known for a long time that different children have different optimal learning styles. Maybe we need to start thinking about what motivates children and why rather than making a blanket judgement call that isn't going to apply in every case.

8. Addictions

I think it's important for parents to learn to balance technology use - or any other interest a child has. The example we show our kids is what they will practice themselves when they get older. However, just like talking about food, when we start talking about normal, necessary use as "addiction" (Crackberry anyone?) it creates a guilt complex over even the smallest use. Brandon has no problem telling me to put my phone down when he needs or wants my undivided attention. He rarely asks unless he's impatient, but I also don't have a problem putting it down - immediately if I'm not doing anything important; otherwise I explain what I'm doing. I spend time with Brandon daily with no devices in our presence. 

9. Radiation emission

We don't know nearly enough about this and studies are inconclusive. There may never be a definitive causal relationship established between wireless/mobile device use and cancer. Just as we may never have a definitive cause identified for autism. (Do you know how many different theories there are? It makes my brain hurt.) Given that we - as a family - have established boundaries and balance that we feel are acceptable, this is a risk I'm comfortable with unless more conclusive evidence surfaces. There's a lot of stuff in this world that put us all at a greater risk for cancer, in my humble opinion.

10. Unsustainable

And this is where the article completely lost me:

The ways in which children are raised and educated with technology are no longer sustainable (Rowan 2010). Children are our future, but there is no future for children who overuse technology.

This goes back to overuse, which is not the same as balanced use. Beyond that, it's an extremist blanket statement (even about overuse) that goes too far. Many would look at my technology use and judge me as an overuser. And yet somehow I've managed to build a business that is based around digital technologies and hold many successful jobs where I relied heavily and almost exclusively on technology to do my job more efficiently and effectively.

The missing element: balance

This article never talks about teaching our kids boundaries and balance. So many of the issues that the author points to are about balance. They are about establishing boundaries and expectations as a parent. They are about having and teaching boundaries and balance as a user of technology - parent to child. Never mind that the article never even addresses the distinct differences between one child and the next. The human race isn't one size fits all, so a ban may have huge consequences for one group and work out positively for another, but there is no way to predict, so parents should actually be encouraged to do what's right for their individual child.

On a similar note, I have long believed that COPPA is a dangerous law the way it's being interpreted by social networks (it restricts social networks and other membership websites from collecting data from minors). This means that children under 13 are essentially not allowed to join these networks. Many parents disregard these rules (yay for civil disobedience over stupid rules that undermine parental authority!) and allow their children to have Facebook and other social media accounts earlier. I've seen so much judgement passed on parents who make this choice:

  • It's teaching them rules don't matter/don't need to be followed.
  • It's teaching them to break the law. (This is not actually true, by the way.)
  • It's teaching them it's okay to lie (about their age to join)...okay, that one may have some merit. However:

I think what it actually teaches those kids (when parents have this intention) is to use social media safely and responsibly as early as possible. It gives them exposure to the tools, how they work and the opportunity to discuss what content is and is not appropriate. Try teaching that to a 13-year-old who just wants to do whatever they want with a heavy dose of attitude as a bonus. I'd rather start teaching my almost-six-year-old what Facebook is, with supervision and lots of time for discussion about how social media works. By the time he's "old enough" to use social tools, he's got experience and (hopefully) better judgement than a kid who's never been exposed.

Given that I've always felt this way about social media, it's not a huge shock that I feel similarly about the use of technology.

Do you think an outright ban of technology for all kids under 12 is helpful or a hindrance?

My kid is showing a scary quick wit

I married a very funny man. Sense of humour was one of my top priorities in a life mate. So, as I've seen Brandon's sense of humour develop, I'm excited to see him so open to being teased. And the boy gives as good as he gets. Now, I'm about to go on a little rabbit trail, but bear with's relevant. Also, be warned - there is a heavy amount of social media lingo in this post. Well, mostly hashtags which are a mystery to many unless you actually use them.

Last fall, Lara (my business partner) and I traveled down to Milton, Ontario for the MomBiz Retreat (if you're a mom with a business, Lara Galloway - not my partner, Lara - and Shelagh Cummins are just lovely and awesome and wickedly similar to me and (my partner) ya, just go!) Our first night together, we sat around getting to know each other. We had a fantastically diverse group of funny, amazing women that weekend. And Lara G. introduced us all to this hilarious video of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake:

#Hashtag<insert whatever> became the inside joke of the weekend. (Yes, we might have all needed the time away. ;)

Fast forward about 6 months and Jimmy Fallon has done more and more social media bits, often around hashtags and this whole thing has become...well, a thing. Matt has recently started going around tapping his fingers together and peppering his conversations with hashtags - usually they're sarcastic. One that he pulls out with me quite often is "hashtag shocker." Apparently, I'm predictable.

So, this past weekend, we were chillin' in the basement, playing a little Super Maria Galaxy 2 and I was doing a particular level that Brandon knew was kind of difficult. Sitting beside me, he watched the screen, giving me a thumbs up every time I successfully got through a difficult maneuver.

Until I fell off or got hit by too many baddies. I don't even remember. All I remember was him catching my attention, looking me in the eye as he slowly rotated that thumb from the up position to down. (I kid you not - he emphasized my failure in slow motion.) And if that wasn't enough to make me keel over, he paired it with, "hashtag shocker." 

He has the face of a child who enjoys a good laugh, doesn't he?

He has the face of a child who enjoys a good laugh, doesn't he?

I thought I was going to bust my gut laughing. Matt was sitting there wondering where he got it. (I guess he forgot that he has been saying this stuff pretty regularly of late. Meh...he's getting older.)

Brandon was pretty pleased with himself. Nothing makes him happier than scoring a genuine laugh from someone. As proud as I am, I know I'm going to have to work pretty hard to keep up with that boy. He's not even 6 and he's throwing out zingers left, right and center. 

I still can't believe this happened, but it did

The following is 100% true. I am pretty sure I couldn't make it up if I tried.

This set is fun. Just don't breathe on or touch it.

This set is fun. Just don't breathe on or touch it.

Roughly every two weeks on Sunday, we take Brandon to see his occupational therapist. He adores going to see her. He always chooses a toy to take to show her once he's done playing her games. Unfortunately, this particular Sunday his choice was a Lego set that is really not travel friendly. Essentially, it falls apart if you breathe on it. 

(What is UP with that, anyway? As my friend reminded me when I relayed the story to her, we all grew up with teeth marks on our Lego because they were so tight fitting. But our beautiful creations never fell apart - heck, we were lucky if we could get them to come apart on purpose.)

Brandon was still trying to get over the excitement of Valentine's Day and a late night Friday had him pretty tired, so us saying no to the delicate Lego set didn't go over well. I thought we were going to have to cancel OT, but Brandon wanted to go badly enough that he calmed down and chose a different, slightly less fragile toy. 

But the way things went turned Matt into a ball of stress. (Thank goodness we don't both turn into balls of stress at the same time. If we did, we'd really be in trouble!) We needed to get out the door a bit earlier than usual because Matt had promised we'd pick up Brandon his favourite bagel on the way.

So, of course, we got out the door right on time.

And, naturally, something funky happened with Brandon's car seat that made it next to impossible to loosen or tighten. We never did figure out what on earth happened.

Being the weaker of the two of us, I delegated that to the big ball of stress (a.k.a. Matt), which didn't reduce his stress, though he got the job done. 

Whew...finally on the road and I might have been making an effort to make up some time. Which is about when we heard a huge thump and Matt had what appeared to be a mini-stroke beside me and may have uttered a few expletives as a pale green tinge took over his face. Turns out he just realized that in his growing ball of stress state, he'd left Brandon's iPad on top of the car. 

I turned to go get the bagel, stopping long enough to let Matt out of the car to run back down the major four/sometimes six lane road to find Brandon's iPad. I was hoping with everything in me that his iPad had somehow survived the flight off the car. I was also hoping that Matt would be ultra careful in his panicked state so that he didn't end up getting hit by a car.

It didn't take long for Matt to come rushing back, letting me know that the phone/iPad-finding app indicated the iPad was up the road a fair bit further than he thought. So, we headed back the way we came. We didn't get far before Matt barked out an order for me to turn right immediately. I did. Apparently, the location of the iPad had just updated (there is definitely lag sometimes) and it was indeed where we thought it was.

In the process of turning around, we went through a private company's driveway which is littered with huge speedbumps that I immediately wished I could cut off the asphalt to save myself time. About the 2nd or 3rd bump (there must have been somewhere between 8-12; it felt like 100), we heard our second thump of the day - this one was much quieter.

Simultaneously, I said, "What on earth is going on!?" and Matt turned around where he saw Brandon's iPad sitting on the rear window of the car. 

It had been on top of the car the WHOLE time.

I know why Matt didn't see it. It was a stressful, panic-filled morning. He was sure that first thump, while probably not the iPad had knocked it off the car at the very least. Thankfully, the iPad was completely unharmed by it's little adventure. Matt's relief over finding the iPad in one piece actually seemed to alleviate his own stress that had been building all morning.

Now, you might think that was the end of this little tale. But you'd be wrong.

The thing is, OT is roughly 25-30 minutes from our house. We got out the door about 35 minutes prior to our appointment, the car seat took up over 5 minutes. Then, the iPad incident/bagel run took up about 15 minutes. We were only 5 minutes away from our house when we finally got on our way. We were off the main drag at this point as well, which was going to add some time to our trip.

When I got to a stoplight where I had to decide which way I was going to go, I made a good decision, because as soon as I got through the light, Brandon said, "I have to go potty." And it was a semi-desperate request. Matt and I might have given in to hysterical laughter right then and there if we hadn't needed to find a good spot for Brandon to take care of business.

All I can say is, thank goodness for vacant buildings with huge snow piles. (Quote of the day: "I'm helping the sun melt the snow, Daddy!")

And we were on our way for the third time that morning in less than 30 minutes. This time, all of our stuff was inside the car where it needed to be, there wasn't any trouble with the car seat and traffic and stop lights worked in our favour so that we were only about 8 minutes late.

Brandon spends his therapy appointments alone with his therapist while Matt and I have gotten into the habit of going for a quick breakfast or coffee and a chat. We used to have an arrangement where only one of us went, but we're enjoying this little bit of time together, so I imagine we will keep doing it. This particular week, I spent half of our breakfast time laughing at the craziness of our morning. And Matt told me to bite my tongue when I asked him if the day could get any worse. ;)

But the day was actually a very good one in the end. And even the morning's mishaps all ended well. My heart rate might even settle down by next week!

I hope you all had a wonderful Family Day with your family yesterday if you live where we have FD. Ours was infinitely more relaxing than the day before Family Day. ;)

Finding the silver lining

This week has been a mixed bag. I'm looking forward to great things happening in my business this year. Matt is pursuing his interests in RC (remote control) in various ways this year. It's nice for him to be free to spend more time on hobbies he enjoys. Brandon is doing really well. He's got his own allowance now and he's paying for his own toys and he's okay with waiting and saving up to get things he wants. So far. Things have been so good this year so far, but then yesterday happened.

Matt was heading home when our SUV started acting up. It was trying to stall out at every stop light. Getting stuck in the middle of an intersection in rush hour is a chilling prospect, but he managed to get the car to the nearest place he could get it looked at. They diagnosed that it needed new spark plugs and something or other was wrong in the ignition. They did the work and sent him on his way. Except that the problem wasn't fixed. He went back and the car got to stay at its new temporary home. As soon as it's in good working order, we're selling it. It's been too frustrating to spend the amount of money we've been spending to keep it in good repair. We lived with one car before, so now we'll be down to one car again. We can totally live with that for a little while. 

It was a stressful evening. Matt was stuck getting the car fixed. I was home alone with Brandon juggling dinner, baking a cake to appease Brandon because he didn't understand how his school's cake raffle worked, keeping in touch with Matt about what was happening, and generally trying not to sink into a poor me pity party. Fortunately, today I can see a lot of really good things.

We made a decision about the car that was hard in a way, but takes so much stress off. Being down to one car again isn't ideal, especially since it's my tiny little Fiesta Matt will have to shoehorn himself into every day. 

I love my new little car. :)

I love my new little car. :)

Unrelated to the car, Matt and I were dropping Brandon off together this morning. I always read him a book in the kinder room and then take him to the school age room to be with the rest of the kids for the first part of the morning. Once I've signed him in, I give him two hugs and kisses, then he gives me two hugs and kisses and often he asks for one more from me. He always tells me he loves me and I tell him I love him back. And I have to say goodbye to him or he won't let me leave. He will remind me to "pick him up short" (early) most days as well. 

As Matt and I were leaving after Brandon repeated hugs and kisses with his daddy, one of the teachers walked by and said, "I know you're not supposed to have favourites, but...." We laughed. She isn't the first to say that to us about Brandon and I'm so touched by the love he gets from so many of his teachers. She then proceeded to talk about how sweet he is and how much she enjoys his teaching her about Star Wars. (He's determined that everyone in his world will know and love Star Wars.)

So ya. Yesterday ended in a spectacularly frustrating way, but today is looking brighter and sunnier than ever. 

A year full of potential and possibilities

I can't remember a year that I'm happier to leave in the past than 2013. It wasn't entirely bad, but enough of it was filled with things that I'd rather not experience again. It was a difficult year of growth for me personally. I learned a lot about myself and started working on some mindset changes that I can't wait to fully take hold and embrace. The transition is painful though.


So much about a new year leads us to make grand plans and declarations. In fact, I'm working on a list of 100 things I want to do this year. Most of them are small things, but the exercise is forcing me to think differently about how I want to spend my time. This is a pretty big adjustment as well - I'm very much a go-with-the-flow kinda girl, but that can lead to inaction so I'm going to stretch my comfort zone this year a bit.

Health is a big thing for me in 2014, but I haven't made a single resolution because I already started working on this in 2013 and resolutions are silly, IMHO. My current practice is addition. I'm adding healthy habits without depriving myself. I am taking certain words and phrases out of my vocabulary, such as "I can't" and "I shouldn't" and "cheating". Unlike a few years ago when I blogged openly about my efforts to lose weight, this is likely going to be my only mention of this for a while because I don't feel motivated by sharing right now. Perhaps in time that will change...I'm going to go with what my gut tells me for now.

One big thing I want to do this year is get back to blogging here regularly. I'm shooting for a goal of once a month. I miss my little personal blog, but so much of what's been happening this past year has either not been my story to share or it's been too personal. I could have found time. I just needed to not say anything for a while. 

I've decided this year we're going to get out and do things more as a family. I want this to be the year we are tourists in our town. I want to visit museums I've never been to, tour the Parliament buildings, go to Winterlude (even though, brrrrrr), experience the Tulip Festival, go geocaching with the boys - they can explore while I follow with my camera in tow. 

Last January, I downloaded this Home Routines app and fizzled out on using it when I forgot about it. We're getting back in the habit now. Actually, so much of what I'm looking to do is about breaking big jobs down into small ones, which is what this app does. I get so overwhelmed when I think about having to clean my entire house. Overwhelmed to the point of paralysis. I do nothing and things get worse. Not that my house is that bad, but things are definitely not the same as they were before we had Brandon. 

If I had to pick a single word for myself this year, it would be simplify. It may not seem simple to make a list of 100 things you want to do (and it truly isn't - at this point I'm up to just 75), but overall we're moving toward simplifying our lives. Clearing out clutter, taking out the garbage, selling the still-useful things that we no longer need. It's amazing how good it feels to brutally purge things you think you may regret letting go. I've been doing a lot of that lately and I intend to do a lot more this year. 

I'm also going to - as per usual - do a lot of reading. I have a list of 12 books to start with. When those are done...the sky's the limit. ;)

Simplify. Simple. Simplicity. They are lovely words, don't you think? 

Why sharing the letter from "one pissed off mom" was important

Monday morning, I saw a post on Facebook that was shared by a friend. It was a picture of a letter written to the grandmother of a 13-year-old boy who has autism. Throughout the day, I saw the letter or the news story shared by at least a dozen different people. As the day went on, I think people grew weary of seeing the hateful words in their feed. Or decided that the world was spending too much time talking about this person (because, really, we have no proof that it was actually a woman) who could write such a letter.

The truth is, I doubt we'll ever know who wrote the letter. As horrifying and unkind as the words were to read, the letter doesn't appear to be a crime. Besides, jail time or fines or even a civil suit won't change the views of the writer. It likely won't even change the views of other people who feel the same way that aren't as vocal about it. You can't force people to change if they don't want to.

So, why share such a hateful example of humanity? 

Because the world needs to know that this attitude exists.  


Do you know what my biggest fear is when it comes to Brandon? It's that he will be bullied or made to feel like less of a person because he does things and thinks differently than other children. I've already seen it happen, though Brandon is blissfully oblivious and I sincerely hope he stays that way for as long as possible. It isn't even that children dislike him - he's well -liked. He's just not well-understood. That lack of understanding can lead to insensitive remarks and behaviour that are perfectly normal for many of the children he's around. As they get older, it's our job to teach them to be more accepting and sensitive. It's a tricky balancing act. Brutal honesty or exploring new words and ideas can often come across as mean, even if the intent is not there.

Last weekend, I was at a friend's house with Brandon. Her daughter is in the process of trying out a new word she's picked up somewhere. When Brandon was about her age, he tried out this word too. 


Brandon's first four-letter word. (Well, maybe's just the first that we admit to.)  What a doozy, though. And yet, kids need to learn that word and understand its meaning and know how to recognize hate. We can't shield them from it or deny that hate exists. We've been working on helping Brandon understand that it's unkind to say he hates another person. He has learned it's unkind to say those words, but it's going to take a while for him to fully comprehend the concept of hate.

My friend's daughter told Brandon in some form or another that she hated him. She doesn't hate Brandon; like him, she doesn't even fully understand what hate is. She's doing the same thing Brandon did at her age. The difference is that Brandon now has some awareness that the word is unkind and she's just starting that learning process.  

My point in sharing this story is that children are often labeled as mean or brats or terrors. I have no doubt that some knowingly push people's/parents'/kids' buttons. They can be smart little buggers. But they take their cues from the adults in their lives. Generally speaking, kids who hear hate will hate. Kids who are taught kindness and sensitivity will be kind and sensitive to others.

I truly feel sorry for "one pissed off mom". I sincerely hope that her children haven't picked up on her hate and fear, but they probably have if here is any truth at all to the letter. That is the saddest part: she's raising a new generation to lack sensitivity and awareness of autism. She's discounting the value children with autism bring to the world simply because she sees them as less than human.  

This is exactly the sort of attitude that perpetuates the idea that anyone  with special needs, regardless of the label, is not normal and therefore not as important. But here's the thing: every child is different, whether they have a "special needs" label or not. Every parent makes adjustments to meet the unique needs of each child. We had three kids in my family growing up and my older brother, me, and my younger brother each had very different upbringings. 

Every person is unique, which is something that "one pissed off mom" and others with similar views fail to see.  


And that's one of the reasons I think there's value in sharing this letter. Many people who aren't close to someone with autism would never know that such hate for an innocent child even exists. What I witnessed Monday with so many people sharing the letter wasn't attention to "one pissed off mom", it was outrage and compassion for any human being that has been bullied and made to feel unworthy of living. It was greater awareness of how autism impacts family's lives. Greater awareness of how special it is to be blessed with a child like Max. Or Brandon. Or any other child who has special needs. 

If that helps people to stop being afraid of what they don't understand or know and try to get to know Max or someone else in their community, then maybe the letter from "one pissed off mom" has a silver lining.

A classic case of FUD

I don't really like sharing my inner-most thoughts for all the world, but today I'm going to use my blog as free therapy and somehow, yes, I do feel better for getting this out. And in case you don't know what FUD is - it's fear, uncertainty and doubt. Only this time it's all about my navel-gazing, chronicled below.

Sometimes I wonder if I suck as a human being.

No, this isn't narcissism or fishing for compliments and attention. The nauseous feeling in my gut, the constant questioning of my actions, the tears that come so easily - these things tell me this is a real fear and I can't think of any emotional state that is worse than feeling generally worthless and unlovable.

I don't want to be one of those people that are merely tolerated.

At the same time, it's totally okay if not everyone likes me - or if they're just not that into me. We all gravitate to different people. I don't aim to win any popularity contests, because I know myself well enough to recognize that I wouldn't do "popular" very well. I'd be exhausted after a few hours, I'm sure. Then I'd crawl back into my unpopular cocoon until everyone found someone else to make popular. So, really...wanting people to like me isn't an issue. Of course, I don't want anyone to hate (or intensely dislike) me.

This is probably just a crisis of confidence. ("just"!)

I've been kicked a few times this year - hard. Each time it happens, the wounds take longer to heal. If the previous wounds haven't healed and I get kicked again, the pain is excruciating.

I don't want to be a horrible human and I don't want to be perceived as a horrible human, but I can't control what other people think of me - not even people who I thought would be unconditionally in my corner. Of course, no one is perfect and "unconditional" doesn't truly exist even when we really, really want to and really, really try to exhibit unconditional like, love, respect, etc.

Even allowing for the human factor, I feel emotionally battered.

I ask myself what I can do to be better and then realize that trying to convince others that I'm really a nice person who means well is just not going to happen. If I'm not accepted for who I am (even if who I am changes), then that says something about the underlying relationship that makes my heart hurt.

I don't want to play the blame game.

Ultimately, there is truly not one single person or reason that I can point a finger at for how I feel. People hurt people - sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally. I usually have thicker skin, but this year I happen to be pretty sensitive and it's not pretty.

I hope I don't ever make someone else feel the way that I do right now, but I'm human and I have a bad feeling that I have - and that sucks.

It's time to move on and stop letting others have this kind of affect on me. 


I know some of you are genuinely concerned reading this and are possibly wondering if I'm referring to my relationship with Matt. So, I'll say this: Marriage is hard work. Since I started my business, it's been harder work than ever before because the imbalance hasn't been fair to Matt. There are no guarantees, of course, but Matt and I are doing pretty good and we're both committed to working through any issues that come up. I like to think we're entering a new phase of our relationship because of the work we've done, but we both know it's not going to be smooth sailing. There has to be compromise that we're both comfortable with. Matt is an amazing guy and he knows what's going on and is doing everything he can to help me through this.  

A week with Ford tech for Father's Day

When I was asked if I wanted to do anything with Ford Ottawa for Father's Day, I jumped at the chance. We've been talking for about six months now about getting a second vehicle. Our top contenders were the Ford Escape and the Ford Focus. The Escape has been eliminated from the short list and I've added the Ford Fiesta as of last week when I saw the non-hatchback version - super cute! We really like our SUV and want a small, more fuel-efficient second vehicle. Sadly, the C-Max is not in our price range. (Bummer! I sure loved it!)

As you might have noticed, I'm a little late writing about Father's Day. I'm perpetually late these days, to be honest. Although, I did get Matt his Father's Day present early - as in the same week as Mother's Day. Let's just say I way overestimated how long it would take to come. Father's Day part two will be a whole week of taking a car we may purchase for a test run and the thing we both want to check out the most? The tech!

Matt's been talking about Ford's technology for years. Each time I've used one of the Ford vehicles for trips, he's had to look it over, but this is the first time I'm not taking the car and leaving him. It will be right in our driveway for a full week for him to peruse to his heart's content. And I'll be right there by his side.

All this talk about driving a Ford got me reminiscent. I have a lot - a LOT - of Fords in my past. In fact, not counting my current vehicle - which has the distinction of being my very first brand new car purchase ever - my favorite and least favorite vehicles to drive were both Fords. 

My favorite was the Ford Bronco II. In fact, the SUV we have right now handles so much like that Bronco II, that might be why I enjoy driving it so much. The Bronco II was my first standard transmission and I actually learned to drive stick in it. Actually, it wasn't mine. My brother had a very unfortunate knee injury which meant he couldn't drive standard for quite a while. So, he gave me his Bronco II and I gave him my Ford Tempo. The trade was fairly even. The truck didn't have A/C anymore and the Tempo didn't have much pickup. ;)  Once I got the hang of driving stick, that truck was a dream to drive. I finally understood why people enjoy driving vehicles with standard transmissions. Everyone should learn...including Matt so we can finally buy one!

Image Source: Wikipedia

The least favorite car is probably a predecessor of the Ford Tempo. And, like the Tempo, it is not a jewel in Ford's design and performance history, I'm sure. Even Scott Monty would probably have trouble marketing the Ford Fairmont circa 198-whatever year it was - '81 or '83, I think. I drove it in the mid '90s, so it had aged a fair bit. I told my mom it would go zero to sixty in five minutes. I would even lean forward in the driver's seat as I went up hills (Tallahassee is a hillacious city!) and willing the car to just please go.

I also drove a Ford Taurus for a while. I didn't even care that I was 18 driving a family sedan. It was a nice car and it had a keypad on the door so I could lock my keys in the car and not have to worry about getting back in. That feature and the miles to empty (this was in the U.S., not Canada) saved me numerous times.  

So, I'm really looking forward to using Ford technology again in the Ford Focus [PDF] and spend a week poking around and really getting to know what the car can do.  

Social media is now the judge and jury of all public actions?


A woman recently took a train trip. According to this woman, a group of men sitting next to her allegedly spent the entire two hour train ride boasting about the affairs they were having while their wives (supposedly) remained blissfully ignorant.  

At some point, she took a picture of one man in this group. Then she posted it to Facebook where it has since been shared 197,038 times (as I write this). The average Facebook user has around 120-130 friends. Even accounting for overlap, that means millions of people have potentially seen this man's face with the message that he is a cheater. That isn't to mention articles and blogs that have posted the picture. (Sorry, you won't find it or a link to it here.)

I don't condone cheating, but this situation is sickening to me.  

This week, news broke that the US government is looking at users' call data. And the internet exploded with opinions on the matter. The most vocal are those who are against this kind of invasion of privacy. 

We don't like the government looking into our personal business (even when it's as seemingly innocuous as phone numbers and call times), but some are quite okay with the kind of public shaming that took place when a private citizen posted a picture of another private citizen with a serious accusation simply because he was having a conversation in a public place. 

I can't help but wonder if this is the direction we're heading. Will every public action we take be scrutinized, documented and shared with the world to be judged? 

If this is the way social media is going to go, I want no part of it. Assuming this man actually is cheating on his wife, can you imagine how humiliating it would be to find out that a) your husband is cheating on you (if she was unaware), b) millions now know about it, c) your kids (if they have them) could find out how many people found out before them.  I can only imagine the damage that would do to the immediate and extended family of this man and they don't deserve to be collateral damage.

There's no excuse for cheating. None. 

There's also no excuse for publicly shaming someone.

People are human; they make mistakes. Some people make more than others and some mistakes have much bigger consequences. I think there needs to be a little more Golden Rule in our actions and less cheering for the downfall of those who (allegedly) make mistakes.  

At the end of the day, we all screw up in big and small ways. Would you want your biggest mistakes broadcast across the internet for everyone in the world to see and comment on?

Peekaboo Beans - quality children's clothes with some pretty cool benefits

I was compensated for the following review with a pair of pants that didn't fit me well so I gave them to Brandon. Opinions are my own.

My good friend, Vicky, sells this Canadian brand of clothing - Peekaboo Beans (PB) - and the quality is amazing. When she asked me if I would do a review, I was happy to oblige. 

Brandon calls his Peekaboo Beans clothes "peas in a pod" because of the company's logo sewn on to all their clothes. It's seriously cute.


PB clothes are meant to be comfortable, functional and allow kids to play. (This is mostly why I was so disappointed that they didn't fit me. I like comfy clothes. Sorry, Vicky; there's a downside to every product.)

The tags even encourage children to play!

All the pertinent stuff we parents need to know is right there on the front of the tags.

All the pertinent stuff we parents need to know is right there on the front of the tags.

Rather than toss it away, you can give it to your child to turn into a wee little piece of art.

Rather than toss it away, you can give it to your child to turn into a wee little piece of art.

As the mother of a child with autism who also has sensory processing disorder (SPD), I have so much appreciation for the thought that has gone into PB clothes. That tag being removable means that kids who are bothered by tags won't have problems wearing Peekaboo Beans. 

Even though the big tag is gone, I don't have to wonder what size Brandon's clothes are with the less bothersome smaller tags left behind.

Even though the big tag is gone, I don't have to wonder what size Brandon's clothes are with the less bothersome smaller tags left behind.

Another bonus is the thumb holes that are so helpful to Canadian kids and parents for roughly nine months of the year (maybe 6 depending on where you live). Thumb holes mean arms of your child's shirt aren't going to get bunched up when it's time to bundle up. (No doubt this is also helpful for kids with SPD.)

Brandon really loves his pirate ship shirt with the thumbholes. (Don't try saying that too fast.)

Brandon really loves his pirate ship shirt with the thumbholes. (Don't try saying that too fast.)

He doesn't wear this shirt without using the thumb holes.

He doesn't wear this shirt without using the thumb holes.

The pants have fake ties for the younger kids, but Brandon is old enough now to wear pants that have a real drawstring. 


So, how does this outfit look now that I've talked about it so much?


Not too bad at all when it's sitting on the counter.

Though I think the best part is when there's a cute kid filling it out. ;)


In addition to selling Peekaboo Beans, Vicky is just a really great person to know. You can get to know the uber-fabulous Vicky by following her on Twitter or liking her Facebook page.

I've been a little behind on my writing (as you may have noticed since there's been a two-month gap between this post and my last), so the PB line has moved on from winter and is into spring and summer. You should definitely check out the new line!

To the women I admire most in the world

International Women's Day is a day of recognition that I honestly wasn't aware of (isn't that a shame?) until about two years ago. In all the years I've worked for and with women, this day was never brought up or recognized. 

Back in the days when I worked for the State of Florida, when my mother and I were employed in the same bureau, I had the absolute pleasure of working with a group of women who I liked personally and professionally a great deal. Many of these ladies were, in fact, also old enough to be my mother and in true Southern style they didn't mind telling me what they thought or what to do. (I even went to school with one of the women's two daughters.) I dubbed them my Ten Moms. I still miss the camaraderie I had with those ladies. I miss them period. Sadly, my mother and other that I know of have  passed away in the years since I moved to Canada. Time moves on and so have I but the memories I have of the first women I looked up to in the workplace will stay with me. I am so blessed to have two truly wonderful women to work with in my part-time job - they are lovely, funny and awesome. I couldn't have picked better if I'd had to choose myself. 

Back: Vicky (Mieka), Lara, Me, Front: Barbara (Reid), Donna, Sara

Back: Vicky (Mieka), Lara, Me, Front: Barbara (Reid), Donna, Sara

Getting involved online has opened up my world to many people, places and things. There's the obvious fact that I met a guy and moved from Florida to Canada to be with him. But that doesn't count on International Women's Day. What does count are the women like Lara, Sara, Vicky, Donna and Barbara who were the original Losing it in Ottawa gang. Most of us were strangers one day and friends the next. Though we've gone on to do other things for the most part, I still count them as friends and admire their chutzpah. Seriously, when you admit your struggles as openly and honestly as we did, it takes guts.

Karen & Lara-0016.jpg

One person who I definitely haven't been separated from in that group is my business partner, Lara. After founding Losing it in Ottawa together, we worked together to start Social Capital Conference. When she needed a new partner for Kids in the Capital, I said yes. The only thing we weren't doing together was consulting - and then we were. I've had a lot of co-workers that I've clicked with and worked well with, but Lara's different. It's like we feed off each other. Ideas burst forth and we seem to complement each other's strengths and weaknesses. We can tease each other about our eccentricities and quirks. A mutual friend, Jordan, has often called us Statler and Waldorf for our twitter conversations that happy when we're feeling goofy and loopy. I admire Lara for many reasons, but the one that is most clear is that she knows what she wants and she isn't afraid to go after it. She's the best kind of partner to have in business.

In general, I don't get starstruck by people who are public figures, but there are people I've come to know through social media that I definitely get starstruck with. I'm still embarrassed when I think about my giddiness meeting women like Amber Mac and Gini Dietrich. I look up to them and respect them as women who are contributing value to their respective fields. Gini, in particular, is someone I follow with great interest because she's so down-to-earth, approachable and she's just plain good at what she does. Also, when I have employees, I hope I'm half the boss she is. Or maybe I should just convince her to let me work for her too. ;)

Ultimately, the women I admire are not famous. They aren't doing outrageous things for attention. They are being who they are, doing what they do the best they can and being awesome at it. This is merely a select few women that have influenced me in my life and I haven't even talked about the most influential woman in my life much in this post. My mother helped shape the person I am more than any other woman in my life. There is no doubt that I was incredibly blessed to have her for a mom.

Who are the women you admire in your life? Make sure they know today!

The ebb and flow of balance in our family - it's not "fair"

My friend, Annie, recently wrote about Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg  - two very accomplished women - and their decisions and comments that could be detrimental to families should their philosophies be openly implemented far and wide. Mayer's no-working-from-home inflexibility is already a reality in many businesses and I have no doubt that the law doesn't stop businesses from asking women about their plans for having a family. I have personally had comments made to me on more than one occasion that were at least borderline if not outright illegal.

A lot of the articles around these recent events are about achieving balance in families. The question of balance is often heavily weighted toward the need for it in women, but what about men? Or, what about overall balance in the family unit?

Actually, let me back up and say I don't believe there is such a thing as balance in the sense of a one size fits all amount of time to spend working and with family. I also don't think that balance for one family is going to look the same as balance for another family. I've written about the juggling act of work and family and gender roles before and - after reading it again - things have changed quite a lot for us in the last two years.

What our balance looks like

Since 2013 began, I've reduced my hours at my day job from full-time to part-time. This change was supported by my employer without hesitation. My co-workers have been equally supportive. My husband has given me an incredible amount of support as I pursue building a new business, but my new business is every bit as much work for him as it is for me. It's created an imbalance (temporarily for an indeterminate period of time) that was hard for him at first - change doesn't come easy to him. However, he worked through that adjustment in our lives and accepted it gracefully. His support of what I am doing has been unwavering since. I give him full credit for his efforts because it's just not easy to go from the surety and "security" of a salary to the ebbs and flows of consulting work.

I'm painfully aware that I allow Matt to do far more than his fair share of housework and parenting. He works full-time, does dishes, his laundry, cleans, vacuums, takes out the trash, buys groceries, gets the mail, and countless other things.

I've been sick for most of this year with one bug or another and working late most nights added to illness added to working through the day have made me drowsy and sluggish in the mornings. I wake up later and later and my poor husband bears the brunt of getting himself ready, getting Brandon ready, making breakfast for both of them, packing Brandon's lunch, book bag and daycare bag, packing the car and ushering everyone out the door. It's taken a toll on him and he's stressed and tired, so that imbalance has to shift.

We only have one car, so the commute involves first dropping Brandon off, then Matt, and I take the car most days. Brandon is at daycare for 9-9.5 hours. I pick Matt up first and he and I go spend some time at home alone. We talk about our day, do a bit of cleaning, then one or both of us will go pick up Brandon.

Imbalance in division of duties doesn't necessarily mean an unhappy family.

Imbalance in division of duties doesn't necessarily mean an unhappy family.

Unless Brandon has therapy. In that case, he gets picked up early and I take him to his appointments. I've taken on the lion's share of paperwork, appointments and other logistics of getting Brandon treatment. Matt is aware of what's going on and stays involved, but I have more flexibility for appointments and Brandon has many, many appointments. There is a perceived imbalance and I do more than my "fair" share, but it's working better than if I insisted Matt help.

We typically get home in the evening between 5:30 and 6:00. Matt or I prepare dinner for Brandon. I sometimes prepare dinner for myself. Sometimes we all three even eat together, but our dinnertime flexibility allows Brandon time to play, which is something he needs. He goes to bed early and he needs downtime as well. I dream of the day when we all three sit at a table at the same time to eat every night. We're not there yet, and it may take a while, but this is what works for our family right now. We're spending time together and that's the important thing.

After dinner and playtime, Brandon gets to watch a little TV before bed. At bedtime, I  lay down with Brandon for him to settle into rest more quickly. I enjoy this one-on-one snuggle time with my baby and I would miss it if he stopped wanting it, even though there have been many nights I wished I didn't have to do it. Matt spends this time eating his dinner or doing various household chores. Nearly every night when I leave Brandon's room, I head to the office to work some more.

By 10pm most nights, Matt is in bed trying to sleep, if not out cold. I try to shut down at 11pm and then spend some time reading to wind down my brain. However, it'snot unusual for me to stay up until 2am or 3am if I get really focused on something. (It's no wonder I'm sluggish at 6am.)

Some nights, I go out to functions, which leaves Matt in charge of doing everything for the evening. He doesn't complain and I know I've got it good.

This time in our lives is tricky. It's requiring Matt to sacrifice his hobbies and downtime. It hasn't been easy for him and I won't pretend it hasn't caused problems between us. The better my business does, and the more Matt sees that I'm not leading us down the garden path, the less he minds the sacrifice. I like to think he is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I know I am.

Like Sarah Lacy, I don't expect anyone else to want *my* life and *my* version of balance for themselves. This is what works for me and my family right now. A year from now, the picture will likely look very different. 

If individual couples can figure out that balance requires flexibility and constant renegotiation, then companies need to learn that as well. They may just find that employees enjoy their work and become more productive as a result.

We all need a better mirror and a little kindness

I was in sixth grade when I started noticing the things about myself that were different. The most obvious difference was my skin. I don't tan. I burn and then go back to my pasty white skin.

I was dubbed Casper. It could have been worse, I suppose.

And then it got worse.

"Did your mama drop you in a tub of bleach?" was just one of the cracks they made about my pale skin. 

It wasn't bullying. No, it was just inconsiderate children not knowing when to stop because they're hurting another human being.

The day it stopped was the worst day of all. Incessantly pointing out how pale I was. Making jokes that weren't least to me.

I felt like less and less likeable the longer the barrage continued.

I finally left the room without a word to my teacher or fellow students. I ran to the bathroom and cried, wishing with everything in me that I was not the person I was.

If you can’t see something beautiful about yourself
Get a better mirror
Look a little closer
Stare a little longer

Eventually I stopped listening to the voice in my head telling me that being different was a bad thing. I learned to appreciate my pale skin. I stopped caring so much what my peers thought about me. I figured out how to like myself as I was. 

It may seem like a trivial matter, this issue of having pale skin. So, let me add some context: I was eleven and lived in Florida.

It mattered to me, even if it didn't matter to anyone else.

It's still a battle sometimes to like parts of me that I view as less than perfect. But I have never let myself go back to feeling as if the person I am isn't good enough.

I hope everyone who sees this video goes out to find a better mirror, take a closer look and stare a little longer until there's no doubt in their mind that they are beautiful and valuable, just as they are.

Kindness Week in Ottawa is wrapping up today - let's go be kind to one another every day for another year, my friends.

My favorite things: Squarespace


Since the beginning of this year, I keep getting into conversations about Squarespace. Someone would ask if anyone knows anything about it and one of my friends would reply and direct them to me because I tend to be pretty vocal about how much I like it. I'm far from an expert on Squarespace, but I have become a loyal customer over the last three years. 

When I started blogging, I signed up for a Blogger account. It was free and easy to use. I did all my own design from day one. I have never done anything overly fancy or cool, but I think my layouts were generally nice for a typical blog layout. My current layout is simple and minimalistic - exactly what I wanted. This blog is my hobby, so even though I was tempted to hire a designer, I knew I wouldn't do it as long as I was on Blogger.

An alternative to Blogger

Then I started thinking about Squarespace. I had learned about the platform through podcasts they sponsored back in 2007ish? In fact, several of the podcasters were so impressed when they tried it out that they used it for their own sites. These were tech podcasts, and these tech journalists knew what they were doing. So, when I decided to make the jump from Blogger, despite having set up a Wordpress account already, I chose to go with Squarespace.

A comment problem

My only regret has been the lack of threaded comments. One of the primary reasons I was switching platforms was to have a more "grown up" blog conducive to discussion, which isn't easy unless comments are threaded.  I'm disappointed to this day that they haven't integrated them into version 5. It's a paid platform and it should have threaded comments if Wordpress, the "free" platform does. I'm not sure we'll get comment threads on V5, though.

Problem solved

Two years ago Squarespace announced a new version - V6 - was coming! It has threaded comments, gorgeous templates and lots of social integration. Yay! Six months after the full launch of SS6, I finally moved this blog over. The biggest challenge I had was figuring out where everything was and it still only took a few hours over a couple of days to set up my site and import everything from V5. Squarespace makes it so easy!

Easy breezy customization

I've taken HTML and CSS. I have coded my own website from scratch - nothing fancy, but I'm more proficient than the average bear. With Squarespace, I don't have to know any code at all. I can customize the templates to my heart's content to create a unique site for myself without ever coding a single line. I've incorporated the Nivo slider into one site before Squarespace introduced slideshows. Now I don't need to custom build a slider if I want one - it's a built-in function.

While I find customization in Version 5 to be much more flexible, Squarespace releases new features regularly, so I'm hopeful that V6 will become more versatile over time and I have no doubt that they'll introduce more and more fabulous templates.

Squarespace vs Wordpress

I surprise people regularly by telling them I don't like Wordpress. I've been using Wordpress regularly as long as I've been using Squarespace and I've done lots of site customization/design on WP. I can easily spend four times longer customizing a WP site as I do customizing a SS site. 

Wordpress is a "free" platform. It's open source, which means there are thousands upon thousands of plugins (and themes and other stuff) to pick from built by the open source community! The downside is that not all plugins are created equal (and you have to sift through thousands and thousands). Sometimes they don't work with your Wordpress install or your theme or they don't quite do what you want. My head is spinning just thinking about it. I bought Thesis for a self-hosted site I developed in 2011. Of the (admittedly few) themes I've used, Thesis was the easiest to customize. However, it was not "easy". Custom themes? Ugh. Have I mentioned I don't like Wordpress?

My personal preference

If Squarespace disappeared tomorrow, I'd go back to Blogger before I sign up for Wordpress again. My opinion is that Wordpress is a bulky beast that is about as user-friendly as Microsoft Access (and I know Access well). I don't subscribe to the notion that just because everyone else is using it, I should too. Yes, WP has the lion's share of the market when it comes to blog platforms, but that doesn't mean that other tools aren't worthy of attention - and Squarespace is attracting more attention all the time. To me, Squarespace is a superior tool. The time I save on every aspect of my site - design, maintenance, software updates, etc. (NO updates!!!) - makes up for the cost of a premium hosted service about three times over. 

The Squarespace team's response to Hurricane Sandy just re-affirmed my choice. That's a commitment to customer service that cannot be denied. They also have actual support. I can ask my buddy Google (or the SS Help forums) how to do something and get answers, or I can send in a support ticket. I always get an email so fast that it takes me by surprise every time.

There are a lot of people who prefer Wordpress over Squarespace. Some reviews give me the impression they haven't truly given SS a fair shake. For others it's just not a platform that meets their needs. There's also a really strong community out there that believes in open source software. 

What should you use?

I think the question of what platform to use should really come down to what suits your needs and preferences. For me, that platform is Squarespace. It's not perfect (realistically, none are), but it's very, very good. 

Just in case anyone's curious: This is not a solicited review. It's my thoughts about the blogging platform I use as compared to others. Squarespace hasn't paid me or verified the accuracy of anything I've said so feel free to take it with a grain of salt. I just wanted to be able to send people a link when they ask me about Squarespace. ;)

Knowing isn't even 1% of the "battle", but it's still a huge relief

When I was growing up during the years we lived in central Florida, my mother was a special education teacher. Her class had children in it who could not be put in mainstream classrooms - not even by today's more lenient standards.

I asked my mom to let me go to the school where she taught, even though we lived less than two blocks from an elementary school. Every day after my class got out, I went to my mom's classroom and we would often have a student or two or three who remained at school for a variety of reasons. It wasn't unusual for mom to give students a ride home or assist their parents on errands. In one instance, I recall taking a profoundly deaf boy (with severe anxiety if I remember the situation accurately) to be fitted with new hearing aids. He screamed almost the entire time until his hearing aids were fitted. 

1983 - I proudly wore my school's colours (kelly green) and mascot at the Special Olympics. We always went when mom had students participating.

1983 - I proudly wore my school's colours (kelly green) and mascot at the Special Olympics. We always went when mom had students participating.

In another instance, mom went to each of her students' houses to pick them up and brought them back to our house for a sleepover the night before the Special Olympics. That particular year, they were held at the school close to our house and the families of many of her students could not transport them to the event. (Things were very different 30 years ago.)

I am not a teacher. I couldn't do the kind of work my mother did. But I learned so much from the care she took with the students in her class. I learned that children can be born with any number of challenges that may or may not be obvious at first. By far, the most important thing that I learned (even back then) is that there is help and people do care. 

I was really blessed to have those few years that I remember of Mom teaching. Her health forced her to make a career change when I was eight. As an adult, I never feared having a child born with a learning disability or emotional or mental handicaps, as such conditions were called back then. (Sorry. I'm not up on the current terminology at all anymore.) 

There is not much in the world that's cuter than a dinosaur at the dinner table. 

There is not much in the world that's cuter than a dinosaur at the dinner table. 

I've never been more thankful for being the daughter, sister and sister-in-law of special educators than I was on December 12th when I was told that my son has PDD-NOS. It was expected. I heard the words finally and I knew what I had to work with. There were no tears or regrets about anything I've done. I didn't feel a need to grieve over any aspect of Brandon's diagnosis. He has autism, but his future is as bright as it ever was.

Brandon's diagnosis changes little about what we're doing, except that more services open up to us with his diagnosis, but we were already on the right track. We will keep going the way we have been and I'm confident he'll continue to make really good progress.

I couldn't be prouder of him than I am. He is a truly sweet child with a lovely disposition (most of the time). He's funny and smart and so happy. It's exciting to watch this amazing little person growing up and learning new things. He will be fantastic - I have no doubt about it.

Anxiety with severe depression

I nearly had a panic attack when I heard those words last year from my doctor. It's been just over a year since she said them to me. I still don't fully understand what the catalyst was, though I have my theories. It wasn't a single circumstance.

Ultimately, I had a lot going on in life that was weighing me down. The previous summer, we started the process of looking at Brandon's speech and communication delays. Then found out he had motor skills delays in December, so moved on to the possibility of a developmental disorder. I registered him for kindergarten, but worried that he wasn't going to be ready just days before going to see my doctor.

I remember thinking in December that I was so out of shape. Walking to and from work was taking my breath away every time. Except the change happened overnight. One day I was fine, then next I was winded. Odd.

Except I wasn't winded. I was hyperventilating. And it wasn't just on the walk to and from work. It was at varying points through my day and I'd forgotten the months of hyperventilating when I started high school at 14. Just like those first few months of high school, I was so tired. I seemed to sleep well, but stress was weighing me down. I couldn't focus and my work was suffering.

I probably should have gotten help over a year before I actually did. The day I sat on the bus and couldn't catch my breath, tears streaming down my face for no apparent reason. To this day, I have no idea why I had a panic attack on that day at that time. 

It wasn't easy to go see my doctor last year. I'd been depressed in the past, but I was always (somewhat) functional. I kept going and tried to do things to help alleviate the depression. It was usually circumstantial, which seemed easier to recover from, not that PPD after a miscarriage is a walk in the park. Time did heal.

Last year, I had to admit that I wasn't functioning well at all. I was sinking further and further and I knew I needed help to crawl out, especially not knowing what we were facing with Brandon.

So, I went to the doctor, listened to her diagnosis and felt terrified and relieved at the same time. She handed me a prescription and a note for work. I was taken off work for six weeks and monitored.

It took a couple of weeks, but I soon began to feel more like myself. I was engaged, energetic and focused more so than I'd felt for a very long time. It lasted for several months and then I started sinking again, so I went back to my doctor. A temporary solution that was to have lasted just six months has stretched over a year now. I've missed taking my medication occasionally and I know I'm not ready to go without.

I'm writing this today because I've only ever eluded to my struggles in passing. It was an intensely private and personal struggle, much like my fears of the unknown with Brandon were last year. Even family members don't know the details of what I'm sharing today. It's not that they don't care - it's that I just wasn't ready to talk about it. I'm not totally sure I'm ready now even though I believe in talking about mental illness with everything in me. That's why I'm just going to put it out there anyway.

Today is Bell Let's Talk day which is all about ending the stigma of mental illness and helping raise funds for mental health. I don't have a Bell phone line, and most of my friends have iPhones (iMessage and BBMs don't count), but I can tweet up a storm and I'm happy to share the Bell Let's Talk image on Facebook. (Go do it from this link so you get counted.)


When we have the flu, we go to the doctor. We go to the doctor with broken bones. We shout from the rooftops when we have cancer, because it sucks so bad that so many get it and there's no cure. We aren't afraid to tell people about these kinds of health issues, so WHY is it so hard to admit when we're struggling with mental health issues?

It shouldn't be. It's a sickness in a part of our body that needs treatment and attention. So, let's talk about it. Share your struggles so it's no longer considered a weakness. And if you don't have mental health issues, show your support. The world will truly be a better place for it.

A long-overdue, epic tale of a long overdue, epic trip

Back in September of 2012, I declared to Matt that I would be going to Florida for Christmas. My primary motivation was that it had just been way too long since I'd seen my family. (Five years, y'all.) But there's an ever-so-slightly embarrassing to admit motivation.

I wanted to go to Blogworld (renamed New Media Expo-NMX). The conference is a story for another day. The reason it was motivation is because I promised myself two years ago that I wouldn't go to any US conferences before I went back to see my family. I just couldn't do it. 

The only snag was that all - and I mean every last bit - of my travel documentation was long-expired. I needed a new passport. I needed a new PR card. But I don't need to go over my inability to complete paperwork in a timely manner again. I got everything in plenty of time to do both trips without any issues.

I was also really excited that Ford Ottawa granted me the use of the new Ford C-Max for the trip. Brandon has had anxiety when I've brought home strange cars before, so I told him it was our "Florida Car" and that is what it remained the entire two weeks it was in our possession.

The Florida Car

The Florida Car

In my typical last-minute fashion, I didn't pack until the night before. Unfortunately, I had errands to run in the east end of Ottawa after taking Brandon to speech therapy and everything ended up taking longer than usual. B and I didn't get home until very late and I'd frantically texted Matt to ask him to pull together anything he thought Brandon would need for the trip other than clothes. He did and it was impressively good!

I got everything packed away in our ginormous suitcase, leaving the mid-sized suitcase empty with the thought that we'd just put our gifts and anything else we bought in there for the trip home. Unfortunately, we ran into trouble fitting all of our suitcases in the C-Max. It's always fun to re-think your packing decisions 5 minutes before you're planning to leave.

At this point, I made a truly poor decision. I started using re-usable grocery bags. One for each use. This one for stops. This one for snacks. This one for that. I blame the poor decisions on my frazzled mind that was trying to keep a very excited little boy from bursting and maintain some semblance of organization. Ultimately, we got packed and on the road - we were only an hour or two late leaving.

Lesson 1 when traveling with a 4-year-old: Flexibility is key.

We made it many hours before we needed to stop. I think I actually waited until we got down to Pennsylvania. Driving the C-Max that first day was a dream. The sky was overcast (rain was coming!) and there was no precipitation (yet), so I got to know the car in easy driving conditions. Brandon loved watching the reverse camera. He'd have been quite happy to watch what was going on behind us the whole trip.

There came a point when I needed to take a break. Ideally one that would allow us to have food and a bathroom break. Brandon didn't agree. His view was that it could wait until we got to Florida. 

Lesson 2 when travelling with a 4-year-old: Bribery is allowed.

I love road trips in the US because it means I get to eat at Cracker Barrel. The longer the road trip, the more Cracker Barrels I get to eat at. What I learned from our first foray into Cracker Barrel was that a) Brandon really loves rocking chairs and b) the bribery possibilities are endless - and affordable. Check out my first bribe - a violin that he'd been asking us to buy for months - $10. For lunch and a washroom, that was a bargain. No tears, no screaming, no fussing. 

First trip to Cracker Barrel. First bribe of the trip.
First trip to Cracker Barrel. First bribe of the trip.

Too bad it required batteries. Too bad the battery case was closed with a screw. Guess what I didn't have: batteries and a screwdriver.

The first night on the road was rough. We stopped early because B got upset. He was hungry and tired of being in the car and it was raining out. We were just done. I stopped as soon as I could when we were almost at the Pennsylvania border. Three hours north of Richmond, where I'd booked a hotel.

Lesson 3 when traveling with a 4-year-old: Flexibility is key.

That was pretty much how the trip went while we were driving. Although, luckily for Brandon our hotel that first night was right beside a Home Depot. We got batteries and a screwdriver for his violin. The soundtrack of that second day isn't something you'd want to hear for 10 hours.

The sound of touch-sensitive violin in a car.

The sound of touch-sensitive violin in a car.

On the third day, we finally pulled into Tallahassee and I felt tears welling as soon as we got to the first exit on the opposite end of town from where my family lives. Despite my desire to just get home, I took a scenic route, telling Brandon all about the places we drove past, showing him where I went to school. It's a surprisingly emotional thing to share the history of your life with your child. This was my first time doing it.

We finally arrived at my dad's house and went in to see my dad, brother, sister-in-law and nieces for the first time in five years. It was my first time meeting two of my brother's girls.

One of the loveliest parts of the trip was seeing Brandon bond so quickly with his cousins. They played together so well, settling in to a normal sibling dynamic that was solid after just a few days.

Bonding with his cousins.

Bonding with his cousins.

Decorating gingerbread men. Those cookies didn't last long.
Decorating gingerbread men. Those cookies didn't last long.

Brandon made himself comfortable, especially with his Grandpa. Dad was a constant source of curiosity for Brandon - I believe his first words to Dad were "He has a mustache". He dragged his toys to dad's room and made himself comfortable, playing and talking with his grandfather. It was so good to see them together finally.

Brandon had no trouble volunteering his Grandpa to read to him.

Brandon had no trouble volunteering his Grandpa to read to him.

Christmas morning was certainly one of the most fun I've had. I haven't ever had so many kids around. Children really do make it so much more fun. My younger brother did lots of cooking while we were there - both of my brothers are far more talented at cooking than I am. They also both enjoy it. I do not.

It was hard waiting for Christmas to come and when it finally did, Brandon showed so much patience. But eventually it ran out and he woke up the entire house.

It was hard waiting for Christmas to come and when it finally did, Brandon showed so much patience. But eventually it ran out and he woke up the entire house.



My dad and brother both were amazed at the amount of technology in the C-Max. In particular, I think my brother was just stunned that I could kick my foot and the back hatch would open. Seriously, you have no idea how many times that was handy to have on this trip. Just as being able to voice text hands-free in the car (the texts were pretty funny - oh, Siri) was incredibly useful.

This was my first time driving such a long distance and having the GPS was so nice. I knew exactly how far I had to go at any given time. I knew I wasn't going to get lost either. And the gas. Apart from being in the US, where gas prices are so much lower than in Canada, I used roughly half as much gas just by driving the C-Max hybrid. By the end of the trip, I didn't want to give the C-Max back and I didn't want to leave Florida.  

The important thing, though, was teaching Brandon about his southern heritage.

Southern sweet iced tea. I have taught him well.

Southern sweet iced tea. I have taught him well.

I got to spend one week. Just 7 days visiting, catching up, spending time in the same room as my family. It wasn't long enough. Not by a long shot. I don't want to go so long between trips again. Family is so precious. I want Brandon to know his family in Florida. Technology has made the world a lot smaller now. I can text my brothers without having to pay for it. I can call them on Facetime without having to pay long distance charges. But nothing beats sitting face-to-face with someone you love and being able to talk.

Coming home to Matt and Christmas #2 was every bit as good as seeing my family had been.

Back home to have Christmas again.

Back home to have Christmas again.

Dad, it took me long enough to write about our Christmas together. I think this one was our best visit ever. I love you and I hope you have a very Happy Birthday today!