Ode to Baby

“Baby”, recognizable to others as a Strawberry Shortcake doll, was bought at Walmart one day by my husband. She was on clearance. Ashley was almost a year old when he brought her home. Up to that point, she had never shown any interest in any sort of lovey-type item we bought her, or that was given to her. What it was about the doll I’m not sure, maybe it was the strawberry scent – which almost three years and numerous washes later, is still noticeable. But whatever it was, she latched onto that doll and they were soon inseparable.

Baby has undergone quite the physical transformation from the first day she entered our house. Once upon a time she was dressed in bright white and green pants, with soft flesh toned arms, a bright face and beautiful, silky red hair that hung in waves. Baby looks nothing like that today. Today, Baby has dingy grey pants and arms that no amount of washing can render clean again. She has worn out shoes, a worn out dress, and hair that defies all description, except perhaps to say it is a cross between Medusa and Bob Marley’s dreadlocks.

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But, it’s not Baby’s fault, she’s had a very full life. In the almost three years she’s been with us, Baby has been well travelled – she has been to Maine, New Hampshire, Nova Scotia, PEI and all over New Brunswick. She’s been to circuses and fairs, aquariums and zoos, parks and pools. She’s been cried on during times of fear, pain and upset, accompanying Ashley to many medical appointments. She’s comforted Ashley during countless nights of fevers and other illness. She’s been thrown against walls and beaten off floors, during tantrums. She’s been there for every single nap and bedtime. She’s been dropped, stepped on and has caused panic galore when she has been accidentally left behind. She has gone on tractor rides, and has helped dig a garden.

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Ashley is as attached to Baby, as she is to her thumb. In fact the two are normally used together. We have put our foot down, and no longer let her take Baby into stores and other places where she may get lost (unless she’s having a bad day). But, in the home at least, Baby is fair game, anytime, anywhere. As Ashley develops increasingly more imagination and pretend play skills, Baby is her doll of choice. Ashley feeds her, kisses her boo-boos, and tucks her into the hand-crafted doll cradle her father made for, using the doll quilt I made. Baby has even been put in time out!

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As much as I sometimes feel we should be trying to work towards “weaning” her off Baby, I will not rush this. I know the day will come that Ashley no longer needs her. And on that day, I will pack Baby away in Ashley’s memory box, to be returned to Ashley some day when she is grown up, a tangible memory of all that Baby has been – a playmate and friend, a source of comfort and strength, an ever-faithful companion.

 

Playdates

When you have a child on the spectrum, playdates can be hard. Yes, even for us high-functioning parents. Playdates are necessary – every time you participate in one, you are giving your child a social learning experience. And yet… sometimes for the ASD parent, they’re an in-the-face reminder of where your child is not, developmentally. Oh, I’ve long given up on the checklists – all children develop at different rates. But let’s face it, at the end of the day, there really are some general developmental milestones that children have mastered by certain ages.

Honestly, it can be easy at times,  for a parent (and the family) of a high-functioning autistic child to forget that there’s anything wrong, because they can seem so normal at times. In fact, new studies show that females are often harder to diagnose, because they frequently present with different symptoms than males (and the screening questionnaires are all based on the stereotypical male autism traits). For one, most studies show that females with HFA/Asperger’s syndrome, are far more likely to play with toys appropriately and have imaginary play skills, than males. Females tend to be more socially interested. Females also are far quicker to pick up skills through mimicking, than boys, and studies show that females often are able to hide their symptoms through learning to compensate in other ways.  All of these are ways that can make it far harder not just for family and friends to recognize autism in a female child, but even professionals.

For our daughter, we’ve learned that over time she gets into comfort zones. And when within those zones, honestly, she truly can look and often act like a perfectly neurotypical child (I prefer to say neurotypical than normal, because, to quote Whoopi Goldberg, “Normal is nothing but a setting on a washing machine!”). For our daughter, that “zone” means inside our home, as well as a couple other familiar homes, and/or when with familiar people. There are  some public places she’s grown very comfortable in as well – the swimming pool where we go for weekly lessons, and the dance studio.

To see our daughter in our home, honestly, it’s often hard to think of her as autistic. Especially for an outsider, or someone who is not with us frequently. She’s affectionate, speaks well, and is engaging us, and others, more all the time. Granted, we (those of us with her every day) still know the “quirks”, such as  her finger stim that comes out when she’s excited or stressed or struggling with receptive speech. There’s still her sensory issues that we’ve learned to work around and find ways of avoiding and of course her controlling, rigidity issues. And while to an outsider, when in her comfort zone, it may look like she has phenomenal verbal abilities/imagination during play, we know that much of it is scripted/mimicked, picked up from tv shows, movies and her big brother (that said, thanks to ABA therapy, her own imagination is improving by leaps and bounds all the time).

All of this to say… we had a play date with a friend of mine today, and her two children. Her son is only a year or so younger than my son, and their daughter is roughly a  year and a half younger than our daughter. It was so great to get together, and have adult conversation – I even got to drink an entire cup of coffee before it got cold! Our sons had a blast playing together. Our daughters had fun playing as well. However, as I was there… I could see the difference. Her daughter, at two, spoke more than my daughter, at almost four.  Her daughter displayed better imaginary play skills. Outside her comfort zone, and without her big brother there to glean ideas and phrases from, our daughter roamed from toy to toy, stopping to use one for a few minutes, and while using them appropriately – used them silently, without any noises or imagination. Ashley rarely attempted to engage my friend or I, while my friend’s daughter certainly did so. While Ashley would chase the boys upstairs to the bedroom to play, her silence came through loud and clear on the baby monitor – letting me know she was self-absorbed in something, instead of trying to join in the play.

As my friend was sharing some of her daughter’s two-year-old antics, common escapades that any child that age would do, I would comment how our daughter would do the same thing! While there I witnessed my friend’s daughter’s cognitive skills as she was going over the letters she’s learning, and I thought again – Oh! Ashley’s learning her letters, too! I thought it cute they had so much in common. Though, later as I thought on this,  there was that moment of feeling like, “Y’know, is it actually cute that my almost four year old, still has that much in common with a two year old? That she’s still trying to learn skills that most have mastered by now?”

I won’t lie and say that it doesn’t make my heart twinge a bit at times, but honestly? I’m okay with it.  Ashley is being who she was meant to be.  She has had a lot to overcome in her short life – and I think she’s doing an incredibly amazing job of it. Yes, the play date in a sense was a reminder that she is definitely behind her peers socially, but it was also a reminder of all the way’s she’s improved, too. And she has come so far in the year since her diagnosis, especially when out of her comfort zone. For one, her eye contact has greatly improved with unfamiliar people. While she may not engage us as much as a “typical” child – she is still very content to be perfectly all alone, she is seeking us out in play far more than she used to. She is  also learning to seek out our help, which is huge! She is also engaging her peers more, too.  And thanks to therapy, her expressive vocabulary is phenomenal, I’d even dare say advanced for her age, which is clearly evident when she’s trying to tell us off!

And so, instead of feeling sad that she’s not at the same peer-level, we’ll learn from today, and all the other future playdates. We’ll use them as a way to help us work on those areas she still needs some help. And we’ll continue to proud of all her achievements.

Two Steps Backwards?

We made two changes in our daughter’s life last week, that honestly felt like taking two steps backwards. Despite the fact that she is nearing the age of four, we bought her cloth diapers, and we sold her twin bed, buying her a toddler bed instead. Not what you’d normally be doing at this stage of the game. However, we felt these choices were for the best.

I have written before of our struggles with our daughter’s insomnia. From day one, she has struggled with it, at times worse than others. In her almost four years, she has yet to consistently sleep through the night. Every night she wakes up at least once, normally coming downstairs and spending the rest of the night in our bed. If we tell her to go back upstairs she will – but she won’t necessarily go back to sleep. We have tried natural supplements and Melatonin. We have tried magnesium baths and lavender. We have tried just about every sleep remedy you can think of. We’ve sought out doctor’s opinions, only to be told that unfortunately sleep problems are common in children on the spectrum, as well as those who were seriously ill as babies. Which basically means – there’s nothing we, or you, can do, but wait it out.

We’ve desperately been trying over the last year or so to find a pattern, a reason for the insomnia. We’ve looked back at the places where she has slept the “best”: on the floor in what she calls a “crib” (blankets piled around her like guard rails), in a small area next to her bed, in our bed with us, in a tent, in a small cubby-style bunk bed in a camping trailer.  We realized that all of these have a common factor – they’re small, often enclosed spaces, generally low to the floor. Could it be this simple?

We started researching bed tents, however they wouldn’t fit on her loft bed due to our sloped ceilings. Then we looked at getting rid of the loft and getting a regular twin bed, with the bed tent, however we weren’t crazy about the idea of the tent in the middle of the night, if she was struggling to get out of it in the dark. That’s when we started looking at toddler beds. With their raised sides, small size and nearness to the ground, they seemed to combine all the characteristics of the places she had slept the best.  One night while browsing, I found a used Little Tikes playhouse bed, complete with a window-style cubby at the head of the bed. This seemed to suit our daughter perfectly, what with her penchant for hoarding treasures.

We showed her the picture online and it was love at first sight. We bought the bed two days later, and it was brought home to us just this past weekend. She loved it even more once it was in her bedroom, and she quickly made a place in the window for her “baby” to sleep in.

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(Ignore the red and blue walls, this is our son’s old room which is waiting to be painted princess pink!)

While it is too soon to tell for sure, I am so excited to say that our daughter has stayed in her bed all night, ever since we got the bed! Now Murphy’s Law of course dictates that tonight she will wander down at 1:00 am and crawl in bed with us, but, just in case his law miraculously fails… our fingers are crossed that our “needs-small-sleeping-spaces” suspicions have been confirmed, and we may be on the right track towards blessedly sound sleep.

Our next change, or step backwards, was putting Ashley in cloth diapers. Technically this isn’t really a step-backwards, since she’s still in diapers at night time anyways. But, probably most people would not bother investing in cloth diapers when their child is nearing four years of age.  We did a lot of research on the different styles, brands etc… In the end, I purchased 6 Kawaii diapers. What a phenomenal value! The diapers were only $8-10 each, each come with two soaker inserts (they are pocket style, one size fits all), and they are adorable! All in all, we only spent $62.25 for 6 cloth diapers (definitely enough for a week, since she is normally in panties during the day). Considering that we spend $15 a month on disposable pull ups/diapers, our investment will have paid for itself in only 4 months.

 

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So, why did we do it?  One of the biggest reasons is that we have yet to find a store bought diaper or pull-up that does not give our daughter a rash.  This ties into our desire to live green, and get away from the chemicals that surround us. Also, realistically, our daughter is going to be in diapers at night, for at least quite awhile longer, since she is not even close to being night-trained. Knowing this, financially, it makes sense – as I already mentioned, the diapers will have paid for themselves in four months’ time. We also still need them occasionally during the day if we’re going on a long outing, as our daughter can’t be trusted to use the toilet consistently when her routine is off. We might take her to the potty, and have her try, and then 10 minutes later, she’ll pee her pants. Trouble potty training is just another joy of life on the spectrum, as we’ve been told!

We have been using the diapers for 5 nights now. I am happy to report that not once has our daughter woken up with a rash since we started using them. I’ll admit, she’s only so-so on the bulk of them. I had to remove the second insert and we just use them with one. That seemed to work better. Also, she is sensing the “wetness” more in them, than her diapers/pull-ups, and she is not nearly as content to wear them when wet, which is precisely what we wanted.

 

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Our daughter wearing her new cloth diapers

So, despite the fact that it felt like we were taking steps backwards, I think our decisions are actually helping move us forwards with two of our major goals for this year: sleep and potty training! Moral of the story, don’t worry about what others think or say, or worry that you think your instinct is crazy – just go with it!

 

 

 

Being Personally Green

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post about how we are switching to green cleaning in our home.  I have also been striving to go more natural with our personal body care products: make up,  shampoo, soap, you name it.  The amount of chemicals we are exposed to daily is astounding, and it is no surprise that cancer rates are on such an alarming increase. People underestimate just how much these chemicals are absorbed through the skin. Here’s food for thought:

“Remember your skin is your largest organ and what you put on it goes directly into the blood stream and travels through your entire body. I love the rule: IF YOU WOULDN’T EAT IT, DON’T PUT IT ON YOUR SKIN. Definitely something to think about, hey?”

An interesting article found here, gives just a small insight into how many chemicals we are exposing ourselves, and what’s worse – our babies and children, to. While at first I thought, “Oh sure, just another “green” company wanting to sell their products,” unfortunately, the facts are solid. A quick Google search confirms the accusations and statistics,  including an article on CBS News where Johnson & Johnson says they “hope” to have the chemicals removed or reduced in their products by 2015.  This statistic really stood out to me:

82 percent of children are exposed every week to one or more ingredients with the potential to harm the brain and nervous system.

82%. That is not acceptable. All these chemical-containing products, are shoved down our throats as necessities by billion dollar industries, who want to save a few dollars at our expense. Unfortunately, despite living in an age of “knowledge at our fingertips”, we tend to be hopelessly ignorant of the effect of all the chemicals we’re exposed to daily. We just ingest it and/or use it, never questioning. We accept the marketing myth that this “safe” product, is actually safe. I used to be one of those people.

However, no longer.

Now, we’re on the quest for a completely natural household (well, the children and I are, I’m still working on my husband with regards to his personal care products).  A wonderful website that can help with this is the EWG (Environmental Working Group) Consumer Guides. There you can click on links that will let you evaluate the health safety of thousands and thousands of products – food, personal care, cleaning etc… It will give you a safety rating, as well as a breakdown of what the hazards are.

For example, we were using Suave Kids 2-in-1 shampoo. It rates overall at a 5 (3-6 means the products has a moderate health hazard). It contains a total of 18 chemicals, 9 of which were listed as moderately to highly hazardous, including known carcinogens and a chemical that releases formaldehyde.  Just what we want to be scrubbing our children down with each night.

We now buy California Baby Shampoo & Bodywash (it might look expensive, but it lasts a long time),  which has an overall rating of 1, meaning no to low hazard. It contains only 1 ingredients that rated 3, the lowest end of the moderate risk, and it was not considered carcinogenic.

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I am still searching for a natural shampoo for Mark and myself. I tried the “Poo-Free” method. However, three weeks into it, I absolutely could not stand the feel of my hair any longer, so I caved. Now, in trying the “Poo-Free” method, I did at least reduce my hair’s natural oil production to the point that I now only have to shampoo my hair once or twice a week. So, it wasn’t all a lost cause.

I haven’t tried it yet, it’s in my shopping cart waiting for me to check out, but upon research, Beauty Without Cruelty’s Lavender Shampoo has a decent rating – overall a 2, with three ingredients that rated 3 or 4, none of which were carcinogenic. I’m still searching for something better though.

Next on the list is deodorant. Now, I have to admit, I rarely use anti-perspirant – I’m just not a person that sweats a lot. However, I do still occasionally need it. I found a great recipe online for homemade deodorant/anti-perspirant, that has good reviews. You can find it here. It’s cheap and easy to make.

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As for body wash and bar soaps, well I’m lucky enough to have some homesteading friends who make their own soap.  I haven’t used a commercial bar of soap in probably over a year. However, if you have to use one – good ol’ plain Ivory soap, is about the safest mainstream soap you can buy, but even better would be a bar of Castile soap, such as Kirk’s Natural Soap. Want to make your own fancy scented soaps, oatmeal soaps etc…, without working with lye? There are some simple, creative ways to do it, and they really could make a fun project with the kids. Not to mention great gifts! I actually found the idea in a Farmer Boy unit study:

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Oatmeal Soap

Grind up 12 oz of basic soap (3 bars). Put 3/4 c of oatmeal in blender and whir until flakes are 1/5 their original size. Melt the soap and 9 oz of water in a double boiler. Add oatmeal and stir slowly until it is fairly thick. Lightly scent with cinnamon (or other natural essential oil if desired). Pour into molds and let set.

Wheat Germ and Honey Soap

Grind up 10 oz of basic soap. Melt in double boiler with 9 oz of water. Add 3/4 c wheat germ, 1/4 c honey and 2 tsp of coconut oil (or almond oil, other nourishing oil). Add in desired fragrance. Stir until fairly thick. Pour into molds and let set.

Note: Pour soap into your mold and tap mold gently to release any air bubbles, and place in the refrigerator to set. After it is set enough to release it from the mold you can remove it and place it on a rack to dry fully (for at least 3 weeks to fully cure). Molds can be fancy molds bought from a store, cupcake/muffin tins, or even a Pringles can or ice cream box (smeared with petroleum jelly so it will release, or better yet a water-based lubricant, since petroleum jelly can also contain carcinogens). You can then cut the soap into desired pieces.

For skin cleansing, I use regular water and a wash cloth. For toning, apple cider vinegar is an excellent choice. Mix a 1:1 ratio of ACV with distilled water. Using a cotton ball, pat it over your face as a toner. Need to exfoliate? Scrub your face with some sugar.

As for skin moisturizers, coconut oil is an excellent choice. It’s perfectly natural, and has many benefits including the fact that it boasts anti-fungal, anti-microbial and anti-bacterial properties. You can read about more of the benefits,  here (not to mention a quick Google search will produce many, many pages with the proven benefits of coconut oil. And not just for skin, but for hair, food etc…).

I am still on the search for “green” make up.  I rarely wear make up, so I admit it hasn’t been high on my priority list, when compared to the products we use every day. Ecco Bella has been rumored to be a good company, and Earth Lab Cosmetics (Canadian company!) was on David Suzuki’s recommended list of companies.

Oh, and how about our teeth? Colgate Total, our usual toothpaste, rates overall not horribly, at a 4, however it contains far more chemical ingredients than necessary (there’s a reason why they don’t let children use toothpaste!), including SLS. Another ingredient, Triclosan, is known to alter hormone regulation. Want some natural remedies? Brush your teeth with baking soda. Add enough soda and water to make a paste, and brush away. You can also use Castile soap (such as Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap). Want something a little tastier? Green Beaver (another Canadian company recommended by David Suzuki) offers much safer, more natural toothpastes, in a variety of flavors.

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Last but not least for today, is diapers. Now, I realize they’re not specifically a personal care product, however, they are something that all parents have to use, and they do involve the skin of our children.  Now, I’m a huge advocate for cloth diapers. There are just countless reasons why they are better – better for the baby and better for our environment. Feel free to Google them. However, no, they’re not as convenient, which is why disposable diapers are so popular today. Yet again – convenience wins over health in today’s society.

We recently switched our daughter to cloth diapers. So recently, in fact that I’m still tracking their progress across Canada via the UPS website! I’ll be posting pictures when they arrive. Why did I change over so late in the game? Because of the fact that no matter what brand we try, she gets rashes with any disposable diaper – even worse with the pull-ups. But no small wonder. All that dye that changes the pull up color to let the child know when they’ve wet? It can leech back onto the baby’s skin. Not to mention all the other chemicals that are found in diapers: petroleum, dioxin, styrene (a known neurotoxin and is also linked to cancer) and others.

However, since I realize the majority of people do not desire to switch to cloth diapers, at least take care to ensure that your disposable diapers meet the following criteria:

  • Chlorine-free
  • Fragrance-free
  • Phthalate-free preferred
  • Dye-free (or at least pigments without heavy metals)
  • A high level of biodegradability

Earth’s Best was one of the top brands for meeting these requirements. Seventh Generation is also another good brand. And don’t forget to rethink the baby wipes.  Most wipes include many harmful chemicals, including one called methylisothiazolinone (listed as a high skin toxin), which can cause severe rashes. Our own daughter complains of pain when we wipe her with baby wipes. They often leave me with a slight burning feeling as well. Solution: make your own. Get some soft flannel, and cut it into squares. Then mix up the following solution: 

1 tablespoon almond, apricot, olive, or other oil
1 tablespoon Dr Bronner’s Liquid Castile Soap
2 drops tea tree oil
1 drop lavender oil
1 cup water

Mix it, and store it in a spray bottle. Spray onto your wipe and away you go.

You can also try this recipe, if you don’t like the idea of having to wash dirty wipes, and want a throw-away version.

And there are some of the ways that we’re trying to personally go green as well. This isn’t about fear-mongering, or being scared that we’re going to develop some horrible disease. Yet, in a sense, it is.  The chemicals that we bombard our body with day in and day out, do put us at an increased risk for multiple health issues, including cancer. So, when there are perfectly safe and natural alternatives out there, why wouldn’t you want to use them? In my opinion – convenience and saving a few dollars, is not worth filling our bodies with toxins.

1000 Gifts

1000giftsRecently I borrowed a copy of the book “1000 Gifts” by Ann Voskamp, after having it recommended to me. Without giving too much of the book away, the overall gist of it is about finding joy and gratitude in the trenches of every day life. Even in the hard times, the hard moments of life. It’s about recognizing the simple gifts that are all around us, that we take for granted. And, once we learn to recognize those gifts, just how much it can change our perspective and attitude. Honestly, it’s such a simple lesson, and yet one we all struggle to grasp. Ms. Voskamp goes on to say how this joy and gratitude in the simple gifts, is really so central and necessary for our faith in Christ, perhaps it’s very foundation.

Within the first few pages of the book I was already feeling convicted in various areas of my life, especially the parenting part. How quick I am to complain about this or that with the children. How quick I am to feel overwhelmed, frustrated and angry, instead of being grateful for the very gift that they are. And while I understand that this is human nature, why should we accept that as an excuse? Human nature is to sin, but as a Christian we acknowledge that sin is not okay, and that we should strive to be sinless. We recognize that we will fail, but it doesn’t mean we quit trying. Likewise, while human nature is to complain about the hard times and frustrating moments – in fact others may tell us we’re justified in our feelings,  that doesn’t make it okay.  Instead, we should be striving for gratitude amongst the disappointment and discouragement, the angry and frustrated moments, the exhaustion.We should be trying to see the gifts.

Sounds cliched, doesn’t it?  A tad trite, perhaps? Others may feel their trials trivialized by such a statement. After all, for the mother who has just buried their child, where is the joy in that? For what, should there be gratitude? Where is the gift in death? The answer is – in having lived.  In the kicks of life you felt in your womb. In perhaps that single moment you got to hold them in your arms. In the smiles they gave you. In the memory of the sound of their laughter. The kisses and hugs they gave you. The pictures they drew. The way they held your hand.

Oh, I know I’m making it sound simple and easy – it’s not. In fact, it’s probably one of the hardest things for us to do, because it goes against human nature.  Making the choice to have joy and gratitude in the face of some of life’s worst trials, requires a huge amount of faith and trust. Remembering that the two go hand in hand. Trusting someone, means having faith in them, and vice versa.  Choosing joy and gratitude, means having faith and trust that God has a plan for you. It means learning to accept what you cannot understand, and trusting that it was what was best for you, even if you can’t possibly fathom how. It’s trusting that God never allows our suffering to be in vain.

But trials and tragedies aside, even in our day to day lives, how many gifts pass us by, as we get focused on the mundane details? Any mother’s life – working, or stay-at-home, can sink into a rut: Get up. Get breakfast. Get dressed. Get the children dressed. Clean the kitchen. Do the dishes. Feed the cat. Fold the laundry. Clean the mess your child made. Put away the laundry. Do lessons. Stoke the fire. Scrub the toilet. Referee the fighting siblings. Pack lunches. Run errands. Get groceries. Calm the tantrum. Sweep. Lecture your child on not talking back to you. Mop the floors. Put a child in time out. Pay the bills. Give the children their baths. Get their pjs on. Wrestle them into bed.

It can be exhausting. It can seem repetitiously never-ending. Dull. Wearying. If you add some of the extras that special needs children can throw your way, it can become overwhelming. There’s always that moment (or moments) in marriage and parenting, when the thought crosses your mind, “This isn’t what I thought it would be like.” And disappointment and discouragement are sure to follow. And once caught in that rut of fatigue, monotony and discouragement, it can be hard to see the simple gifts that surround you, every day, all day.

The book is simplistically beautiful and yet in-your-face. It will make you think and re-evaluate your views. It will challenge you. It certainly did me. In fact, I decided to copy the author’s challenge she gave to herself, and I have  decided to make my own list. My own written proof of the beautiful gifts that God gives me each and every day, when I will only choose to open my eyes and heart to see them. When I choose joy and gratitude, instead of discouragement and frustration.

The list is short, I am new at this. I don’t expect an over night transformation. Like the temptation to sin, I know I will be tempted to fall into old habits of discouragement. And yet, even today, I felt a difference. During the car ride home that admittedly felt like it would never end, with the children unceasingly tormenting each other and arguing, I chose laughter instead of anger and frustration. Amongst the arguing, I found that “gift”. And I wrote it down here, but what’s more, I wrote it on my heart, to remember.

1000 Gifts

1. Seeing your children cuddled up in your husband’s arm.

2. Wet doggy kisses from your children that dry on your cheek.

3. A good song on the radio.

4. The feel of a child’s hand in your own.

5. Sunshine melting the snow, the anticipation of spring approaching.

6. Hearing your children’s simultaneous answers of, “I don’t know!” when you ask them why they fight all the time, and the immediate laughter that follows by everyone. That moment of agreement.

7. The feel of a child snuggled next to you in bed.

8. Having your child ask you to cuddle them.

9. Hearing my son call me “Mama”.

10. The feel of sunshine on your face.

11. The sole sound of nature around you as you climb up the mountain on a chair-lift.

12. Standing on the top of a mountain, seeing God’s creation below you.

13. Having your daughter hand you a tiny umbrella she made for you out of Lego.

14. Laying your head on your husband’s chest.

*My goal will be to add to this list daily.

Reward Charts

Sometimes an idea is given to you, and the more you think about it, the more you realize it’s genius!

I was feeling frustrated yesterday by the incessant requests from my children for some “DS time”. Yes, both children have a Nintendo DS – not by our choice. They were given to them by family members. Now, I will be the first to admit that the DS has been a life saver on car trips and during medical appointments! But, typically in the home, it is a thorn in my side, as the children always want to play them. We are very strict about the amount of time they are allowed on them, typically limiting them to 20-30 minutes, tops, and not even every day.  This, in their minds, is not enough.

My son especially can get very fixated on video games. While he normally does okay while he’s playing them, it is often a meltdown when they’re over. While part of it is just a typical child’s reaction to not wanting to stop something he is enjoying, the other part is due to the fact that video games are sensory overload for children with Sensory Processing Disorder. While playing video games a child gets bombarded with visual and auditory sensory input, but without  proprioceptive to balance it (the exception to this can be the Wii). And unfortunately one area of our son’s modulation difficulty is modulating his reactions to visual input. In other words – video games are a ticking time bomb for him.

As I mentioned we do not allow the children to play their video games every day, despite their frequent requests. While Thomas has a fairly good grasp of time in reference to days, our daughter at only 3 1/2 of course, has none. Both children do much better with visual input than auditory reminders. I was talking to my daughter’s ABA therapist about their constant asking for the DS, the fixation our son gets with it, and she came up with a great suggestion: make them earn it, and let them visually see their efforts, so they can see when they can have it.

She explained further: to try using a reward chart, earning stickers for doing chores, having good behavior etc… Then when they earn however many stickers, they can have some DS time (or computer time or Nintendo time). Knowing how much our children enjoy eating apples, she came up with the idea of using an apple tree as the chart, and using apples as the reward stickers. I mulled it over after she left for the day. The idea was a great one. We had talked off and on of implementing a reward chart, we had just never gotten around to it. The benefits would be three-fold, the children would have a visual way of tracking their behavior and help around the house, they would work towards a prize they enjoy… and they would be able to see when they were going to get their DS.

Originally I planned on creating the charts myself out of construction paper, and I popped online for some ideas. I did a quick Google search for “apple tree reward charts”, and lo and behold, I hit the jackpot! I found this great template from Parent Palace! It was exactly what I was looking for, and even took the therapist’s idea two steps further: it showed them what they would earn apples for, and for extra challenge, it showed what they would lose apples for. I loved the idea of losing apples, as I think it’s a great way for teaching children that their actions have consequences. The template is a free .pdf download, and they have a blank one you can customize.

So, I downloaded and got to work. I decided to make two trees, one for each child. I opened the .pdf up in my Adobe Elements, sized it to an 11×14 (with a dpi of 150), and added the text we wanted for our son’s tree. I also added matching text on the apples, so as he completed a chore, he could place the apple on the tree – a reward and chore chart in one!  I also added a picture of the rewards he could work towards.

Thomas Reward Tree Thomas Apples

For our daughter’s tree, since visual pictures work so well with her, I decided to use images – free clip art I found on the internet. Since we are still working on potty training, I decided to also include that on this chart, as an incentive for her to try and use the potty, instead of going in her panties:

Ashley Tree Ashley Apples

All in all, it only took me probably an hour to create both trees and both sets of apples, including the time I spent searching for clip art. I uploaded it to our local printer, and had them print them print the trees out on card stock and laminate them. The apples I just had printed, and then I cut them out and laminated them myself at home. I attached velcro sticky tabs on the apples so they can be placed and removed on the tree, and I bought some sticky magnets at the local dollar store so we could hang them on our fridge. All in all, I spent less than $15,  for two very nice quality, interactive reward charts. Other reward charts that would be of similar quality and size that you purchase in stores can run you $20+ for one! If you have color ink and your own laminator, you could create these in an 8×10 size for almost no cost at all.

This chart template works well for almost anything: a daily chore chart, a behavior chart, a potty reward chart, a reward for good grades in school etc…  You could also use it for therapy goals. As I already mentioned I put visual cues for our daughter’s potty training on her chart, and for our son, we encompassed his food anxiety, allowing him to earn an apple for trying new foods, something he really struggles with. This way he can visually see his efforts at something that is difficult for him. You could have other therapy goals like learning new skills, completing therapy without complaint etc…

Another idea that came to me after I had already completed ours, that would make it easier to change goals/disciplines without having to reprint the tree:

- Leave it blank and just use a dry erase marker to write in your goals

-  Create a separate page of ways to lose/earn apples, laminate them, cut them out and then just attach them at the bottom with velcro.

I have to say, this is without a doubt the best reward chart I have found!

A Day for the Broken Hearted

As Valentine’s Day draws nearer, the focus will be on hearts. Candy hearts, chocolate hearts, paper hearts, heart stickers – anything that you can make a heart out of.  Over the next week or so,  hearts will be everywhere, representing lovers across the globe. From the couples celebrating their golden anniversaries, to elementary school sweethearts.

On February 14th, cards will be given, gifts opened, flowers delivered and marriage proposed – hearts will be overflowing.  But what about the millions of broken hearted? What will that day mean for them? Simple – everything.

For every 1 out of 100 people, February 14th will not be represented by candy, chocolate or pretty red paper hearts, instead it will be represented by the images of broken hearts. For February 14th, is Congenital Heart Defects Awareness Day.

Instead of a day just for Hallmark cards and affection, the day is, more importantly I might add, a day to raise awareness for the 1,000,000 babies that will be born this year with a broken heart. A day to honor the millions who are currently suffering from congenital heart disease, for those who have fought and won, and those who have died – which 10% of all babies born with Congenital Heart Defects will die before they reach their first birthday.

February 14th is a day to extend strength and support to the broken-hearted parents who are told their child has a heart defect, that their newborn is in heart failure, that their tiny baby requires surgery and heart medications, and more words that should never be used in conjunction with a child. It is a day to offer compassion to parents sitting next to an ICU bed, while their tiny baby lays there on a ventilator with their chest left open after open heart surgery. It is a day to offer a shoulder to cry on to the parents who have had to bury their children – lost to the most common birth defect there is.

So this Valentine’s Day, when you’re opening your cards, eating your chocolates, and smelling the roses your husband gave you, please, take a moment and think of us – the Broken Hearted. Think of a way you can help us – be it educating yourself on CHD, perhaps sharing this post, or better yet – lobbying your provincial/state government to make the Pulse Oximetry test part of standard newborn screening.

The Pulse Oximetry test, commonly known as the Pulse-Ox, measures the oxygen saturation of a patient’s blood. Since approximately 50% of heart defects cause abnormal blood oxygen saturation levels, this test can be very useful in the early detection of undiagnosed heart defects. The test is quick, easy and painless. In fact, we all have it done anytime we go to the ER: that little clip they stick on your finger. That quick little test could save the lives of thousands of children every year.

This leads me to wonder why the Pulse-Ox has not been made part of the standard newborn screening. Standard newborn screening tests currently include blood work that tests for several different diseases/defects that range in incidence rates of 1 in 2000 to 1 in 12000, and yet, no test is currently being done for the birth defect that affects 1 in 100 babies (and this is actually estimated to be 1 in 85 in Canada), and is the leading cause of death in children under the age of one.

It would appear that it is up to us to ensure that this test becomes standard, it is up to us, to save lives. How can you help? By educating yourself and others on Congenital Heart Disease. Share this blog, share the information you’ve learned with pregnant co-workers or friends – just because the Pulse-Ox test isn’t part of routine testing, doesn’t mean that you can’t request for your newborn have it done before leaving the hospital.

This Valentine’s Day, help save a heart.

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Ashley, at 2 months old, admitted to the hospital for failure to thrive, a common side effect of congestive heart failure.

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Ashley today, at 3 1/2 years old – beautiful, healthy and thriving