Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Death of a Pumpkin

After a field trip to a local farm, the kids returned home from school, each with a pie pumpkin and a gourd. Ty fell in love with his gourd. He turned it into his pet pumpkin. He made a bed out of a small plastic bucket for his little friend and put it on a shelf by his bed. Every night he hugged it and bid it goodnight.

He named his gourd, Pumpkiny.

He begged me to let him take it to school, and when I refused, Ty was content to set Pumpkiny down on the hallway table to await his return. It was a very well behaved pumpkin. But as all new things that fascinate a five year old, something more exciting caught Ty's attention and Pumpkiny was left, abandoned, on the shelf.

Sunday afternoon, while I was straightening up the kids' room, I noticed a white fuzzy patch blooming on Ty's little pumpkin. I made the mistake of throwing it in the composter, thinking Ty had moved on to items of more interest.

I was wrong.

Sunday night, after we had carved two giant pumpkins into spooky works of art, Ty headed upstairs. I didn't realize it at the time, but he had decided he must show Pumpkiny what we had created. He ran upstairs to find his friend. He called out, hoping for a reply, but none came. Then I heard a familiar tone in Ty's voice.

That tone a mother uses to call her children when she realizes they aren't where she thinks they should be.

"Pumpkiny? ......Where are you, Pumpkiny?!? .......Pumpkiny!!?!?!!!!"

You know that feeling when you realize you've done something unintentional that has possibly scarred your child for life? Yeah. I raced up the stairs and found him on the top landing. Sobbing.

"He was the best pumpkin I ever had. I gave him a name and everything. Waaaaaah!"

It's not without its sense of comedy, but I can't laugh. Pumpkiny was a thing he cared for and adored. What he is grieving is not the point.

He is grieving.

The loss is real to Ty. Fortunately for me, the loss is easy to replace with a quick trip to the grocery store. Unfortunately, the selection of orange gourds is zero. Zip. Denied. Pumpkiny is gone. Forever. Well, until at least next year.

Pumpkiny II is a little larger than his predecessor, and comes with a pre-painted face. I made sure to take a picture of this one so when the same fate befalls Ty's new companion, he at least has a keepsake for remembrance.

If you have to say goodbye to a dear friend,
you should do it with a rainbow.

Monday, October 24, 2011

There's something I need to talk to you about

These are scary words to hear when they concern your child. They are even more frightening to say to the parent of a child in your care.

When I first started my in-home daycare, the agency I was working with sent me a child we'll call Alfred. The paperwork, completed by his mother and sent to me from the agency, stated that Alfred 'played well with other children'. Within hours of Alfred's first day at my house, I suspected something was unusual with his behavior. After he had been in my care for a few weeks, I was certain something was very wrong.

The agency neglected to tell me that Alfred was referred to them from the Children's Aid Society. I discovered that Alfred had witnessed his father physically abusing his mother on a regular basis. He had a constant expression of hopelessness and eyes that didn't focus on anything or anyone in particular.

He didn't play well with other children. If a multi-piece toy was between Alfred and another child, Alfred would gather the pieces under him and perch himself over them. He pretended to be a cat, communicating exclusively in meows and hisses. He lashed out with his "paws" at the other kids, and once bit me on the foot. He would stare at nothing for hours, oblivious to children playing loudly only inches away.

I explained to his mother that this behavior was unusual and recommended she investigate it with her family doctor. A friend had recommended the name of a pediatric psychiatrist. I wrote the name down and passed it on to Alfred's mother.

"I often think I should see a psychiatrist," she said pensively, as she stuffed the paper into her purse.

That's a great idea. But when you go, take your son with you.

She never went. A few weeks later, she pulled Alfred out of daycare. This is a child who could have benefited from early professional intervention. Help he didn't get.

I am a daycare provider. I don't have a diploma in Early Childhood Education. I don't have a degree in Psychology. I am just the babysitter.

Finding good quality daycare is a challenge most working parents face. Finding a provider with a similar perspective on parenting and discipline, who shares your values, and provides enough consistency in her routine so that you know what to expect from your child when you pick them up from care is a unique blend of qualities. I am not the ideal provider for every child. Every child is not a good fit for my daycare. When you do find the ideal mix of child, parent and provider, you have found gold for both sides.

A child in full time daycare spends as much if not more time with the provider than they do with their parents. A good provider will tell you if they feel there is something about your child that should be addressed. Not only does she spend a lot of time with your child, but she also has the unique perspective of seeing your child interacting with her peers, both older and younger. Take your provider's concerns seriously. Ask her to provide you with details of what she has witnessed and show this to your health care professional.

What will cause your provider to be concerned about your child?


• does not pay attention or stay focused on an activity for as long a time as other children of the same age

• focuses on unusual objects for long periods of time and enjoys this more than interacting with others

• avoids or rarely makes eye contact with others

• gets unusually frustrated when trying to do simple tasks that most children of the same age can do

• shows aggressive behaviors and appears to be very stubborn compared to other children

• displays violent behavior on a daily basis

• stares into space, rocks body, or talks to self more than other children of the same age

• does not seek love and approval from a caregiver or parent

Gross Motor

• has stiff arms and/or legs

• has a floppy or limp body posture compared to other children of the same age

• uses one side of body more than the other

• has a very clumsy manner compared with other children of the same age


• has difficulty following objects or people with her eyes

• rubs eyes frequently

• turns, tilts or holds head in an unusual position when looking at an object

• has difficulty picking up small objects (after 12 months)

• has difficulty focusing or making eye contact

• closes one eye when looking at distant objects

• brings objects too close to eyes

• eyes appear crossed or turned or appear abnormal in size or colouring


• talks in a very loud or very soft voice

• has difficulty responding when called from across the room, even when it's for something interesting

• turns body so that the same ear is always toward the sound

• has difficulty understanding what has been said or following directions (after 3 years)

• doesn't startle to loud noises

• ears appear small or deformed

• fails to develop sounds or words that would be appropriate for her age


• has difficulty pronouncing the following words: sew, house, zoo, buzz, chop, much, jam, fudge, shoe, push, look, ball (by age 5)

If your provider brings any of these issues to your attention, make an appointment with your health care professional. The range of what is considered normal development in a young child is wide, however these red flags are often indicative of a possible developmental delay. Your daycare provider is not interested in being right or wrong. She cares about your child like one of her own. She only wants to support you in your efforts to be the best possible parent you can be.

The Nipissing District Developmental Screen (TM)
CARSC - How Kids Develop

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Just over a week away, Hallowe'en awaits.

It's a fun and festive time for my kids, as it was for me as a child. A few years ago, I took the kids on a walk around our neighbourhood to show them the ghoulish decorations and carved pumpkins on display.

"What's that?" asks Ty, pointing to a skeleton.

"That's a skinny guy who didn't eat his oatmeal," I reply. It made an impression. Years later, he never refuses a bowl of oatmeal. Yay! He eats something!

Some of the daycare kids who go to the same school as my own went on a field trip to a local farm and came home with pie pumpkins.

"What do we do with these?" they ask.

"We scoop out the insides and carve faces into them."

"How do we do that?"

Well, first you need a pumpkin.

Carefully cut off the top and put it aside. Scoop out the insides into a separate bowl. Save the pumpkin seeds for a yummy treat.

Rinse the pumpkin seeds, cleaning them of pulp. Pat dry. Measure out 2 cups of pumpkin seeds. I was a little short, but close enough.

Add 1½ tbsp of melted butter and 1½ tsp of salt. I used sea salt, but any kind of salt will do. The sea salt gave these a flavour not unlike popcorn. Spray a cookie sheet with Pam or grease with oil and spread the seeds out evenly. Bake at 250ยบ for 2 hours.

While the seeds are baking, carve basic shapes into the pumpkin to make eyes, a nose and mouth. Triangles, squares, rectangles are all great shapes to use. Unless you have specific tools or more talent than I do, I really don't recommend circles.

Our Jack-o-lanterns in full flame, complete with battery powered candles.

Happy Hallowe'en

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Star Finally Sleeps

Imagine living your life in the public eye. You are constantly peppered with questions. Followed discreetly in stores and on the street until your stalker works up the nerve to address you. You are the focus of everyone's attention. People point in your direction and whisper amongst themselves.

You've become an instant sensation, a kind of superstar. You'll never be mercilessly discredited in the Enquirer or featured in grace on the cover of People or Time. No one will ask you for your autograph. What you are is a piece of social curiosity. Something new. Different. Unusual.

You are the mother of twins.

I was always amazed at the never ending, inquisitive questions complete strangers assume are totally appropriate to ask another person in public. Some of the more common inquiries include:

"Did you have help?"

Um, what exactly do you mean by 'Help'? in a book?
Yes, I couldn't believe it when "How to Knock Up Your Wife" was available on Amazon. People who bought this also liked, "The Person Behind the Double Stroller May Not be Thinking Rationally" and "The Art of Minding Your Own Business." in a coach?
Nope. Me and the husband figured it out all on our own! in medical intervention?
Only when the buns were cooked and needed to come out of the oven. in fertility treatments?
There was talk of a Pink Floyd reunion tour. Does that count?

"Are they identical?"

Damn it, Jim! I'm exhausted, not a genetics professor. Ok, grab your slide rule and settle in.

As twins go, identical does not mean xerox copies. We're talking twins, not clones. Identical in twin terms means monozygotic (one zygote or basically one united cell). One egg + one sperm = 2 babies. That's complicated math, but essentially what you've gone and done is made two people from the same materials. These twins are almost always the same gender. They look strikingly similar, but subtle differences do exist in all identical twins. Fingerprints, are just one example.

In very rare instances, monozygotic twins result in one being male and one being female. Gender is determined by two sex chromosomes, one from mom (X) and one from dad (X or Y). Combine an X with a Y and you get a boy, an X and an X make a girl. Identical, different gendered twins occur when the female twin is afflicted with Turner Syndrome, a condition where she is missing one of the chromosomes that determine gender. You end up with Boy (XY) and Girl (X).

Turner Syndrome aside, boy / girl twins are not identical. These twins are fraternal or dizygotic. Obvious signs of this are in their diapers. They have different parts. Second, there's an extra prize in play for the sperm brigade. 2 eggs + 2 sperm = 2 babies. Fraternal twins are as different as any other siblings, each made from a random sampling of mom and dad pieces. They can be both male, both female or one of each.

When my kids were infants, feeding every 2 - 3 hours round the clock, I was asked this question by a well meaning friend of my mother's. "No," I replied, yawning, "they're nocturnal."

"How did you cope with postpartum depression?"

You're kidding, right? There was no time to do anything else but tend to the most essential of needs. Feedings, diaper changes, tummy time, getting to know two new members of our family, and keeping up with endless mountains of laundry were what consumed my day. We forced into this schedule time for my husband and I to eat. Sometimes, we slept. Anything else was relegated into the list of creature comforts. You know, non-essential stuff like having a shower, getting dressed, going pee, brushing my teeth. By the time postpartum depression might have developed, there was no time to acknowledge it and besides, I couldn't hear the voices in my head over the baby crying tinnitus that echoed in my ears.

"How do you tell them apart?"

Well, when I get really confused, it's usually time to change a diaper and 'POOF' there's the answer. Most of the time, though, I just look at them. The one dressed in pink is a big hint.

Now that my kids are older, my superstar days are in decline. I don't miss it. I am no longer the circus freak at the park, or the topic of conversation in the grocery checkout line. Now, I am just any other mother of two children. Meet my son and my daughter. They just happen to have the same birthday.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


When I found out my friend was (finally) pregnant for the second time, I was overjoyed. When she told me she was pregnant with twins, I was ecstatic. When she told me the genetics testing indicated that one of the babies might have Down Syndrome, I told her not to worry, this is not uncommon news during a twin pregnancy. The genetics counselor told her the same thing and threw out the results from the blood work, calling it useless. Later in the pregnancy, a fetal cardiologist detected a heart defect common in children with Down Syndrome. Although the ultrasounds showed nothing that confirmed this diagnosis, nothing ruled it out either. I held on to slim slices of hope, I tried to reassure my friend. This couldn't be happening.

I went to visit my friend and her just born babies in the hospital. At 6 weeks premature, they were so very small. Barely 4 pounds, two little human beings lay in separate incubators, entangled in wires and tubes. While the nurse on duty spoke to my friend about how much her daughter was eating and gave her an update on her progress, I peeked in on her son. I looked for obvious signs of Down Syndrome, but I really didn't know what to look for. Then, I did something I don't normally do.

I prayed.

I prayed that the results were wrong. I prayed that if it was possible to put together an entire universe that ebbs and flows with pinpoint precision, surely this child was created with the same care and attention to details. I prayed as I spoke quietly to her son, "Welcome to the world, little man. You have some incredible parents and an older brother who love you like you can't possibly imagine. You just have to get stronger."

My friend came over to introduce us. "He's beautiful," I said, "I don't see it." She showed me the fold on his ear, she pointed out the shape of his eyes which wasn't obvious because they were closed. She told me he was karotyped at birth.

He has Down Syndrome.

One of the great mysteries of having twins is the onslaught of curious questions by complete strangers. "Are they identical?", "Did you have help?", "Do they have ESP?", "Are they related?". People mean well, I suppose, but stupid questions come with the territory. It's not always welcome when combined with exhaustion and postpartum hormones.

Apparently, stupid questions come in all flavours when you are the parent of twins, and one of them also has special needs. I'm sure I am guilty. Other than knowing that Down Syndrome, or Trisomy 21 is the result of an extra copy of the 21st chromosome, I was pretty clueless. I've learned quite a bit more from my friend's relentless efforts to educate and spread awareness through her blog, Down Wit Dat. I'm proud of her. I'm proud of what she's doing. I'm proud to support her efforts to improve the world her son will grow up in.

Seven months have passed since two very tiny infants were added to this world. I still don't see Down Syndrome when I look at the face of her youngest son. I know it's there, but there's a great deal more worth seeing. Strangely enough, her youngest son bears a striking resemblance to my grandfather with his round, bald head and his sincerely kind blue eyes. When her children smile, I see their mother's strength and dedication, their father's generosity and humour. There's also an unspoken understanding that will undoubtedly blossom into a protectiveness reserved only for the closest of siblings. When my friend and her husband are with their children, there is really only one thing I see.


For the month of October, Down Wit Dat will be blogging daily in honour of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, and will continue to do so for November 1 - 7 as well. Check out the Down Wit Dat page on Facebook.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Better history through popsicle crafts

DAYCARE THEME: Thanksgiving

CRAFT: Popsicle people - Pilgrims and Indians

ACTIVITY: Puppet show


A long time ago, people lived in a faraway land with lots of rules and very little fun. The people grew tired of always being told what to do.

They took a ship and sailed across the ocean to a place they heard about called "The New Land". There was no king there and no rules. The Pilgrims thought that sounded awesome. But the trip across the ocean was long and many of the pilgrims got very sick on the way.

Dude, you don't look so good

When the Pilgrims arrived at The New Land, it was winter. There was nothing to eat and they were very cold. The Indians, who had been living in this land for some time already, saw the Pilgrims suffering and felt sorry for them. They offered to help teach the Pilgrims how to survive in this hostile new land.

I never get cold as long as I wear my hat

The Indians showed the Pilgrims how to plant seeds and taught them what plants they could eat and which ones were poisonous, and they helped the Pilgrims built shelters that would protect them from the brutally cold winters.

The following autumn, the seeds had grown into plants bountiful with fruits and vegetables. Grateful for the Indian's assistance, the Pilgrims invited their new friends over for a feast and so began the tradition of Thanksgiving.

I've been basting that burger all day

The Pilgrims and the Indians ate and ate and ate some more. The food was so delicious, everybody just kept eating until nobody could eat another crumb. And another well known Thanksgiving tradition was invented:


Happy Thanksgiving everybody. Eat responsibly.