Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Colour of Flowers

At the age of 3, my daughter announced that she is the colour of flowers.  We live in a multicultural community and I love the way she explained her understanding of why people have different physical features. Now that the kids are older, they are starting to realize that their skin and hair colour is different from the other children in their class.  I remind them that it's not the cover of the book that tells the story.  Underneath everyone's outer shell, the substance that the fills our veins and arteries with life is the same colour red, regardless of the colour of our skin.

When I was in the 4th grade, I was socially outcast for not berating a fellow classmate.  After being called upon to answer a question aloud, his incorrect response prompted another student to remind the class that "Greg is slow".  The teacher announced to the class that "Greg is not slow... he's retarded!"  The class laughed hysterically.  I could tell by Greg's face how deeply the comment and the laughter had wounded him.  When our classmates noticed that I wasn't laughing along with them, I earned their contempt.  Greg left shortly after that incident for a school that welcomed children with disabilities and consistently earned top grades.   I, however, was forced to endure another three and a half years with an unflattering nickname.

School taught me that people can be shallow and heartless.  I also learned that disability is not necessarily a state of helplessness and isolation.  Most importantly, I learned that there is something much, much worse than any congenital syndrome or disorder.  This devastating condition afflicts those that society considers "normal".


Education is the cure for ignorance, and the highest result of education is tolerance.  As a Mom, it is especially important that my children learn this lesson, and that they learn it well.

One of their very best friends welcomed the arrival of his baby brother and sister recently, plus one extra chromosome.  From my kids' perspective, the babies are currently just that.  Babies.  Eventually, as our friends' infant twins grow into toddlers and preschoolers, and physical and cognitive delays begin to appear, I expect at least one of my kids will pose the inevitable question.

"What's wrong with Wyatt?"

I could give the obvious answer.  Wyatt has Down Syndrome.  That response will likely go over a child's head like a jet at Mach V.  "Is that why he does or doesn't..." (do whatever he does or doesn't do at the time)?   In their innocence, I suspect someone will suggest we pool our resources to give him Up Syndrome.

The exact clinical definition of Down Syndrome is not the answer they are searching for.  It's human nature to fear something strange.  Once the beauty in that strange thing is exposed, the fear disappears.  It is my responsibility to teach my children how to see beyond the outer shell of people; to look past the cover and read the story inside.  They are looking to me to help them understand something they know little, if anything about.

I imagine, when that time comes, the conversation I have with my children will sound something like this:

Wyatt isn't all that different from you.  He is a person.  He has feelings and just like you, he wants to fit in and be loved. As his friend, we lovingly accept him for the individual that he is.
It will take him a little longer to learn certain skills, but with patience and encouragement, he will master these skills in his own time, just like you did.  As he gets older and develops his own interests, he might even be able to do some things that you can't.

He will develop his own unique interests. He might enjoy acting, or art.  He may train to be an outstanding athlete or a musician.  Much like you might choose to pursue paleontology because you love dinosaurs.  Much like you wouldn't choose a career in medicine because the sight of blood terrifies you.  Wyatt will be who and what he will be.  Whatever that is, he will have our unwavering support.

He will see his reflection in the mirror and learn that he is quite handsome.  I suspect he will be as enamoured with his own gorgeous blue eyes as anyone else would be.  He probably will not see himself as disabled any more than you do.

He will view people who do and say unkind things to him and others the same way we all do.  As uneducated and cruel.  We must have the courage to teach, and the stamina to continue until our voices drown out prejudice and misconceptions. 

So, you see, there's really nothing "wrong" with Wyatt at all. The most fascinating flower in a garden is the one with the most distinctive features. Just like his twin sister and their older brother, Wyatt is the colour of flowers.  As are we all. 

Join Down Wit Dat on the 21st of Every Month!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Not Giving Is The Best Gift of All

From a financial point of view, the holidays are a worrisome time for many.  The cost of buying gifts, and planning gatherings, the food, the entertainment, the traveling, the alcohol....

The alcohol.

Even without holiday gift giving looming on the horizon, these times are tough on our wallets.  It shows by the amount of Internet chatter on how to participate in holiday gift giving with minimal expense. Suggestions include everything from homemade treats and crafts to donations of time, like house cleaning and babysitting.  All wonderful, thoughtful, from-the-heart gifts.  I'd like to add one suggestion to the list.

The gift of not giving.

That's right.  I'm in a not giving kind of mood this year.  And not just over the holiday season either.  My generous, not giving nature is a year round affair. 

The gift I'm not giving everybody this year is regret.

Regret has great potential at any holiday party, especially where alcohol is available.  "I've only had a few drinks", "It's not that far to go", "I'm not going to get caught".  The point is it doesn't take that many drinks to qualify anybody as over the legal limit.  You don't have to be staggering and slurring to be legally impaired.  In fact, most people will be very close to warning criteria after just one drink.

"Lots of people drink and drive", "What's the big deal"?  I realize that you don't feel drunk.  This is where a catchy slogan and actual facts mix with alcohol and become confusing to someone with car keys. "If You Drink, Don't Drive" suddenly translates into "I'm Not Drunk So I Can Drive".  See, alcohol messes with your head.  It disables the part of your brain that makes you appreciate someone else's efforts to watch your  back. So why am I choosing to be the biatch that won't give you your car keys?

Because the other gift you're not getting this year is a criminal record.

You are also not getting the key operated jewelry the cops use before they place you in the preferred seating area to the rear of the cruiser. I hear they have a great photographer at the police station who can't wait to take your picture. 

You're not getting fired from your job.  All those cars lined up bumper to bumper in the early morning and afternoon rush hours are full of people just thrilled to be frustrated by traffic.  Now that your license has been suspended, you can't participate in that rat race anymore.  When you are looking for a job, be sure to check the box on the application that asks, "Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offense," and good luck!

You are not getting denied entry to another country.  That trip you were thinking of taking to Canada or the US?  Remember to pack for disappointment.  Customs will want to know if you have "been convicted of a criminal offense". You may be denied entry to either country until you have served out the sentence imposed, including a license suspension.  Traveling from the US, through a Canadian airport to another destination with a DUI conviction includes the potential for additional immigration screening. Be prepared to wait a long, long time for clearance.  Customs officials don't really care if this delay means you miss your connecting flight.  Good thing you've already had one more for the road.  

You are not getting additional expenses.  Stuff like costly fines, mandatory remedial driver training and reinstatement fees, and don't forget the astronomical insurance premiums.  You're going to love the fancy interlock device that most provinces insist you install, at your expense, in your car when the driving suspension ends.  Bet you can't wait to show that baby off to all your besties.  Good luck getting your car to start after snacking on the drive-thru coffee and apple fritter.  When the law says no driving with any amount of alcohol, they take the word ANY pretty seriously.  Fermented fruit counts too.

So, that's what you're all not getting from me this year.  I apologize if you're disappointed about not having the opportunity to call your spouse to pick you up from jail.  I know you were looking forward to explaining why you were arrested to your children.  I'm sorry you won't get the chance to explain to your boss and your friends why you can't drive anymore.

You are not getting the chance to wish you had made a different decision.  You can call me whatever names you like, and you'll walk funny afterwards for a while, but the nuisance that I am now, and will continue to be is much easier to bear than the conditions that will be imposed upon you by the courts. Add up the fines, the court costs, and all the other inconvenient costs associated with a DUI conviction and compare that to the taxi fare home tonight and back to your car tomorrow. Are you really prepared to risk your freedom for some liquid in a glass, poured over ice?

Before you tie one on, regardless of what time of year it is, plan your way home before you head out. Plan to stay or arrange for alternate transportation home.  Designate a sober driver. Give the host your keys so you aren't tempted to drive, just because you think you can.

The law won't accept excuses for drinking and driving, and neither should you.  Make a promise to yourself, your family and your friends that you won't ever give anyone the chance to turn a great evening into the regret of a lifetime.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Curtain Call


It's the most popular word in this house. "Mommy? Can you help me ...", "Mommy? Where is my ...", "Mommy?", "Mommy!", "Maaaawwwwwwwmy!"

I have the role of "Mommy". There's also a "Daddy" in this show, but his name is one of apparent reverence, only used on special occasions and when hoping for miracles.

For the first two years of her life, our daughter wanted nothing to do with her father. In my arms, she was a happy, contented baby. That all changed when Daddy entered her field of view. She would cry and howl shrieks that could purge evil from the devil himself. It broke his heart. It broke my heart. Our son was more father friendly, but because I was always with the kids, I was the one that made all the bad things better. I remember the first time both our children were comfortable enough with Daddy to fall asleep on his chest. They were almost four. It was a misty eyed moment for Daddy. That memory still chokes my husband up.

I am the one who hugs the sad away, kisses the booboos, knows where everything is and makes the best chocolate milk and peanut butter sandwiches in the whole wide world. My adoring fans, the kidlits, would have you believe that I have all the answers, as I am pestered daily with countless questions to tap into my apparent limitless knowledge. Mommy is, without a doubt, the star of this show.

This has been the cast order since the kidlits were born. Daddy disappears for 12 hours each day and arrives home, barely noticed. I come back from the bathroom to hugs and 'I missed you so much'. My husband takes it in stride, as much as I know it hurts him, he refuses to give up on his efforts to shine in their eyes.

Daddy has claimed the bedtime ritual as his. After hugs, kisses, back rubs and love yous from Mommy, Daddy is the master of ceremonies. He reads the bedtime story, scares away the monsters and tucks the kids in for the night. Daddy has an hour and a half commute to and from work. He is already at work before the kids are awake and he's home barely an hour before they are due for bed. Bedtime is Daddy's thing, his only and cherished weekday time to spend with the kids. It's his favorite time of the day.

Friday night, the kidlits stated that they didn't want to play in their bedroom in the morning, as is their thing to do while they wait for Mommy to rouse from her nightly coma. They want to go downstairs to play instead.

Daddy grants their request with a, "You don't have to wait for us to wake up, you can come into our bedroom and wake us up."

He said "us." As in either of us, meaning Mommy, because Saturday is my weekend day with the kidlits. Swimming lessons, errand running, and miscellaneous tasks, followed by treats and child dictated fun.

This particular Saturday morning, I am stirred conscious by two voices, full of anticipation. They have one common motive.


Daddy pries open his eyes, only partially conscious and sleepily says, "Go on downstairs. I'll be there in a minute." The words are barely out of his mouth when the snoring resumes.

Now, before you form an opinion on the man comfortably snoring away in bed upstairs, let's not deny him his due. He was up until 3am washing, drying and folding 2 large loads of laundry, cleaning up the dishes from the day and making sure I had everything I needed for my planned Saturday outings. Saturday is Daddy's well earned day of rest.

It's 7am, much earlier than I would like it to be. I come to my senses and head downstairs after the kidlits. I am greeted with a tone and disdain that I am completely unfamiliar with.

"Where's Daddy? I want to color with Daddy! He said he was coming! I need his help! Why are you here?"

Why am I here? I live here. It's Saturday. I'm doing the same thing I've been doing every Saturday since you've been alive. What's with the 'where's Daddy'?

Almost six years later and without any warning, my star of the show status just slid downhill with Olympic caliber. As bittersweet as it is, I'm not really all that sad about it. It means Daddy gets more time in the spotlight, something he desperately craves. It also means I have been down cast into a supporting role. I'm okay with that.

It doesn't matter where our names are placed in the credit roll. What matters is that the show goes on. I suspect our show will go on just splendidly with Daddy getting top billing. Raise the curtain and cue applause. Our home has a new star!

Friday, November 11, 2011

We Remember

On this day, we honour the countless men and women who have served,
and continue to serve during times of war, conflict and peace.

For all they have sacrificed:

Not ever.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Magical Goodness of Cake

Cake. Everybody loves cake. For this fact, I am on-my-knees-in-reverent-appreciation grateful.

I am a flawed being. I make mistakes with amazing precision and regularity. I've been messing up since I was a small child and I don't see this engrained character trait changing anytime soon.

I am human. Making mistakes is what I do best.

Discovering North America was a mistake. So was the discovery of penicillin, the telephone and super glue. Making mistakes isn't always a bad thing, but when it comes to raising children, let's face it. Whether the little ones were planned or not, we try to do this parenting thing right.

The biggest mistake I've made recently is inadvertently rewarding bad behaviour. There have been a few behavioural issues around here that need to change (as in like yesterday) before uniformed professionals come to take someone away. That person will most likely be me. Some things have been simmering into what has become small grease fires, other things have violently erupted recently. This combination of petty annoyances that I've come to expect, mixed with behaviour that is totally out of character has become an intolerable situation.

I don't do Intolerable Situation. Something has to give and seeing that I own the house, I nominate the little folk. And I have a plan to blow the winds of change through here like an F5 tornado.

Some say it takes 21 days to develop a habit. I don't think I can wait that long. Rather than trying to undo and modify undesirable behaviour in children that do not understand the concepts of consequence and reason, my plan is to encourage neighbourly traits like playing fair, sharing and honesty by catching the little folk in the act of being good. I hereby declare November as "Do-Dee-Do Unto Otters" month for us.

I only need three things. Paper... Check.    A box... Check.    Willing participants... Damn and Crap!

What can I use to get the kids to participate in my attempt to reclaim daycare zen? Oh, I know! Cake! Everybody loves cake! The winner of the Do-Dee-Do challenge gets to pick out their favourite cake (and share it with the daycare, of course). This suggestion is met with enthusiastic cheers and cries of "Pick me! Pick me!"

Willing participants... Check.

The "Do-Dee-Do" challenge works like this:

Print out tickets, aka Otter Points.

Give one to the child who is using the traits described in the book. Help them write their name on the ticket and put their otter points ticket in the box.

Otter points cannot be taken away, but no one gets any without earning them.

At the end of the month, count the tickets. The child with the most otter points wins.

The change is immediate! I am pleasantly relieved and impressed to see the preliminary trials have already been effective. While it may be a huge mistake to reward young children with a hearty helping of cake, I'm willing to take my chances if it results in change that is ultimately better for everyone. It's amazing what a kid will do for cake!

It's true! With a little creative thought, you can have the cake and eat it too!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Review: The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution

My son is a picky eater. It's easier to list the foods he does eat rather than ramble on about the endless list of things he won't. I've reached out to friends and family for suggestions. I've been accused of letting his limited repertoire of edible options dictate the family's menu. I've tried hiding vegetables, otherwise known as "The Enemy", in what he will eat. Not only did he refuse to eat the offending vegetables, but he swore off an old standby for months to follow.

I dread going anywhere for a meal. It means his dinner will likely be made up of chips, possibly milk (and only if it's chocolate), and maybe cake or cookies. Knowing he won't eat what's offered, I resort to filling him up with peanut butter and crackers on the way. Getting this child to eat is challenging. Like scratching an itch on your head in an astronaut suit is challenging. I'm told that one day, he will eat. Oh, to dream the impossible dream...

Just when I am ready to throw in my napkin and raise the white tablecloth, there is hope in the form of The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution by Elizabeth Pantley. I have two other no-cry solutions in my library of parenting resources. Still, I had such high expectations for this newest no-cry solution, I worried my hopes to reform my picky eater were unachievable.

I scanned through the first couple pages with specific questions in mind. I hoped I would learn what I was doing wrong. What had I done to my son that has completely fubared his diet? Early in the first chapter, "What You Really Need To Know About Picky Eaters", I found my answer.

Nothing. Picky eating is actually quite normal.

As the parent of a picky eater, I found the first chapter very reassuring. After discussing several possibilities as to why a child may be particularly choosy about what he considers edible, the chapter continues with educational food facts so parents can make better choices within the child's current diet.

Chapter two is packed with suggestions to encourage better eating habits, examples of child-size portions and a review of common mealtime perceptions that should be followed or reconsidered.

Chapter three discusses strategies to introduce new foods to your picky eater and ideas to encourage healthy eating habits, followed by a varied selection of recipes in chapter four that I'm confident even my son will try and enjoy.

The advice and suggestions throughout is reasonable and attainable. Picky eating affects the entire family, and there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution for any parenting challenge. Elizabeth Pantley's The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution offers several suggestions for each issue and encourages the reader to choose from the options and adapt it for their own unique situation.

The flexibility to try this and change that typically works well to resolve any parenting dilemma. Dealing with a picky eater is no different. The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution is plentiful in strategies that any parent can use to improve the diet of their picky eater, all of which are best served with a bountiful portion of patience.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Why I'm Not Organic, Even Though I Am...


I cringe every time I hear this word. It's everywhere. It's the latest buzz in healthy and responsible food consumption. I, personally, don't go out of my way to look for anything specifically labelled "organic". Not only are organic items often are more expensive, but mostly because I find the word so overused, it has lost any valuable meaning.

This past spring, while looking for the best mixture of soil to add to my garden, I found an assortment of bags all labelled:

"Organic Dirt".

I certainly hope so. I wasn't thinking it was recycled plastic or shredded truck tires. Of course it's organic. It's DIRT! What else would it be?

When I was pregnant, I craved iron-rich foods. Growing two babies and supplying my own body with it's needs requires a #@&$%-ton of iron. I would have been quite happy to occupy a field of spinach with a cow spinning on a rotisserie within arm's reach. But, as I live in the city, I bought my beef and spinach supply in bulk at the supermarket. One day, I found organic labelled spinach packaged in a gigantic container and thought, "Lunch!" I didn't realize that despite a vigorous washing, the extra included nuggets of protein remained. (Yes, I'm talking about bugs.)

There's nothing appetizing about lifting a fork of salad-dressing covered spinach to my mouth and seeing (thankfully before it was inserted) a green, lady-bug type insect crawling on my fork. The goal here, people, is to get the food in. Reversing the process by grossing me out is just plain counterproductive.

Organic is defined as living, carbon-containing compounds that are capable of decay. All plants and the fruit they produce fit this description, as do humans and animals. Trees, birds, and the weed infested grass that is my lawn. All organic. All of it.

But organic has a whole new meaning when it's used as a tool to market food. Organic food is produced without synthetic pesticides or chemical fertilizers; it cannot be genetically modified; it cannot be processed using irradiation, industrial solvents or food additives. In fact, this was the way farming was done pretty much everywhere until the 1940's.

I still can't justify spending more money for a label when I can take the less expensive produce home and, with the exception of a few fruits and vegetables, simply wash the pesticides off. It also means I don't have to scan every bite for something squirmy and unwelcome. As much as I would like to say, "Good idea," I'm still having a hard time embracing the whole organic thing.

One of the kids I watch has Organic Parents. I have been instructed not to feed Organic Girl any dairy products of an unorganic nature because Organic Parents don't want Organic Girl exposed to hormones. I have no objections to this, what I see as a reasonable request.

But Organic Girl likes milk. Milk is good for Organic Girl, building strong teeth and bones plus supplying vitamin D, something us northern folk don't get nearly enough of. I don't have to pay inflated organic milk prices because I can give Organic Girl my unorganic milk with a clear conscience...

...because I can read.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has very strict standards that requires all milk to be tested at several points between the dairy farm and the store shelf. Hormones and antibiotics are not found in ANY type of milk available for sale in Canada because the use of hormones, particularly Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, is illegal in Canada. If a cow is ill and requires antibiotics, the animal is separated from the herd and any milk that animal produces is discarded.

The only difference: Cows that produce milk for the organic market may not be given antibiotics at all. Regardless if your milk says 'organic' on the package or not, you cannot buy milk containing antibiotics or hormones in Canada.

So why promote milk as organic in the first place? So the supplier can make the consumer feel good about being gouged twice the price for the exact same thing.

Which is actually very unorganic.

My personal experiences with organic anything has done nothing to prove it is a better choice for me or my family. I doubt I will ever become a proponent of the organic food movement, especially after I saw this little laughter nugget in the kids' Hallowe'en treat bag.

Imagine! Potato chips made from ...(gasp!)... potatoes! I shudder, wondering what else is wriggling around inside that package. It won't go to waste. At least I can spoil Organic Girl with a treat and have the approval of the Organic Parents.

The rest of us are rummaging through the treat bag for the unorganic Doritos.