Category Archives: Family

Thirteen

Standard

M turns 13 today. My recall of some of the early years are getting a bit fuzzier over time, but my memories of the day he was born are crystal clear. It was 3:13 pm on a hot Saturday afternoon. The medical staff whisked him away the minute he emerged from me and after a few minutes, I asked if I could see my baby and there he was – tiny and wrinkled with hands and feet almost too big for his little body. From that moment on, he’s been my sweet boy.

In celebration of his 13th birthday, here are 13 of the attributes that make M so unique:

1) he’s patient with his younger cousins and shows them how to play Pokemon games on the DS

2) he take tennis lessons all year round

3) he still sleeps with the blue fleece blanket his grandmother gave him when he was a baby

4) he has a brown belt in karate

5) he would eat home-made pizza every night if he was allowed

6) he taught me how to set-up the closed captioning on the TV and patiently shows me how to do it when I forget

7) he loves rainbow chocolate chip cookies and Ghiradelli chocolate brownies

8) he takes his socks off the minute he gets home from school or camp (and leaves them on the sofa – eww!)

9) his favourite soccer team is Manchester United

10) he reads (and re-reads) Japanese manga

11) he eats almost everything with ketchup, including baby carrots

12) he listens to Top 40 dance music in the car and sings out loud

13) he still gives me hugs and kisses

Happy Birthday M!

The hell of homework – just add ADHD

Standard

Most days, I don’t think about the fact that M has ADHD. It’s just part of him, like his hair colour. He takes medication to help him focus and reduce his anxiety. Over the years, I’ve developed strategies to minimize his triggers and help him learn to cope; at this point, they’re so internalized, I don’t consciously think that reminding him to take his keys in the morning or giving him a head’s up before he has to get off the computer or the TV is related to his ADHD. Yes, he’s messy and has a trouble organizing himself to do household tasks, like clean up his room. But he’s a 12-year old boy. I have brothers, so I know full well that this is pretty typical of this age group.

Recently, M was having some significant challenges completing his school work. His home room teacher advised me that M hadn’t turned in several assignments. It was the end of term, and M needed to submit these assignments, so his teacher could mark them. It sounded simple – M would spend a couple of nights at home and get caught up.

It was, however, anything but. Just getting M to the table to start working was a battle of near-epic proportions. One night, his dad spent 20 minutes getting him to stop standing on his head in a chair and sit down and finish a geometry work sheet. M insisted it was “too hard,” and claimed he didn’t understand the concepts. Once his butt was actually in a chair and he focused on the questions, he knew most of the answers and finished them in about 15 minutes.

Next up was a geography project and finishing up some french vocabulary. I assumed that we could build off the success of the night before and get both of them done without too much of a struggle. Wrong. Once again, M declared it was “too hard for him” and refused to work on his geography project. He refused all offers of parental assistance and, with great drama and a few tears, enumerated all the reasons he couldn’t do the project. This was met with insistence from both parents as to why he should and could do the assignment. Matt insisted he didn’t care if he failed or not. Tempers flared and there was much strum and drang. Everyone was exhausted by the time they went to bed.

It wasn’t until a couple of days later that I realized what was going on  – this kid has ADHD. It makes it much more difficult for him to organize himself. It was less about not wanting to do an assignment or a project (although there’s certainly an element of this too); he isn’t able to look at an assignment and mentally break it down into the requisite steps. Not that this comes naturally to very many 12-year-olds, but for M, it’s even more challenging. It’s as if he lacks the necessary program that allows his brain to sort out the information and organize it in a meaningful way. If the project is at all complicated (i.e., involves several steps) or unfamiliar to M, he shuts down. Even more frustrating, when M did complete an assignment, he’s forget to give it to his teacher so it could be marked. Even when he put it in his agenda, he’d still carry it around for days before handing it in.

You would think that as his parent, I would have put tow and tow together sooner. But M’s elementary school had a “no homework” policy. We had our hands full dealing with his behavioural challenges (also ADHD-related), so no homework was fine by us. M’s transition to middle-school has gone better than I expected, so maybe it wasn’t a big surprise that I didn’t immediately make the link between the homework battles and his ADHD.

Once the penny dropped, I started trying to map out a plan to help M learn to organize himself. His dad and I could push and pull him through middle school, but high school isn’t far off and he needs skills to manage the work load. Fortunately, I have a good friend with an older child with ADHD, who gave me a number of good tips. The experts suggest that consistency is key for children with ADHD and suggest that students use an agenda which parents and teachers check regularly. M has an agenda provided by the school, but he told me that his teacher wasn’t actively using it any more. My friend suggested that an electronic organizer might work better. M doesn’t have a phone but I figured his iPod would have some sort of app he could use. However, when I asked him about it, he wasn’t very keen (he did, however, take the opportunity to lobby for a phone).

The last step was to meet M’s home room teacher and the Learning Support teacher. M already has accommodations through his IEP and the teachers were very helpful in terms of coming up with ideas to help him. Although M wasn’t keen on my suggestion to download a calendar on his iPod, his teacher helped him set it up. Most of M’s teachers post weekly summaries of the class work, so I’m checking the website on a regular basis. M used to forget to bring worksheets home but most of them are available on the website, so we re-print them as necessary. it’s not the most environmentally friendly approach, it cuts down on the excuses. M does most of his written work on the computer, both at school and at home, as he’s started saving everything on the Cloud. Even better, he set this up on his own. He seems to be taking more responsibility to do his work in class – when I reminded him about his current french project, he told me he still had several classes in which to complete it.

I don’t expect that we’ve “solved” the homework challenge. As I’ve learned over the years with M, there’s no such thing as an easy fix. I don’t expect him to rush to the table every night to do his homework. He did spend some time one day this week working on an assignment before his dad or I got home – his dad reminded him, but he did it. This is progress.

This recent experience is also a reminder to me that my child does have challenges. They may not always be obvious on a day-to-day basis – he’s doing well these days, so it’s easy to forget about his ADHD, etc. Sometimes, though, I need to dig a little deeper and figure out why he’s acting a certain way. It’s too easy to attribute his behaviour to stubbornness or teenaged attitude. That’s not fair to him. While sometimes he wishes he didn’t have ADHD, he’s managing it, rather than the other way around. This too, is progress.

Christmas may be over…but we’ve still got cookies

Standard

Every year since he was little, M and I have made Christmas cookies. In the beginning, I did most of the work and he did a little mixing. Over the years, M has learned how to read the recipes, measure the ingredients and mix everything together. He’s very precise with the flour and other dry ingredients – he spoons and levels, rather than pouring in the flour (too much flour makes the cookies tough). Plus, he likes to run the stand mixer.

Not only is making Christmas cookies an activity we both enjoy, but it’s something M will willing do with me (I’ll be hanging onto it for as long as I can). Although we usually start baking in mid-November, we were a bit late starting this year. It was actually M who reminded me that we needed to get baking in order to be ready for our annual holiday party. Most years, we bake between 75 to 90 dozen cookies; this year, I decided we’d scale back and make just enough for our party and for a couple of school bake sales.

Apparently I can’t count. By the time we were finished, we had somewhere between 90 – 95 dozen (the exact number is a bit fuzzy as we gave some away before we baked our last batch).  We baked 8 different kinds of cookies – shortbread, chocolate/vanilla two-tone roll-ups, mocha sprinkles, triple chocolate chip, smartie thumbprints, white chocolate cranberry oatmeal and of course, sugar cookies cut-outs.

P1030447

Smartie thumbprints

Shortbread

Shortbread

Two-tone cookies (and variations)

Two-tone cookies (and variations)

The sugar cookies are M’s favourites – he’s always been the primary cutter and decorator.

Sugar cookies!

Sugar cookies!

I expect the primary attraction for M is the coloured sugar sprinkles, but no matter, they’re his favourite. He always decorates a couple of “special” cookies that are just for him. This year he suggested that we not give any of the sugar cookies away, but given the thick layer of sugar on each one, I decided his dentist would be happier if we shared some.

So what does one do with 90 + dozen Christmas cookies? We gave lots of them away. In addition, to 2 school bake sales (10 dozen to one; 15 to the other), I gave my each of my colleagues a bag of assorted cookies. Plus, close friends and family got a bag as part of their Christmas present.

All bagged up and ready to go

All bagged up and ready to go

The cookies saved the on the last day of school when M announced just as he was getting ready to leave that he needed a gift for a classmate – a spare tin and he was good to go. Of course, we served cookies at our party.

Cookie platter

Cookie platter

More cookies

More cookies

And M’s eaten a fair number on his own.

Despite our best efforts, we’ve still got cookies in the freezer.  Fortunately, 12-year old boys don’t get tired of eating Christmas cookies, nor do they care what the calendar says. Nothing says Happy New Year like a tasty home-made cookie (or four).

 

19 years

Standard
English: Woodward family wedding, 1911 William...

English: Woodward family wedding, 1911 William Henry John Woodward married Clara Emily Woodward at Armstrong Creek, Dayborough, 1911. (Description supplied with photograph). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today is our wedding anniversary. Nineteen years ago on a sunny Saturday afternoon, surrounded by family and friends, Mr. Magic and I got married in his parent’s backyard. it was a low-key affair – my mother made my dress, my brother catered the lunch and his mother-in-law (also a friend of mine), made the wedding cake (carrot cake – my favourite!) which my mother decorated with fresh flowers. It was a lovely afternoon.

If you had asked me back on September 10, 1994, if I thought I would still be married, 19 years later, I probably would have been a bit dubious. Not because i didn’t love my husband, but because most of the married people I knew were separated or divorced, at least once. My parents split up after 21 years. Most of my close friends had similar experiences. A number of my cousins had married young and had already re-married before I even contemplated getting married at all. My parents-in-law were about the only couple I knew who had been together for more than 25 years.  At the time of my own wedding, I didn’t see marriage as a long-term proposition.

Looking back now, I can hardly believe that much time has gone by. In that 19 years, we have moved cities and jobs, bought a house and had M. We’ve attended the weddings of family members and close friends and shared lots of milestones – births, deaths, and even a few divorces.  In the last couple of years, my cousin’s kids have started to get married and have children of their own. Mr. Magic and I have supported each other through some difficult times, including unemployment, depression and family disagreements. We`ve also experienced incredible moments of joy, not the least of which were the moment we found out we were expecting M and the day he was born. We`ve had lots of moments in between too. Some days are a struggle – we both work full-time and while we love M to the nth degree, he`s not an easy child. As Mr. Magic said to me recently, “some nights, after supper`s done and the kitchen is cleaned up and M`s in bed, there`s not a lot left over.“ I expect that sometimes, both of us are just coasting.

One thing I`ve learned over the last few years, is that life is unpredictable. Things change, often without notice. Living in the moment isn`t always easy but if we don`t, we may miss the small victories and events that give our lives meaning and texture. Like watching M learn to drive a motor boat, playing cards together or walking to the ice cream store or the local Saturday morning market.

So today, I`m counting my blessings. I`m married to a wonderful man who is incredibly loyal and protective of his family. He’s smart, well-read and has a good sense of humour (a highly under-rated ingredient of a long-term relationship and parenthood). So what if his favorite TV show is Top Gear?  Since my secret vice is cheesy romance novels, I`m not one to cast too many stones. Mr. Magic buys my favourite potato chips and spends most of his holidays at my family cottage. He loves me even when I don`t love myself.

I used to think that nineteen years was a long time to be to be with the same person. Now I know it`s not nearly long enough.

A trip to the zoo – education or entertainment?

Standard

While we were on holiday at the cottage, we took a day trip to the zoo. It was only 90 minutes away, so it was a reasonable drive. More importantly, from M’s perspectives, there were penguins.

As a child, I loved the zoo – lots of exotic animals and space to run around. Where else could I see real lions, monkeys and hippos? I read National Geographic and watched Wild Kingdom (it was on just before the Disney movie at 6 pm on Sunday night), but I instinctively knew it wasn’t the same as seeing the real thing. Zoos in those days were much different from today – the animals were often kept in small concrete enclosures, often with bars to separate them from the admiring crowds. I didn’t really take too much notice of their living conditions. I was too enthralled with seeing an elephant and a lion up close.  As far as I was concerned, it was much more fun to learn about the habits and characteristics of various animals while wandering around the zoo, rather than just reading a book (remember the dreaded book report on kangaroos?)

As I walked around the zoo, I felt vaguely uncomfortable. I enjoyed seeing the animals – I admired the elegance of the giraffes and laughed at the antics of the lemurs. But the fact that they were captive animals, on display for the enjoyment of humans, left me feeling a bit conflicted.

The zoo we visited is a large accredited facility. The animals are organized by geographic area and efforts have clearly been made to approximate each animal’s natural environment to the greatest extent possible.  The zebras and antelopes have lots of space to roam around. The African penguins have a big pool to play in, as well as rocks to rest on.

Penguins taking a break

Penguins taking a break

But there are limits, both spatial and financial, it terms of how much space a facility like a zoo can provide for the animals. There are ongoing discussions as to whether or not really large mammals like elephants should even be housed in zoos – in the wild, elephants have a huge range which is almost impossible for a modern zoo to replicate.

Elephant walk

Elephant walk

According to some critics, many zoo animals develop compulsive habits and will often pace in their enclosures. We watched a polar bear swimming into the deep end of a tank and then floating to the other side on her stomach.  To our great amusement, she did this over and over again. Hopefully, this wasn’t a sign of mental stress, but rather an attempt to stay cool on a warm summer day.

Floating polar bear

Floating polar bear

In addition to providing human conditions for their animals, this zoo is heavily involved in conservation, including educating the public about endangered species and habitat loss. There were numerous placards explaining what individuals could do to help prevent further harm to iconic species like the tiger and the orangutans – recycle more, buy certified wood products, eat less red meat. M spent 10 minutes waiting in line to go on the Gorilla Climbing Gym and then another 30 minutes climbing around the apparatus.

Gorilla gym - kids need harnesses

Gorilla gym – kids need harnesses

I expect the climbing gym was installed right beside the gorilla exhibit in order to help children understand how gorillas move around the forest. Since M only spent about 30 seconds looking at the real gorillas, I’m not sure how much he actually learned. Unless it was by osmosis.

This particular zoo has an active breeding program – everything from chameleons to orangutans. Given the threats faced by many species around the world, captive breeding programs, would seem to be important link in the battle to ensure the continued existence of many animals. However, I’ve read that very few of the animals born and bred at a zoo are ever released into the wild – most of them are sold and traded to other zoos.

As we walked around the zoo, I realized that as much as they are about educating people, they are also about entertainment. Zoos have not inexpensive endeavours and they need warm bodies through their gates. They’re competing with lots of other attractions, especially in an urban area. So it’s not enough just to have lions and tigers and bears. They need a big draw – the animal equivalent of a blockbuster.

This summer, the zoo’s star attraction is a couple of pandas on loan from China. The zoo has built a huge panda attraction, including a very large interpretation centre visitors have to pass through before they actually see the animals. There’s lots of interesting information about pandas, including a very impressive pile of poo (hopefully, fake) which represents the daily output of a single animal (lots of roughage in bamboo) The afternoon of our visit, the exhibit wasn’t busy and we didn’t have to line up to see the pandas. As it turns out they were both asleep, so we watched the male roll around for a few minutes and then moved on. Upon leaving the panda enclosure, visitors pass by a large gift shop, stuffed with panda paraphernalia, including writing paper and enveloped made from panda poo (talk about recycling!). M didn’t seem too interested in the various panda tchotchke, although he asked for $2 to get a souvenir panda penny (he has a pretty good collection from various places we’ve visited). Considering the prices, we got off fairly lightly.

Panda-monium

Panda-monium

While the pandas are obviously the A-team, the zoo also has several while lions. They don’t warrant bill boards or their pictures on garbage cans, but they were impressive. We wondered if they were albinos, but apparently, their colouring is the result of a recessive gene. The male was sitting quite far away from the viewing area but I managed to capture a good picture with my camera – a magnificent animal.

White lion

White lion

There was a gift shop conveniently located near the while lions, but it’s offerings were much more modest than those of the panda shop – mostly stuffed animals and t-shirts. The lions did not rate poo paper.

Judging by the number of cars in the parking lot on the day of our visit and the crowds around some of the animal enclosures, the zoo is doing a pretty good job of attracting visitors. It’s not inexpensive outing – tickets for 3 people and parking cost us about $100. I expect cost-wise, the zoo stacks up pretty well against other large attractions. It’s definitely geared towards families and has enough variety to keep everyone entertained for the better part of a day, even electronics-obsessed 12 year olds’ like M. But underneath the cute factor of baby lemurs and the relative rarity of seeing a panda up close, there’s an uncomfortable tension. In order to educate people about the threats facing many animals and what needs to be done to protect them and their natural habitats, zoos need to bring in large numbers of people. Since giraffes and gorillas aren’t enough, a zoo needs to be constantly introducing new features and exhibits. Pandas may well do it for a couple of years. And then what? I’m sure the zoo administrators are already grappling with this issue – maybe they’ll be able to successfully breed the pandas or one of the other large mammals. Everyone loves baby animals.

After some reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not anti-zoo. As entertainment options go, a zoo is highly family-friendly. Kids can run around and with few exceptions, make as much noise as they want. Kids soak up information like sponges, so even if they aren’t actually reading every sign, many of them will go home with a greater appreciation for wild animals. This may well lead to a greater awareness of the need to protect animals in-situ, rather than just contain them in zoos.

As for me, I think I’ll skip the zoo next summer and donate money directly to on-the-ground habitat conservation.

Giraffe out for stroll

Giraffe and friend

Peacock

Peacock

Orangutang

Baboon

In the dark

Standard
electricity

electricity (Photo credit: Terry Freedman)

Last night we arrived at the cottage to discover the power was out.  It was 11 pm, we were all tired from a full day at camp/work, followed by a nearly 4 hour drive. We quickly located several flashlight and Mr. Magic (aka M’s dad) checked the fuse box to see if by chance, the most recent visitors (my mother and brother) had accidentally turned it off – given that there was still food in the refrigerator, it didn’t seem likely. His smart phone still was working and he was able to check the power company’s website and determined that the power was out in a large number of communities across the province. No big surprise, after a series of intense a thunderstorms earlier that afternoon. According to the website, our power wasn’t expected to be restored until Sunday – at least a day and a half away. We were expecting company on Saturday morning, but figured that they might not be interested in coming once they found out we had no electricity. It was too late to call, so we planned to call them in the morning before they left and let them know.

M seemed to be ok with the lack of electricity, until he found out that it might be another 24 hours before it was restored. Then he got upset and started asking to go home, saying he “couldn’t live without power.”  What would he do with himself if he couldn’t play MindCraft on the computer?

Given the lateness of the hour, neither Mr.Magic nor I were particularly sympathetic. M refused to go to bed, proclaiming “he couldn’t sleep, knowing there was no electricity.” Since we were both exhausted, all we wanted to do was go to bed. We dragged out suitcases in from the car and rummaged around to find pjs and toiletry cases.

We were in the cottage for a good 15 minutes before Mr. Magic discovered some candles on a shelf (hard to see when it’s pitch black and you’re not looking for them).  He lit them, which made a big difference. We quickly rounded up some others and suddenly the dark, uninviting cottage became quite cozy. I wouldn’t recommend taking out your contact lenses by candle light as a general practice, but it works in a pinch.

After a good night’s sleep, we woke up to the news that the power wasn’t scheduled to be restored until 11  pm the next day. We called our guests and they decided to come anyway. M was rummaging through a box of junk sitting on a shelf (the same shelf that held the candles) and found a gadget that contained, among other things, a little knife. He wandered outside and returned with a stick. “Can I whittle/” he asked?  I clearly remember that when my brothers and my cousin’s were M’s age, they spent a fair amount of time playing with pocket knives and pieces of wood, so I didn’t have a problem with him trying his hand at it. He spent at least 90 minutes out on the deck, happily whittling. He cut his finger at one point, but once it was bandaged up, he was right back at, knife in one hand, stick on another.

The power came on a short while later. Turns out the wind had blown a tree down on the wires not far from our cottage. M and his dad wandered down the road to watch the crew cut down the branch and fix the line.  Once he got back into the cottage, M made a bee-line for hos DS and started playing a game.

As inconvenient as it would have been to prepare meals for 6 people using only a BBQ, I was a bit disappointed that the power came back on so quickly. Without access to his games, M would have had to rely on his imagination to keep himself occupied. I have no doubt he would have done just fine.

Maybe if have another bad storm and the electricity gets knocked out, he”ll have another opportunity. We’ve put at least one candle in every room, just in case.

I want to be consequence free…who doesn’t?

Standard

I wanna be consequence free
I wanna be where nothing needs to matter
I wanna be consequence free

— Great Big Sea, Consequence Free

The impact of one’s actions, or consequences, has been a hot topic of conversation at our house this week. Following a major meltdown last week, M lost all his electronic privileges for 6 days – no computer, Wii or (gasp!) iPod. The last one was particularly controversial because, as M has pointed out to me on more than one occasion, “it’s his iPod; he paid for it with his own money, so you can’t take it away.”

Given the public and profanity-laden nature of M’s meltdown, I didn’t spend much time debating whether I had the moral authority to take away his iPod.  As his dad and I have told him repeatedly, at our house, electronics are a privilege, not a right.  M had his iPod with him when he fell asleep that night, but by morning, it had been spirited away to

Unintended consequences

Unintended consequences (Photo credit: askpang)

a secret hiding place (somewhere in the closet).

M got through the first day with a minimal amount of whining. He complained about being bored a few times, but he dumped a 500 piece puzzle on the floor in the family room and worked on it throughout the day.

The next day, however, the reality of a whole week without any electronic devices, set in. M was very unhappy.  Why couldn’t he go on the computer or listen to music on his iPod, he asked?  I explained to him that losing access to his electronic devices was a consequence of his recent behaviour, which had been particularly awful. “But Mommy,” he said, “Not being able to have electronics is the worst thing ever. I’ll never survive the week. It’s too much.”

I pointed out that he was not the only one who had to face up to the consequences of his or her behaviour – one of his friend’s had gotten into trouble at daycare and had lost his electronic privileges for several weeks.

M – Why is it only kids that have to have consequences?

Me – Adults have consequences too. If I behave badly at work, I may not get to work on a special project or get a promotion. if I spend too much money one month, I won’t be able to pay my bills.

M – That’s not as bad as losing electronics for a whole week. That`s the worst thing ever.

I`m sure there are lots of adults who would disagree. But I guess when you`re an 11 year old boy, losing electronics pretty much seems like the end of the world.  It certainly got his attention. Whether it will serve as a deterrent in the future remains to be seen.

M wasn’t the only one who had to deal with the consequences of his behaviour this week. I forgot my towel one day when I rode to work and I had to use my arm warmers and cycling shirt to dry myself. Fortunately, my shirt was relatively clean so I didn’t feel too gross about wrapping it around my wet hair. Another day, I had to spend almost an hour doing 2-days worth of dishes, including cleaning out both the garbage can and the green waste bin (there’s few household task I dislike more than washing dishes).  Not to mention staying up too late several nights and then being tired in the morning. Plus, eating too many potato chips and feeling bloated the next day. 

Lots of consequences. But I didn’t bother sharing them with M. I didn’t think he’d be very impressed.

Wouldn’t it be great, if the band just never ended
We could stay out late and we would never hear last call
We wouldn’t need to worry about approval or permission,
we could – slip off the edge and never worry about the fall

I wanna be consequence free