Throw a life preserver!

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I am so fortunate to adore my job, and the people I work with. I have found a spot where I feel that I can contribute to my community in a positive way. I have found people who are passionate about the same things that I’m passionate about. I interact daily with people who constantly challenge my beliefs, and my assumptions about the world. I am learning every day. To top it off, I am given freedom and flexibility. I really couldn’t ask for much more.

One of the best parts about my job is how I am constantly getting the opportunity  to engage with a diverse group of amazing people. I had a work meeting in Coffee Culture this afternoon with an incredible woman. After the important work things had been accomplished, we had a little extra time to chat about non-work related things.

This woman is spiritual, energetic, passionate, quirky, and very funny. Her energy radiates, and creates waves in the room. She is a joy to be around.

We are very different, but also alike. We have one striking similarity – we both have bleeding hearts (INFP right here, folks). We talked about some of the strengths our sensitivity brings to our life, and also some of its challenges.

We talked about how we often feel as though we’re perceived by others as too soft, too feely, too emotional, too sensitive. But, we connect deeply with those who don’t see us as ‘too’ anything (insert amazing hubby and my dearest girlfriends here). They seem to understand the seemingly irrational side I sometimes have when I can’t quite articulate what I can feel in my soul. 

life-preserverWe talked about the overwhelming emotions we feel when someone close to us is hurting, and how that can impede our ability to hold space for that person. She shared a great metaphor with me about this very situation. She said, “When someone else is hurting, we need to throw them a life preserver instead of jumping on the sinking ship with them.” In other words, we need to hold space for that person so that they can work through their own emotions. We don’t need to talk, or intervene, and we do need to let it be about them and not us.

It all comes full circle, because I shared with her one of the things I’ve learned as Madeleine’s mother. When Maddy is in distress, and unable to calm herself down I used to panic, fear that I was a terrible mother for not being able to help her calm down, and try to intervene. That was my instinct and my gut reaction, but it couldn’t have been more wrong. When I did that, I was making something about me that wasn’t about me. I wasn’t holding space for Maddy.

What I’ve learned, is that when we are in a situation like that, it’s best for me to not say anything at all, not to intervene, and to just be present. If I do say something, it’s likely one of three things, “You are very safe. Mommy is right here,” “I love you when you’re happy, sad and angry,” or “Let me know when you need me to help you calm down.” It’s my way of throwing a life preserver, instead of jumping on the sinking ship.

Now, I’m not perfect, and like all of us I do sometimes make things about me, and react in a way that’s not most effective, but now I am able to reflect back on those times and try to explore what triggered my emotions. I’m much less likely to cry with Madeleine these days, and unless Eric is on deck with Madeleine, I never bury my head under the covers any more. I have learned the skill of holding space.

I see the life preserver metaphor as applying not just to adult relationships, but also those with our children. Our need to want to fix something is about us, and we shouldn’t be putting those needs on someone who is already hurting, or having a hard time. Instead, if we hold space for the person, and we allow their fire to run its course. In the end, we’re all better off.

 

It’s buggin’ my ears

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M: “Mommy, what is that?”

A: “What is what, honey?”

M: “It’s in my ears. What’s the noise?”

A: [Hears dead silence...] “Um, do you hear a noise?”

M: “Yes, turn it off. It’s buggin’ my ears.”

A: “It’s bugging your ears?”

M: “It’s in my ears. What is it?”

A: “I don’t know, bug, I don’t hear anything. I believe that you hear something though. If it’s hurting you, we could get your headphones. Do you want your headphones?”

M: “Yes. I need my headphones.” [Sits happily with headphones for 10 minutes]

People who have a sensory processing disorder do not process their sensory information, like auditory input, the same way people without a sensory processing disorder do. Sounds that don’t hurt us, can hurt them. It is not someone being sensitive, demanding or manipulative. It is someone trying to manage a difficult situation.

 

Sensitive Santa

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A year ago we attempted to visit Santa twice. It was an awful experience, not just for Maddy, but for us as well. It was too much… too much everything. Our first visit ended with a Santa who was quite unhappy with us, and a comment from a stranger who felt that our struggles were because, “That little girl is just begging for some love and that mother is denying it.” This woman at least had the respect to not say this in front of me, unfortunately, she didn’t know she was standing next to Eric.

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I’ll spare you the details of the actual day, but we ended up with a photo of a screaming, terrified Maddy with a grouchy Santa. As a parent, it was a totally shameful experience that left me questioning my behaviour. Why was it that I wanted Maddy to see Santa so badly? Did I really not know it was going to be so difficult, or did I force us to go because it was something that I wanted and I didn’t care what Maddy needed?

I still look at the photo from that day with mixed emotions. On the one hand, what’s a Christmas album without the classic baby/toddler crying with Santa? On the other hand, I know that Maddy’s crying was much beyond the typical crying photo, and was related to a host of factors that don’t impact most kids.

I wanted Maddy to have the same experiences that other kids would have – but, the thing is, I wanted her to have the experience that I imagined, not the actual one we had. The Christmas tradition of visiting Santa is not really a magical experience if it is an anxiety-provoking, traumatizing event with a very grouchy Santa.

We were so fortunate this year to snag a spot with Sensitive Santa. The Kitchener CTV News talks about the event here. It was an overwhelmingly positive day. I can sum it up by saying that they do their very best to reduce sensory input (dimmed lights, no music, Santa doesn’t ring bells, etc.), they mail a social story in advance (Maddy requested we read it at least 15 times before our visit this morning – it helps manage anxiety and provides expectations of what will happen), there are no waiting times, an area with blocks and colouring for the kids to enjoy, and perhaps most importantly – the staff and Santa are skilled and patient.

It is an entirely child-led visit, allowing the child to interact with Santa in their own way. When Maddy was hesitant at first, they encouraged her to explore, she walked around touching all of props. They then introduced her to a stuffed Mickey Mouse, and asked her to help Mickey explore. When Maddy wanted to leave the space, they let her take Mickey and we walked around and watched another child visit with Santa. When Maddy wanted to try again, they patiently waited until she was ready to get close to Santa. Maddy explored her gift and looked up for a picture. Santa watched her cues very closely, and spoke to her in a way that wasn’t overwhelming – pausing to allow her time to process, and prompting when necessary. We had filled out an information card in advance, so Santa knew exactly what to talk to Maddy about! We finished our visit with a high-five, and Maddy said thank you and Merry Christmas to Santa.

What struck me most, was that every child’s visit with Santa was completely different. Instead of every child being forced to fit into a prescription visit, the visit moulds around the needs of each child. We give Sensitive Santa a big thumbs up and encourage anyone who thinks that it is an event that their child can benefit from to give it a try.

A cozy tea cozy!

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I’ve been playing around with some quick projects for Christmas this year. I came across a pattern by Miss T called Café - it’s the perfect little tea/coffee cozy.

I just adore this, and it’s a super simple and quick knitting pattern for beginners. It’s also a great way to use up some of those yarn scraps you have lying around.

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I’ll definitely be whipping up more of these!

Bittersweet Baby Blanket

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I started this baby blanket back in July during a mid-summer cold spell. The chilliness of the air inspired me to pick up a crochet hook – something I hadn’t done in over a year. I searched on ravelry for the easiest crocheted baby blanket I could find. I found the Marble Baby Throw, and given it’s easy rating, decided to start it on a whim, without checking to see if I had enough yarn to finish it.

When I started, I thought it wouldn’t be good enough to keep, so the thought of running out of yarn didn’t really cross my mind. I was surprised to find that as I progressed, it was looking okay. With a few trips to the store, and help from my crafty and kind sister-in-law, I was able to find a second skein of each colour.

I finished the edge with a simple border.

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Finishing this blanket is a bittersweet moment for me. I’m happy to have finished my first crochet project, but more than that, I am so sad that I won’t be able to share this with my grandma, who passed away this summer. My grandma was very talented. She knit, crocheted, did needle point, among other things. My sisters and I have been blessed to inherit her crafting materials so that we can forever create with our grandma close to us.

When I started this blanket, my grandma was still with us, and I made the conscious decision to not tell her about it – I wanted to surprise her with it once I’d finished. She left us quickly and unexpectedly, and I never did get that chance. I hope that she is able to look down and see how she has inspired me with her talent.

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I started this blanket on a whim, and that means that it doesn’t have a destination. When my grandma passed, I decided that I would keep it, at least until I find the perfect place that it was meant to be.

 

 

 

I’m an okay mom

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I’m an okay mom. Sometimes I’m a great mom, sometimes I’m a lousy mom… so I guess that averages out to being an okay mom. But, you know what? I’m okay with that.

I’m not perfect. I’ve never claimed to be perfect, and I try to embrace my imperfection. I try to live in my vulnerability, so that I can be my genuine self. Imperfections are what make us human. They’re what make us unique. But, it’s a funny thing, once you become a parent, suddenly being imperfect doesn’t feel like it’s good enough anymore.

When I’m at work, if I make a mistake, I own up to it and apologize. If I forget to invite someone to a meeting or event, if I slip past a due date, if I am less than prepared for something than I should be… I say so and apologize. I will apologize to someone in a large meeting, if it is something that deserves that acknowledgement. I apologize, learn, and try to do better. I feel totally comfortable letting people know that it was my mistake, that it was unintentional, and that I am sorry.

When it comes to being a mother, I find it much harder to take that same breezy approach. The consequences just seem so much bigger when the mistake is with a little person who is absorbing what’s around them all day long. Those huge consequences feel overwhelming, and that feeling makes it hard to brush off parenting mistakes.

And, the thing is, raising kids, really brings out our imperfections. Even though they are awe-inspiring and beautiful, raising kids is damn hard. They test every one of our flaws. Sometimes, that testing means that we mess up. We mess up over, and over, and over. I mess up so much, but I think that’s okay, cause it makes me an okay mother.

When we have challenging moments, I sometimes look at Maddy and think to myself, “Yes, you are having a difficult time. Truly, this is something that is HARD for you. This is self-preservation, this is not bad behaviour.” I then remind myself that my reaction to the situation has nothing to do with Maddy and everything to do with my own shit.

This line of thinking has taken me to a great place where I can honestly not care that we don’t brush Maddy’s teeth (or wear winter coats, or wear shoes… you get the point). Teeth brushing is hard for Maddy. But, us wanting to force her to brush her teeth? Well, that’s just control issues. Maddy’s refusal to brush her teeth, that’s self-preservation. Choosing to not force it on her – that’s us dealing with our shit and understanding that this is not about us, it’s about her.

One of the things I’ve really been thinking a lot about is how as Maddy gets older, our number one priority is that she can advocate for herself. She can demand accommodations if she needs them. If she doesn’t learn that skill, life is going to be more complicated than it needs to be. But, in order for her to be able to advocate, she has to understand what her strengths and weaknesses are, whether or not they are related to ASD. On top of that, she will have to be comfortable shouting from the rooftops that she’s not perfect.

As a parent, I look at Maddy and believe deep in my soul that her weaknesses are not shameful. They are beautiful. They are unique. Having weaknesses makes her more like her peers than any of her strengths might. So, first and foremost, Maddy must learn that her weaknesses are not shameful, so that she can embrace them and advocate.

In thinking about how we can send Maddy that message, other than providing her with the unconditional love and support that every child deserves, I had an a-ha moment. Of course, Maddy will learn that her weaknesses are not shameful, if we are able to show her that we can embrace our weaknesses and still love ourselves. We are all worthy, weaknesses and all. I don’t know what you’re all thinking, but I think this just might be the best damn thing we can teach our kids!

We have the perfect opportunity, day in and day out, as we mess up as parents. We can acknowledge that we’re not perfect, apologize when needed, and still love ourselves as the imperfect parents we were destined to be. We can forgive ourselves, as many times as we need to. We can let go of the emotional baggage that keeps us questioning our parenting. What a great gift we can give our kids by showing them how we respond to the unexpected, how we manage our weaknesses, how we take responsibility for our behaviour whether intentional or not, and how we forgive and love our imperfect selves.

I’m a mom who doesn’t brush her kid’s teeth. I’m a mom who loses patience, even when her child is in an anxious and vulnerable place. I’m a mom who lets her kid go outside in the coldest of cold weather underdressed. I’m a mom who says no when I shouldn’t. I’m a mom who gives up and takes the easy way when I have nothing left to give.

I’m an okay mom. Okay, there… I said it.