Thoughts from the past

Two years ago, I sat down and drafted this blog post. I couldn’t bring myself to publish it. Reading back on it now is like reading an old journal entry, and I wanted to share it with you. This was written when there was much uncertainty around covid and before I had 4 children. It feels incomplete, but I’m not in that space right now, and I think the words are important, even if the writing is unpolished.

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December 2020 – A friend and I were recently talking about the impact COVID has had on our identities as mothers. Like me, she works full-time from home while her husband works outside of the house. Like me, she is raising three children of similar ages to mine. Like me, she has immunocompromised family members she is worried about.

She said to me, “I miss missing my kids.”

And that hit the nail on the head. That phrase was one I felt I had been searching for.

I remember when I was on maternity leave with Robert and later with the little guys. I remember feeling like I wanted to be home and be present for my children as we raised them. I wanted them to know that Mom could always come on their field trips or pick them up after school. That I was a safety net in that way, ever-present and forever cheering them on. When I had these thoughts, I never dreamed that the world would shut down and provide me with a twisted way to accomplish this.

Because raising kids and caring for a home is a full-time job.

Because working from home during the pandemic is my full-time job.

And doing both simultaneously doesn’t allow me to feel like I am a safe space for my kids. It doesn’t provide me with the opportunity to be present and engaging.

I miss missing my kids.

Friendships and Social Skills

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We all want our children to have friends. We want them to develop healthy social skills, get along with others, and have someone they can trust to play with and confide in.

Knowing our son is different, we anticipated he’d have trouble making and keeping friends. That didn’t make this morning easier.

We saw a friend from last year walking into the schoolyard, and I urged him to catch up to her. He ran after her, yelling her name to grab her attention. She didn’t hear him, but he dashed towards her. I watched as he caught up to her while she was chatting with another classmate. I expected the two girls to include him.

I watched as they continued their conversation and walked away from him. My heart sank.

Grade 3 is tough. This year, even more so for Robert, as the core group of his friends from last year were all paired off in different classrooms. He has one classmate who is a wonderful friend, but I’m not even sure if he is developing friendships within his classroom this year.

I watched as he put his backpack down outside and looked for a friendly face. He tried to encourage another boy to put his bag down and went to another small group of girls to join their conversation. They were patient, joining in his excitement as he jumped up and down, but it quickly became apparent that they didn’t know how to interact with him.

The gap in social skills seems to have opened so wide it could swallow everything around it. I wasn’t ready for this.

I could feel my heart breaking and tears welling up as I watched him try to find his place. Ever the brave boy, he kept trying. He looked around him, and he kept trying.

I left the school drop-off zone after watching him round the corner of a school portable. My mind raced as I tried to think about how he must be feeling and how to handle my emotions. I wondered about what this means for him as he gets older.

I desperately want him to have friendships and community around him. I want the world to turn to him and others like him with disabilities and say, I see you. You are Valued. You can sit with me.

Please talk to your children about inclusion. Cultivate their empathy and remind them that everyone wants to feel as though they belong. Next month we will celebrate Canadian Down Syndrome Week from 23-29 October 2022, but I want my child to be celebrated and welcomed every day.

It starts with us.

One More Thing

Sometimes, something happens and it’s not really a big deal, but the weight of that moment feels like so much to bare.
One more thing on an already full plate.

Report card season? It’s not just looking over one report card, it’s looking at two. It’s trying to figure out how the report card and the education plan for your child line up.

Doctor’s appointment? It’s not just one quick visit to the family doctor, it’s an appointment with the pediatrician, followed by blood work, followed by a follow-up visit or call.

And usually, these ‘little extras’ aren’t a big deal. But sometimes, it’s just one more thing on a full plate.

Recently, we’ve been pretty quiet on the blog. It’s been a succession of events that have felt like “one more thing” on an already full plate. And blogging about it, while typically therapeutic, just wasn’t a priority.

But summer is here. School is nearly out. The return to normalcy feels imminent and possible this summer.

We’ve registered Robert for some private swimming lessons at a local pool. He starts next month, and fingers crossed that it’s a wonderful experience for us! He’s been partnered with an instructor who has conversational level French skills, and he has been so excited to swim all year (the overflowing bathtub as he attempts the freestyle in the tub are proof of that).

Our boys are forever keeping us on our toes, challenging us to become better parents, more patient people and (most importantly) safe places for them to process emotions. And just when we think that we’re at our breaking point, someone comes over and gives us the sweetest hug or says the sweetest thing.

Making “soup” together

For Father’s Day, I asked the boys to draw something for their Pépère. Robert drew one of his dolls, complete with her wild hair, big eyes and shoes. I’ve wondered when he’d begin drawing people. It’s a skill that’s been broached with his OT before. “Tadpole” people are typically drawn by children between 3 and 5 years old, with more details emerging the older they get. You know, the head with legs and arms directly attached to it. This is where Robert’s at – and while some parents might think “ah, it’s just stick people drawing, not a big deal!”… for us, it’s ONE MORE THING.

It’s one more thing to celebrate!
One more thing to marvel at!
One more step in his development and understanding!

It’s one more thing for us to be proud of. It’s one more thing for Robert to do with confidence.

So while sometimes, one more thing is heavy and feels like the breaking point is near, other times, that one more thing is simply marvellous!

What’s that one more thing your child has done this month that’s made you proud?

La maternelle, déjà?

I don’t know what happened.

I feel fairly confident that it wasn’t that long ago that I gave birth to our 2nd son.

Wasn’t it just last month that I introduced Robert to his baby brother, Sullivan? The baby Robert begged me, at every chance he could, to hold? The one he proudly called “his baby”?

I don’t know what happened.

I blinked, and 2 boys became 3.

And suddenly, I’m getting ready to send Sullivan to school in the fall.

Sullivan… my boy who came so quickly our birth photographer almost didn’t make it. The one who was so determined to join us on the outside, my midwife ordered me to stop pushing so she could untangle him. He didn’t let anything stop him, not even his umbilical cord. He was ready to meet us!

My 3-year-old boy is going to school in September.

I don’t know what happened, but in September, he starts la maternelle (also known as junior kindergarten or full-day kindergarten).

We had a virtual introduction to his school, with many smiling faces on camera. We saw some of the staff he will likely see at school in the fall and some potential classmates’ smiling faces.

And as I sat through this virtual session, it struck me how easy it was to enrol him. I didn’t write a 10-page document outlining all there is to know about him. I didn’t have to have a big meeting, complete with his daycare staff, his OT, his PT, his SLP and the school administration. I just clicked a few buttons online, and that was it.

But that’s not the reality for everyone. It certainly wasn’t our reality 3 years ago with Robert.

If this is your reality, I want you to know you aren’t alone.

It can feel overwhelming, daunting, exhausting… and just not fair. Advocating for everything you want for your child and everything they need to succeed. I hope you are lucky enough to be partnered with a team like the one we have. A team that recognizes your child as intelligent and capable and that s/he just needs a few more supports in place to achieve their potential.

And after you go through those meetings and feel like you’ve prepared everyone for what to expect the next year, there’s going to be someone you forgot. Sometimes, the teacher or the educators that work with our kids aren’t at school. They might be sick or are caring for a sick child. When they aren’t there, the person who replaces them might not know about your child. And, even if they know that your child is in the class, they might not have had time to read the 10-page document you wrote. In those cases, a one-pager that outlines your child’s challenges, strengths and preferred communication styles can make all the difference. Here is a template version (in French) of the one we made. If this is useful to you and for your child(ren), I encourage you to edit it and provide it to the school. Send paper copies to the school, and email the teacher and staff a copy as well. And hey! This can also help the bus driver if your child rides a bus.

Un défis pour nous était de trouver des ressources en français, alors, le document en question est en français pour aider ceux qui pourraient se trouver dans cette même situation.

Getting to meet the school staff and administration at the early transition meeting also had its benefits. For one, we were able to see how the team works together, how organized they are, and how they value their colleagues and the students. It was a great foundation for us to build on and made us feel more comfortable with what Robert’s educational path looked like. It helps that we chose a school with an outstanding team.

And while registration for Sullivan only took a few clicks, I miss being able to sit around a table with the staff and telling them about my child. They don’t know that he’s very shy and reserved only up until the moment he feels comfortable, and then WATCH OUT! He’s full of intense energy he is still learning to harness and will need their help to navigate this. They don’t know that he is a sensitive, kind, caring boy who isn’t afraid to play “chevaliers!” or “pirates!” the second he sees anything that remotely resembles a sword. When he goes to school on the first day, he will be a stranger to them, and they a stranger to him. I know he will be OK, and that school will challenge him and help him grow in ways we can’t, but I do miss that introduction meeting. It makes dropping your baby off for school a little less scary.

But I still don’t know what happened.

How it feels as though he was born only yesterday, but this week I registered him for la maternelle.

Time, you’re a thief.

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Parenting shift

Do you find that you’re feeling more guilty about things as this pandemic goes on? Or are you letting things go more often?

Someone recently told me that I was such a calm mom, and my immediate response “WHAT!?” – ok not really, but I was surprised to hear that! I told her I think I just let things slide more easily since Covid hit.

But am I letting things slide, or am I easing up on the pressures I place on myself?

That comment made me think about the pressure I put on myself as a mom, and how that pressure and those expectations of myself have shifted. While it’s still there, and still self-imposed, I actually find myself being more flexible with my kids, and giving them more grace.

As the Covid-Times continue, I am becoming more and more of a free-range mom. I wasn’t a helicopter parent before, but I wouldn’t have classified myself as a free-range mom either. Having a child with Down syndrome whose sense of awareness around dangerous things isn’t as developed as his peers, I haven’t had the opportunity to really develop my parenting style.

On the weekend, I went to move laundry from the washer to the dryer. The 3 boys were sitting at the kitchen table, finishing a snack, so it seemed like the perfect time to sneak downstairs for this chore. As I went downstairs I called out “quand maman revient, on ira dehors” (when mama gets back, we’ll go outside). They heard “go outside”, and those 2 big kids scarfed down whatever snacks they had left and immediately jumped up to put on their shoes and hats. I came upstairs to one little boy in his high chair, clearly offended that he was left behind, and 2 big kids running around laughing outside.

Now, in ‘before time’, I would have likely run outside and demanded they come back in until I could supervise them. I would have worried about what kind of trouble they were getting into. At 6 and 2, they aren’t really ready to play unsupervised.

But on this day, I simply folded the laundry, put it away, and went outside with Alistair to play. Sure, I poked my head out a few times or peeked out of the kitchen window to make sure that one was hitting the other over the head with a stick, or that one brother wasn’t pushing the other one around, but for the most part, I let them play.

I did what any free-range parent would do. I took a deep breath, relaxed, and let them go.

I let them explore, I let them follow their hearts and imagination and I let them play.

I gave them a chance to prove to me how they are able to play nicely together. I let them use their imagination “unsupervised” and without the distraction of mom. This is a positive parenting shift for me (and for them).

And though from time to time the “mom-guilt” creeps into my thoughts, I’m slowly starting to see that I am letting go of it.

What about you? Let me know in the comments below what changes you’ve noticed in your parenting , and if you’ve eased up on self-imposed pressures.