The Story of Jenna

Jenna came to us as an occasional babysitter when the kids were very young. Back then she was a vivacious and quirky 14 year old, full of spirited energy and often showing up with her best friend with some off the wall on what they could do with the kids for the night. Those early times were quite the adventure as it wouldn’t be abnormal to come home to an arts and crafts hub, mani/pedi spa, bathroom explosion, mud party, dress up dance party and more. Jenna won our kids over with a¬†sparkle in her eye and a smile that is absolutely stunning. She was amazing with T & N and we really felt comfortable having her sit for us.

So comfortable that when the situation arose the next year that we would have to look into full time care at home for the summer before the kids transitioned to a new daycare ¬†(& Jenna was looking for a job) it became a natural fit to hire her as their “nanny”. We had just left a daycare where T was having an absolutely horrible time (see The Importance of Routine and Sensitivity of Sound for children with Autism) . He was undiagnosed at the time and was constantly getting in trouble with the centre for either biting or striking out at kids.

Hindsight being 20/20, the incidents were always happening around the time that free play would occur (when children were given no direction) and when they opened up the room from 20 to 40 kids. T often shows signs of sensory sensitivity and that much noise just became something he couldn’t handle and no routine absolutely threw him into a free fall.

If only we knew that when Jenna took on the job to keep the kids entertained and busy throughout the summer. We went to Scholars Choice. We got lots of crafts. We came up with adventure ideas that Jenna could do. We DIDN’T have a clue that T was Autistic. We just thought he was going through a phase. (I still remember one particular day, T kicked her and had a total meltdown- Jenna’s dad (now close family friends) let me know she was done. She wanted to quit. I was devastated. Fortunately, her dad is a pretty excellent voice of reason and managed to convince her to stick it out.

THANK GOD. The summer ended up being a helluva lot of fun. As I was just starting my business and was flexible in hours, we ended up on a number of adventures hitting up the Zoo, African Lion Safari, Canada’s Wonderland and more. It was a blast and Jenna added such a great dimension to every trip.

The following February we went for a developmental assessment and received the diagnosis of ASD. Jenna got busier as we reached out to her to help cover for the parenting classes we went to at Geneva Centre, the support group meetings we attended, the support group we created, the school meetings and date night. A weekly/bi-weekly effort that became constant in our lives to help maintain our relationship while navigating this new one.

Throughout these years, Jenna has never changed in the way she played and dealt with the kids. She is our steady, consistent support that bar none helped T (& N) stay relaxed at home and gave us the chance to get out and take a deep breath when we needed it. This past year, Jenna decided to do her co-op in an Autism class for her final year of school and she got to know more children with Autism, their particular pieces of the “puzzle” and the wonderful ways so many of these kids use to show they care.

Jenna is now 18 years old, a little quieter, an awful lot more mature and still has that sparkly smile. She is leaving this week for college to take Special Education as her major. Something she shared was inspired in part by being with T all these years. She has gone from babysitter to child-sitter (N cannot STAND Jenna being called a babysitter anymore) to an incredible friend. We’ve had a chance to enjoy an outstanding dance show together and even went skydiving this past June with her mom and another dear friend. We are so sad to see her go but beyond excited for the next chapter in her life.

We will miss you Jenn…Xo

 

How the IPad has saved my bacon..and kept me smiling at my kids

I know this post might create a bit of animosity with certain peeps. You know, the ones who don’t believe in TV..but this is an homage to today’s world of technology and finding a way to live the life of sanity in a world that is chock a block full of flurried activities, kids hopped up on goofballs, media infusing into every dimension of our lives, and the constant desire for “balance”.

So it is here I make the statement, that I truly think the Ipad saved my bacon (or at least for now, my sanity)…and had it not been for its beauty of creating the ability to compromise, share, educate, entertain and satiate the desires of one 5 year old Autistic little guy and his 4 year old bossy boots sister, I’m not sure I would be in such a happy place at the start of 2012.

Here are 3 examples of how our lives have personally changed with the addition of a valuable piece of technology.

Mornings

  • Mornings were a disaster. Full of hyped up, non-listening moments of repetitive requests to get dressed, eat breakfast, brush your teeth and get out the door. Usually ended up with a meltdown (Depending on the day it could either be a parent OR a kid- take your pick) but nonetheless, it wasn’t typically a happy experience. But one crazy day in the fall, my darling husband introduced the IPad and the insanely fabulous games it can produce (like Angry Birds) and suddenly our little guy turned into an angel. Why? Because we employed the First (list of all tasks required to get ready for school) and Then tactic (you can have 5 minutes of playing games before we go). We don’t have to give promise playing every morning now, its just the matter of T has started to recognize that good behaviour reaps good rewards and it is working amazingly well.
Restaurants
  • Any regular kid gets tired of waiting at a restaurant for food. Our daughter is exceptionally driven by food and can turn Medusa on you in a nano-second if she’s hungry (she gets that from her mom) whereas T often finds the crayon drawing papers to be an exercise in frustration as he loses focus quickly and finds challenges when he can’t pick something up or stay in the lines. Enter the IPad, a portable chance for brother and sister to amicably take turns playing a game together, doing word recognition, drawing, spelling, you name it (they know if they don’t play nice its gone) and mom and dad to have a small chance at catching up with each other without having to be on 100% of the time we are out.
Grocery Shopping
  • Quite often in the past would translate directly to H E Double hockey sticks if I had the kids with me. Imagine Groundhog Day and every time I went, it would be a battle ROYALE…constantly asking to stay in the cart, (or close to the cart), Don’t disappear around the corner- (I grew up with a mom who has the kids kidnapped the minute i lose sight of them), singing ridiculous songs to keep them entertained, begging T not to hide under the cart for fear of appendage loss. The entire experience would have the kids upset, me upset and ready for a drink the minute I walked in the door. Voila, we share the Ipad now with me downloading our whole shopping list via epicurious while the kids play and often we are playing against each other while shopping. This has taken something that was causing me to go grocery shopping at 11pm or to suffer through avec the kids to something I actually find enjoyable with them now.

Yes, I know some of you are horrified that it sounds like I am using the Ipad as a babysitter. Maybe I am but I am doing it responsibly and in ways that help my family manage that illustrious balance we all desire and keeps a much happier group together when we get home. I’m not reaching for the wine and I am finding I am smiling more when we roll into the parking lot after our adventures. Think about it.

** I’d like to salute those who have gone before us without technology at their side. The pioneers of parenthood if you will. I once asked my grandma how she managed to raise 4 kids and stay relatively jovial..her answer..”Sometimes, you’d just have to leave the kids with the neighbours, go for a walk and treat yourself to a glass of wine”. Grandma, I’m in!

What I’m Thankful For: Twitter to Wine to Work/Life Balance

I am working on a project all about Thanks next year. I can’t hardly wait…but I have to exercise patience while we wait for people to make decisions, agree to ideas and come to the table with the support needed to make this effort as huge as we want it to.
While we wait, I have been reflecting on what I’m Thankful for after living through a fairly turbulent albeit incredibly exciting year. Below are a few “Thankfuls” I have realized have been a major part in getting me to where I am these days… happy, fulfilled, and getting closer to balanced every day.

From Twitter to Wine to Work/Life Balance, life is good.
  • I am Thankful for a husband who is truly a partner & gets that in this period of our lives he is the cheerleader, supporter, parent, chief bottle washer and laundry keeper upper. These days I have definitely been the worker bee (this pendulum has swung many times throughout our relationship) but I think he sees that I am energized and excited by what I’m doing vs coming home in a big giant stressball.
  • I am Thankful that being forced into a career change has helped create a much stronger work/life balance than I’ve ever had before in my life. I had a friend recently post on her blog about the time element of work/life balance, discussing the fact that you are never really “on” and “off” working freelance or for yourself. I look at it from a different perspective and see all the other positive elements of that work/life balance, opportunities I have had a chance to enjoy since starting up my business again. A few examples…I can take my son to his speech pathology appt every week without having to beg permission or explain to a boss: I have been able to volunteer at my children’s school, which feels good and right: I can choose when to go workout to stay healthy and focused (certain weeks it doesn’t always work, but I am doing it a heck of a lot more than when I was working corporate side): and my overall happiness is balanced and positive..I don’t rush to get out of the house in the morning…I take a deep breath to enjoy a quiet moment at times…because I can.
  • I am Thankful that I am working on projects that truly resonate with me vs. slogging/marketing products for the sake of a paycheque. Figuring out and coming into my own on what I like to do, the strategy I enjoy developing and the social media engagement that plays a major role in my business.
  • I am Thankful for Social Media. I think in a world of working on your own and working from remote locations, Twitter and Facebook is a way to keep in touch..meet around the virtual water cooler and maintain that base social need people have to stay connected. I am also incredibly Thankful for Twitter. In the past year, I have met online and in real life, some of the most beautiful (and hilarious) people I have ever had the privilege of getting to know. I have such fondness for so many of them and enjoy the daily laughter, quips, support and encouragement that these tweeps have sent my way, and I in turn want to do the same.
  • I am Thankful that I can now fit into Banana Republic sizing (They have fabulous work/life balance cross-over clothing for the fabu working from home gig) because of actually getting into exercising and running specifically, learning to endure it and proudly achieving some major accomplishments this year.
  • I am Thankful for wine…this just an ode to the fact that a glass of wine can somehow magically soothe the day away, be enjoyed at a party, insinuate a romantic moment, and be the perfect company to a girls night out…
  • I am Thankful for friends. Real life, got your back, biggest fan, encouraging friends.  I didn’t realize how deeply those friendships went until so many changes happened in our lives. When I lost my job, I got Congratulations : When I decided to start my business again, I got absolute faith that I could accomplish it: When T was diagnosed,  we got “what can we do?”: When I don’t know how to talk about Autism and the roller coaster of emotions I have felt, they have listened, talked, hugged, been a shoulder, asked questions and quietly waited until we have found the ability to ask for help..Those friends have gotten me through so much and I cannot express to them how much I love them but hopefully as they read this post, they realize how very special they are.  THANK YOU.