A very autistic Christmas.

18 Dec

It’s been 553 days since my son Giovanni, 8 was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Have I mentioned how much I DETEST the word “disorder” being associated with my son? It bothers me more than the word “autism” does because it suggests that there is something wrong with him.

After 553 soul-searching days of ups, downs, tears, laughter and endless support from special needs parents I’ve never even met, and some I have met who are now some of my best friends, I no longer feel autism is a disorder.

Christmas is one of the hardest times of the year for parents of special needs children for a variety of reasons. For me it’s because the season involves so many crowds and get-togethers and elaborate meals and many other things Giovanni has trouble coping with.


Yes it’s hard to be a person with autism – for those who have been diagnosed with it and those caring for people who have been diagnosed with it – but only because of the way in which modern life is structured.

Our lives are governed by endless constraints, schedules, time-limits, rules of acceptable behaviour, measures of success not to mention constant judgments of us as parents and as people.

God-forbid we don’t act “normal”.

God-forbid our children don’t act “normal”.

God-forbid we don’t get a job, pay bills, rush around and become “productive members of society”, a society that’s rules and regulations we had no say in establishing.

If we could just allow people to chose how they live their lives and give them the physical and mental space in which to do this, we wouldn’t spend so much of our time raising our children to be slightly different versions of each other.

They can be who they were meant to be.

Giovanni doesn’t like parties, so why should he be forced to go to them?

Giovanni doesn’t understand verbal instructions, so why is he forced to participate in an education system that relies on teaching via verbal instructions?

Giovanni doesn’t like to eat too many different foods, so why should he be pressured to try them?

Giovanni doesn’t like it when people he hardly knows touch him or kiss him or hug him, so why should he have to put up with it?

And instead of us, the so-called “normal” people or as they are referred to now, the “neuro-typical” people focusing treatment and education and medications designed to produce a child that can do all of the above, why can’t we just figure out a way Giovanni can carve out his own unique space in civilised society, without judgment.

True, he might stare at you on bus or fail to make any eye-contact at all while buying a drink from you, but instead of you automatically assuming he is “weird” or “mental” or “wrong in the head”, maybe you’ll think, He may have autism, or, There may be a reason other than rudeness influencing his behaviour.

He may be on the autism spectrum…

He may have mental health issues…

He may have just received devastating news…

He may be just like anyone else, despite his diagnosis, just doing his best to get through each day. His difference doesn’t make him of any less value or dangerous.

I’m not sure exactly what I’m trying to say and fellow special needs parents reading this can probably relate to that. There are days I want him to be “normal”, where I want him to be able to walk to the front of his class and receive an award or pick up an apple and just bite the damn thing.

But he doesn’t do any of those things and probably never will.

Every day I make the choice to accept my son EXACTLY the way he is and my goal as his mum is to help him figure out a place in the world in which he is safe, happy and comfortable.

It will look very different from the safe, happy and comfortable place my two other children Philip, 12 and Caterina, 7 will make for themselves, but it won’t be of any less value.

And I’ll be no less proud of him for getting there.

To find out more about Autism Spectrum Disorder visit Autism Awareness Australia.

If you or someone you know suffers from mental health issues contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.


Why I write.

28 Dec

I started this blog as a uni assignment. I’d enrolled in a Masters of Creative Writing at Macquarie University and our lecturer advised us to write every day. I had a new baby and two older children to care for. I knew I wouldn’t write every day unless forced.

Starting a blog had been on my mind for a while. I’d had to leave my radio career behind due to my children’s extra needs – food allergies and Autism Spectrum Disorder – and was looking for some kind of outlet. Writing blog posts appealed to me because I could write about whatever I wanted, with no demands placed on me by an employer.

My brother became sick of me mentioning my intention to start a blog and never getting around to it so one day he set it up for me, emailed me the details and told me to get started. I couldn’t have loved him more.

Since then I started writing almost daily. My blog soothed me during difficult days and gave me back my voice. It helped me with my uni degree which ended up going pretty darn well and led me to my current career as a writer for Mamamia Women’s Network (MWN), a job I plan to have until the day I die.

As a result of my very brilliant career at MWN, I have been neglecting this blog. The posts I used to write here have now found a new home so I didn’t know what to write about.

Then I realised that this blog doesn’t have to be anything at all. It can evolve and change and be whatever I want it to be. For now, I want it to be a place I can go to express those thoughts and feelings that don’t necessarily appeal to the masses.

Me and the kids

Modern life is incredibly busy and incredibly isolating.

Some say blogs are self-serving and narcissistic. For me, blog writing is therapy.

Modern life is busy but it is also incredibly isolating. Technology has removed the need for personal interaction and instead of fighting it I have ended up embracing it, and isolating myself even further.

Having the ability to write and express myself has been a life-saver. However over the next 12 months I plan to try and get “out there” even more while maintaining all of my amazing work opportunities.

Life is for the living.

My children have picked up on my home body habits so I’ll be pushing them out the door more too. Or maybe they are natural home bodies. It’s hard to tell at their current ages of 11, seven and six. I suppose I’ll discover their true nature soon enough. Parenting isn’t anything if not an eye-opening adventure.

That’s all for today. I wanted to reach out, say hi and tell you all that life is for the taking, it’s never too late to pursue your dreams, do better, be better and so on, and so forth. I say these things to myself each and every day and I try and live my own advice as much as possible.

The New Year always starts for me straight after Christmas so I suppose this post is a New Year’s resolution of sorts. It certainly sounds like it, doesn’t it.

I wish you love and light and health and happiness during the year ahead.

The things we do for great hair

29 May

Jo hair in face

I know the lengths I go to for great hair. I give myself head spins by blow drying it upside down, I tease it, spray it, shampoo it to within an inch of its life, ruffle it, tussle it…and my friends and work colleagues share my desire for full, thick, fab hair. Check out the things they’ve tried:

Curling it, teasing on the roots, going shorter on length…

Pure coconut oil …

Not ‘dry shampoo’ but a dry texturiser…

Dry shampoo, back combing… 

Sea salt spray on wet hair and no brushing. Embrace the lady fro…

Volume mouse in wet hair, apply on the roots…

I braid my hair at night and sleep in it, and then undo the braids in the morning. It adds volume and texture…

When I braid my hair, I tease and pull at it while it is in the braid so it looks fuller…

Scrunching my hair (and using sea salt spray)…

I must be behind the times when it comes to hair because I only use some of these items for cooking – coconut oil and sea salt – and the rest…I have heard there have been amazing advances when it comes to mousse. Yes, I do the braiding and the scrunching too, followed by a full ten minute spray of extra strength hair spray.

I’ve been talking about L’Oreal Paris Elvive Fibralogy for a few weeks now and I’ve been pretty clear about my love and devotion to what is the most effective hair product for increased hair volume ever. My hair feels full at a time when it is thinning and misbehaving more than ever before. I sleep used to sleep in a ponytail to make it look fuller the next day, use a laboratory of hair products on it each week and still watch it slump and flop at the end of the day. That’s all behind me now, and no fake hair in sight. Hopefully my friends and work colleagues featured above give it a try. I know they’ll be packing up a lot of products once they try it. It takes just one use for results, and by the third use my hair was looking sooooo full.

The absolute best feedback I’ve had from my guys and gals so far has been from my beautiful friend Laura who just so happens to be a beauty expert, doing amazing hair and makeup for some very impressively high profile people (and a certain friend whom she will be making up on Saturday…see you then girlfriend). She posted this on Instagram and it pretty much says it all:

Laura beautiful hair

Having great hair is the biggest pick-me-up. It gives you confidence. I always feel best when I feel as though I have beautiful, shiny, thick, healthy-looking hair and L’Oreal Paris Elvive Fibralogy is the most effective product I have ever used that also allows my hair to move and look natural. As I rapidly approach official middle-age it is one less thing to worry about. Now I can move on to other things that have been niggling at me like, getting my teeth whitened properly, exercising more often, looking into eyelash extensions and trying out eyebrow threading.

It never ends.

L’Oreal Paris Elvive Fibralogy is available in all leading retailers, and you can also claim an exclusive discount by visiting http://www.ThickerHair.com.au.

I look forward to receiving more of your feedback on L’Oreal Paris Elvive Fibralogy. And let me know if you have any advice for me on my beauty ‘To Do’ list. I have a few questions like, is teeth whitening expensive? How do you manage to squeeze in some exercise every day? Do eyelash extensions really just start falling out after a while? Does eyebrow threading hurt?

Until then…

Middle-aged hair goes through a crisis too.

19 May

Not that I’m having a mid-life crisis or anything…

Jo Abi dark red hair

We spend our twenties experimenting with our hair. We try different colours, different styles and different cuts. Our hair is probably the craziest and most ‘done’ it will ever be. Then we enter our thirties and it becomes tamer. If we’ve gotten married and had kids we’ll normally cut it, or put it in a ponytail more often than we’d like.

Then, after thirty-five, if we aren’t struggling to hide greys, we’re struggling to hide thinning. Yep, it happens. It’s one of those middle-aged hair stages nobody tells us about.

So many of my friends and I are dealing with thinning hair. I didn’t notice that my hair was thinning until my brother pointed it out, in a really sensitive way.

“What’s that?!? You’re, like, bald there now.”

Thanks bro.

Thirty-seven minutes later and I’m still examining it in my bathroom mirror. He’s right. My hair has thinned around the temple on both sides.

I might have sworn a few times. What to do, what to do.

Hair clip-ins aren’t going to do much for the hair around my temples and when I speak to my friends about their middle-aged hair loss they are experiencing it and noticing it up top as well. Many have started dying it in different colours in an attempt to disguise it. My hairdresser says the best colours for making hair look fuller are highlights to contrast with your natural block colour. It’s not enough to hide the greys. She also says cutting a fringe and making the overall length shorter helps.

Fibrology ad

I’m more gentle with my hair as well. I don’t tease it as much and I don’t ever ever brush it when it is wet. In fact, I hardly ever brush it. Just a finger comb. I’ve also stocked up on L’Oreal Fibralogy shampoo, conditioner and serum and I’ve given some to my sister and my best friend, who are also suffering from minor yet noticeable-to-them hair loss. And I’m taking a hair, skin and nail vitamin, just in case. When it comes to my hair, I feel a multi-pronged attack is best.

I can pin point the times that I lost hair and they are after each pregnancy (three) and then after I turned 36. I’m 39 now so I am trying to keep the hair I have and make what’s left look as full as possible. It’s so great that there are so many tricks I can use to do this. That leaves me free to concentrate on the remainder of my early-onset midlife crisis.

I remember my mum at this age, and how she dreaded turning 40. I’d always planned to do it more happily, and I’m trying, I really am. I thought I would age gracefully and accept the corresponding changes to my appearance, but I’m finding that I’m not. I don’t want to look younger, it’s not about that. I want to look like the healthiest, best version of 40 as I can.

I’m not 40 yet, by the way. Another 256 days to go.

So I’ve reduced the amount of beautifying I do because it was expensive and time-consuming and mostly completely ineffective. Now I save my money for the services I know will work. I do less to my hair but what I do is more effective. I do a lot of grooming at home while watching Real Housewives (of whichever franchise is on at the time). I don’t wax anymore because life is too short for such incredible pain but I am considering having my underarms lasered. And maybe my eyebrows and upper lip. Although I love plucking my own eyebrows. I really enjoy it. Is that strange?

I exercise but not for as long as I used to and with more toning work and less cardio. I have to nurture my joints, after all.

Sleep is a priority for me now and if I don’t have anything on I’ll go to be just minutes after the kids do. I’ve just remembered another hair trick I use. I sleep with my hair in a high ponytail so when I take it out the next day it is nice and full.

I’m trying to age well and if I’m eighty per cent successful, with good hair, I’ll be really really happy.

How are you tweaking your beauty routines as you get older? Is there something you used to do when you were younger that you would never do now?

8 things I learned while under quarantine with my kids.

9 May

Whooping cough put my family and I under house arrest for five, incredible days.

Me and the kids

For the past five days my children and I have been under self-imposed quarantine at home, due to whooping cough. My eldest son Philip tested positive to the disease. He contracted it from a friend at school who probably contracted it from another friend, and they from someone else. The alarmingly low rate of vaccination in what is an affluent Sydney suburb means illnesses like whooping cough are more common than ever.

Our doctor assured us that we would be okay. We are fully vaccinated, it was a mild case, however because there had been “confirmed exposure” the proper course of action was for all of use to take antibiotic for five days and avoid mixing with others. I took the responsibility serious, and I’ve had the time of my life.

Here’s 18 things I loved about being under quarantine with my kids.

1. We were freed from the unforgiving school schedule.

Being a school parent is incredibly hard. Unlike the relative freedom of preschool, we have to arrive at a set time and it ends at a set time, making it incredibly hard for both parents to focus on their careers. Not to mention all the stuff that is involved. School uniforms, lunch boxes, drink bottles, sports shoes, homework, reading lists, stalls, open days which parents are expected to attend. It is relentless. I haven’t missed any of it.

2. Our mornings are like a dream sequence.

Most mornings I wake up to a series of alarms designed to get me out of bed at 6am at the latest so we make it to school in time or to our Saturday morning soccer games. The kids wake up to my calls to “get up or we’ll be late”. Not having to do that has been bliss. I’ve learned that my natural wake up time is between 8 and 8.30. The kids naturally wake up around an hour earlier. We’ve been getting up, eating a leisurely breakfast in our pyjamas and eventually getting dressed. It’s been heaven.

3. No guilt.

Normally when I don’t leave the house for a day or two I feel incredibly guilty. I should be doing things, helping others, offering to baby sit nieces, nephews and friends. I should be doing more, doing better. However being under quarantine means the onus isn’t on me. It’s not my laziness or desire for a simpler life that is to blame for our staying at home. It’s because of whooping cough. Guilt-free relaxation. I’ve loved every second of it.

4. Career sacrifices.

I love my work as much as the next person but I’m always astounded by how conflicted I feel when torn between work and my children. There’s always a sacrifice and I always feel really hard done by. Where is the choice? If we choose to work in a traditional job, great. If we don’t want to work long hours, why can’t we not? I think it’s a combination of financial stress, obligation and also our own ambition. I have what many feel is an ideal working arrangement as I am able to work mostly from home. I miss the office though. See? Torn. But not this week. This week I haven’t had a choice between work and uni and my children. They are sick. They win.


5. Time with my children.

Having three school-aged children is intense. They are always talking at the same time, needing things at the same time. In the morning time is limited so we all try and talk and cuddle and bond in a mad rush before school drop off. After school we are eager to catch up, all at once. It doesn’t work. There are hurt feeling from them and feelings of inadequacy from me. For the past five days my children and I have talked and talked and talked. We’ve snuggled and watched TV. We’ve wandered around our backyard. We’ve pondered life’s bigger questions. We’ve discussed life and love and food preferences. I’ve learned more about them over the past five days than I have in the past year.

6. Everything is set up for mums to fail.

Society is set up in a way that makes it extremely difficult for mums to have the lives they want. We are constantly having to choose between work and kids and relaxing and housework. And it’s 2015 for crying out loud. I work full time hours due to my work and uni, however the responsibility of the laundry and the housework still falls on me. It’s not my husband’s fault. Yes he could help more, but he works incredibly long hours driving a petrol tanker. He alternates between day and night shift. It is incredibly unforgiving. He’d love to be home more to help me. He just doesn’t have anything left over for us. So I’m left to deal with it. I do the juggle. I get through it, but there is a cost. Always a cost.

7. I am a homebody.

More than ever I realise I am a homebody and I hope my children enjoy our relaxing time together at home. When I was little we were always home and hardly went out. I didn’t always enjoy it because our childhood was a little fraught, so I am taking the parts of my childhood I enjoyed and improving on the rest. We have plenty to keep us happy here. We haven’t touched the kid’s homework or sight words or trombone. We have done whatever we’ve wanted.

8. I want things to change.

Our five days are almost up and I’m frantically trying to figure out my new-found knowledge into our real lives. Is it possible to be this happy and relaxed and rested and still live the lives were were living before whooping cough struck? Can I reorganise our days so we can have this time together, free from stress, and still do the things we enjoy? I’m not so sure, but I won’t stop trying.

Do you sometimes wish your life and you children’s lives were different?

What strange sort of voodoo is this?

7 May

It’s like I have someone else’s hair.

Fibrology my own blowdry

I haven’t left the house with my natural hair since my early twenties. Most days I at least blow dry it straight, even before putting it into a ponytail which sort of defeats the purpose. That’s because my natural hair is normally flat and thin and a little frizzy, especially when it rains.

Torrential rain recently in Sydney has meant that there’s really no point to me blow drying it at all because it was always going to frizz and curl due to the moisture in the air. So I left it to dry naturally after washing and shampooing with L’Oreal Fibralogy and then applying liberal amounts of the serum. I started doing housework, cleaning and vacuuming and eventually getting stuck into the bathroom almost an hour later when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.

My hair, which is as I mentioned flat and think and frizzy, with a strangely inconsistent curl, had dried into a fuller-looking charmingly consistent waves.

What strange sort of voodoo is this?

Not only did I leave my hair like that for the entire day, not even resorting to my default ponytail when it did come time to eventually leave the house, I also skipped my usual blast of super-strength hairspray.

The next day I gave my hair a blow dry. It was noticeably thicker-looking.

Fibrology channel nine

Again, I didn’t need to apply hairspray to my hair as I normally do. It’s quite unbelieveable.

I’ve only been using L’Oreal Paris Elvive Fibralogy for a week. I can’t imagine the effect it will have over the next few weeks. All I know is that I already know I will never use any other shampoo, conditioner in my hair. All those volumising products and hair smoothing serums that are crowding out my bathroom cabinet are dead to me.

Dead to me!

I had my doubts that this product would work. I mentioned that I’d be trying it out to two friends who are hairdressers. I scoffed at the thought it would actually work. They both assured me that hair technology had come a long way and it was highly likely that the products would do exactly as promised.

You have to try it out for yourself.  Join the Fibralogy Circle by heading to thickerhair.com.au, enter your details and you’ll receive an exclusive discount. Fibralogy is available at all leading retail outlets for RRP $5.95 for shampoo and conditioner and $9.95 for double serum. I can’t believe how affordable it is.

Take a sec to let me know, in the comments section below, the most annoying thing about your hair and you could win a L’Oreal Paris Gift Pack valued at $150. It’s all just too easy.

I’m going to spend the next few days experimenting with my new hair. I might even try out a few new styles to show off to you next week. Don’t worry, nothing crazy (nothing blue or purple).

What is your favourite hair product at the moment?

Whooping cough, the ‘gift’ that keeps on giving.

7 May

This is what happened when my entire family was hit with whooping cough.

Whooping cough school photo

It was a usual frantic morning in our home. Getting three children ready for school is always a rushed and frantic affair, even on the mornings I wake up at 5am to get a head start.

We arrived at school on time and then I drove off to spend a pleasant day working out of the local library that has a cafe filled with delicious food and beverages – toasted gourmet sandwiches and ice coffee’s being my ‘fuel’ of choice. A friend had just arrived share cake and coffee during my self-assigned afternoon tea break when I got the phone call.

“Your son has tested positive to Bordetella pertussis. You need to come in immediately.”

I sat back down and resumed drinking my coffee as my brain tried to muddle through the information I had been given. My son had whooping cough. It is highly likely that my younger son had it too. My daughter, my husband and I had ‘confirmed exposure’. We would all need to take strong antibiotics for the next five days in order to control the spread of the disease. We were to stay home until the antibiotics were complete. We were under voluntary quarantine.

Mixed in with my concerns for my children was a strong sense of responsibility about the position I was in. I could do everything the doctor recommended, or I could go about my life, allowing this deadly disease to spread.

Whooping cough fun fair

I got on the phone.

My first call was to my children’s school. I asked the office ladies to pull all three of my children out of class due to a positive whooping cough diagnosis. They always send out ‘alerts’ to parents when contagious diseases have been confirmed at the school and they did that quickly. I took the kids to the doctor and walked out with five separate scripts for power antibiotics.

Once home I emailed all the places we had been since Philip started showing symptoms. We’d been to school, a fun fair and Taekwondo. I’d been feeling a little off for a few days and I had been to a work engagement, the local shops and I’d visited my mum, dad and sister-in-law. I contacted them all and urged them to ask their doctor for advice. My dad is elderly and not in good health. My sister-in-law has my beautiful baby niece.

That done, I got busy cancelling my week. We’d be housebound from Tuesday until Sunday. Then, pending the outcome of a second visit to the doctor, we’d be released from home detention on Monday.

There was so much we would miss out on. I had some work engagements I was physically ill at the thought of missing. My children would miss out on shopping at the Mother’s Day Stall at school and we’d all miss out on the Mother’s Day celebrations on Friday. We wouldn’t be able to attend soccer training, soccer games, art class, or any of our other activities, not to mention school. I’d miss out on work and uni commitments.

The kids were all a little too excited at the news they wouldn’t be able to attend school for the rest of the week. Thanks to the fact we are a fully immunised family, Philip and Giovanni had a mild version of the disease. Caterina and I escaped the cough but both developed a temperature and lethargy.

Mum felt a little sick and so did my sister-in-law.

With everything sorted, everyone contacted, everything cancelled and a grocery delivery ordered, there was nothing left to do except ride it out. We’ve effectively stepped out of our deranged, busy, stress-filled schedules and been given a forced break from the mad rush of life. It’s been quite lovely.

Staying home for days and days on end with my children, guilt-free, is so much fun. We are really enjoying our time together. We sleep in until our bodies tell us it’s time to wake up. There are no alarms or calls to wake up because we’ll be late.

We eat breakfast in our pyjamas and then eventually get dressed. I have time to make breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. We eat together. We talk.

Each afternoon we run around our backyard with our puppy and sometimes we just sit in the sun on the grass relaxing.

The medicine is a different story.

Whooping Cough requires a really strong and disgusting-tasting antibiotic called KLACID. It tastes like cherries and dish washing liquid and to make it even worse, it is grainy. Two out of three of my children gagged and spat it out on the first day but we have gotten the hang of it now. I give it to them on a spoon – one spoonful for my daughter and two each for the boys – and I have water bottles for each of them and a snack to take the taste out of their mouths because it has the worst after taste in the world. Caterina gets Potato Sticks, Giovanni eats pretzels and Philip drinks a glass of lemonade.

I really must teach them to take tablets.

Experiencing the mild version of Whooping Cough makes me realise how easily it spreads. The cough comes later. At first it feels like a virus. Philip was the first to get sick and we took him to the doctor where we were told it was just a virus and there was nothing to do. After explaining that we’d received a notice from his school telling us a student in his class had been diagnosed with Whooping Cough the month before, we insisted on a throat swab that later turned out to be positive.

If we hadn’t been aware that it was going around, we would have been none the wiser, participating in our normal daily activities and infecting a lot of people. If they are vaccinated they would probably be okay. For those families with new babies, sick children or elderly people in them, it could be deadly.

I asked my doctor why it was spreading so quickly in our area and he explained that the lower the rate of immunisation, the more it spreads. For the millionth time I was told that vaccinations only work if majority of people get them. Once enough people decide against vaccinations, we are pretty much stuffed.

I’ve never felt more strongly about vaccinations in my life. Disease prevention methods are a miracle, a gift we give each other. The anti-vaccination movement with all of it’s deadly mis-information has a lot to answer for. I’d go as far as to say they have blood on their hands, so to speak.

If your children become ill, always ask your doctor which diseases are going around at the moment and insist of relevant testing. That way you know what you’re dealing with and you can take steps to protect those you care for and the general public.

See you on the other side. x

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