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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.

autism-christmas-lunch-meme-pinterest

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.

 

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…

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

This is why I don’t want to send my son to school camp.

5 Feb

IMAGE PHILIP FOOD ALLEGIES

My son has school camp next week and I am terrified. This is the first time I am letting him attend a school camp. He’s only gone on one excursion with the school. I’ve been too scared to send him before because of his severe food allergies.

How am I meant to raise a strong, happy, confident child when just one bite of the wrong food can kill him? How am I meant to protect him from a healthy distance so he can develop his own survival skills?

I feel as though every choice I make to try and protect him from his food allergies directly opposes the way I know I should be parenting, but I also feel I have very little choice.

Philip is 10 and yes, he is aware of his allergies and he even has a rough idea of what he can and cannot eat. Being allergic to egg and nuts is complicated. Everyone has heard of nut allergies but egg allergies are more complicated. It’s in almost everything, particularly foods kids enjoy eating, and although he is starting to slowly grow out of it, it’s still deadly to him in large doses.

So I continue to try and protect and educate him in a way that allows him to have some independence from me and remain alive so he can enjoy his new-found independence.

At first I said he couldn’t attend camp and he was distraught. He’d already missed band camp and the excursion during which they cooked and ate fried rice, an allergy mum’s total nightmare. He was sick of missing out. My husband and I made the difficult decision to let him go and since then, I haven’t slept a full night.

I met with the school and they assured me the venue was experienced in child allergies. I contacted the venue and they assured me Philip’s meals would be prepared separately by a qualified chef.

Philip and mum

No, I’m still not comfortable. What keeps popping into my head is the numerous incidents of children who have died at school camps after parents have been assured everything would be okay. The bottom line is that people make mistakes. I’ve made mistakes with Philip and accidentally fed him egg and nuts, but luckily I recognise the symptoms of his allergies which are different every time. How will they know he needs to be treated way before he becomes visibly ill?

So I’ve decided to pack all of his food myself.

The only thing is that he may feel left out of all the food fun at camp, but we have spoken about it and he is happy to do this as long as he still gets to go. Maybe next time we’ll do it differently, but this time, it’s the only way I can let him go.

We sat down and wrote down a two-day menu plan of foods he will be happy to eat and my job this weekend is to prepare it all, write out a menu, email the menu to the school and the venue, and then have a face-to-face conversation with every member of staff attending the camp, making sure they are all aware of his food allergies and my instruction that he is only to eat the foods I have packed.

Philip know he must only eat the foods I have packed and if he does well, then he can go to band camp later in the year.

It’s okay to let kids know you are scared in situations like this, isn’t it? I think so, as long as we discuss our fears and a solution that addresses them. That’s empowerment. That’s educating him to manage his food allergies himself for the rest of his life.

I felt the need to vent and rang my best friend. We had one of those conversations where we lamented the existence of food allergies and expressed frustration at the fact they exist, they are getting worse and that doctors don’t seem to know how they occur or how to treat them.

It’s a work-in-progress, a very slow one and one I hope we manage to solve in my son’s lifetime.

How have children’s food allergies affected you? Do you have to cater to children with food allergies at your children’s food allergies?

How the hell did we lose one school shoe?

1 Mar

 

Shoe

This weekend I undertook an unscheduled Spring-clean of our house, searching for a lost school shoe. And this isn’t any old school shoe either.

 

I was totally sucked into the commercials for school shoes before the school year began. I was convinced that if I bought my son affordable shoes he would end up with freakishly deformed feet…so I sprung for the expensive ones.

 

Now one is lost. WHERE IS IT?????

 

You see, my son’s foot is growing. During this crucial time it is important that the soles of his feet are properly cushioned, maintaining the arch and allowing him room to grow. I had visions of him limping around in a cheap pair, of a team of doctors shaking their heads at me as they tried to rebuild his shattered feet.

 

I have searched EVERYWHERE. Is the selective capitalisation communicating my FRUSTRATION? The shoe is lying in my house somewhere along with my sister’s phone (which we lost three years ago) and a set of keys (which I think might have ended up in the bin). When we move house we’ll find all these items along with around twenty high-bounce balls, my engagement ring (!) and at least fifty random socks.

 

Maybe the mice/rats/possums I hear building a village in my roof have taken these items? They live in the shoe or use it as a toilet, the socks are their sleeping bags, the keys are decorative and the phone…well they have family too. My engagement ring probably makes a lovely necklace for one of them or a door knocker?

 

Meantime the very expensive shoe is still missing and my house looks amazing. I even found $50 wedged between the wall and our computer desk. All the clothes and toys have been sorted (soon to be unsorted I’m sure) as have the cupboards and all the spaces under beds and chairs. How did we accumulate so many old copies of the Financial Review? We also have a strange amount of Glad Wrap, an unopened nose hair trimmer and multiple rolls of dusty Christmas wrapping paper. But no relatively new little boy’s expensive school shoe.

 

Convinced it will turn up eventually I found my nearest shoe warehouse and bought a much more affordable pair. They look pretty good. In fact they look so good that I might get them again next year (as long as his feet aren’t mangled and twisted as a result of the cheaper pair).

 

If we do manage to lose a shoe again, hopefully the remaining shoes make a pair. As if but here’s hoping.

Should we pay our children for chores?

1 Mar

BlogpicMonday

My son and I sat down for a serious discussion a few weeks back. He wanted to start getting a weekly allowance. I happily agreed but explained that he’d have to do jobs around the house to earn his allowance. I rattled off a few ideas and he excitedly agreed and was a busy little bee that afternoon.

Now, a few weeks later, the novelty has worn off and I am faced with a tough choice – should I keep giving him his allowance and spend countless minutes nagging him to do his chores or should I simply withhold his allowance because they haven’t been done?

I never wanted to be a parent who was too tough on her children but to me, his relationship with money is forming and I am in a unique position to teach him to value money, even the random 5c pieces he sometimes finds on the floor.

I had no awareness of money when I was young. We didn’t have any apparently but I didn’t notice. We were never offered an allowance and the chores we did around the house were done for nothing. If we didn’t do them or did them incorrectly we were punished, usually with a hard slap on the legs.

I eventually decided to stop paying him his allowance but I decided not to make it a punishment. I calmly explained that he hadn’t helped out around the house so he wouldn’t be getting it this week but as soon as he started to help out again I would pay him his allowance. I left him to digest the news and with no nagging required he quietly tidying his room and picked up the papers that had fallen out of our recycle bin.

But this also brings up the point. Should I be paying him to help out around the house or, as a member of our household, should he just start contributing like the rest of us? It’s a tough one. Because at the end of the day I do want him to start learning that we all have to work for our money and if he wants his $5 a week for the canteen or to save up for games, he has to put in the effort.

And the worst thing is I won’t know if I’ve successfully taught him to have a realistic and healthy relationship with money until he’s grown. Will he get an after school job or will he take money out of my purse when I’m not looking? But then again, we’ve all done that, haven’t we?

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