Tag Archives: Parenting

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.

 

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.

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.

Dressups

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?

Uni blues…sing it sister!

21 Apr

I’m pretty sure my uni is trying to kill me…

Mummy and Caterina grad

Let me try not to overstate this. My uni is trying to kill me. It lured me into ANOTHER Masters course, tricked me into a first year exemption (that contained all the basics I would need for this year) and then charmed me with information sessions containing delicious finger foods and cohorts and academic staff that immediately loved and aspired to be like.

By the time I realised I might be a tad in over my head, it was too late to back out. Call it ego, call it pride, call it the scholarship I’d been awarded, call it stubbornness, call it self-destruction, call it an inability to not be busy (my husband insisted I add that one in), call it an endless obsession with eventually becoming a Doctor of something and then teaching writing courses while writing bestsellers myself…

Call it what you will.

The bottom line is that I am drowning and failing and this is not something I am used to. I normally do really well at things. I tend not to put my hand up for anything I’m not good at. What is happening? Who am I?

Now I am faced with an incredibly difficult decision. I could either:

1. Withdraw from the course and start over mid-year in the first year of the course;

2. Switch to part-time, lose the scholarship but be able to take my time and do my work properly and to the standard I want it to be done;

3. Quit, and never look back;

4. Buck up and just get stuck into it. I have already done so much work. Why stop now, and have it all be for nothing?

Jo grad

My grand master plan this year (pun intended!) was to drop my children off at school each day after feeding them a wholesome breakfast I had lovingly prepared in a relaxed way because I had soooo much time up my sleeve due to my new habit of waking up early, go home, do all my uni work and regular work, be done by the time they get home, spend a blissful afternoon taking them to all their activities, feeding them a wholesome dinner I had lovingly prepared in a relaxed way because I had sooo much time up my sleeve thanks to the magical fairies that do my housework, send them to bed and then watch reality TV while drinking tea.

SO NOT HAPPENING.

Everything has become a big scrambled mess and the main reason is because I don’t really know where do begin with all my uni work, how to do it, how to track it and I am so scared of mucking up I’m just avoiding it and not spending enough time on it.

I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to buck up. Anything else and I just couldn’t live with myself. I want to redeem myself to my supervisor and superiors and after the year is complete they will marvel at how quickly I caught up and how much I improved. Or…I’ll will scrape through and try and make the best out of it. Maybe they’ll let me enter the PhD program out of pity. Maybe they’ll let me clean the room in which the PhD students study.

It remains to be seen.

I never expected a Master of Research to be easy, but I did expect that I would know what to do and be happy to do it. I didn’t expect it to be such a mental feat. That’s despite hearing endless accounts of how research and PhD programs are really really hard and yet, so so rewarding.

To everyone who congratulated me on getting into the program at my dream uni, to everyone I encouraged to do the same, I stand by my decision to continue my education and I still encourage anyone who is thinking about it to do the same.

It’s sink or swim time. I plan to swim, even if it is a awkward doggy paddle as opposed to my cohorts who seem to be executing an effortless breaststroke.

Wish me luck. x

Have you ever bitten of way more than you can chewed, and made it out alive?

5 things to do with leftover Easter egg chocolate.

6 Apr

Because there’s no such thing as too much chocolate.

Caterina banana chocolate muffin

We have a RIDICULOUS amount of Easter egg chocolate in our house and it is awesome. There is so much we can do with it, post-gorge. Yep, we are O-V-E-R actually eating it straight up. Now, the real fun begins.

I let my children eat as much chocolate as they like on Easter Day. The next day, I collect it all and sort it all out. The really fancy ones, like the Darrell Lea variety, gets cut up and bagged into little bags for my husband and I to enjoy for the next couple of weeks with our afternoon coffee. The rest go to good use.

Here’s  things you can do with leftover Easter egg chocolate. Enjoy.

1. Dip

Getting kids to eat fruit is a constant challenge in my house. Two out of three of my children have a handful of fruit they are happy to tuck into, and the third? Well, let’s just say, he sometimes eats bananas. Very reluctantly.

Leftover Easter egg chocolate is the perfect way to entice children to try new fruits. Let’s face it…when foods are dipped in chocolate they are suddenly more appealing to children, and their parents (hey, I’m human).

To melt chocolate, place in a microwave-proof bowl. Heat for 60 seconds, stir, and then heat for a further 30 seconds. Stir once again. If the chocolate isn’t yet melted, place in for a remaining 30 seconds. Then, get dipping.

You can dip strawberries, bananas, kiwi fruit that has been peeled and quartered, raspberries, apple slices, pineapple, and then serve it up.

2. Crack

Crack some of the good quality chocolate eggs and place them in a container in the fridge for snacking. Placing it in the fridge keeps it fresh and crunchy and by cracking it all up into pieces it prevents anyone trying to eat an entire giant egg themselves. Then crack a few more pieces up into smaller pieces and use them as ice cream and yoghurt toppings.

3. Gift

A family friend donates left over Easter eggs to a retirement home in her area. She visits the centre over the long weekend and spends some time with the residents, handing out Easter eggs to anyone who is still allowed to eat chocolate. She says the really enjoy the company and the chocolate. Ring ahead to make sure you are allowed to do this. You might even visit a local hospital children’s ward and do the same. It’s a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

4. Store

Any Easter eggs that haven’t been removed from their original packaging can be stored for next year. Yes, they do last that long. All you need to do is keep them in a cool, dry place that is protected from children, animals, insects and the elements. I store mine in a high cupboard in my wardrobe. They keep really well. Trust me, supermarkets often do the exact same thing.

5. Bake

This is my favourite thing to do with left over Easter egg chocolate. All you do is melt down some chocolate and stir it into your favourite, healthy muffin recipe or even chocolate cake recipe. If you bake them into muffins or cupcakes you can eat some now and freeze the rest. Then, when you want to eat them, just put them on the bench to thaw in time for afternoon tea. Here is my favourite recipe.

BANANA CHOCOLATE MUFFINS

Chocolate banana muffins

Ingredients

4-6 ripe bananas

Approximately two cups of melted Easter egg chocolate

3 cups self-raising flour

1 cup oatmeal

2 tbsp baking powder

Pinch salt

1/4 cup olive oil (NOT EXTRA VIRGIN)

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 tbsp vanilla essence

3 cups milk

Method

1. Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees.

2. Line muffin tin with muffin cases.

3. Mash bananas and place in a mixing bowl. Add all ingredients except for the melted chocolate and stir with a fork until combined.

4. Pour in the melted chocolate and stir briefly.

5. Separate into muffin cases and bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until they spring back when lightly touched.

What do you do with your left over Easter egg chocolate?

How Facebook helped me to re-enter ‘the world’ after becoming a parent.

30 Mar

Jo on Facebook use

As startling as becoming a parent was – you mean I get to bring the baby home?!? – I was more than happy to say ‘goodbye’ to my old life and completely sink into full-time motherhood. Call it an escape, call it hiding, call it what you will, I was in self-imposed heaven, delighting on finally being able to complain about what I saw as ‘real’ problems like lack of sleep, breastfeeding, child rearing and finding the best highchair money could buy. As parenting goes, I was nailing it. That is until my children became older and I suddenly had to face a grim reality.

They needed me less. And I wasn’t one to sit down and twiddle my thumbs.

Knowing that re-entry is one of the most dangerous parts of space travel, but feeling like the analogy worked quite well for how it felt to be facing a new life post-motherhood, I decided to procrastinate for a while in front of the TV, going as far as to carry my old and dusty laptop onto the coffee table and placing there, front and centre next to my coffee cup, wondering WHERE ON EARTH I would begin.

Then one day, I opened it up.

Like all media-savvy ex-media employees such as myself, I had obligingly set up a Facebook page when it was first in it’s infancy and I’d even posted some incredibly boring information about my food consumption, my moods, my marital status and my thoughts on television shows post Oprah’s retirement, but I’d never really been serious about it. Imagine my surprise when I realised that Facebook had also been fed and nurtured and had grown into a fully-fledged people connector. Without even having to leave the house or brush my hair or fit into my old jeans I could connect with my old life and try and figure out a new one.

All my old people were there, waiting for me.

Me and the kids

Facebook had gotten serious. Was there anything you couldn’t do on it these days? I think not. I scrolled madly down my neglected feed and was told all about grocery delivery services, sleep training techniques (four years too late to help me) and all the information I could want about my friends, family and colleagues and where life had taken them.

I dove right in and before I knew it, I felt…found. Funny that. I hadn’t even realised I was lost.

Facebook became the conduit through which I discovered and designed my new life. Now it has become my constant, my portal through which I send and consume information about everyone and everything, both serious and not so much.

It got me thinking…I know the role Facebook played in my parenting life. It ‘found’ me, it informed me, it fed me and gave me company and gossiped about my friends and work colleagues. Facebook was my friend, family, job agency, news feed, dietician, pediatrician, counselor, confidante…and if had quickly become so important to me, how important a role did it play in the lives of other parents.

photo-5

And for those who became parents well after Facebook found it’s calling to be everything to everyone, how has this shape the role it plays for parents today?

Also, what role does it now play for me?

And that, my friends, is how I arrived at my beloved thesis subject. “What role does Facebook play for parents”, or something like that. Every time I sit down with my thesis supervisor we come up with a million variations. I’m thinking of putting them all into a hat and picking one at random, in order to decide.

My thesis is just the first step. That’s this year. Next year I embark on my PhD which I have been assured will take me WAY LONGER than the allotted three years. It could be four, it could be five. By then, Facebook would have gone through so many rapid-fire changes that it will be a completely different beast? The roles it could be playing for parents by then will be endless.

Have you ever stepped back long enough to examine the reasons behind your Facebook use, the choices you make while using it and the role it fulfills for you, or is Facebook so established these days that to step back and analyse your own use of it is similar to pondering your heart’s ability to beat, or your lung’s ability to breath?

Has Facebook become that ingrained in parenting yet, or is this the future I imagine for it? Over the next four or five years, I plan to explore it in all it’s glory.

I’ll keep you updated on my findings. I’m pretty excited to get stuck in, to be honest.

Let the thesis commence…wish me luck.

x

Why I called for swimming pools to be banned

20 Jan

Swimming public poolSince I started blogging full time for iVillage Australia I’ve spent too much time writing stories about parents who have lost children to drowning. This summer has been the worst. To me, drowning is one of the most preventable causes of death in children under 5 in Australia, but as a nation we are so attached to the idea of a backyard pool.

So I wrote a story called, Backyard swimming pools should be banned and was hung, drawn and quartered by social media.

I stand by every word I wrote.

The reaction has been one of complete outrage. I may as well have said “I hate Australia” or “All parents with backyard pools are terrible parents”. I’m saying neither. All I’m saying is that policy makers need to take a step back and stop focusing on pool fences and awareness campaigns. Instead they need to address a very real danger to our children, a danger that exists in their own backyard.

“More children die due to cars. Should we ban cars too?”

This was one of the most popular comments made about my article and to this I say, just because similar bans are even more impractical, doesn’t mean we reject banning backyard pools. We don’t need backyard pools to get to work, to take our children to school, to visit friends, to buy food, but we do need cars. It’s all about minimising risk. Does anyone really need a pool in their backyard?

“Swimming lessons should be compulsory”

A one-year-old isn’t going to be able to save themselves if they fall into a pool, even if they’ve been in the pool since birth. In fact the most vulnerable age group to backyard drowning is those aged between 1 and 3. They are young, they can’t swim properly, they tire easily and they can inhale a large amount of water very quickly.

“Why are you suggesting something that will never happen”

Never say never. I know this is an extreme suggestion but to me, if fireworks have been banned for causing injuries and deaths in children, then why not swimming pools?

“Supervision is key. If parents did a better job of looking after their children drowning wouldn’t happen”

I have covered countless stories in which good parents, vigilant and loving parents have lost children to backyard drowning. Distractions occur, toddlers sneak out during nap time, outdoor furniture is pushed against pool gates to open them, so many things can go wrong. The stats are in. Clearly supervision and other safety measures are failing.

Before you say anything else, consider this. Isn’t it worth letting go of backyard swimming pools to save children’s lives?

If we don’t ban backyard pools, how do you propose we significantly reduce the rate of drowning deaths in Australia?

I appeared on Wake Up on Ten to discuss the article. It was pretty interesting. Check it out:

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