Dear Child, Pass Me the Wine – Again- Please

There’s a Today’s Parent article making the rounds asking moms to stop casually referring to de-stressing with wine on social media. (But nothing about “dads and beer”?) The idea being that it sends a confusing and unhelpful message to kids when Mom “needs a glass of wine.” (Again, nothing about Dad’s need for beer…)

I strongly disagree. I will continue to make and like and share all the jokes I want, AND I talk with my kids about alcohol already, even though they are both under age twelve.

We talk about drinking responsibly. We talk about the difference between a casual drink or two and being drunk. We talk about how to stay safe and continue being responsible even if drunk. We talk about age laws and why they exist. We talk about the fact that – technically – alcohol is a poison to our bodies. We talk about the fact that lots of teenagers drink under age 19 – the legal age here. I have told them how old I was when I first began drinking (17). We talk about how young they might be when the opportunities might arise for them. We talk about consequences – not “punishments” – but hangovers and scary risky decisions (I make them age appropriate examples of risks), and the drawbacks. We talk about what it feels like to drink a little versus a lot. We talk about the different ways alcohol affects different people’s behaviours. We talk about why people drink for so many different reasons. We talk about alcoholism. We talk about the choices I would prefer for them to make while underage, but they also understand that it will have to be their choice to make – not mine – when the time comes. They know that questions are welcomed. They know I am their “safe place.” They know that if they make different decisions than I would prefer, that my primary concern will be their safety, and that they are to come to me if they need help or especially a safe ride if they do one day choose to drink irresponsibly. They know that if a friend makes this decision and their friend is afraid to call home but needs help, that it will be okay to call me then too because safety should be the utmost priority.

We talk, and we keep on talking. Together.

The point I made the very clearest is that SAFETY is what I want for them. At their current ages, they claim they will NEVER drink underage. I tell them I believe them but if that ever changes, they are to call me when they need someone. To NEVER be afraid to come to me, no matter how much trouble they are in or expect to be in. That, even if it doesn’t always feel like it, I am ALWAYS on their side.

These talks about alcohol usually take places when Mommy has a drink. I don’t know if we’d ever have covered all this – and so easily – if I wasn’t honest and open about my own alcohol preferences and feelings.

Kids are smart. Give them credit and be open and honest. That goes a helluva a lot further than to pretend it is what it isn’t!

IT’S OKAY TO RELAX WITH A GLASS OF WINE. IT’S OKAY TO TAKE A “NIGHT OFF” AND GO BOOZE IT UP. IT’S ALSO OKAY TO BE HONEST ABOUT IT.

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Hey Parents! That IPad Just Might Be the Making of Your Kid!

So, I read this article, “Hey, Parents. What That IPad Is Doing to Your Kid Is Kind of Shocking” by Margaret Rock, and it kinda pissed me off.

The writer kept being careful to say there is no proof that electronics “cause” ADHD but she kept implying it – very strongly – as though she was already convinced and wants you as the reader to come to her own conclusions as well. It’s right there in her title – “What That IPad is DOING to Your Kid.”

As a parent of one ADHD kid and one ASD kid, I am very aware of what too much screen time does to my kids. Too much winds them up so high, that it’s like a drug withdrawal afterwards, with the ASD kid being the more affected child as he seems to have a stronger dependency on it. It is a problem at times for them but it didn’t CAUSE their symptoms. Rather, it appealed to them because of their EXISTING neurology.

But our household is very much unlike the modern “norm.” Not only do I limit access to video games and movies, Internet usage by the kids is very low and monitored, and TV is completely out the window too.

You see, we don’t have cable or satellite or even free antenna channels to bring us television programs. We haven’t for years. The access we have to the internet isn’t even ours, is passworded and the kids don’t get that password. They don’t get screen time unless they have EARNED it through appropriate behaviours, completed schoolwork, and completed household chore activities. They have to ask permission and turn away while I enter the passcode for devices and the password when they want to go online (any Internet usage is included within their total screen time limits) AND I set the timer. They know that if they run past the time, I have no problem taking it right from their hands and they will lose the privilege for days afterwards too. They have learned through experience that using negative behaviour to try to get it back just results in a much longer “grounding” from it. They’ve learned that they might be stubborn, but their mom is even more so. I have learned – from their “withdrawal” symptoms – that this steadfastness on my part is absolutely necessary for overall quality of life in our home.

The recommended rule I was once told (by a child psych specializing in autism) was no screens under age two and 15 min per year of age for children over two. These limits were recommended for all children, not just those with special needs. That means about 2 h 15 min for my younger child and another 30 min more than that for my older child. When I did a google search just now on “recommended screen time,” the general idea in the articles I read were that most elementary-aged kids currently get about 8-11 hours of screen time on a school day and more on weekends, while the recommendation is a flat rate of 2 hours per day. (My google results. Take your pick.)

The reality in our house is that the ASD child gets 1-2 hours on most school evenings and sometimes none at all. The ADHD kid often doesn’t even ask for it on school evenings. When she does, she might get 1 hour on it. They have so little screen time compared to most kids these days, I worry that they’re being deprived of something in current culture. They are already so different from their peers, is this really fair? But I stay the course because I feel strongly – or is it blind hope? – that this approach of mine will benefit them as adults.

Weekends and holidays, they might get anywhere from 2-6 hours, sometimes even a bit more than that, because we are often visiting homes where the tv is automatically left on regardless of whether anyone is watching it or not. I also find myself more willing to allow them this “treat” when we are away from home. Travel and transitioning are very difficult for those with these disorders, so I’m willing to reward their participation. During the school year, we also have a weekend movie night, in which the three of us share this screen time as a family.

However, even accounting for these “extras,” this is still a great deal less than the “norm” in families today.

Yet, she still has ADHD, and he stills has ASD. The three of us still struggle to maintain our balance.

There is definitely a clear relationship between electronics and ADHD and ASD, but it is definitely NOT causal. It is no more causal than the often remarked suggestion that the problem is that, as regular physical punishment declined, problems such as ADHD, ASD and other disorders occuring more frequently in children, such as anxiety disorders, OCD, ODD, bipolar and depression (all on the rise among children, and incidentally a couple of these are comorbid in my children as well), increased because parents today just aren’t beating it out of their kids with a belt or a switch in the backyard. Or worse, that parents today are lazy and need to drug their kids to manage them. The decision to medicate your child is not an easy one and not one parents undertake as casually as is often implied.

Scientists know these conditions arise from genetic situations and they suspect there are many environmental triggers. The sheer volume of potential triggers and the unique mix we all encounter makes pinpointing a cause or causes something that feels Sisyphean. It’s far more likely that the culprits are substances in our world around us, chemicals in our clothes and furnishings and vehicles, pesticides on our crops, crap dumped in our waters, the stuff in processed foods (which most of us have to depend on to some degree or another thanks to socioeconomic situations), and the ongoing genetic modifications to our foods, than that it’s because Johnny plays a video game when he’s waiting for dinner at the restaurant.

Blaming electronics time is too easy. It’s just another excuse for the lazy-minded judgemental types to attempt to blame the parents. Parents can’t win these days anyway. If Johnny isn’t allowed his iPad in the Pizza Hut, the same busybodies who were just judging Johnny’s parents for letting him play it are going to whine and complain and judge because now Johnny’s being too loud or moving around too much or picking his nose or somehow otherwise unintentionally disturbing them.

There IS a relationship between electronics and these disorders, but that relationship is more a dependency that arises from the existing neurology inside this kids (and later adults). But this dependency is one that can be “exploited” to the benefit of the child, and the adult they will become.

There are so many opportunities to use this very strong interest to reward behaviour and choices, to educate, and to stimulate imagination and creativity. We can and should be using these technologies help kids, to adapt ourselves to how an individual’s brain works instead of trying to force them to adapt to ours.

Hey Parents! That IPad just might be the making of your kid!

Unedited Summer Blessings

Summers are always my favourite time of year. Sometimes it feels like summer is the only time of the year that I’m fully alive.

But this summer, I don’t know what it is exactly, but it seems like the best summer in ages.

I’m still horribly broke at all times, counting the pennies even after pennies are no more here in Canada. I’ve gained so much weight in the last two years that I’m bigger than I have ever been – including during pregnancies. I have no job. I have no man. lol I don’t even have cable. lol

But I’m surrounded by people who I love and who I KNOW love me back. I’m getting to spend time with these people. I’m about to go spend some time with even more people who I also love and who I have somehow remained bonded to despite loads of reasons that usually come between people in our situation.

My kids are doing better than ever! They are healthy and strong and intelligent and amazing and creative and they have both come a very long way over the years and especially this past year. 

While I won’t be fully out of debt, I’m about to FINALLY shake off a massive one that has had a stranglehold on my wallet for nearly five years now. (One payment left this week and I’m free!!!)

Despite the weight gain, I feel healthier than ever and am becoming far more accepting of my size than I ever have been, even when I was a full 100lbs smaller! I bought a swimsuit today – first time in several years and the first time I felt really good in one even though I have gotten so huge! lol In fact, the first one I tried was perfect, well within my price range and the first swimsuit ever in my life to support my boobs!

The word blessed feels like it has religious connotation and I am not religious, but it’s the only word that comes to mind that seems quite right at this moment.

I am having a blessed summer. I am loving it.

…It Takes Someone Special to Be a Dad

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Everytime I see some version of this quote, I get annoyed. My own Dad is not my biological father, but, though I have sucked in recent years at showing it, I love him to death and he is definitely a true Dad like no other. My life would be a whole lot worse if he hadn’t been such a huge part of it.

I once gave him an embroidered neck-support pillow (he needed one for his 4pm nap lol) that said “Any man can be a father but it takes someone special to be a Dad.”

I myself now have two kids who are my reasons for living, my biggest source of joy. Raising them is also the hardest thing in the world. They can be – as children are wont to be – horribly difficult at times. It’s a job for a mother and a father. Their own father is often praised as being that kind of “special” that it “takes to be a Dad” … to someone else’s kids.

He does something “special” alright. He is a [step]-Dad to his current wife’s children yet barely even notices he has children of his own [DNA] too. He calls his own children MAYBE twice a week, arranges to see them about twice a year when he knows I intend to visit in the area anyway, and shows so little interest in their lives that when he does call, they say “No thank you-love you-bye.” All in one breath each. Both of them. Every time.

When someone shares with me that his wife is bragging about the bond between my children’s father and her children that she had with her ex, how he has “stepped up” for them in ways he has not – not even in the years when he called me wife – stepped up for his own kids, I admit to feeling angry. I’m sure she will enjoy knowing that. She is that kind of smug sort of person who does.

Then I remember how amazing MY children are. MINE because I am the one who is here, who is showing up, who is doing everything I can to meet every need they have. I think about how they’ve grown. I think about all the wonders they have shown me. I think about how incredible it is to put my arms around my son and feel how his chest is broadening as he nears his teen years, and yet while I hold him, I can also still feel how small those arms were when he’d cling to me as a baby. I think of cuddling with my little girl and am mesmerized that she could have such an incredible personality packed into such a tiny frame. I think about the things they’ve overcome, how strong they already are. I think about the things they have achieved and created, how naturally smart and talented they are.
Sometimes I wish they had a father who wanted to share even a little piece of their life with them.

Thankfully, they keep showing me how very little they really need of a “Dad” like him.

I AM Mom AND Dad to these children.

Turns out, it DOES take someone special. Me.

A Rock, and a Hard Place

I had to meet with my son’s school yesterday. School meetings are very often very difficult, and they’re even more so for me.

There have been a lot of serious problems with his school this year. He has Asperger’s, a form of autism. He also has a history of anxiety and anxiety-related aggression. The school’s response has had a devastating impact. Things came to a head early this school year. A very, very messy head.

If I had the means to provide transportation to and from another school, if I just had a car, neither child would still be there. Since I don’t I am trying very hard to work with this school.

In addition to all this, I have PTSD. It’s been a few years now since the psychologist first told me and, knowing her time with me would end far sooner than my need would, she refered me for a local traumatic stress program. The waitlist and the barriers to access were very difficult, but I am finally attending that program. The program is a group format, combining education about trauma with support from other women with what I understand is something of a similar trauma in their lives, as well as support offered by the coordinators. I’ve never been involved in a “support group” before. (I think I’m the only one there who hasn’t.)

I still have trouble really accepting my PTSD and everything connected to it. I have trouble accepting that the problems I face today are connected to the experiences of my childhood. I have a lot of trouble facing the fact that I’m not nearly as “over it” as I thought I was.

I usually downplay the PTSD – to myself and others – as simply an anxiety processing issue.

The problem is, in times of stress I randomly cry. This isn’t the only way it manifests with me, but it is my most frequent, as well as being the most difficult for people, including myself, to accept and understand.

I may think I’m feeling “fine.” I may be prepared to be in control, ready to steam ahead, unaware that my body is going to betray me. Posture erect, planned words firm and clear, I open my mouth to speak, to assert, to explain, to question, and a choking sob comes out. Suddenly my eyes are streaming, my nose running, my hands and body are shaking, and it’s completely out of context with the situation at hand. I get about as much advance warning in that moment as did anyone else in the room, which is to say, no one gets any warning. It’s quite startling.

Unless you’ve been there, or really know someone who has, then it’s hard to take anyone seriously who cries, sobs, when asking what time the class breaks for recess, or if gym will be three times a cycle or two. The tears only intensify when I try to talk about the actual big stuff.

I’ve gotten good at explaining, at giving a preemptive warning that this happening is a likely possibility, at requesting understanding that I have an anxiety disorder, and you may see it act up. Unfortunately, understanding often simply isn’t there. What is there is the a feeling of loss of personal dignity, and the loss of basic respect for me as a person, as an adult, as a parent, as an advocate.

A few weeks ago, I broke down into tears on the Metrobus after one of the friendliest of the drivers suggested that in the winter, I should try to take an earlier bus. Luckily, the tears themselves started after I sat down, and I had big sunglasses and a very high collar to hide behind. The more I tried to stop crying, to “get ahold of myself”, the faster the tears poured. I knew what was wrong with me. I knew I couldn’t control this. That’s why it’s called a DISORDER. Some part of my brain understood while they flowed that these tears had nothing to do with the bus driver, nothing to do with a ridiculous routing system. I knew that my inability to stop crying was not a tragic, horrible, unlovable character flaw. I know these things. I reminded myself of these things. I tried to talk myself back to calm. I couldn’t. This was on the first of two buses. At least I was alone. (Ironically, this never happens if the kids are with me.) I called a friend, a wonderful friend with a knack for turning my tears into laughter. She never judges me for my tears. She never says, “You’re too sensitive.” (I have such hurt and hatred for that line!) She never says, “That’s okay, you’re okay, you’ll be fine,” etc. She never offers reassurances or platitudes or uplifting cliches.

She laughs at me. That’s exactly why I call her. She laughs at the absurdity of hiding my face behind big sunglasses and a huge faux-fur collar and crying my heart out on the local transit. She’s not outwardly “emotional”, and an adult crying usually makes her uncomfortable. I think sometimes that it actually scares the shit out of her. But she knows what to do when I cry.

She offers sarcasm and it feels like support. She laughs at me, then I can laugh too. Too bad I can’t drag her along to school meetings for the purpose of mocking me when I’m in tears. It would keep me balanced but it’s not an approach that’s any more likely to engender respect for me as my child’s advocate than the tears are. (Plus, who would then babysit my kids during the meeting? lol)

There’s been a lot of PURE SHIT that some of the staff at this school have gotten away with. I feel like my son has been victimized, and that our entire family unit has been victimized, that there has been an intentional effort to intimidate me, in response to my standing up for him, my disagreeing with them. That makes the stress, the pressure even stronger.

I have had to fight just to get communications to occur in writing because of later denials of verbal communication. When I have to meet with them now, I will NOT attend without bringing outside “professional” support. This is usually in the form of my son’s doctor or a social worker from the SCWA. I also now wear a voice memo recording device at any time that I am on the school grounds.

But I still know I will get the shakes, and the tears. I will then have to be so focused on containing all of that that I can’t be nearly as effective as I need to be. I write down EVERYTHING in advance. Everything I want discussed, every angle of everything that I can conceive of it being approached from. If I haven’t written it, it won’t be in my head when I get there. Then I still can’t process the meeting fast enough. I wind up going home thinking, “I should have responded to that! Why couldn’t I respond?” I go home worried that I didn’t address something fully or properly, worrying that I failed my child, fearing that I am not equipped to help him, and knowing that at the same time, no one, no one, is better equipped to support him than I am. I’m far from the best, but I’m the best he’s got.

It’s a hard place knowing you’re the only one who can really, truly stand up for your child, and yet knowing that you have a body, a brain, that works against you. It’s very hard not to blame yourself for what your body does.

But yesterday I nailed it.

I’m so proud of myself for yesterday. I was there early, which usually leads to a building of internal pressure. I didn’t cry, not even close. I was clearheaded. I could really process what I was hearing in the moment. I could respond effectively. I didn’t get sidetracked trying to control my emotions. I didn’t have to. I was in control. It felt pretty good. 🙂

There were two things that helped me, both of which I learned from my attendance so far in that traumatic stress program.

The first was that I made it a point to breathe, to really breathe, while I was waiting. Last week at the program, we practiced something called “Mindful Breathing.”

I have never taken the time to breathe that way before. It seems simple, right? “Just breathe.” “Just take a breath.” How many times has that been said to me? But that never works. I’ve tried to take the time to take deep, steadying, chest expanding breaths in the past. I’m usually already mentally cranked up and breathing like that seems to have the opposite of a calming effect.

It’s when I’m crying, more specifically when I’m trying to control or prevent the crying, that I become aware of my breathing, or lack thereof. I hold my breath to hold back the tears. I control myself, my body, by controlling my breath. Then I take pulls of air too deeply, my starving lungs begging for it. Then I alternate between the two. It’s quite the wonder that I don’t pass out. It would serve me right after punishing my poor body that way!

Yesterday, I remembered the Mindful Breathing. I don’t know if I was doing it “right” or not. I just took deep, gentle, breaths, slow breaths, not long ones, if that makes sense. I felt like my entire body was breathing for a change, right down to my toes. It was very nice.

The other thing was my rock. Literally. At the group we were given an array of materials to fill a “wellness toolbox.” Rocks were one of the items offered. It’s a small rock, approximately 1 inch by 1.5 inches, maybe a centimeter thick. It’s a lovely light seafoam green, smooth, cool and rounded. I don’t know if it’s man-made, or if it’s a real rock in that colour, or a painted rock, but the flat side, the bottom, has some sort of coating on it, the texture of goosebumps, if rocks could get goosebumps.

It feels nice in my hand, running my fingers and thumb over the smooth, and then the bumpy, especially the bumpy. I know it goes deeper than “feels nice”. I have a son with autism, and an undiagnosed daughter with definite sensory issues. I don’t really know why it works, but I do know that handling objects like this helps them listen and focus and process. I’d never thought to try it for myself before.

I’ve been writing as if how I handled the meeting was more important than the meeting itself. In some ways it was. It was a personal success. I am not going to fool myself into thinking that I am suddenly “cured” of the whole crying-under-stress thing. But I feel damn good about succeeding this time!

From now on, I will aim to always bring a rock when I’m headed for a hard place.

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“The Price is Right” OR “Tuesdays with Turkey”

My house smells delicious!

I’m cooking a turkey for supper. Such decadance for a random Tuesday afternoon! While the rest of those schmoes¹ are out there working the day away and dreaming ahead to their special treat of having a turkey dinner for Easter, I’m sitting home, still in my pajamas, ignoring the mess in the kitchen where I haven’t washed a dish since Saturday, ignoring the unmade beds upstairs, ignoring the layers of dust on almost everything. There’s four loads of unfolded laundry piled and already wrinkled on my couch and many more dirty loads on my basement floor. There’s popcorn scattered on the rug, kids’ uncompleted overdue homework tipped across the coffee table, smears and smudges on every glass surface within reach. The floor needs a seriously going over with a mop. I step into my slippers so I don’t have to feel the dirt from my floor on my bare feet.

Instead of cleaning up any of that mess, I’m making homemade chocolate chunk cookies to surprise my babies after school and cooking a turkey for our supper.

What a life of luxury, eh?

Instead of getting up to go out to work to pay for the roof over our heads, the clothes on our backs, the food on our table, I get up, shower and put on fresh pajamas. I have the time to make – and eat – homemade cookies and feast on turkey on a weekday evening. That’s my life on welfare. What could be more luxurious?

If you’re one of the many who like to sit back and pass judgement on people on welfare, I bet I just made your day.

“Look! A lazy welfare rat actually admitting to her laziness and extravagance – at my tax-paying expense!”

Except – that’s a pretty narrow glimpse of our life that I just showed you. You’d have to be pretty narrowminded to accept it.

I paid $15.37 for a 5.055kg turkey. That’s $1.38/lb. That turkey will be our supper today, mine and my children’s lunches for the next two days, our supper tomorrow, and a pot of soup on Thursday. That’s five meals for three people – two of which are growing children. That works out to $3.07 per family meal.

We won’t be having a proper “cooked supper” with that turkey today because I only have three carrots in the house and no salt beef or even riblets. I didn’t have enough money for that. Instead, we’ll have canned peas and white minute rice.

$1.38/lb is a great price for turkey. No doubt the sale is aimed at people shopping early for their Easter meal. We’ll be having our Easter meal with relatives – technically my ex’s relatives. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be having a turkey for Easter because I can’t afford to shop for large items in advance. I can barely feed us in the now.

The reality of our world is that I had exactly $206.15 to grocery shop with this past Saturday. That $206.15 needed to cover two weeks for three people – two of which are growing children, one of which is a prepubescent boy who eats as if he’s already a growing, hard-working teenager!

That $206.15 had to include two weeks’ worth of toilet paper – have you seen the price of toilet paper these days?? We have to have it, but some weeks, it feels like wiping your ass with cold, hard cash. Only, it doesn’t feel that nice at all.

That $206.15 had to include laundry detergent, a significant need in our house as my daughter is still a frequent bedwetter and we literally go through loads and loads of sheets, quilts, pjs, and panties, as well as mountains of poor pissed-upon stuffed animals.

Our $206.15 also had to include garbage bags. Filling my porch with regular shopping bags filled with trash is already a bad idea, but if I don’t have it all in an actual garbage bag by garbage day, the garbage man doesn’t have to put it in his truck. To make those matters worse we live in “Non-Profit City Housing”. If I don’t have my garbage bagged in the proper type of garbage bag – as is actually detailed in my lease, the city-employed garbage man can and will (I’ve watched out my window as it has happened to the neighbours) open my garbage and find something that identifies the home it came from. They generally look for discarded mail for this purpose. This can then be used as grounds for eviction. If I’m caught “hording” my garbage until I can afford a garbage bag, that is considered keeping my home in unsanitary condition, and – drumroll – more grounds for eviction.

That $206.15 had to include items that are packable for recesses and lunches. They love to have juice boxes in their bag, but that’s only occasionally possible. I use refillable juice conatiners to save money. Except when the kids lose them. Currently, we’re down to one plastic juice box and an ancient plastic thermos. I’m hoping the Easter Bunny hits Dollarama for some extra juice containers this year. My bank account knows that I can’t even afford those.

That $206.15 had to include juice – have you seen the price of juice??? Even the sugar-loaded stuff – which is all I can afford – is well over a dollar a can now. If you follow the instructions on the can, it produces 1.132L of “juice.” I water it down and we end up with approximately 1.5L of this “juice.” They still go through a full jug of it every day. My daughter will sometimes drink a glass of water, but my son is convinced that he’s “allergic” to water. That’s not me being humourous. He has Asperger’s with significant anxiety problems. He really believes that water will make him sick. I have no idea how he came by this concept. It’s just a fact of life in this house that he is afraid to drink plain water. (Not that the water that comes out of my “Non-Profit City Housing” tap looks “plain” at all. It has to be run a full two minutes before it comes clear. Yes, I did time it once.)

Oops! Sidetracked again.

That $206.15 had to include meats. Growing children need protein. I build each supper around what meat is available to us that week. Lunch may possibly contain a meat if there’s leftovers, or if it comes from a can AND if I could afford enough bread that week for sandwiches. You ever notice a woman standing in the bakery section trying to conceal the fact that she’s counting the slices in the loaf she’s holding, sometimes adding it to whatever number of slices was in the loaf she already put in her cart?

Yeah – that was me. Say hi next time!

That $206.15 has to cover breads, and rice, and pasta, and potatoes – the “starches.” The items that will keep my children’s bellies feeling full for longer after a meal. I skipped the bread this week. We had a loaf at home, and a bag of dinner buns in the freezer. I was hoping to have enough change left over at the register to cover us later in case we needed more bread then.

That $206.15 was also expected to provide my children with vegetables. I got a few canned items and a large bag of frozen mixed. I got a small head of cabbage – which my son won’t eat but my daughter will. I paid $2.89 for a 2lb bag of carrots. Isn’t that ridiculous? $1.45 per pound of carrots! There were 7 carrots in that bag. Seven! There were no other vegetables purchased. No fruit either.

Then my sweet boy asked for cookies. His sister repeated him. They hadn’t made a single other request in the store. They weren’t on their best behaviour but they had been a LOT better than I had expected them to be. I had earlier snuck a box of Dunkaroos into our cart. It had been my intention to surprise them by putting them in their recess for three days. They were on sale for $2.50.

I showed them to the kids. Would they rather these or a box of cookies? Cookies, of course. (Stupid question, Mom.) I left the Dunkaroos sitting next to those carrots that cost more than they did. I subtracted 2.5 from the total in the built-in calculator in my phone². We headed to the cookie aisle. The kids began to fight. My daughter wanted Golden Oreos, on sale for $3.89. My son wanted Chunks Ahoy, also on sale for $3.89. In most situations, my kids are amazingly adept at reaching compromises between themselves. But the opportunity to choose cookies is not one of those times. I could not spend $7.78 plus taxon cookies. I gave them a little more time to choose, and when they still could not agree, I grabbed a box of generic brand chocolate chip cookies for $2.89 (regular price).

Just so you know, there were 18 in the box. That actually works out to 16¢ per thin, brittle, who-knows-what-chemicals-are-added cookie. They were gone before Monday even hit.

My hopeful children also wanted to order their school “yearbooks”, $15 bucks a pop, out of our $206.15. There was a pay-in-advance ordering deadline for Monday. I was aiming to get our groceries with $20 bucks to spare, so we could order one to share and still have a few dollars left over for bus fare home and possibly a loaf of bread next week.

You may have noticed that there was no milk on the list. Milk is close to four bucks a carton now. Fortunately, I already had milk in the fridge and a “free carton” coupon pinned to the bulletin board at home for when this carton is gone. After that, there’s a tin in the cupboard that I can mix with water if necessary.

Our $206.15 was also supposed to supply our transportaion costs to get to the grocery store and to bring these groceries home. We go to the nearest grocery store to our home. In car, according to Google maps, it’s a four minute, 1.4km drive. It’s a pretty direct route. Walking takes you on the same path as a car would. With two kids in tow, it takes us about 30 minutes to get there on foot from our house, in decent weather, when the sidewalks aren’t buried in snow and ice. We took the Metrobus instead. That takes approximately 18 minutes because of the ridiculously designed transit routes in our city. Normally, one adult and two children will cost $5.75, one way. Thanks to my son’s needs, I have an “Attendant’s Pass”. So long as I am accompaning him, I can ride free. He also gets a monthly bus pass supplied by the SCWA*. So, heading to the grocery store, we only had to pay $1.75 for his sister. I’d have prefered to save that $1.75 for the return trip instead, but it was cold and foggy and raining, and she was only 24 hours recovered from a high fever that had lasted the six days prior.

I still have the receipt from that day. I made that $206.15 really stretch this time. Between the turkey and the other sales Sobey’s had on, we covered all the bases listed above. Maybe I’m a little worried about my toilet paper supply, but I do have friends that I’m not to proud to beg a couple rolls from if I have to. Maybe it’s still the first Tuesday and we only have one can of that “juice” left. But there’s some cheap “flavour crystals” in my cupboard to get us through the weeks like these. Maybe I forgot that my period is almost due, but I bought a “club pack” last month, so I should be okay there. I will have to go without my caffiene these two weeks. I couldn’t afford Pepsi, OR lemon juice to make my green tea lemonade. This month’s period is gonna be a bigger bitch than usual.

But my children’s bellies will be full, and I did it all for $176.02. We just dropped the penny, so that’s $176 even. (It’s actually noted on my receipt as “Rounding – Tender $0.02.”)

We had $30.15 left. Mentally subtracting the cost of one yearbook, I actually came away with $15.15 for the next two weeks. A cab home would have cost approximately ten bucks, and that would not include a tip. There was too much to carry to attempt to walk home, especially along busy roads with uncleared sidewalks and two children who BOTH have impulse-control and sensory processing problems. We missed the bus home by barely ten minutes. The next bus in that direction would have been another 50 minutes. We were all tired. Shopping had been an extra stressful experience for all of us that day. But I still couldn’t being myself to spend our last $15. on a cab. There’s a bench in the porch. We took our cart and sat there for a bit. No need to stand around at a cold bus stop until absolutely necessary.

I texted two people who might be on the go on a Saturday to see if a ride might be a possibility. They each have multiple kids of their own, and having vehicles, who knows what they’d be at or where they’d be on a weekend. I didn’t actually expect either to be available. But I was tired. My kids were tired. I worried about having Baby Girl out so long while she was still recovering from such a long fever. We could wait for the next bus, but, it couldn’t hurt to throw out a line and ask.

I generally try not to ask too much from those who are supportive in my life because I’m always afraid of asking for too much and losing the support that I do have. The two people I asked that day are lovely, generous, supportive people and I knew they wouldn’t be mad at my asking. One didn’t see my text until hours later, and the other was out with someone else, in someone else’s wheels. Oh well, it was an off chance anyway. Then she wrote back – her and her friend came and got us anyway!

This kindness has since been written on a note and placed into my “Good Things” jar. I won’t forget those who are kind to us.

As for the mess my house is in, my son had a bad day on Sunday. We had five straight hours of his freaking out. It wears him out. It’s tiring for his little sister. I’m the one who has to keep it together.

When he’s okay again, when his sister is okay after, that’s when I can let go a little. When I have to let go a little. All I wanted to do on Sunday was lay down and cry. Holding back a flood like that is exhausting. I don’t even get to feel the exhaustion until it’s all over. So I “cope” instead by letting the house slide a little. By tomorrow it’ll be better. The dust will still be there, and the clothes will still be wrinkly and on the couch, but it’ll be folded and stacked and ready to go upstairs. The rug will be vacuumed, my floors will gleam and my dishes will be clean. I probably still won’t make the beds, but we’ll be back to chipping away at that homework.

I’ll be honest, I’ve already taken a break from this and washed most of those dishes. 😉

But for tonight we’re going to enjoy that turkey as if it really was a luxury and not just another attempt to bring the ends – which never quite meet – just a little closer together.

NOTES:

¹ I don’t really believe you’re a schmoe for working. I was making a point. Duh!

² Yes, I have a smart phone. To get it I used money that had been “guilt-gifted” (that’s a story for another time) to me about four years ago and I had to sign myself into a ridiculous and unfair contract. Due in particular to my son’s needs, I need to be reachable at all times. This phone is an older model, and it is our ONLY phone. We do not have a house phone. We do not have an internet connection in our home. We do not have cable. My children do not have their own phones. This is our total connection to the world. And it has a spending cap, so sometimes we still get cut off from the world.

* SCWA is a program here that provides funding for community requirements of children with special needs.

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I’m Back!

I am so bad at this blog thing. lol My son has been through so much this year with his school. None of it even remotely good. This would have been a great place to share it. I’ve had another opportunity to start that PTSD group, which also would have been great to discuss here.

But starting today, I am going to make this a priority. I will aim for one entry per week. Let’s hope I can stick with it!

🙂

“I Would Do Anything for Love, But I Won’t Do That”

I like Facebook. I have it right on my phone, right in my hand. It keeps me feeling a little less isolated when I can pop on whenever I feel like it and see that there really are other people in the world, getting through their day too.

The explosion of “Fan Pages” brings me the short and simple pleasure of the ridiculous and the indignant, the courageous and the comedic, all tidily condensed and easily shared in the form of captioned pictures, or sometimes just the caption. Often, there are many (oh so many!) different variations on a same theme.

I saw one in particular last night that motivated me beyond the simple urge to hit the word “Like” and then move on.

My feelings went beyond what could be expressed when faced with a choice between a casual comment or a symbolic “thumbs up” icon. So I come here to do my sharing.

This one was a plain image of typed words that said:

“Thank you Florida, Kentucky, and Missouri, which are the first States that will require drug testing when applying for welfare. Some people are crying and calling this unconstitutional. How is this unconstitutional???? It’s OK to drug test people who work for their money, but not for those who don’t?… Re-post this if you’d like to see this done in all 50 states. If you can afford to buy drugs and extra illegal things then you can afford your own groceries”

I see this opinion/”suggestion”, and other very similar sentiments, quite frequently. It usually receives a very firmly supportive response. Sounds logical, who could disagree?

Who would DARE disagree?

If you disagree, you must have something to hide. Maybe you’re already be on drugs. Possibly you’re one of the ones PLANNING to take advantage of the system – grab a “hand out” – to feed your drug habit, your “easy life”.

The usual argument is that the only “logical” reason to refuse this idea is bc you are going to use – or currently are using – illegal/recreational drugs while on welfare.

If you’re not on drugs, then you’ve got no reason to refuse. Right?

How about your sense of humanity, self-respect, dignity? Should these be the price of welfare? Unfortunately, welfare already costs recipients all these things, and even more.

Mandatory drug testing would strip away the last tatters of dignity from welfare recipients.

There is unfortunately enough shame and stigma. We should be trying to undo that, not increase it.

The person who originally wrote this little message, and those who whole-heartedly agree, imply that they just want things to be equal. The idea being “I have to do this, of course you should too. Let’s be fair. Come on, let’s all do our part to protect the welfare system from the abuses on it.”

But welfare is not about equality. Welfare is never, will never be, equal.

The real agenda for the original brain behind this notion becomes clear with this line:

“It’s OKAY to drug test people who work for their money, but not for those who don’t?”

In other words, “By posting this I’m demonstrating that I am part of the many that work for our money, and just look at what some of us suffer through to get it. You do nothing (ie: you’re lazy) for the money you get. I want you to endure this [too].”

But really, how many jobs actually force a drug test?

Have you ever had to give up your bodily fluids to stand behind a cash register/flip a burger/mop a floor?

When was the last time you had to roll up your sleeve for someone’s professional needle before you crunch some numbers/unclog a toilet/repair a refrigerator?

Do you routinely have to flip your tie over your shoulder or hike up your skirt so you can pee in a little cup while someone stands waiting on the other side of the stall before you go back to the conference room/back to teach those fourth-graders/back to stand up and submit a presentation to the boardroom?

The reality is that most jobs do NOT require submission to a drug test. Those that do usually have these special requirements for the protection of yourself, your coworkers, and your employers.

You do not submit to this test to prove your worthiness to receive your “bread ‘n’ butter”. You do it because you made a CHOICE to work for an employer who finds this necessary. Chances are, you made this choice because you had both the opportunity and the qualifications to fill a position. Chances are, you agreed to the drug testing, because the amount of money suits your desired standard of living.

Most people who turn to welfare do so because they aren’t fortunate enough to be in a position where qualifications and opportunities abound for them. They didn’t wake up one morning and think, “You know, the more I think about it, welfare really looks like a great choice!”

Welfare is not the “carefree easy ride” so many people seem inclined to want to believe it to be. There is no desired “standard of living,” only the desire to keep living.

Yes, there are those that take advantage. I don’t claim otherwise. It is a problem for which I can offer no viable solutions.

But forcing all applicants to submit to a drug test is definitely not an appropriate solution. There are so many ways to “get around” a drug test – if you are so inclined.

Mandatory drug testing to access welfare serves no purpose other than to continue to encourage and enable discrimination based on a person’s economic standing. It sends the message that this kind of discrimination is “okay”, that welfare recipients, simply by nature of being welfare recipients, aren’t entitled to be regarded with the same level of humanity as the rest of the population.

FORCING someone to submit to drug testing is demoralizing and dehumanizing. That just adds more strain to those already struggling. It’s hard enough to get your life out of that kind of hole. Don’t SHAME those that need assistance for needing it. Stop judging them and let them get on with surviving.

I’m a welfare recipient and I’m not into recreational drug use. But I’m not going to give up my blood or urine to prove it.

I won’t allow myself to be disrespected as a human being so someone can judge if I’m worthy enough to receive food or shelter.

Ask yourself this:

What if you lost everything – EVERYTHING – tomorrow?

What if you had no options, no choices? If you had to swallow all pride and self-respect and pee in a cup so you could have the “privilege” of a bowl of soup, what would that do to your soul, to that part of you that makes you a person, that place inside where you measure your own worth?

Really dig deep and be honest with your answer.

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PS: Just one digression.

There’s a line at the end of that little message that sparked both confusion and curiosity in me:

“If you can afford to buy drugs and extra illegal things…”

What would these “extra illegal things” be?

Are they things that are somehow MORE illegal than other illegal things?

Or are they other things – besides drugs – that are illegal that welfare recipients are supposedly spending welfare money on?

Either way, I would assume that the original writer would want to prevent the money from going there as well, which leads me to my next question.

Is there a test for “extra illegal things” that would be administered with the drug test? Perhaps some psychological evaluations should be conducted on each recipient? Possibly mandatory search and seizure warrants are necessary?

Being forced to submit to merely a drug test might not make the welfare recipient or applicant feel quite enough like a criminal – or quite violated enough – to satisfy the advocates demanding welfare drug tests.

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Good Morning Monday! Meet My Friend, Tylenol

It’s 4:50am. I have to get up in 100 minutes. I’ve been awake since exactly 1:45. I’ve watched two pointless hours of non-cable-late-sunday-night tv. I’ve snacked on corn chips and salsa. I’ve cruised Facebook, made note of several articles I want to read but will likely forget all about. I’ve put away the clean dishes, folded three loads of laundry, washed two and there’s one sitting wet in the dryer that could by now have been folded and neatly stacked with the rest on the loveseat. I’ve turned off the lights and read in the dark to attempt to force my eyes to tire. And that’s not all that I tried in the name of relaxation. At this point, I’d even accept simple exhaustion.

I don’t know how long the kids have been asleep. They were quietly awake when I dozed off sometime around 9:30ish. Their rooms now look like party-central, so I’m guessing they didn’t drop off when I did. In the morning I take them – via the “joy” that is St. Johns’ Metrobus – to see the developmental paediatrician.

I can’t sleep. It’s going to be an extra long Monday. A lot rides on this appointment. I have to discuss recommendations for the best transition approach for out-of-town visits with their “peek-a-boo” father. I believe my daughter has ADHD. I have to address that directly. Her teacher is particularly concerned about the inappropriate object-eating. My 8 year old son with Aspergers wants me to ask the doc to give him “medicine to cancel [his] bad behaviour”. Yes, that’s a quote from my son. His teachers want me to “try harder” to get some effective respite assistance. As if the last four years hasn’t proven the inadequacy of how that system works. (In fairness, they do mean well.)

I have to do all this with the kids listening bc I don’t have anyone to go with us to supervise them separately during this portion of the appointment. Because the kids will be right there, I have to do all this without letting the anxiety win and throw me into tears.

It’s 5:22 now. I don’t have a headache yet, but it’s there, waiting for me. I still can’t sleep. Sixty-eight minutes left.

Please Sir, I Want Some More

On Facebook earlier I saw a post from the Mood Disorders Society of Canada asking, “From your experience, how easy/hard is it to access Mental Health services in Canada?”

I started to write a comment in reply and then realised – as often happens with me – that I had a lot to say.

My own experience is that obtaining adequate Mental Health services here is nearly impossible – if not flat out impossible for some – and the struggles necessary to get it just cause MORE harm, ESPECIALLY when the attempt to access that help still falls through in the end.

I live in Newfoundland, Canada. I’m a single mom with very little practical supports around me. My son has autism, and my daughter is a real big handful! My home life is VERY stressful, as are my dealings with my young children’s school. I have no social or work life outside my home. I am also involved in an ongoing long term family court struggle with my ex to see that my children’s needs are met.

I have no post-secondary education to further my job chances and no means of returning to school – even if my anxiety problems allowed me to try. I know that I’m limited in that I can’t balance my constant home stress with the stress of a barely-make-the-ends-meet type of job, so now I’m on Income Support (aka social assistance, aka welfare), which leads to further financial strain added to my stress level, not to mention the difficulties of court battling with the children’s absentee father.

I didn’t used to respond this way to stress. Once upon a time, I thrived on it. A deadline was a push. I might meet it just under the wire or just past it, but I did WELL under such circumstances.

While seeking help for my son’s needs I “fluked” into short term help for myself. I started taking an anti-anxiety med and had short biweekly counselling sessions in my home with a psychologist who told me I have PTSD. I started feeling a little bit like I was getting to know my old self again, the self I liked. It didn’t feel like enough but it felt like a start. I began to feel like I could see a little light at the end of the tunnel, that I could get some balance back, start LIVING my life again instead of just surviving it.

But then my son was aged out of the associated program, so I lost even that help. I got moved to a waitlist for the last two years. I finally reached the top of the list several months back but only for a group therapy approach set at an inflexible time. So I was STILL barred from access bc I had no childcare available for that time. I tried every means I could find but the best I could get was financing for a few hours of respite for the autistic child but NOT the other child. Even considering that, I could find no respite worker or even a respite agency that would take a job with so few hours per week.

If I ask/beg any louder for help I run the risk of having CYFS decide that if I need help THAT badly, then maybe I can’t handle my kids. That’s the one risk I could never take.

My children are the thing that keeps me from quitting, from giving up and just saying fuck it all, from letting myself just slide away. My children are sometimes my frustration, mostly my joy, but always my drive and my hope.

My lawyer thinks I’m “hysterical” bc I have panic attacks during our meetings. (The prescription my doc gave me for panics doesn’t work for me.)

The kids’ school used to attempt to placate/soothe me by hiding my son’s “difficult days” from me, and bc I have an emotional reaction (I tend to cry) to his difficulties, I had to fight hard to get them to see past that and realise that one of the few things that I DO absolutely know is how to best deal with his needs and how they need to approach his needs for his best success. Now they do get that but they still get defensive when I have questions/concerns about his progress.

People who don’t know me think I’m just another “lazy welfare rat” bc I don’t work or go to school.

Bc I don’t get to date, people suspect me of being hung up on my jerk of an ex.

I self-soothe with junk food, so my physical heath is suffering too and even my six year old daughter tells me I need to lose weight. (lol)

I have sought help, I’ve jumped through every damn hoop put in front of me and STILL no help.

It’s hard enough for some people to see past the struggle to the valid person underneath. It’s harder still for that person, such as myself, to push past their own problems and stand up and say, “Help me get there. Help me get HEALTHY.”

But for many of us who do stand up and reach out, it feels like we just get slapped by the various practicality barriers and the overwhelming waitlists.

So someone tell me, please, what am I supposed to do?