Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Taking the Time to be a Happy Mama

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the 2nd annual Happy Mama Conference and Retreat in Raleigh, North Carolina. What, you ask, is the Happy Mama Conference and Retreat? It's the brainchild of some great special needs mamas of kids with invisible disabilities (ADHD, ODD, ASD, OCD, FASD, etc...) who decided it would be a hoot to get together for the weekend with a bunch of other special needs mamas...and they were right! It was a great time!

One of the highlights for me was that I managed to convince one of my best friends, who just happens to be a special needs mom herself, to come with me. When was the last time you spent two days with one of your best friends? I know, right? That's worth the price of admission right there! Just look at these happy do I look????

 A selfie in my hotel room. bags under my eyes!
Amazing what a good night's sleep and a long nap can do.
 Cheese! Smile big big for the selfie, Allison Downey!
 We liked that first one so much, we took another one!
 Now these are happy mamas!
I finally got to meet fellow blogger and special needs mama Adrienne Ehlert Bashista.
She also happens to be one of the conference organizers.

If you were to ask me what I learned at the conference, I'd tell you not a whole lot. Now, don't get me wrong...there was a lot to be learned! The sessions were awesome, and I remember liking them all. I, however, have ADHD and am currently unmedicated, which means I can't remember a conversation I had 10 minutes ago, let alone an entire conference worth of stuff. What I will say, though, is that some stuff really, really resonated with me, and that's the stuff I remember.

Despite the fact that I had spent the money and taken the time to fly almost 1,500 km (or about 900 miles, for you non-metric people) to the conference (and abandoned my husband for the weekend with the children for the second time in a month), I still felt kind of guilty. The conference may be fairly inexpensive compared to other conferences, but it was still a lot of money for us. And while TheODDDad has hobbies that take him out of the house a few nights a week for months at a time, I've never had the kids to myself for an entire weekend. It seemed pretty one-sided...really one-sided...and a part of me felt unworthy.

And then came two sessions by Vikki Spencer, also known as The Mom Whisperer. Vikki is a motivational speaker, a certified life coach, and best of all, a special needs mom. In a nutshell, she gets it. She gets the tendency, which I don't think is unique to special needs moms, to put everyone else's needs before our own. To feel guilty when we take time for ourselves, even if it's just going for a walk or locking the bathroom door and taking a bubble bath. (OK, for the record, I hate baths, but I know they work for some people.) Vikki's message was the importance of taking the time to look after ourselves, to indulge in self-care.

Vikki shared an analogy on how critical it is for us to "sharpen our saw," which I believe she said is a premise she took from Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. She explained it this way (I'm paraphrasing, but the fact that I remember even this much shows how deeply it resonated with me): A man goes for a walk in the woods one day and comes across a woodcutter hacking away at a tree. It's obvious to the man that the woodcutter's saw is dull, so he suggests that the woodcutter take a break to sharpen his saw. "I can't," says the woodcutter. "I need to get this done, so I don't have time to stop."

Of course, we all know that things would go much easier for the woodcutter if he took the time to sharpen his saw. The work would get done faster, the woodcutter wouldn't be as tired at the end of the job, and everyone would be happy. Maybe he'd even have a little time left over for himself... Happy, happy, joy, joy!!!

As special needs moms, we need to take time to sharpen our saws. We are happier and better able to deal with everything that our lives...or our children...throw at us if we look after ourselves. As Vikki pointed out, there's a reason why adults on airplanes are instructed to put their oxygen masks on first and then tend to their children. While maternal instinct tells us to look after our children first, we can't look after our children when we can't breathe. Ever get so stressed that you find it hard to breathe? get the point.

The big question, of course, is how to fund your self-care. A walk by yourself might be nice, but wouldn't a massage be nicer? Or dinner with friends? Or a date night? Or that cut and colour you've been wanting? Or going to the Happy Mama Conference? Sure, I went to the conference this year, but that's because we came into a little bit of money unexpectedly, so I used some of it for that. But the question of how to fund next year's conference...because not going is NOT an a big question.

I have to admit that when I was listening to Vikki talk about the importance of self-care, I was inwardly rolling my eyes as I tried to figure out where the money was supposed to come from on a regular basis. In our house, extra money goes to groceries, savings, or debt repayment. On occasion it goes to a special date night, but the guilt that comes with that can be pretty hefty! It seems there's always somewhere else the money should have gone.

Vikki, however, tackled that as well. She had some really great...and super easy...ways to find money. The thing is, though, that you have to change your mindset. You have to be willing to put that "found" money towards self-care, which means believing you're worth it. I know...that's the hard part.

Vikki asked a really tough question: Would you hesitate to spend the extra money on that child you love so much? Probably not, right? Then you need to love yourself as much as you love your child. When I put that question to the parents in our support group the other night, we all agreed we would find a way to pay for our child's soccer, or birthday party, or therapy. But when it came to putting that money towards ourselves, somehow all the moms and dads were suddenly looking at the ground. Ouch...

So, where do you find the money. Here are some ideas she shared and some of my own:
  • Does loose change tend to sit around in your house? Claim it! If there are any arguments, set a time limit. If it sits for more than 24 hours, it's yours.
  • Use coupons at the store and put the money you save aside.
  • Have breakfast for supper once a week. Pancakes and sausages are cheap and fun. Figure you save $5 or $10 a meal? Great...put it aside.
  • Buy your lunch during the week? Brown bag it once in a while and put the money aside.
  • Love your Timmies or your Starbucks? Forgo one a week and save the money.
I have to admit that not all of these ideas will work in my house. For one thing, I work from home, so there are no bought lunches here. I rarely hit Timmies or Starbucks, so there goes that. I do, however, see a lot of pancakes and sausages in my family's future. If I'm lucky, I may even find a coupon for them! Bonus!!!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Better Safe than Sorry

The weather this week has been pretty wild. It's been really hot and humid, and pretty much every day has brought a warning of severe thunderstorms. So far most stuff has gone around us, but today has us all watching the sky.

At this point, a good part of the province is under a tornado watch. Areas that the storm has already moved through have seen a fair bit of damage, although no tornados as of yet. Keep in mind that we don't really do tornados around here, so people are a little spooked. The sky is clear right now, but there's a major system moving our way that is supposed to hit towards early evening.

The fact that I have a bit of an anxiety thing and a bit of a weather phobia going on doesn't help. Add a tornado watch to the mix, and you have me checking the storm's progress about every 1/2 hour. Am I panicking? Heavens, no. But am I prepared? You bet.

One thing I have to think about is my guys. Stitch is only three, and Bear isn't exactly a fan of bad weather. In fact, just losing power is enough to set him off, regardless of the weather. The school once had to call me because the power had gone out, resulting in Bear hurling himself at the glass doors of the school to get out. Granted, that was a few years ago, but let's just say that I'm not confident in his ability to stay calm should the weather turn really ugly.

Thus, part of the preparation. We have a cold room in the basement right under our front steps that I'm fairly certain will keep us safe no matter what comes our way. Right outside of it, just casually sitting there, is a flashlight, some juice boxes, a cozy comforter, and a wind-up radio. I'll probably put the tablet down there, too, since Bear can play on it quite happily for hours. If things start to look bad, I'll probably sneak a teddy bear or two down there and anything else I think might come in handy.

Anything to distract and calm--both me and him.

Fingers crossed that this all amounts to nothing, but better safe than sorry.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Toronto Zoo -- and Delta Hotels -- Here We Come!!!

I'm absolutely giddy with excitement, and I'll bet you think you know why. Cause we're going to the Toronto Zoo, right? Wrong! Well, right...but still wrong. I know, I'm not making much sense right now, but I did warn you that I'm giddy with excitement!

The story starts about two weeks ago, with an email from Bear's school. Their end-of-the-year class trip is coming up, and the school wasn't sure what to do about it. Three classes are headed by school bus to a large festival, which sounds like a lot of fun, but probably wouldn't be a good fit for Bear. For one, he's terrified of school buses, so a three-hour round trip probably wouldn't be a great idea. Second, this particular festival only runs for a few days, so it will attract every school for hundreds of miles. The result will be mass chaos -- very noisy chaos -- which, again, will not exactly add to poor Bear's enjoyment of the day.

The school desperately wanted Bear to be able to participate in the trip because he's worked so hard this year, but they were torn because they weren't sure if it would be a good idea. Hence the email. What do you think, they asked? I had to admit that it sounded like way too much for him to handle, even if I tagged along. Instead, I suggested that I would keep him home that day and do something really special with him. The question was what to do that would be special enough to compensate for missing his trip.

As it happened, TheODDDad came home that night and cheerfully announced that he had worked enough overtime to take a day off, but it had to be taken in the very near future. POOF!!! A light went off! (Or did it go on...and does a light make a "poof" sound? Maybe it does when you blow a bulb, which would mean the light went off. Anyway...I had an idea...) I suggested that he take off the day of Bear's trip and that way we could do something really fun just the three of us, which he was all for. From there the idea grew.

By the time we finished brainstorming (which means me spending hours on the computer researching ideas and then reporting back), we were headed to Toronto with both boys to visit the Toronto Zoo. The Delta Toronto East has a package for under $200 that includes a one-night stay and entrance to the zoo for a family of four. I know, right??? They even have a pool and two waterslides -- a big one and a little one. Way cool!

So now comes the good part. When I made the reservations, I requested an extra cot in the room. Bear and Stitch have never slept together, and I wasn't sure this was the night I wanted to try it out. I figured they'd sleep much better in separate beds, which would make for much happier children the next day. Turns out that an extra cot is $25. Ya...I don't think so.

Instead I decided nothing ventured, nothing gained. In researching the hotel (because you know I have to research everything), I came across the name of the guest services manager, so I sent him an email. Here's what I wrote:
Hi Azhar,

I just made a reservation at your hotel. My husband and I are treating our two sons to a day at the Toronto Zoo thanks to the great package you’re offering. My sons are 3 and 7, and my eldest has mild autism. My son’s end-of-school trip is that week, but they’re going somewhere that simply won’t be conducive to his needs. He’s worked so incredibly hard at school this year (his challenges make school extremely difficult for him) and we didn’t want him to feel left out, which is why we’re headed to Toronto.

My son’s autism means that he’s extremely sensitive to noise and to touch, among other things. For this reason, I asked if we could have a cot in our room so that the kids don’t have to sleep in the same bed, but I was told it would be an extra $25. I was wondering if it might be possible to waive that fee. I’m not asking for a cot for convenience or because we’re squeezing an extra person into our room, but because my son is going to be overwhelmed enough from all the excitement and we need to make things as comfortable as possible for him in order for him to be able to function. I also wondered – and I realize this might be a little difficult to predict – if it would be possible to have a room on a quiet floor.

I also thought I would mention that the menus for T.W’s Bar on the Delta web site aren’t working. My son has to eat gluten-free, so I was trying to see what kind of options might be available.

Thanks so much for your help, Azhar. I look forward to hearing back from you.

My hope was that we would get the fee for the cot waived. If they were feeling really generous, maybe they'd go so far as to throw in an in-room movie. Instead, I received the following email this morning. Hang on to your hats.
Good Day Ms. Wright,
I would like to take this opportunity and thank you for considering the Delta Toronto East as your choice of accommodation in Toronto. I can personally assure you that my team will do their very best to ensure you along with your family have a truly relaxing and renewing experience.
Ms. Wright, I can understand the extra pressure on you as well as your son during the school year and to reward him we have upgraded your reservation to a beautiful 1 bedroom suite compliments of the hotel. While the bedroom has a king size bed, it is equipped with a sofa bed in the living room and I will arrange for an additional cot complimentary.
Thank you for bringing the menu section to my attention, I will follow-up with our Food and Beverage manager however our culinary team would be delighted to arrange a special Gluten Free meal for your son during any meal, simply inform your server or order taker and our chef will work his magic.
If there is anything else we can do to make your stay more enjoyable please feel free to contact me and I will be delighted to assist you. Hope you have a wonderful day ahead.

As if that weren't enough, he emailed me a few minutes later to ask for the boys' names and their favourite snack, because "we want to do something special for them."
Funny, he thinks he's doing something special for them...he has no idea what he's just done for us.
P.S. No, I wasn't compensated for this blog post. They have no idea I'm writing it -- I just wanted to draw attention to something really nice that someone has done for my family.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Calling all Exhausted Mamas!

If you're the mom of an alphabet soup kid (ADHD, ODD, SPD, ASD, FASD, etc...), which I'm betting you are since you're reading this, then this post is for you.

Consider this your friendly reminder that April 30th is the last day for early bird registration for the Happy Mama Conference & Retreat. What is the Happy Mama Conference and Retreat? I'm so glad you asked!

Last year some very smart--and exhausted--special needs moms decided that there needed to be an opportunity for smart and exhausted special needs moms to get together to share their stories, learn a little bit, and laugh a lot. After all, who knows better than other special needs moms what it means to be a special needs mom. Hence, the Happy Mama Conference and Retreat.

This year marks the second annual retreat, and yours truly is heading down to Raleigh, North Carolina to attend. (And for the record, I'm not being paid to write this. In fact, I wasn't even asked. In double fact, the organizers don't even know I'm doing this, but they can most certainly feel free to buy me a drink at the conference anyway!)

This conference is truly for the exhausted mom whose attention span is non-existent. Check out Saturday's schedule:

1/2 hour Welcome
10 minute break
20 minute session
20 minute break
20 minute session
10 minute break
20 minute session
45 minute group discussion
1 hour lunch
40 minute session
10 minute break
20 minute session
3 hour spa

Now this is a conference put together by moms who get it!!!!

By the way, did I mention that the conference is only $145 if you book before May 1st? Granted, it only goes up by a whopping $20 after that, but still! Oh, and that includes lunch and supper on Saturday. If you stay at the Embassy Suites where the conference is being held, you get breakfast as well. There's also a Starbucks on site...bonus!!!!

Check out the room I booked! I know...fancy, huh? Not bad for $109/night. I tell myself I'm going to take advantage of the pool and gym too, but I really foresee myself curling up in that bed with a good book.

So, head on over to The Happy Mama web site and book your escape. Not that I don't love my husband and kids, but I will tell you quite honestly that I'm counting the days. I even get to fly on a plane! With a window seat! Whew hew!!! (Wow...I really need to get out more.)

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Avoiding the Tough Questions

"Mom, what's Easter about?" Bear asked me one day a few weeks ago, without so much as looking up from what he was doing.

"Wha...huh? Em...uh...well...that's a really good question, Bear," I stammered, totally taken aback and also really impressed.

The problem was that I had no idea how to answer that question. I mean, I knew what the answer was, I just wasn't sure how to share that information with Bear without traumatizing him. Although we're a Christian family, Bear's issues have pretty much prevented us from attending church on a regular basis...or a semi-regular basis...or at he hasn't been exposed to the darker side of the Christian story. Sure, I talk to Bear about God, but it's more the warm and fuzzy stuff.

I could just see how this would go...

"Well, Bear, you see, a very long time ago, Jesus -- you remember me telling you about him, right? -- and you've learned about him at school, right? -- you know, Jesus? (insert French accent because Bear goes to a French school) -- well, he's God's son. And there were a bunch of really bad men who didn't like him, so they decided to punish him and kill him. What? How did they kill him?'s not very nice, but back then they nailed people to a really big cross, and they died there. Oh, don't look like that, Bear! It's OK, cause God knew it was going to happen. In fact, He planned it. Why did He plan it? Um...well...that's another really good question. No, you're right, it doesn't sound very nice. No, it doesn't make him sound like a very good father. But back then people had to sacrifice a lamb to get God's forgiveness for their sins. What does sacrifice mean? Um...well...they took the lamb and..."

You get the point. I just didn't see this ending well. So I pretty much took the coward's way out.

"At Easter we celebrate God and Jesus," I told him. Short and sweet.

"Oh, like a birthday?" he asked.

"Nope, Christmas is Jesus' birthday. At Easter we them."

"Oh, OK."

Then it occurred to me that surely they're teaching him about Easter at school. It was the week before Easter and Bear goes to a Catholic school. Surely they've figured out how to talk to a 7 year old about Easter.

"What are they teaching you about Easter at school, Bud?" I asked.

"Huh?" he asked, looking up from his game. " don't know," he said, looking back down.

Obviously they hadn't said anything too traumatizing, so I let the subject drop. OK, then...let's just leave it there and be happy we got off easy this time.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

You're Stuck with Me!

I wanted to take a minute to thank everyone who reached out to me to share how much this blog has meant to them. You told me how I made you laugh until you cried, made you cry through your laughter, reassured you that you weren't alone, encouraged you to keep fighting, comforted you when things got tough, inspired you to reach out in your own community and, most importantly, helped you to be better parents. You told me that you needed me, that you would miss me, and that I still had work to do.

Your words encouraged me, inspired me, made me smile, and even made me cry. You reminded me that the next steps in a journey don't cancel out the previous steps, they build on them, ultimately adding to the experience. What diagnosis is given to Bear or what I choose to call myself doesn't take away from what I've learned along the way and how it has shaped me. If anything, it adds to what I have to offer the world through my words.

So this is me -- The ODD Mom.

It's who I am.

It's who I'm proud to be.

Thanks for reminding me. I'm grateful.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Identity Crisis

In case you're wondering, yes, I'm still here. I can't tell you how many posts I've started over the past few months and abandoned. The reasons for this are numerous, but part of the reason is that this blog is starting to feel like a sham.

You see, when I first started blogging, we were in crisis mode with Bear. Every day was a new challenge, and I needed somewhere to share what I was going through. This blog gave me a place to do that, and you all helped me see that I wasn't alone. The bonus was that I was able to help others while I helped myself.

The last few months, however, have brought some much needed relief to our household, along with some surprises. It has been smooth sailing with Bear for ages, to the point that I don't really have anything to write about. The ODD behaviour seems to have disappeared, but that's kind of what I used to write about.

Just last month a psychologist with our school board spent two days with Bear, and her findings were kind of surprising...although they probably shouldn't have been. She diagnosed Bear with Aspergers (a form of autism), which explains a lot of his anxiety and behaviours. She removed the diagnosis of ODD because she feels that a lot of his ODD-like behaviour was due to his Aspergers. That makes total sense, but it leaves me with a bit of a dilemma.

I'm The ODD Mom. It's who I've become over the past few years. It's how I've come to see myself, in many respects. If Bear no longer has ODD and I no longer have anything to write about in this blog, what happens to The ODD Mom and this blog? I'm just not sure...

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Let's Give Them Something To Talk About -- Bell Let's Talk Day

It's Bell Let's Talk Day in Canada, and it's a great opportunity to get the conversation going about children's mental illness. As parents, we're so very hesitant to share with people that our children have mental health problems. But why is that?

For one thing, we're afraid that they won't understand. Fair enough, they might not. But how is not talking about it going to help change that?

Secondly, we're afraid people might judge us or our children. Another good point. But let's be honest here -- children with mental illnesses that manifest outwardly in bad behaviour simply look like brats to the outside world and we, their parents, look lazy and negligent. Ergo, we're already being judged. So once again, how is not talking about it going to help?

Third, the term "mental illness" is pretty damn scary. It calls to mind the mental institutions of old and images of sociopaths and other people society says we should be afraid of. But are those images accurate, or are we buying into the very stigma we need to fight?

The fact remains that 1 in 5 children will suffer from a mental illness at some point, and not talking about it isn't going to make it go away. What it will do, however, is continue to alienate them and the people who love them.

Ask yourself this. If 1 in 5 children has a mental illness, why do so many parents feel alone? Answer? Because nobody talks about it.

So here's what I'm proposing. What if rather than hiding from it, we talked about it? What if rather than being embarrassed about it, we educated people about it? What if rather than complaining about it, we did something about it?

As scary as it can be, I don’t think we’re going to change the perception of mental illness unless we embrace it.

Who's with me?

Note: This is a slightly revised version of a post I put up last year.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Message to an ODD Grandmother

The other day I received a beautiful email that touched my heart, and I wanted to share it with you.

Hello ODD Mom...thank you so much for doing this daughter is coping with an ODD 7 yr. old boy and I feel so helpless to help her. I look forward to getting your blog and getting some insight on this condition. God Bless you for your help! Nana
Dear Nana,
Thank you so much for your beautiful email -- your love for your daughter and your grandson shines through. Having a child with mental health issues can be extremely lonely. Many parents don't have anyone to talk to about it or someone who understands what they're going through. Although you may feel helpless to help your daughter, I want to tell you that you're not. You may not be able to make everything all better for her, which as a mother I know you want to do, but you can do more than you think.  
  • Tell her you love her.
  • Tell her you're proud of her.
  • Tell her she's a good mother.
  • Share positive things about your grandson with your daughter. Parents of children with ODD don't often hear a whole lot of nice things about their children, but every parent needs to. Does he have a kind smile? An infectious laugh? A curious nature? A great sense of humour? A great imagination? Is he smart? Is he good with animals? Is he patient with a younger sibling? Does he notice things other people miss? The possibilities are endless, even if you have to get creative.
  • Ask her what you can do to help -- come prepared with ideas. Having a child with ODD can make even everyday tasks difficult. Can you pick up groceries every now and then? Can you provide a casserole for the family to eat every couple of weeks so she doesn't have to cook? Can you help clean the house once in a while? Can you take the other kids to their activities or pick them up after school?
  • Offer to take your grandson off her hands for an hour, even if it's only long enough for her to go to the library, get her hair cut, have a nap, or do the groceries. If you can handle him for two hours, then rent a movie, pop some popcorn, and spend some time with him.
  • Listen to her when she needs to talk.
  • Respect her decisions. If she tells you that a certain behaviour needs to be treated a certain way, do it. If she asks you not to feed him a certain food because she's noticed it sets him off, believe her.
  • Invite the whole family over for dinner but make sure it's a relaxing time, not a stressful event. Set the kids up in front of the TV, feed them their favourite dinner, and allow your daughter to sit down for a quiet supper. Look after her for a few hours -- you'd be amazed how good that feels when you're spending all your energy on someone else.
  • Love your grandson unconditionally. Tell him you love him and that you love spending time with him. Kids with ODD often have a hard time fitting in, and so that unconditional love is so important. Parents of children with ODD often feel that their children are unwelcome, so that unconditional love is important for them as well. (Note: Unconditional love doesn't mean letting your grandson get away with murder. Children with ODD may not take kindly to discipline, but they still need it.)
These ideas might seem small to you, but they can go a long way in helping your daughter and giving her strength on this journey. Trust me...I speak from experience.