Posts Tagged "moving"

Frustration and Strength

Posted by on Jun 20, 2011 | 2 comments

One year ago next week, we moved our family from Los Angeles to British Columbia, just South of Vancouver.  We left our life behind – my husband’s job, our friends, our autism support network – in search of one more suited to raising both physically and mentally healthy children.*

From the moment Jack was born we understood that we’d eventually have to leave Los Angeles.  We weren’t sure where or when, we just knew that ultimately we didn’t want to raise our children in the chaos of Hollywood.

This is Us

My husband was born in Canada, and we had talked about the possibility of moving there one day.  We realized that a move of that magnitude would have to be planned well in advance, so three years ago we made a big decision:  we decided that we would be moved and settled in time for Jack to start Kindergarten.  We wanted him to start his elementary school career where he would most likely end it, in British Columbia.

Waiting for Tim Horton

Everyone knows the old adage about best-laid plans, and it turned out no differently for us.  We spent the better part of two years thinking about moving, and the last two months packing frantically.  There wasn’t much we could do ahead of our landing; Jack couldn’t be registered for school until a week before it opened.  We spent our summer moving, exploring and getting to know our new homeland, with the endless support of my husband’s Canadian relatives.

Nobody we knew had any experience with autism in Canada, however, so we were pretty much on our own.  I was led to believe that all would be fine once Jack started school, and essentially, it was.  Well, eventually.  Unlike the California system, where most ASD interventions are handled through the school district (with a few social interventions serviced by regional centres), any at-home services in British Columbia are dealt with through the medical system.  Coming from a country where the mere whisper of autism could exclude my child from medical coverage for life, having him embraced by the medical community is nothing short of a miracle.

A miracle with a pretty startling caveat, unfortunately.

Jack was welcomed into his new school with open arms and given an IEP as quickly as possible.  It took about six weeks to get it together, but that’s not the fault of the school or his integration teacher – had we enrolled him the previous winter like most children, everything would have been handled well before his arrival in the classroom.

The first two months of kindergarten were a test both for Jack and his teacher, as he had no in-class support.  He was overwhelmed by the class size, the structure and the language (he is in a French immersion program, where nothing but French is spoken in the classroom).  He was barely learning, as he wasn’t able to focus or attend.  He frequently ran around in the halls and posed a flight risk, and therefore spent a lot of the early days sitting in the Assistant Principal’s office (not for punishment, but for the good of both his teacher and himself).  It was heartbreaking to see my brilliant boy stuck in an “autism stereotype”:  the unruly, unteachable child.

Lost Boy

Then one day he was assigned a full-time SEA, Mme W. (a special education assistant, like his Behaviour Interventionists Eric and Charlie and Geoff in LA), and the planets shifted back into alignment.  Within days Jack was attending, learning, and settling into his skin.  He has blossomed under her guidance, and has thrived in the classroom.  I know his teacher will attest to this.  I also know she deserves a vacation somewhere warm this summer, although I’ll probably just give her some cookies.

My cookies are awesome, actually

Back to the miracle with a catch.  While Jack was accepted into his school and given support without question, we were unable to get him any interventions through his medical plan without an “official” diagnosis of autism.  Not a problem, I thought, as I have a binder four inches thick with reports and documentation and IEP’s.  I dutifully filled out a pile of paperwork, made endless copies and shipped a package off to Victoria for approval by the Ministry of Health.  Once we got their go-ahead, Jack would be eligible for government funding and we’d be able to set up some ABA for him.

The Ministry set us straight pretty quickly.  My big huge binder meant nothing to them.  In order to qualify for funding, Jack must be diagnosed by a Canadian doctor, who you can only reach by first navigating an obstacle course of bureaucracy.  The first step is the family doctor, who then referred us to a pediatrician (a six-week wait), who sent us for a blood test and put us on the waiting list for the ONE clinic where they do diagnoses.

That waiting list is currently 18 months long.

I don’t really know what else to say other than I am stunned and amazed by this.  Once children are “in” the system in British Columbia they receive top-notch care, but the wait can be interminable if the child is in need of immediate attention.  There is a private clinic that will diagnose children quicker (their wait list is only four months the last time I checked), but unless we can somehow come up with $1500, that’s not an option.

The real kicker is British Columbia provides generous funding for children up to age six.  After age six there is still money available, but it’s less than one-third the amount for younger children.   Jack turns six in October, so there’s just no way we’ll get full funding for him.  Even if we’d gotten him on the list the second we landed in Canada he most likely wouldn’t have been seen in time.

I have learned a lot about myself and our family in the last few months as we’ve wound our way through the BC autism maze.  I have realized that we are so, so very lucky.  There are many children on the too-long list that are unable to communicate, and won’t be able to until their number is drawn and their funding approved.

I know now how strong our personal autism foundation is, and what it took to get us here. Every hour spent in occupational therapy and speech therapy and the inclusive infant program and collaborative preschool was worth it.  Every minute shared with the multitude of amazing people who gave of themselves so Jack could be the person he was meant to be is sacred.**  Every period of change that Jack’s gone through, every disruption and every tantrum was another chance for us to learn how to support him.  It was worth every second.

The Kindergarten Graduate

Most importantly, as frustrated as I am, I know that even without funding Jack will be ok.  We will be ok.  We made it through last summer without any services, and we’ll make it through this summer, too.  We are strong, and we have been given the tools to guide us no matter the situation.  If I didn’t think we could do this alone, I might be screaming.

Instead, I’m wondering what I can do, as one person, to help the system here.  I’m thinking about the children who don’t have the foundation we have, whose families don’t have the tools or the strength to make it 18 months, through no fault of their own.  Maybe we can help in some small, simple way.  I hope so.

What a difference a year makes.




*I would like to point out that many, many dear friends of ours are successfully raising children in Southern California, and I in no way mean any disrespect to them.  As much as we wanted it to be, SoCal just wasn’t a good fit for us as a family.

**Amelia, Deborah, Shelby, Jane, Amanda, Eric, Charlie, Geoff, Jesse, Mrs. Colbin, Christine, and everyone else I’m forgetting right now… you know who you are, and you know you are loved.

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You Made My Heart Feel So Happy

Posted by on Sep 28, 2010 | 0 comments

I think Jack has been possessed by an old soul.  An old, compassionate soul.  An old, compassionate soul who enjoys watersports.

In our old apartment, my children did not have a lot of freedoms.  We lived on Hollywood Boulevard, in a building obviously meant for roommates, not small mischevious boys.  We were on the second floor and had two balconies with no locks (and sliding door anchors were useless as even my cat could knock the screen door off its runners).  The galley kitchen wasn’t safe for adults, let alone children.  We lived in a complex maze of baby gates, locks and creative homemade child-deterrents, all in the name of keeping our kids alive.

Ok, that’s not entirely true.  I’ll admit it, I liked not having children in my kitchen.  Or my bedroom.  Or the bathroom.  I listened to my friends’ horror stories of toddlers in toilets with a knowing nod, secretly confident my children weren’t allowed anywhere near that sort of trouble.  I stashed all of my valuable breakables in my bedroom far out of reach of destructive hands.  I laid knives on the counter as I cooked with wild abandon.

Karma has a way of coming around, and this home is mine.  We have an open kitchen.  We have three, easily accessable bathrooms.  We have no baby gates.  Anywhere. 

I learned quickly after we moved in that the previous sheltering of our children might just come back to bite us in the proverbial hot seat.  The very first morning, Jack and Lennon were up at the crack of dawn, playing in the sprinklers in the backyard.

They had gone down three floors, out two doors, installed the sprinkler and turned it on all by themselves.  At four o’clock am.  They soon learned how to fill their little pool and flood the back yard by themselves, too.  In the warm weather, in the cold weather, in the rain and at night.

Jack’s fascination with the hose finally drove me to remove the handles to both outdoor faucets, bringing his watersports to an end.  Or so I thought.

I should have known the heart wants what it wants, and Jack’s heart wants to be wet.   He now wakes up in the wee hours of the morning to give his trucks and trains baths in the sink.  It takes him a half hour to “wash his hands” after going to the bathroom.  Showers, once a threat, are now an evening treat. 

We’ve had to establish some rules regarding water use in the house, and they don’t just apply to Jack.  Trivial little things like “you do not bathe your toys in the bathroom sink before 6am.”   “We do not flush toys down the toilet.”  And of course, “we do not flood our train table and melt the play-doh.” 

Jack doesn’t always understand when he’s stepped over the line.  The other day I told him he had spent enough time washing his hands, and he ran up and gave me a big hug.

“You made my heart feel so happy. You did, mama.”

 Why, because we moved to a new country?  Because we have a wonderful new home?  Because he now has unfettered access to the sink?

“Thank you, Jack, but please, honey, don’t use all of the brand new soft soap.”

“I love that you made my heart so super happy.”

This kid is good.  He’s soaked from head to toe, clearly violating several of our new rules, yet instead of getting mad, I’m wanting to give him a cookie.

“Oh, sweetie, that’s so nice.  But please, you can’t get all of your clothes wet every time you wash your hands.”

“What colour is your heart, mama? Mine is green. That’s a good colour for a heart.”

I give up.

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Mama, Your Heart Opened A Door

Posted by on Sep 27, 2010 | 1 comment

A month and a half of living in our new home and we’re still in boxes.  I wasn’t kidding when I said we started over on this move; we have almost no furniture.

We have acquired a few random pieces through the charity of family and the adventure that is Craigslist (most notably a couch – a funky, slippery, bizarrely-shaped wonderful couch).  Our dining room table, however, still sits in pieces after the hardware disappeared somewhere between Los Angeles and Vancouver.  Several trips to IKEA have been fruitless as apparently they have changed the design of this very popular table and no longer carry the old hardware.  Home Depot swears they don’t have what we need, but the friendly IKEA folks keep telling me the Home Depot folks are just being lazy.  My table is an innocent victim of a retail war, so there it sits. 

Our books, excess clothing, videos (yes, we still have some lonely VHS tapes), knick-knacks and what-nots have no home.  They sit around the house in beautiful moving boxes, disturbed only by little people looking for something else to destroy.   It’s enough to drive a stay-at-home mom bonkers.

Guess who isn’t bothered by the disarray?  Yup, Jack.  Jack thinks it’s awesome that we’re constantly unpacking boxes.  For him, it’s a pasttime, a thing we do now.  I’m guessing when the last box is eventually emptied he’s going to be wholly confused.

I was having a particularly bad evening recently after another trip to IKEA resulted in yet another set of worthless table screws.  I was down, and somehow Jack knew it.  He was hanging out with me while I cooked dinner, as is his wont.

“Your heart found us this house, mama. Your heart opened a door for us.”

Ok, seriously.  Whose almost 5-year-old talks like that? 

Mine does, and his heart is so big it carries me on my darkest days.  He’s amazing, and that makes up for my screw-less table.

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That Would Be A Little Easier

Posted by on Sep 10, 2010 | 0 comments

Where last we left off, we had taken a break in the potty training battle.  Life in limbo was unstable enough without throwing something completely new into the mix.

Just when we thought it would never happen, about a month ago we finally moved into our own home.  At that point, both big boys had already decided that going in the potty was an alright thing to do.  Downright cool, actually.  Except for nighttime and naps, that part was a done deal.

Of course, we still had the daunting Number Two to tackle.  Lennon caught a stomach flu which had him going several times a day, so we started just throwing him on the potty instead.  It actually worked.  By the time his flu had passed, he was at least telling us when he had to go.

When we moved into our new place, we bribed him with a lusted-after toy (a “Mac” semi from “Cars”) if he could go in the potty five days in a row.  Halfway through Lennon’s chart, Jack took notice.

He asked what the chart was for, and where his was.  We made one for him, too, and discussed the terms of the deal.  Five days in a row, in the potty.  Five days and you win (surprise, surprise, Jack wanted a “Mac,” too).

Jack thought on it for a few seconds.  Then he looked at me with that “let’s make a deal” twinkle in his eye.

“I want one without going poopie, mama.  That would be a little easier.”

Ahem.  Yes, yes it would.  I persisted.  We had already rewarded him for merely trying, and I was convinced he just didn’t feel like it.

Miracle of miracles, he did it.  Not only did he complete his five days, he goes by himself now.  In fact, both of my big boys have been diaper-free for several weeks now.  And while Lennon usually has a nighttime accident, Jack hasn’t had any.  Not one.

Stubborn kid.  I’m pretty sure he was just waiting for the right bribe.

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It's Ok Mama…

Posted by on Sep 6, 2010 | 2 comments

At long last, I’m back.  Back from a long arduous journey to a new home, indeed, a new life.  We have left the sun and sand and plastic of Los Angeles, and have begun a future in breathtaking British Columbia.

We have learned many lessons along the way.  Mainly, as stressed as parents are, children are resilient.  They have an endless capacity for enjoyment and imagination.  Any tenuous situation can be turned into an adventure with a flip of vocabulary. 

We have no furniture yet, but the boys are beside themselves to eat their meals at their little play table.

It’s too late to go to the spray park.  However, we have a sprinkler, which Jack now calls “the water park in our backyard.”

It rains here quite often, but thanks to our big tandem garage, the boys can ride their bikes in and out of the rain, playing “Soapin’ Sam’s car wash.”

Our last apartment was a toddler deathtrap with a complicated maze of baby gates and locked doors.  Our new home has afforded my children an endless stream of new opportunities.  They now have complete access to our bedroom, the kitchen, three bathrooms, a garage and backyard.   I am learning to trust them without my stress level getting out of control (with the help of a few well-placed cabinet locks), and honestly, they’ve made it easy.

It’s been a lot of change, but change for the better.  I think my children know that, especially Jack.  Our past life is marked with restriction and barriers of both the literal and figurative nature; we now live freely on many levels. 

We are all still learning, and we’re doing it together. 

The other day I was cooking on the stove and Jack got too close. 

“Be careful, sweetie, it’s hot,” I scolded, holding him back.

He hugged me.  “It’s ok, mama.  We all get burned.”

You know, we do.  And then we heal, and then we move on.

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