The heartbreak when you can’t always protect your child

The heartbreak when you can’t always protect your child

When my son started preschool, I was nervous kids would make fun of him.

He initially wasn’t talking as much or as well as his classmates. Both teachers have commented how much more he is talking in just a couple of months and how he is easier to understand.

Cub copying his preschool teacher, Mrs. O.

Pretty sure Cub is copying his preschool teacher here! He digs Mrs. O.

I’ve written about Cub and his uniqueness before: he may not speak as well as kids his age, but he can read anything, spell, and loves maps. Last night he corrected me when I pointed to a country on an unlabelled map. I said it was Israel. He proceeded to tell me, “Israel’s not in Africa. That’s Eritrea.”

I was so pleased when Cub seemed to blend in with the kids who had been together for months, and if he or they were aware of their differences, I didn’t see it on the occasions I was in the classroom: kids would often ask him to join in playing and he eagerly sang along to all the songs and joined in activities. And Cub would come home and talk about his friends, rattling off all their names. It made me wonder when kids start to notice differences?

My heart broke a little at a recent preschool day. Cub was “helper” since I was a parent helper, and one of his jobs was to read everyone’s names who were at school that day so they could say “here!” While he can read each of their names, his pronounciation isn’t as clear as that of his classmates, and one of the boys started imitating how he was saying names. I don’t think a five-year-old is capable of being malicious, but it was obvious he noticed Cub was different or not saying it right, and he and his friend were getting a kick out of it.

My heart hurt partly because Cub talks about this boy at home and seems to really like him. I was so glad that he either didn’t understand or care the implication of someone mimicking him saying “Pub” for “Cub.” It was also the first instance where I saw someone make fun of my child for being different. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt. It hurt me much more than it hurt him!

It reminded me of the book I’m reading right now, Precious Cargo: My Year of Driving the Kids on School Bus 3077 by Craig Davidson. The author is a writer who, out of desperation for income, takes a job driving a bus of children with special needs. In one of the chapters, he reflects on a few cases where he sees kids or adults making fun of his passengers. In more than one instance, he gets out and confronts people (which, upon reflection, he doesn’t recommend: he actually threatens to punch the dad of one mean kid and gets into an awkward altercation with said dad).

So, I’m not planning any altercations with any preschoolers or parents! Far from it. It was his realization that hit home for me and came to mind: he realized his outrage at people wasn’t helping him or the kids he was trying to protect.

“If anything, my actions merely called attention to matters they had learned to dismiss, having developed strategies to cope; I was the equivalent of an amplifier, forcing them to hear a frequency they had taught themselves to tune out.”

Man, when I read those words, I was really struck by them. It’s funny how the world works: funny that I was reading this book and had just read this package, which then popped into my head today, when I really needed it. We all want to protect our children and we would do ANYTHING to protect them. But sometimes you can’t. The world keeps turning, there will always be someone saying something mean or rude (as kids or adults – sometimes I think adults are worse), and you can’t always be there to stand up for them. They have to learn how to stand up for themselves or learn how to celebrate their differences and be proud of them. We have to do our best to install pride and confidence and kindness in them.

Cub using the pointer on the day he was helper.

Cub is lucky to have two fabulous preschool teachers, both of whom he talks about frequently!

Speaking of kindness, the teacher gently asked the boys to stop repeating Cub, and then one little girl, after Cub said her name, turned to the teacher to earnestly say, “Teacher, Cub did a really good job on my name!” The teacher suggested she tell Cub, so she walked over and told him. I wanted to hug her and cry. I’m tearing up writing this now. Cub was of course unphased by it all.

Our kids don’t need us to protect them, and we won’t always be there anyway every time someone hurts them, intentional or not. They need our love so they can go out into the world and stand up for themselves with the knowledge we always have their backs.

And in the end, kindness always wins.

“You’re not always capable of changing the world – and sometimes it’s hard to protect even your little patch of it, the garden where the most beautiful flowers grow. But you have to trust the resiliency of those flowers. They have made a life in that inhospitable soil, and somehow they manage to survive.” ~ Craig Davidson

Why staying is the right family decision

Why staying is the right family decision

By now you’ve likely heard the news that we are not leaving. And if you haven’t, you can take a peek at the video below!

Phew! It was a relief to be able to share it with our friends, family, and community, and we have been overwhelmed by the kindness of people, even those in Manitoba or with connections there, who have said, “I’m so happy for you guys!”

I’ve written before what it was like being a solo parent when my husband moved to Manitoba for a career opportunity. I found the first few months difficult. Something clicked after Christmas, where I realized I am a lot stronger than I first thought, and it didn’t seem so hard.

But we also hit a point where we knew this couldn’t go on indefinitely. Our house has been on the market since September, and while we have had multiple showings, we hadn’t even received a low-ball offer. It became clear to us our house was not going to sell any time soon, or if we did get an offer, it would be so low that it wouldn’t be worth it to us. The expenses of paying rent in another province and driving back here to visit were adding up.

That was our logistical reason for not moving to Brandon. There are also many personal reasons for not moving, and to understand those reasons, I need to back up and tell a long story that began nearly a year ago.

About 10 months ago, we began seeing a speech language pathologist. We weren’t super concerned that our son wasn’t talking as much as his peers, as I have always felt he learned at his own pace, but we mentioned it to our doc and agreed to just check it out, no harm done.

Word searches are one of the many games Cub enjoys playing.

Shortly after Christmas, Cub began doing word searches. Here he is finding the word ‘equality.’ At the top he found ‘I have a dream.’ This one was a Martin Luther King-themed word search!

 

 

 

The monthly appointments have mostly been a source of stress for me, as there weren’t really any ideas that worked to “make” or encourage Cub speak more, and the SLP was puzzled by why he wouldn’t speak and would choose a more difficult route to communicate what he wants (as an example, find a banana or glass of water in a book and then show it to us). He was also puzzled because he noted Cub made eye contact with him, waved to him, was eager to play games with him, so didn’t think he was on the autism spectrum.

While these appointments didn’t show signs of helping, Cub loved seeing this particular SLP (one time when I mentioned his name, he high-tailed to the door so we could go see him!), so we kept going.

We were sad for us, happy for him, when this SLP got a new job and moved on. We then saw another SLP in his place. By this time, Cub was 3 and he was obviously reading and spelling. He would take foam letters and spell words on his own. Some of his earliest words were snowy owl, bald eagle, scorpion, elk (from his love of going to the zoo), hat, mom, kiss, cub. He kept adding to his repertoire. We weren’t sure, but felt this was pretty cool and remarkable for a 3 year old! When we told the SLP this, she looked me straight in the eye and said, “I’m sure your son is very bright, but he should be speaking more words by now.” I got the impression she didn’t believe me. We granted her permission to refer us to the Alvin Buckwold Child Development Program.

Our file was given to a third SLP, who we began seeing in the fall, after Doug moved to Brandon. She had ideas to try and sent me home with resources: most of these ideas were things we had been always doing. I mean, we’ve read to Cub since he was born. I’ve tried the whole temptation thing to try and get him to say what he wants. Every appointment, she would bring up daycare or preschool and say how much she thought he would benefit from this. This rankled me. On one hand, we have some moms who feel like people shame them for going back to work while putting their children in daycare. Here I felt she was suggesting I wasn’t good enough or stimulating enough for my child, which I knew wasn’t true and that up until recently, he wasn’t ready or interested in something like preschool (which was also something I hadn’t thought of as necessary but I see now how much he loves it and it can only benefit). She assured me I was a good mom, but that just irritated me more: I don’t need to be told that. I know I’m a good mom and that I know my child best (and I hope if you are a mom, you know this, too).

During our last appointment, she told me she strongly believed Cub was on the autism spectrum and asked if we had considered that. I think I responded that most parents of my generation, if they had ever googled anything (which I tend to avoid), have probably considered it, but that we didn’t think so based on our discussions with our previous SLP and from taking a questionnaire sent to us from a friend whose son is autistic. She outlined why she felt he was, which in short was because he is behind in speech compared to his peers but is so far beyond in other areas such as reading and memorizing. Some examples include that Cub has memorized flags to many countries, particularly African, although Asian, South American, etc. (a friend asked him the other day whose flag that was, and he correctly proclaimed, “Bhutan!”); he can point out countries on unlabelled maps – this started out with Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Congo, Nigeria, Niger, Paraguay, and I think the latest was Equatorial Guinea, Chad (he also knows Canada!); in the same game, he can identify with country the capital belongs to such as Riyadh, Kathmandu; he can place the bones of a human skeleton in the correct places (with some mistakes along the way, but he gets better each time), and then he can place the correct names of the bones [and now if he hurts himself, he tells me he hurt his cranium, patella, or humorus]; and I have seen him more than once sort 12 items into their correct state of solid, liquid, or gas. There is no doubt he can read: part of the reason he knows the flags is he plays a geography game and sometimes I need to help. If I tell him the answer is Khazakstan, he can find the word no problem. (He also knows its flag…and the flag of Uzbekistan…he may even be able to find them on a map…) He can count forwards and backwards; as I write this, he is counting down from 5 to 0 minutes until we go to the Co-op because he loves to grocery shop.

The SLP also gently chastised me for the amount of time Cub spends on an iPad. “You do know the recommended amount of screen time is no more than an hour a day?” I just smiled and said yes. Is using an iPad always ideal? Some would argue not. How do you think Cub knows all of his geography or the states of matter or the abbreviations to American states? It’s mostly from an educational app he plays on it. We didn’t teach him any of the above stuff I listed. He taught himself. I didn’t bother telling her any of this. She later sent me a website that contained tons of articles around kids with autism and there was one about screen time and possibly being linked to delayed speech, so of course I had the moment all parents have at some point: is this somehow my fault?

I left this appointment feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. Is my child on the spectrum? Is she the right person to say so? What difference does it make? Isn’t the point of a diagnosis to get more resources if you have concerns? But what if we don’t have any concerns because we have seen so much improvement and increased speech over the past few months? I had so many questions and wasn’t sure where to go for answers. I turned to friends for support and I messaged my husband, saying something along the lines of, “Doug, no matter what happens with a diagnosis or not, I don’t want to be in a new place. I want to be here with our friends and family and support network.” He later told me he knew how serious I was because I called him by his first name.

He didn’t hesitate. He agreed and began looking for a job back home. He encouraged me to discontinue the speech path appointments because they weren’t helping. We agreed to make an appointment with our family doctor to hear his opinion, express our concerns, see what answers we could get.

We felt huge relief after seeing him, and it was a reminder yet again of why I didn’t want to leave: I did not want to try and find a new doctor when we already had one who meshed so well with all three of us. And let me tell you, it was not that long ago where Cub would cry and cry going to the clinic. One particular appointment was for my check-up, including pap. Cub wouldn’t let me put him down and it took many minutes for him to stop crying, and I mean many: we slowly progressed from the waiting room to the office, from standing and me holding him to sitting and holding him, to him being willing to sit beside me, to him being willing to sit with the nurse, while my doc did the world’s fastest pap ever.

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago when he hurt his arm on a weekend. I told him we could see a nice doctor at RUH because his doctor didn’t work on the weekend. He refused and said our doctor’s name through his tears. We were lucky enough to get in to see him that Monday, and Cub was a completely different kid after seeing him. Like went from needing his arm propped up on a pillow to bending it and putting pressure on it as soon as we were in his office to running around the kitchen island when we got home. It takes time to build that kind of relationship. (By the way, we brought up screen time with him, and the article I had read, and after reassuring me, he joked, “Yeah, Darla, your son has autism because you let him use an iPad.” His off-colour sense of humour is one of the reasons we dig him.)

We now have an appointment at the Alvin Buckwold Child Development Program, and I look forward to hearing what these specialists think and what kind of resources they suggest because it’s clear our son learns in his own unique way. It has taken some time for me to reach this point. I have so many thoughts and emotions bouncing around my head, but I know this will be the place, in conjunction with our family doctor, where I will find the answers and support I crave.

No matter what happens, I want to be near my friends and community. I have leaned heavily on so many of them these past few months, and even once my husband is back, I will continue to do so. I am so grateful for them. I am so grateful for my family, particularly my mom. My mom comes to see us once a week, staying overnight, to spend time with Cub so I can get work done or run errands. When we have a house showing, she is the one who cleans it top to bottom. She does this all willingly (the housework not as much, but she doesn’t view spending time with Cub as work – they are precious moments for both of them). We wouldn’t have this if we moved to Brandon, not nearly as often, and I know it broke her heart to think of it, and I dreaded having to explain it to Cub as well.

Cub now attends preschool, and he loves it. He was all smiles the first day I took him. He walked away from me no problem, and as I sat in the classroom watching, it was clear he was ready: he was right in there following along and playing with the other kids. I left the room to read in the hallway and he didn’t care. His teacher is amazing, and she and the preschool are yet another reason we don’t want to leave. She is a part of the support network. Cub comes home from preschool and rattles off the names of kids he played with. His first day was Valentine’s Day, and that night he went through his valentines from classmates four times.

Has there ever been a happier kid on their first day of preschool?

So happy at his first day of preschool!

Could we find friends and supports in Brandon or any other city? Of course. I know first-hand there are lovely people in Brandon because we’ve connected with some of them already (and even though we are not moving, they have all expressed how happy they are for us that we will be together again). However, we have amazing family, friends, and health and educational supports here already, and it is where we need to be right now.

My husband did end up finding a job, another exciting career opportunity for him, and I have to hand it to him: there have been moments were it has driven me crazy with him being an adult student and then furthering his education when he started working (he would go to Vancouver every few months for a few days at a time). I see now, though, what a great job he has done at setting himself a part from others in his field. His skills are in demand, and he had no problem finding work. And I was touched when he told me what he has been telling people: that his wife supported him through school and as he began his career, and that now it’s his turn to support the family and do what is best for all of us.

Thank you so much to everyone for reading and for all of your support. I know this isn’t the end of the story. There is so much more to come. It will be emotional, but I have no doubt we will get through it because we will be together as a family, and we will have you behind us every step of the way. For that I am forever grateful. Stay tuned!

 

 

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