Monday, December 7, 2015

Love for Lica.


So I'm sharing this here because this year my aunt Miriam has set her sights on raising money for an amazing young woman that I have had the pleasure of knowing through my time volunteering in Brazil. Lica is a young mother to three children and is in desperate need of a real little house to replace the one room her family currently lives in. I can personally vouch for Lica's strong work ethic, her undying determination, her ability to overcome adversity and above all else her unrelenting optimism and hope. The story below is my aunt's experience with Lica and it was Miriam who wrote it in order to pass the word along and gather support for the creation of a safe home for Lica and her children. Please give it a read. And if you are feeling generous this holiday season please contact me through the comments section or privately to donate or for more information.


LICA AND ME (Miriam)


I met Lica in 1997 when I arrived unannounced at her ramshackle home.  By then I’d already been volunteering in Bahia for a decade and had seen lots of grim stuff.  But I was shocked to come upon an enraged, drunken woman beating two very little girls. The older one, Lica, then just 7, was curled around a toddler, trying to shield her from the blows.  

Perhaps it was that protective gesture that stapled Lica to my heart. Or maybe it was just that I had the chance to watch this lovely child grow up under burdens and losses so dark they would have done most of us in. Who knows really why the heart lurches in the directions it does?   

All I can say for sure is that this kid captured me and during the two decades since, not that much has changed for the poor on the NE coast of Brazil. The descendents of African slaves and the aboriginal peoples still live at the ugly end of exploitation, corruption and violence.  The social service agencies are still under-resourced, overwhelmed and mired in a moribund byzantine bureaucracy. And Lica is now a young mother trying to protect her own three children from life’s harshest blows and I’m still asking my friends to help me help her.

LICA’S FAMILY HOME   

Lica’s grandmother owned the house. She’d had a steady job cooking in a restaurant 12 hours a day for 20 years and managed to buy a modest two-room house in a low-income neighbourhood.  Poverty,  overcrowding and gross neglect had reduced the place to a disgusting shambles: the dirt yard was filled with rubbish; the roof and walls leaked; the floors turned to mud in the rain;  the furnishings were broken cast-offs; closets were plastic bags nailed to brick walls; and the security system, two gaunt snarling dogs, crapped everywhere. Three adult women and six kids were living in these two rooms.            

LICA’S MOTHER   

Ana was addicted to cacha├ža, a local brew the abuse of which causes brain damage. She was already visibly impaired by the time I met her.  Lica has dim memories of a kinder Ana before she became a violent, confirmed alcoholic. But all I ever saw was Ana, even when sober, cursing and threatening the children, forcing them to do the chores she never did.  And when drunk, she would beat them with anything she could grab hold of.   

LICA’S DAD   

My old shrink used to say it only took one good parent to raise a healthy child. Lica had neither. The men in her family had spawned and gone.  Lica made several disappointed attempts to connect with her father, who lives in a neighbouring slum.  But he never came through with any support at all.   

LICA’S ELDEST SISTER      

Cristiane was 22 when I met her. She had taken the brunt of Ana’s abuse until she grew big and hard enough to punch her mother out. Unfortunately, Cristiane did not extend her protection to her younger sisters or her own children.  Only intermittently interested in them, she mostly left her kids behind with Ana while she hung out with sequential boyfriends.  

LICA HERSELF       

Lica was an unusually alert and responsive child with a robust survival instinct. She latched onto me and enchanted me with her mile-wide smile  and resilient spirit. She did me much good over the years. There were many times when I felt so exhausted by the unending obstacles we faced that I just wanted to quit. But then I would see Lica bent over a cracked plastic dishpan singing while she scrubbed the family’s dirty laundry.  I know it sounds corny: Lady Bountiful meets Baby Aunt Jemima, but Lica’s innate capacity for joy lifted my spirits and stiffened my spine. If this kid could cope, surely I could.

PROGRESS      

Despite the lack of a responsible adult in this home or any help from local agencies, with the financial support provided by Susan Adams and my sister Katherine Owen back in Vancouver, and the emotional support provided by the local leaders of Street Angels,  the kids in this family were eating better and  attending school.  But life in this impoverished, abusive family was always hard.

TRAGEDY    

When Lica was 10, her other sister, Vivienne, 14, went out one evening with a girlfriend and didn’t return. The friend was killed and Vivi was shot five times and left for dead. Somehow she regained consciousness and managed to crawl out of bushes onto a highway. Surgeons saved her life but they were unable to remove a bullet lodged behind her eyes. 

Vivi was left permanently blind and suffering from severe PTSD.  She refused to identify the assailants or leave the house. She was terrified that the killers would return if they learned she had survived.  Ana’s response to this tragedy was to be angry at Vivienne for having brought the attention of the police to her door. Lica was afraid to leave the side of her helpless sister because, “Someone has to stand guard over Vivienne”. Indeed, little mother, but it shouldn’t have to be you.

We scoured the city for a residential school for the blind and found nothing available for the poor.  Street Angels’ donors paid for a private facility.  After a year, Vivi was recovered enough to want to go home to visit her sisters. Within a few days of being home, Vivi contracted an intestinal infection.  Blind and disoriented with fever, she lost control of her bowels and soiled the bed.  Ana set to beating her with a broom handle. Lica ran to a neighbour for help. The police arrived too late. Ana’s blows dislodged the bullet and Vivienne died in her bed.     

There were no official consequences to the killing of Vivi. Since the  State neither removed Ana nor provided a safe place for the children, we built two add-on rooms, the larger one for Cristiane’s children and the smaller room (about 7’ x 10’) for Lica. We furnished both with separate entrances, lockable doors, a sink and a toilet so the kids could attend to basics without running the risk of disturbing Ana. And they could lock themselves in when she went on a rampage.

LICA’S TEENAGE YEARS      

Amazingly Lica continued to flourish. She developed into a strikingly beautiful adolescent.  She kept herself and her room carefully groomed. A diligent and ambitious student, she took, and did well in, every after-school training program we offered.  By 14, she’d set her sights on becoming a policewoman because as she explained: “I love their uniforms. And I’d be one of the good cops because I know what makes kids become thieves. And nobody messes with a policewoman.”  

By now, Ana had taken to screaming insults all night and wandering the streets semi-naked by day, obsessively cursing her thankless daughters.  Having a debased version of King Lear for a mother was a constant source of humiliation for Lica.  Faced with a daily gauntlet of local louts’ tormenting with lewd jibes, few teenagers could hold their heads as high or work as hard at improving their situation, as Lica did.              

But this girl did more than tough it out.  She often expressed genuine concern for her mum, especially when Ana’s physical health began failing. Lica was no Goody Two Shoes.  She could laugh with wicked delight when I mock--prayed for her demented mother’s demise. But the reality underneath our banter was that Lica longed for a kind, sober mum.  I’d often seen her patiently washing and feeding the blunted sot. And I knew she was doggedly searching for a free rehab centre in the enduring hope that Ana could be made sober and kind.  I was less optimistic but loved Lica for her tenacity, initiative and heart.      

One day Ana woke saying she had dreamt she was on a date with Zico, a soccer celebrity.  Lica got an idea.  Acting on her own, she contacted the producers of a popular reality TV show in which a poor person’s dreams come true (sort of a cross between Jerry Springer and The Wish Foundation).  Lica described her mother’s alcoholism and failing health (but not her violence) and suggested that Ana might be enticed into a treatment centre if a date with Zico could be arranged and that would make a super good double-dreams-come-true episode.    

To my surprise, Lica’s pitch was chosen for airing.  And there we all were, watching our enterprising Lica on TV cheerfully showing the blowhard host around the wretched family home while he badgered Ana into accepting the deal: 30 days in a recovery centre for a date with Zico. (The soccer hero was spared the date because Ana bolted and defaulted to booze after a week in rehab).

FIRST LOVE     

Of course, underneath Lica’s pride and resourcefulness, was an abused child hungry for love.  The first cute boy who kissed her hit pay dirt. At 14 she fell in love and happily flung herself into Eros Heaven. I’d been boring all the girls in our project for years with safe sex talk and we gave out condoms like Chiclets.  But often our prophylactic efforts proved to be straws in the wind of teenage passion.  Lica’s stay in paradise was unusually brutal and short.  

TRAGEDY AGAIN    

The cute boy, 15, had left school and was hanging around with the wrong crowd.  He was picked up by the police.  Fearing that all-too-common consequence of arrest for black kids - death-while-in-police-custody, Lica defied a big taboo. She raced to the police station to vouch for her boyfriend’s character. No one in the favelas trusts or turns to the police.  Even our enlightened local project managers were furious with Lica for involving herself (and, indirectly, them) with the police.  The police bullied Lica and slapped her around and locked her in jail for two days.  But eventually both kids were released.  A few days later, the undaunted, terminally-foolish boy tried to shoplift some candy from a drugstore. The owner chased him out firing a gun.  The boy was dead in the street before his 16th birthday.

BABY MAMA    

And within a month, Lica, still devastated by the loss of her first love, discovered she was pregnant.  Lica was more afraid of Ana and an abortion than of having a baby.  Being a teenage mother is normal in the favelas; while abortions are illegal, dangerous and a deadly sin.  The birth was easy, the baby healthy and Lica a super conscientious mother at 15.

She missed a year of school and carried baby Andre with her everywhere as she struggled to feed and clothe herself and him on her bursaries which totaled less than $100 a month.  To make ends meet, she did daily domestic work whenever she could find it. But still hoping to become a policewoman, she returned to night school determined to satisfy the eligibility requirements for the police academy.

The psychological toll of extreme poverty is relentless.  There was never enough money to pay for the beans and the propane gas to cook them and the hydro bill. Their hydro was cut off. She worried constantly about baby Andre being left in her room in the dark with only a candle and a 12 year-old niece to keep him safe from Ana whose alcoholic storms continued unabated.   

At 17 she found Manuel to help her. He’s a decent, quiet motherly sort of young man, who offered her emotional support, kept Ana at bay, and patiently babysat Andre while Lica went to night school.  She, Manuel and Andre were now living together in her little 7’ x 10’ room.  She equipped herself with an IUD and for a year it looked like she might yet make it to graduation and the police academy. 

BIOLOGY, POVERTY, GOD & THE LAW EQUALS DESTINY   

Unfortunately Lica developed a pelvic infection and the IUD had to be removed.  In the month between its removal and the arrival of the free birth control pills in the public health clinic, Lica conceived again.  She didn’t want another baby but Manuel didn’t want her to have an abortion.  Eventually Lica decided she couldn’t risk losing Manuel and it wasn’t fair of her to ask him to look after her child while she “murdered” his. Besides, who was she to defy God’s plan?   

Baby Matias was born with badly bowed legs – probably a result of Lica’s deficient diet during gestation.  He required special medical treatment and leg braces which meant Lica had to trudge for weeks through the complex labyrinth of the public medical system trying to find help for him. Worried and exhausted, she lost track of the fact that conception can occur while still nursing an infant. Lica was pregnant again before Matias was 3 months old.  And this time, grim reality overcame all scruples. She wasn’t yet 20, had two children to support, no regular income and so she tried desperately to terminate this third pregnancy.    

Affluent Brazilian women of course have access to licensed doctors who for a fat fee perform safe abortions in private offices.  But poor girls like Lica rely on cheaper methods: handfuls of morning-after pills, toxic chemical brews, back-alley knitting needles.  Lica tried everything and nothing worked and now she was terrified the baby would be born deformed.  By the time I found out what was happening and a professional friend located a cooperative physician, he refused to perform the D & C because Lica had passed the first-trimester cut off date.  We all held our breath until Tisiane, a beautiful normal girl baby, arrived. 

Thanks primarily to Lica’s capacity for hard work and love, five years later, Lica’s three kids, now aged 5 to 10,  are healthy, lively and in school.  Unfortunately, Manuel, the father of the youngest two, has turned out to be almost as much a liability as asset.  He has a learning disability, left school in Grade 3, is illiterate and has no family to help them at all. In a region of widespread unemployment and fierce competition, only men with extraordinary determination and physical strength can keep up the daily hustle required to find, and do the hard dirty work of unskilled day labour.  And that’s just not Manuel.  

Manuel is passive and slow – both mentally and physically.  He would drive me crazy. But I can totally understand why Lica needs him. He’s non-threatening, affectionate, patient with the children and helps her  by running errands and babysitting while she hustles whatever work she can find – cooking, cleaning, taking in laundry.  His passivity gets on her nerves; her bossiness on his. But I’m not sure that she or the children would be better off without him.  

Ana and her dogs still occupy the main part of the house.  Lica’s  7’ x 10’ room is now insanely crowded with five living in it. Lica keeps it as clean and neat as anyone could.  But it’s so small the children must eat, sleep, play, do their homework, watch TV and fight on their bunk beds. Lica and Manuel have no privacy at all. Their bed is an old single foamy kept rolled up under the bunk beds during the day. When unfurled at night, it fills the entire remaining floor space of the room.  Living like this produces endless tensions and conflicts from which there is no escape except to the dangerous streets.

Lica has the birth control situation in hand and impatiently waits for the day she will be deemed legally old enough to qualify for a tubal ligation. In a machismo patriarchal society, a woman’s reproductive organs are not her own to command.   

(A couple of years ago the Church refused to grant permission to hospital physicians who applied to abort a 9 year-old girl who was carrying twins after having been raped by her step-father.  The doctors won the battle of public opinion but the whole ugly process made it clear that biology is still destiny for poor women in Brazil).

I know Lica has enough smarts and gumption to manage the daily grind but she will never produce enough to be able to provide her family with a modest 2-bedroom home.  In a similar low-income neighbourhood close to the city’s resources, you’d be lucky to find one for $CDN30,000. I planned to leave her a bequest in my will. But my parents lived to their mid-90’s. So I have decided to try and raise the funds while they still might do Andre, Matias, & Tisiane some good.  

The streets beckon seductively to kids forced to live like this.  Even good parents lose them every day to drugs, disease and death. I lost count after 55 lads were murdered by gang warfare in the small favela where we were based.  It’ll probably take me some time and numerous parties and garage sales to raise enough to get Lica and her kids a decent home. But I intend to keep at it.   And in the meantime, I just hope that she can continue to hold things together until I  can, with a little bit of help from my friends, do my part.  I’ll let you know how things turn out.  And thank you for making the time to read this too-long history.           


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Stuff I Found on the Internet

I thought I knew about most things parent/baby/kid related but I didn't know that parents were intentionally doing this. Usually I hear the standard complaints from parents whose kids were born "too late" in the year and have to wait for the next Kindy start - which I understand would be totally frustrating.

On the one hand I can see how it may seem an attractive prospect for parents hell-bent on keeping their kids at the top of the pack but as the article explains, the strategy might not work out in the long run. Babe actually started at group daycare quite early and was the youngest by far at her program in Smithers. I actually found that she benefited a lot from being around older kids at such a young age. It didn't take long before the skills she had acquired at "school" outshone others her age who weren't exposed to older children and the subject matter they were working on with their teachers.

Of course, I still believe that in the long run...whatever early skills your child gained in the first couple years will even out by the time Kindergarten rolls around and most kids will be at about the same level.

Anyway, I found the article interesting so give it a read.

Holding children back a year in school is not the right start - The Globe and Mail

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

I'm a Disneyland Convert!



So originally I was going to write a long, detailed post with a ton of information about how I planned our trip to Disneyland and how those plans paid off at the parks but you know what? There's a bunch of really great blogs and articles online written by people who spend a lot of time at Disneyland and those articles will be way more informative for you than anything I write based off of one trip. So instead I'll just share a bunch of our photos here and a few tips that I found extra helpful and I'll link to some of the other great sites at the bottom for anyone looking to plan a family trip to The Happiest Place on Earth.

I'll start by saying I'm not a Disney fan. I don't like animated movies, I'm not into sparkly, pink princess crap. I have no attachment whatsoever to any of the Disney charcters. And being fairly introverted the idea of huge crowds and long lines makes me feel cranky just thinking about it.  So when I planned to take Babe to Disneyland it was one hundred per cent for her. I didn't think I would enjoy it very much, I wasn't really looking forward to going (other than to be there for Babe as she had fun) and basically I was just assuming it would be a five day Babe Shit Show where she just ran wild and I grinned and bared it in the name of parenting.

But now, I'm a total convert. I drank the Kool Aid. The promoters, marketers and all the staff members (pardon me, cast members) of Disneyland have conspired together to make sure that everyone who comes through their gates never really leaves. I was so anti-Disneyland before and so pro-Disneyland now that I have legitimate concerns that it might be a brainwashing cult.

We had so much fun. Seriously. So. Much. Of. It.

I'm usually pretty good at finding things to complain about when reviewing something. Even if I really like something I can easily recognize and acknowledge its flaws. But not so much with Disneyland, there really was so very little disappointments or annoyances that they aren't even worth mentioning as things for you to try and avoid with a future trip.

I will say this. At first I was thinking I wasn't going to plan out the days at the parks very much. I thought it would be better to just focus on the experience being for Babe and basically let her guide the show without much planning on my part. But that failed when I fell victim to my own bullshit patterns and (like a typical journalist) I researched the shit out of our trip. Within a couple days of pretty intense research I realized that if I wanted Babe to have the free and easy-paced schedule that I was envisioning while still getting to taste a lot of what the parks had to offer - I HAD TO PLAN.

Seriously...it's pretty much mandatory to plan out your trip if you want to see as much as you can and especially if you want to use your time effectively and have lots of free time while you are there. Not planning will result in long line waits, confusion, frustration and missing a bunch of stuff that is either scheduled simultaneously at opposite ends of the park or simply gets crossed off the list because it's just too damn hard to free float through the Disney Sea with little ones in tow and no direction in mind.

In the end I completely deviated from my no-plan plan and ended up with three days worth of an impeccably laid out itinerary. But it worked for us and despite the intense crowds and low patience threshold of a three-year-old me, we had a pretty leisurely time and got to hit pretty much everything that I wanted us too.


Planning Your Days:


  • Read up on Disneyland and California Adventure FastPasses and USE THEM! 
  • Get the FastPasses for shows like Fantasmic, World of Colour or character Meet and Greets right when the parks open. Holding these won't stop you from then grabbing your first ride FastPass but after that there is a waiting period before you can grab another FastPass.
  • Download a park map before you go and plan out rides and activities according to areas. That way you can knock off a bunch of stuff at the same time without criss-crossing the park. Because trust me, no matter how good your shoes are, by the end of the day you will want to cut your feet off.
  • If you get a three-day or more pass you'll get an early Magic Hour (where you get let in an hour before the park opens on ONE day) USE IT. And plan on cramming in a handful of rides during that time. We got more rides done in that one hour than we did at any other time during our stay. NOTE: Not all rides are open during the Magic Hour so look up the list ahead of time and plan to hit a bunch in the same general area instead of wasting your hour criss-crossing the park.
  • DON'T arrive right at 8:00 am for the Magic Hour opening. Arrive at about 7:15-7:30 am. Even though it's way less busy there will still be a big line waiting to get in for the early hour.
  • Plan lunches, indoor shows and indoor activities for the middle of the day if you are going during the hot season. Not only will you get some relief from the sun but it'll buy you more time out of the crowds and mid-day is nuts at the park. 
  • Do yourself an extra solid and reserve your lunches (if you aren't packing them in) ahead of time. It'll be way easier knowing you have a spot waiting for you somewhere. The restaurants get super busy, especially at peak mealtime hours.


Saving Money:

  • Well to start with we didn't stay at one of the Disneyland Hotels. They look AMAZING and almost all the reviews say that they don't disappoint but there was no way I could afford it on this trip. So we stayed at one of the neighbouring hotels right nearby. I looked for a good deal, grabbed it when I found one and our hotel - Holiday Inn and Suites - didn't disappoint. For what I paid it was a smokin' deal and although the rooms are a little small and it didn't have all the perks of the D-resorts it did have a lovely pool and splash park and we really only slept there and swam a little anyway.
  • We packed a lot of snacks but I chose to spend money on restaurant lunches mostly to get out of the heat and crowds. But you can bring pretty much as much food as you want into the park so as long as you're willing to pack it around then that'll save you cash cuz Disneyland food ain't cheap.
  • For the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique I opted out of the full package because it cost so much and instead purchased a princess dress at the Disney store at home (when it was on sale) and brought it with us the day she was going to the spa. That move saved me about $50 right there.
  • I read a tip on another page about bringing along little items to entertain the kids in lines and while waiting for parades etc. and it worked out great. It was a fun surprise for Babe when we arrived at the hotel, kept her distracted when I whipped one of the items out in line and saved us money on purchasing things like bubbles and light up wands. Actually we did buy a bubble gun on site because so many kids had them and it was a worthwhile purchase because it kept Babe so entertained. For the surprise box I simply bought a little Disney box at a dollar store and filled it with bubbles, light up night sticks, a little fan, stickers, a Disney autograph book (also expensive to buy on site), some Tinkerbell pens, glow sticks and stuff like that. She got it when we arrived at the hotel as a welcome to Disneyland greeting package.
  • We ate breakfast at the hotel (kids ate free) or we just ate snacks on the walk there. So we saved money on extra meals that way. We also brought our own travel cups and thermos of water and refilled them at the park because drinks inside Disneyland are very expensive.
  • We skipped paying extra for a Park-Hopper Pass which allows you to move back and forth between Disneyland and California Adventure. Babe is still too small to get dragged all over and there was waaaay more than enough to see just in one park without moving between the two. For me it wasn't worth the extra money.
  • Holy Shit! Avoid the face painting!!! I didn't think to ask how much it was because I thought it would be like $5. It turned out to be $20 just for Babe's forehead. I almost choked. 




Splurges I'm glad I made:




  • The Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. It's not my personal style and I was reluctant to encourage Babe in this Toddlers in Tiaras manner and it felt almost sick to spend so much money when she was already being so spoiled by even going to Disneyland...but she really did just love the experience so much and she felt so special running around Disneyland all dressed up. Like I said before we opted out of the full package with dress included. But she got to show up, put on her dress and get her hair, makeup and nails done complete with a crown and a pound and a half of sparkles all over her. She is still talking about it and having it on the first day was a pretty magical way to kick off the trip in her mind. Book early (we're talking some people book months ahead). I did get a spot reserved with only about a week before our trip though and there are people who just walk in so don't stress too much if you don't think of booking until closer to your departure.


  • A character lunch. We chose Ariel's Grotto because Babe is obsessed with Ariel and it was her best chance to meet a bunch of Princesses at the same time while not standing in long lines or using up a big chunk of the day chasing them all over the park. The lunch was pretty damn pricey but the food was really decent and Babe was so excited to have the princesses come around to her table that I found myself tearing up over it all. Really for the price (about $50 a person) it got us out of the heat, fed us, gave Babe a totally magical experience and saved us a ton of time on trying to find all those princess on our own. I also tried to book her in for Breakfast with Mickey or at Goofy's Kitchen but with only a week before our trip every reservation was GONE. If you want a spot at those tables you'd better call way ahead.


  • Special souveniers. I'm glad I bought things like light up toys and the Disney autograph book at home but we did splurge on a few special souveniers for Babe that she loves and that we think are really special. Plan to spend a decent amount of cash on souveniers because there's just SO MUCH SHOPPING in the two parks and in the Downtown Disney District. Buy the cheap fun stuff at home and bring it with you and use your spending money for some key items that you or the kids want. 

Safety for Little Ones:


  • Take a photo every morning of your child in the clothing they are wearing to the park so you have it on hand in case they disappear.
  • I grabbed some labels from work and wrote my name and phone number (not Babe's name) on the labels and stuck them to her back in case she got lost.
  • I pointed out the cast member uniforms and let Babe know that is who she should look for if she was lost.
  • I also photographed both sides of our Disneyland passes (which you have to keep for your whole visit) just in case I lost them.
  • I packed two bags. One filled with all our food, spare clothing etc. And one little bag that had my wallet, tickets, phone and money. The big bag stayed with the stroller and the little bag came with me on all the rides.


An example of our itinerary for one of the Disneyland days 
just to give you an idea of how I went about saving time and maximizing our day:


  • 7:30am At park to get in line for Magic Hour. Stopped at Disneyland City Hall as soon as gates opened to get Babe her free FIRST VISIT button.
  • 8:00-9:00am Hit the rides I knew would get long lines. We started with the Finding Nemo ride because I knew Babe would love it but had heard the line is really boring, gets super long and there's no FastPass option. Then went to Fantasyland and stayed in that area doing a bunch of rides to knock them off the list.
  • 9:00-9:30am Ran and grabbed FastPasses for the early nighttime Fantasmic Show so we would have a good spot to watch. Grabbed a FastPass for a busy ride I knew we wanted.
  • 9:30-Noon: A couple more rides and free play.
  • Noon: Appointment at Bibiti Bobbiti Boutique to get Babe out of crowds and sun.
  • 1:00-4:00pm Lunch and then more rides, FastPass ride, free play in Toontown.
  • 4:00-7:00pm Returned to the hotel for a nap and food. There is an afternoon parade but we planned it for another day.
  • 8:30pm Got in line with our FastPasses for the Fantasmic Show.
  • 9:00-9:30pm Fantasmic Show. Totally worth it!
  • 9:30-9:45pm Stayed at the Fantasmic location and watched the fireworks from there. Not a great view but impossible at that point to cross the park in the crowds and get a better spot for the fireworks.
  • 10:00 to 11:00pm Fought last of crowds who haven't left after fireworks to find a good spot to watch the second showing of the Paint The Night parade. Also totally worth it. One of Babe's favourite parts of the trip. If you have a second adult one can save a spot for the parade while the other takes the kids on another ride.
  • 11:00-12:00am Watched the parade and a couple last rides before heading home. My feet hurt.


So I just want to say that I had originally planned this trip as just a Mommy and Babe bonding adventure. Which I was nervous about taking on on my own but excited to do at the same time. But a couple days before we left my mother decided to join us so I did have a second pair of hands after all.

But for all the single parents out there I want you to know that this trip is totally doable - with one kid anyway - and you will have A LOT more fun than you might think. In fact I took Babe by myself every day for the first half of the day and I actually found it easier than trying to accomodate another adult with us. Looking back I totally could have managed the whole trip on my own with the right planning and I am fully confident that any of you single mommies or daddies can too. It is not as daunting as it might seem and the experience of seeing all the magic through your child's eyes really is priceless. I'm so glad we went.

Please feel free to ask me any questions if you are planning a trip soon. Or scroll to the bottom of this post for links to information that I found really helpful.











And here is a list of links to other blogs and websites that can totally help you plan your trip!







Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ear Tubes for Toddlers.

So here's a post for any parents who are thinking about or waiting for their child to get tubes put in their ears - or a myringotomy.

Babe likely had some ear troubles as a baby and I just never figured it out. She was certainly fussy enough for it.

But when we moved up north (before Babe had turned two) and she started daycare she of course was launched into an endless barrage of classroom-caught illnesses. And when that happened the ear infections started.

One after another. After another.

That first fall/winter she had about six ear infections with not much down time in between and the emergency doctors told me at that point I might need to consider getting tubes put in her ears.

Then summer/spring came and the colds went away and so did the ear issues.

But we moved back to Vancouver, fall came around and she started preschool again and of course the ear problems returned. This time however it was clear that not only was she getting frequent painful ear infections, she also wasn't hearing well even when she was healthy.

Babe has always been super verbal but I began to notice that she was often mispronouncing new words. On top of that she just always seemed cranky, fussy...actually, down-right bitchy. I started to notice that if I called to her from another room she usually couldn't find me by following my voice. And I started to notice that she said "What?" A LOT and often only understood me when I spoke very slow and clear or when she was looking right at my mouth.

Between the constant ear infections which kept her out of school, to her constant irritability, to the risk to her development and safety I decided we really couldn't wait any longer to see if she would just outgrow the problem.

Getting the surgery done isn't easy. It usually takes a long time but I was very focussed on speeding up the process as much as possible for both Babe's sanity and mine (I was literally repeating almost everything four or five times).

The first step was getting Babe an appointment to have her hearing checked. Before this point I still thought maybe I was blowing things out of proportion and she was hearing better than I feared. I made an appointment for her at the North Shore Children's Hearing Clinic (you can refer your children yourself - HERE's THE FORM) and I don't remember how long the wait was but I think it was going to be a good couple months - actually, if I remember correctly I think she would still be waiting. But "squeaky wheel get the grease" and I was feeling desperate so I told them to put us on a cancellation list and we'd come in any time. Eventually they called with an appointment and I think in the end we only had to wait a couple weeks.

She went for the tests which were really simple. The staff were great with her and the tests were designed to be fun for kids. For example she had headphones in and every time she heard a beep she would drop a bite of plastic food into an bucket with a lion's mouth on it. She had a blast and nothing was invasive or painful at all.

When we got the results (at the same appointment) it was clear that Babe was in fact having a lot of trouble hearing.

After that I began asking Babe more direct questions about her hearing and she sometimes would say it sounded like fire in her ears or it was noisy in her head. I got my mom to stand a distance away and whisper things to see at what level it would be before Babe could repeat what was being said. She was definitely not hearing well.

So the next step was taking Babe and the hearing test results to a doctor to get a referral for an ENT. But again when when I called (two different ENT's I believe) I was told the wait lists to see them would be looong as well. And that even when we finally got in the door and were referred for surgery that we would likely have to wait six months to a year to get the tubes done. More discouragement. Not sure if it's true but one doctor's assistant told me the wait list for Children's Hospital would be about a year.

So once again I explained that my daughter was little and not only was she in pain quite often but she wasn't hearing any of the time and it was starting to become a safety concern and affecting her speech development.

The staff were great and they did find a way to squeeze her in within I think less than a week.

At the ENT appointment the doctor met with us, checked Babe's ears, listened to her history and symptoms and discussed with us the risks and benefits of the surgery. And that was it. I said I wanted to get it done as soon as possible and they gave us a surgery date for three weeks later at Lions Gate Hospital. We had the option of waiting until fall since kid's ears usually dry up in the warmer weather but I figured why put it off just to have it start to flare up again and then maybe not be able to get into surgery so quickly.

Her surgery was earlier this week. I was of course nervous about Babe being under anaesthetic but I was looking forward to getting Babe to a place where she felt better and could hear properly.

She wasn't allowed to eat or drink after bedtime the night before but her surgery time was very early the next morning so that wasn't much of an issue.

We had to arrive at the hospital at 6:30 am to check in for the 7:45 am surgery. The admitting staff were all amazing. The lady who got us settled and changed for surgery gave Babe a little teddy bear and a warm blanket. The nurse who came to fill out forms dressed her bear for surgery and made the blood pressure and pulse checks into a game.



We then met the ENT (same office, different ENT) and he went over everything that would happen again. And then the anesthesiologist came in to meet with us and reassure us that everything would be fine.



This was the only hard part: I have spoken to so many people who have taken their children to get tubes put in plus the regular doctors and our ENT and every one of them told me that the parent can stay in the operating room with their child and hold their hand until they are asleep. So right up until the anesthesiologist came in I was still under that impression. But I do remember from my own experiences that sometimes the anesthesiologist has a personal preference for putting someone under which may differ from what the doctor had said would happen. And for some reason I just had a hunch that I wouldn't be able to stay with Babe until she was asleep. Sure enough, the anesthesiologist said he preferred not to have the parent in the room when putting the child under. Because we were having the discussion in front of Babe I didn't want to make her nervous so I calmly agreed with him when really I wanted to argue and demand to be allowed to stay with my baby.

It worked out fine because I had been pumping Babe up for surgery for weeks. Telling her how lucky she was to live in a country where she can be able to have it done and how good she would feel afterwards. In the days before surgery I went over and over with her step by step what would happen and had explained it all right up to the mask going onto her face and her starting to feel sleepy.

When I found out I couldn't go in with her I was especially thankful that I had explained it all to her and made it sound like no big deal because otherwise I think my three-year-old would have been quite shocked to be taken away from me by strangers to a scary operating room.

Here is a video for prepping you child for surgery at Lions Gate Hospital. I didn't really find it helpful for Babe because she is still so little but would be good for an older child.

But I have to say all the surgery staff were great too. In fact, despite not letting me in the room the anesthesiologist was really good with Babe and continued on making the experience fun for her. He even piggy-backed her into surgery!

Then it was just waiting until she was awake. Which was nerve-wracking. But the time apart was only about an hour and most of that was just Babe sleeping it off. I believe the actual surgery was only twenty minutes.

Afterwards the ENT said her ears were so filled with a thick gluey substance that it kept clogging his sucker-thingy (he actually used a medical term for that equipment).



The rest of my notes come from Babe herself, so...you know:

Babe says when she got in the room she watched cartoons and then they put the mask on.

She says the gas smelled like doggy breath (pretty sure that was a description she heard from one of the doctors because we don't have a dog).

She says they put stickers on her arm (she did have stickers on her when I saw her next).

Babe also says the piggy back was fun and she doesn't remember feeling sleepy.


Pretty stoned after just waking up.

The nurse gave her a popsicle but at this point she's still too
high to remember what she is supposed to do with a popsicle.

When she woke up she was groggy and stoned but still seemed to be enjoying all the pampering from the hospital staff (might be a Munchausen Syndrome candidate later on if hospital trips continue to be this much fun).

The only time she cried at all was when the nurse removed the little IV tube in her hand - which they were kind enough to put in after she was asleep.

Take this popsicle and shove it!
Not liking the nurse after she took out the IV.

Has certainly perfected her Victim face.


There has been no dramatic "I can hear!" moment but I think that is because her ears were already starting to clear a little due to the weather. There have been a few times where she has commented that a sound was too loud where she never would have said that before. But she definitely isn't saying "What?" anymore.

She has antibiotic ear drops for the next few days but has felt no pain. In fact she was back to her old self a few hours later and back at preschool the next day.

As a thank-you we made a donation for new equipment to Lions Gate Hospital. And I think we'll take a card over for all the staff and her ENT. If you want to donate to Lions Gate Hospital, CLICK HERE.

Anyway, I hope our story helps if you are waiting to take your child in for a myringotomy or if it is something you are considering.

Now to invest in some good swimming ear plugs!

Happy little patient.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Forest-Themed Toddler Room...it's a work in progress.









Butterflies

I ordered these butterflies from a shop on Etsy. Check out the collection HERE. Normally they come with magnets on the back, but I had the artist leave the magnets off so that I could stick them directly onto the wall. I already had the antique oval frame which created this whimsical look.










Storage
I wanted as many of Babe's toys as possible to be out of sight so they don't take over from the simple forest theme of the room. I started with the above unit with the pink pull out tubs from Ikea (wish it had come in plain white or green) to store most of her loose toys. I bought some pretty little labels and applied them to the front of each tote. And then I bought the shelving unit below for inside her closet to hide all her books but still keep them accessible for her. I wanted to keep her old crib rails safe in case I sell the crib later so I stashed them in the closet and am currently using them for shoe storage. I also hung hooks from her slatted closet doors for extra hanging abilities and traded out the old seventies knobs for some pretty little glass ones from Home Depot.







  




Lighting

Babe still has the old wall-mounted light that I featured in my old post on her nursery. It still fits as it has a monkeys on a vine theme. But I am loving this new squirrel lamp which was a gift from Babe's grandmother. The mushroom nightlight was purchased from Canadian Target before it closed shop and vanished from the Land of the North. It's convenient that the nightlight can plug in or run on batteries.




Here's the old lighting that we still use that was featured in the Nursery post.




Cushions

I'm still looking for the perfect forest-themed bedspread so for now we are using an inexpensive Ikea option. I might have to end up buying a fabric that I like and sewing my own. The fox and deer cushions were purchased from Home Sense.








More Forest

I have had my eye on a gorgeous, realistic forest mural wallpaper for Babe's room ever since I got pregnant. But we are always renting and I haven't wanted to commit to the cost of it or the application and eventual tear down. But last spring we grabbed this three panel forest screen at a fundraising auction. It goes great with the grass-like shag rug we got from Ikea and the adorable fawn wall decal I ordered from THIS SHOP on Etsy. The mini grand piano is from Chapters/Indigo. The carpet and screen combo create a temporary little forested corner until I can get her a room where I'm happy to commit to a full wallpaper/mural effect.








Mounted Stuffy

This was featured in our trip to Calgary post but I'm still loving it and it still fits the theme. It was purchased at the Calgary Airport.







Sky/Ceiling

Babe has one of those little stuffies that projects stars onto the ceiling at night and plays ambient noise. But I wanted a touch of nature on the ceiling in the daytime too. Enter THIS TUTORIAL VIDEO on making a cloud with lights and I thought I could do that, but with a mobile twist. It's kind of still a work in progress as I wanted to use clear fishing line instead of basic thread. But the fishing line of course has a lot of curl to it. I discovered I could get about 75 per cent of the curl out by using my hair straightener on a low heat setting and pulling the line through quickly (a hint that also works for quickly ironing your boxing hand wraps) but some of the kinks still remain. I'm hoping they will straighten out over time otherwise I guess I will re-string all the beads with plain thread. The cloud is made with paper lanterns and synthetic batting. In the video they use a glue gun to attach the batting to the lanterns but I found spray glue worked much faster. Stinks a bit though so the cloud spent a couple nights outside. The video peeps hung little curtain lights from their cloud but Babe and I wanted rain drops so I bought the blue and clear beads from Michaels. I may still put a battery-powered light inside the cloud at a later date - a nice perk to the cloud shell being made out of lanterns and not a paper mache ball or something is that you can still reach inside of it.












Sunday, April 12, 2015

"But I've Told Her A Hundred Times..."


Broken snowglobe



After daycare Babe and I stopped at the grocery store to pick up some things for dinner. Due to a naughty moment in the car she knew a toy was going in the Disappearing Box when we got home so she was her very best Big Girl Helper in the store; trying to rescue her toy from a week of hibernation up high.

We are always rushed at the end of the day - going from work to errands and home to play, make dinner and do the bedtime routine - all before 7:30.

Babe tried her best to carry a bag in from the car - without being asked. But it was too heavy and after a few stumbles in the parkade she let me carry it in.

I try to get her to watch TV while I cook dinner because I know it's not safe for her to be prancing around the hot pots and pans in the kitchen. It never works though because Babe has too much energy to sit for long in front of the TV. And by the end of the day she is just desperate for my attention. So dinner time is usually a juggling act for me. There's no extra set of hands or eyes. No one who can keep her entertained while the other parent gets dinner on.

She took off her jeans because they were uncomfortable. I asked her if she wanted me to get her a pair of cozy pants but I don't think she responded. She was playing on the floor just outside the kitchen and we were chatting as I cooked.

She went to the bathroom on her own and peed on the grown up potty without help which made her proud. That's a new thing since she saw a little friend do it while they were visiting...until recently she's always used her little potty.

When she was done I asked again if she wanted cozy pants. Nothing.

I was still cooking.

I saw her fold up her bathroom stool and take it into her bedroom.

I heard her say she needed it to reach the lightswitch in her bedroom.

She pinched her fingers hard in that stool just the other day so I had a faint flash of concern that it might happen again.

She called to me from the bedroom in her growly frustrated voice because the light wasn't turning on.

It's a wall-mounted light that plugs into a socket which is controlled by the lightswitch at the doorway. But it also has a switch on the cord. Her sound machine is also plugged into the same outlet. So at night when I leave her room after tucking her in I turn the light off at the cord so the lightswitch at the wall doesn't kill the sound machine.

Usually I turn it back on in the morning but I guess I didn't this morning. So Babe couldn't figure out why flicking the lightswitch by the bedroom door wasn't working.

She was calling out, "The batteries are dead."

I put down my spatula and said "No Honey, they aren't". I went into the room and hit the switch on the cord which runs like a seam from the wall light down the wall and behind the dresser to a hidden plug. Then I went around the corner back to my cooking.

Maybe ten seconds passed.

I'm sure one of two things were going through her mind before she forgot my many, many warnings:

Her interest may have been piqued by my coming in and switching the light on at the cord, maybe she was drawn to that switch that she hadn't noticed before.

Or more likely her mind simply wandered back to my question moments before about cozy pants.

But she was still on the little stool at the lightswitch as I walked past her and back to the kitchen.

I've told her a hundred times. Over and over...

I'd only been out of the room for a few seconds.

There was a loud crash. It sounded like she'd broken her whole room in one second. Before I heard her scream I already knew exactly what it was and my stomach had already sunk.

She was screaming as I rounded the corner and into her room. I couldn't get there fast enough.

And there was my little girl buried under her heavy dresser.

She was pinned from her mid section down under the tipped frame, the three drawers and a ton of clothing. There was broken glass and sparkles in the rug from her Las Vegas snow globe.

It only took a second to get her out and into my arms but she cried in heaving sobs in my lap for a couple minutes before I could calm her just enough to really look her over. I knew she wasn't bleeding but in those moments I didn't know if there'd be a broken bone. Honestly, I didn't even care, I was just so thankful she was OK.

That dresser is so heavy. It could have been so much worse.

I had her furniture braced to the wall in our old place. I've been reminding myself over and over and over to get the guy in to do it at this place. There's not much that is tippy here anyway, just a couple of items. It's just one of those things that gets pushed down the list because everything else seems more pressing and I'm doing it all myself.

And I've told her a hundred times to never, ever open more than one drawer at a time or climb up on any furniture. I've explained, slightly graphically, what could happen if she tips heavy furniture over onto herself.

But I nannied for years so I know not to expect a three-year-old to remember any warnings. I guess part of me thought since I regularly reminded her that she would somehow remember in that split second when something catches her attention.

And Babe is usually so careful...

Someone said, "Don't blame yourself. Accidents happen".

But you know what? Ya, it was an accident. It was in the blink of an eye, it was just a stupid mistake. But it is my fault. It was negligent. It's not like I didn't know parents should brace the furniture. I know. I've known for years. I've reminded other parents to do it long before I had Babe. I kept reminding myself to do it since we moved and kept forgetting and reminding myself and forgetting. That little voice inside was telling me to get it done.

For crying out loud I just read another story about a child who was killed this way, like a week ago.

It's amazing how fast things can happen when we are juggling too many things and trusting our babies just a little too much.

Babe is perfectly fine. But when I think of what could've happened I feel sick and the tears come on.

I'm sending all my love to whatever angel was watching over my little one as her attention innocently turned to the dresser in her room.




Please anchor your furniture if your wee ones are exploring now.

Even if they are a bit older and you've told them a hundred times...

Even if they are usually so careful.