Stories still to come

I was so thrilled to have two of my seasonal pieces published by Spinoff Parenting in the lead up to Christmas. They were about tips and strategies to help ease the pressure and navigate the challenges of Christmas  for kids with autism and kids in general. I’m aware the website has been fairly quiet since (although the Facebook page is still ticking along) and it’s not due to a lack of ideas when it comes to writing. If I could have some telepathic decoder capture the articles I write while driving the car that would be brilliant!

During the school term I have 3-6 hours per week away from Miss 3 (who has a variety of special needs) and although that time is mainly spent running errands or undertaking domestic tasks that cause her sensory distress, sometimes I can squeeze in some writing as well. Those precious hours are also a much needed pressure valve to release some of the tension from being constantly with a little person who studies my every facial expression,  who is incredibly sensitive to emotional undercurrents and needs me to project happy calm 16 hours per day, and requires enormous amounts of support for everything from emotional self-regulation, to being comfortable in her body, OT work, communication, self-care, and play.

During the school holidays this turns into no hours per week and her anxiety being hugely escalated by the disruption to our routines. The summer holidays mean that not only is kindy on holiday but so are all of our other support staff (from occupational therapist to doctors). Events like severe summer storms can cause massive sensory distress and trigger several days of almost constant dysregulation that is exhausting for both of us. She sleeps in my bed because it gives her a sense of stability and security.  We use a lot of social stories and visual communication to talk about our plans for the day. There’s an increase in alternative communication: selective mutism, echolalia, and needing repetitive (and repeatable) scripted dialogue exchanges.

It all adds up to is me investing my energies into my daughter and storing story ideas (like nuts for the winter) for when I have more time. What I want to write about this year is the importance of embracing the new year with a growth mindset, how to encourage and develop character (rather than content) in our young children, how the Danish / Scandanavian parenting and schooling model compares to the NZ / UK / USA model and why we should consider adopting it. I also want to write more gardening and cooking pieces. I’m particularly interested this summer in the exploring the economies of a kitchen garden as well as taking a look at making use of vegetable parts that sometimes end up on the compost (like carrot greens, radish leaves, and squash blossoms).

Show love to your kids at Christmas (even when you’re exhausted)

Tantrums leading up to Christmas

I wrote recently about what it’s like parenting a child with autism at Christmas and I find myself continuing to reflect on the challenges different families experience at this time of the year. One of the topics under discussion in parenting forums this week is ‘Should children be punished for bad behaviour leading up for Chistmas?’, more specifically, should they be threatened that Santa is watching and won’t give them presents?

One side of the argument, is that children should be told that Santa (or a designated Elf on the Shelf) is watching and will punish children by leaving them a lump of coal (or a potato) in their Christmas stocking if they are naughty in December. Others suggest spending Christmas morning in bed and refusing to give out presents until 4pm (or a few days later) once children are suitably chastened. Some suggest that each time children are really naughty, a present is removed from under the tree and the child has to give it to charity.

My heart goes out to parents who are exhausted and struggling at the end of a long year, wishing for some much needed rest for themselves to recharge batteries, and all of the stress (logistical and financial) that planning Christmas involves. The reality, however, is that we need to constantly put on our superhero costumes, dig deep for forgotten reserves of energy, and remember that our tiny egotistical bundles of dark energy are exhausted children struggling with a see-saw of excitement, fear, change, and emotional confusion. They are also tired at the end of the year; they are tired from growing, from learning, from trying to keep their emotions in check, and they are likely to explode at home because that’s where they feel safe to do so. They are trusting us to love them unconditionally (even if it’s through gritted teeth).

Stop and have a think about what may be triggering your kids to explode. Are they tired? Are they hungry? Are they eating a lot of ‘seasonal treats’? Are they excited about school holiday adventures but then lashing out at the end of the day (or the next day)?

School holidays mean that all of their usual structure has suddenly disappeared and that can be as frightening as it is exciting. Talk with them about what routines are going to stay in place (i.e. will television still be restricted to certain times of day, will bedtime still be at the same time, will parents still be working on certain days). Come up with a visual planning chart for the school holidays and talk with your kids about any planned activities, holidays, play dates, or family visits. Make a list of activities they can do at home (or cut them up in strips and have them pull them out of a hat).

Talk to them about any expectations you have: to spend time reading a book each day, do an art activity, spend time outside, and play quietly with toys? Some kids might feel more comfortable having their free time largely unstructured, while others may thrive on digital timers and structured activities for at least part of each day.

If you’re at home with the kids, take the opportunity to try changes to diet. Put them on a wholefoods diet as much as possible and avoid anything with artificial additives and preservatives (they have a cumulative effect in the body, especially in little bodies, and can have a big impact on behavior). Drink water and milk, eat lots of fresh fruit, make salads, do home baking. Ditch the muesli bars, chips, and cookies, and make smoothies, carrot cake, or flourless pancakes.  Help get the kids involved in meal planning, supermarket shopping, meal preparation, and gardening.

We spend eleven months of the year taking responsibility for our parenting decisions, lets not shift the blame to Santa just because Christmas is approaching. If you want to factor Santa into discussions with your kids then try shifting the discussion from a negative / blame framework to a positive one; instead of threatening coal, try saying something like ‘Mum and Dad and Santa can see how hard you’ve been working all year and it seems like you’re tired and struggling at the moment.” Talk with them about the things they like about themselves and feel they are doing well, and also about the things they feel are difficult. Praise them when they are doing things well.

Consider giving only a few small presents from Santa that they can play with before the main gifts are unwrapped. Maybe I’m selfish but I want my daughter to be thrilled that I’ve spent time saving up and planning her main present rather than thinking it’s magically appeared from Santa’s workshop! Knowing that their main presents have come from family reinforces an understanding of being loved.

Spend time in the lead up to Christmas talking about what it means to your family. In some parts of the world, it’s a time of beautiful lights, decorations, and fattening foods because the outside world is pitch black most of the day and covered in snow (which might look pretty on Christmas cards but is icy and cold most of the time). It’s a little bit different when Christmas is celebrated in the middle of summer with blue skies and sunshine! Even if you’re not celebrating the birth of Christ, talk about why you are giving gifts as a family. Talk about celebrating all the good things you have, the things you are grateful for, and the people that you love. Maybe you could make a gratitude jar, flower, or tree. Older kids might like to keep a gratitude journal for the holidays (bonus – it also helps them practice their writing!)

Step away from the commercial aspects of the holidays, help them to make their own Christmas cards, make Christmas crackers, and write letters to friends they’re going to miss over the holidays. Encourage them to think about others by choosing something they like to eat to donate to a food parcel collection, or by mowing the lawns for grandparents, or washing cars during church service.

Tell them every single day that you love them.


For more helpful strategies – consider attending a free Incredible Years Parenting Programme which provides useful strategies for play, praise, academic, social and emotional coaching, positive reinforcement, limit setting, natural and logical consequences, problem-solving and effective communication skills.

Mass Consumerism and the Endless Quest for the New

Mass Consumerism: New and Shiny!

New and Shiny!

I’m drafting this at 3.30am in the morning. I’m sitting in pyjamas with my daughter curled up next to me, laptop on my knees, lamplight casting a low glow to contrast the light of the tv; ‘Magic School Bus‘ is teaching us about viral invaders. It sounds all warm and cosy; it is…. except it’s 3.30am in the morning!

Don’t get me wrong, Miss 3 is a crap sleeper but tonight (and the night before) isn’t because of her health concerns. We’re awake because yet another nappy company decided to get on the train of ‘New and Improved!’, ‘All New Look!’, ‘Amazing New Technology!’. I could give two shakes of a rat’s tail for their heavy use of the word ‘new’; what I want in nappies is a reliable steadfast product that works. I have enough sleep deprivation in my life without needing to spend time in the supermarket re-evaluating nappy brands.

It’s not that long since popular nappy company Treasures changed their design causing an uproar amongst parents that eventually moved from social media parenting platforms to the mainstream news. I watched with interest (and respect) as one determined mother took our concerns to the news outlets and with our permission shared our crappy experiences (pun intended).

Now another nappy company, Kiddicare, has decided to follow suit and change their design to a dramatically new look that is eerily similar in look to the new design Treasures nappies. Their website claims “Our new five layer ultra-thin absorbent inner core made from hi-tech fibre makes for a better performing nappy.” Their ‘breakthrough technology’ and ‘non traditional materials’ are presumably meant to attract additional customers and justify a price increase.

The reality is that their old nappies worked. They were well priced and effective which is all I actually want in a nappy. I have had countless leaks from the new ultra-thin nappies during both day and night. Tonight I tried double layering the nappies and her pants; they still leaked (despite her only having a few sips of water before bed!) and I was woken yet again by her feeling cold and chilled in the middle of the night. I’ve already complained to the company (firing off an email at 2.30am yesterday) but that still leaves me having paid for a large box of nappies that have no functional purpose.

I’m frustrated and tired (and regretting that mug of coffee now) by lack of sleep and needing to strip bed sheets in the middle of the night. My ASD daughter does not sleep easily and is very routine focused. To her wake up time means a bottle of formula and cartoons; I know from experience that she will be awake for several hours before I have a chance of easing her into a nap. If I’m super lucky I can sometimes get her back to sleep when she wakes during the night but not once I’ve had to change clothes and sheets.

The question arises why multiple nappy companies are feeling the need to change their design in the first place (and why they haven’t done more product testing before release!). One can only assume it’s because they feel the need to dangle something new and shiny in front of consumers to attract their attention (like we’re nothing more than magpies indiscriminately collecting anything from tinfoil to gold watches) and have forgotten that their core purpose should be deliver something that works. I wish they would instead go with the maxim of ‘If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it’ and instead focus on aesthetics. Why can’t they just release limited edition runs of new prints with collectible cards inside the packs? Tell me all about the wonders of pandas and leopards with accompanying cute prints but have the nappies actually work!

In Splendid Isolation

Autumn wonderland

Autumn wonderland

“He who is certain he knows the ending of things when he is only beginning them is either extremely wise or extremely foolish; no matter which is true, he is certainly an unhappy man, for he has put a knife in the heart of wonder.” Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn

I drafted this a week ago…little did I know that life would throw up complications and we’d be looking at a minimum of fours weeks in isolation.

Today marks the end of two weeks of isolation leading up to Miss 2’s surgery. She spends the night in my bed (she’s refused to sleep in hers since we were rushed to hospital by ambulance for Mother’s Day) and is awake all day with it just the two of us. There is a distinct lack of personal space and it’s challenging for both of us. The only time that I have to myself is an hour or so in the evening, after finishing up cleaning the house, before collapsing into bed beside her.

Week 1 was a particularly vicious head cold with rivers of snot that covered her face no matter how often I wiped it away. Her facial dermatitis was miserable, her already swollen airways blocked up, and she’d give up on sleep entirely somewhere between 2am and 4am when the fluid build-up got too much (and she needed to be upright to have it drain away). Being awake around the clock was beyond exhausting, I got sick too, I dragged myself through each day, I was grateful whenever she was willing to listen to audio stories that might give me a break for twenty minutes.

She hit rock bottom after about 7 days and then slowly started to improve. Her doctor advised that with her surgery so close we were best to spend another week away from playgroups, Sunday School, gatherings of kids, and, well, anywhere germy, to try and prevent her from catching a secondary infection. Historically. her compromised immune system has meant a rolling series of viral infections for weeks at a time.

She missed her friends. She missed her rountines. She stomped around the house (literally) telling me, “I’m a grumpy old troll! I’m ANGRY! I want (insert names of friends)”. I’m proud of her emotional recognition and expression; I’m glad that teaching her to stomp (as opposed to kick, hit, bite, or throw) as a healthy way of venting her feelings seems to be helping. It’s exhausting and it sucks for both of us.

It’s been a mental challenge each day trying to work out where we can for the morning that ideally doesn’t cost money, will interest her, doesn’t involve kids, and can’t be an indoor playground / attraction (because let’s face it those things hardly ever get disinfected!). Oh, and it’s winter, cold, and rain keeps threatening on the weather forecast.

Each day I have to try and be cheerful, positive, and zen. Some days I do better than others. Some days I’ve burst into tears in public toilets while she just keeps tantruming and I can’t even have 30 seconds to pee in quiet (not alone, just peacefully). Some days it feels overwhelming that not only do we have to get to the surgery but then we’re still going to need to be careful about post-op infection. Some days the logistics of our upcoming hospital stay, needing to take all our food with us, needing to look after her alone (and just physically carrying everything!) seems overwhelming.

So I’ve tried to find the beauty in each day for us. She delights in the small details – the differing colours and shapes of leaves, throwing seed cones into the ocean and watching them bob like boats, stopping to listen to birds sing.

Autumn dreaming

Autumn dreaming

Autumn explorer

Autumn explorer

We’ve walked through parks of imported oak trees with their beautiful autumn leaves still covering the ground like snow.

We’ve spent hours exploring Botanic Gardens admiring the hidden mazes and the surprise of colourful roses even though it’s winter.

New Zealand beaches in winter

New Zealand beaches in winter

What is New Zealand like in winter?

What is New Zealand like in winter?

We had one morning that saw me teaching her chess in the library while the wind and rain swirled outside, only for it to suddenly be replaced by a little beachside microcosm of warm blue skies and sunshine. We walked on the sand, splashed in the waves, and drew pictures in the sand creating beach art.

Being isolated was anything but splendid (although it makes for a catchier title) but looking for the beauty in each day and seeking a positive focus made it more bearable. We can’t always change our circumstances, we can only change how we choose to view our circumstances and how we react within them.

Allergy update & how we’re coping

I’m having to put a list together of all of Miss 2’s medical appointments for the last 12 months. It’s part of a bureaucratic process and it feels kind of bleak, we’re at something like 33 now out of 52 weeks. If you factor in her being sick most of the time in between those appointments and the fact that I’m a single mother with very little support, it’s pretty fracking overwhelming. Good thing I’m sitting down with a coffee to write this while she plays gleefully in a ball pit. 

She’s doing better this week – She laughed the other day and it was such a beautiful spontaneous sound that it brought tears to my eyes because it had been so many weeks since I’d heard it.

We both had airborne allergy tests recently and in her typical atypical fashion she came up in hives in several places – except for where she’d been pricked. Later that day her breathing started to labour and an awful snotty nose started that is still with us 10 days later. It makes it hard for her to breathe at times even with her mattress on a 45′ angle and three allergy medications each day (2 oral + 1 nasal spray). 

The good thing is that I reacted typically. Dust mites, dogs, and lots of grasses/weeds. With the help of a gardening association I identified that our little lawn has very little lawn grass and lots of highly aero-allergenic grasses/weeds. I’ve got Bermuda running grass, plantain, and Bahia grass (paspallum) that has an extended pollen season of about 5 months. Oh, there’s also the clover I love but the bees have adored it also this summer and it turns out we’re both allergic to being stung 😦

The grass allergy explains why I haven’t been able to breathe for months with an ongoing cough, worsening wheezing, feeling like there’s an elephant on my chest, and so many headaches / sinus pressure. It explains why walking my daughter to home care I get a headache and have trouble breathing but can easily run around an air conditioned mall. I’m on allergy medications now as well but it’s not like I can just avoid grass for the summer!

Hopefully the grass allergy also explains why Miss 2 has been deteriorating so rapidly since the start of the year. It would fit in timing wise and an aero-allergen would help to explain the summer colds, swollen terminates, swollen tonsils, and bruised swelling under her eyes.

There’s still the possibility of another food allergy or intolerance as well so I’m keeping a daily food diary for both of us (down to each ingredient). There are also several foods (like dairy, soy, gluten, eggs) that can cause excess mucous production even if you’re not allergic. There’s a wider range of allergenic-friendly foods available these days that may still appeal to a toddler but price-wise they’re not too friendly. I’d already reduced the amount of gluten and eggs in our diet; the aim will be to reduce them further (and dairy) to see if it helps and potentially work towards eliminating them all together.

More medical appointments next month with at least three different hospital departments. She may need to go back on her reflux medication as well since that has improved but not gone away and could be another factor in her misery this summer.

On the bright side, she is loved and knows that she is loved. She loves books, her vocab continues to increase (with hilarious and/or imperious sentences being uttered), she is kind, and she is growing.

Happy Valentines Day

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Hope all the parents out there had a wonderful Valentines Day! I felt blessed to be part of the team putting together an amazing experience for the first session back of our big music and dance playgroup for under 5’s. Such an awesome hardworking team and special treats for parents and kids alike.

Valentine’s Day can be one of those funny celebration days as a solo parent.  It bothered me the first two times that I was alone with my daughter but this time it didn’t bother me. I made it special for us with Valentine’s Day toast (home made bread with a chocolate-hazelnut spread I found that we can eat) and I was so incredibly grateful to the lovely Ronda at Walter & Rose (who made these beautiful cookies!!) who went the extra effort to message me back from her home with ingredient lists rather than waiting till she was back at work. It was a huge thing for my daughter that she was able to eat the heart shaped cookies with the other kids (and that I knew she couldn’t eat the teddy bear cookies as there was soy in the heart fondant).

How a slice of bread gave my daughter an allergy attack

Different circumstances this time to the peanut butter. A few weeks ago I tried the rounds of asking bakeries near our GP’s office on the off-chance that any of them made bread on-site that was soy free. To my delight, there was an artisan bakehouse, specialising in bread, that assured me (after checking) that they had a white Farmhouse Loaf that was absolutely definitely soy free.

It sounds really simple but Miss 2 and I were so overjoyed to be able to eat soft fluffy white bread. It’s a long drive from home so I sliced it up, we ate beautiful bread for a couple of days, and I froze the rest for emergencies while I kept practising making bread myself.

That simple pleasure was enough to earn a calendar entry and feature into menu planning for this week since we had another appointment with the GP. When we ran out of bread two days ago, instead of making bread, I decided to pull the emergency bread out of the freezer as a treat since we’d be able to replace it.

Why was this a problem? Because when I went to the same bakery today and asked the same questions (always, always double check just in case a recipe has changed or a product supplier)… this time I was told that it does contain soy protein and that I must have been informed incorrectly last time.



In a painful twist of irony, we’d sat eating that same damn bread (from the freezer) at the playground before going to the doctor’s appointment. I had a sinking feeling when I realized that I couldn’t remember if there were 4 slices or 6 slices in the bag I took out of the freezer. Did we eat it yesterday? I honestly don’t recall because it wasn’t on my threat radar and my focus was entirely on the hospital appointment. It does explain an earlier allergy attack recorded in my daily notes that I thought couldn’t be from soy because we’d absolutely definitely had no exposure that week (turns out that was wrong…).

It was hard not to be angry and frustrated when I’d been really specific with my questioning and explaining that it was a food allergy. I’m angry that staff got ingredients wrong when it’s being made on site. I’m angry that the store has made my daughter suffer, not once but twice. Her allergy rash started to present before we even got home and was worse by bed time; her eczema had also started to throw up red warning flags. She was too unsettled to go down for her day nap. The afternoon and evening required topical treatment cream, intensive moisturising cream, and oral medication. It’s not enough to prevent the attack but hopefully it helps take the edge off a little.

In reality, there’s always too much to do as a solo parent to spend more than a few minutes dwelling on the unfairness of another approaching storm. I’m grateful that I was cautious and asked again (so we didn’t end up with a second loaf). I’m grateful that food allergies and eczema aren’t contagious (unlike the 14 days of viral diarrhoea that she was too immuno-compromised to fight off and that had us completely quarantined from close contact leading up to Christmas). I’m grateful that we were able to have a friend over to play this afternoon bringing smiles to her face. I’m grateful that she fell asleep in my arms tonight feeling safe and loved and comforted.

Showing love through food


Food forms such a powerful part of our memories and collective consciousness. It’s a wonderful part of our psychosocial experience that can allow us to come together as part of a community (whether that’s immediate family, friends, or our neighbourhood).

A food allergy in the family can suddenly turn food into something revolves around daily fear, anxiety, and sadness. For my daughter and I, her food allergies have certainly turned our world upside down (and resulted in me spending many, many hours in the kitchen) and that’s without the added stress of additional family members to worry about. It was really interesting for me reading Susan Weissman’s memoir, Feeding Eden, about the added stress of trying to find a safe and healthy balance (emotionally and psychologically, as well as physically) for the rest of the family when there’s only one child with allergies.

I could definitely empathise with her determination to find an allergy-friendly baking recipe that could bring joy to both her kids and allow her to create something that would add to happy memories of family trips to the park, or to birthday parties, or stay-at-home movie nights. I suspect the chocolate cake recipe that she perfected was similar to this Depression-era Chocolate Cake.

Even if you don’t have allergies in your family, food can be a wonderful way of connecting with your kids (especially if you’re juggling work & home). It teaches them planning, co-ordination, problem solving, a useful skill, and helps them to feel involved in what’s going on the table. It’s also a great way for them to feel like they’re getting your undivided attention and to form happy, positive, memories that will last well into adulthood.

Even if you don’t have kids, food is also a wonderful thing to share with your partner or friends. Experimenting in the kitchen together, trying out cooking classes, or trying different restaurants is a wonderful activity and source o conversation. It’s amazing how many of our memories can be triggered by a simple scent or a familiar taste; cooking offers something that appeals to our memories because it’s so multi-faceted – smell, taste, feel, even the sound of pots bubbling on the stove.

For me, I’m hoping that capturing our various recipes and experiments in the kitchen online will have a number of benefits. Selfishly, it’s a great way for me to build up a searchable, indexed collection of allergy-friendly recipes that I can draw on. I hope that my daughter grows out of her food allergies but whether she does, or whether they carry on, this provides a source of recipes when she’s all grown up (far in the distant future) that will be both practical and nostalgic (nuturing her heart as well as her body). I also hope that the recipes will be useful to others – both those facing allergies and those simply looking for practical recipes to use in the kitchen.


Love & aroha,

Mom, toddler, and cats.