Sunday, April 29, 2012

Autism - It's Ok to Cry

I was just in Save-On Foods doing my usual Sunday grocery shop (not sure why that place always seems to be the setting for incidents for me), and I came upon a situation that hit quite close to home on an emotional level. You will typically find my blogs quite light and amusing as far a subject matter goes, but this one is about something very near and dear to my heart--autism.

When my daughter Antonia was almost two, she was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. It would be impossible for me to explain her story here given it’s quite lengthy, full of ups and downs, triumphs and breakdowns, advocacy and frustrations, etc., and it is most certainly a story saved for a future published book that I’m already writing. Those who are close to me know most of Antonia’s tale quite intimately, but even then, as a mother of a child with autism, there is no way to fully explain to someone what exactly it feels like, and what it’s like to deal with the emotional train wreck you end up becoming at the end of most days.

So there I was, trying to find the hottest salsa possible in the deli, when the deafening sound of screaming and crying entered into the store. I will admit, my first thought was that if I could have only been on my way out instead of just starting--let’s face it, no one likes to hear a child crying. It got closer and closer, until finally I had no choice but to check out what was happening, which was now right next to me. I froze for a second--the scene looked all to familiar. It was a child of about two and a half, sitting in a kids buggy (the ones with the steering wheels) with a very frustrated yet despondent look, just wailing out words and grunting that made no sense--I recognized that look. Then I glanced at the mother, and my heart went out to her. She was trying so hard to calm him down and was so embarrassed about the obvious scene that her child was causing while also attempted to order something at the deli.

I thought long and hard about seeing if I could offer some help. It’s interesting--sometimes you don’t know if a family is denial about a potential disability of a child (or even if there is one), so the last thing you would want to do is draw attention to something that may or may not be acknowledged from the parent’s perspective. One last look at the mother gave me my answer--she really seemed beside herself, and as I said, the overwhelming feeling of being able to relate began to take hold.

Incidentally, I walked past a few disgusted and disapproving women who were cloistered around the deli and were whispering to each other about how atrocious the child’s behaviour was and what a horrible mother he had for just letting him carry on. I shot them a glance that said “don’t worry, I’ll be back for you later” as their so called whispering was definitely within earshot of the mother.

I quickly dashed over to the section at the beginning of the store where they had some little toys and grabbed one of those squishy balls (there’s no other way of describing those things, sorry). I came back to the mother, and if her child was loud before, he had taken it up a few decibels by the time I returned. I gave him the ball and he immediately quieted down. He was absolutely fascinated with it--and I knew he would be, because sometimes being able to touch and feel something (it doesn’t have to be a toy either) can draw the focus and attention for an autistic child. The tactile approach can provide a stress-relieving feeling even at the worst of times (that’s exactly why those squishy balls were designed for--only they were meant for the stressed-out corporate world instead). Antonia used to play with all kinds of things that kept her fingers and hands busy--it was an instant calming mechanism for her and still is.

Words cannot describe the look on the mother’s face--she just stared at me in disbelief, as if I had worked some kind of magic. I explained to her why it was working, and relayed that it was from years of experience. And as I gave her a big hug, tears welled up in her eyes as she quietly said thank you. It took everything I had to keep it together myself--I would have only wished that someone had done that for me when I needed it.

I then turned my attention to the hen-pecking group of women who so callously felt the need to kick someone when they were down. They had moved on to the bakery now and I let them know, in my own special way, what I thought of THEIR behaviour--at the least the child had an excuse--what was theirs? I also felt the need to point out to all three of them that they should perhaps seek out some professional fashion advice before they go out in public again. I know, not necessary but if you were there with me, you would have agreed that the shocking look on their faces when I uttered that last bit was priceless.

So next time you witness a child losing it somewhere, stop and think for a second before passing judgement on the parent--it’s quite possible that the child might have a disability like autism and the parent is doing the very best they can to cope with the situation. Give them a smile and show them empathy instead--believe me, it will go along way, and they will appreciate the gesture more than you will ever know.

Antonia is going to be 16 this year--my, how times flies. At 5’10”, a slim build and gorgeous long blonde hair, all those dreams of mine that count her in becoming a future runway model don’t seem that lofty--after all, I did see a picture of a model that looked almost exactly like her in the latest Vogue. People often ask me, “What does her future hold?”, and my response is always the same, “Just like everyone else, her future is unwritten.”

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Online Dating - The Highway to Hell

The title may say it all when it comes to my thoughts about online dating. I am currently in the midst of writing a book, and in that book, there is a whole chapter dedicated to my dating disasters of past. Ask my friends, they’ll tell you--I actually have enough material to write a whole book about what happened to me. My question is, who are all these people that supposedly meet the love of their life online? And more importantly, what the hell did I do to karma to end up with all of the crazies?

My most recent (and possibly the last) online date was a few Sundays ago. I thought I had done a pretty good job of screening out the wing-nuts (that’s for you Trish) while on the site, but that in my mind is one of the pitfalls of online dating--you don’t really see what the person is like until you’re in front of them--there’s no body language, nuances, eye contact, etc. You’re reading a profile that was designed to attract the opposite sex...yes, sex being the operative word there--that’s a whole other online dating discussion.

We met up at a local Starbucks--he was about 20 mins late which was strike number one. We recognized each other immediately--incidentally, he was wearing a suit with dress shoes and I was in full Lululemon athletic wear--I thought it was just a casual meeting at Starbucks. I could deal with the suit but I was having hard time getting past the giant cross around his neck--and I don’t mean the big over-done-gangster kind, I mean there was a Jesus-nailed-to-it kind of cross. Don’t get me wrong, I am very respectful of people’s religious beliefs, but that was a ridiculously large cross that I would suspect would only be fitting only for a monk and maybe an altar boy or two.

I will preface what I am about to say by giving some insight into how I think as a modern-day woman of 41. I believe in women’s rights, I make my own money, I have my own home, I don’t need a man to fix stuff around the house for me (although any man wearing a tool belt is always welcome)--but at the same time, I can truly, truly appreciate chivalry and feel that no matter what era we live in, no matter how far women have come in this world, there is always room for a gentleman who will, for a lady, hold open a door, give up his seat, and most certainly buy his date a $2 ice tea. So, there we were, at the Starbucks counter. I ordered my iced tea and the girl behind the counter could see we were with each other, so she looked at me and said “Is that all?”, almost anticipating, along with me, that he would chime in with his drink order and pay for both. The awkward pause and deafening silence was given up eventually by my saying “Yes, apparently that will be all.” The look of disgust on my face was prevalent but went un-noticed by my date. That was strike number two. Give me a break, it’s not like we went out for a five course dinner and I expected him to pay--of course not--it was just a little iced tea. Seriously!

He followed me in his car over to the dyke so we could go for a walk. It was his suggestion but I don’t think he knew the dyke was a gravel walkway--not the best surface for dress shoes. I knew from the moment we starting talking that Benjamin Franklin himself could not have lit a spark of any sort between us. Again, a little insight into me--I believe in chemistry--it’s either there or it isn’t. I’m all for taking the time to get to know someone and so on; however, being able to have that instant connection, albeit it is rare, is something that is very important to me.

Through the course of our walk, I discovered that there were three young children I didn’t know about (yikes!). And there you have strike three--what part of “do you have children” didn’t you understand when you completed your profile? Teenagers I can handle--I get along great with them (read my blog “A Walk Down the Wrong Aisle"), but I think I'm past the raising-of-the-young-children phase of my life.

Now we’re on our way back, and in telling him all about my interests and hobbies, I was quick to learn that he really didn’t have any interests or hobbies except his job. Strike four. The work-a-holic situation just doesn’t work for me. I need a man who wants to get out there and enjoy life and have some fun--not someone who is poised to have a heart attack when retirement hits thanks to overworking himself.

We finally made it back to where our cars were parked (I’m pretty sure I almost broke into a light jog just to get there faster), and that cross around his neck was starting to burn a hole into my retinas. I couldn’t resist--in the midst of our conversation, I threw the word “hell” in there somewhere and I kid you not, he physically recoiled in horror from me, quickly bid me farewell, got in his car, and drove away. I made sure I gave him the devil ears with the tongue flap just to add insult to injury, hoping he would drive away from me faster.

So as I drove home, realizing I can’t get back the last hour of my life, I came to the conclusion that although online dating may work for some people, it’s really not my cup of tea. I have the fortunate ability to talk to anyone, anytime, anyplace, and with that outgoing nature, hopefully comes opportunity to someday potentially meet the man of my dreams. Funny, as I say that, the question then becomes does that person really exist, or do we go through different stages in our lives that will bring about who and what matters to us at that moment. And will I find him, or will he find me?

I gave on-line dating a fair shot--HELL yeah--a good five years of on-and-off painful experiences that ended in either 911 calls to my girlfriends or several sessions of much needed therapy. Will I ever do it again? Maybe...after all, there’s a little devil in all of us, right?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Betsey Babe Forever

I love fashion--always have, and always will. There are scads of photos of me throughout my childhood, dressed in cute little outfits, always with a handbag and shoes to match. Yes, spoiled I was--you tell me how many 5 year olds know what Holt Renfrew is? My fashion awareness, along with being spoilt, coupled with a precocious little personality--that’s right, I was quite the gem. Things took a turn for the worse when school started--the stifling experience of having to go to a private school which just about killed me in a number of aspects, but namely having to wear the same outfit every day for years--imagine. The only time a uniform makes sense to me is on a man, such as a policeman or a fireman...I’ll stop now, but you get the point.

Now at 41, I like to still keep up with the current fashion trends, and at the same time, like to create my own style too. Trying to give a description of my home is a whole other blog, but you can always find a pile of Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar casually sitting on my coffee table (the “table” is actually a big chest full of past issues of fashion magazines). We already live in a herd-like society, so when it comes to who I am and what my style is, there’s one designer that fits the bill for me: Betsey Johnson. Here’s a fashion icon that has been in the biz for decades, and as far as I’m concerned, she just gets better and better as time goes on with respect to her fashion, who she is, and what she stands for.

I hear this phrase AT LEAST once a week from strangers on the street: “Wow, where did you get that--it’s gorgeous and so unique!” And if I had a dime for each time I replied with , “Thanks, it’s Betsey Johnson”, I’d be rich. It’s come to the point where people are remembering me in shops because of Betsey. My clients are always checking out my ensembles at the office. My friends and family have to come know that I’ve always got something Betsey somewhere on my body. Work is tough though because the bank is terribly stuffy when it comes to dress code--business attire means wear nothing but black usually. Every time a go to a business meeting outside the office, I find everyone looks exactly the same (enter herd mentality I mentioned earlier). Just to stir the pot, I like to purposely wear a Betsey outfit that is anything but boring--it’s great--all the little whispers and looks to me are a form of flattery for having the guts to go beyond the norm and be my own person.

The Betsey Johnson store in Vancouver, Canada is amazing--if you’re a girly girl like me, it’s like walking into the ultimate fashion candy store. The first time I went in, it was totally overwhelming and I felt I had died and gone to pink chiffon heaven. The staff are incredible--I have so much fun when I visit (the word “visit” is simply a more therapeutic way of saying the word “shop”), and I have a plethora of pink Betsey shopping bags at home to prove it, along with my wardrobe and two jewelry boxes, both crammed with all things Betsey.

A couple of interesting incidents put me on the map with the staff, and now when I go in, I feel like I’m part of the Betsey family. There is one night I remember in particular because I had just gone to the gym downtown with a friend of mine, and with a quick glance at the time, I realized that the Betsey store was still open. Black suede thigh high boots with beautiful lace-embroidered heals were on the agenda. Getting them on was not an issue; however, getting them off required significant assistance of both Becca and Ciji. Fortunately, I was the only customer in the store at the time, so going through 20 mins of panic with them tugging and pulling on the boots--Becca yanking on one foot and Ciji on the other--was a little less embarrassing than if there was an audience present. It was a sight to behold alright, and of course we were killing ourselves laughing all the while. The saving grace was the fact that I was going to buy the boots anyway (hello!)--I would just simply have to come to the realization that I might be never taking them off again. What would be so wrong about wearing black suede thigh high boots ALL the time...maybe I would have more dates?

Then there was another time where I was trying on a few dresses and I literally got stuck, with my arms up in the air and with no give in the dress whatsoever. The staff kept walking by my dressing room checking in on me, and all I could say was that I was fine but I was actually totally freaking out thanks to the voluntary straight-jacket situation I put myself in. Eventually I was able to free myself and spare the dress from harm--although it might have looked a little suspicious when I came out of the dressing room covered in sweat. Oh, the memories.

I was a ballerina for 10 years as a young girl--twirling and dancing around in a cute fluffy dress was something that made me feel like a princess. Many years later, I’m happy to report that thanks to my incessant love for twirling and dancing, a blatantly obvious overactive imagination, and the inspiring designs of Betsey Johnson, I can be a princess forever. Thanks Betsey xox.