A forum for comments on FASD, sharing, life challenges, politics and other things that bother us. By GrampaBrian, FASD Advocate (AKA Brian Philcox)

Archive for October, 2009

What if… ?

 Have you ever started thinking about beginning a creative problem-solving exercise with the phrase, "What if…?" followed by any number of ideas, some serious, some fanciful? It’s quite surprising what can come out of that kind of brain-storming exercise like that. Because you are only floating ideas and not committing time or money to them, you can keep going indefinitely until some or one of those ideas has a germ of possibility. This process works because even off-the-wall crazy ideas can often lead to good ideas. The secret is not being judgmental too early in the process. Let your imagination go as long as you can and only then start discarding the ideas that are absurd or simply too unwieldy to cope with. 

Bonnie & I do this a lot and, from time-to-time, really good ides do come to the surface and, if we are inclined, we follow-up on them. That’s what happened over ten years ago when we were locked into the house because of major winter snowstorms in Toronto and the snow banks in my driveway were already over my head. That was when we said, "What if on the ninth minute of the ninth hour of the ninth day of the ninth month of nineteen ninety-nine, we did something to remind everyone that during the nine months of pregnancy a woman shouldn’t drink alcohol."

Well, we tried that notion out on our FASD buddy, Teresa Kellerman in Tucson, AZ who warmed to the idea immediately. With Teresa’s expertise in developing websites and the mailing list we had developed over the previous two years, we managed to alert everyone we knew then who were involved in the field of FASD. That was February, 1999 — by Sept. 9 that year there were communities in countries around the world doing something to alert the public and the media about the dangers of maternal drinking in pregnancy.

We called it International Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Awareness Day which was soon abbreviated to FAS Day and now that we generally use the term FASD to describe the range of diagnoses caused by drinking while pregnant, we simply say FASDay. That year there were events in church basements, on city hall steps, in schools and many other locations in innumerable communities in at least 11 time zones around the world. It was all done through the volunteer efforts of local FAS groups and coordinated over the internet. We collaborated with Teresa to provide guidelines & ideas of what to say and how to attract the public and the media to the local events and the groups just did it, with flair and enthusiasm. My former employer, Consumers Gas contributed the design and printing of a multipage, 4-colour report with pictures and contributions from many countries. And when it was all over, as we reviewed the extensive media coverage, those FASD volunteers said, "Hey, let’s do it again next year!"

And so we did and so did they. This year was the 10th anniversary of FASDay and we have been told that there have been FASDay events in 24 time zones (maybe they mean all the time zones where there are people). In many communities, the volunteers took a page out of the NOFAS-UK playbook where Coordinator Susan Fleisher had invented the ‘Pregnant Pause’ event where the participants appeared at a busy railway terminal with signage and balloons under everyone’s shirt or sweater — men & women both — to suggest pregnancy. That event  appeared on You Tube and we in Toronto did our version of the Pregnant Pause ‘freeze’ outside the Royal Ontario Museum at the busy intersection of Avenue Road and Bloor here in Toronto. APTN, the national Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network covered our event extensively and included interviews with other community FASDay volunteers across the country.

The same day, The Motherisk unit at Sick Children’s Hospital held their annual FASD research conference in Toronto which was also their tenth anniversary. Back in 1999, Dr. Gideon Koren and his chief assistant Susan Santiago had held the first FACE (Fetal Alcohol Canadian Expertise) conference here to coincide with the first FASDay. They have held this important research conference every year since then in different cities in Canada and the US.

This year they invited Bonnie & me to attend at the luncheon during the conference so that the then Ontario Minister of Children & Youth Services could present us with awards reflecting our work over the past ten years. Minister Deb Matthews has since become Ontario’s Minister of Health and we are pleased that she is a strong advocate for FASD issues.

There is more info and a photo available on the Best Start Resource Centre website (http://www.beststart.org/projects/index.html#fasd) – just click on Edition 7, October 2009.

So, have you asked yourself any ‘What if…?’ questions lately.

This age of vulnerability

 Humans have always struggled through vulnerable times. But there have been times when we thought we were invulnerable. For me it was that halcyon period after WWII when there seemed to be a new-found prosperity for everyone — at least for everyone in the western world.

However, these days I wonder what there is in store for my grandchildren. Climate change appears to be too gradual for many to take it seriously and H1N1 (swine flu) has half the population in a tizzy, wondering whether or not to take the flu shots this year. 

We have troops in Afghanistan where no invader has ever succeeded in overcoming the combined fury of warlords and tribes-people who fanatically resist any change to their way of life. Makes me wonder why our country, one of the older democracies these days, has no focus, no real vision, no articulated plan for long-term success. 

The vulnerability I see in these modern days of instant communication but confused understanding is the ability of a dissident few able to totally distract and upset the lives of the rest of us. The classic case, of course, is the attack on the twin towers in NYC on Sept. 11 in 2001. the psychic damage alone has kept the USA in a continuous state of alarm and on a mission of retribution unequalled since the Viet Nam war. Historians will debate endlessly the merits or foolishness of the US (along with the coalition of the coerced) incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq. Our neighbour to the south has managed to kill many times over the number of people who were killed in the 9/11 attack with no sign of accomplishment to date. In fact, the outcome seems to have only alienated more people around the world, especially among the Islamic faithful. This makes no excuses for those fundamentalists who continue to continue to immolate themselves by destroying people and property with their indiscriminate bombings.

There are a couple of key points here: first the most ambitious activities to provide a civilized environment for downtrodden peoples can be quickly destroyed by a few dissidents with cheap bombs. Second, the response to these dangers will never be successful by attacking and occupying sovereign states under the pretence of conducting a military attack on a concept – i.e. ‘terror’. It has never worked before and, I suspect, never will.

Neither Afghanistan nor Iraq attacked the US, it was a bunch of crazies funded by the Saudis. But the rationality of so-called leaders like Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld may never be called to account. And now, the conservative ignoramuses in the US media are doing whatever they can to undermine the attempts of the current regime in Washington to bring the US into the 21st century by reforming health care. Thus, a small group of insurance companies, operating as a cartel can inhibit the democratic process in a country that’s supposed to be the epitome of freedom and progress.

Canada has found its own third way. Neither a benevolent dictatorship nor a representative set of members in our parliament, we have managed to  unofficially create a fluid coalition of sorts. A minority government that gets supported by one or another opposition party seems to be the style of the day. Perhaps that’s as it should be: the Conservatives aren’t too conservative and the Liberals cannot impose too extreme socialistic measures on the fragile mercantile classes.

So where do we go from here? Well, we could get rid of our ‘first-past-the-post’ electoral system and go for proportional representation with each member’s vote counting for exactly the proportion of the population that he or she represents. Then we might see exactly what the voting public really wants. Of course, some of us wouldn’t be really happy with that outcome either.

Catching Up

 The older I get the slower I respond to life’s little urgencies but the faster time seems to flit by. Bonnie often says, "Where did the time go…" but I know that it was well filled with incredible adventures and fulfilling activities. Take our family holiday trip, for example. For the first time in 13 years we took the Doodads to the West Coast for a true break from workshops and other business-related activity to spend time with brother-in-law Geoff and our niece Taylor.

It was a refreshing and hugely successful trip, especially when it came to sharing things like the ferry rides to and from Vancouver Island and the bike ride around Stanley Park. Kenny & Vicky connected with their cousin Taylor and her friend Osheana in a big way and staying at Geoff’s house was like having a luxury resort at our personal disposal the whole time we were there.

Although we didn’t manage to visit with brother Paul and sister-in-law Pat  while we were on the Island (they live in Duncan now) we did spend a few delightful days with an old acquaintance of Bonnie’s at her house in Brentwood Bay, on the Saanich peninsula, half way between Sydney and Victoria. I wanted to move into Susan Langlois’ house as soon as I saw it with its expanse of glass everywhere overlooking the picture post card bay. In fact, I made a calendar out of the photographs I took of the views from her house and some candid shots of her and the kids while we were there. Bonnie & Susan had shared an apartment in Calgary when they were both social workers there some 47 years ago. They hadn’t seen each other since then but we all got on splendidly.

Sue, although now retired, spends most of her time working on restorative justice issues keeping individuals with FASD out of prison whenever possible. That’s right, we can never get away from our passionate interest in things relating to FASD. It was because of our mutual interests that  David Gerry in Victoria reconnected us in the first place. 

As a result of this trip and getting to know our West Coast family and friends in an enriched way, we now are dedicated to finding a way to move to BC, preferably on the island and somewhere along the Saanich peninsula. This may be only a dream but Geoff keeps insisting we move out there. Of course, there are a few stumbling blocks: house prices are probably out of our reach; we’d need to be close to appropriate health facilities for ourselves and the kids; we don’t know what kinds of resources would be available for Kenny’s schooling; and so on.

On the other hand, we could continue to do our FASD work from there just as easily as from here. In fact, BC is much further ahead in terms of resources than Ontario. So the beat goes on.