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

Posts tagged ‘family’

The Good Old Days…

Bonnie & I usually have weekends that are just as busy as weekdays when we are coping with family issues, often families we have never met except online or on the phone. The relentless rollercoaster that our children who struggle with FASD get us to ride on never seems to end and crisis times can occur at any moment. That’s why we are always ready to provide support to families and professionals 24/7.

But this past weekend was very different from the norm.

First, our 13 year-old granddaughter came for a sleepover visit. She is great company, helps with the household chores and keeps us up-to-date on what is happening in her life. Then, a long time buddy from navy days brought his young protege, who was in town for a swim meet, for dinner  and an overnight stay. John is my age but it’s usually a  few years between visits so, apart from phone calls in the meantime, it was a pleasure to catch up on our respective projects and health issues. The big treat was meeting the 12 year-old swimmer for whom John has provided support and guidance since he was a toddler. A perfect young gentleman, whose appetite for my salmon dinner was most gratifying, charmed us all.

Next day we had lunch at Melanie’s, our favourite bistro on the Danforth, with longtime friend and former work colleague Eleanor, her daughter Alia(who was our popular pregnant model in our recent Baby Bump Campaign), son-in-law Tom and granddaughter Aaro. At 21 months, baby Aaro kept us all distracted with her animated expressions and her new-found attempts at conversation. The main purpose of our luncheon was to share the wedding portrait and wedding books I had produced from the Tomalia nuptials of last August. Happy to say, these were well received. This family is very much an extension of our own as Eleanor and I have been friends for close to 30 years, along with Alia and her brother Marco (now married & father of young Luke in Calgary) throughout their growing up years. We still miss husband and father Luke, who died a few years ago.

What struck me today was the wonderful warmth of these friendships that Bonnie & I cherish so much. These are truly the good old days.

Is anybody here listening?

Some days I start shaking my head in disbelief, even before I get out of bed. We have a shortstop who thinks its funny to print an insult on his cheek patches, a mayor who wants to spent $300 K removing a bike lane on a downtown street so that car lovers will save 2 minutes on their morning commute, and a huge chunk of  American voters who think the philosophy of Ayn Rand will save the Republic. In my city of Toronto, no longer run by an Orange Lodge clique, we have people who thought it was a great idea to put black students in separate schools. I thought that was an idea from another century. Now there is talk of having “gay-centric” schools — presumably to save our non-heterosexual children from being bullied.

Where on earth do all these dumb-ass ideas come from? If we want to isolate some children from the mainstream we should think about schools that are “allergy-centric”. Now that’s going to get a few knickers in a knot!

Just think about this. We know that anything containing nuts, especially peanuts, is forbidden in our schools. That’s because every school has someone with a nut allergy and even peanut breath can cause severe harm to that kid. My granddaughter goes to a school where there is at least one child who has a dairy allergy. Therefore, no milk, cheese or yogurt is allowed in the daily lunches of every other child. Thus, the majority of children are deprived of such nutritious foods as peanut butter or cheese sandwiches that may be washed down with milk. Does that make any sense to you? It doesn’t to me.

We are far better off when all races, orientations and creeds go to school together, play together, and know each other rather than segregate one another. Within a block of my house, in any direction, there are Europeans, South Asians, Asians, Africans, Americans, West Indians, even a few native borns. Scarborough Village is one heck of a neighbourhood where we are all pursuing the so-called American Dream (except we are doing it non-violently). Such is the beauty of living in one of the more diverse communities in the world.

So why can’t the kids with allergies have their own safe, secure and hypoallergenic refuge and let the rest of our children get on with their normal lives and eating habits?


Colette Saves Another Dog

Actually, she’s a bitch. My daughter Colette loves animals and, until recently, had two pit bulls. They’re OK if treated properly but they aren’t very bright. The elder died – her name was Nala and the younger is called Thor. She loves her animals to such a degree that she had their images tattooed – one head on each shoulder. Even when I was in the RCN many decades ago I never felt the need to have my skin inked.

So she has now rescued yet another animal, this time an elegant German Shepherd that appears to be about a year old. Currently, Colette is still trying to find an owner for this fine animal, but with no success. It looks like she’ll be around for a while and a name is in order. Here are a few suggestions for Colette to choose from:

Chica – Little girl (Spanish)
Dante – Gift (Italian)
Devi – Goddess (Sanskrit)
Dharma – Duty (Sanskrit)
Reggie – Regina/Queen abrv. (Latin)
Fidel – Faithful (Spanish)
Sally – My first dog’s name
Mera – Faithful dog (Greek mythology, became a constellation next to Orion, now           called Sirius
Inin – Daughter (Gaelic)
Cara – Soulmate (Gaelic)

Do you have a favourite?


 My brother Paul & I have agreed to disagree about a number of issues, primarily those relating to war, the military and who should govern our country. Paul spent his adult life as a career officer in the Canadian Army, ostensibly as a tank commander but he carried out many other roles as well.

For a while I found it difficult to have a reasonable conversation with him because of his perspective on these issues but more recently, as we are both retired now, our conversations take on a more moderate tone and our longstanding affection remains in the fore. We can still talk about politics and the role of our armed forces but without getting pig-headed about our relative positions on these matters. Recently, we spoke about who the real heroes were in our contemporary world and he wrote back the following:

My definition of a HERO:
A hero is someone who consciously embarks on a course of action which is more than likely going to result in their own death, but they carry on regardless. There is no such thing as "sports" heroes or any other such drivel.

Who creates this stuff, the media (yah, let’s blame them again) pandering to all the bleeding heart sentimentalists out there? You know, the ones who set up memorials at the side of the road or where somebody got shot, like all the fools that cried over Diana, or the ones from the Ontario Legislature who renamed the 401 the highway of heroes. I doubt if any of the 151 dead coming home from Afghanistan were heroes. They were just soldiers doing their duty and were unlucky.

Fortunately, soldiers know better and don’t buy into what’s being sold here. They are mostly embarrassed when called heroes. I was no hero, but I was lucky and that makes all the difference.

I agree with Paul — ‘hero’ coinage has been debased and we should not impute false rhetoric into descriptions of those who are simply doing the job they signed up for. Soldiers, police, firefighters and ordinary citizens can all be heroes but not simply for dying on the job.

The Wedding Squared

 Our young friends had a dream: to be married on a tropical isle on the beach among the swaying palms while the zephyrs gently caressed them in their bliss. Nice idea, as far as that goes.

However, life — as most of us have learned — always has many surprises in store for the best laid plans. The sequence of avoidable issues started with the RC church not willing to marry our friends (both of them Catholics) because there was no available record of the bride’s baptism. While still an infant, her parents, had fled Iraq nearly 30 years ago, leaving behind many family documents. Why the local priest couldn’t have done a confirmation baptism of our bride is beyond me but, such is the flatview thinking of so many in the RC church.

Then, as it turned out, our bride’s parents and the groom’s parents discovered at the last minute that they could not see eye-to-eye on enough things to create a friendship. You see, the her family is of Arab-Iraqi origin and Catholic. The groom’s family are of Italian origin and Catholic. So, how come two Catholic families couldn’t get their children married in the church? Perhaps the answer can only come from the Pope, speaking ex cathedra, of course. Seems to me that the RC church, that is so riven with pederasts, sophists and cover-up artists that would make Karl Rove blush, needs to take some drastic steps if it is to survive. My first suggestion would be to reverse the power positions of the priests and the nuns. Then we might see some kind of accommodation to the contemporary world.

Our couple decided to take matters into their own hands. Having been together for the better part of a decade, they were not just an impetuous pair of kids. They opted for a civil ceremony at Toronto’s City Hall. This was a good idea as they do an excellent job in very tasteful surroundings there. We know from our experience with the marriage of Leslie & Kate back in 2007.

You should also know that the bride’s parents live in Edmonton and the groom’s parents live in Toronto. As it turned out, following a first meeting between the parents when they discovered that a friendship was not going to blossom, only his family made it to the Toronto nuptials. This was a low key affair but emotionally momentous in its own way and a credit to the organizational skills of the newlyweds themselves.

Of course, that was not the dream wedding that so many romantic couples fantasize over. The next step in this novella romantica was the planning that went into arranging that wedding on the beach in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. The wedding planner, I mean Romance Manager, Andrea Cienfuego was in charge of all the arrangements at the Paradisus Resort, and by all standards, did a splendid job. In full attendance was the bride’s family, mother, father, 2 sisters & their fiances, and grandma who flew in from Edmonton and Seattle. 

Bonnie & I happened to be along for a number of reasons. First, Bonnie is very fond of our bride who is her number one aesthetics consultant. Because I like to take wedding photos with a difference at friends’ weddings to be put into an album (or a book), I took pictures of the ceremony at City Hall and at the reception later. I quickly realized that, if I were to do justice to the wedding book for them, I should shoot the Paradisus wedding as well. I also felt that Bonnie and I deserved a real break on our own so I set in motion a number of steps that would allow us to have a getaway. Cousin Michele immediately agreed to look after the Doodads (Kenny & Vicky) with some back-up support from Colette. All I needed to do was loot the savings account to pay for an extravagant, all-inclusive holiday in the DR. Almost forgot, the most difficult part was convincing Bonnie that we deserved a break from the kids as we hadn’t been apart from them for more than a night or two since 2003 — and we were both exhausted. Finally, she gave in and we flew off to Punta Cana.

Our arrival was fraught with confusion — no transfer from the airport, no record of our reservation at the Paradisus Punta Cana! We were actually booked into the Paradisus Palma Real in Punta Cana. Who knew? It was all sorted out several days later by Andrea, the Romance Manager — and that part of the trip was another adventure and another blog altogether.

Meanwhile, the wedding on the beach was was blessed with balmy breezes and sunny skies. The bride’s family has become part of our family too: much picture-taking by everyone, much hugging and kissing and the bride and groom received a welter of financial gifts from all. 

So, there were no priests or ministers to interfere with true love. It wasn’t a square wedding, it was a wedding squared.

2009: A Very Full Year

What would you think if you lived in a so-called democracy where the year started out with parliament suspended by the ruling party in order to avoid defeat? What if that same party did the same thing to wind up the year to avoid further criticism of its ineptitude? Only in Canada, you say… hmmm.

Meanwhile, the rest of us got on with life and the phlegmatic populace in this lucky country of ours didn’t bother to protest any of the stupidities of our government or the unutterable wastefulness of our participation in the Afghanistan fiasco.

The Philcox/Buxton/Skene household continued its routines with Cubs, Brownies, Rotary, Flames swim team training, Melinda’s personal coaching for Brian, Reading Clinic for the Doodads; and the revitalized FASworld Toronto Support Group.

The first swim meet of the year was in Pickering with both kids involved; Ont. Prison Chaplains FASD workshop was an interesting experiment as it was done by teleconference call with my slides sent across the province by e-mail; Vicky’s weight clinic resumed with little or no progress; and Dr. Michael Sgro at St. Mike’s developed a medication trial for Kenny that had miraculous results for both his behaviours and our peace of mind; The Variety Village Swimathon was a winner for the kids; and our visit to the Hillcrest Spa in Port Hope was a sad one as we were the last clients to stay as it closed down at the end of January.

February was a gathering of the cousins and others in the extended Rose family (that’s on my late mother’s side) as we got together for Aunt Lil’s 100th b-day: she appeared to be stable but didn’t remember everyone. I started work on shoulder therapy as this cranky body seems to give me problems from time-to-time; there was another swim meet at Variety Village where the kids managed to improve their times; and we managed to get together with Jo & John Nanson of Saskatoon (she’s the renowned psychologist who has done such pioneer work in the justice system in Saskatchewan on FASD issues and has been an ongoing help and support for our work) while they were in Toronto.

Sometimes it’s hard to switch personal professionals in your life but we were very happy to find a new dentist for the whole family who is aptly named Dr. Chiu.
We had visits from Jennifer & her new baby and young sister Alexis: she was the young student who volunteered to stay with us a couple of days a week to help with the kids when Bonnie had her year of chemo and radiation back in 2004. Then we connected with Brian, Madigan & Catherine Skene, the kids’ uncle, aunt and cousin whom they had never met before. For our finale in March, we decided to switch from Bell to Rogers for house phones and that turned into an adventure and a half but was resolved with several months of free service.

April brought pool opening preparation and now that we have solar heating and a salination system the pool stays clear and virtually problem-free for the whole season. With our new Rotary Club (Scarborough Twilight) having just received its charter, I was able to speak at the Rotary District 7070 Assembly to invite representatives from the 55 clubs in our district to come to our charter night event and found the response exceptionally positive. Realizing all the changes in our lives and seeing how the lives of Cleo and Colette were evolving we started the process of updating our wills. This has turned into a rather complicated exercise, which we will eventually complete sometime in 2010.

Our first major FASD workshop of the year was a full day in Magnetewan where social workers and parents came in from the surrounding counties. We were most gratified that, in spite of it being a sunny Friday and there was a smelt festival event that day, everyone stayed until the very end of our presentation. And Bonnie’s book, Damaged Angels continues to be a best seller.

Our friend Stephanie Jones had a break from her work as a special ed teacher at the remote Webequie Reserve in Northern Ontario so she was able to have a birthday celebration lunch with us before heading back to her island location where she has learned to adapt to the ways of an isolated aboriginal community. The Webequie reserve is one of our Rotary club’s world service projects and we have sent them gently used and new books for the children as well as a more recent shipment of 36 cartons of hockey skates and other equipment.
May gave me a chance to take the Doodads to a Blue Jays game while they were still winning occasionally and to a swim meet in Bowmanville. The facilities for viewing the action there are so bad that this was the location that inspired me to take up swim meet officiating for something productive to do when I was taking Cleo & Colette to swim meets years ago.

Holly Kramer of the Harm Reduction Network asked me to do a FASD workshop for street workers – Colette and I did our presentation in a jammed up room downtown in between a talk by an aboriginal elder and some ex-prostitutes who were fighting for decriminalization of their former trade. West Hill baseball season started for Kenny, in his second year having moved up to Mosquito level; our new Rotary club had garage sale to raise a little money for new projects.

Harm Reduction Network invited me to give another workshop, this time for Toronto Health Nurses at a splendidly appointed presentation room at Toronto’s City Hall. That’s when my laptop crashed and I couldn’t present the PowerPoint slides in the extraordinary projection system there. So we had to make do with printed handouts and a lot of extemporaneous filling in. That’s when I finally made the commitment to switch from PC to Mac. Let me tell you, this has been an interesting – and steep – learning curve that isn’t over yet. However, the switch has taken me on a whole new creative path.

There was another swim meet in Pickering and our Rotary Charter Night event scheduled for mid-June included Wilf Wilkinson, the immediate Past President of Rotary International. He had graciously agreed to come from his club in Trenton to induct all our charter members. Then, after getting this special event organized, it turned out that Bonnie went in my place while I went in her place to a very special event in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

This was a tribute to our long time friend Jann Gates who was Bonnie’s roommate at Stanford when they were both taking postgraduate programs. Jann was being honoured by staff and students of the Waldorf School in Santa Fe, the organization where she had taught and been an administrator for over 34 years both there and in New York. As Bonnie’s representative and friend of Jann and her family I resolved to take photos of the event so that I could make an album which would be a record of the occasion.

However, inspired by the creation of a travel book created by my brother-in-law Geoff Danzig, and now using a MacBook, I was able to use the Apple templates to create a book for Jann. The result was hugely successful and Jann ordered an additional 25 copies to share with friends around the world.

Here Jann is joined by her daughter Leslie, her daughter-in-law Kate and her good friend Norah.
In July I photographed my coach Melinda’s daughter’s wedding and created a book album for them as well to everyone’s joy and satisfaction. In the past I simply put photos together in a photo album for friends who were usually having their second marriage but the capability of creating a true book has been enormously satisfying. The key, I believe, to having a true memory book of any kind of special event is to show everyone who was there. I wish I had such a document from the time Bonnie & I were married.

The same month, Kenny did a basketball camp, which he loved, and Vicky did a “Mamma Mia” musical camp that included a hilarious wind-up show presentation. We also had the chance to visit with long-time former neighbour and FASworld Canada director, Adrian Hill at his family retreat known as Graceland on Lake Baptiste in Haliburton County. It was a great break from routine where we used to have property in the same area. Our only regret was missing Heather who was away on one of her many projects.

However, the really big trip of the year was to Vancouver where we stayed with brother-in-law Geoff and cousin Taylor in their splendid house that was like living in a private resort all to ourselves. Along with a huge pool and adjacent hot-tub, the pool room and the incredible theatre room were all well used during our stay. We also managed a few days on Vancouver Island where we visited with Bonnie’s former roommate Sue Langlois (nee Campbell) who hadn’t seen each other for over 47 years! Sue’s house, that looked out on Brentwood Bay, made us want to move to the coast immediately. We missed out on a visit to brother Paul and sister-in-law Pat who now live in Duncan but it wont be long before we’re back in their neighbourhood again. Meanwhile the Doodads and Taylor had a great time together including a trip to Whistler where we travelled on the world’s longest cable car line between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. Here are some photos from that trip. 

Then we were caught up in the final stages of organization for the biggest and best FASDay ever. Sept. 9/2009 was the tenth anniversary of International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Day and with the help of CAS Toronto and other support agencies, we carried out our Pregnant Pause event in downtown Toronto which garnered national coverage on the APTN. Everyone tucked a balloon under a shirt so we all mimicked pregnancy and there were signs for motorists and other passersby urging abstinence from alcohol when planning and during pregnancy.

That same day we were invited to the F.A.C.E. Conference sponsored by Motherisk at The Sick Children’s Hospital where Bonnie & I were presented with plaques in honour of the work we have been doing over the past ten years on behalf of FASD. The presentation was made before an audience of researchers from across the country including Jo Nanson, Sterling Clarren, Ab Chudley, Gideon Koren and many others who have attacked this issue with fervour. Deb Matthews, then Minister of Children & Youth Services and now Minister of Health presented the awards. We are pleased to know that the Ontario Government realizes that FASD is the most common, most expensive, yet most preventable of all mental disorders in the industrialized world.

So where do you go from here? How about another workshop… off we went to Saskatoon later that month where Bonnie gave the closing plenary speech at the Saskatchewan FASD Family Network and Government of Saskatchewan Conference. As keynote closing speaker in Saskatchewan, she challenged the province to develop a national FASD coalition headquartered in that province. The basis for the challenge is the provincial coalition, which already exists in Saskatchewan – the only province to have such an organization. We believe that an Ontario coalition of family support groups would be an important step to making this a reality. Then, in October we presented to the Association of Protective Workers of Ontario and Association of Family Service Workers of Ontario who gathered in Toronto from across the province.

Another swim meet in November, here in Toronto then a meet in Kingston where Variety Village swimmers including those with disabilities were challenged by a team coached by Vicky Keith the former coach of the Flames when Cleo & Colette swam for the team. Keith is a famous long distance swimmer who has swum Lake Ontario both ways on the same occasion and the English Channel.
And the best news of all – this was worth waiting for—Bonnie has had her final check-up and has been told not to come back to see her oncologist any more!

What a great way to wind up the year. All the best for you in 2010.

Brian Philcox, Jan. 3/10

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.

Our children’s possessions…

My grandson has a new bike. It’s just the right size for him. His previous bike was too small. Although he had outgrown it, he rode it relentlessly because he was born to ride. And yet, when he visits his neighbourhood buddies, he insists on riding their bikes – even though those bikes are bigger than the one he is just big enough to ride.

So today, he was riding a friend’s bike in a nearby park along with the friend’s younger brother. After crashing about, they dropped their bikes on the grass and climbed aboard the gym rigs there.

Later, they realized that the bike my grandson borrowed was gone. Stolen.

When he got home he announced what had happened. No explanation why he was using his friend’s bike and no reason for not minding it while it was in his care. In fact, he seemed quite indifferent about the theft except that it provided a minor frisson of excitement.

However, there was a happy ending. The other boy’s father drove around the neighbourhood, spotted the stolen bicycle and retrieved it from another youth who explained, “It was just lying there, so I thought I could take it.”

So why are some kids so blasé? As parents, do we care more about their possessions than they do? Is it because they have too much stuff? So much that each thing is of little value? What do you think?

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