Friday, May 13, 2016

Fort McMurray Wildfire: The Morning After

Waking up the next morning brought a profound sense of thankfulness and disorientation. We'd been so worried about making it to the city, that I could still barely believe we'd made it.

I found myself glued to social media, the radio, TV. We were horrible company, almost ignoring our hosts to find out the latest of what was happening to our home. Of course, our hosts were equally as glued, so that made it okay. Things like this update took our breath away.

We'd made up our minds to make our way down to Best Buy fairly soon to get an iPad for our girl. A week, a month? We didn't know how long we'd be gone from home. But what we did know was that there was no way we'd be going without a device for her. Finleigh's Smith-Magenis Syndrome makes it difficult for her to self calm and gives her a very short attention span. Her device helps with that.

Then I receive a message from an old friend that I hadn't seen since grade 9. She had an old iPad. Did Finleigh want it?

Did Finleigh want it? Did Finleigh want it? YES, Finleigh wanted it. The iPad of a teacher is a wonderful thing to have. So many cool apps. It was so great.

That it may have gotten dropped within hours and may or may not have a crack on the screen is completely beside the point. It still works. And she still loves it.

Comments poured in from all over. Loved ones and acquaintances glad to hear we were alive and okay.

Friends were stuck north of town, lodged, but stuck. People were stuck along highway 63, needing gas. Authorities were working to get gas to people. Good Samaritans were taking gas, food, and water to help those stranded.

Everyone had gotten out of the city. No one was hurt or had died from the fire, save one horribly sad vehicle accident.

Firefighters were working tirelessly to protect the city that is my home.

We could not sleep. How could we? We needed to know what was happening. But once night fell, most fire fighting had to slow down. Air crafts don't run in the dark. We would have to wait for morning to see if our home was still standing.

To read the first part of our evacuation story, go here

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Fort McMurray Wildfire: My Evacuation

I'm from Fort McMurray. Did you know that? Probably not. I've always been pretty quiet about where I'm from. You know... for privacy. Or something.

So yes. I'm from Fort McMurray. But I'm not living there right now because my entire city of 88,000 plus or minus are evacuated and not allowed to go back. Because fire.

It seems that the news has been all over the world, so I suspect you've heard about it. 88,000 people slow fleeing for their lives. Fire fighters working 21 hours a day to put out "the beast" as it's become called.

This is my story.

The morning was clear and lovely. It was hot out. I had a meeting and we chatted like everything was normal, planning for a special needs camp we were to put on this summer. There was a news conference. The fire had hopped the river. I didn't think anything of it.

Around 1pm, I headed out to go grocery shopping. I did NOT want to go grocery shopping, but it was the first Tuesday of the month and that meant 15% off. So with the desire to save money, I left the house, leaving my husband, Brian, to have a rest as he'd vacuumed the entire house that morning.

I drove up to the Save-On Foods and saw this. These pictures simply do not do it justice. I couldn't get all the smoke and fire in one picture...

My heart stopped. It was ominous and scary. I fought the urge to panic and run away and went inside, confident that if we were in danger, we'd be told. The fire chief had said on the radio on the car ride over that the lower townsite was in danger and everyone else should be thinking about what they might pack. But it didn't occur to me that I would need to worry about anything.

My cart was half full when a store manager came in looking a little panicky. "Have you SEEN outside?" He rushed off. There were murmurs of Beacon Hill on fire. I didn't believe it. Thickwood (where I live) was on alert? I texted Brian. People are a little panicky here, I said. And then shrugged and kept shopping. Almost done, I received this text from Finleigh's aide:
Do you guys want to come grab Fin. I am going to head home. We are on voluntary evacuation.

Brian called. What do we do? I had our only vehicle. Do I leave the food here? Do I check out and then come?

Brian biked over to get Finleigh. I checked out with a very frightened cashier. Brian texted to tell me to get gas if I could. Line ups were crazy, so instead I went to get my son in grade 5 who was at a different school from Finn. I figured he could probably take the bus home, but better to be safe. When I got to the school, there was a line up to sign out our kids and half the class was already gone. My son was in tears. I was behind the eight ball here. I managed to fill with gas on the way home.

We got home after 20 minutes at the gas station. My friend was picking up her boys and my eldest from the Jr. High. We were packing - just in case - and listening to the news. They interrupted songs every couple minutes to update the situation.  The emergency broadcast signal went on. It was not a test.

Brian was taking pictures for insurance. My friend was stuck in traffic trying to get the older kids. I was washing dishes and folding laundry.

There was a barricade to go into Thickwood. My friend would not be able to get in to the neighbourhood to get her stuff or drop of my eldest. She hadn't even made it to the school yet to get them.

The evacuations intensified. Suddenly we were under mandatory evacuation. I grabbed what I could. We packed the car and headed for mom's house - normally 5 minutes away. Today closer to 2 hours.

Here's what I wrote on Facebook. It was 3:58pm. My grade 5'er would not have even been home from school yet had he taken the bus... which I'm quite sure was not running anyways.
Everyone. We are evacuating our house right now due to forest fires. We are OKAY! Don't worry about us. But this is an adventure.
We spent two of the longest hours of our lives trying to get to my parents to get our son and then stay traveling with my parents to wherever we were supposed to go. We were stuck beside my daughter's school. We watched air crafts dumping stuff over the fire. The school looked like this. 

We finally got to the corner where my parents were waiting with my eldest in their car (my friend was heading North to reunite with her husband) as we saw flames not far away. We saw FLAMES. I ran over and got him. Not because I didn't trust my parents, I knew he was fine... but I just needed all my babies with me. Things become crystal clear. when you think your life might be in danger. It was at this point that people lost their patience. People were driving on sidewalks and in the wrong lanes. At one point this one lane street had 5 lanes. People were panicking and we didn't blame them. It was the first time I felt scared. 

It took us hours to get through the city. Finleigh cried through much of it. We had forgotten her iPad and ALL her comfort toys at home. Her backpack was left hanging where we'd packed it. It was not pretty. All lanes were going toward the highway. As we got close, they opened the highway to go South (which was such a relief. Going north would mean no stores and no way to replace the things Finleigh used to keep calm). It had been closed for hours because there were fires everywhere. We were on our way to my brother's house outside of Edmonton, 450 km away.

We drove through the city. There were fires in the forests. We could see neighbourhoods gone. It was surreal. I kept yelling, "Look!" "I can't believe this!" "My home!" "I can't believe it!!!" And a few expletives.

We made our way slowly down the highway. 

At 12:13 am I wrote:
So grateful the province got highway 63 doubled this past year. I can't even begin to imagine what it would have been like getting out of town.
Cars were littering the sides of the road. Some had people in them. Some were abandoned because they ran out of gas. We kept saying how lucky we were that we managed to gas up before we left. The closest gas station is 200km south of town. The radio told us they'd run out of gas. As we passed by, there were hundreds of vehicles parked. Ready to spend the night and wait for gas. More gas stations south were also out of gas, according to the radio. 

We managed to find gas at 2:09 am. It was the only place open in town.

Found gas in Athabasca! Thank you Husky for bing open. Oh the relief! We can make it to Edmonton now.
12 hours from when we left the house we made it to my brother's house. We were safe. We were together. We were at a place where we could find an iPad for Finleigh. All was well. 

Never have I ever been so happy to see my brother's house (and I'm always happy to see his house). 12 hours after we left home, we are safe and sound in St. Albert. 
And when we walked in, we saw a bunch of jerry cans full of gasoline all ready for him to come and rescue us in case we couldn't find fuel on the way down. Pretty great brother I have, I'd say.
My experience as an evacuee has been interesting to say the least. I will share more in the coming days. 

To read part 2, go here 

Monday, March 21, 2016

This morning

We pull up to the school just as the bell is about to ring. Finleigh waves at her friends. One of the girls waves back and starts walking toward the car.

I've never seen this girl. I have no idea who she is.

Finleigh jumps out. I put her backpack on her back.

"Mommy, you walk with me?"

"I think you can go by yourself."

The little girl comes up to her. "Do you want to walk with me?"

"YA!" And she skips off, happily. The little girl reaches for her hand.

I stand, watching her run/skip/hop excitedly to the school. I feel the cool, almost spring air on my face as I smile.

I am happy. Life is good. My little one, despite all her challenges, is loved and accepted. A mother could not want much more than that.

Last Thursday, as I pick Finleigh up from school, a little boy puts his arm around Finleigh and tells me that she's his best friend.

Two months ago, at a birthday party of a friend, the birthday girl lets Finleigh open some of her presents because she knows how excited she is. No one else is allowed to help, not even her little sisters. Just Finn.

My husband reminded me this morning that it's three years today since we received Finleigh's diagnosis of Smith-Magenis Syndrome. Life is hard, yes. But it is also good.

Sunday, March 6, 2016


What  rollercoaster my life has become.

In many ways life is easier and I feel more in control of my life.

I've started my graphic design business (website still in progress) and I am deriving a great deal of satisfaction from my work. I love it. And I like feeling productive and seeing a final product - that lasts. Something concrete that will not be undone in 5 minutes. Something finished in a specific time period. A day. A week. A month. Not like child rearing, where one's success may not be truly seen until that child is well into adulthood.

Satisfaction. Immediate results. Success. I like that.

The husband hasn't been working overtime at all lately. It's been nice to have him home regularly. This way we share the load a lot more. Along with respite and help from my parents and friends, things don't feel so bad most of the time. Things feel good. And I can laugh at the goofy things Finleigh does. And when she defies me and refuses to do what I ask, I am able to just breathe and patiently wait for her to do what I ask. I have energy to clean the house. Cook decent meals. Volunteer in the community.

But it doesn't take much to take me back to that dark, frustrated, life draining feeling that I felt so often when she was younger. This is the first full day I've been home alone with her in awhile and any motivation or energy or joy that I've had lately is gone. Completely and utterly disappeared. I walk into a room that she's inhabited recently and I just walk out. Crestfallen. Feeling guilty that I'm leaving it a mess, but unable to muster enough energy to fix it.

My bedsheets, that I just washed yesterday, are now covered in hand cream that I had in my bedside table because I got complacent and let my guard down. And because I neglected to lock my bedroom door this morning when I went downstairs. It will probably stain, just like the lip balm she smeared on our bedding last week. The bedding was an expensive splurge because I loved it. I still love it... but it's worn and stained now. A perfect metaphor for life.

And so, when she came downstairs covered in lotion from my bedroom I took her to a towel and told her to wipe herself off. Then I went upstairs and cleaned up the mess, as much as I could since the laundry is currently in use. And then I put the lotion back in my ensuite that has to be locked from the outside to keep her out at night and locked my door.

I hate having to lock every single door in my house.

Hate. It.

A lot.

Now I'm sitting her sulking and wishing - just a little bit - for a normal life. I count my blessing and look at all the breakable things in my house that still exist. But still mourn that fact that I can't keep fucking lotion or lip balm in my bedside table.

It's the little things, I guess.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Hot Chocolate

Here's a post from my husband. He shared it on Facebook. Just another day in our SMS life.

It's time for a Smith-Magenis Syndrome snap-shot of the day. Literally! It looks like one of those funny pictures that explain why you don't want to have kids and, on the surface, that's exactly what it is. A little kid making a big mess. But there's more here than meets the eye. Finleigh is fiercely independent (a common SMS trait) and was trying to make herself some (cold) hot chocolate, made a huge mess, and was trying to clean it up with the broom when she called us in to help. 
Finleigh was unable, at 9 years old, to do either of these tasks on her own. (That's make the drink or clean it up. She made the mess and eventually called for help just fine) 
Notice the lack of table cloth? Finleigh bites holes in them (and the table too if you look closely). 
See the plastic sippy cup? She knocks over all cups without lids and breaks glass ones. She once bit a glass. And broke it. The ceramic mug would inevitably have been knocked over or broken if she'd managed to finish making the (cold) hot chocolate. 
The plastic plate? She likes to throw those and we got tired of buying new ones and cleaning up glass. And plastic hurts less when you're the target. On this day, I'd left her dinner on the table because she refused to come and eat with us. But I knew she'd get mad if it wasn't there when she came looking and a meltdown would ensue. So she ate cold food at around 7:30. Then she wanted the (cold) hot chocolate. 
That's her iPad on the table. With her short attention span, we have a hard time keeping her at the table and this helps her stay long enough for us to get through a meal. It's outfitted with the strongest case we could find for when it gets thrown against the wall or covered in hot chocolate powder. 
See the wall? Covered in a variety of food and beverages in addition to the marks/holes from her chair/iPad/dishes/body parts hitting it? 
The scratched up chairs are cheap, spray painted, cast offs because she'll ruin whatever we use so there's no point in buying better ones. 
Those clothes she's wearing? She changed into them, by herself, about an hour before. After urinating in her other ones. A rarer occurrence than it used to be besides the need for pull-ups at night. 
Lastly, there's Finleigh. With a cocktail of meds running through her system. On the floor. Having a meltdown. Wanting to help clean up. But not. But wanting to. But not. Covering her ear as she's done since she was a baby. I had to lie to her about what I was taking a picture of because if she thought it was of her, she would have lost her mind. 
Just a glimpse into our kind of normal.