10 Surprising Things I Have Learned Since Becoming A Mom


I was born in the last month of the 1960’s and went through little-girlhood in the 70’s, when gender stereotyping was so much the norm that the term “gender stereotyping” didn’t even exist. Little boys played with guns (yes, they were even allowed to take them to school without being branded as mini-terrorists), and little girls played with dolls.

I think my mother was quite concerned when I didn’t turn out to be a typical girl. More often than not, I abandoned my dolls to play “cops and robbers” with my brother and his friends, and when my parents enrolled me in ballet classes, I was without any doubt the scruffiest member of the class. When I was little, my mother bemoaned the fact that I didn’t play with dolls like other little girls. As I grew older, she was concerned that I wasn’t ladylike or feminine enough.

I didn’t want to be feminine. Being feminine seemed too much like hard work. I’d have to faff around with my hair, worry about my clothes and my nails, and spend hours trying to get my makeup just so. Don’t get me wrong – I liked to dress up from time to time, but I wanted to save it for special occasions, not everyday living.

All of this added up to the idea that I was probably not going to grow up to be marriage material. And if I couldn’t even keep a doll alive, what were my chances of being able to raise an actual human baby?

Fast forward to today… that tomboyish little girl from long ago is now a middle-aged woman who is Mom to two beautiful children. In my eleven years as a parent, I have learned that I possess some previously hidden talents and skills. Like these ones:

1. Contrary to prior beliefs, I actually do have a mother’s instinct. I used to think that if I ever had kids, I would not survive without the aid of a million parenting books. To my surprise, I have been able to muddle through based on my gut feel and a hefty dose of common sense.

2. Although I do occasionally lose it, I have far greater reserves of patience than I ever thought would be possible.

3. I can survive on very little sleep.

4. I have the ability to completely tune out the constant talking of another human being, while giving the talker the impression that I’m listening intently.

5. I can accomplish long lists of tasks in very little time.

6. I am good in emergencies. Like one kid hitting the other kid on the head with a gardening tool, or someone trying to flush Bob The Builder down the toilet.

7. I am capable of organizing and hosting successful kids’ birthday parties without going completely insane. I do tend to need a good shot of wine afterwards, though.

8. While I regularly do without sweet treats so that the rest of my family can have some, I am not above occasionally hiding chocolate so that I can have it myself.

9. I’m brilliant at multi-tasking. I can cook dinner, help a kid with homework and conduct a telephone meeting with a client all at the same time.

10. I am a lot more creative in the kitchen than I ever gave myself credit for. If I lack both ingredients and the will to go to the grocery store, I’ll still be able to get something resembling a full meal onto the table. I’ll never be Gordon Ramsay, but at least no-one will die of food poisoning.

What hidden talents have you discovered since you became a parent?

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit: Peter Becker. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.


A Birthday Message To My Son

Mother and son 2

To my darling George,

As you go through life, you will hear many people saying that they don’t know what the meaning of life is. What is the purpose behind it all? Why are we on this earth and what are we supposed to accomplish?

Eleven years ago today, I found out the answer, and it is not something that can be put into words. It is something that can only be understood from looking into the eyes of your newborn child as you contemplate the enormous responsibility of creating a life.

Your birth – all 21 hours of it – was an anxious time for me. I had never done this before, and I really didn’t know what to expect. It took me several hours to recognize my labour pains for what they were. I suppose my frantic nesting activities that day should have been a clue. I was almost manic with activity as I flitted from one task to the next, vacuuming, doing laundry, reorganizing the fridge, cleaning windows – all while each pain radiating from the centre of my being brought you one step closer to me.

And then, that magical moment arrived. I lay spent on a hospital bed as your first cries filled the room. You were placed into my arms, and as I felt the warmth of your tiny little body, the thought struck me: “This is it. I’m a mom.”

That day feels like it was five minutes ago and a lifetime ago. Sometimes I look at you and think about how far you’ve come, how tall you are, how you are starting to make the mysterious transition from boy to man. And other times, when you come to me in need of comfort or a hug, when you try to curl your lanky self onto my lap, I look at you and see my baby.

Life with you has been an adventure. You have not followed the same path as most kids. There have been many times when we have had to stray from the beaten track and take the scenic route. The scenic route may take longer and have more obstacles, but it allows us to look at life from a different angle, and when we arrive at our destination, the sense of victory is like nothing else on earth.

I keep hearing about how challenging it is to be the mother of a child who is different. And yes, the challenges are real and cannot be denied. But the truth is that above everything else, being your mother is an honour and a privilege. You, along with your brother, represent what life is all about. Every day, you teach me something new about the things that are really important – love, determination, perseverance, togetherness, family.

You are my heart and soul.

Happy birthday, my son. I look forward to another year of discovery and adventure as you start your next rotation around the sun.

I love you forever,



My Children Are Getting Tall, But…

When I was a child, my mother regularly marked my height and my brother’s on the door frame in the kitchen. Every Christmas morning, we would stand against the frame in our stockinged feet, and she would use a ball point pen to draw a line over the tops of our heads. An initial would be added – P for my brother, K for me – along with the date. By the time I was 15, there were over a dozen blue lines on the door frame, telling the story of how and when we had grown. For years, the kitchen door frame was the only part of the house that never got painted.

I started to follow the same tradition with my kids when they were little, but it became one of those non-essential things that I just didn’t have the energy for. Things were difficult for me back then. My dad had died, my older son had been diagnosed with autism, I was experiencing post-partum depression after the birth of my younger son, we were trying to recover from a financial crisis – drawing lines on a wall just didn’t feature anywhere on my list of priorities.

I may not have my boys’ growth recorded all in one place, but I do have photographic proof that they were once little. Like this picture, taken seven years ago:


And now the kid who once needed a chair in order to reach the counter is big enough to ride a bike. With no training wheels.


And the one who was barely peeking over the counter is almost as tall as the fridge. Taller, if you count the pineapple on his head.


My firstborn son’s hands are bigger than mine now. I can comfortably slip my feet into his shoes, and he is less than three inches shorter than me. My younger son is catching up rapidly. He has outgrown his shoes four times in the last year, and when he falls asleep on the couch, I can no longer pick him up and carry him to his bed. He can sprint around a 300m track faster than I can.

And yet.

They are still my babies, and they always will be. When they come stumbling into the kitchen first thing in the morning, their faces puffy from sleep, I don’t see the teenagers they will one day be, I see the newborns they once were. When they are standing in front of me with tear-streaked faces or scraped knees, I still have the ability to comfort them with a gentle touch, with a kiss, with a Band-Aid sprinkled with magic dust. I can still make them laugh by acting like a goof.

When they greet me with a smile, throw their arms around me and hold on as if they are never going to let go, my heart still explodes with love.

And that is never going to change. Because even when they are taller than me, they will still be my babies.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. All photos accredited to the author.



My Baby Forever

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Sometimes, I look at my older son George and lament the fact that he is growing up so quickly. He is ten now, and he has grown too big to sit on my lap. He is the same height as my mother-in-law and he has outgrown four pairs of shoes in the last year. The most scary thing of all is that he has started to show signs of early puberty. Before I know it, I will be dealing with the mysterious combination of autism and adolescence. He is going to keep getting taller and stronger, his voice will deepen, and he will get old enough to shave.

But then I have mornings like today. I always wake up earlier than anyone else, curl up on the couch with coffee and my phone, and have some quiet time to myself. I check my emails, see what’s happening on Facebook, maybe play games for a while. It’s my way of gently easing myself into the day before the the rest of the world wakes up.

This morning I was playing a few Words With Friends moves when George came padding into the room. He flopped down on the couch beside me and draped his lanky arms around my neck for hug as he rested his head on my shoulder. We sat like that for a few minutes, just the two of us in our own little universe, and then he lay down on one end of the couch, appropriating the blanket that I had been using.

I looked over at my boy, at his hair that was all mussed-up and his face that was puffy from sleep, and he gave me a gentle smile. In that moment, he looked young and vulnerable.

And I realised that no matter how old and big he gets,  he will always be my baby.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit to the author.


The First Decade

Today my son George is ten years old. There are no words to say how I feel, so I made this video instead.

A Decade Of George

This is an original video created by Kirsten Doyle. Music written and produced by Eric VonHunnius.



Autism: Looking Ahead To The Teenage Years

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A few short weeks from now, my older son George will be turning 10. This is a pretty big milestone for any parent. Not only will it launch George into double digits, it will mean that I have navigated the mysterious world of parenting for a full decade. Not just any old parenting, either – special needs parenting.

In his ten years, George has accomplished some amazing things in the face of his autism. I could go on all day about progress and milestones and potential, and I really am proud of his determination. Whether or not he is aware of his disability is debatable, but either way, he works really hard for every single victory. The smallest accomplishments that would go unnoticed in most families are a giant cause for celebration in ours.

The harsh reality, though, is that George still has some challenges, the most obvious of which is his lack of speech. He can talk – he has the physical ability and the vocabulary – but he doesn’t. His speech is mostly limited to requests, although he does occasionally make mind-blowing (to me) statements, like last week when he showed me his “screaming green angry gorilla”, which was actually a Hulk toy.

We cannot have conversations with George. We cannot say, “So, what did you do at school today?” and expect him to answer. His standard answer to most questions that are posed to him is “yes”, even when that doesn’t fit the question. Of great concern to me, if something bad was happening to him, like bullying or molestation, he wouldn’t  be able to tell me about it.

That’s just the speech side of it. Social communication is an issue big enough for its own blog post. And as much as George has made phenomenal cognitive gains, in many areas he still functions well below the level of typical kids his age.

And so, with his 10th birthday approaching, my husband and I are preparing ourselves for the fact that he may not be as high-functioning a teenager as we have been hoping. When we got his report card a couple of weeks ago – the one that says he is “transferred” to Grade 5, unlike other kids who are “promoted” – I had a moment of pure terror at the realization that 8 years from now, he will be nominally eligible to graduate high school. It wasn’t the normal “Oh, how fast time passes” kind of terror. It was fear for George’s future.

Until now, my husband and I have been swirling these thoughts around in our heads, but today we spoke about them for the first time. We talked about preparations that need to be made and programs that need to be sought out. We talked about what the reality of life is likely to be when George reaches teenagerdom, just three years from now. He will not have a peer support system like most kids, and he will always be quite obviously “different”. He will go through the angst of adolescence without the ability to express himself verbally, and if we don’t keep a close watch on him, he might be the target of bullying. Other teens – or, Lord help us, some adults – might take advantage of his natural sweetness and trusting nature.

Talking about it makes it so much more real and so much scarier. It brings tears close to the surface and makes me feel very emotional. It makes me wonder if I, as George’s mother, have been doing enough for him. Is there something I have overlooked, some possibility that I have not explored, some avenue of opportunity that I have allowed to pass by?

Of course, I could be wrong. We could see George’s speech and social communication skills explode one day. I am not giving up, and I am not losing hope. I am simply being realistic so I can equip myself to provide the kind of support George will need as he navigates his way from here to adulthood.

Today, when I was out for a walk with my family, I kept looking over at George with an aching heart. He is my beautiful boy, with the most tender of souls, and I just want for him to be OK.

(This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit to the author.)


Dear George

For the last week, I have been participating in the WEGO Health “Advocating for Another” challenge. Life got in the way of blogging over the last few days, so I am a day behind.

Yesterday’s prompt: When I was your age… – Write a letter to your child/ren starting off the with the phrase “When I was your age…” share a story of your own with them.

Dearest George,

When I was your age, I was very much like you. I had the same shyness, the same difficulty with speech, the same awkwardness around people I didn’t know. Learning was difficult for me until someone realized that I was smart but couldn’t learn in the same way as other people.

The world was a different place then, when I was an eight-year-old girl. In the late 1970’s, there was no Internet, so my parents couldn’t Google my symptoms. While diagnoses like autism existed, they were not very common, and not easy to come by unless the doctors knew exactly what they were looking for.

Throughout my childhood, I was sent for tests and assessments, but the most my parents were ever told was that I had “learning disabilities”. No-one was really sure what that even meant.

Like you, I loved books. I remember the summer I learned how to read. It was as if a door to a whole new world had opened to me. My newfound love of reading was both a relief and a source of worry to my parents. On the one hand, I could read, and this is something that everyone wants for their children. But on the other hand, the more I delved into the world of books, the more I withdrew from the world I lived in.

In spite of my rough beginnings, I turned out OK. I graduated high school, got myself a university degree and some post-graduate qualifications. I have a reasonable career, and most important of all, I have my family. You, your dad, and your brother.

You see, even though teachers and doctors didn’t really know what to do with kids like me, I was lucky enough to be part of a loving, supportive family.

My dad was always there for me to talk to, anytime I needed. He was my kindred spirit in many ways, sharing my love of reading, and later, my enthusiasm for running. He was like my rock of support, something that would never waver in the harshest of storms.

My brother and I fought like cat and dog, but in the end, we would have moved the earth for each other. God help anyone who hurt my brother’s little sister.

And my mom, your granny – she was a pillar of strength and support for me. She never doubted that I was capable of succeeding in life, and she helped steer me in the right direction. She worked tirelessly with me, making sure I was doing my homework, reading with me, being my advocate at school.

I often had conflicts with all of the members of my family. There were times when I wanted to run far, far away.

But there was never a time when I doubted that my family loved me and were there for me. When things got stormy, I always knew that the storm would pass and everything would be OK.

This is what my hope is for you. Parents and kids argue. Brothers fight. All of that is part of life. But I hope you know that no matter what, you are loved more than you could possibly know.

Please know that we are here for you, and always will be. I hope that can be at least half the mother to you that my mother was to me.

I love you always,


(Photo from Kirsten Doyle’s archive of childhood pictures)



Ramblings From The Heart

It is a lazy Sunday morning and I am trying to keep things low-key. My husband, who almost never drinks alcohol, was out with friends last night, and he has a bit of a hangover that he is sleeping off. My younger son is watching TV and my older son is playing on his computer beside me. I am sipping coffee and seeing if anything interesting has been happening on Facebook while I’ve been sleeping.

It’s pleasantly peaceful. I feel as if all of the pieces of my life are in harmony.

My older son abandons his computer game and comes to stand beside me. He is tall for his age, one of those long lanky kids whose pants never seem to be long enough. I regard this child of mine, this beautiful boy with autism who some higher power has deemed me worthy to parent.

In his sweet, lyrical voice and odd way of speaking, he says, “Go give Mommy a hug.”

I hold out my arms and he clambers into my lap – something that I am going to treasure while he is still just not-too-big to do so. He wraps his arms around my neck, kisses me lightly on my hair, and rests his head on my shoulder. Although neither of us is saying a word, the communication between us is profound and special. Our world of two feels complete.

I am intensely aware of the weight of responsibility. As I hold my child in my arms, I feel as if I am holding his future. Everything I do counts: every word, every gesture, every action. All of the mistakes I make – and in parenting, there are bound to be some – can cause some erosion, some little breakdown somewhere in my child’s character. But all of the things I do right can build him up. I visualize this moment that I am sharing with him right now. I imagine it adding another layer to his confidence and sense of emotional well-being.

Although this beautiful moment will soon be over – already, I am starting to sense my son getting ready to move on to the next part of his day – its effects will last forever.

Sometimes, as I think about the immense role that I have in creating positive, productive and happy lives for my children, a part of me – the part ruled by self-doubt – asks, “Can I really do this? Am I worthy of having such responsibility for two human beings?”

And at moments like this, as my son gets off my lap and goes off in pursuit of some adventure that only he knows about, I can hear the Universe whisper back to me.

“Yes, you can do this. And yes, you are worthy.”

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)



I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

When my kids were little – well, littler than they are now – they went to a great daycare centre a few minutes’ walk away from our house. When the weather was nice, the kids would be allowed to play outside at the end of the day while they were waiting for their parents to pick them up. When I got off the bus from work, I would walk directly to the centre, and as I approached, I would hear the sound of children laughing and playing in the outdoor play area behind the building.

There is no sound in the world that is more magical than the laughter of children. I used to treasure that part of every day – those moments in which the sounds of childhood joy floated through the air and reached my ears.

When my boys reached the age-limit of the daycare and had to leave, I knew that I would miss those precious sounds.

Now that both boys are always home by the time I get off the bus, my homecoming is quite different to what it was back then, but it is no less magical.

My husband and children, alerted to my impending arrival by a text or phone call from me, stand together at the front door, peering out of the frosted glass panels on either side. When I appear at the end of the road, my husband opens the door and releases them into our quiet street. They charge down the road towards me, running in that completely natural, unrestrained way that only children are capable of, and they launch themselves at me, giggling helplessly as I pretend to fall over backwards.

By this time, my husband is usually ambling down the road to meet me. We go for a walk around the block, all four of us holding hands. Then we turn and head back towards the house. When we’re about half a block away, we line the kids up.

On your marks!

The kids look up at us with anticipation.

Get set!

George starts to giggle and looks all around him. James, who has acquired my love of running and actually takes this seriously, looks straight ahead as he braces himself for takeoff.


And they’re off, racing each other to the house. In that moment, we are not looking at a child with autism and a child without autism. We are looking at two typical boys, being brothers.

And this is what life is all about. Love. Togetherness. Family.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)


A Kind Of Magic

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

When James was about four, he got himself an imaginary friend. The friend’s name is Albert and his age varies from 3 to 12, depending on the day. According to James’ descriptions, Albert is a yellow monster with tall hair. He stays at home and sleeps while James is at school, and he is responsible for every single mess or piece of mischief-making that we blame on James.

Although Albert the monster features less in James’ incessant chatter these days, he still makes the occasional appearance – inasmuch as an invisible, imaginary monster can make an appearance.

I have come to recognize that Albert has served an important dual purpose in James’ life. First, James talks to him when he’s lying in bed at night, using him to process the events of his day and work through any conflicts he might be experiencing. And second, the monster fuels his imagination. James makes up a staggering variety of monster stories, and it is enormous fun to see where his mind takes him.

Monster hasn’t been around for a few days, but yesterday, someone else showed up.

I was industriously working wasting time on the Internet, and James was dancing around, chattering away to someone or something that only he could see. All of a sudden, he was by my side, telling me about a giant pink rabbit that was bouncing around in the kitchen.

“You should see it, Mommy!” said James, quivering with excitement. “Come on, look at it!”

“But I can’t see it,” I said to him, raising my hands palm-side-up in anI-don’t-know gesture.

Without missing a beat, James said, “Close your eyes and you’ll see it.”

His words instantly infused me with a sense of that childlike magic unique to six-year-olds who still know the true meaning of imagination.

As adults, we only see with our eyes. Most of us don’t take the time to look beyond what is literally in front of us. Children know how to see things with their minds. They can see possibilities of magic where most of us don’t even know there’s anything there. They are the ones who truly have vision.

I did what James suggested. I closed my eyes and really tried to look. And sure enough, there was that giant pink rabbit, dancing around my kitchen.

(Photo credit: This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)