So … About that Easter Bunny….


Confession: I just Googled “What is the religious meaning of Easter?” Because when your almost-5 year old asks “Why do they call it Good Friday?” and the best answer you can come up with is “because there’s no school,” you know you have some work to do.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

Easter or Resurrection Sunday,is a festival and holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, described in the New Testament as having occurred three days after his crucifixion by Romans at Calvary c. 30 AD. It is the culmination of the Passion of Christ, preceded by Lent (or Great Lent), a forty-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance.

Hmmm… Still a little fuzzy. Let’s try “What is the religious meaning of Good Friday?”

Good Friday is a Christian religious holiday commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his death at Calvary. The holiday is observed during Holy Week as part of the Paschal Triduum on the Friday preceding Easter Sunday, and may coincide with the Jewish observance of Passover. It is also known as Holy Friday, Great Friday, Black Friday, or Easter Friday, though the last term properly refers to the Friday in Easter week. Based on the details of the canonical gospels, the Crucifixion of Jesus was most likely to have been on a Friday (the day before the Jewish Sabbath).

That clears things up a bit, but how does all this translate into a giant bunny breaking into our home to leave chocolate and over-priced pastel-coloured stuffies?

Glad you asked. Another quick Google search of “What is the connection between Easter and rabbits?” turns up a Huffington Post article from 2011, which states: “The Easter Bunny is perhaps the biggest commercial symbol of Easter. But how did a rabbit and eggs become associated with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Well there clearly seems to be no correlation between the secular symbols and the Christian holiday.”

Great. Let’s try again. says “Bunnies, eggs, Easter gifts and fluffy, yellow chicks in gardening hats all stem from pagan roots. These tropes were incorporated into the celebration of Easter separately from the Christian tradition of honoring the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Bunnies, eggs, Easter gifts and fluffy, yellow chicks in gardening hats all stem from pagan roots. These tropes were incorporated into the celebration of Easter separately from the Christian tradition of honoring the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead. According to the University of Florida’s Center for Children’s Literature and Culture, the origin of the celebration — and the origin of the Easter Bunny — can be traced back to 13th-century, pre-Christian Germany, when people worshiped several gods and goddesses. The Teutonic deity Eostra was the goddess of spring and fertility, and feasts were held in her honor on the Vernal Equinox. Her symbol was the rabbit because of the animal’s high reproduction rate.”

So let me get this straight: in order to explain the religious origins of Easter and Good Friday and why we celebrate these days the way we do, I have to talk about death, resurrection, goddess worship and sex. And not just any kind of sex: rapid, frequent and very effective sex – the kind that only rabbits and pro athletes are (fortunate?) enough to be having.

I think I’ll stick with “Because there’s no school.”


Back in the Blog Saddle

So it’s been a few (okay…. 10) weeks since my last blog. But I have a series of really good excuses lined up.


1. My parental leave ended and I returned to work.
2. My oldest child was diagnosed with ADHD and I lost my sense of humour for a wee bit.
3. I joined a swim team. Stop laughing.

How’s it all going, you ask?

Well, let me see. I’m no longer working but my daughter is doing GREAT and I love being back in the pool. So, kind of a mixed bag.

First, the job. My position was eliminated, effective March 31. Being eliminated, terminated, restructured or whatever you want to call it is not a pleasant experience. On the upside I’m free to spend more time feeling guilty about the hot dogs and fruit roll ups I pack for lunch, not to mention the lack of clean underwear and tights.

I’ve also been watching a tad more television which has been entertaining and educational. For example, I recently learned that for the low price of $199 you can buy a DNA test kit online. I used to think you could just get your mom drunk on Zinfandel to find out if “Uncle Mike” is really your Dad, or just grab a Venti latte to find out if you’re lactose intolerant, but apparently there’s another way. So that’s something.

I must confess that I do love being at home. More accurately, I love how things run much more smoothly and how everyone is happier when I’m at home. The laundry actually gets folded before it’s worn, the dogs actually get walked and dentist appointments are made and kept. Could losing my job be the universe telling me that binge-watching Netflix is my new profession? Probably not, but I’m delighted to have more time and energy to look after my family and get back to Wine and Smarties.

Second, the ADHD. We’ve always known there was “something” there with H. And thanks to a great and varied support system we’ve been able to pin it down. The latter half of January was spent agonizing over whether or not to medicate and 8 weeks later I can say that I’m thrilled we did. My daughter is thriving in school and our biggest fear – that her sparkle would be dulled – has not been realized.

Q: How many ADHD kids does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Wanna go for a bike ride?

Ha! I love that one.

Third, the swim team. I haven’t swam competitively or even done a flip turn in 25 years, so getting out of the house two or three nights a week to shower by myself, talk to adults and do the one sport I don’t actually suck at has been exhilarating. I wish I’d done it years ago. My long-term goal is to swim the straight between New Brunswick and PEI (and when I say long-term I mean like, before I die, not 2016).

So what’s next?

I am torn between feeling like the world is my oyster and that the sky is falling in and I’m never going to wear high heels or earn a decent income again. I’m sure the truth is somewhere in the middle so for now, I’m going to enjoy every minute.

J xo

To Paris with Love


Eiffel Tower kisses

Eiffel Tower kisses

Dear Paris,

I’ve been writing you a love letter in my head for close to thirty years. Given recent events, now might be a good time to share it.

In 1988 I visited you for the first time. It was march break of Grade 10, and I was supposed to be spending the week on a family trip to Myrtle Beach. But that plan changed at the last minute and my parents let me join my high school’s trip to Paris and London. I will never forget stepping foot on a Paris street for the first time. You were beautiful, exotic, loud and exciting. You were like nothing I’d ever seen before. I was 15 years old and IN PARIS.  We stayed in a tiny hotel, sleeping two to a room the size of an en suite bathroom. We ate chocolate croissants and drank coffee. We walked the streets, saw the Louvre, toured Versailles, tried not to lose our passports and just breathed it all in. We were terribly cool.

I had always been interested in travel but it was never an obsession. But Paris changed that. You opened my eyes to everything that was different about the world I lived in the other 360 days a year. Remember, there was no internet then, at least not in my home or school. I didn’t even have my own computer. I had no idea that there was a world out there like Paris. You changed everything for me.

Paris helped me grow up, or at least it felt that way. I felt so worldly, so mature upon coming home. I felt like a different person and much of my life since then has been about where I’m going next. And it all started with you.

The second time, I skipped the city in favour of France’s glitzy beach towns. It was 10 years later and I was a backpacker on a budget. The South of France is not the easiest place to find budget accommodations but I knew I couldn’t skip the country entirely. At a hostel overlooking the sea I met a girl I would travel with for several more days. She was the best companion I’d met so far and we bonded instantly. She came along at the perfect time, when I needed a friend, and we stayed in touch for more than a year after that trip (pretty amazing for the pre-Facebook era).

The third time I fell in love with Paris was on my honeymoon in 2006. We stayed in a hotel around the corner from the Eiffel Tower and spent each night sitting on the grass, watching it light up. The Da Vinci Code was wildly popular at the time so we fought the crowds at the Louvre along with Notre Dame, Sacre-Coeur and my favourite place in your entire city, Sainte-Chapelle.

But your appeal was never just about the tourist attractions. Not even the incredible churches, the architecture, the history. It was never just about the food, and I love food. Paris is the whole package. It is beautiful and exotic with enough flaws to provide just the right amount of character.

It was on this trip that I fell in love with the idea of being a mother, too. Sorry for being indelicate but I think you should know that I flushed my birth control pills down the toilet in your fair city. Things turned differently in terms of our route to parenthood, but once again it was Paris that inspired.

This July I’ll bring both my girls to Paris to visit their aunt and uncle and experience the city I love. We’ve rented a flat close to the Eiffel Tower so they can experience a picnic on the lawn and see the lights at night. We’ll take them to all our favourite spots and let them experience the magic of Paris. I hope it will initiate a lifelong love of travel and adventure for them, as it did for me.

Paris, you’ve been part of my life for almost thirty years. There are countless pictures of you in my home, in my photo albums, on my camera and in my heart. This has been an awful few days. Your citizens are in shock, and your streets are crowded with police. To some it might seem like you’ve become a symbol of bloodshed, radicalism and hate. But not to me. Never to me.



Letter to Myself re. Christmas 2015


December 1, 2015.

Dear Jen,

By now your Christmas preparations will be in full swing. You’ve pulled out the decorations, circled the tree-buying date on your calendar and started a “who’s getting what” list. But if past behaviour is any indication, you will start to go a little crazy around December 20th. You’ll be tired, overwhelmed, stressed and a little bit bitchy. Think PMS with mistletoe. You will resent all the running around, the obligatory social engagements and the pressure you’ve put on yourself to find the perfect gifts. The purpose of this letter is to save you from yourself.

Christmas is like birthing a baby (I think). There’s excitement and anticipation leading up. You are organized, you are ready and you have a pan. You even get a little cocky, congratulating yourself on everything you accomplished in advance, pitying those who weren’t as smart as you. Then it begins and you want to get off the ride. You wonder how you could have miscalculated reality so severely. You beat yourself up. You beat your husband up. And before you know it you are screaming for drugs and vowing “never again.”

Jen, the most important thing you need to remember is that Christmas is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be joyful. It’s not supposed to cause stress, anger or bankruptcy and if it does, you’re doing it wrong. Remember the spirit of Christmas, how it promotes love, togetherness and peace. You got so caught up in having the right stuff with which to celebrate that you forgot a little bit about why we were celebrating in the first place. Yes, there is a lot of shopping that needs to be done: gifts, decorations, food, toys and warm clothes to donate, the all-important sparkly top … these are all part of our enjoyment of the season. But you need to know when enough is enough. If you can’t relax until the garland is up and you’ve found the perfect twinkly lights then, once again, you’re doing it wrong.

Remember the day you went to three stores to find the perfect little ornament to go with the neighbours’ cookies? That was stupid. Your heart was in the right place but you got caught up seeking picture-perfect presentation instead of thinking about the reason for the gift. They are wonderful neighbours who tolerate our dogs, pool parties, overgrown foliage, squeaky trampoline and occasional hot tub nudity. I’m thrilled our kids are growing up together and I hope they never move. Wouldn’t that have been a nicer sentiment to put in the card (minus the nudity) instead of scrawling “Love the Millards” 30 seconds before flying out the door?

Do you remember what caused you the most angst in 2014? I do. It was shopping for people outside our immediate family. Let’s be honest: shit got crazy. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make someone happy but for God’s sake, the 15-year old who babysat once is probably not expecting diamonds. So chill.

We are not a religious family but this year we need to find a way to teach our daughters about the true meaning of Christmas. In 2014, the Kindness Elves helped us promote random acts of kindness that hopefully they’re continuing to practice. I’m not suggesting we erect a live nativity in the front yard but maybe it’s time to stop being so afraid of talking about God and Jesus. It’s okay if you don’t always know what to say, and it’s okay to not have all the answers. When in doubt, refer to chill out instructions.

In short, you need to take it easy. Less is more. Christmas is all about the kids, and they don’t care if the garland comes from Walmart or Pottery Barn. They don’t even know what garland is, and in a few years they’ll be spending most of their down time with friends. What they do care about is a warm, loving home, time and attention from mom and dad, and presents under the tree. If your kids are happy, your family is healthy and we’re all together, then everything else is just noise. Don’t give in to the temptation to make Christmas about more than that.

And as an extra bonus for sticking to that healthy eating plan (you look fabulous, by the way), here are a few more suggestions for making Christmas 2015 a little easier. You thought of them while lying awake wondering about’s Christmas shipping cut off.

1. Organize a pancake breakfast for staff at school. Hold it the morning after the winter concert. This will be your gift to everyone who interacts with the girls outside their homeroom teachers. Nothing says “I appreciate how much you care for my children” like a table full of syrup and bacon.

2. Almost no one appreciates knick knacks, coffee table books or joke gifts that clutter up their home (except for Daren, who could open a museum). But everyone appreciates something delicious that has the added bonus of disappearing when you’re done with it, so give more edible gifts.

3. Your friends will be feeling equally frazzled and clueless as to what to get you. So instead of stressing over gifts, plan a night out in January as your gift to each other. A kidless night out is better than a new scarf or lip gloss any day, even it means pitching a tent in someone’s driveway and watching SITC reruns on an iPhone.

4. Resist the pathological need to see that person you worked with in 2011 “before the holidays.” Unless she’s leaving the country on December 25 you can see each other AFTER the holidays. It won’t be any less special.

5. Know this: Twisted Peppermint is NOT THE BOSS OF YOU. If you don’t have Bath & Body Works candles and hand soaps scattered throughout your house, Christmas is not ruined. Resist the temptation to buy 13 soaps to get nine free, and spend it on wine instead.



Remembering Afghanistan

In 2007 I went to Afghanistan and Dubai on a goodwill mission with the Stanley Cup and some former NHL players. The chance to meet and personally thank our Canadian soldiers made this a pretty incredible experience so in honour of Remembrance Day, here’s a little bit about that trip.

It started innocently enough. My boss called to get the number of a former player he was trying to convince to go to Afghanistan on a goodwill mission.

I was managing community engagement for the Maple Leafs at the time and as the former Alumni Relations Coordinator, I was often in touch with ex-players too.

“Sounds awesome, wish I could go,” I said offhandedly, the way one would say “nice haircut”, or something similarly innocuous and untrue. But before I knew it I had a spot on the trip and I was left to tell my husband and mother that I’d VOLUNTEERED to travel to a war zone. For work.

The night before we left, I was having major second thoughts. My stomach was in knots, I was queasy and irritable. Daren and I went out for dinner and I ordered fish, figuring it was the menu item most likely to give me food poisoning so I’d be too sick to travel. But I woke up the next morning feeling well and, seeing no other option that wouldn’t get me fired, I boarded the plane to Ottawa to meet up with the rest of the delegation for our 18-hour flight to Dubai.


Did I mention we took the Prime Minister’s plane? NBD.

On board, I had an entire row of eight seats to myself and eventually I was able to relax and get excited about the week ahead. Travelling with former NHL players means you are in for some great stories, and the musicians kept us entertained.  My seat mate and I spent a lot of time debating foreign policy and talking about who had puked in him and who had left him at the bottom of a pool. Eventually he asked to change seats.


The first part of the trip included two nights at Camp Mirage just outside Dubai.

Camp Mirage was, at the time, Canada’s forward logistics facility for the war in Afghanistan. When I travelled, its existence and location were heavily guarded secrets and the materials I received leading up to the mission provided only vague details on its purpose and location. Very “I could tell you but then I’d have to kill” type stuff.


The Canadian Memorial at Camp Mirage

"Snake Control Equipment" at Camp Mirage.

“Snake Control Equipment” at Camp Mirage.

My most vivid memory of Camp Mirage is the heat. When we first deplaned it was late morning local time and already 60 degrees in the shade, which equates to roughly a bazillion degrees on the tarmac, where we stood for an hour.

Camp Mirage included basic dorm-style accommodations with shared bathrooms, a mess hall, a gym, a store and probably a bunch of other secret things we never got to see.

On our first night we took a bus into the city and hit up – what else? – an Irish pub for dinner. As we found out upon returning to base, the Canadian Forces take the “no drinking” rule VERY seriously. When the soldier manning the front gates asked us to get off the bus so he could see us up close and smell our breath I was happy I’d had only one drink with dinner, for once.

First time in the Indian Ocean!

First time in the Indian Ocean!

Dubai is an incredible city, but not one I’m eager to return to. I found it too hot, too busy and too concrete. Everything is man-made and the ostentatiousness is over the top. Of course if you were staying at the Burj Hotel (pictured above) or any of the other luxury ocean-front facilities, you might have a different opinion.

After Dubai it was off to the main event: Kandahar. To say this is when things got freaky is an understatement. Here’s what I remember most about travelling between countries:

  • Before boarding the plane we were each given a sticker with a unique ID that, rumour had it, was to help identify our bodies should things not go well.
  • The soldiers standing at the windows of the plane? They would be on the lookout for anti-aircraft fire.
  • Our flying time would be longer than usual since there were certain countries it was unwise to fly over.
  • Unless hearing loss was on one’s bucket list, wearing ear plugs was recommended.
  • My “seat” was actually about 14 inches of bench where we all sat shoulder-shoulder and knee-knee.
  • The harness, helmet and flak jacket were not optional.

“Excuse me, could I have a hot towel and water with lemon?”


I got this.

After three hours of feeling like a human boggle cube stuck in a wind tunnel, we began our descent into Kandahar Airfield. We’d been warned about the tactical or “corkscrew” landing and I’d been dreading it the entire flight.

“All first-timers puke, even experienced soldiers puke”, we’d been told.

The purpose of this manoeuvre is to make it more difficult for insurgents using surface-to-air missiles to shoot down the plane. So when faced with the alternative of not landing at all, the corkscrew didn’t seem so bad.

The process begins innocently enough, with the lowering and locking of the landing gear. But instead of a slow and steady descent from several miles out, a tactical landing begins directly over the runway. Once the landing gear is in place, the plane starts rolling and spiralling down, as though it’s planning to drill itself nose-first into the ground (a visual that is less upsetting than being blown up). Then, after several turns, the pilot pulls out of the spiral, straightens out and lands the plane. I think the whole thing took less than ten minutes and I’m proud to say I did not puke. But it was close.

Once safely on base, it was off to a briefing session. Immediately we began seeing really interesting sights, such as:

Dudes wearing machine guns. Everywhere.

Dudes wearing machine guns. Everywhere.


Tanks. Everywhere.

Tanks. Everywhere.

During our first night there was a rocket attack on the base and we were quickly herded into a concrete shelter. Although they took rocket attacks very seriously, we were assured the risk was minimal because most of the Taliban’s weapons were crude and inaccurate. This was only comforting to a point because I don’t care how cool you are under pressure, that shit is unnerving.

Over the next few days we saw a lot more of the base and its surrounding area, including the old airport, long since abandoned.


One example of not-so snazzy Afghani architecture.

But the highlight of trip was, without question, the chance to meet and talk with the men and women serving in the Canadian Forces. The craziest part was, they were thanking US for coming. As though giving up a week to essentially be a war tourist was a big deal compared to spending months in a hot, dusty war zone away from children, parents and spouses.

But what impressed me most was the love these men and women had for the Afghan people. Everyone I talked to seem to truly believe that Canada’s presence was needed in order to help the Afghanis live peacefully and self-govern. As opposed to what was happening in Iraq, there seemed to be no dissension in the ranks, no disagreements with the purpose of the mission.

I came to realize that not every country in the world is suited to this type of job. Nation-building is a uniquely Canadian skill. The tolerance, patience, open-mindedness and respect we show one-another on the street in every Canadian city is also what we also bring with us across the world when other countries are in need of leadership and help. Seeing it firsthand was a unique and meaningful experience I won’t soon forget.


Our crew.


Dear Birth Mom

Every year around my oldest daughter’s birthday I write a letter to her birth mom. The letter is kept on file at the Children’s Aid Society in case birth mom ever contacts them looking for updates. The post below was originally conceived as one of those letters but it quickly became something else, something I didn’t feel right about sharing with birth mom. November is National Adoption Awareness month so it feels like the right time to share some of the highs and lows of our experiences. Lucy is not her real name.


Dear Lucy,

You and I have never met. We’ve never exchanged emails, phone calls or photos. I know what you look like though, because I’ve spent hours staring at the three pictures we have of you, concentrating so hard -looking for similarities but terrified I’ll find them – that I’m convinced my eyesight alone is causing them to fade. In adoption phraseology, you are known as “birth mom” – a term I dislike because it’s at once too clinical and too personal.

Our daughter is too young to remember when she was taken away from you; too young to remember the filthy basement apartment that made the police officers sent to apprehend her physically ill from the stench. Too young to recall all the different places you lived together, and all the different people you brought into her life. And she’s too young to understand what was happening when she was taken into foster care to live with strangers who cared but weren’t you. Weren’t mommy.

She’s also too young to remember her first foster home, the one that asked for her to be removed because, at three years old she was “too difficult” for them to handle. Flipping through the Life Book lovingly prepared by her second foster mom there’s one picture I can barely look at. In it, our daughter is all smiles and wearing a pink polyester princess dress, her hair in curls. She’s three years old and is proudly standing next to two garbage bags containing everything she owned in the world. (Now she has two rolling suitcases, one with puppies and one with kittens, because I’ve come to understand how important it is for her to own something, and I will never allow her possessions to be treated like trash again.)

Our daughter was also too young to remember getting ready for visits with you. Sliding her tiny arms into a pretty dress, having her hair done (which she hates to this day) and getting excited for mommy. There were many times when you didn’t show up but she doesn’t remember that either, and people tell me this is all “for the best”; that it has helped her bond with us because her adoption was like a clean slate, a fresh start. I’m not convinced anyone just forgets the first four years of their life, but for now I’m happy to pretend.

The first time she called me mommy I was so thrilled and grateful that I didn’t even stop to think how that would have made you feel, had you known. To be honest, I wasn’t all that sympathetic towards you. I had a very narrow view of things, you see. I respected the decision you made to surrender your daughter and I told my friends how brave it was, but I secretly wondered how anyone could let go of this beautiful, spirited bundle of light. I mean it when I say you were brave, but I’m also consciously crafting the narrative I want our daughter to embrace when she’s older.

While I’ve always been grateful to you, I was far from compassionate. Intellectually, I understood that you would have had to overcome significant disadvantages to be a successful parent, and I pitied the circumstances you were born into. But my biggest mistake was naively thinking that the miracle of a child would somehow erase everything that was holding you back: poverty, a lack of education, a troubled childhood and issues with your mental health. It has taken me a few years to realize that life doesn’t work that way; that motherhood is not a panacea for every negative thing in your life.

I was fortunate not to suffer from the adoption version of post-partum that many new moms experience. Your daughter and I bonded right away. We grabbed each other at that first meeting and haven’t let go in more than three years. And even though I have a wonderful husband, the support of a large extended family and the financial ability to raise her, in my darkest moments, where fear trumps both reason and experience, I wonder if loving her beyond all reason is going to be enough.

Those first few months with our daughter were hard. Really hard. For almost a year, I could not leave the house without a tantrum and tears. No amount of “I promise I’ll be right back” eased her fear that she would never see me again. We surrounded her with a loving family: a Dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and close friends but no one could take the place of mommy, even for an hour or two. In hindsight I can see that because she didn’t talk about you or ask for you, we just assumed (hoped?) she didn’t remember. Incredibly, we expected her traumatized four year-old brain to just accept that this time it would be different: mommy will come back and this will be her forever family. Even though my heart ached for a little girl, barely four, who didn’t believe that mommies come back, I was also frustrated by her inability to understand that I would. She knew I loved her. She had to know. And people who love each other didn’t leave each other. Why couldn’t she understand that this was permanent? It’s embarrassing to write and admit now, three years later, because I see how my fear prevented me from understanding hers; how I should have been helping her work through it instead of fighting it.

Our daughter knows she’s adopted, but she’s only seven so her version of events is light on details. She knows there was a lady who carried her in her tummy, who tried really hard but couldn’t look after her. So she lived with some nice people until mommy and daddy came along and now we’re a forever family. The end. For now, the questions are few and our answers are easy but I know this won’t last forever. Soon she’ll want to know why you couldn’t keep her, who her father is and where you both are now. I lie awake wondering how much time I have before these questions come, how we’re going to answer them and what it will all mean to her and for her.

Before the adoption, I had a cancer scare that resulted in infertility. I spent weeks lying in a hospital bed, thinking my life was over. But in truth it was just beginning because without that operation I would not have become our daughter’s mother. To wrap it up in a nice cliché, the worst thing that ever happened to me turned out to be the best. And regardless of what tomorrow or the next day brings, our daughter will remain the single greatest thing in my life.

I’m sure you have a lot of questions and I hope we’ll get the chance to answer them some day. For now, I can tell you that you gave birth to one incredible little girl. She’s smart, funny, affectionate, spirited and kind. She loves animals and can ride a horse (not a pony… a horse!) better than most adults I’ve seen. She’s fearless, loves music and can’t get enough of the wind on her face. I have no idea what she’ll “be” when she grows up, nor do I care all that much because what I want for her is bigger than a fulfilling career or even a family of her own. My greatest desire is that those early years not define her, and that the ridiculous and unjust stigma of adoption never holds her back.

November is National Adoption Awareness Month. Until The Last Child,, is working to find forever families for all Canadian foster kids. They would sure appreciate your support. 



Haunted by Halloween


Halloween terrifies me, but it has nothing to do with ghosts and goblins, the prices at Party City or even sending my kids to strange houses in the dark. It’s all about a little debacle I like to call Halloween 2011.

First, a little background: Holidays and special occasions can be difficult for adopted kids. Not only do they feel the pressure we put on them and ourselves, but they also tend to retreat into their own minds, wondering if birth mom or dad is thinking of them on this special day. And kids like mine who were adopted at an older age might even remember opening presents or trick or treating with birth or foster parents. Even if the memories are good, they can cause hurt, confusion and upset.

Daren and I were prepared for birthdays, Mother’s Days and Father’s Days to be tough, and we’d already agreed to keep Christmas low key that first year. But Halloween took us completely by surprise.

It was our first special occasion as a threesome and we’d been talking it up for days. We wanted H to be excited and know how excited we were for her. But by the time we’d shopped for a costume, decorated the house, bought the candy, hosted the kindergarten party, donned the Cinderella gown and prepped for trick-or-treating, she was in full meltdown mode.

Once we realized what was going on, we took a step back and adjusted our expectations for the rest of the night. It was no longer about the perfect night, but about soothing our daughter and giving her permission to feel and express her anxiety. We let go of our plans to take her house to house, showing off her cute little Cinderella dress and treacherously high plastic heels (another rookie parenting fail). Instead we focused solely on what SHE needed, and after an hour on her bedroom floor, we were able to carry on with our plans and had a terrific time trick or treating together.

The calm after the storm

H and I evaluating her haul.

It’s embarrassing to write about this three years later, to admit that we were so naïve and even a little bit selfish. And now that I’m a more experienced parent, I know that special occasion meltdowns are common among all kids. So if you’re crazy enough to take parenting advice from me, I’d recommend you do the following this Halloween:

Step 1. Take out your mental camera.

Step 2. Conjure up your vision of the perfect day, which probably includes costumes that don’t rip, make-up that doesn’t run, wigs that stay on and kids that don’t cry. That’s okay, you’ll learn.

Step 3. Run that picture through your mental shredder.

Step 4. Pour yourself a glass of wine

Step 5: Enjoy every minute of this special day with your kids.