Happy 18th Birthday Erynn

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It has been a journey of seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, and years. For my wife and I, as for millions of other parents, the day has finally arrived. Our Daughter, Erynn Sion Quigley, turns 18 years old today. It is such a huge occasion that I’m left defaulting to cliches like, “Where did the time go,” or “She grew up so fast,” or “It seems like only yesterday that…” I default here because it did go by too fast, and she did grow up fast, and it was only yesterday, wasn’t it?

We do this thing every morning of my daughter’s birthday, for every birthday so far, where we retell the story of the day she was born. So I’ll share it with you. On that day in Edmonton it was bitterly cold and the thermometer hit -43. I had been working night shifts and I came home at my usual 6 in the morning and Heather told me that she was feeling like she might be getting close to the time. That morning and day her body began to go through the slow building process of contractions and we, like any first time parents, consulted books and reread our birth class notes and counted contractions until finally we decided to go in to the hospital.

That ride to the hospital was unbelievably cold but we stopped at a convenience store to pick up magazines and snacks and made our way to the hospital. We finally arrived and everything was kind of slow going for awhile there. Heather told me to go get something to eat and I did and then BANG her water broke. I rushed back and my wife was in serious pain, the kind that a man would never know. Eventually the doctors suggested an epidural and then things slowed down again. Over the course of that night we went from boredom to panic to boredom to a rush of wheels and then we were in the Operating Room. The docs decided that the baby had to come out and a C-section was in order.

They tried, both the surgeons and our family doctor at the time, to talk me out of being in the OR  but I had to be there to see this miracle of our love come into the world. So our family Doc stood right behind me, in case I passed out, and the surgeon took out the knife. In minutes our daughter was brought out into the cold OR, took her first breath, screamed her head off and flew through the APGAR tests with flying colours. Heather was exhausted but I remember clearly the joy on her face when Erynn was presented to her. I remember feeling so inadequate to the task of being a father. Heather fell asleep quickly in a much deserved rest. I took our daughter, and quite against the rules, began to walk around the wing showing everyone our beautiful little girl. I wanted to show anyone I could this little miracle I held in my arms, I wanted them all to acknowledge that she was the most beautiful baby ever. I wanted to celebrate and dance and share this moment with the entire world. I remember clearly looking at her and saying we will never abandon you and will always love you and we will always be there for everything you need us for.

Flash forward 18 years and I remember the first time she rode her bike without the training wheels, I remember how beautiful she looked for her grade 8 graduation, I remember the pride we felt when she was honoured by Senator Michael Kirby, I remember being frustrated about her not getting homework done, I remember birthday parties, and tears, and hard questions, and so, so much laughter. I remember it all. I remember when our family rallied around her when she was lost and remember our community coming together to support us all. I remember the introduction of new words to our family’s vocabulary like vestibular, Bi-Polar, Hiff Hiff, and relaxable. I remember her sharing her dreams and fears and me silently reciting a a counterpoint of hopes for her. I remember her first day of school and the first time she let me read one of her mature poems. I remember and  am grateful for the work my wife has done. Heather worried, and helped with homework, and learned the the intricacies of anime, and heard our girl’s secret wishes.

So now here we are. Happy 18th Birthday Erynn. Happiest of Happy Birthdays. I know you’re worried about what will come and you’re not sure where you’ll end up but your mom and I have faith. Faith in your incredible smarts and your unbelievably generous heart. Faith that you will choose a path that’s right for you, and faith that you’ll arrive where you need to be when you’re ready. You see, we believe in you, whole heartedly, and without reservation. Sure we worry and fuss and hassle you, all parents do, but we know deep down that it will all be ok. We know, deep down, that your character and heart are strong. We know, deep down, that any challenge you face you will be able to meet. And you should know, deep down, that we will always be here for you.

We still have a long path together, the three of us, but it is the best path I have ever walked because you are on it with us. So Happy Birthday little mouse. Your Mom and I are so proud of you and love you so very much. We welcomed you into the world on your birthday and in time, all too short a time, the world will be yours.

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13 Years of Love : CPRI and My Family

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When my daughter was five our family began what was a long journey that led us through a series of heartbreak and moments of unbelievable generosity. My wife and I realized when she was very young that our girl was different. She was precocious, could speak at a level that was beyond many her age, and had an imagination that dwarfed my wife and I. She was always drawn to adults more than other children and when she was four watching her mom walk down our front path said “My mommy walks with grace and beauty in the sun.” Not the typical words you hear from a four year old.

At the same time, she had a fierce and unstoppable temper. She would sometimes rage for two hours at a time and would be extremely difficult to redirect or calm when these moods were on her. So when we arrived in London, in December 1999 we soon realized we would need help. My wife was, and still is, much smarter about this than I am. She understood much quicker than I did that something was wrong with our girl and she began, as she often does, to research and to seek resources in our new community.

Through the great work of All Kids Belong we began to seek informed options regarding what was going on. Mervyn Fox, a developmental paediatrician, was the first to suggest that our daughter may have Bi-Polar Disorder and through a series of endless paperwork and questionnaires we eventually and gratefully ended up at the Child and Parent Resource Institute. CPRI is a very specialized institution in London that serves much of western Ontario and offers families, children, and youth care and resources around mental health. It was there, over the next 13 years, that we would find comfort and help when at times the world seemed not to have a place for our girl.

Our journey has evolved over the last 13years from just trying to understand what was going on with our daughter, to fighting for her rights, to advocating nationally, provincially, and locally for those families, children, and youth that are often confronted by the confusing and difficult world of the child and youth mental health system. But it was CPRI that helped us understand what was going on with our girl, diagnosed her Bi-Polar Disorder at age seven, helped us advocate for the resources she needed in the school system, provided us classes in parenting a child with our daughter’s challenges and hosted an invaluable parents’ support group that showed us that we were not alone on our journey.

We have been helped by Psychometrists, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Social Workers, Occupational Therapists, Child and Youth Workers, Behaviour Consultants and many more invaluable people. And through it all, the staff at CPRI has not only been competent but provided us with that most important and life affirming aspect of care, understanding and empathy. They were there when we lost battles and won them, they were there when my daughter became the first child who was chosen as a national face of mental health, they were there for the many public speaking engagements my wife and I did, and they were there when we had no idea what to do. And that’s the most important part of this whole post. They were there, every day, at anytime, for the past 13 years.

Our daughter is about to turn 18 in a few short weeks and she will no longer be at CPRI. Her journey will continue through the adult mental health system and she is working with some amazing people at WOTCH. But is was CPRI that informed and guided us through most of our daughter’s childhood. It was CPRI that empowered us as a family to not only survive but thrive. It was CPRI that created the possibility for our daughter to fully realize her potential and achieve her dreams.

This week we went to CPRI for the last time and held a small celebration as our way of saying thank you to the staff that lifted us out of despair to empowerment. We took homemade muffins, scones, and some special cupcakes to CPRI and invited many of the staff that have helped us over the last 13 years. And they all came. We reminisced, and laughed, and we thanked them for the possibilities they showed us and support they gave us.

I walked out ahead of my family, overwhelmed with gratitude for these people who cared so much, and as I walked out the door, I saw a husband and wife walking up with a young girl and I knew that their journey was just beginning. Their journey, like ours, will be made lighter because of the dedication and care the staff at CPRI had for us and will have for them. That little girl and her family will go through similar ups and downs to ours but they will be supported, listened to, and ultimately  will have the opportunity to lift themselves and their girl beyond a diagnosis to a full life.

Thank you is not enough for all that this group of amazing people have done for our family, but it is all I have. Thank you. Thank you for the being there during frantic calls and last minute appointments. Thank you for the many meetings and thousands of hours. Thank you for being there when no one else was. Thank you for being there for the start of our journey and for helping us move on to the next leg of it. Thank you for seeing the bright spark that was our girl and that brilliant light she is becoming. Thank you for all the small moments and all the life changing ones. And most of all thank you for seeing beyond your job titles to the the heart of what we all are together, a community of care and love. Thank you … for everything