Knowledge Management Tools for Patients

Photo of a pill organizer set. Each day is a different colour. Monday is red, Tuesday is yellow, Wednesday is green, Thursday is blue, Friday is purple, Saturday is pink, Sunday is orange. There are four slots for each day. Morning, Noon, Evening and Bedtime.

First off, if you’re here looking for these tools, I’m so sorry. It means you have the kind of illness or disability where the doctors do tests and shrug. Or you have the shrug version of a diagnosis where they don’t actually treat you and you have to come up with your own treatment plan. Those with IBS, food intolerances, chemical sensitivities, fibromyalgia, CFS, ME, autism, hyper mobility and anything deemed as rare know what I’m talking about. Maybe you are going through the fun game of specialist hot potato where they throw you onto the next one while yelling, “Not me!” You also might live in one of the many countries where you simply can’t afford to visit a specialist or have to wait for years to get into a free one. Or they don’t have any in your area and you can’t afford to travel. So, my apologies for the lack of medical care and problem solving doctors you’ve encountered so far. Hopefully these tools can make it a little easier for you to get answers and Sherlock your way into some meaningful treatment plans and proper diagnoses.

I’ll be adding more to this because I have more tools that I’ve used to figure out how to maintain myself. I’ll announce them on twitter from @erin. These tools are meant to be free. They are not to be sold. Don’t be that guy.

Medical History and Summary

This is to correlate your data and history to get a big picture view of various events and tests that they might not have seen all in one place. If you have access to all your labs, you can include all your abnormal results. Write out the things that they have already tested and diagnoses abandoned. There are instructions on how to fill this out in the Word document. You should be able to open Word documents on Linux systems and Apple. I made this in Pages so the formatting will be off. Currently WordPress is not letting me upload Pages documents and I need to figure that out. I have included a PDF for those who need to have it printed for them and filled out by hand that contains no instructions as well as one with instructions for those with programs that let you edit PDFs. If you edit this in Word or Pages it will update the table of contents pages for you automatically.

Screenshot of a document. Has a blue line with Name: underneath. Then the title Medical History. Subtitle Prepared for: Your Doctor's Name. Month, Day, Year.
Screenshot of a document. Blue line on top with Name: underneath.
What you are trying to get them to understand or look into. Refer to the sections you want them to pay most attention to below and correlations you’ve made from looking at your data. This document is not like a symptom log. This is to correlate your data and history to get a big picture view of various events and tests that they might not have seen all in one place. You should definitely have both.
Two columns. Column one:
Current treatments
-Anything you do for yourself
-Treatments from professionals
-Things you avoid
-Stuff you think is making you better even if it’s not considered a treatment
Column two:
-Prescribed medications
Contains table with three headings and information underneath. 
Diagnosis/Symptom: Actual diagnoses	
Doctor: Who diagnosed you or list of doctors	
Date and details: High level details you want the doctor to be aware of including the dates. Anything you disagree with.

Happy International Disabilities Day

Woman spraying perfume cloud at herself in the shape of a skull and cross bones.

Happy International Disabled People Day! This year, the focus is on invisible disabilities. I’m Erin and I have an invisible disability collection. Today, however, I’m going to talk to you about Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, which is an Environmental Illness.

Environmental Illnesses are a group of disorders that are covered under Human Rights in Canada and in Ontario as a part of the AODA, where I live, but they are hardly ever included in accessibility plans. 

People who have MCS can react to a large variety of things, often along the Volatile Organic Compound groups, which can be naturally occurring (like in essential oils, tree sap, and pollens) or chemically processed. Usually there are natural based ingredients in the processed product that are the root of the issue, but they are ubiquitous and current labeling laws do not protect people with reactions outside the most common allergens. 

The most common sensitivity for people with what I call ‘beginners MCS’ is perfume and scented products. 

Features of MCS include migraines, hives, eczema, food sensitivities similar to MCAS, brain fog, dizziness, asthma, hair loss, psoriasis, nervous system control issues, muscle control issues, vomiting, diarrhea, breathing issues, emotional regulation issues, body temperature regulation issues, sweating, nose bleeds, and I’m sure other things I’ve forgotten because I ran the dishwasher during the day and the rubber casket hasn’t off gassed yet and it’s been a full year so far. My lung lesions are caused by chemicals but I had to ask multiple doctors before one gave me a CT scan to prove I even had them. 

There are only three treatments centres in Canada for environmental illnesses, and there are no environmentally safe hotels or places to stay if you can get an appointment at one, because hotels are not forced to be accessible. Most even spray ‘signature scents’ around their properties. It was over a year and a half wait to get into the Women’s College Hospital in Toronto as it is not properly funded. There are no official treatments. They try to get you seen by as many specialists as they can for the associated symptoms, but often people with MCS do not have traditional test results and then are left to deal with their disease alone, or forced to try out alternative medicines which are not covered under provincial healthcare and or insurance (should you have access to some). This leaves the MCS community vulnerable to scammy practitioners and commercialized health care fraud, which often makes their issues worse. Alternative practices that do help are not sanctioned as there has been no funding put into research or attempts at creating medicines. Promising medicines like Low Dose Naltrexone are not prescribed for symptoms related to MCS and you have to fight to even get a doctor who is familiar with the illness who will try to treat you. The knowledge management on this illness is so bad among healthcare practitioners that people are often prescribed anti-depressants and then gaslit about their symptoms. After having anaphylaxis while traveling internationally, a doctor in Toronto General Emergency told me there was no such thing as MCS and that I was having a panic attack. I went home and vomited foam on my own, with no blood tests to capture the moment. People with EMF sensitivity are the hardest hit with this issue out of the environmental illnesses. 

The only option is avoidance and for most people that means complete isolation and no health care, as hospitals, doctors offices, physical therapists and more do not have accessible facilities. Dentists and Dermatologists even often sell scented products and use essential oil diffusers, making them among the worst of the health care providers for accessibility. Especially now, with inaccessible cleaning products being broadcast as the only option by Health Canada (while safe peroxide based disinfectant alternatives and unscented soaps exist), we have been completely cast aside. Health Canada even warns about the dangers of indoor VOCs, yet has created a situation where they are unavoidable. My son has no access to his school and it will take a long time for the chemical soup to clear. Most people with MCS have to do many treatments to get these pervasive products out of drywall. There are off gassing protocols we use and they all have limitations. 

Pharmacies sell perfumes and often are the only places you can get flu shots. Canada Post locations are often located inside dry cleaners or perfume store pharmacies and do not offer accessible curb side services (even during covid). We do not have regulations on home dryer venting filtration to stop the onslaught of dryer sheet fumes that affect people and the environment. Airlines spray pesticides on planes and are not required to notify passengers. Many cleaning standards mandated by the government for food services are inaccessible, barring disabled people from working in entire industries. 

Once you’re pushed out of the workforce by inaccessible standards and unenforced policies you have the option of not having your disability covered under Canada’s Disability tax credit program, and fighting to be on provincial disability which is at below poverty rates. The assistive device program in Ontario doesn’t cover air purifiers, needed to maintain health. Air purifiers are also not tax deductible as health expenses, neither is infrared sauna use, which is one of the only suggested treatments. There are no safe homeless shelters, and most low income housing is not chemically accessible. There are no scent-free, low VOC long term care centres. Food banks are not accessible and cannot handle requests such as no nightshades, pesticides or foods without preservatives. We do not have VOC ratings on products, we do not have a scent-free path similar to gluten free paths for foods and there is often contamination. I need a back brace and I can’t find one I don’t react to, which is a huge barrier to health care. So, we are recognized in Canada but not supported, or treated. That stops today, and how we do that is by: 

  1. Funding research into treatments and capturing genetic information for those afflicted to add to the drug reaction database.
  2. Clearly stating accessible standards and not forcing disabled people to disclose their illness to get accommodations.
  3. Updating inaccessible workplace standards like for commercial kitchens.
  4. Creating a VOC rating standard for products as a part of environmental carbon emissions legislation.
  5. Creating a scent-free food chain.
  6. Creating accessible housing.
  7. Funding disabled people who can’t work and providing them with the tools they need to get well, like knowledgable doctors, air purifiers and grocery cards to purchase their own foods. 
  8. Hiring people with MCS to create your policies and solutions. 

Have a great day, ditch the perfume if you’re going out, wear your mask and stay safe. 

25 Nice Things for the Holidays

25 nice things

Regardless of how you feel about the holiday season — no matter if you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Mawlid, Bohdi Day, Yule, the Birthday of Guru Nanak, nothing or anything else — most people at least agree that we should be nice.

Every year I’ve set up an advent calendar for my daughter, even though I’m not a believer in the background of Christmas. Hey, even atheists love a good party. Plus, if the party has a lot of decorations, presents, food and niceness… come on now. I even made a magnetic fridge advent calendar after my grandma passed away as an homage to her, and told my daughter that Great-Grandma watched over her and gave her the treats. Well, she figured me out this year.

Rather than making 25 treats during a season already saturated by sugars, I thought about the stellar values my super awesome Grandma had, and how I could turn the calendar into something actually magical. So we sat down and I cut up 25 pieces of paper and asked my now seven year old daughter what we could do each day leading up to Santa that would be kind and nice, but not necessarily cost any or much money. Folks, she has come up with a brilliant list of Nice Things.

We folded up the papers and put them in a bag, shook it around then placed them in our advent calendar so each day would be a surprise. I will post the Nice Things we do each day on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram with the tag #25NiceThings and then follow up with how it all turned out. I challenge you to follow along and do a Nice Thing with us! Or make your own Nice Things list and tag #25NiceThings so my daughter and I can follow you and have more ideas for next year. You don’t have to believe in any holiday or religion to want be nice and do Nice Things. You just have to be thoughtful. So be thoughtful with us this year. I have a good feeling about you.

School safe gluten free vegan snacks

Rows of glorious cookies

Rows of glorious cookies

I found out that gluten was an issue when my daughter was reacting to my breast milk. She had terrible sleep and digestion issues until I took gluten, dairy and soy out of my diet. We thought that was the end, but our digestion problems continued. Through stool samples, testing and the mother of all elimination diets we know we have a lot of food intolerances due to gut bacteria and missing digestive enzymes. We still don’t know the whole story yet, but we are well on our way.

Based on the combination of our food issues, it became impossible to find pre-made snacks for my son to take to school that were also nut free. We tried every pill for dairy and they do not help. We can’t eat most grains, mostly everything has to be cooked, whole vegetable and legume groups are out and it’s boiling down to being an issue digesting cellulose. So, yeah… shopping became difficult. This was not my first time at the adversity-rodeo however, so I promptly developed delicious recipes so that my son will not feel left out and still get to eat his favourite things. On top of that, these are school safe so that other kids with severe nut allergies will not have to be concerned. With great gut bacteria you need to cut out foods that feed it, so I make my foods low glycemic. 

Get ready to eat some amazing cost effective snacks!

Savoury crackers

Browned crackers with a sprig of dill beside them.

I love crackers and I used to adore crackers and cheese. Having issues with a lot of grains and seeds doesn't leave many store bought cracker options, however. I've found that on the whole, the flour of any grain or legume, after baking, isn't as difficult to digest as the whole cooked grain. So if you need that for any reason, more processed is the way to go.

These are super delicious and look gorgeous on top. Perfectly decorated with pickled veggies and cheeses you can eat. They are also hardy too, so great for scooping up your favourite thick dips.


  • 1 cup tapioca flour
  • 1 cup quinoa flour
  • 1 cup tigernut flour (this is a tuber, not a nut and school safe)
  • 6 tsp xanthan gum (This can be derived from wheat, corn or soy glucose, so if you have an issue with any of those, you can find a version that works for you or use guar gum in a 1–1. If you only have issues with gluten, the proteins are not used in production so this should be safe for you.)
  • 4 tbsp avocado oil
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup water


  1. Heat oven to 450F. Combine dry ingredients and mix until even. If you're using a stand mixer, you can put your dried ingredients in and grab your dough hook. If you're using human power, set 3/4 cups of water to the side.
  2. Add wet ingredients and stir until it's evenly wet. Use your hands to make the dough into a ball. It will be a bit sticky. Use tapioca flour lightly dusted on a surface and cut your dough in half.
  3. Knead in your alternate ingredients to make cheese crackers vs tomato basil, or ignore and make your own flavour.
  4. Form your dough into a square and roll out to 1/8 inch thick. Lightly brush with water and top with a bit of salt before cutting into squares, rectangles, or whatever. We used cookie cutters to theme some of ours.
  5. Place crackers on an unbleached parchment lined sheet. Prick the tops with a fork to avoid crackers being too chewy.
  6. Cook for 7–15 minutes on a parchment lined baking sheet depending on thickness.


Alternates: basil, tomato powder, dried onion flakes, dulse flakes and salt to taste OR 1/2 cup nutritional yeast (or whatever cheese you can eat — a lot of vegan cheeses have peas or corn in them, so if be sure to read ingredients for anything that bothers you) and dulse flakes to taste.

Chocolate crackers


  • 1 cup tapioca flour
  • 1 cup quinoa flour
  • 1 cup millet grits
  • 1/2 cup dairy free cocoa
  • 6 tsp xanthan gum (This can be derived from wheat, corn or soy glucose, so if you have an issue with any of those, you can find a version that works for you or use guar gum in a 1–1. If you only have issues with gluten, the proteins are not used in production so this should be safe for you.)
  • 4 tbsp avocado oil
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 handful cocoa nibs to sprinkle
  • 1 cup water


  1. Heat oven to 450F. Combine dry ingredients and mix until even. Add wet ingredients and stir until it’s evenly wet. Use your hands to make the dough into a ball. It will be a bit sticky. Use tapioca flour lightly dusted on a surface and cut your dough in half. Knead in your alternate ingredients to make cheese crackers vs tomato basil, or ignore and make your own flavour. Form your dough into a square and roll out to 1/8 inch thick. Lightly brush with water and top with a bit of salt before cutting into squares, rectangles, or whatever. We used cookie cutters to theme some of ours. Prick the tops with a fork to avoid crackers being too chewy. Cook for 7–15 minutes on a parchment lined baking sheet depending on thickness.

Chocolate coconut bites

With limited ingredients, it's important to have a variety of textures as well as flavours in your pantry. I love these coconut bites because they are more dense than a muffin and more chewy than a cookie. Also they give you a lot of chocolate flavour without a lot of sweetness.


  • 2 bananas, medium sized and ripe
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar
  • 6 tbsp aquafaba
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup coconut flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 3/4 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips


  1. Heat oven to 375F.
  2. Combine dry ingredients and mix until even. Combine wet ingredients in a bowl and beat until even.
  3. Mix the wet with the dry until combined and add the chocolate chips. Dairy and sugar free chocolate chips exist!
  4. Fill muffin cups to the top of the paper. These rise but not a lot. If you do tiny muffins cups (which we do), bake for 20 minutes.
  5. If you do larger muffin cups, bake for 30–35 minutes. Let rest to cool on a baking rack.


Aquafaba can be substituted with eggs, or other starchy egg replacers. 3 tbsp of aquafaba is basically one egg. Depending on your egg substitute you may need to prepare your ‘eggs’ separately. Lots of egg replacers use potato or corn starch, so if you have issues with those, be sure to read labels.

Cereal Bars

If you are doing a plant-based diet, it's important to get your protein. Millet is a full protein grain, and having it puffed makes it easier to digest then the hydrated version as some starches are broken down by dehydration.

My son loves his cereal bars and I need to make him some more and get a good glam shot of them, as we go through them fairly quick. It's a nice feeling to not have to guard the treats, because they are all very good for you. That's a nice upside to having digestive issues. Lol.


  • 4 cups puffed cereal (quinoa/millet/rice, depending on your allergies and intolerances)
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seed butter
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup


  1. In a small pot, boil the pumpkin seed butter and maple syrup for 3 minutes, stirring every 20 seconds until the mixture starts to thicken and ‘cracks’.
  2. In a medium bowl, put 3 cups of your chosen puff. Mix in the sauce and add the additional 1 cup of left over puff until they’re evenly lightly coated.
  3. Squish into a parchment lined 12x12 pan and put in the fridge for an hour. Cut into bars or however you’d like.


Buy the puffed millet and quinoa. I tried making this at home and it doesn’t work. I couldn’t find any in stores, but found a lot online. You can sub out agave for the maple syrup or any other butter/nut butter for pumpkin seed if you don’t care about school safe or don’t have issues with sunflower butter.

Millet Pizza

This delicious pizza is easy to make with the kids, or for yourself and is happily formed into other shapes to make thin flat breads to use with appetizers.

A lot of gluten-free recipes rely heavily on similarly hard to digest grains. I like to use sorghum and millet flours as they are full protein grains and they don’t mess with my gut. Tapioca adds in a bit of the stretch you miss with the other two.

My son really loves this crust and you can use your fingers to shape your pie. If you or kids are sticky-adverse, dust your hands in tapioca flour as well as the dough ball when forming.


  • 1 3/4 cups flour (4/5 millet, 1/5 tapioca)
  • 2 tsp xanthan gum
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp turbinado sugar
  • 3/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce (or oil, or pesto, mashed beets… whatever you can eat)
  • 1 tsp packet quick rise pizza yeast
  • 2/3 cup warm water (110F is best)
  • 1 cup vegan cheese of your choice


  1. 1. Set oven to 450F.
  2. 2. Combine 1 cup of flour, undissolved yeast, sugar and salt in a bowl.
  3. 3. Add water and oil mix until blended. Gradually add the 3/4 cup until it is a soft ball. The dough will be a bit sticky.
  4. 4. Knead on tapioca floured surface, adding in more tapioca if required until smooth and elastic. About 4–6 minutes. Or put in a stand mixer and save yourself some work. Split dough in 2 if doing thin crust.
  5. 5. Roll out to fit a pizza pan. Cook crust for 10 minutes. Lower oven to 400F. Top pizza with your sauce and cheese or whatever. Cook for 10 more minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly.


Flour your hands with tapioca if you are working with your hands instead of a stand mixer with a dough hook. Less sticky, much faster!

Chickpea cookies

Chickpea flour is the best. After processing or cooking, the FODmap value goes down for most things. As chickpeas are high protein and have one of the lowest amounts of insoluble fiber in the legume family, they are my go-to when creating easy to digest baked goods for my son and me. Sorghum is a full protein grain and I do quite well with that one in flour form too.

One of the better parts of having a low sugar diet is that you don't have feel bad about having cookies for breakfast. Using coconut sugar, which is lower glycemic, enables a lot of tasty cookie meals.


  • 3/4 cup chickpea flour
  • 1 cup white sorghum flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup dairy free chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 4 tbsp aquafaba


  1. Set oven to 350F.
  2. Mix dry ingredients until combined. Add wet ingredients and stir until dough is formed. Add in chocolate chips and stir some more! Form cookies in sizes and shapes that you love, and place on a parchment lined baking sheet.
  3. Cook at 25 minutes for small cookies and 35 minutes for larger ones. If you like your cookies soft, cook for 5–7 minutes less. Cool on a baking rack. Feel smug while eating high protein cookies.


I always choose a non-bleached parchment sheet as we are sensitive to that. They are all available in a variety of prices.


Are cleaning products making you sick?

If you’ve ever gotten a rash from a face product, or had an adverse reaction to a shampoo, gotten dizzy walking through the war zone of smells in a perfume department, or had issues shopping in the laundry aisle you likely have a chemical sensitivity. You may have also been told that you are overreacting, it’s just a mild irritation, or you just ‘don’t like the smell’. The provincial Environmental Health Clinic (EHC), a collection of doctors, put out a report in 2010 (updated in 2011) that says environmental sensitivities (ES) and multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) are legit. There was no funding and these doctors worked basically for free. They are real doctors, who aren’t trying to sell you anything. Also, these medical issues have been recognized as disabilities in Ontario as of 2000 and Canada’s human rights commission as of 2007, plus they’ve been studying this for 50 years. The Canadian Community Health Survey reported (in 2010–11) that physicians diagnosed 2.4% of adults over 12 years old and 3.4% of women had been diagnosed with ES-MCS. A whopping 1/3 of the Canadian population self reported as being chemically sensitive to fragrances and perfumes (including many who have asthma).

The EHC report claims, “ The science of toxicology has evolved substantially and there is a move away from “physical” versus “psychological” models of disease/illness to the multiple determinants of health model utilized by the World Health Organization (WHO). There is also increasing understanding of unique responses to low doses.” But not in my experience. Last year, I had to go to Toronto General emergency after going through customs and immigration at Pearson airport (like getting punched in the face by chemicals) and while trying to explain what was happening, I was told I was merely having a panic attack and had to demand to be examined. I was told that low levels of X in my system would not cause my reactions and the intake doctor didn’t believe in MCS.

As of 2011, there was no diagnostics code for ES-MCS, so doctors working on it could not bill for it. As it’s been a disability in Ontario since 2000, what?

Not funding ES-MCS is costly

The provincial Environmental Health Clinic in Ontario study of 128 patients found that 68.8% had to stop work. If we make an assumption and take that to the 3% of the population that have been physician diagnosed with ES-MCS as of 2011 (again, likely more now), at our current population, that’s 1,098,782 people who are heavily reacting to chemicals and 755,962 who are unable to work. That’s a lot of disability and social aide for the country to dish out because people can’t get diagnosed early on and our public spaces are making them worse. Further, this study found patients with MCS/fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue visits in Ontario to GPs were 10.7, and to other physicians were 13.7. This was much higher than other areas of Canada, where the numbers were 2.9 and 0.79. So if we use the 2013 doctor costs (assuming non-GPs are specialists), that’s $1591.60 annually in Ontario each person. At 3% of the population of Ontario, that’s $419489.52 annually. And may we just guess that pollution is the cause of a lot of that as we are one of the filthiest provinces?

Won’t someone think of the children?

Some children are being misdiagnosed with ADHD and other learning disabilities because they cannot focus in their classrooms due to environmental exposures. Chemical sensitivities have also been known to make children with neuro diversity worse. Dr. Claudia Miller of the University of Texas who has named MCS, Toxicant-induced Loss of Tolerance, spoke to the Autism Society on this topic in 2012. She suggested that the only way to test a child for severity of learning disabilities was to have a clean room free of chemical substances. Instead we have schools full of cleaning products that need MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets).

By law, schools have to accommodate kids with MCS who are diagnosed but we do not have a paediatric ES/MCS clinic in Ontario and The Environmental Sensitivities clinic in Toronto only sees adults. My daughter is currently going through the long wait for ‘learning assessments’ through the Toronto District Public School Board (TDSB), and she has a chemical sensitivity for certain. She has nose bleeds if around certain cleaning products for extended periods, she gets rashes, dizzy and flushed cheeks. The TDSB recently announced a budget increase for disabled students, which is good. To support them, we also need to change to scent free non-toxic cleaning products (which are cheaper) and then roll out a scent free policy in all of our schools. I’m sure the teachers would appreciate all the help they can get and the kids deserve a place they can think. How many kids are being unnecessarily medicated for something that could be mitigated by environment? This is an unacceptable oversight. Especially when there have been safe school guidelines since 2010.

We need health care reform

The fact that doctors don’t even know the list of symptoms to send you to a speciality clinic is appalling. Having to change doctors because their office was making me sick and they didn’t accommodate my MCS, was very depressing. We have a HUGE knowledge management problem in our health care industry. Also, due to the lack of funding to the mere THREE clinics that exist nation wide, it’s a 13 month wait to get into the Women’s College clinic and you have to do a 27 page intake. When your brain is fogging from chemicals, that’s a beast to attempt. People from out of the city and province have to travel to Toronto and find accommodations, or to Nova Scotia, and the only paediatric clinic is in Alberta.

Health care reform is not something to wait on. It costs us money, people get increasingly ill waiting for doctors and specialists take far too long to get into. People who are worse off cost more to treat and then they can’t work, which costs even more. In a large city wait times are much less. We have no standard of care, and clearly medical studies aren’t getting passed onto GPs and walk-in clinic doctors. This system encourages patients to seek non-medical advice and for purchase ‘cures’ pop up while people try to manage their symptoms, not knowing the answers. They bleed money on procedures they hope will relieve their symptoms even a little, potentially harming themselves more in the process.

We need a call to action for scent free public spaces

All medical facilities I’ve been to here are coated in chemical cleaners and my reactions are much worse there. Emergency rooms are not scent free, even though they claim they are. I now have the sense of smell of a drug-sniffing-dog, I can tell. With 1/3 self reporting and 3% diagnosed, not having safe hospitals and schools feels like a very large class action suit. I can’t even use the subway because it’s 10x more polluted than the outside

Non-toxic cleaners like apple cider vinegar and water, baking soda and scent free non-toxic cleaners end up costing me less than the heavily toxic cleaners. I’m confident that if the cleaning products in all schools, community centres, libraries, government buildings and hospitals were switched out, there would be a large cost savings.

We need public facility reform, similar to no smoking laws. We need a salt water municipal public pool in Toronto. Employees should be able to go to work safely. Kids should be able to learn safely. There needs to be standards in housing development, especially socialized housing. There are obvious fixes that will have long term health and financial benefits. All the studies have been done and approved, why haven’t the changed been implemented?

Let’s not suffer in silence

To all the people not getting referred, or being told that it’s nothing — don’t wait. I know it takes a lot of energy you don’t have, but print the studies, bring them to your doctors. If the Canadian medical system will not do the outreach, you need to for your own sake. We’re all being too polite and Canadian about this. We don’t have to be patient, they have to fix it. We pay the government, and doctors with our taxes. They are our employees. Our employees are mismanaging our finances and health and it’s time for them to do something. Call your MPs, all your local representatives. We will save money and be healthier together.


Sign up as a member at if you’re in Canada and have your voice heard.

When Your Baby Dies

Little boy wearing green fairy wings and a grey hoodie blowing bubbles over a lake with evergreen trees in the distance.
Little boy wearing green fairy wings and a grey hoodie blowing bubbles over a lake with evergreen trees in the distance.
Big sister blowing bubbles for her little sister

Content Warning: Photos of a deceased infant.

Aside from your heart spontaneously combusting, there are a lot of other unpleasant things to do when your baby dies. As with any death planning, it’s gut wrenchingly awful and each step feels like twisting the dagger in deeper and deeper. In the North American customs that I’m used to, there are very little conventions to follow and lots of whispered stigmas around child deaths (rightly so, as they are the most sad). So that makes trying to find ways to honour your child’s existence very difficult. As my daughter never got to have a life, I wanted her death to be an expression of all the things I had hoped for her. I wanted to remember her with joy as well as sadness. I wanted my eldest and I to have some experiences with her. These are some suggestions that helped me, and maybe they’ll help you or someone you know.

Stroller procession.
Saddest walk to the park ever.

Have a baby funeral

When my baby was still born at 39.5 weeks, I knew I wanted to have a funeral. I didn’t know then, that a lot of people don’t have funerals for their babies, but I can imagine why you might not want to. I had spent the whole year making up her stroller kit and researching skateboard attachments for my daughter. Talking about how Rook and he would roll to school and we’d drop her off and roll her back at the end of the day. How we’d all go to the park, and throw snacks to the ducks on the lake. It was a vividly pictured story that I told us both over and over with great excitement. As our baby was in a surrogate in another State, we had lots to imagine together.

Friends floating lanterns into the lake.
Friends floating lanterns into the lake.

Planning things makes me feel better. Planning nice things for my daughter makes me feel immeasurably better. So I planned a stroller parade from the house to the lake with all our baby owning friends and their kids, Rook and my daughter at the top of the line. Everyone was asked to wear bright colours and the kids all had faery wings and bubbles. A friend played guitar and sang as we paraded down the street.

I had created a eulogy about Rook’s likes and dislikes based on stories about my surrogate’s pregnancy. Her husband and daughters all told me about different foods she couldn’t eat (eggs were top — and my daughter and I found out we are intolerant to eggs recently) and the ones she loved (melons). How she was not a morning person, but liked to kick all night. My then-partner created a sci-fi tale of how her DNA gets found in space and she starts a rebellion uprising, which seemed on brand for our combined personalities.

Then we lit environmentally safe candles in biodegradable floating lanterns and set them on the lake while people thought about their wishes for Rook. We all sang you are my sunshine to her as her sole lullaby. Then head back to the house for drinking, Irish wake style. I had photos of myself, my then-partner and my daughter as infants on poster boards next to Rook, so people could imagine what she would have looked like.

Sweetest Tiny to never take a breath.
Sweetest Tiny to never take a breath.

Bring your baby home

After embalming, your loved one is okay to be in your home for up to 72 hours. They can be home. They can be in their bed. You can go and see them all you’d like. You do not have to pay for a funeral home showing. The earlier you get them after death, the better however. My poor little girl took a while to travel from California and babies are mostly water, so they do not take as well to embalming as adults do. Their skin gets dark and they need a lot of makeup. I did not know this initially, but you may want to know before you make this choice. As our baby was never alive outside in the world, I wanted her to be in her crib and get to rock her in the same glider I rocked my daughter. Lots of cultures have their loved ones in their home and plenty of people do open casket funerals. This gave the family a lot of time with Rook to make peace and I’m glad we did it.

Family portrait

Take a family portrait

There is a lot of slack put on ‘younger people’ taking selfies at funerals. I don’t think it has the flippancy that is being put on the act. I’m a single mom and if I don’t selfie, then my daughter will have no memories of me existing in his childhood. If no one else is going to take the photo you want, then you selfie. If you want a reminder of how you felt, or what someone looked like after the life went out of them, then do that. It is literally not harming anyone. We would not have any family portraits if we didn’t take one after Rook died, and I have had two kids. I wanted a memory of all of us together. My daughter was thrilled to take shots with her sister and was only mad that Rook got to wear make-up and she did not get to. So, don’t harsh on people who do this. Just because it’s not *your* thing, doesn’t make it a *bad* thing.

My tattoo of Rook

Get creative with ashes

There are a lot of things you can do with ashes. There are little urn necklaces (my friend got me a rocket one for Rook), you can turn them into diamonds, they can be used to make glass art pieces, or hosted in teddy bears. You can even send your baby to space, which is one of the plans we have for some of Rook’s ashes. You can use ashes to plant in your home, or in pods meant for outside. You can also get them put into ink and have yourself tattoo’d. Both my then-partner and I got tattoos with Rook’s ashes in them. The rest have gone on piles of adventures with us, and have been sent to various friends and family. I like to think of each scattering of her ashes as a trip she’s gone on. Celebrating the life she didn’t get to have.

The end is not the end.

If grief ended within a certain amount of days post death, how great would that be? Alas, no such luck. But… that does give you a lot of time to process that grief and many opportunities to come back to it when you have more mental fortitude. Directly after your baby or child, or anyone’s death might not be when you have all the strength to have a funeral, make a scrap book, or blast their ashes into space. You give yourself space instead. When you’ve had a chance to regroup, you can always chose to do something to honour them in your own time. The loss is timely, the love endures.

Each container is an adventure.
Each container is an adventure.

The movie ‘no’ is a lie

Woman holding her hand to her face, crying into a tissue.
Woman holding her hand to her face, crying into a tissue.

Content warning: Photos of a deceased infant and grief.

Hands in the air, often on knees, glaring skyward, as if to rage against a deity or aliens (or whomever might be in charge of unfortunate events). That’s how our cinematic downtrodden are dealing with death and grief. Arms thrown back, chest open to the world, they scream, “NOOOOOOO!” They scream like this, because someone thought that’s what you do when you grieve. Then a bunch of other writers and directors thought that was cool and now it’s everywhere. Mostly it doesn’t happen that way, and just like anything we do that’s not reflected back at us in the media, we can feel bad about how we react. Sometimes, people think they are doing sad wrong and that’s upsetting. There is no wrong way to grieve.

Well, let’s add on a caveat that harming others is wrong (unless in self defence) and if you want to harm yourself, please tell someone and seek help. Those use cases aside, bereavement and other forms of grief are really a free for all to process your emotions and loss. You don’t see a lot of people crying in public, so it doesn’t seem okay to cry in public. The bereaved are like sci-fi mole people, hiding in the dark trying not to make other people upset by their totally normal emotions.

A photo frame with a sonogram from pregnancy sits in a frame that reads R is for Rook.

One year ago today I got a call from my surrogate’s husband. I had cervical cancer previously, went through IVF to get my eggs removed and created embryos with my then-partner. We had our top genetically approved embryo, a girl, implanted in a fabulous woman who impregnated like a champ. She was 39.5 weeks along when I got the call. I thought this was go-time, and I was going to fly like the wind to California from Seattle to pick up my little girl, Rook. I was having a playdate with a great friend and her kids and my daughter at the time.

“Erin, she went to the doctor for her check-up for the induction and the baby has no heart beat.” I felt like I had no heart beat. I didn’t really know what was happening. For a few minutes I wasn’t sure if she could still be saved and I was just trying not to react around my daughter. My friend saw my face figuratively peel off and land on the floor and crumple into dust. I managed to tell her in small gasps what had happened and she immediately offered to take my daughter to her house for the evening and feed her dinner. Once I had no Tinies as an audience, I began frantically calling my partner, my mother and because I’m a fairly open person on social media who had been live media-ing ‘all the things’ I posted that my baby had died. I bought a ticket online to go to California to meet my daughter, they were waiting for me to get there to induce my surrogate.

An iphone is plugged into a socket and sits on a hospital room table.

After all the house keeping of death was in order, I had my movie ‘no’. I did not throw my hands to the air. I did not say ‘no’. It felt more like an exorcism. Chest closing in on me, hard to breathe. Stomach clenched like a metal fist was punching me over and over in the gut. Churning a toxic sludge that if I kept it down, would consume me. So I threw up. Then, on the floor, crying and shaking, I started alternating yelling and whispering. I yelled, “Why? Why is this happening?” I yelled it to no one in particular. I just desperately wanted to understand how after all the struggles I had been through, that in an instant, my baby was dead. Then I just straight up rage screamed. For a long time. After I whispered, “Oh baby girl, my little baby girl… I hope it didn’t hurt.” Followed by a lot more rage screaming. I think that grief is a little too real for a lot of movies, but it’s normal and if it happens to you, you’re still okay.

Another great woman and friend saw my post on Facebook and came over to my house. She asked if I wanted her to come with me for Rook’s birth. After a bunch of, “No, it’s too expensive…” type comments, she got it out of me that I would appreciate the hell out of her company and booked herself on a flight. My partner got home, my mom was on the way from Canada to watch my daughter and my friends husband raced us to the airport to make our last minute flight. I had a bag packed with all the things I needed to retrieve my daughter, I had to unpack all the formula and diapers but left in some clothes for her.

A gorgeous stillborn baby girl in a blue honeycomb printed onesie, rests in a basket in a multi-coloured pink and red blanket.
Rook Nova Aria Caton  - prettiest Tiny to never take a breath

The labour was a comedy of horrors. My poor surrogate, who was stoically waiting for me to fly in, was very tired, pregnant with a still born and trying to be a rock for me. Her family was all there and everyone was attempting their nicest selves. We all cracked jokes, because that’s another very normal thing a lot of people do when they are sad. Hours and hours they tried to induce her with various means. As any woman who has gone through induction before knows, stress and fatigue do not help the situation and there was no way to get her body to go into labour properly under those conditions. So we were all sent out of the hospital to ‘get rest’ for the night and scheduled to come back in the morning and try again.

My friend and I had to find a hotel for the evening and they were all booked. The small town we were in did not have a reliable taxi service and we ended up walking for over an hour trying to find a place to sleep. I cried all over the place. I cried in the coffee shop, I cried in the diner, I cried down the street and yelled at nothing because there were no people out. My friend was amazing and supportive and cried with me. If you cry in public, it’s okay. People will get over it and just maybe, you’ll meet a good one who will ask you if you’re okay or need help. It’s also okay to tell someone the truth when you’re sad and say, “My baby just died, I’m waiting for her to be delivered right now. I never got to feel her inside me, I never got to know her while she was alive, and now I will never get to. It feels awful.” I don’t think there’s anyone who I told since it happened who also didn’t cry. Totally normal.

The next day, my mother and a swarm of friends from Canada had descended on my house and were watching my daughter, cleaning my place and tending my garden. One friend from the UK even decided to get my eaves fixed and had my couch cleaned. My partner was able to fly down and try to make it for the labour.

A woman who hasn't slept in two days is holding the hand of a woman in labour. She is crying.

My friend, who is a nurse, was amazingly helpful to both myself and my surrogate. Advocating with the hospital staff, making sure I didn’t have to have my ID checked each time I left the area, being the one to explain that we were ‘those people’ with the still born inside another person.

Labour began and I asked my friend, who is also a photographer (as well as nurse and badass moral support), to take shots of the labour. My surrogate’s husband asked if she wanted his hand, she said no. I asked if she minded if I held her hand and she said of course. So I held her hand, thinking of how brave she was. How womanly she was to grow someone’s child and not want to bother anyone with her pain. Trying to tough it out on her own, but still be there for me. My friend, destroyed with her own pain, but trying to capture the moment honestly, so I would have a memory — at least one, with my daughter. This is always how I have seen women in grief. Solid and soft, all in one. An earthquake proof hug.

A woman holds a still born baby girl in her arms. She is crying and trying to get the baby's hand inside her blanket.

The doctor looked up, delighted, (I’m sure this was a reflex) and said, “Oh, she has so much hair!” I knew she would have hair. Just like I did, just like her brother did. I cried. As she was delivered, we all saw that she had the cord wrapped around her neck twice, just like her sister did, which is how I ended up in a c-section with her. Tiny Dancers, twirling in the warm sauna, enjoying the thump, thump, thump of the heartbeat rave.

My then-partner arrived shortly after labour had completed and we were in a private room at that point. It’s also important to note, that while screaming and crying in public are acceptable, not doing that and not crying are also acceptable. Some people can’t and won’t and that’s okay too.

There we were. With so much effort and a dead little girl. A perfect little girl who had been in the warm sauna too long. Some skin peeled. She had blood pooled in parts of her face. She was gorgeous and I refuse to photoshop her now. There are groups that go in and take photographs of your babies that are still born or pass after birth. I did not know, but I was offered this service at the hospital. I also do photography so it was my goal to take all her shots myself. My friend bathed her for us, we dressed her in the outfit I was going to take her home in. She was larger than her sister, and the outfits were a little small. We had been moved to the post-partum ward where there was a little courtyard and I wanted to have photos of her with the sunlight on her face. She would never get to see the sun.

A woman and a man hold each other and cry. They are holding a stillborn baby girl in between them.

Now again, I am a public person, and my method of grief is not for everyone. I have always found great strength from telling my stories, and have amassed a stellar community of helpful, strong people with more empathy than the universe has stars. I now know several other parents who have lost a child and we talk regularly. However, I posted my photos on twitter and had Child Protective Services called on me as though I had ‘gone off the deep end’. It was deeply intrusive and insulting and I can’t even imagine the type of broken thought processes that go through the brain of someone like that. It was a non-issue for CPS, to their credit, but still on top of losing a child, that happened.

I only got one day and then the funeral to be with my sweet little baby girl. My tiny little Rook. I took as many photos as I could, because that’s all I get. I speak about my grief, because my love for her extends well past her death. My arms will not raise to the sky, with an open chest, but my heart is not closed. My words will never be the movie ‘no’. I am reminded daily of all the amazing people who helped me through this hard time and all the times before it, and I will always ask strangers crying in public, “Are you okay? How can I help?”

A woman sits in a window and types on her phone.

How to invite your dead grandma to Christmas

Hand made advent calendar with beads and ribbons glued to make holiday scenes.
Hand made advent calendar with beads and ribbons glued to make holiday scenes.
A fridge magnet of possibility

Reminders of people whom you cared deeply for, but now are dead, are never easy to experience. That game you used to play together, their favourite holiday, a gift they gave you… little flutters in the back of your mind initially make you happy, then a little wistful, ending in ‘there’s-something-in-my-eye’ sad.

My Grandma, who died just about a year and a half ago, did everything when we were little. She made my whole highland dance troop kilts (yes I highland danced – shut up), sewed Halloween costumes, baked, hiked, camped, made all the grandkids their own stockings, dyed a wedding dress black for me in the start of my goth phase (again, yes and also shut up), taught me to sew and basically crafted like a crazed, bedazzling motherfucker. So, there are very few times that I go through daily life without being reminded of her.

This christmas, I wanted a happy reminder that she was totally kick-ass when she was alive, without the sad aftertaste.

A gold partridge with a mohawk hairdo made out of beads. The number 23 is on it in green sparkly paint.
Partridge in a pear tree

My family grew up fairly low income (for many generations) and have learned to be very creative. My Grandma had continued the tradition of making “jumble jar art” out of covering various items with modge podge and sticking interesting found ‘art’ to it. Grandma was so into this that she had an almost hoarder level of craft supplies when she passed and not much else. So, much to my delight, my inheritance was a couple of bags of miscellaneous beads, buttons and broken pieces of interesting looking crap. (Note: This was real delight.)

Crap craft pile in hand, a two year old who I wanted to impress, and some nap times I’d rather not fill with laundry left me with the question: How do you invite your dead Grandma over for Christmas?

Christmas tree tear drop from a hideous necklace and random beads.
Christmas tree tear drop from a hideous necklace and random beads

I decided to make a Grandma advent calendar. I’d fill it with little toys and snacks that I thought Grandma would approve of, and I’d tell my daughter the story of how awesome my Grandma, her Great Grandma, was. I’d tell her how she lived, how she died and that now her ghost gives her treats in containers stuck to the fridge, every day for the month before Christmas. Boosh.

Disclaimer: I’m an Atheist, and I don’t believe in a god or ghosts at all. I kind of believe in Santa… but I firmly believe that childhood should be filled with magic, so lying to kids about things like fairies and dead Grandma ghosts is totally acceptable.

Frosty the jazz-hands snowman created with vintage buttons.
Frosty the jazz-hands snowman

I gave myself constraints, which I love for art projects. You always end up being intensely creative when you’re working with limited supplies. I only used the inherited craft junk and the traditional jumble jar methods, aside from some scrap book paper and puff paints, as Grandma only had ribbons and lace. I’m sentimental and all, but I have standards too. For the containers, I shelled out $53 for magnetic spice containers from the Container Store. Not the cheapest option, but good for space challenges and food safe for snack storage.

Santa Claus made from two earrings no one should ever have worn. The number 24 is painted.
Santa Claus made from two earrings no one should ever have worn.

Making the calendar was time consuming and required proper use of modge podge. For those who actually want to make one, the trick is to paint it on thick and let it dry for a while or else you will be holding it while it dries, screaming the whole time about why-the-fuck your relatives loved using modge podge and not hot glue guns.

Then it’s all about what could you possibly make given a pile of random shiny things and channeling a dead Grandma, so that you can make your kids’ Christmas as magical as she made yours. When your child is thanking her “Great-Magga” for almonds on the 2nd day of December, the memories of her stay happy.

Happy holidays, from me and my dead Grandma.

The stay at home Mominatrix

Woman in a business dress, tied to a chair with her eyes blindfolded with a stuffie. It appears as though the toys have captured her. On the floor to her left, a toddler is holding on to his blankie, upset.
Woman in a business dress, tied to a chair with her eyes blindfolded with a stuffie. It appears as though the toys have captured her. On the floor to her left, a toddler is holding on to his blankie, upset.
we’ve got you surrounded

So, you (this is about me and my situation so your results may vary) waited until after you had your career fully established before adding to global overpopulation — both to avoid poverty and because you enjoy working. Kids cost a lot of money and it’s expensive to live in your urban metropolis, rife with multi-thousand dollar rents for a tiny box in the sky. Medical care doesn’t grow on trees (unless you count money being made of paper, linen, cotton or whatever — but semantics won’t pay for that pediatrician who doesn’t take insurance, so shut the hell up) and the birth alone could set you back five thousand dollars or more. Plus, you had the crazy idea that you wanted to raise your child yourself, from home, so you needed to save up. Whatever you were before, you’re a mominatrix now, and there are a million ways to feel about that.

First, I’m well aware that there are some dads and parents who stay home with the kids. Vag-high-five to those folks. But I’m a woman, and this is about me, so I may ‘gender bias this bitch up’. Don’t get your penis in a knot, and just sub in your preferred pronoun while you read, as I’m sure you might have some of these feelings too. Regardless of your genitals and how hard your job was in the ‘before-time’, there are a few critical variables that will dictate just how much punishment you will endure as a mominatrix, and whether or not you will find it relaxing compared to your prior career.

Have you slept in the last week?

If your brand new alien-hamster does not sleep, has allergies, has colic or anything medical going on, you are likely in love with a bundle of hellish wonderment. I didn’t sleep a full night for an entire year, so I feel your pain. In this situation, going back to work might seem fun just so you can nap during your lunch hour. But in reality, I have no idea how someone could be up all night and then actually think during the day too. I have pretty good chaos-tolerance and even I was fairly close to random stranger stabbing in the street as I strolled my kid for six to eight hours a day, trying to get him to nap. Meanwhile, attending weekly medical appointments to diagnose his particular brand of madness.

Is anyone really helping you?

Support will be critical in the success of your mominatrix career. If your partner does nothing domestic, or only the bare minimum (like my ex-husband) then you might go insane. At work, you at least had a team of people who were working together towards a common goal. In the Mom-sphere, it is baby/toddler/child versus you a lot of the time, and no matter how cute and cuddly they are, you are on your own in terms of task management. I remember in my daughter’s first year, pleading with my then-husband to tell me that I was doing a good job (or acknowledge my effort at all). If you’ve managed to get a horror child to nap, cleaned the house, did any errands, showered, made a meal and still have energy for sex, then you should be put on a pedestal and fed grapes by hand by nubile infertile young men at the end of the day. Partner: be helpful, it’s hard work. And at the very least, if you can’t bring yourself to be helpful, be grateful and appreciative.

I have since initiated a divorce and miraculously procured a nice and helpful boyfriend. Having a partner who actually helps with child rearing and housework is the difference between zen parenting and sniping people from a rooftop. If you have no partner, I empathize — been there, done that, don’t want to do it again. I wish you the tastiest and strongest of scotches at the end of your day

Is your child a tiny energy-filled monster?

The energy level of your child matters. I hear from mom friends who have mellow, introverted kids, who are content playing by themselves and want little interaction. This is not my child. She is a giant pile of screamy fun who pulls you off the couch to go be dinosaurs, or robots, or trucks with her. A seemingly endless source of energy and imagination, I would trade her for no other child, but I have considered selling her on eBay for the ability to sit down for a fucking hour during the day.

I have recently begun feeling that going back to work would be relaxing after two years as a professional mother. I was a project/product manager when I was working full-time so there are a lot of parallels. Life with my toddler is the equivalent of being in argumentative product meetings for ten hours a day, seven days a week, with a two hour break where you get to write documentation in the middle of the day. Then at the end of each day you get to reorganize your product plan because everything has changed on you. So, you have about three hours a day (should you only sleep for six) while trapped in the house, to do anything for yourself.

My then-boyfriend, who worked a minimum of six days a week (with at least twelve hour days), and co-ran a successful technology start-up, felt that my job took a lot of effort.

Do you have a fuck-ton of disposable income?

I stockpiled a year’s worth of baby clothes over two years, bought all the furniture for the nursery, and purchased all the initial baby gear by myself. I also saved up forty-thousand dollars for my maternity leave fund. All this said and done, the money only lasted me until my child was one and then I had to start relying on my then-husband for financial support. It might be cheap to raise a kid in other locales, but San Francisco is stupid expensive, and my kid was medically challenged. If you have a massive cash pile, you can get house cleaners, day nannies, night nannies, personal chefs and all sorts of things to make your life that much nicer. I want to go back in time and punch childless-Erin in the face for being snarky about stay-at-home parents getting house cleaners. Anything you can afford to do, do that. I endorse it and am jealous. Go team you!

Do you feel guilty for everything you do?

I feel incredibly bad for parents who want to stay home during the initial years but can’t afford it. I’m running into that issue right now because the outcome of my divorce is that combined child support and alimony in my situation is not enough to cover my expenses, yet I have full physical custody. The idea that my kid will be out of my parenting hold for fifty hours a week makes me want to throw up. Working sounds amazing, really, but the trade-off for me feels like a mini-death (and not in the French-euphemism-for-orgasm sense). I recently had cancer, so maybe I’m a little over-sensitive about spending time with her, but I know she is as awesome as she is because I really go to town on being a mominatrix.

On the flip side, if stay-at-home parenting is not your thing, I’m sure there is a lot of guilt in that direction too. Welcome to there not being a good answer or a definitive approach that will result in a perfect child. Anyone who tells you they have the best way to do anything parenting related is a liar. Fuck those guys.

Then cut yourself some slack

If all countries allowed for government funded maternity leave until kids were in school, or corporations accepted that people have kids (so that society will continue) and had in-office daycare, then we’d all have a lot less angst about all these things. I know these exist in small numbers — little utopias sprinkled throughout the Earth, where people have fulfilling careers and still see their kids during the day. But they’re not prevalent enough to be an option for everyone. The goal is to not beat yourself up for what you have to do, choose to do, or feel you must do in order to stay sane. Stay at home, go back to work, put your kid in daycare, put them in early preschool, get a nanny, or ship them to your parents during the day. Whichever route gets you to feeling like a happy person and puts food in your kid’s belly is the correct path for you. Just don’t put on your judgy-pants when you look at another parent’s situation, because you don’t know the whole story, and you don’t live in their skin. Most people are simply trying to make it to the next day without their lives turning into Lord of the Flies. Let’s bond together, have a little empathy for each other, and please remember to bring martini fixings (and a virgin option) to all the play-dates.

Battle tactics for toddlers and engineers

Toddler in a pink shirt making a very sad face.
saddest girl in the universe

The scene begins with dramatically rolled eyes. Eyes rolled with such intense inner turmoil that surely the head they live in is an angst-bomb that’s about to explode. Then the almighty “No!” violently escapes her sullen, pouty mouth, spoken in a booming ‘screw-you-lady-you’re-not-the-boss-of-me’ tone of voice. The drama-eyes look off into a fantasy world, dismissing me completely. A mouse is slammed to the table and all of a sudden, someone is not talking to me anymore.

This could either be my toddler after I tell her we are not watching yet another episode of Ruby and Max on iTunes (why does their Grandma not let them live with her?), or an engineer’s response to having to support an older version of Internet Explorer (or any version of IE, really). While not allengineers have the emotional maturity of a two-year-old, there are enough of them who are so terminally passionate about their chosen detailed-code-obsession that easygoing compromise isn’t always their go-to communication style. Fortunately, years of working in tech with strong-willed engineers has completely prepared me for “momming” a standard-issue toddler, so I have some wisdom to impart for anyone attempting to deal with either of these charming archetypes.

Put some food in their cry hole

Generally a lot of bad attitude and unreasonable behaviour for both toddlers and engineers can be avoided if kept well fed. But you want to avoid fast food or sugars because of hyperactivity and heart attacks, respectively. Plus, neither toddler nor engineer is much fun on a sugar-induced mood swing. Greasy foods end up on the fingers, which ends up on your walls, or in hard to reach crevices of keyboards. So the key is to have many easily accessible healthy finger foods (veggies and dips, fruits, nuts, healthy crackers and cheeses) so they can snack to their heart’s content and be less cranky when you need to ask them to do something they don’t want to do — which is almost anything.

Reward good behaviour

Toddler coddling with stickers, sugar-free candies or play time is nothing new or revolutionary. If you want one of the tiny human monsters to do something for you, then offer up these tokens with ease. It’s a harder thing to internalize as a tactic with grown-ups though. Yet, inexplicably, it super works. It is a lot easier to get grumpy people to do what you want if you give them fun little things to cheer them up or dangle a carrot on a stick in front of them (to be redeemed when the job is done). I’ve had many a conversation with other Project Managers who wanted to go with the “just do your fucking job” approach, but there are enough tech jobs out there that you may end up with a retention problem. Embrace your inner parent and suck it up.

Survive the tantrums

I’ve had many an engineer have a full on tantrum in front of me. No lie. “You can’t tell me what to do,” was my personal favourite line from a developer when I was the project manager at an ad agency, seconded by “You can’t say I’m not good at my job.” While you may want to shout, “It’s my job to own what you do!” that rarely gets you the desired outcome.

There are many theories as to what to do with the tantrum heavy toddler, including: time-outs, hug restraints, or completely ignoring them. These don’t usually work with engineers though. I like the approach of empathizing with their plight (no matter how unreasonable it seems to you), offering up a little distraction and then letting them sort themselves out. For a toddler it looks like this: “Yes, it is sad that you can’t have another cookie. Mommy is sorry that you’re upset, but you can play with Legos right now if you’d like.” Then you allow the fit to continue if that doesn’t work. With an engineer it looks like this: “Yes, it is sad that half of our user base is on IE6, but they work in offices where they have no control over upgrading their browsers and if we don’t support them, we will not have pay cheques. You do have to fix that log in screen by tomorrow, but for right now you can play with Legos if you’d like.” As with the toddler, the fit might continue and you go off to drink in the dark.

Define a hostage negotiation approach

“We do not negotiate with terrorists” is fine and dandy when you’re just dealing with peoples’ lives, but what if someone is holding your code hostage near launch day? Or your ability to get some groceries and you are out of milk and diapers…or worse — out of tea? These are the things that really matter, people! Sometimes you do not have time to wait out a tantrum and just need action. This is when giving in is almost the only option. But you’re not reallygiving in, you’re just giving in…for now. Full scale placation is the only approach when you just need to take Screamy McScreamerson and affix her, bondage style, to the front of your bike (in a regulation child bike seat) so that you can get the food you need to live. There is no reasoning with the toddler-monster, and the return policy on children is spotty at best.

Here is where dealing with the toddler-engineer is a little better. You can (at the very least) fire an engineer. They know it, you know it, and presumably, they kind of like their job. So, the above approaches should be all you need to handle any toddler-style unreasonable behaviour. Holding code hostage is a complete dick move. Anything above and beyond general grumpiness should really lead to dismissal after a few warnings. You are, after all, not their parent and people should be expected to behave with a little decorum at work. However, do try to placate them until after you’ve launched (eye on the prize), then you can feel free to send their ungrateful ass off to unemployment-military-school.

This too shall pass

As cumbersome as it may feel while navigating the tumultuous waters of the toddler/engineer tidal waves of misunderstood emotion, it is all working towards a common good. You love your child, who is in the process of learning how to be human and will eventually get over this stage of life. Plus, your kid is mostly awesome and these are transient traits heavily punctuated by regular kisses and cuteness. Your engineer (who may or may not be cute) is very good at their job, which is why they were hired. They are mostly great and helpful, plus they’re usually only grumpy about things that are, at heart, valid concerns. Addressing potential issues at the onset of projects generally nullifies toddler-engineer tantrums, so start there and hopefully you’ll never have to give anyone another time-out at the office.