Missing Him

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Six years and it feels like yesterday. Having lived through loss multiple times in my life, I know that grief comes in waves. Sometimes, it is all consuming and other times, you can manage it. As times goes on, you learn to move forward with it, and in spite of it, you live your life and you grow because of it. (If you haven’t had an opportunity to listen to this video, check out ‘We don’t move on from grief. We move forward with it.’ by Nora McInerny at https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=khkJkR-ipfw.)

Today, on the anniversary of my father’s death, with all that is going on around us with this pandemic, I miss him…his laughter, his sense of humour and his zany ability to lift me up, whatever the circumstances.

So today, I remember stories passed on down to me over the years by Dad and his friends of his crazy childhood, realizing early on that I may have inherited my sense of adventure from his gene pool. School was not his passion, in large part because he was forced to write with his right hand when he was solidly a leftie, and the fact that his father didn’t see the importance of getting him glasses so that he could actually see what was going on until well after he left high school. So, he made up for his ‘learning’ in other ways. He was the boy who let hedgehogs loose in a crowded movie theatre (all about cause & effect, and physics – at what speed would the hedgehog have to go before eliciting the first scream?)…the child who built an ice blockade across a busy street in the hopes of watching cars careen through it, only to be stopped by the first car to turn the bend, an RCMP officer (more cause & effect, some physics and definitely all things tied to law enforcement). He played knock-on-ginger relentlessly, learning early on in his childhood the benefits to being able to outrun everybody in his neighborhood (definitely some math tied in there). He may or may not have been one to turn down a dare, and although I can’t confirm it, there are tales of a streaking adventure at some point. Whether or not he shared all of the goings on of his growing up years, we absolutely got a few laughs out of these stories, the wild child that he was.

As we grew up, his love of life didn’t stop, nor did his love of learning. He still kicked up his heels on the dance floor with Mom, was quick to laugh at somebody’s joke and was surrounded by our friends regularly, drawn into his circle with his easy smile and sense of humour. He was everybody’s favorite uncle and a crowd favorite at a party. At the same time, he read everything in sight, taking in information about what was going on in his world. Despite his questionable career as a student, the man was brilliant and continued to be curious about everything until the end.

Above all this and aside from a love of life and a somewhat ‘out-there’ taste for adventure, Dad also passed down what I believe to be his greatest lesson to me, something that I have taken to heart and do my best to live up to.

‘Don’t regret your mistakes…learn from them.’

He laughed often at his past, but he spent his life growing as a person, accepting those ‘wrong decisions’ as life lessons. That may be why he was so accepting of  others and what drew my friends to him in the first place. What I know is that I’m a better person because of having him in my life for 50 years. So today, I remember him…his laughter…our friendship…his kindness…and his goodness. On this day, his anniversary, I miss him and I remember…today and every day.

Changing My Mindset

Change Your MindsetIt is Day 9 for my household in our world of social distancing and quarantine. My once empty-nest is now inhabited by my youngest child who was fortunately able to return from her studies abroad in one piece. That said, because she is in isolation, she is quarantined to two back rooms and a short hallway. Not much of an existence, but she had already been in isolation-mode in Portugal for three weeks prior to arriving home, so she is very much used to living in tiny spaces. She does, however, long for the day when she won’t have to wear gloves of the cleaning variety, because they are far too enormous for her little hands. Continuing on through her studies with this fashion statement makes for an interesting attempt at essay-writing! But then, it’s all about your mindset and she is currently rocking the look…from a huge distance…behind closed doors!

And that brings me to this idea of mindset in very challenging times. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I don’t do well with lots of time on my hands. My calendar is generally jam-packed with activities for school, family commitments or social obligations. On a good month, I have two to three evenings where I have nothing to do and only myself for entertainment. And believe me, I cherish those times. However, I also love being active and engaged in everything, so this new reality brought on by a pandemic is causing me to rethink my game plan. And that involves a change in my mindset, one that I’m working on daily.

Take Friday, for example. Time to do my laundry, I began hanging things up on our clotheshorse when I stepped in a fairly significant puddle in my laundry room. My first reaction was that my washer had tanked on me, but lo and behold, it was actually coming from outside. It seems that the snow had melted alongside my house at breakneck speed and filled my window wells above capacity. So, I spent a good portion of my evening draining water, drying out my laundry room and shoveling snow away from the house. At any other time in my life, I would have been irritated by the whole idea of mini-flood clean-up. But on Friday night, it kept me busy and I ‘welcomed’ the challenge as a diversion from the quiet of the evening. This change in mindset helped me get through a frustrating hiccup in my everyday life.

This pandemic has also allowed me the opportunity to walk regularly, something that I really enjoy but that I don’t always have the time to do. I may have been a tad overzealous in my desire to be outside, because, by the fourth walk last Saturday, our pooch was finding every possible hiding place in the house when she saw me coming. So, I’ve learned to tamper my enthusiasm when it comes to getting her outdoors. Instead, I find time for myself, on the quietest routes possible so that I am not climbing over fences to ensure that I’ve given people on the street ample distance from me. And when the streets are empty, that is the best time to just be. This week, my 5-year-old self was doing a happy dance as I crunched all the ice on frozen puddles along my way to work, without a care in the world and nobody to comment on my stomping. As only a 5-year-old could be, I may have also been slightly irritated when somebody had actually done the ice crunching on one street before I got to it. Seriously!

I’ve also found time to meditate on a daily basis, and although I tried to do this regularly pre-social-distancing, it was sometimes a struggle to find time in the day because I had so much on my plate. Now, I can get to it without feeling the pressure of moving on to the next activity on my calendar! Definitely a bonus. I have also begun an 8-week course on the Science of Well-being. I realize that this continues to add to my plate, but it’s a good thing, because how can you not enjoy learning about happiness!

The downside to living a quarantine, social-distancing kind of life is that I have the four walls in my home to interact with, so I am now at a stage where I am talking out loud to myself…and am responding to my own voice! This is what happens when the only other person in the house is in quarantine-mode. The upside is that I am really enjoying my own responses, so I’d say that this is definitely a win-win!

My take-away from this first two weeks of life as we know it with COVID-19 is that I need to change my mindset. This pandemic will not last forever…I hope, as long as everybody does their part by continuing to practice social distancing and self-isolation. In the meantime, I am learning to settle down, to breathe and hopefully to understand what it means to be a bit more peaceful in my life. I’m choosing to find the positives!

 

Dear Parents

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Dear Parents:

With school closures and this new role of classroom teacher now thrust into your laps, you may be feeling overwhelmed over the enormity of what you think you are expected to accomplish with those school packages that have been sent home with your children. How are you going to do everything when you are working full-time, you haven’t tackled an algebraic equation in 20 years, and you haven’t got a clue from what hole they’ve pulled a hyperbole? Will you fall short in the parenting department if you don’t have an itemized calendar with minute-by-minute activities so that your poor children do not fall down that dark hole, never to return because you couldn’t help them write a haiku? And how will you survive this gong show that may be your life right now? I get it. You may be feeling all sorts of ‘stressed out’.

Here’s a reality check. With this unprecedented experience that we are going through right now, believe me when I tell you that your children are just as anxious and nervous about everything as you may be at this very moment. Their new ‘normal’ means being away from friends and their lives at school and activities, which may not feel very good to many of them. And, when they are stressed, they may act out so that you find yourself on the receiving end of behaviors that won’t make you jump for joy, which will undoubtedly only add to your current level of frustration.

My advice to you. Don’t stress about a daily calendar that itemizes your children’s every move. Don’t worry if you can’t walk them through their mathematical equations. Stay calm when they start bucking your desire for them to do their homework. Trust me when I tell you that they will not fall into the abyss of educational failure. When things get back to normal, the teachers will step up and meet their students where they are at, just as they do every day that they are all in class together.

At this point, I can’t stress strongly enough that you just heap on the love when you are with your children, comfort them, and enjoy your time with them (with or without a martini). Learning experiences take place in all forms of activities and when they are shared with the people that you love, the memories created last a lifetime. So, read together, bake those cookies, play that boardgame, toss a ball around in your backyard, build a fort out of every sheet that you have in the house, take a virtual field trip with them, watch a movie or ten, and take some time throughout the day for everybody to find their own space.

I promise you that once all this fades away as a distant memory, your children won’t remember what assignments they didn’t submit, nor will the teachers. They will, however, remember the time that you spent with them in the comfort of their own home and how you helped them navigate a very bizarre time in their lives. So, let the stress of completing every assignment go…just breathe…and make the most out of this time with your babies.

Sincerely,

A Principal

 

Less Doing, More Being

Less Doing More Being

For somebody who is notoriously incapable of sitting still for long periods of time, social distancing and self-isolation may prove to be a tad challenging. On average, I have two or three evenings to myself per month because of commitments to my family, students and social life. And when that happens, there are many moments when I would just love to curl up into the fetal position in a warm, fluffy blanket and hibernate for a few days.

But when that no longer becomes a choice but a necessity, that whole hibernation thing doesn’t seem quite as enticing. Yesterday was my first glimpse of what the next three weeks are going to be like…if not longer…and let’s just say that I didn’t blow it out of the park with my ability to adjust! In my head, I was thinking about all the things that I would be able to accomplish with my Spring cleaning and to-do list. So, I got started.

On Day 1 of self-imposed isolation, I walked the dog three times. When she saw me eyeing her up for a fourth round, she hid in the bedroom with my child who is in isolation. Clearly, how much exercise does a pooch need?

I then tackled my pantry…nothing speaks joy like organized and crisp shelves until you drop a can of tomatoes on your foot. And then there is a little less joy and a lot more cursing.

Then, as I elevated my tootsies, I wrote two blogs that I haven’t decided if I will post, in part because they sounded like I had been looped up on a special blend of painkillers. Clearly, the blood had rushed to my foot and vacated the premises in my brain. The upside is that I was writing, so yay me!

Once the throbbing in said foot had subsided, I figured that I may as well continue to hone this physique…because clearly with all this time, these abs have to make an appearance at some point. At the moment, they’re still at the peek-a-boo stage. So, I engaged in an online block therapy class. It should be noted that when you have dropped a can of tomatoes on a foot, you might want to stay away from working on that area. Just a thought!

Following this session of ‘let’s find your abs’, I decided to write a couple of letters to family members. After writing two four-pagers of very detailed updates to an aunt and uncle, I had an epiphany… in order for them to read the letters, they would have to actually open the envelopes, which may entail transmitting the virus. So…I called them, and we chatted about the four pages of minutia that I had intended to share with them via the post office.

In between the walks, the pantry-cleaning, the letter- and blog-writing and the work-out session, I also did my laundry, sterilizing the facility in between washes to ensure that I wasn’t transferring anything COVID-19 to my one child who remains at home (but who had left and is now back because of the Coronavirus…and that’s for another blog!). And then I was looking for something else to do…all before 3:00 p.m. So, evidently…I need help!

True to form, help showed up in the form of a text from my sister who shared a link to a free online course on the Science of Well-being. And although my first inclination was to whip through the 8 weeks of coursework yesterday, my ever-so astute sister Facetimed me and reminded me that perhaps I would like to slow it down a tad, as it’s not a race.

So today, I took my time and I did my homework. I ‘savoured’ my walk along the Seine River this morning as I maintained my distance from others enjoying the day…at least until Freddie the Fox started tailing me, licking its lips like I was one mighty fine snack…this is not the kind of savour that I had in mind. That said, I enjoyed the peacefulness of my walk today and made an effort to enjoy my surroundings…which may be why I noticed the fox in the first place! At any rate, I will work through the assignments set out each week in this course and hopefully, I will get a little better at ‘less doing and more being’. Stay tuned for my progress!

 

Covid-19…be smart about it!

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My daughter is home from Europe. That may not seem like a big deal to some, but for our family, it is cause for celebration, especially with all that she has experienced in the past month. The problem is that we can’t celebrate, at least not in the hug-her-tight, whoop-it-up kind way that we are used to. Why? Because she has been living in a country where COVID-19 is very much a reality…where people were dying at a ridiculous rate…where businesses were shut down…where food was flying off the shelves in stores…where the streets were empty and people were holing up in their homes because they were mandated to…where masks and gloves were the order of the day. We’re just beginning to get a taste of that here, as our schools shut down and businesses are beginning to close their doors for a period of time. According to her, we have no idea what we’re in for.

What we understood and experienced is that, as borders closed around Europe and international travel was being banned in countries surrounding her, we were praying that her flight would not be cancelled…that she would not be stranded in a foreign country…and if she was, that she would have access to the necessities in life. Because the reality is that we weren’t guaranteed that any of these things would happen.

Fortunately for us, she made it home in all her masked and gloved glory. Her arrival into Winnipeg was a very strange experience, however, as this is the first time in my life that I cannot hug my child after an extended absence…that I cannot curl up with her on the couch discussing all that she has experienced while overseas. I cannot sit with her at the dinner table for a meal. I cannot share anything with her, as she keeps herself well-distanced with her mask and gloves on her little frame every minute of the day, sanitizing evry space that she comes in contact with.

When my daughter listens to people from her hometown talk about what is happening with the Coronavirus and their often-laissez-faire attitudes, she tells them that they have absolutely no clue about the destruction that this virus can cause. To some, a mask and gloves may be overzealous, wiping down every space with disinfectant may be over the top, and washing your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds may seem excessive. And self-distancing or self-isolation? Please! But to the most vulnerable, this can save a life. Having lived it, she gets it. Here in Canada, we’re just catching up.

So, rather than complain about the inconvenience that a school shutdown or forced isolation may cause, figure out a way to make it work and recognize that the role you play in taking precautions will go a long way to stopping the spread of this virus.

From a person’s perspective who has much more experience than I do with this, here are some of my daughter’s suggestions.

  1. Tone it down on the purchase of toilet paper. No family should have to go on a scavenger hunt for toilet paper because another family has chosen to stock up with enough rolls to accommodate a family of five for three years. This might also go a long way to bringing down the anxiety level for people, because nothing shouts stress more than empty shelves at a grocery store. Be reasonable with your purchases.
  2. If you are separated from family members because of a quarantine or an imposed self-isolation, reach out to them through Skype or Facetime. You may not have that physical contact, but a laugh is still a laugh, wherever and however it happens.
  3. Write letters to people that you haven’t contacted in ages. They will be thrilled to receive something other than a bill or a flyer in the mailbox. And if you don’t like to write, go back to point 2. That said, if you have been in contact with somebody with Covid-19, continue with point 2.
  4. For those of you who aren’t required to wear a mask and gloves throughout the day, breathe! Play cards with your family, work on that model airplane that has been collecting dust in your closet for the last decade, clean out those closets that have been housing things like a decade-old model airplane, draw, read, dance like nobody’s watching, build a fort (and yes, adults can do this), sing (and in our case, it is best if nobody is listening!), reorganize your bedroom, take walks when the coast is clear in your backyard, workout, cook together…just bond and be together.
  5. Be smart about the contact that you have with the people in your life. Wear the mask, put on the gloves, wipe down the spaces that you touch. Excessive? Not to the people most at risk, and all it takes is one person who hasn’t taken the necessary precautions to cause absolute devastation to a family with somebody who is vulnerable to this virus. So, use your heads!
  6. Crazy thought, but the more care that you take now to eradicate this virus, the better that life will be and the sooner we can go back to normal.

My daughter is practical…and as somebody who has lived in chaos for a while now, she understands the impact that COVID-19 can have on a society. So, wear the mask, put on the gloves, use the disinfectant soap and sanitizer, refrain from bodily contact with the people you come in contact with…and then laugh at how ridiculous you look, with the knowledge that you are playing your part in helping make life healthier for everybody. And the upside is that we get to bond with those that we love…even from a distance.

Now, I’m off to FaceTime with my child.

 

 

The Dash

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A friend posted the poem, The Dash by Linda Ellis on her Facebook page this week, and it brought me right back to my student, Matthew. He passed away this past Friday, following a cancer diagnosis last June. Selfishly, I wish that his dash had been decades longer, and that the world had been able to benefit from his awesomeness. Sadly, however, this isn’t to be. At the age of 10, his physical body could no longer support him and so now, we find ourselves grieving for his parents and ourselves. And that hurts beyond measure.

Yet, when I read this poem, I felt somewhat better. I know that Matthew lived his dash to the fullest. He was the epitome of kindness, of joy, and of empathy and was considered by everybody to be such an amazing friend. He spent his time raising his classmates up…he complimented them, he helped them when they were struggling, he cut them some slack when they weren’t being on their best behavior. His smile radiated in a classroom, and his friends and teachers fed off of his positivity. In short, Matthew loved every minute of his dash.

And he was so incredibly introspective from a very young age. At nine, shortly after he became ill and despite being as sick as he was, he summarized what life is to him,

“I think we have about the best life we could have. It’s not a life of perfection, it’s a life of, like, change and discovery.” (Matthew Isaak, May 11, 2019)

This is how he lived his short ten years. We experienced life through his eyes as he inhaled his own learning experiences, thriving when given a challenge. He absorbed everything that he read, like there wasn’t enough time on this planet to get through all of the amazing books that he held in his hands. He excelled not only academically, but as a team player as well on and off the field…or the ice…or the court. He loved sports cars and spent a great deal of time coming up with new designs with his many Lego pieces. And he questioned everything, as he wrapped his head around new ideas and concepts. In essence, he was passionate about learning.

Despite the adversity that he faced since April of last year and some seriously brutal moments that would knock the strongest of us down, Matthew chose to look at his circumstances with optimism. Regardless of his diagnosis, it was still the best life he could live…and he made the most of his time. He continued to be creative with his Lego pieces…he read…he kept up with his friends…he made the most of a very harsh reality and just lived his best life with what he had. These are gifts that he passed on to his peers and to his teachers over the years.

So, I would say that when people rise up to speak about him during his Celebration of Life in a few weeks’ time, they will be able to say that this dear boy lived his dash in the best possible way…with an incredible zest for life, a love of learning, an infectious optimism and an undeniable ability to bring joy to everybody in his life.

And I know that I will remember him every time that I get to look at the mural that is being created in his honour in our library…every time that I sit under the tree that we are planting to remember him by…every time I see (or walk on) a Lego piece. I will remember Matthew’s dash…in all its imperfections because it was a beautiful and extraordinary dash. My hope is that those who were impacted by his presence on this earth will take his lead, making their own dashes the best possible versions of ourselves. This boy taught me so much…now it’s time to live up to that.

Having to say goodbye

 

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Today was a hard day…ridiculously hard. Most days, I absolutely love what I do, but today was not one of those days. In June of last year, we received the news that one of our students had been diagnosed with Midline Diffuse Glioma, a very aggressive form of pediatric brain cancer. It has been just over eight months since this tumor was discovered and today, we learned that our boy passed away early this morning. Having to share this news with staff and students was heartbreaking. Witnessing his young friends grieve the loss of their buddy was gut wrenching. So, today was not a good day.

Now, I believe wholeheartedly that what you put out into the universe is what you will get back. In Matthew’s case, this could not have been truer. After learning a couple of weeks ago that there wasn’t anything more that his family could do to help him, his father asked if we could arrange an opportunity for his son to be able to say goodbye to his friends. Rather than a quiet room for a few friends to gather, our team decided to celebrate him in the best possible way and within a few hours, after reaching out to various people and organizations, our community responded with such enthusiasm and generosity that we were able to put together an extraordinary party in his honour just two short weeks ago. The love in that gymnasium for his boy was mind-blowing, something that we will carry with us for years to come, and a true testament to his impact on all of us.

Why? Matthew was an exceptional child, the type of person who brought the sunshine in with him whenever he walked into a room. He was talking at 6 months, reading independently at 2 ½, and whipping through novels at the age of 6 that many teenagers would find difficult. His buddies and classmates considered him a great friend, a team player whether on the soccer field or in the classroom, and always that one person who would help them to understand something when it became too difficult for them. He lifted them up, he built their confidence and he always chose to see the positive and the best in everybody, no matter the situation. He was one in a million.

As his Principal, I loved this boy. He was engaging…he was so full of life…and he saw the world with such gentle eyes. It was a joy to be in his presence. When I first got to know him in Grade 1, he never hesitated to share his learning with me, or his enthusiasm for life in general. One day, he was discussing one of the novels that he was reading with me…or at least, attempting to discuss it with me. Unfortunately, I wasn’t so crisp with the details about some of the characters in the story. You can only imagine his confusion when an adult couldn’t quite follow along. So, rather than get frustrated at my ineptness, this little 6-year-old very casually said, ‘It’s okay, Madame. You can’t know everything!’ Then, he gently touched my arm and followed up with, ‘That’s why I’m here!’ This boy made me laugh! To say that he has taught me a great deal over the years would be an understatement, as his impact on our community was so unbelievably far-reaching for a 10-year-old child.

So, today, my heart is broken…we lost an angel of a human being this morning, a young boy who did so much to teach us about being the best versions of ourselves.

My friend, I am so glad and so very blessed that you were here for all of us…I am a better person for knowing you…I will miss you always.