Give Them Wings…Just Don’t Expect Them to Fly in Formation!

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As a parent, my goal was to raise strong-willed, independent, adventurous and life-loving children, giving them wings to be their authentic and true selves…and I believe that I have done that. Through multiple parenting classes that allowed for voice (How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk) and choice (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting, Sibling Rivalry and anything Barbara Coloroso), opportunities for adventure (no cable) and a lot of luck and hard work, my three adult daughters are just that. They took those wings and have just soared in life, standing up for what they believe in, making choices in life that allow them to grow and living their lives in the best way possible…for themselves.

And there’s the catch…the idea that they would be making choices that are right ‘for them’! When I imagined these independent, powerful women, I didn’t take into account that the choices they would make or the opinions they would have wouldn’t necessarily be mine. Who dathunk that ‘independent’ meant just that, particularly when all three are so very different, one from the other?

Over the years, I may have cringed a time or two when my children walked across the threshold on their way to school or an evening out in an ensemble that rivalled something best worn by Phyllis Diller or Ru Paul in a nightclub or the Cat in the Hat in one of Dr. Seuss’s many children’s novels. Yet, they wore them with flair and a whole lot of pride!

I may not have loved that one traipsed literally across all corners of the Earth, hitchhiking her way through many countries with little more than a toothbrush. Yet, this child has had so many incredible life experiences that continue to astound and amaze me!

I definitely wasn’t overly enthused when another chose to drive through the night to get to her destination because…well, she could. Yet, crazily enough, she made it in one piece and was there to celebrate her friend’s birthday with their many friends, creating memories that she will cherish for a lifetime.

I can guarantee you that I was not impressed when one ended up in my bed after an evening of festivities, smelling much like the remnants of beverages that would be best left on the barroom floor. Yet, she learned albeit it the hard way that perhaps less is more!

I may not have been grateful for every one of their significant others who have graced our home with their presence, and although I bonded with a number of them, there were others who caused to me to rethink my tactics to avoid becoming that crazy mother-in-law that everybody dreads. Oh, did I bite my tongue! Yet today, my daughters are with wonderful, loving partners who treat them with incredible grace and kindness.

So no, I didn’t love every decision that they made, as some made my hair stand on end and others just added to the lustrous gray that I so carefully cover with my dye jobs. But…and here’s the kicker…they are kind, gracious, loving women with amazing partners, strong opinions and a carefree independence that makes my heart sing. Do they think like I do? Not always…and sometimes, not often. Does it matter? No…because they get to live their own experiences…their own mistakes…and their own life lessons.

And what have I learned through my own experiences as a mother. Give your children the wings that they need to soar…just don’t expect them to fly in formation with you! The beauty in this is that you get to go along for this crazy ride that is their life…and every once in a while, you will find yourself laughing hysterically at some of their decisions because…well, karma’s a bitch and sometimes, it’s so very well played!

Remembering Those Left Behind

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When somebody passes away, the initial couple of weeks following a death are filled with the craziness of planning a funeral or a celebration of life, attending to visiting family members and finalizing the remaining tasks that need some attending to as we say goodbye to a loved one. And then life begins to get back to normal and it is then when people tend to be hit the hardest by their loss, when they no longer have the hectic pace to keep them focused on anything other than their pain. I was reminded of this on Saturday.

I attended yet another Celebration of Life last weekend for a woman in her 40s who fought valiantly for nearly four years after being diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in 2015, a parent of former students at a school where I work. The room was packed with family, colleagues, neighbors and close friends as people paid tribute to a life well-lived and well-loved. At her request, there was a great deal of laughter, although more than a few tears were shed during the speeches as those closest to her honored her life and her impact on them.

Throughout this celebration, however, what drew me in most during the celebration were her two teenage children. They handled themselves with dignity and an extraordinary amount of courage throughout the day, although I can only imagine that their hearts were breaking with each memory shared. And I wondered how they will fare as time goes on?

I know from personal experience that when we say goodbye to somebody that we love, the impact can be devastating, and more often than not, it is. During the initial few weeks, our friends rally around us to provide support, and they are there to hold us up when we aren’t able to do so ourselves. This helps more than we could possibly express, because sometimes we don’t even know what it is that we need, so overwhelmed are we by our pain.

Then life begins to go on, and friends pick up with their lives…as they should. And those who are left to navigate their loss do so in whatever way works for them. This is challenging, but we learn to function without the person that we love because we have commitments and obligations that require our presence and our focus. It doesn’t make it any easier, but we take one step forward on a daily basis until we get to a point where that pain is manageable.

Now I’m talking about my experience as an adult. But what happens with the children that have to find their way after losing a parent, a sibling or a friend? Just like us, they will eventually find themselves in a place where the support isn’t as immediate because those who currently have their backs find themselves busy with their own lives. This is a normal course of events in life. But children don’t necessarily have the tools or the life experiences to know how to move their feet forward when it feels like everything is crashing down around them.

So, while watching this woman’s children during an extremely difficult time for them, I was reminded that this is only the beginning for them, and that once all the craziness begins to subside, they will sometimes be absolutely lost…and hurting…and way above their heads with grief. And each of them will handle this pain differently. As I watched them, I worried that those who mean the most to them will forget that this is going to happen…not because they are being callous or cruel or thoughtless, but perhaps they too will be struggling with their own grief over this loss or simply because life has to go on for them as well. And when that happens, there won’t be the same support there to help guide them through their pain.

As I tell everybody who will listen, the hardest part in dealing with the loss of a loved one isn’t the funeral. It is those moments, weeks and months that follow laying a person to rest, when we are alone with our thoughts. My hope is that those closest to her children will take the time to check in, to include them in not only their festivities, but the day-to-day activities that take place in their lives, to talk or to listen, to laugh and to cry, and that they are there to celebrate those moments that meant so much to these children over the years. And eventually, with the love and support of their friends and family, the two of them will find their own rhythm, albeit different, one that will guide them on a path that allows them to find some peace along the way. As I watched them on the weekend, that was my hope for them.

 

When Stuff Happens…

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Being on time for appointments or soirées may not prove difficult for some. These people are organized, pre-planned and on the ball. However, trying to get anywhere when you have multiple children requires an exercise in military precision in the execution of all things necessary to get out the door, in the car, and on your merry way. I have learned this the hard way. Three daughters of the spirited variety can prove challenging. Motivating them to be ready for any outing at a specific time is an endeavour not for the faint of heart.

This is one of those times. We spent a considerable amount of time at doctors’ appointments for our second child for the better part of her first five years. Suffering from a severe case of GERD, she saw her fair share of specialists and waiting rooms. On one particular morning, we had an important 11 a.m. appointment with a specialist. Thinking ahead, I got my girls ready a little earlier than usual, because this involved being decked in ski suits and snow boots. Welcome to my world in January.

With everybody ready to go, we headed out the door. Then, just as we got to the car, she (for whom we were going to see the specialist) let out a fart that rivalled a sonic boom. As I was fairly confident that this would require a diaper change, I hurried back in the house, my brood in tow, yelling that Mommy would just be a ‘few minutes’ as I made my way towards her bedroom. As I quickly peeled off her layers, I discovered that this required much more than a quick diaper change as the child had literally shat herself from head to toe. The most pressing question at that moment was how a baby that small could hold that much in her tiny body…seriously! And then, what would I do for another winter coat for her?

That aside, not a stranger to speed under pressure, I quickly washed, rinsed, dried and changed her in under eight minutes, no easy feat, I might add, while she cooed and giggled. I quickly shoved her into another of my eldest’s hand-me-downs, a little worse for wear, and off we went. Then, as we were literally just out the door, she stopped us with another wet fart of ridiculous proportions. My five-year-old actually rolled her eyes, and back in the house we went. I completed this wash and rinse cycle in under six minutes this time, although I dropped a few pounds, perspiration dripping through my winter coat. Had I mentioned that to save time, I kept on my winter gear both times? Not my best move!

So, once back in her snowsuit that had seen better days, we hurried out the door for attempt #3. Just as I was getting her into her car seat, guess what? Yup….sooooo, back in we ran for another round of ‘Clean the klitch’ out of every crevice on her tiny frame. While she was trying to play with her toes, giggling away, I was certainly breathing heavy, my hair plastered to my head. To say that I was flushed would be an understatement. But, my discomfort aside, I had to make due with a huge blanket as a makeshift ski suit, wrapping her up in mummy-like fashion. Her new ensemble in place, we made it out the door, three kids in tow, tossing them into their car seats at break neck speed and making it safely to the doctor’s office with one minute to spare…10 lbs lighter, I might add, but on time!

This was one of many experiences with my daughters that taught me a few valuable lessons. The upside is that it still makes me laugh…and question my sanity! What did I learn from this little gem?

  1. If you need to be somewhere, give yourself ample time to get there in case of emergencies that tend to pop up ever so unexpectedly…because as you may have noted in this story, sh*t happens…like children with ridiculously loose bowels!
  2. Don’t panic if everything isn’t going according to plan! Going back to Point #1, sh*t happens that is sometimes out of your control. So just roll with it…get creative…and keep moving!
  3. What I also learned is that you’ll get where you’re supposed to be eventually, even if sh*t happens…so breathe! It will all likely work out and you’ll definitely have an entertaining story to tell at some point. And if it doesn’t, go back to Point #2.

Driving on 42nd Street…

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I’m not a fan of driving…chalk it up to multiple car accidents, none of which, I might add, were my fault. The first was a head-on collision in the mid-80s, courtesy of a very drunk driver on the streets of Montreal. Obviously, my love for this activity took a very quick nosedive, followed by 10 (yes, 10) other fender benders where drivers seemed to be drawn to the side of my car as they cruised through stop signs off of side streets. If my anxiety and stress levels in the passenger seat are any indication of my current stance on driving, then there is every likelihood that I suffer from some form of PTSD when it comes to this mode of transportation.

So, you can imagine my joy when I learned that we would be travelling to certain destinations by car in the fine state of New York. Slightly apprehensive would be a start! Based on past experience, to say that driving in Manhattan verges on psychotic is an understatement, particularly in rush hour traffic…or rain…or snow…and I’m guessing when there isn’t a cloud in the sky. It is absolutely insane, and this was only my observation as a pedestrian a number of years ago when I came close to losing parts of my anatomy to taxis that veered too close to the sidewalk.

This time around was a whole new experience, as I hung off the roof in our rented Flex, clutching the ‘Oh Shit’ handle in a vice grip that would rival Thor’s any day of the week. Fortunately, my friends are far saner than I behind the wheel and navigated the streets of New York like pros. Yet, despite their expertise, we were honked at numerous times for reasons that I will never understand. We were boxed in on side streets by drivers in massive trucks, and forced to take tight corners on a dime. Others came so close to our vehicle that I could literally have reached out and patted them on the cheek…or poked their eyes out, depending on my current mood. And there is nothing as unnerving as being able to count the flecks in somebody’s eyes because of their very unwelcome proximity to the side of your car. And this was just in a four-block radius!

Hitting the highway was another story altogether, with back-to-back traffic going at breakneck speed in a downpour that made a trip on the 401 seem like a Sunday drive in the countryside. An accident on the opposite side of the highway with emergency vehicles en masse at the site did NOTHING for my peace of mind, so I just hung on to the handle all the more tightly and tossed up a prayer or two that we arrive to our destination unscathed. Again, my friends were troopers and handled that Flex with scary precision. I mean, what’s a storm? Or driving in the dark on two wheels? One would have thought that they did this on the daily! And for that, I am forever grateful.

Now that I’m home on my own turf, I am so very thankful that I can navigate the streets in my hometown relatively stress-free. And if I ever hear somebody complain about rush-hour traffic again, I’ll thank my lucky stars that I’m in it, and not stuck in the middle of 42nd or Broadway between a delivery truck with poor exhaust and an overzealous taxi driver. I’ll take this traffic any day of the week!

When life gives you lemons, get out your glow sticks!

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This past Friday, I was busy in my office getting through some reports before the students began filing in, when the power went out. What I thought might be a quick fix turned out to be an all-day affair, so much of the building was in complete darkness. Fun, fun, fun! Out came the flashlights, classes were redistributed in the building, and two washrooms became the go-to points for all 415 students in our care.

Not having an intercom or a bell system due to the power outage was slightly problematic. So, to ensure that students knew when to leave for recess and come back in, I turned to my handy old school bell, à la Little House on the Prairies. There is nothing like clanging that thing and watching 400 heads pop up on the field and start running back to class. It’s hilarious! I also learned that while holding a flashlight, it is best not to talk with one’s hands as you tend to blind people that way!

At the same time, as I meandered the hallways, guiding students to and from their classes, it was clear that teachers were changing up their lesson plans, as access to technology was out of the question. Talk about adaptability and creativity! One highlight was an impromptu haunted maze in the gym that our physical education team opted to set up for the students, using glow sticks as their guide. They loved it!

Throughout the day, at no time was anybody in danger, and although it was a slight inconvenience, particularly when a few of the toilets in one washroom began to overflow, we made due with what we had in front of us. And according to many of the students that I talked to, they loved the adventure…it was the best day ever!

So when life tosses you a lemon, throw in a couple of glow sticks, a few flashlights and an ancient bell, and you’ll have a recipe for some pretty great stuff! That’s my kind of lemonade!

A grain of strength

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So, you know when you hear something that just makes you cringe. That’s how I feel when somebody says that you are never dealt more than you can handle. I get that some people struggle to find the right thing to say in light of a sad or tragic event, but I can’t find the logic behind this particular sentiment. How do you explain this to the parents whose son was diagnosed with an aggressive form of pediatric brain cancer? Or to the young children not yet in school whose mother died of brain cancer just three months after she was diagnosed? Or to the wife whose husband was also diagnosed with this same brain cancer on the day that their youngest was born, only to have him die three months later as well. Or to the woman who lost her best friend in the most bizarre of accidents? Or to the family whose mother died 11 weeks after she was diagnosed with cancer, when the week before her diagnosis, she was living life to the fullest?

I think that sometimes, we’re given too much to handle. And sometimes, what happens to us seriously sucks. It can be overwhelming and heartbreaking, gut-wrenching and ridiculously painful at times. And it can be way more than many can carry. But part of being human is that despite being incredibly broken, some of us still find the strength to face the next day, and the one after that, and the one after that because what other choice do we have?

What I do know is that these nightmares didn’t happen to these families, mine included, because we could ‘handle’ it. And it doesn’t mean that we weren’t given more than we could handle…far from it. It just means that at some point, for lack of an alternative, we picked ourselves up and moved forward in whatever way we could. And for some, that grain of strength is all we’ve got.

When Your Taco Falls Apart

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Today, I’m tired…bone tired and in need of about 18 hours of sleep. It might have something to do with a solid weekend of renos, but I digress. This brings me to a post that my friend put up on Facebook (maybe it was last week…my days seem to be melting together these days!)…reminding us to give ourselves a break when life gets a tad crazy.

It’s okay if you fall apart sometimes. Tacos fall apart and we still love them.

This made me giggle just a little, but then I thought about it for a minute and realized that the work we do can be overwhelming sometimes. And with that in mind, we need a reminder every once in a while that it’s okay to not be perfectly put together…because that’s life, and like it or not, it’s going to be messy.

Don’t get me wrong…I love what I do! But life as an administrator can be a tough gig. The same can be said for classroom teachers. I’m fortunate in that I have amazing students, an incredible staff and a supportive parent community. Yet, there are still days when my world gets extremely chaotic.

As administrators, we are teacher, accountant, mediator, disciplinarian, organizer, negotiator, nurse, doctor, electrician (okay, just once, but still!), clown, magician, custodian, juggler, politician, counsellor, entertainer, guest lecturer, event planner and vomit removers. And the list could go on! We take home with us our students’ trauma, their abuse and their pain, a weight that drags us down on the best of days. We carry with us the sting of words that parents have tossed our way because we aren’t enough of something. We don’t sleep because we are getting emails at all hours of the night from parents who ‘don’t want to bother’ us, but just need to get something off their chests at 3:00 a.m. and so we carry the burden of their concerns or their pain as well, wearing it like a second skin. Some days, this career path can be exhausting.

But mostly, it’s exceptionally rewarding. When your student who has been struggling with something for the better part of his school career comes running to you because he is so proud of something that he has accomplished, your heart sings. When a child calls out to you in the hallway to tell you that she loves you, your heart melts. The hugs and high fives, the smiles and the dance moves…these are the little things that make my day.

Then, there are those times when a student comes forward to ask to redo something because she suddenly had a better idea and would like to tweak an idea and then you know she is in it for the learning and not the grade! Or the ones who have achieved something that they didn’t think possible. Or the ones who have given you so many of the gray hairs on your head and who have finally turned a corner and are walking a little taller, with a little more confidence. Or the child who absolutely never spoke in class until last year, and now he’s rocking the planet with his public speaking because his teacher believed that he could. I have experienced many of these moments, and they remind me every day about why I do what I do for a living.

Yet, last week, I had one of those days when my taco wasn’t all together, and then, my little guy came running up for his afternoon hug, letting me know that things were good, and suddenly, things were really okay!

And so I know that when my taco is falling apart, I can go back to these reminders, these bucket-filling moments… my students’ pride, their smiles, their joy and their laughter… and then I get my salsa on, and I do what I need to do to get going with my day. Because falling apart or not, my taco is still amazing!