24 in 24

Earlier this week Calgary Police mentioned they had attended 24 suicide calls in 24 hours. And everywhere I turn I see the fallout. Six years ago today a really great guy made that choice and I’ll never know why… and it doesn’t help me give any answers to the families I meet who are shocked beyond words when someone they love takes their own life. And the ripple effects through the 3-10+ first responders that attend every single successful suicide … it’s almost mind-boggling.

I know we could talk about warning signs, but there isn’t a teenager alive that hasn’t given those at some point… and those battling with depression or life changes … everyone at some point goes through The Shit.

Don’t wait until you read the warning signs of suicide articles or feel more equipped or someone says they want to die. Just listen to that still, small voice in your head and when it says “smile at that person” or “call that person” or “send a quick text” … just do it.

When you see flowers at the grocery store, pick some up and bring them to someone.

Send a message when a Facebook status seems down.

Smile at someone who looks frustrated.

Ask the crying mom in the parking lot if she’s ok.

Knock on your neighbour’s door and give her your second loaf of banana bread.

Call that friend you had a fight with.

Ask someone if they are ok, even if they are That Person Who Is Always Ok.

Listen to them.

Think about the last person you texted with or the last person whose Facebook status you commented on … what would you do if you knew they were considering suicide? The stats on successful and unsuccessful suicides are clear, but it’s estimated up to 1 in 3 people consider it at some point in their lives. ONE IN THREE. The World Health Organization says that every 30 seconds someone dies by suicide and for each one of those … 20 more attempt. Every 30 seconds.

Look around your PTA meeting … your firehall … your hospital hallway … your home. Your family. Your street. Your school.

I’ll be honest – you may not save or stop them.

But you might.

And you’ll know you tried.

Rescuing Rosie

She was found wandering along a dangerous path: the highway south of our city. Whether she’d been born outside or had run away, we’ll never know, but she was alone, tired, thin, and sweet, despite the obvious miles she’d put on her small frame. Someone found her, took her to a local clinic and she found herself at the AARCS Safe Haven.

Around the same time, I found myself at the end of my own path. A crossroads with marriage behind me and a new, fresh wilderness ahead. I had a map from the last time but it doesn’t make the going easy. Dragging my baggage along some singletrack dirt path with my travelling companions Guilt and Doubt following close on my heels. No safe haven in sight.

She’s your generic ‘rez dog’. A dog born on one of the nearby Indian Reservations. A mixed breed who appears to have some German Shepherd, Border Collie, Coyote (?), and maybe Pit Bull … who knows. Hip bones jutting out, you can count her ribs easily. But her soft brown eyes still have hope in them when she looks at you. Others haven’t been lucky and fear and distrust are all you can see. Or, in the worst cases, total lack of concern for their own welfare. But not Rosie, she was rescued before things became too desperate.

What’s readily apparent is that she has had at least one, possibly two, litters of puppies. And she’s barely two-years old. Where those puppies have ended up is anyone’s guess.

I’d signed up as a foster parent about a month earlier. AARCS had been recommended by my friend Kim at Shawville PetValu. But it was more than just a mission to help animals. It was my own form of silent rebellion. My husband had not wanted a dog in the house. We had a failed history there. I cannot, will not, absolutely refuse to fight or harbour anger against him as we divorce. But I will allow myself this rebellion. I had my eye on one dog but needed to wait until the dust settled a bit before we fostered him. He’d been in their weekly report for a couple weeks. A sweet-looking three-legged dude. The weekly email came out and he’d been fostered. But Rosie was there. “Who can give her a chance and fatten her up a little bit?”

Ask the owners of the beagle we’d been dogsitting, we’re all about fattening them up. On impulse I sent an email and said we’d take her. The response came back: great, you can pick her up tonight!

Gulp.

I won’t pretend I didn’t have second thoughts. Was I ready to change our home to accommodate someone who needed us? I’d better be … I’d said I was!

Rosie fit into our home like our missing puzzle piece. There have been hiccups for sure. She made a huge mess on my $600 duvet. But it was in need of a dry clean anyway. She wasn’t housetrained and still has messes … but that carpet is due to get ripped up anyway.

We started going to our local dog park and at first she thought it was some version of the doggy hunger games. But with my encouragement and the help of a dear friend, we’ve adjusted. In fact, we’ve flourished.

rosie3

It’s been two weeks.

She has worked her magic with the kids – who are in their own new wilderness. She sleeps with my son each night. She curls around his feet and sighs that deep sigh of contentment. They spend so much time together. Sometimes goofing off, sometimes just hanging out. Sometimes howling. (She won’t do that with me, only him.) She spends hours touring the neighbourhood with my daughter, on missions as an official sidekick.

rosie1

She’s never far from my side. Our walks are harmonious and I no more have to tell my shadow to follow me than I have to tell her. She just does. She is with me. She’s mine. In my cheesy, sappy, emotional moments (of which there are many) I feel like she’s my patronus – a projection of all the good inside of me. She’s helped me to feel stronger. On the days I feel I’ve screwed everything up I can walk with her and just … be. I can breathe. She had shoved her wet nose into my face and stopped the tears. She’s reminded me what’s important. Kindess. Forgiveness. Being present. Relaxing.

This sweet girl who has been left to her own devices. Her body showing the scars of children and too much time fighting to keep one step ahead of the wolves. Still willing to trust and hope. Still afraid. Still looking out into the world with hope in her eyes.

I wonder just who has rescued who.

 

The Thanksgiving List

The changes happening in our house reflect the stark, brilliant leaves on the trees outside. Autumn has always been my favourite time of year – full of contradiction and beauty. How can the changing colours on the trees – actually signs of death and endings – start some new hope inside my heart. Maybe it’s the 12+ years of school we all experience, which coincides with the start of autumn. So we have a Pavlovian response – the trees change and we have the hope of something new beginning.

This weekend we finalized my husband moving into his new place, and I started to rearrange furniture in my home and settle into this new way of being that has arrived. My heart and head have waged war on the continuum of emotions. I struggle to keep a smile on my face for my kids. And my coworkers and patients, for that matter. No one needs to hear the battle cacophony with it’s contradicting emotions.

It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to know that finding thanksgiving and gratitude in the midst of a crappy situation will help one to deal with things.

So here we go, a list of things I’m thankful for, in no particular order:

  • Two amazing children who keep me on my toes with their very normal kid-behaviour … liberally sprinkled with sarcasm, back-talk, teenaged angst, laughter, and acceptance of everyone.
  • A career that allows me to lift myself up when I lift up others. I don’t have to save a life every night to feel good about myself and my work – it’s simply enough to know I make the compassionate choice over the many other options available to me every night.
  • A newly ex-husband who doesn’t feel the need to place a label on our relationship. We can just be ourselves and continue being kind and respectful to each other as we do divorce our own way, not needing to follow anyone else’s path.
  • A not-so-new ex-husband who went a married a lovely person who is a great step-mom to my son. And ex-in-laws who recently celebrated 44 years of marriage, proving that it can be done and it doesn’t have to be perfect to be a great love story (in fact, better that it’s not).
  • My home, as imperfect and messy as it is. It’s a perfect analogy for who I am. Kind of a mess, under construction, but with good bones and a good heart.
  • Family near by and far away, always there when I need them. Who help me swim when I’m sinking, and let me ford the river on my own at times, too. I don’t need rescuing every day, you know.
  • Friends who reach out like they are reading my mind. Who call at the right time, offer dinner or beer or a gym date (or all of the above).
  • Enough money in the bank to keep me focused on saving AND to keep food on the table.
  • The opportunity to see people in real need, distress and despair on a regular basis – it keeps me focused on how much I have and how little I truly need.
  • A safe home with a warm bed and the most sensitive smoke detector on the planet. I don’t even have to burn something for it to go off… we’ll never die in a fire, that’s for sure.
  • Health – I can’t overstate how thankful I am for a strong, healthy body. She fails me just often enough to keep me working hard to build her back up again.
  • THIS DOG (who isn’t even mine, but we get to dog-sit her) who stayed with us during our first weekend alone and brought joy to everyone:
Love this dog. And she loves turkey.

Love this dog. And she loves turkey. Happy Thanksgiving!

 

And Then Things Change

We met on a beach. In Italy.

I had gotten kicked out of Austria for not having a work visa. I was on a spontaneous vacation.

He and his friends had just been promoted. They were on a spontaneous vacation.

I waded into the Adriatic Sea and introduced myself to the “hot army guys” playing football in the water and from that moment on, he and I were inseparable.

June 1, 1996 Jesolo, Italy

June 1, 1996
Jesolo, Italy

At least for those three days. And then we didn’t see each other for nine years.

I had a career. I got married. Had a son. Got divorced.

And then I Googled him and found him, by this time stationed back in the US. We emailed back and forth, updated each other, discussed a possible visit.

And then, without asking, I booked the tickets to go see him and sent him the flight confirmation.

A year later he moved up here and we were married.

And then we had a daughter.

We’ve been married for nine years this month.

But things change.

This month he moves out.

I will not place the blame on any one thing or any one person, although my inclination is to say it’s all my fault. That’s because I’m the doer.

I introduced myself. I Googled. I called. I flew. When indecision strikes, I think DOING SOMETHING is better than waiting. And that’s not always the case.

Out of respect for my very private husband, I will not blog our divorce.

But for me … I just need to put it out there. At least it feels like I’m doing something.

H

***

P.S. I’m ok. Fine, even. I’ve done this before and know how to put the kids first.

P.S.S. Nor am I going to become an anti-man, anti-marriage, angry person …

P.S.S.S. I really have no idea what I’m doing. Obviously.

How to Avoid “Catching Pneumonia”

RIP Bob Hoskins.

Bob died of pneumonia. That’s the cause of his death, but you don’t just “catch” pneumonia … pneumonia is caused by germs (bacteria, virus, food particles etc…) or chemicals getting into the lungs and causing inflammation, which results in fluid, shedding of dead cells, etc etc…:

the flu (including RSV in children)
measles
pertussis / whooping cough
a cold (yes, just a common cold)

There are actually MANY different causes of pneumonia.

Please wash your hands and get vaccinated (if you can). You never know when you’re around an at-risk person (the young, the old, the immunocompromised, chronically ill, smokers, alcoholics, those allergic to eggs etc…) And if you’re out in public, you’re definitely in contact with at-risk populations.

If you’ve ever watched a “cold” or “the flu” make its rounds through a long-term care facility and kill 4 or 5 of your favourite old ladies … you know how important it is to do your part.

/preaching

Hand-wash-poster-NewLogo3

Read These! Bookshelf of an ADHD-ADD-LD Mom.

It’s been about five years since ADHD became a household word here, but even before that I read books on parenting and the brain, and the brain on parenting … maybe it’s because I was one of the first out of all my friends to have a baby and I felt like I needed guidance. I don’t think parenting in a vacuum is wise.

So here is a list of books (in no order, in accordance with the prophecy) I personally recommend if you have a child with ADHD (Inattentive, Hyperactive or Combined), ADD, Learning Disabilities, or learning difficulties in school.

 

This IS organized! #ADHDmom

This IS organized! #ADHDmom

 

The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and “Tougher Standards”

Feel-Bad Education: And Other Contrarian Essays on Children and Schooling

The Shut Down Learner

The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children

Teaching Kids to Be Good People: Progressive Parenting for the 21st Century

The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How.

The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age

How Children Learn (Classics in Child Development)

How People Learn

Kids Beyond Limits: The Anat Baniel Method for Awakening the Brain and Transforming the Life of Your Child With Special Needs

Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World

Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative

The Year of Learning Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling

Make It Stick

Scattered Minds by Gabor Mate

Raising Kids with Character That Lasts

The Edison Gene: ADHD and the Gift of the Hunter Child

Navigating Adhd: Your Guide To The Flip Side Of Adhd

Driven to Distraction (Revised): Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder

Delivered from Distraction

Superparenting for ADD: An Innovative Approach to Raising Your Distracted Child

Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary “Executive Skills” Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain

Lost at School: Why Our Kids with Behavioral Challenges are Falling Through the Cracks and How We Can Help Them

A Fine Young Man: What Parents, Mentors, and Educators Can Do to Shape Adolescent Boys into Exceptional Men

The Wonder of Boys

Why Boys Fail: Saving Our Sons from an Educational System That’s Leaving Them Behind

Your Child’s Strengths: A Guide for Parents and Teachers

 

Lifehacks for Fat Cats

You know how it is with those fat cats, right?

They hear the cat food open and come running, bury their face in the bowl like they haven’t eaten since, well, lunch. Two minutes later they are puking on the kid’s bed. And if you dared to make him wait an hour past the normal feeding time? He’d puke twice. The second always a sneaky puddle of clear liquid that leaves your socks soaked …

Binge & Purge. Binge & Purge.

I have been getting quite tired of it … we have 3 cats and the other two are sleek little cats who have healthy body images and were never called Fatty McCatty in elementary school. But poor Zorro is very often referred to as simply “fat cat”. Which I worry has caused his apparent eating disorder.

He’s the sweetest lapcat though … would probably make a holiday meal for a coyote if he ever ventured outside. The other two are wiley hunters while “fat cat” just sleeps on his back all day. When he’s not binging and purging that is.

Chief Lap Cat & Child Warmer

Chief Lap Cat & Child Warmer

Today I’d had enough. If he’d just slow down, fercryingoutloud!

Then I remembered back in the day when I was riding and training horses, we’d often get a horse that ate its food so fast it would choke. (Horses can’t puke, unlike cats and drunk 18-year olds at the Prime Minister’s residence.) To slow the silly bastards down we’d put very large stones in their feed bin so they’d have to eat around them.

*light bulb moment!*Oprah-ah-HA! Moment!*

Eat around these, suckas!

Eat around these, suckas!

Since we have three cats, they all got some of these little balls in their dishes. They are little plastic balls filled with fluid that you freeze and put in your drink so it doesn’t water it down … pretty sure I found them at Superstore or the Dollar Store.

Now, I’ll warn you… if you can’t handle a little “WTF?!” glare from your cats, this might not work for you.

In fact, the fat cat actually walked away from the bowl, dramatically looking over his shoulder with dismay that He Could Not Be Made To Eat Difficult Food, and now He Would Starve. Cue Sad Cat Diaries.

Eventually he returned, ate slower and DID NOT PUKE.

He’s not going to starve … and I’m going to wash fewer socks and blankets now that his apparent Feline Bulimia has been cured.

Saving Energy in Ye Olde House

You may or may not know, I live in an old house. We are the second owners of this sweet little bungalow in Calgary and the previous owners built it when Jesus was a Cowboy nearby main thoroughfares were just dirt roads. And they never renovated. Wait, scratch that, they covered up gorgeous hardwood floors with WHITE carpet that I removed shortly after my kids turned it the colour of gross we moved in.

But we have a rule in this house: thou shalt not renovate until thou hast 20% equity built up into thine house. (Except when things break… which is a whole other post for another day!)

The problem is … I hate spending money on things I barely notice I’m using, aka the utilities … (aka the things I’d very likely notice if they were gone!)

So here I sit with a stove, oven, and fridge that are 48 years old. And no, that’s not a combined age.

Yeah, I know you’re jealous.

kitchen2


kitchen1

I mean LOOK AT THAT FRIDGE … I don’t want to estimate the kilowatt-hours that baby uses … but here’s the deal: Those cupboards are a custom size and I can’t seem to find a fridge that will fit in this space without moving cabinets around. So it stays. For now….

So what I do is try to save money everywhere else in my house. Maybe you’re familiar with some of these ways to conserve energy because maybe you’re also cheap living in an older home.

vent covers

– Use natural light sources rather than turning on the lights, we’re blessed with big front windows that look out on some huge pine trees that offer a little privacy and shade. As we plan renovations, we’re also looking at windows that do double-duty: conserve heat in the winter and block heat (and UV rays) in the summer. They aren’t cheap, but they will go a long way to make this home more eco-friendly. 

– Open and close your blinds strategically to keep the heat at bay in the summer – as soon as the sun hits a specific part of our yard, I shut the blinds on our big picture windows and open the back windows to allow for air flow. We’ve survived 6 years without AC and really, in Canada when we’d probably only use it 3/12 months … it’s just an energy suck we can do without. (I say that now, when it’s -15C and icicles are hanging off the eavestroughs … ask me in mid-July when it’s 40C!) It’s a bit like a chess match with the sun, but it matters to us because we don’t have AC. However, I see a lot of people who DO have AC who don’t bother to do this and it’s because their AC just works that much harder to keep the house cool. 

– Block off vents that you aren’t using to heat other rooms. We keep our bedrooms cool and the rest of the house warm with vent covers to direct the heat to where we are actually hanging out. And because they are magnetic, you can put them on those ceiling vents, too. Or maybe they stopped putting those in homes in the 80’s … hmmmm … But at the same time, make sure rugs and furniture aren’t covering the vents in the rooms you WANT it to get warmer in and prevent the thermostat-creep of “it should be warmer in here”… followed by the “whoa, way to warm” stage.

– Do your furnace a solid and change the filters regularly … It needs clean filters to keep doing it’s job and it’s very easy to do. If you can’t remember, Direct Energy has a thermostat (with an app) that will remind you to do it. Or change it when you change your smoke detector batteries as you change your clocks each year. 

Direct Energy has a few ideas for saving money on your utilities – and now they offer the Direct Energy Comfort & Control Plan, which is a 5-year dual fuel plan that includes a fixed rate for your Alberta electricity (which won’t change for 5 years, unlike my fridge, which is going to change shortly … ) and flex-through Alberta natural gas with the security of a winter cap … plus you get a Direct Energy Smart Thermostat at no charge.  

I was just checking out the Nest Learning Thermostat and it’s pretty neat. Smart. Programmable. Accessible with wifi. Instead of fighting over the temperature when you and your loved one are at home … you can do it from your smart phones. (Kidding!) No one needs to heat a house that is empty for 12 hours, and so often we do. I’m seriously considering getting one.

Thank you to Direct Energy for sponsoring today’s post, and encouraging me to share tips for a smarter home! Click HERE (if you live in Alberta) for 10 Tips for a Smart Home, and if you have any to add (or a deal on a fridge for sale…) leave a comment for me below!!

If you happen to live in the US, click here!

Seeing My Children

Sometimes on long night shifts I become more emotional & tired and I start to see things.

Not hallucinations. Not imaginary creatures.

I see my kids in my patients.

The sleeping, drunk teenager with a thick thatch of blonde hair. The serious, perfectionist student with dark rimmed glasses having an anxiety attack. The crying teenaged boy who just wants his mom. The scared girl who wants to be strong enough to handle any situation.

(I don’t blog about work for obvious privacy reasons, and those examples are conglomerates of several different patients.)

But it occurs to me this morning, following a particularly long, violent shift … that even though it breaks my heart into little tiny pieces to see my children in my patients, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Maybe some of my coworkers are more naturally compassionate and don’t have to have kids to be compassionate. I think I grew that bone when I had my kids and I realized that every single person was once a sweet, softly-breathing, lash-swept, beautiful child. Even the jerk trying to spit on me, even the prostitute, even the defensive, grumpy old man.

But I prefer to come home and think that I chose compassion over all the other options tonight. (Irritation, dismissing, patronizing, bored, cranky, tired, jaded…)

Or … this might be the breakfast beer talking.

Goodnight :)

Dear Teachers

Dear Mr Finlayson,

I know it was your first year teaching and you were sent up to the boonies – High Level, AB – cold and miserable with no friends. Thank you for seeing that there was a little girl in need of a hug and a laugh. Thank you for telling your grade two class “Kids, if you ever need to talk to someone you can talk to me.” Because I did. And you sat with me on a park bench and listened to me talk about my parents divorce. I don’t remember what you said, but I remember how you made me feel. Not alone. Valued.

You were the last teacher to tell me I was brilliant at math. But the first to split his pants in class.

Dear Ms Brathwaite,

I can remember your laugh and your crinkled brown face. Your dress you wore and how you smelled like sweat and baby powder. I was the whitest child in a new country, finding out that I was no longer the star pupil but actually a year or more behind in learning. Your hand on my shoulder as you explained that “naught” meant “zero” made me feel like you wouldn’t let me fail and I wasn’t stupid.

Dear Ms Carroll,

No teacher in their right mind would let their grade one student come home with them nowadays. I don’t remember why I did. But you had a beautiful home with huge sunflowers and your smile was just as bright and I remember you being the tallest woman I’d ever met. It’s no wonder I loved school when I had such a giant sunflower of a teacher to set me on the right path.

These are just a few of the teachers I can remember who made a difference in my life as a child. There were others, many others. I did “ok” in school despite my belief that I have a learning disability of some kind (or it’s just called being a scatterbrain full-time working mom now, I’m not sure).

As I watch my children make their way through school I see the entire system in a much different light. Things have changed. The hows and the whys of all these changes seem to be above my pay grade. The system needed to change as we learned more about educating (and protecting) our kids, but it comes with consequences.

Were teachers always this stressed or did I just not see it because I was a kid? Did so many kids fall through the cracks, or did I miss that because I wasn’t one of them?

What has NOT changed is that teaching is a profession I think one must be called to perform. To be a good teacher I think you must believe that it’s WHAT YOU DO. It’s WHO YOU ARE. I’m in a job where I feel that way about my profession … so that even the stressful days are just a drop in the bucket of a career filled with mostly good.

Teaching can’t be just a J-O-B, you know? I know a few teachers personally and I don’t want to speak for them, but I’ve never, ever gotten the impression that this was “just a job” to them. And as such, I have no doubt that they are good teachers.

(A post on what a ‘good’ teacher is and how it’s all about your perspective is for another day … You just have to visit RateMyTeachers.com to find every opinion you can imagine…)

But if there’s one thing I could tell every teacher called to teach, it’s this:

YOU REALLY, REALLY MATTER.

 

On the good days and the bad days, you matter to every kid in class.

You’re going to validate their beliefs about themselves every day. This could be the belief that they can succeed, or the belief that they are stupid, or the belief that they matter or they don’t.

Your smile may be the only smile that kid gets today.

You may be the only one telling that kid she’s going to be ok because other adults don’t have the courage.

The “good” kids in the class need you. The “bad” kids in the class need you. The “difficult” kids need you. The kids who just float under the radar need you.

The C-student needs you. The inattentive kid needs you.

They all need you to know that you matter to them even though they will likely never tell you.

It’s a tough job finding out what kids need to be successful and then teaching them –  I don’t know how you do it … and not all of your peers are as capable as you. Not all of them really understand how much they matter Every Single Day.

But maybe those teachers just don’t know … you really, really matter.