The Best Big Sister

I have a dear friend who is about to give birth in the next week or so. It feels funny to say that so matter-of-factly because, as many of your know, childbirth is one of the great miracles of Life. But, my friend is calm and well-organized. Those around her are excited but, controlled. There is an air of familiarity to the process because this is child #2 for my friend and her husband. The experience of bringing a living, breathing human being into the world is not so mysterious as it was when they had their first child. They feel ready. Soon their baby will be ready to make his or her appearance and then, life for my friend and her family will change. I am confident it will change for the better.

This post, today, is about helping to increase the odds of that change going well. Specifically, this post is not about the new baby….bless its little heart……but, instead, it is about the person who is, potentially, most affected by this new miracle of life and that is, the child who already exists….the first born. In my friend’s case, her first born is a girl, just like it was for my wife and me when we had our second child. So, this post is about how to prepare your first born from being an only child to being a big sister. Let’s check it out.

Not long after we arrived home with Leah, our first born, Gramma and Poppa showed up. They couldn’t have been prouder of their first grand-child.

Before we can look forward, it is instructive to go back a bit and see things from the perspective of the one you loved first. There is an air of mystery to childbirth when you are doing it for the first time. Everything seems intense, you often second-guess what you are doing as parents, you are tired and emotional but, most of all, you are head-over-heels in love with your child. In short order, your world begins to revolve around them. They are doted on by you and everyone else around you. Your focus is entirely upon your new child and they, in turn, drink in your attention and bask in the warm glow of the love they feel beaming their way. It is a mutually-intoxicating relationship.

Leah is “astronauting”

When you are the only child in the house, everything becomes yours and yours alone. All of the snacks are yours. The toys can be played with whenever your child feels like it and in any way your child desires. There are no distractions and no competition. The whole world is theirs. It is an easy situation to get used to. It is, also, a tough situation for the child to lose.

When my wife became pregnant for the second time, we realized how much we would be asking Leah to accept. We anticipated that it would be difficult for her to suddenly have to vie for our affection and attention. We knew that the sharing of possessions would be an issue. We understood that the loss of personal space and privacy would be tough. Most of all, we correctly guessed that Leah would have a hard time simply giving up some semblance of control over how she spent her day. It wouldn’t be all about her anymore. Sometimes things would happen or, not happen, because of someone else being there. We knew we had to prepare Leah for the impending arrival of her younger sibling. So, here are a few of the things we did before Sophie was born and some things we did after she was born that helped Leah transition from being the only child to being the big sister.

Dolls became an important part of imaginary play.

When babies are born, they are often doll-sized humans. So, we made a point of surrounding Leah with dolls than would be about the size of a newborn and we encouraged her to be the Mommy and to “care” for her babies. We did this in conjunction with reading lots of library books about how babies grow in a mother’s tummy, how families change when a second child comes along and so on. We watched lots of tv shows on Treehouse TV (a children’s channel, here in Canada) that dealt with babies and having younger siblings. We talked a lot about what was happening to Mommy’s body as the baby grew inside her. In short, we talked with Leah about the new baby and helped give her as much information as we could to prepare her for Sophie’s arrival. We, also, gave her opportunities to practice being a big sister by using her dolls in imaginative play scenarios that we helped with but that she controlled.

Leah reads to her “baby”, as the swing gently rocks and music softly plays.

But, you can only prepare your firstborn so much for the arrival of their sibling. Eventually, the second child is born and life becomes different. In this photo, Gramma is now beaming all of her love onto Sophie, in the speckled hat. For me, this image captures the moment when Leah began to realize that it wasn’t all about her anymore, as she turns away slightly from Gramma’s display of affection for Sophie. But, to help prepare Leah for this exact moment, we did two things; first, she was given the shirt that she is wearing which says something like “I’m a big sister now” and, secondly, we had a trophy prepared for her that said, “Best Big Sister” and then her name. We had that trophy ready for her in the hospital room so that there would be something special for her that was just for her and her, alone. Leah proudly carried that trophy all throughout the hospital wing adjacent to our room.

Bedtime story time is Leah’s uninterrupted time with Daddy.

Eventually, Sophie came home. Leah’s world now became a shared space. To go from having the run of the joint and the attention of everyone in it, to vying for space and cuddles is a harder transition for small children than most adults realize. Keri and I always try our best to act as a good team in all matters of our home and family. So, one of the deliberate decisions we made when Sophie came home was that Leah still needed and deserved her own special one-on-one times with us. For me, that became our nightly reading time together. When bed time approached, Leah had my full attention for as long as it took us to read our stories. That was our time. Sophie did things with Keri at that time. Leah never had to share me with her sister for that block of time. It became a constant in her life. This is not to say that I never read with Sophie or Keri never spent time with Leah. Of course, we spread ourselves out. But, we knew that Leah was experiencing a great change in her life and we wanted to cushion that blow as best we could so, her bedtime became our reading time, no exceptions, for most of her life. Now that Leah is almost a teenager, our shared reading time has become less consistent but we continue to share our interests in books, history, the mystery of Oak Island and the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team. Leah is as important to me as she was the day she was born. Sophie’s arrival did nothing to diminish my affection. I am lucky because, now, I have two incredible daughters to love and experience life with.

The girls are lucky, too, because they now have each other to share life with. I am not going to pretend that there aren’t moments between them when harsh words are exchanged, doors slammed and hurt caused because that does happen. But, overall, Leah and Sophie are good sisters to each other. They are each their own person, with differing interests, hopes and fears, strengths and weaknesses. But, when out in the world, they tend to find comfort in each other’s company; often holding hands as they face new adventures and challenges together.

Strawberry picking. We have lots of photos like this one, with the girls holding hands and heading off together

Keri and I give Leah a lot of credit because she has grown nicely into the role of Big Sister. Being the centre of attention can be addictive. But, Leah has done well in understanding that she is still loved, fully and completely and that Sophie can be, too, without that taking anything away from her. It is a sign of maturity and personal growth and we couldn’t be prouder of our “first loved”.

So, I end this post with a hopeful wish that all goes well for my pal, Cuyler, in the coming days with the birth of her second child. I wish her and her husband luck as they learn about what it takes to care for two children instead of just caring for one. But, most of all, I want to congratulate their “first-loved”, Riley, on becoming a Big Sister for the first time. You are about to begin a very new and special chapter in the story of your life. Hopefully, your new baby brother or sister will become as much a friend as they are a younger sibling. If so then, maybe when you are about to turn thirteen yourself, you will have a moment like my girls had last week when Leah automatically stepped in to help Sophie adjust her angle so that she could get the absolute perfect Toronto skyline selfie. Sisters, eh?!

Sometimes actions speak louder than words. Leah turns 13 in April. Her trophy continues to sit proudly on her bedroom shelf. She remains the “Best Big Sister” in our house.

As The Cookies Cool

 

 

 

It was snowing in slow motion yesterday in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.  As the snowflakes fell lazily from the sky, cookies baked in my oven and the house filled with their delicious aroma.

On days such as this, the falling snow muffles the ambient sound and all becomes silent and calm. As the cookies cooled, my world turned peaceful and white.

Serene. With a hint of chocolate.

Days like these are glorious to behold. May your world have been wonder-filled as well.

Kids These Days

When I was a child, my life was pretty good. I was born into a loving family. I was healthy. I lacked for nothing in the way of toys, friends or opportunities to travel and see new places and meet new and interesting people.

When I was a child my biggest fear was of gorillas. Not the kind you find in the jungle with Jane Goodall. My fear was of circus gorillas. Once, the Big Top Circus came to my area and my parents took me there. I loved the lion tamer and his lions. I loved the trapeze artists so high in the sky. I, especially, loved the funny clowns who kept pouring and pouring out of such a teeny-tiny car. But, the one thing I did not like was the gorilla. When the gorilla came out, it bolted from the ring and made a dash for the audience. I was a small boy at the time and did not realize that this “gorilla” was really a man dressed up in a costume. That may have been evident to the adults in attendance, who laughed and laughed at the gorilla’s antics. But for me, a small child, that gorilla was very real and it was coming far too close to where I was. I remember being terrified that it was going to get me. Even though my parents hugged me close and reassured me that it was all just an act, I took from that night, a fear of circus gorillas that lasted throughout my early childhood.

But, when I was a child, imaginary gorilla attacks, along with a real attack of appendicitis when I was seven years old, were my only issues of note growing up. We weren’t rich but, I was doted upon and protected and cared for in a way that erased worries from my mind. My childhood was fun. I was lucky.

I’m an adult, now. As I navigate through my days, I can’t help but notice story upon story in the news and on social media about children who are not having wonderful childhoods. In fact, these children are being physically and emotionally pummelled by the world in which they find themselves. Through no fault of their own, these children are suffering in ways that beggar belief.

For example, I could never be a U.S. Immigration officer these days. I don’t understand how any human can rip a child from its’ mother’s arms and lock that child away in detention camps. What type of person must they be to not be affected by the tears, the cries and the heartbreak of such a situation? But yet, it is real and it is probably happening in real time as you are reading my words right now.

I could never be a politician these days. Where are the real leaders that put the betterment of society and of real people first? They are nowhere to be found these days, it seems. As they march to the dictates of their autocratic and/or billionaire puppet masters, their policies often contain elements of cruelty aimed at the weakest members of society. In many cases, this includes children. Here in my home province of Ontario, Canada, our newly elected government is attacking our world-class education system. Their first two targets: children in Kindergarten (who are between three and five years old) and autistic students. What does it say about the values inherent in any given society when the youngest and most vulnerable members of that society are the first to be cast aside as being completely inconsequential?

Another troubling story from this past week concerned the death of a young girl named Riya at the hands of her father. Riya’s father and mother were estranged at the time of her death. It was her birthday, the day she was killed. Initially, this was a case of child abduction. Unfortunately, the vast majority of child abduction cases involve people with whom the child is intimately familiar with, such as a parent or grand-parent. That was the case here but, unbelievably enough, Riya’s death at the hands of her father was not what made this story notable. The story of the attempt to rescue her and the backlash that it caused on social media has ended up telling a far greater tale of how far we have strayed, as a society, from the moral path that should always guide us.

When any child is abducted in Canada (I am not sure about how this applies to other countries) police issue what is called an Amber Alert. An Amber Alert is an emergency message that is broadcast across all electronic highway signs, personal mobile drives and so on. This message alerts citizens that a child has been taken and provides a description of the child, the person who did the abducting (if known), the vehicle involved (if known) and the location of the abduction. Time is always of the essence in a kidnapping situation so, having eyes everywhere helps authorities to save the lives of those abducted, more often than not. In Riya’s case, she was abducted at night so, the Amber Alert was issued after many people had gone to bed. The Amber Alert, when issued, caused mobile devices to set off an alarm. In this case, the alarm sounded in homes across Ontario and many people were woken up which, like a smoke alarm in a fire, is the intention. Most of the people who were woken up, checked the Amber Alert message and either went to their window to look outside, some actually got in their cars and did a quick drive around their neighbourhoods and towns and some offered their thoughts and prayers and went back to sleep. But, a small minority of others flooded 911 operators with outraged complaints about being woken up by an emergency that had nothing to do with them. While they vented, Riya’s final breaths were being met with violence from the one person who should have loved and protected her the most. I truly don’t understand how anyone would turn away from a child in danger.

Around the world, some teenagers are tired of being the most distant thoughts of the powers that be in their lives and have decided to take action themselves to better their world. For instance, I applaud those Parkland students in the U.S. who reacted to being victims of a school shooter by waging war against the gun culture of America on social media. Their efforts have resonated across the world. Many consider these kids to be heroes for defending their right to attain a safe education. I agree that they have done mighty things but, I wish they didn’t have to be the heroes they have become. I wish they could be focussing on dating and what they want to do when they grow up and getting their driver’s licenses instead of fighting the mighty N.R.A. and all the 2nd Amendment trolls who wage war online. I wish our society could have let them just be kids.

The same is true of those kids organizing school walkouts because of concerns about our environment, as well as, those battling to create and maintain inclusive environments within their towns or schools for people of differing gender identities, cultures or intellectual abilities. And, of course, we have, arguably, the most famous and impactful young person on the planet, Malala, who remains a tireless advocate for the rights of girls around the world to attend school and gain an education and a measure of control over their own futures. Kids, all. But, just the same, kids forced to fight like adults because the adults in their worlds just don’t seem to be listening.

One person who always listened to children (and someone who I modelled my whole life after) was television personality, Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers created one of the first television shows aimed specifically for children. As a foundational tenet of his show, Mr. Rogers believed that children were human beings, as worthy of respect and dignity, as any adult. As a means of putting this thought into practice, Mr. Rogers actively sought out opportunities to talk with children and, most importantly, to listen to children. I can tell you from my experience as a classroom teacher for thirty years that children ask the very best questions. They ask the big questions! They are well-versed in the concepts of fair and not fair. They have boatloads of empathy and will hug those they trust easily. They want to know that things will be alright in their world and so, they will ask questions. I answered them honestly every time. Mr. Rogers did, too. As a family, we recently watched the tremendously wonderful documentary about the life of Mr. Rogers on Netflix called “Won’t You Be My Neighbour?” I encourage you to do so, too. Watching it will fill your soul and renew your spirit. It is a documentary that shows children being respected, being made to feel important and being cared for……not as an after-thought but, as the highest priority possible. Which is, as it should be.

I admit that I teared up at the end of this movie because the world in which we live in these days is so far removed from the world of Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood. Of all the things in the world that consume our thoughts, working to maintain the innocence of childhood for children should be near or at the top of the list. How precious a time in the lives of these little humans! And how easily we, as their guardians, throw it all away in our rush for material gain or our self-absorption in the importance of our own lives. What have we, as a society, become when we place so little tangible value on the lives of children?

I will close by saying that I encourage you to all watch “Won’t You Be My Neighbour?” in order to renew your soul and realign your priorities in life. However, as much as I admire Mr. Rogers, we can’t afford to let his legacy do our work for us. We all have a job to do for the sake of our children. We need to take better care of our environment so they don’t have to be organizing school strikes and sit-ins to draw our attention. We need to reign in our penchant for violence so kids can go to school and only worry about doing well in their studies and not worry about active shooters roaming their hallways. We need to talk with our children and listen to them, too. Most importantly, we need to fill the lives of our children with love and hugs and laughter and healthy food and good experiences outside of the home, too.

My “gorillas” were only imaginary but, the “gorillas” today’s kids are facing are all too real. They needn’t be so. We have become a world that doesn’t do a very good job of valuing childhood. This needs to change. Our future depends upon it.

Sorry I have Been Distracted

It has been awhile since I have contributed a post. I apologize for that. I am itching to get back to my writing but, we are in the middle of a big, whole Kitchen renovation. If you have ever found yourself in the middle of such a major renovation then, you can appreciate that it is messy, noisy, disruptive to your home routine and that, quite simply, it takes time to complete.

I am very thankful to all of the skilled tradespeople who are helping to transform the heart of our home but, I will, also, be thankful when they are finished and we can put our home and our lives back together again. As for my blog, I don’t know about you but, I have a hard time writing with there is noise from construction and conversations competing with the thoughts in my head. So, I wait to write. Sorry.

As the projects stands, the new floor is in and the cabinets are all installed. But, walls still need prepping for painting (which means cutting out the drywall where the old back splash was, re-installing new drywall, mudding, taping and sanding, too) and a new back splash put in when the wall prep is done. As well, our counter top and new sink are still to arrive so, we are still a week or three from being completely finished. The one thing about the wall work is that I can do most of that myself. For if there is one thing, besides not writing, that is driving me crazy about this project, it is that I haven’t been in control of much that has happened to date. Custom cabinetry and flooring is best left to professionals. But, in doing so, we have handed over control of the timeline, too. I may appear like a nice, gentle soul but, underneath it all, I am a control freak and so, not being in control of when trades people arrive, how quickly they work and so on is driving me batty. Having said that, I doubt I could do the work as capably as they can so, they work and I sit and not write and slowly, painfully slowly, the project advances and we near its conclusion.

When all is done, I will post some “before and after” photos so you can all see the scope of the project. We are happy with the work to date but, we will be happier in a few weeks when it is all done and our lives return to normal and, my blog does, as well. Until then, you are all wished continued good health, happiness and all that is good in life.

See you all on the other side.

Home, Sweet Home!

My mother is turning 88 years old in June. Just prior to this past Christmas, she had an episode with her heart that caused her to be in hospital for three weeks. She received wonderful care from the doctors and nurses and has now returned to her home in an assisted-living residence for senior citizens. Now comes then hard part for her, finding the physical and emotional strength to remain being able to live independently.

Home, wherever that may be, is a special place. This is so for a myriad of reasons but, foremost among them is that Home equates with personal freedom. Your home, be it a condo, a starter home, a mobile home, a mansion or something else altogether, is your space. You can live the life you wish to live within the confines of your personal safe haven. Unlike living with your parents, for example, or being a renter, having your own home affords you the opportunity to explore your world as you see fit. Don’t like wearing pants?! Don’t wear them then when you are home! Want to rise with the sun every morning?! Go ahead and start your every day with the golden rays of the sun on your skin. It’s your choice because it is your home. Having personal freedom to make your own choices is one of life’s most enticing elixirs. It is something that, once tasted, is incredibly difficult to stop savouring and desiring as life unfolds.

So, as my mother lay in her hospital bed, our conversation was never just about her getting better. It was always about whether or not she would recover enough to stay in her current home. Or, more to the point, would she be able to recover sufficiently to continue living life on her terms once she left the hospital. The short answer, for now, is yes. My mother is back in her apartment in her assisted-living residence. But, the depth and scope of her choices has lessened as a result of her illness. Instead of leaving the residence to go shopping, as she was able to do in December, she now considers it an accomplishment to walk (with a walker) to the dining room and have her lunch in public. This tires her out and forces her to rest more than before. Not being able to walk very far limits her life choices to those available within her residence. Luckily, her residence…….the place she calls home…is very nice and she is surrounded by people who care for her and who are helping her as she recovers.

But Life is a cruel Master. It gives you the greater part of a lifetime to enjoy the freedom of living how you choose and then, as the end draws near, Life claws back that freedom, incremental block by incremental block. My mother and father married in the 1950s. Before I was born, they travelled to Europe, the U.S and across Canada. My mother was a Registered Nurse, working full-time during a time in the evolution of our society when women were only just starting to have careers outside of the home. After my father’s death when I was just 11 years old, my mother raised my sister and me on her own. Up until the last five years of her life, my mother always lived on her own in a house or apartment and enjoyed a life of great independence. And then, Life presented my mother with a bill that she was unable to pay. The winters grew colder and longer, the storms more intense and her gait less steady on icy walkways and roads. Suddenly, my independent mother began to become fearful when it came time to leave her home; fearful that she would fall and be unable to get up, fearful that she would break a hip, as cliched as that sounds, fearful that she would lose control of her life and the power to make her own decisions.

So, she made a decision. A decision to give up living on her own in her own home and apply for admission into the assisted-living residence where she currently resides. The independence and freedom of having the world as her oyster ceased to exist when she moved. Life collected a portion of its debt and, as a result, my mother’s world shrunk. She still has an apartment but, like all the other residents, she is not the only one with a key to her door. Staff check on her and work to make sure she is safe. If they detect anything that they feel may be unsafe, they can report it to the head supervisor and meetings will be held. For example, my mother has a kitchenette. She was always a great cook in her younger days, but now, she sometimes forgets to turn off a burner or that she has even put a teapot or some eggs on to boil. Meetings were held. My mother has now been asked to not use her oven and to stay in the kitchen if she ever wishes to boil an egg again or else they will have to remove her stove….for safety reasons. To help, we bought her an electric kettle that has an automatic shutoff. A stove is very important to my mother so, she works very hard to remember to turn everything off and to watch her pots when they are boiling but, it is hard for her to always remember. Meanwhile, Life chuckles and readies another bill.

I am not sure how it is in the rest of the world but, in Canada, there are systems in place to help people, like my mother, to transition through the various stages that occur near the end of life. For now, while my mother has been discharged from hospital, she has been provided with in-home support from a personal service worker (P.S.W.) who stops in each day to provide physical therapy, help with food preparation, etc. This is very helpful because neither my sister nor I are geographically close to our mother. This is a public service and was arranged by a social worker who works in the hospital specifically to deal with the elderly and with families who are unsure of how best to help. There are, also, private agencies that, for a fee, will provide workers to assist my mother should she need to leave her residence for an appointment, for example. All of this brings a measure of comfort to those of us far from home.

My mother, also, has her name on a list to move into a nursing home. Regardless of the state of her recovery from her heart illness, the call that a bed has opened up should come within the calendar year, or so we have been told. A nursing home is the next stage available for the elderly. In doing so, she will trade her assisted-living apartment for a room with a bed and a dresser and a chair by the window and round-the-clock care. Her world will shrink again, as will, her ability to make decisions for herself. Following a nursing home, my mother will end up like all do near the end, in a palliative care ward in the hospital. At that point, her world will have shrunk down to the confines of her own skin and bones. And then, she will die. She will. It happens to everyone eventually. Life will collect its debt in full and that debt, once paid, earns the payee the reward of eternal freedom.

My mother has never been one for spontaneous gestures so, I doubt she will opt to jump into a volcano or throw herself off of a mountain peak, all to avoid progressing through the life stages that await and which are beckoning with increasing urgency. I have watched aunts and uncles and my wife’s grandfather, all recently pass away so I am familiar with the stages of decline that occur and, to the person involved, the incremental loss of freedom that happens. For now, I am trying to put on a brave face and be very matter-of-fact about it all but, when each stage comes, my heart will crack a little more and it will be tougher than I expect, I am sure.

But, we are not at the end yet.

When I spoke with my mother yesterday on the phone, she said she was feeling more like herself. I told her that I was happy for her. She is glad to be home. I know she welcomes making her own choices again, after being in the hospital for three weeks. The intoxication of independence is not something given up without a fight. I am lucky that her mind is clear and that she is lucid, to a point. I intend to treasure every moment we all have left with her because, as many of you can attest, moms are everything. And, Moms and Home kind of go, hand-in-hand, don’t they? Just goes to show that when I speak of “going home”, I am not always just talking about Cape Breton.

A Foundation of Love

Recently, I was asked to contribute a short piece of writing to a website called Inspire Your Marriage. This is a website that offers profiles of married couples. These couples provide stories of what helped make their marriage work, what some of the ups and downs may have been and how did they resolve any difficulties they may have encountered. Here is the story of Keri and Tom.

Keri and I have a very good marriage because our marriage is built upon a foundation of Love. All good marriages are. It may seem like an obvious starting point but it bears examination. This is what I mean by Love.

When you love someone….I mean, truly love someone….the focus of your life changes. It is no longer just about you and your wants and needs. When you truly love someone, their happiness and well-being, their hopes and dreams, all become as important to you as they are to your partner. And the best part about it is that you welcome this responsibility willingly into your life. Falling in love with my wife didn’t cramp my style in the least. In fact, it elevated my life to a higher plane and brought a sense of joy and contentment that I never knew was possible. We completed each other, right from the very beginning of our relationship and are partners in the truest sense of the word.

One of the most important secrets to our success is that we love each other for who we are. Neither of us tries to change the other into someone they aren’t. We are happy with the person we each found when we met. Make no mistake, Keri and I are different people. We bring different skills and experiences and personality types to the table. But, instead of fighting against each other when our personalities clash, we have, instead, always found ways to complement each other. I will give you a quick example. I am more of an introvert while Keri is more of an extrovert. I have always recognized that having many friends is important to Keri and brings her much happiness. Therefore, even though I don’t desire to always be going out and about, I have always encouraged Keri to maintain social relationships outside of our home; with her work colleagues, university classmates, family members and so on. Keri, for her part, recognizes that I am comfortable living within the space between my ears and, as such, she never forces social engagements on me. She gets her social time. I get my quiet time. We both are happy.

A final element to the success of our marriages resides in the fact that, as partners in Life, we understand the importance of helping each other out; especially, with the day-to-day grind of running a house and raising a family. We each have our jobs; Keri washes the clothes. I iron them when they are done. Keri dusts the furniture and then, I vacuum. I cook most of the meals and Keri washes the dishes most days and so on, it goes. Because we care about each other, we derive no pleasure from watching the other person being unduly burdened by chores. Being helpful in equal measure helps lessen the burden of running a home on both of us. This, in turn, gives us more time to share together doing things we enjoy, even it is something as simple as sharing some hot tea and chatting about our day.

I consider myself to be blessed. My life, as a husband and father, has unfolded better than I could have dared to dream. My heart is full. My wife and my children have helped to make it that way. I am rich beyond measure as a result. And, all because we have built our marriage on a foundation of Love.

The Power of Success

I had an unexpectedly interesting day while using social media today. I am not usually someone who fawns over celebrities when it comes to Facebook and Twitter and Instagram but, every now and again, because of technology, a connection is made with someone that people would consider to be “famous”. In my case, while on Twitter this morning, I found myself chatting, via tweets, with Canadian singer Chantal Kreviazuk.

Chantal Kreviazuk has been a star in the Canadian music scene for a couple of decades now and has several number one hits. For over twenty years, she has been married to another Canadian music star, Raine Maida, lead singer of rock group, Our Lady Peace. I have long been a fan of both performers because they have always been about way more than just their music and record sales. In fact, a few years ago, I wrote a post about them. I will insert that post in now and, after it is done, I will tell you what it was that caught my attention this morning and helped reaffirm the strong level of respect I hold for both performers. Here we go……

     Success means different things to different people.  To many of us, the measure of success is purely quantitative; those who have the most are the most successful because, well, they have the most.  The Education System is groaning under the weight of using standardized testing to measure success. In Music, record sales and concert ticket sales are often the standard by which the success of a singer or band is measured.  But, is this fair? 

     In order for data-driven criteria to be the most valid indicator of success in Music, an artist or band has to play that game as well.  While record sales are always important, in so much as they generate income and help pay the bills that allow artists to produce albums and to hold concerts, for some artists, record sales are just a means to an end and are not the single most important measure of success for them.  Sometimes, an artist is in it for something grander. Sometimes, an artist aspires to use their fame and notoriety to promote a cause that they champion that, is important to them and that, in their eyes, is more more than ticket sales and album units moved.  Such a band was Our Lady Peace.

     Our Lady Peace is a fairly successful Canadian pop-rock band. Over the course of their career, they have been awarded four Juno Awards and nine Much Music Video awards (the most ever by a single band.) They’ve had numerous Top Ten radio hits such as, Is Anybody HomeStarseed, LifeInnocentSuperman’s DeadSomewhere Out There and Clumsy.   While never quite ascending to the lofty heights of stadium rock maintained by bands such as Rush or Bryan Adams in his day, Our Lady Peace still managed to be that band that would come to your hometown and sell out the local theatre or hockey rink.  They were a made-in-Canada and maintained-in-Canada success story, as far as record sales are concerned.  But, record sales do not tell the whole story.

    Lead singer, Raine Maida, has always been noted for having one of the most powerful and unique voices in Canadian rock.  He is handsome and personable, too.  In the early days of Our Lady Peace, Maida was certainly being groomed to be a “rock star”, in the mode of a Corey Hart, perhaps.  But Maida, to his credit, had a higher purpose to his life and refused to be lured into the false trappings of stardom.  Raine Maida is married to fellow singer Chantal Kreviazuk.  Lovely and talented as they both are, the potential to be a musical “power couple” was certainly there. However, both performers are Christians.  Because of their personal beliefs, both singers have dedicated much of their adult lives to helping others in need.  They perform at benefit concerts, they do mission work in third world countries and, at home, they have both dedicated sales of their hit songs to charity.  In the case of Our Lady Peace, sales of one of their biggest hits, Clumsy, have all been directed to helping support an anti-bullying venture in Canada known as Kids Help Phone, where children who feel lost or scared and alone can call and talk to a supportive adult.

     In my eyes, Our Lady Peace has to be considered a great Canadian success story. They have used their music to make a positive difference in the lives of others. At the end of the day, knowing that what you did mattered is among the most important measures of success there is.  Ask any kid who was contemplating suicide but didn’t follow through because of that voice on the phone. Ask any refugee who was given shelter and a warm meal. Ask any church whose coffers were bolstered because Our Lady Peace and Chantal Krevizuk appeared, without fanfare, at their church hall for a benefit concert…..ask any of them and they will tell you that fame, itself, is not the measure of success but, instead, it is using fame as a tool to make a difference that can make one a success.  Our Lady Peace and Chantal Kreviazuk had that figured out all along and, as a result, have enjoyed a most successful career as there has been.

I wrote that three years ago. This morning, I discovered that Chantal Kreviazuk and Raine Maida are still using their fame, their platform, to help others. They have completed a documentary about the struggles and heartbreaks and love and successes they have encountered as a married couple. The documentary is set to air at the end of January and is called I’m Going To Break Your Heart. The link to the trailer is here. It can’t be easy to lay your soul bare for all to see but, that’s what Chantal and Raine have done. In the information I read about this documentary, they said that they have often been asked how their marriage has survived so long in the spotlight, as it were. They replied that no marriage is perfect and every relationship has its ups and downs and that it was important for people to see the human side to their world. They ended by saying that they believed love is worth believing in and fighting for. Their hope was that this documentary would inspire couples who were, perhaps, questioning the strength of their commitment, to, in fact, renew their will to fight for their own relationship instead of giving up.

So, I spent a few minutes this morning tweeting back and forth with Chantal Kreviazuk about Love, marriage and the power of success to help make a positive difference in the lives of others. Like I said off of the top, I don’t normally go on about celebrity encounters but, in this case, I am willing to make an exception. Do you have any advice for how to maintain a good marriage? Have you had any interesting celebrity encounters? If so, feel free to add your thoughts in the comment box below. Thanks, as always, for taking the time to read my words.