Playing the April Fool

I must admit to being, somewhat, reluctant to post anything today because it is April Fools Day. My thinking was that if I posted something today….and, I do like to post on Mondays…..that you would all be reading along in breathless anticipation, waiting for the moment when this post turned into one, big joke. The problem that I have with that is that I am not an epic prankster. I am not good at pulling the legs of those closest to me. When I have tried to do so in the past, my efforts have ended up being more cruel than humour-filled. So, over time, I adapted by not playing April Fools jokes but, instead, by willingly playing the fool.

In classrooms all across Canada, children are entering their school armed with plastic vomit or poop props, rubber spiders or sticky notes that they will try to place on their teacher’s back by giving an exaggerated hug. None of their jokes are ever any good but, to them, they are hilarious. In most cases, plans have been hatched in the schoolyard so these jokes are never played out in private but, instead, in front of an eager audience, ready put one over on the person who carries authority in their world. There was a time, early in my career, when I would challenge the kids to try and fool me but because they never could, they never seemed to get the pleasure out of the experience that they should have. So, as I matured as a teacher, I relaxed when it came to April 1st. In later years, I would actually peer over my shoulder when someone cried out, “Look! There’s a spider about to land on you, Mr. MacInnes!” As I turned to look, the kids would smile and laugh and think that they were incredibly clever and funny.

As my career progressed, I came to view April Fools Day with affection. I knew that the months that I had spent building up a trusting relationship with these children would bear fruit on days such as this. Their simple jokes were only played because the kids felt safe enough to do so. They trusted me not to over-react in a negative or violent way. They cared enough to stray from the regular academic routine in the hopes of creating a personal memory for themselves, with me as the star of their show. In the end, I took these pranks for the compliment that they were. In turn, I never did anything sillier than switching desks around on them or hiding their chairs and saying they’d been taken for repairs by the custodian so everyone was going to have to work standing up that day and so on. Nothing cruel or hurtful in the name of comedy; especially when it comes to the trusting nature of a child.

I truly believe in the therapeutic nature of a good belly laugh. I, especially, enjoy the sound of children laughing freely and honestly from the bottom of their bellies. Life is good when you can see the humour in it. So, my wish for everyone today is that you find your jokes funny and that, if your jokes come from the mind of someone you love, that you shed tears of joy borne from shared laughter. As that noted comedic mind from days of yore, Thomas Aquinas, is quoted as saying, “It is requisite for the relaxation of the mind that we make use, from time to time, of playful deeds and jokes.”

Have a happy April Fools Day, my friends.

PS: just for your information, our kitchen is almost finished. I am just waiting for our window treatments to come in and be installed and then we are done. I have been promised that they will be ready today or tomorrow. So, hopefully, by the end of the week, I will be ready to share with you all, our kitchen transformation, from beginning to end.

After that, I will be creating a post about the family who sent me those beautiful sleigh bells at Christmas time. I promised the man who runs MagicalBells.com that I would “repay” him for the bell by sharing his family’s story with my friends via this blog.

Beyond that, my writing slate is wide open. If there is anything you wish for me to write about, don’t hesitate to make a suggestion in the comment section of this post or, any other post, for that matter. Until then, have a super day and thanks for being readers of this blog. I appreciate your support.

Throw Your Arms Around Me

I just finished reading The Never-Ending Present: the Story of Gold Downie and The Tragically Hip by Michael Barclay. What an excellent book. Not only a chronological look at the career of, arguably, Canada’s top rock band ever, this book also, dedicated several chapters to individual topics such as the kinship and camaraderie that existed between The Hip and many other bands in Canada and the U.S., the way certain Hip songs were crafted and came to be as we know them and, if you know the story of Gold Downie, you will not be surprised that there was a chapter dedicated to death. Not the death of Gold Downie per se but more, an examination of how various creative people handled the news of their own impending death. Reading about the final months of Johnny Cash, Prince, David Bowie, Warren Zevon and many more, offered a fascinating look into how mortality can fuel creativity but, also, how it can strengthen the bonds of Love with those closest to you.

We all have a song. A song that we sing as much with our hearts as we do with our mouths and our lungs. A song that, from its opening notes, instantly transports the whole of our being back in time to a transformational memory such as a first kiss, the achieving of a desired life goal or a shared moment with a loved one. Many people will say that The Tragically Hip songs take them back to that, most Canadian, of memories, which is sitting around camp fires, drinking beer and singing Hip songs by a Lake. Whatever the case, we all have a song.

For Keri and I, our song is not a Tragically Hip song. It is a Spirit of the West song called Home for a Rest. When we were planning our wedding, we were asked to make a myriad of decisions: about the date and location of the ceremony, what food would be served for supper, who would play or DJ our reception and so on. Our decisions were no different that those made by thousands of other newlywed couples. Being relatively well-organized individuals, we were fairly good at staying on top of the process of planning our wedding. There was only one thing that caused us any trepidation and that was what song would we choose for our “first dance” and how would we even do that first dance. You see, neither Keri nor I are, what I would dub, good dancers. Even while we were dating, we never really went out dancing because we are more awkward on the dance floor than graceful or cool. So, the thought of a hundred plus people watching us twirling in a circle for five minutes seemed almost unbearable to us. The whole topic became a source of stress and anxiety, as we auditioned several ballads in our living room, wearing a hole in the floor, clumsy as we were, endlessly circling on the same spot, round and round and round again.

Part of the problem for us was that we never wanted our wedding to be all about us. Instead, right from the very beginning of our planning, we wanted our wedding to be a shared experience between us and the ones we loved. So, for example, our idea for supper was never to have a fancy ball room, with slip covered chairs and ice sculptures and a ten-tier high wedding cake. That may be some couple’s dream but, it wasn’t ours. For us, we wanted to share a tasty meal with our family and friends and, oh yes, while we are at, let’s get married, too. The whole thing was always meant to be homey and low-key. Eventually, we solved our “first dance” anxiety by reminding ourselves that we could make this moment a shared moment, too, by inviting our guests to join us in the dance. Once we thought of that idea, we realized that by having everybody moving and grooving along with us, it would mean that they wouldn’t be staring at our sad selves as we spun slowly like a top. We, instantly, relaxed and tasked ourselves with finding a fun, upbeat song. That’s how we came to have Home for a Rest as our first dance song.

When we first told our DJs that Home for a Rest was our choice, they tried to talk us out of it. But, we reassured them that this is what we wanted and that we trusted our friends enough to know that most would join in and that our reception would get off to a flying start. If you don’t know the song, I will play it for you. As you listen to it and watch the video, pay attention to the lead singer, John Mann. At the time that this song was being released, John Mann was regarded as a wonderfully charismatic front man, second only to Gord Downie when it came to having a powerful stage presence. After watching the video, I think that you will agree with that assessment. What a singer! What a band! What a song!

https://youtu.be/0ZbqV_qfWfg

Songs like this are a funny thing, sometime. Their role in the soundtrack of our lives often causes the song to become, somewhat, frozen in time, along with the band. The musicians remain ever young, ever vibrant, ever strong and forceful personalities, always ready at our beck and call, to play to our hearts when our hearts need our song. But musicians, like us, are mortal, too. They are real people. They experience the good and the bad in life, as we all do. It’s just that sometimes we, the audience, forget that our heroes are real. We expect them to be immortal. Thus, when news broke that someone like Gord Downie had cancer, it shook us to our core as a country. This couldn’t be real. Gord and The Hip were supposed to be around forever. And now, just like that, they weren’t. It is over. Gord is gone to walk among the stars, as it were.

As noted above, Gord Downie was not the only famous musician to be stricken by disease and taken from us too soon. Prince, Bowie, Cash……and, John Mann, too. The singer of “our” song, stricken, as well. For most of his career, John Mann and his band, Spirit of the West, existed in the shadow of The Tragically Hip. The parallels between Mann and Downie, The Hip and Spirit of the West, are numerous. Both Mann and Downie commanded every stage they played upon. Both Mann and Downie wrote songs about Canada and toured extensively from Sea to Sea to Sea, playing venues intimate as well as, cavernous. Both bands kept their lineups intact through their careers and fostered a family-like atmosphere during recording sessions, as well as, during tours. Finally, both Mann and Downie railed against the diseases that wracked their bodies by having one, final tour each. During both tours, both men failed, at times, but, both were surrounded by love in the form of band mates who were like family and who helped support their friend when support was needed most.

John Mann survived colorectal cancer in his forties, only to find his brain attacked by early onset Alzheimers as he turned fifty. Alzheimers is a degenerative disease that attacks the brain and is most famous for robbing its victims of their memories, even the memories of being loved by those closest to them. It is a tragic disease and there is no known cure. But, the human brain is a mysterious thing. As much as neurologists are coming to understand the effects of Alzheimers, it is still not fully understood why music seems to be one of the last aspects of recognition to go. In John Mann’s case, the vibrant, powerful, manic stage presence that you saw in the Home for a Rest video disappeared. He became dis-oriented, confused and helpless on stage. He required assistance to know what song was coming next, when he should start singing and what the lyrics were. But, he never lost his voice. John Mann could still sing, right up until his last performance. The clarity and range of his voice stayed with him, even when all else failed him at the end.

As Spirit of the West set out on their final tour, Mann’s bandmates transformed from being his musical equals to being his caretakers on stage and off-stage, too. Their hearts ached because their friend was suffering so greatly but, also, because he was fighting back with so much energy and vigour. He now read the lyrics to his songs from an iPad tablet secured to his microphone stand. He stayed rooted to his spot of the stage, lest he become lost and dis-oriented on the very stages that he pranced around like a whirling dervish. All that used to be was no more. All that remained was that voice and the love of his musical family.

For their closing number during each of their final shows, Spirit of the West, chose to cover an Australian song by a group called Hunters and Collectors, called Throw Your Arms Around Me. This is a lovely song that has been covered by numerous musicians and bands over the years, Now, it became John Mann’s song to sing. The video you will see is of Mann’s final performance on his final tour. The deterioration in his being is incredible but, instead of this being a sad moment captured, it is, actually, wonderfully-beautiful. Take note of how he relies on his bandmates; especially Geoffrey Kelly on flute, to know when to sing and when to stop. As well, note how Kelly watches over Mann as they assemble to take their bows and then, as they leave the stage. They are more than bandmates, they are family and the affection between them all is very real. I am sure that final performance of Throw Your Arms Around Me will become “that song” for many who were there to watch it or to be part of it on stage.

https://youtu.be/ZvlMMEKV3Qk

I can remember watching The Tragically Hip’s final show in Victoria Park, here in my hometown of Cobourg, Ontario. There were several hundred of us gathered in front of the bandshell. We watched the three hour concert on an inflatable screen used to air summertime movies for children and their families. There was beer and warm summer breezes. And, during those times that Gord Downie faltered on stage, we threw our arms around him and sang aloud to fill the void, just as his bandmates did on stage in Kingston. Because, after all, that’s what you do when you are family and the music becomes your song.

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.

You Can Take the Teacher Out of the School But…..

I have been retired from teaching for 114 school days now or so, my wife informed me this morning at breakfast. The time has gone quickly. I enjoy being retired. I like being more in charge of how I spend my day. I like wearing comfortable clothes most days….you know, the ones I used to change into whenever I got home from work…..those clothes. I like being away from the stress of working for a living. Being retired is good.

But, as much as you can take the teacher out of the school, it is still not possible to take the school completely out of this teacher. I still love reading about the latest children’s picture books, I still enjoy helping out at my public library and I still care about kids.

I find it hard to not care about kids. Kids are such amazing human beings. Their energy, their innocence and their kindness have filled me up for most of my adult life; an addiction, of a sort, that isn’t easily rendered mute by the passage of 114 days. I still smile in their company and draw satisfaction from the relationships I maintain. I remain important to them because they continue to view me as their teacher and, to them, that means I am someone who cares. To me, they are “my kids”, even though some are now young adults out in the world while others remain in the school system, merely older versions of the kids I knew when I still wore work clothes to start my days. I am “friends” on social media with many of my older, adult students. I cherish the connection we maintain. For my younger friends, I walk with springs in my step after seeing them at the Mall or in the grocery store or the Library or wherever. Their hugs are always a tonic to cure whatever ails me.

Children have value and are deserving of respect, simply because they exist. It matters not that they don’t vote yet nor have an income that translates into purchasing power. The measure of their worth is not any company’s bottom line. To some, this makes the worth of children questionable; to be regarded as an expense, as opposed, to an investment worth making. To me, it makes them priceless. I am rich beyond measure for having spent the bulk of my adult life in the company of little humans. It matters not one iota to me that some of them needed help zipping their zippers or tying their laces (when kids still had shoes with laces) or wiping their noses. They were all unique and wonderful and memorable and valued by me then, as they are, now.

The year before I retired, I went to a Retirement workshop that was put on by my Union. A few weekends later, my wife suggested we spend the afternoon going through all of the education-related documents we had on file so that I would have everything ready when it came time to fill out all of the forms that would need to be filled out to process my retirement application. Amid the various job performance appraisals and pay stubs and benefit notices, was a folder that held treasure. It was a folder that contained every single kind letter and note that I had received over the course of my career. I had kept them all. That afternoon, I read them all. It was the best afternoon I had spent in years! While I appreciated the wonderful letters from Principals, co-workers and organizations I was associated with, it was the letters from children and from parents that touched me the most. In particular, there was one letter, written on a scrap of torn green construction paper, written in black crayon, by a Grade 3 student. It simply said, “My mother wanted me to thank you for being so nice to me. She says I am lucky to go to this school. I think I am, too.” That student’s mother was illiterate, struggling in poverty and could not have written that note herself. Her 8 year old daughter had borne the responsibility of speaking on her family’s behalf. It was a small note that had required a big effort and it meant the world to me. I still have it safely tucked away. The presence of that letter and, all of the others, serves to remind me of a life spent in service to children and their families and how the residue of that experiences colours my life to this day.

I type these words at a time in Ontario’s education history when public schools are under attack from the same forces of corporatization that have cut massive swathes through the U.S. public school system, to devastating effect there. Cuts have been announced and the doors to privatization have been opened here by a government that does not value the worth of children. It has announced cuts to programmes aimed at helping support children with special needs. It has announced cuts to programmes aimed at helping students with gender identity challenges. It has announced cuts to programmes that help regular kids zip their zippers and wipe their noses, too. It is attacking Kindergarten children because, after all, isn’t that just glorified daycare anyway? Through it all…and this is just the beginning…..we have adults in charge who view our greatest treasure as mere collateral damage on the road to financial prosperity for themselves and their backers.

Today, educators and their public school allies have been asked to wear black in a show of solidarity against the government’s phony austerity-driven cuts to public schools and, more specifically, to the children who go to them each day. Children deserve champions who will act on their behalf, even when wearing comfortable clothes. Today, my comfortable clothes are black. I wear black because I still care about children. How can you not?

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.