Most children have a favourite toy; a “comfort toy”, if you will. For my youngest daughter, Sophie, her comfort toy was a small beige bear that she called Ba-Bear. In this photo, you can see her holding Ba-Bear in her left hand. Ba-Bear has been part of our family for many years now; entering our world inside of a coffee mug as part of a fundraiser for Breast Cancer research. The mug made its way into our kitchen. Ba-Bear was claimed by Sophie and became her constant companion. It went wherever she went; squished at the bottom of backpacks, covered in sticky finger prints from snacks Mommy wished she had not had, on airplane flights to see her Nanna in Nova Scotia, cuddled next to her neck as she slept at night, sharing her dreams and, sometimes, the sweat from her fevers and fears. As treasured companions go, Sophie and Ba-Bear were quite a pair for quite awhile.
But, Sophie grew up. She is no longer the child who played dress up and……well…..I guess she still has an eye for fashion. But, she has grown up, just the same. Today is her 10th birthday. I couldn’t be prouder of the fine, young lady she is becoming. She is an environmentalist, a good cook, a creative crafter, a funky dancer, a hard worker and someone who her mother and I can depend upon to be responsible and honest. She is funny and she is smart and she is simply wonderful. But, as you can see from her latest photo, the process of growing up has caused her to part ways with Ba-Bear.
Sophie and her sister are both good to regularly go through their bedrooms and purge away those items that are no longer needed, have become broken or obsolete or else, things they feel they have outgrown. A few months ago, Sophie quietly went into her room one morning and emerged a few hours later with a pile of items ready for us to donate to worthy cause. Among the items was Ba-Bear. Normally, I take a causal look at whatever is in the pile and then, move on with my day without too much trouble. But, I have to admit that, when I saw Ba-Bear in the giveaway pile, my heart cracked a little.
Ba-Bear was as close to being real as a toy could be. Ba-Bear was loved and hugged and sucked on and sat upon. Ba-Bear was with us when many of our cherished family memories took place. Ba-Bear helped me read stories and act out plays for Sophie. For me, nothing comes close to symbolizing Sophie’s childhood as does Ba-Bear. So, when no one was looking, I snatched Ba-Bear from the giveaway pile and took it downstairs to my bedroom. It is now all nestled in my bedside table, beside a box called “My Dad Rocks”, which is all decorated with rocks, that I got for Father’s Day a few years ago from Sophie. That box holds drawings and cards that both girls have given to me over the years. Now, it holds Ba-Bear, too, and helps it sit up straight.
The thing about this is that you know and I know that things like bears and photographs and locks of hair are not the real person. They are objects with warm memories associated with them. But, they are not the real person. Sometimes, we cling to our memorabilia when we have lost our time with our loved one because of death or a separation of distance because they have moved away from where you are. But, that is not the case with Ba-Bear and with Sophie. Sophie is very much still a part of my life. It may be her birthday today but, I am the one who still is blessed with the gift of Time.
While Ba-Bear sits downstairs in a cosy nook, I get to go to Sophie’s school later today. They are having a Book Fair and I have been asked come in and help set it up. Sophie is hoping to be excused from class to come and help. If she does then, we will set up the Book Fair together. She is a good organizer and a hard worker so I know she will be a valued helper during our time together. When we are finished, we will have created a new memory to share with ourselves and others as the years continue to unfold. That is time well spent.
So, Happy 10th birthday to the girl who completed our family on this day in 2009. I have loved every minute of your first decade on this planet and I can’t wait to see what wonderful things you will accomplish in the next ten years. I love you, Sophie and am proud to be your father. Who knows what adventures await but, whatever they may be and wherever they may happen, I am glad that we get to share them together. And, luckily for us, if either us should ever need Ba-Bear in the future, we will know where to find him….downstairs, next to the My-Dad-Rocks box, where I lay down to dream.
June has been deemed as Pride month in Ontario. Many communities are celebrating by hosting festivals or holding conferences that include topics such as inclusion, equity and anti-bullying and, as well, many communities are installing symbols of support and acceptance in the form of such things as Pride crosswalks. My town of Cobourg, Ontario, is unveiling their Pride crosswalk on June 3rd. I will be in attendance at the ceremony, as will our Mayor, the Chief of Police and many other prominent citizens of our town. I am attending this ceremony in my role as an ally to those in the LGBTQ Community. However, I must confess, I was not always such an ally. While I never actively campaigned against those who followed their hearts in a different manner than my parents did, I, also, never sought to educate myself about different lifestyle choices, either. This post is the story of my growth as a person when it comes to matters of the heart.
I grew up in a coal mining/fishing town on the east coast of Cape Breton Island called Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. I could see the Atlantic Ocean from the window of our living room. The squawks of the seagulls seeking dinner, mingled with the foghorn’s lullaby as we played outside on our streets or in our yards. Many of the men in town smelled of fish or were blackened by coal dust that found its way into every wrinkle and crevice. I grew up at a time before the existence of the Internet. My worldview was formed by the people I knew, the places I visited and the things I did in my home town. And, in the 1970s, all of my friends had a mom and a dad. Every one. That was what I knew family structures to be.
Because I had no access to the waves of information that wash over our children today, I only knew a derogatory term such as “fag” in the context of how and when I heard it used. For me, a “fag” was what you called someone you didn’t like. It was a putdown and meant that you thought the other fellow was weak or a sissy. “Fag” was always directed at other boys, never at girls. Girls were called “sluts” or “skanks” if they ever found themselves in line for an insult.
It took awhile before the sexual connotation behind terms such as “Fag” or “Slut” became clear to me and, even then, my own innocence and/or lack of worldly experience precluded me from fully appreciating the conversations that were going on around me. The first time I ever truly thought about alternative lifestyles to my own came in high school. It all started off innocently enough, with me and some friends of mine all talking about Rock n’ Roll and our favourite songs and bands. Eventually, the group Queen was mentioned and I distinctly remember someone making a comment about the sound of Freddy Mercury’s voice being the way it was because his “stomach is filled with cum”. The guys laughed at a reference that I didn’t understand. Peer pressure being what it is, I didn’t ask for clarification or to seek enlightenment. Instead, I did what many guys would do, I suppose, I smiled and chuckled, too.
My high school education ended in 1982 and my real world education began in the Fall of that same year, as I left Glace Bay and moved to Toronto, the biggest city in Canada, to attend university. As I left my train at Union Station and walked out into the Toronto sunshine, across from the grand Royal York Hotel, I did so as someone who never equated people with sexuality. People were people to me. But, as I settled into my new city, I saw right away that many of the people there were different from me; they had different coloured skin, they spoke different languages, they wore different types of clothing, they ate different types of food and so on. But, what I soon came to learn and to appreciate was that, even though they were different from me on the surface, they were still awesome people. I enjoyed their friendships and I was able to broaden my cultural base because of their patience and guidance. I was growing and maturing but, I was only turning 20 years old and I remained very “young” when it came to understanding the role sexuality plays in our society.
However, as luck would have it, one of the best things to ever happen to me in my life occurred just as my university years were winding down. I met my first girlfriend. We ended up being together for slightly over three years. We broke up for reasons that are neither, here nor there but, for the most part, we were just too young and immature to start out on LIfe’s journey at that time, But, because of that relationship, I learned one of the most important lessons of my life and that was, that Love is the best thing a person can experience. That I had a loving relationship right out of the gate influenced how I interacted with every subsequent female I met socially. I never viewed potential dates as sexual conquests, as many men do. Instead, I always went on a first date hoping that this particular girl was going to be “the one” whose heartbeat would match mine and that we would hold hands and walk through Life together, side-by-side, until we were old and that golden sunset beckoned.
A funny thing happened as I became an adult and entered my professional teaching years. I continued to meet people different than I was. For the first time that I became aware of, I started meeting people who identified as being Gay or Lesbian. Whether through work or through social contacts, I became friends with some of the most wonderful people I have had the privilege to know. People who were funny and kind and creative and passionate about life. My relationships were never sexual with these pals of mine and that was just fine with us, both. If I have learned anything in Life, it is that good people are good people regardless of how they dress, speak or who they may care to love. I believe in the power of Love and I have learned that Love conquers fear; especially, fear of those who have taken a different path in life than I have.
It may be a naive assumption but, I wish that everyone would allow themselves to be more open to the word, “different” and all that it entails. I am glad that we, humans, are not all the same. How boring and bland our world would be. I have changed a lot since I was a child who clung to the notion of familiarity of ideals being of paramount importance. I now embrace the potential for growth and for fun and for adventure that exists when you travel to countries different that yours, for instance. Or, when you study the history of another culture or eat foods that your Momma didn’t cook when you were growing up such as pirogies or curry. Change and personal growth should be a good and welcome part of everyone’s life. I know it has become so in my life. For that, I believe I am a better person.
I will close with a short story from my teaching career. For most of my thirty year career, I taught in the Primary grades (children 6-8 years old). In those grades, one of the most important responsibilities I had as a teacher was helping children learn to become good readers. There are many, many strategies that Primary teachers use to expose their students to language and to the conventions of reading. One of the ways I attempted to help children learn to read was by writing a daily message for them on chart paper. The content of the message could be about our schedule that day or about what we were learning about or it could be about the kids themselves; praising them for a job well done the previous day or taking them to task if I had a concern in need of being addressed. Anyway, regardless of what I wrote about each day, I always..always…always signed my message of the day, “Love, Mr. MacInnes”. ***If you expand the photo above, pay attention to the chart stand behind the four students (who were building a structure that could hold a heavy weight for sixty seconds). If you look carefully at the daily message, you will see where I signed it, “Love, Mr. MacInnes”.
Anyway, with every single Primary class I ever taught, the same thing would happen…some time after the first week or so went by, with the kids tee-heeing when they got to the word, “Love”, someone would muster up the courage to ask, “Why do you say, “Love, Mr. MacInnes” at the end of our letters? You’re not our Dad or anything!” The rest of the kids would hold their breath in anticipation of my reply which always was, as follows. I would tell the kids that, no, I was not their father. But, I was someone who cared about them all. And, because I cared about them all, I wanted to share something with them that was important to me….my favourite word. I would ask the kids what they thought my favourite word was. They would correctly guess that it was Love. I would go on to tell them that Love was my favourite word because it stood for things that made me happy such as kindness and friendship. I told them that Love was the best thing I had ever found in my life and that I felt I was the luckiest man in the world to have Mrs. MacInnes to love and to have her love me back. I finished by saying that I thought Love was better than money or power or being famous and that I hoped each one of them would find Love in their lifetime. Then I would end by saying that because Love is my favourite word and because I care about all of you, I want you to start every school day reading and hearing and seeing the word Love. Love is the best word there is and I want to share it with you. That’s why I sign all of my daily messages, “Love, Mr. MacInnes”.
To me, in the classroom, as well as, in life, Love is always the answer. So, when I see my friends in happy, loving relationships, it makes me happy in my heart. I never stop to create a hierarchy of what a loving relationship is. Love is Love. If you are fortunate enough to have found someone whose heart beats in time with yours, you have won the lottery of life. Two men. Two women. A man and a woman. Love is Love. It is all good in my eyes.
And so, on Monday, June 3rd, I will head downtown to watch the powers that be in my town unveil our Pride crosswalk. I will cheer and clap as an ally of those in the LGBTQ community and I will always view that rainbow of vibrant colours as a symbol of the acceptance of Love, regardless of the form that it comes in. I hope that, by being there on Monday, my presence brings comfort or reassurance to those for whom Pride is not just a time of good tunes and flashy colours but, instead, is a declaration of the validity of their life choices in a world that still, to this day, often retreats into the comfort of things familiar and safe. The world is not yet a safe place for everyone who follows their heart down a different path but, hopefully, on Monday, Cobourg’ s own Pride crosswalk will, literally, be a step in the right direction.
National Hockey League Hall of Famer, Leonard “Red” Kelly passed away yesterday at aged 91. Kelly was a member of eight Stanley Cup Championship teams over the course of his illustrious career; four with the Detroit Red Wings and four with my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs. Upon the completion of his playing career, Kelly served several terms as a member of Canada’s Parliament. He, then, returned to the NHL, holding several coaching positions before finally retiring for good while in his late 60s. I never met Mr. Kelly in person but, he came to be the central figure in one of my most cherished moments in life. This is the story of that moment and why Red Kelly’s passing holds such a special place in my heart.
If you look past the surface of most cliches, you will often find a grain of truth. For me, a Canadian boy growing up in the 1960s and 70s on Cape Breton Island, that cliched truth was that I loved hockey.
I loved playing road hockey with the guys who lived on my small street. Sticks with spear-like curved blades, taped just like our NHL heroes did. Playing on that street, I scored more goals than Gretzky ever did. So did everyone else, too. We shot! We scored! Tennis balls for pucks. We would play for hours on end, stopping only when our Moms would call us in for dinner.
I loved watching hockey on TV. Back in those days, we only had three tv channels; CBC English, CBC French and CTV. Hockey was only broadcast on CBC on Saturday nights. At 8:00pm, in living rooms all over town, the anthem of my youth….the opening theme to Hockey Night in Canada….would play. We would all be transported; one week, to the Forum in Montreal, where we would listen to the dulcet tones on Cape Breton’s own, play-by-play man, Danny Gallivan, as he described the exploits of the Flying Frenchman who wore the bleu, blanc et rouge of the Montreal Canadians. The next week, we would find ourselves listening to Bill Hewitt, “live from the Gondola at Maple Leaf Gardens”. I loved the Leafs. Being just a small boy, I am not sure if my attraction to the Leafs was more of a cultural one because, after all, I was English and the Leafs represented English-speaking Canada. But, never-the-less, the Leafs were my team and those Saturday nights, watching with my dad when they were shown on TV, were among my favourite childhood memories.
But, there were lots of days in the week that hockey wasn’t being shown on TV and that the boys weren’t gathering to play road hockey. On those days, I got my hockey “fix” from my hockey card collection. I was a big hockey card collector as a boy. Opee-Chee hockey cards, to be precise. They were sold, eight cards to a pack plus, one stick of hard, hard pink bubble gum, for ten cents a pack. I used to get $1.00 per week as an allowance, which was a King’s ransom in those days, and blow the whole dollar at Mary MacQuarrie’s corner store, buying ten packs of cards at a time. Without any exaggeration, the moments when I would start opening those packs were as exciting a few minutes as I had as a boy. Every pack contained the stories of my heroes. I opened each pack, hoping against hope, that I would find Toronto Maple Leaf players inside. Sometimes I was lucky and added to my collection. Sometimes, I just found cards I already had…or traders, as we all called them because, those would be the ones I would take to school the next day and trade with my friends or else, sacrifice while flicking them against the school wall….closest card to wall collected everyone’s cards. One time, for a couple of bucks, I sent away for a hockey card locker, as advertised on the Opee-Chee wrapper and kept all of my cards in that. The locker was cardboard and had storage slots for each team. I wore that cardboard locker out, to the point where the doors would fall off simply from being opened and shut so often.
As I left childhood and entered adulthood, my love of hockey stayed true. But now, there were mid-week hockey games to watch on TV. I joined organized hockey pools and placed small wagers on the outcome of games and of the scoring prowess of my favourite players. In my early twenties, I moved to Toronto and even got to see a few games at Maple Leaf Gardens. If hockey was my religion then, Maple Leaf Gardens was my church. Being there felt like history coming alive. My only regret about watching my Leafs play in person was that I was unable to share that experience with my father, who had passed away when I was eleven years old. He would have liked to have been there, I’m sure. In his memory, on the occasion of my first visit, I walked up and placed one hand upon the old building and thought about all of those evenings at home, sitting with dad in his Lazy-Boy chair, cigarette smoke curling skyward. The Leafs actually won that night. I credit my dad with having offered some Heavenly intervention on behalf of my team. The thought of it still makes me smile.
But, in my thirties, something happened that changed everything. In my thirties, I met my wife, Keri. She is my soul-mate and I knew that right from our very first dates. Everything was different with her. I recognized that right away and felt enriched beyond measure by her love for me. Love is a funny thing, though. It is the tsunami of emotions. It rolled through my life and obliterated all that had previously seemed so important….including hockey. I no longer hung on the plus/minus stats of certain players or what my position was in the pool. What I cared about was being with Keri and, believe it or not, I happily traded hockey for her and felt the better for it when it happened.
That brings to mind the opening stanzas to the song, Fireworks by Canadian band, The Tragically Hip.
“If there’s a goal that everyone remembers, It was back in ol’ 72 We all squeezed the stick and we all pulled the trigger And all I remember is sitting beside you. You said you didn’t give a f*ck about hockey And I never saw someone say that before You held my hand and we walked home the long way You were loosening my grip on Bobby Orr.”
Keri didn’t give a hoot about hockey. Still doesn’t. But, she gave a hoot about me and, still does. Love works both ways; sometimes it is all about you adapting to the person you are with and, at other times, it is all about how your partner adapts to you. For Keri, falling in love with me meant falling in love with someone who loved hockey, even if my love for hockey was not as obsessive and all-encompassing as it had once been. She was hitching her wagon to a man who wore Toronto Maple Leaf socks and sweatpants and who, to this very day, wears a Toronto Maple Leaf ball cap. She knew I bled blue but, she loved me anyway. And love makes you do things you could never have imagined yourself doing.
For our first Christmas, we decided to set a small limit of $10-20 on our gift(s) for each other. I have no idea what I ended up getting her for Christmas but, from her, I got a gift that proved her love for me better than any words could do. For Christmas that year, Keri got me a hockey card.
In the Fall of that year, Keri had noticed an ad in our local newspaper that indicated that “Toronto Maple Leaf Hall of Fame legend, Leonard “Red” Kelly” was coming to a mall not far from our house and would be autographing hockey cards for a buck a piece. Keri did not have a clue who Red Kelly was nor did she care that he was a key member of the last Leafs team to win the Stanley Cup in 1967. No, all that Keri knew was that I loved the Leafs and this man was a Leaf. She rolled the dice and gambled that I would appreciate who this man was and that her gesture would bring about the desired result which was, that she would have been able to make me happy.
I did know who Red Kelly was. But, more than having an autographed card, her gift had meaning because of what she did to get it for me. My Love, who didn’t give a hoot about hockey, stood in a line for 45 minutes in a skanky little mall, surrounded by dozens of hockey nerds (like I used to be), all because she loved me and sought to make me happy. Her efforts resonated in my heart then and now, with Mr. Kelly’s passing, those pangs of love surface once again. I received this hockey card eighteen years ago. I have not felt the need to buy another since. My autographed Red Kelly card is the last hockey card I have needed.
Mr. Kelly’s passing is timely because it happened during the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs. The dream of every hockey player is to win the Stanley Cup. Red Kelly did that eight times, which is an amazing number. Most players are lucky to win it once. Red Kelly is, indeed, a legend in the game of ice hockey and has more than earned his eternal rest. For a man who never crossed my path, Red Kelly sure left his mark on my life. For sometimes love takes the form of diamonds, roses or hearts and flowers. But, for me and my wife, love took the form of a hockey card. Thank you, Red Kelly. Rest in peace.
I have been a writer since I was a kid. I have always loved telling stories and, more importantly, I have always loved using my words to make other people happy. Believe me when I tell you how humbled I am any time someone contacts me to say that they were moved by something I wrote or that they learned something or else, that they had a laugh or two that brightened their day. Those comments fill me up and inspire me to continue writing words for others to read. It is a large part of the reason why I created this blog.
The thing about having a blog, at least for me, is that I rarely actually meet the people I interact with. Those who comment and share my work do so, most often, on the Internet, from the comfort of their home. I never see them and they never see me but, just the same, a familiarity comes to be and a relationship starts to take shape. While we never meet, my social media “friends” help shape my life. I am enriched by their cyber presence. I am comforted in their binary embrace. Over time, they have become “real” to me. I consider myself the better for having had that happen.
So, I write. I create. I share. And, hopefully, I help make things a tiny bit better….for my friends and, because of my friends.
The story that I wish to share with you today involves a recap of a story I posted just prior to Christmas and a more, in-depth look into the circumstances of something unexpected that spiralled out of that post. That post was entitled, “I Hope Your Can Hear the Bell” and can be found here.
In “I Hope You Can Hear the Bell”, I talked about a dozen or so Christmas books that I had used in my classroom during the course of my thirty-year teaching career. These were books that had become beloved by my students over the years. Books that I wanted to share with my readers so that they, in turn, might share them with their children and grand-children. I have always considered good books to be like treasure and, as such, I have always wanted to share them with as many people as possible so that the magic and beauty they contain can extend ever onward.
As I listed the books, I saved the Chris Van Allsburg book, The Polar Express, for last because it was the most requested and loved Christmas book in my collection. Children in every class I ever taught were drawn to the message of believing in something greater than themselves. They loved that the first gift of Christmas…..Santa’s sleigh bell….only sounded for those who believed and, since they were all young kids and truly believed in the magic of Christmas, to them, the book felt like a special secret that only children knew. It sought to validate their belief system. It reinforced their willingness to trust.
I selected The Polar Express as the most popular of all of my Christmas books because experience had proven that to be true. I found reading the book aloud to be very special. If truth be told, I always considered it an honour to invite a new group of students each year into Van Allsburg’s wonderful world; to share that secret that only a child can know. Whenever I read aloud and got the end of the story, I would grow silent. Then I would reach into my pocket and pull out a cloth bag. Inside that bag would be a tiny sleigh bell. The kids always inched forward as I pulled the little bell out. I always gently shook the bell. The kids always heard it ring. The magic was always, always real. They believed and so did I.
So, when the writing for that blog post was completed, all that was left for me to do was to find a suitable photo to act as my “cover photo”. I try to use my own photos as much as possible, for copyright reasons. But, I no longer had the little bell so, I could not take a picture of it. My next course of action was to go to the public domain photos that are available. But, try as I might, I could not get the photo that seemed worthy of my post and how I felt about The Polar Express. So, as a last resort, I simply Googled “Santa’s Sleigh Bell” and the photo above came on to my screen. THAT was the photo I had been waiting for. So, even though it was not my photo, I copied it, attached it to my post and hit the “PUBLISH” button and sent my story on its way to my loving readers.
Not long after that, the guilt set in.
Some people would have ignored that guilty feeling; rationalizing that the odds were slim that the owner of that photo would ever come in contact with my post. But, what if they did!? What if they were checking out other sleigh bell photos and saw their picture on the link to my post. I knew in my mind that they would have every right to be upset and that I really wouldn’t have any excuse for having done what I did. So, with my conscience suitably guilty, I decided to try and make things right.
That afternoon, I found out that the photo belonged to a company called Magical Bells. On their website, they had a “Contact Us” page. I filled out their form, explaining that I had written a post that included a section on The Polar Express and that I had wanted a beautiful sleigh bell for my cover photo and had used theirs. I offered to pay them a fee in order to keep the photo but, I said that I understood if they were upset and told them I would remove the photo if they directed me to do so. I hit the “SUBMIT” button and then, I waited for a reply.
I must admit that I was expecting the worst. The Internet is a wild and woolly place, at times. There are lots of angry people out there, eager to argue for sport. There are dangerous people, too. Folks who want to gain access to your world in order to steal your information, your money and even your identity. There are lots of competitive folks out there in cyberspace, as well. These folks wouldn’t think twice about denying a favour to someone who might, as a result, take marketshare away from them once the favour had been granted.
So, I sat there by my computer and wondered about the reaction of the person on the other side of the screen, as they were being notified that “You Have Mail”. I waited and I waited. Finally, a day or so later, I had my answer. I had mail ……from the owner of Magical Bells.
As I clicked on the email link, I did so in the same way that The Grinch did on Christmas morning, high atop Mt. Crumpit. He listened for the sound of crying and of sadness but, instead, what he heard was merry….very! He found that sound puzzling. For me, I opened that email and was prepared for a finger-wagging blast but instead, I found gratitude and thankfulness and compliments. Like the Grinch, I was momentarily taken aback, too.
The author of that email, and owner of Magical Bells, was a man named Mike Frueh. He reassured me that he wasn’t upset about the fact that I had used his photo without permission and that, in reality, he felt flattered that I thought it was beautiful enough to use in the first place. He said that he had read my post and thought it was wonderful. He talked about how important The Polar Express was to him and his family and how thankful he was that I was promoting the same view. To top it all off, he offered to send me one of his special Polar Express sleigh bells, free of charge, as thanks for writing the post, using the photo and for including a link to his website within that post.
Wait!? What!? No! I didn’t deserve that. I had broken a rule and wasn’t deserving of a reward. I wrote back to Mike and told him how gracious his offer was but that I did not do what I did in writing the post and using the photo in the hopes of obtaining material reward. I did it because I believe in the magic of a book and I told Mike that he owed me nothing. I was just grateful that he wasn’t upset. But, Mike would not take “No” for an answer and insisted on sending me a bell, free of charge, from the U.S. to Canada.
A few weeks later, as promised by Mike, there sat a pretty little box in my home. A little piece of him and his family to be enjoyed by me and my family, despite the many miles between us. The box was sturdy and clean as a whistle, the green ribbons lined up perfectly from the lid to the bottom of the box. So, before even opening the box to see what was inside, the attention to detail evident in this box spoke volumes for the care that goes into every Magical Bells product. As first impressions go, Mike had made a good one on us.
I had assumed, prior to opening the box, that I would find a lovely bell inside. I did find a lovely bell inside but, I found several other thoughtful things, too. For instance, the first thing I pulled out was a two-sided card; on one side was a picture of the sleigh bell and the words, “The Ultimate Symbol to Believe”. On the other side of the card was a message from Santa Claus, himself! It talked about the importance of believing, too, not just of Santa but, of yourself, as well. What a wonderfully empowering message to receive….and, I still hadn’t opened the bell yet! After reading the card, I next pulled out a golden train ticket needed to board the actual Polar Express train! How cool is that!? Then, I went for the red, cloth bag that lay nestled inside the box. As I began to lift it up, I noticed a smaller red, cloth bag underneath so, I opted to open that first. Inside was a pin or brooch that had one word engraved upon it…that one word was, “Believe”. Finally, it was time for the bell! I opened the larger red, cloth bag and held that glorious silver bell for the first time. It is not an exaggeration to say that it was perfect. Not a mark of any kind on it anywhere. Shiny, clean, well-constructed and, the sound…..oh, the sound that rang out when I shook the bell for the first time. It was phenomenal!
As I spread these gifts out before me, I felt very honoured to have been considered worthy of such kindness and such effort. This is especially so because Mike and I have never met, nor have we spoken on the phone. We only know each other via email, the post I wrote on my blog and through his Magical Bells website. And yet, this man and his family extended a hand of friendship to me and my family across borders and Internet wires. As I held that bell, I felt the positive energy emanating from it.
As I said earlier in this post, the Internet is filled with unsavoury characters and can be a very dangerous place to lay your soul bare for others to see. But, Mike and his family do just that with every bell they make. Each bell is handcrafted and its creation is an act of faith and of trust and of love. The story of how these bells came to be in one worth telling and, in the telling, a story will emerge that attests to the quality of the character of all involved at Magical Bells. It is a story born out of a moment, quite common in scope, that proved to be a turning point in Mike’s family’s life. It all began with the search for the perfect Christmas gift for his son.
Back in 2006, Mike and his wife, Christina, had a son named Evan. Evan loved the story of The Polar Express and had asked for a sleigh bell of his own, just like the one in the book. Christina looked everywhere for such a bell but ended up empty-handed. So, not wanting to disappoint her son, Christina created the very first magical bell herself and gave it to Evan for Christmas. It was a gift created from her heart. Evan could hear its sound when he shook the bell. The magic of a mother’s love was real.
That first bell spawned others and Christina went on to create a company called Magical Bells. Unfortunately, several years later, she passed away. It was a devastating blow to Mike and his son. But, when the foundation of a good life is built upon love, as Mike and Christina’s had, goodness follows pain and beautiful possibilities remain. As things turned out, Evan had two friends who were brothers. Their names were Owen and Gavin. These boys were dealing with their own challenges, as their father, Chad, had cancer and, eventually, succumbed to that disease, leaving the boys alone with their mother, Jenna. The two families understood the grief that each felt and found comfort together in ways that can only be when empathy truly exists. Eventually, over time, empathy turned to love and the two families became one. Mike and Jenna now live with the three boys, together, as a family. But, new beginnings cannot erase old memories completely. Mike and Jenna sought to channel that ache that wouldn’t go away despite their newfound love. They did so by turning to the magic of a mother’s love, as symbolized by a sleigh bell from a children’s book. Mike and Jenna agreed to continue operating Magical Bells in the memory of Christina. Each bell they make themselves is infused with the love they hold for those who still exist in their hearts. That’s why the bell I held in my hand shone so.
I write words and the Frueh’s make bells….both of us trying to make the world a little better, a little more loving and positive. And, while it is easy to find negative people in cyberspace, it is possible, as well, to find wonderful people, too. Thank you, Mike and family, for gifting me with the beauty of your family’s love, in the form of that bell. I am beyond humbled to possess it. I will end with a promise from me to you; for as long as I have that bell, I will ALWAYS be able to hear its sound because I will ALWAYS Believe.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?!
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 Home, Starseed,Life, Innocent, Superman’s Dead, Somewhere 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.
You never know what a day is going to bring. Yesterday, while scrolling through my Twitter feed, I came across a tweet from an American teacher. She tweeted about her Grade 5 class receiving a “Mystery Box” as part of a literacy programme sponsored by a blog called @BreakoutEDU. She showed photos of her students using clues that came with the box to crack secret codes which, in the end, opened to reveal a book called, Chasing Vermeer by Blue Ballet. The teacher’s original tweet was aimed at the author, letting her know how excited her students were to begin reading Chasing Vermeer.
Being the supportive fellow that I am, I tweeted back to this teacher and told her that Leah and I had read this book aloud together a few years ago, along with the other two books in this trilogy and enjoyed them immensely. I went on to say that, in fact, Leah enjoyed the books so much that she had a framed print of the Vermeer art work mentioned in the story hanging in her bedroom as I typed.
Within a few minutes, I received a reply from the author, Blue Balliett, herself. Like all authors, she expressed her gratitude to me for informing her that her work had made a difference in some reader’s life. In turn, I sent her a photo Leah’s bedroom so she could see the print for herself. ***You can see the print on the right side of Leah’s bookcase, in the middle of the column of three framed works. The painting is called, Lady Writing. Blue Balliett replied that Leah’s room was “the bedroom her dreams”.
This got me thinking.
Leah and I have read together from the day she was born. As a result, we have read thousands of books together. That time we shared was very precious and has helped create many warm memories for us, both, of the books we read, the characters we came to care about, the conversations that occurred, the warmth of our snuggles and much, much more. Reading with your children is always about more than the words on the page. It is a bonding experience that is quite loving and profound. In time, as you read an author’s words, you start to feel the books in your hearts and minds.
For most of Leah’s early life, the books we shared were simpler in nature because her intellect was not mature enough for weighty concepts. But, with each book or book series read, her mind grew stronger and her inventory of literary experiences swelled. Soon she was ready for longer, more complex stories. The first series we read that made an emotional impact on us was The Little House on the Prairie books. We read all eight books consecutively. When it came time for Pa Ingalls to help Laura into Almanzo’s wagon and then, watch them ride off together, as husband and wife to their new home, I choked up with emotion. Leah and I both knew that scene was as much about us and how we will one day feel in that situation, as it ever was about Laura and her Pa.
We finished the final book in late Fall. Because of the emotional impact of the series, I decided to try and find something that I could give to Leah for Christmas that would serve to remind her of our time reading Little House together. My search took me to the Laura Ingalls Wilder website. There, for sale, was the china shepherdess doll that Pa had given to Ma Ingalls in their early days together. The same doll that had accompanied them across America. This doll was my gift to Leah that Christmas and has sat on a shelf in her bedroom ever since.
The commemoration of a shared experience with a story or series started with the china shepherdess doll and became a tradition that we continued with each subsequent book series. The Vermeer print was the piece chosen to remember the Chasing Vermeer trilogy. What follows are snapshots of other memorials to books that Leah and I shared.
A pencil drawing entitled, Lucy at the Lamp Post, hangs on Leah’s wall by her window. It says, “A Fairy Tale begins…” on it and serves as a reminder of our joy at reading The Chronicles of Narnia and how every epic adventure begins with a fateful decision and a leap of faith.
We read the entire How To Train Your Dragon series. This framed print was the first time I paired a quote from the series with art work. The quote was uttered by the main character, Hiccup and goes like this:
Because: Love never dies. What is within is more important than what is without. The Best is not always the most obvious. And, once you’ve loved truly, Thor, then you know the way.
One of my favourite book series was Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising books. There are those who claim that this is the series that most influenced J.K. Rowling when she was writing Harry Potter. In any case, the quest that 11 year old Will is on to collect six “signs” and help the forces of Light in their battle with the forces of Darkness, is summed up in this important poem from the books.
When the DARK comes rising, six shall turn it back;
three from the circle, three from the track.
Wood, bronze, iron, fire, water, stone,
Five will return and one go alone.
Iron for the birthday. Bronze carried long.
Wood from the burning. Stone out of song.
Fire from the candle-ring. Water from the thaw.
Six signs the circle and Grail gone before.
Fire on the mountain shall find the harp of gold,
played to wake the sleepers; oldest of the old.
Power of the Greenwitch, lost beneath the sea.
All shall find the light at last; silver on the tree.
Leah can quote this from memory.
Our memory from The Hunger Games trilogy was “Rue’s Lullaby”, as written in the book. If you have read the books or seen the movies then, you will know how poignant this scene was.
Deep in the grass, under the willow,
a bed of grass, a soft green pillow,
lay down your head and close your eyes
When again they open, the sun will rise.
Here it’s safe and here it’s warm,
Here the daisies guard you from every harm.
Here your dreams are sweet,
Tomorrow brings them true,
Here’s the place where I love you.
Deep in the meadow, hidden far away,
A cloak of leaves, a moonbeam’s ray,
Forget your woe and let your troubles lay,
When it’s morning, they’ll wash away.
And here….is the place…where I love you.
From author Lois Lowry came The Giver trilogy. From that set of books, we opted for the following quote:
It is better, I think, to climb out in search of something instead of hating what you are leaving behind.
Finally, Leah and I are big fans of Phillip Pullman and His Dark Materials trilogy. I maintain that the final scene in the final book is one of the best scenes in Children’s Literature. From it, a speech of Love that spans the entirety of Space and Time.
I will love you forever, whatever happens.
Til I die and after I die.
And when I find my way out of the Land of the Dead, I’ll drift about forever, all atoms, til I find you again.
I’ll be looking for you, every moment…every, single moment.
And when we do find each other, we’ll cling together so tight that nothing and no one’ll ever tear us apart.
Every atom of me and every atom of you…
We’ll live in birds and flowers and dragonflies and pine trees and in clouds and in those little specks of light you see floating in sunbeams.
When they use our atoms to make new lives, they won’t just be able to take one
They’ll have to take two; one of me and one of you.
Leah spends a lot of time on her own in her room now that she is becoming a teenager. But, as she does, I am still there; an inseparable part of who she is and who she is becoming. Her room is a museum. A museum of memories from a lifetime of reading wonderful books while surrounded by Love.
If you care to know more about how to read with your child so that they come to love books as Leah has, please pop over to my friend, Jackie Currie’s blog, Happy Hooligans. I guest-posted for her a while back. In that post, I told the story of Leah and I and the whole list of books we read together. The post is called, 75 of the Very Best Chapter Books for Girls between 5 – 13.