When You Write a Post You Didn’t Plan to Write

May 01

Today is the inaugural post for the month-long blogathon in which I’ve signed up to participate. I had planned on writing about how a self-professed lazy blogger, like me, would manage to post every day for an entire month. I was going to write about how I’m not a lazy person. I simply am lazy when it comes to blogging. How I’d rather be writing for a client, writing my latest novel, or, well, just procrastinating in general. I was going to write about my sources of inspiration to write more diligently this month of May.

But I’m not going to write about that. Well, not really. That’s because I found out this morning that my friend died. So, writing about a blogathon doesn’t seem right today. She was…is?… was (that doesn’t sound right) an incredible woman. As a mother of three boys, myself, I know that her greatest pride is her children. She stayed home to raise her three sons, encouraging them to reach their fullest potential. She was a loving wife to a devoted husband. Both she and her husband gave (give?) an incredible amount of their time to the community.

She was a fixture at her kids’ schools and her church where she volunteered in every capacity. Her radiant personality filled a room with positive energy the moment she stepped into it. Anyone she knew found it impossible to talk to her without erupting into a fit of giggles. Her personality was larger than life. Those of us who know her are so grateful to have been a part of her life.

She touched people by her very presence. Her physical presence. And her community is all the better because of that. Blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Google – certainly they all provide a means to connect us to one another. But my friend reminds me (she reminds us all) that the greatest connection between humans is through physical company. Being present offers a personal intimacy that cannot be replicated through a status update on Facebook, or a post about one’s kids. Her life of giving to others inspires me to never underestimate the importance of sharing personal time with family and community.

Perhaps after reading this post, or maybe at the end of your work day, you might consider shutting off your computer, and powering off your smart phone. Then spend some uninterrupted time with your family or friends. Maybe even consider ways in which you can become better involved in your real (not virtual) community.

I had planned on writing about my source of inspiration, which is a post I came across on the well-known blog, Her Bad Mother. It stressed the importance of every blogger to “give good blog” which compels online writers to commit to ”principles of good virtual citizenship and to actions reflecting same.”  

I started blogging, a few years back, for that very reason – to try to make the virtual world a better place – which is why “give good blog” resonated so well with me when I read it. I hope today’s post not only inspires a more compassionate virtual world, but also a more compassionate real world.

 

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The One Thing Every Child Should Learn (But Is Not Taught in School)

Apr 28

We all want our children to succeed. For those of us with school-age children, a large part of their success right now is placed on their grades at school. When one of my sons bring home an ‘A’, I’m thrilled – throwing  accolades upon him for his achievement. When a ‘C’ shows up on a test or report card, my brow furrows with dismay as the questions pile up – did you not study enough? Is the teacher not doing her job? Are we going to see more of these rounded letters (’cause I prefer the one with the straight lines)?

It’s natural for a parent to panic when a child’s marks are below expectations. After all, just as a good university degree (or two) will increase a person’s career opportunities, so will good marks improve a student’s chances at obtaining that great university degree. Right? Well, maybe not. Unfortunately, a great university education cannot even guarantee professional success. Today, there is no shortage of unemployed twenty-somethings with a collection of hard-earned degrees.

So, if even stellar marks AND a great university education cannot guarantee a well-paying, fulfilling job, what hope is there for our kids who have yet to graduate to high school? The answer, I believe, comes down to one single word: Innovation.

Innovative thinking, unfortunately, is not taught in the classroom. In fact, except in the most progressive schools and under the most progressive teachers, today’s kids are fed their information in the decades-long drill and kill style of learning. I talk, you listen.

While there are many signs that this form of teaching is changing to incorporate a more hands-on approach to instruction, it could be another decade before we see major change. I think everyone can agree: sitting quietly at a desk all day does not encourage innovative thinking. While I do believe rote learning is necessary to teach kids much of the content of the curriculum (I have great faith in our many amazing teachers), I also recognize that kids need far more opportunities than they are getting to explore their imagination and seek answers to their own questions.

By encouraging our kids to innovate, we are preparing them for a future where there are no straight-cut paths to success and where the job market of today will look nothing like the one they will face in twenty years. Innovators aren’t afraid to ask the hard questions and then search for creative solutions, even in the face of possible failure.

Lucky for us, kids are born with innovative minds. It’s over-programmed adults, like us, that drain them of it. How many times during the day does your six-year-old ask you a question? How many times do you wave her off? Good luck getting a thirteen-year-old to ask anything other than ‘Can I have some money.’ Go figure.

So, what can a parent do to improve their child’s ability to innovate? Well, stop relying on schools, for one. The onus is on us to encourage kids to keep asking questions and to find their own answers… while still having fun. More work for them is not part of the equation.

You can join me as I embark on an innovation quest with my three boys through science experiments, cutting-edge software programs, improv, even LEGO building (love that stuff) and who knows what else. I can guarantee that things will get messy. Am I doing this in the hope that my kids will be the next great inventor of our age? No (although I’m not against the idea…) I simply want to ignite a lifelong spark of innovation that will help them become the best entrepreneur, inventor, musician, social activist – this list could get long – that they can be. I want them to know the sky’s the limit.

 

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Book People Unite Video Will Inspire Parents to Read to Kiddos

Apr 19

This wonderful one minute video is a public service announcement by the children’s literacy non-profit organization, Reading is Fundamental (RIF). If this doesn’t inspire a parent to read to their kids, I’m not sure what will. Share it with your video gaming kids and see if it sparks their own desire to read more books (I’m betting it will!)

Nearly two-thirds of low income families in the United States own no books. Remember to donate your used kids’ books to schools, libraries, and organizations that support children of low-income households. Canadians can learn more about supporting literacy by visiting ABC Life Literacy.

Watch and enjoy!

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Why Trusting Parents May Not Buy Their Kid a Mobile Phone

Apr 13

A cell phone can hamper a child's leap toward adulthood

My soon-to-be 12-year-old son periodically pleads for a cell phone when he grows weary of watching his classmates constantly text on their cell phones as he twiddles his underused thumbs.

“Everyone has a cell phone EXCEPT me!” he exclaims with desperation.

“No,” I respond, my cold mono-syllabic reply cutting deep into his soul (I know this because of the ensuing tears and accusations of how cruel a mother I am).

While I prefer to leave the conversation right then and there, my son will ensue with the false hope that I will recognize the breadth of his suffering. But, here’s the thing. Buying my son a cell phone isn’t like buying an iPod, that, by the way, was also essential to his very survival as a tween (and once purchased, quelled the pleading for, um, a few weeks).  The cell phone is an ongoing gift that keeps on taking (from my wallet). But even more than the financial drain, the cell phone has the potential to undermine his journey toward independence.

If I were to purchase my son a cell phone, it would enable me to send him texts.

All. Day. Long.

u forgot ur math book :(

Don’t take bus I pickup :)

Bringing pizza 4 lunch :D

Having a good day? :)

Going to buy u underwear 2day :D

What pants u want me to wash? :)

Going on run. txt u when im back :(

I’ve spent the past 11 years fostering my son’s independence. Slowly disconnecting the figurative umbilical cord (of which he’s been more than happy to oblige). Yet a cell phone seems as though it would, to some extent, re-build that connection with a digital umbilical cord that is no less potent than the figurative one.

When I think back to my own childhood, my memories are a treasure chest of parent-free experiences where I strengthened my bonds with those outside my family, made decisions that – good or bad – I learned to live with, and in essence, prepared myself for the bigger decisions I’d one day be making. By the time I was 12 years old, I’d think nothing of heading straight to my friend, Erica’s, house after school without calling home to check in. I knew dinner time was at 5pm. So, that’s when I’d scoot back home. On weekends, I’d hop on my bike and take off to the park with Erica and Joanne, then hit another friend’s place for lunch, ride to the convenience store for some packs of Rainblo, find another friend’s house to make crank calls. Go home for dinner. All with nary a thought about my mom or dad. They didn’t worry about where I was. I didn’t worry about telling them. Pure golden independence.

I understand that many parents (including myself) worry about the safety of their kids, and hence, see the almighty cell phone as an assurance of safety. They may say, “I always know where he is. We text all day long so that if he’s at the park, I know. If he goes to friend’s house, I know. I never have to worry.”

Funnily enough, my mom never had to worry either. Because she trusted me. “It’s not a matter of trust,” many parents will argue. I get it. Yes, there’s a possibility that a child may be kidnapped – every parent’s biggest fear. But the chances of that actually happening are slim. We all know that. So, maybe it is trust?

As I observe my sons grow increasingly independent, I feel great pride in their ability to make smart decisions. They know how to keep out of trouble. They are respectful of adults and one another. And, I especially love that they are learning through their own mistakes. For a child entering in his tweens, I think there is no greater reward than having freedom from, well, Mom. For the millions of kids who are equipped with smart phones, that’s impossible as good ol’ ma beeps them every fifteen minutes:

Where r u? Having fun?:D

Making ur fave dinner :) Come home soon.

And, what should happen to a child who ignores Mom’s beep? Probably a lecture when he returns home to NEVER ignore mom’s messages.

When my son begs for a cell phone, I don’t think he understands the full ramifications of what he is asking. He is a naturally free spirited boy who’s been working diligently toward full independence since he was about two years old. As much as I love his company and could very easily fall into the trap of wanting to ensure he is 100% safe 100% of the time, I recognize that a cell phone will encourage me to grow increasingly attached to his every decision, every worry, every moment. Conversely, my son will likely grow increasingly reliant on my approval and permission when he really should be moving in the opposite direction.

Twelve years is, truly, a transformational age for kids. When their youthful creativity and sense of independence swirl together to create magical experiences that straddle the world of childhood and adulthood. Experiences that will help them become the amazing adults they are meant to become.

Mom’s constant presence, whether digital or real, will hamper that from happening.

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Tip #29 – Teach Your Kids that their Private Parts are Private Despite What They See Online

Apr 03

Offset sexual imagery kids see by teaching privacyOn my eighth birthday, I’d received a light pink bikini as a present from an aunt. While the adults ooh’d and ahhh’d at how cute it was, I feigned gratitude as I my stomach twisted into knots. Me? Wear that little thing? I was finally persuaded to try it on, but then refused to leave the bathroom to let anyone see me. “Yep, it fits,” was all I could muster before twisting the new bikini into a ball and hiding it in the corner of a bathroom cupboard, never to be seen again.

I was, you see, exceedingly modest. Even at the unripened age of eight. And, I felt too exposed – too naked – in anything smaller than a tank bathing suit. Growing up in an ultra-conservative and Catholic household, my mother had taught me and my two sisters to take great care in protecting our youthful bodies from overt display. This, she hoped, would help protect us from being leered at by potential predators and from ever wanting to play “doctor” with the boy down the street. (Which we would never have dreamed of doing.)

Fast forward to today, and this rigid thinking might easily be dismissed as old fashioned and out of touch with the laissez-faire attitude of sexuality. After all, thanks to television, movies, and the internet, a child can access anything from girls in skimpy bikinis to full out pornography with a few typos in a google search (or not). The less supervision in a household, the greater the likelihood a child will be exposed to inappropriate content. Hence, the disturbing stories that pop up every once in a while about young students performing sexual acts in school that, frankly, they should neither know about, nor want to engage in.

Some school systems across North America have resolved to push kids into more robust sex education as the solution for preventing today’s over-exposed kids from taking part in illicit behaviours. Their reasoning is based on the assumption that every kid knows about the birds and the bees (and then some…), so better to learn from a trusted source than a hip hop artist. And, if they don’t, well, just trust us (the school) to introduce every 12-year-old to the concept of fellatio. Uh, really? While I agree with the underlying logic of this thinking, I also believe that kids would benefit from one simple message that seems to have disappeared completely from this discussion. A message that can help prevent them from even wanting to role model what they see online.

Teach them to “Protect your privates.”  I know – has a real ring to it, doesn’t it?

Parents and teachers could use sexual education as a platform to not only teach young kids about sexuality, but to instruct them that, despite the proliferation of naked body parts on screens, their own private parts are, well, private. That is, not for sharing, unless Mom and Dad say it’s okay (like the doctor’s office, bath time). Kids would, in fact, be learning modesty. (Remember that word?)

I’m not calling for a country-wide ban on thongs, nor pleading for a distribution of turtlenecks to be worn by every female. I’m just pointing out the power of the simple message to kids –  keep your private parts private – to help offset the endless stream of sexual messages flooding our kids’ vision.

We can’t stop them from seeing the Victoria’ Secret TV ads that pop up unexpectedly, or LMFAO’s Sexy and I Know It music video proliferating YouTube, nor naked pictures of almost every celebrity of the last decade. (I’m hoping we can prevent them from seeing online pornography, but even that is not a guarantee.) But despite all their exposure, kids are capable of understanding that, although these adults participate in such behaviour, you need to be respectful of your own body’s need for privacy.

As they grow to adulthood, and have developed a context for sexuality, they can make set their own limits for what is acceptable. After all, it happened to me… I now wear a bikini.

Image provided by http://www.graphics-and-desktop-icons.com/cartoon-bikini.html

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Welcome to the Screen Years, er, Tween Years

Mar 27

My eldest son is almost twelve years old and the rules of the household are becoming increasingly “optional” in his mind. Mind you, he has always been alarmingly adept at finding clever detours to get around the rules that I so painstakingly try to uphold.

For years, the boys have been forbidden to turn on the television before going to school. It encourages a harmonious morning routine and inhibits the likelihood of the kids missing their school bus, and hence, being late for school. Before implementing the rule, I’d wasted far too much time begging (read: yelling at) my kids to turn off the TV as they blissfully ignored me. On the best of days, they would begrudgingly unplug themselves from the TV screen, rush to grab jackets, boots, bag, and leave me with three half-empty cereal bowls to clear from the coffee table. On the worst of days, we would become embroiled in a family feud that would make the housewives of New Jersey cringe, during which time the bus would roll on by, and I’d be forced to drive them, late, to school.

However, my No TV rule keeps our mornings as honky-dory as a Mr. Rogers episode. That is changing, bit by bit, thanks to the introduction of the iPod into our household. Now that my son owns one of these digital devices, my coveted screen-free mornings are quickly becoming a thing of the past.

iPod with cereal

My son's morning fix

Although it is not as disruptive as a big screen TV show, his new morning ritual is causing some tension. Not the least of which is among his younger brothers who regularly remind me that their older brother is breaking not one, but two rules. No TV in the mornings, and no video games from Monday to Thursday. And, why can’t they, too?

Needless to say, I am spending more energy begging him to turn off his screen. Typically, he turns it off before I must resort to yelling, however he likes to remind me that it is HIS iPod and therefore, has every right to use it (he knows he’s skating on thin ice with this reasoning, but like I said, he likes rule detours).

As much as I detest the sight of the above image, we have come to an amicable arrangement. He is allowed to turn on his iPod to check his email, texts, and DragonVale.He has convinced me that the game DragonVale needs regular attention to maintain (funnily enough, so does our dog, but he doesn’t seem too concerned about staying on top of that).

My middle son, God bless him, is still in the voracious reading stage, so I’m more likely to find him reading a book than staring at a screen most mornings. I will try to enjoy every wonderful moment of it before he becomes a tween himself. And, yes, that includes ignoring his continued pleas to have his own iPod.

Read books, don't play video games

A part of the morning ritual that I encourage

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Home Digest Magazine Wants You to Renovate Your Breasts

Mar 26

I just received my Home Digest in the mail. It’s a free mini-magazine that is chalk full of advertising with a few articles sprinkled throughout about home decor. As usual, I quickly perused it and planned to toss it into my recycle bin a few minutes later. But, this time, something caught my eye.

One full page ad (5.5 inches x 8.5 inches) was emblazoned with a full colour display of before and after breast augmentation photos. Three photos to be exact, comparing the progress from flat, droopy boobs to perky full boobs, and finally the LOOK! No scars Ma! Photo (The model even has her arms raised).

Renovate your breasts

I’ve seen a lot of boobies in my day, particularly due to the fact that I have a pair, myself, that have undergone their own journey from perky to tired. So, it’s not because I’m shocked and offended by these graphics, but rather it’s the context and the message that is implicit in this ad.

I have to ask: why is an ad featuring bare breasts in a Home Design magazine, at all? I might expect to see this kind of blatant advertising in Cosmo or InStyle, but not in the pages of a decor-based mag. The odd time that I open the pages of a fashion magazine, however, I can’t recall ever seeing half naked women.

Secondly, the message of the ad, and its accompanying article written by the owner of Skin Vitality Medical Clinic is just plain icky. As if we, the readers, are supposed to look at the model’s small “before” breasts and think they need fixing. Because women are supposed to have a certain size of boobs. And not only that, they should defy all laws of gravity by hovering beside the shoulders with no help from that old-fashioned watchamacallit brazier.

Lastly, I have three young boys whom I’d prefer to not find nudey shots of women in a free mini magazine we get in the mailbox. In the olden days, didn’t they at least have to go out in the dark of night to buy something like that and hide it between the mattress and box spring? In any event, my kids are even too young to do that.

Funnily enough, when I look at the back cover Home Digest, I see a full page ad with a headline across the top that reads: Your Family Deserves The Best.

Damn right. Let’s start with no more freebies in the mailbox.

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