When Life Gets Tough: A Different Learning Journey

When Life Gets Tough: A Different Learning Journey

When we think of learning, we often think of opportunities available to us: courses to take, books to read, conversations to have.  We reach out, we search for information and we soak up facts, opinions and ideas as a way to expand our minds.

Sometimes, learning takes a different shape. Sometimes life happens to us and we learn from our experiences. Each challenge in life is a chance to look in, to reflect, to find ourself, or to discover what we are really about.

I’ve always considered myself to be a strong person. I like to think I have grit.  I am the classic multi-tasker, the over-scheduled working mom, and generally able to have a positive mindset while managing work, family, community involvement and personal or social commitments.  I thought I was rather resilient.  And I was – until life got tough.

Through a community project, I have spent countless hours interviewing our most vulnerable members of society and have written about their struggles http://www.beyondhello.org. I have worked as a counsellor and I have dedicated most of my career to helping others.  When I have seen others struggle, I have commented time and time again that we are more alike than different.  It’s foolish to think any of us would be where we are today if we faced the hardships of our most vulnerable citizens. I understand that we are all influenced by what life throws at us.  I thought I understood adversity.  I also thought I had endured some struggles: divorced parents, an absent father, losing people I love.  They all brought some amount of pain.

And yet, all of that pales in comparison to the new pain in my life.  The pain that rips at my heart, scares me and teaches me I am not nearly as strong as I thought.  Sometimes life changes direction when you least expect it.

parent hard

Mid January, my eldest son began to complain of excruciating stomach pains.  He had no other symptoms. Like many busy parents, we chalked this up to be a bug, a virus or perhaps a 12 year old’s over exaggerated response to dinners he didn’t like.  The pain didn’t happen at school.  Only at home with us.  After three weeks, we took him to our local hospital where they checked his blood and hurriedly explained there was nothing wrong with him.

One week later the vomiting started.   He began to tire easily, he lost his appetite and his skin took on a greyish colour.  We continued to treat it like a virus, checked in with our family doctor and figured he would be himself in days.

Mid February we realized he wasn’t getting better.  Needing answers we drove to Children’s Hospital and waited in an eight hour line up.  We decided to endure the overnight wait so we could get the answers.  The prescription.  Whatever we needed so J would be better. Frustrated by the long waits, we were willing to give-up one day so we could get the right drugs and cure our son.

We weren’t expecting to hear that this was not a virus, but likely a disease.  A disease with no cure.  How could our athletic, thriving child suffer all of a sudden? What had caused this? What did we do? When will he get better?

Three months after the initial pain started, we are getting some answers and our son is learning to manage his life with Crohn’s. He has lost close to 20 pounds though we hope with new medication, his body will begin to strengthen again, and his spirit will once again shine. As a parent, this has been an incredibly difficult few months – but like all obstacles in life, it’s also been a time to learn.

I’m learning a lot about my son.  I’m learning how strong he can be, how kind and gentle his soul is, and how much he can endure.  I’m also learning a lot about myself.  I’m learning that I am not invincible.  I am learning that watching your child suffer is a pain stronger than any heartbreak I have ever felt.   And I am learning that all the strategies I have offered others to help them through difficult times are actually habits I need.  Positive thinking, mindful moments, nature, writing, exercise, health, sleep, social connections and time with family mean more than ever before.

IMG_4950I am learning that I am not helpless.  I can learn about Crohn’s and support my son, and I can participate in efforts to find a cure.  We have created Team Jaden and registered for the annual Gutsy Walk on June 4th (to support Crohn’s and Colitis research).  To join Team Jaden for the walk / run or support his fundraising efforts click the link here.  https://crohnsandcolitiscanada.akaraisin.com/pledge/Team/Home.aspx?seid=13282&mid=10&tid=129682

There is no pain like the pain a parent feels when their child is in a tough place and they can’t fix it.  I remind myself daily I am a lucky one.  There are parents who walk into the hospital to hear the their child’s illness is terminal.  I am not that parent.  But I have a new respect for the parent of every sick child.  And a new understanding of everyone who has endured tough days.

We don’t always get to choose what life throws at us.  But we do get to choose how we respond.  I am learning a lot about my son, about Crohn’s and about myself.   And I will hang on to hope.  Hope for brighter days. Hope for a cure.  Hope for health.  And hope that with each day,  my baby will grow stronger.

We are all a little fragile.

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The Decline of Rules: Losing Control of Today’s Kids

The Decline of Rules: Losing Control of Today’s Kids

The world is changing.  So are schools.  Sometimes it’s hard to understand why.  We are creatures of habit, and sometimes, as adults, we expect schools to be the way they once were when we went to school.  After all, we turned out ok, right?

When we went to school we walked to and from school, followed rules, memorized facts and wrote tests to show what we had learned.  In fact, the rules were so engrained in our heads that we can easily finish these commands:

  • Be ________!
  • Sit ________!
  • Don’t _____ in the halls!

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All Voices Matter

All Voices Matter

I am sure I speak for most educators, or perhaps most of society, when I say our hearts are heavy this weekend.  We don’t have to search far to find a friend or colleague influenced by Trump’s US policy discriminating against people based on their ethnicity.  I have read about friends whose vacation plans or business trips have been cancelled.  I have watched in dismay as the news covers heart breaking stories of innocent people being detained for no reason other than their race.  It seems like a bad movie: one we don’t want to watch but cannot escape.

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I Want THAT Kid Suspended

I Want THAT Kid Suspended

I want THAT kid suspended.

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I have a rule of thumb I use for blogging.  If something is playing on repeat in my mind all weekend, I often feel it’s a topic worth exploring.  This weekend, I am having trouble letting go of a message I read this week.  The note was not written to me, but was written about our school.  It suggested we are not doing enough when children misbehave, and wanted punishment for THAT kid.   And I get it.  Especially as a parent.  I have two boys, and if one of them was picked on at school I would want to make sure it didn’t happen again.  I too may wonder what the follow up would be for THAT kid.  Really, my need would be for safety.  I want to send my kids to school and know they are safe from harm.  I know deep down that is also the desire of parents when they ask about THAT kid. Continue reading

The Value of New

The Value of New

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New sounds exciting: new job, new house, new baby, new clothes, new car.  When we hear the word new, we think of something modern, untarnished, cutting edge and desirable.  There’s a reason that people buy new: they want the product in the best condition possible.  New is the coveted state. New sounds exciting.

But, what if new isn’t a possession, but a person? What if new is a child on the playground, a neighbour on your street or a colleague at work.  Do we respond with the same curiosity and excitement as we do with new possessions? What if new is the idea you have never heard of, a culture you don’t understand, or a mindset you have not explored?  Is new exciting then?  Do we see new as an opportunity to learn, or do we see new as different, wrong or scary? Continue reading

Sharing what Matters

Sharing what Matters

It’s summer holidays and as one lazy day rolls into the next I find myself having much more time to scroll through facebook than I do during the school year. Like most, my newsfeed consists of three things: vacation photos, Olympic updates and stories or videos of Donald Trump.

I am not a very political person and yet the current presidential election in the United States interests me. It interests me because this particular leadership race has less to do with politics and more to do with moral character. While I don’t care too much about politics, I do care about leadership, citizenship and finding good in people. Continue reading

Turning Points

Turning Points

Another turning point
A fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist
Directs you where to go…

We are all connected.  The bonds we form with friends, family and colleagues give us our identity, a purpose, a reason to love and a sense of belonging in this world.  And yet, despite these connections, there are times we need to travel alone.  Times to move forward, times to try something new and times to say goodbye. Continue reading