And They will Change the World

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I recently met a young woman who has, by the strength of her conviction and passion, challenged the way I see the world and my place in it.

At 22 years old, Morgan Wienberg is co-founder of  Little Footprints Big Steps.  She has created a safe place for street children in Haiti; a transitional home to help them reintegrate into their families when possible. She has worked with international donors to help these children find hope, safety, health and education. The families of these children are poor. Many were tricked into turning their children over to orphanages in order for them to have an education, a better life.  It seems the more starving children an orphanage can show to the world, the higher the income of the orphanage owner. In Haiti many orphanages are run by profiteers who abuse the children, pocket the aid and sell whatever goods are donated by international aid groups. Morgan saw this when she did an internship in an orphanage and it changed the course of her life.  She has now spoken at the United Nations, is legal guardian to several Haitian children and has had a profound impact on the lives she has touched…mine included.

When I listened to Morgan’s presentation a few weeks ago, I heard her words. I thought about her story. I was impressed by her poise and her certainty, her dedication to the children and families she serves.  Later I tried to tell the story to my daughter. Morgan’s words came back like a kick to my stomach when I tried to share them.  I couldn’t talk about the children whose stories she shared without tears. I still can’t.  I’ve found my mind wandering to the place she talked about, the people she described, the troubles she faces every day.  I find myself researching how to get to Haiti; researching visas, immunizations, airfares…  She told me the annual operating budget for her entire program; housing up to 50 kids, school fees, food, salaries for staff, even buying small plots of land for families to build homes is a mere $160,000 per year. That is less than the base salary for any CEO of any US or Canadian based charity.  I can’t get over how much she can accomplish with that meager budget, and yet she does, with grace.

At 47, there is a lot of stuff in my head, a lot of stuff in my heart. I am as busy as anybody else, with as little spare room in my schedule as ever but I can’t stop thinking about this. I can’t stop thinking that somehow some time I need to do something bigger than I’ve done. I’m very happy that Little Footprints Big Steps will now be receiving funding from the organization I work with, glad to see new relationships sparked from the presentation I helped organize, but I still feel compelled to do more, personally. I think a visit to Haiti is in my future. I genuinely have no idea what my presence could possibly do, how I could be of any use, but I’m guessing an extra pair of unskilled hands will come in handy at some point.

We hear so much about the bad, the lost, the directionless youth. There are so many young people doing so much good in our towns, our communities, across the globe. At the presentation Morgan did  recently at my workplace, the audience was packed with youth. Three local high schools brought students – Canada World Youth brought us eager young people from across Canada and Mozambique, eager to learn more and participate fully in their world. This is so exciting to me… it fills me with so much hope.

We can (and should) worry for the young people who are not participating, but we really have to celebrate people like Morgan Wienberg, young citizens like the students in the audience that day, intently listening, taking action in their very own homes after listening to her speak. We have so much to be proud of  and thankful for in these young people… they are amazing, and they will change the world.

Please visit Morgan’s site, and look at the work she is doing. She and the staff of Haitians she has been able to employ are currently caring for many former street children, providing them a safe house, an education, love and medical care. If you are moved to give, please do so. If you are moved to act for another cause, please do so. I am grateful to Morgan, grateful to anyone who gives so much of themselves.  Through them, I believe I can be better. I can do something big.

Impossible Loss

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The community I live in and love has been struck hard by tragedy in the last month. Two young families have lost their Dads…quickly, shockingly, unfairly. The two families have 5 children between them, all 11 and younger.

The two men, both dedicated outdoors men were friends. They worked together, shared similar passions and lived their lives with enormous intensity and capacity for joy. They died 3 weeks apart, separately, in two completely unrelated tragedies.

Last night on my flight home from a visit to the big city I brushed up close to that pain. I sat with the sister in law of the most recently lost husband, father, friend, Daddy. Her heart was in pieces, visibly. She was lovely. She was so sad, so worried for her sister, her little niece and the shell shocked boys. Their father died trying to save them from a river; them and the son of the woman sitting next to me for 3 hours. I felt…still feel, gutted. I am grateful that I was there, able to help her with her own young daughter, be a new face, a new ear, a new mirror to look in to see who she is now.  As she told me the story, my heart broke again and again.  At one point, she said, there were six people in the river, all drowning. Half were there to save, half were being saved. All were at risk of being lost. Too few safety measures afforded by the resort they were visiting, so many people, so much crying and fear and screaming, so little anyone could do. And so, one Daddy died. One husband is gone. So many lives are forever changed.

I wasn’t there. I don’t know the family personally, though I feel so connected to them. I felt that connection even before meeting this woman who has so much to try and block from her memory, so much to move forward from. I felt that connection because I am a wife, I am a mother.   I feel that connection so much more now, having had the little girl with the saddest face I’ve ever seen sit on me, play with my phone and take sad photos of herself. This little girl has just lost her Daddy; she is 3.

The two families, linked by friendship and interest and passion and love of the outdoors are now linked by sorrow, loss and tragedy.  I am now, forever, linked to their story. I will never erase from my  heart the sight of this woman, this heartbroken sister, the aunt of these children in shock. She almost lost her own son and father to the river, lost instead her brother in law, her sister’s joy and her own sense of security in the world.

She said it was so awful. So horrible. So unbelievable. She has touched my life forever.

Yukon, we have two families who need us terribly right now. 5 children who will need all the support we can provide. Two mothers whose worlds have just been turned upside down, and who haven’t even begun to measure what lies ahead. I want to do something. I wish I could do something.

My baby girls are 20 & 16?!

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What a crazy emotional week for me. My eldest turned 20 years old today and my youngest will be 16 on Thursday. How? How can this be? I swear to you that only a few weeks ago they were little and snuggly and damp, all sweet breath and need and warm cheeks and lullabies.

My first born is preparing to launch… this nest has grown too small for her. She’s off to a real city, a bigger city, a new fresh start…school, friends, the BEGINNING of it all. My youngest is still half mine, half belonging to the world. So hard for me to separate, she is so much more ready than I am. 16 is nowhere near as old as it was when her big sister turned 16.

When your first child reaches a milestone, a threshold, it’s HUGE. 10 is so mature. 16 is SO incredible, so grown up. Since you’ve never been there before, it’s all enormous, especially because the younger siblings seem so… young, in comparison. Now, as my “baby” turns 16, I look at her with shocked eyes and wonder how on earth this young girl can be so near to being grown. How can I imagine letting her do the things I let her older sister do, especially now that I KNOW better!

When I grew up as the eldest of 6, I was the trail breaker. I had to fight all the fights, win all the  battles, break down the door for my younger siblings. Once my parents got through battling with me over every living detail they had lost the will to fight… at least that’s what I assumed. Maybe they just decided they’d best pick their battles and trust in the universe a bit. Either way my younger sisters had it WAAAAY easier than I did.

In my house, it’s the opposite. I was so innocent, so naiive as a mother I let my eldest do things I will NOT allow my younger daughter to do. I know… now I KNOOW so much more than I did then. Poor kid 😉 Her big sister was supposed to clear the way, not alert me to the risks!

Either way I have these wonderful 3 kids, all of them growing up in their own way and following their own rocky paths. I want everything fabulous, magnificent, exciting, scary and exciting for them. I want them to be explorers, adventurers, life long learners, readers, do-ers, sharing kindness and their gifts along the way. Thankfully too, my son’s birthday isn’t ’til Fall, so I have some time to recover before getting all emotional again.

Can they possibly do that without growing up? Without growing away? Without leaving me? Please?  This is a week of joy, of remembering, of story telling… and of being a big soppy sobby emotional puddle. Happens to me this time every year. Hard to avoid; two birthdays in a week… Happy Birthday Emily, Happy Birthday Chloe.  Love you both bigger than sunshine.

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Countdown to Mexico!

ImageThree weeks from this very moment I will be in Mexico. In the very place you see pictured above. The house there on the left is where my husband and I will sleep, the teenagers in the house on the right. Ahhhhhh. I need to take a moment to let that really soak into my psyche. Three short weeks and my toes will be deep in warm sand, my fingers wrapped around a cold glass, my eyes squinting into the hot sun. Amen.

Doesn’t that just sound like poetry? Sand, sun, water, relaxation, no work, no phone, no emails, no chores. Just 4 teenagers. Wait. Right… 4 teenagers. Better make that TWO hands wrapped around nice cold glasses…!

I’ve reached that point in pre-holiday delirium where every thought is framed by the holiday… need to make sure I buy cat food “for the housesitter”; better call the doctor’s office to make sure I have antibiotics “in case someone gets sick in MEXICO”, gotta get that project finished before I take my HOLIDAY etc.

I’m glassed over. I’m checking the weather in Yelapa, talking the kids through what to do if someone gets stung by a scorpion (as if I have a freakin’ CLUE!). Anyway, we are adequately supplied with Immodium, Benadryl, hand sanitizer and electrolyte replacement packets. We’ll be golden.

The one regret I have, of course, is that I’ll have to come home. When we were waiting in line in Mexico two years ago to come home, a lady in front of me stepped out of line, said “sorry, not ready to go home” to her friend and did NOT go home. How awesome is that? I have had dreams about that for the last two years. When I moved to the north (the REAL, top of the world Canadian north) 22 years ago, my actual intent was to move to Mexico for a year. Yep, I know… went the wrong way. Took a one year job, met a man, got married, had babies, etc. etc.

So each time I go to Mexico, a BIG part of me wants to just…stay. I walk around wondering what the hell happened… why is it that I don’t live there?

Yeah, yeah. I like my life, I like where I live (love it even), and can’t imagine what life I’d be living if I hadn’t taken the path I did but there’s that part of me that wants the parallel life… why can’t I have both? My real life, my Mexico life… I guess it’ll be a goal then. Sell the house here in the Yukon and find a way to live that dream of so long ago. Yes… that’s what I will dream of.

Dream of, work toward, plan for. Pronto.

Adios, amigos. Hasta Luego!

Of COURSE you’re my favourite child!

I love all three of my children equally, all the same, completely alike, except totally different. And sometimes it feels more like frothing rage or teeming frustration but really, it’s love… great big shiny gulps of love taken in deep breaths or short gasps.

It ain’t always a picnic, as we all know, but damn, it can be fun.  I can’t get over how every phase for each kid is still totally newImage to me. I remember that from when they were little; when our second was born, we thought we knew what it meant to raise a child…we were pros. HA!! They keep teaching you, again and again, that you don’t know much after all.

And I keep learning. My eldest is off on a date…that’s kind of cool once I stop obsessing.  I can’t ask for the guy’s vital stats now that she’s 19, and technically an adult. My son is… well, I can’t give you a certain answer on that since he was gone when I got home from the movie but hey, he’s 17. He’ll be back soon as he can’t cook and has no money. Youngest gal, home on her own when I returned had cleaned the kitchen. Yes. That’s what I said… cleaned the kitchen. Did I ask her? Nope. Was there any form of bribery? Nope. She wanted to be nice… aaaaaaaahh. That was a great big shiny gulp, right there.

How cool is that?  Today was her turn to inspire that little glow of parental satisfaction. Maybe tomorrow she’ll be the one making me tear my hair while her brother makes me laugh like a fool and act like a dorky kid… he’s good at that. And big sister makes me shine from the inside when she talks about her plans for school next fall… where she’ll live and what she’ll do.

I can look any one of them in the eye on any given day and truthfully, in that moment, declare them my favourite. And they CAN all be my favourite, in their own way. My eldest is my perfect, cherirshed first born. My son is the best boy I could ever imagine having, and my youngest is my favourite youngest, the darling baby of the family.

And I know I am the best mother in the world… no really…that’s what the Mother’s Day cards all say, so I know they must mean it, right? I’m their favourite Mom, and that’s pretty great.

Friends, Wine, and Beautiful Daughters

ImageIt’s hard to know where to begin. The last week has been a whirlwind of laughing, drinking, talking, crying, travelling, shopping and a bit more drinking. Probably more drinking than I ought to ‘fess up to… so never mind. Forget you read that part.

My youngest was sick in hospital over the Christmas break, and we were off to see a specialist in the Big City. Our eldest daughter joined us on the trip, meaning it was three of us ladies away for the weekend.

There are lots of components to a medical trip for us. There is the medical, obviously…doctor visit, tests, plans, treatment, new meds, probably some pain and discomfort for wee girl and always worry for Mom, but we just get through that part as quickly as we can.

We visit and we eat…oh my, there’s all that fabulous food! Coming from a small center, the food options in a real city are dizzying! So much CHOICE!! And of course, there is the SHOPPING. I’m not talking about a prolonged trip to the mall. I’m not talking about a day in the shops. Nope. I am talking marathon, non-stop, strategic, day after all-day Olympic medal shopping. These girls are ridiculous. Because they are employed and because we live far from good shopping, they save their money…they plan….they plot.

They damn near killed me. I am glad to report the money spent was NOT MINE. That is, in and of itself, worthy of note. I absolutely LOVE that the money wasn’t mine, actually. So, I let them blow their money while I visited, hiked, and drank wine with friends.

Let’s take a moment and reflect on the value of drinking good wine (or even crap wine!) with friends. It’s the best kind of therapy. After what feels like months of anxiety, worry and stress, a good belly laugh in a friend’s kitchen over a glass of wine felt like medicine. I left home Thursday morning holding my shoulders tight, frowning slightly and filled with worry. The doctor’s appointment didn’t alleviate the worry, not a bit. The friends… the friends and the wine, the friends, the wine and the walking…? That did it. That eased me like nothing else really could.

So I’ll think about that as I go forward this month; I want to be that friend with wine. I want to be ready with my door open, arms open and (you better believe it), bottle open for my friends. ‘Cause we all know we don’t need our friends to give us answers…we just need them to keep our secrets, hold our hands and keep our glasses filled. Cheers, and thank you to my friends. I’ve got the corkscrew in hand… come on over!

On Being Grown-up, Real Life and Happy Endings

ImageI was having a drink tonight with a friend, a fairly new friend who is deep in the trench I was in 10 years or so ago. She’s got little ones… 3 and 6 years old. Her life is all about breakfast, school, pre-school, laundry, shopping, her work, play time, sibling rivalry, toys, and bedtime. Her focus has gone so far away from her own needs that she can hardly remember what they are.  And she works from home.

That’s such an intense time, when kids are small and needing you so desperately. Never a moment to do much for yourself.

What I didn’t expect was how long the intensity would last. Mine are B.I.G. and I still feel consumed by their needs so often.  I work in my office from 8:30 ’til 5 every day, then come home for the second shift; the shift of preparing dinner, cleaning up, taking people here and there, soccer practice, drop off at so and so’s house, shopping, laundry, etc.etc.  That’s not unique, I know… Moms everywhere do the same thing every single day. We know it’s part of the deal.

What surprises me is how it surprises me, even after all this time. I’m still looking around for the grown up when life gets crazy or tough or scary…it’s still a shock when I realize it’s ME!

My friend and I were talking about all the things women friends talk about: kids, work, money, marriage, sex, life, health, time, stress, worry. Both of us have had lots of crazy things happen over the last few years; deaths, financial pressures, moves, transitions, illnesses, job changes, etc. etc.  Both of us have had what you could call a “difficult year”. The truth is, I don’t know anyone who HASN’T had a “difficult year”.  Every year has so much stuff in it, so much good we forget and bad that we remember, that we seem to mostly remember the bad (I am choosing to believe that so I don’t believe that the last few years have been solid bad stuff).

Suddenly it hit me that… crap… maybe it hasn’t just been a rough few years… maybe this is actually REAL LIFE! Maybe it’s just the way  it is…always.

I’m not saying every day is dreadful, only that every few months seems to bring another tremor of some kind, minor or right off the Richter scale. Sometimes there’s a chance to recover from one quake before the next hits, but sometimes the tremors just keep on coming ’til your knees are weak and your head’s spinning.

I think I’m going to stick with my first theory; it’s been a pretty rough few years. That way, I know there’s sure to be a bit of a break in the storm really soon. Maybe that’s my Hollywood movie upbringing….rainbows, silver linings and happy endings. Maybe it’s my innate optimism. Maybe it’s desperation…

But all this “stuff”… all these “challenges” that make me strong, make my family resilient & build my character?  They’re starting to piss me off.

So reality, take a hike…I’m going to Mexico. And you’re not invited.

*#$@!*!! Swearing

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I curse like a sailor. No, not quite true. In my HEAD I curse like a sailor, and occasionally, around a select few friends I will let the f-bombs fly with heady abandon.  Around my kids I would like to think I am more restrained. Yeah. I’d like to think that. Then I remember the swearing jar my then 5 year old daughter insisted I pay into…frequently. She ran a tight ship. “MOMMY!!! That one was 5 dollars!!” she’d say, hands on her hips and a stern look on her little face.

When my kids were younger and would use strong language (I don’t know WHERE she picked that up!), I would caution them that those are power words; use them too often and they lose their power. That worked, for a while. I strongly believe that upon stubbing your toe, nothing makes you feel better than a loudly hollered “DAMMIT!!”

Now, they’re all teenagers. I have a reasonable tolerance for moderate cussing, but I have never before lived with a boy who learned to curse on X-box live. Words I have only ever THOUGHT (with my eyes closed tight and my heart racing) drop out of his mouth like nothing, rapid fire, casually and without context or meaning. These aren’t power words… these are facial flatulence, and I’m tired of hearing them.

You could say it’s my fault, and you may be right. If you are lazy about swearing or have a potty mouth yourself on occasion, I guess you reap what you sow.

But there’s something new in this internet age, something so careless in our kids. Here they are, more open than ever to all kinds of exposures and influence and they are almost inured, immune to what shocks the living daylight out of me.

I guess that would be me too if my earliest exposure to “porn” hadn’t been a well worn copy of Judy Blume’s Forever , passed from girl to girl in my grade 6 class (falling open to the good parts of course). Words my parents never spoke in front of the children are all over the TV (and not bleeped like when I was a kid).  If I were a teenager now, I could accidentally trip over hard core porn searching for Christmas craft ideas online, or by following the friendly comment on my instagram feed.  Swearing is… well, so ordinary. No big deal.

I know my kids are smart. I know they’ve read books, traveled, been exposed to big ideas and thoughts but they still curse like fishwives. To me, it’s a sign of a really weak imagination…a small vocabulary.

Having said that, you can be sure I’ll have a purple glow around me the next time I crack my knee into the computer desk. Is it hopeless? I sure as #X@!** hope not.

Hello Again, Hospital

Bedside again, watching her sleep and waiting for the doctor. Post operative complications have overshadowed our Christmas, though we were home for Christmas this year.
I fix her pillow, adjust the bed, fetch a blanket, fuss at her and generally drive her mad. As much as she loves me and relies on me, she is still a 15 year old girl and I am still mom.
It’s a kind of prayer, this fussing… a kind of promise keeping. I can’t fight the infection she is battling, can’t take the pain away or make her stronger. I can brush her hair back from her eyes, I can bring her water and do those small things anxious mothers do. It might irritate her as much as it helps her but I can’t help myself. She is my job. Whatever else I am in the world outside this curtain, in here she is my only work.
And she gets it. She understands and is so patient with my fluttering, my over helping. She thanks me, lets me adjust and smiles at me, almost always. And she lets me kiss her forehead as often as I need to.