nodding & smiling

ceci n'est pas un bébé lala


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What SickKids Means to Me

I am thankful to have two happy, healthy daughters. The only reason either of them spent time in hospital is thanks to a robust sense of adventure and competitiveness, landing us in the E.R. a few times.

However, I grew up familiar with a 24-inch-long, keloided scar that ran the length of my dad’s upper leg, from his hip to his knee. It was the result of childhood soft tissue sarcoma that was deeply-embedded in muscle, tendons and veins. My dad spent time in hospital, while doctors and nurses removed all traces of the malignant cancer. The scar didn’t scare me, and my dad was happy to answer any questions we kids had about it, because, he taught us, cancer can strike anyone at any time, even little kids.

My dad as a young child (left), shortly before his surgery

My daughter Alexandra, my dad’s first grandchild, was much more empathetic than I was. I remember her feeling very sad, seeing my dad’s scar, instantly imagining him as a young child, sick in hospital. My dad assured Alex that hospitals that specialize in caring for children are the most amazing places, and kids there feel happy, very well-cared-for, safe, and loved. My dad had a gentle, reassuring nature, especially with my daughter, and she was satisfied with his answer.

Alexandra and her "Poppy" - this granddaughter/grandfather duo had a special bond!

Alexandra and her “Poppy” – this granddaughter/grandfather duo had such a special bond

My dad’s experience with cancer, and his love for children made him a lifelong SickKids Foundation supporter. A philanthropic, and fun-loving man who adored his kids, nieces, nephews and grandkids, my dad enthusiastically donated to SickKids Foundation so that little ones, at their most fragile, during their most vulnerable time, could be properly cared-for by “The Best of the Best”, he’d say.

My dad's 50th birthday. 4 months before he'd be diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour

My dad’s 50th birthday. 4 months before he’d be diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour

A couple months after my dad turned 50, cancer once again found its way to him, by way of a brain tumour which would have killed him if they didn’t do what they could to remove it. He suffered many complications from the surgery, and spent 4 months in hospital in intensive & critical care, in and out of a coma. When he finally returned home, he was only a shell of his former self, the surgery having jostled too many things around in his brain, and the dreaded cancer still progressing. Still, my dad’s affinity for SickKids never wavered, as he watched episodes of Little Miracles on TV in between radiation treatments. Seeing children facing illness, adversity, and uncertainty with such bravery inspired him.

My dad’s cancer progressed slowly over 4 years, until I was pregnant with his second grandchild. Through the last half of my pregnancy, he took a turn for the worse and was bedridden, cared-for at home by my mother and home care nurses. He needed round-the-clock care. When I gave birth to my daughter Katherine, I moved in, since I was on maternity leave, so I could help my mother care for him. I wanted to be near my dad in his final moments. My dad was 54 years young.

I can hardly believe this is the same man, a mere 4 years after his big 5-0. This was the only time he held Katherine. He passed shortly after this pic.

I can hardly believe this is the same man, a mere 4 years after his big 5-0. He passed shortly after this pic.

I’ll never forget the moment my father passed away, because I was in the bedroom right next door, nursing my not-yet 2-months-old baby girl. I was rocking her as she fed, softly singing to her, when I heard my mother wail the most terrifying cry. Immediately, I knew my dad had passed on. But never did I break from song or take my eyes off my baby’s sweet gaze. I continued to smile, sing to, and nurse her, because I was a mom. But the tears silently rolled down my cheeks.

The book of memories a young Alex made asking him to "Come Hm Soon Poppy!", and the many donations made in my father's name to SickKids Foundation at his passing.

The book of memories a young Alex made asking him to “Come Hm Soon Poppy!”, and the many donations made in my father’s name to SickKids Foundation at his passing.

While we may never understand why children are stricken with illness or are born (or become) otherwise medically-fragile, it helps knowing there are hospitals, organizations, communities and foundations of people who truly care and who work each and every day to make a positive difference in their lives. My dad’s experience at a children’s hospital certainly coloured his outlook on life, love, and family, and I am so proud to continue his legacy, adopting SickKids Foundation as “my” charity, too. I hope no one in my family ever needs SickKids, but if they do, boy am I glad SickKids is there.

I was so touched to see donations pour in, in my father’s memory, in support of his beloved SickKids Foundation at the time of his death and on its anniversary. This weekend, families just like yours and mine – some with personal connections to SickKids Hospital, and others who simply appreciate all that SickKids does – will be walking in support of SickKids Foundation, in the Canaccord Genuity Great Camp Adventure Walk for SickKids. Please consider showing your support by donating to this amazing, caring organization. You can click here to donate in support of the #WalkForSickKids, or click here for other ways to show your support.

Disclosure: SickKids Foundation is a client of my employer Influence Central Canada.


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Moving – Feeling All the Feels

katie grad

Okay so I suspect moving is kind of like childbirth, in that, once you’re past the hellish bits, you forget how awful the bulk of the experience was, and consider doing it again one day.

When I was young, we moved around a lot for my dad’s work. Moving houses (and provinces) halfway through grade seven, and in the summer after grade nine, and again after grade eleven was HARD.

Teenagers aren’t very nice to newcomers, especially those wearing completely different styles, and speaking with a different accent (anglo-Montrealers speak with an accent, you guys). Most kids have had their core group of friends for years, and they don’t need another friend. They don’t make it easy on the new kid, in fact, some go out of their way to make it hard for the new kid. Not because they’re mean, but because it’s a source of amusement. Maybe they’re bored. I don’t know. Anyway, I didn’t like it, and it forced me to develop a thick skin.

I decided when I was very young that when I had kids, I’d do what I could to ensure they grew up with a set of friends they could keep forever, if they wanted.

When we decided we were moving, we talked about it as a family. Alex was fine, since she’s an honorary Haligonian these days, and surprisingly, Katherine was quite happy about it. Having attended the same school from junior-kindergarten until grade five “graduation”, she seemed ready for a change, and looked forward to the prospect of making new friends.

This mom is relieved. At the same age, I’d have been kicking and screaming!


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Fitness Friend

My unique, fiesty, caring daughter

My unique, fiesty, caring daughter

I never put much stock in the whole Nature vs. Nurture debate as much as I did after I had kids. It was immediately apparent to me that these kids simply were who they were. Their parenting was the same, after all, even though I was a bit older the second time around.

My eldest was always easy to please as a child, was happiest when making others happy, set (and accomplished) admirable goals, but was never much interested in babies. My younger daughter was so different: not easily content, very fiesty and a true tester of limits (especially mine!) – except when it came to younger or differently-abled kids. In those cases my younger daughter was always all patience and kindness.

I wasn’t surprised when my younger daughter was paired in Kindergarten with a differently-abled student as a “Fitness Friend”, after watching her play with her younger cousins with such enchantment. Fitness Friends assist each other in gym class and make sure everyone’s included in games at recess. Katherine always spoke of her Fitness Friend with sweetness and included her on birthday invitation lists. Year after year, Katherine was placed in the same class as the student.

I’m pleased her inclusiveness is the first things teachers will tell me about her, and I can’t wait to see what my fiesty, bright, and caring daughter will do next.


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Gimme Gimme Gimme

Little Cousins' Gift Exchange - aka "FamJam"

Little Cousins’ Gift Exchange – aka “FamJam”

Christmas and the holidays are a wonderful time for families. We get to unplug, reconnect with loved ones, spend time together. There is also the magic of the season, with all its treats and treasures.

If you’re like me, you love spoiling your kids and seeing the delight on their faces when they unwrap a special gift, but also worry that they will lose sight of the spirit of the season focusing on “getting stuff” instead.

This year, I’m happy that we will be going almost gift-free among my family. That means that aunties, uncles, parents and grandparents won’t be showering the kids with gifts as we usually do. Instead there will be a single gift exchange at the kid-level (read: no adults participate), and then Santa will do his “thing” (which at our house is a bountiful stocking and one or two special gifts for each child).

The focus will be on finding ways to spend special time with our family, playing games, baking, watching movies, going on walks etc. rather than gift-giving. Best part is the kids seem totally fine with the whole thing!

Happy Holidays to all!


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Straight As

My amazing 10-year-old who doesn't achieve straight-As

My amazing 10-year-old who doesn’t achieve straight-As

I’ve never put a lot of stock into report cards.

Don’t get me wrong – I value school and all that it exposes my kids to. I want them to do their best and to feel successful. But I don’t think a report card tells the full story, in the same way that my resumé or annual review wouldn’t sum me up as a working professional.

My 10-year-old brought her progress report home last week, and it confirmed that she was progressing along as she should be. Great! I’m happy with that. If it had highlighted an area or two in which we could focus to help her catch up with the class, I’d have been just as happy. I didn’t worry that there were no notes indicating that she was ahead of the class. I don’t push her to achieve As. I simply want her to put forth her best effort.

With a daughter already in university, I now have the benefit of hindsight. I’m no longer iffy about my position on report cards. I firmly stand my ground, loud and proud: earning straight-As on a report card is not the be-all-end-all it’s made out to be. Marks are only one piece of the pie.

Many of the extra-curriculars and hobbies that helped Alex choose her university program of study (Commerce) had nothing at all to do with academics.

If I’d insisted on straight-As, Alex might not have had the time to try her hand at photography and cooking and other pursuits that eventually helped narrow down her interests to what would make her happy, and think about what career she might excel at.

Straight-As and no other experience in sports, volunteering, working, leadership, camps, music, Junior Achievement, art and social settings might not have allowed Alex to be the well-rounded student that attracted Dalhousie to her.

So when Katherine’s teacher told me at our meeting that Katherine was progressing well, I was pleased.

But when she told me Katherine is a good friend in the classroom, volunteers at the kiss-and-ride, helps with the announcements, is in the ukelele club and spends extra time at recess and during lessons to make sure the differently-abled kids in the classroom feel included and to help them keep up, I was over the moon. These are the things that make my child a “good student” in my eyes. An active citizen in her little society at school, and a well-rounded kid. For these things – all of them, “okay” grades included – I am thankful.


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Sporty

Hoping the secret to getting this one to enjoy sports is sticking with one. Wish me luck!

My daughters have been raised with the understanding that exercise is a necessary part of healthy living. It’s as important to our bodies as are fresh air, sleep and good nutrition.

My elder daughter did swimming from a young age, started soccer at age 4 (and never left), started ringette at age 9 (and never left), with a bit of volleyball thrown in. At 18, Alex plays ringette for the Dalhousie Tigers, and continues to play and work out regularly.

Katherine, my 10-year-old, has also swum from a young age, and has tried: ballet, soccer, gymnastics, rugby, ringette, volleyball and cheerleading… and never liked any of them. Worried she might just not like being active, our deal had always been: she picked the activity, and I made sure she stuck it out till the end. Her latest sport is basketball, which she “kinda, sorta” likes.

This summer, her swimming instructor asked whether Katherine was normally uncomfortable trying new things, because she seemed reluctant to “put herself out there”. Quickly, I recalled childhood memories of Katherine being especially averse to embarrassment, notably when she was learning to read and would refuse to sound out the letters. She only wanted to read the word out loud once she was certain she got it right in her head.

My “a-ha!” moment: it wasn’t that Katherine didn’t enjoy being active, it was that she didn’t want to be embarrassed for not doing as well as the others (made more obvious being the “new kid” all the time!)

So, our new approach will be for her stick with a sport until she’s mastered a few skills, which will hopefully boost her confidence. I’ve decided she’ll keep with volleyball, and she’s decided she’ll keep with basketball.

And time will tell, I guess. In the meantime, my reluctantly-athletic kid gets sweaty 3 times a week 🙂

 


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Her First Visit Home

Little sister's idea: make Big sister's homecoming a really big deal. Big sister thanks little sister by a Starbucks coffee date, just the two of them.

Little sister’s idea: make big sister’s homecoming a really big deal. Big sister thanks little sister by a Starbucks coffee date, just the two of them.

Six weeks after drop-off and I’ve made it – Alex’s first visit home.

After she enjoyed an uneventful flight with lots of learnings: online check-in, bus to airport, security, finding your gate, landing, figuring out where to meet your mom who’s driving around the Arrivals area (hint: don’t wait for her at Departures – lesson learned!), my university student got into my car and I could breathe again. Both my babies were with me.

Although we texted often while she was gone, we never Skyped nor phoned. As such, her sister and I thought Alex’s voice sounded different: more mature, more worldly-adultish.

But, once we got home, I recognized her immediately: happy, preoccupied, already making plans, and hungry. I fed her leftover cheese tortellini in rosé sauce at 9pm and she ran off to meet friends, returning around midnight. She crawled into my bed to catch up, just like she always had.

We’re still in the throes of a super-busy Thanksgiving weekend… my sister is moving, my pregnant cousin and family are travelling in from Ottawa and Montreal for her baby shower, and Alex is finding time to spend with all the people she loves: Mom, stepdad and sister, Dad & family, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.

Alex has showered us with gifts and love and time and soon it will all be over.

Until Christmas 🙂