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The apprehension & excitement of discovery

I recently applied for a Calgary-based editor position, at which time the company requested I provide a short story about one of my favourite memories/experiences that took place in Calgary. Immediately my thoughts wandered to my first year of college.

While you may not connect with all of the specifics of this story, I anticipate that if you’ve ever left home for anything–school, travel, work–you will relate to the notion of discovery. Enjoy.

2001

It was where the QE2 transitions to Deerfoot Trail that I recall physically losing my breath as I observed the rows and rows of houses sprawled across the northern hills of Calgary. I was 17 and relocating to Calgary to start my post-secondary education at the Alberta College of Art & Design (ACAD). Change is difficult, and I was transitioning from living in a small Saskatchewan town of 3,000 people to a city of over 1,000,000. While my mom drove us south on Deerfoot Trail, talking optimistically about this new chapter in my life, 17-year-old me was doing my best to ignore the feeling that I might be swallowed whole by the big city.

My mom introduced me to my new apartment. It was located on the 9th floor of a building at the corner of 9th Avenue and 7th Street SW. Somewhere between breathlessness—as if I’d been punched in the stomach—and unpacking my mismatched set of dishes, excitement began to build. Anxiousness was replaced with anticipation, and the need for assurance morphed into the need for adventure. The C-train line was just out the building’s front door, and it was my gateway to discover the rest of the city.

Between my home and ACAD was Kensington. Naturally, this was one of the first communities that I explored. The Sunnyside Safeway taught me the important skill of budgeting. Higher Ground introduced me to the decadent world of Rolo lattes. Roasted veggie and feta melts from Heartland Cafe will forever remind me of the best part of discovering the big city—quaint, independently owned places existed that provided the familial feeling of a small town despite being in the midst of Calgary’s chaos.

A portion of our curriculum as first year students at ACAD was to visit several galleries, including the Glenbow, TRUCK Contemporary Art, Paul Kuhn, Stride, and The New Galleries. As an ACAD student, I was often able to attend openings and shows free of charge, which was amazing! I had the pleasure of interacting with performance art, ceramics, blown glass, photography, paintings and drawings from local and world-renowned artists, which included several of my own professors.

Corner of Kensington Road & 10th Street

Kensington Road & 10th Street   B. Weston, 2001

I was also required to submit hundreds of “drawing from life” sketches. The need to produce this much work forced me to find new and interesting venues for sketching. Places like Devonian Gardens and The Calgary Zoo were excellent locations to hone my skills. My sketchbook accompanied me everywhere. The inevitable result was that there was no place that was safe from me and my pencil. While it’s not uncommon to see an artist sketching in an art gallery or even a coffee shop, I suspect there may have been a few curious glances when I pulled out an enormous pad of sketch paper and began to draw my date at Vicious Circle.

This immersion in art altered how I looked at and interpreted information. People became lines and shadows and reflectors of light, the relationship between objects became observations of positive and negative spaces, and sunsets became brush strokes. To this day, I see situations and moments as compositions and elements of a grander art piece. The lens through which I see my surroundings has been transformed forever.

Looking back, I didn’t fully appreciate the opportunities ACAD afforded me. Many individuals pursuing post-secondary education do so from dimly lit offices and library cubicles. While I certainly did do some of that, I was encouraged to actively engage in the best Calgary has to offer. Such participation during that formative age leaves me with gratitude, because the curiosity that welcomed adventure inside of 17-year-old me increased, awakening parts of myself I hadn’t encountered yet.

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An Open Letter to Matt Walsh

Dear Matt:

*Trigger warning: the post below discusses sensitive issues, including abortion & abuse.*

I read your response to the Women’s March that took place on Saturday. While I could respond to the myriad of inaccurate things you said–including thesuper cala fragile....png
assertion that the wage gap between men and women doesn’t exist, or how masculinity and femininity are defined, or how you missed the point that the mission of the protest(s) directly correlates with the fact that a man who has openly assaulted women, degraded minority groups, rejected Climate Change and mocked the disabled was just inaugurated as President of the United States of America–I
am not going to.

I am going to address one thing. Abortion. Since your perception seems to be that all women attending the event seek to kill their young, let’s talk about that. And remember, I am talking about it because YOU made it the big issue.

“It [feminism] rejects all that is inherently kind, giving, compassionate, sacrificial, and loving in womanhood, encouraging women to live only for themselves instead — even if blood must be shed in the process.” – Matt Walsh

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Matt: Where are all of the vagina-clad, genitalia-obsessed women here?

Before I continue, I should preface this post with a few things, as I am confident you may disagree with me, chalking my comments up to being a “liberal” or one of “those” women or [insert other label you’ve called  women that disagree with your position].

  • I am a follower of Jesus, maintaining that if more lives were modeled after his example of compassion, love, self-sacrifice, and holy discontent, we would be living in a very different world.
  • I fall in the pro-life camp, believing that life develops upon conception; however, I am not without compassion, and I reserve judgement, for individuals that have been faced with the decision to terminate a pregnancy.
  • I am a feminist, acknowledging that each of us as individuals possess unique skills and abilities. We–males and females–should be treated equally. And when I use the term “equal” I am referring to basic human decency, which includes being judged or examined by our merit not our gender. In a married relationship, for example, each partner contributes to making the relationship work by using his/her gifts, which may or may not align with what “traditional” marriage roles dictate. If a husband enjoys cooking and is better at it, then he should do the cooking. Or, if a wife is an accountant, it makes sense for her to manage the family finances. Do you see the difference? Meritocracy over gender.

Now that that’s out-of-the-way, let’s talk about your condescending, judgmental, divisive, and awe-inspiring post about [mostly] abortion. You see, while my preference is that an individual never feels the need for an abortion, history has shown us that people make tough decisions when they feel desperate.

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This image also seems to be void of the vagina costumes and the like. Based on the signs we can see clearly, I read: “HOPE”, “Truth & Science”, “Don’t Frack in Maryland”, “We Go High”, “Mother By Choice”, “Resist Hate”, “Real Men Aren’t Bullies”, “Love”, “Fight Ignorance” and “Build Bridges Not Walls”.

This leads me to one question:

Why do you think a woman goes to Planned Parenthood?

I am guessing you think it’s because she needs information about how-to conduct “baby murder”/ is looking for a place to “murder” her baby. Sound about right?

From my vantage point, women started seeking out organizations like Planned Parenthood because it provided them with a SAFE place and non-judgmental advice/support regarding sensitive issues like unplanned pregnancy, as well as receive cancer screenings (pap smears, breast exams…), discuss infertility options, or accept care for general health needs like anemia testing, screening for cholesterol or diabetes, and vaccinations. In the case of something like an unplanned pregnancy, I anticipate women were (are) looking for a place where they wouldn’t be ostracized or slut-shamed.

Personally, I know six people who have terminated pregnancies, and all were due to complicated situations–not because they celebrate “murder”.

  • The first woman was married to a horribly abusive man –literally, he tried to kill her– and she already had two children. Since she didn’t have an escape plan, and couldn’t fathom bringing another child into a horrific situation, she chose an abortion.
  • The next four women were all in high school, three of whom attended a Christian boarding school. Rather than be ostracized, rejected and talked about publicly, they chose to terminate their pregnancies privately.
  • The third situation involved a woman in college that was pursued by a married man, promising he’d leave his wife because he didn’t love her anymore. When she became pregnant, he refused to share the responsibility and insisted she have the abortion. He drove her to the clinic to have the procedure done.

Each of the aforementioned women found themselves in terrifying situations that would have required an enormous amount of support to make it through their pregnancies let alone actually raise a child. And, if non-judgmental support doesn’t exist, it’s not hard to see what choice a woman may be forced to make.

  • If a man is going to beat a woman senselessly because she got pregnant, it may seem most logical to her to save herself (and another person) from additional abuse, right?
  • If young women find themselves in positions where they may be excommunicated or seen as tainted, used and damaged, isn’t it possible that they simply want to avoid that, and it’s not that they hate children and seek to “murder” them, as you say?
  • If a hopeful young woman falls in love and gets pregnant by a selfish man who never planned to stay with her anyway, does it seem SO ridiculous that she would fear having a child that only ever reminded her of her greatest mistake?

I anticipate that you may say something like: “Those women should never have been in those situations to begin with. They shouldn’t have had sex…” Sure, abstinence is the only proven method to prevent pregnancy, but have you ever done something that equated to undesirable consequences?

My point is that many (of course, not all) women make the decision to terminate a pregnancy out of desperation, as society is not in a good position to support families–especially single mothers. If the government, the Church, commentators (that’s you), and society as a whole did more to tangibly support and love women in general–including women with unplanned pregnancies–then maybe we would see a decrease in the number of abortions? Maybe women wouldn’t feel like they HAVE to fight for their own rights and fight to be heard?

It should also be said that if I had known about the aforementioned situations while the women were grappling with what to do, I would have stepped up to help as best as I could, understanding that the decision was ultimately hers to make.

So here’s a tip: Instead of shaming and condemning women, and intentionally disregarding the heart of what they’re saying, why not offer productive alternatives to what you disagree with?

Hate Planned Parenthood? Okay, then offer some alternative safe places for women with unplanned pregnancies to go to.

Hate abortion? Provide information on adoption agencies, complete with statistics about how many people are awaiting to receive a child.

Finally, here’s what not do to: What you just did. Make sweeping generalizations about why between 3 and 4 million women AND men marched in the United States, and why thousands more across the globe marched in solidarity.

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Dear humanity: let’s try to suck less

I opened Facebook on my iPhone tonight and was welcomed with:

Last week it was the:

Last month it was the:

And I feel like someone has just taken a sledge hammer to my heart, smashing it into a billion pieces.

This world sucks. Humanity sucks.

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The inhumanity of humanity seems particularly bitter today.

And despite my best efforts to stay rational about how news cycles work, knowing that  the bad stuff gets WAY more coverage than the good stuff, I’m struggling. I’m struggling because love needs to be louder. I know it’s out there, but why can’t it speak louder than all of this other garbage?

So tonight while I check on my daughters nestled in their beds, I am going to remind myself of the love. I am going to actively remember that:

  • For the one sick individual that kills a child, there are thousands of people mourning with the victim’s family, demanding justice.
  • For every person impacted by a lunatic that chooses to drive over people at a celebration in France, there are dozens of people who run to the aid of others.
  • For every right-wing group that takes to their soap boxes to spout hate speech at the mourners of the Orlando massacre, there are ‘angels’ there to block them.
  • For every event where a police officer incorrectly targets someone or misuses their authority, there are thousands of other officers doing AMAZING things in their communities.
  • For every fear-inducing, hateful act, there are loving acts.

And tomorrow when I wake, I am going to act.

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I’m going to start by extending kindness to my neighbours, hoping my actions will be marked by generosity and love instead of fear and hatred.

I’m going to hold my kids a little closer, and teach them empathy and compassion by my actions not by empty words.

Love is a verb and I (we) need to show our children and communities that it’s still there.

You with me?

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Perspective through Sacrifice

I recently applied for a job where I was asked to provide a written response to the statement: Describe a major challenge in your life, and how you handled it. Four years ago I would have said that attending full time university while balancing my full-time job, or navigating the mental and emotional rollercoaster associated with a horrific workplace accident my father was involved in. This year, however, my answer is much different. And, quite frankly, my response was littered with more questions than answers.

To date, the greatest challenge I have encountered in life is parenting. I have two delightful daughters, ages one and three. Parenthood is a series of questions, dichotomies and either-ors. The challenge, of course, is that I am supposed to be the leader, developing character whilst instilling value, ethics and fortitude. With each question I engage in, I confront choices related to my own character and attitudes. On days where my tenacious three-year-old chooses to exercise her free will and continuously challenge my requests, will I have enough self control and discipline to remain calm, consistent and kind? After a night of multiple wake-ups due to my child’s illness, rendering me depleted and exhausted, will I choose to see how privileged I am to show love and meet the needs of a sad, sick baby? When I have thirty other tasks on my list of things to do, will I stop to read or paint or snuggle? When teaching the importance of manners and proper behaviour, will I practice patience and model respect? And when I fail, will have the courage to apologize? 

During those moments where I am faced with the opportunity to develop my own character, I do my best to remember that life’s greatest challenges provide perspective. In order to understand true joy, one must understand sorrow. Consistently my children provide me with perspective. Since becoming a parent, I have much deeper appreciation for sleep, silence and microwaved coffee. Since becoming a parent, I have become more self aware, gracious and generous. Since becoming a parent, I have an increased sense of gratitude for my own mother.

As a stay-at-home parent, I have a much richer perspective on both the day-to-day and long-term challenges and decisions my parents–especially my mother–were confronted with. Decisions that impacted her own personal aspirations and goals.

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My mom stayed home with my brother and I during our toddler years, choosing to go back to work when we were around ages 5 and 3. When it became clear that the commitment to community committees, coupled with work demands and the overall busyness of life was impacting our family negatively (I was sick all the time, for example), my mom made the hard decision to remove herself from all commitments outside of the home. (Thankfully, my father’s business made enough money that she could choose to quit her job and devote herself entirely to the family.)

As a kid, I know I took her presence in the home for granted. For every meal prepared, bandaid applied or hug needed, she was there. For every birthday party, figure skating competition and drama performance, she was there. I never doubted her attendance or support. I just knew she would be there, because that’s what my mom did. Consistently, she put her family’s interests over her own, choosing to intertwine her identity with ours.

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From my perspective as a kid, this transition seemed relatively effortless, but I know now that it was difficult for her. Not difficult in the sense that she didn’t want to be a part of our lives; rather, difficult because the balance of being involved in our lives and having our lives become her life is a very fickle one. Why fickle? Because kids don’t often make decisions based on how others will be impacted. I didn’t understand this until I became a mom.

Early in our teen years, it became evident that my brother and I needed a change of pace from the small town we grew up in. So at the age of 15, my brother left for boarding school. A year later, when my mom saw that the use of drugs and alcohol was my way of dealing with depression, she provided me the same option. She knew that I needed different opportunities and a fresh start. Consequently, 3 days shy of my 14th birthday, I left home.

DSC_0118Yet again, my mom (and dad) made an incredibly difficult decision for the betterment of my brother and I. For 15 years, she intertwined her life with ours, making herself physically present as well as emotionally and mentally available. For 15 years, she kept the home afloat while my dad worked incredibly long, hard hours. For 15 years, we were her priority. And even when she knew that us leaving meant tearing away much of her purpose, she did it anyway. She chose us over her.

When I consider all of the personal sacrifices my mother made on behalf of our family, I am filled with gratitude and thankfulness. Gratitude for her selflessness, and thankfulness for her choice to be present–truly present–in our lives.

And now, over 15 years later, my mom has completed her Bachelors in Social Work and has almost finished her Masters in Counseling. While I know going back to school later in life poses a different set of challenges than parenthood, I am so proud of
her. I am proud of her determination and perseverance. I am pr22763_240711597482_884837_noud of her desire to grow and not be stagnant. I am proud of her for
choosing her goals and her aspirations–she didn’t let them die, she simply put them aside.

Finally, Mom, if you are reading this, thank you for modeling courage to me: courage to set aside and modify your aspirations for awhile, and for the courage to pick them up again. You’re an inspiration to many. Happy Mothers’ Day.

 

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The Phenomena of Internet Trolls

***Trigger warning: the content below addresses issues of sexual violence and abuse as well as contains strong language.***

If you have spent any time on social media or reading the comments sections of YouTube or online articles, you’re familiar with internet trolls. Individuals that seem to lurk in their parent’s dark basements, waiting for the next best opportunity to disrupt online dialog. Undoubtedly, I have been amused by a troll or two. But, the number of times I have chuckled or appreciated harmless, clever or off-topic comments pales in comparison to the number of times I have gasped, felt rage or sat dumbfounded at the cruelty and heartlessness of some commenters. Last week was no exception.

On Monday, a friend of mine commented on a photo related to the United States’ National Infertility Awareness Week. There was some banter between my friend and another male. He stated several unsavory comments, which he deleted, but felt the need to follow up with my friend in a private message.

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On Wednesday, I watched a video released by the #morethanmean movement regarding the abusive Tweets female sports journalists receive on a regular basis. Sportswriters Sarah Spain and Julie DiCaro sat opposite to several volunteer males as they read some of these Tweets directly to the journalists. The men were not given the opportunity to preview the Tweets prior to reading them. Visibly moved, appalled and uncomfortable, the men read through the series of Tweets, including:

  • Sarah Spain sounds like nagging wife on TV.
  • I hope your dog gets hit by a car, you bitch.
  • One of the players should beat you to death with their hockey stick like the whore you are. C*nt.
  • This is why we don’t hire any females unless we need our c*cks sucked and our food cooked.
  • Hopefully the skank Julie DiCaro is Bill Cosby’s next victim. That would be classic.
  • I hope your boyfriend beats you.
  • Why bring up your own rape in the story? Is it your way at firing back at critics who say you can’t get any?
  • I hope you get raped again.
  • Sarah Spain is a b*tch I would hate f*ck.
  • You need to be hit in the head with a hockey puck and killed.

Statements like: “I don’t think I can even say that” and “I’m sorry” and “I am having trouble looking at you when I am saying these things” are uttered from the men, emphasizing how damaging these statements are, not to mention that it’s just as unacceptable to write these things as it is to say to another human being in person.

On Friday, I read an article from The Guardian that outlined the results of a research project regarding disruptive and abusive language in the comments section of the publication’s online articles. 70 million blocked comments (comments that were removed because they didn’t adhere to their community standards) were examined. Of those comments, the top 10 number of writers to receive the most number of abusive and disruptive comments consisted of eight women and two black men. On the opposite end of the scale, the top 10 number of writers to experience the least amount of trolling were all men.

Included in The Guardian’s summary of research findings are interviews with three of the writers in the “top 10” list of most number of abusive/disruptive comments on their articles. Two of whom are females Jessica Valenti and Nesrine Malik. Both are brave enough to be interviewed, and kind enough to share how abusive and disruptive comments impact them.

Valenti says that she often receives “the most horrible rape and death threats,” continuing that she get nervous “when someone comes up to me one-on-one to talk … Is this the person that threatened to rape me this week?”

To get to that place where you are used to being called a ‘c*nt’ everyday, that’s a terrible thing to get used to – that does something to who you are. – Jessica Valenti

As a result of such horrific online abuse, she decided to guard herself very carefully: “I have a P.O. box; there is no physical address listed [online]; I don’t check into hotels using my real name.”

As a humanist, I am stunned at the audacity abusers have when commenting.

Would they actually state that they’d rape a woman to her face? 

Would they heartlessly, in person, tell my friend to adopt a cat? 

Assuming online abusers wouldn’t actually say this in person, why do they feel it is acceptable to write it online?

Guardian authors Gardiner, Mansfield, et al say, “Anonymity disinhibits people, making some of them more likely to be abusive. Mobs can form quickly: once one abusive comment is posted, others will often pile in, competing to see who can be the most cruel.”

Malik believes that the “fundamental sense of entitlement enrages people [because] they don’t have that position and someone else that they do not respect does … I feel the motivation behind the comments is to wound rather than to make a legitimate point.”

The point is to intimidate, and the point is to hijack, and the point is to ensure that the conversation becomes about the troll and your position as an undermined person. Once that happens, they have won. – Malik

Admittedly, I am uncomfortable writing about this topic because I know I am making myself susceptible to online trolls. But, I firmly believe this conversation is far too important to shy away from it. This phenomena is growing at an alarming rate, and the disconnect between people is being amplified by online trolling. As a society, we have forgotten that behind each smart phone, tablet and computer screen is a human being. A human being that is digesting each word. A human being that is actually affected.

While most of us have not uttered death or rape threats, or preyed upon on someone’s personal misfortune, we have likely been less than courteous when dialoging online, or laughed when someone said something distasteful. And, we may have forgotten that behind the screen is a person.

Let’s remember that each online profile or username is someone else’s daughter or son, and that we have the opportunity to impact them, and online discourse, positively. We can be the change we’d like to see.

Let’s just be kind to each other, okay?

 

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A note to the peanut gallery

“You really shouldn’t leave your car running in the parking lot,” said the man with his reusable grocery bags tucked underneath his right arm.

“Excuse me?” I replied.

“You shouldn’t leave your car idling. It’s bad for the environment,” he said, his voice escalating.

“Are you kidding me?” I said, doing my best to keep my temper at bay. “My car has been on for 30 seconds while I put my daughter in her car seat.”

“Yeah, whatever–you need to be more environmentally conscious …” he muttered, briskly walking away.

Furious, I yelled: “Thanks for the unsolicited advice. It’s been super helpful!”

Yes, I yelled at a stranger across the grocery store parking lot.

I didn’t yell at him because I don’t care about the environment. I yelled at him because he saw 15 seconds of my life and decided that his personal agenda was to ensure that I knew I was doing my part to strengthen Global Warming.

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Photo credit: David Carillet

What Buddy didn’t see is that I loaded my groceries, took my cart back, and then got my 1-year-old settled into her car seat. Following that, I asked my 3-year-old no less than three times to come get into her seat. She was far too immersed with play on the sidewalk and refused to come over. I proceeded to tell her that her sister and I were going home. I hopped in the driver’s seat, turned on the car, and alas! peering in my window was my eldest, ready to get in her car seat. I strapped her in, closed the door, and looked up to see the disapproving eyes of some dude who has no context for anything.

What Buddy didn’t see is that not only did I bring reusable grocery bags to the store, I also brought my coffee in a travel mug, mine and my daughter’s drinks in reusable water bottles, and that I purchased as many organic and fare trade grocery items as our budget allows, knowing that certain types of food production, as well as waste, places an enormous burden on our earth.

What Buddy doesn’t see is that I am exhausted. I am operating on minimal sleep, spending my days with two beautiful creatures that insist on expressing their individuality and challenging me with their free will. All day long I am disciplining, teaching, engaging, inspiring, cheerleading, negotiating, coercing … I am bending over backwards trying to raise kids that think about other people and treat each other kindly. I am trying to model kindness (I definitely failed the test in the parking lot!). And the truth is, none of that stops when I leave the house. It extends.

What Buddy doesn’t see is that his trip to the grocery store looks very different from mine. A visit for him likely involves walking into the store, selecting items, putting them in his cart and paying. For me (and any other parent that bring their kids to the store), it involves strategy. A helluva lot of strategy. I do my best to shop at certain times of day when the kids are rested and in decent spirits. I pack snacks, drinks and play field-trip leader while navigating through the aisles. I make sure everyone has used the bathroom. I write my grocery list in order of where I need to walk in the store, and heaven forbid I realize I missed something in the pharmacy section when I am the produce department! I am constantly talking, asking questions and redirecting attentions. I am disciplining, mediating and doing my best to be the adult. When I get to the parking lot and finally have my kids and groceries loaded, the last thing I want to hear is a comment from the peanut gallery–from someone who observed me for an eighth of a minute!

This got me thinking about how normal it has become for individuals in our society to critique and scrutinize one another on the basis of perception. We feel we are entitled to do so. But, perception is a person’s reality; it’s important for people to understand that perception is often flawed. Here’s a great example: a mother from Winnipeg, Manitoba had to endure a full interrogation from Child Family Services (CFS) after a neighbor reported that her children were left unattended while playing in the family’s fenced-in backyard. The children are ages ten, five and two. The neighbor saw the children, perceiving that they weren’t being supervised. What the neighbor didn’t see was that the mother was in the home, tidying up on the main floor, and that she had full views of her kids through the windows; the neighbor didn’t see or witness conversations about strangers that the parents have had with their children; the neighbor didn’t see a lot.

Much like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, we are a society that sees shadows of truth and interpret them as reality. Social media, for example, has created a space where individuals can say whatever they want with no regard for facts. There’s no meter filtering statements with a true or false button. It’s all based on matters of opinion–opinions that have largely been created by perception.

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Credit: Kerry Halladay

 

 

So, to all of us that have been or are currently a part of the peanut gallery: let’s try to use our eyes and ears before speaking. If you feel the incessant desire to share your opinion all the time–because surely you are right–don’t. Chances are you could do some learning through observation first. And don’t just observe the shadows, come out into the light and wait for your eyes to adjust. That’s what I am going to try to do. It may be awkward, and the adjustment from dark to light may hurt a bit, but it’ll be worth it in the end. Because we simply don’t know the situation the other person is in that has called for a specific action.

 

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Mourning for my children

Have you ever had one of those days where all of the pain and suffering in the world comes into focus, deeming you incapacitated to do anything? Yesterday was that day for me. As my three-year-old tried to recruit me into play, I obliged but couldn’t truly engage. My thoughts and my heart were, and still are, elsewhere. I am mourning with the people of Paris, Lebanon, Beirut, Syria, Baghdad, Mexico… I am mourning with the world.

I am mourning for my children.

The source of my mourning is rooted in the cruelty and selfishness of humanity, not specifically terrorism. While social media – specifically Facebook – erupted with hashtags of support, new filters to put over profile pictures, and news articles about the calculated attacks on Paris, other posts quickly cropped up, too. Attacks on Muslims and anti-Syrian rhetoric. Memes claiming that the welcoming of Syrians correlates to the welcoming of terrorists, specifically ISIS. Individuals that countered this notion were met with resistance and the conversations reached a stalemate, at best, and became volatile, at worst. With each post and disagreement, I felt increased sadness, and admittedly, disgust, for humanity.

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Photo released by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). Residents of the Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, lining up to receive food supplies, in Damascus, Syria. Photo credit: UNRWA via AP, File

Sadness for those that have lost people due to an earthquake or hurricane or the horrific acts of terrorism. Disgust by the selfishness, cruelty and lack of empathy for human life, specifically the lives of over 4 million Syrian refugees currently displaced. For those of you that don’t know, here are a few facts, courtesy of Amnesty International and World Vision, regarding the Syrian refugee crisis:

  • Approximately 220,000 people have been killed.
  • 12 million people have fled their homes; half are children.
  • 12.8 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria.
  • More than 50% of Syria’s population is currently displaced.
  • More than 4 million refugees from Syria are in five countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.
  • The UN humanitarian appeal for Syrian refugees is just 40% funded.
  • Funding shortages mean that the most vulnerable Syrian refugees in Lebanon receive less than half a dollar a day for food assistance ($13.50/month).
  • More than 80% of Syrian refugees in Jordan live below the local poverty line.
DREAM_SyrianRefugeesMap_0915

Infographic courtesy of http://www.mercycorps.org

Here’s the deal. Bad things are already happening.

  • Sex trafficking/child pornography
  • Genocide
  • Terrorism
  • Natural disasters

With the exception of natural disasters, each issue shares some commonality: each has a person or group that seeks to exert power over another person, group or nation; each is often birthed from people experiencing poverty, socio-economic challenges, social-political challenges, cultural dissent and/or war [ii] [iii]. Often, natural disasters create an environment of poverty and socio-economic challenges.

What’s my point?

When people/groups are vulnerable it gives root to exploitation and desperation, and a person will often make poor decisions when he/she feels desperate.

The current living conditions in refugee camps can easily perpetuate or breed issues within an already vulnerable population, leaving them susceptible to crime, abuse, and terrorist recruitment [iv] [v] [vi]. Yes, terrorist recruitment. Terrorist leaders target vulnerable populations, specifically youth, during transitionary and uncertain times. Don’t we want to prevent the expansion of terrorism? Assuming this is a unanimous “yes!” then why wouldn’t we choose to assist those most susceptible to recruitment?

Why don’t we choose to embrace compassion over cruelty, acknowledging that by not doing anything we are basically saying we are willing to watch them die?

Why don’t we choose to cling to faith over fear, remembering that despite the worst of humanity we have the opportunity to be the best? (If you’re a Christian, what does Jesus say about faith and fear [vii]?)

Why don’t we choose to see that love and light conquer terror and darkness? (Again, if you’re a Christian, look to Jesus [viii] and remember that He has already conquered death – the battle has been won.)

Yes, something must be done about terrorism and ISIS in our world; however, denying the refugees from Syria access to a better future shouldn’t be considered a step in the right direction to end or prevent terrorism. We cannot punish millions of people for the destruction caused by a few.

Further, making decisions while in a state of fear means we are making irrational decisions. Fear clouds rational thought, much like hate or rage. And, if we are making decisions rooted in fear, how are we any better than terrorists that are making decisions rooted in hate and rage?

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Syrian children at Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. Photo credit: Khalil Hamra, Associated Press

Look, we are all anxious about the future of our world. Rather than perpetuate the problems of our current day by acting out in fear, let’s choose to rise above it, embracing the good and being the good in humanity.

So, while my heart hurts today, and I am mourning for my children, I am going to choose to show them what light, love, compassion and humility look like. I am going to share stories with them about the people I have observed rise above fear. People like my former University Professor that has offered her professional skills to teach ESL to newcomers. People that have given to the Red Cross, hoping to see the UN’s Syrian Humanitarian fund grow from 40% to 70%. People that have chosen the harder road, challenging themselves to ache and feel the pain in our world, yet endeavour to still see the good in humanity.

It’s easy to hate and fear, but it’s better to love.


References

i. http://journalistsresource.org/studies/international/human-rights/refugees-around-the-globe-statistics-and-research-on-living-conditions-health-assistance-efforts

ii. http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/journals/10.1163/157181193×00013

iii. http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2001-00140-000/

iv. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1024269052000344855

v. http://abs.sagepub.com/content/44/6/982.short

vi. http://www.worldvision.org/news-stories-videos/syria-war-refugee-crisis

vii. Matthew 21:21; Matthew 8:23-27; Luke 12:1-11; John 3:20; Hebrews 11; 1 John 4:7-21

viii. Matthew 5

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Why I delayed my child’s vaccinations

Up until last week, I intentionally avoided the trending vaccination discussions on social media because I thought most discussions to be rude, self-righteous, condescending and disrespectful from both pro-vaxxers and anti-vaxxers alike. While this isn’t to suggest that everyone joining the conversation contributes to the hostility, I’ve observed enough forums that I thought it pertinent to join the discussion, hoping to contribute positively. With this in mind, I posted an imperfect article on my Facebook wall that highlights some of the fallacies on both sides of the vaccine debate. At first the comments were thoughtful, considerate, informative, and respectful. Then one person commented, suggesting that anyone who didn’t vaccinate their children according to “medical protocol” is an “unfit citizen and a questionable parent.” While this individual was likely trying to add a little drama to the discussion, he successfully brought it to a close, and inspired me to write a blog post about it. Without further ado…

vaccine-bottle-syringe

Why question the suggested vaccination timeline? 

Let me preface this section by saying: I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I don’t think the MMR vaccine leads directly to autism, and I have great respect for the science and medical fields. I AM, however, a label reader, a researcher (not professionally), and a person that likes to understand processes — especially when it involves my children consuming something.

I try to live a life of intention. I seek to be purposeful and mindful. Naturally, if I’m going to read the labels on the cereal box or learn what they’re spraying on my fruit, I’m going to research what’s about to be injected into my kid, including any consequences.

Here are two examples of what I found:

In PEDIACEL® (the DTaP-IPV-Hib a.k.a. 5-in-one vaccine), and QUADRACEL® (DTaP-IPV a.k.a. 4-in-one vaccine) the non-medical ingredients include:

  • aluminum phosphate – the adjuvant used to increase the effectiveness of the vaccine
  • 2-phenoxyethanol – the preservative
  • polysorbate 80 – the agent used to increase the solubility of the ingredients. (Side note: This is found in everything from cosmetics to ice cream. Interestingly enough, in a 1993 study, it was linked to infertility in mice.)
  • bovine serum albumin – type of protein
  • neomycin – type of antibiotic
  • polymyxin B – type of antibiotic
  • trace amounts of streptomycin (antibiotic), formaldehyde and glutaraldehyde (sterilizing agent) [i] [ii]

Okay, so there are obviously quite a few “extra” ingredients that are added in the vaccine. I understand that scientists aren’t chucking this stuff in for fun, there IS purpose to having each of these components included. I have also done enough reading to know that we humans already have stuff like formaldehyde in our bodies, and that we are quite capable of metabolizing the rest of the ingredients. Moving on…

According to Sanofi Pasteur Ltd., Canadian manufacturer of PEDIACEL® and QUADRACEL®, there are several potential side effects to receiving these vaccines. In addition to common and less serious reactions such as injection site swelling and tenderness, or fever, fussiness, crying, diarrhea, and vomiting, other potential reactions include:

This is what got my attention. This came directly from the manufacturer, not from a blogger or pseudo-scientist or Jenny McCarthy. Straight from the manufacturer. Vaccine related injuries are a real thing, yet people act like they don’t exist. And while the statistical probability of one of these extreme reactions is something like 1 in every 250,000 people, they do still happen. It seems that vaccinations are safe … for most people. What happens when a child becomes that 1 out of hundreds of thousands of people? Devastation. The film The Greater Good follows three families that are those statistical anomalies, highlighting that vaccine injuries exist, and today I read another story about a child that received permanent brain damage following the receipt of the MMRV vaccine.

Why do most people process and respond positively to vaccines while others don’t? I don’t know; and it seems that the medical and science communities also don’t know. That isn’t to say that scientists and immunologists aren’t doing their do diligence to find out — more testing and research needs to be done and is being done. It is for this exact reason that I am against mandatory implementation of vaccines. Parents need to be aware of all the risks, making an informed decision.

So, why did I delay them?

Admittedly, after reading the ingredients list and potential side effects, I was overwhelmed. I wanted more time to process the pros and cons of vaccinations, resulting in two simple reasons to postpone them.

1. My daughter was low risk

The largest reason I delayed vaccinations is because my daughter was extremely low risk for contracting and/or spreading any of the illnesses that vaccinations cover in the first year. She was not in a day home/daycare, attending school, or participating in any clubs. Further to that, she spent 90% of her time at home with either her father, her nanny or I, all of whom are fully vaccinated.

2. Only breast milk was served

The composition of breast milk is incredible! Not only does it provide custom nutrients to our children, it delivers significant immunological protection. There is LOTS of evidence to support this, including better immunity inducing properties than what infant formula provides. (For anyone interested, you can find some fascinating articles about human milk and the production of intestinal microflora here, here, here, and here.)

“But Brandi,” you may be thinking, “breast milk hasn’t been empirically proven to provide immunity against the measles or polio or diphtheria or…” You may be correct, but it has been proven to help fight against diseases and infections. While it may not be able to completely prevent an unvaccinated child from contracting the measles, for example, it will sure as heck help get rid of the illness! And, as per the aforementioned point about being low risk, I was wiling to take the calculated risk that my daughter wouldn’t get sick. And she didn’t.

Benefits of delaying…

By delaying my daughter’s vaccines, we reduced the number of needles by four. FOUR less injections because, according to the two nurses that administered the vaccines, she had built up enough immunity against the Pneumococcal (PCV13) and Meningococcal (Men C) illnesses on her own that she didn’t require the full dosage — instead of four injections of the PCV13 vaccine, she received one; instead of two rounds of the Men C vaccine, she received one.

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Final thoughts

I support science, acknowledging that research is a process. In the same way that Canada replaced the the live oral polio vaccine (OPV) in 1995 with the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) “to avoid further cases of vaccine-associated paralytic poliomyelitis (VAPP),” [iii] I suspect they will replace the agent(s) discovered to cause neurological damage, etc. once they know what they are. Or, at the very least, they’ll discover the genetic link (if there is one) responsible for anaphylaxis and/or other severe reactions to vaccines, taking the necessary precautions for any individuals susceptible.

I wrote this lengthy piece because I am tired of reading that non-vaxxers or those that delay vaccines are “misinformed” or are “stupid” or are “crackpots.” I’m tired of the discussion resembling a disagreement between junior high kids. Chances are, most of us — pro and anti vaxxers — are concerned parents trying to make the best decisions for our kids. No one is trying to make someone else’s kid sick. No one is trying to prevent families from going on a holiday to Disneyland.

For me, I took a realistic look at the risks my child posed to herself and everyone else, and then made a decision. In the end, the decision I made to vaccinate was for you, the herd. As much as I don’t want want my daughter to contract a terrible illness, I REALLY don’t want her to be the source/cause of someone else getting it — especially someone in an vulnerable situation (i.e. cancer patient, infant…).

Lastly, my second child’s 2-month vaccination appointment is scheduled for early March. Her exposure and risk is much higher than my eldest daughter’s ever was, and I am now weighing the pros and cons…

Disclaimer: If you wish to comment, please do so in a respectful manner. Anything rude, such as name-calling, will not be approved for posting.


References:

[i] Sanofi Pasteur Limited. (2012). PEDIACEL® Product Monograph. Retrieved from https://www.vaccineshoppecanada.com/document.cfm?file=Pediacel_E.pdf

[ii] Sanofi Pasteur Limited. (2011). QUADRACEL® Product Monograph. Retrieved from https://www.vaccineshoppecanada.com/document.cfm?file=Quadracel_E.pdf

[iii] Canadian Public Health Association. (2015). Immunization Timeline. Retrieved from http://www.cpha.ca/en/programs/history/achievements/12-v/timeline.aspx

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Society’s notion on beauty is a complicated one. And as I attempt to live a life of integrity and authenticity within my roles as amother and an egalitarian, I find it too easy to be hypocritical about this issue of beauty. Since SO much of a woman’s importance is placed on how she presents herself, it’s a tricky balance to model a healthy antithesis to society’s encouragement of narcissism and ostentation.

I have had the fortune of being privy to many beauty-related conversations girlfriends of mine have had with their daughters, most of whom are under the age of 7. Usually the conversation is in the context of the mom encouraging her daughter, emphasizing that her daughter is beautiful (inside and out), and that she doesn’t need to change herself. She’s been created perfect just the way she is. Inevitably, the conversation turns when the daughter inquires about why her mom changes her appearance.

Why do you wear make-up?

Why do you dye your hair?

Needless to say, this is the junction where modelling the healthy antithesis to vanity and narcissism would come in handy. (Thankfully my daughter isn’t of age to ask me that today; otherwise, I would have to concede that I am a hypocrite and that I buy into – figuratively and literally – a billion dollar industry that tells me I’m not okay…). I’ve heard many women chime in about what they would say if their child asked, and typically, the response is something like this.

It’s fun, and I like to play with colours [of eye shadow and lipstick].

Really, ladies? Really!? The MAIN reason you wear make-up and colour your greying roots is because it’s fun? I beg to differ. My suspicion is that the MAIN reason you wear make-up or colour your hair is because you feel self-conscious. After all, we’ve been bread to feel self-conscious and uncomfortable in our own skin UNLESS we do something to ‘fix’ it.

Don’t we do a disservice to our daughters (and sons) when we’re not honest about this? Don’t we do a disservice to ourselves? Our children are already being sold images and ideas about the expectations of genders, and for women, one of these expectations is to appear polished, presenting the ‘best’ physical version of yourself. Why can’t we tell them that? Why are we hesitant to be transparent with them about this reality? Perhaps if we talk openly about this, engaging in some hard conversations, (not to mention attempt to model what it’s like to truly be comfortable in our own skins), our daughters and sons will grow up with the ability to critically think about the images and ideas they’re being sold.

empathy

And in the midst of those conversations, maybe we can move beyond the media’s depiction of beauty to talking about what it means to be whole and beautiful, not simply a shell and beautiful. We can talk about the beauty in:

  • Wisdom, sharing stories about our grandmothers.
  • A great sense of humour, and how laughter can brighten the darkest situations.
  • A genuine smile. One that reflects contentment and shines through your eyes, not simply your teeth.
  • A heart that is kind, choosing to see the best in people, even when they are at their worst.
  • Empathy and compassion, emphasizing that the world needs more examples of this.
  • The life Christ lived. Whether you believe in Jesus or not, observing His example and how he treated people encompasses all of the above points…

And maybe, just maybe, as we start having these conversations with our daughters and sons, we will think more critically too. We will remember that wisdom, humour, authenticity, kindness, empathy, compassion… are all more important than our shell. So while we still may choose to wear make-up or colour our hair, our value won’t be found in and through that.

Our antithesis will be the whole version of beautiful and how to share that with others.

Whole and Beautiful

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Thankful for the Struggle

It’s no secret that life can be hard. Really, really hard. For me, the last year and a half has been one that encompassed change. Change and adaptation that is and was necessary for me to move forward. Change that ultimately, if I allow it, will help me to redefine who I am and was as a person. And if I’m being honest with myself, at the core of this change exists a great Struggle. An internal Struggle that makes things hard.

While I think this Struggle is pertinent to many things — especially arenas in life that challenge our own self-awareness — I can easily see this toil manifest itself in relationships of all kinds, and for me, in parenthood. 15 years ago, the Struggle was adapting my lifestyle to include the concerns of my roommates and friends. 10 years ago, the Struggle was redefining myself in the context of being a wife and life partner to someone, and what it meant to intertwine my life with his without losing my identity in him and his in me; it was discovering how to grow as an individual and also as a unit. Over the last 17 months, the Struggle has been finding the tricky balance of  learning who I am as a mother, allowing it to change me, but not drown my sense of self.

Is this Struggle a bad thing? I think not. I believe it to be an important thing. An important, refining process of self. One that if we choose to be aware of can make us better.

What’s your Struggle?

Butterly Emerging

At the risk of sounding a bit cheesy, I figure that life is one long process of beginning as a caterpillar and somewhere along the way, emerging as a butterfly. But, if we don’t embrace life’s challenges and hardships, we emerge prematurely and undeveloped, missing the necessary lessons that impact our refinement. Or, we never really materialize at all; we are hallow and shallow, oblivious to our own nature.

Despite my roommates, my husband, and my daughter, at the core, I am still the same person, but perhaps a better version of myself because I’ve allowed life’s transitions and Struggles to purge that which needed purging.

  • I’m a little softer than I was before. Not a cushy soft; rather, a malleable soft. I’m more flexible and understanding…
  • I have a new appreciation for time. I used to be so selfish with the hours in my day. And while I have always acknowledged time as a commodity, I took that commodity for granted.
  • I am definitely more sleep deprived, but perhaps that makes me a more gracious person, because I now understand the difficulty associated with remaining patient and kind and loving when all you want is another hour (or 20) of sleep.
  • I have a new sense of humility and gratitude associated with learning. Few things in life can humble a person more than witnessing the learning of a child. Everything is new and fresh and to be discovered. The lens in which a child sees life is refreshing, and what’s more, ALL of humanity started off in a similar state. Amazing!

So while I could have clung to every aspect of who I was before, I think I would have missed seeing so many important, beautiful things. I would have missed many vital lessons and joys and pains required for me to emerge more whole than I was before. For that, for the Struggle, I am thankful.

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