Tag Archives: gratitude

RiskWithinReason turns 1! Celebrate with a look back at the most popular posts

life is risky

It’s been an entire year since I sat down at my computer, stared out the window into the back garden and thought “I’m going to start a blog today.”

A lot of topic ideas had been churning around in my head, borne out of my different experiences: raising three tween and pre-teen daughters, teaching about youth, media and popular culture at Concordia University, doing research on teen high-risk issues at McGill and writing about parenting for Montreal Families Magazine. I wanted a place where I could write informally and speak directly to my readers. A place where I could quickly put out short bits information on articles or papers that got me thinking. A space to be creative in a non-fiction kind of way.

I wish I could say I plotted out my ideas on some spreadsheet, or drew up a business plan, or made sure I had several blog posts in draft form at all times. But I didn’t. I just down and wrote my first post. Just like that.

The blog that became the RiskWithinReason website that grew into a consulting business just sort of grew organically over time. Friends offered advice and encouragement. Montreal Families Magazine picked it up as a featured blog. A wonderful new friend helped me import the WordPress archive into a self-hosted website (thank you again Michelle Skamene!). And I began to get more and more calls to do workshops on topics of importance to me: preventing high-risk behaviours, keeping kids safe online, bullying prevention.

I’m so proud of the way RiskWithinReason has grown this year. And it’s clear I have my readers to thank – most of my traffic comes from Facebook, Twitter and forum shares. I feel a twinge of pride and gratitude from every subscription, share notification, comment, email and workshop request that comes my way. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I mean it. Please keep them coming!

And finally, to mark the very first anniversary of RiskWithinReason, the following is a list of the five most popular blog posts I’ve published. If you’d like to read the full post, click on the link in the title:

-1- Never touch a wet butterfly: Dr. JoAnn Deak on girls, self-esteem & intelligence:

When a butterfly first pokes through the shell of its chrysalis, its wings are wet. The arduous physical transformation from a caterpillar leaves it temporarily vulnerable to the waiting world, not-quite-a-butterfly until it dries off and flies away. We are warned never to touch this beautiful creature in this most fragile state, for its wings will be permanently ruined, and it will never learn to fly.

-2- Bullying: Some New facts and Figures

There’s a lot of information in the media and on the social web about bullying, but it’s hard to get a sense of what the facts are. Is bullying really an epidemic? Is it a growing problem, or simply and old problem gaining new, widespread recognition? How is bullying today different than it used to be?

-3- Teaching kids good coping strategies to build resilience

Why do some kids grow up in two-parent homes with all the apparent support and advantages a child could need, yet still end up making poor choices that lead them to problems with drugs, alcohol or other high-risk behaviors? Conversely, why do some kids come from broken homes, dysfunctional families or communities dealing with alcohol and drugs, and yet are still able to resist the pull of these activities?

-4- Alone together: How technology competes for our attention (and wins)

You know that moment when our children pour out of school at pickup looking for their parents? How they scan the crowd to make eye contact with the mom or dad who actually made the trip to school to collect them? According to MIT Professor Sherry Turkle, today’s children are just as accustomed to seeing the top of their parents’ heads, staring down at their Blackberries or iPhones. We are there waiting for them, but our minds are somewhere else.

-5- Dear 12-year-old me

Ever wonder what you might say to your younger self, if only you could pass on the wisdom you’ve accumulated throughout your teens, twenties, thirties or beyond?

This isn’t the same thing as writing out a mini-lecture to your own kids, full of rules, warnings and admonishments. It’s about taking the time to think through the hard lessons learned through experience, the insights gleaned from our regrets, the pride in choices well made or effort exerted. It occurred to me that this was a worthwhile exercise for anyone, parent or not, who worked with kids. You might also learn something about yourself.

And although they didn’t make it into the top 5 on traffic stats alone, the following are some of my favourite posts from the past year:

A group of women saved my life

It’s almost twelve years now since I met the group of women who saved my life.

My world had imploded with both good things and bad. My husband and I had these brand-new, impossibly tiny, bald, newborn twin girls, born three weeks early but miraculously healthy, and we were struggling to get from hour to hour through each day and night. We were managing on a very modest single salary while I tried to finish a doctoral thesis that would take me another four years to get done.

Pushing my kids off the platform into thin air

We spent a lovely family weekend at the Smuggler’s Notch Family Resort in Vermont. I was there for a Saturday a.m. blogging conference (at which I learned how little I actually know), but it was also a (generously comped) opportunity for Martin and I to spend some quality together time with our kids. Our older daughters are graduating from elementary school tomorrow (how did that happen so fast?), and about to turn 12 this summer. We’ve become aware that all too soon they will rather do something (anything) with their friends than spend a weekend with us, and we want to squeeze out every moment possible before they do.

Proud to be the meanest mom in the whole world

That’s me.

At least according to every one of my daughters at off moments in our relationships. Like when I take away their iPads while they are supposed to be doing homework or walking the dog. When I find them Skyping at 11 p.m. when they were supposed to be asleep. When I react angrily to disrespect. Or when I forbid clothing I deem inappropriate for a 12-year-old.

Learn to value your emptiness: Scott Fried on the secret lives of tweens

“How was your day?”

“Fine.”

“What did you do?”

“Nothing.”

Sound familiar? How often have you tried to get some information from your tween or teen about their day, or their math test, or a fight with their friend and found yourself facing a figurative brick wall.

Holidays with your tween/teen: a different kind of magic

They don’t believe in Santa anymore. They don’t fill Christmas wish lists with requests for ponies or pogo sticks or Easy Bake Ovens. They don’t wake us up at the crack of dawn to open the pillowcase of presents on their beds, or rush downstairs to see if Santa ate the cookies they’d left for him. They don’t cram their mouths full of chocolate Chanukah gelt or spend hours playing dreidel games on the kitchen floor while I fry up the latkes.

A little weaker, a little stronger: Parenting lessons learned from falling down (and getting back up again)

CrutchLike most busy parents, if someone had asked me how my family would survive without my constant, direct involvement, I would have shuddered at the mere thought.

Impossible, I’d have thought. No carpools? No meal planning, grocery buying, cooking, laundry, sweeping? No one to run to the dry cleaners or bank on the way to or from work? No quick pharmacy stop at lunchtime? Who would rustle the kids out of bed and down to breakfast while my husband walked the dog and made their lunches? Who would trade-off with him for teacher meetings, school performances and piano lessons?

Certain unmitigated disaster. 

And yet.

Three months ago, I got off a chairlift and my life took a turn for the worse.

Literally.

After 30 something years of skiing without incident, I managed to zig where I should have zagged. I wasn’t taking chances. I wasn’t speeding or showing off. Just plain bad luck. And like many accidents, this one really wasn’t my fault — the binding on my ski didn’t release as it was supposed to and my body tumbled and twisted while my foot stayed locked into the ski. Ouch.

But as I’ve told my girls many times, it doesn’t matter if an accident is your fault or not – the damage is done.

In spite of this, I feel pretty damned lucky in the grand scheme of things. I managed to sever the anterior cruciate ligament and shred up the cartilage in my right knee, but no bones broke. I didn’t injure my spinal cord or suffer a brain injury or damage an eye. I didn’t have a terrible disease or a degenerative condition. There are a lot of things that even the most talented doctors and skilled surgeons cannot fix. I’ve worked really hard to focus on that kind of gratitude these past few months.

Let’s just say it hasn’t always been easy.

First I had to recover from the initial injury, go to physio and regain some strength and range of motion. Seven weeks later I had surgery to repair the damage. Back to square one. Because my doctor elected to repair my damaged cartilage alongside the ligament, I needed to have my knee immobilized for six straight weeks afterwards. As a super busy working mom of three, being relegated to crutches and prohibited from driving proved extremely difficult.

Formerly the catalyst that got our kids moving and our family organized, I was suddenly totally helpless. Even worse, I needed them to do stuff for me.

I couldn’t make dinner. Or run for the telephone when it rang. Or answer the door. Or walk the dog my kids had begged for but mostly forsaken. Balanced on two crutches, I couldn’t even carry a pitcher of milk from the fridge to the table.

I depended entirely on the extreme kindness of my husband, three daughters, parents, wonderful friends and co-workers. They brought me meals, did my groceries, walked my dog, shlepped my children around. I got lifts to and from work, physio and doctor appointments. They cheered me up with phone calls, text messages and Facebook posts.

I quickly learned what it meant to be handicapped (albeit temporarily). Even the smallest task took planning and enormous effort. For the first time in my life, I knew fear. I was scared to do simple things, like take a shower, or descend the front steps of our house. A sudden snowfall prevented me from leaving home for a day, lest I slip and fall on the ice. I became suddenly aware of the steps up into a store, the lack of elevators in a building, the difficulty of carrying my laptop, purse and lunch to work while on crutches.

All the things I used to do for my family fell to my husband and kids. At least initially, I couldn’t do groceries or laundry, cook or wipe the crumbs off the counter. I didn’t go down to our basement level laundry room for weeks. For a long time, I couldn’t easily get into each of my daughters’ rooms to kiss them good night or lie in their beds chatting in the dark before they drifted off to sleep. All our old patterns, habits and cherished routines fell by the wayside while my body healed itself.

This interruption of their lives made me sadder than anything. I hated not being able to go to them when they needed me. I resented my vulnerabilities.  One particularly bad night, after my girls were asleep and my husband was out for a work-related dinner, I lay awake in serious pain with the frightening realization that I had somehow left my medication and the telephones down in the kitchen. I stubbornly refused to wake my kids to help me, but I also didn’t have the strength to safely manage the stairs. I stared at a page in my book for a couple of hours in a fruitless attempt to distract myself until Martin came home.

I like to think I’ll never forget how humbling it was to be helpless. We take our strong bodies for granted. Like all privileges, good health is rarely noticed until it is gone. And when that happens it is truly shocking. Quite the life lesson. Here are some of the other things I’ve learned in these trying couple of months:

My kids can do a heck of a lot more than I thought. Like laundry. And making their own lunches. And putting their own selves to bed. If they unload the dishwasher and put stuff away in different places than I do, that’s not the end of the world.  They now set the dinner table, make salads and side dishes. There is less groaning about it than there used to be, because they knew they had to pitch in and help. My challenge is not giving in to the backslide now that I am off my crutches and moving around better. Just because I can do all those things for them again doesn’t mean I should.

I don’t need to be the centre of my family’s universe. Wow, what a profound relief. My girls aren’t preschoolers anymore. They can plan meals and organize their own school uniforms without me. It may not be the food I’d choose, and their shirts may be wrinklier than I’d like, but that’s OK too. The world didn’t explode because my husband bought the wrong kind of milk or heated up frozen pizzas for dinner on consecutive nights. Although feeling so needed clearly struck some deep-seated maternal chord in me, I’ve learned that overly competent, highly controlling parents can undermine their kids’ need to develop some independence.

Our ability to cope with stress is directly related to the support we get. I have some of the most wonderful friends around. I can still count on my mom. Even my father, who is himself physically handicapped and recovering from spinal surgery, was able to help me with lifts around town. All of this brought me to tears at times. I rarely had to ask for anything. The pale outlines of the proverbial village made themselves visible to me in the streets of suburban Montreal. Even as I benefited from all this help, I’ve silently committed to paying all of this forward whenever possible.

We are more fragile than we think. Even when we are in tip-top physical condition, a wrong move, errant cell or careless turn can change everything. But remaining truly appreciative of the health we have is difficult to sustain. I want to remember, but I also know I will forget in time. (I’ve forgotten it before, after all). That taken-for-grantedness is part of the human makeup, perhaps a psychological response to fading novelty.

But I am also keenly aware that some people, like my dad, don’t get better. A temporary handicap is one thing, a permanent one (or a degenerative condition) is quite another.  I’ve cultivated a deeper regard for the challenges those kinds of health problems pose for the people who live with them, especially those who are parents of small children and must shift attention from their health problems to the needs of their kids. That is a tremendously difficult thing to do, and they need all of our support. So I hope a part of me never forgets to be thankful for my newly regained ability to go downstairs for my forgotten bottle of pills.

But we are also so much stronger. I never thought I could do this. That my family could do this. I had no idea. With the right kind of support and infrastructure, we can manage way more than we realize. We learn to accept what can’t be changed, to triage, identify the big stuff, make compromises, look to other things for solace and encouragement. I like to think my girls saw us react to a bad situation with humour and level-headed planning (and OK, also some well-timed cursing and the occasional bout of tears).

And though I’m relieved to be on the other side of this (though months of physical rehab are still ahead of me), it’s encouraging to believe my knee was the only thing weakened.

 

 

Happy New Year’s! Wishing you a year of discovery, adventure, good health and family peace

LogoA new year brings new opportunities and challenges. Growth and accomplishments. Mistakes made and lessons learned. I wish you the best in all of these things, with good health and family peace (or as close as you can get with tweens and teens in the house!).

As the old year comes to a close, I’d like to thank the many people who have helped me out at Risk-within-reason: Kelly Wilton, Debbie Kellerman and Tracey Stafford at Montreal Families, the awesome Michelle Skamene for her technical advice and encouragement, Barbara Victor and Carol Liverman at Agence Ometz, graphic designer Isabelle Richard for my beautiful new logo, Isabelle Martin for helping me launch our French workshops (Risques Raisonnables), John Glasspoole at Interface Media, Rochelle Sochaczevski for offering to help me out with pics (though we’ve been too busy to get to them!), my friends Simone Freedman and Andrea Yampolsky for constant encouragement, my husband Martin for everything, my mom, for both professional advice and being my #1 fan, and my three beautiful girls for an endless supply of material.  Of course, thanks also goes out to all our wonderful readers, for their support and comments, their forwards, shares and likes. I am grateful for the follow-throughs that led to workshops and the opportunities to meet face to face.

All the best for a wonderful year!