Wednesday, April 29

Cutting/Self-Harm: My Latest Parents Canada Article

You probably wouldn't believe how many tweens and teens are harming themselves to deal with the emotions they're facing.

My latest article for Parents Canada magazine talks about who's doing it, why, warning signs, and what to do if your child is engaging in self-harm (or if you have suspicions). You're not alone, and help is out there.

Even if you've never gone through this with your child, you still may want to read this article, as the expert I spoke with (Dr. Susan MacKenzie from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) offered tips for bringing up the subject and keeping lines of communication open.

With Children's Mental Health week coming up next week, it's the perfect time to learn more.

Sunday, April 26

Our First Eucharist Retreat: Crafts, Baking, Drama and more!

I teach at a Catholic school, and this year I have Grade 2s for the first time (in a 2/3 split) which means I get to help prepare the students for two sacraments, First Reconciliation (which was in the fall) and First Eucharist (also known as First Communion), which will be taking place next weekend.

It's a tradition at our school to hold a day-long First Eucharist retreat at the Parish Hall across from the school. I was a bit overwhelmed by the planning of the event, and woke up in the middle of the night a few weeks ago with a brainwave: I should contract my mom to help organize this! (I would say that I get the organizational gene from her, but in fact I get it from both sides, in different ways. My Dad, for example, has an alphabetized list of every book he's ever read, and very precise systems for loading the dishwasher and rotating ice cube trays.)

Thankfully, my mother (a retired teacher herself) agreed to help out, and I owe her a huge debt of gratitude. From buying supplies to preparing materials to testing out the activities, she put in hours and hours of time on top of any work I did. We used many of the centres that my creative and talented predecessor shared from her years as our school's Grade 2 teacher, as well as a couple of ideas provided by our school board's Religious Education Consultant, and one or two we came up with on our own.

I am also extremely grateful for the parent and grandparent volunteers who joined us. The centres ran so smoothly and were cleaned up in a jiffy with so many hands to help, and the ladies were all great company for our pizza lunch (which we dug into while the kids were still busy playing outside!)

Here are some shots of the retreat activities (I'm choosing not to show any of the children, but you can still get an idea of what we did) partly in case the ideas can be of help to any other teachers, and also as a way to visually keep track of what I may need to remember for next year! The centres were 20 minutes each (4 kids per centre), and I gave the students a booklet of First Eucharist word searches and colouring pages to work through if they finished any centre early.

1. Chalice Decoration (when you lift up the host, you see Jesus underneath)

2. Decorating People (scrapbook paper is much easier to cut than fabric)

Note: The kids were amused to find an old Sears Photo Studio charm with my picture in it mixed in with my mom's button collection!

3. Doves of Peace

4. Drama: The Road to Emmaus

5. Mod Podge Candle Holders

6. Decorated Foam Crosses

7. Bread making 

(We had a grandma stationed in the kitchen, who was actually my mom's roommate during their first year of teaching! They enjoyed getting caught up.)

8. Wine Making - no photo of the set-up for this one, but each child had a 
baggie of grapes to squeeze and strain into a cup which was added into their grape juice at snack time.

(Yes, we let them have a bit of butter on their unleavened bread...and most of them still didn't like it - but they loved the process of baking!)

Extra activity (when done grape squeezing): Altar Cloth Decorating - each child put their hand print and name on the cloth, to be displayed at First Eucharist

Table for extra supplies:

We were joined at lunchtime by the Monsignor from our church, who spoke to the children and let them try a couple of unconsecrated hosts so the taste and texture won't be a surprise on the big day. Our classroom "supporters" (students who are not Catholic and won't be receiving the Eucharist) even got a chance to try. 

After lunch, our amazing choir director/music teacher popped by to run through the music for the Mass...and boy, do my kids love to sing!

I was so pleased with how the day went, and I can't say enough how thankful I am to everyone who helped to make things run so smoothly.

It seems like only yesterday that Frannie made her First Eucharist, but it was actually a whole year ago. Just since I love this photo so much, let's reminisce, shall we?

Next year it will be Maggie's turn, but for now it's all about my beautiful students and their special day next Sunday. Please say a prayer for us!

P.S. Feel free to ask if you'd like any details about our retreat activities!

Wednesday, April 22

Tips For Success on Your Child's Field Trip (TV segment)

For those who are able, going on a class trip with your child can (and should) be a wonderful experience. You get to spend the day in a different setting with your little (or not so little) one, and you also get great insights about how he or she fits in with her peers and compares developmentally. And let's be honest - it's also a perfect chance to scope out future desirable playdates!

Last night on CHEX Daily I chatted with hosts Teresa Kaszuba and Mike Judson about the do's and don'ts of being a great field trip supervisor.

I'm at the 29:29 mark, and the video is also available here:

Of course, not all field trips go perfectly. One of my readers shared with me that she had a negative experience on an excursion because of a particularly difficult child assigned to her group. First of all, you should consider it a compliment if you're entrusted with a needier student, as the teacher must think you can handle it! However, there's a big difference between having to be extra vigilant with more activity from a child than you're used to, and actually feeling that anyone's safety (or even enjoyment of the day) is being jeopardized. In that case, you should definitely let the teacher know so a solution can be found.

Have fun, and never forget how much teachers value and appreciate any time parents can offer!

Friday, April 10

Barbie - "Be Super!"

I adored Barbie as a child, and my daughters certainly take after me. Maggie's Barbies are by far her favourite toys at the moment, and she and her sister love to play a game called "Barbie Ever After", where the Barbies join Frannie's beloved Ever After High dolls.

I was intrigued when I learned that a new superhero Barbie was on the market (along with a DVD, books, and website), and pleased that the Easter Bunny brought it for Maggie last weekend. The Barbie "Be Super" campaign is designed to celebrate girl empowerment, and I think it's great that there's an action figure with a cape and a mask marketed to girls.

As you can see, Maggie was thrilled with her surprise:

The Barbie Be Super website is also pretty neat, as they're calling on girls to use their "powers" (creativity, kindness, etc.) to do super acts and recognize the hero in everyone. They can check out a gallery highlighting how other girls around the world are being super, and also create their own comic with the first-ever Barbie Comic Maker game. Fans can download their official Super Squad Member certificate and handbook, filled with activities and tips on how to "Be Super" and participate in fun monthly Super Missions. Kids love a challenge!

I know that superheros and comics don't (or shouldn't) need to be "pink" to appeal to females, but from my experience as a teacher and mom of two girls, it sometimes can be an extra enticing factor.

I'm also impressed that there are Super Squad Leaders, real girls from across Canada (one is even from Peterborough!) who have made a difference in their communities and beyond (e.g., fundraising for charity, encouraging healthy eating, and working to help the environment). These are definitely the kind of role models I want my daughters to have.

Disclosure: A disclosure statement would go here, but the Easter Bunny brought the Barbie superhero doll to my house, so, you know.

Wednesday, April 8

When You Have a Concern About School (Video)

Of course I think teachers are pretty wonderful, but the time may come when you have a concern about something that has happened at your child's school, or in the classroom. What do you do?

In my latest CHEX Daily segment, I tackle this touchy subject with hosts Teresa Kaszuba and Mike Judson.

This is one of my most personal segments yet, as I share some examples of parental concerns that I've been presented with - while maintaining confidentiality, of course!

Monday, April 6

My Canada AM Debut

It's 10 a.m. on Easter Monday, and I'm working away at my treadmill desk.

Oh yeah, and I've already been to Toronto, appeared on national television, and driven home again.

What a morning!

I was thrilled to be asked to join a parenting panel on Canada AM this morning to chat about babysitters, along with Maureen Dennis and Chris Boddy. (I do know a lot about this topic - we left our older daughter for the first time when she was three months old, and have been using sitters regularly for nine years now.)

After quickly saying yes, my next stop was a trip to the mall with my sister-in-law for a new dress and shoes, of course! (Quite a frugal shopping spree - the dress was on sale for $30 at Suzy Shier, the shoes for $35 at Payless.)

I set my alarm for 4:20 (of course I tossed and turned last night in anticipation, so I did not get nearly the eight hours that I usually insist on) and spent an hour getting ready at home. I left extra early, just in case, and arrived at the Scarborough studio (it's the CTV building you can see beside the 401) before 7 a.m.

The super-friendly guest coordinator Vicky (whom I met a few years ago when I went behind-the-scenes at the show) led me to the green room (where I grabbed a quick selfie) and then I was lucky enough to get a few minutes in a makeup chair. I must have done a decent job on my own, because the makeup artist only added a bit of eye shadow, some gloss over my fave Rimmel lip crayon and some powder, which took my skin a shade darker. (I'm guessing "Irish-girl-inside-for-six-months" complexion doesn't translate well on screen.)

At 7:40, we got to chat with the wonderful host (and my broadcasting mentor) Marci Ien for the segment, which went by very quickly (as they always do).

Here's a link, in case you missed it:

We've been so lucky with babysitters, since first my husband and then I have taught at the school, and have had excellent experiences with all of the students we've chosen to care for our girls (plus I now have very responsible nieces old enough to take over).

While I am pretty easygoing about some things when we have a sitter (I really don't care how many desserts the girls have, if they remembered to brush their teeth, or even if they're wearing pajamas in bed) but I did have to be honest on air about my neat-freak tendencies (after all, at least one of my sitters was watching!)

Our babysitter usage has actually dwindled lately, since the girls are so independent and can go places with us easily, or keep themselves busy at home when necessary (we hired a sitter many times when we were actually at home, in order to do yard work, write report cards, etc.) My younger daughter actually reminded me the other day, in a very accusatory tone, "You SAID we could have a babysitter on the March Break and we NEVER DID!"

When it comes to paying sitters, I'm really hoping that someone else who lives in a rural area of Canada like me will chime in and tell me that the parents in my community are not the cheapest babysitter-payers in the whole country (see video for details)!

Every time I try something new like this, I am overwhelmed by support from family, friends and colleagues. A parent of one of my students even sent me a message that her daughter assessed my performance as a level 4+, which is high praise indeed - though I did remind her that I would need some descriptive feedback! Thank you to everyone who helps encourage my dreams - every tweet, text and email means a lot to me.

I had such a fantastic experience at Canada AM this morning (even if you couldn't see my shoes on-air) and I hope to be back again! (Though perhaps not until I've caught up on my sleep.)

Wednesday, April 1

Is It Wrong To Ask About Women About Work/Family Balance?

When I did my very first blog interview with Canada AM's Marci Ien five years ago, I asked the "work/life balance" question, to which she gave this brilliant reply:

"My family, my friends and my job make me happy, and I want all of it. I'm not going to be as hard on myself as I have been in the past; I don't believe in balance. Everyone always asks me about this, and I really don't. I'm not perfect, maybe I'll get two out of five things right one day, because we can't do it all. It's not fair. I'm allergic to balance!"

I don't think I asked it again, in the same way, after that. However, that doesn't mean I think it's a bad question.

A few months ago, Jennifer Garner gave a speech at the ELLE Women of the Year event where she shared that she and husband Ben Affleck had recently both spent a day doing press junkets. While she was asked about balancing work and family by every single reporter, all day long, Ben was not asked once. Instead, he was asked about the breasts of one of his costars.


The thing is, when I (and I believe the majority of female interviewers) ask this question, it is not a judgment, and not meant to be negative. For me, it's "You're like me, with kids and employment - do you have the same struggles? Can we bond over this? Do you have any tips that might help me? Can your perspective help me do better in some way?" I always ask about their work, but while my readers may not identify with the specific project we're discussing, they will almost always be able to connect to the "mom" side of the woman. Whether we're humble bloggers or A-list journalists, we want to please our readers and ask the questions they want answered. Which perhaps says something about those who posed the breasts question to Ben Affleck.- and what they think of their readers.

It's kind of like the go-to "Who are you wearing?" question asked of women ad nauseam throughout the awards season. Reporters assume viewers want to know. (Quite frankly, while I love checking out the fashion, I truly do not care "who" they are wearing, but I get that it's an art form and an industry, and the question must be asked.) 

Photo Getty Images

When I ask women how they juggle work and family...

What I don't mean: You shouldn't be trying to have both.

What I do mean: I'm trying to have both, and so are many of my readers.

What I don't mean: You're getting it wrong.

What I do mean: Are we getting it wrong?

What I don't mean: You should be worrying about this more than your partner.

What I do mean: We may be worrying about this more than our partners.

What I don't mean: You should feel guilty.

What I do mean: Do you feel guilty? Sometimes we do. Or we don't...but then think we're supposed to.

However, I know that the question can sometimes hurt. Cityline host Tracy Moore posted on social media a few months ago that an older woman (not a journalist) approached her at an after-hours event and lamented something to the effect of "It seems like you're always working - when do you ever see your children?" Ouch.

While Jennifer Garner asserted that she thinks it's time to change the conversation, she didn't say that we can't ask women about their families. Perhaps what would be the most refreshing change is if we also asked men about theirs.

P.S. I'm hoping to interview Jennifer in the future, and I promise not to ask that question. Or anything about any of her costars' breasts.