I was walking down Portage Avenue on an incredibly cold day last week my head lowered in the strong, fierce wind when a man walking in the other direction stopped in front of me and started talking to me in an animated way. He clearly couldn’t speak English and was holding forth in a foreign language. He seemed very agitated. I wondered if he needed help or money.
He began to point behind me and I thought he was asking for directions. I said I didn’t understand but he kept talking and pointing so finally I turned around. My red and white scarf was lying on the sidewalk some meters behind. I hadn’t tied it and the wind had blown it off my neck. I hadn’t even noticed.
I thanked the man profusely and ran back to get my scarf.
If you’ve seen winter photos of me you may have noticed me wearing that red and white scarf. I LOVE that scarf! It is exceptionally warm and is wide enough and long enough for me to wind around practically my whole face if I need to do that.
BUT…… the reason I love that scarf the most is that my mother knit it for me not long after I first started teaching grade school and needed to go outside on recess duty on some pretty cold Manitoba days. That scarf is over forty years old and every time I wear it I think of my mother’s love and concern for me. Mom died in 2013.
I would have been incredibly sad to lose that scarf. Of course, the Winnipeg stranger who took time to stop in that bitter weather and make sure I retrieved my scarf had no idea of its sentimental value to me. He was just being kind and courteous and helpful.
My mother was such a warm-hearted, caring, considerate person and it is good for me to be reminded as I was last week, that really the world is full of them.
The Problem We All Live With- by Norman Rockwell- Rockwell shows Ruby Bridges on her way to an all-white school in 1964 accompanied by US deputy marshalls enforcing new desegregation laws
I learned about a ‘bliss point’ this week while listening to an episode of the podcast This American Life called NiceWhite Parents. The episode was about school integration in the United States. The narrator of the podcast said the ‘bliss point’ was the percentage of a population of a school that needed to be white before most white parents would consider sending their children to that school.
That bliss point is apparently 26% for white parents of middle school youngsters. So if white parents know that about a quarter of their children’s school mates will also be white they are comfortable sending their child to a racially integrated school. In an article I read about school integration the authors say the ‘bliss point’ for white parents of elementary school children is much higher at 60%.
Dave having ice cream on a food tour in Toronto
As I was looking for more information about ‘bliss point’ I found out it is also a common term in the food industry. The bliss point is the amount of a certain ingredient in an item of food be it salt or fat or sugar that makes that food optimally delicious sending endorphins to our brains that make us want to continue eating that food. Of course, food manufacturers are eager to find the bliss points of their products because being sure they have one is the best way to increase sales.
Bliss point is kind of a tricky term. It sounds like something good. But in actual fact bliss points can slow social progress and make you eat in an unhealthy way.
My younger son is a professional musician. He is on the road a lot! He travels in a van all over the United States and Canada pursuing his career. And I worry. I think about the dangerous things that could happen as his band travels in all kinds of weather from one performance to another. When I know he’s due to arrive back home in Winnipeg I’ll send him a text Home safe and sound? I breathe a sigh of relief when he responds with a yes.
My older son travels the Saskatchewan highways to work each day. He is a high school teacher in a small community about a forty- minute drive from his home in Saskatoon. He makes that journey five days a week in all kinds of weather. And I worry. He and his family also do lots of traveling. When I hear they have arrived safely back in Saskatoon after a journey I am always so relieved.
I remember coming home from my high school graduation celebration in the wee hours of the morning. Our graduation class had driven to Winnipeg for a river cruise. I was surprised to find my mother had been awake all night cleaning her kitchen cupboards. “I couldn’t sleep,” she said, “till I knew you were home safely.”
One Easter Sunday my young sons and I went out to Winkler to visit my grandparents. It was very foggy when we headed home and Grandma was worried. Our phone was ringing when I walked into our house. It was my grandfather. “Good,” he said when he heard my voice. “Now that you are home safely Grandma can stop praying and go to bed.”
Worry for your children’s safety spans generations.
Newspaper columnist Michele Landsburg once wrote….“it is at the very moment we give birth, that we first begin to truly understand and fear death.”
I think the reason so many people have been so deeply affected by the Humboldt Broncos tragedy is because all parents and grandparents understand exactly the kind of fear Michele Landsberg is talking about. It breaks our hearts to know that for sixteen sets of parents and grandparents those fears have been realized.
I’ve started packing for our trip to Portugal. Whenever I am preparing for a journey words of advice from my mother come to mind. During my childhood when Mom was teaching me how to do my own packing for family vacations or school trips she explained the ‘packing from the feet up’ technique. Mom said I should start at my feet and think of everything I would need for them on my trip- shoes, sandals, runners, socks and perhaps a toenail clipper. She told me to move up my body section by section like that all the way to my head. Did I have shampoo, conditioner, my brush, my pink foam curlers,bobby pins,hats, combs, bandannas and hair clips?
I still pack using that ‘start from the feet up’ technique and it works! Thanks Mom!
Recently I went through a stack of family pictures I got from my Dad and found all these photos of my birthday celebrations when I was a little girl. My Mom was the one who made these occasions memorable, complete with a cake she had baked, gifts, friends, decorations, party games, a new dress she’d made me and birthday meals. I realize how blessed I was to have a mother who went to so much work to make me feel special and loved. It is just one more thing that makes me miss her. Thanks Mom.
I saw two movies in the last two days and they both made me incredibly sad.
Calvary is about a priest who knows someone is going to kill him in a week. The priest is a good man but he has been selected to ‘pay the price’ for all those priests who have used their position for evil. There are lots of characters in this movie with sad, lonely,messed up lives living cynically or hopelessly. The priest does his best to be patient and listen to them.
At one point the priest is praying with a woman who has just lost her husband in a senseless accident involving drunk teenage drivers. The priest remarks that it must be hard for her to accept how unfair life is in the face of her tragedy. The woman says what happened to her husband isn’t unfair, it was just something that happened. She says that what is really unfair is people who die who aren’t loved, who die without meaningful relationships. She and her husband loved each other so that didn’t happen to him.
It made me incredibly sad to think about how many isolated, lonely people there are like that in the world.
Boyhood is a film that was shot over a period of twelve years by the same cast. You see a boy become a man in a little under three hours. Viewers get a window on all those small seemingly mundane but meaningful moments in a family’s day-to-day existence, that quickly pile one on top of each other moving life along in a quick blur. I started crying when the mother in the movie is sending her youngest child off to college and can’t believe she has really arrived at this moment. Where has time gone? Where has her life gone? And really is this all there is to life? She has invested so much in her children and now they don’t seem to need her anymore. I think probably every mother has had a sad moment like this. The movie reminded me of how quickly our lives move along and end.
Both Calvary and Boyhood are very good movies. They make you think. They trouble you. They make you take stock of your own life. They make you cry. I’m glad I saw them. But the next movie I see definitely needs to be funny, light-hearted and very upbeat!
My cousin’s wife Laurie Wiens recently wrote a thoughtful, moving and articulate letter to the editor of the national magazine of the Mennonite Church in Canada.
Here is one paragraph.
Our oldest son recently was baptized after doing some intense soul-searching about his faith and his commitment to the church. I am proud of him for taking this step and so happy that he is part of the Christian community and part of a loving and supportive church community. My son is also in a serious relationship with someone who loves him. It is a pleasure to see them together and see how close they have become. They are both at a great stage in life—still studying and figuring out what their career paths will be, both committed to the church, both with their whole lives ahead of them and countless opportunities. My son is also gay.
I encourage you to take the time to read the full letter at the link below.
I read recently that the first woman was only allowed to run in the Boston Marathon in 1972. That was in my lifetime I thought! Sometimes we forget how recently it was that women were definitely second class citizens and how thankful we should be that times have changed. I have my own ‘thankfully times have changed’ story.
My oldest son was born in 1979. My due date was early February. I was legally entitled to sixteen weeks of paid maternity leave from my job as a grade one teacher. I had to go back to work at the beginning of June.
I requested my leave be extended till the end of June, just four extra weeks. I would take an added month of unpaid leave and return to the classroom in September. I argued it was not in my students’ best interest to change teachers two times during the year. It would be hard for me to do accurate end of year assessments for students I hadn’t taught in four months. The school division refused my request.
They said extending my leave would set a dangerous precedent. I’ll never forget my meeting with the two superintendents. In a very kind but patronizing tone they assured me once I saw that cute little baby of mine, I would never want to go back to work. They told me the only way I’d get an extra month of maternity leave was to resign. The superintendents assured me if I resigned, in the unlikely event I still wanted to go back to work after the baby was born, they would give me a job. To their credit they did. But I was forced to resign. I had to forfeit my insurance coverage and the nearly one hundred sick days I had accrued. I lost five months of contributions to my pension fund and I was given no written legal guarantee of a future job.
Returning to work the following year I asked to serve on the team negotiating salary and benefits with the school board. I wanted my school division to offer teachers up to year of maternity leave and retention of benefits during that time. Many other school divisions in our province had already instituted that kind of leave policy. The first year when our negotiations with the board got down to the wire, the teachers’ negotiating team, which was completely male except for me, voted for a higher salary rather than extended maternity benefits. The second year our request that teachers having babies could choose to take up to a twelve- month maternity leave was granted, and became a part of our contract package. I was very happy!
Six years later in 1985 when I had my second son, I was able to take leave for an entire year to be home with him. I didn’t lose my pension, sick days or insurance benefits either. Times had changed!
“A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes. I believe that this would be a better world.”
Sheryl Sandberg makes that statement in her book Lean In. I finished reading it a while ago and since then I’ve repeated the statement above to many people. A number have asked if I really agree with Sandberg. I do agree wholeheartedly that more female leaders in every sphere of society would make our world a better place and that more men participating fully in child care and home care would make families healthier and happier and thus society happier and healthier too. It is interesting however how many women I’ve talked to that don’t agree. They actually believe women aren’t as capable of good leadership as men and that men aren’t as good at caring for children as women. I don’t believe it for a second!
One woman I talked with said men just couldn’t do as good a job of raising children because they don’t have the nurturing nature of women. Children need a mother as their primary caregiver. Sandberg says……..
“Studies from around the world have concluded that children benefit greatly from paternal involvement. Research over the last forty years has consistently found that in comparison to children with less-involved fathers, children with involved and loving fathers have higher levels of psychological well-being and better cognitive abilities.When fathers provide even just routine child care, children have higher levels of educational and economic achievement and lower delinquency rates.Their children even tend to be more empathetic and socially competent.These findings hold true for children from all socioeconomic backgrounds, whether or not the mother is highly involved. “
Several women I talked with weren’t sure that women make the best leaders. They figured women leaders let their power go to their heads. Jenna Goudreau a writer for Forbes magazine talks about the way women leaders are often stereotyped as being icy, tough, conniving and angry. I have always thought it interesting that the qualities people admire in male leaders- grit, strength, the ability to think strategically and be passionately resolute are twisted into negatives when used to describe female leaders.
Frieda Klotz also writing for Forbes says women bring skills of communication, empathy and a unique perspective to leadership. Women make up half the population so it would make sense they should be represented in at least 50% of leadership positions in every sphere of society so their perspective and gifts could help to bring about necessary change in the world. Sheryl Sandberg says…..
“The laws of economics and many studies of diversity tell us that if we tapped the entire pool of human resources and talent, our collective performance would improve.”
Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In raises many important ideas, not new ideas, but important ones. It has inspired me to become more outspoken about the need for women to lean into being leaders in their careers and share the load with partners in their homes, something I was passionate about and wrote and spoke about a great deal nearly four decades ago. Sadly it is something that still needs to be part of the conversation in our world.
I spent a week at a resort in Cancun and observed how electronic devices influence family time.
I get up early one morning to go to the fitness room. A young mother is taking her baby for a walk. Her tiny girl is cuddled up on her mother’s chest. The infant is looking up at her mother’s face and making all kinds of noises. She sounds like she’s trying to have a real conversation. The mother isn’t even looking at her baby. She’s on her phone checking her text messages.
I see a family of three at a table near mine having dinner together. The son looks to be about eight and is watching a movie on a laptop computer and listening to the sound with a set of large blue earphones. His parents are talking to each other and eating their dinner while the son ignores the food on his plate in favor of the action on the screen.
I see a mother and her daughter a half-dozen times. The daughter always stands or sits silently beside her mother who is busy receiving and sending messages on her phone. One night I see them in the resort lounge. The young girl looks tired and has her head on her Mom’s shoulder nestling her blonde head under her Mom’s ear. The Mom doesn’t touch her daughter at all. Both her hands are busy texting and her eyes are focused on her phone.
I see a woman shopping in the resort jewelry store. Her one-year-old is sitting up in her stroller. An I-Pad showing a movie is propped up beside the little girl. Her eyes are glued to the screen and she doesn’t bother her mother at all, leaving the woman free to shop to her heart’s content.
I see a father on the beach with his two sons. The boys run in and out of the water splashing each other and diving into the waves. The boys talk together, collect shells, build a sandcastle, read books, order drinks, and eat snacks. The whole time the father is on the phone while his sons enjoy the Mexican sunshine on their own.