RANKLED! Or How to Survive a Broken Ankle

slide6

I WISH I had a better story.
I wish I’d been surfing a killer wave when I was dragged under by some vicious undertow! Or mountain climbing and I tumbled from a ledge for almost fifty feet! Or perhaps tidal boar rafting when the boat suddenly flipped over and I was smashed viciously against some rocks!

Now THAT’S the way to break some bones!

Emegency Room, Take One

Emegency Room, Take One

But no.

We went to watch some fireworks, or what will now forever be known as raining darts of hellfire. (I mean, I don’t even like fireworks, with all their loud noises and sudden popping and their big build up until they fizzle out to nothing – and that was BEFORE the incident.)

Afterwards, we slowly started back home, enjoying the warm summer night. I was walking down a hill, on a poorly lit roadway, took a misstep off the curb, fell down a small embankment, and BOOM – next thing you know I’m laid up (mostly) for six weeks with a twice fractured ankle.

Not in the cold winter, or the rainy spring, or the windy fall. But the summer. During quite possibly the sunniest, hottest, haziest summer we’ve had in years.

Now let the injustice of all THAT sink in.

Living the Dream!

Living the Dream!

Now, when most people hear those magical words escape a doctor’s lips – “looks like you’ll be off work four to six weeks” – you think “PARTY!” and “I’m the luckiest guy in the universe right NOW!” And you start to say stuff like “Work nerds! Have fun while I’m off “working” on my tan!”

But then comes the reality check.  In order for that nasty break to heal, your foot needs to be immobilized, and in order to be immobilized, it has to be  confined in a plaster cast at a 90 degree angle.  And casts, in case you don’t know, are heavy, ugly, stupid, awkward things. And despite being all hard and substantial, I came to learn they can actually break fairly easily, which then leads to multiple trips back to the hospital for multiple re-castings. You know, to that awful place where all the germs and all the sick people live.

As for “making the most of it”, racing on crutches is only fun for maybe the first day or two. Pretty much everyone else is busy working or vacationing or raising babies or dog sitting or just living life large, so you find yourself talking to your cat a lot. And rudely, he rarely ever talks back. You start to read or watch TV a lot, but then you criticize everything you see, and you grumble how you could write or act or sing an opera WAY better, and start to wonder how are you ever going to get those last 30 minutes back. And napping or just generally laying about?  Sounds fun in theory, but seriously overrated. Because then you’re awake at night, cursing the napping while everyone else is sleeping.

Anyway, with all this time to kill, I decided I needed to write more. And the first thing that came to me – the first thing I noticed was lacking – was some some handy dandy list of ways to survive a broken ankle (or broken anything for that matter) while maintaining MOST of your sanity. This may not work for everyone, but over the course of the summer I’ve found it to be pretty helpful guidelines to follow, and for the most part I’ve been able to retain most of my sanity. Note I did say mostly.
So here we go…

1) Seek out medical advice.  Sure, maybe you’re clumsy and walk into walls and glass doors and such, and maybe you’re used to falling down because you’re not looking where you’re going or you’re quite easily distracted (squirrel!)  But let’s face it, when your foot is purple and visibly throbbing and the size of an engorged watermelon, it’s time to call in the big guns.

2) Get a second opinion.  In seeking out medical help, sometimes the first doc you see will make Doogie Howser look like a senior citizen. Still, when he wraps your ankle and wisely tells you to “walk around on it,but don’t BABY it” you think “dude or not, this guy is the DOCTOR, so he must know what he’s talking about!” But when little Doogie’s panicked phone call comes the next day with the news of two fractures in your ankle he somehow missed, and he’s screaming “FOR GOD’S SAKE DON’T WEIGHT BEAR ON IT! YOU COULD CAUSE PERMANENT INJURY!!!”, you realize TV lied, and Lil’ Doogie does NOT know what he’s talking about, and that all doctors should indeed be old and wise, with thick glasses and weird facial hair and wrinkled lab coats with mysterious stains that smell vaguely of mothballs.

 

3) Accept the fact you’re new cast is one ridiculous looking appendage that just kind of hangs there and does nothing but gets in your way. Fact is, you can’t dress it up, you can’t make it prettier, you can’t make it lighter. I will refuse to cooperate, so just stop trying, and instead consider unique ways to take a selfie with it…

10364066_10154303742025136_17359432889734614_n

4) Realize that stairs are now you’re one true enemy.  Obsess over how you will hop on one foot while maneuvering crutches in a futile attempt to conquer them.  Focus on creative ways to crawl, sidestep, back pull or plain ol’ scooch yourself up and down these blasted obstacles from hell, and hope that no one’s shooting the YouTube video of same.

1526150_10153641380865136_1480339448_n

5) Kiss your dignity goodbye!  You will not only seem awkward, but you’ll look plain stupid trying to do the things you are used to doing or those simple tasks you foolishly take for granted everyday.  You will hear the words “pee bottle” and shudder and think NEVER, but before you know it you’ll quickly change your mind. Someday, you will come to think of that pee bottle as your best friend. “Pee bottle? I love you! What did I ever do before you?” Seriously, you’ll want to marry that damn pee bottle. I am speaking the TRUTH.

6) Have a good support system!  Your loved one(s) will have to do things for you that neither one of you will EVER want to speak of again (see #5 re lack of dignity)  Be kind to them, because you’re going to need them someday in ways you never imagined, and probably don’t want to ever consider. Trust me on this one.

995053_10152282316478367_1092139877180382086_n

7) Get a furry sidekick.  He might sleep on the job lots, but he knows your feeling down and will make it his mission to cheer you up! Also, you can reveal to him all the gossip you want, and he will never share it with anyone.

10500343_10154295867265136_7926332660175906314_n

8) People will STARE.  STARE BACK.  I like to stop, put my hands on my hips, and give them a good ol’ fashioned Oscar the Grouch staredown while pretending to sharpen my crutches like spear tips.  You better believe they break eye contact first.  And usually start running.

Oscar-the-Grouch---SCRAM

9) Start to realize how poorly many of our city establishments are equipped for handi-capable people as you venture out into the world, and make a mental note to increase awareness of that in the future (actually, give yourself a mental spanking for not noticing it before).  Marvel at the gaping chasms in sidewalks and street corners. Ponder the narrow stairs you must climb or clunky entrances you must pole vault over. Laugh at the sheer stupidity of people who stand in the way while two five foot wooden sticks and a boatload of plaster are swinging in their direction by someone who has no idea how to wield either…

10) Celebrate graduating to a fracture boot/walking cast, until you realize just how hot and sweaty plastic, foam, and air cushioning can be.  Then, discover you have to learn how to walk again, because “walking cast” or not, that sucker encases your foot at the same ol’ 90 degree angle – there’s no pivoting, no twisting, and just a lot of loud, massive thumping.

10469705_10154303743265136_1708692551120100463_n

11) Mourn the fallen victims of your loud, massive thumping. (Thus far, together we’ve destroyed several glasses, a few books, a lamp, and, most tragically, a pair of Rayban Wayfarers.)

Rayban

12) Start to consider what a kick ass Darth Vader Costume this will all make someday!

photo

And I suppose, most importantly of all, KEEP A SENSE OF HUMOUR about it all and just keep smiling!!

With just a week or so left, I know I can and WILL survive the experience. And soon enough I’ll get to go dancing (badly) again. And hike over some strange undiscovered hillside. And jump joyfully into the ocean for that first summertime swim.

I’ll just be sure to avoid fireworks this time! And most of all, I will always remember to look before I leap!
(Oh, who am I kidding! I’ll just hang on to the boot!)

A Boy and his BAT(MAN)

BATMAN - as imagined by my 9 year old nephew Kyle!

BATMAN – as imagined by my 9 year old nephew Kyle!

As the superhero of my youth, I dreamed I could fly.
Literally.
So, as a young lad of 6 or 7, I’d grab my mother’s finest tea towel, tie it a bit too tightly around my neck, and jump, joyfully and willfully, off of any ledge, platform, or stairwell I encountered. Naturally, this led not to me soaring through the sky like some super-powered avenger as I’d planned, but rather sprawled out, bruised and battered on the floor, surrounded by cracked tables, shattered lamps, overturned sofas, and, for my crowning achievement, a large piece of glass stuck firmly in my right leg (something that has left one mean looking and DEEP two inch scar to this day!)

At a loss of what to do and fearing I’d probably kill myself if I carried on this way, my parents sought to put a stop to my high flying heroics. Suddenly my stash of capes – or, my mom’s tea towels – moved to a higher shelf, my Spidey action figure was nowhere to be found in my toy box, and my Superman pajamas were mysteriously missing from my closet. But it was all to no avail, because these super-villainous parental figures of mine couldn’t stop me! Why, I had too many crimes to solve, and evil to keep in check, and nothing they could say or do could ever thwart my passion for superheroics! Finally resigned to this, they opted for a new tactic: they would steer me away from the big blue boy scout Superman, he who could leap over tall buildings in a single bound, or Spider-man, that wall crawling, web slinging masked menace, and instead feed my crazed obsession with someone a little more grounded and down to earth. Someone a little more human. Someone called…. the BATMAN!

Batman? But wait a darn minute… he doesn’t DO anything! He doesn’t even have ANY cool powers! He’s not from some distant alien planet! A radioactive spider didn’t mutate him! He’s just some dude in a pointy-eared mask! But my dad said that’s where I was wrong… and started telling me all about his old favourite television series, starring this Batman and his boy sidekick Robin, who fought crime as they cruised through Gotham City in the Batmobile. These were characters that’d been around in comics ever since he was a little boy, and what was most special about Batman was that he was just a normal man who stood against crime.

And I thought, “WOW, I’m a normal dude and I stand against crime.  That’s just like me!”

Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder

 

 

Still, I was suspicious about their distraction. “But what about the bad guys?” I’d ask, because as much as I was an expert crime fighter, I secretly LOVED the villains. (Truth be told, I always wanted Wile E to catch that damn Road Runner, and when it came to Archie and the gang, Reggie was totally da man!) He then proceeded to tell me all about the clown prince of crime, the Joker, and the hideous and tormented Two Face, the dangerous and deranged Penguin, the clever but dastardly Riddler, and the sultry and cunning Catwoman. With a cast of characters like that, how could I refuse? And so before long, there I was, crouched on the edge of the sofa, almost overcome with excitement, ready to watch some old reruns of my dad’s old favourite show, fully prepared to be completely and utterly amazed…

And then the show started and…
I HATED IT!

Who were these buffoons clowning around and winking at the camera? This was supposed to be about the very serious business of superheroes thwarting super villains – there was no time for FUN!! Why did Batman have big ol’ eyebrows on his mask? Why did the Joker look like my aunt when she wore too much makeup? Why did Catwoman purr instead of talk?? Why did that man they called Robin, who was supposed to be a kid but who sure looked like a man in TOO short shorts, keep yelling “HOLY” all the time? (GASP! Had I been tricked?? WAS THIS SOME KIND OF CHURCH?) Whatever foul deed was afoot, leaving the room in disgust, I swore I was DONE with THIS Batman dude.

 

Angry Bird Batman Cake

 

But that didn’t last long.
Flash-forward a few weeks later and I’m at a corner store with my mom, and I’m allowed to choose just ONE comic book from an overstuffed spinner rack to accompany me on a long car ride.  This is so it will:

1) keep me quiet so I don’t torment my younger sister, who unbeknownst to her has already been secretly cast as the Incredible Hulk to my Superman for this very ride, and

2) stop me from bouncing and flailing around too much so my infamous motion sickness doesn’t make an appearance and force me to projectile vomit all over the car, Exorcist style.  

Stuck with the hard task of choosing just one,  I remember being drawn to a cover of this dollar size digest comic book called Batman Family starring Robin, Batgirl, and, as the tagline read, “Batman, the Dark Knight Detective!”

“WAIT A MINUTE, Batman is a DETECTIVE!?! NO ONE told me THAT!” And so with the realization that Bats and I both might be a super sleuths – a piece of information I’d clearly missed up to this point – he suddenly appeared much more interesting to me. Maybe his super power was his big brain, and he used THAT to solve crime, just like I did! Well that did it…I had to have the book. And for weeks I carried it and brought it everywhere.  I read it so often  that the staples started to come apart at the seams, and the pages became smudged and hard to read. But…the capes! The spandex! The batarangs! The super sleuthing! I was HOOKED!

 

Batman Cookie Jar

 

 

 

Barbara Gordon Batgirl, DC DIRECT

Barbara Gordon Batgirl, DC DIRECT

And so the obsession began, and it’s continued unabated to this day Comics were the medium in which I came to understand “the Bat”, and discovered the things about him that I related to or admired the most. And in my imagination, comic book creators like Frank Miller, Denny O’Neill, Jim Aparo, and Neal Adams literally scripted and animated my childhood, just as the new champions of the Bat Family mythos like Scott Snyder, Gail Simone, and Jim Lee excite and inspire me today.  But others have grown to know and love him through many different mediums: the Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan movies, the Batman Animated Series, the Arkham Asylum games, or, yes, even, Adam West and his crazy television antics. And soon we’ll enter the era of “Batffleck” as Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill bring the ultimate bromance to life in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”. What’s interesting about Batman, and what sets him apart from most other superheroes, is that he CAN exist in all these different forms and interpretations – over his 75 years he’s been a vigilante, a “cop”, a detective, a space faring superhero, a scientist, a jokester, a grizzled war veteran, and a dark brooding anti-hero – and still remain as valid, relevant and truthful to the times today as he was way back then.  Batman’s origin – as a young boy he witnessed his parents murder in a dark alley and vowed to to one day rid the city of the evil that took his parents lives – has stuck mostly to its basic premise over the course of time, and there’s a reason for that – it simply works.  To echo what my father said many years ago, what’s at Batman’s core – what makes Batman BATMAN -is that he COULD be someone just like you or me. What makes him most a hero is that he’s someone who became obsessed over a terrible childhood tragedy, and then used that tragedy as motivation to achieve a state of physical and mental perfection in order to become the absolute pinnacle of what a human being could be. Soneone who would stand as guardian of his city, its greatest protector, so that no one under his watch would ever share the same fate he did. Taking tragedy like that and somehow turning it into triumph is something we can all relate to and admire.

Because that’s noble. That’s heroic. That’s BADASS.

And that’s Batman.

 

Keep Calm and Call Batman

 

Drawn by my then 8 year old nephew Kyle :)

Drawn by my then 8 year old nephew Kyle 🙂

Bollard House (The Great House Adventure)

 

Bollard House

Bollard House- Birthday Cake Style

 

I really need to start paying closer attention.

You see, I’ve slowly come to learn that when my partner Shawn has just the slightest idea in mind, when he gets some tiny notion in his head, that stray thought that swirls around and around and  just won’t quit….then it’s time for me to brace myself, take a deep breath, and change into some clean underwear as we prepare  for whatever fantastical journey is just up ahead.   If I was only slightly more self-aware, I’d see the signs more clearly.  When Shawn is interested or focused on something, it starts to…invade his life, and, in by a process sort of like osmosis, mine.  Take for instance when he really wanted to buy this antique Sheraton sofa he’d discovered recently online.  Suddenly, the words “Sheraton sofa” start to pop up in many of his conversations.  Then he starts to relay warm childhood stories about his memories of Sheraton sofas (because everyone has those, right?) and then he’s pointing them out in books, in movies, and in magazines.   Soon he’s googling them wildly at night and moaning about them in his sleep.   And the next thing you know, you find yourself barely awake at some god awful hour on a Sunday morning, driving down some dirt back road of some rural township you’ve never heard of, so you can precariously strap to the back of your trusty station wagon your very own Sheraton sofa (albeit one in serious need of some TLC, but never fear, because Shawn has an amazing friend named Aimee who’s a designer and upholsterer extraordinaire on call for just such an emergency.  And these emergencies can happen often!)

So with experiences like that under my belt, you’d think I’d be more prepared when he stopped talking about silver trays and pottery mushrooms and folk art and jumped right to a mysterious place called Bollard House.  I mean, a house is a lot bigger than a sofa, so that alone should’ve stopped me in my tracks.  I’m a bit embarrassed to say I didn’t know much about the history of Bollard House a few short months ago until Shawn casually mentioned it one night, but quickly he brought me up to speed.  Turns out Bollard House was built in the 1830s in the township of Halifax, so before our great city was even a city.  It was built in a Georgian style, with detailing around its doors and ceilings hearkening back to ancient greek civilization, and in 1863 a triangular addition was created, making the house six-sided in appearance.   The house is one long room deep throughout with seven flights of stairs connecting its four floors.  It is truly unique in our fair city in that it remains, after all these years, virtually unchanged and unaltered today.   It has withstood the ravages of time and stands proudly today to tell the tale.  It has had a very colourful history during its long life, including a period during the 1970s when it served as a spa for poodles (yes, you read that correctly!)   Bollard House became a registered historic property in 1985, which is approximately when Shawn actually first visited it and fell in love (because as you know, some boys fall in love with historic houses and some fall in love with Batman).  And why do I know all of this?  Because Shawn knows all of it, and life with him is kind of like having your own personal commentator from PBS and the History Channel, only one that’s much better looking, smells good, and is a great dancer.

 

Bollard House

Bollard House

 

 

IMG_2412

Shawn is a member (and former board member) of the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia, an organization that fights to preserve some of the most architecturally and historically significant structures in the province, as well as promote and advocate for protective legislation with business interests and at various levels of government.  Through the Trust, he came to know this lovely lady named Janet, a champion in her own right who works hard to preserve the built heritage of our fine city.  The two hit it off well with their shared passion for preservation (as the Batman lover in the relationship, I suspect these Heritage types all have capes and spandex in their laundry that they wear to strike fear in the hearts of those evil modern developers/destroyers.  But alas, I’ve yet to find any costumes in the laundry).  Anyway, Janet had recently acquired Bollard House after it’s previous owner had passed away,  but was uncertain of her plans for the property, other than her goal of keeping its rich heritage intact.   Conversations began with Shawn, he who is ever so opinionated about just these sorts of things,  on hypothetically just what one might do with a property like Bollard House.  And rather than it involve any knocking things out or tearing things down, any demolition, deconstructing or defacing of any kind, his ideas centred around a whole lot of paint and the occasional swing of a hammer.  And before you know it, somehow THAT evolved into the idea of  our moving into the house, living their and caring for it, and bringing it back to life, so to speak, while respecting where it’s been.  When I first had a chance to tour the house, even I  could see her “good bone structure” and recognize the charm and character of the house  (it truly felt in a way you were stepping back in time when you walked through her doors), but it was clear the house was going to need a lot of time and love and careful attention.  As it were,  we were also both pretty attached to our old apartment, a heritage property itself and quite full of charm and character, but it had been obvious for a while we’d outgrow that space.  And so, with practically four floors at our disposal at Bollard House, an impressive showcase for all of Shawn’s unique and wonderful STUFF, and the challenge of breathing new life into an old property, how could we refuse such an opportunity?

And so the journey to Bollard House again (well, technically, it wasn’t much of a journey, as we’d only lived four blocks away).   From the start, the whole never enough hours in a day and the time needed to do everything that needed to be done was a bit worrisome.  I’d recently returned to school, and had made a bit of an insane decision to work full-time and take a full course load.  Since “phoning it in” isn’t in my vocabulary, and I tend to be a bit of a a high achiever,  I figured it’s all straight A’s or bust.  (And, by bust, I mean bust your face if I don’t get that A!)  Shawn has a pretty demanding job, one that’s anything but 9-5, plus he likes to dabble in….well, just about everything.  Our cat Mungo, a feisty little guy with a pretty demanding sleep schedule, was initially rather unimpressed with this decision to move.  I mean, no one bothered to consult with him that his nightly (potential) mouse patrol would now involve four floors instead of four rooms.  That’s a lot of work!

But in the end, the chance to do this was simply too good to be true, and the challenge ahead seemed fun.  We started cleaning, painting and stripping (not the Magic Mike kind) for weeks on end, often late into the night.  I already knew Shawn was as handy as he was handsome, but truth be told, I worried at first about his focus, as he tends to get a bit easily distracted  – oh look, squirrel! – and that could  potentially slow things down.  But never fear…it was clear from the start he was throwing himself  wholeheartedly into a mission to restore life to this beautiful home.  That’s not to say we didn’t face a few obstacles along the way.  The staircases are small and narrow and difficult to move furniture around.  Hence, when an old sofa refused to climb the stairs before becoming jammed, it was attacked by a very creative friend with an exacto knife and brought out in small pieces (you don’t want to get on her bad side!).  And although we were able to squeeze a small sofa and even an oversized antique linen chest upstairs, the laws of physics said that queen size box spring just wasnt going to make it, and so we spent a few weeks sleeping on the floor until we could get a replacement  And finally there was the late afternoon I took my niece Nicole on a tour, proudly showing off all the space we’d now have. When we’d reached the end and I’d shown her small dark room with the slanted roof and skylight that would be my office and writing space, she declared “um, doesn’t this room kind of remind you of the Amityville Horror?”

WELL IT DOES NOW!!

Red rum, Red rum...

Red rum, Red rum…

Alas, any reservations I had about the work we were doing was put to rest early on.  Shawn had let me in on a little secret, one I didn’t realize or know.    He said old houses aren’t like more modern, almost disposal ones.  Houses like this one just need a little paint and a little sprucing up, a little love, hard work, and attention, and before long they start to respond to what you’re doing, and slowly start to warm and come to life on their own.   And sure enough, before my very eyes, it did!  We built a man cave in the basement that’s the envy of all football loving fiends across the land (too bad it’s mainly used for Madonna and Gaga blu-rays!)  Shawn chose a colour scheme and design layout for our bedroom that makes it look like some high-end magazine photo shoot – remember that saying that your  bedroom should feel like an oasis?  Our bedroom IS an oasis, and as big as some small apartments.

IMG_0192

See, I can help too!

IMG_0371

1175067_10153143955045136_1991471727_n

Man CAVE

 

IMG_0397

 

And that Sheraton sofa?  IT is now totally rocking the living room.

I do have one minor complaint about our grand new residence.  For one, where’s the ghosts??! (True, I’m opposed to the Amityville Horror of my new office, but come on…ghosts are cool!)  I’d convinced myself when moving into an historical home that has experienced as much as this house has over the centuries, that it only made sense we’d be left with a few former inhabitants, or at least an occasional visitor or two.   I waited up most of the night Halloween, saying this would be the night.   But nope….nothing.  I even watched The Conjuring recently (mostly behind a blanket, with one eye open), figuring some ghostly apparition would say “oh yeah, so that’s how you want to play it huh?” and start slamming doors or levitating tea cups around me.  Still nothing.  (I’d say BOOOOOO but I was  hoping the damn ghost would do that!)  Regardless, I still talk to the house all the time, like it’s a person.  Just check in, see if it likes the new paint colour or the smells of supper and such.   Someday it’ll answer back, I know it, and for that reason, I want to stay on its good side!

IMG_0374

Um, what was THAT?!?!

And so you know, since no one bothered to run this rather significant life change by Mungo the Cat, he’s still decided to begrudgingly patrol the house.  However, he will NOT do so quietly.  So instead, with all the grace, dignity, and poise of a baby elephant, you can hear him slowly wander about with LOUD, sharp banging motions, climbing stairs and opening doors (because, yes, he can hook his paws underneath doors and make them move!) as he seeks out and finds new and exciting places to nap.  Also, despite the change from four rooms to four floors, and the increased exercise he’s um…gained a bit of poundage somehow (he calls it muscle)…although I suspect this could be part of is revenge plot.  In other words,  baby elephant ain’t so baby anymore, and you better believe the kitty grocery bills going to feel it!

IMG_0408

Oh, and it seems Mungo also likes to um…weigh in on decisions about the house, like paint colours.  So much so that he’s now investigated three freshly painted rooms, just so he can give it one meow or two.  You’d think with all the paw scrubbing afterwards he might be a bit deterred from being so opinionated, but nope…but then again, maybe he’s just looking for a day at the spa!

IMG_0421

IMG_0430

It wasn’t me!

And so the cat and I are having a lot of fun living here….but nowhere near as much fun as Shawn.   Shawn loves the house, and takes great joy and pride in living here.  He’s very respectful to its history, and he takes great loving care of it everyday.  And I  think for those reasons that the House has been just as lucky to have him as he’s been to have it.

IMG_0319

So here’s to the first of many more great adventures at Bollard House.   And stay tuned for many more updates, as they’ll be sure to come….I promise, I really am paying attention now!

IMG_0207

IMG_0214

For Shawn, Christmas 2013

Spare Change

photo 2

I was running  down Spring Garden Road a few months ago, distracted by many things left unfinished at work that particular day while rushing to be somewhere and already twenty minutes late, when I nearly  stumbled over a young guy sitting in front of a vacant store front.   Smiling up at me from under a ton of scruff and a crazy purple and yellow rasta hat, he shook a tin can in my direction, and with a wink and a smile said  “spare change for poor life decisions?”   On his lap was a cardboard cut out sign, and carefully lettered on this sign, in bright red flowing cursive writing, were those very life choices he deemed so poor, including  “stay in school!” and “be kind to your mama – she’s the only one you got” to “whatever you do – don’t forget the condoms” and “I shouldn’t have eaten that!”

“Now THAT is genius” I laughed, tossing him what change I had.

“Thanks!” he called after, “Good luck with your life choices!”

I hadn’t really thought of this rather poetic young stranger for a while now, until I was recently faced with some major personal change  and all those pesky life choices that go along with it.  Looking back on my life, I guess as far as these things go, I’ve steered clear of poor choices while making some rather good ones instead.  (Well, it is true I had an unfortunate Corey Hart phase once upon a time.  And you know that old mantra “beer before liquor makes you sicker”?  Yeah, I always ignore that one).   But  for one thing, I’ve chosen a truly wonderful partner as a witness to my life,  someone who is just a genuinely GOOD person, beautiful both inside and out…and I guess I’ve been lucky that he’s chosen me.  I have wonderful family and friends that I don’t appreciate nearly enough, but i know they’re always just an arms reach away, literally and figuratively.  I’ve built an interesting and varied career that’s been rewarding in many ways, and learned from some truly greats in my field.  I’m WRITING more these days, something that  can (so corny but so true)  fill my soul and makes my heart sing, and my latest accomplishment in that area has been the publication of a couple of short stories in a literary magazine called the Rusty Nail (you can even find me on Amazon!)

And, let’s face it, I am co-parent to just about the CUTEST damn cat in the world!  I mean, seriously, look at this little dude…

Mungo

But into every bright sky comes a little rain.  And for me, that’s in the form of changes in my workplace that could potentially result in much less job satisfaction.  Or in other words, my “career” now becomes “just another job.”   Now when faced with those circumstances, the way I see it I have three choices: 1) I can get MAD about it and decide to pack up my toys and go play in another sandbox (easier said than done in this job market, but maybe I could have my old job at McDonald’s back?!?)  2) I could just GO ALONG WITH IT and ride the wave of change, just sit quietly and wait to see where it takes me (seems a bit too complacent for a rebel such as myself though, don’t you think?) Or I can 3) EMBRACE the change and figure out a way to somehow grow, learn, and discover new opportunities from it (well, aside from the huggy part, that just seems much more fitting!)

And so, embrace it I shall!   Turns out, for me, this catalyst for change has led to a return to higher education.  Following in the footsteps of a friend who faced a much more serious crossroads when her job ended, I am now in hot pursuit of  a Bachelor’s of Social Work Degree through the University of Manitoba (hopefully with a Master’s soon to follow). And I get to do this part time, online, through distance education, with lots of people from many diverse backgrounds across the country, just like me…making a change.  Yes kids, I finally know what I want to be when I grow up: a Social Worker.  Returning to school at my age can seem like a bit of a daunting task (let’s just say I was around the FIRST time plaid shirts were “cool” and we can leave it at that), but in truth it feeds my competitive nature to work hard, study, and get good grades, provides me with all kinds of killer student discounts on stuff, and allows me to plan wild and crazy frosh week activities all over again!   As for becoming a real life social worker type, truth be told it is not necessarily what I would’ve imagined for myself (growing up I pictured Pulitzer prize-winning author, or Daytime Emmy winning soap opera star, or international man of mystery), but after thinking it through, it seems a pretty logical fit.   Consider this: the study of social work comes with a strong sense of social justice and social duty, of righting the wrongs of the world, becoming a champion for the underdog, and just standing up to THE MAN.  Come to think of it…I like all those things!  Now combine that with a spunky attitude, a somehow flattering set of tights and cape and a scrappy sidekick  named Mungo the Cat and what do you get?  A SUPERHERO! I can become the world’s first Superhero Social Worker! (Quick, I better trademark that!)

Moral of the story – you can never tell where a little unforseen change is going to take you.  So I say take CHANGE and embrace that sucker for all it’s worth.  Push and pull it to and fro… shake it upside down…hell, spank it if you want to (well, maybe don’t go that crazy!)  But just remember to consider all the options before you, and mark out the one true path that works best for you.  Because you always have options.  And when you realize that, well the possibilities…the possibilities seem positively endless.  Trust me on this one.

Now, about that costume…. 🙂

The Light

October is National Anti Bullying Month, a cause that’s near and dear to my heart. I work in child and adolescent mental health, and over the years, I’ve come to know well those that would qualify as bullies, and those that would suffer as their victims, My team and I work hard to, in a sense, “rehabilitate” the bully, source out that negativity, reinforce positive behaviour with positive attention, uncover the deeper reasons that invoke these behaviours, and instead promote and encourage better, more positive peer relationships. With the children who are bullied, we work to build resiliency and better self esteem, to help them find a voice, seek support when in despair, and perhaps most importantly to do whatever they can to hang on to that thing that makes them most special, worthy, important….that light that we all have inside. Most times we’re successful, sometimes we’re not, but we’re THERE, we’re present, we’re listening, and we’re eager to lend a hand, to guide a way. I’ve come to find that people think they know the answers to bullying, that we believe we can sum things up in few short lines – poor parenting, teachers that don’t care, an entertainment industry glorifying sex and violence, kids that are just born mean. It’s easy to blame the wondrous technological advances of this era, and look to social media as the villain, with the magnitude of unfiltered garbage free to flow into our living rooms, onto our laptops, via our mobile phones. As a society, we don’t “talk” anymore. We text, we tweet, we post funny or revealing Facebook updates. One quick sound bite, 140 characters or less. And in that short time span, we go for impact, we try to be provocative, we try to get the best laugh or the biggest shock value. We don’t make those simple human connections we once did. And through this social media we can be anonymous, we can be outspoken, though provoking, even inflaming. But what we don’t recognize, what we fail to realize, is the damage those “words” can do, and, as adults, the lessons our actions can teach, the impressions we can leave behind to those who look up to us the most.

Aside from my passion for my work, this epidemic of bullying has touched me on an even deeper, more personal level. I have a 7 year old nephew and a 17 year old niece who have faced struggles with issues like these often in their daily lives. My nephew is a shockingly bright, incredibly well spoken, handsome little guy, small for his age but with a personality bigger than life. An only child, unlike his uncle he didn’t grow up with four siblings and one Monopoly game and have to figure out how to share and play together NICELY, DAMN IT, and so school is where he learns, like most kids, how to maneuver his way through those minefields of childhood relationships. And so this perfect little child, so charming with adults, has he’s always struggled fitting in with kids his age, so rule bound and precocious as he can be. This struggle, almost comical at first in his description of it when some other child just wasn’t LISTENING, turned frighteningly real last year, when he started coming home with cuts and bruises and torn clothes due to tussles on the playground –well, not so much tussles as his running away in fear for his safety, being caught, pummelled, and having no one around close by to help or intervene.

My beautiful niece’s struggles have been different, yet no less severe. She has always been a very warm and loving little girl, who easily wins over friends with her engaging personality. A strikingly sensitive soul, she empathizes easily with others, so much so she’ll often take on their problems and champion them as though they were her own, not recognizing the toll at times that might take upon her. Like lots of young people her age, she’s gone through those awkward early adolescent and teenage years questioning the confusing world around her, and one particularly important question she’s faced is in regards to her own sexual identity. She’s still just figuring it out, and like so many others will likely continue to do so for many years to come, but gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual, trans….to her, the label doesn’t matter, she just hopes to find someone to share common ground with and then later to fall in love. To find someone who truly and genuinely loves her, regardless of their age, their race, their shape or size, or their gender. A rather enlightened and self assured attitude for a teenage girl, it’s not one necessarily shared by other people her age, and so, as a result, she’s encountered some gossip, innuendo, teasing, and cruelty. And because of her belief system, she’s been forced to hold her head high and carry on during some rather trying, difficult and downright painful times.

My nephew and niece are already heroes in their own fight, and don’t even realize it. My nephew would cry himself to sleep at times, so fearful of these school yard bullies, but then shake it off in the morning and be first on his school bus, excited to face the challenges and rewards of a new school day. With concern for his well being, his parents (my sister and brother in law) brought him to his pediatrician, who, after hearing their concerns and some description from my nephew, had this strong message for them– “don’t’ you DARE let these bullies stomp that bright light out from inside this child. Go to the school, fight for more supervision, transfer districts if you have to…but do NOT let them take away his light”. As for my niece, with her mother and step-father’s support, she was able to make a very grown up decision to cut some negative peer influences out of her life and find some truer friends, and from there slowly make her way out from underneath some darkness that had surrounded her. My nephew and niece are lucky. They have mothers and fathers that love them and have instilled in them so many of their own good qualities, qualities passed down by our parents, that I’m confident they’ll find their path. My sisters will protect their babies like all good mama lions would, but I know aside from that fierce protective nature they’ve already given them the strength of character and the strong sense of family that they will need to see them through whatever difficult or trying days they might face ahead. But one thing that these two, and in fact my other niece and nephewall share in common, the one thing that makes them all so very precious, is how sensitive they are to their surroundings, how deeply – how BIG – they feel things in this world. But instead of being celebrated, this sensitive nature will likely something they’ll need to learn – to be expected -to somehow overcome.

 

I read in horror and dismay the fate of Amanda Todd, a 15 year old girl from British Columbia who committed suicide days ago after years of struggling with cyber bullying. Years earlier Amanda had made a seemingly harmless but devastating mistake. She flashed a stranger on a webcam, a stranger who took that image and used it in an attempt to exploit her, and when this exploitation proved unsuccessful in gaining what he wanted, he released the image, posting it online and forwarding to Amanda’s friends, her family, her neighbours, and her classmates. And so this embarrassing picture became widely distributed, and this girl who made a simple mistake became the subject of scorn and the victim of terrible abuse, until ultimately In an effort to escape her pain she took her own life. And with that news, my mind flashed to the kids under my care, to my family, to my own experiences. Cyber bulling itself seems its own vicious animal, in that at least with physical bullying there are scars and marks and the visible evidence of the abuse, and with it the chance of police involvement and the possibility of charges laid, of justice done. With cyber bullying the abuse is pervasive and ongoing, and it invades the places we should find safest. Words hurt, and the scars and the marks that come from their use cut just as deep. For kids, the warzone isn’t just the classroom or the school yard or the movie theatre or the shopping mall – it’s their living rooms, their bedrooms, the very sanctuary that should be their homes. And as a society we have become a group of passive bystanders – we see these daily struggles but do little to stop them, but then later rush in to lend our sympathy and support in the wake of such tragedy, gnashing out teeth and pulling our hair and asking how this could possibly happen. I don’t know Amanda’s circumstances – I don’t know what her family life was like, what her school supports might have been, or what access she might have had to mental health professionals. I do know she moved and changed schools a number of times in an effort to escape her tormentors, so that tells me her parents tried to protect and shelter her, and school administration must have advocated for these “new starts” to happen. I know she was treated for anxiety, so her mental health needs, however seriously considered, must have at least been considered or raised. Certainly she must have suffered with severe depression and debilitating anxiety due to her life circumstances, and being so unwell she may not have been able to see the resources that were there, the options that she had. I am sure her family must be devastated by this turn of events, and her teachers and friends’ grief stricken and shaken in the aftermath of this terrible solitary act. But with all that, I also know that this little girl made the most public cry for help there is, posting a video of herself on YouTube, in grainy black and white, silently flipping through flash cards, telling her sad tragic tale, telling us in her own words that “I have no one. I need someone.” Whoever saw it, whoever acted upon it…whatever was offered, it was not enough. We need to stop acting like bullying is some school yard problem or prank, some rite of passage as we move through those difficult adolescent years. Bullying needs to be taken seriously and treated like the criminal act it is, with consequences and repercussions to match the crime. Whoever this man was who distributed the naked picture that was the catalyst for the sad fate of this young girl needs to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law for distributing what was, in essence, child pornography. The “friends” who now dare to send their sad condolences on the very Facebook page they used as their platform to torment and, in fact, bully this girl to death need to be held accountable, if not possible by law then by their community, by their families, by their schools, and by themselves. We need to stop being passive bystanders and instead become active participants. Be the eye rolling, incredibly irritating parent you swore you’d never be. Be the over protective big brother, the meddling big sister. Constantly check in with the little people in your lives. Watch for any change in behaviour and act upon it swiftly and accordingly, by probing and questioning, and trust your instincts when something appears wrong. Monitor kids online, restrict their access, patrol the sites they surf, and keep their passwords close and safe. Be vigilant, and when they are in need, don’t rush to judgement, simply listen….and then help them to find some solution, some light at the end of the tunnel, some way out. Don’t treat it as some teenage drama; treat it as the life and death situation it might become, that it IS in that moment to them. And conversely, when you see a child acting out in hatred, know that it likely comes from a dark place, and strive to find inside yourself some compassion. We must strive to understand those misguided ones and help them find the support and guidance they need to find a better way of being. Because there IS a better way of being, and they CAN find that way. Remember everyone has a story, and be sure that your story is an example of how best to treat your fellow man, with kindness, compassion, a sense of moral duty, and a strong guiding hand. Bullying feeds on a person’s weakness and insecurity, and from there it fosters and grows. We must stem the tide. Bullying doesn’t just hurt…it kills.

There is NO more precious resource in this world then our children. Remember those little people in your life are always listening, always learning, always watching. Be the role model they need…be THAT person. Show them the way. This was a sad failure of a community, of a school system, of our mental health profession, and of our society as a whole. We need to do better. We need to do so much more.

Please. Take action today. Don’t let another bright light in this world go out far too soon.