A Few Charms (Banner)

A Few Charms (Banner)

Thursday, 1 June 2017

It's 10 PM - do you know where your children are?

In the last week of April, the headline in the local newspaper said there were 28 opioid overdoses just in the previous week. We have been receiving emails about this from our kids' high schools. The public health department and police services have been issuing warnings to the general public (see the flyers at bottom of this post). Teenagers are dying from accidental drug overdoses. It's one of the worst things you can imagine happening to your child. But how do you prevent it?

At the end of December, the news reported that another teenager from Kanata (one of Ottawa's suburbs) was found - by her parents - dead on her bathroom floor. Her parents soon learned that she'd been using drugs for six months. The authorities suspected that she had overdosed on the counterfeit drugs found in her purse, specifically Percocet painkillers, laced with fentanyl, a potent opioid about 100 times more powerful than morphine. Then there were two more fatal overdoses in Kanata in February.

Before those February deaths were even in the news, my son said everyone in his school was wearing green to school in memory of a student who had died from a drug overdose the previous day. It was all over social media #greenforchloe. We later found out her name was Chloe Kotval (you can read the newspaper article). She was just 14-years-old. The students at All Saints, Kotval's high school in Kanata, as well as high schools across the city, responded by wearing green, not because the pills are referred to as "greenies," but because it was Kotval’s favourite colour.

"These Percs have destroyed Kanata" Listen to a teen tell his story of being addicted to deadly counterfeit drugs.

It wasn't long after these tragic events that I heard my daughter's best friend Saskia say, "There's a party in Kanata tonight." Saskia now lives in that west-end suburb of Kanata. And all I could think was how grateful I felt that my daughter - and her best friend - were spending their Saturday evening gathered around our dining room table, with friends, playing board games - instead of at that party in Kanata.

And it's made me realize that this was one of the best parenting decisions we've ever made: we have opened our home to our teenagers' friends every Saturday night.

Like most parents, we have spoken to our kids about the dangers of doing drugs. But the experts say families must also consider the wider picture. Teens who have strong family attachments and community ties, who connect at school, have strong, positive friendships, social skills and religious or spiritual beliefs may be less likely to experiment with drugs, says Health Canada.

But there's this insidious problem facing our teens. Their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls decision-making, is not fully developed until they are well into their 20's. This makes them prone to the urge to engage in high-risk behaviours, combined with a sense of invulnerability. In the case of teens experimenting with drugs, just a little mistake can have drastic and long-lasting consequences.

"I thought I was invincible" Read about a teen opioid addict, fresh out of jail, who's goal is to help prevent this in other middle-school kids: "these dangerous drugs aren't being consumed in dark alleys, but inside homes in the sleepy suburbs."

I like to think that I was an involved parent when our kids were in Elementary School - volunteering in the classroom, reading to kindergarteners, helping with math, setting up for special events, and participating in parent's council. Mike and I even ran a family/parenting program. But it gets harder to stay connected as the kids get older.

In the Spring of their grade 6 year I enrolled my kids, and a group of their friends, in a program at the local Y. They all came to our house after school and I fed them a healthy snack. Then we took the bus together downtown. Part of the idea was to get them ready for more independence once they were in middle school, as well as learn how to behave on the bus and in the neighbourhood, and find an activity they could do after school that wasn't hanging out at the mall - or on the street corner. The unexpected bonus was that I felt like I got to know the kids much better. I felt "in the loop" and witnessed behaviours and conversations that I would not otherwise have been privy to. This all got me thinking that I wanted to find a way to stay involved as the kids got into the higher grades.

How teenagers now spend their time after dinner; 5 kids, 5 iPhones
All electronics go away when it's time to play board games!
When our twins were 12-years-old and started middle school, it was simply not cool for mom to walk you to school. I really missed visiting with other parents in the school yard, chatting with the teachers, getting to know my kids' friends, and seeing what was happening in the school. Since I couldn't see them at school we decided we would bring the friends and families to us. If the kids are going to "hang out" with their friends, let's have them do it at our house. (I wasn't allowed to call them "play dates" any more.) Thus was born "Games Night at the Hayden's Unplugged" - friends, families, and games, but no electronics.
Of course in my perfectionist mind, before we could invite people over for Games Night, I had to finish all the decorating, hide the piles of paper, plan and prepare delicious snacks and treats, and make the house "spic-and-span." Then, my ever-brilliant daughter Taylor said, "Can't we just invite our friends?" So *deep breath* I let go of all that planning and decided to just start!

For our first "Games Night," Mitchell's then-best-friend Elliot and his father Alan came over. They brought chips and we played an exciting card game of "Cheat," and then a very raucous game of "Pictionary." It was a huge success, and I earned this little silver dice charm for my "True Colours" bracelet. And now Saturday nights are reserved for Games Night.

Zombies, The Game of Life, and Pictionary
We still tell a story from that first Games Night. We were in teams of three, playing Pictionary, and both teams were illustrating the same thing (called an "All Play"). Whichever team guessed first would win the turn. Mitchell's team guessed first and Alan gave them the win. But he discreetly showed me what the card had said. Mitchell's team had successfully guessed "globe" and he'd done a good job drawing the earth and adding a stand to show it was a globe. The problem was, Alan's drawing was completely different, because the actual word, which Mitchell read incorrectly, was "glob" not "globe."

To get a feel for what Games Night is like in our house, check out this video on Facebook, taken when the kids were baking cookies for desert. See if you recognize the song.

This second video, taken when Mike's Mom was visiting, shows how noisy it can get. The caption says it all: "When you have pizza dinner on Games Night and there are teenagers around the table you just might end up talking about Shakespeare's Twelfth Night or singing Christmas carols - in May."

It's a good thing Taylor convinced me that we should just start Games Night, because otherwise it may never have happened. Despite all the work we have done on our Clean Sweep, our dining room seems to be in a perpetual state of disarray. It is the hub of our home, not just for meals and snacks, but also homework and crafts and projects - school and otherwise. And it is here that we gather round the table for meals and Games Night.

Originally we did not expect to feed the guests on Games Night, but dinner always seemed to be late and kids would be arriving before we'd eaten. We used to do homemade pizza but we've discovered that the easiest and cheapest way to feed a crowd (anywhere from 2-10 teenagers) is by making a pot of spaghetti and meatballs. (Don't be too impressed we're just heating up store-bought frozen meatballs). We even offer Caesar salad and garlic cheese bread if we are really organized.

When I was growing up you would always hear this question before the 10 o'clock evening news: "Do you know where your children are?" It was a PSA (Public Service Announcement) on American television, especially in the late 1960's, 70's and 80's. And I'm happy to say that on Saturday nights I do know where my teenaged children are.

YouTube video of The Simpsons
Homer Simpson watching the evening news
"Do you know where your children are?"

Some parents have asked their teens, "Do Mike and Sheila really want kids in their house every week?" And some feel guilty and insist their kid bring desert or something. Most of the guests are from friendships the kids have maintained since middle school. Some now go to the same high schools as Mitchell and Taylor, but others have moved out of the downtown. One night we had kids from five different high schools scattered across the city. Mike usually makes at least one trip to drive kids home - in the neighbourhood or further out to the 'burbs. And Yes, it is alot of work. But Mike and I gladly give that time and effort. We know that it's a very small price to pay for knowing where - and with whom - our kids are "hanging out." It also gives us the chance to get know our kids' friends, boyfriends or girlfriends. And it gives us the chance to discuss such topics as parties and drinking - and drug overdoses!

The dice charm on my "True Colours" bracelet

Related Posts:

Breakfast - the most important meal of the day, for a different reason - a story about the kind of connectedness that comes from family meals, shown to increase school performance and self-esteem, and decrease rates of depression and substance abuse.

Sing. Sing out loud... - a story about one of the best pieces of parenting advice I've ever received, from someone who was not even a parent. This is one of my favourite lessons learned from Taylor.

This Thanksgiving develop an attitude of gratitude - a story about how keeping a Gratitude Journal has had a huge impact on my mental health and why I recommend parents teach this to their children. You can also read how science explains why celebrating "unforgettable moments" with Pandora actually does make you happier.

Do my kids know they are my "treasured hearts"? - a story about my Ah-ha moment - and Oprah's Ah-ha moment - about the message we give our kids and the muranos that help remind me of how important it is.

Photo Gallery of our Family's Favourite Games
(and explanations)

My mother-in-law gives us money every year for Christmas and one of the things we always buy is a new board game, from Grammie. Sometimes Santa even adds a smaller game in the kids' stockings.

We received Anomia for Christmas 2015 and have played it almost every Saturday since. Anomia means "the inability to name objects or to recognize the written or spoken names of objects." This happens when someone has a stroke, but it also happens when you are competing to see who is the first to name something in a category like South American country, type of apple, or toothpaste brand - especially when each of you is naming something different. This game gets loud but is SO much fun!

The 5-Second Rule has nothing to do with how long a piece of food has been on the floor. It is a pretty simple game. There's a timer that makes a silly noise when you turn it over and you only have 5 seconds to list three things in the category on the card. I was very confident one time when asked to "Name three insects." I threw out a rapid-fire "mosquito, house fly and spider plant." Don't ask me why I added the "plant" - it just came out! The kids told me they wouldn't have accepted "spider" anyway because spiders are arachnoids not insects - when did they get so smart? If the first person answers in time they are given the card with the question. If you don't answer in time the next person gets to steal it, the trick being they can not repeat an answer that someone else has used. It goes around the table and if nobody steals it the original guesser gets the card. The person with the most cards at the end wins the game. One time "Name three Julia Roberts movies" went the whole way around the table with nobody being able to list three that hadn't already been named. When the card said, "Name three Tom Hanks movies," we all struggled until one girl said, "Toy Story 1, Toy Story 2, and Toy Story 3." Boo-ya!

Apples to Apples
In Apples to Apples, everyone takes a turn being the judge. The judge picks a green card from the top of the pile and chooses from one of the two words on that card. Then the other players pick a red card from their hand that they think best fits the word on that card. Sometimes it's serious, like when Taylor had the word "courageous" and I submitted the answer "Ann Frank" - everyone said "Whoa." Other times when the judge reads out the answers they are pretty funny or ironic. In this case I had the adjective "Scary" and these were the six submissions (above). Which would you choose?
Flip-a-gram of Telestrations:
"That moment when you hands meet in the popcorn" -
How we went from "holding hands" to "corn soup"

One of our favourite games is Teletrations. It's kind of a cross between Pictionary and the telephone game where you whisper a story in someone's ear, then they tell the next person, and so on. In this case you get a word or phrase and draw a picture of it. The next person, looking only at your picture, guesses what it is, the next person draws what's been written, and so on, til it gets back to you. Then everyone takes turns showing the results, which are usually pretty hilarious!

See if you can guess what these illustrations were supposed to be:
(answers below)




Lots of laughing with this team of girls playing Pictionary
(my daughter Taylor is on the left)

After an evening of Uno my cheeks hurt from laughing so much
(My husband and kids are big fans of The Simpsons)

Answers to Telestrations examples:
A. barn owl
B. rain forest
C. North Pole

Our basement "Before"
See the empty shelves on the far right?

A sneak peek at the basement "After"
The now-organized shelves of board games

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The maple leaf for making memories

You might expect me to have the maple leaf charm because I'm Canadian, or to represent Canada Day which is celebrated in July. But on my bracelet this charm has a special meaning for a special family tradition, in the not-so-special month of March.

March always seems like a very long month, especially in our neck of the woods, where winter typically starts in November and is still going strong in March. While my Facebook friends from around the world were posting beautiful photos of daffodils and cherry blossoms, it was not so beautiful here where the remaining piles of snow were just brown and dirty. In March things here are usually frozen and we inevitably get snow. It is one of the hardest months for me, when it feels like winter will never let up. In a previous post I shared one of my strategies for beating the winter blues. Another thing that helps is looking forward to our annual family vacation during the last week of March - and a tradition that is unique to this part of Canada.

Welcome to the Calabogie Lodge Resort
When we were in our twenties my husband Mike and I bought a timeshare for a week at the end of March at the Calabogie Lodge Resort just west of Ottawa. At the time we envisioned exchanging our timeshare week for other destinations and travelling the world. Now we just travel an hour down the highway and check in at the lodge for a family retreat. It's a week full of activities, movies, games, and lots and lots of laughter.

We first brought our kids to Calabogie when they were just four months old. The kids slept in playpens and my mom slept on the pull-out couch. The kids eventually graduated to the pull-out couch, while Mike and I slept in the bedroom upstairs.

Mike didn't always stay the whole week. Some years he went back to work and stayed in Ottawa. Other years he just drove into the city for his Monday night basketball game. But the kids and I kept ourselves busy. We baked and we did crafts and even science experiments.

We spent lots of time outdoors. When there was snow we went snowshoeing or skiing. We took long walks through the town, exploring along the side of the river, and hiking through the woods.

Spring essentials in Canada:
waterproof splash pants and fleece-lined raincoats
One year Mitchell found a big rock buried on the sandy beach. He spent days patiently digging it out of the sand. He wanted to bring it home but it was too heavy for him to lift so he called Daddy and asked him to bring a hammer and nails from home. He built a box out of firewood, and attached a rope so he could drag it back to our unit.

We swam every day - sometimes twice a day - and played lots of water games. It was always amazing to see how much the kids' swimming improved when they swam every day for a week.

Some years Easter would fall in the last week of March. The kids would have to follow the clues to find a few small gifts left by the Easter bunny. And there would be Cadbury mini chocolate Easter eggs everywhere in our unit - hidden in the most unusual locations. Taylor enjoyed the Easter egg hunt so much that she would ask to have the egg hunt at Calabogie, even if it wasn't Easter. Even though our twins are 15 now, they still love an egg hunt.

our unit is right along the water's edge
When we arrived this year, we were surprised to discover that the spiral staircase in our unit had been replaced (see photos below). The spiral staircase had provided hours of entertainment over the years. When the kids were babies we hung the Jolly Jumper from the stairs. As they got older they would use couch cushions and blankets to build forts under the stairs. Taylor even liked to sit on them to eat her lunch or snacks.

When I asked Mitchell what were his favourite things about our annual vacation at Calabogie, he first mentioned swimming. The second thing was getting to watch the Family Channel. We did not have cable when the kids were younger and they weren't allowed to watch TV during the school week, so watching TV was a special treat for them. We also didn't have video games at home so Mitchell was pretty excited when they installed one in the Games Room at the lodge. In the last few years much of our time has been spent playing in the Games Room with foozball, air hockey and ping pong. And last year Mike taught us all how to play pool.

Taylor victorious on the foozball table
Check out this video (on my Facebook page) of my crazy husband Mike trying to distract Taylor while playing pool. You can also see a video of what I was doing that had Mike literally rolling on the floor laughing at me!

The Spring of 2015 was a difficult time for me. I had just finished six months of intensive schema-focused therapy and was still feeling pretty overwhelmed by emotions. I really had to push myself to focus and get organized and ready to go to Calabogie, so I rewarded myself with the maple leaf charm just for making it happen.

Last year (2016) was the end of an era in our family. The kids started high school (grade 9) and didn't think they should miss a week of school, so they were only at Calabogie for a long weekend; I stayed the rest of the week by myself. With the kids in different high schools, with different friends, and participating in different sports, it's nice to see them having fun together and valuing this family time.

I sometimes feel guilty that we can't afford to travel the world with our kids, but I'm starting to see that these simple pleasures and shared experiences are what builds family strength and lasting memories.

Please take a stroll through the photo gallery below to see photos from our years at Calabogie. You can also watch Mike tell one of my all-time favourite stories about Mitchell - and find out why the maple leaf in particular represents our annual family retreat and a uniquely Canadian Springtime tradition.

Family Photo Gallery

posing with the polar bear in the main lodge
Nana Verna with Mitchell (4 months old)
Daddy with Taylor (4 months old)

pretending to be explorers

Flip-a-gram of Mitchell climbing the rocks (on YouTube)

Flip-a-gram of Taylor climbing the rocks (on YouTube)

colouring the path with sidewalk chalk
ready for rollerblading and road hockey on the tennis courts
hiking and climbing in the woods
feeding the local wildlife
the kids were in charge of making lunches
Mike and I on the couch, when it's not the kids' bed
reading comics on the pull-out couch
Taylor posing on the indoor play structure, aka the spiral staircase
Taylor liked to climb the spiral staircase, on the outside

 YouTube video of Mike telling the story about Mitchell and the spiral staircase.

There is a beach at the resort, and a ski hill across the lake

roasting marshmallows in a bonfire on the beach
exploring at the beach
playing on the play structure at the beach
snowshoeing in the woods

tubing at Calabogie Peaks

downhill skiing at Calabogie Peaks

Our week of vacation always ends with a trip to the "sugar shack." This is an activity unique to this part of the Canada. When the temperature is above the freezing point during the day, but still below freezing at night, the sap starts to flow in sugar maple trees. The aboriginals would hollow out a wooden log, fill it with sap from maple trees and add hot rocks to boil it down to make syrup. These techniques were taught to the early settlers in this region who made use of metal buckets and pots. And because you need to boil the sap as soon as it's harvested they would build a shack right there in the woods - hence the term "sugar shack."

When we go to the sugar shack, we hike the trails, learning how they collect the sap (now with plastic tubing) and reading interpretive signs about wildlife in the sugarbush (groves of sugar maple trees). We learned that 85% of the world's maple syrup is made in Canada, most of it in the province of Quebec just east of our city of Ottawa. Although I didn't grow up going to the sugar shack, it is a common activity with friends and family in this part of the country and a memorable tradition for us. And it certainly is a bright spot in an otherwise dreary month of March.
the old-fashioned way to collect sap with buckets and then boil it down to syrup
being silly in the rustic play fort

pancakes with maple syrup, and a side of bacon or maple sausages
And that's why I have the maple leaf charm on my "Treasured Hearts" bracelet, all about our family.

Related Posts:

Walk this way - in the moment - the very first story on my blog about starting my meditative walks while we were at Calabogie in 2012, not long after I had begun my recovery and started earning Pandora charms - including some more pictures from Calabogie.

Can you see what's there? It's a wonderland! - a story about one of the most important things I do to beat the winter blues and one of my most important affirmations.

Accept where you are and start where you're at - a story about my wake-up call last Spring; now updated with videos embedded from my new YouTube channel.

Do you know what makes you happy? - a story about our favourite adventures and traditions in the Autumn - and the charm that represents it.

A little girl and an egg remind me to celebrate - an Easter story about my daughter and the joy of celebrating the little things.