Daniela Ginta, The Mindful Writer

Freelance Writer and Photographer, Author of the Mindfulness Blog

Tag: parenting Page 2 of 13

Weekly Column: Staying Connected Can Help Us Turn The Tide

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, September 24, 2018. 

I had been at the Old Courthouse for many art exhibits and for a wedding once too. There is an air of sobriety that attaches itself to you as soon as you step inside, no matter the event: the dark wood panels and large windows, the old staircase that creaks softly as you make your way up, the echoes of people’s voices.

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Weekly Column: Our Teenagers Are Vaping Away At The Cost Of Their Health

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops on September 17, 2018 and also published at www.danielaginta.com

On August 30, 2018, the San Francisco-based company Juul Labs Inc. announced its arrival to Canada. Their products will be available for sale starting this month. The Juul memory stick-like vaporizers contain nicotine in variable amounts, as high as 59 micrograms per milliliter of liquid. The amount of nicotine contained in a pod could be as high to two packs of cigarettes, according to one source. The nicotine salts deliver a head rush like no other, users say. Plus, it’s slick and easy to conceal.

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Do We Need To Redefine Adolescence?

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on January 22, 2018. 

When I was 12 or so, I became aware that some elderly people around me, relatives or not, had been married or were forced by various life circumstances to become an ‘adult’ early on, at the age of say 16 or slightly older, but under 20. There were a few stories of people whose fathers died suddenly, which meant that the eldest in the family had to work a lot harder to compensate for the loss.

I kept asking my mom about how someone just a couple of years older than me could know enough to take care of a home, or a family. Her answer was that they likely didn’t, but learned as they went along. It made sense then as it does now. Being around my parents during the times I was not at school, or doing my homework, playing, or reading, I got to learn so much just by spending time with them, watching them do things, asking questions, or being given various tasks.

It takes being there and being present, and having the awareness of time spent that way, something I often wonder about regarding our children and more so, our teenagers, nowadays. We cannot make up our minds on whether they are growing up too fast or if they need some extra time allocated to mature and leave the nest.

Throughout the last decade, there have been many books written about the teenage brain and its mysterious ways. The library of knowledge is growing, yet here we are still scratching our heads and wondering if we understand our teens as much as we thought we did.

As of last week, another stick was thrown in a parent’s rather shoddy (at times) wheel. In an op-ed piece published in the journal Lancet Child & Adolescent Health Journal, Professor Susan Sawyer, Director of the Centre for Adolescent Health in Melbourne, argues that we ought to rethink the definition of adolescence and redefine existing age brackets as to include all our young ones between 10 and 24 years of age. One of the reasons, she says, is that young people do things such as leaving home, gaining financial independence, and starting a family, a lot later than they used to.

One wonders whether calling a 24-year-old a teenager will solve all those issues. If back in the day kids often had no choice but to grow up fast and fill whatever size shoes life threw at them, nowadays most of them (on this side of the world, anyway,) have the luxury of not worrying too much about providing for their families and instead indulging a lot more in what is generally known as ‘chilling’. On the other hand, a ludicrous minimum wage coupled with education-related high debt can lock young people into living with their parents past the age of 20.

There are, indeed, many facets to having teenagers transition from living with their parents to being financially-independent, and affordable secondary education, and a decent minimum wage can make the process a lot smoother without having to expand the teenage years past the actual ‘-teen’ numbers.

Allowing one to not have any responsibilities has never been a recipe for developing resilience or a dependable character, nor has excusing one’s questionable behaviour or downright defending it. The latter has been increasing over the years, according to many teachers who have had to deal not only with their students’ challenging behaviour, but also with the parents’ resentment over their children being disciplined.

Some of the conclusions streaming out of the neuroscience labs point to the teenage years as essential for brain development (as opposed to just early childhood.) Some scientists concluded that activities involving learning (reading, being involved in various tasks that involve both brain power and hands-on projects) help increase teenagers IQ during the ages of 12 and 16.

On the other hand, a substantial body of research points to the teenage brain being easily highjacked by addictive activities such as gaming, drinking, smoking, or using recreational drugs such as pot, all of which can reduce their ability to perform at their highest potential. In other words, they are vulnerable. Not in a ‘let’s bubble-wrap them’, but in a ‘let’s provide what they need such as a listening ear, time spent together, dialogue, and not least, boundaries.’

It’s the age of digital tech connectivity and life in the fast lane; fewer and fewer families sit down for meals together, or spend enough time with each other to truly stay connected. While defining life stages and pouring over books discussing behaviour and arguing for this or that is great and a good conversation tool, truth is, what we most need, to know, understand, and connect with our growing children, is time. Also, if we want to be able to count on our teenagers to be dependable and trustworthy, we must provide them with good examples to follow, solid boundaries and enough opportunities to learn to grow.

It may not be the definition from outside bodies that counts the most, but rather empowering our teenagers to see themselves from inside as capable to raise up to challenges, instead of letting their spirit succumb to immaturity, a narrative we are collectively suggesting to them, albeit with the best of intentions.

The Simplicity Files: Christmas Is Better With Books

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, December 18, 2017.

Following a friend’s recommendation and because Thursday evening was a commitment-free day for the entire family, we went to see one of the movies at the Paramount theatre, ‘The man who invented Christmas.’ I did not know exactly what to expect, but because my friend warmly encouraged me to see it, I trusted that it will not contain much of the usual syrupy type of seasonal fare, as I do not care much for that.

The theatre hall was almost empty, but it made no difference. There was much to be charmed about in the visual story unfolding on the screen: the mystery and cruel roughness of times past, friendship and family values, justice, and not in the least, the struggle and beauty of creating a book. In this case, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

The book was to be not sappy, but uplifting and humbling at once. It was supposed to give you reason to see beyond the ordinary. Well, it does, and the movie did too. When the movie ended, we lingered in our seats a while longer. Our little guy had a sweet mysterious smile plastered to his face; his brother’s eyes were smiling too. The movie had none of the present-day fare; no speedy cars jumping over bridges, no product placement and no consumerism overload. It had so much more.

It was a declaration of love for books. How ironic, the cynics among us will say given that it was still a movie. Yes, but its substance thick and meaningful rather than gossamer-like and unable to hold past the doors of the theatre, which is the case with many of the fluffy productions nowadays.

We need to be reminded of books and their ability to have us spellbound. We need everyone to wish for a book come Christmas time, no matter the age. We are told that good parenting comes with lots of reading. If we are to instill a love for books in our little ones, we ought to read to them. I’d say this is but a paragraph of a larger thesis: If we are to build a good life, we must put books in it, and reading. Lots of it.

One can argue that like much else, there is an abundance of books already. True. Walk into a bookstore and you’ll be overwhelmed. Some are better than others, and it is true that some subjects are strange rabbit holes indeed. Then again, taste is a finicky beast. What a luxury though, to be able to read… What a privilege that reveals itself through reading and has the capacity to reveal so much more and thus take us to where we can see far enough to make our collective life better.

Such is the magic that books bring about. The kind of world they build inside our minds and the kind of impression they leave upon our hearts cannot be matched by anything else. They provide a place where you find your deepest sorrows resonating with others’; and you find yourself connected and you find inspiration. The same books speak differently to different people and words burrow differently into our thoughts, but they are ultimately reminders of the most basic and pure humane features we all carry around.

I know stores abound with things to buy, and the Christmas music make us move slower through the aisles and pick up one more item that seems to be the perfect match for that person in our life… Loud and colorful advertising transforms our desire to save some of our hard-earned money into pure mush. It is but once a year, we say. But is it? One after another, they lead to the sad remark the cashier at London Drugs made a couple of days ago as she was ringing the many garlands for the lady in front of me. ‘These are so nice, but I don’t like Christmas anymore. When all is done, I’ll be broke again for the next three months…’

Truly a place that was never intended for any of us to be in. Buying beyond our power, even when the gifts are intended for our loved ones. Fewer things and more presence, wouldn’t that be a better way to celebrate for all? The fewer things can maybe contain a book or two. They do not even have to be new. A book never loses its lustre even when its pages get old.

There are still a few used bookstores around in Kamloops that have mountains of books of all kinds. Tomes of magic that never deliver less than expected. Magic like the kind found in books you will snuggle to read on a snowy day (yes, we’re all hoping for a white Christmas,) magic that lights up your children’s eyes as you turn the page following yet another adventure in a read-aloud-together kind of book.

We can run towards books when in search of joy, or quiet, or solace from life unfolding too fast or too cruel at times. The stories they hold within give us hope, make us search for better ways in life, or inspire us to think and see beyond limitations. They challenge us, and they give us freedom. They deliver us from the daily grind, and give us permission to reinvent the way we experience and give joy.

Here’s to hoping you’ll make them part of your holidays.

Merry Christmas!

On Motherhood; An Essay

To my Mom, on her birthday. She was there, every day, wearing her beautiful coat with grace…

Motherhood has no manual. Which is why snuggling next to your little ones and reading say, Charlie and the chocolate factory, on a grey subdued Monday late morning is the thing to do.

‘Can we nibble on some chocolate while we read,’ lil’ boy asks, a sweet mischievous smile pinching the corner of his eye.

Sure can. I used to eat slices of bread layered thick with butter while reading Heidi (by Johanna Spyri). I was about lil’ boy’s age, 11 or so. Reading and munching on whatever Heidi was munching on felt as if a giant hand deposited me right in the middle of the alpine meadow among Heidi’s goats, staring into a crimson sunset that had the divine power to put your heart in the right place for years to come. A well-placed lesson in magic if you will, which lil’ boy reminded me of by asking to nibble on chocolate while reading.

Two pieces of dark chocolate each, we dove under the yellow wool blanket, losing ourselves in Roald Dahl’s unique and clever writing; contorted, invented words painting word pictures weird and fantastic. We let the drizzle of synonyms peppered throughout the text to roll off the tongue, laughing ourselves silly and reading the sequence again and again until curiosity calls for the next paragraph to be read.

We read, eating chocolate and forgoing lunch; snuggles and chocolate for lunch, I rewrite the rules.

Motherhood has no rules really, except for one, perhaps. Be present.

The books you read when you sit with the new baby in your arms much like you do with a cookbook once you already have the meal half-cooked, trying to figure out the next steps… well, those are parenting books. Motherhood is a texture like no other, thick and see-through at the same time, fuzzy warm one moment and frosty the next, because life’s magic wand amplifies everything a thousand times when you become a mother. Or so it feels, possibly due to lack of sleep and magnified emotions, but the jury is still out on that.

Though motherhood, mind you, does not happen at the birth of your baby, but at a few pit stops down the road. It happens when you lay in the dark next to your barely asleep babe, wonder and gratefulness filling you to the brim, when worries creep in nonetheless, because somehow though all is nice and quiet and that little hand is curled around your pinky for comfort, which you know you have plenty to offer, worry is the weed that your fertile heart soil keeps on nursing to life as much as it does affection.  It happens when you hug your growing child, when you make him a cup of coffee and you sip it together talking about life in the fast lane, which sounds exhilarating to him and scary to you. Sip, smile, sip. Motherhood lives in a cup of early morning coffee too.

Motherhood swells inside like a high tide when you allow your children to remind you of sweetness and soft presence when your rough edges dig too deep into their being and yours. It shapes you as you snuggle close, so your heart can hear theirs. Motherhood is what happens when you pack emotions and vulnerability and rawness in what seems to be the most fragile space of all: you, your heart and whole being.

You wade through tough times by holding small hands in yours, stickiness notwithstanding, relishing the trust and the reality of being inundated with much more love than you ever thought you’re worthy of. Humbling.

Can you still be loved just the same when you’re turned inside out and raw as can be? Can you you’re your children just the same when they show the raw sides?

Motherhood is not being given to us so that we can excel at being gracious. It’s a ‘come as you are but be willing to grow after you pick yourself up (again)’ kind of deal. You get a fair shot at learning balance and finding your way in the dark, stubbed toes and all. What’s left to do? Dust your heart regularly and show up every day, vulnerabilities and all. Come as you are but willing to grow.

As for rules, it’s up to each of us. We write them when we lay reading under warm blankets with our wee ones, snuggled closely, so our hearts touch theirs. When we finally understand that humbleness, love and fierceness can live together in harmony, much like those art projects your little one kept adding to because ‘look, Mom, there are so many colours and shapes.’ So it is, motherhood bestows colours and shapes and they are all thrown on thick cardboard, glue oozing from under bits of paper until everything is sticky and memorable and ready to occupy space on your fridge door.

And one day, many years later, your wee ones will be grownups and realizing it was all true. All that magic, all that fuzzy warm stickiness. All that rawness and love squeezed into the most fragile yet most resilient package of all. You, as a mother, wearing a coat you adjust daily until it fits. And it will.

No Apple Is Imperfect

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops Monday, December 3, 2017.

The word imperfect on the bag of apples caught my eye. I grew up picking apples off the few apple trees in my family’s garden, but I could not describe to you what a perfect apple looks like. Or an imperfect one for that matter. To be fair, the concept of ‘imperfect’ apples being now on the shelves, at a smaller price too, and thus helping reduce the food waste our society is so guilty of, is not a bad thing at all, but this is a two-edged sword if there ever was one.

The perfect/imperfect classification – how did we get here? To have our fruit and produce measured, and whatever does not fit the standard discarded for other uses (hopefully) or written off as garbage – how can we possibly explain that way of classifying our food without finding the whole matter ridiculous.

Truly, the word perfect is a silly one. No one human being is perfect, no life form of any kind is perfect, not even a circle that seems perfect is in fact perfect. Really, there is no perfect circle in our entire universe and the reason is delightful from a scientific perspective: you’d have to dive to the deepest possible level, at the levels of atoms, and hopefully align them, in a quest to produce a ‘perfect’ circle. Not hard to see why it can’t be.

Truly, life is not perfect. Aiming for excellence in our professional lives, taking care to do our jobs well and with consideration to all aspects of the matters concerned, no matter how big or small the job, that has nothing to do with perfection.

Why would we then expect or let’s say tolerate the very concept when it comes to our food. More so when the concept is applied to what nature delivers.

Given such high standards, one would expect that the food offering in grocery stores would be of excellent quality. Alas, that is not the case. Instead, we are seeing bacteria tainted veggies and meat products which prompts recalls but also sees people hospitalized and even clinging to life as some of the bacteria can have deadly effects. We are confronted with the reality of inhumane conditions farm animals are raised for meat, and we have yet to see that change.

Every now and then undercover footage of industrially-raised meat reaches the media and/or social media, pointing to more than imperfect living conditions which ultimately means less than imperfect meat quality reaching our table.

We are seeing questionable origin and quality seafood, produced abroad or here in our own province. Every now and then, environmental activists bring uncontestable visual evidence such as deformed fish found among the farmed Atlantic salmon on the coast (I wrote a column on the topic), which the industry argues are not the ones that end up on our plates.

They might or might not, but this kind of information signals nonetheless the fact that the hundred-plus fish farms found in the coastal waters of BC need a make-over due to the mounting evidence pointing to the impact they have on wild fish stocks (also see the recent scandal of the piscine reovirus infested fish blood released from processing plants into the coastal waters) at a time when climate change is also affecting their returns.

Perfection is hardly the word that comes to mind when putting together such narrative. Which perhaps points to the fact that we should drop it altogether, allowing our food supply to honour both the growing process and the people behind it, as well as the consumer. In allowing for the ‘imperfect’ food to reach public consciousness we open the door towards being grateful rather than critical of how nature offers itself to us through the seasonal bounty, and by understanding it as such we do better in all areas of food production.

Imagine raising our children with the awareness of the intricacy of natural processes through which we get our food and a conscience that opposes violations of any kind, such as the use of potentially toxic chemicals and unethical practices. Expecting perfection puts unhealthy pressure on growers and delivers unhealthy results to us, the consumer. Cutting corners and applying questionable methods that cannot be tested by independent observers, neither is the recipe for sustainable health and future. Which we need.

We Are All Guardians Of Our Breathing Space

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on November 13, 2017. 

If you hike to the top of Peterson Creek Park on any given day, more so on a cold one, you’ll see a blanket of yellowish, dirty air draped over the valley.

This is not new or unexpected. The surface inversion well-known to these parts increases the effects of air pollution. Whatever is released into that cold air trapped close to the surface, be it vehicle exhaust, mill emissions, or wood smoke, it all stagnates and makes our breathing air a lot worse than it should be.

There is no clear answer as to what is in the yellow plume. Winter smog is a terrible beast made worse by inversion phenomena, but knowing what we breathe in would be good. You can’t fix something if you don’t know where to start or how complex the issue.

It would be nice to know how much each polluting source adds to that yellowish layer. There is no heads-up information about mill emissions or slash pile burning. That affects some people more than others. It is unsettling to be exposed to air pollution by various industries in or around town, and not know when that will happen. Of course, when it does, people notice, but there is something to be said about habituation. Except that in case of our breathing air, it is not in our benefit at all to accept it as is.

On top of notifications about mill emissions and slash burning, there should be information sessions on how air quality is made worse by the inversion and a low venting index. If psychologically it is easy to shrug off the memory of many socked-in days when a better day comes along, and the valley air looks clean, our bodies react differently, as the perilous effects on health are compounded.

Air pollution is a real enemy to human health, and an increasing body of scientific evidence points to it. Short- and long-term effects of air pollution are real and, for the latter, deadly in many cases. The reluctance to recognize them as such have to do, I am willing to say, with the invisible nature of this threat. Should dirty water pour out of out taps, few if any would want to drink it. The air we breathe should be no different. It is true that industrial pollution accounts for much of the bad air in town. But some of the dirty yellow plume is caused by residential activity, be it driving or wood burning.

City traffic has been increasing over the years and that means an increased volume of exhaust gases. Adding to that is the unnecessary idling. There is no need to idle cars for more than 30 seconds on a cold day. Nor is idling while stopping to chat, or while running into a store for some quick shopping, or to keep warm while waiting. Just more toxic gases.

As for wood smoke, whether from residential use or slash pile burning (an environmentally unsound and health-costly solution for all the logging leftovers,) it tends to linger for a long time, which is exactly why in areas where inversion is present wood burning should be reconsidered. A recent study by a team at McGill University concluded that wood smoke increases the risk of heart attack in people over 65 by 19 percent. Residential wood heat accounts for 15 percent of PM2.5 in British Columbia, likely higher in areas like Kamloops where inversion is present.

Wood smoke is a mix of approximately 200 compounds, including particulate matter of various sizes, powerful cancer-causing and mutagenic agents. When it comes to particulate matter, the smaller it is, the deeper in the cells of respiratory tract they get. Not exactly what we want to have in our immediate environment for months at a time. As always, children and unborn babies are at highest risk due to their developing bodies. As for the elderly and those who with chronic respiratory diseases, life becomes a few times more dangerous just by breathing, and the constant irritation of the respiratory tract makes them prone to longer and more debilitating seasonal infections.

Interior Health recommends that wood burning should be done on those days when the venting index is good, which is close to 100. On a regular ‘socked-in’ day, the said index is a mere 10, which is classified as poor. Venting indexes can be found at http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/epd/epdpa/venting/venting.html. It’s an eye-opener for sure, along with air monitors present around town (www.purpleair.com.) Tomorrow is forecasted to have a good venting index, by the way.

I know I am not the only one wondering about this. And I know that when there’s a will, a solution, or many, are found. We ought to find the will to reconsider the way we think about our air, and we ought to change our habits to help keep our air clean. At the same time, we ought to be able to get the industrial polluters to realize that pushing potentially harmful gases and particulate matter into our breathing space is no longer an option. Accountability is not a volatile concept.

Summers will be smokier, we are told. If some of that will be unavoidable, long-term exposure during other seasons can and should be avoided for all the right reasons. The most important one being that nothing matters if breathing is impacted.

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