Daniela Ginta, The Mindful Writer

Freelance Writer and Photographer, Author of the Mindfulness Blog

Tag: raising kids

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.

Make Safety Part Of Your Outdoor Adventures

To say that winter cannot make up its mind this year would be an understatement. It’s been a weather seesaw of sorts since it first snowed in early November. Cold, snowy, warm, cold, snowy; repeat, or not.

There’s lots of shoveling to be done, but beauty to delight in too. If you drive out of town for snowshoeing, skiing, or hiking, the rewards are more than worth the effort, more so on a sunny day when snow-clad trees push against a sky so blue it takes your breath away.

Every year in winter, our family aims for at least one overnight hike, where we each carry our sleeping bags and sleeping pads, and use a sled for all the other supplies. It’s a good workout plodding through snow, but most of all, it is yet another opportunity to learn about nature and why playing it safe always make fun better.

From deciding on the time we start on the trail to the estimated time of arrival (ideally before dark, so we have time to set up and get everyone warm,) to deciding how much stuff we take and whether we have what we need in case we get stuck somewhere, to letting people know that we’re heading into the wilderness, and assessing weather but knowing that it can change without notice, it’s all there.

When we go to one of the now frozen lakes around Kamloops, the questions revolve around that: could we fall in? How long till you get hypothermia? Then, there is the conversation about avalanches, which has been on the news lately, as it is every year.

There is a low likelihood of avalanches where we take the boys, but not knowing the way very well or hiking too late in the day could still get one in serious trouble. These conversations are never about inducing fear of exploring. On the contrary. Healthy fear encourages learning more and preparing better, and knowing when to hold back when necessary.

We live in a time when the access to information about backcountry is but a click away, and there are countless stores in town and online selling equipment. Unfortunately, that is not enough. Somehow, more people find themselves in dire straits in the great outdoors.

The stats from all the search and rescue organizations in British Columbia show a worrying trend. The number of calls has increased over the years, and most organizations had a record number of rescue missions. In 2017, the Kamloops Search and Rescue (KSAR) volunteers were called on 49 searches (a 32 percent increase from 2016) with over 3,500 hours they put in (more than double compared to previous year.)

Particularly worrisome is that this trend is seen all across the province. The increase from last year seems to hover at 30 to 40 percent. To note: the searches are all conducted by volunteers and the organizations rely on donations, but without soliciting by phone. That’s a lot of heart right there, and willingness to help, considering that sometimes the volunteers’ lives are at risk. Especially commendable is not losing faith after discovering yet again that some people carry very few or no items that can increase their chances of survival, such as extra clothing, matches, water or food.

While the admiration for the search and volunteers is boundless, the question remains: How come that more people, and not just in one area, but throughout BC (possibly other parts of Canada) are in need of assistance, at a time when there is enough knowledge to make one’s journey as safe as possible through supply, route, risk assessment and overall trip planning?

It is always sad to turn on the radio or read the news only to find out that someone was yet again caught in an avalanche while snowmobiling (which sometimes they caused,) or got lost during a hike, or went out of bounds while skiing, snowboarding. Sadder yet is to hear they lost their lives.

Can we possibly hope that in 2018, the news, warnings, and word-of-mouth will lower the numbers of people who access the backcountry unprepared, no matter the season? Or that people will think twice before putting at risk not just their own lives but also those of the search and rescue volunteers? I would like to believe so.

As for the boundless admiration for all the search and rescue volunteers… Feelings are great, always, but not nearly enough. Everyone should consider helping by donating to the local SAR team (https://www.ksar.ca/donate-help-us-out/) – more so because they do not even entertain the thought of charging people, thinking that some would avoid calling for help.

Another way to help is volunteering, if possible (https://www.ksar.ca/join/). It is on my list of potential volunteering options once the boys are all grown-up. Until then, my husband and I will keep safety as part of the must-haves when our family heads out for adventures in the great outdoors.

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.

The Folly Of Planned Obsolescence

Originally published as a column in NewsKamloops on September 16, 2016.

20160901_201806Every week on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays there is a pile of newspapers which my eldest son delivers to people in the neighborhood.  Size-wise, Tuesdays are ok, Fridays are occasionally daunting and Thursdays are downright scary. The number of flyers is scary. They cover everything you could think of: food, clothing, cars and trucks, lottery, toys, appliances, furniture and much more.

20160907_135715My son aptly remarked that many people only want their Thursday paper because of the flyers. There’s an inch or so that he lugs around with each paper on his routes. It adds up. But every week that many? How much new stuff can there be on sale every week?

A while back someone shared a few stories of entire sets of furniture and all related being taken to the dump due to remodeling or after inheriting an old house with out-of-style-everything inside. I wrote on more than one occasion about thrift stores bursting at the seams with so much stuff, not to mention the merchandise that gets sent to the landfill because it is not saleable anymore.

Still, sales advertised in weekly flyers promise more and more at low prices. A basic scientific principle dictates that matter gets transformed into something else but never disappears. That we have seen it with objects around us is an understatement.

Garbage in landfills and oceans increases by the day and we put it there. The promise of new and better beats fixing the old and reusing or repurposing all that you can. Holidays have been enhanced out of proportion to make room for more saleable stuff most of us won’t even consider buying. That is not the issue though. Whether anyone buys it or not, it is on the shelves and when the season ends, it becomes garbage.

Yes, Halloween is coming with plastic carved pumpkins at a mere $23 when the fun of carving a compostable local one comes with a lower price and loads of fun. Styrofoam cadaveric heads? Let’s not even go there. From an environmental perspective, Styrofoam is evil whichever way it comes to co-exist and unfortunately outlive all of us. Because it will.

You see, I grew up in a most idyllic way that I came to appreciate even more so recently since attempting to provide my sons with a similar one. Across the street from our house lived an old Hungarian guy who fixed shoes. I don’t know if he had ever been a cobbler, all I know is that from the time I can remember he fixed shoes, lots of them and my parents always said he did an amazing job. The rows and rows of shoes in his workshop stood proof.

The room where he had his workshop was facing the street and I could see him at work all the time from our yard. Whenever I had to drop off or pick up shoes that he fixed I would take some time to sit on a little wooden stool and watch him work. His hands were moving swiftly and expertly and I remember that before starting to work on a shoe he’d always weigh the shoe in and feel it from one end to the other. Then he’d know where to start.

My Dad was keen on taking care of the family shoes. He would regularly polish them and encourage us to keep them clean. It makes for a pleasant appearance, he would say. I liked sitting and watching him apply thin layers of various shoe polish and then use one of his brushes to get a good shine going. Between my Dad’s careful maintenance and the cobbler’s expertise at fixing the soles, shoes lasted quite a while and looked good too.

There were no flyers coming our way so my parents bought things as they needed them and made good use of all that we had. Someone suggested that people who lived through the post-war era like my grandparents likely learned the value of everything and made sure to reuse and repurpose. It may be true, but just as well, many people continued past the war time memories. It made sense to not waste and not reach out for the next one-use that would become obsolete too soon.

I have read about some cell phones being sold with ‘planned obsolescence’. Ironically, that matches our rather ephemeral human existence and even more ironically (yes with a hint of conspiracy theory if you will) big companies are planning both.

The concept of lifetime warranty (sounding more cheerful than ‘cradle to grave’) is what’s becoming obsolete. It shouldn’t. Approximately 20 percent of the national methane emissions rise from our landfills. Landfills already occupy a lot of space and the materials that fill them are here to stay. Exponential growth laws be gone, it makes no sense that we still reach for the next flyer, ready to buy more and add to the mounds of garbage.

That we made it to this day with a planet that can still sustain our lifestyle (yes, I am referring to the western ways) is thanks to those before us, most of whom took what they needed, when they needed it, because their connection to the communities they lived in and the land they lived off of was strong enough for them to know what road to follow.

What’s the answer then? Perhaps a return to a simpler lifestyle, smaller spaces to fill and better connections with our own selves and our values, and more time spent with our loved ones; fewer things to buy and more time spent out of doors and getting to know the very earth we walk on. Our journey here is a short one if you look at the big picture, so making it worthwhile not based on weekly sales but on what’s actually essential to have – time and connections with people and nature – is a challenge worth pursuing.

Simplicity is where it’s at. And truth is, it doesn’t come with sacrifices but with being liberated.

Yes, We Talk Politics. Here’s Why

We do not watch TV in my family. That leaves us in the dark when a question like ‘Have you seen the last episode of…’ surfaces, but it’s a risk worth taking.

I read the news instead and often times conversations around coffee, tea, and meals, have us talk about the latest in politics. Children included. I’ve always believed that most children if given the chance and without having their minds inundated with useless, mainstream stuff, can have pertinent opinions.

We need that in today’s world more than ever. People taking the time to think, the courage to speak up and engage in conversations that may prove challenging, revealing but are overall necessary for pushing us towards knowing more, knowing better and educating ourselves.

We need our children to grow up knowing that it is not impolite or poor manners to engage in political conversations. It is necessary, because knowing what goes on in the political world can just make the world as a whole better. Simply because sooner or later that knowledge applies to voting, a tool that (should) shape the democratic world.

When a child is passionate about nature, for example, specifically the ocean, and tries to understand why people overfish and pollute the oceans which endangers us all ultimately, it is hard to come up with a good enough explanation.

That politics is intimately tied with that too is unfortunately true. Much like trawling, there is a whole lot of stuff that politics drags behind in terms of connections with industries or large companies that work for profit, no matter what’s at risk. That of course puts the politician in a sensitive spot where he has to watch out for the interests of the people, their well-being, that of the world around them, and yes, all of that should be done independent of big money.

Can a child understand that? Can they understand that though it seems Lilliputian in size, our freedom to make choices, from the businesses we support to supply our daily meals to the other utilitarian products provided by big companies, is a very important democratic muscle that grows bigger and stronger the more we use it.

At the risk of sounding overoptimistic, I will say children do somehow understand that or are capable to do so if we take the time to explain that to them. And we should. It’s the world they will inherit so it makes sense that they should have a say in how things are run.

A Canadian company is aiming to start deep sea mining sometimes in early 2017. That’s a lot of drilling and disturbing of worlds we have yet to learn of fully. That there are still species unknown to humans in those depths, that our very lives depend on the intricate mesh that marine life is, should be reason enough to give any company some pause for thinking and reconsidering. When our children grow and have jobs and funds that can be invested, they should know better than to buy stocks that chip away at the world they live in. It takes saying it out loud for them to learn.

Politics can teach a lot about ethics, or lack thereof. That politics is one of the least gracious of all the good conversation sisters is true. Yet imagine what the world would be like if most people save for those in positions of power, would engage in polite, often meaningless chit-chat, and no one would ever remark on indignities, unfairness and downright abuse of power.

We do not even need to cross the border to get close to some of that. As CBC recently revealed, a Canadian company sold armoured vehicles to both war-torn Libya and South Sudan. In both cases, the ethical and humanitarian implications are painful to discuss albeit important to do so. Sure these trades cannot reflect Canadian values. We are after all known for apologizing when someone steps on our foot; we are the kind nature-lovers with a postcard-worthy country and an appetite for wilderness discovery. We’re kind and helpful towards people who are in dire straits (see the case of recently relocated Syrian refugees).

There is enough news and information flying every which way to make this serious and saddening offense towards humanity disappear with no one wiser on whether the company stopped its death-causing trades or if anyone was sanctioned for what could almost pass as criminal acts. There’s been enough cases of ‘forgiveness’.

It is true that there is not enough time in a day to read about all that deserves attention. Canadian politics alone, local and country-wide, is enough to make your head spin. Add to that the heartbreaking events unfolding in Syria at the moment as millions of people are in need of water under sweltering heat and amidst daily bombings. South Sudan with its millions of displaced, famished people too. Millions of African farmers punished severely by climate change.

Yet if enough people talk politics, each bringing some pieces to the big conversation about the world, we might just realize that we know more and better simply because someone took the time to inform themselves, and decided to share it with others. To ask questions, to make us think, to make us do our part as much as we can.

It is by all means easy (not on our conscience) to stick to our summer fun that might or might not include water which we have free access to (imagine the complete opposite), to happy conversations and good things happening in the world, because really, there are many. But we ought to be fair and impartial and give enough attention to issues that can raise eyebrows or make people uncomfortable. After all personal comfort should come second to human suffering, environmental destruction or any other issues where violation of what is humane, ethical and respectful is evident.

So go ahead, talk about Trump and his undignified approach to politics, talk about mines and the site C dam, about pipelines and wars unfolding far away. Allow your children to pipe in and voice their opinion. It’s their world too. We may be personally attached to one issue or another and become reactive when another brings it up (case in point: mines and pipelines). Yet healthy debates can lead to exactly what benefits both sides: consideration and respect for people and the environment. Ethics. It’s possible to have it good in many ways, much better than we do, if we stand up, listen, speak our mind and respectfully learn and educate at the same time. It’s a win-win.

So yes, we talk politics. Now you know why.

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