Daniela Ginta, The Mindful Writer

Freelance Writer and Photographer, Author of the Mindfulness Blog

Tag: children Page 2 of 6

Why Do Pitt Bulls Get More Public Attention Than Abused Children

Initially published as a column in the Armchair Mayor News on Friday, October 7, 2016. 

ProtectSince 2011, at least 233 children between the ages of three and 18 have been subjected to sexual abuse while in foster care. That is in British Columbia alone. The majority of them were girls and more than 60 percent Indigenous. To put it in perspective, approximately 25 percent of the children in foster care in our province are aboriginal.

The report created some ripples on the day it hit the press, but definitely not enough and the ripples also did not carry through the next few days. In other words, it’s not something we talk about and become rightfully shocked by.

In contrast, the Montreal pit bull ban got so much publicity and word of mouth that it reached many corners of this province and the country too. While I will not go into that debate, my contention revolves around what makes us tick as a society. That over two hundred children (many more go unreported) were subjected to sexual violence in Canada in this day and age should make us all stop and question our priorities as a society.

Love or hate pit bulls, the thing is, we talk about it, we have it in the news, petitions are flying (one had approximately 191,000 signatures a week or so ago) and we collectively argue about the ban. There are some pretty strong opinions flying out there if you care to check the news.

For the record, I love dogs. I have one I dearly love, and I do think that dogs deserve to be cared for the right way. But, I am of the belief that every dog owner should be charged or drastically fined should their dog attack anyone and harm them. The money should go straight to shelters to help other animals.

On the other hand, are we being just as vocal about those abused children? A year ago or so I wrote a column about a little girl (age 2) who died while in foster care, bearing many signs of physical abuse. It saddened me then and it still saddens me now. There was a lot of muddling in the case as the foster parents denied being physically abusive and the natural mother who fought hard to get her baby back had a history of mental disease.

B.C. Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux still maintains that the ministry has rigorous standards when choosing foster parents. Outrage? Nah. New measures will be implemented, possibly after paper-pushing, stamping, approving of this and that, and then some more paper-pushing. Meanwhile, children suffer.

It’s hard to believe our most beautiful province has a shameful reputation when it comes to how we take care of children. Not mine or yours most likely, but of those who were born under less lucky stars. The most vulnerable of them all. They drop even lower and the sky above them darkens even more with every day of abuse and mistreatment.

It’s high time we put a stop to that. That in every society throughout time people found themselves at the opposite poles of status, financially or otherwise, is true. But nowadays we are privy to enough information to be able to step up and stop any kind of abuse, to shorten decision-making time when a child’s life depends on it and to make it big news and a subject of conversation until the issue does not longer exist. To paraphrase our PM who is still dragging his feet in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Inquiry, this is 2016. Almost 2017 in fact.

I believe in compassion and second chances, yet there is a fine line we ought not to cross when dealing with children who are subjected to sexual violence of any kind. The problem is, many of these children are scarred for life. Second chances are, in these cases and sadly so, more often for the perpetrators than for the young victims.

When we think of the future we think of children. They are the ones carrying the legacy into tomorrow. The more we allow as a society for a partially rotten legacy to exist, the more troublesome the future we hope for becomes.

A quote I often think of belongs to Nelson Mandela: ‘There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.’ Am I right to assume that our society’s soul is not doing too well at the moment? We can each do something to make it heal by fighting to treat our collective children better and let no harm of the above sort come to them.

Instead of Goodbye I’ll Say This

The thing is you never get to say goodbye the right away or at the right time. There is no such thing. Not when you’re trying to chase growing up kids. It’s like trying to capture that gaze of wonder on their faces just to have the camera be always a second slower than their sudden turn of the head…

Today is Tony’s first day on his first job. Allowance stopped yesterday and childhood is leaving wet footprints all over memory lane. He has a bank account and a card that needs to be activated over the phone and it’s no longer me making the call; he has job responsibilities and yes, a paycheque at the end of the month. The road ahead is real and boys become men as they take one step at a time.

Doubts, celebratory smiles and a barely audible sigh as I watch his childhood cling like a wet leaf to a window only to be swooped by a whirlwind of now before I have a chance to say ‘OK, hold on for just a little longer…’ That’s not how it goes. All I can do is wonder if I did it right so far? Is he ready?

We see the smooth parts in our children and the self-congratulatory music blares victorious, and then we see the sharp bits, more painful to feel and look at and our gaze skids sideways, scrambling for justification of why and how the ugly bits came to be. We ask for a second chance when there is none, we promise to do better starting now and we oscillate between thinking ‘it’s no big deal’ and ‘oh, goodness, how could I do that, I messed up my kid…’

Did I do it right? Is he ready?

This is one of the forks in the road towards becoming the bigger version of himself. He turned 14 not long ago and no, age does nothing to me in dictating the next step and yet now it does. He can have a job. His first.

I drove him to the end of the first block of today’s first route. He steps outside, big canvas bag bursting with papers on his hip. It’s sunny and cloudy and the shreds of doubt can’t hang on strong enough. His gait is brisk and reveals the growing man inside. I park under a big tree at the other end of the block waiting to take him to the next route.

Bittersweet it is and I know the taste. I watch leaves tapping against each other though the mid-morning breeze twirls them all in the same direction. Some resist and that’s where I find my answers. All the scraps of memory behind…

I miss the mornings when the sofa was inundated with books and the two of us would share silly laughter over Dr. Seuss’s tongue twisters and bouncy rhymes. I will miss the rainy walks and his small boots filled to the brim with puddle water, muck and all, baby teeth grinning white and happy as the raindrops licked his little face. The snails that had to be counted every time we passed the wall that now reaches his hips and will never again reach higher than his head, them too…

Would I do things better if I had another go? Nah, it’s a wild game this one. We raise ourselves as we raise our kids, becoming better at simply being, learning that it’s not about asking for second chances or for burying the ungracious flight fragments. It’s about soaring and dropping under skies that turn grey and heavy when you least expect, and it’s about finding your wings as you’re about to hit the ground.

It’s about the whispered prayers that you put out there wondering why God would listen to you since you’ve already broken so many promises, and yet you hope the ones you make today won’t go poof into thin air because you put them together from shards of hope and hope is precious.

The radio fills the car with beautiful music. I make a note to remember the name. Ben Caplan, yet another perfect homegrown voice… It happened before, the right music at the right time. I pretend to read but my mind wonders as I spot Tony in the distance. He walks confidently, the list of delivery addresses in his hand, bag hanging loose as he pulls out the last papers. My heart swells and I know he knows that. He smiles before crossing the street.

I smile back. It’s not about wondering I’d do it better if we were to start again.

It’s about gathering all that I’ve learned since the day I held him for the first time, putting it all in a big pile, throwing some tight hugs for good measure and saying loud and clear ‘There you go, I tried my best, even when I stank and we both sulked and I thought “unfit” should be tattooed on my forehead.’ Love patches the gaping holes that let the cold breeze in. as a mother you’re broken many times and put back together, every time a bit better, every time proudly letting the joined pieces show. A story of sorts.

Love is the big secret. The ups and downs that help build the complicated and necessary geography of the soul that speaks of the deepest pits of grief and of the sparkle that sits on the highest peaks where the sun dances and sings… so I’ll say ‘here you go, you ought to have them both and the in between wonders too. Gratefulness is where it’s at, for having had the chance to build it like this so far… and more’s coming.’

Hanging on is where it’s at. He hops in and we drive to the next route. I sit and wait and when he hops back in he smiles and shows me his hands all black with ink. I fall in love with the miracle of the growing boy’s smile yet again. There’s no point in ever thinking that starting again would help us fare better. It’s sunny and cloudy and there is but one whisper to remember to let out every now and then.

Happy 14, lil’ no longer growing boy, and many more coming. It’s going to be alright. You somehow seem to know how to take yourself there. I’ll be cheering you on, as always, whether the road takes you upwards or downwards. Really, you should know the big secret now: it’s what you make of it, so carry on. Don’t forget to smile.

Love, Mom.

What’s A Child’s Life Worth?

 

Initially published as a column in NewsKamloops on Friday, September 18, 2015. 

SoftnessIt is hard to avoid feeling broken-hearted and also befuddled over many events unfolding lately.  From a refugee crisis growing by the day, both in the number of people suffering but also in the controversy surrounding the political and social implications of various countries accepting them, to news of children being killed in Canada, one cannot help but wonder if the world is really turning topsy-turvy this time.

Humanity is slowly (or not) being buried under its own indignities, some so gross and unforgivable we find it hard to make peace with it, now or ever.

The photo of the little Syrian boy who drowned off the coast of Turkey circled the world many times over, prompting people to step up and demand governments to act to address the awful refugee crisis.

Many wondered about that photo, asking how and why it impacted so many people while other photos of children dying or dead from Syria, Africa or Ukraine, or even here in Canada, have done little but show up on the news and cause a temporary shudder.

The thing is, the photo made people aware of a situation so dire it is baffling it took so long for us all to react the way we did after seeing the lifeless body of a child washed up on a beach.

The EU and the rest of the world are still far from having found viable solutions to lessen the severity of one of the most massive human displacements in history, yet the matter is being discussed and analyzed at length, powered at least partially by the photo.

A little boy lost his life, and that is beyond sad, yet his death and the fact that the world saw it have become the catalyst that will help prevent other children like him from dying needlessly.

Here at home, recent incidents involving very young children should become strong catalysts of change too. In Penticton, a 5-year-old boy was killed by a pickup truck while crossing a busy street (on a crosswalk) with his father and older brother. Not only was he hit by the truck, but the driver kept on driving not realizing what had happened, until he was flagged down by people, and after not hearing the boy’s father yelling at him to stop.

What are we to learn? That some of the trucks on our streets are so big you cannot see a smaller size adult from the driver’s seat, let alone a child? Do we need them so big that they become a menace for pedestrians?

Before we even know what caused the accident (will we ever?) how determined are we to make driving distractions a thing of the past, be them phone or alcohol-caused, how harsh the punishment for both and speeding too, so that we can prevent other people from dying needlessly?

The case of the little girl in Alberta who died an atrocious death at the hands of a monster who first killed her father, is as shocking as it is incomprehensible. As a parent, it is hard not to crumble inside just thinking of the fear and pain that child had to go through before she died.

Will we hold ourselves accountable as a society to do right by her and her father (if a shocking photo is not to be shown) and ensure cold-blooded killers like theirs do not ever get to hurt anyone else ever again? Or will we forget too soon because such shocking things are hard to bring up? Let’s hope not.

We should hug our children once more every night, find more compassion for each other and strengthen the bonds with the people in the community we live in so that we can do all that we can to prevent any other children or adults from being killed in our midst.

Another toddler, just a couple of months younger, was found in Victoria by the RCMP officers that responded to a 911 call. She could not be resuscitated. While the police informed the public that ‘this is an isolated incident and the public is not at risk’, the reality is that we are at risk, very much so, simply because we’re in it together. It’d be shameful if we chose to think otherwise.

We do not know the nature of the injuries that caused the toddler’s death, nor do we know the nature of her mother’s medical distress. We can assume that it was perhaps a case of post-partum depression or psychosis, which is a reality for approximately 8 to 12 per cent of new mothers and should prompt our local and provincial governments to allocate proper resources and funds to help prevent and treat such disorders, as well as other mental disorders that plague our society.

Will the media be diligent enough to inform us later so by knowing the truth we can press for necessary change?

There are then the many cases of children in foster care, some of whom die at the hands of their caregivers (see the case of the 2-year-old girl who, two years ago, was found to have fractures and bruises by the coroner, yet the cause of death was declared unknown), never to be heard of again, their death not able to stand out as a horrible enough event that prompts us to better our ways so that no other children have to die or suffer while in foster care.

Should we fear that if we do not have a visual reminder strong enough to shake us to the core we will just cringe and move on? Using photos of children under such dire circumstances may just look callous and inconsiderate, yet considering the above cases, all of them, and seeing how a photo was enough to make the world wake up and demand action, what should we do about the children who are dying only to be seen and remembered by their loved ones, their sad passing unable to create strong enough ripples to influence obligatory change?

No child is more or less important than another and in failing to prevent the (preventable) death of any, we are not only failing humanity, we are failing ourselves and the values we hold dear at a personal level.

We can argue about the correctness of publishing photos of dead children until we’re blue in the face,  truth is there is a high risk of more children dying of various preventable deaths unless we’re shaken good by a photo so hard to look at that it will never leave us.

Unless, of course, we are reminded of the preciousness of life simply by looking in a child’s eyes and realizing that all it takes is kindness and a made up mind to make good things happen. For them and for us all.

On Earth Day And Further

AliveIt is Earth Day today – officially, that is – and that means many things: that many people actively think about their world today, that they may feel inspired to make changes that will help heal it and keep it alive, that even though Volkswagen Canada pushed some car-related trend to top trend on Twitter (yes, they did), #EarthDay occupies the second spot, not because of money-inflated campaigns but because people make it so. That is powerful.

Over the last two months I have been observing the effects that two words have on people. Say climate change and some will jump right in the middle of the conversation, while others shift their gaze and sail out of it as it happens with taboos, because that is what climate change often reminds me of. A couple of states in the US have banned the very words, while here in Canada, the very words are spoken with gusto only by those who have no ties with the fossil fuel industry or the seemingly irreplaceable benefits such resources bring to our everyday life.

Everybody knows that dependency is a dirty word that becomes even dirtier when the environment becomes collateral damage. And it does, whether we admit it or not.

The damage, some would say, is already big enough, is it not, while others still argue that perhaps there is no such thing as human activity-induced climate change and what we see is merely normal phenomena of our world.

I will not dwell on the latter. The fact that March was the hottest on record prevents me from it. As we stand now, and we will, likely, for a few more decades at least, there are no additional options when it comes to living quarters, a reality that cannot be twisted in any way even by the most fervent deniers. This is it, our home. The Earth.

What helps then, putting things in perspective? Here’s what changes mine and keeps me motivated to never give up:

ThemChildren, mine included. They deserve better than a declining world. Their minds are eager to learn and their compassion levels run high. If we teach them early, by example, that wants and needs are as different as night and day, and happiness never comes from opening a package or owning yet one more thing, they’ll go after the real thing: connection. With themselves, with people and with the world.

ThereThat all resources on Earth are finite. Matter – that means liquid, gas, solid – transforms constantly and nothing in our world disappears but becomes something else. We have the power (and technology, for most part) to choose processes and resources that improve our world rather than destroy it. Think fossil fuels and pollution versus renewable, non-polluting energy, think plastic and pollution versus reducing consumerism and garbage. Think health versus… Wait, nothing to set that against. True conversation starters indeed.

strengthThat nature is resilient. Which means that silly kids that we are, we have been abusing it for long enough, yet, should we change our ways, things will get better. Slowly, but they will, and that is reason enough.

ThatThat if the environment suffers, we suffer too. No revolutionary medication and treatments can make up for clean water, air and soil and no amount of money can buy a livable world. Ours was and still is good enough so it makes sense to keep it alive. Everything we create (plastic, pesticides, chemicals used for various purposes) stays with us, whether in the same form or a different one. Every action comes with reaction and if we have once accepted that as truth, why not apply it and make our actions positive ones. It only gets better from there onward if we do.

I am stubborn enough to believe that our survival instinct will prevail. It has to.

WorldsHappy Earth Day!

PS: Happy 364 Earth days more until the next April 22 comes around…It is when it becomes an everyday thing that it matters the most.

A Child Lost Is Too Much To Lose and Not Learn From

Initially published as a column in the Armchair Mayor News on Friday, March 27, 2015. 

The day is foggy and grey. Somewhat sad except that I’ve always loved the rain and its plaintive reminders. As I do the usual ruffling through the news I come across the case of a 21-month-old toddler who, two years ago this month, died while in foster care. Too sad for words, but upon reading the entire story, several more shades of darkness pile up.

The mother, who had her baby taken away by social services just two months after birth – she was deemed unsuitable to be a parent due to a learning disability – is now suing the B.C Children’s Ministry for the death of her daughter.

The toddler was found to have several arm fractures, old and new, as well as bruises on face, arms and legs, the coroner’s report stated, yet the cause of death was deemed as unclear.

That a child is dead is unacceptable. Parenting is hard work, everyone knows that, but this is not about parenting and its hard trials. This is about a system failing to step in, and it is also about the failure to present the birth mother with an answer as to why her baby died, having her fight to shed some light which, as of now, has not been the case.

Instead, she had bureaucrats shrugging and filling the space with empty words. There is nothing that can ever fill the space where a child once was.

A life is a life. We simply cannot shrug, call it sad and move on. We are approaching new elections and thus we will have a chance to change things. Will we know what needs to be changed? What can we ask for? The basics to start with. Respect and care for our most vulnerable, children and the elderly, as well as other categories, the ones that cannot always speak for themselves.

We should be asking that our collective children are cared for, that every one of them is properly accounted for and that the system will not fail children or parents, but rather engage into helping them be looked after and/or reunite when the situation allows for it.

In the last few years I have heard of more than one case of parents struggling to keep their children only to end up losing them to foster care, or extended families trying to keep in touch with children yet having their pleas completely ignored.

Truth is, raising children, whether by natural or foster parents, should be a team effort. It provides accountability of some sort. Someone in the network that we strive to create around each child will be able to notice when things aren’t right. Then, of course, comes the objectivity in assessing the facts and taking appropriate measures.

If we allow for learning disabilities to become reasons for losing the right to parent a child, we enter a grey area that would have many children ripped from the people who love them the most. Yes, they may need support and guidance, yet that would be a much better use of resources and a significant gain for our society as a whole.

While some parents are truly unsuitable, as sad as that is, we cannot allow for those who want to be good parents to be deemed unfit and have their children thrown into a system that dangerously lacks proper screening criteria for foster parents.

At the same time, there are many foster families out there going above and beyond in striving to provide a loving home to children other than their own, and they do not deserve to be painted with a tainted brush at any time.

It comes down to being responsible for one’s actions. Good or bad, if actions are accounted for properly, there is high hope that fewer children will fall through the cracks. Proper assessments of those in charge of children, control measures and not filling the space with empty words but action that sees the bad corrected.

When children are cared for and raised in ways that help them learn kindness and compassion from those who care for them, they’ll grow up to pay it forward and the entire society will benefit from it.

A society is as strong as its care for the most vulnerable is. Striving to do our best where best is needed – the purpose of a job is not just to be done but to be done well – will allow us to weave the kind of societal fabric that will not allow for anyone to fall through.

Shutting down a foster home after a child dies like the one where baby Isabella died, if not followed by an inquiry, misses the point of obligatory due diligence that we owe to all those who our yet imperfect system failed. Closure is not a word but should be a set of actions with a common denominator: now we know better.

A child’s life, as so many along the way, has been lost and that cannot be undone. Let’s not allow today’s news to just wash over it with no lessons learned. Hugging our children should be a constant reminder that life is precious and we are all bound by the high purpose of protecting it. All we have to do is live up to that purpose.

Are We Afraid Of Learning For The Love Of It? We Shouldn’t Be

It is almost 10.30 pm, way past bedtime and the big boy has finally been peeled off his book and is now sleeping. Unless his mind races for a while, ruminating the stuff he’s been reading about… Ancient Greek history, today’s reading, complementing part of our history class today. Perhaps calling it ‘class’ is a tad forced now that it’s the two of us.

A month into it, we still love it, the learning together. Not a tinge of discomfort. I love the enthusiasm and wide eyes, he loves the multitude of things he learns every day and the challenges I carefully prepare for our daily journey.

There is no resentment over too much work. I do not do it on purpose, you see, I am not piling topics up just for the sake of it. I take cues. What can complement this and why add one more subject to the roster… which one? If there are questions about certain things during our dinner conversations, I make a mental note: to be added somehow to the learning.

Knowledge is a wonderful thing. A treasure and a privilege to acquire as we go. There is a lot to be acquired, a lot of dots to connects, a lot of connections to be made between bits that have been collected over the years… ‘Mom, did you know that so many words came from the Greeks?’ The meaning of this word and the next, once you know where they come from you know what they reveal, you can understand, not just memorize.

You can ask why and you learn to delight in finding the answers. It will not be easy all the time, but that’s where the beauty and the challenge lies. In carrying on for the love of it.

That is the gift I intend for my sons.

Yet once I step out of the home learning bubble, the world turns a few degrees colder at times, with what has now become the most often asked question about our homeschooling adventure.

‘Do you follow the school curriculum?’

When I say I do not, eyes grow big and uneasiness settles in like a dark cloud.

I tell of the wonder of learning based on what interests him, I tell of my wonder of seeing it all. I could tell of the slight apprehension that all worthy adventures have attached to them, whether you’re the guide or the guided (and these roles switch constantly, as I have come to know during my earlier teaching experiences), the humble nature of the guiding process itself when you immerse yourself in it fully, the expanse of all that learning-to-be. There is much to tell but many people stop at the school curriculum.

Guiding ourselves based on a curriculum can only take us so far and our children not so far, I believe. If they start losing interest because, as you and I know, a curriculum is a ‘one size fits all’ when learning is everything but, then what? Can we revive it every time and are we aware of it flopping?

There is nothing wrong with guidelines, and there is nothing wrong with curricula if they work for some children.  We have to be honest though, and apply critical thinking: do they truly work? I believe in seeing the spark in a child’s eye, curiosity satisfied and primed for more at the same time; I’d hold onto that for guidance, rather than hold onto a curriculum that might give me the feeling of a job done, when what I should be after is a job well done. Not just by my standards, mind you, but by of the ones who learn.

I am but a guide, grateful and humble and awed, all at once, by the steps children take to learn, by their joy of prying open the world with their minds… I am not sure if curriculum has any recommendations on that….

Thoughts?

Play, Said Summer. And We Played

20140624_193114We had cherry pie for dinner. One of my mom’s recipes, possibly the only one I follow to the letter. Because I miss the very taste, not my own rendition…

We had been hiking on steep trails at Peterson Creek in late afternoon; bright faces, tired legs, ‘I cannot take one more step’ and all the landscape waiting to cling to our eyes. It did.

Tired boys, happy to have overcome steep and hot and slippery sandy slopes, having a cherry picnic right at the top and painting their hands red with juice. How sticky and red can you get, you wonder? Very.

KissClouds dripping rain in the distance, kissing the earth and traveling like a colorful gypsy circus all over the land, never to stop, always singing wild water songs, drops drumming on thirsty, dusty land… never to stop, never tired of traveling, the water circus…

CrossingWe started on a trail by the creek; I crossed a bridge to the side we’ve never been on, they crossed the creek… shady and cool, weeds growing high as trees and smells growing with them, intoxicatingly sweet with every step.

Is the park going to make us allergic like last spring? No. Remember, mom?

I remember. The trip had to be cut short, jolly boys turned into jelly boys, lying on green lawns, overcome with sneezes and itchiness and drowsy arms and legs not able to carry them home.

Maybe if I don’t think allergy, it won’t happen. Right?

We waited until after five to step out. The afternoon of writing for mom and boys; old poems revived, new stories by boys, with boys, and chuckles to mark this funny thing and this and that…

Lunch was a big crunchy salad from the garden and vintage records… The Beatles and Elvis and all the stories of why they were so good; hungry boys listen to stories, eat and laugh. Now about that guitar in the basement… and the one in the office. A carousel of laughter… Lunch is green today. It grins and plays.

Late morning saw boys building Lego rockets and castles and matching astronauts with fantasy creatures in a game that had everything in it… The game was never better, they said; it must be the wild mixing of characters.

Transcending the Saturday tradition, we had pancakes for breakfast.

Please? Pancake morning again? Yes, again, please? OK.

Raspberries too, please? Yes, plenty. If you bring your manners to the table this time.

You mean with the pinky up? Laughter, silly laughter, the wildest bird of all, with a nest right in the middle of the dining table… snickering boys, table manners falling apart before they reach the table… boys are boys, mom, we are not dainty.

We started the day with morning cuddles. Just a bit, they say. Just so, under the soft white blanket. Dreams? …They don’t remember.Dreams

They came running, like they usually do, as soon their eyes peeled open. Sleepy feet on the floor, plop, plop, seeking cuddles, trading cuddles for all those forgotten, lost dreams.

Morning crawled in… birds songs and a breeze woke me up. I moved slowly, tippy toe… never wake sleepy boys, just take a peek to see them sleep, people-to-be… dreams and sighs and fresh faces lumped into sweetness that is sweet even when it’s naughty…

It is seven past, all is quiet, open windows with drapes fluttering as if the house is asleep and breathing… It is. Good night.

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