The Definition of Luxury is Survival

A couple of weeks ago Connor was sitting at the kitchen table with a pencil in his hand. “Mom,” he asked, “how do you spell ‘Dear’?” I spelled it for him. “How do you spell ‘Santa’? How do you spell ‘Christmas’? How do you spell ‘Ewok Village’?”

He was writing a letter to Santa, of course – actually writing it, on his own, and spelling some of the words himself, which made me incredibly proud. After I finished laughing, of course, because this child is nothing if not specific in terms of what he wants. A LEGO Ewok Village. For Connor, that’s the ultimate gift.

I’m aware of the luxury of this, of course. Not all kids, even those in my own city or country, are going to get something as fabulous as a LEGO Ewok Village. (Mind you, neither is Connor because that particular set costs $300 and there are limits to what I think a six-year-old who already owns at least half the LEGO in the world needs to get as a Christmas gift, but there will be LEGO under the tree for him.)

For many children, even the most basic items are a luxury. The simplest essentials, such as clean water and nutrition, are necessary to help children survive in unforgiving environments. As most of you know, my particular pet cause is mental health (followed closely by ovarian cancer, which my mom had – and beat!). And I’ll tell you a secret: I find it hard to relate to some of the developing-country stories. It’s not that I don’t care, or don’t know anything about the challenges many developing countries face. I guess it’s just that those challenges are so far from my own experience that I almost can’t imagine what it would be like. But today I want to share some of those challenges and offer some help, because if there’s one thing I do relate to is the desire to make this a better world. (I even have a whole category on my blog for it.)

Here’s the deal: Your kids might want LEGO or…whatever it is that girls want this year. But for many people in the world the ultimate gift is not the hottest toy or trendy tech item, it’s possibilities. UNICEF has a campaign they’ve dubbed “unBOXing Possibilities,” as in unboxing possibilities to give children the opportunity to go to school, protect newborns from illness and provide children with the basic nutrition they need to survive.

That’s quite a different sort of gift, wouldn’t you say? One that can literally change a child’s life.

UNICEF’s Survival Gifts are the actual products children will receive. Once purchased, UNICEF will pull the product from the warehouse in Copenhagen and send directly to people in the field.

I shared this idea with Connor (explaining why it was necessary) and asked him which gift he would choose to purchase. He chose therapeutic milk.

Therapeutic milk

 

Unicef-therapeutic-milk

I suspect a large part of why this one appealed to him is that he is a big milk drinker, and his little brother is definitely in a milk phase right now. “Milky, milky!” is something we hear from Ethan often, so we make sure we don’t run out.

That’s not a luxury all parents have, of course. Heartbreaking, and quite scary when you think about the nutritional implications for those children.

Therapeutic Milk is a powder-based product that when mixed gives moms the ability to feed their babies. For 25 packets, it’s only $20. So we bought some therapeutic milk from the UNICEF site and helped 12 children and hopefully taught Connor something in the process. (I had asked Connor why he chose that gift, in particular. “So the babies have enough milk and don’t die,” he said. “It’s better to live than to die.” Sometimes the lesson really is that simple, I guess.)

Here are some other Survival Gifts that are in need this year. If you want to purchase one, you can do so in honour of someone and have that person sent a card letting them know of your donation.

Blankets for babies

 

Unicef-baby-blanketThis seems like a simple, cotton blanket that would be second nature to us, but it can mean safety and comfort for not only babies but moms too. Imagine if you didn’t have something like this to comfort your newborn.

Blankets for babies are only $22, and that gives 3 babies a cozy welcome.

Bed nets

 

Unicef-bed-netIn Africa, one in six child deaths is due to malaria. This insecticide-treated net is a simple, effective way to save so many lives. For only $9 you can send 2 bed nets to a family in need.

Plumpy’Nut

 

Unicef-plumpy-nutThis is another Survival Gift that seems so simple, but that provides much-needed nutrition to children. As we’re planning parties and holiday celebrations full of snacks and food, this is such a big reminder of how $10 can give malnourished children food just to survive. If a child has Plumpy’Nut 3 times a day, they can gain up to 2 pounds in one week!

Other options

On the UNICEF shop site there are tons of other options so you can personalize your choices, like soccer balls for a sport-loving child or Art-in-a-box to go along with the crafty gift you’re putting under the tree. While we’re buying the hottest new toys or stocking the fridge with extras this season, these are gifts that can feel like a luxury to moms and children who need them. 

To see what an effect UNICEF Survival Gifts are having for the recipients, check out www.youtube.com/unicefcanada for real-life experiences. You can shop from there too. Or join the conversation at #unBOXPossibilities.

If you do decide to add a Survival Gift to your Christmas to-do list this year, come back and tell me about it, would you? A better world gets even better when we share these good things we do with each other.

Disclaimer: I was compensated for this post, but I’ve chosen to put that money towards Survival Gifts for children in need. 

No to Bill 10: GSAs Make Schools Safer

The more I see bad things happening in the world—whether in my country or not—the more I find myself getting riled up about injustice. The things happening in the US lately make me question our very evolution. How do things end up this way? When prominent media figures in Canada get taken down, I take a small bit of smug satisfaction in something greatly overdue (but mostly I support those women he hurt before he got caught and applaud their bravery for speaking out, in whatever form they wish to do so).

This week in Alberta some things hit the metaphorical fan when the government introduced Bill 10, which would allow the province’s school boards to reject students’ requests to create a peer-support group known as a gay-straight alliance (or GSA). Supporters say it would reduce bullying and save lives.

Maybe it’s not backwards thinking and discrimination. Maybe, just maybe, they really do think this makes kids safer. I think they’re wrong, and so does the research.

Ask your MLA to say no to Bill 10

According to Safe Schools Alberta: “A recent UBC study showed that odds of homophobic discrimination and suicidal thoughts were reduced by more than half among lesbian, gay, bisexual boys and girls in schools where a GSA has existed for 3 years or more. On top of that, heterosexual boys were half as likely to attempt suicide as those in schools without GSAs.”

Frankly, I’m sick of people allowing their personal beliefs and prejudices to make our society less progressive, less inclusive, and less safe. In a move very unlike me, I wrote to my (Progressive Conservative) MLA, Sandra Jansen.

Ms. Jansen,

I have never before contacted my MLA for any reason, but I am compelled to do so today regarding Bill 10. I was appalled to find out it was sponsored by the MLA for my constituency.

I don’t know why it matters who sponsored it, as it has ended up before the legislature regardless. Maybe it’s because it seems like something someone else would do – someone who is not in touch with the values I and those in my community hold, or someone whose perspective is swayed by something I’m not subjected to every day. But this is Calgary. This is 2014. That anyone representing a community as diverse as ours in a city this size and this much on the world map would think this type of bill is okay appalls me.

I am a married (straight) mother of two boys – 6 and 2. My older son has just started grade 1 this year, and I have no idea whether he might ever be in the vulnerable position of needing support from a club like a GSA. But if he does, I would hope that type of support would be something offered without question or prejudice.

The fact that young people want to form these sorts of groups to welcome and support each other, regardless of orientation, gives me hope for our future. The fact that an educated, elected member of our legislative assembly, with a background in journalism no less, would present something that would prevent these groups from receiving the support they need makes me despair for all the progress I thought we had made towards accepting people’s differences and rejoicing in what makes us unique.

So many of your constituents don’t support this bill. Please reconsider your own support and do your part to ensure it goes no further.

– Robin Farr

 

If you’re an Alberta parent and would like to express your own displeasure about Bill 10, you can ask your own MLA to say no to it here.

In response to Jian Ghomeshi

This letter was written by my husband and he has agreed to let me share it here. I hope it inspires you as much as it inspires me.

Connor,

You’re six years old. You’re in grade one. You’re sitting at the breakfast table eating Nutella on toast. You’re fidgety because you want to play with your Lego before you go to school and I’m making you finish your breakfast and get dressed before you do.

I’m reading a news article about a man named Jian Ghomeshi, a radio host that I admired and who we’ve listened to together in the car. He has been accused of violently assaulting women he dates. The article says that many of the women he assaulted didn’t speak up for fear that they wouldn’t be believed or that they would be blamed or that their careers or personal lives would be ruined. The article goes on to say that people acquainted with him may have known how he treated women and that one woman who did complain was largely ignored.

I can’t help but think of you.

Like every parent I’ve wondered about your future and what kind of person you will turn out to be. Will you be academic? Artistic? Athletic? What kind of friends will you make? Will you be happy?

Like every parent, I’ve thought about my role helping you become the person you are to be. I’ve thought about what I’d tell you about doing your best, about standing up to peer pressure, and about taking responsibility for your actions.

And, as the parent of two boys, I’ve thought about what I’d talk to you about before you started dating.

One of the first girls I dated had been raped by a past boyfriend. She went to court and wasn’t able to prove that he did anything they hadn’t consented to, so he wasn’t punished. At the time, she lived in a small town and the gossip forced her family to move away. Before her, I don’t think I was really that aware of rape or consent. I’m sure that I’d had the “no means no” conversation in health class but until her it didn’t really mean that much to me.

After university I worked for a year at a women’s sexual assault centre. It was a place where women who’d been assaulted could receive support and counselling. I was the first male who’d ever worked there and I worked on a project that taught teenagers that “no means no” wasn’t enough; that consent isn’t just about stopping when someone says no, but it’s about discussing your boundaries beforehand.

These experiences have been foremost in my mind as I’ve considered what you and I might talk about regarding dating and sex. I know that I want you to treat girls with respect. That, no matter what, she feels safe in your company and that whatever behaviour you engage in is something you both want.

And for the longest time that, plus a healthy dose of biological information, seemed to be good enough. But not anymore. I see now that it’s not enough to hope you don’t grow up to be a rapist. My vision for your future needs to be bigger. I want you to grow up to be a boy who stands up when someone makes a demeaning comment about a girl. I want you to be a man who speaks up when you see sexual harassment at work. I want you to be an example of how men are supposed to treat women. That you become part of the solution to violence against women and not sit silently by and be part of the problem.

Love,

Dad

 

 

Travel, Fundraising & Getting Old

I suddenly feel old. Maybe it’s because I’ve been sick for 6 weeks. (Have you had pleurisy? Oh lordy, that hurts.) Maybe it’s because I was recently in 6 time zones in a three-week period (I definitely feel too old for that). Or maybe it’s because I turn 40 in a couple of months.

Actually, no. The reason I suddenly feel old is that when I was in the airport last week I got accosted by a young woman in one of the stores who wanted to show me how amazing their eye cream was. I was early for my flight and she was really friendly and terribly earnest, so I figured I’d humour her. My attitude quickly changed when I found out the amazing eye-fixing system she was selling cost $300, but she did have a point. It worked well, which I know because she showed me all the little lines around my eyes (yes, I know, thank you very much) and then put this amazing cream around one eye. Whaddya know! Look at that! I looked 10 years younger (or that eye did, anyway). I very politely declined all her (many) sales techniques, but I wondered as I walked through security if anyone noticed that I had one old-lady eye and one not. And then I bought eye cream that doesn’t cost $300 when I got home.

My first trip in October was to Dublin and it was sort of spur of the moment. I only went for three days (and now you’re probably starting to understand why I feel old and tired) but it was totally worth it. Even with the pleurisy. I wrote about making the most of three days in Ireland (not just Dublin) for Family Fun Canada.

Irish doors

I had a few days at home and then went to New York City with a group of friends to celebrate our 40th birthdays. I had never been before and, while there’s definitely some very cool stuff to see in NYC, I didn’t like it. (I know. Blasphemy. Does anyone else not love New York or am I the only freak?) After that it was Seattle to speak at a conference, and now it’s November and I’m glad the crazy month of October is over.

view of new york at night

Speaking of October, Ethan just turned 2 and I missed his birthday letter. I need to do something about that.

In the meantime, my fundraising for Team Diabetes is underway. I had a jumpathon event at Springfree Trampoline on Saturday that was totally fun. We have one of these trampolines and they’re awesome, and Springfree has generously offered to raffle one off! If you’re in Calgary and you want to enter all you have to do is give a donation and I’ll add you to the draw, which will be done in a couple of weeks.

Springfree trampoline

I’m also doing an online auction along with a couple of friends who are also participating. We’ve got some great stuff up for bid and it’s open until Nov. 7. Check out some of these cool things! (I really want to bid on some of them but don’t want to have it look like I’m trying to inflate the bids…)

auction-items

Top row, L-R: MantraBands, 16×20 watercolour, $100 Fit Chicks gift card

Middle row, L-R: weighted owl, handmade glass bead bracelet, organic food gift basket from Highwood Crossing

Bottom row, L-R: Amazon gift card, Calgary Stampede bolo tie, Jamberry gift set

We’ve also got a pass for four to the Banff Gondola, tickets to Ballet Jorgen’s production of The Nutcracker in Ottawa and lots more, so come and do some Christmas shopping and support a great cause.

Ok, that’s a lot of random craziness. No wonder I feel old!

How was your October?

On the Road to Reykjavik

After dipping down below the acceptable depression threshold a few too many times recently I did a little thinking. It started out primarily as a WTF attitude (as in why me? Why again?!) but perspective comes from the strangest places.

What are you doing to take care of yourself? people often ask. Do you get enough sleep/exercise/time to yourself? And the answer to all of those is, mostly, yes. I mean, yes and no (because does any parent of young children really get enough?) but I think I do okay in those areas.

The trouble is I haven’t been doing the right things. I’ve become really good at sitting on my bed after the boys are (finally) asleep and browsing through Facebook. I can read status updates and comment and click that like button with the best of them. It’s definitely a retreat, but it’s not exactly fulfilling.

That realization (as obvious as it might be) didn’t really become clear until I was talking to a friend recently. This guy — a firefighter, sort of a guy’s guy — asked a simple question: “What’s your outlet?”

What’s my outlet? Um, gee. That’s a good question. I like to write and I like to run, but have been doing neither on a consistent basis.

“You know that giant LEGO Death Star in my basement?” he continued. “Yeah, that was an outlet.”

I pictured him escaping his three kids or a long day at work by going to the basement and slowly, literally piece by piece, putting that together.

That’s what I need – not a LEGO Death Star, but a project.Team Diabetes

In my last race package was a brochure for Team Diabetes and, unlike most of the brochures I get in race packages, I had kept it. I’ve supported the Canadian Diabetes Foundation in various ways for a long time because I’ve had several family members affected by diabetes. Most personally for me was my Grandma, who was legally blind after losing much of her sight to the disease.

True to my largely impulsive nature, I had a look at the Diabetes Association’s website and found myself signing up for a Team Diabetes race in Reykjavik, Iceland next year. I registered without worrying too much about the slightly intimidating fundraising requirement, because I needed a project and this would be it. (Or one of them, anyway. I’m nothing if not ambitious when it comes to finding projects to distract myself with.)

Islandsbanki Marathon

Photo credit: Islandsbanki Marathon

I’ve already got some fundraising plans and some donations from supportive friends. And I’ve got a bit of a posse too. After I signed up, 6 friends (so far) did as well, and more are thinking about it.

Fundraising for this event will be a challenge and a bit outside my comfort zone (especially because I hate asking for money), but that’s sort of what I like about it. It’s something to focus on other than who has posted a new photo to Facebook. I’m excited about it, so that qualifies it as an outlet, don’t you think? I do, so here I go on something that is just for me – not me as a mom or anything else. Just me on the road to Reykjavik.

If you want to support me in my fundraising goal, you can donate here