Emma Waverman writes about the chaos of modern family life. She is the co-author of the family cookbook Whining and Dining: Mealtime Survival for Picky Eaters and Families Who Love Them and is hoping to one day finish her certification as a parenting coach. She lives with her three kids, ranging from tween to grade schooler, and husband in Toronto. Emma has written for a variety of national parenting and lifestyle magazines and newspapers. When she's is not making typos, telling you what she thinks, and thinking about dinner, you can find her on Twitter at @emmawaverman. You can contact Emma at embracingchaos@hotmail.ca.

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Tuesday
Dec082015

Making the Refugee Crisis Real With Unicef's Help

Syrian refugees hoping for a new life, maybe in Canada

I can hardly look at the photos of the refugee children anymore. I literally feel sick to my stomach to think of these children lining up for food in refugee camps, of having to flee their homes in the night, of living in colourless camps waiting… waiting for something.

This is why we have teamed up with friends and neighbours to sponsor a refugee family. I feel very strongly that is my turn to step up. In past wars and conflicts it was my ancestors that had nowhere to go, many of them eventually exterminated by war and hatred. (For more info on my sponsorship journey, read my post at Today's Parent)

But now we lead a comfortable life in Canada. How could I not pay it forward when I am surrounded by such gifts?

It was an easy decision for my husband and I (along with 19 other families) to step up to support and settle a family. But explaining it to our kids has been more challenging than I thought. How do we make them feel connected to a family who is far away living a life that they will (hopefully) never know?

Yes, we talk about it at dinner. I even showed the older boys the photos of where Syrian children sleep, which haunts me.

Then Unicef sent me their 360° viewer, which along with a phone app shows a video about 12-year old Sidra who is living in the Za-atari refugee camp in Jordan for 18 months. The technology gives a true 360 degree view of her surroundings, her school and the pathetic soccer pitch. It’s nice to see video game technology used for good. In fact, it goes one step further it inspires empathy.

I was able to say to them that our sponsored family may be one of Sidra’s neighbours, they could be in that camp right now, looking out at the barren landscape. They probably wishing that they were home but they are there – and the best hope they have is that the world helps them.

As Mr. Rogers says, look for the helpers. So I told them about Unicef, how Unicef provides food, shelter, medication and schooling to these families. Unicef tries to help the millions of children who are at risk because of armed conflict, they work on the ground, and in the political sphere trying to make the world safer for all children.

 As a family have also decided to give Unicef Survival Gifts out this holiday season. The kids are leaning towards ones that provide education and schooling to the kids in the camps. (It’s funny, kids say they hate school but they recognize how important it is.)

I have always given out the Survival Gifts as teachers’ presents because I think that teachers probably have enough mugs. I have had many, many thank you notes that say it is the best gift they have received.

My kids were so moved by the video, that my budding director decided to produce a commercial for the Unicef 360 and the survival gift program. Watch it to see the world through a 12-year old’s eyes. 

*Sponsored but 100% authentic

Tuesday
Dec012015

Dear New Principal that I Will Never Meet

Dear New Principal,

You don’t know me, and it is very likely that we will never meet. I was a parent at your school for over a decade. I have a daughter who is in Grade Five but she doesn’t attend your school anymore.

So you can stop reading now if you want, as the concerns of a parent who is no longer standing in your schoolyard can hardly top your to-do list. (Especially, since our school is notorious for pushy and annoying parents.)

But I really wanted to let you know how your school let us down. My daughter is the youngest of my three kids. She is an engaging, joyful and a motivated child. She is kind and keen and social. She is also tough, organised and clever.  That’s the child I know. But it isn’t the child that her teachers saw. She was in French Immersion and slowly slid below expectations. Her reading was delayed and because of that her math fell behind as well. She was increasingly frustrated and aggravated by being behind in her work.

She would have loved to catch up – but was never given a chance. Instead, they told us and her, that she needed to work harder, she needed to listen more. When I asked about extra help I was told to hire a tutor. And no, no one could refer me to anyone good. She was never given any extra resources – instead she was made to feel that it was her fault.

 

I was told my only option was to pull her out of French, but no, there would not be any resources available to help her in her switch. And I know from experience that the school does absolutely nothing to comfort or support a child who changes streams. The playground is a rough place – full of French Fries and English muffins and woe to the child who doesn’t know what side they are on.

I didn’t realize the damage that had been done until she started in her new school this year. Within a few weeks, her teacher said to us that my daughter is sensitive, that she is nervous to make mistakes, that she thinks of herself as a bad student and a bad learner and winces at any kind of correction like a dog who has been beaten. Her new teacher’s project is to undo all the damage that has been done. Her goals are academic as well – but she realizes that my daughter’s self-definition is the key to her becoming a good student.

According to her teacher she is two grades behind in reading. Which means that she should have been given special education services at your school – at our old school. Perhaps, her levels didn’t fall low enough, maybe no one bothered because she is a nice girl, one who doesn’t like to sit, but one didn’t make too much trouble. But now she is catching up and showing that in fact, she is an excellent student who is responsible, motivated and engaged.

I think that a school is measured – not by their outliers, the high achievers or the troublemakers, but by the mushy middle. The kids who fall under the radar but who have incredible strengths as well as weaknesses. How they feel about education will shape their futures and in turn, our society for they are the majority. The mushy middle was ignored – if we asked for less homework because our kids were crying, it was a family problem. If we requested a gym teacher who didn’t humiliate our kids, we were told there was nothing to be done. If we suggested that perhaps the teachers could yell less and engage more, we were told the kids were “toxic” or needed to practice better “self-regulation”.

Your school may be different now that you are in the Principal’s office, maybe you foster a sense of community, maybe your teachers are motivated to teach with positive instead of negative comments. Perhaps you have taken the focus off of self-regulation and put it more on joy. Hopefully, you honour every student and your teachers follow your lead. Or maybe you don’t. I will never know. But I can hope.

We have abandoned our neighbourhood school. The school I used to push strollers, wagons and carry babies to. The school that was the centre of my own social life for a decade, and I admit to feeling some grief when I walk on by.

But now my daughter goes to a school that nurtures her. They tell me that she is an extremely motivated learner, despite the fact that she has obvious delays. It's not perfect, what is? But at least they see her for who she is -- warts, beauty and all --  and I can't ask for much more than that. 

Yes, her classes are now in English. But you and I both know that isn’t the whole answer. She is at a school that nurtures and respects her. She is taught by people who love teaching and want her to be the best she can be.

And I shouldn’t have to pay for that. Every child should have a chance to be seen and heard by their school community. I hope you are working hard to create that. Your students deserve it.

Sincerely,

Emma Waverman

Thursday
Nov262015

An advance screening of Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 with my teens in public, with Amex Invites

Last Saturday night, my husband and I offered to take my 15-year old son to a movie of his choice – he looked at us like we were crazy. As if any teen would be caught dead in a movie theatre with their parents on a Saturday night.

One of the challenges of having older kids is being able to spend quality time with them. Gone are the days when a simple walk to the playground meant hours of fun together. Now I’m competing with friends, phones and the outside world just to connect on a human level (or at least a parent to teen level).

So, I have to up the ante.

After his swift rejection of me last week, I wasn’t sure if he would join me in an advance screening of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2.  Through Amex Invites, Cardmembers get to experience early access to get tickets to blockbusters, special restaurant experiences and Front Of The Line access to concerts.

But how could he turn me down when I was tempting him with early street cred? Both he and his younger brother loved the books and were eager to see the final installment of the Hunger Games series. I promised the both of them good seats, special treatment and free popcorn. What teen could say no to that? (Even if they had to be seen with their parent.)

As it turned out, it wasn’t just a movie;  it was sharing a moment.  And that is what American Express Invites is all about – sharing moments with your loved ones (or your parents) in a way that is one step beyond the ordinary.

I got to share in my sons’ excitement and even bore them by talking about how when I was a teen all movie theatres had big screens and comfortable seats like at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. In turn, they tried to ruin the end of the movie for me, knowing that I had only gotten halfway through book 3. They finally admitted it that they felt a little bit special by being part of an exclusive event. (They were especially impressed by the free popcorn and drinks.

 

 

 

Even better, American Express is giving all Canadians the chance to taste what it’s like to be an Amex Cardmember. If you’re already a Cardmember, you can head on over to AmexInvites.ca to learn about upcoming events and see what tickles your fancy.

The next special event Amex is offering for all Canadians is a great one – it is an exclusive dining experience at Bar Raval on December 14th. Bar Raval recently won a coveted spot on the Canada’s Best New Restaurant list, as determined by Air Canada enRoute Magazine, and is considered one of the city’s hottest dining spots. My husband I went in the summer and to say we are obsessed doesn’t quite cut it. We still fantasize about sneaking off in the middle of the afternoon to spend hours drinking gin cocktails and eating the methodically-prepared Spanish dishes. Grant Van Gameren, the owner of Bar Raval is what we call a completist – the design, the food and the drinks are all part of his vision of a Spanish Pinxtos bar.

But I digress.

The point is, even if you are not an American Express Cardmember you can have a chance to get on the guest list of this exclusive event by going to www.AmexInvites.ca from November 26th to December 6th.

It was great sharing a moment with my two boys at Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, we were able to nerd out together on the finer details of the story and discuss how the book (what I read of it) dovetailed with the movie. But the next experience will be one for my husband and I to share -- we need our own moments too. 

Monday
Nov092015

How to find the best orthodontist (for you)

I hated the orthodontist when I was teen. The sparse office and surly office staff did not improve the general experience of being yelled at for never wearing my headgear. So when it was time to look for a good orthodontist for my teen, I wasn’t doing it with the happiest disposition.

I wasn’t even sure where to start to find a good orthodontist. One that wouldn’t hoodwink me into paying for services I didn’t need. I needed someone who could talk options with my teen and treat him like an adult. I needed convenience and kindness, and of course, knowledge. A free coffee and WiFi is a bonus.

After a lot of research, whining and phone calls we ended up at City Orthodontics which is the perfect place for our family. But how do you find your perfect ortho?

Pixar Via Giphy

Since the orthodontist is essentially the same cost as a family vacation, it’s worth investing some time in finding the right office. So, here are my tips to help you on my search.

Convenience: Do you need an office that is open after school hours or on Saturdays? Do you need an office that your child can get to on their own? Will you be attending all appointments (I hope not.)  I reconciled my long drive with the knowledge that City Ortho is right above a subway station.

Special needs: My son as anxiety and is always full of questions, so I had to find an office that was willing to book extra time with him. The office told me that almost everyone has something – whether it is extra sensitivity to pain, or sports requirements or just a very interested parent, (not me, of course.)

Niceness factor: Some people don’t need hand-holding and super -friendly environments. My family does.

Get a second opinion: Many orthos offer a free introductory visit, take advantage of that and take your child with you.

It’s your kid’s mouth: Your child is going to have a relationship with the orthodontist and the office staff. Listen to who they liked. My oldest son was adamant that he did not want braces on his upper teeth – Dr. Dayan treated him like an adult and they were able to make the decision together. (He ended up with Invisalign and it worked great.)

Ask about the money: Orthodontics is an investment. Ask about the payment plans right up front.

Word of mouth: Ask your dentist, family doctor and parents of older kids who they would recommend. That’s how we found our orthodontist and now I recommend him to everyone

My kids actually like going to the orthodontist -- they feel heard and respected. And while, they maybe don’t wear their elastics enough (son number 2) or their retainer every night (son number 1), it was a good investment.

The one problem with hanging out at the orthodontist’s office too much is that I am starting to think about Invisalign for myself. 

Sponsored Post, but 100% authentic. 

Smile Everywhere

Monday
Sep072015

5 Lessons This Cynical Parent Learned From A Professional Optimist

Let's be clear, when the glass is half full, it is still half empty. Even when the glass is 100% full, it is on it's way to being half empty.

I live by this mantra. So you won't find me posting inspirational quotes with sunrises in the background (up at sunrise -- blech), or putting a cheery face on an difficult situation. I know some people gather strength by those things, but I don't. In fact, I'm so cynical that I often think the people posting all those rainbows and happiness quotes are way further down the negativity rabbit hole than I am. 

But the business of optimism surounds me. This push to the sunny side of the street can make us natural cynics even more cynical. Happiness and optimism is the new aspirational must-have, to go along with your gleaming children, Fitbit, Pinterest cupcakes and labradoodle puppy. 

I'm not knocking optimism, if anything, I'm a little envious of those who are optimistic. I don't think it is in my DNA, and my kids aren't far behind me on the cynicism front. Sometimes I wonder what it would feel like to be optimistic? Could I still make snarky jokes? Who would I be if I was glass half-full kind of person

So it’s always interesting when a natural cynic like me meets someone who is a natural optimist like John Jacobs, co-founder of the Life is Good company. You probably know John’s products – T-shirts, ballcaps, mugs all with a positive message about life being good.

I am going to be honest I find that stuff cute but super cheeseball.

Like any good positive person, Jacobs was not put off by my negativity. Happiness is different than optimism which, said the company’s Chief Optimism Officer, is a strategy.

And it turns out, a strategy I can get behind.   

As Jacobs describes it, a key part to optimism is accepting that life isn’t perfect or easy but life is good and we can make a conscious decision to focus on the good. But how do we do that when life is so busy that we forget the hockey sticks on the way to the hockey game?

Jacobs has some ideas – and a lot of them are about tapping into feeling grateful. Here are his top * ideas:

Tune into the highs and lows of day: The father of three young kids has a nightly ritual where all the kids give their “mad props” for the day. In our house we do “highs and lows”, some families do “roses and thorns”. When you take a moment to focus on a highs and lows of the day, you are reminding your kids that a day can be good and bad. That even bad days have something funny, and sometimes really good days also have some downtimes. Life is textured and complicated and they got through it all and ended up at the dinner table – how great is that?

Change your thinking: A simple shift from “I have to” to “I get to” has been a powerful tool for Jacobs. So instead of  “I have to go to this meeting, he thinks “I get to… go to this meeting, or walk to school, or eat this sandwich.” This idea has partially been fueled by the powerful responses to his products. The Life is Good company hears from their customers almost every day on how their positive message has helped them get through some tough times.

Practice gratefulness: Even a man peddling optimism admits that he had down moments, which can be an opportunity to exercise gratefulness. He asks: “Can you practice gratitude in the harder moments. Can you remember the core things that make you who you are and tune into them?” That is optimism, he says. And much to my surprise it’s something I already to. Maybe I’m not such a cynic after all.

Don’t rule over your kids: Jacobs says that he is a Type A hippie, which probably helps when building a 100-million dollar business about optimism but sometimes he let that Type A get in the way of parenting. One thing his kids have taught him, is that he needs to let them lead the way.

Reflect on the good: The Jacobs family went through some tough times, John and Bert who run the company are two out of eight kids. They grew up in Boston with a “difficult Dad” and a mom who chose to focus on the good in everyday. “Every night at dinner our mother would ask “Tell me something good? And it would change the atmosphere in the house.”

Other key elements of the Jacobs brand of optimism: openness, courage, simplicity, humor, gratitude, compassion, fun, creativity, authenticity and love are all detailed in his book: Life is Good:the book --  how to live with purpose and enjoy the ride.  They call them superpowers – I call them good values, and I hope that I show some of them on any given day.

The more Jacobs talked about optimism being a strategy the more I realized that I am much more an optimist than I thought. And that idea of being grateful, and the knowledge that I have the tools to get through tough times is something I am passing on to my kids.

Life isn’t black and white we don’t have to choose to rule out optimism or happiness just because sometimes we live in the dark – most of us live somewhere in the grey. So, I still say the glass is still half empty, but that’s okay I know where the tap is, and I get to walk over there whenever I need to.