Perfectly imperfect

I have a knack, on occasion, for taking photos of flowers or plants that are stunning but perhaps have a flaw here or there. I used to reject those photos because I was looking for the perfect picture which, by extension, needed to be of a perfect plant.

Just as I am learning, through studying anthropology, that there is no one truth, there is no one definition of beauty. I think I take photos of those types of flowers because they represent a truth: there is great beauty in the flawed.



Something to ponder

Although I am currently on leave from my job, I keep in touch with my peers through social media and otherwise. This step back has given me a different perspective and not always an upbeat one.

People in special education have an incredibly difficult job and oftentimes their/our work involves being injured by students. This is not to say that students purposefully hurt those who support them (although this does happen), but nevertheless, it happens.

Yesterday, I caught a bit of a radio program that was discussing the legalities of being injured on purpose. I do not know the entire back story, but apparently two young people had agreed to fight and one of them had been injured (I know, right? That’s a whole other story for a whole other day). It appears it had gone to court and the courts, not surprisingly, said that one cannot agree to be injured. Makes sense.

The exception to this, though, is if you are agreeing to be injured for a socially valuable reason. The commentators on the show talked about boxing as an example where you could agree to participate in something and be injured because it is ‘socially valuable’. I have a different view on the social value of boxing, but okay.

It got me thinking. In special education, teaching/educational assistants get hurt frequently. And more often than not, they are told that ‘it’s part of your job’. So, if we use that argument, then I guess we are using the argument that people are ‘agreeing to be injured for a socially valuable reason’. As an educational worker, I don’t recall reading in my contract or at signing that I was agreeing to be injured, but it is, perhaps, an unwritten understanding that supporting students with special needs, whether they are physical, intellectual, or behavioural, will inherently have a risk of injury.

If I go along with that (which apparently I did for over a decade) then here’s my question:

If I was injured due to a socially valuable reason – taking care of society’s most vulnerable students – then why didn’t the government reward me for the social value that I brought to the school system? In the last set of negotiations, not only were benefits taken away, but the government enlisted the media in maligning education workers, implying we were only interested in money.

Just to clarify, we are not. We are interested in a fair wage for A SOCIALLY VALUABLE day’s work.

A good friend of mine was head butted by a student at work last year. The result was a broken nose. (It is mind-boggling that she goes to work and gets injured and that is an expectation.) She deserved support and fair compensation for her work. Her student also deserves to have the support they need. These are not mutually exclusive. My friend and her student are both socially valuable.

Early childhood educators, teaching/educational assistants, child and youth workers, all are people involved in incredibly challenging, often rewarding but wholly misunderstood careers. I hope that in this round of negotiations with the government that someone on the government side of the table steps up and takes the reins on negotiations, someone with an inkling of what a civil society is: a society that proclaims that supporting the most vulnerable members is a pillar of that same society. In order to do this, the government needs to support, and appropriately compensate and recognize, the people who do that work on a day-to-day basis.

Reflecting on 2014


I chose this photo as my favourite from 2014 for one big reason: my children surprised me on my birthday with a blanket with this photo weaved into it. It was an incredibly touching and thoughtful gift. It speaks to who they are and how well they know me.

I often like to start my posts with a quote and when searching for one that might help encapsulate my year, I found that Dr. Seuss quotes seem to be full of snippets of my year:

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.”

I love this quote. I feel that returning to university is helping me appreciate my “brains”, motivates me to keep moving and growing and learning. The only downfall is that it has opened so many paths, so many options for learning, that I find choosing which direction to pursue next a hard thing to do – not really a downfall but rather a windfall!

“The more that your read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Every day I feel my brain expand, become stronger, more adept at working things out. I remember more easily, which is something I was warned would be a downfall of being an older student. Perhaps in comparison to my younger classmates I am deficient, but I certainly feel more capable and less scattered than prior to going back to school. I am definitely more efficient with my time!

“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”

I found it hard at first to “fit in” at university. Everyone is soooo young. I wandered around and wondered where I would fit in. Two things stick out from this year that made me accept and embrace that difference. I had a conversation with a young lady, as we walked between classes, and she asked me what was the hardest part of returning to school and I shared that I sometimes felt lonely, that I didn’t fit in. She stopped walking and turned to me and said, “Then you do fit in, because lots of people feel that way.”

The other encounter that put it in perspective was with a professor. He also asked me how I was finding the return to school and I shared that I was wondering what I could bring to the class given the age difference. He explained that I had a perspective that was unique and valuable. He said that I needed to “get over” the age difference and that my peers would follow suit.

When people ask – as they frequently do – how I find fitting in at university, I tell them it’s amazing. I do have difficulty, though, in explaining how and why it works, but it just does. Now, standing out is something I don’t feel is a negative. I embrace it and accept it and flourish within that framework.

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

With children on both coasts of North America, there are hard, tearful goodbyes, even when another visit is in the works and not far down the road. The last goodbyes, ones we had in the last few days, are long goodbyes. We have no definite plans of when we will see each other in person. Yet, I have accepted that it is what it is. My children have wonderful, full, happy and fulfilling lives. They have people in their day-to-day lives who love them and care about their well-being. They have work that not only pays the bills, but that allows them to support and encourage those around them. They have launched into their own lives. My children are two of my greatest supporters and are transforming into two of my dearest friends. We are lucky to have close relationships and that is why I will always smile thinking of the times we share and look forward to the next opportunity to get a “squeezer” hug. They are happy, I am happy and I am happy for them. Life is good.

“We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.”

Well, yes. Let’s call it love. For more than 33 years, I’ve been in mutual weirdness with my sweetie. Without question, I would have been lost this year without his support – beyond the 3 meals a day he prepares for me, his encouragement, understanding and boldface bragging have been a significant part of my successful return to school. We shared one of my greatest memories of the year – our cycling trip to France. It was an experience beyond words. I could not think of anyone in this world I’d rather be weird with, now and forever.

“Breathing in, there is only the present moment” – Thich Nhat Hanh

A few days ago, I was out with Kyle, Laura and Warren in Toronto. I was beginning to anticipate their departures and was feeling anxious and sad. We were walking through Queen’s Park and I decided, instead, to focus on how I was “walking as if my feet were kissing the earth”. This practice brought me back into the moment, the moment of actually BEING with the three young people whose departure I was dreading. The moments of departure did come, and they were sad, but I also “lived the moments” when the children were around.

One of the greatest gifts of this year of abundance has been beginning the journey of learning mindfulness. It has contributed to my life in ways that have been subtle and profound. I feel that 2014 was full of changes and experiences that brought me an incredible amount of happiness and fulfillment; mindfulness is the foundation that I am deepening those experiences through.

Hand in hand with mindfulness are other words of wisdom. When my friend, Lois, told me of her terminal diagnosis, I asked her what I could do for her: “Live each day to the fullest”.

Lois is with me every day as I try to do just that; she influenced me for all of the 30 years we knew each other. My life is her life.

And it is one amazing life.