Happy Birthday, Baby

I hear the sound of the stepstool being scraped and shoved across the tiled bathroom floor. I'm in another room helping your big sister with her homework. Your dad is somewhere else in the house, trying to tackle a science fair project with your brother. 

I don't stand up. I don't go to you. 

I'm a different parent than I used to be. Maybe you've benefited from that or maybe you were always this way and we both got lucky because I was ready for you.

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How To Find Books Your Kids Will Read

Lined up at midnight for the  Harry Potter  release. He finished it the next day.

Lined up at midnight for the Harry Potter release. He finished it the next day.

There is nothing that gets me into my minivan and pulling out of the driveway faster than a refrigerator without eggs or a kid who has "nothing to read".

All four of my kids are readers, but my twelve-year-old son is an avid reader. He's exactly like me and one of his uncles at the same age: buried inside a book whenever possible. When he gets desperate (after he's already re-read his own collection for the billionth time and can't take it anymore) he'll wander into his sisters' rooms in search of anything that has a cover and some words.

He reads the newspaper on the weekends and the back of cereal boxes and yogurt containers in the morning. And as much as I'd like to keep adding to his humongous collection, I haven't been able to find a money or book tree anywhere (we do buy series that all the kids will read and everyone in the family gets books for birthdays and Christmas). So whenever there's a plea for more books, I go from library to library hoping they've ordered new ones.

Today, I stopped in on my lunch hour and it was quiet. There's a humour series a friend of mine had mentioned, and I asked the librarian at the information desk if it was available. I do my best to stay current about what kids are reading, and I also rely on word-of-mouth from other parents. But there is so much out there, and I often wonder if I'm missing out on books that would really appeal to their individual interests. Of course, each of the kids has a preference for book style and it's hard to keep tabs on all those genres.

The librarian looked at me, took in the fact I was there on my own and then asked if I had a few moments to spare. She proceeded to teach me the best way to find books my kids would read. My tried-and-true method has always been to set the kids loose with a basket, so they can choose their own books.

This time, I sat down at the computer with a very skilled librarian and learned about databases and Read Alike lists. GAME CHANGER. See also: RABBIT HOLE.

I'm always skimming articles about best book series and I read the book review section of the weekend paper looking for suggestions, but it all ends up cluttered in my to-do list. Read alike lists are so easy to use and something the kids can do themselves.

I also learned about the hidden resources on our library's web page. Did you know many communities purchase access to specialized databases?

Go over to your library's homepage and look for digital resources. And then look for databases and/or research. Scroll through and look for links related to kids. For example, our library has provided the community with access to the Novelist K8 database, which can be searched by age group, genres, sub-types and (this is the best) categories like "funny & gross". To access the database, you do need to enter through a library or school.

Before I left the library yesterday, I was handed a pile of new books to bring home (already knowing they would appeal to the kind of humour he appreciates) and some lists of other books to explore when he's ready. The librarian also put a hold on the humour series I had originally come in to find, and I'll be receiving a call when they're ready to be picked up.

If you have a reader in your home (or if you are looking for books for yourself), go introduce yourself to a librarian.

Seriously, they are wizards in disguise.



Five Years Later


Oh hello there, five-year-old photo. Fancy seeing you here. Today you came and danced in front of my eyes, woke up my memories, and tripped up my heart.

You are a photo from so long ago — if I'm to count the years in baby days. Because baby days are long aren't they? And yet baby days are also mysterious and magical, because I can remember this day and what I was feeling as though it just happened. The hardest days of motherhood were also the ones that had my senses most turned up. It's why the memories are so vivid. 

I had four kids under the age of eight. It was the last day of school for the oldest three. JB was working out of town, like he did every week. The idea of stepping out of our well-structured routine was always daunting back then, and I often avoided any attempts. A pre-dinner trip to the ice cream shop wasn't anywhere on my agenda. 

Yet, off the yellow school bus came hopeful and excited faces. Much more grown up than they had been when I loaded them onto that same bus in September. They didn't show any signs of worry or dread about the long days of summer that lay ahead. 

And something shifted inside of me then. I realized how much my kids had been the ones carry me through the year. Perhaps much more than I had carried them. How patient they had been with the changes that always come with a new baby. How hard they worked to care for each other. How much they stepped up their independence when Daddy wasn't home to help. 

Who wants to go for ice cream for dinner? I heard myself saying. 

They were so thrilled and excited to see me "break the rules". I could see their chests puff out with pride knowing they must have done something to deserve this treat. And I could see they were proud of me for taking them somewhere I normally would have said needed a second adult. Even if we dropped our ice cream on the floor (we did) or the baby cried (she did) or we didn't have enough room for dinner (we didn't), we were going to do it together, and it would be okay.

If there's one great lesson I've learned in the five years since my weary self snapped this photo, it's that when I make my kids feel like we are a team, we really are. And as much as the necessary rules and boundaries have made them thrive in the game of life in a big family, running gleefully in the opposite direction has too.  


I wish it hadn't taken me so long to worry less about how one moment would impact the long-term goals I hold onto as a parent. Because they don't. Kids are wise. They know when colouring out of the lines is for fun. And they respond to it in the most beautiful ways.

This afternoon, five years after our first attempt, hopeful faces came off the yellow school buses again. So much more grown up than they had been when I put them onto the bus in September. And even though it has now become an annual tradition, each of them waited for me to say it first.

Who wants to go for ice cream for dinner?



The Right Words


Because it's January, I have once again succumbed to the pressure to purge and get organized—though neither of those activities can be listed as a strength of mine.

And because going through the more mundane objects like outgrown clothes and unused kitchen gadgets does nothing to help me stay motivated, I always end up breaking ALL the KonMari rules and going straight for the bins of sentimental stuff.

Letters, cards, loose photographs. All of the treasures that remind me of days past. I devour them and get lost in the nostalgia of remembering myself the way I used to be.

Last week, I made some real progress and uncovered a long-neglected box of some of my school papers and projects. I did a lot of school, I wrote a lot of papers. It was fascinating to look inside and find the pages I must have decided were worth keeping. There are projects from grade school, book reports from high school, research papers from my undergraduate years, as well as the very last academic paper I wrote (for a course in Investigative Journalism). And the theme that ties all of them together is found in the written comments, made by the reader and grader of those papers. 

You have a gift for words.
You are a wonderful storyteller.
Louise, I don't know what your career plans are, but I really hope you find yourself working in print journalism. 

What are we supposed to feel when we read words like these about ourselves? I was almost blushing as I let the pleasure of seeing those comments written about my work wash over me. I felt like I should look away embarrassed. I probably knew I'd feel that way when I came upon them again; that's why I kept them. 

I don't know how much my teachers and professors thought about the weight of those words. Surely, they wrote many over the years and had little time to dwell on their impact. But their weight has indeed stayed with me. 

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Two months ago, I was invited to be a guest speaker in my cousin's grade five classroom. She is a dedicated and awe-inspiring teacher who has been teaching in an inner-city school for over two decades. She was one of my first teachers (running a mock school in her parents' basement for all her younger cousins every summer) and makes such a difference in the lives of the many children who rely on her comments to lift them up. 

She wanted me to come in and talk to her class about what it was like to study journalism and pursue work in the field. She hoped my visit would open the students' eyes to less mainstream career ideas. And like most teachers, she never shies away from an opportunity to emphasize the importance of communication.

I was terrified, to be honest. 

I'm the parent of a grade four and grade six kid. I know it's a tough crowd. I worried about holding the attention of a room full of kids whose families likely consider a newspaper or magazine subscription a luxury beyond their means. I brought print clippings and books to which I've contributed anyway. And I structured my lesson plan around my more recent publications on the Internet, hoping it would be something they could relate to.

I was on the right track. Before I had a chance to launch into my talk, some of the students offered up my social media statistics for the rest of the class. And though I consider myself a very small fish in a very big ocean, my numbers were deemed high enough to lend me some street cred.

But it was the moment I asked them to raise their hands if they were storytellers that our song and dance really began. I watched them look at one another and at their teacher, unsure of what I meant. I waited only a moment before pointing at each of them and saying, "You and you and you and you, too." 

And I watched their faces light up with understanding. 

They raised their hands enthusiastically, videotaped me, and asked really savvy questions. They all watched me carefully and listened well. The only groan came when I told them I was leaving them with a story assignment. 

The envelope filled with those stories arrived over the holiday break, and I've been regarding it like an unopened Christmas gift since. I know it's more than a completed assignment for some of the kids. I wondered how many of them imagined themselves a storyteller while working on it, and I knew I might see something special in those ordinary stories. 

I opened the envelope today and began the work of reading their words and writing my comments. What do I want them to feel when they read my comments about their words? I hope I can help them blush with pride, too. And whether or not they keep this story in a box for safekeeping, I would be glad if the weight of my words stays with them for a long time to come.