CANADA: Campaigning For Change

CANADA: Campaigning For Change

It seems that there is no place on earth that is immune to bigotry. Not even Canada, which has been regarded by many as one of the world’s last bastions of sanity. After a campaign that was eerily similar to the Trump-vs-Hillary battle, Ontario elected as its Premier a man who is eerily similar to Trump.

Since this provincial government took office about a month ago, the following has happened:

* The cap-and-trade program, meant to benefit the environment and combat climate change, has been scrapped.

*$100M dollars that had been budgeted for school repairs has been taken away. The school repair backlog in Ontario currently sits at about $15B.

* A basic income pilot program, which was enabling low-income people to do things like put a roof over their head and food on their table, has been canceled.

* Prescription drug coverage for people under the age of 21 has been removed.

* A budgeted increase in funding for people with disabilities has been cut in half.

* Money that had been slated for mental health supports has been taken away.

* With spectacular disregard for democracy, the Premier has decided to slash the size of Toronto City Council in the middle of a municipal election campaign.

* An updated health and physical education curriculum has been repealed. The sex ed component of this curriculum was teaching kids about consent, bodily autonomy, online and physical safety, and respect for members of the LGBT community.

The education system is in for a rough few years. A lot is going to change in the school boards. Funding is going to be taken away or redistributed. Curriculums are going to be replaced with older, outdated versions that are not relevant to today’s world. Teaching conditions are going to become more challenging, and students are going to emerge from high school without all of the tools they need to cope with the big bad world.

The time for me to sit back and complain about the government is over. I have decided that I need to be proactive in advocating for kids – not only my own kids, but all of the kids in my community. And so I have thrown my name into the hat for the role of school board trustee. If I am elected, I will be throwing all of my energy into ensuring that during this political upheaval in our province, the voices of the kids are not drowned out. I will do whatever it takes to ensure the wellbeing of students in my neighbourhood. I will join committees, go to meetings, propose new policies and defend our kids against attacks on their education.

Of course, I first have to convince voters that I am a better person for the job than the eight people I’m running against. Knocking on doors and talking to complete strangers is not my idea of a fun time. But if it gets me into a position where I can make a difference, it’ll be worth it.

Have you ever run for an elected office? What is the education system like where you are?

This is an original post for World Moms Network by Kirsten Doyle of Toronto, Canada. To follow Kirsten on the campaign trail, visit www.votekirstendoyle.ca, or follow her on Twitter @kirstendoyle_to, or Instagram @votekirstendoyle.

 Photo credit: Peter Gabany

Kirsten Doyle (Canada)

Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny). Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum. Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world. Connect with her on Facebook and on Twitter @running4autism. Be sure to check out her personal blog, Running for Autism!

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CANADA: In Search Of Hope In The Wake Of Mass Shootings

CANADA: In Search Of Hope In The Wake Of Mass Shootings

When I first came to Canada just over seventeen years ago, I was struck by the fact that every murder in Toronto made front page news. Every single one. When I heard that 2000, the year of my arrival, had seen 81 homicides in the Greater Toronto Area, I was slightly stunned.

81 homicides in Canada’s biggest metropolitan area, and less than 600 in the whole of Canada? What, in just one year? It just didn’t seem real.

To put things into perspective, I came to Canada from South Africa, which at the time was experiencing roughly fifty reported murders every day. Only the most sensational murders, such as the violent demise of South Africa’s former first lady Marike de Klerk, made national news. The rest got a three-line mention on the inside pages of the local community newspaper.

The realization that I had become desensitized to tragedy was one of the most sobering moments of my life. I felt that in losing my ability to mourn the loss of human life, I was losing a key part of my humanity.

I fear that this kind of desensitization is happening en masse in North America, specifically in the United States. We are becoming so accustomed to hearing about mass shootings that we are no longer surprised by them. What’s worse is that we actually expect them to happen. They have become an inevitable part of life in the United States.

American children are growing up in a world in which gun violence is “normal”. Their parents are becoming increasingly resigned to the fact that since gun laws are unlikely to change in any meaningful way, this is just going to keep happening.

In the wake of the Las Vegas mass shooting that killed 59 and wounded hundreds more, I am seeing some depressingly world-weary sentiments on my social media feeds.

“If nothing changed after Sandy Hook, why would we expect it to change now?”

“The right to guns is more important to lawmakers than the right to life.”

“It’s going to happen again before long.”

And the one that really breaks my heart:

“We just have to accept it.”

It seems that Americans fall into two very general camps. There are those who are spending their time trying to convince everyone else that, in spite of overwhelming evidence and common sense, guns are not really a problem. And there are those who desperately want things to change for the better, but are losing hope that this will ever happen.

The danger is that once that resignation sets in, desensitization is likely to follow. If you don’t think anything is going to change, you start to accept the status quo, and you lose the ability to be shocked by mass shootings.

My American friends, I say this to you with love. Keep the faith. Don’t lose hope, and do whatever you can to bring about the change that is so desperately needed. Educate yourself about the gun laws in your state and lobby your government representatives to change what isn’t working. Above all, use the power of your vote at every possible opportunity.

Don’t allow yourselves to get used to tragedy. Nothing will change unless we continue to feel the shock, the outrage, the sadness. We can avoid desensitization by thinking of the lost lives, the parents who have lost children, and the children who have lost parents, brothers, sisters and friends.

Shed some tears, feel the sadness, mourn for the victims of mass shootings. And for them and their loved ones, keep fighting for change, and keep believing that change is possible.

This is an original post to World Moms Network by Kirsten Doyle of Ontario, Canada. Photo credit: Steve Snodgrass. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.

Kirsten Doyle (Canada)

Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny). Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum. Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world. Connect with her on Facebook and on Twitter @running4autism. Be sure to check out her personal blog, Running for Autism!

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CANADA: 9/11 – Where Do I Begin?

CANADA: 9/11 – Where Do I Begin?

Where do I begin to describe the horror that I shared with the world on September 11, 2001? It was a horror so big that at first, I refused to believe it. Planes deliberately flying into buildings? A terrorist attack against the United States? It had to be a hoax.

Where do I begin to describe the feeling of loss that followed me around for days and weeks after this event? In the immediate aftermath, two of my New York friends were missing. One was located, safe and sound, the day after the attack. The other, whose daily schedule would have placed him in the North Tower during the critical moments, was never seen again, and his remains were never identified.

How do you grieve for someone when you hope against hope, and against all available evidence, that they are alive?

Where do I begin to describe the utter desolation that I felt when, more than fifteen years later, I stood at the site of the Twin Towers and looked into the reflecting pool? I knew that my friend’s name was etched into granite surrounding the pool, along with the names of all the other victims, but I could not bring myself to look for it.

Where do I begin to delve into the sensory shock that I felt when I went into the 9/11 museum? As I entered that space where all of those people had died, the first thing that struck me was the smell. It was the smell of fear, despair and confusion. It was the smell of death. It was the smell of hopes and dreams that would be forever unfulfilled.

I wandered through the space in a trance, not sure what I was most horrified by. I stared at enormous pieces of twisted metal, the staircase that scores of people fled down in an attempt to survive, and projected images of missing persons ads posted by desperately hopeful relatives in the days after the attack.

Where do I begin to describe how depressing it was to witness the blatant sensationalization of tragedy? When we arrived, at least one hundred people were in line ahead of us, many of them chattering excitedly about how “cool” it was to be here, before forking over their $24 admission fees. Visitors to the museum were gleefully taking selfies in front of the exhibits, as if this was a carnival instead of the place where hundreds of people had lost their lives.

After a while, I had had enough. I felt as if the place was haunted by the dead, by memories forever lost and by futures never lived. If I didn’t get out of there, I was going to buckle beneath the weight of grief for all of the victims. As I made my way to the exit, I passed a gift shop. There is no way to describe how I felt about the presence of a gift shop in a place like this.

As I left and emerged into the world of the living, the spectres of the dead clung to me, and I wondered what my children would make of all of this. Having been born in 2003 and 2005, both my sons were born in the post-9/11 era.

To me, the 9/11 attacks are a horrifying memory that include personal loss. To my kids, it is an event in history, something that happened to the generation before them.

If they visited the 9/11 museum, would they be affected in the same way I was? Or would the oddly upbeat tourism there undermine just how tragic this event was?

There is a lot of controversy surrounding 9/11. Many questions have been asked and not satisfactorily answered. Many coincidences have not been addressed. The truth, I believe, has not been told to its fullest extent.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the world changed that day. People lost their lives. Other people lost children, parents, brothers, sisters, life partners and friends. Emergency responders saw things that no one should ever have to witness. Rescue workers developed illnesses that would later kill them,

Where do I begin to describe the magnitude of this tragedy? And where do I begin to talk to my children about it, so that it is more than just a history lesson to them?

How did the events of 9/11 affect you and your family? How do you talk about it to your kids?

This is an original post to World Moms Network by Kirsten Doyle of Canada. Photo credit to the author.

Kirsten Doyle (Canada)

Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny). Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum. Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world. Connect with her on Facebook and on Twitter @running4autism. Be sure to check out her personal blog, Running for Autism!

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CANADA: What Kind Of Mother Am I?

CANADA: What Kind Of Mother Am I?

A few years ago, I went on a retreat for moms of kids with disabilities. I remember being a little skeptical when I signed up: the word “retreat” conjured up mental images of doing yoga, eating nothing but root vegetables, and spending great swathes of time alone in the great outdoors (which is not bad in itself, but it was winter and freezing cold, and the retreat was on the shores of a lake).

The reality turned out to be very different. About twenty of us spent the weekend doing journaling exercises and talking about our lives and the things that were making us feel overwhelmed.

Our stories were all very different, but a common theme ran through all of our narratives: all of us were fantastic at taking care of our families, but we were hopeless at taking care of ourselves.

We were all so caught up in our roles as special needs parents that we never had the time to just be.

A few days ago, while I was frantically scrabbling for the notes I needed to meet a deadline for a client, I came across my scribbled notes from that weekend. The notes included a journal exercise, in which we were asked to write as many sentences as we could that started with the phrase, “I am the kind of mother that…”

It was quite an insightful exercise, and it was quite cathartic. It helped me identify those little gold nuggets that make parenting truly special, as well as the more difficult aspects that needed to be acknowledged and, where possible, changed. Here are the sentences that I came up with, many of which are still true today.

I am the kind of mother that…

…feels guilty about all of the hours she spends working instead of being with her children.

…yells in frustration when things get overwhelming.

…does most of the chores around the house, just so they get done, even though it is exhausting.

…goes to sleep too late and wakes up too early.

…snaps at strangers who stare and say rude things.

…tries to see the positive in even the worst situations.

…takes care of everyone before herself, even though she has her own needs that go unmet.

…blames herself when things go wrong.

…hugs the kids anytime they want, day or night.

…never sends the kids to bed when there is anger or sadness.

…tries hard to be an advocate for her kids in the school system.

…worries about whether her kids are eating healthily enough.

…pretends she needs to pee, just to get a couple of minutes alone.

…sometimes longs for the kids’ bedtime.

…sometimes cleans up the kids’ messes because it’s easier than trying to make them do it themselves.

How would you finish that sentence? What are some of the things that shape your life as a mother?

This is an original post to World Moms Network by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit to the author.

Kirsten Doyle (Canada)

Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny). Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum. Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world. Connect with her on Facebook and on Twitter @running4autism. Be sure to check out her personal blog, Running for Autism!

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CANADA: Ten Insights From An Autism Conference

CANADA: Ten Insights From An Autism Conference

gca-symposiumLast week, I had the honour of representing World Moms Network at the Geneva Centre for Autism 2016 Symposium, held in Toronto. Over the course of three days, I reconnected with friends in the autism community and made some new ones, I saw an act by an autistic stand-up comic who was absolutely hilarious, and I learned a lot of things that gave me insights into my own autistic son.

In due course, I will be sharing some of this information with the World Moms community. For now, I offer you ten insights from the presenters:

1. Mental health in people with autism is largely overlooked: autistic youth are almost four times more likely to experience emotional problems than their neurotypical peers, and many of these problems are undiagnosed and under-treated.

2. Our ability to make social connections depends in part on genetics and hormones. About two hundred chromosomes are related to our ability to make social connections.

3. Language is not about words. It is about seeking social connections. People with autism need to acquire language, but more importantly, they need to develop the social motivation to use it.

4. Kids with differences like autism tend to process social stimuli in non-social areas of the brain. As a result, interactions with autistic people can seem somewhat clinical.

5. People with autism should be allowed to make eye contact on their own terms. Being forced to make eye contact can create anxiety and distract them from their efforts to communicate.

6. Just because someone is unable to speak, that doesn’t mean they have nothing to say. When interacting with someone on the spectrum, we need to look for other ways they might be communicating.

7. Don’t just tolerate the differences of autistic brains, embrace them. People with autism have very distinct neurological wiring that make them think in ways that neurotypical people cannot relate to.

8. People with autism tend to process small changes similar to how typical people process major changes, like the loss of a job or a loved one. This can make a neurotypical person’s average day like a minefield of trauma for someone with autism.

9. People with autism learn best visually. Their brains are not wired for the kind of auditory learning that is found in most regular classrooms.

10. The hidden curriculum consists of unwritten rules that are not directly taught but everyone knows. Violation of these rules can make you a social outcast. People with autism do not pick up hidden curriculum items from their environment like everybody else. They have to be taught.

Are you the parent of a child with special needs? What little snippets have you learned on your parenting journey?

This is an original post to World Moms Network by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit to the author.

Kirsten Doyle (Canada)

Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny). Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum. Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world. Connect with her on Facebook and on Twitter @running4autism. Be sure to check out her personal blog, Running for Autism!

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