CANADA: Refugees Discovering The Joy Of Running

CANADA: Refugees Discovering The Joy Of Running

img_0014While half of the world is seemingly losing its mind over Syrian refugees, Canadians are scratching their heads wondering what the big deal is. A year ago, we elected a Prime Minister who promised not to control the influx of refugees, but to bring even more into the country. We rejoiced when he actually kept this promise.

For many people, refugees are a bit of an abstract concept. They’ve never met them, so they assume that they are somehow “different”. For residents of the neighbourhood I live in, there is nothing abstract about refugees. There is nothing scary about them either. They are not would-be terrorists who are trying to impose Shariah Law while they freeload off the government. They are real human beings who are trying to rebuild their lives after fleeing from war zones.

The corner of Toronto that I call home has a large transient population. Refugees come here to live while they are trying to find their feet in Canada. They are housed at one of the motels in the neighbourhood, and their children attend school with my son. When they have found a place to live and a job, they move out of my neighbourhood and into their new lives.

I have come to know a number of refugee families through my involvement with my son’s school. I don’t know all of their stories, but they have a look in their eyes that speaks volumes. It is a look unique to people who are trying to wrap their minds around the fact that for the first time ever, they don’t have to live their lives in fear. They can move beyond “survival mode” and actually start to find enjoyment in life. They can board a city bus without wondering if it will blow up. They have access to parks where they can go for walks and have picnics. Instead of running away from danger, they can just run.

Some of the refugee kids at my son’s school have discovered the joy of running through Kilometre Club, which happens every school morning during the spring, summer and fall. Kilometre Club is very simple in how it works: kids show up before school and run laps around the school yard. For every lap they complete, they receive a Popsicle stick. Five minutes before the morning bell is due to ring, we send out a kid for the last lap holding a fake scarecrow on a stick. When the scarecrow completes the lap, Kilometre Club is over for the day. The Popsicle sticks are collected and tallied, and the class that has the most Popsicle sticks at the end of the season wins a pizza lunch.

Kilometre Club has become a well-loved institution at the school because it is so inclusive. There is no sign-up and no expectation to go at a particular pace. Kids who want to run can run. Kids who want to walk can walk. For the refugee kids, it is a discovery that you can run without having to run away from something. You can run without being triggered by the “fight or flight” response. For these kids, it is a new world in which you can run just to feel free and alive.

I’m the one who hands out the Popsicle sticks and decides who will be the scarecrow for the day. In this role, I have gotten to know most of the kids at the school. I get to see the Canadian kids weaving the refugee kids into the fabric of their lives, welcoming and including them as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. I get to see the refugee kids slowly, slowly dropping their cloaks of fear as their lives mesh with the lives of those around them.

It is a beautiful thing, and one of the reasons I love being a Canadian.

Does your community welcome refugees? How do you encourage your kids to embrace diversity and acceptance?

This is an original post to World Moms Network by Kirsten Doyle of Canada. Photo credit: Ani Bashar. 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: Autism – Overcoming Fear Of Water

CANADA: Autism – Overcoming Fear Of Water

Autism boy and his brother at the hotel pool

Autism boy and his brother at the hotel pool

When he was younger, my autism boy was terrified of water. Bath time was an ordeal that involved physically restraining this petrified, screaming child while we sponged him down as best we could. When we had to wash his hair, we would have to take him by surprise and wrap him up like a burrito before he would realize what was going on. These gruelling sessions usually ended with me in tears as I contemplated what I was putting my child through.

A trip to a splash pad one summer’s day a few years ago led to the discovery that although my autism boy hated being submerged in any body of water, he would consent to standing under a spray of water. From that day, our lives were a lot easier: bath time became shower time. My son was not exactly thrilled, but the screaming and terrified looks were replaced with crying and more manageable anxiety.

Although keeping my child clean is less traumatic than it once was, it is still challenging. My son only just manages to tolerate being in the shower for any length of time. Every minute that he is in there, he begs to be allowed out.

And so it was with a great deal of trepidation that I decided to enrol him in swimming lessons this summer. Fear of water or no fear of water, this kid has to learn how to swim. Individuals with autism are twice as likely as the general population to die prematurely from accidental causes. An extremely high percentage of those deaths are drownings.

And so I called the local aquatic centre and told them I wanted to put both of my boys into swimming lessons. I explained about the autism and the fear of water, and expressed my concern that my son would not even get into the pool.

The lady at the aquatic centre said something that I have told myself many times, something that I believe should be a constant mantra for autism parents everywhere.

“We won’t know what he’s capable of unless we give him the opportunity to try.”

These words told me everything I needed to know about the staff at the aquatic centre: that they were prepared to work with my special needs son in a positive and inclusive manner.

On the day of the introductory lesson, I deposited the boys with their instructor and made my way to the observation room, where I leaned forward in my chair and waited anxiously. I knew, at least, that my autism boy would be greatly reassured by the presence of his brother. As I watched, the boys were directed to sit on edge of the pool and dangle their legs in the water.

My younger son readily complied. The autism boy watched him for a few moments, and then followed suit. I held my breath, waiting for a disaster.

But instead of screaming and panicking, my son gingerly lowered himself into the water, to where his instructor was waiting.

I’m sure there was an audible thunk as my jaw hit the floor.

With his hands resting lightly on the instructor’s shoulders, my boy walked from one side of the pool to the other, and then back again. He waited patiently as the instructor went through the same paces with my younger son, and then he did it all over again.

Half an hour later, I met my kids at the entrance to the pool. Both of them were full of smiles, and my younger son could barely contain his excitement as he described how well his brother had done.

Several weeks have passed since then: during this time, we have had a family vacation that included many hours at hotel pools, and there have been two more swimming lessons. Almost overnight, my autism boy has become a water baby. He’s not exactly Michael Phelps, but he can float with support and put his face into the water.

This experience has been a valuable reminder for me to never assume that my kids will not be capable of something.

Have your kids ever surprised you with an accomplishment that you weren’t expecting? Have they ever come to love something they once feared?

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: Gender Equality Starts In The School Yard

CANADA: Gender Equality Starts In The School Yard

schoolyardA couple of weeks ago, shortly before Toronto schools let out for the summer, my ten-year-old son talked to me about an older boy who was bothering him in the school yard. This kid was trying to take his basketball and saying things like, “You’re such a woman.”

We helped my son through that situation, and the last few days of the school year passed uneventfully. That incident didn’t stop bothering me, though. With all of the gains we like to think we have made when it comes to gender equality, we still live in a world where boys use the word “woman” as an insult.

What message does that send to any girls who happen to be standing around listening? How are they supposed to feel about themselves and their roles in society?

What message does it send to boys like my son? How can I raise him to be respectful toward women when the attitude that men are superior is already present in elementary school?

This morning, something else happened that concerned me. My son and I were part of a cluster of parents and kids waiting for their summer school bus to show up. The adults were chatting and drinking coffee; the kids were playing hopscotch and kicking soccer balls around. It was all fun and games, until a little boy ran up behind a little girl and bonked her lightly on the head.

Now, the little boy was just goofing around, but the little girl was very upset. She ran up to her mother and told her about the mean boy bonking her on the head. Another parent standing nearby said, “Oh, that just means he likes you!”

This may seem harmless to many people, but it really isn’t. It plants the seed in our kids – boys and girls – that abuse is an acceptable demonstration of affection. It teaches girls that in order to be liked, they have to put up with people treating them badly. It teaches boys that they can be jerks and get away with it.

As parents of young kids, we often try to avoid thinking of our kids eventually dating. But the reality is that eventually, our kids will date.

And they way they will treat their boyfriends or girlfriends – and the way they will expect to be treated in return – will be based on the interpersonal skills they are learning now, at the ages of eight, nine and ten.

We live in a society where, in spite of enormous progress when it comes to gender equality, women are still routinely discriminated against. We are told what we have to look like in order to be considered beautiful. We are blamed for injustices that are committed against us, like rape or domestic violence. We are paid less than men in equivalent positions, and even though so many of us work outside the home, we still bear the brunt of household responsibilities.

As the mother of sons, I feel a responsibility to do my part to turn the tide. As they navigate their school years, I want my boys to treat the girls they encounter with respect. I want them to speak out against injustices that they see, and to stand up for girls who find themselves in difficult situations. The school yard incidents that I have seen are the reason we have a problem. I want my sons to be a part of the solution.

Are you the parent of boys or girls? How do you teach them about gender equality and fairness?

This is an original post to World Moms Network by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit: Jonathan Rhodes. 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: Helping Through Kindness

CANADA: Helping Through Kindness

kindnessIn the wake of the devastating tragedy that struck Orlando early on Sunday morning, I have seen and heard all of the usual arguments. Gun control activists are insisting that America has a gun problem, gun rights activists are denying that America has a gun problem, conspiracy theorists are perpetuating all kinds of bizarre stories, and people are saying terrible things about other people.

49 people lost their lives in Orlando on that terrible day, and another 53 were injured. Countless other lives were forever changed. And yet the arguing, judging and hate seem to have eclipsed the human impact of this tragedy.

In the midst of all this noise, my ten-year-old son asked me a question that stopped me in my tracks.

“How can we help?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“All those people who are sad and hurt. There must be a way to help them.”

At the risk of using a cliché, I was moved to tears. While adults who are supposedly wiser than kids were bashing each other on the Internet, a child was very eloquently stating what is really important: people are hurting and in need of help.

That is what we should be focusing on. In the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, our priority should be the survivors and the families of the deceased. We need to do what we can to enable the injured to heal and the bereaved to bury their loved ones. We should be banding together to lift up those who have had their world ripped out from beneath their feet.

After some discussion, my son answered his own question about how to help.

“Just be kind.”

Because any act of kindness to the people in our immediate circles can have a ripple effect.

Recipients of kindness are far more likely to be kind themselves. My son is growing up with the belief that if he treats others with respect and empathy, if he speaks out against injustice and stands up for those who are being discriminated against, he can make a difference.

And maybe, in making that difference, he can plants seeds of new hope in the hearts of people who have been affected by tragedies.

How have your kids reacted to the shooting in Orlando? How do you talk to them about tragic events like this?

This is an original post to World Moms Network by Kirsten Doyle of Toronto, Canada. Photo credit: Feed My Starving Children. 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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World Voice: Play Like A Girl

World Voice: Play Like A Girl

Canadian_PM_Justin_TrudeauHockey is Canada’s national winter sport, with most Canadians huddled around the television on Saturday nights to cheer on their favourite teams being featured on “Hockey Night in Canada”. Boys love hockey. Girls love hockey. And, they love it equally. But the treatment of both genders in the world of hockey is very different.
I live in a country where gender equality is of such importance.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was applauded for electing equal numbers of men and women to Cabinet during his 2015 election. When asked why this was important, he simply said “Because this is 2015”.

So true.
But gender equality in hockey does not always exist in Canada. Not even in 2016. And this is incredibly frustrating for the many girls and women who live and breathe the sport throughout the year. I have three daughters, and two play hockey. I have overheard men in our community, as I was rushing into an arena on a cold winter morning with one of my daughters, making comments about how it is a waste for girls’ hockey teams to be given ice time, as it was taking away from the boys. Our highest ranking women’s Canadian hockey teams never get the media coverage they deserve. Most Canadians don’t even know these female leagues exist, despite the incredible talent and sportsmanship these young women exhibit game after game.
This inequality is trickling through to younger generations as well. My one daughter plays on a co-ed hockey team. At only 10 years of age, she is already having to hear the boys on the bench tell each other NOT to pass to her because she is a girl.

One of our greatest Canadian hockey players, Hayley Wickenheiser, has spoken about the challenges girls face in sport. When people would say to her, “Girls don’t play hockey; girls don’t skate”, she would say – watch this!

Staying true to her word, Hayley has won multiple Olympic medals for hockey. Decades later, however, little girls who look up to Wickenheiser are still having to defend their place in Canadian hockey.
This is 2016, so when someone says you “play like a girl” it should be taken as a compliment. After all, this is Canada, a nation that prides itself on equality.

This is an original post by Alison Fraser who is Founder and Director of Mom2Mom Africa.

Photo credit to the author

Alison Fraser

Alison Fraser is the mother of three young girls ranging in age from 5 to 9 years old. She lives with her family in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada. Alison works as an Environmental Toxicologist with a human environment consulting company and is an active member of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC). She is also the founder and director of the Canadian Not for Profit Organization, Mom2Mom Africa, which serves to fund the school fees of children and young women in rural Tanzania. Recently recognized and awarded a "Women of Waterloo Region" award, Alison is very involved in charitable events within her community including Christmas Toy and School Backpack Drives for the local foodbank.

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CANADA: Living Outside The Comfort Zone

CANADA: Living Outside The Comfort Zone

I wake up in the middle of the night needing to use the bathroom. I tiptoe past my son’s bedroom, but in spite of it being about two in the morning, he is awake.

“Mommy!” I hear him whisper.

I go in, thankful that he finally understands the importance of not talking out loud while the family is sleeping. As I tuck him in, he reaches a hand up and touches my face.

“Lie down with Mommy on the bed,” he says, in his peculiar speech pattern and his even more peculiar voice that is teetering between boy and man registers.

Knowing that he will not get to sleep again without a cuddle, I promise to be back. I quickly use the bathroom, return to my son’s room and lie down beside him. We lie there for maybe a minute before he whispers again.

“I love you, Mommy.”

“I love you too,” I reply.

“Good night. Have beautiful dreams,” he mumbles, giving me a gentle but unmistakable shove. By the time I’m walking out of his room, he is fast asleep.

As I make my way to my own bed, I think about my son, about how far he has come and how far he still needs to go. He is twelve years old now, sprinting down the home stretch toward his teenage years. Nine years ago, almost to the day, he was diagnosed with autism.

Back then, when he was almost four, the only functional words in his vocabulary were “juice” and “pee”. He needed assistance with every single aspect of his daily living – toileting, getting dressed, eating, brushing teeth. Grocery store meltdowns were common, and washing my son’s hair could reduce him to a state of terror. Haircuts were absolutely out of the question.

Today, my son talks. Not a lot – not enough to have more than the most rudimentary of conversations – but he talks. He makes requests using full sentences, complete with “please” and “thank you”. He expresses emotions and makes jokes. He can pick out his own clothes, take a shower more or less by himself and even washes his hair. He hates it, but he understands that it has to be done. He can have haircuts now, even though I am the only one who can administer them and he keeps bunching his shoulders up.

As I look at him now and try to see into the future, I have no way of knowing what he will be capable of nine years from now. On the one hand, I don’t see him being able to live independently. He still lacks many life skills and, like many people with autism, he does not have an innate sense of danger and he does not know how to keep himself safe.

On the other hand, nine years ago I would not have foreseen the progress that he has made up to this point. I would not have thought that a kid who once had two usable words would be saying things like, “Have beautiful dreams”. So who knows what another nine years will bring?

We will only find out by continuing to steer him out of his comfort zone and into unknown territory.

How do you deal with challenges faced by your child? Do you wonder what your kids’ futures look like?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog 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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