As the parent of a teen and a tween, there's nothing more terrifying to me than the thought of one day discovering my child is on the road to nowhere with a drug addiction. The only thing worse would be my child falling seriously ill, and, come to think of it, they're kind of the same parental hell.
Back in the 80s I read hipster novels like Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis - a book chronicling a gang of rich kids dabbling and subsequently dying from drug use. But that was based in Los Angeles, and I live in Toronto, a million miles away. Intellectually I know that bad shit happens in my hood too, but not a lot of people I interact with talk about their kids' fall from grace publicly.
It was with a sickening feeling that I read a recent riveting tell-all article by Emily Wright in Toronto Life. Emily is a young Toronto woman who went to a private school in my neigbourhood, and ending up spiralling out of control and becoming a teenage drug-addicted sex worker. Her tale of living on street after her parents finally kicked her out is the one that terrifies every parent with school-age kids. It could happen to me. My son or daughter - or yours - could end up just like Emily, dealing drugs and doing dope while her upper middle class parents wait helplessly for her to find her way home.
For the record, I have been proactive with my kids since they were in grade school, casually talking about drugs, referring to rock stars who lost everything because of addiction, even showing my son these before and after photos of drug addicts. I'm good with being candid about the horrors of drugs and the effect it has on your mind and body. I have no idea if the seeds of reason will grow in my kids' brains, but I'm certainly not shy about the topic. In fact, I chose to tell my kids about Emily's tragic story, although my son apparently had already read it on Facebook. I hope it scared the crap out of him.
The good news is that Emily Wright lived to tell her story. Her parents' tough love was ultimately the catalyst Emily needed to get the help at a youth shelter. Today she's clean and sober with a new career as an Early Child Educator.
But how did it happen in the first place? How does a fourteen year-old with loving, hands-on parents go off the rails like that? I had to know. I tracked Emily down and asked if she'd answer some questions for me so I - and you - could better understand the mindset of troubled teens and their tumultuous relationships with well-intentioned parents.
I filmed our conversation. Here's what Emily Wright has to say about teens, drugs, and what parents need to know about the deadly combination.
By the way, I know Emily is on a mission to talk to teens and share her story. If you want her to come to your kids' school, let me know in the comments below and I can connect you with her.
I snuck in to The Art of Leadership conference late and spotted my colleagues who had saved a seat for me. "How are you doing?" one asked me. Before I could say the words, tears were already tumbling down my cheeks. "I'm exhausted," I replied, wiping my eyes. She hugged me and said what too many of my working friends are feeling. "Me too; I'm drowning."
Of course misery loves company, but the irony of this conversation was that the next speaker to take the stage was Arianna Huffington, publisher of Huffington Post, who is on a mission to address this modern plague of business burnout. Several comments she made really resonated, so much so that I am trying to put some of her thoughts into action. I'm guessing that if I'm struggling, a whole bunch of my friends are too. So I'm writing this for all of us to use as a guideline to pull ourselves from the brink of a breakdown.
ARIANNA SAYS: "Sleep your way to the top"
Sleep is one of Arianna's obsessions. Just a few years ago, she was so sleep deprived and overworked that she literally fell over, smashing her head and bashing in her cheek. She was rushed to the hospital and endured many tests to find out why she would suddenly pass out with no warning. A diagnosis of exhaustion made her realize she had to change her lifestyle and redefine success. Like Arianna we've become a society of workaholics, living in front of our computers 24/7. It's starting to catch up with us and take a toll on our health and productivity.
WHAT I'M DOING ABOUT IT: Bedtime for me is inching closer down to 10 pm, which is moments after my fourteen year old grudgingly hits the sack. I'm quitting my late night work earlier and my cell phone is OFF.
WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT: Make sleep a priority. Make it part of your job description. If your kids are waking you a lot during the night, share some of the responsibility with your partner. Go to bed earlier rather than catching up on your ex-boyfriend's Facebook status. And how many episodes of "The Walking Dead" do you really have to binge-watch late into the night? It will catch up with you. Go to sleep. If the night time isn't long enough for you, grab a nap. Arianna is a big proponent of nap rooms in companies. If you're like me and work from home, you already have a nap room with your name on it.
ARIANNA SAYS: "We should pay as much attention to our own batteries as we do to our phones. Recharge. Listen to your body."
I never leave the house without my phone's battery charged, even though I'm running on empty from too little sleep after a late night on the computer, no effort to eat a healthy breakfast, and giving up my exercise class to make a meeting. And work, work, work.
Can you relate?
WHAT I'M DOING ABOUT IT: I've upped my exercise. A few times a week I book off time to workout at Ferris 360 - an awesome cross fit studio right in my hood that trains people from their 20's to their 80's. Seriously - on Thursdays I work out with a group of women between the ages of 60 and 80 and they kick my butt. I'm paying more attention to my morning meals and taking time to enjoy it.
WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT: Make yourself a priority more often. Join a gym or go for long brisk walks. I don't like skiing so I go snowshoeing while my kids ski. Eat a healthy breakfast. Find time for a protein rich lunch. Have a nap....or sex. Or both. A sick mother or a sick employee is not as valuable as a healthy, happy one.
ARIANNA SAYS: "Multitasking is actually task switching and it's the least productive thing we can do."
This isn't the first time I've heard that multi-tasking - a skill I've been quite proud of - is actually detrimental to my mind. The idea of talking on the phone while typing an email and sipping a coffee seems like a smart use of one's time. In fact, your mind can technically focus on only one task at a time, which stands to reason that none of your tasks done simultaneously are being done well. Not to mention the fact that our brains are become exhausted by constantly jumping from task to task without a break.
And it's tiring us out. And making us forgetful. Sound familiar?
A few months ago I sat front row to hear behavioural neuroscientist Daniel Levitin talk about our over-burdened brains from his new book The Organized Mind. He explained how a switch from one task to another burns up glucose, releases stress hormones, and takes time between the task-switching. In short, multi-tasking is hurting our productivity.
WHAT AM I DOING ABOUT IT: Step away from the computer. That's my new mantra. During the day I'm consciously walking away from my work. In a weird synchronistic turn of events, we recently bought a bird (crazy, I know) as a family pet. Since I'm home all the time (working), guess who Bazoopee the bird has bonded with? ME! In many ways, it was a gift from the feathered gods. Now I stop what I'm doing to hang out with Bazoopee, feed her, and listen to her purr on my shoulder. I've become a bit of a bird lady and I'm less stressed because of it.
WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT: Be aware of how long you're sitting in front of your computer. Then STOP. Do something else. Make something to eat. Go out for a coffee. Call a friend (without looking at your computer). Read the newspaper. Play with your pet. Workout for ten minutes. Do nothing. Seriously, do anything to let your brain recalibrate and then focus on the next task at hand.
ARIANNA SAYS: 'When they take the baby out, they put the guilt in."
Truer words, right? Arianna made this comment when she was asked by an audience member on how she reconciles being a mom and an extremely busy business woman. She spoke to the idea of the importance of women giving themselves permission to be inspired and fulfilled in their careers. I think she also spoke to the importance of women being strong role models for their kids (Disclaimer: I was really exhausted during her talk so I may be projecting here).
WHAT I'M DOING ABOUT IT: I am leaving my family for NINE DAYS to go on an adventure with my mummy. Seriously, two days after hearing Arianna speak, my mom was over and invited me to go with her on an all expenses paid Romantic Danube Riverboat Cruise from Nuremberg to Budapest with Viking River Cruises. You know what I said? NO! Crazy, right? I literally put my hand in my hands and mumbled something like "I can't leave my family and my business" between exhausted sobs. Even I know I was pathetic. Not right in the head. My husband was looking at me like I was nuts. "You have GOT to go!" he said. "We'll be fine." But, ah, the guilt.
So I'm off! I fly to Eastern Europe today with my mom to spend a week floating along the Danube River experiencing Christmas Markets without kids, husband, or any work responsibility. I'm a little apprehensive, but I'm giving my husband the respect to assume he and my kids WILL be fine without me for nine days. I hope they miss me!
WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT: Make sure you make some time for yourself in the coming weeks and months. Book off time for a getaway - long haul or short- it doesn't matter. Do something that gets you out of your regular daily grind. Slip out to the spa. Buy some glitter makeup. Colour your roots. Sneak out for a dinner with your girlfriends or date night with your man. Go for a run.
We deserve it. More importantly, we need it. Now go get some sleep - you'll feel better; Arianna told me so.
To counteract the frenzy to buy Buy BUY all year long, it's equally important to GIVE. Times are tough these days for so many and funding is dropping. While most of us want to contribute to deserving charities, it's a bonus when you find a non-profit organization that connects with your values and life experiences. It's impossible for me to personally suggest which charities most deserve your attention. Instead, I reached out to the YMC Team who are scattered all across Canada for their input. Here is a list of some charities that could use your help. If you have a favorite non-profit, please tell me about it in the comments below so everyone can learn about it.
My favourite charity is YWCA - A Turning Point For Women. YWCA is Canada's oldest women's multi-service charity, with a number of amazing programs which address personal safety, economic security and well-being. YWCA is the largest national provider of shelter for women (about 25,000 women, children and teen girls including some 6,000 fleeing domestic violence each year). It's the largest provider of literacy, employment, life skills and counselling programs in the country, and the second largest provider of childcare.
As a young single mom, I know I'm blessed to have had a support system and resources to go back to school and start a new career. Not every woman does. YWCA does so much to help empower, encourage and support women in our communities to reach the full potential. In Halifax, F attended the daycare and I fundraised and provided mentorship to women in their Bridge to Success program. I'm looking forward to getting involved here in Moncton as well!
I'm a big supporter of Women's College Hospital Foundation.
Women's College Hospital is uniquely focused on advancing the future of women's healthcare. Whether it be mental health care and research through the reproductive years, the first sexual assault centre in Ontario, or their ambulatory model that looks to keep people OUT of the hospital and getting healthy at home - they are the future of women's health. I'm very proud to be a co-chair of their "next generation" committee, neWCHapter. Women care about the future of their healthcare - so it's important to give to that cause, so WCH can keep on being a pioneer for women's health.
My favourite charity is Garde-Manger pour tous located in the South West of Montreal. They serve 3,000 hot & healthy meals a day to kids who don't have access to a proper meal. I am participating in a Holiday Fundraising for them this Thursday to help out, and I dedicated my 1st book and most % of profits from the sales to them.
I have a charity that is very close to my heart, Sick Kids.
What can I say about Sick Kids? They save lives every day. They save children. They make life just a little bit easier for parents and family members of sick children.
I love it and support it because they saved my child and that saved me. When Tyson was diagnosed and transferred to Sick Kids the doctors told us that most children with his type of health issue die before anyone figures out what is wrong with them. Sick Kids had him home with us in 6 weeks. I can't ever repay them for what they gave me and I will always do what I can to support them.
As a (former) fundraiser I've learned about many amazing charities but one of my favourites is Ronald McDonald House.
RMHC is a home away from home for the families of sick children staying in hospitals across the country. About once a month my friends and I get together and volunteer to cook a homemade meal for the families staying at the House. With everything else going on in the lives of these families, a homemade meal they didn't have to prepare or pay for themselves is always welcomed.
My favourite charity is the Calgary Drop-In and Rehabilitation Centre.
The Drop-In Centre is a shelter for the homeless and at-risk population in Calgary. It provides services for the homeless and low-income population; people who are trying to get back on their feet but have nowhere to go. I support this charity because it strives to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness. I’ve volunteered there several times, and it is always an eye-opening experience. It’s not exactly pleasant, but it reminds me of how much I have and how much I can give. Some people are born into such bad situations, and the DI really strives to help those people.
I support The Food Bank
Our local food bank allows families who need it to come once a month and shop in the store and fill their shopping cart with meat and fruit and bread and canned goods and make sure that their kids are fed. I personally know some kids who use the food bank and are still hungry. Kids should never go hungry and I love how our community supports the food bank with food and monetary donations.
I may complain sometimes that I don't have a lot - it's the human condition to complain, of course - but I know that my children and I are very, very lucky. I try to teach my kids that not even the smallest comfort should be taken for granted, including things they don't necessarily like - like toothbrushes and soapy bath water and pencils for doing homework. That's why every year at Christmas time, our family participates in Operation Christmas Child by Samaritan's Purse. Samaritan's Purse provides a small shoe-box sized box, which we then fill with gifts of our choosing for children all over the world. We fill two boxes - one for a boy and a girl because I have one of each and the thought of another mom with children who don't own even basic necessities is heartbreaking to me. Our boxes get crammed full with things like toothbrushes and paste, soap and a washcloth, decks of cards and pencils and sharpeners, and socks and ponytail bands, games like jacks and balls, small stuffies, and also less "fun" things like Polysporin and bandaids. We attach a cheque for each box (usually $10) to help with the transportation cost of the box. The boxes are then delivered to children and families in need.
My family is directly benefitting from the amazing services provided by the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides
From guiding their partners through their daily lives to getting help when it's needed most, Dog Guides play a crucial role in the lives of Canadians with disabilities. Lions Foundation of Canada's mission is to assist Canadians with a medical or physical disability by providing them Dog Guides at no cost.
Lions Foundation of Canada trains Dog Guides and assist Canadians with a wide range of disabilities. With six programs in place, Canadians with disabilities are offered the opportunity to find greater independence, mobility and safety through the help of a Dog Guide.
The six programs are:
- Canine Vision for people who are blind or visually impaired
- Hearing Ear for people who are deaf or hard of hearing
- Autism Assistance for children who have autism spectrum disorder
- Service for people who have a physical disability
- Seizure Response for people who have epilepsy
- Diabetic Alert for people who have type 1 diabetes with hypoglycemic unawareness
It costs approximately $25,000 to raise and train a puppy and ultimately match the Dog Guide with its partner.
A mere three weeks ago, we had a very special new addition to our family. Abel is a beautiful white Standard Poodle and is my son’s new Autism Assistance Dog Guide. After 10 days of intensive handler training for me at the Dog Guides facility in Oakville, Abel came home to meet his boy and the two of them have been working on bonding ever since. Even in these early days, we already see a change in my son. He is incredibly gentle with Abel and is so calm when stroking his dog’s soft fur. We anticipate many years of companionship, calming relief, reduced anxiety and unconditional love for my child. All provided at no cost to us, with great thanks to the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides program.
I support Hamilton Food Share
It's a food bank organization that supplies the Greater Hamilton Area. At any given time, as many as 35,000 Hamiltonians are dealing with food insecurity, forced to choose between buying food and paying for a place to live.
I believe nobody should go hungry, especially kids. Children should have the right to be fed properly so they can develop to their full potential, because nutrition has a huge impact on developing brains and bodies. But even the statistics on food insecurity makes me ill given that about half of all edible food is thrown away every year in Canada. I try to donate dried vegetable products and whole meal baby food whenever I go through the grocery store. They also take monetary donations.
Roger's House is a pediatric palliative care facility located on the grounds of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). Named for longtime hockey coach Roger Nielson, the facility "provides a home-like environment" for "families with children / youth who are living with a life limiting illness that results in increased pain and symptoms and a progressive decline of health."
First of all, as parents with a healthy child, my wife and hope we never have to set foot inside Roger's House but, much like CHEO itself, there's an incredible peace of mind knowing it's in our community. I also love the tie to the local hockey community. Minor hockey teams regularly fundraise for the facility; the Ottawa Senators Foundation is a major partner for Roger's House. The whole thing is a testament to the force for good that hockey at all levels can be.
My favourite way to give actually isn't a charity - it's through an organization called Kiva which lets you loan money in small increments to people in developing countries to fund businesses, buy supplies, etc. You browse borrowers stories to decide who you would like to fund, and then get updates on borrowers' progress as they use the loans to achieve their goal. When they repay the loan - and the overwhelming majority of borrowers do - you can transfer that money over to another borrower (or you can withdraw it), lather, rinse, repeat.
My favorite charity is Save a Child's Heart Foundation is based in Israel.
Save a Child’s Heart Foundation provides free, life-saving surgery to children from developing countries and trains surgeons and other medical team members from those countries, helping them build their own future centres of competence.
What I love about this organization is that it goes beyond the areas of conflict in the Middle East. No matter where the affected child lives in the world if the medical expertise doesn't exist in their country Save a Child's Heart welcomes them to Israel and offers life saving surgery. In my own life when I want to send condolences to someone who has lost a dear one, I donate to this charity and write (for example): 'I believe that when one beautiful and important heart leaves us we can nurture another tiny heart somewhere in this world to take their important place.'
I believe in New Brunswick Public Libraries Foundation
The NBPLF raises funds in support of New Brunswick’s public library system. Thanks to the support of donors, they are able to help New Brunswick’s public libraries and bookmobiles provide more books, ebooks, music, movies, and electronic resources, free of charge, to all New Brunswickers.
I grew up in a house filled with books where, if there was a wall, there was a bookshelf. As a result, I developed a love and appreciation of the printed word. We lived in rural Ontario – way before the existence of the Internet – so often the only resources (aside from those at my elementary school), were the ones found in our family’s den. We rarely had a chance to visit an actual library. But when we did, it was magical. Now we reside in New Brunswick and when my daughter was born, we lived around the corner from our local library. Right from the start, we took part in every program available to us, from Babies in the Library to weekly Storytime programs.
I love this little library and my daughter, now six, always looks forward to our regular visits there. By donating to the New Brunswick Public Libraries Foundation every year, I’m helping to ensure that provincial libraries like ours continue to flourish and grow.
My family supports Starlight Children's Foundation of Canada
Starlight Canada is an organization that looks to improve the lives of children with serious illnesses and their families, through both in-hospital and out-of-hospital programs. This can mean an electronic fun centre, tablet, fun kit or fun room in-hospital, or a Starlight Escape, Experience or Wish out-of hospital.
What I love most about Starlight is that they include children with serious illnesses who aren't necessarily (and may never be) terminally ill. Living with a serious, chronic condition is also stressful, and I was drawn to the fact that they include these kids in all of their programming. Before I had my children, I was a volunteer Wish Granter for Starlight for many years. It was an honour to be the one to co-ordinate a child's "big wish" and see if we could make it happen.
My fave charity is Because I Am A Girl
The charity invests in girls around the world, providing access to resources like education and medical care that can help lift them out of poverty, and create an environment of equality. I love this charity because their focus is on empowering girls and women. Every girl should have access to these resources. Simply put: "Educate a girl and change the world."
My husband Dwayne and I support local charities. Our two favourites are our local food bank and a wildlife rescue organization we learned about through my brother.
The Salvation Army Milton Food Drive supports local families not just during the holidays, but throughout the year. Our family believes in supporting neighbours. We're all part of the same community and need to look out for one another.
Hobbitsee Wildlife Refuge is an organization whose goal is to care for sick, injured, or displaced native Ontario wildlife, and ultimately return them to the wild. We're not just animal lovers, we want to see animals live safely in their native habitat. This organization is about educating the community about native wildlife and helping animals live a natural life, without interference from humans.
My fave charity is Give Kids the World.
Give Kids the World is a non-profit organization that fulfills the wishes of all children with life-threatening illnesses and their families from around the world to experience a memorable, joyful, cost-free visit to the Central Florida attractions, and to enjoy the magic of Give Kids the World Village for as long s there is a need. Over 132,000 children have had their dream come true at Give Kids the World, and no child in need has ever been turned away.
This amazing charity gives sick children and their families something incredible: the gift of time to focus on being a family and having fun without having to worry about illness for a while. They also put a special emphasis on the siblings of the sick children, because so often they are overlooked because of the extra attention their brother or sister needs because of their illness.
We have been sponsoring a child through World Vision now for 7 years.
I love getting updates on how she's doing. So at Christmas time I buy gifts for teacher's though World Vision, such as mosquito nets and farm animals. The gift feels meaningful and I know it has a much bigger impact than a mug.
We support Easter Seals who help kids with physical disabilities succeed.
Variety Village works with young people with disabilities and those who face developmental barriers to achieve their life potential. Variety Village is a world recognized authority providing integrated sports and life skills programs, applied research and learning programs that change children’s lives and strengthen communities.
My go to charity is Plan Canada and Because I am a Girl, particularly their Gifts of Hope. I like the idea of giving something tangible and lasting to families that will continue to help and empower them in the long term, like a goat or school books.
My family supports SickKids Foundation. SickKids is the place nobody wants to go, but is so thankful for when they need to be there. The research they do changes lives of children around the globe and the care they offer is incredible.
We support SickKids because of all they do for kids, our daughter included. She's a patient of the SickKids cardiac clinic, and we know so many others whose lives have been touched by the incredible staff at SickKids.
And finally, here are my suggestions for worthy charities who deserve your dollars.
Life with a Baby is a not-for-profit organization whose goal is to provide ongoing practical and emotional PEER-based support for new and expecting parents, and parents of children up to the age of six. Their objective is to help reduce the isolation and anxiety that most new moms face, and in turn, minimize the likelihood of moms feeling alone and developing PPMD symptoms. I'm a big fan of their work helping moms.
I'm also a big supporter of Canadian Blood Services. A couple of years ago I almost died from blood loss and it was only while I was getting my emergency blood transfusions did I truly appreciate the importance of supporting this organization.
Canadian patients depend on Canadian Blood Services to manage a safe, secure and cost-effective blood system. They are responsible for collecting, testing and manufacturing blood, blood components and stem cells to knowledge creation and dissemination to conducting ground-breaking research. They also operate the OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network. They also operate Canada's national public umbilical cord blood bank.
You can donate blood, your baby's core blood, or your organs. You can also donate dollars to help support their work.
If you haven't seen your favorite charity here, please keep the thread going by leaving a comment below for everyone to see! Before buying that one extra toy for you child they probably won't use, why not pick one of these charities who would benefit from your generosity.