Learning and Inspiration from the Simplest of Sources

by Helene Louise  

Learning and Inspiration from the Simplest of Sources

As much as I thrive on having a routine in my life in order to fit in everything that needs to get done on any given day (and maybe get to the things I just want to do…), I recognize that the “learning and inspiration from the simplest of sources” as I recently wrote about, is sometimes facilitated by stepping out of my routine for a time.

This past week for example, I spent a few days in Maine. I know November isn’t exactly prime time for tourism, as evidenced by the fact that many of the tourism-related services like the bike rental shops were closed for the season and that we narrowly missed a major storm the day before we arrived. But, if you don’t need to rent a bike and you don’t mind bundling up, there is beauty and inspiration to be found in so many places. In my case, walking along the wind-swept coastline, a blustery palette of blues and greys, and nothing but ocean as far as you can see, was a chilly but refreshing reminder that there is so much beyond my to-do list and whatever frustrations I might feel as I myopically move from task to task in my usual routine.

And surprisingly, beyond the reminder to look above and beyond my daily list, I was also unexpectedly reminded of my past. In a Scandinavian-themed store, I came across all sorts of products and items that spontaneously brought forward warm memories of a time decades ago. I was born in Sweden but have grown up proudly Canadian. Still, the memories brought forward by objects I hadn’t seen or thought about in years was a heart-warming reminder of the person I was before I became a mother, before I faced the challenges of figuring out how to help my daughter after a childhood stroke, and before my days were defined by the activities that make up my current routine.

In a way, these recent experiences reflect the perspective I am generally trying to bring to the broader discussion about the importance of hope and perseverance in the context of rehabilitation after a childhood stroke. The importance of looking beyond the diagnosis in the short term and maybe drawing on one’s experiences from the past to move forward. Even when she was a baby, I always believed that my daughter could be more than the sum total of the dark limitations placed on her by the first specialist we met. A decade and a half or so later, that had certainly proven to be the case. I continue to appreciate the learning and inspiration I find from the simplest of sources—both at home and away.


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More Lingering Lessons From Grade 4

by Helene Louise  

As I wrote in September, I loved my grade 4 teacher. She didn’t smile much and she was very stern but I thought she was wonderful. Back then, in the late seventies, her stories about “the good old days” included anecdotes about how it had been when she had gone to school in a one-room school house. I was completely fascinated by the idea that the person standing right in front of me could have actually gone to school like a “pioneer girl”.

We all thought it sounded so terribly old-fashioned and that the kids back then, or “children” as she insisted on calling them, couldn’t possibly have learned as much as we were learning in what clearly seemed like such modern times. After all, they hadn’t had all of the fancy stuff that we had—cassette tapes for listening to music, walkie-talkies for talking to a friend, antenna TVs for watching our favourite shows and digital wrist watches for keeping track of time so we didn’t miss our show the only day of the week it was on.

To our surprise, however, our teacher believed that the kids back then might have actually been learning faster than we were. She said that because all the grades had been together in the same room, the younger kids learned the more advanced concepts along with the older ones by just being in the same room with them. Nothing fancy, just looking, listening and being part of what was going on around them.

Sometimes I wonder if with the ubiquitous presence of technology in our lives, we sometimes forget that there are also simple ways of learning and doing things. I’d be absolutely lost without my iPhone. It has replaced almost everything…the cassette tapes for listening to music, the walkie-talkie for staying in touch with a friend, the antenna TV for watching my favourite show and my watch for keeping track of time, even though I can now essentially watch my favourite show any time and place I like, day or night.

However, I still appreciate the inherent value in the “older ways” of doing things. And, I regularly seek out opportunities to hear live music, talk to a friend in person, go for a walk rather than watching yet another episode of something I find entertaining and while out, not worrying too much about the time.  And, looking back on about a decade and a half of helping my daughter with her rehabilitation after a childhood stroke, I’d say that playing with her older sister in the park when she was younger, seeing other kids swimming, skipping or doing anything at all that she hadn’t yet learned, has often been equally effective as anything I’ve tried to do to help her—learning and inspiration can still come from the simplest of sources.


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Back to School - Lingering Lessons From Grade Four

by Helene Louise  

I loved my grade four teacher. It was the late seventies and, at that time, she was already “an old lady”. She was really wrinkly, didn't smile much, she was grumpy most of the time and she ran her classroom in a strict old-fashioned way, but I loved her anyway. She had a great big piano and from time to time she would play "I's the by...", a Canadian folk song from the East Coast as we all sang along, happily but not quite sure what it was all about.

My grade four teacher spent a lot of time lecturing us about "the good old days", like how it had been when she had gone to school in a one-room schoolhouse. That fact alone fascinated me, when the seventies already seemed like such incredibly modern times. One of the things she would tirelessly work into whatever she was teaching us was, "...If you have even just ten minutes of time, then you should make good use of those ten minutes. Ten minutes is enough time to get something done." Whether it was reviewing our times tables one more time or helping our mothers dry the dishes, she insisted that even small ten-minute intervals were to be appreciated and made good use of.

As I wrote in my book, the bulk of my daughter’s rehabilitation after a childhood stroke has actually come from the cumulative effect of many small bursts of effort—ten, fifteen, twenty minutes at a time—over many years. And arguably, this entire project of writing about our experience is also the result of many snippets of time that I’ve made use of while riding the subway, waiting for the bus, sitting at a coffee shop on my lunch hour or wherever else I’ve found a bit of time between other things.

I’m always grateful for the little signs that something good has come of my efforts, modest as they may be. For example, in this back to school season, the Association hémiparesie, a pediatric stroke association in France, has distributed instructions for how to adapt a ruler for those who have limited use of one hand (like children who have suffered a stroke). And in doing so, acknowledged that the idea is based on the adapted protractor instructions that I shared last year (first with an explanation as to how they came about and then as a bilingual version), also developed over many little ten-minute intervals of time. It’s a simple idea, of course, but all of our ten-minute contributions taken together, are making a difference someplace. For those kids who will be helped by these adaptations, the cumulative effect is indeed tangible.

It’s been a really long time since I was in grade four, but since then (along with eventually finding out what that folk song was about…), I have come to appreciate the value of my teacher’s insistence on making good use of even just ten minutes of time. Even if you don’t see the impact up close, somewhere, maybe even far away, in this case a year later across the Atlantic in France, something good can come of it all. (And who knows, maybe even further still—I was thrilled to recently ship the french versions of my books to New Caledonia, located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, about 1, 200 km from Australia!)

So, in this back-to-school season, I am thinking of my grade four teacher whose lessons are still resonating with me today, so many decades later. And maybe in some indirect way, still resonating in a classroom somewhere through the ways in which I have applied her advice. I can’t be sure of course, but I am sure that she was right about making good use of even just ten minutes of time.

“Bonne rentrée scolaire” as they say in French! (i.e. Wishing you a great back-to-school season!)


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Botox and...a break!

by Helene Louise  

It has been six months since my daughter had Botox injections as I wrote about earlier this year, followed since then, by almost daily exercises and weekly occupational therapy appointments. All these months later, however, much like the effects of the Botox itself which slowly faded away, so is our motivation.

Maybe it’s because at this point, we know that thankfully, my daughter has been able to keep much of the gains we were able to make while the Botox loosened the muscles affected by the stroke and facilitated her ability to progress. Maybe it’s because at this point, with the progress she’s been able to demonstrate, we know that, also thankfully, we are in line again to have the privilege of another similar treatment (which will, of course, require mustering up another sustained burst of motivation to support our efforts). Maybe it’s because at this point, with another long school year behind us, it’s normal feel fed up and want to take a break from everything that is routine. The weather is beautiful, the days are long and there are other things calling out to be done—books to read, trails to walk, laughs to laugh and other activities with my love ones that don’t necessarily start with “I should really…” September will be here soon enough and then, whether we have the motivation or not, we will all have to get back into the routine of “I should’s” and “I have to’s” .

So at this point, the motivation I have is to minimize the “must do’s”, take a bit of a break from the “I should’s” and try to enjoy these precious summer days as much as possible. Happy summer!


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En français - format papier

by Helene Louise  

(For English text, see below.)

Pour ceux qui se sont dit intéressés à avoir mon livre en français sous forme papier…le voilà! 

La petite tache noire : Comment j’ai fait face à un AVC diagnostiqué chez mon bébé, maintenant disponible auprès d'Amazon.ca sous forme papier et numérique.

Mes sincères remerciements à mon amie transatlantique, Anne-Catherine de l’Association hémiparésie, pour son encouragement en cours de route.

Merci en bonne lecture!

__________

For those who expressed an interest in a paper copy of my book in French…here it is!

La petite tache noire : Comment j’ai fait face à un AVC diagnostiqué chez mon bébé, now available on Amazon.ca in paper and e-book formats.

My sincere thanks to my trans-Atlantic friend Anne-Catherine of the Association hémiparésie, for her encouragement along the way.

Thank you and happy reading!


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