Transatlantic Puppetry

by Helene Louise  

We sometimes hear how the growing presence of technology in our lives is eroding the quality of our interactions with one another. For example, a friend of mine once told me that she and her husband used to watch TV in the evenings in separate rooms and would only realize they were watching the same program when they both laughed out loud at the same time. And recently, I saw a family having dinner at a restaurant and all of them, the parents and both children, were busy on their phones/tablets for the entire meal, looking up only when it was time to order.

 On the other hand, a lovely friend of mine told me a heart-warming story of how she keeps in touch with her family overseas—it's not the same as sitting together around the dinner table but linked via their laptops, she manages to participate in family dinners just the same. The food may be prepared thousands of miles apart but the conversation, laughs and sense of belonging are shared in real time. She has even performed puppet shows for her niece from across the ocean. 

 It just goes to show that we can take opportunities that are available to us and challenges that are presented to us and use them in many different ways. In this case, the presence of technology can either completely override a family dynamic, removing almost all interpersonal interaction, or actually foster it. I certainly know that in the case of my daughter's rehabilitation after a childhood stroke, I have had to look at things differently, make the most of every opportunity and find the advantage in the disadvantage. It takes some planning, discipline and hard work, but just like my friend's transatlantic puppetry, definitely worth the trouble.


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A Little More Light for the Seaweed

by Helene Louise  

Montreal has many wonderul attractions and one of them is the Biodome. Opened in 1992, the Biodome recreates four ecosystems found in the Americas. Visitors can walk through the four sections and see otters at play, capybaras resting on the sand and bats flying overhead. For the more curious, there is even a section where you can touch sea urchins, starfish and other creatures that we don’t often get to see up close. 

The Biodome was created in what was originally the velodrome for the 1976 Olympics. Since then, of course, renovations and updates have had to be undertaken, including the replacement of the 58 skylights that serve as a roof.  I read that the original acrylic skylights are slowly being replaced with newer windows made out of polycarbonate, a material used in the aviation industry. These modern skylights are improving the Biodome’s energy-efficiency, which is, of course, important in managing such a large facility in these times of higher energy costs and greater environmental awareness.  But, as it turns out, these new skylights have also had another unanticipated effect.  Apparently, the new skylights let in significantly more light than the original ones and the beneficial effect of this increase has been noticed even in the growth of the seaweed at the bottom of one of the exhibits.  

 As I explained in my book, what I have learned through my daughter’s rehabilitation, is the value of the little things—how an unexpected moment of kindness and compassion can make the difference between desperation and hope, how, over time, a new idea can make the difference between success and failure. And, how sometimes, the slightest change can have an unexpected impact for the better. 

I love the idea that despite the enormity of the Biodome, a change at the very top of the building is enough to unexpectedly make the life of the seaweed way down at the very bottom of the deepest tank just a little bit brighter.


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How do sharks swim?

by Helene Louise  

A couple of years ago, I visited the New England Aquarium with my daughters. It is a magnificent facility that has, as its main feature, a giant ocean aquarium. You can walk along a ramp that runs all the way up to the top of the tank and there, at the surface of the water, you can watch the sea creatures as they are being fed.  At the same time, there is a guide who provides information on the aquarium and answers questions. When I was there, a little girl no more than five years old, asked a simple question, “How do sharks swim?” The answer was something along the lines that sharks swim by propelling themselves with their tail, whereas fish use the muscles on the sides of the body to wriggle from side to side and stingrays, wave the sides of their bodies like wings to get wherever they want to go.

 Many times during my daughter’s rehabilitation, I was told how she should be doing things—the proper way to cut paper and hold a pencil or the only way to solve a problem. I am grateful for the advice that I received and in general, I agree that there are normally good reasons for aiming to do things in a more standardized way. But in retrospect, maybe there is also scope for greater flexibility in how we do things. Maybe, there is room to do the same things differently and not to pressure both the children facing the challenges of physical rehabilitation and their parents, to adapt to a single “mainstream” way of doing things. For example, I type very quickly and I follow the “proper” way of typing that I learned decades ago on a clunky old electric typewriter. But, I have seen people typing very efficiently using only two fingers of each hand. This “improper” way of typing is by no means reflected in the final product.  That is, the final documents look the same—the outcome is equivalent. 

 The same is true with the way that we hold a pencil or a paintbrush. The standard way is probably the most efficient, but the paintings by artists who hold a paintbrush in their mouth or between their toes are certain to be much more beautiful than anything that I could ever create holding the brush between my fingers like you’re supposed to. These artists don’t hold the brush “properly” but what they have is drive and passion which in this case are perhaps even more important than the “right” way of doing things.  

So, in the same way that the sharks, fish, stingrays, turtles and other sea creatures get to the same place using completely different ways of getting around, maybe we too could be more open to different ways of getting the same, or similar, results.


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A Hopeful Sign of Spring

by Helene Louise  

 

Where I live, the winters are long and this year it was colder than usual—even for someone like me who doesn't mind the winter. So this week, I was particularly happy to find these little crocuses cheerfully blooming in the sun. Every spring, I keep my eyes open for the crocuses in my neighbourhood that year after year, bravely bloom through the barely-thawed earth. Even if the air is still cold and the landscape is mostly grey and brown, it reminds me that the worst of the winter is behind us and ahead, are the warm, colourful days of summer.

 And interestingly enough, next winter, when that very same spot is once again frozen solid and covered in three feet of snow, and it feels as if the dark, cold days of winter will never end, those same little bulbs will still be there underneath all of that snow, waiting once again to bloom at the earliest possible opportunity. 

Every year, the crocuses remind me that there is always hope, even if we can't see it—whether it’s hope for warmth after a long, cold winter, hope for another tiny triumph in my daughter’s rehabilitation after a childhood stroke, or hope for relief from whatever else we find dark and difficult.


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Underdogs, Misfits and Me

by Helene Louise  

One of the primary factors that motivated me to write about my experience coming to terms with my daughter's stroke and now, motivates me to continue developing materials to encourage others, is that I know how discouraging it is to be met with negativity and how difficult it is to continue persevering when everyone around you keeps telling you something is not possible. Ultimately, as I've written, my daughter is overcoming many of the limitations placed on her by the specialists early in her life. And as for myself, even though my life unravelled at the worst possible time, I eventually found a "new normal" as well as an appreciation for the beauty in the tiny triumphs that came out of our struggles.

 Therefore, it was with great interest that I read Malcolm Gladwell's book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants. In an earlier blog entry, I made a link between an article he wrote years ago in the New Yorker on a study which showed that no “perfect” tomato sauce will appeal equally to all people, and my experience motivating my daughter throughout her rehabilitation.

In David and Goliath, however, the link with my own experience is much more direct. Gladwell challenges how we think about obstacles, disadvantages, disability, discrimination and loss, and shows how much of what is beautiful in the world has come from suffering and adversity. Having felt like a misfit more often than I care to admit, found beauty after persevering to overcome difficulties and actively defended my daughter against discrimination, I found this book inspiring, thought-provoking and reassuring in many ways.


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