No Less "Wonder"-ful

by Helene Louise  

 

Just because something is not widely known, doesn't necessarily mean it's any less impressive. As I wrote earlier, on my trip to San Francisco last week, I was very impressed with the Golden Gate Bridge and it reminded me of the importance of persevering even when (and maybe especially when...) people say something is not possible.

 Although it's less well known, it wasn't on my "must see while in San Francisco" list and not considered a "wonder", I was equally impressed by the Bay Bridge. Built around the same time as the Golden Gate Bridge, it too was widely regarded as something that could not be built. The challenges were different—in this case not severe winds, tides and fog, but a combination of deep water, shallow mud flats and distance—but by combining elements from different designs, the challenges were eventually overcome. The Bay Bridge quickly became the favourite way to travel between San Francisco and the East Bay and when it suffered a major set-back during an earthquake in 1989, yet another solution was developed, different from the first one and adapted to the information and resources available at that time.

Certainly, in trying to find solutions to the challenges that my daughter has faced after suffering a childhood stroke, I can relate to the need to be creative and combine elements of different approaches to a unique set of circumstances.  It's not easy to push yourself to "think outside the box" and come up with new or combined approaches rather than simply applying ones that are readily available. And, the effort to do so is not necessarily apparent to others. However, just because others don't see the work that went into something or the result isn't considered as spectacular as something else, doesn't mean it's any less "wonder"-ful. 


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Something "Wonder"-ful

by Helene Louise  

 

This week, I had the privilege of taking a break from a particulary cold Canadian winter to spend some time in San Francisco. One of the sights I couldn't miss of course, was the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, now 76 years old. 

As the picture from my trip shows, the Golden Gate Bridge is indeed impressive but at one time, it was actually referred to as “the bridge that couldn’t be built”. Joseph Strauss, the engineer who designed the bridge apparently spent more than ten years building support for the idea in Northern California and after that, it took four years to actually construct the bridge—including major struggles with severe winds, tides and fog. Still, today the Golden Gate Bridge is considered on of the seven man-made “wonders” of the modern world and is one of the most widely recognized symbols of San Francisco.

As I looked at the bridge, I was reminded, on a very large scale, of the importance of working towards what you believe in, even if others say it can’t be done and even if the surrounding circumstances push against you. Because, with enough perseverance and commitment, the result might just turn out to be something enduring and “wonder”-ful.


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Fireflies for the New Year

by Helene Louise  

Every January, people make new year’s resolutions, promising themselves that this year, finally, is the year that they’re going to lose weight or get fit or accomplish that certain something that they’ve always wanted to do. But even with the best of intentions and the most sincere of resolutions, we often find ourselves discouraged and abandoning our goal after only a few months. 

I have struggled with this myself but when it came to helping my daughter overcome the effects of a childhood stroke, abandoning the goal of helping her progress as much as possible was not really an option. Still, the motivation to persevere didn’t just come on its own—it’s something that I had to continuously work on. As I explained in my book, it was a bit like catching fireflies on a high school camping trip many year ago.

The thing about fireflies, is that they don’t glow very brightly and they don’t necessarily glow consistently either. They flicker here and there as they go about their quiet bug lives. But, just because you don’t see them, doesn’t mean they’re not there. Maybe you just happened to be looking the other way or maybe there was something in the way so you didn’t even have a chance to see the flickering. Or maybe, you were just too distracted to even notice. That’s how it has been for me as I’ve looked for little flickers of hope, trying to figure out how to help my daughter.

It would be much easier, of course, if we all had a glowing bag of fireflies, so to speak, to guide us and serve as a constant source of inspiration. But that’s not how it works.  We are all responsible for finding our own little flickers of hope and keeping them glowing within ourselves as we travel along facing life’s challenges. The good thing though, is that the more I practice looking for little flickers of hope, the more I find them all around me—and the easier it is to stick to my goals.

I hope this year brings everyone many exceptionally bright fireflies.

Happy New Year.


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In this holiday season...

by Helene Louise  

 

In my experience, life is rarely a straight line. Even when we know exactly what we want and plan everything right down to the smallest detail to be sure that things will turn out exactly as we want them to be, that's not always how it ends up.

The holiday season is sort of the same. For some, maybe it really is the way it’s portrayed on television—with everyone smiling and laughing together with happy-looking friends and family, receiving the perfect gift at the perfect time in the coziest of settings. But for many, that’s not really how it is.

Still, as I've written in the context of coming to terms with my daughter's stroke, given enough time and reflection, I've found that there is normally something to be grateful for just the same. For myself, I’d say that the gifts for which I am most grateful aren’t those that I’ve found under the tree (although I am grateful for those too). The best gifts have been those that can’t be wrapped—like the times when an unexpected sense of kindness and compassion has made the difference between desperation and hope, a new idea has made the difference between success and failure and a thoughtful e-mail or kind word has brought encouragement at just the right time.

So, in this holiday season, I wish everyone much happiness and most of all, a new year full of presents that can't be wrapped.


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Questions for Mama - Part III (Conclusion)

by Helene Louise  

“Do you know what makes a good mother?”

 Just as my daughter’s question about why my face always looked so sad opened my eyes to the need for some self-reflection, so did a chance meeting with a well-travelled friend one lunch hour many years ago.  I was back to work after six years out of the workforce and in the first year of living on my own with my young daughters. He asked me how things were going and I launched into an long update, loaded with anecdotes and details. In retrospect, I was probably feeling sensitive about being a single-mother and wanted to be sure to convince everyone of how well I was managing everything on my own.

 When I paused, he asked, “Do you know what makes a good mother?” I felt uncomfortable because I thought a criticism might be on its way. “A good mother,” he said, “...is one that doesn’t give everything”. This comment was as unexpected as my daughter’s questions that I wrote about earlier (Questions for Mama Part I and II) and equally thought-provoking. He was right. Just like I wrote in the posting about what to do “in the unlikely event of a decompression,” in the same way that it’s critical to put your own oxygen mask on first and then help your child, if you want to be a good parent, you have to make sure that you yourself are thriving. That’s not easy to do when you’re already overwhelmed with everything else that has to get done. 

 In my case, it took time before I managed to carve out some time for myself. For years, I was fuelled by the sense of purpose that came from being a mother and the feeling that I had to make up for the fact that there was only one parent in the house—combined with managing my daughter’s rehabilitation and my long to-do list, this took up every waking minute that I had. 

 Eventually though, I found time to think beyond my responsibilities. In the same way that I try to appreciate the tiny things that are beautiful in each day, the things that I did for myself were equally tiny. Leafing through my favourite magazine after a long day even though I was so tired that I could barely keep my eyes open, making an especially good cup of coffee for myself as I helped my girls with their homework and, as the they got older, taking half an hour to go for a run. All of the little things that I did for myself—even though thinking of myself sometimes seemed contrary to my goal of being a good mama—made me feel like a happier mama, and as a result, I probably was a better mama. 


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