Did anyone else tape their broken crayons together when they were little? It was probably done in the spirit of not throwing anything useful away, and I'd actually forgotten about it until I was cleaning old craft supplies this summer and came across a handful of them.
I was thinking of them again this week as we did a writing activity using pieces from a game called Paint Chip Poetry. Students partnered up and used a handful of paint chip pieces with descriptive names (just like the crayons) to create their own poems.
It was actually a lot of fun! The level of engagement was crazy high, but what really surprised me was that a student stayed afterward to write her own piece. She left it on my computer over lunch, saying that it was the best writing she had ever done. Okay, wow. That small nudge from a handful of paint chips turned into an avalanche for her!
So here we go. I'm fairly confident in my ability to string words together in a coherent fashion when it comes to this blog every week, but poetry? I haven't written poetry for a very long time. It's a whole different thing lol. But in the spirit of living the vulnerability that I like to talk about so much, I pulled out the taped-up crayons as my own pre-thinking inspiration and wrote this: Broken Crayons, all.
Broken crayons, all.
cerulean blue bits
and burnt sienna shrapnel.
perfect cylindrical tubes of mass-produced David’s
for the pint-size Michelangelo
to scrawl the pièce-de-resistance-de-jour
proudly perched on the fridge.
snapped off in fits of dysregulated
or simply the resultant pressure of
pushing too hard
to get it
(but it was wrong anyway.)
Paper covers peeled off in various stages of
disarray and dismemberment,
no regard for the Crayola name
even though it should have given
some semblance of safety
when thrust roughly into the box of 64
*complete with sharpener*
when it had only known the snug security of
12 simple primary and secondary companions.
There was no plain yellow here
amongst the diente de lion and pissenlit
even if they called themselves
Waxy residue left in full view
of the other broken pieces
like a black hole smudged by fingers
Bandaged up with ragged rounds of masking tape
(rounds and rounds and rounds and rounds and rounds and)
that will simply not be
concealed by shimmering slips of metallic pink,
the bulge in the middle
giving it away every damn time.
What would you say to that
robin’s egg blue if you could?
I mean, I know that you can’t.
Because this is just pretend
and this is just crayons.
We are broken crayons, all
and a tape-weld is better than remnant-life
and much easier to hold
even if it is half-green-half-yellow,
and even if the pieces
I don’t have a bucket list. I really don’t. I’ve been fortunate to travel and fulfill many dreams, so when I tell kids that I want to jump out of an airplane before I’m fifty, I’m half-joking.
And half not.
I love trying new things. Seeing if I can do it. And before anyone screams that those are classic mid-life crisis symptoms, this isn't new. Learning to skate and joining a hockey team when you are 35? Not easy lol.
But this weekend’s exploits were BY FAR the hardest thing that I have pushed myself to do, both physically and mentally: rock climbing.
It’s a bit of a story, so here we go.
My daughter, Eliisa, has university finals and wasn’t able to come home for Thanksgiving, so I loaded up with podcast recommendations and drove to see her. Her boyfriend, Corbin, is a seasoned climber and Eliisa has taken up the sport too.
Mom, do you want to try?
The first night we did bouldering at a local climbing gym. Climbing paths are clearly marked out, as the hand and feet ‘rocks’ are brightly colored and the difficulty level labelled. The highest the walls go are 14 feet, and most people jump directly down onto the floor of giant mats from the top.
I was a little too timid for that, not trusting old joints to land in alignment, so I climbed my way back down too. It was fun, and aside from blisters forming on my hands, was a good introduction to climbing.
Next morning? Mountains.
-2C and cold!
We drove to Kananaskis and hiked 10 minutes up a rocky path into the wilderness. When we stopped, the grade was so steep that I had to place my backpack and shoes carefully so that they didn’t roll down into the crevasse.
Corbin went first, scaling the rock and setting up the top rope. That made me nervous to watch. Essentially the rope goes from the ground, through hooks at the top, and back down. The person on the ground belays, holding the rope for the climber and keeping them safe.
There are bolts (hooks) in the rock that he feeds the rope through, attaching them with carabiners, so that if you fall, you are only falling to the carabiner below. Once I got my head around the fact that I was safe, the nerves went away, replaced by the hard work of getting up the rock.
You look for a hole to grab or a little jutting rock to put your toe on. With climbing shoes, it’s amazing how the tiniest of surfaces can be useful.
Get my foot higher. Toe on a rock edge.
Push myself to standing.
Get my hand over that rock and grab.
Slow, hard work.
For the first time, I was feeling Brene Brown’s “there is no courage without vulnerability” on a literal level.
The most difficult sections were the smooth rock where there were no hand-holds at all, and there was one point in each of the climbs where I didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t think I could finish. Part of my brain telling me not to quit, that I’ll be forever mad at myself if I don’t do it! But another part of the brain is in survival mode, and the body is telling a different story. They call it ‘Elvis leg,’ an uncontrolled shaking and I can’t make my left leg stop doing it.
I don’t see any way up or left or right and as much as I lean my body into the wall like the two of them are encouraging me, I feel like an action movie character clinging to a cliff before they fall.
The first time it was unexpected, trying to get through a difficult section, my foot sideways on a rock (not the toe, my mistake) a small slip and…
…an andrenaline rush, for starters!
But then a wave of relief and the confirmation that I was perfectly safe.
The second time, I knew it was coming. Against the smooth wall, I had tried several different ways to move but couldn’t see the crack for my left foot that the kids could see, and the only other option was one at chest-height. I’m not flexible enough to do that standing on solid ground, let alone perched with one foot on an inch-wide ledge and the other on the tiniest of protrusions, so that wasn’t going to happen.
“I can’t hold this. I’m going to fall!”
And I did.
It was scary for a split second, but the rope went taut and I jerked to a stop. I slammed into the wall, likely where the ugly bruise on my leg is from. But it gave me a second to rest and breathe, and when I got my foot back onto the small rock, I could see the crack they had suggested and pushed my way up and through.
The benefit of having other eyes on the ground is that they coached me all the way. They saw spots that I couldn’t, encouraging me to reach juuuuust a bit farther when I said I couldn’t.
“Awesome! You’re through the hard section now!”
I swear to god, they said that for every section, but it was the encouragement I needed to make it through each one.
It seems to be a theme of my writing these past few weeks: that even though we know the end goal of our journey, you make it through by focusing on what is in front of you. One section at a time.
And then you’re at the top.
The view is amazing, of course, but you can stand anywhere in the mountains and have an amazing view.
What made this one special, was hanging in a harness off the edge of the mountain. Legs dangling. Hands not holding on.
I’m not afraid of heights, so looking down didn’t bother me. Although I did have a vice-grip on my phone as I took a few minutes to take some pictures!
The way down wasn’t nearly as challenging but was just as exciting. The first time, it was like an amusement park ride as the kids controlled my descent (I went quickly lol) but the second I rappelled down myself. It was like a weird horizontal walk, as you keep your feet flat against the wall, legs straight, your hands on the rope as the brake.
It was - hands down - one of the most exciting and challenging things that I’ve ever done. And I loved it.
Of course, there was ample time to think about how the adventure applies to our lives. Although my own takeaways on perseverance were obvious, I was mostly struck by the differences between the two days of climbing.
In the first, everything was laid out. Simple. Straightforward. Differentiated to your ability. Soft mats to catch you.
In the second, the path was barely clear. You had to find your own way through. The obstacles were plenty, and the rocks were very much real. They scratched and bruised. There was a rope and hooks for backup, but a fall was still abrupt and jarring.
At first, it reminded me of how some of our paths through life are paved with supports and safety; others with challenge after challenge after challenge to overcome. It made me think about the gradual release of responsibility model, as the two kids modelled and guided me the first day and then coached me on the second day as I did it myself.
As I thought about which day I enjoyed more, it was definitely the latter.
Why? I began to think of the lawnmowering approach to raising children, removing every hindrance and hardship to save them heartbreak and disappointment. Except that by doing that, we also remove their ability to struggle through challenges, to learn lessons about persevering, and to feel the pride in achieving a goal.
Robert Frost was right: “I shall be telling this with a sigh,
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood,
and I — I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Be forewarned. I’m a whole lot tired and a little bit grumpy.
I’ve just finished watching the clip of Trump with only a fabric mask on, contagious with COVID, driving around in his sealed SUV and exposing Secret Service agents for a photo op.
Like that wasn’t bad enough, he releases a video saying: “I learned a lot about COVID. I learned it by really going to school. This is the REAL school. This isn’t the ‘let’s read a book’ school. And I get it.”
We don’t always “get” something until it happens to us, but COME ON. Scientists have been telling us about COVID since February, and there are some things that we should TOTALLY learn from books and not experience, and getting a viral infection that can kill you is one of them.
So I’m not letting DJT off the hook. But today is a day where I feel a huge amount of guilt for not really “getting” the tragedy of cancer until my closest cousin died of it just over a year ago.
Of course, we have had cancer in our family like almost every other family out there, but it was random and not rampant. So when Lisa was diagnosed with breast cancer and had treatment, I assumed that like so many other women, that she would survive it.
She did not. Just short of her 49th birthday, the world lost a teacher, mother, colleague, mentor, athlete, friend….a list just doesn’t do it justice. Today, I ran 10km for her in the CIBC Run for a Cure. As the paper pinny says, “I am always running for Lisa.”
Do I get what cancer does to families now? I sure do.
Do I pay more attention to the challenges and suffering of people in other ways I’m not affected by? I sure try.
So what is it about human nature that makes us only pay attention to things when it impacts us directly? Why do we struggle to empathize or look from another point of view?
I know there is research on this. I know there are scientific reasons. But my Trump rant has put me over the word count already, so let me get in one more story instead.
This week in ELA, one of students brought up the topic of demonstrators tearing down statues in the USA. John A. Macdonald’s name also came up. As did arguments for keeping him right where he is in parks all across Canada.
This was my response.
Over my many years at our school, several students have passed away. I don’t know when it quite started, but each time our community was struck by tragedy, a mural was painted on the hallway walls. Each one was meaningful, and no doubt an important part of the healing process for the students who created them.
So when our school underwent a large renovation a few years ago, there was some backlash to the murals being painted over.
I could empathize with the alumni artists. Their pain was literally painted on the cinderblock. But they had graduated and moved on. They were not walking the halls every day as many of us continued to do.
Whenever I walked by one, I vividly remembered the night of the accident. Driving back from the city, it was only 2kms from our house and we detoured backroads to get home.
As I walked by another, I would think of the last conversation we had on a Friday afternoon, as best I remember, we were talking about band.
Yet another, the memories of teaching their sibling, every conversation a conscious effort to not say the wrong name, so striking were their similarities.
Those murals were a daily, painful reminder of those young lives lost.
And it was daily.
They were never just pictures painted on a wall for me as they were for all the students who came afterward, with no knowledge of those teens. And I don't think that the alumni artists had any idea of the effect it had on those of us left behind.
I still think of those students. Absolutely. I won't ever forget them.
But it is far less painful without daily visual reminders.
So although I really only associate John A. Macdonald with the ten dollar bill, the first PM and being an alcoholic, his infamous legacy is so much more particularly to Indigenous people. As much as I could walk by a statue of him and perhaps not even recognize his likeness, that is the privilege of not having felt the impact of his decisions impacting my existence to this day. And as he stands in a park somewhere, he is a painful daily visual reminder as well.
I hope that every lesson isn’t one that we have to experience ourselves. That we can learn lessons from books. From science.
From each other.
That we can see and acknowledge the concerns and suffering of people and support them. Be there for them.
I wish I could still be there for you coz. I’ll be running here for you instead. Miss you.
As I sat down to write tonight’s blog, I had a split-second of indecision…it’s already so late and I’m not convinced I have anything to write about…but then I knew that I had to.
There really is something to be said for sticking to a task, and like missing a day or two of exercise, it only makes the next one harder.
So let’s see what comes through the keyboard with a little bit of pressure!
It’s not the worst thing in the world either. I’m not sure if it’s just teachers, but so many times I think we forget the saying, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” Especially now in the time of COVID, when we are working in previously unknown conditions, prepping courses in previously untried ways, there are some things that we just have to let go.
I read an article earlier tonight called, “What My Sled Dogs Taught Me About Planning for the Unknown.” TBH, I was mostly drawn to the picture of the huskies first, the title second.
If you read this blog, you’ll know that we had to put down our 14 year old husky Luka this spring. And from the stories I’ve told, I hope that you have gleaned that huskies can be…ummm…difficult. They are fiercely independent, and as I often said about Luka, the GPS in his head never functioned.
He would run and run and run.
If you have a few minutes, read the whole article! But because I know that time is of the essence and if you’re actually here reading this, that might be as far as you get. So these are some of the parts that stood out most for me:
“Here’s the thing about sled dogs: They never know how far they’re going to run…but each time my dogs hit the trail, they run hard - they give it everything they’ve got. That’s fine if we’re going 10 miles, or 30, distances they can cover easily in a few hours….But what if we’re going a hundred miles, or a thousand? Asking sled dogs to pace themselves, to slow it down, is like asking a retriever to only fetch one ball out of three: It goes against their very instinct.”
Hmmm. I know people like this.
“Having a plan made me feel confident and safe. And then I got into long-distance dog sledding and I discovered that the only thing worse than not having a plan was the stress of having one and constantly breaking it. Working with dogs in the wilderness means negotiating countless shifting variables: snow and wind, wild animals, open water, broken equipment, each dog’s needs and changing mood.”
Countless shifting variables. 2020 in a nutshell.
“I learned that plans, when I made them, were nothing but a sketch; the only thing I needed to count on was that the dogs and I would make decisions along the way. So how do you throw yourself into the unknown - and better yet, feel OK about it? How do you settle into an endurance challenge with no idea when it will end?”
Ah, there’s the rub.
And the author gives some great advice: rest. In particular, front-loading rest.
(The irony of writing this at 11pm and not going to bed is not lost on me haha.)
“It’s far easier to prevent fatigue than to recover from it later. But resting early, anticipating your dogs’ needs, does something even more than that: It builds trust. A sled dog learns that by the time she’s hungry, her musher has already prepared a meal; by the time she’s tired, she has a warm bed…And it’s this security, this trust, that lets her pour herself into the journey, give the trail everything she has without worrying about what comes next.”
I watched a group of students excitedly peering in their microscopes the other day, waving me over to show their discoveries. Masks on. Engaged. Pouring themselves into their learning journey. Trusting us.
“Because if you don’t know how far you’re going, you need to act like you’re going forever.”
I read a pandemic dystopian novel this weekend. I know that we hope for a vaccine and think of a return to normality. In the book, there was no end game. Normal never returned. It’s a bit of a depressing read, I’ll be honest! But there were ways where life…living…continued. In fact, a recurring line was “survival isn’t sufficient.”
“Planning for forever is essentially impossible, which can actually be freeing: It brings you back into the present…what matters is that, to the degree you can, you make your own life sustainable every day.”
*Makes mental note*
“Sled dogs can run farther, in a shorter time, than almost any other animal. But they only think as far ahead as they can see, hear, and smell..It is, in its way, that simple.”
That makes me think of Terry Fox, and what I wrote about last week…how he ran to the next curve, to the next hill, etc. And those small pieces added up to a marathon, each and every day.
Just like the dogs, we need to take care of ourselves in case we are in a long stretch, and since we can't see too far ahead, just truly make the best of where we are at this moment.
And it doesn’t have to be perfect either.
“What My Sled Dogs Taught Me About Planning for the Unknown” by Blair Braverman https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/23/sports/sled-dogs-mushing-unknowns-planning.html
It’s hard to believe that it has been 40 years since Terry Fox ran 5,373 kilometers across Canada in his Marathon of Hope.
This year’s run was held virtually, where everyone was encouraged to take part wherever you were and in whatever capacity you were able.
“One day, your way.”
For me, I ran 12km yesterday and another 3km today. I like to run, but there is no way that I will ever complete a half-marathon, let alone a full marathon, in my life. Terry ran a marathon. Every. Single. Day. And not always in beautiful fall 26C weather. A lot of the early clips are from snowy, cold Atlantic Canada. In so many ways, it is beyond anything that most of us can fathom.
Despite everything, he persevered until the very end, and then only wished that Canadians would carry on: “Even if I don’t finish, we need others to continue. It’s got to keep going without me.” And in schools and communities across the world, it has.
There are so many lessons that Terry and his legacy continue to teach us.
One that sticks with me was his approach to running each day. You would think that he would focus on the marathon distance of the day. That it would be tempting to count the kilometers off. My app does that. One kilometer. Two. Three.
But Terry didn’t do that. He didn’t think about running the whole 42kms.
He thought about getting to the top of the hill.
Then the curve in the road.
Then the next signpost.
…as each of these small goals were achieved, the kilometers added up, the marathon distance completed. Until 4am the next morning when he would begin again.
I’m sure that Terry never lost sight of his overall goal, to cross Canada and return home to British Columbia, but each grueling day passed by accomplishing many small goals along the way.
It’s a good way to look at a lot of things in life.
As we are now at the six month mark of pandemic living, much of it has been passed by making it through one day at a time. There’s not much point in looking too far down the road, because we can’t see it clearly and conditions are constantly changing anyway.
The school year is similar.
We are trying to prepare for so many scenarios, and depending on what happens in each of our communities in terms of COVID spread, any number of things could happen.
So although year plans are made, we are mostly looking at the road right in front of us.
When I run, it’s literally navigating the washboard gravel roads and the deep hoof prints from horses on the prairie trail, trying not to sprain an ankle. At school, it’s gauging how to pace a quint-semester and to keep consistent and meaningful contact with students who aren’t in the classroom.
But it’s also taking time to look around: the deep, warm fall colors changing almost before my eyes, and the herd of deer sprinting across the road, so effortlessly leaping the fences before they disappear into the forest. It’s also taking time in the classroom: despite feeling pressure, to not rush, letting students delve into their books, to flush out ideas, and to let conversations continue when students are digging deeper into a topic.
I hope that forty years from now, Canadians still remember Terry Fox. Still walk or run as they are able. Still carry Terry’s optimism and hope for a cure for cancer. Maybe we will even be using this day to celebrate cancer's cure.
And to really embrace this idea: one day, your way.
Every day. For as long as we are given.
Just like Terry.
When I was in my second year in the music program at university, a guest clinician came to campus. His name was Roger Behrend, and he was the principal euphonium player for the U.S. Navy Band. A big deal.
Cool. I played euphonium.
Had I heard of him?
That was likely forgivable, considering I was coming from a pretty sheltered band experience in my rural school. But when I was given the amazing experience of a private lesson with him and he asked what professional euphonium players I listened to, I couldn’t name one.
*Up until the previous moment, not even him.*
I don’t remember his exact words, but the gist of it was this: how do you know what a euphonium should sound like, if you have never heard it played skillfully?
That my friends, was a great friggen question.
One that I didn’t have an answer for either.
It’s a good thing that Mr. Behrend was a great, down-to-earth guy, who probably took a bit of pity on me. The lesson was phenomenal. I learned more about my instrument that day than I had in the whole of it before. He gave me a copy of his CD too lol.
But it’s stuck with me.
I muddled my way through years on my instrument without ever having heard its beauty. Its tone. Its capabilities. (It’s not suitable to repeat what the tuba player beside me said when he first played for us…but wow…the man hit notes I hadn’t known existed.)
Hearing him play was inspiring and suddenly I had a new understanding of what I could also do.
If we don’t provide exemplars for our students, how will they know what is possible too? And yes, I’m thinking of writing, but it is no different for empathy, patience, and resilience. Generosity, humility, and kindness. No matter our age, we all need (and can be) important examples.
Sorry this is another short one! New courses, so there was a lot of prep work this weekend. Pretty tired lol. And if you’re feeling it too, you’re probably glad I didn’t ramble on and then have to pretend that you read it when in fact, you didn’t. <raised eyebrow looking at you haha>
Have a great week ahead! Really looking forward to having everyone back together again tomorrow.
No blog this weekend. Well, technically, I guess this is one. But with our daughter heading back to Calgary in two days, the weekend was spent with her and the blog post will wait.
Our first week back.
It was amazing to see people again. It was great to be back with such amazing people again too.
And that’s about enough to write for now, although I have a COVID-test experience that will be detailed at some point lol. Plus I have probably saved a hundred bookmarks and dozens of quotes over the past months. Soooo many things to think about and soooo many questions about how the next few weeks will play out.
But of all the things I have saved, this one keeps coming to mind.
For as excited as I am to see what the fall brings there are a lot of mixed emotions, especially with our daughter leaving (and that’s when there isn’t a pandemic raging in the province next door.) So if you’re feeling conflicted this fall for whatever reason, it’s okay. As the poet below says, there are a lot of feelings being brutally blended together right now. It’s not easy, and that’s alright to admit.
Till next week (when I promise I’ll have something better to say lol) stay safe.
i said to the sun
you are so lucky
to have a sky
but she looked
and she sighed
as she said
in the end
just drift by
and all birds
then leave me
as the sky
in my light
turn their heads
i have mastered
in the end
love and loss
is a duo
By ‘what goes unsaid’ via Instagram
You know it’s been a long pandemic when Nascar is being a beacon for civil and human rights issues.
If you follow it at all, you will know that this is not generally the image and demographic that they cater to. To be fair, our family is the opposite of that, yet have been Nascar fans since our kids were little. I honestly don’t know how it started, but we’ve seen a race at Daytona, our daughter still has an email with Jeff Gordon’s name in it, and our son only wore orange clothes until he was in upper elementary school because his favorite driver Tony Stewart drove the orange Home Depot car.
I swear they even talked with southern accents for a time in their early development, having listened to the announcers week after week. Don’t judge! Lol.
To see Nascar support their only Black driver, Bubba Wallace, and the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as banning the Confederate flag at races, were welcome but surprise moments.
So why write about Nascar on this, the eve before we return to schools after five months away due to COVID 19?
Because we actually have a lot in common.
When Nascar started back with racing, they tried to keep things as normal as possible, but implemented many restrictions at the track. They use a condensed schedule, have strict track access, no fans allowed in the beginning, and only 16 people on the track per team.
Despite all their precautions, one of their most-winningest drivers, Jimmie Johnson, tested positive early on with the virus. (He got 3rd today though, so he’s all good!)
The biggest change though, is that they have eliminated practice and qualifying sessions. Usually the teams would get a chance to drive the track, make changes to the cars, and have a fairly predictable set up before the race. Now, drivers only get to check out the track when they climb in the windows of their cars right before they drop the flag for the actual race.
So how do they adjust? Are they stuck with a set-up that doesn’t work with track conditions?
It’s actually kind of ingenious.
They run a few laps of the race, then there is a new optional pit stop called a “competition caution” where teams pull in and make adjustments on-the-fly.
As always, the communication between the crew chief and the driver in the moment is crucial. The driver gives feedback on how the car is handling and the crew chief and pit crew do the best they can to sort it out, in the shortest amount of time possible.
Any of this starting to sound familiar? Lol.
No matter how we start out, we will continually be making changes. Communication amongst staff, admin, parents, and students will be of utmost importance. We will try, and fail, but we will also learn as we go. Although our experience won’t literally have crashes as they do on the track.
As driver Brad Keselowski said, “You hope everybody is smart and that they take chances…you have to take chances to learn. But by the same token, you hope they don’t take chances that are potentially lethal to everyone else’s day and causes big wrecks. Everybody has different motivations, challenges, goals, and they all kind of get thrown into this big pot (at Talledaga) with no practice. We’ll see what happens.”
I love how he says “you have to take chances to learn.” I heard something similar from an announcer in today’s race: “They’ll be learning every single lap. Let’s see who learns the quickest.” That should be a Sask Health Authority slogan because I'm pretty sure that's what they have been doing since March.
For Nascar teams and drivers, the end goal is a win.
For us, it will be providing a safe place for learning in uncertain times.
But regardless, this African proverb seems to work for both: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
Welcome back everyone! I won’t say that we’ve got this…I’m not at that level of confidence lol…but we can do this.
Yep, we can.
See you tomorrow peeps! It’s been five months - I can hardly wait one more night!!
A lot of tears in our house yesterday as we said goodbye to Luka. He was part of our family for 14 ½ years. And no matter what stories I tell in the next few sentences, he was a good dog. He was kind and gentle. He was amazing with the kids. Didn’t bark. Didn’t jump up on people. Never harassed the cats, at least not in his later years lol.
We loved that dog.
But if you are a co-worker or have been Facebook friends with me for any length of time, you will have heard Luka stories. Because Luka had one character flaw and it was Shakespearean in size: he was a runner. Add to that, the GPS in his head never functioned, and that meant that I spent a good portion of my adult life looking out the kitchen window to make sure the dog was still there.
I am going to be looking for a while still. Old habits are hard to break.
Luka never did break his running habit. When he was only six months old, he ended up with a bullet lodged in his left hip, probably the consequence of running in someone’s pasture. When he ran with the neighbor dog, at least once he ended up at a co-worker’s house towards Swanson. We live between Pike Lake and Delisle, for reference. Nowhere close! When you live in the country, a mortal sin is letting your dog run loose so we knew we had to do something. For everyone thinking we should have just got him fixed, we did. It didn’t help lol.
Another neighbor suggested tying 2x4s so that he had to drag something around. We opted for a tire instead. People often laughed when I’d say that he was like a car: he had both winter and summer tires, larger ones in the winter because there was no friction to slow him down! When that didn’t work (he would navigate the corner at the end of our lane like a tractor trailer unit, swinging wide and again ending up at the neighbor’s) we had to put a 14ft tree across the road. What a colossal pain in the ass, having to move a giant log every time we came in and out of our yard! Typical Luka, there were times that he STILL managed to get past that, running with enough speed to ramp that tire right up and over, and he was off. When he’d get stuck in the trees off one of our trails, he would never bark. My tracking skills got pretty strong over the years, and I’d find him, patiently smiling at me like:
“I knew you’d find me mom.”
On multiple occasions, either the rope or his collar would break and he would be gone. Like I said, the GPS never worked! When he stopped running, he would just make himself at home with whoever he met. One time someone found him after a couple weeks lost, wearing a black leather collar, where he had left with a blue nylon one. He was so, so fickle and it would be easy to think of him as disloyal, but really Luka just loved anyone and everyone. On his farthest journey, he was 62kms away in under 24hours. I found him through Facebook, way out by the Harris game preserve. The rope eventually was replaced with chain, and you had to be sure not the take it across the ankles when he decided to run by you. I had literal chain marks many times when I didn’t jump fast enough.
In case you think we didn’t try, I can assure you we did! We even have a useless dog training certificate to show for it. It really wasn’t his fault - it’s what huskies are meant to do. Even today, as we sat in the car waiting to get called into the vet, Luka wanted to sniff out the window but couldn’t really move to get closer. I opened up his door and sure enough he was giving it his best effort to make a break for it! It was only a year ago when we were away travelling, our daughter Eliisa decided that Luka was too old to run away anymore. Nope. He was not, haha.
His running did have some advantages though, like pulling the kids on their GT racers when they were little. They had to be sure not to fall off, or Luka would take off with the sled! He used to go ski-joring with me, but he generally only pulled until he decided he was done, and then I would have to try to cross country ski without poles back PLUS pull a less than cooperative dog along with me. He was so strong, even in his old age. A co-worker said that’s because he did cross-fit with the tire all day long!
But that wasn’t his only idiosyncrasy. Eliisa remembers that she cranked him in the head with a bocce ball once (she throws like I do) but I’m sure it wasn’t the reason why! He just always had his own unique personality. Luka always ate chokecherries right off the trees, putting a branch in his mouth and stripping the berries off. Never Saskatoons! Just chokecherries. He had more than one encounter with skunks and the tomato juice bath always left him a little orange for a while. He did traumatize the cats when they were all younger, but as they got older, they became best buds hanging out together on the “dog deck” where Luka spent his nights.
Yesterday, we sat together in the back of the SUV with the vet beside him. I held his head in my hands and stroked his thick coat. He was only starting to lose his winter hair, small tufts of fresh white sticking out here and there. When they put the needle in and he was going to sleep, I was ready for the last breath. We’ve said goodbye to two other dogs, and I remember how that scared me the first time. I know it’s just air leaving like a deflating balloon, but it feels like their spirit is being released back into the world again. But Luka did something different first. His front legs started to run. Not spasm. Run. Just for a second or two, but it was running. I’d told the veterinary assistant earlier about how Luka was a runner, and she quietly said it was fitting that he ran his way across the rainbow bridge to the other side.
Yes, it was.
Luka, you brought equal amounts of love and stress to our lives, but that was who you were. I’m so glad that you were part of our family for so long. I’ll miss you puppy.
Sometimes it’s hard to gauge when something is over.
Not tax season, of course.
Or the end of a movie.
Or the end of a game.
Or even the end of a trip.
There are very clear signals that each one of those things is finished. Canada Revenue starts calling you, the lights in the theater come up, the buzzer sounds, and the GPS throws up a checkered flag with a “you’ve arrived” message on your phone.
Okay, so maybe most of the things in our lives do have clearly delineated beginnings and endings.
But sometimes, it’s not clear. Like, do we have actual seasons in Saskatchewan? It’s confusing, considering they overlap like a bad Venn diagram: snow in spring, below zero in summer, heat wave in fall, and balmy Chinook-filled days of winter.
For me, in this moment, I am not in an enviable place as I try to gauge when the life of my 14.5 year old dog is over.
The signs are all there. They are getting clearer by the day. But because I can’t ask him if he’s okay to spend a few more days or weeks laying in the sunshine, even if I have to carry him to get there, I can’t truly know when it should be the end.
How much simpler it would be if he could just tell me. As Brene Brown says, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” I wish it was clear.
God, do I wish it was clear.
But to be honest, people aren’t always much better. Kevin Kusch (Deputy Director of Learning at Lloydminster Catholic Division) said something at the Principal’s Short Course a few years ago that has totally stuck with me: people may not always tell you what they need, but people always project what they need.
Their actions are telling you. Being astute enough to listen is the hard part.
I’m only partway through “Option B” by Sheryl Sandberg, a top executive at Facebook. She writes: “Growing up, I was taught to follow the Golden Rule: treat others as you want to be treated. But when someone is suffering, instead of following the Golden Rule, we need to follow the Platinum Rule: treat others as they want to be treated. Take a cue from the person in distress and respond with understanding - or better yet, action.”
Sandberg goes on to say, “I was suffering from so many insecurities that I almost started a People Afraid of Inconveniencing Others support group, until I realized that all the members would be afraid of imposing on one another and no one would show up.”
That Nike commercial was right all along - just do it. Or more fittingly, the Particip-Action commercial from the 1980s - don’t just think about it, do it, do it, do it.
One of the things that I continue to work on is to be a better listener. To be a better observer. To think beyond my own perception of a situation and to examine the biases I bring to it - our ‘bias blindspots.’ These past few weeks in the world have given me plenty of time to reflect on that too.
So this week, I hope to be more astute.
To listen for what my students may need in our last week together.
To move from the Golden Rule to the Platinum one - to treat and give people not what I would want, but to treat and give people what they are telling me they need.
To watch what my dog is projecting, and hopefully letting me understand what he wants too.
And most of all, when it's obvious that something is over, to have the grace to accept it.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy...okay website template!