Don’t look up or down. Look through.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter @Carla_Pereira2 know that I spent all of July exploring Portugal. You know that because I tweeted about my family’s adventures using #CarlaInPOR. I captured and documented (almost) every moment on social media, with an assist from Instagram and Snapseed because I heart filters.

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When I returned from vacation, I heard one of two things:

  1. I loved your photos! You made me want to visit Portugal! How were the custard tarts?
  2. Did you enjoy any of your vacation? You spent the entire time taking photos and not enjoying the moments.

To folks in the first group, I say, “Amazing! You must visit my parents’ homeland—it’s pretty spectacular. And the food…delish!

The second group probably watched the Look Up video and think the world is best enjoyed when technology is stored away in cabinet at home. That we miss what’s happening right in front of us when we’re connected to our phones, tablets, etc.

But here’s the thing about my use of technology: I don’t look down. I don’t look up. I look through.

“I forgot my phone!”

Every once in a while, I hold everyone up as we’re about to leave the house because “I forgot my phone!” It doesn’t happen often, I must admit, because I’m (almost) always connected to my phone.

But please don’t misunderstand. This. Is. Not. A. Bad. Thing.

I use my phone for two things:

  • work – I’m a communications manager so need to be reachable in case of crisis.
  • play – everything outside of work

I use my phone, every day, to document my children’s lives.

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I post their Insta-amazingness on multiple social media networks—Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Why? Because I have #ProudMommyMoments and because I want my children to be able to relive their journeys of wonder and play when they’re older. I want them to remember—through music, videos and photos—that their childhoods were rich with exploration, discovery and awesome.

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I want their digital portfolios to be more than their school year photos or shots of their first day of school. And I can only accomplish this by looking through my phone. By capturing their days, our days, one smile at a time.

My friend recently told me that the world is a better place because “I share everyday beauty and presence, and both are significant.” The truth, so simply put.

When I use technology—my phone, my tablet, my camera—I am most certainly not looking up. I’m okay with that. And I’m pretty sure my grown-up children will be okay with that. Because they already are.

“Mom, you forgot your phone!”

The power of one teacher to inspire awesome

I’d like you to “meet” Marc Julien, teacher-librarian extraordinaire at Eldorado Public School in Brampton, Ontario. Quite simply, he brings the awesome always.

In late April, he sent me this via Twitter:

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It was one of the most touching tweets I’d ever been sent, and featured a sea of smiling faces inviting me–yes, me!–to be a guest storyteller. I was honoured and humbled so I agreed to the visit. Heck, I have two small kids so I know storytelling!

SURPRISE!

I’d recently read “I Am Invited to a Party” by Mo Willems to kindergarten students at Eagle Plains Public School (@EPKindies) so I felt ready. Little did I know that @MisterJsLibrary had different plans for me! 

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You see, Marc had upped the game. I was now playing the role of Piggie in a puppet show!

*Deep breath* 

I didn’t take Drama in high school. I avoided live performances like the plague because, after all, I am an introvert. (really, really)

But I’ve grown up, matured, am comfortable in my own skin…right? I psyched myself up for the performance, rehearsing with my 8-year-old daughter at home. I’d memorized the lines and practiced with a sock puppet while hiding behind the kitchen table. 

I’ve got this. Let’s go.

Showtime! And a wrench.

On the day of the puppet show, I arrived in @MisterJsLibrary. I scanned the room for the puppet stage. Nada. Nothing. Zilch. 

*Ahem*

So I asked about the stage and Marc said, “Oh no, we perform *with* our puppets. The students see us the whole time.” 

*Gulp*

Truth be told, I was freaked right out. For two reasons:

1. I was performing for kindergarten and grade 1 students. Their honesty is a treasure and a curse–especially for those of us who don’t take criticism well. Really, who wants to disappoint a 4-year-old?!?

2. After spending one minute with Marc, you know that he is the real deal. A larger-than-life nurturer. A teacher in education for all of the right reasons–to spark curiosity and wonder, and to inspire success, confidence and hope in the students he teaches each day. I could not even come close to his fabulousness. 

But here’s the thing about Marc…he’s also the type of teacher that inspires adults. He did that for me as I prepared to take the stage as Piggie. 

I never confessed to Marc that I was totally freaked out before showtime–I played cool, calm and collected Carla. It wasn’t easy, especially after he told me we weren’t going with the script and that we were IMPROVISING!

God bless, Marc, and his on-the-spot, throw me to the kinderwolves approach. 

This is what transpired as a result of his unspoken high expectations of me as Piggie-the-Piglet:

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Best. Time. Ever.

The entire performance lasted only five minutes. But the lesson I learned that day will live with me forever:

When our life’s purpose is to touch the lives of students in positive ways and to bring smiles to the faces of little ones, we must check our insecurities at the door. And to do that, we must feel secure in the presence of others–to trust that we’re in this together like Elephant and Piggie. 

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This will forever be one of my most treasured Peel District School Board moments, made possible because of Twitter and the relationships we form with our colleagues. But most importantly, because on this day, I stepped completely outside of my comfort zone and gave it a try.

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Thanks for playing the role of Gerald the Elephant, and of my whispering heart, Marc Julien.

 

Not a scare, but a blessing

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Personal stories are the best stories 

When I was pregnant with my now-5-year-old son, I underwent routine screening to help identify whether I had a high risk of carrying a baby with Down syndrome. The screening results came back positive–I was at high risk of having a baby with Down syndrome.

As a result, I was sent for genetic counselling and asked to consider more invasive diagnostic tests that would confirm the diagnosis. I was told, at the time, that these more invasive tests could jeopardize the pregnancy and put the baby’s life at risk.

We decided against the diagnostic testing because when our counsellor asked us if a Down syndrome diagnosis would cause us to change the course of the pregnancy we said, “No.” For us, there was no question that we would see the pregnancy through and welcome the baby–our child–into the world as he was. At inception he was perfect, and would always be in our eyes. That was never going to change.

Not a scare

Our little guy was born without Down syndrome. But my story doesn’t end there.

For the past five years, when people ask me if I want to have another child, I’ve always said, “No. I had a Down Syndrome scare with my little guy and I’m almost 40 so it isn’t happening.” Recently, I’ve changed the way I respond to that question. Now I just say, “Nope.”

You see, what happened to me more than five years ago was not a scare. Not even close. Whatever blessing I would have been given, I would have embraced. Because that’s what we do as parents. We take what we’re given and love our children for everything they are and will become. Because. They. Deserve. It.

Meet Cristina (and her hero mom)

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In December, Mary Iusso opened Cristina’s Tortina Shop in Brampton, Ontario. She started the store for her 5-year-old daughter Cristina and other people with Down syndrome.

The bake shop employs people with Down syndrome, autism and other special needs. Iusso hopes to help spread awareness and break down stereotypes by helping us “see the ability” instead of the “disability.” Love. This. Mom. 

In a recent interview with Global TV, she describes her daughter Cristina as her motivation, “She’s inspired us to do this…It’s incredible what negative stereotypes are built around it. I admire anybody who looks at somebody as an individual and not a diagnosis. And, that’s how I see my daughter and that’s how I see everybody here.”

This mom helped me realize that my scare reference was wrong. Her story inspired me to see that, in saying that, I was suggesting that my children are better than her daughter. That children with Down syndrome are less likely to lead a full and happy life.

My experience six years ago was not a scare. Instead, it was a blessing because it opened my eyes to all of the amazing children and adults with Down syndrome that I see and meet every day–in Peel schools and in my community. They are champions of joy and inspire awesome each day. Like my own children, they are a blessing in my life. Not scary. Not even one bit.

If only we could see the stars as a child sees them

It’s taken me a while to post because this is one I didn’t want to screw up. Because it matters. I hope you agree.

Over the holidays, I read many posts on social media stating, quite declaratively, that if people had a problem saying “Merry Christmas” they could just get out of Canada. Here’s one that popped up on my Facebook timeline more times than I wish to remember:

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Every time I saw it or an image like it, I had a visceral reaction. You see, I’m Catholic and celebrate Christmas, but unless I put that out there, are people to assume that I am Christian? Because I look Christian? Because live in Canada? Huh?!

When someone wished me “Happy Holidays” over the Christmas season, I wasn’t upset. Nor did I wish he or she went, “back to where they came from.” What is up with that? Have we become a community so cynical that every assumption we make is negative? How about we take the greetings as well wishes, smile and say thank you?

Because that’s what a child would do. If only we could see the stars as a child sees them.

Stop.The.Silliness.

When my parents chose this country to immigrate to, they did so because they believed it was an opportunity for all. They didn’t choose it because they believed someone in Canada would wish them a Merry Christmas or Happy Easter.

Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe that we must honour all faith communities and their celebrations. I’m not saying we lump them all into one and gloss over holy days.

What I’m suggesting is that some of us drop the attitude that Christianity is a faith above all others in our communities–that we stop the silliness and pettiness. And that we begin to presume positive intentions. It is then that we begin to feel as though we live in a community.

Sometimes, a “Happy Holidays” wish is just that, and not a slap in the face of the Christian community. As Christians, we know better.

Look to the Star. As a child does.

"Looking at the Stars" by Alison Bell
“Looking at the Stars” by Alison Bell

I’m [not] a model, you know what I mean

If you haven’t yet seen Upworthy’s top post of 2013, please take the next minute and 12 seconds to do so. Here.

I watched it a few days ago, on my own, but watched it again with my 8-y-o daughter after she showed me her latest drawing.

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Opportunity to reflect

Before we watched the video, I asked her about her sketch. She explained that models are taller and thinner and always more beautiful than real girls. They have nicer clothes and shoes, and their hair is always perfect. Because they are fake. She added that real people can’t dress or look like that because they work and have kids. They’d get messy.

Then she said, “Don’t worry, mommy. You’ll never be a model and that’s okay.” Phew–good to know! The pressure is off!

Sandals with socks

After she briefly described the sketch, we watched the Upworthy video together. She came to the conclusion that the women she sees in magazines, on TV and in movies may not look the same if she met them face-to-face.

Together, we discussed some of the reasons why women’s looks might be altered by companies. She said, “Because pretty people sell pretty things, and everyone wants pretty things. Well, except people who wear sandals with socks.” I didn’t ask. It was time to watch another video.

I’m [not] a model–you know what I mean

I was in high school when this gem by Right Said Fred hit the airwaves. My daughter and I will never get the three minutes back that we spent watching the video. But it was worth it.

I asked her not to say anything until the video was done. Her first word? “Yucky.” But what came after that was amazing. She asked, “Why were the girls wearing bathing suits? They were the photographers. Wasn’t he the model? Now I get it, mommy. This isn’t right.”

And so from a simple sketch, a lifelong lesson in the true standard of beauty. It really is time for all of us to stop believing that all of the beautiful women we see in the media are real. My daughter’s sketches included.

My 8-y-o’s eyes are now wide open–no Photoshop necessary.

Be mindful not mind full

In my last blog post, It’s who you travel with, I mentioned that some of my favourite people in the world are givers–of their time and spirit. Beth Veale is one of those people.

I work alongside Beth every day and not a day goes by (really!) where she doesn’t teach me a valuable lesson about life and living. She is also my Facebook friend. I tell you this because my online connection with her plays a key role in this post.

Meet Jerry

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My 8-y-o daughter is in love with big-eyed stuffed animals. She asked Santa to send Jerry and like a good soldier, he delivered–three sizes too small, but still.

As is typical for a grade 3 student, she drew Jerry and ran to show me her artwork. I post many things to Facebook because I wish it to be a virtual memory box for my children. And oh the treasures you’ll find!

Enter Beth

This was Beth’s comment on the above photo:

Your daughter has a real eye for detail in her artwork. It is a lovely quality to have in life as well because it means she Invests her full attention in those around her. The key ingredient in empathy.

Profound, no? Remember, Beth is a giver of her spirit. Her belief in others, especially children, inspires. For me, her comment inspired me to observe my daughter’s mindfulness. Something, to be truthful, I have not noted because I have been “mind full.”

via Attitude Revolution

What’s missing?

So, as I took great care to see evidence of my daughter’s mindfulness, she tells me–completely out of the blue–that the one thing she misses about her old school is Mikey (not his real name).

Mikey had been in my daughter’s class–every one–from JK to grade 2. He has autism and is minimally verbal–Mikey only speaks a few words.

When I asked her why she missed him she said, “Because I could make him smile. He had the bestest smile.”

I am so very thankful that she noticed his smile and still remembers it. Because so do I. And now, I will never forget it.

Thanks for shining your light, Beth.

It’s who you travel with

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Lately, I’ve done a lot of thinking about friendship–what it means to be a good friend. A great friend. An amazeballs friend.

So I turned to Charles M. Schulz, Peanuts cartoonist:

“Just thinking about a friend makes you want to do a happy dance, because a friend is someone who loves you in spite of your faults.” 

So that’s friend criteria #1: loves you in spite of your faults. Thinking of my favourite people in the world, here are my personal friendship criteria (in no particular order):

  • LOL funny
  • happiness seekers and spreaders
  • powered by kids
  • good to me and good for me
  • fair and honest, sometimes to a fault
  • givers–of their time and spirit

In many ways, they are my Snoopy.

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A friend like you

When I asked my 8-y-o what makes a good friend, she said, “Someone like you mommy. You care about me even when you’re far away. I can feel your friendship.”

Woah. I had to probe.

I asked her what friendship feels like and she said, “Warm. Not lonely. Like the person is with you even when they’re not.”

I love this because for many of my favourite people in the world, time and distance do nothing to diminish the bond we share. In fact, their presence is felt often. When I read an article, see a tweet, think of a joke to share.

In life, it’s not where you go–it’s who you travel with. In your heart.

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Shovel it forward

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Photo via http://www.yongestreetmedia.ca

On my drive home from work today, I drove through Brampton as I do every day. I’m often distracted during the drive. I’m distracted by my dinging iPhone, by One Direction playing on the radio and by the thoughts running through my head. But today…luckily…I focused long enough to notice a teenage boy “shoveling” his driveway with a KFC bucket.

I normally don’t make a point of stopping the car to talk to strangers, but today I did. My curiosity got the better of me.

When I pulled up next to him, he looked up from his handiwork. I rolled down the window and he asked me if I needed directions. I didn’t.

I said, “No, I don’t. I just want to know why you’re using that KFC bucket to shovel your driveway.” He replied, “I don’t live here. This is my grandma’s house. She broke her shovel on the weekend and I’m using the bucket to clear the wet snow so she doesn’t fall. It’s a pretty sick shovel actually.”

Truth be told. It wasn’t “sick” at all. The wet snow had soaked through the bucket and it was beginning to fall apart. But he had managed to clear the walkway. I’ll give him that.

I told him he was a great grandson, rolled up the window and drove to Walmart. They sell shovels.

Every season is the season for giving

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I’m always overwhelmed by people’s generosity at this time of the year. Food drives, mitten trees, feeding the homeless–all of this is important, of course. But I’ve always wondered why we need to wait until these standard seasons of giving to give.

Why can’t we be givers throughout the year? When it’s least expected?

From time to time I look up “#PayItForward” on Twitter. These random acts of kindness, especially those done to strangers, renew our faith in the dignity and generosity of the human spirit. And they inspire me to give more freely of my wealth and, more importantly, of my time.

A bigger gift

When I gave Sam the shovel, he looked at me like he was unsure. I told him that the shovel was a present for his grandma and that he was a bigger gift to her.

We sometimes underestimate the fabulousness of teenagers. Sure, sometimes they act like aliens, but don’t we all at some point?

Recently, I’ve spent quite a bit of time with high school students. Here’s what I can tell you about the ones I interacted with this week:

  • They can be doggedly persistent, especially when it comes to Snow Days.
  • They connect with adults who care about them.
  • They care about their communities–even if they don’t show it.
  • They pay it forward without even knowing they are.

If only the world could be as proud of them as I am of them this week. For real.

Over the holidays, please take a moment to thank a teen, any teen. Because for some of them, you may be the only person that does all year.

When you go out into the world, look for helpers

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I’m a pretty big sports fan–love the Toronto Raptors and Toronto Argonauts. So, when my colleague Diana Reid introduced me to Jonathan Hood, who plays for the Argos, I was a *bit* excited. “Bit” is code for (&#!#$%#$!).

He and I had spoken a few times by email and Twitter about a couple of projects, and so I invited him to the Peel District School Board’s Kindergarten Live! (#KLive) event on Dec. 3 to be one of our guest celebrities. I thought he’d have a great time back in kindergarten–and really, who doesn’t love seeing a football player sitting in a tiny chair? Here’s Jonathan in all his amazingness!

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He brought a blankie with him to kindergarten that night, and asked about snack and nap time. He was in character. But when it came to his kid-at-heart attitude and positive spirit, I could tell he wasn’t acting. Jonathan was showing us who he was–without saying a word. And I believed him.

Magic of Kindergarten

Luckily for me, I also got to meet Ryan Hinds that night. Ryan plays for the Edmonton Eskimos. He arrived with Jonathan who were immediate kindie friends. I didn’t know much about Ryan, but I sized up his gentle nature and kind heart almost immediately. And later in the evening, he proved my first impression of him right.

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If this photo doesn’t melt your heart, I don’t know what will.

This was not a planned moment nor was it a staged media photo opportunity. It was simply a sweet moment, inspired by a child who knew Ryan would not turn him down. Children are intuitive.

Everything I learned…

I heart this photo because it captured the magic of kindergarten and the connection between Ryan and a three-year-old. What do they have in common? What brought them together? Why did they connect? None of that matters. It matters only that they found each other in that moment.

Their interaction reminded me of Robert Fulghum’s “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” Here’s an excerpt:

When you go out into the world,
Watch out for traffic,
Hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.

When children go out into the world, they often need to be reminded to “hold hands and stick together.” But what they don’t need to be told is who to stick to because they naturally gravitate to helpers–helpers like Ryan and Jonathan. And for that I am grateful. Because they are amazeballs.

Present, yet invisible

Is there anyone out there that finds joy in helping their children with homework? Because if you’re out there, I need to channel your enthusiasm.

This is the scene at my house when I try to help my daughter with her homework:

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She’s in grade 3. About two weeks ago, one of her tasks was to create a tangram swan. Easy enough I thought. I aced math in elementary school. I would not be intimated by a swan. Not in front of my eight-year-old.

Tangram hell

Well, to make a long story short, I stared at the tangram puzzle for about 10 minutes–this is a long time in frustrated-by-grade-3-homework minutes. I shuffled the pieces around over and over again. I gave it my university-grad-all, but nada. And so I gave up. I Googled it and found this magical creature come alive before my eyes: Tangram Swan.

That day, I was thankful for Google and YouTube, but I was also thankful for my colleague (and math teacher) Matthew Oldridge, who connected with me on Twitter to talk me through it. Knowing I can rely on someone I’ve never met in person to help me when I need support is one of the many things I love about Twitter.

But I digress. If I started on about my love of all things social (media included), this would become the Longest. Blog. Post. Ever.

Multitasking fail

My tangram ordeal was the last time I spent any significant amount of time helping my daughter with her homework (probably a good thing for her!). I’m not scarred. I’ve just been too busy with work lately.

Last week, I sat down at the kitchen table to help her study for her soil test. Because I am a master multitasker (usually), I opened up my iPad to monitor social media while I helped her study. You know where this is going, right?

Well, while I was busy online, she stopped studying long enough to write me this note:

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*Notice the smart aleck left me a blue marker to use to check the appropriate box.

When I finally looked up from my tablet, I laughed and laughed. And then she said, “You know, you can be present and invisible at the same time. You have to pick. Which do you want to be?”

I choose present. From now on.