A moment of Zen Parenting

When a cliché becomes a reality, you adapt

I found myself in the middle of a classic parenting crisis a little while ago. We were bundled up and heading out the door to go to the library for a quick visit before dinner. Max was done his pre-trip bathroom pit stop, and I was heading in to do the same.

In the bathroom, I discover one of the world’s worst sights: an overflowing toilet full of human ick. My mind races back to the morning’s conversation:

“Dad, I have to tell you something. The toilet paper roll fell into the toilet.”

“Did you take it out and throw it out?”

“No, it had poop on it.”

“So what did you do?”

“I flushed it down.”

At the time, I had wondered how that had actually happened, but it was 7AM and my critical thinking skills were still offline. I did take a look at the toilet, but didn’t see any sign of something going wrong.

Flash forward to 4:30PM, with something very obviously going wrong. The very normal emotional responses of anger, disgust, and panic rushed towards my brain in a dead heat. But, luckily, a sense of calm stepped in the way. Instead of freaking out (and I so wanted to freak out), I looked at the gross scene in front of me and told myself “this is a thing that is happening. And I will deal with it.”

I calmly worked on plunging the atrocity down the pipes, as Max clarified that he had used the toilet brush to push the soggy toilet paper roll down the flush this morning. When the bowl finally emptied after repeated plunging attempts, I gave a small silent cheer of relief.I suppressed my revulsion as I cleaned up the horrifying water coating the floor, and I doused the area with the most toxic and powerful array of cleaning agents that I could.

Throughout the ordeal, I kept a calm, positive demeanor (with intermittent exclamations of ‘oh this is gross’). Max and I discussed the situation and agreed that, in the future, he should wait until mom or dad are awake before trying to resolve a toilet-based issue. I told him that I did appreciate that he tried to fix a problem himself, and that he had no reason to know that the toilet paper would expand and plug the drain.  And after giving myself a little clean-up, we continued along on our trip to the library.

After it was all said and done, I was struck by the lack of an emotional aftermath, If I had lost my cool and started bellowing, it would have made the rest of the afternoon and evening stressful and negative for both of us. Hopefully, I can start applying this technique to every challenge I face, but I’m still a normal person , and sometimes I’m going to flip right out.

Oh and yes, I did eventually realize while planning this blog post, that the experience could be summed up with the phrase “sh*t happens”. At the heart of every cliché lies a nugget of truth, I suppose.


You’ll forgive me if I allow my thoughts to meander across this blog post, with no predetermined destination or strategic direction. It’s been a very long time since I’ve given myself permission to blog aimlessly, and this seems to be a good kind of night for it.

I could, of course, dive into the topical events and issues from the last week or so. Lord knows there are enough topics to dissect, interpret and muse upon. But I’ll put those aside. That’s not where my head is at.

Instead, I’ll be simple and plain with my words.

I love my wife.

There will be some of you who have never had the experience of having someone invest the full extent of their faith in you. I hope someday you have that happen.

It’s amazing.

Even more so when the faith is given to you on speculation of your ability to live up to it. I don’t know where I’m going to end up. I don’t know who, exactly, I’ll be when I get there. But she believes that it’s worth it. She believes I’m worth it.


Finding Success when it’s Hiding

Last weekend I went off to another giant political convention. My experience at my first convention last year had such a positive and transformative effect on me that my amazingly supportive wife encouraged me to go to this one.

And, truth be told, I was very excited for the convention, mostly because of the people I was going to be able to see.  I knew from Twitter and Facebook that a lot of my friends from across the province would be there, and I assumed it would be easy to find them and talk to them at the event. I also thought it would be a great opportunity to sell some copies of my books, so I loaded up by suitcases with fiction and off I went to Toronto.

Looking back on the situation, I can see that I set 2 difficult conditions for a successful experience, which is at least 1 condition too many. The reality of a convention is that people are rushing around and are caught up in the pull of various sudden opportunities and activities. You might bump into everyone you’re hoping to see, but it’s unlikely to happen by sheer happenstance.  Another reality of conventioneering is that you are too busy and tired to want to carry more stuff around with you. I certainly didn’t want to carry around the satchel full of increasingly heavy books for the whole weekend, so I wasn’t surprised when my chums didn’t want to either.

Tacked on top of my overly ambitious agenda was the sudden appearance of a raging throat infection, making itself known as I arrived in Toronto. My plans had to shift, and I was faced with a choice on how to respond to that. I could

A) get upset, beat myself up for failing to meet my goals, and mope for the whole weekend

B) Do the best that I could to participate in the weekend, while trying to take care of myself, and consider that a victory.

So I dug out my travel kit full of advil, cough syrup, muscle relaxants and away I went. Knowing that I wanted to experience the hospitality suites, if only to say that I had, I ate well, drank an extra coffee later in the day, and soldiered my way through the night. I had a blast.

The rest of the weekend was a sweaty, tired blur, that was punctuated by a countless number of kind gestures from the friends around me. They kept me in good spirits and well hydrated throughout those 2 days, and it made me realize how lucky I am to have these people in my life.

So, when I came home after this illness-infused journey, I took stock of it all. I didn’t meet my original success conditions, true, but in facing a challenging situation and finding a way to continue on despite it, I found a different set of successes to appreciate. And that’s the real lesson I took away from it all: sometimes you have to root around in the big pile of unintended outcomes to find the success, but it’s in there somewhere. Oh, and I have some pretty awesome friends and family.



Potential vs. Capacity

You’re in the middle of a long procession of tasks. Behind you are a pile of finished jobs, and in front of you are even more, and you find yourself standing completely still. You want to keep at it and move on to the next job, but your body refuses to comply. No matter how angry you get at yourself,  or how you try to goad or bribe yourself into action, you’re stay still.

It’s like you’re sitting in your car on an icy road. The engine is running, you have a destination, and you want to get there, but when you mash down on the accelerator, your tires spin uselessly. Congratulations, you’ve discovered the limit of your conscious effort!

You see, it takes a mental effort to perform complex cognitive tasks, or to exercise your self-control. And there is only so much energy that you have available for these tasks-when your mental battery runs dry, you lose the ability to push ahead. It’s not a figurative battery-heavy thinking causes your blood sugar levels to drop, and in that state, your self-control and complex problem-solving skills are severely hampered. It’s a psychological concept called “ego depletion”.

Here’s an easy test of the limits of your concentration: start running at a pace that’s faster than you normally run (this requires conscious effort) and as you’re running, try to multiply 657 X 383 in your head. You won’t be able to do both. Most people will slow down immediately, and a few will actually stop running for a moment when they start puzzling out the math question.

This limited capacity for mental effort is why you can find yourself over-committed and overwhelmed with a series of tasks that, on their own, you could easily handle. But when you try to manage them all at the same time, you run out of mental energy. It’s why I didn’t write this post yesterday, for example-too many challenges eating up all of my available processing ability.

So how do you work with this restricted capacity, when you’re always going to be presented with more challenges and opportunities than you can simultaneously handle? Practice. With repetition, even the most complicated tasks can eventually become routine, and routine tasks don’t use up your mental effort.

Remember, you have great potential, but limited capacity-make the most out of it.


Looking ahead

Someone asked me if I had a list of new things I hoped to try in 2013, and I immediately answered ‘lord no’. I have enough on my plate.I understand where the desire to set out a list of new challenges comes from. You’ve finished another lap around the sun,  and you take a moment to reflect on what you accomplished in that year. Most people look at that year and see a bunch of missed opportunities, and so they resolve to fix that in the upcoming year.

But I had an unusual year. I went on a solo trip to a political convention, despite my firm belief that I had social anxiety and didn’t have the ability to handle the unexpected very well. My very first trip away from home with no one to look out for me. I’m not going to lie to you: it was terrifying. But it was also thrilling, inspirational and amazing. It turns out that I love traveling. Who knew?

And at that convention, I interviewed an astronaut. I sat beside and chatted casually with a guy who has BEEN IN SPACE. In the course of the year, I also talked about climate change with a Nobel Prize winner, met a First Nations Chief, discussed income equality with an economist, and had an hour-long car-ride chat with a doctor and MP. These are just a few of the amazing people who I have been lucky enough to talk and share with over the last 12 months. 2012 taught me that I really like meeting new people and hearing their stories.

And I took the first steps in becoming a leader. I asked for the support and trust of the people in my riding association, and they enthusiastically gave it to me. Together we chose to evolve from an organization focused solely on elections, to one that does some real good for the community all year-round. I’m incredibly proud to have been a part of this transformation, and I’m thankful for everyone who joined in and made a difference.

I should also probably mention that I wrote and published my second novel in 2012. As I wrote this book, I discovered a familiarity with the writing process itself. My writing went from a chaotic pile of guesswork, to something resembling a craft and profession. The prospect of being able to make writing a repeatable process makes me giddy. And I may be biased, but this book is pretty good. You should buy it. (ebook available at itunes, kobo, or here https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/259658 . If you want a physical copy, let me know).

So, by the end of 2012, I had these things on the go:

  1. dad to the most awesome 4-year-old in the world
  2. husband to the most supportive and wonderful wife in the world
  3. a newly published book that needs to be promoted and sold
  4. member of  board of directors for my condo complex
  5. presidency of my riding association
  6. area coordinator for Neighbourhood Watch
  7. organizer for the Justin Trudeau Leadership Campaign
  8. petitioning provincial government to make a change to Municipal Elections Act

All of these things are fighting for my attention in 2013. Add in the need to regularly exercise to stave off illness/fatness, and the building urge to start writing the next book (already?!?! yup) and I have an overfull plate already. So instead of looking for more stuff to do, I’m going to make 2013 the year of improving the process. Thank you all for following along with my extraordinary year of change and growth. I am almost certain that this year won’t be so profoundly transformational, but I make no promises 🙂

Happy New Year!



Manage your festive culinary expectations

Here we are in the tail end of the year, with the major feasting days receding behind us in a haze of high-fat, low-health delights. I am displeased to report that my restraint and overall healthy choice focus was wildly unsuccessful, though I was sure that I had been diligent. The extra weight around my flabby middle says otherwise.

But enough about that. There was a positive outcome from this eating season. I came up with a new plan to ensure that the holiday season lives up to my dinner expectations.

You see, gathering with friends and family to eat puts one in a complicated situation. The complexities of social interaction and interpersonal drama make the mealtime experience a balancing act of a host of different desires and preferences. In this maelstrom, your own food preferences can get left to the wayside.

You know what you consider a delicious holiday meal. But at a large gathering, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get everything you want in the right amount. And you probably won’t have a chance to eat the food at a leisurely pace, with all the jostling for portions and interrupting conversation.

Solution? Make a preemptive festive meal for yourself! You can call it “The Pre-Christmas selfish Feast!”. Prepare all of the dishes that signify a holiday feast to you, and enjoy those festive delights at your own speed, in the comfort of your own home. And for the rest of the holiday season, you can relax. No matter what you’re served, or in what conditions you eat what you’re served, you have a foundation of deliciousness to keep you in a good mood throughout the yuletide.

As an added bonus, when you cook and eat the meal in your own home, you have a much better chance of maintaining portion control and making healthier choices in general.

Disclaimer: If you’re like me, though, the real calorie demon will be the long stretches of holiday idleness filled with various snacks and bonbons. The preemptive meal will do nothing to help that. Plan ahead and keep those treats out of the house.

Life changes, life continues

Our neighbours packed up their min-van, complete with 5 cats, and drove off for Calgary today. I’ll leave it to you to imagine the complexities of driving across country (3000 KM!) in a van packed to the gills with people and cats.

We met our neighbours a few days after we took possession of our condo. I remember when Juan came over to introduce himself and chat: I was here by myself, trying to get the condo ready for repainting and moving in while Kristen was at home with teeny weeny 6 month old Max.  It was a hectic and frazzled time for me, and it was very nice to know I had a friendly neighbour beside my new home.

The next few years flew by, and I regret that I didn’t spend more time with Juan and his family. Somehow, I never managed to make the time to sit outside on the back porch with him and enjoy our neighbourhood together. Of course, when he spent a year working in Toronto, and then went out west to look for work, it made leisurely socializing a little difficult. I remember how happy he was to see all of us when we ran into him at the Colombian Independence celebration-he was so impressed that we were there (there were very few non-Colombians at the festival), that he ran off and brought us a fresh plate of paella from one of his friends. The gift of paella was a warm-hearted, if strange, gesture of friendship.

It was sad to watch them drive off and leave our lives for good. I hope that their wild trip across the country is safe and relatively uneventful, and I wish them a warm and friendly new start in Alberta. Open your arms up Calgary, and give ’em a big hug for me.