Monday, December 31, 2012


One week ago, I was absolutely gutted. I didn’t have a chance to see the news until I went to pick my daughter up from school. Just before she ran out to greet me, excited to start our weekend together, I read about other parents who would never see their little ones again because a mentally unstable man had gunned them down.
Like parents all around the world, that night when I put Riley to bed, I held on to her a bit longer than normal.
“Mom, why are you hugging me so tightly?”
“Because I am so grateful for you.”
“Oh. Go ahead then.”
I was able to squeeze my daughter. But I was also able to hold my husband. Because after I loved on my child, my attention turned to him. You see, the divorce rates for couples who lose a child are notoriously dismal. One study estimated that there was an 80% chance that a couple would split up under these circumstances.[1]
My heart aches for the loss the couples in Newtown are experiencing, but I am also deeply concerned about their marriages. Will the death of their children be compounded by divorce in the years to come?
As I dug deeper on these questions, I took a long, hard look at my own marriage. How would Eric and I do if – God forbid – something happened to our daughter? Because even when it doesn’t make international news, tragedy strikes. Children get cancer. They drown. They are killed in car accidents. They are stillborn.
Friends of ours lost their two-year-old boy when a tornado ripped through their campground. One moment they were enjoying their vacation as a family, and the next minute they were dealing with indescribable loss. Eric and I present with this couple at a marriage conference each year where they openly share their story. Here is their perspective about processing loss without losing each other:
When we lost our son Lucas, people told us about the high rate of separation for couples who had lost a child. Our experience was that EVERYTHING is magnified. So, if you had a bad relationship, then that would be magnified. If you had a good one, then that would be magnified. We found God blessed our good relationship and brought us closer together than ever.”
If the unthinkable happened in your family, how would you and your spouse do? What would be magnified in your relationship? What are you currently doing to invest in activities and choices that would anchor you as a couple in the midst of tragedy? Are you carving out time for “professional development” in your marriage – perhaps through a marriage conference or coaching? Are you booking get-away weekends so that you and your spouse can reconnect? Are you scheduling date nights?
Without a doubt, we want this horrible situation to remind us to appreciate, love and value our children each and every day. But let’s not forget that what we are building into our marriages – right here, right now – predicts how we would navigate the tumultuous waters of grief as a couple.

[1] Rando, T. (1985.) “Bereaved Parents: Particular Difficulties, Unique Factors, and Treatment Issues,” Social Work, Vol. 30, p. 20.

ERYN-FAYE FRANS, Canada's Passion Coach ®

Monday, December 17, 2012


It's been awhile since I've been here.  Labor Day to be exact.  Throughout my life I've used words to express my feelings in times of victory, disappointment, surprise, and the mundane every day life.  But, I often feel more compelled to write when tragedy strikes.  In honor of the recent tragedy in Newton, Connecticut, my teacher blog will be silent for the next few days.  But, I feel like I could not go any longer without putting pen to paper, or fingerstrokes to keys.

I've taught for 13 years now and my job has become increasingly more difficult each year.  The number of tasks that the typical teacher completes in any given day is astounding. From receipting field trip money, recording attendence, cleaning up vomit, calling the nurse, making sure a child has clean clothes, lunch money in a student account, one on one instruction, reteaching simple concepts until you can't teach them any longer, drying the tears of a child who has been physically hurt on the playground, or wrapping your arms around the ones who have been emotionally hurt by those they love.

There are many days where the thought of going to the bathroom doesn't even occur until after school and I sit for the very first time of the day.  Once my children arrive in the morning, it is almost like we have entered a time warp and the outside world disappears.  Our classroom becomes our world.

Each year, I am BLESSED with a new crop in my classroom.  With that comes a new crop of parents, a new crop of personalities, challenges, victories, and love.   I haven't been blessed with children of my own, but I have been chosen to care for those of others.

Each morning, parents drop their children off at school thinking they are safe and will remain that way until those little faces return to the warmth of the car or the arms of a parent/grandparent/caretaker. Those children are given to me to nurture, care for, love, and educate.  A pretty tall order.

There are days where life isn't easy in our classroom.  Days where we need to a new start.  And then there are days that are beautiful symphonies of learning.

I spend countless hours planning for learning in my classroom, but more than that, I spend countless hours investing in the future of my students.  I invest in their lives by attending sporting events, sharing their interests, writing them notes - pouring positivity into their little minds in the hopes that when life doesn't work out the way that they had planned in their future, they will remember that there was someone else in their lives who believed in them and LOVED them as if they were her own.

The teachers and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary did the very same thing.

When I stop to think of the innocent children that were hurt yesterday, I cannot help but to think of the 22 beautiful children that I see every day.  The 312 children that I have taught over the last 13 years.  The smiles, the dreams, the excitement of life, the opportunities that are waiting for each of them.  That was all stolen from those at Sandy Hook Elementary.

I've tried to wrap my mind around what happened in Newton, but it is impossible.  I've experienced lockdown drills and mock shootings to "train" me for a reality that I hope I never face.  I hope I'm never faced with a situation where I am unable to protect the children in my care.  I hope I never have to find hiding places or calm students who are very aware of the nightmarish reality that is occurring.

But, I would.  If it meant sacrificing my life for those of my students, there would be no decision to make.  I would make that decision for the children who have parents who love me.  I would make it for the children whose parents disagree with me.  I would make it for those children who misbehave and disrespect and love me.  I would make that decision for each child I've had the opportunity to teach this year and every year before - those in my classroom or outside of it.

There were heroes in yesterday's tragedy.  Those heroes were teachers.  The teachers who read Christmas stories to keep their students calm.  The teachers who held each child's hand.  The teachers who muffled the cries of those huddled in their midst.  The teachers who hid students and then lost their own lives.

When you enter your child's school this week, remember those heroes in each classroom.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


There is no getting around it – holiday parties can be dreaded events. As if being forced to spend time with colleagues you avoid like the plague during work hours isn’t bad enough, you’re supposed to be, well, merry. The only thing worse than attending a Christmas party at your own office is going as your spouse’s “plus one.”
But what if the Christmas party could actually help your relationship? What if your presence could bring value to your spouse’s professional life? What if attending could be one of the bestgifts you give your spouse all year? If you have the right attitude, you can reap a lot of relational benefits from the Christmas party. Here are some pointers:
1)   You get a snapshot of your spouse’s life 40+ hours a week. If you are like a lot of couples, there is an extremely good chance that the people at your spouse’s workplace get to see him more than you do. Sure, you get to hold his hand, raise children together and go to bed with him at night, but when you subtract the hours that you spend sleeping, commuting, eating and other such necessary activities, there might not be a lot left over for you. The Christmas party is your chance to step into your spouse’s world. Who does he interact with all day? What makes him so passionate about his job? How does he interact with others? How does he treat his direct reports? What does he really have to put up with from his boss? These answers give you new insight into your spouse – a very valuable thing in marriage if you want it to last.
2)   You get to see your spouse through the eyes of another. It is inevitable that over the years, we all have a tendency to put our spouses in a box. You have preconceived notions of what she likes, how she behaves in certain situations, and how she gets work accomplished. But her colleagues might have a radically different perception of her. When she is at work, her quirky sense of humour might have more air to breathe than at home rushing through dinner and homework duties. Her ability to manage a team might look drastically different than her attempts to support the elementary school fundraiser. What do your spouse’s colleagues appreciate about her? How does she bring value to her workplace? Discovering the answers might reveal a side of her that you haven’t seen in a while.
3)   You have the opportunity to make your spouse look good. Ultimately, this is the greatest gift you give your spouse. If you show up at the party with a great attitude, mingle with others, show interest in your spouse’s colleagues and behave respectfully (no heavy drinking, no tacky comments, no inappropriate outfits and no bugging the boss about overtime), your spouse will reap the benefits professionally, and you will reap them personally.
The holiday season is about sharing love and kindness to those around us. It is about slowing down enough to appreciate the small but significant things in life. Allow this holiday cheer to extend to your spouse’s Christmas party and into your relationship for the New Year.

ERYN-FAYE FRANS ® Canada's Passion Coach

Monday, December 10, 2012


“Just like everybody else,” they say. It’s a battle cry and finish line and gold standard all rolled into one. The underlying assumption is that anything else is wrong: a shameful defeat.

It’s easy to get sucked in. To begin to measure my parenting not by how kind, cooperative, creative or unique my child is, but by how much they conform to their age-mates. Especially if they happen to have special needs.

Inclusion has become a religion these days. As if sitting in a room full of typical children the exact same age, following the same curriculum, with as few adjustments as possible, is the measure of a good education. I’ve met both educators and parents so enamored with the concept that they refuse to accept the limitations of the philosophy.

Fortunately, the staff at our school have a different goal in mind: what works. What works for B. What works for our family. What works for the staff and the other children in her class.

Grade 3 has been a struggle. And when our favourite SEA (special education assistant) left, it was even worse. Her classmates love her, like a cute little mascot. They pat her head and give her hugs and try to carry her around. In a bid for attention (and out of boredom), she caused all sorts of disruption: talking out of turn, pulling her shirt over her head, poking friends and throwing herself on the ground in a tantrum until she had to be removed. Her only real learning this year took place in the back corner of the room with her SEA and the school iPad. It just wasn’t working.

Along the way, they discovered that she fit seamlessly into the kindergarten class. I’m sure it was out of frustration that she began to spend more and more time there. In this class she is doing the same work as the other kids. She can keep up and even excel in some subjects. She has meaningful conversations with her playmates. She can participate in their play (as more than just a prop). She requires little support to get through the day. This class is developmentally appropriate for her and we want her to stay.

It works for everyone, except the school district, which is reluctant to step outside the traditional inclusion model. They have given grudging allowance as long as she still connects with her Grade 3 class regularly and is officially on that attendance roll. Apparently what matters to them is not what she needs, but how many birthdays she has under her belt. Inclusion trumps everything else.

I want the same thing for B that I want for all my kids. A happy, safe childhood and the development of meaningful life skills along the way. In Kindergarten she is included, she is learning and she is happy, what does it matter what grade? Kindergarten is where she needs to be right now. I am endlessly grateful for a resource teacher and staff who are willing to fight for that.

My daughter is not just like everybody else. It is both her struggle and her strength. It will not help her to deny or obscure or try to avoid this. I operate here in reality, because I am not afraid that she is less. I am absolutely sure of her worth.

I’m not going to pretend that Down Syndrome is a blessing we eagerly embrace. I’ve met some who feel this way and I just don’t get that. “What God intended,” they say, as if cognitive disability and health problems and speech delays and lifelong struggle are comparable to height or hair colour. The world is full of sickness and disease and disorder. That God allows it does not make it a good thing. It is what it is.

My daughter is not remarkable BECAUSE of Down Syndrome. She is remarkable because of HER. The sweet, determined, spunky firecracker that shines brighter because she has to.

So here’s me, seeing the value of inclusion, but only when it helps. Because, there is no shame in being different.

How has being different served you well in your own life?


Monday, December 3, 2012


Sunday night we saw a production of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”  

In our basement.

The big girls and their friend put together an elaborate play with costumes and music and several very long intermissions. Their interpretation was unique to say the least.

Mary Scrooge was a modern woman who, according to the Ghost of Christmas Past, proposed to her boyfriend at Christmas. He promptly turned her down because she “just wasn’t into Christmas, which is, like, his favourite time of year… so it just would, like, never work.” Jerk! Kind of seems like she dodged a bullet there, but maybe that’s just me.

The Ghost of Christmas Present said, “S’up, yo?” then brought her to Tiny Tim, who was repeatedly dumped on his head. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t scripted, but it did increase the pathos (and fill me with gratitude that they had cast a Cabbage Patch doll instead of little brother for the role).

The Ghost of Christmas Future was appropriately creepy in one of our camping ponchos. The gravedigger, played by a snarky cowgirl, assured Mary that this would be her fate if she didn’t learn to love Christmas.

In the final scene, Scrooge celebrates her new favorite holiday (under threat of death) by running around town in a Hawaiian dress buying cheese for all the children. This is either a nod to Muppets Christmas Carol or a reflection of my eldest’s dearly held belief that cheese is the best food in the world (the stinkier the better).

The truth is, much like Mary, I’ve been dreading this whole season. The work. The decorating. The expense. The pine needles tracked through every nook and cranny of the house. The shopping and worrying and lists and trying to get everything right. I’ve been sick for a long time and now that I’m feeling better, this is a giant obligation hanging over my head.

But I’m the Mom. So my feelings from one moment to the next are rarely the priority. Which is why I decided to bite the bullet. I pulled the Christmas boxes out of storage and determined to unpack the bare minimum. The girls pulled out the rest and put most of it in their own room. At least now I can stop stressing about it.

It wasn’t that big of a deal. Not nearly as bad as I had built up in my head. In fact, it was fun to see how excited all the kids were. They have enough joy and anticipation and excitement to offset Mom and Dad’s general weariness.

I had to laugh at the subtext of their festive play. Not liking Christmas is the ultimate sin. Sure, Scrooge was rude and mean and greedy, but none of that was as unacceptable as being a Holiday Humbug. This is the moral of the tale as seen through preteen eyes. Also the Grinch, Shrek the Halls and countless sappy Hallmark specials.

Why is this a sin? Why do we feel this pressure? I have certainly felt guilty about my lack of “spirit” this year. I’m usually one of those Christmas-y folks that loves every minute.

Many of us take the opportunity in December to celebrate Jesus Christ. For us, the elaborate rituals of the season are all part of that, which makes it meaningful. But we don’t need Christmas to celebrate Jesus. He didn’t celebrate it himself, now that I think of it.

It is also a time to celebrate family and generosity and eating delicious food. For most of us. For some, Christmas comes with a lot of posing and pretending and pain. It’s consumerism at its worst. Greed. Loneliness. Impossible expectations.

So maybe that’s why the Grinch Hated Christmas. And maybe it’s none of our business that he did. 

It’s not a sin, after all.

Christmas is what you make of it. For some that means Martha Stewart meets Jimmy Stewart meets Angels Singing on High. For others, less is more. Who’s to say which is a better way? It comes down to personality, priorities and beliefs. So, let’s cut each other, and ourselves, some slack. Everyone should do as much or as little as they enjoy.

As for me and my house, we’ll find our Christmas spirit, just like we always do. And I’m not going to worry if we don’t.

After the show we all danced like maniacs to “All I Want For Christmas is You.” Pretty appropriate considering the one thing I’m totally excited about is sharing Christmas with our boy. Everything else is optional.

And for a moment, while L was showing her Dad how to do the moonwalk the “right” way, B was practicing her disco moves and the boy was doing an impressive running man, I felt like Christmas may be a pretty good idea after all.

So here’s me, a little less Grinch today than yesterday. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.