Good news about breakfast

The Grocery Foundation is launching Toonies for Tummies 2016

Isaac has always been an early riser, and he’s always been a big fan of breakfast. Ideally, in his world, I would make him French toast every day, with liberal lashings (read: puddles one could wade in) of syrup. And I do, often. Because there’s not that much else to do at 7 AM, after he crawls into bed beside me and we listen to the news. (“Why do you always want to listen to the news, Mama? It’s always bad news.”)

On the days when I feel less inclined to make the effort for French toast, he’ll eat mammoth bowls of oatmeal (ditto syrup preferences), or muesli, or a smoothie (bananas, yogurt, frozen blueberries, raspberries) or the occasional bowl of Cheerios. If he’s growing a lot — as he seems to be, currently — he’ll eat similar amounts at other meals. If his body is taking a little rest between growth spurts, breakfast may be his most substantial meal of the day.

Either way, I love watching Isaac (both my kids, in fact) eat breakfast. I love seeing him fly out the door in the mornings after eating. I don’t subscribe to a whole lot of parental truisms, but one I do agree with is that little is more satisfying than seeing your child tuck into a healthy meal. Particularly breakfast. It’s no secret that kids who go to school hungry have a harder time learning. And yet, according a 2011 Household Food Insecurities in Canada study, one in six Canadian children goes to half without breakfast.

One in six. That’s 1.15 million children (out of nearly 4 million Canadians overall) who experience some level of food insecurity. That’s one in six children in every class in Ontario already set up to lose out before the day has even begun. That’s one in six kids with a headache, a growling stomach, who feels lightheaded or nauseated. One in six kids who is grouchy, unfocused, irrational, uncooperative. (You know what your kids are like when they’re hungry.) One in six kids without the resources they need to take in information, sit still, pay attention, “behave,” enjoy school, learn how to read or subtract. Those are kids in your children’s classes. That may be your kid.

It literally makes my stomach hurt.

And other people feel the same way. Kaelyn McCallum, who’s in grade 10 at St. Ignatius High School here in Thunder Bay (that’s her below), grew up listening to her parents — both teachers — talk about the students in their classes who came to school hungry, who didn’t have packed lunches or the money to buy them. “It’s a really big thing,” says the 15-year-old. “Everyone should have the right to have a breakfast and lunch and proper meals so that they can learn.”

But here’s the good news (see, Isaac, there is good news): student nutrition programs can and do help. Organizations like The Grocery Foundation are crucial. For the past three years, The Grocery Foundation has championed student nutrition in Ontario, investing $3.34 million to help programs like Breakfast for Learning achieve its mandate of providing healthy meals and snacks to children and youth across Canada. as well as supporting student nutrition programs in high-needs schools last year with a $1 million donation. The Foundation’s voucher program offers schools discounts on several healthy food items, stretching limited budgets and providing school nutrition programs with greater purchasing power for fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy, and whole grains. Most recently, the Grocery Foundation is working in partnership with the Ontario Student Nutrition Program Network (OSNPN), which works with agencies helping to support student nutrition across the province.

All of which is why I am partnering with The Grocery Foundation on the 2016 Toonies for Tummies program. Did you know it costs less than two dollars to feed a kid a healthy breakfast at school? From February 4 to 18, you can donate a Toonie (or, obviously, more) at participating retailers (hint: in Thunder Bay, it's Metro) — or online, right now! — to help make sure that kids in your community get the food they need to learn. Every donation made in your home community stays in your home community. Have a look:

Here’s more good news: high school students across the province — including Kaelyn — are mobilizing to educate their peers. A group of 11 youth ambassadors from around Ontario who will be attending Toonies for Tummies’ Agents of Change Nutrition Summit — the first of its kind — in Toronto on February 8. There, they’ll share their views with each other as well as representatives from industry, on how to collectively engage youth about the issues of food insecurity, and how to promote and advocate for school-based nutrition programs. Kaelyn will present her idea of holding a poster contest across Ontario, with school, city, regional and eventually provincial winning designs of posters highlighting issues of food insecurity to raise awareness.

(Speaking of raising awareness, I'll be participating in a Twitter chat on food insecurity #TooniesforTummies with The Grocery Foundation on February 2, from 1 to 1:30 PM EST, and again at 9 to 9:30 PM. Join us @Groceryfndtn to talk #Toonies4Tummies !)

“The biggest thing I’ve learned so far is that food insecurity is way more common than I thought it was,” says Kaelyn. “It’s in every school, in every city in every province across Canada. And people don’t know about it. It’s such a silent problem, but so many people have so much that if they know about it, they can give. I feel like it’s a problem we can eventually, hopefully, solve. People need to be aware of it so they can help get children and youth the food they need.

“Every kid,” says Kaelyn, “needs and deserves a full stomach to learn.” And every parent needs and deserves that security for themselves and for their kids. Together, we can make it happen. Please donate what you can to Toonies for Tummies, and spread the word.

Disclosure: I am being compensated for writing this post. All opinions, including my decision to support this campaign, are my own.



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Parenting without partnering

I've got a post up at The Mid today, where I'm talking about an unexpected (and oh-so valuable) perk of queer family — even in the midst of separation. Here's a taste:

[When we told the kids were separating, they have lots of questions.] The question I wasn't as prepared for, though, was, "How?" Or, as our 10-year-old, Rowan, put it, "How are you still going to both be our parents if you're not partners?"
I couldn't figure out what to say. Because we had to? Because we'd try hard and communicate and put their needs, the needs of this reconfigured family, above our own as individuals? Because we had schedules and smartphones? Because, even though the marriage itself had floundered, my soon-to-be ex and I had always been skilled at so many of the practicalities of what it meant to raise kids together? I didn't know how to explain it, how to let him and his brother understand that, even though there were bound to be complications, we'd make it work—because we always had.
And that's when I realized I had the answer all along.

Please check out the rest over at The Mid.

Steal this book

That time I took that solo road trip, a couple of days’ worth of driving, crossing the border to meet up with my friend Mary in a city midway between our two homes for a weekend writing retreat. The plan was to make some headway on our latest projects and also catch up, get the back story.

Mary is wise, in this very inscrutable, take-no-prisoners, no-bullshit, occasionally infuriating, way. She’ll sit and listen to me utterly intently, her eyes narrowed in focus, as I go deep into all the tiny details of whatever situation is currently vexing me. And I’ll sift through each bit of evidence as though the facts will solve things, add up to the right next move. And she’ll nod a lot, and then she’ll say something Yoda-like, like “For me, loving someone means that I don’t want to change them in any way.”

And then I’m floored, stopped dead in my tracks, as I imagine loving the clerk at the convenience store, imagine the possibilities for all the love there could be. It’s a bit frightening.

I was anxious on this particular trip. I’d been anxious for weeks at that point: an intense, constant buzz in my brain that dialed up or down but never quite turned off. Anxiety left my insides knotted and uncomfortable, made food unpalatable or shot it right through me. I was losing weight. The act of being anxious, stupidly, make me feel even more anxious: I hated the feeling, the amount of focus it took, almost as much as I hated the situation that I (mistakenly) thought was making me anxious and the fact that there didn’t seem to be anything I could do about it. You know, the only person you’re in charge of is yourself, etc. 

I told all this to Mary in the living room of our AirBnB writing rental, explained the feelings and the people involved, trotted out all the tiny, apparently pertinent, details. And she listened in that way she does, and she related her own stories of being similarly anxious in similar situations, and then she said The Thing, the Jedi truth of that particular moment:

“It sounds as though you’ve given your self-esteem to somebody else, and now you need to get back.”


How does one wrest back one’s self-esteem from its utterly unsuspecting thieves? Especially since they’re not really the ones who actually stole it in the first place? I’ve discovered that, often in these situations, the solution to the riddle lies less in finding a solution then actually noticing the problem. If that makes sense. In other words, the only thing I could reliably do was [buzzword alert] get mindful about it all: Lookit, how you’re doing that thing again? The thing where you let someone else dictate the tenor of your mood for this particular moment? You could redirect that.

So I chewed on that for a while.

And then our weekend ended, and I began my trek home. And I stopped midway for lunch at this charming little restaurant near the border. I had a Reuben sandwich, which isn’t really important except that the weekend had been filled with some very good Reuben sandwiches already and so I continued on with that theme. In the great scheme of charming restaurants, this one had shelves full of books to peruse while you waited for or ate your meal. I figured it was one of those places that worked on the honour system: leave a book, take a book, at your discretion. And so I perused, moving through fiction and how-to and cookbooks until I got to self-help. Where I spied this:

And I laughed. Here it was: my self-esteem, for the (re)taking.

And so, I took it. I hid the book under my newspaper, because really, I’m not sure that reading a book about recovering one’s self-esteem in public is necessarily the best way to recover it. (Although, apparently, blogging about it is. Go figure.) I wasn’t actually intending to read the book, although I’m sure that when it was published in 1992 it contained a lot of wisdom and probably still does. I just wanted to take a picture of the cover and text it to Mary, be amused by it together, and then donate it.

I finished my lunch, paid for my Reuben sandwich, got back in the car and pulled out of the restaurant and then looked a little more closely at its sign. Which included the words, “And Used Bookstore.”

I had just stolen a book.

A book on recovering my self-esteem.

And I was about to take stolen property across the border.

Do I really even have to detail the scenarios I imagined as I sped toward the border? Of being pulled over and searched, fined or arrested, never again allowed back into the United States? Do I have to tell you about the imaginary headlines that screamed through my head: CANADIAN WOMAN ARRESTED FOR SMUGGLING STOLEN BOOK ON SELF-ESTEEM ACROSS BORDER? The imagined video footage of me stopping at a gas station, surreptitiously shoving the evidence into a garbage can?

Reader, I was not caught. I made it home safe and sound, my crime undetected. Until now.

I’m not sure what the moral of the story is, or if it even has one. Next time I’m in that town, I’ll stop by that restaurant and leave a couple bucks in the tip jar. In the meantime, the anxiety ebbed. I figured out some stuff. At the moment, I feel like I’ve got a pretty decent grasp on my own self-esteem and a fairly clear vision of when I err in the direction of handing it over to someone else. It’s an ongoing project. The book has served its purpose and is going in my ever-growing donation pile. Maybe someone else will discover it just when they need to. In the meantime, I continue to clear space, changing (or trying to change) only what I can, only what belongs to me, and in the process making room for that much more love.