Monthly Archives: April 2013

Big-Hearted Bigwigs

Think celebrities are all about themselves, all the time? Certain superstars may be big, but they’re benevolent. That’s what I learned from this recent article on Many famous people routinely perform acts of kindness, whether it’s Tom Cruise rescuing total strangers, or Keanu Reeves giving away millions of dollars for leukemia research, or Johnny Depp saving, in turn, a horse from euthanasia, a friend from a mugging, and movie-set extras from assured smushedness (apparently a stunt car was veering towards them). Of course, we all agree that Johnny Depp does a good deed just by allowing us to look at his face. But it’s heartening to know that even when it feels like the world revolves around you, you can still give back to the world.

Spring and Squirrely

If dishing nourishment is a good deed, then we’re kind on a daily basis to a certain wild squirrel who squats in our back yard. She answers to the name Ernie (that’s short for Ernestine, a hasty amendment after we observed that Ernie was in fact female).

Ernie is a cheeky little rodent. She bides her time near our glass sliding door, perched on her hind legs like a tiny human and trying desperately to peer in. If the door is open a gap, she’ll instantly poke her nose in. She climbs the screen like an agile little monkey and, when scolded, will do a sort of lateral creep onto the brick wall of the house, where she clings remarkably well, craning her neck to peer into our dining room. See, Ernie is convinced there’s all kinds of nonstop fun happening in the building where the free nuts come from. Ernie, by the way, favours raw almonds.

It’s springtime, so many of the wild creatures are enjoying a little seasonal nooky. But with Ernie, we can’t really tell if she’s carrying a litter, or just packing on the pounds thanks to all the treats we give her.

But it’s not a one-way feeding street by any means. In return for the squirrel num-nums, Ernie provides our family – not to mention any company we happen to have over – with endless entertainment. She bounces around the yard, clambers up and down trees, comes close to the door for a visit, hoists herself up and makes eye contact that is, quite frankly, a little eerie. Just think of it as being in the front row of a circus act, one with bold – and quite acrobatic – furry animals.

My concerns about possible fallout from our generosity are twofold. First, I’m forever fretting that our naughty rodent friend will rip a hole in the screen with her agile yet sharp little claws. And two, on the slippery slope of squirrel-human relating, I want to know – will I manage to keep a respectable distance between me and the nutty squirrel lady on My Crazy Obsession?

Don’t be taken in by that look of rodent nonchalance. She’s hankering for more almonds.

Don’t be taken in by that look of rodent nonchalance. She’s hankering for more almonds.

Books for a Parent’s Bucket List

Cute! Cute! Cute! Pictures books for do-gooder kids. Not that children need to be taught generosity, mind you; in fact they come by it naturally. But it’s nevertheless a great idea to have conversations about kindness, because it teaches kids that it’s important and appreciated, and it helps them identify different ways and means to be kind.

To that end, the Fill a Bucket series has caught my eye. Various titles range across all the age groups and have won several awards. According to the authors’ website, just get your hands on these books, and your children are sure to “discover how they can experience the joy of helping, sharing, and giving.”

There are other ways to talk to your kids about kindness, of course. But I’m a sucker for full-colour illustrations.

A heartfelt shout-out to my sis-in-law Elaine for introducing me to these books! Waving at you right now, Elaine!

A heartfelt shout-out to my sis-in-law Elaine for introducing me to these books! Waving at you right now, Elaine!

What I Learned at School

How often do you get served cake for breakfast? Those are the mornings to cherish. When your child’s educational institution invites all its parent volunteers for coffee and treats to thank them for their service, you don’t say no.

That’s why I found myself in a classroom at 7:30 one morning this week. It was a delightful event, and I certainly enjoyed chatting with the staff and many other parents at the school.

I could tell you how friendly everyone was – and impressively chipper, considering the early hour. But the person who left the biggest impression on me was neither a teacher nor a parent at the school. It was a woman whose kids don’t even go there.

So why was she there? Turns out she’s a very active volunteer at our school. What gives? I learned that her child’s own school doesn’t have a need for parent participation, so they suggested she contact ours. “I love to volunteer,” she said to me simply. And she smiled.

Hats off to you, lady. You’re an inspiration to us all. I hope you enjoyed your breakfast cake, ’cause heaven knows you’ve earned it.

They handed each of us volunteers one of these. I accept this rose.

They handed each of us volunteers one of these. I accept this rose.

Thanks but No Thanks

At the dinner table last night we were discussing gratitude, and ways to express it. For the first time in years, I was reminded of a token bestowed on me back when I was a teenager. I’d just finished a volunteer gig, and it so happened that one of the event organizers owned a jewellery store. As a thank you, I was thus given a silver pendant.

Now, I happen to enjoy my silver pendants, and I wear them well and often. But I’ve never actually donned this particular gift. I’ve just now gone to the trouble of digging it out of my jewellery box and taking a picture so that you, my dear readers, can see why I don’t put it on.

Not that I don’t appreciate the gift. It was kind. But I prefer to cherish it in a drawer. Come on, would you go about your business with a prominent “thank you” sign around your neck? (In the words of double-rainbow guy, what does it mean?)

I’ll take gratitude – verbally – any day. But forged in precious metal, maybe not so much.

It’s All Uphill From Here

At the end of March, my neighbour – we’ll call her “B” – had the misfortune of taking a serious tumble on the ski slopes. She came home with a broken, casted ankle, plus torn ligaments in her knee. Now that you’re squirming in sympathy pain, I’ll ease the agony by telling you just how the wondrous women in our community responded. Within a day of B’s incapacitating injury, the word had spread, and over a dozen ladies – including A, C, D and E (I kid you not!) – had planned a collection to send a decorative, yet eminently practical, fruit arrangement. Someone offered up a cane for temporary use, and another household (you might, er, guess which one) sent over a wheelchair.

The fruit arrangement arrived. I know this because B called me yesterday feeling mighty chipper. Then she penned a note of thanks to all the ladies behind the fruit bonanza. It read in part: “I have already tried a chocolate strawberry. My first indulgence in two weeks! It has perked up my mood on this dreary day… a wonderful act of kindness, and I so appreciate it!”

Well, it was a berry devastating injury, but there’s nothing like caring friends to make you feel grape – just when you think you’re plum out of positivity. (Orange you going to tell me these puns are the pits? I don’t give a fig! Oh no, stop me now…)

Q: In what way are the neighbourhood ladies like bananas? A: We come in bunches.

Q: In what way are the neighbourhood ladies like bananas? A: We come in bunches.

Circle of Trust

Given that three friends I care about are struggling with loss this month, it was timely to discover an op-ed piece about supporting someone who is terminally ill or bereaved. The author, a sort of Miss Manners with a clinical psychology degree, has developed a simple method of making sure you never, ever say the wrong thing to a friend in serious crisis. Because we want to show kindness, of course, at such a time. And we may fret deeply about putting our foot in our mouth, instead of our arms around our friend’s shoulders.

Susan Silk calls her method the “Ring Theory.” And it really is very simple. You draw a bull’s-eye pattern. In the centre circle you put the person who’s got cancer or just lost her sister or has been badly injured in an accident. You place yourself in one of the surrounding rings according to how close you are to her inner circle. Maybe your position is just one step away from her spouse; maybe you float like a satellite in the distant periphery.

From there you follow a simple formula. You direct only words of comfort towards the centre – that is, towards the person in the middle and all those who are in circles more interior than yours. And then all your emotional baggage – your terror, your self-pity, your sense of loss, your deep-seated ickiness over the sight of blood and mutilation – is allowed to flow only in the other direction, towards the outer rings, the hangouts of people less close.

I love Susan’s invention (which, incidentally, was spurred at least in part by a colleague who said “this isn’t about you” when she was banned from visiting after Susan’s breast cancer surgery). “Comfort in, dump out” is Susan’s motto. The Ring Theory helps address an age-old awkwardness, and will most certainly soothe the people most in need of support.

That’s all we want to do, after all, is soothe. We love our friends. And besides, who enjoys the taste of shoelaces? Blerg.

Whale of a Party

Alexander Wilson was studying the behaviour of sperm whales in the northern Atlantic Ocean – yep, just another day at the office – when he made an unexpected discovery. Hanging out with this particular pack of whales was a bottlenose dolphin. And judging by its interactions – swimming with the whales, nuzzling them, and just generally hobnobbing with them – it was pretty clear to Alexander that they were buds.

Sperm whales don’t usually socialize with other species. At least that’s what scientists have thought. Alexander, an ecologist originally from Toronto, has another theory: “It may not be that sperm whales don’t normally do this type of behaviour, it may be that sperm whales don’t necessarily often encounter another species that would desire such a relationship,” he says in this news story.

Why this friend, and why now? Alex has an idea about that, too. The dolphin has a malformed spine and may have been bullied or rejected by its own kind. The sperm whales seem more than happy to step in as besties.

“It was pretty amazing,” Alex told me. “No had ever seen sperm whales interacting with another species in a non-aggressive or defensive way before, so it was quite lucky to be able to see such an interaction happening before my eyes.”

You can see through his eyes, too: Click on this video for three and a half minutes of cetaceous fraternizing. There are worse ways to start off your morning.

Is that considered a nostrum nuzzle, or a flute high-five? Can you tell I’ve been reading up on my cetacean physiology? PHOTO BY ALEXANDER D. M. WILSON/AQUATIC MAMMALS

Is that considered a nostrum nuzzle, or a flute high-five? Can you tell I’ve been reading up on my cetacean physiology? PHOTO BY ALEXANDER D. M. WILSON / AQUATIC MAMMALS

Bigger Than Sylvester Stallone

I’m frequently bragging that I have the best neighbours on this good earth. But I think Susanna Rohm may have me beat. This mom in Marietta, Georgia, has her young neighbour to thank for the very survival of her newborn baby, Isaiah.

Last month, Isaiah closed his eyes and stopped breathing. A frantic Susanna raced out into the street to find help. In her panic she had dropped her cell phone under the couch. So when she spotted Rocky Hurt, age nine, and his ten-year-old buddy Ethan Wilson playing outside, she screamed for them to tell their parents to call 911.

Rocky did better than that. He followed Susanna back into the house and proceeded to instruct her in infant CPR. He guided her through chest compressions, and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Then he ran back outside to flag down the ambulance. He says he “thought of nothing” and that’s what kept him calm.

Happily, in response to the first aid, this beautiful baby came back. Isaiah started wailing with what is likely, for Susanna, the sweetest music she’ll ever hear.

Rocky says he learned his lifesaving skills in part from a poster hanging in his school cafeteria. Check out this video interview, in which a TV journalist asks how it feels to be a hero. “I feel good,” Young Rocky says, “but I didn’t really care about being on TV. All I cared about was saving baby Isaiah.”

As Susanna comments: The boy’s name suits him. He was a solid rock, and it saved her child.