Monthly Archives: September 2015

Take a Seat, Buddy

Grown-ups have the office water cooler. Animals have their watering hole. Writers, well, I suppose writers have bars.

Now school kids have the buddy bench.

What do these all hubs have in common? They’re gathering places. Folks seek them out when they’re looking for company. They’re where you can chat about the game last night, or complain about the traffic this morning – or, in the case of third-graders, perhaps compare notes on the latest Pixar movie.

And just kick a ball around.

The buddy bench is a recess hangout for lonely kids who want to make friends. Think of it this way: The buddy bench is a (bigger) variant of the spare-penny tray, the one you used to see at the store checkout counter. Need a friend? Take a friend. Have a friend? Give a friend.

I don’t know who thought of this first. But I do know it was brought to our continent by a grade-one student named Christian in York, Pennsylvania. He saw an online photo of a friendship bench on a German playground, thought it was wunderbar, and lobbied his own school to install one. The bench has since been added to an ever-increasing number of playgrounds across North America.

It came to Rick Hansen Public School near Toronto, and school parent Rachel Stewart was so delighted by the idea that she’s started a crowdfunding campaign to get the benches into dozens of other Ontario schoolyards.

She knows they can make a difference. Rachel’s had to move her son Owen to a new city and school three times. She’s seen how hard he’s worked to establish new friendships each time. The buddy bench helps eliminate barriers.

Hear how Owen tells it on her crowdfunding page: “When I was new, I sat there and someone came to me and asked me to play. I felt happy. And now when I see kids on it, I ask them to play with me… We all do.”

Need a buddy, take a buddy.

Unlike a penny, it’s priceless.

There’s always room for more: Owen is happy to scootch over.  (Photo courtesy of Rachel Stewart)

There’s always room for more. Owen is happy to scootch over. (Photo courtesy of Rachel Stewart)

Kindraising the Stakes

Today I want to spotlight a Toronto-area student who’s already got herself a full-time career. Here’s what I assume Hannah Alper’s resume looks like. Job title: Eco-warrior. Special interest: Saving the environment. Activities: Motivational speaking, repping organizations like Me to We and Free the Children, spearheading Earth Hour activities, giving media interviews, and passionately blogging to raise awareness. She’s even served in her school parliament.

Unbelievably, Hannah is only 12. At this rate, by the time she’s 20, she’ll have the rainforests repopulated, the ozone layer repaired and the oceans fully restored to their natural equilibrium.

Child activists are inspiring because they’re earnest, and focused. They’re exceedingly fair-minded and will go to great lengths to defend an underdog – in this case, poor old battered Mother Earth. And because they’re kids, they brim over with seemingly limitless energy. It means they get a lot of meaningful stuff done.

Hannah has invented a word for what she and other good-hearted children do. She calls it kindraising. Unlike fundraising, it doesn’t involve throwing money at a problem and imagining it will go away. Rather, it involves throwing acts of kindness at a problem, maybe even love and hugs, and waiting around to see what sticks.

You can learn more about Hannah, her work and her ideas here. And if and when kindness comes flying your way… take it from me, don’t duck.

It’s not all glamour. In her off hours – although I can’t imagine she has many of them – Hannah isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. Here she is, picking up trash like a trouper. (Photo courtesy of the Alper family)

It’s not all glamour. In her off hours – although I can’t imagine she has many of them – Hannah isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. Here she is, picking up trash like a trouper. (Photo courtesy of the Alper family)

Well, Hello, Dolly

So what did your summer vacation look like? If it so happened that you went to a bakery-tasting, rode a ferry, met some boy scouts and wore a bona-fide beauty pageant’s tiara, well, you weren’t the only one. Little Addison, a doll from Windsor, Ontario, made touring northern Michigan her business when she was left behind on a family vacation.

It was an accident, of course, that Little Addison was forgotten on a ferry dock. Big Addison is only three years old, and three year olds – even those who love their dolls dearly – are easily distracted.

But Heather Tamlyn, the marketing manager of Arnold Mackinac Island Ferry, knew that Little Addison’s human was probably missing her, so she spread the word through social media. She also posted photos of Little Addison having, quite frankly, a pretty fun time as she hung out in various Mackinaw City hot spots.

Back home in Windsor, Addison Drake’s parents had discovered the doll was missing and tried to give their daughter a simple explanation: Little Addison was still on vacation. I don’t think they seriously expected to see the doll again. So mom must have been gobsmacked when she logged onto Facebook and discovered all the sightseeing photos of Little Addison.

Big Addison wasn’t too impressed, though, when mom and dad showed her the pics. According to a Toronto Star article, she demanded to know: “What’s my doll doing with those people? Why is my doll there? My doll needs to come home.”

Addison’s mom reached out to Tamlyn, and when the marketing manager heard from her, she cried. “I didn’t realize how attached I had become to the outcome,” she reportedly said.

Little and Big were reunited earlier this month.

Little Addison took a walk on the wild side. “Vacation” photos show her hanging out in a police cruiser, and riding a horse. Here, she practises handling a very big knife… with a very big smile. (Facebook photo)

Little Addison took a walk on the wild side. “Vacation” photos show her hanging out in a police cruiser, and riding a horse. Here, she practises handling a very big knife… with a very big smile. (Facebook photo)

Colour Me Happy

Researchers have recently discovered that people who are feeling sad become colour impaired. Seriously, they’re less likely to see vibrant, bright hues compared to folks who are feeling upbeat or neutral. Find this surprising? I’d always assumed it worked the other way… that we feel more depressed on a dull, drizzly, grey-weather day, and that we’re immensely cheered up by the dynamic colours of, say, an all-expenses-paid tropical vacation. At least, I’m pretty certain that’s how it works for me.

But a psychology team at the University of Rochester showed that study participants who watched sad video clips, instead of happy or neutral videos, were less able to distinguish between colours on the blue-yellow axis.

What does this mean in good-deeds terms? It means that when you buoy up someone who’s feeling down – a kid who’s bummed about going back to school, let’s say – you’re actually taking the grey away. So go ahead, brighten someone’s day. Literally.

One of my happy places – my flower garden, where the colours never fail to dazzle me. Now it all makes sense.

One of my happy places – my flower garden, where the colours never fail to dazzle me. Now it all makes sense.

Screen Test

I’ve been out to the movies a few times this summer. (The Gift: Really good. Inside Out: Really good. Trainwreck: Really good. Thanks, online review aggregator, for making sure I never waste my money at the theatre… notwithstanding, of course, the twenty-dollar drop for the popcorn combo.)

I guess I like getting the most out of my entertainment buck, because I’m one of those individuals who enjoys the preshow and the previews before the main feature. If you pay attention to those, you might have seen the Cineplex Cinemas ads with theatre courtesy tips, namely: turn off your phone (“Don’t be a Tommy Texter”), refrain from kicking the chair in front of you (“Don’t be a Suzie Seatkicker”) and go for economy when you’re saving seats for friends (“Don’t be a Harvey Hogger”).

Last week, a Suzie Seatkicker actually sat behind me at the movies. I couldn’t see her, but I could feel her. Tap, tap, kick, kick, bump-bump-bump. There’s a reason why you shouldn’t do it. It’s distracting. It’s irritating. I admit that initially I harboured mean-spirited thoughts towards Miss Suzie. Why couldn’t she keep her lousy feet to her lousy self?

But partway through the film, somewhere between the comedy and the tragedy, I changed my perspective. Sending Suzie mental ill-will certainly wasn’t enhancing my movie experience. And wasn’t it possible Suzie wasn’t doing it on purpose? That perhaps she had unfeasibly oversized legs, that maybe she was cramped and just really, really uncomfortable? I decided Suzie might have a legitimate reason to seatkick. So I let it go. And from there, my movie concentration skills improved.

Once the credits were rolling, I naturally couldn’t resist turning around to get a look at Miss Suzie. Or rather Mister Suzie, as it turns out he wasn’t a woman but a thin, tall young man. And as such, he was endowed with very long – hey, get your mind out of the gutter, readers – legs.

Coincidentally, two days later a friend posted a message on social media: “The true mark of maturity is when somebody hurts you and you try to understand their situation instead of trying to hurt them back.”

Was it maturity that compelled me to try putting myself in Mister Suzie’s (size 13) shoes, instead of turning around to throw popcorn at his head? I don’t know about that. I just know that adopting a more understanding perspective did help me enjoy the movie. It was a win-win. I got to focus on the big screen, and Mister Suzie didn’t have to fish corn kernels out of his ear.

I’m not always quite so charitable when I try to understand someone else’s position. Like when another driver behaves badly on the road, and I decide he’s acting like a big shot because he does NOT have very long… uh… legs. (Photo courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

I’m not always quite so charitable when I try to understand someone else’s position. Like when another driver behaves badly on the road, and I decide he’s acting like a big shot because he does NOT have very long… uh… legs. (Photo courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)