My childhood dreams… included astronomer, archeologist and advice columnist, to name a few. Maybe that’s why I do so many different things in my job today.
The worst (and strangest!) student job I ever held was… entertaining 6-year-olds at a birthday party. I had to serve them “mocktails” and fancy appetizers while wearing a clown suit. But they wanted chips and pop, and weren’t into balloon tricks. After cleaning up a food fight, I tried to stop them from trashing the birthday boy’s home. It was the longest, most exhausting afternoon ever! Tutoring and consulting is easy in comparison.
My most embarrassing young adult moment… was when thieves broke into my first car yet left it otherwise untouched, yet both other cars belonging to my parents, had disappeared from our long driveway. We were quite puzzled, until I confessed that I’d stashed their spare car keys in my glove compartment for convenience (I had to move the cars around whenever I got home late at night). Their vehicles were both recovered badly damaged, and my parents (eventually) forgave me. Important life lesson learned…
The teacher who had the greatest positive impact on me was… my Kindergarten teacher Miss Swann, who taught some of us to read (it wasn’t common to teach reading before Grade 1 back then), while the other children had nap time. We read wonderful books together daily all year. I still love reading – though also like my naps.
If I could give my childhood and teen self some life advice, I’d tell myself to… never avoid doing something just because I don’t feel “good enough” at it yet. The fact that others can do it “better” shouldn’t stop the rest of us from enjoying ourselves too!
I always wanted to… ride horses. It never came to be in my childhood, teens or as a younger woman, whether through lack of time or opportunity. Until recently that is, when I finally got my chance. Now riding has become a passion!
I never learned to… play the piano. Although I had a successful, but brief stint playing the clarinet, I always wished it had been the piano instead.
I felt really proud when… I was able to effect important changes at my children’s school as Chair of the Parent Council.
One memorable vacation or trip I took was… the first time we took our then-young children to Florida. Our luggage didn’t arrive for two days. This didn’t matter as much as you would think, as it snowed (!) for the first three days of the trip so we had to shop for warm clothing anyway. What saved our lives was a brand new ‘toy’ we discovered and purchased to occupy the kids. It was called a “Nintendo” and was an immediate hit with all of us!
The most important “life lesson” I learned was… that things never stay the same. If things are going well, appreciate every minute. If things are going badly, don’t sweat it, because they will always get better.
My siblings... or in my case, sibling, was a wonderful surprise! I was an only child for over ten years when I learned I was to become a big sister. (Turned out this was more of a shock to my parents though, especially at first!) I absolutely loved the experience of sharing, playing and teaching my little sister new things. Given our age gap, my sister’s childhood was, like mine, spent mostly as an only child, as I went away to university when she was just 8 years old. Now, many years later, I am very proud of the woman she has become, and love to hear stories of how her days are spent sharing, playing and teaching “her” kids, in her job as a Special Education Teacher.
The first and possibly the strangest job I held was... as “Balloon Girl” at Canada’s Wonderland! Except for babysitting, it was actually my first “official” job as well. Yes – those caricatures of an oddly dressed teen standing on the sidewalk, hanging onto over a hundred shiny helium balloons for dear life, is a real thing! And we really did have to blow them up ourselves, though fortunately helium tanks made the job easier! Windy days were particularly terrifying but fortunately, I never did quite drift away. Despite jabs and snide comments from adult visitors and other staff, I loved the amazement on children’s faces as they watched me locate and retrieve the exact balloon they wanted from the bunch. This job grew into almost a decade of seasonal work at Wonderland, as my rank rose through various positions, eventually to Seasonal Operations Manager, the highest position a Seasonal Employee could hold. I have fond memories of my Wonderland years, and happy that it still provides so many students today with their first job experiences.
One memorable and slightly bizarre trip I took was... a road trip from Toronto to Hollywood with three friends! Despite getting off to a great start, we had a few run-ins with the law along the way. We were accused of ‘kidnapping’ our youngest friend who was still a minor and didn’t have written parental permission to travel with us; got pulled over for speeding only to discover we didn’t have car’s ownership papers with us, etc. But we really enjoyed our visits to Venice Beach, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, driving through Death Valley, and the never-ending action and energy of Las Vegas! Travel with good friends can create lifetime memories, though staying out of legal trouble is always best.
One of my more embarrassing moments... was on a beautiful, sunny summer day. I had selected my favourite, flowy skirt for a visit to my best friend who lived in downtown Toronto. My husband and I, with our eldest – at the time, our only - in tow, headed for Yonge and Dundas. All was well until we took a walk and stopped for ice cream. Negotiating downtown streets crowded with the usual Toronto hordes, while juggling a cookie dough double scoop on a sugar cone and keeping an eye on my son in relation to the traffic, I found myself crossing a sidewalk grate. Suddenly, a subway passed below, and WHOOSH! – up went my skirt! It was as if I was inadvertently channeling that famous Marilyn Monroe scene (although far less gracefully)! Every time I pulled it down, another piece billowed up. I scrambled off the grate trying to act nonchalant, only to see my young son doubled over with laughter! Fortunately, nobody else seemed to notice (thankfully this was before smartphones and Instagram were everywhere!). Although mortified at the time, this has become a favourite family story especially for our younger boys, who weren’t even born. And surprisingly, I still like flowy summer skirts. So what did I learn? Well firstly, to be aware of my surroundings at all times, especially on busy downtown streets. Secondly, to avoid juggling small children and large cones simultaneously while walking, and perhaps most importantly, that children benefit from hearing about their parents’ exploits long after the fact, even when rather embarrassing!
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One way as a child I escaped from life’s everyday stresses was… by reading in my bedroom, the only place I could escape my large and often boisterous family. I was completely enthralled with the Nancy Drew series, and after lights out, I’d read under my sheets with a flashlight. My taste in books has improved, but my love for reading remains. My adult eyesight however, means reading by flashlight is no longer an option!
The teacher that I remember not so fondly was… my Grade 7 teacher Math teacher. Despite scoring well on all my tests, she gave me a ‘D’ in math on my report card. When my father asked her to explain, she tried to cover her mistake by saying I had scored poorly. My dad – not one to bail out any of us kids, me included – told her in no uncertain terms that I could teach her math… Well, the rest is history, as I went on to teach and tutor math plus many other subjects.
The strangest student job I held was… at a Canola Research Station. I was given many mundane tasks, but the oddest one was preparing ‘bee sticks’ to pollinate the canola plants. Thankfully the bees were freeze-dried! I was grateful for that (I’m not fond of close-ups with live bees!) and made a mental note to rule out a future career in Botany.
One bizarre trip I (almost) took was… heading off camping in upstate New York. To reach the campsite, I needed to detour off-road. My car was not fancy but it was mine, and I took pride in its appearance. My tires soon were stuck in mud accumulated after a heavy rainfall, and the car leaned into a clump of bristly trees (who knew mud moved?). Hoping to save the paint work, I wrapped towels and even my bathrobe around those trees posing the greatest threat to my vehicle. When the tow truck arrived, the driver just shook his head, muttering that he’d thought he’d seen it all, but apparently not! I never did reach the camp site, but still give myself points for creative problem solving in an unexpected situation!
The teacher that I remember most clearly was… my Grade Eight teacher, Mr. Levendakis. He called me his ‘little genius’ and told me I could be anything I wanted, which I really liked! That year, I won the Academic Award for my grade, and felt extremely proud. Even better, the award included a $200 gift card to Coles Bookstore. The very next day, I bought myself more than 40 books (books were much cheaper back then!), then read all summer long before starting high school.
The worst job that I ever held… was convincing shoppers to apply for an Eaton's department store credit card. I was paid $5 commission for each completed application, but there was no hourly wage. Initially, I made little or no money. I remember running around the newly built Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto, approaching hundreds of people daily. I needed to earn $2,000 that summer, which meant a lot of completed applications. Although many people were quite rude, I persisted, trying out different voice tones and approaches. By summer’s end, I had earned $3,000 and my manager congratulated me with a further bonus. I was even offered $5.50 per complete application to continue, but politely declined. Once was enough!
If I could give my childhood and teen self some life advice… I think I’d quote famous automobile maverick Henry Ford's words: "Whether you think you can, or think you can't, you are right." In other words, a person can do anything if they want to achieve it badly enough, but if they are negative or down on themselves, that will come true instead.
As a teenager, I was always known for… finding and repeating famous quotes. I would record these in a notebook titled "Catherine's Famous Quotes". (I was not known for my creative titles!) Two of the first and still my favourite quotes are: "Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen" by Ralph Waldo Emmerson and "The direction in which education starts a man, will determine his future life" by Plato. I instantly forgave Plato for the male language in his quote given the times in which he lived.
I always wanted to be… a teacher, a lawyer or… a dermatologist. As I teenager, I loved reading mystery novels by Agatha Christie. I found it intriguing to be searching for clues and solving cases. But when I was not reading, I was inventing natural skin products. I was shocked but delighted when my homemade natural skin scrub (oatmeal, lavender, coconut oil, honey and my secret ingredient, brown sugar) became a huge success at my high school. I spent a lot of time filling orders for classmates and even teachers.
My childhood dream was… to become a professional Engineer. I was motivated by the famous TV serial MacGyver which I watched regularly as a child. I was in awe of how MacGyver used his scientific knowledge along with everyday items just like those I had in my own family’s home, to escape from complex and risky situations. I tried to act just like him and for a while, my nickname was ‘MacGyver’.
As a child, I was known for… amusing others with my many (some might say too many?) creative ideas. Ultimately this paid off though, as my family and friends took notice, and strongly encouraged me to develop my interest in applied science.
As an adult, my favourite leisure activities include… keeping on top of new developments in electronics and computer programming. These fields move so quickly that it is always a challenge to stay current – but one I enjoy! I also play recreational cricket. Before arriving in Canada, I played a lot of cricket, and was delighted to discover it was played here too. (I had originally expected I’d need to take up hockey to stay active!) Besides cricket matches, I also play soccer and work out to keep fit.
The strangest job I held was… as a scorekeeper in a golf match. While I’m great with numbers, I was completely unfamiliar with the game of golf at that time, and knew nothing about the scoring process! Luckily, unlike cricket, golf scoring is a relatively simple process so I was able to follow along using the written instructions provided. Besides learning how golf worked, this proved a good lesson in the value of clear and complete directions.
As a child, I often felt… left out and lonely. I grew up in a small town in New Brunswick and my school-mates were told they could not play with me because I was a different religion than them. This left me without friends at school, and always by myself. But even from this bad experience, I actually learned something positive: to be very independent and rely on myself first and foremost. This has served me well in life through other difficulties.
One way I escaped from life's stresses… was to listen to classical music. As a child we had only one record player, placed in the living room for us to share. At night I would put on my favourite records, then lay down on the couch and just fall asleep. Even today when I listen to classical music, somehow all stressors just leave my body.
The teacher I remember most clearly was… my high school Latin teacher. He had faith in me and encouraged me to run for school president. Not only did my regional high school have 1500 students, but my main opponent was the principal’s daughter! I worked so hard on my campaign, and was thrilled to win, becoming the first female student school president. It was that teacher’s constant encouragement to excel in all areas of my work that made the difference – and something I use regularly as an adult when working with students.
What I would tell my teenage self… follow my dreams and not let obstacles stand in the way. My dream was to become a doctor. I was a Pre-Med major at university, but then got anxious thinking the courses were too difficult for me, especially since there were very few women in my classes. (I didn’t realize they were difficult for everyone, male or female!) As a result, I did not keep up the commitment or continue. To this day, I regret not following my dream.
My dream for my future… was to play shortstop for the New York Yankees. But by Grade 9, I wrote that my plans for the future were either to become a social worker focused on teens or a Junior High School History teacher, and that I also hoped to travel… a lot. Looking back, that was indeed the blueprint for my future.
My ultimate personal goal… is to be able to feel that I have made a positive difference in the lives of others.
Ways I have escaped from life’s stresses… have included reading novels, listening to music, trading CDs with people all over the world, attending theatrical and musical performances and enjoying my family and friends.
The teacher/s who had the most positive influence on me… included my Grade 5 teacher who helped me to (finally!) learn my multiplication tables – no easy task – and who later invited our entire class to her wedding; my Grade 7 teacher who praised my writing style and encouraged me to see myself as a writer; a High School teacher who encouraged us to think for ourselves and develop our own beliefs; and a University professor who taught me (the hard way) why “good enough was not good enough” until I learned to put forward my best efforts and to be proud of my work.
As a student, I always knew… that I was smart - yet I did not necessarily put forward my best efforts in school. My mother was regularly told by teachers that I “was not living up to potential”. I grew to hate the word “potential”! As this is something I have in common with a number of my students, it allows me to relate to their situations without enabling them.
As a teacher, I have known… that it’s often harder for some students to succeed than others due to outside factors. Just like my own most influential teachers did for me, I attempt to deal with these students as individuals to help them to succeed at a higher level.
The most important “life lessons” I have learned include… “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”, “Good enough is not good enough”; “Pay attention to what is going on around you”, “Think for yourself”, “Believe in yourself” and “Be yourself!”. My goal for my students is to have them think like The Little Engine That Could: “I think I can! I think I can!” and to help them develop their own genuine self-confidence.
The teacher with the greatest positive impact on me… was my Grade IV teacher, Mr. Melville. He spoke to us about the life and death of Julius Caesar, and assigned speeches either in praise of Caesar or in support of his assassination. “Mellie” recited Shakespeare with such dramatic flair that even the class “rowdies” instantly quieted. Cleverly, he had us deliver our orations to the raucous mobs (really, our classmates) while standing on our desks – a thrilling treat! Combining History, English Literature and Drama, his lessons made Shakespeare ”real” even in later grades, and inspired many including myself, to enroll in Latin.
Much later, I realized that Mellie is also to thank for my participation in the 1991 International Shakespeare Conference in Tokyo, Japan. His classes made all the difference to me then and in my future.
Something that has always been very important to me… is the support of my friends. They tell me the truth about myself, even if it isn't always palatable – even if it is sometimes irritating! They are the sounding board that helps guide me and I value them as people, and the years we have known one another. Our lives are forever intertwined.
My most memorable vacation… was a fishing expedition into the wilds with my father, far from civilization. This was a time of bonding for me and my busy father, which helped me realize his love and caring for me. It was also a time of self-fulfillment as I caught a small shark “all on my own” (or perhaps not!).
If I could go back in time and give my younger self some life advice… "Lighten up and look at what is important. Stand up for Justice. Don't be distracted by unimportant issues that won't matter tomorrow or next week." This remains the real test for myself even today, as it isn’t always easy or comfortable to support persecuted people or unpopular causes. Most importantly, I would try to say this without sounding morally superior, so as not to turn off my younger self.
The strangest job I ever held was… delivering snacks, toiletries and cigarettes to inmates at a nearby penitentiary. A meek, baby-faced 17-year-old, I was hired by a Shopper’s Drug Mart in suburban Ottawa. My store just happened to hold the contract for stocking the prison “tuck shop”. When my manager described my future job responsibilities, I agreed with a smile – because I thought he was joking! One further complication: drug stores in Canada can’t sell tobacco products, but cigarettes were the most popular item for the inmates. (This was before smoking was banned from Canadian jails.) So I had to receive the cigarettes from a supplier through the drugstore’s rear doors, then package up all the items in the back room, far from customer sight. I would then move everything out the same back doors for delivery to the penitentiary. This somehow allowed us to avoid violating the law (if I remember correctly, we had a separate business license for this operation). Every Monday I would personally visit different wings of the prison with a large cart full of paper-bagged orders. I had to learn to hold my own with inmates and guards (who were equally scary), so it was quite the exercise in courage and confidence building!
As a child I always wanted to be… a pilot like my dad. He was a Canadian Air Force helicopter pilot, so my brother and I often hung out on base, watched air shows and enjoyed free helicopter rides. Once I was given a pilot’s helmet and sat up front like a real co-pilot, even got custody of the controls, which was exhilarating. Only years later did I realize that the pilot had cleverly replicated the movements I made with my (disabled) joystick, which is why I’d really felt in control! In the 1980’s, my dad was a peacekeeper in the Sinai Desert. My letters to him on that mission were later pasted into a scrapbook. They are pretty funny to look back at: my spelling was atrocious in part due to my French Immersion early education, and I mostly wrote about how super-pumped I was about the just-released Care Bears movie. I never did get to properly pilot an aircraft, but that’s okay. I got interested in other things and I’m content piloting canoes.
I never learned to… stop – as in a hockey stop. I can skate backward, even cross over when turning, but I never learned to stop properly. I guess I was always scared that if I tried doing a real ‘hockey stop’, I’d go flying and hurt myself. A lot. I don’t really come from a ‘hockey family’, and never played organized hockey as a kid (although I did play basketball and football). And now I haven’t been skating in years. Hmm. Maybe that’s next winter’s project, once I get myself a pair of hockey skates that fit my adult feet, that is.
In elementary school I was known for… being funny yet kind of different. In Grade 3, I entered the school-wide public speaking competition with a speech entitled “Being Weird”. I don’t remember much now, beyond one part where I discussed the joys of using a basketball hoop as a seat (??). Must have been funny though, since I won! What can I tell you? I also liked making ‘puppets’ with my hands, even assigning names and funny voices, all to impress the girls. I’m not sure that part worked out exactly as planned though
As a teen and young adult, one way I escaped from life’s everyday stresses was to… write songs on my guitar, then sing my blues away. Music, and other art forms are still very important in my life, even therapeutic to me. Finding a venue to express my feelings out loud, even if mostly in private (since I didn’t take my art/music public very often) has helped me tremendously. Poetry, drawing, dance, drama and photography – I have benefited from these more than I could ever explain. Perhaps that’s why they are so great: somehow, their awesomeness transcends all words. Later, as Head of Theatre Arts (and Canoeing!) at a summer camp, I got to share my secret weapon for coping with life, with many of my campers.
The most important "life lessons" I've learned are… everything is learned. Anyone can learn anything. And everyone can learn how to learn. Not everything that counts in life, can be counted. If given the choice between being right and being kind, choose to be kind, and you will always be right. Things are probably more complex than you think they are. When you encounter a contradiction, take note and see if you can draw a useful distinction. But also know that some things can be interpreted correctly in two or more ways, so multiple truths may exist.
As a young child I always wondered… why winter arrives. Whereas my father tried to make a scientist out of my six-year-old self and told me about the Earth's axial tilt and elliptical orbit in great detail, my mother smiled and simply observed that winter came to us because we couldn't afford a Caribbean vacation!
I never learned… French, despite attending French classes all through high school. In retrospect, I think it was probably poorly taught and did not engage me. Yet I’ve done well at other languages. I arrived in Canada speaking Russian and Hebrew, and learned English quickly. Recently I have been working on improving my Mandarin to better converse with my wife’s family.
The strangest job I ever had… was as a windows and doors salesman at local call centre. It was boring and frustrating work asking if they “needed windows” only to be blown off. So to keep myself entertained, I would offer them our company's services to remove the windows they said that they “didn't need” – and install some they could “better appreciate”. Needless to say, I got yelled at (a lot) by annoyed prospective customers and quickly realized I wasn’t cut out for sales!
In school, my favorite hobby was… writing short stories. Unfortunately, I often did my best writing during other subject classes, which allowed me to escape academia in favor of my fantasy world. Sometimes my most villainous characters were those who assigned homework, which was rather fun!
If I could go back in time to give my teenage self some advice… I would tell him to stop writing stories in class and actually listen up and study because, as Benjamin Franklin once said, "an investment in knowledge pays the best interest". I’m hoping that my chill and persuasive adult presence would convince my teenage self to listen – though I’m not still 100% sure of that!
I was known for… doing great character impressions, especially in middle school where my prowess with characters from the Austin Powers films attracted my peers’ admiration. As I imitated accents well, I entertained and they would then ‘pay’ me (usually just coins!) for encores. I still do pretty decent impressions.
As a tween, I could usually be found… practicing choreographed hip-hop dance routines at the neighbourhood community centre, sometimes way past my curfew. I’m sure my mom was thrilled about this… (not!).
My childhood hero was… and remains, my mother. She made single-parenting look easy (I now see it most certainly is not), and made many sacrifices for our happiness to give us every enriching experience possible. She was also hilarious, light-hearted, intelligent, well-travelled and generous – with an impressive ability to connect with anyone, regardless of circumstance. I miss her tremendously but her spirit lives on in my brother and me.
My childhood dream… was to become an educator, community leader or actor. By age 9, I knew I would be at least one of these. Today, I am all three, though that means I wear several different hats on any given day.
The strangest job I ever had… was “facilitator” at children’s birthday parties in Little Neck, Queens, New York. I helped stuff and decorate toy bears – and since they named their bears as well, I also had to write up and issue official “birth certificates”! Tips were great… parents were appreciative… but rambunctious children with sugar-rushes, not so much. By the time I left that job, I didn’t want to ever stuff or register a single Bert or Beatrice Bear again. But I still have a soft spot for teddy bears.
If I could go back in time, I’d tell my 20-something self… to take any fears I was struggling with, sit with them for a bit, and then resolve to put them aside. That way, I could surround myself with more positivity and creativity, and more easily accomplish all that I strived to do.
As a child, I was known for… speaking French well. It helped that I attended and enjoyed French Immersion starting in Kindergarten. The neighbourhood kids would always ask me to “say something in French”. They found it funny to hear fluent French coming from such a young child! Another benefit: In Grade 3, I helped translate during our family trip to France. I was the one who pointed out that my parents should not keep the stove running in our rented camper while starting up the ignition. (Good thing I could translate those instructions, or we may never have made it home to Canada!)
In my final year of high school, I felt really proud when… I received the school music award. I’d always loved music, and by then, I had played in the school concert band, stage band, city youth orchestra and The Ontario Youth Concert Band. So after putting so much time and effort into my music, I was honoured and pleased to receive this recognition.
In my teenage years, my friends… and I spent many hours listening to records. (This was long before downloadable music or iTunes!) I spent a big chunk of my allowance, plus money from part-time jobs, on new albums, bus fare into Toronto, and tickets to see my favourite bands live. To this day I enjoy the sound of vinyl recordings, and still listen to my teenage record collection plus many new additions, all carefully stored in my basement!
Throughout my childhood and teen years, I could usually be found… by the water. As a young child, I spent time at my grandparents’ cottage and was an avid swimmer from a very young age. Attending summer camp from ages 8 to 15, I learned to sail, canoe, and much more. As a result, as a teen and young adult, I worked as a swim instructor and lifeguard for many summers, where I met my spouse. In short, I’ve always been a real fish!
The most important “life lesson” I learned in high school… when I misread a key instruction on a history mid-term exam. As a result, I answered only one, rather than the two required essay questions. But my teacher’s response was what made the experience a life lesson: while sympathetic, he did not allow me to re-do the exam nor make up lost marks. Instead, he suggested I consider writing the final exam, even though I was exempt from it. (At that time, Ontario high schools had mandatory mid-terms, but rewarded those students with good final grades by exempting them from the dreaded “finals”. What a wonderful feeling to be on holidays while others were still studying!) But I followed his advice, and extended my study time to prep for the History final. My very high exam grade bumped my final course mark back up to a level where I was happy. Most importantly, I have never misread a direction on a test or exam since!
As a preteen, I could often be found… rearranging my prized seashell collection and redecorating my bedroom. Looking back, I’m amazed at how often I actually redid that room! Otherwise, I’d mostly spend my free time reading, journaling and listening to music. This combination opened my imagination, expanded my natural creativity, and took me to places I would never have known existed. If blogs, vlogs and personalized music playlists had existed back then, I would likely have immersed myself in those. Yet I’m glad they did not, as all that screen time would have likely distracted me from reading.
My childhood dream was… to become either an architect or fashion designer. My journals from that period were full of sketches, designs and notes about my new ideas. Since I obviously enjoyed redecorating (see above!), I briefly considered becoming an interior designer. Eventually, my passion for writing and my English high grades won out over math-related subjects, which I found more challenging and less interesting by high school. As I matured, I added poetry writing to my journaling repertoire.
In the summers, I could usually be found… spending my days running through sprinklers, goofing around with friends and biking together. Too old to always be with our parents, but too young to drive, bikes gave us ultimate freedom. There was only one rule most summer days: stay together and be home and inside before dark. Back then, there were also no cellphones, iPads or tablets to rely on, and our only “screen” was the television. Since it wasn’t very portable, the TV got used only in bad weather, illness or after dark! Plus we didn’t have as many channels to choose from back then!
I also spent a few summers at Camp Northland, an overnight camp. I remember being terrified before my stay. Northland’s campers had to select either 1 or 2 months, so my parents suggested I start out with just August. But a supposed friend there for the whole summer, tried to intimidate me by saying that if I showed up at “her” camp, she would make my life very, very hard. Somehow, I put on a brave face and got on that camp bus with courage, but also tremendous anxiety. Luckily, I had an enjoyable month away, and despite a rough start, I returned home more independent – and with new friends!
The worst job I ever held… was as an Editorial Assistant for a magazine. This was one of my first “real” paid jobs within my chosen career path, and I was thrilled to be hired. Beyond the usual office tasks, I hoped to submit my own pieces for possible publication. But my boss did not believe I could write articles, simply because I had studied English, not “Journalism”.
Though very capable of working my way up in this company, I was continually being told what I wasn't. Once I realized this was a very unhealthy work environment, I chose to leave. I now appreciate that it took courage to walk away, especially as well-meaning friends and family advised me to stick it out a bit longer. This ability to listen to and consider well-meaning advice but still make my own decisions, is a trait that continues to serve me well in my personal and professional life to this day.
As a new parent, I… felt delighted, terrified and thrilled to give birth to another human being. The arrival of my first-born was the happiest moment of my life. I knew that the world was now his oyster to discover. My son provided my husband and me with the gift of wonder and hope for the future. That instant love and admiration – combined with his curious and active nature almost from Day One – felt amazing and humbling all at once. Even as he approaches his pre-teen years, characteristics emerge that I was able to glimpse when he was just a few days old. As a “veteran parent” of three boys now, my greatest wish is to help each harness these strengths as they move forward in life.
NOTE: Mohana is presently on leave, but we eagerly await her return.
As a teen I could usually be found… listening to great music or inspiring podcasts. I love any music with beat and rhythm. Music helps lift me from a bad mood and gets my energy running. I also love podcasts that motivate and inspire. I gravitate to podcasts that require me to dig deeper and push further than I realized I could, an essential skill for adapting within this fast-changing world. Even as a teen, I felt privileged to live in Canada, and believed I can achieve more than my mind could grasp or my eyes could see. Music and podcasts pushed me in the right direction – and they still do!
The most memorable vacation I ever took was… a recent trip to Hawaii. While the scenic views, hiking trails, exotic plants and animals and 360 full-colour sunsets were breath-taking, the moment I remember most was receiving an emergency cellphone alert that an inbound nuclear missile aimed directly at Hawaii. As the warning blared across phone and computer screens, TV’s and radios, I was terrified yet in awe. What to do, and even then, what difference would it make? I quickly packed a few things and headed out of the hotel (in retrospect, bad plan!) and kept trying to reach those back home for updates. Thankfully, a social media post soon confirmed this was a drill message sent out in error. But I now know exactly what to do in the event of an inbound missile threat: seek immediate shelter behind a concrete wall or in a reinforced basement. And don’t pack up, as there’s too little time for that! I definitely hope to visit Hawaii again, but first, I need to learn what to do in the event of a volcanic eruption!
The most important “life lesson” I learned as a child was… that it’s always important to “do the work” and not coast, no matter what your skill level. I learned this the hard way in Grade 6. I loved soccer and was a pretty good player, so was thrilled to be chosen captain of my soccer team. But once chosen, I believed I knew everything about soccer. After all, I was made captain in only my third year of play! I started skipping practices and when I did go, I didn’t bother running all those laps or doing the hardest drills. My coaches quietly noted this, but didn’t reprimand me. Until one day, when they took me aside and declared I wouldn’t play the last few games leading to the playoffs, because I hadn’t put in the work all season. They explained that success was about the team operate as a unit, and I wasn’t a team player – even if I was team captain. My dreams of leading my team to the victory trophy came crashing down in a flash – followed by a wave of realization. No matter how “good” I may be, I still have to put in the work, alongside the others. My wise coaches taught me that nothing is ever given without earning it, especially just because I think I deserve it. Hard work, commitment and humility: hard lessons for a sixth grader with big soccer dreams. But I’ve never forgotten this since.
If I could go back in time and give my young teenage self some life advice… I’d tell myself to appreciate everything. Even if I’m not feeling sure about my academic courses, relationships, extra-curriculars or where my future is going, things will work out. As long as I can appreciate my opportunities and make use of my experiences, it will all be okay. I would also prepare my teen self for mistakes along the way (ok, plenty of mistakes!). I’d remind myself that every ‘mistake’ opens a door, and can take me down a path leading somewhere I would never have had access to otherwise. I’d remind my teen self to be true to my own voice, my head and my heart, to acknowledge when I’ve tried my best and then move on, and above all else, to keep moving. Finally, I’d reassure myself that when it’s ultimately over, I will be wherever I’m supposed to be – and if I’m not there, it’s just not over yet. Finally, I’d want myself to remember that a walk and chat with a true friend, or just going to get some ice cream, can go a long way to get me back on track!
As a child, I was always known for… talking too much! My seventh grade teacher wrote me a note saying essentially: 'It's a good thing you're a fast learner, because you never stop talking long enough to listen to a full set of directions'. I still find joy in conversing with people about all sorts of topics, almost all the time. I believe much growth and many lessons is received from the wisdom of others, often through a simple chat - and why I still have this reputation at times!
One way I escaped from life’s everyday stresses as a teen… was to write in my journal. I felt that writing down my emotions, thoughts and feelings would bring clarity to any difficult situation – and it often did! Another favourite de-stressor of mine was and still is, running. Exercise brings a sense of peace to my body that my mind soon follows.
The most important “life lesson” I ever learned… is to always have confidence in yourself. It can be far too easy to doubt ourselves or our abilities, but we must become our own cheerleaders in life. When you believe that you can achieve something, you're halfway to your goal!
The teacher in school that I remember most clearly was… my high school science teacher. Somehow every year, I ended up in his class. He was the most sarcastic but truly funny teacher I ever had, and it was his support and guidance that helped me realized my love for science and Biology in particular.
If I could go back in time and give my teenage or 20-something self some life advice… I’d tell my younger self to take my time, observe and absorb in every situation. People get so caught up in this fast-paced world, that we lose sense of the meaning behind the true memories we make.
My proudest moments as a student/learner… include receiving academic awards in middle and high school for English, History and Biology. I immigrated to Canada at a young age knowing no English, so these were particularly special to me.
In Grade 7 Music class, I was assigned the violin. Unfortunately, my affection for the instrument exceeded my skill level. Eventually, I attended music camp (in my mid-20’s!) hoping to hone my bow skills. My group was assigned “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” for the camp talent show, but needed a lead singer. My only previous singing experience was 50’s, 60’s and 70’s hits played too loudly in my parents’ car. Yet a little voice in my head assured me that I could and I should. I eventually belted it out for 300 people! My group got a standing ovation and I glowed with pride. While my violin skills still need work, I’ve since performed in choral groups and community theatre troupes. Music camp opened me to creative risk-taking, and made me a more outgoing person.
Most recently, I feel proud and a little bemused whenever I accomplish at least 25% of my TO DO list on any given day… that is, without being distracted by my phone. This isn’t easy for me, and I truly empathize with young people’s phone “addictions”!
My proudest moments as a teacher and tutor… include learning that former students – often New Canadians with few material advantages – have become Canadian doctors, teachers, even television producers! Some return to visit while in high school, others in college or university, or during successful careers and their own families. They share their accomplishments with pride, and together we reminisce about their younger selves. I especially enjoy reconnecting with more unfocused, rambunctious students who needed extra time and validation. Recently I learned one of my most challenging students is now a well-known Canadian clothing designer! How cool is that?
Some of my proudest memories are seeing my tutoring or classroom students have a “lightbulb moment” in a certain topic. I love when they become engaged, confident and successful using my personalized instruction and strategies that recognize their strengths as well as support their needs.
My heroes are… my parents who made great sacrifices for my future in coming to Canada from Czechoslovakia as political refugees. They faced many challenges and taught me the importance of working your hardest regardless of the job you hold. They became my role models by exposing me to classical music, a shared love of reading, writing and theatre, passion for travel and general curiosity about life.
My other hero is my babička (grandmother), who travelled regularly to be with us in Canada, even at an advanced age. A Holocaust survivor and young widow, she was forced to fend for herself for many years, and was my inspiration to become independent and self-sufficient.
As a teen, I escaped life’s everyday stresses… by sewing my own clothing. In the 1970’s, Ontario students had expert sewing and cooking instruction in a class called “Home Ec”. Sadly, this class was limited to girls only, while the boys learned to use tools and machines in another class called “Shop”. Sewing captivated me so much that I often skipped meals and forgot even to drink water! Eventually I had to modify my habits or I would sew all day and do little else. I still love sewing, but sadly it’s no longer an effective weight-loss plan. Now, my extra kilos cushion me as I roll around the floor, cutting fabric at precarious angles, leaving scraps of random fabric in my wake!
I believe everyone has a “sewing”-type activity that absorbs them totally, one that plugs directly into the reward centre of our brains, sometimes replacing other pleasurable activities like eating. The trick is learning to use these stress-escaping “super-powers” while staying balanced.
One memorable vacation or trip I took was… exploring New Mexico and Colorado by car. I was the main driver, a brave move since I had never driven long distances before. I can still picture the endless flat landscapes punctuated by rusty-gold mesas (land tables), the sun magically bouncing across their outcroppings. Did you know the world’s first “apartments” are in Colorado’s Mesa Verde region, constructed by Mayan peoples circa 1200? Clambering about these ancient multi-storey apartments carved into mountainsides, I learned so much by seeing, touching and experiencing.
I also incurred some heavy financial damage in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, buying piece after piece of traditional silver and turquoise jewelry. By the end of the trip, I had enough stock to open a small jewelry store!
My teachers who influenced me the most… were my Grade 6 classroom teacher and my Grade 12 Chemistry teacher because understood that we all make “silly” mistakes in schoolwork and in life. They were kind and never judgmental whenever I did something inappropriate (outside and inside class) which happened a little too often back then! They respected me enough to give fair consequences without judgment, and I never did that particular inappropriate “something” again – though there were often new “somethings” to try out!
The outside world does not readily tolerate inappropriate behaviours, so by addressing this aspect of my personality early with good humour yet firmness, they saved me real-world pain later on. They also inspired me to do the same for my students.
I always wondered… why I had no siblings. Was I that much of a handful that my parents didn’t want another child!? Or maybe I ‘just right’ the way I was, so they didn’t want to spoil a good thing? Neither seemed to be the whole story. Either way, I missed not having siblings – a lot. Perhaps that’s why I was so drawn to tutoring from such a young age!
I am known for… collecting Coca Cola cans and bottle products as I travel the world. I am currently the proud owner of over 250 cans and bottles (!) and counting.... Some of my favourites include one-of-a-kind Diet Coke glass bottles (where each bottle made had a unique design, made in North America) and the Moschino and Coca Cola crossover cans (I found these while in Italy). Did you know that Coke-brand cans and bottles have different designs, sizes, logo styles and languages depending on their country of origin?
The worst job I ever had was… working at an indoor Wave Pool during the summer months. Yes, the water was nice and cool when you jumped in, but with so many little ones, parents and seniors in and out of the pool, and long lines to use the restrooms, “accidents” in the water were common. This made for very poor air quality for those of us on duty for long stretches of time! Good thing the pool was cleaned thoroughly throughout the day!
If I could go back in time and give my teen self some life advice… I’d tell myself to keep working hard – and to never give up even when times seem beyond stressful! I’d remind myself of other times when I was convinced it was absolutely impossible to remember everything required for certain exams within the time frame available. Then I’d remind my teenage self that in the end, I actually managed just fine! Finally, I’d wrap it up with a pep talk such as “You will always come out ahead, as long as you give it your best shot.”
I can usually be found… binge-watching a TV series (or three!) on Netflix, with a lot of junk food by my side. It’s super relaxing! Surprisingly, despite the COVID-19 lockdown, this continues to have some appeal to me. I haven’t reached the end of Netflix quite yet and my taste for junk food remains strong… except that I now have to workout more often than I’d like to! What’s your favourite “chill out” activity?