All posts by Sami-Jo Cairns

What is a “Fur-Mommy”?

I’m 31 years old, have been with a man for nearly 15 years, and both have relatively well-paying jobs, a baby must be next, right?

No thanks.

Not yet. Maybe not ever.

I find it funny that society believes these factors are the perfect recipe for parenthood without considering if the “parents” want them or not. Why? Because the immediate question I hear when I tell people there’s no baby-bump in the immediate future is, “Why?” (Add in obligatory half-sneer as the inner wheels of their true questions stir) “Is there something medically wrong with myself or my husband stopping us from having children?” “Do we hate children?” “Am I so vain I don’t want to spoil my body?”

I know these questions are swimming around in their grey matter, not because I’m a mind reader, but because not everyone is so couth to keep the questions to themselves.

I’ve given myself until 35 to decide if parenthood is for me, until then me and the Hubster are content with our babies.

Our Fur-Babies.

Bosco   Mortimer

Bosco A.K.A Bossman (8 years old)                         Mortimer A.K.A Monster ( 1 year old)

Fur-babies depend on their parents for everything until they pass, beginning on when they’re tiny bundles of fur. When Bosco became a daddy (Mortimer being one of his pups), it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. To watch the sightless pups 24/7, who can barely squirm, to make sure the mother didn’t accidently suffocate them trying to get comfortable, unable to walk or even regulate their body temperatures, adding a lot of guess work in the mix while sleep deprived. Many elements out of my control including making sure the mother fed them enough and that she herself was healthy.

Watching them grow and discover new things like their sound of their own bark, or finding their favorite toy, and the fact cheese unfortunately makes them really sick, and watching them go crazy after a bath using the halls as a drag race is as rewarding as it entertaining, which is why us fur-baby lovers liter our social media accounts with pictures of our four-legged friends just as much as other do their children.

The bond is concrete regardless of species.

In some ways being a fur-mommy is more difficult than traditional parenting. NOW HOLD ON! I’m sure I just enraged every person who has ever carried a child and lived through hours of delivery, but hear me out.

Loving anything with an expiry date before your own is devastating, and we choose to do so knowing the heartbreak is 10-15 years down the line, and we do it a few times in our lifespan. If human children only lasted that long, I wonder if people would still have them? Of course the human race would die out, but you get my point.

Bosco and Mortimer will never learn to talk and tell me how much they love me, but they show it better than most humans I know. Love evident in their kisses and snuggles and in the way they seem to anticipate my emotional imprint. Calm and compassionate when my I’m down or goofy and rambunctious when I need a laugh.

Now, I’ll never watch my fur-babies grow up and go to college and fall in love, though they have had their own children, but I also won’t need to pay for college or a wedding either. The decision for parenthood is not monetary driven either but it’s a plus in the childless column. As is, no midnight feedings, enduring awkwardness of the sex-talk, paying a babysitter when you leave the house, or hoping you don’t end up raising a serial killer. (It’s an honest fear more people should consider) Seeing our little buggers grow, seeing their curiosity get them into hilarious hijinks, watching their puppy frenzy morph into that of a seasoned pup, is astonishing.

I can’t say I’ve ever experienced “baby fever” though I do love my nieces and nephews. They’re fun, but handing them back when their diaper needs changing or they throw a tantrum is FANTASTIC. At eleven my youngest brother was born, so babysitting was natural, but since then children haven’t been an element in my life and I never felt the compulsion to make them apart of it regardless if I mothered them or not.

Children are not necessary to feel complete, not for me anyway, and with the world’s overpopulation issues, I’m grateful to be raised in a society where parenthood is a choice, even if not everyone understands it. Most of the people I know who have children never planned them. Their “oopsies” turned into a blessing, but since I have the choice, I’m choosing to hold off until I’m sure.

For now, and maybe forever, I’m content and wholly fulfilled with the love of a little being who has no idea what I saying, has no care of my social standing and what that means for their life, and has no grand needs besides extra treats, freedom to sleep where they want, and forgiveness when they get into the garbage and poop out unidentifiable things me and the Hubster have fun guessing at.

Fur-babies are quick burning fire crackers that fill your life with joy and excitement as equally as despair, leaving us behind too quickly. No matter the fur-babies that come after them, they are never forgotten and your heart is left with a hole that outlasts their lifetime.

VirginiaR.I.P Virgie Bear.

 

Buyer Beware: Trials and troubles of the (un)educated consumer

 

Buy our shampoo and conditioner! Sulphate-free! Natural ingredients! Your silky locks will be so irresistible someone will put you in a commercial. We’ll even put it on sale!

“Score,” I tell myself. Until I try it out and my naturally thin and oily hair is extra thin and oily and I learn that conditioner doesn’t usually have sulphates anyway, so the claim is bunk and I’ve been sucked into yet another marketing scheme that cost me more money.

I can send it back, “Satisfaction guaranteed”, but the hassle isn’t worth the time or embarrassment for being duped by their effective product advertising probably initiated by some internet fad. So I swallow the cost and vow to be a more educated consumer.

How do I manage that?

Good question. Especially when sellers don’t want us buyers to know the proprietary blend of their PERFECT product and no one can make them give up the goods. Their “proprietary rights” more sacred than consumers health.

“The more informed a consumer or buyer is, the more difficult it is to sell them.”

A quote from the book ‘GET CONTENT. GET CONSUMERS’ by Joe Pulizzi and Newt Barrett. Article found here. I see truth in this. Transparency and an educated mind is a smarmy salesperson’s worst nightmare, and when that salesperson hides behind a brand name, catchy commercial, or boat loads of cash, the uneducated (as spoken of at length here), those with lowered economic standing, or the aging population, have a greater chance of being bamboozled.
The more I find out, it seems the less I know.That’s not to say that just because your education is lower than a high school grade, you make minimum wage, and you’ve bowed out of the digital age that you should walk around with a dunce cap on. Not at all. The information is out there. It’s all in the willingness to research and not let those shady salespeople win.

This episode of CBC Marketplace called Lousy Labels looks into 10 popular products with the “natural” or “organic” label. For those not in the know (like myself before watching) there is NO definition for these buzz words under the law. Nothing! The Competition Bureau of Canada only has guidelines of company ethics, but they aren’t strictly enforced. It’s up to you and me to mind warp ourselves into finding the best possible product.

I was happy to see that one Green Crusader, Toby Heeps (not sure of spelling as it didn’t say), who was featured in the Lousy Labels episode uses the Live Clean products I do. But those products were recommended to me by an educated in-law/pseudo-sister who is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Certified Holistic Life Coach when I was on the hunt for alternative shampoo and conditioner.

I don’t have time for that education. Most don’t. And you shouldn’t need one.

We shouldn’t need a degree to figure out what products to use or made to feel guilty when we learn our “natural” and “organic” choices cause impacts on third-world countries that rival slavery to keep up with the worlds demand.

I did learn of something called Health Canada’s Ingredient Hotlist that does as the name says and list harmful ingredients. Check it out and see how your products stand up.  

I keep an eye open to social media alerts about bad-for-you-and-the-world products, ones tested on animals, ones which use cancer-causing ingredients, ones from the big evil companies like Monsanto and others who use GMO’s, but it would be easier to make a list of all the products that I CAN use without guilt or threat to personal well-being, because the list of harmful products and money hungry companies out there is staggering.

Does consumer education affect consumer behaviour?

One day a friend post something about the disgusting ingredients in fast-food, complete with graphic videos of their non-food or mistreatment of the livestock they use to pad their bleached buns, then a week later, they’re posting foodie pictures at that very same fast-food joint.

Regrettably, I find myself doing the same.

Why?

Laziness? Maybe. Sometimes I don’t want to care that the world is an ugly place, I just want to eat a spicy chicken burger and fries and hide the bags under my eyes from the long work week I had. And companies thrive on this “today-I-don’t-care” attitude.

Disbelief my purchase or lack of makes an impact? This as well is a difficult mindset to alter. Any penny removed from the pockets of a greedy industry makes a difference. Any voice spoken above the sound of the cash register makes a difference. Making a stance and then giving in the next week sends mixed messages, and that too is difficult to stop when convenience overshadows knowledge.

Distrust for what you read? Absolutely. Just because someone makes a convincing argument, doesn’t mean the facts are…well, facts. I choose to question everything I see with ample skepticism, believing there are multiple sides to the debate plus a helping of skewed agenda by whomever created the article.

The personal argument is enough to pull my hair out. But then I would have to research which wigs use the least harmful chemicals to get it the colour I want.

*sigh*

While doing a bit of research for this blog, I even found sites listing tips to combat this uneducated consumer. Here’s one with a few easy to read (not always as easy to follow) tips. 

marketplace-thumb-620xauto-299941Also, there’s 2 more CBC Marketplace episodes attached. One that outlines the alarmingly simple process of getting medications on the shelves with limited to no scientific bases. And the other that debunks the effectiveness of short-term Detox treatment recommended by Dr. Oz. I was quite amazed.

What I myself can take away from the effort of researching for this blog, it’s that companies will, for the most part, pry on the hectic lives of the common person. One who doesn’t have the time to read every ingredient on a bottle while their kids are sneaking too many packages of cookies into the grocery cart.

If you need to do research, find a way to do it. If it’s utilizing local farms and understanding more about foods and products, take a little time, take a tour or make some calls. Even if only a few products on your shelves are closest to harm-free as possible, then you’ve made your impact against a faceless industry that feeds off the blameless ignorance of the common person with manipulating marketing strategies.

Do what you can to refrain from it being your hard-earned cash that bankrolls corporate schemes.

Check out the CBC Marketplace Episode on medicine!

Check out the CBC Marketing Episode on Detox treatments!

 

The Scariest Part of Halloween…

indexBOO!

‘Kay, I’m not scary. Well…depends on who you ask…but in general, I evoke less fear than a lettuce chewing Lama.

But something about Halloween does scare me. After near 13 years of skipping out on celebrating Halloween, I found myself with a party invite and no clue what costume to wear.

Nope, not the scary part yet. I’m getting there…

sexy-women-halloween-costumes-4Scary was doing an internet search for ideas and finding only options with the word “Sexy” before the description. Sexy pirate, sexy devil, sexy police woman, sexy superhero, even sexy Elmo *shudder*. My gobsmacked brain thought, “Really people, are we that desperate?”

 

Giving it another more level-headed consideration, I warred with two opinions:

  • Ugh! Is dressing “sexy” what Halloween’s all about nowadays? Has its history been boiled down to who can tolerate being least dressed? In case you’re not from around here, Canada on October 31st can be freezing, raining, or even snowing! If your costume failed to fit over your childhood snowsuit, you chose a different costume.

AND

  • Why not play up the holiday and get your freak on? One day of the year you get the opportunity to be anything you want. If that’s a sexy Little Red Riding Hood in a crop top and cape, have at it.

Now, since I’m not one to “slut shame” or object to sexual content created for adults, I had to come at this costume business from the prospective of what I’m comfortable with traipsing around in in front of long-time friends, my husband, and my brother. The Hubster would be ecstatic, brother mortified, and friends indifferent. But all are the paparazzi incarnate, which means pictures would reach every outlet of social media.

Part of all this bugs me because it’s so far removed from Halloween’s origins. Yes, this is a history lesson, but a small one and then back to my lovely opinions. Pinky swear.

halloween24000 years ago, the Celts clocked October 31st as a day when the season of life ended and the season of death began. Sounds freaky, but referred to crops and not a zombie cult. This day was called Samhain and it was a day when the veil between the living and dead was its thinnest. 8th Century Pope Gregory IV adopted some of its practices, mixed them up in a bubbling cauldron of the Christian holiday ‘All Saints Day’, and over time, brewed today’s Halloween.

Okay, maybe no bubbling cauldron, but the visual is festive.

Back to costumes.

a-history-of-costumes-vintage-halloween-photo-L-I00TADCostumes were supposed to keep away bad spirits and fairies who threaten to possess you. Christians participated in “Souling” – dressing up and visiting neighbours asking for cakes and prayers for their impoverish souls or “Guising” – dressing up and dancing in exchange for food. Neither sounds appealing considering it was the poor who worked for their supper and/or the eternal safety of their souls, but I digress.

When Irish immigrants brought the custom to the Americas, they turned from carved up turnips and potatoes to more effective pumpkins used to scare away evil.

So tell me, if there’s evil prowling about, would they be terrified by the sight of a “sexy” Little Bo Peep? Unless they have an aversion to a Shepherd’s Crook (her staff), I highly doubt it.

What makes this worse is that the “sexy” trend is not gender or age specific. Men have crazy get-ups as well.

10308945Kids’ costumes make my blood boil. Halloween or not, I would argue the appropriateness of sending a child trick or treating in an outfit better suited for someone three times their age.  What happened to cute pumpkins, clowns, or dragons? They may choose something “sexy”, but it’s a parental responsibility to gauge at which age that is appropriate for their child. In my opinion, toddlers don’t need cleavage.

Losing sight of reality may be the biggest issue. At the end of the day, you’re still you. In or out costume, you represent a person, a concept, and a custom far older than our history book illustrate.

When choosing a costume, take a step back and think about what the costume says about you. If it’s within your personality to grab for the “sexy” option then strap what little of it there is on with pride. If “sexy” isn’t you, don’t reach for it because you feel an obligation to perpetuate the fad.

Maybe one day we’ll go back to cutting holes in our Mom’s sheets…DSCF2118

A Year to Transform Margaret – A Success Story

rock bottomHow much time do you think it would take to get your life in order when it’s brought you to a place you never imagined you’d be?

This varies from person to person depending on their commitment to change and Margaret exhibited unmatched drive from the very beginning.

As aking-st_1-247x300 women’s Advocate within the YWCA Emergency Homeless Shelter, I also enjoy the privilege of being a Case Manager to women within our On-site Transitional Housing Program.  The On-site program enables women to stay within a wing of the Shelter for up to a year, affording them the gift of time to figure out what they want from life and how to get there. Not every On-site client stays a full year, but thankfully Margaret has, and her presence has awarded me the opportunity to witness her transformation.

When asked to showcase a success story for the YWCA blog, Margaret came to mind immediately and she happily agreed to share her story in hopes that others may understand that hitting your rock bottom doesn’t mean you need to stay there. Every person has a history that shapes their present, but Margaret never anticipated the spiraling events that brought her to the YWCA.

After losing his high-ranking position, Margaret’s partner’s alcoholism turned volatile. The relationship became toxic and she found herself the victim of frequent abuse, trapped within a dangerous cycle that she felt had no escape. The abuse escalated to the point where Margaret became the victim of attempted marital rape.  This was Margaret’s defining moment.  She had had enough, fought back with everything she had, and refused to stop there. Margaret found her courage and took her fight to the courts. A guilty verdict punctuated her fight with vindication, but her struggle had only begun as the memory of damage done could not be erased with the fall of a gavel.

One of Margaret's favorites
One of Margaret’s favorites also saved on her phone

In her attempts to find reprieve from her pain, Margaret found herself drinking to excess to cope with her life, a decision that quickly evolved into losing everything she held dear- of greatest importance, the trust of her family.

Her spiral continued as documented by a photo of a car crash she has saved on her phone that serves as a reminder of how bad things got before experiencing her breaking point.  Checking herself into the Women’s Detox Center in St. Catharines, she found personal security that had been stripped away by her ex.  Her insecurities had left her fearful of her surroundings, fearful to venture outdoors on her own, and fearful of being in the presence of men.  Detox granted her a sanctuary and sobriety, giving her time to  center herself and re-evaluate her life- where she was, how she got there, and most importantly how could she move on from there.

Leaving behind her old life meant starting fresh.  Without the trust of her family, Margaret bravely set out to navigate her own journey on the road toward independence.  Coming to the YWCA Women’s Shelter was no easy task, but moving on meant leaving a home that held too many memories of a lifestyle best left behind.  Margaret faced her fear of strangers as she joined the other guests at the Shelter, unsure if she could even trust the Women’s Advocates.

In a perpetual forward motion, Margaret followed through with referrals to resources that set her on a different path. Connecting with CASON (Community Addiction Support Services of Niagara) Margaret was given a treatment date for the Newport Treatment Centre (which also assists men)  in Port Colborne and for 18 days focused on nothing but herself and her addiction.  Again, this was another change that triggered great anxiety, but not enough to stop Margaret from doing what needed to get done.

However, another issue contributing to her anxiety, was not having a home to return to once treatment was complete.  After witnessing her strides in making it to the Shelter and actively participating in her recovery, I spoke with Margaret about the YWCA’s On-site Transitional Housing Program.  I explained the process and expressed how Margaret would be a perfect fit.  Elated to have “home” covered, Margaret proceeded to Newport and returned after completing the program with new knowledge in her tool belt.

Over the past year I have watched Margaret, in awe of her fortitude to prevail in times when others may have thrown their hands up and quit.  At no point did I ever hear Margaret express words of quitting.  Was she terrified?  Absolutely.  But not once would she accept anything less than looking forward, setting goals that she pursued with genuine fervor.  Every new challenge that nudged her outside her comfort zone was met with a level chin, though sometimes it trembled from anxious anticipation of the scary unknown.

“Forgive yourself, be patient in your healing, appreciate the help that is offered to you, know that you’re worth a new beginning, and share what you can.” – Words of advice from Margaret to those in need.

Margaret consistently attended the YW meetings, the Celebrate Recovery women’s group once a week, and  Alcoholics Anonymous meetings when she felt she needed the extra support. Eventually she was accepted into Design For a New Tomorrow to face the abuse issues that caused such pain in the first place. Margaret proved to be the definition of not only a success story, but a woman of inspiration.  She is who I think of when I consider how I would react if ever faced with hardships that challenged my every concept of existence.

Finding her way back to herself meant dealing with the shame and guilt of the damage she created against herself, as well as within her family, which included a brood of young grandchildren.  Fortunately, her family came full circle, supporting her throughout her journey and proud to see how far she has come. Having celebrated a year of sobriety on July 29, 2014, Margaret is transitioning out of the On-site program to move in with her loving family up north where she looks forward to enjoying being a grandma.

As bittersweet as it is to no longer be Margaret’s Case Worker, her success comes with its own fears. Leaving behind this stage of her life also means leaving the 24-hour On-site support received at the YWCA.  It also involves leaving behind peers that she bonded with while in the program, further illuminating fears of starting over in a new city with new resources, as well as, fears of being found by her ex.  However, her excitement refuses to be diminished.

blue-morpho-butterfly4

One analogy Margaret told me she lives by is the transformation of the butterfly. As a caterpillar you are born in dirt, live in dirt, and have no concept of the beautiful and freeing future awaiting you. This analogy fits Margaret perfectly. If you ventured into her room, you’d see all sorts of pictures and décor of colourful butterflies, interspersed among pictures of her family, and copies of every Tree Card, Animal card, Spirit of the Wheel card, and Angel card she has pulled from the deck at any given meeting, each a reminder to take pause and evaluate her current path.

At the age of 53, Margaret took a chance and entrusted a year of her life to us to assist her with transforming her life.  My only hope is for Margaret to be happy and continue on with her journey as she has from the beginning- impassioned to live physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy,  engulfed within the love of her supportive family.  Margaret, I will truly miss you and the talks we’ve had over the past year, but have faith you will thrive.

“There comes a time in your life, when you walk away from all the drama and the people who create it. You surround yourself with the people who make you laugh. Forget the bad and focus on the good. Love the people who treat you right, pray for the ones you don’t. Life is too short to be anything but happy. Falling down is part of life, getting back up is living.” – José N. Harris
(Another of Margaret’s favorites)

Images courtesy of Google Images and YWCA Niagara Region.

The #Hashtag Activism Debate

Many log on to their desired social media outlets daily and scroll their way through conversations with friends they may or may not know in the real world, watch a video of the cutest yawning sloth to grace the digital page, catch up on worldly events, clicking on whatever they feel the propensity to share. Especially when considering causes deemed important.

In an attempt to unravel my stance on the ‘#Cause craze’, I found myself riding the fence on its effectiveness. As with any social media trend (or social media itself, for that matter), two sides emerge in the argument on the use of #hashtags as a way to bring a voice to a cause; is it helpful, meaningful, or integral to a greater solution or  is it merely another outlet we use to disguise apathy with minimal effort?

When we see friends, family or even strangers sharing an #InsertCauseHere post we can’t help but ponder what we could do to mirror that support. Many perpetuate the cycle by holding up their own hand-scrolled signs, pictures or statuses as evident with causes such as #Movember, #NoMakeupSelfie, #BringBackOurGirls, or even #Kony2012.

In the end, what does all this hashtaging do for the cause, and what does it say about us as a society?

Woman's Liberation parade - Fifth Avenue New York 1971
Women’s Liberation parade – Fifth Avenue New York 1971

When you think of fighting for a cause, do you picture a person holding a sign from the comforts of their home office? When did the picture stray from organized protesting outside City Hall, burning bras in the streets, strapping oneself to bulldozers, or standing in the way of outfitted military personnel?

The problem is that over time, even the most radical physical attempts of protest can grow ineffectual, and a simple #hashtag share eliminates potential bodily harm and jail time. It’s agreed that to make a difference you must not simply fight, but fight smart; social media being a safe outlet to engage others in your struggle. If people don’t like you or what you have to say, you block them and be done with it.

With social media at your fingertips on a multitude of handheld options, most discover the daily news electronically instead of sitting down in front of their television or reading the newspaper.  As a bonus, the handheld option grants something previous options cannot; the privilege of a quick, opinionated response. Enjoy an online article, hit a “Like” button, and everyone and their 4th grade teacher knows about it, and now has the opportunity to do the same.

As a species we crave for others to unite in common opinion, and can now do so over a morning cup of coffee, surveying immeasurable minds globally not just those within our immediate surroundings.  Subjects more in-depth than your plan to bathe the dog, are woven within posts, force-feeding attention where an issue would otherwise be overlooked. Grave consequence follows when the population is uninformed on global issues, especially causes that only gain attention if public outcry creates a platform for protest. There is no way one could gain the support of officials, politicians, NGO’s, sponsors, or those with the power to make a difference and assist in your cause, if they don’t even know what it is. Hashtaging does the job of an advertising firm with no more effort than a finger-click by someone with zero training.

The original intent of #Activism is informing the masses, creating a dialogue, getting people in to see their doctors for present health issues, opening the eyes of those blind to growing environmental disasters, recruiting those in influential positions to assist in the red tape process, and reaching those with monetary capabilities to sponsor the cause.

And, at its most basic principal…

Creating Awareness!

In that, I think we can all agree that #Causes has succeeded.

Unfortunately, as with most modes of communication meant to embolden the populace, there is an ugly side to #Activism.

Most trends that compete for our attention are virtually harmless: bangles, toe socks, teen vampires, or mustache.  We decide which drives our current fancies and jump aboard. Unless the ship you jumped requires facial tattoos when your particular field of work strictly prohibits such self-expression, the consequences are limited to how much you care about what the world thinks of you. In that lies the issue, as causes are not the same as items that end up in next year’s yard sale.

#Activism has become trendy, something to measure or alter how others perceive your online persona. Eeek, I know. While #hashtags may have started with the intent to easily search for desired content (you can even take classes on how to #hashtag like a pro), it seems that the message often gets lost in the mix of a multitude of 5k runs and coloured bracelets.

Awareness ribbons/bracelet color chart
Awareness ribbons/bracelet color chart

Not everyone falls within this generalization, of course. I mean no disrespect to those who raise money, wear the bracelets, and do the run in the honour of themselves or loved ones who suffered through a disease.  Nor is it a bad thing to support or raise money using social media so non-profit organizations can better serve their community because many people are putting in arduous work to create change. Changing your status to #InsertCauseHere without knowing the particulars of the issue just to feel better for doing so, is not activism.  Holding a sign with #InsertCauseHere  to post yet another Photoshopped selfie, just to sit back and pray for a high “Like” count, again, is not activism. Wearing a cause bracelet for no more purpose than the colour complements your skin tone, is not activism no matter the afterglow you earn.

Without knowledge of the cause you share, you could even perpetuate shaming, injustice, or promote a matter that upon more consideration opposes your basic principals. And what about all the other causes – such as medical problems and political unrest that often get zero page time even though they affect many more people?  Ignorance is no excuse when information is so readily available.

For all those who share their #InsertCauseHere AFTER researching the true meaning behind the hashtag, including those who sign petitions, donate money (even pocket change), lobby NGO’s and government for progressive change, I applaud your tenacity for recognizing the true goal of #Activism.

In the end, no matter the side of the fence you fall #Causes has a purpose- to educate, create change, or fundraise on a global scale- there is an objective beyond the causal mouse-click or photo share. Before you become another one of the drones without true knowledge of the purpose behind your actions, make an effort at understanding and find a way to become involved in something more than the superficial show our social media followers expect.

True change requires action.

“A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.” – Henrik Ibsen”

Ho-Ho-Homeless For The Holidays

Spirit for the season can be near impossible to muster when every brain cell is busy wrestling with worry. Worry over where you and your children are going to rest your heads once the silver and gold of the holidays has tarnished, worry over balancing the decision of choosing appropriate housing and sacrificing your food budget or settling into below standard accommodations with fuller dinner plates, and even worry of finding a job in a city where the unemployment rate is higher than your debts and university educated citizens are fighting over minimum wage positions like most everyone else. For a person finding themselves without a permanent roof to colour their children’s imagination with visions of Rudolph tripping over a string of twinkling lights, most would rather blink into hibernation and have the entire December shenanigans nothing but a blip in their past they pray won’t be repeated the following year.
For those Grinchy folks we YWCA staffers have a solution…

Glue a Santa beard to their chins and over-sized elf ears to their heads in their sleep?

Nah, but the visual is far more entertaining to me than it probably should be!
Instead we amp up the already pumped season to remind them that just because their life is a hopscotch field from where you want it to be, this doesn’t mean Holiday cheer is a candy cane length too far from their grasp.  
Items on the list for mission “Inject Holiday Enthusiasm”: Over-decorating the house with positively anything containing mass amounts of glitter, Santa, holiday greetings, hand-crafted snowflakes more perfect than found in nature, plus a wind-up – nearly driving you out of your mind – carol-singing snow globe – CHECK. Crafting beautiful hand-made Christmas cards for family and friends – CHECK. Erecting a tree dripping in lights, colorful ornaments and candy canes pilfered before the following day – CHECK. Chowing down on a button-popping, calorie boosting, holiday inspired feast – CHECK. Not to mention, along with all the holiday overload, was a visit from the big guy in red, Santa himself, taking a break from his yearly preparations to sit and read to the kids before tackling the all-important wish list.
Much better than waiting in line at a stuffy, packed elbow to elbow mall, and can still plaster a smile on the face of any child hoping they skirted the “Naughty” list.
Being in the shelter, on the naughty list or not, by no means denotes a free ride no matter the time of year. Ask any guest who has crossed our doors and they will have no qualms about telling you that taking that step across the threshold in a reach for help was one of the hardest decisions they ever made. For us lucky staff, the holidays gives us a chance to remind these strength-building ladies that making that leap doesn’t stamp them as a cast-off until they re-establish a foothold back into the society the feel they stepped out of. 
Alternatively, being within the shelter is a time to pause, reflect, establish a simple and manageable plan, and have the breathing room to enact said plan with a measure of dignity. Doing this while everyone is sticking season’s greetings into every call while telling you the rental you really wanted has already been rented, is tantamount to a helpful hand across an icy road before they push you face first into a snow drift, and for many, it occurs again and again. Something hard to watch when you spend your shifts trying to keep up everyone’s drowning moods and erase negative thoughts of letting down family.
Just because you’re homeless, most assume this means you have zero family or loved ones you hoped to buy the perfect gift that tells them you pay attention to their wants and needs, and took your time in landing on a decision you wrap and anticipate them unveiling. Far from reality. Most times that family doesn’t have the means or accommodations to set another up, but they still gather for a yarn around the tree, setting up a homeless person for the embarrassing moment when presents are being circulated by everyone else but you. Unfortunately, the “perfect gift” tends to come tethered to a less-than-perfect price tag you’d swear the cash register crafted out of spite. When you have rent and moving expenses to consider, settling for something smaller or homemade is the sensible choice.
As a kid your dread grew resentful, crossed arms when you found the sweater-sized wrapped box beneath the tree. As an adult that feeling only duplicates depending on the gift-giver. In shelter, we like to have those boxes contain something useful yet still wanted. A plush house coat with matching slippers, cozy PJ’s for cold nights, winter gear to hug old man winter without the frostbite…anything a woman or child would open and gasp in delight instead of disguised disgust is what we strive to gift when possible.
Accessing community resources gets you necessities; A few warm items on your back, hygiene products to look your best, and some food to fill your tummy. Most times room for anything else is not sought after when those necessities are no longer a worry, but the YWCA isn’t all about providing strictly needs. We are about making women and their families their best and empowering them to face the world with open eyes and bolstered confidence in the success their hard work will lead them to.
To do this, a person needs to feel worthy of receiving that special something. Contrary to belief, it doesn’t take a lot to accomplish. A sparkly pair of earrings, a fashionable scarf, a book they were waiting to delve into, anything to fortify their spirits and inspire motivation. Add a gift that spreads a wide-toothed grin on their kids face and you have a person ready to scrape away the outer shell weighing them down to expose the women equipped to lift a confident chin, and obtain the next steps needed to regain a self-sufficient existence.
Times of the year like this tend to remind people of loved ones, especially those they lost who will miss out on the celebration. Some don’t possess the “This one year…” stories to recite over hot cocoa and a smile to regale the crowd with, having never possessed the childhood to foster such laughter-evoking tales. In the business of recreation, we do our utmost to reset that notion, focus on moving forward, and color a new tradition filled with a drive to multiply joy.
Whatever the guest celebrates during the holidays, no matter the Bahumbug in their bonnets, we endeavor to wedge a glitter-dripping fissure into a time when some would think taking a breath to celebrate would be counterproductive, when really it’s the fuel to keep going.
Happy Holidays from everyone at the YWCA, including our shelter guests, ones swimming in the deep-end filled to their Santa hats with tinsel, and even more so from the ones needing a little more convincing that the season is what you make of it and not dependent on the roof over your head.