Forgiveness is hard for me sometimes…

      I am a self-professed bleeding heart. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt and I consider myself the queen of second chances. But I admit to having a hard time forgiving Wes McLean.

     This week the 31-year-old Victoria-Tobique MLA pleaded guilty to impaired driving.  He was fined $2,300 and was banned from operating any motor vehicle for a year.  He apologized to his family, friends and constituents and was remorseful in his acceptance of punishment.Image

     The charge stemmed from an incident last February. Police pulled McLean over in Edmunston. He was driving with a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit. This wasn’t just an extra beer. McLean was drunk. This is where my forgiveness gets a little fuzzy.

     Yes, he’s human. Yes, he’s young. Yes, he made a mistake and he’s really sorry.  But three times the legal limit isn’t a small lapse in judgment. To me, his decision to drive that day shows McLean has a huge character flaw – one that still astonishes me. At the age of 31, McLean is part of a generation (my generation) that has grown up in a time where drinking and driving was NEVER something deemed acceptable.He’s had a lifetime of MADD Canada ads, SAFE Grad events, and media bombardment of the serious dangers of drinking and driving.Image

     Yet, on a cold February day, after obviously having too many drinks, McLean, a member of our Legislative Assembly, a man who people in this region trusted and voted for, opened the door to his car, sat inside, put a key in the ignition and drove when he was in no shape to. McLean SHOULD have known better – and he didn’t. And that scares me.

     In my years as a reporter, I sat through multiple trials where THIS specific moment of stupidity and thoughtlessness has meant lives were irrevocably changed. People were killed, families were scarred, and those who caused this pain, while remorseful, were never truly able to make up for the life or lives they took.

     After hearing of McLean’s arrest I remember thinking “WHY BOTHER!!”  Seriously, think about it. If a young man like Wes McLean can make such an error in judgment – a man who, by all indications, follows media, knows the difference between right and wrong, has gained the trust of people, and had years of exposure to anti-drinking and driving campaigns – it makes me question where we’ve gone wrong?

     What have we not done that we should have?  What more should we do to convey the horrors – drinking and driving is serious – it kills – it is against the law – you should NEVER do this? It is when I try and answer these questions that I come to the conclusion that Wes McLean should not be forgiven easily.

     The fact is we HAVE done a lot – as a society we have educated our children, we’ve provided incentives through changes in court sentencing maximums to help deter people from getting behind the wheel after they’ve been drinking.  I think MADD Canada, high school anti-drinking ‘PARTY’ programs; SAFE grad events, media campaigns and law enforcement spot checks have been SPOT ON. These initiatives are making a difference.

     This is why I believe Wes McLean’s decision to get behind the wheel is more than just a mistake and shouldn’t be forgiven easily.

     I hope the government continues to exclude him from his legislative duties until his driving prohibition is completed. I hope that McLean continues to have to work and work hard to regain the trust of his constituents. I pray that this isn’t just a small ‘bump’ in his road – that his journey to forgiveness is arduous path.

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Photo credit: pcnb.ca

     His arrest, his record, and his punishment must be used as an example. We can’t be quick to forgive just because he’s young. In this case I believe we must make him work hard to regain our trust BECAUSE he is young – because he should have known better- because he was educated, because he was exposed to media campaigns, and provided with ample information to understand the consequences and, despite all of this, he STILL chose to get behind the wheel of the car.

      I’m not saying I will never forgive Wes McLean, but it will take a while. I firmly believe that when these kinds of mistakes are made – serious errors in judgment by educated people in positions of trust – the road to redemption SHOULD be a rocky one.

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Political gloves are off….

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I told local party organizers I was in – willing to help with the next campaign. There I did it. I can’t believe after spending most of my life in the role of ‘non-partisan’ that I’ve openly chosen sides. Well, Mr. Harper, I can thank your track record for that life changing moment. All my life I’ve been objective to a fault, given people the benefit of the doubt – but no longer. Federally, I’m Liberal – provincially I don’t think I can pick because there is too much sameness to provincial politics. Federally, it’s day and night (and dusk).

Today I watched the Conservatives roll out their first attack ad. Less than 24 hours after Trudeau is elected leader of the party, it begins.

Well played, Mr. Harper …. well, not really – not for you – but well played for ‘us’.

You see, Canadians are tired of the negative crap – and that’s the nicest way I can say it – because that’s what it is – crap. I’m so very tired of feeling like I don’t mean anything to you, Mr. Harper. I teach my kids not to bully, yet what I see your party do on national television goes against all I teach them. Talk about leading by example. Why do you not realize, Mr. Harper, that in becoming the ‘parent’ to Canadians (dictating what we can and cannot do, telling us of your decisions without consulting), you have failed in one of the most important parenting jobs – being a role model.

So I did it – I joined the Federal Liberal Party. I voted for Justin Trudeau last week. I vowed I would no longer sit idly by.

I sat by long enough as a journalist, as a journalism instructor, as someone who needed to prove impartiality. With the journalism program winding down this June, and with the political landscape as messed up as it is, I really and truly can’t sit on the sidelines any longer.

When I saw the attack ad today I was floored. There’s also a website called ‘Justin is Way Over His Head’. Wow…wonder what the ads and the website cost the conservatives….aside from their credibility?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…Trudeau isn’t perfect, but he’ll create a team and lead the country WITH A TEAM – unlike Mr. Harper, who leads by himself and lets his caucus know what’s going on AFTER he’s made up his mind. No, you are right, Mr. Harper: Trudeau cannot run a country on his own because YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO RUN A COUNTRY ON YOUR OWN.

You are supposed to build a team, create dialogue and lead WITH a group of people from across the country WHO HAVE BEEN ELECTED BY CANADIANS TO GOVERN ON THEIR BEHALF. That’s true leadership, and that’s what I want – check that – that’s what I NEED.

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Anonymous Comments on the CBC – My letter to the CBC Ombudsman

October 10, 2012

Kirk LaPointe
Ombudsman, CBC
P.O. Box Station A
Toronto, ON    M5W 1E6

Dear Mr. LaPointe:

I am writing to complain about anonymous comments on the CBC – in particular the rebroadcast of these comments from the CBC.CA website on the provincial television program CBC News: New Brunswick.

People are not required to use their real names in online comments attached to news stories.

CBC Radio listeners who want to comment on stories they hear on the Fredericton morning show are required to leave their name and their phone number on the talk back machine in order to have the comments become a part of a future broadcast.  Comments made on the web and broadcast on the supper-hour news program require no such checks and balances.

The web editor chooses what comments are broadcast.  I also understand the comments are ‘vetted’ before they appear on the website.

While I know they ‘choose carefully’, trying to avoid comments that could cause CBC New Brunswick any legal difficulties, I still question the use of anonymous posts.  I do not think these comments add to the collective knowledge of viewers.

When I was visiting my mother over the Thanksgiving weekend I made a point to watch the CBC television news in Nova Scotia.  There were NO anonymous comments from viewers used in that broadcast.  It was, in a word, refreshing.

I think the use of anonymous comments is unethical – more so when you look at the fact one medium in the same city chooses NOT to broadcast anonymous comments (CBC Radio Fredericton) while another medium chooses TO broadcast anonymous comments (CBC TV).

I have personally commented to journalistic staff at CBC Fredericton about this issue.  I have always been told these are ‘things they struggle with’.  I contend they have to STOP STRUGGLING and cease using anonymous comments.  I have posted on the website from time to time – with my full name.  I have never hidden and never plan to hide my posted opinions.  People need to understand the context of my comments, and they can’t do that if I hide who I am.

I don’t think anonymous comments should be used in any medium – on the web or otherwise – but I take particular issue with the rebroadcasting of these comments on the evening television newscast.  I believe the rebroadcast of these ‘comments’ are not only unethical, but they fly in the face of the journalistic policies of the CBC.  I will use direct quotes from the CBC journalistic policies to make my point.

For instance, the CBC must ensure that it is “ open and straightforward when we present interviewees and their statements. We make every effort to disclose the identity of interviewees and to give the context and explanations necessary for the audience to judge the relevance and credibility of their statements.”

The interviewee policy goes on to state that only in “ exceptional cases and for serious cause, we may decide to withhold such information in whole or in part.

I argue that comments directly under a story become PART OF A STORY.  If the people interviewed have to be identified in the story, why shouldn’t those commenting on the story be identified as well?  Some may argue that these comments don’t fall under journalistic standards because they are User Generated Content and the CBC can legally distance itself from these posts.  But can the corporation ethically distance itself from them?

I counter the comments have become PART of the story, not only by their content, but also by their placement with the story.  People go to the story, scroll down, and there, just a sentence away, is the comment section with anonymous sources adding to the web ‘content’.  If they don’t consider it content, then why is it worthy of rebroadcast within another news program?

This leads me to the section on User Generated Content in news stories.

Again, I contend that the comments become part of the story because of their placement on the website and within a television news program.  I believe these anonymous comments violate the CBC journalistic policy on Verification of User Generated Content in News Stories.

“CBC is responsible for all content on its news sites.  This policy covers text, image, video or audio contributions from the public, which are incorporated into news coverage on any platform.  Material that originates from a non-CBC source is clearly identified as such.  Before text, image, video or audio is published, its provenance and accuracy is verified.

I repeatbefore TEXT, image, video or audio IS PUBLISHED, its provenance and accuracy is verified.

How can posting anonymous comments NOT break CBC policy?  How can you verify anonymous comments when people use fictitious names?  How can the publishing and then rebroadcasting of these anonymous comments be ethical?

The policy goes on to state that in exceptional circumstances it may be difficult to authenticate a contribution and that there may be times where, because of timeliness, or if it is in the public interest, we decided to publish without full verification. We are clear with the audience about what we know. The decision to publish material without full authentication must be referred to the Director.

What service does broadcasting these comments provide to the public when the posts don’t clearly identify what ‘interest’ the person has to the story – how they are connected, related, or even beholden to the politician, company or issue at hand?

The policy also states that the decision to use unverified content, when referring to User Generated Content, must be referred to the director.

How often does this ‘referral’ happen at CBC New Brunswick?

In the 14 plus years I worked at the CBC, I was only allowed to broadcast ‘anonymous’ sources/items/letters/talkback on very few occasions.  Any sources had to be identified, all talkback with CBC Radio had to be identified and logged – especially at election time.  Every time anything ‘anonymous’ went to air, we had to have approval from CBC officials at a higher level.

In its policies, the CBC says it strives to be an ethical broadcaster, but yet allows anonymous comments to be attached to stories and doesn’t require the same kind of rigour and ethical approach to this part of its daily content.

Why does it seem that now, in these days of ‘instant’ news gratification, the CBC has forgotten its principles?

Ethics, like spelling, has lost something in this era of social media.

The CBC lays out its mission and values, stating it strives to ‘act responsibly and be accountable.’  They state they are ‘aware of the impact of our journalism and are honest with our audience.’  It also says the CBC strives for ‘journalistic excellence and best practices in all of our journalistic endeavours.’ 

I argue that anonymous ‘user generated content’ IS a journalistic endeavour and allowing these comments to be posted on their website for the world to see IS NOT a best practice and certainly isn’t journalist excellence.  The CBC is my CBC, and as such I take a lot of pride in it – except on the issue of anonymous comments.

The CBC consistently challenges governments to be ethical in their approach to hiring practices, expense claims, and investments, yet in New Brunswick it cannot practice what it preaches.  If they are ‘aware of their impact’ and were ethical in their approach, they wouldn’t allow any anonymous public comments on their websites, or worse, the rebroadcasting of these anonymous comments on CBC News: New Brunswick.  For me, seeing these comments in two mediums adds insult to injury.

The CBC may believe it is providing a ‘public service’ by sharing the posts, but I argue CBC New Brunswick is doing a serious disservice to our province by allowing people to hide behind fictitious names.

I had to file my complaint with my full name, address and contact information because you, as Ombudsman, do not accept anonymous comments or complaints.

I think the CBC could learn a thing or two from its watchdog.

Sincerely,

Theresa Blackburn-Chisholm
Journalism Instructor
Former CBC journalist

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My Big Fat Life: Tired of Saying Goodbye

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, June 18, 2012

I have wished many people well in my career, and have been wished well by many. At the CBC and here at NBCC, I’ve said hello and goodbye more times than I would like to count. People have said ‘so long’ when I’ve moved jobs or locations, and I’ve said ‘see you soon’ to many who have retired or changed jobs.

The difficult farewells happen when someone becomes more of a friend than a co-worker.

It will be hard to say goodbye to Andy Leblanc.

Two years ago Andy was hired to teach television journalism at NBCC Woodstock.

Andy is a powerhouse of knowledge and has an abundance of drive. He’s a lifelong journalist, honing his skills as a young ATV reporter in New Brunswick. Back then Andy was passionate about politics and had a head full of questions and hair. (Sorry Andy, I couldn’t resist!) He went on to manage locations for CTV, and came back to his native New Brunswick a few years ago to allow his wife to pursue her career dreams.

Goofing around in the television lab at NBCC Woodstock. Instructor Andy Leblanc is ready for his close up as journalism student Geoff Stairs captures a candid moment in class.

He was only with us two years, but what a two years it was.

We pushed students to strive for excellence and found more platforms for their work. Andy recreated our website. The students worked hard making www.jschoolnbcc.ca a place where local people came for breaking news they couldn’t get elsewhere. We operated like a newsroom; students created multimedia series, we took trips to Fredericton and Juniper, students produced weekly television shows, covered breaking news, mastered social media, and they shared the news they collected with regional papers and television and radio stations. We tried to mimic the industry as much as possible in our classrooms. I know we succeeded, and provided the best education possible for our young journalists.

Once a reporter, always a reporter – it’s a saying I’ve heard many times from colleagues who have left the business to pursue other avenues. Just because we’re standing in front of a classroom doesn’t mean we’re no longer journalists.

While I worked at starting a magazine, Andy continued to build his “ultra-local” concept. His vision would provide an avenue for small communities to share local news. On more than a few evenings Andy was doing what our students were doing – covering events in his community and publishing stories to his local website. Andy also became president of RTDNA, a national organization representing Canadian Broadcasters, while he was with us. I think we both related to our students better because we were still ‘doing it’ – still chasing, and writing, and working in journalism.

Andy will leave NBCC this month to become the news director for CTV Atlantic.

I will miss him more than he realizes.

We have the same ‘got-to-know’ character flaw that turned us on to reporting in the first place. We love our craft. We respectfully argued about politics and law, we discussed the latest news and current events, and we debated how stories were approached and covered. We both viewed the world differently but similar when it came to the public’s right to know.

We were good for each other – in the teaching sense. His constant drive and work ethic inspired me and made me push my students a little harder. I, in turn, was able to (sometimes) get him to slow things down a bit, getting him to see the need to give students a little more breathing room; reminding him that television was not the only medium they needed to master.

Many (all) students considered him tough (“a hard-ass”), but they also respected him. They understood his ultimate goal was to their advantage – he wanted to see them succeed beyond his classroom.

Working with Andy made me feel like my old, reporter-self again. I have beautiful co-workers at the college, but no one who loves news like I do. For the last few years there were few I could debate politics and news coverage with on the same level as I could with Andy.

Andy was a breath of fresh, overachieving, journalistic air.

In the end I am thankful for his new position at CTV. Our journalism program was cancelled last month and Andy’s lack of seniority would have probably meant a pink slip in June of 2013, just as the last NBCC journalism grads cross the stage.

I can’t talk about the loss of my program just yet. The feelings are still too raw. But I am glad that Andy’s talent will not be lost or misplaced. We can still debate news coverage over the phone, and I will continue to tease him about the hair he used to have via email and Twitter.

While it won’t be the same as having him in our NBCC newsroom, it will make the departure of my co-worker and dear friend a little easier to manage.

Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and writes in Woodstock. You can email her at theresa@mybigfatlife.ca, or join her group, Big Fat Life, on Facebook.  You can also follow her on Twitter @MY_BIG_FAT_LIFE

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My Big Fat Life: Bullying Canada Needs to Practice What it Preaches

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, May 7, 2012

Bullying Canada needs to live up to its mandate in how it deals with organizations and institutions.

Bullying is indeed a serious matter, yes; we need more education and awareness. I am in no way trying to belittle the cause, but I am somewhat ashamed of the tactics Bullying Canada chooses to employ in furthering its cause.

I know about bullying intimately.  My son was bullied over a six-month period in Grade 7. The situation was solved, but it was a long process.  Repairing relationships doesn’t happen overnight. Repairing a school’s reputation doesn’t happen instantly, either. For the last three years, principal Pat Thorne, vice-principal Jen Pauley and their team of teachers and support staff at Woodstock Middle School have worked diligently in trying to turn the school around.

When I moved to the community of Woodstock in 2006, the school’s track record for dealing with bullies wasn’t the greatest. Over time that changed because of strong and loving leadership, a staff that understands the needs of the students, and a group of educators and support staff who work well as a team for the betterment of all students.  Does that mean bullying doesn’t happen at the school?  Of course not.  Bullying happens everywhere, and I am not sure there will ever be a time when it is eradicated completely.

Bullying comes from socio-economic differences, from a lack of empathy and understanding, from greed and pride and sometimes from a lack of education. Bullying also comes from being bullied. It is a multi-faceted problem that cannot be fixed with a phone call, a suspension or even the threat of media.

I know. It took months for my son to admit the seriousness of his own situation. It took days for the team at the school to talk to each of the students involved and to grasp a complete understanding of what was happening, and it took weeks to set up mediation meetings and begin to rectify the problem.

When it comes to dealing with bullies and those who have been bullied, quick fixes don’t work. Suspensions are temporary Band-Aids, moving kids to other classes’ only mask the situation. Bullying is further exacerbated by the fact that every situation is different and every person dealing with that situation is different.  No bullying incident is exactly the same as another, which means every solution ends up being unique.

And sometimes an issue can’t be resolved to the satisfaction of everyone involved. People are complex beings.

We live in an age where instant gratification is the name of the game. We want things and we want them now.  Bullying is no different. We all want it fixed and fixed yesterday, but as long as the bullying is taking place between human beings, that will never happen.  While many of us would love to snap our fingers and instantly deal successfully with a tough situation, myself included, that will never happen.  Bullying Canada doesn’t seem to understand this.

Last week the organization took a media swipe at the staff at Woodstock Middle School. They were trying to intervene on behalf of a parent.  Bullying Canada issued a news release stating: “We attempted to make contact with both Superintendent John Tingley and School Principal Patricia Thorne but our calls and emails were not returned.”

As a person concerned with bullying in the school system, I was shocked to read this and contacted Pat Thorne and John Tingley directly.  They said they checked with their staff and were told no phone messages were received from Bullying Canada, and at no time did either official receive a voicemail message from the organization.  They did, however, receive one email.

On Friday, April 27 at 8:22 a.m., Bullying Canada sent a note to both Tingley and Thorne. This was the only contact made, according to Tingley and Thorne. Later that morning, at 11:44 a.m., Bullying Canada issued a news release to the media complaining of inaction by the school and the district.  In a later media interview, Bullying Canada spokesperson Rob Frenette expressed his concern that the school was not returning his ‘calls’ and that he was also upset officials would not discuss the situation with him.

How fair is it to widely distribute a media release stating that numerous calls were made when no messages were left?  How irresponsible is it to issue a news release accusing someone of not returning calls after waiting only three hours for a response?  And how can an anti-bullying group expect such a multi-faceted situation to be fixed within a week?

On the day Bullying Canada issued its news release, the school had been dealing with and working toward resolving the issue for five days. My son’s complex situation took nearly six weeks to rectify.

This is not the first time the actions of Bullying Canada officials have worried me. I’ve watched the news reports where they complain about businesses, corporations and schools.  In some instances it seems that if the organization cannot get what it wants, it then threatens media action. It also seems that each time a call is not returned in what the organization feels is a ‘timely fashion,’ Bullying Canada issues a media release.

Rob Frenette issued another news release Saturday, saying it was the family’s decision to issue a media advisory on the fact their concerns were not being addressed. “At no time did anyone from Bullying Canada make the decision to issue the media release,” Frenette stated.

Yet that media advisory was issued under the name of Bullying Canada. How can the organization claim to represent and speak for a family in one breath, but then abdicate responsibility in the next?

Everyone who reads my column knows I am not a malicious person.  My family and friends and co-workers know I am as honest as the day is long. People understand my need to help others, that I truly hate bullying, that I love people who do what’s right and not what’s easy, and that I try to see the best in everyone.

I hope you see this column for what it is: Clarification, education and standing up for what I think is right. Organizations that take the moral high ground in their mandate need to take the moral high ground in the execution of that mandate. Bullying Canada needs to take that message to heart in how it deals with this sensitive issue.

Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and a New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and writes in Woodstock.  You can email her at theresa@mybigfatlife.ca, join her Facebook group, My Big Fat Life, or follow her on Twitter @MY_BIG_FAT_LIFE.

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My Big Fat Life: PROUD TO SEE HER TALENTED STUDENTS SPREAD THEIR WINGS

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Goofing around: Theresa and her students share a fun moment last Christmas.

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner on Monday, April 30, 2012

My second-year students headed out on their internships last week. Eight beautiful and talented people, all destined to lead interesting lives, left the journalism classroom for the real world.

For eight weeks they’ll immerse themselves in the medium they love. Students are scattered throughout radio stations, television studios and newspaper newsrooms in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and British Columbia. We have one student working in a national newsroom, another at a magazine in Toronto, with another heading to a national entertainment program in June. One of our students is also working with a well-known Canadian publisher.

To say I’m proud would be an understatement.

It was a great week, but not just because my students began to truly spread their wings. Their work was also showcased last week when CBC Radio’s provincial afternoon show SHIFT ran their five-part multimedia series on the community of Juniper.

Juniper: An Uncertain Future was created after spending more than 12 hours in the community in late March. We arrived there early one sunny morning and hit the ground running. Photos, interviews, video, audio recordings all gathered while visiting former teachers, business owners, farmers, the local school.

Tape was collected when talking to people at the gas pumps, dropping into people’s homes, and getting to know the challenges the community faces from the people who know the community best. It was an exhausting but exhilarating day and some students fell asleep on the bus on the way home.

The day was far from perfect.

Not everything ran smoothly. They had a few technical hiccups, they had a couple of personality conflicts, they made mistakes, they fixed them, they missed out on an interview, they had another interview not go as smoothly as they had hoped, they got great tape, they got amazing pictures, they got wet feet in getting just the right shots, they were turned away from one business, and welcomed into another, and found that when one restaurant closes because of electrical upgrades, another will open for you and feed you like kings. All – instructor and bus driver included – learned a lot that day.

The end result is a series that students can be proud of.

The people of Juniper were grateful for the time we spent with them. Many bent over backwards to accommodate us. Many expressed feelings of desperation – believing that two levels of government had forgotten about the community.

Others spoke with sadness in their voices, knowing Juniper will never be as prosperous as it once was. Some were resigned to the fact that houses will continue to stand empty, unable to be sold, and that families will continue to be split, with husbands and fathers working away in Alberta to help make ends meet.

Stories like this don’t come from quick visits or phone calls. The series is a beautiful example of journalism that can be achieved when reporters aren’t rushed.

Taking the time to sit down with people and allow them to tell their story at their own pace, and not the news organization’s, is hard to achieve in this age of ‘getting it first.’

Sadly, deadlines are the nature of the beast. When I worked at CBC the saying was, ‘Feed the goat.’ We had an insatiable goat that had to be fed no matter what. Your day was all about getting the story for the next newscast or the next radio show. It was rush, rush, rush, day in, day out.

My students understand that this was something special. They know they won’t get the a lot of opportunities to spend hours with the people they interview, but they might get a few chances. There will be days when you pitch a story to a producer in just the right manner, when in explaining your need to spend more time than usual in a community, the producer will see what you do – a golden opportunity to create something special.

You will, from time to time, get the chance to tell beautiful and compelling stories listeners and readers and viewers talk about for days and weeks after.

You can see the Juniper series and other work produced by my students at http://www.jschoolnbcc.ca.

I’ll end with a special message to my interning students Tony Bourgeois, Jill Constantine, Kyle Dupont, Ethan Haslett, Michael MacDonald, Geoff Stairs, Michael Trusiak and Jocelyn Turner:

Thank you for two wonderful years. Thank you for pushing envelopes, pushing deadlines, pushing journalism boundaries. Thank you for going above and beyond some days, and being truthful and telling me when you couldn’t on others. Thank you for being deadline-driven and for being yourself. I have enjoyed each and every one of you and your unique storytelling styles. Lastly, thank you so much for making me proud. I can’t wait to hug each and every one of you as you cross the stage in June.

Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and writes in Woodstock. You can email her at theresa@mybigfatlife.ca, or join her group, Big Fat Life, on Facebook. You can also follow her on Twitter @MY_BIG_FAT_LIFE.  Check out her magazine agelessNB at www.agelessNB.ca

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My Big Fat Life: Even after all these years, responsibility is frightening

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, April 23, 2012

I had a weird and scary moment the other night. I was standing in my kitchen getting a yogurt out of the fridge. The kids were in bed and the house was quiet except for the faint sounds of television from the downstairs rec-room. I suddenly realized I was standing in my own home, taking food from my own fridge, with human beings that I am responsible for sleeping in the other room. I nearly had a panic attack.

I know, you’re probably reading this and thinking, “What the heck? What is she on drugs or something?”

No drugs. In fact, I find drugs even scarier than raising children.

What I am on is a steady dose of a busy life where you don’t have a lot of time to sit back and ponder the pieces that make up your life.

The other night after dishes, homework with the kids, a trip to the park, answering emails and a bit of reading, things were quiet. The stillness and the relaxation allowed my situation to slap me in the face. We regularly go through the motions of our life, living day-to-day, dealing with kids, and work and parenting and bills. We’re juggling meals and hockey and housework and our relationships. I don’t have time to think about the life I have because I’m too busy living it.

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My family, circa. 1970.

But that evening, in that moment, I wondered, just for a minute, how the heck all this happened. When did I turn from a daughter into a mother? It only feels like a few years back that I was asking for allowance money and being told to clean my room.

And now I am my mother – a woman in charge of children – harping about the same things and reminding my kids of their own responsibilities.

I still sometimes wonder when all this happened. When did I get to be the one in charge? Who made it so? I still feel inadequately trained sometimes.

After my dad died, I remember having more than a few of these panic attacks. I blamed it on the bout of depression I experienced during his illness and after his death, but I think I was just having a hard time facing reality. I worried about my mom being all alone, but worried selfishly that she would leave me, and if she did, I’d have no one to go to, no parent to come home to. She was always my safe haven, my go-to girl. And after dad passed away, the reality quickly hit me that she too is human and could be taken too.

While your parents are still here on earth, there is a feeling of safety. There’s the stability their living gives you. It is instant comfort – that no matter how bad things get there are two things you can depend on – that someone will always love you and that you can always go home if you ever had to.

I remember feeling overwhelmingly sad when my friend Kevin lost both his parents. I physically ached for him, knowing his world was forever changed. I felt the loss deeply; knowing the security he felt with his parents still living no longer existed.

I knew I’d be him someday.

And now my husband and I are the safety net for three other human beings. I am an adult with responsibilities. I am 44 but some days I still feel like I’m much younger. There are days when I think, ‘How did I end up with a 24-year-old?’ Each day melts into the other. Each morning I rise and go with the flow. Like most parents, I follow a schedule but also allow the situations that surround my daily interactions with my children to lead me.

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My responsibility: Kristen, James and Kathryn

I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the enormity of our lives, which is a good thing. Raising children, ensuring they become happy, well adjusted and contributing members of society, and being the people responsible for them is a huge task. Sometimes the reality of the situation – that I am a person who holds the world together for three children – feels like a huge weight. Thankfully, those feelings are fleeting and infrequent.

Most days I count this responsibility a blessing. I revel in the uncertainty that is life with children who are unique and beautiful human beings. But on nights like last Monday, I breathe deeply; remind myself that my mom is still here, and that my journey in this responsibility-laden life is not a lonely one. I am thankful for Stephen, and know that if my mom, God forbid, wasn’t here and I needed a shoulder to cry on, or a good heart-to-heart pep talk, he’d always be there for me.

 Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and writes in Woodstock. You can email her at theresa@mybigfatlife.ca, or join her group, My Big Fat Life, on Facebook. She’s also on Twitter @MY_BIG_FAT_LIFE

 

 

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