Category Archives: *My Big Fat Life Column

My column in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner. It appears every Monday in the Live It section of the daily newspaper.

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 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, 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, 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: Forget Gaga: Theresa’s thankful her kids are fans of REAL celebrities!

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, December 19, 2011

As 2011 comes to a close, I find myself again counting my blessings.

I am grateful for many things in my life. I am blessed a loving husband and wonderful children. I am thankful for a good job, good friends, and a warm and dry home to live in. I give thanks for having enough food to eat, a job that provides for my family, and for my continued health and the health of those I love.

I am grateful for the kind and intelligent students I am privileged to have in my classroom, I am grateful for the opportunity to write and connect with so many people, and I am especially grateful for the beautiful people I get to meet in this capacity.

I count myself lucky to call His Honour, Lt.-Gov. Graydon Nicholas, and his wife, her honour, Beth, as friends.

I first met the lieutenant-governor at my church, shortly after he was sworn in. He came to a special mass at St. Gertrude’s in Woodstock, at the request of his friend, Father Bill Brennan. As he greeted some entering the church that day, I introduced myself.

“I know who you are,” he said, smiling, “my wife and I enjoy your articles in The Daily Gleaner every Monday.”

I remember turning red, and I remember feeling extremely humbled, and realizing I was a bit speechless in that moment.

I hope I said thank you in our exchange, but I can’t remember if I did.

After reading about the varied history of Graydon Nicholas when he was appointed our lieutenant-governor, I remember thinking how lucky our province is, having a man with such a strong background of caring.

I have covered court for many years in my career as a journalist, and I have also lived in aboriginal communities for nearly 15 years of that career. I have been blessed to know many a “Graydon” in that time span – men and women who fight for not only the rights of their people, but also work toward the understanding of their people by the non-aboriginal community. This constant drive for caring connection is beautiful to witness.

We chatted again at the Atlantic Journalism Awards luncheon, which he graciously hosted at Government House last year. Two of my student’s received awards, and after the luncheon he invited us upstairs to tour the art on display. My students, Graydon, Beth and I talked about wellness that afternoon, and my recent columns about suicide, bullying and mental health.

My nine-year-old daughter came home one day last fall announcing, “The Queen’s FRIEND was in school today!” She was referring to the lieutenant-governor.

And while her original interest was peaked because as lieutenant-governor, Graydon and his wife were able to meet Queen Elizabeth, her interest turned to really liking this man and his wife because of the role they’ve taken on in that capacity. We talked about the Nicholas’ most of that supper hour, and again before bed.

My family knows how much this couple means to me – how much I respect what they do and what they are trying to achieve. Like his mom, my 14-year-old son now follows what the Nicholas’ do – closely watching coverage in the newspaper, on television and on radio.

I knew James really wanted to meet the lieutenant-governor.

When I launched my magazine, agelessNB, we invited Graydon and his wife to the celebration. Earlier in the fall, the lieutenant-governor provided a story for our last page. He detailed the arrival of their ‘Christmas baby’ – his older son who came into the world on Dec. 23, 1969. Graydon really wanted to make the magazine kick-off, but had a prior commitment.

My son was disappointed but understood.

Then, a week ago today, we celebrated the National Aboriginal Day of Prayer at St. Gertrude’s in Woodstock. My daughter had hockey and my son had Army Cadet band practice. I went, but couldn’t tell James that Graydon would be present, knowing he would be disappointed again. Thankfully the mass went longer than expected, and my hopes increased. If the couple were going to stick around after mass, I could arrange a meeting. They were staying, and I dashed off. I was able to pick up James after band and bring him to the church for the reception.

When I told my son what we were doing, he was excited.

It was lovely. They chatted and my son beamed.

On our way home, James admitted this was a pretty special night – and it was.

James got to meet a man who has conviction; James believes the lieutenant-governor and his wife are special because of their beliefs. He likes them and follows what they do because they are trying to create something positive in everything they lend their talents to.

They are ‘celebrities’ to my children, but for all the right reasons.

So as this year comes to a close, I am also thankful that Lt.-Gov Graydon Nicholas and her honour Beth are my kid’s idols, and that this beautiful couple continues to care enough to use their ‘celebrity’ to make a real difference in our world.

I’ll take them over Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber any day!

Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and writes in Woodstock. You can email her at, 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: The Attention My In-Attention Needs…

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, December 12, 2011

A long time ago my father asked me to ‘screw my head on tight and head in one direction’.

He was commenting on my constant changing of gears – whether I was trying to organize my house, do laundry, help my daughter with homework or engage in conversation, I could almost move in three hundred directions at once. Many times I would try and focus was on one thing, but would quickly be drawn to another.

I had a form of ADHD and didn’t know it.

I have been formally diagnosed as having ADHD–inattentive disorder.

My mother always knew I wasn’t quite as organized as most kids.  I remember in grade 8 or 9 when we went shopping for school supplies I always ended up with an agenda book in my bag. When I forgot something like studying for a test and made a bad mark I’d be reminded to use the day timer I was bought.

I had to be reminded about my agenda book and a lot of other things many times over the years.  Thankfully the ritual of always writing things down finally stuck.

Fast forward to college and I knew the only way I’d succeed is if I kept myself organized.   It was then that organization became an obsession.  I was the ‘paperwork, note taking, and organizational’ queen.  Anytime anyone missed a class they’d come asking for my notes.

I moved into a great career for someone with attention issues.  Journalism was a perfect fit.  I retained information surprisingly well.  I could spend a day or two on something and move on to the next thing.  With the organizational skills I had honed over the years, I became the keeper of the future file in many a workplace before the files went electronic.  Even then, I was the person who meticulously and religiously filled out all the information needed for archiving – ensuring we didn’t miss court dates or opportunities to do follow-up stories.

But I wasn’t perfect.  I missed the odd thing – or would forget a previous engagement if I was at a function and asked to do something on a specific date.  A few times I missed BIG things.  Without my day timer handy, I couldn’t recall a lot of things I had to do, or would wrongly recall what date I had to do them.  Sometimes when things got busy I would forget to refer to my day timer.  That caused serious problems sometimes.

On those days, I either got caught, or got saved.

Up until two years ago my husband was my crossing guard, my catcher’s mitt and my lifesaver.  I have, at times, called him my external brain.  When I really got myself in a bind he’d come running to my rescue – picking up kids, picking up items for pot lucks, covering my butt so I wouldn’t fall on my face, and consoling me when I felt defeated by my crazy, mixed up mind.

When my son was having difficulty at school we had him assessed.  I knew he had attention issues, but I never thought of myself as being like him.

He was really forgetful – losing backpacks and shoes, and hoodies and books.

“I’m not that bad…” I kept telling myself.

I was in denial.

I didn’t see how bad my situation was because I was only concentrating on his attention shortcomings.  I was catching his falls – my husband was catching mine.

When I read his assessment report, it was like I was reading about myself.

Everything, but his Dyslexia diagnosis, screamed my name.

I remember crying in my doctors office, I remember feeling horrible guilt that I put my husband through so much grief for nearly a quarter century, I remember feeling ashamed at how I treated my son in some cases.

Just like I couldn’t help my ‘forgetful mind’, neither could he, yet I would be at him to ‘remember’, when, in some instances, it was nearly impossible.

For years we tried everything to help our boy – agendas, organizational help with books and lockers, notes to teachers, emails flowing from both sides, positive reinforcement – you name it, we tried it.  For him, nothing worked – nothing stuck – and life got harder and harder for him at school.

The assessment told us to talk to our doctor about medication that may help him.  I remember the conversation with the psychologist well.

“I’ve spent years helping James develop the tools and the coping mechanisms to help him deal with his shortcomings.  I don’t want to drug my son… I’ve avoided this so far…”

“And how has that worked?” she asked me.

I remember being silent and then saying, “I don’t want my son to be a zombie.”

“The drugs are different now…” was how her response started.

She talked about the advances in medication, about the way his brain works and how certain chemicals, in some people, can help.

“It’s just another tool to try,” she explained.

“If it doesn’t work, you’ve tried something else, and you’ll move on to another tool.”

At first I felt defeated…. all these years of moving in one direction only to be sent back in the direction I most feared.

My doctor was reassuring.

“We’ll meet every two weeks while we try this out…”

If there were any issues I could call the office immediately and she’d squeeze us in.

We got his prescription, went through a few dosage changes, and something happened.

James was able to pay attention in school; James was able to remember some basic things like homework and writing notes in his agenda, James was feeling better about his schoolwork.

At the two-month mark his doctor asked him how he felt.

“Better.  I feel like I know what’s going on.”

When she asked him when was the first time he felt that way, his response made me cry.

He said he was in math class and his teacher was showing the class how to do something on the board and then got students to complete practice questions.  James said the bell rang, signaling the end of class, and he said remembered being amazed that he got the questions done and noticed he hadn’t looked out the window once that class.

It made me happy and heartbroken all at the same time.  I thought of all the years I spent  – my mind closed to even the suggestion that a drug could be considered a useful tool.  All this time I relied on the anecdotal observations of others – I wouldn’t even research the issue because of what I had been told.  All this time I thought I could provide enough support to enable my son to overcome his attention issues.  All these years I thought I was this open-minded person with liberal ideas and progressive thinking when really I was just a scared Mom who couldn’t look at things objectively because I loved my little boy so much.

I have a lot of guilt related to my decisions prior to his assessment and doctor’s help, but now I also have a lot of hope related to his progress to date.

I’m not saying drugs are the answer for everybody, but I am saying that drugs have made a difference in my son’s life.

Don’t get me wrong – they haven’t solved everything – he still forgets and he still needs to keep writing things down, but he has progressed in school because he’s now able to concentrate better.

James’ formal assessment and his new tool has not only helped him improve his marks, it has also helped his self-esteem.  Seeing him smile and feel good about himself and his schoolwork makes Mom smile and feel a little less guilty about her past decisions.

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My Big Fat Life: Able children, young drivers and (hopefully) a lesson learned

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, November 28, 2011


My 14-year-old son called the police last week.

He did this on his own – without my prompting, without my permission, and without me there.

He walks his 9-year-old sister home from school each day. From Monday to Friday she catches the bus to his school, and then they make their way home from there.

Last week my daughter was nearly hit by a car.

An 18-year-old driver was going a little too fast along the entrance road to our civic centre’s lower parking lot. It had been snowing and the young man hadn’t reduced his speed. When he tried to stop at the end of the lane his car started to fishtail. His car swerved close enough to Kathryn that she raised her hands to cover her face and nearly fell into the ditch. Kathryn was walking in front of her brother at the time. James estimates she was about 5 feet ahead of him. When James saw the car start to slide and slip, he shouted her name. That’s when she looked up and saw the car’s side rear-end aiming right for her. James estimates the car missed her by a couple of inches. Kathryn said she ‘felt the car’ and thought it was only about a hand-length away – her hand length. My heart stopped when they told me the story.

James checked if she was okay and made his way to the civic center office where he called the police. He had the sense to look at the license plate at the time and repeated the numbers to himself as they made their way up the hill.

He called the police and recounted the story. The police later called me and said they would visit to the young driver and use this incident as an education tool – explaining that had things gone badly, his visit would have been much different.

The officer commented on how mature my son was, but that while he was looking for justice (James wanted this young man’s license suspended) that nothing actually happened, and the officer hoped I would explain to James that they did take this incident seriously and that they would talk to the young driver. He also wanted me to thank James him for calling and doing what he felt was right.

I was very proud of James, and very thankful for my daughter being spared injury that afternoon.

I momentarily thought maybe I should change my rules – that maybe I should be picking up our kids each day after school. But that thought quickly left my mind. I can’t protect them at every moment of every day and I really don’t want them to think I can, either.

Call me crazy, but they need to know how to handle things on their own, and they need to know they can be trusted, to some extent, with their own safety. They need to know the world isn’t perfect and that Mom and Dad can’t fix or prevent everything.

My son’s ability to handle this situation correctly gave me a feeling that maybe, just maybe, I’m doing some of this parenting stuff correctly.

This is the second year I’ve made my children walk home from school each day. Unless there’s a blizzard or a thunder and lightening storm, I make them walk the ten-minute route to home. They’ve been equipped with umbrellas, proper clothing and they’ve memorized contact numbers. They take the same route each day and call Mom as soon as they get in the door. They are home together for about 50 minutes before my workday ends.

This is a non-negotiable item in our family. Sadly my making our kids walk is unusual in my neighbourhood. Look at the traffic lineups at the schools each day and you’ll know why. Most of my friends and neighbours drop off and pick up their kids from school each day. Very few kids who are not on a bus-route actually walk home. That’s not to say all of my friends and neighbours kids get lifts – some do have to walk – but many aren’t made to walk.

I had to walk to school. I trekked to and from school, no matter the weather. For seven years, minus the first month of kindergarten, I did this. Day in and day out I walked to and from school. Thankfully nothing happened to me. But I learned a lot and developed some problem solving skills. I found ways to deal with arguments among friends, I learned how to navigate traffic, I was able to figure out what to do when my brother hurt himself in Grade 4, and I remember those walks being a pleasant end to every day. Those 20 minutes I had to walk home represented a winding down, a bit of exercise at the end of a day of mostly sitting, and a chance to breathe some fresh air.

I want my kids to have those same things. I want them to be able to navigate life, and fall once and a while, without me around, so they know how to pick themselves up.

Last weeks heart stopping experience gave me pause for thought, but also gave me comfort that my children will be okay in this world, with or without me by their sides.

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My Big Fat Life: Remembering some very ‘human’ days….

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, November 14, 2011

Having a bad day? I’ve had a few of those.

Having a REALLY bad day – the kind that will haunt you for a while? Oh I’ve had MORE than my share of those.  My worst moments are usually directly related to my forgetful mind.  When life is busy I sometimes forget, or I remember wrongly.

There have forgotten garbage days, having to drop our bags into bins owned by businesses in a few communities over my lifetime. Nearly twenty years ago when I had forgotten garbage day two weeks in a row (in a community that will not be named) I had to revert to driving the garbage to a shopping center dumpster so I wouldn’t have to deal with the smell.  It was at night and an RCMP officer notices me lurking near a business dumpster.  I was stopped and my garbage and my car searched.  I was utterly embarrassed.  I became horrified when I was covering a trial and walked into court the next day to find the RCMP officer from the night before about to take the stand.  We made eye contact and I turned a bright shade of red.

There were the sun glasses I’ve left here there and everywhere, grabbing kids, grabbing bags, setting glasses down – almost in offering – much like making a donation – at businesses, churches and parks.  Four sets of sunglasses paid for and literally given away.  Two were expensive.  One set I tried to find, calling around to see if anyone had located my wayward shades.  One church outside of Halifax said they did find the glasses I was inquiring about and I made arrangements to get them.  My mother went out of her way to pick said glasses up, carefully packed them into a nice little box and shipped them to Goose Bay.  I opened the box to discover these were not the ones I lost.  I felt horrible.

There was the time I rushed to get my son’s lunch ready only to discover later that, instead of sending the container with the left over turkey dinner in it, I sent a container with the cranberry sauce – both dished into the same colour and type of container.

A newly hired daycare worker heated his ‘dinner’ and placed it before him.  James was just 4 and had no idea what was going on.  The daycare director, who always helped with the kid’s lunches, walked by and quickly took the dinner from him.  She and made him a cheese sandwich.  I remember feeling absolutely and utterly horrified at the fact I was so rushed my son didn’t get the dinner he should have.  I also remember crying as I drove away from the daycare that night.

But the biggest ‘oversight’ came in Florida.  We had saved for two years to bring our family to Disney. We lived in Iqaluit then.  I was hosting the CBC Radio morning show for the territory.  My day started at 4:30 am.  I worked that day, caught the flight for Ottawa at 1:30 pm, arrived in Ottawa by supper, and then caught a flight to Toronto.  In Toronto we were delayed about four hours. We finally arrived in Orlando at 2:30 am the next day. At that point, I had been up for 22 hours.  We were travelling with a 9-year-old and an 8 month old.

When we arrive at the Alamo car rental center I produce my Amex credit card.  I know that if I use this particular card my insurance for the car is covered.  I figured this into our travel plans – trying to save a few dollars.  They take the card number, start processing the rental agreement, and ask for my driver’s license.  I quickly realize it is not in my wallet. I am frantically trying to find the document in my purse when I suddenly stop.  I realize my driver’s license is in the glove compartment of the CBC vehicle in Iqaluit.

Stephen tries saving the day.  He tells me it’ll be okay and gives the woman at the counter his license, but now my credit card can’t be used and we’ll have to pay with his credit card – one that didn’t offer insurance.

I hadn’t budgeted for insurance.  I was tired; I had just spent all day with two young children on three planes, with no more than three 20-minute naps.

I can’t hold together any longer and I break down at the counter.

I am now crying uncontrollably in the middle of the Alamo car port.  My husband is holding me and telling me things will be okay.  The Alamo customer service woman is feeling horrible at this point and offers to upgrade our rental for free.  At the time I suspect she thought, “Anything to stop this poor woman from wailing!”

We end up with a luxury SUV but are still on the hook for a week of unbudgeted insurance.

These stories are laughing events now.  When we share these stories as a family we smile, we chuckle and we joke about remembering when.  There are many more of these events that are weaved throughout our family history.

When I was in those moments – when these events were happening – I felt diminished, horrible, and gawd-awful.  These situations bugged me.  Some of these incidents made me lose sleep, some made me fret for days, and in the case of our Florida Alamo car incident, this bit of family history made me cringe for weeks after.

But these cases are memories my family brings up regularly because they like to hear them – to them they’re funny and they’re human – they’re ‘us’.

I think we need to rename our ‘bad days’ and call them ‘human days’ or ‘future-laugh days’ – because if you’re having a typically bad day I can probably guarantee that, in most cases, you’ll be laughing about this particular day in the future.

Really, we’re all just putting some much-needed ‘savings’ into our ‘laugh bank’ for the future.

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My Big Fat Life: I’m a hoarder – but not in the traditional sense…

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, October 31, 2011


I don’t save a lot of things, but I do save some things. After moving to and from four different provinces, I know how to purge. But there have been more than a few memorable items that have survived the yard sales and the spring-cleanings.

In a little gift bag in my craft room, I have every letter my grandmother ever wrote me. She’s deaf and has been for quite some time, so letters are how we’ve communicated over the years. I’ve saved newspaper clippings of my kids when they’ve appeared in the paper, I’ve saved the little notecard that was included with the first roses Stephen ever gave me, and I have a lock of each of my children’s hair.

In 2007 I saved a copy of an obituary I read online.

I’ve turned into my grandmother. While I don’t hold a physical paper most days, the first thing I read, on most occasions, are the obituaries.

This particular one caught my eye not because it was from someone well-known, but because it was long. I gravitate to long ones – hoping to glean snippets of wisdom in reading how someone lived their life – a life that many would now mourn.

This particular obituary was the beautiful story of a woman who spent her time, by everything mentioned, about as well as one should. Her story outlined the journey of a woman I never knew when she was alive, but think of in death. I have no idea who she is, or who her family is, or what she looked like, but I want to follow her example.

Her name was Karen Louise Weir (nee Brown). When she died in Halifax in February of 2007 she was just 60 years old. I remember thinking she was only two years younger than my Dad when he passed away in 2000. The paper read that she died “with her family holding her hands after an extended battle with brain cancer during which she amazed us all with her dignity and strength.”

In her short biography, there are sections I revisit every so often. Sometimes I’m looking for a bit of inspiration, other days a bit of hope. I always come away with the important reminder to be genuinely nice to people and to always remember that you can make a difference with just a smile or a gesture, or the smallest acts of kindness. There is the usual listing of workplaces and volunteer commitments, personal passions and those she leaves behind, but there is also this:

“Karen saw her children through rose-coloured glasses and her children never doubted that they had her unconditional love and support through all that life could throw at them … Karen assumed good in everyone, once even offering food to a man who broke into her home because she believed no one would do such a thing unless he was desperately hungry … In her memory take a few moments from your everyday life to do something especially kind for someone … Bring them flowers; make a cup of tea, have a chat, or say something kind that you’ve always meant to say. Don’t wait until something tragic happens, as it is so easy to do. Karen would really like that …”

In the words of my Aunt Joan, Karen was a light in a sea of darkness. I try to remember to be the light instead of the darkness – not just with family, but with everyone else in my life as well. This is where life can get a little messy.

Sometimes caring for so many means you put yourself out. Sometimes things get a little messy and complicated. Phone calls at awkward times, emails explaining life situations you’d rather not hear about, or the sleeplessness associated with caring about someone you know is in a horrible situation and you can’t help them because they don’t want to help themselves.

I don’t deal with the drama but rather with the facts. I’ve raised a teenager, so I find it easier to wade through the half-truths and the attention-seeking actions to find the real problem and help come up with solutions. Young people who need rides to the food bank, someone who needs help with his taxes, another who needs you to help her navigate a string of student-loan roadblocks. There are friends who need to know what to do in an emergency they’ve never encountered before, or another who just needs a hand to hold at the hospital.

There have been times when I’ve befriended and helped people, either through my work or through my volunteer commitments, and at the end of the day all I wanted to do was just take them home and mother them.

I used to wish I could turn this aspect of my personality off, but now understand I can’t control it, nor do I believe I have to. I know my limits, and have been successful at keeping to them. But just because my help has stopped doesn’t mean the caring has.

When my husband and I were following a marriage-counselling book a few months back, one of the exercises involved sharing our thoughts about each other – in particular the most endearing quality we found in our spouse.

His was easy. I love how he can always calm the kids (and his wife!) in any type of situation. He is our ballast – our steady guy in choppy waters. He never gets flustered and can keep his head about him in all situations. I think that’s part of what makes him a great firefighter.

I really had no idea what he’d say to the question. He took some time thinking before he answered. I was sure it would have something to do with trying to make family members feel special, like the little surprises I sometimes plan for the kids – a special outing, a special craft, or the sticky notes I put in lunches. Or maybe he’d say it was the way I crawl into bed with the kids each morning as I try to gently wake them and sneak a cuddle before they get up for the day.

What he said surprised me.

He admitted that the most endearing quality he felt I possessed is how I care for others. He said that I care for everyone, something he has a harder time with. He marvelled at how much empathy my heart carried.

The one thing in my personality that I felt he viewed as a flaw was what made me lovable.


We have to be willing to stick our necks out. Life is so busy and so hard and so messy for most of us that it’s easy to cocoon ourselves in our own little worlds and just deal with our own day-to-day problems. But when we reach out to others, offer a helping hand, hope and sometimes guidance, we are making the world a better place.

I sleep well at night knowing I spent my day caring – even if all I did was smile at someone and tell that person I was glad to see them today.

Sure, life gets busy and complicated because I care, but my life is made so much richer because of it. My children are being taught that you get far more back when you give, and that our lives are made richer by the compassionate connections we make through caring for others.

Like others, I was taught the golden rule: Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.

Some people take that to mean we need to provide people with the help that we want or need or feel they could use. I try and follow the platinum rule instead: Treat others in the way they like to be treated. Sometimes following the platinum rule is hard – it puts us out of our comfort zone, it challenges us, and it makes us think. Anything worth working for – improving another person’s self-esteem, helping an individual succeed, providing someone with a compassionate ear, or a hand to hold – is never easy, but it does give back.

These encounters broaden our minds, renew our faith in humanity, and allow us to expand our hearts, our understanding and our community connections. It also allows us to follow in the footsteps of Karen Weir and honour the final request of someone who made the world a better place.

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


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