I have the best job.
Come summertime, I get to pack my bags and head for the hills of Gladstone Ranch; and it’s nestled in this scenic local, that the twelve-day journey of a lifetime begins.
Upon my arrival to Gladstone on that first day, I have a little trouble believing that it will happen again as it always has at FACES.
Will this undeniably average and self-conscious-looking cluster of fifteen-year-old students really make up a group of my greatest heroes by the end of a short twelve days? I look more closely into their eyes and am assured that the answer is yes.
We’ll have lots to do in that time and I am both eager and quaking at the thought of it all. The completion of outdoor summer activities including white water canoeing, rock climbing, and hiking will make up the basic structure of our time at FACES, and then there will be all the time spent learning how to achieve goals, reach out to our communities, and better understand our value as individuals.
Add to that, a morning run and yoga each day as well as the opportunity to draw metaphors from our outdoor experiences and discuss these insights in a small group setting, and there won’t be much time left to do anything else but sleep (in a tent, of course).
Building relationships of trust with students and helping them to motivate themselves in order to overcome challenges and fears is paramount at FACES, and as such, I know the hardest part of it all for me won’t be the early mornings or the rapids, but the moment when it’s time to surrender these beautiful souls back to the care of their parents.
If you haven’t been to FACES then you probably won’t understand how much a group of fifteen-year-old kids can teach you about being brave, and honorable, and filled with integrity. But I’ve been to FACES, and it’s the reason I keep coming back.
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Inspired by Hans
I was seventeen and in the midst of my grade twelve year when the knowledge that I was some kind of feminist came to me with a hazy certainty.
My parents had recently chosen to migrate west; from Ontario to BC. And since I make friends like I do most big things-very slowly and gradually- it was a lonely time.
The loneliness may have been tolerable, if only the small Chilliwack library had boasted a few more classics and a lot fewer romance and mystery novels… but sadly the selection therein was about as thrilling to me as my friend situation.
And so it was on that fateful day that I looked up from my mediocre book to see a boy whom I knew better than most of the others call his girlfriend a “B-I-T-C-H.” He said it in a casual way… in the way you say a word like that just for the comedy or irony of the thing. But for an instant, I saw in the girl’s eyes that the word had stung.
I hated to see her hurt and his cocky ambivalence. Surely he would know better in the future if only someone would take the time to explain things to him.
“Adam,” I said instructively: “That’s a really offensive word. I don’t think you should be using it to describe your girlfriend.”
Adam looked down at the girl whom his arm was slung around, saw he wasn’t going to get any support from her in the matter, and turned back to me instead.
He leaned back, taking his time with the words I would never forget:
“You know, Jen…. When I first saw you I thought: ‘she’s pretty hot’… and then (here, he paused for dramatic effect) …you opened your mouth.”
He smiled, a satisfied smile, confident he had shut me up forever.
I stared back at him stupidly, both frozen and inflamed. I never, never, ever wanted to be like that girl beside Adam; lifelessly sitting next to a boy who threw around words like “hot,” because he was clever enough to know that most, if not all, high school girls have an intense desire to be that word.
And so, a feminist was born, albeit a conflicted one. Being a high school girl myself meant I was not immune to Adam’s words. It would be easy enough to come to terms with the fact that Adam didn’t love me, but I did want to be loved by someone. And Adam had given the distinct impression through his smile that he was confident no one ever would.
Fast forward eleven years, and I’m still a pretty conflicted feminist. However, there is something that seventeen-year-old me knew on that day but couldn’t explain that pretty much sums up my belief in feminism, girl-power, and maybe all of humanity, and it’s this:
I have value as a person and as a woman and that value is not dependent upon the approval of any other man or woman. And so you see, that Adam’s prophetic smile was mistaken. Someone out there would love me forever and always, through thick and through thin, in sickness and health… and that somebody was ME!
Whether or not my parents, siblings, friends, acquaintances, husband, children, or neighbours love me is up to their own free choosing, and completely independent from the knowledge of my own self-worth.
And speaking of feminism, my husband, Hans, who is so very wise, recently pointed out to me that my purse has been holding me back in life. You see, having three children means you need to carry around an annoying number of things, and possibly because of my version of stubborn feminist pride, I have refused to entertain the concept of a diaper bag. Something in me has always been convinced that diaper bags are where every chance of being alluring and interesting goes to die.
So there I was one day, carrying around an enormously clunky purse full of jumbled up bottles and diapers, oh so desperately searching for my keys, when Hans looked down disapprovingly at the mess that was my life, and said: Why don’t you just get a backpack?
Why… don’t I… just… GET A BACKPACK?
The intelligence of a man completely unencumbered by the impracticality of feminine norms.
Yes. I instantly started planning. It would be a lovely thing, this backpack. – Canvas, so that it would be durable and ready for adventures, with lots of pockets providing easy access to my wallet, keys, etc. Not too bulky, but with enough room for all my things.
I could just picture myself moving freely about- both hands and arms completely free to haul children, bag groceries, and run through a field of daisies.
Luckily, after much searching, amazon delivered just the backpack I needed. If you want to head over there, they have a great selection… and then you’ll be able to join me in the backpack revolution!
I am in love this backpack. It has completely changed my life. It has the function I’ve been craving (it even has a little releasable clip for my keys!) and I don’t feel the least bit dowdy while using it. It’s a win for me, and maybe even a win for feminism at large.
Sometimes, you have to start with the little things in life. Today a backpack, tomorrow, boys and girls who are raised knowing that the worth of human beings isn’t determined by how “hot” they are.
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Inspired by Breanna
“I’ve been clean for 9 months now,” she told me. I could hear the pride in her voice as she talked about all the changes she’d made- how different she felt. This girl who had felt so completely lost over a year ago was finally getting her bearings.
Over a year ago we had cried together as she told me about how empty she felt inside- that there was nothing she liked about herself anymore. That to her, high school was a breeding ground for self-hatred. A place where people bullied her. A place where she felt like she was nothing.
I found myself asking how a person gets to this place of feeling like nothing. Looking at Breanna, there seemed to be no logical explanation. She was there in front of me looking bright and full of kindness. She had her whole life ahead of her and it was beautiful. When I voiced my musings she said simply: “A person can go from fine to feeling like nothing.”
WHAT? Why? I thought of my own little boy and was filled with dread at the thought of his perception of himself changing so rapidly. What is happening to our beautiful girls and boys… our toddlers who are so full of love for themselves? These wonderful little people who will so readily tell you that they are smart and beautiful— and these are the same people who feel like “nothing” a few short years later?
Breanna’s first introduction to cutting had been through seeing marks and scars on other kids. And her reaction upon seeing this behavior in her peers was one of surprise and shock at first: “[I wanted] to talk to them; Ask them if they’re okay, but at the same time you’re lost for words and you don’t know what to say or do.”
When I asked Breanna what had changed to make her turn to cutting, I was expecting to hear about a friend or a boyfriend who convinced her to start doing it, but was surprised to find that, in Breanna’s experience, cutting is something that most young people turn to on their own… and that it’s something that most of them do in private.
Enter high school and, with it, a world where 14 year old children are expected to be able to handle adult-like stress and life experiences like adults.
“You don’t want to stress other people out about anything. If I was struggling in school, I wouldn’t want to tell anyone because I felt like I should be able to handle it myself.”
And so instead of talking to other people about her fears and anxieties, Breanna compared herself to them instead. And when she started comparing herself to other people, somehow a failed math test turned into not only feeling stupid, but feeling ugly and unlikable as well. “One thing wrong becomes everything wrong. It’s not true, but it feels that way,” Breanna says.
“It’s kind of like, when you have overbearing pain inside, you’re bringing some of that outside, so that you can kind of control it,” Breanna explains. “Cutting can help you feel something, and show you that you’re capable of feeling pain and emotion when you’re feeling numb and empty,” she continues, explaining her experiences with cutting as an important ritual “It’s almost like you let it all go because you’re focusing on cutting. It’s relaxing— Me time.” She admits, that when she first became engaged in cutting, she didn’t even think of it as being a bad thing.
So how did Breanna start to turn things around, you may ask?
The answer is more obvious than you would think. As I began asking questions about her journey to feeling whole again, I expected to hear about the amazing FACES program where I met her as her teacher and the feeling she had when, together with other students, she had climbed a mountain for the first time and then felt like she could conquer more— BE more. I expected to hear about the encouraging text messages that we had exchanged and the school counselor that she had promised me she would start seeing. And I did hear about all of those things and more… but when I asked Breanna to point to the one thing that had really made her want to stop cutting, I was floored by her answer.
“I talked to my Parents,” she said.
It was an obvious answer, one that a toddler would have come up with. But Breanna wasn’t a toddler anymore and somehow growing up had made her feel like she had to carry the weight of her world on her own.
Prior to talking to her parents about her cutting habbit, Breanna had assumed that doing so would harm her relationship with them. She also worried that her parents “would be really upset; really disappointed in [her]. [She] didn’t want to put that on them… or make them feel like it was their fault.” In some ways, Breanna’s fears were realized when she finally told her parents about the feelings that were leading to cutting. It hurt her parents to know she was hurting herself. But at the same time, she realized something important—something that was a game changer.
As a parent, hurting IS YOUR JOB. Because you can’t feel the kind of love that most parents feel for their children without feeling pain yourself when they so much as scrap their precious knees.
And so in that moment when she confided in them, Breanna’s parents loved her in the same way that they had loved her when they had first gazed at her in a tiny pink hat. They were willing to hurt with her because they knew that fourteen is too young to have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders; any age is too young. But maybe most of us finally figure that out by the time our twenties hit?
These days we hear a lot about seeking professional help. And there is definitely an important place in this world for teachers and counselors, motivational speakers, yoga instructors…. (etc. etc.) But what we can’t forget, is that parenthood is the profession of professions. As parents, we are professional when it comes to loving and caring for our children. They know it and we know it and there is no substitute for that love in all the professions of the world combined. It’s both inspiring and frightening to say, but there it is.
Self-injuring aside, I think that if teens and parents alike could remember this important lesson that Breanna was kind enough to teach me, our schools and our homes would be improved beyond recognition.
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Inspired by Bryanna Peterson
Remember your first bike? Mine was a boys bike that my dad took apart and painted yellow. It was already fantastic but the matching yellow streamers we attached to the handlebars made it superior to even my wildest dreams.
I named it buttercup.
The bike made me fast. It made me proud. Suddenly, I was capable and strong; Able to travel great distances and explore so many new places.
I remember racing to my best friend’s house, trying to beat yesterday’s time. As I rode, I felt free. Unconquerable. Even graceful. I remember the day I learned to ride with only one hand; then no hands.
I don’t remember the day that I stopped riding my bike.
It must have happened around the time that my friends stopped asking to play and started asking to “hang out.” At the time, the difference in terminology seemed innocent. But looking back, it turned out to be loaded with all kinds of expectations.
Kids who play aren’t anything like kids who hang out. The hang out kind of kids don’t get dirty and scraped up. They don’t get lost in the moment and in their ever expanding imaginations. Hang out kids must remain constantly self-aware. When “hanging out,” constant comparisons of myself and others seemed to come naturally. In everything we did, there was a yearning to feel more adult… Which was frustrating because none of us were adults yet.
I missed my bike during the hang out days, but I didn’t ever say so, not even to myself.
–A Note To My Lovely Reader:
If you are entering, or are in the midst of your teenage years, or just never fully recovered from them, the thing you have left behind and are desperately missing might not be a bike. It could be a relationship, or a hobby, or a feeling. But no matter what it is, I say, find a way to get it back! These things that we love and that cause us to feel true passion and joy are important parts of who we are.
Also, if anyone ever asks you to hang out, see if you can find something better to do instead.
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Inspired by all my Lovely FACES Girls
I have a theory. It goes like this: Women are sometimes so concerned about looking good that they keep themselves from doing things that will actually make them look good in the long run. So you can get the basic idea of what I mean by that, I’ve listed some examples below:
- When a women feels self-conscious and insecure, or even just overly self-aware, she smiles less and her movements are more robotic.
- When a women is given the opportunity to use her body in a healthy and active way, she often opts out or doesn’t involve herself fully, for fear of messing with her look. For example, when women go swimming you’ll often see them cautiously avoiding getting their hair wet instead of actually playing and being active in the water.
- When women wear makeup, not only does it contribute to the issue of avoiding activity and fun, but it also prohibits women from reading the cues that their body is giving them. For example, dark circles under your eyes could signal that you’re stressed, anxious, or needing more sleep. But instead of dealing with this issue head on, the tendency is to cover it all up!
I often think back to this moment in grade 12 when some boys decided that it would be funny to hold up numbered cards to the girls as they walked down the hallway. I don’t think their intent was to shame anyone. In fact, they were very generous. I was given a 9.5. And I felt good. My heart knew that judging human beings based completely upon their looks is never a good thing, but another part of me felt great. Confident. Celebrated.
All of that confidence came to a halt after the two girls who had been walking behind me sat down beside me in class. They had both received perfect 10s. Suddenly I was beating myself up a little. They weren’t necessarily any prettier than me, I reasoned. If only I would spend a little more money on clothes and a little more time getting ready in the morning, maybe invested in a push up bra… then I could have been a 10 too. Why couldn’t I just get my act together?
Looking back, the reality was that I didn’t have any more time to spend on my appearance because I was more concerned with learning the material I was being taught at school. I was concerned with being a loving sister and with being there for my mom and dad when they needed my help around the house. I was concerned with really understanding my religious beliefs and knowing what I wanted for my future. With all of that going on, how was it in the least bit appropriate for me to criticize myself for not taking more time to make myself look sexy?
Here are some things I’m feeling done with:
I’m done with looking around a room and comparing myself to every other woman to find out if she’s better looking than me… wondering if I should have done more to myself that morning to up my rating a little bit.
I’m done with examining myself in every single surface so that I can fix or adjust the flaws that always seem to be there.
I’m done with feeling afraid that when I move in certain ways or try new things in front of people, my body will look ugly or unnatural.
If living my life to the very fullest including doing my best to be truly healthy and participating in a regular grooming routine gets me a 6 out of 10 on the beauty rating scale, I’m okay with that. I’m okay with that because I don’t want to be judged singularly on how I look. I’m okay with it because I don’t want my opinion of myself to be based on how I look. I’m okay with that because I feel the most happy when I’m laughing. I feel the most energetic when I succeed in a physical challenge, and I feel the most love when I’m able to make someone’s day. All of those things, in my opinion, look good… and none of them come from a place of comparison or of feeling inadequate.
So how do I get out of the habit of obsessing over the way I look? How do I stop comparing myself to other women? How do I succeed in living the kind of life that I really want?
I don’t have all the answers, but one way I’m trying to answer these questions is by going without make-up for an entire year.
I’ve chosen to do this for so many reasons but one is because I want to look like the kind of “good” that relates directly to the things I actually value in life. I hope that by not wearing makeup, at least for a while, I can understand what that means for me.
Wish me luck!
P.S. For those of you who know me and are thinking: “What are you even talking about? You didn’t wear much make-up before anyway!”
…This is about freeing myself from thinking I should always be doing more. It’s about realizing that it’s okay to have zits; they happen. That it’s okay for my eyes to be puffy and red because I’ve been crying. That sometimes I’m going to look pale and tired but that I don’t have to immediately fix it. That it’s okay to look exhausted because I’m pregnant with baby number 3! Basically, that I’m allowed to look the way I look and be the way I am 🙂
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Inspired by Stef Metka
For some of us, adolescence can accurately described as a supreme form of torture. Here are some things I would have said to help my teenage self along a bit, given the opportunity for a quick chat.
- Boys are people too
Feeling bewildered about why someone you’re interested in hasn’t made an effort to establish that the feelings are mutual? Or worse, he goes after someone else instead of you? Try not to dwell. And don’t you hate it when a boy acts very interested and then suddenly seems to change his mind? Try not to take it personally.
Teenage boys are just as (if not more) confused, self-conscious, and overwhelmed as you are. They just show it in different ways… So do yourself (and the boys around you) a favour and try not to get caught up in that mess. Treat the boys around you with kindness and respect. Empathize with the hard things they’re going through and be there to support them in their dreams and ambitions but try to keep your relationships with the opposite sex limited to healthy and fun friendships. And no matter how attractive or seemingly mature the boys around you appear to be, remember that they have some serious growing up to do… just like you! So enjoy them (as friends) and wait until you’re both a little older and mature before allowing yourself to be involved with anyone in a romantic or sexual way.
- Your body is in Transition
Your body is doing some crazy things. Some of us get curves all at once (which makes you feel like you’ve suddenly become obese- or just highly sexualized- overnight) while others carefully stuff their bras and pray for just a few more fat cells to complement their stubbornly angular features. And of course, we can’t forget acne, bad teeth, braces, retainers, period cramps, and the painfully uncoordinated.
Sound about right?
Please remember through all it that you’re not going to fix any of these things by agonizing over them. Of course, if there’s anything going on with your body that is causing you great discomfort, and you feel like you should see a doctor about it (ex. Acne, or period cramps), then do so. But for the most part, all of the above will be smoothed out and made less devastating over time. Instead of agonizing, look for healthy ways to appreciate the things that you do love about your body. You don’t have to be good at sports to be doing something physical. Consider the skill and muscle development it takes for someone to master the piano, to perform a great work of dramatic art, to sing beautifully, or to enjoy a running route. Whatever thing it is that most interests you, dive in, and use whatever skills you achieve as a means to appreciate the things that your body allows you to do. And above all, be patient with yourself and remember that, in the long run, focusing on making healthy choices now (mentally, physically, and spiritually) will help you look like the very best version of yourself once the acne is gone and the braces are off.
- The girl who seems like she knows it all, doesn’t.
The other day walking out of the library with my son, I stumbled upon a hardened looking senior high school student educating a group of bright-faced up-and-coming high school girls on the ways of the world. The scene was all too familiar to me. The older girl used a lot of harsh language to navigate topics such as: “what guys are really like” and “clueless teachers.” I wanted to park myself in the middle of that circle, look each one of them in the eye, and talk with them about virtue and integrity and loving respecting themselves… but the scared little person in me kept walking. I missed that opportunity, but I’m taking this one. Find a girl or woman in your life whom you admire for her goodness and honesty, and look for chances to ask her questions and to listen to what she has to say. This person doesn’t have to be anywhere near your age category either. For some of us, the best person for this job could be a younger sister who just always seems to have her head on straight or even a loving grandmother. And don’t forget to pay attention to how different it feels to talk with this very special person than it does talking to girls like the cynical one I met a few days ago.
4.Enjoy being a Teenager and Stop Worrying about trying to be an Adult.
Sometimes we’re so close to achieving something that we forget to enjoy the now. Love your life. Embrace it. Being a teenager is hard… but so is being an adult. So take things one step at a time and don’t hesitate to go after the things that really matter to you. I’m not talking about a crush or an attempt at popularity. Do things that REALLY matter. Achieve things that coincide with the best parts of yourself. And enjoy how amazing it makes you feel.
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