For Jacob

This is a story of firsts.  My first marathon, and my first child.

If you’ve been following along with my story from the beginning, you may recall that in Why do I Run? I explained that you’d have to wait for the real meaning behind why I continue to run.  Well, the wait is over.

If you’re expecting a lighthearted tale about my first marathon, I’m afraid that this won’t be it.  I was more than a little hesitant to write about this subject matter, but I feel that it may be helpful to a number of people who will find themselves in the same situation that my wife and I did.  Having said that, if this resonates with you, or you feel it may help somebody else, please share it with them.  That is why I am writing, as I know when we went through or tough times, we searched for the stories of others.  With all of that being said, here we go.

After tackling the Around the Bay 30 k race, I had decided that a marathon in May was definitely not something I was ready for.  I completed another half-marathon in May instead, and shortly thereafter, I signed up for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon to be held the following October.

Around the same time, my wife and I had decided that we wanted to start our family.  I can recall that in June of 2014, on the night before the last day of the school year, my wife told me that she was pregnant.  Obviously, this was amazing news, and we were both really excited for the upcoming addition.  There were even a few tears of joy shed.  My wife was due in February of 2015.

I had established a good base fitness level from the 30 k and half-marathon training, and after a little break post half, I set my sights on training for the full marathon.

I used the Runner’s World Smart Coach training program (the free version), which I still use for my programs today.

That summer, we had some friends from Sweden visit us and showed them around Ontario.  We had shared our happy news with our families and a few close friends, and revealed our news to our visitors too, as we knew it would be difficult to hide it from them since they would be cohabitating with us for two weeks.

My training was moving along nicely, and I was beginning to feel more comfortable at the higher distance levels.  In addition, I had learned my lesson about nutrition at the 30 k, and had started to use some energy gels.

Things were moving along nicely with my wife’s pregnancy as well.  The time for the first ultrasound came, and we were super excited to get to hear our child’s heartbeat, as well as get our first glimpses of them.  I remember my wife coughed at one point and we saw our little one do a little flip.  Truly an incredible experience.

In September, we moved into our first house.  We had been living in an apartment following our time in Sweden, as we figured (correctly) that moving back to Canada, having our wedding, and buying a house, would have been too much.

We found a nice spot that was good for us, and settled in.  The nursery was set up, and our excitement was growing.

The marathon was also fast approaching, only about five weeks away at this point.

I had managed to get my long runs up to just over the 32 km mark.  When training for marathons, I like to add 200 m to my runs to simulate the final 200 m of the 42.2 km marathon distance.  Just a little quirk that I include in my program.

I felt fairly confident that I would be able to finish the marathon, but at this time, was not 100% sure.  I set the following goals for the big day:

  • Finish.  At the very least, regardless of time, I needed to finish it.
  • Beat Oprah’s time of 4:29:15 (I figured if she could do it, I could too, and 4.5 hours seemed pretty respectable as a finish time).
  • Finish in 4:12:00, I figured if I ran pretty well by my standards, this was the time I could get.
  • Finish under 4:00:00, if things were going really well, I was kind of hoping to break 4 hours, but not expecting it by any means.

Much more importantly, things were progressing with my wife’s pregnancy.  She was showing, and our baby was making their presence felt with kicks and pokes which my wife felt regularly, and I was fortunate enough to feel occasionally.  I also started getting into the habit of talking to our baby by speaking to my wife’s belly.

A couple of months after the first ultrasound, we went in for the second. We were even more excited for this one, as we knew we could find out the gender of our child.  We both wanted to find out the gender, as we felt we could not wait for the big day.

My wife went in for the ultrasound, and I was invited in some time later. Unfortunately, we were told that due to the position of the baby, they could not determine the gender.  It turns out, our baby was being shy.  I joked that I was OK with this, because it meant they were being classy and ladylike if they were a girl.

The baby was still moving around and the heartbeat sounded great. However, my wife left the ultrasound with a bad feeling about things, thinking that something was wrong.  The ultrasound technician had asked her if she had been sick or dehydrated lately, as the amniotic fluid was low.

I don’t recall the exact timeline here, but it was either later that day, or the following day, that my wife was contacted by our doctor and told that she was to do nothing but rest.  She was being referred to a specialist due to the amniotic fluid being low.  This was obviously tremendously concerning.

We were worried, but I can recall feeling positive about the situation, just feeling that everything would be OK.  After all, the baby was being really active, as my wife felt them regularly, and we saw the movement at the ultrasound.  In addition, the heartbeat sounded awesome.  What could be wrong?

The marathon was now a couple of weeks away, but obviously, my running took a backseat.  I ran less, as I of course wanted to be home to support my wife.  I do recall one night in particular, where with my wife’s encouragement, I went out for a 40 minute or so run.  As I came back up towards home, the sun was setting, and a song came on my iPod called Safe and Sound by Capital Cities.  It has a very positive feel to it, and at that moment, with the music in my ears, and the sunset in front of me, I just felt really confident that everything was going to be OK.  I told my wife about this after I got home, just trying to reassure her, as I had been doing over the course of our experience.  In my heart, it was also what I felt.

After what seemed like an eternity, the day had arrived to meet with a neonatal specialist at the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) Victoria Hospital.  We were of course nervous, and anxiously wanted to find out what was going on.  At this point, we knew nothing more than that there was low amniotic fluid.

We were scheduled for another ultrasound that morning, to be followed up by a meeting with the specialist.

My wife was called in first of course, and after waiting for about 45 minutes to an hour, I too was welcomed into the room.

I was really happy to see that the our baby was moving around a tonne, and their little heart was still beating away powerfully.  Unfortunately, once again, we were still unable to find out our baby’s gender.  Still being shy!  That was OK though, as we were just happy to see the movement, and hear the heartbeat.

The ultrasound technician left to get some printouts and my wife and I had a chance to talk.  She was really positive, and said that things seemed to go really well.  Part of her fear after leaving the last ultrasound, was due to the demeanour of the technician.  Conversely, at this appointment, the tech was much more outgoing and did not seem worried.

We left this appointment feeling really encouraged about things.  Of course, we knew that there was still some sort of complication, but things just seemed better now.  It can’t be a big deal if the baby is still being active and the heartbeat is so strong, right?

We went over to meet with the specialist, feeling really optimistic.  We waited patiently in the interior waiting room, and a doctor came in shortly thereafter.

The doctor introduced himself, and did not take long in getting to the diagnosis.  

There are some moments in your life, which you will always remember.  There are very few moments in my life when I can remember the exact words that somebody spoke to me, but this was one of those instances.

Sitting by my wife’s side, we were informed that “your baby has something called Bilateral Renal Agenesis, or Potter’s Syndrome.  This is what is termed, a lethal diagnosis.”

The doctor spent some time with us before leaving us on our own.  I can’t really even describe the feeling of hearing those words.  Shock, grief, sadness, disbelief?  None of them do justice to what we felt in those moments.

A short time later, the first doctor returned with the head specialist, who went over things with us in more detail.  Essentially, what this all meant was, that our baby was not developing kidneys or a bladder.  As such, they were incapable of producing enough amniotic fluid.  We were told that the cause of this condition is unknown, that we could have done nothing to prevent it, and that it is a 1 in 5000 type of occurrence.

The doctor explained that there was nothing that could be done for our baby.  Nothing.

This helplessness was especially hard to deal with.  As a parent, a huge part of your job is protecting your child.  I was powerless.

We were offered the opportunity to meet with a counselor which we did after taking a short walk and trying to wrap our heads around things. This of course, was impossible.

We met with the counselor which was part of a whirlwind of a day.  She would become very helpful in the lead up to the birth of our child, and in helping my wife after the birth.

She went over our options, as the doctor had.  I had decided in my head what I wanted to do, but in my mind, the final call would be up to my wife.  After all, she was the one who would have to go through things physically regardless of the course of action we took.

In the end, we both came to the same conclusion about what we wanted to do.  Neither of us could bear the thought of terminating the pregnancy.  We still wanted to have the opportunity to hold our child.

We would have the baby.

Our families were aware of the situation prior to us meeting with the specialist.  We ended up being at the hospital for quite some time that day. When we got home, we had the terrible task of informing our families that we were going to lose our baby.

Not that it mattered at the time, but the marathon was scheduled for the Sunday after we received this devastating news.

At this point, my wife and I tried to come to terms with things, which of course was pretty difficult.  There were many tears shed, and many moments of comforting one another.

We were of course both off of work at the time.  I recall one morning coming across a video online of The Foo Fighters performing their song Miracle on The Late Show with David Letterman.  When I clicked on the link, it began with Dave (Letterman, not Grohl) giving a heartfelt speech about the meaning of the song, and how it related to his relationship with his son, Harry.  I continued to watch the video, and the lyrics of the song really hit home with me given our situation.  This song remains close to my heart to this day.

As far as the marathon went, my wife and I decided that we would travel to Toronto, as the hotel was already booked, and we figured a night away may not be a bad thing.  I had decided that running the marathon itself would be a “game-time decision,” as I was not sure if I would be up for it mentally.

Prior to heading out for the weekend, my wife made a really poignant observation.  Again, one of those moments in time where you can remember exactly what was said.  She said to me, “everybody is talking about the baby like they’re already gone, and they’re not.”  As part of that conversation, she had the idea, that we should do things together as a family while our baby was still physically with us.

With this in mind, we went to some local parks and ponds, and took some really nice pictures.  We bought some books, and every night we read some to our baby.  Some of these were really tough to get through, but we managed.

I’m really thankful that my wife thought of this as something to do.  I hope that you never find yourself in our situation, but if you do, I recommend taking the time to build some memories, as difficult as it may be.

So, we headed off to Toronto, did the marathon packet pick up, and settled into the hotel.  We explored the view from the rooftop of the hotel, and just stayed in for a relaxing, quiet dinner, and night at the hotel.

Heading off to bed that night, we had decided that I would probably still run the marathon the following day and planned accordingly.

It’s one of the best decisions that I have ever made.

I woke up early and got myself organized for the run while my wife slept. Before taking the short walk from the hotel to the start area, I did a couple of pieces of writing.  On my left hand, I wrote my wife’s name, and the initials of our yet to be born child.  Since we did not know the gender of our baby, we had chosen names for both.  So, I had two sets of initials on my hand (J.C.M. and I.G.M.).  In addition to the names, I had written “42.2 4 u” (42.2 km is the distance of a marathon).  After writing a brief note for my wife to read when she woke up, I gave her a kiss, and said goodbye, before making the short walk to the start area.

The race got started, and physically I felt good.  I must have drank too much water before the run, as I had to stop and pee about 12 km in (this took 17 seconds; yes, I guess runners time everything).

As I was running, our situation with our child was of course on my mind. I can vividly recall running down Lakeshore Blvd. and thinking about things that we could do together as a family before the upcoming birth in order to create some more memories.  As I was contemplating these plans, a song by the Counting Crows came on my iPod, Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby, which, given our baby had been diagnosed with Potter’s Syndrome, struck a chord with me so to speak.  I remember thinking that it was kind of neat, that as I began to think of my child, this song came on.  Along with the aforementioned Foo Fighters song, and one other song that I will get to later, this song always reminds me of our firstborn child.

As far as the running itself goes, I was feeling good.  I recall having some knee pain at one point, which was unusual for me, but it passed.  As I got up into the mid 30s kilometre wise, I realized that I had a really good chance of making it under 4 hours, and I was actually able to pick up my pace towards the end of the race.

As I did this, I realized that I had managed to run some extra distance on the course, so, the cushion I thought I had to get under 4 hours was not as big as I first thought.  I pushed on, and passed a number of people towards the end.  I ended up finishing with a sprint as I knew I would be really close to that 4 hour mark.  The elites at the race started before the rest of the runners, so the timer at the finish line which was now in sight, was not an accurate representation of my time.

As I crossed the finish line, I stopped my watch and it read 4:00:01.  I figured that I may have gotten under 4 hours, as of course, pushing stop on my watch could have taken a second or two after crossing the line.  I would have to wait until the official results to know for sure.  My watch also showed that I had covered 42.82 km, more than required, which is easy to do in big runs with thousands of runners.

I collected my medal (as an aside, I was not a fan of the medal as it had a store on it, Honest Ed’s, not something I would really want to display). More important than my finishing time, or a medal, was being reunited with my family.  I met up with my wife at our prearranged meeting spot. She had come to the finish area and saw me finish.  I was pretty focused on the finish line, so unfortunately, I did not see her.

We took a few pictures, walked back to the hotel to get our car, and headed back to London.  Along the way, my wife checked the official results: 3:59:59.

Once we arrived back in London, we decided to go for a walk in Springbank Park.  I took some pictures of my wife and her beautiful baby bump with the picturesque fall leaves in the background.  We also took a picture together of the two of us, a picture that is still displayed in our home, and holds a lot of meaning for me.  The spot where we took the picture is always a special place when I go running by as I’m reminded of that time together with my wife and child.  It has also become the spot where we go to remember our child on their birthday each year.

We continued to deal with the nerves, heartbreak, expectations, and all of the other emotions associated with the situation we found ourselves in.  A short three days later, about a week after the diagnosis, we were in the hospital awaiting the arrival of our child. 

The whole process went from Wednesday, overnight into Thursday.  We had originally planned on going through this on our own, together as a couple.  But, we had then decided that we would like for our parents to be able to join us after the birth, and have the opportunity to meet their grandchild.

As part of our preparations for the birth, we had been told that the butterfly is the symbol of prenatal loss.  As such, on the room number sign for our room, a small butterfly was posted.  This lets the hospital staff know the situation, so that you are not constantly having to explain the scenario around the birth.

The nursing staff that we were fortunate enough to have, were absolutely first class, and made our stay under very difficult conditions, as pleasant as it could be.

We were still able to hear our baby’s heartbeat as my wife was monitored throughout the process.  We had planned on having the monitor’s audio going throughout the whole delivery, but my wife decided closer to the time, that she would like the sound turned off during active labour.  The expectation was that our baby would pass during labour, and this would have made continuing with the process really difficult if we could hear the heartbeat stop.

Some babies born with Potter’s do live for a very short time right after birth, but in most cases, they do not survive at all.  This is because, due to the lack of amniotic fluid, their lungs do not develop well enough for them to be able to breathe.

On the afternoon of October 23, 2014, our baby was born.  As expected, our baby was stillborn.  His gender was finally revealed, and we officially welcomed Jacob Carter McKay into our hands, our family, and of course, completely into our hearts.

This was of course extremely bittersweet.  It’s hard to describe the conflicting emotions that you go through during this time.  I was of course incredibly saddened that our baby had passed.  At the same time, I was incredibly proud of my wife, and incredibly proud of our beautiful baby boy, Jacob.

Jacob weighed exactly 1 pound, but the weight and impact that he has had on my life, is immeasurable.

My wife and myself spent some time alone with Jacob.  We were told that we could spend as much time at the hospital as we wanted to.

After some alone time as a family, I went out to the waiting room and collected our parents.  I explained to them that Jacob had some bruising on his face from the birthing process.  When babies are born premature, their skin is really sensitive, so this bruising is common.

Our parents came in and spent some time with us and Jacob.  We ended up being happy with our decision to allow our families to be a part of this day.

We took a number of pictures to help us hold onto the memories.  Pictures with us, as a family.  

In addition, we read a story by Nancy Tillman called The Night That You Were Born which we saved for this day.  We also had plaster casts made of Jacob’s feet.  And together, listened to Miracle with Jacob in my hands. Hands on a miracle.

Again, I can’t say enough about the care and compassion we received from the staff at the London Health Sciences Centre.

In reality, we probably could have stayed there forever.  How do you let your child go?  We ended up staying at the hospital with Jacob for about seven hours.

When it was time to say goodbye, we were given a couple of options.  One was that a nurse could take Jacob away.  The second option was for us to take him away to what is called the “quiet room” on our own, where he would then be cared for appropriately.  Accompanied by a nurse, we took Jacob to the quiet room and said goodbye.

I went and got the car while the nurse took my wife downstairs.  With us,  we took a memory box which had a number of items from the day, the measuring tape Jacob was measured with, some of the clothes he wore, and so on.

We made the drive home, still in a state of disbelief that this had happened to us.  Not only did it happen, but it had all transpired within a week or so.

As we arrived home and exited the car, it was after 11 pm.  I have a vivid memory of the sky that night.  It was really clear, and full of stars.  Those stars to me, were a sign of a connection between my son and I.

A day or two later, I heard Coldplay’s A Sky Full of Stars which would complete the hat trick of songs that remind me of Jacob. Every time I hear one of them, I am reminded of our beautiful baby boy.  In a sky full of stars, I think I see you.

We went to bed on the night that Jacob was born, and surprisingly, did manage to sleep.  Over the next days and weeks there was a lot of grief obviously, and trying to come to terms with the events which had just transpired.

I can remember waking up one morning, and there were tears in my eyes as if I had been crying in my sleep.  Until that point, I would have never thought this to be possible.

In the time after Jacob’s birth, we would continue to read a lot of other people’s stories.  As my wife remarked at the time, “it is amazing that any healthy babies are born, considering how much can go wrong.”

So, how do you get over the loss of a child?  The answer is, you don’t. In the weeks and months that followed, my wife and I had the support of our families and friends, and most importantly, one another.

We would spend time both together, and on our own, with Jacob’s memory box.  Going through some of the items that were a part of the day.  I liked to smell his clothes, as they smelled like him.

To this day, it is still a little hard to believe that we went through this experience.

I have a number of rituals and ways that I stay connected to my son. When I look up at the sky and see even just one star, I feel connected to Jacob. When I hear the songs I’ve mentioned, I feel connected to Jacob.  When a butterfly flutters by, I feel connected to Jacob.

But perhaps most of all, when I run, I feel connected to Jacob.

He was with me for my first marathon, and he’s been with me for all of them since.

So yes, I run because I enjoy it.  I run because it helps me stay fit, healthy, and happy.  But, I also run, because when I run, I run with Jacob.

I plan on returning to the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 2018.

This September, I will be running the That Dam Hill Ultramarathon in London, Ontario to raise money for the Children’s Health Foundation, in honour of my son Jacob, my daughter Hadley, and all of the children and families who use the services provided by the Foundation.

The Children’s Health Foundation supports the Children’s Hospital, the Children’s Health Research Institute, and the Thames Valley Children’s Centre.

I am attempting to “run” for 24 hours in order to raise $24 000 for the Children’s Health Foundation.  This event is the Canadian 24 Hour Championship.  I am asking that each person who reads this post donates $5 (of course, larger or smaller donations are also appreciated) and shares my goal with 5 other people.  In addition to personal contributions, I am hoping for corporate donations.

The ultramarathon will take place in Springbank Park, and as it is a loop, will pass by the spot that reminds me of my son Jacob, a number of times.

If you would like to donate, you can follow this link to my personal fundraising page administered by the Children’s Health Foundation.  All funds are donated directly to them.

Thanks for taking the time to read my story, I hope you can make a donation, and will share my story (you can do so by using the buttons below).

If you are looking to make a corporate donation, or can put me in touch with somebody from your organization, it is greatly appreciated.  You may email me at neilgordonmckay@gmail.com to make those arrangements.

Thanks everyone, and don’t forget to donate.

 

For Hadley

With apologies to my wife, this is a love letter to the love of my life: my daughter (it’s ok, my wife knows this).

After the birth of our beautiful baby boy, Jacob, my wife Haylie and I knew that we wanted to continue building our family.

Of course, after having lost our son, there was some trepidation, and definitely a lot of worry about what might happen with a second pregnancy.

After spending some time reflecting, and waiting until it was medically prudent, we decided to begin trying to have another child.

My wife took a few inconclusive pregnancy tests.  Inconclusive, in that the indicators on the strips were not really that clear.  In the end though, it turns out that my wife was in fact pregnant, and we began the journey towards welcoming another child into our hearts and lives.

Having lost a child previously, my wife’s pregnancy was considered “high-risk,” and as such, we were able to remain under the care of the neonatal specialists at LHSC Victoria Hospital.

As part of our care, we were able to have an extra ultrasound a little earlier than normal, to rule out the difficulties from the first pregnancy: Potter’s Syndrome.  When the time came, we were exceptionally happy to see that things were progressing well.

A short time later, we were able to determine the gender of our baby at another ultrasound.  It is cliche to say that the gender didn’t matter, only that we had a healthy baby.  Given the fact that we had lost a baby previously, this of course rang more true for us than it may have done otherwise.

This ultrasound was not without its moments of worry.  We were told that our baby had an “echogenic focus” and another marker of some sort, the name of which escapes me.  Either way, neither of them sounded good, especially when we were told that these were markers on the heart and brain respectively.  After all, those are considered rather important.  However, since our baby was measuring normally on the developmental charts, we were assured that these findings were nothing to be concerned about.

Since I had complete faith in the excellent medical care that we were receiving, these developments were not a cause of concern for me.

Unlike our first pregnancy, our baby cooperated, which allowed the doctors to determine the gender.  We were very excited to learn that we would be having a little girl join our family.

Things continued to progress well with my wife’s pregnancy.  As we had done with our first child, we took some lovely pictures of my wife with her growing belly in some picturesque settings around our city.

Our second child was expected to be born around the birthday of our first.  While a part of me thought that it would be very cool if our little girl joined our family on her brother’s birthday, I was also liking the idea of her having her own day.

A few weeks prior to the due date, I ran my third marathon, The County Marathon.  I figured I could sneak it in prior to the birth.  Prior to setting out for the run, I wrote upon my hand the name of my son, Jacob, and BM2 for “Baby McKay 2,” since we had yet to decide upon a name.  Given the strong personal connection that I had developed between marathons and our son, I was a little emotional prior to the race.

In the early hours of October 16th, 2015, my wife woke me to tell me that she thought her water had broken.  I thought we could go back to bed for a bit, but she wisely disagreed with me.  We called the hospital, and they informed us that my wife should take a shower and then we should head in.

As we left in the early hours of the morning, it was of course still dark.  We exited our home, and I paused to look up to the sky to see that it was an exceptionally clear night.  I could see a multitude of stars in the sky, and as such, I knew that our son Jacob was with us on this journey.

We went to the hospital, and a nurse checked my wife over.  She advised us to take a walk and come back in a little bit.  We took a short walk, and my wife called her parents to inform them that things might be progressing on this day (they had a 3 hour drive to make).  I also informed my parents of the situation, as they were planning on making the 1.5 hour drive as well.

After our short walk, and our family communications, we headed back to the nurse.  She once again examined my wife and told us the great news that “I think you’re going to have a baby today.”  We were admitted, and of course, were tremendously excited by this declaration!

The birthing centre at the hospital is awesome, as is the care that we have received on both of our visits.  A private room is available, which includes a private washroom, and a nice view over the city.  In addition, we had a nurse by our side for the entire process.  It is an extremely comfortable environment in which to welcome a child into the world.  The care is nothing less than first rate.

Once things really began progressing, I was asked by our nurse to hold onto one of my wife’s legs, as she coached my wife through the process.  I was somewhat surprised by my active role in the birth, but happily so.  It was not until our daughter was very close to her debut, that the doctor was called in to finish things up.

At one point, our fantastic nurse mentioned that our baby girl had quite a head of hair.  I asked her if I could take a look, and gazed upon my daughter for the first time.  Although at this point I could only see the top of her tiny head, it was an incredible moment which will stay with me for the rest of my days.

Before very long, our daughter made her long anticipated arrival, and to put it mildly, my wife and I were overjoyed to have her.  Hadley Isobel Jane McKay brought us unspeakable joy on the day that she was born.  She continues to do so on a daily basis.

Prior to the birth, I had not planned on cutting the umbilical cord.  I figured medical procedures were best left to, you know, people with medical degrees.  However, once it actually came time to do so, I had changed my mind, and took part in this fatherly experience.

At some point after Hadley’s birth, I paused for a moment at the door of the quiet room where we had said goodbye to our son 51 weeks prior (we were only a room or two away from where we had had Jacob).  When we lost our son, people told us that we would be back in the hospital before we knew it, welcoming another child into our family.  I guess they were right.  We had come full circle.

We moved to another part of the hospital for the recovery, fortunate again to have a private room.

The night following Hadley’s birth, we were able to take her home.  We brought her inside, much to the interest of her curious feline sister, Winnie.

Both sets of grandparents spent the night at home with us as well.  In the days that would follow, my Mother-in-Law stayed with us, and helped us get acclimated to having a child to care for.

On the Tuesday after her birth, we took Hadley to her first check-up with our family doctor.  She looked Hadley over, and she was happy with how she looked, was behaving and so on.  Hadley had developed some jaundice, so our doctor told us to come back in a couple of days to have that looked at.

We continued to get used to caring for a child, and of course, our love for her just increased with each passing moment.

As per our doctor’s wishes, we returned for a follow-up a couple of days after our first appointment.  Our doctor observed that the jaundice had progressed to Hadley’s feet, which had not been the case on our prior visit.  She advised us that we should go to the emergency room to have her checked out.  Our doctor suggested that this was not abnormal, and that they might put Hadley under the lights for a bit, in order to alleviate the jaundice.

At this point, there was no sense of urgency, rather, just the suggestion that we take Hadley to be examined further.  We actually discussed going home first to grab the stroller, since we anticipated we might be waiting in the ER for awhile.  Thankfully, we decided to proceed directly to the hospital.

We arrived at the ER and waited for a relatively short period of time, before being admitted.  We were brought into the ER, and Hadley was examined, and had some blood taken.  At this time, everything was still calm, and we were unconcerned.  This would soon change, and our lives would once again be turned entirely upside down.

Suddenly, our room was a whirling storm of activity, with all sorts of medical personnel rushing in to attend to our daughter.  She was whisked away to be put under the lights immediately, with us left to wonder what the hell was happening.

We were informed that her bilirubin levels were exceptionally high, and that our daughter was in substantial danger at this point.  After our experiences which would follow, I soon hoped to never hear the word bilirubin again.

Of course, as it would be for any parents, this was extremely frightening, but given the fact that we had lost a child 363 days prior, it was perhaps even more so for us.

Shortly thereafter, our daughter was brought up to the Paediatric Critical Care Unit where we would end up staying for days.

We spoke to the doctor who gave us the treatment options.  He advised us that he would like Hadley to undergo a blood transfusion, and we agreed with this being the best course of action.

In my mind, I had imagined this process would happen mechanically, but in fact, it was two doctors who manually transferred blood into and out of our daughter’s tiny body.  In the end, Hadley received a double-volume blood transfusion at the tender age of six-days-old.

At some point in this whirlwind ride of a day, we were told by a doctor in passing, that “she’s OK, and she’s going to be OK,” which made us feel much better.  Our little girl spent the night under the lights.  The only contact we were really able to have with her was through the openings in the incubator to hold her tiny hands.

The following day, Hadley was sent to get an MRI, as high-levels of bilirubin can negatively impact upon the brain.  The scan revealed that there was in fact cause for concern for our daughter’s health.  Agonizingly, we would have to wait until the following day to meet with the neurologist, in order to receive the results.

The concern was that Hadley could have something known as kernicterus, which leads to cerebral palsy.  This was of course devastating news for us, and led to a very restless night waiting for our meeting.  We were given a room to sleep in not very far from where Hadley was staying.  We knew that she was in very good hands with our exceptional nurse, and the rest of the medical staff, but we still checked in on her throughout the night.

Before drifting off to sleep for the night, we had some very difficult conversations about what our life might be like should Hadley need some special care.

This all transpired on Jacob’s first birthday.  As our beautiful newborn baby fought for her health, and we agonized over her condition, we also had to deal with the emotions of having lost our boy exactly one year prior.

The following day, we met with the neurologist after what seemed like an eternity.  He told us that he did not think that the scan was conclusive in showing the worst case scenario.  He said he would like to do another scan.  Basically, there were two outcomes from where Hadley stood at the time: 1) she had kernicterus, and would develop cerebral palsy, or 2) she would be 100% healthy.  There was no middle ground.

Throughout our stay in the P.C.C.U, Hadley’s bilirubin levels were continually monitored, and in general, they continued to go down in the direction towards a normal level, which was encouraging.

On our second night in the P.C.C.U., we did not have another room to sleep in, as priority for those rooms is given to families from out of town, which makes sense.  That was OK anyway, as we were quite happy to spend the night in the room with our little girl.

The P.C.C.U services a number of communities in Ontario, not just London and surrounding areas.  On one night, a patient arrived via air ambulance.  Unfortunately, it is an extremely busy facility.  Fortunately, we were lucky to have such amazing medical care for our daughter.

I believe it was on our third night, that we were moved out of critical care, and sent to the regular paediatric wing of the hospital.  Our daughter continued to have her levels monitored on a regular basis.  In addition, she was regularly tested with different neurological tests, reflex type activities, and so on.  Thankfully, she was passing those with flying colours.

By the end of our stay, I could’ve administered those tests on my own, no medical degree necessary.

During our stay, we were in a semi-private room with another family.  They had been in the hospital for six months, ever since the birth of their son.  Once again, our own situation allowed us to really appreciate what families are going through on a daily basis throughout Ontario and around the world.  It’s pretty tough for a lot of people.

Our stay in the Children’s Hospital was first-rate, with tremendous nursing and care for our daughter.

In addition to the world-class treatment for our daughter, there was a Ronald McDonald sponsored area on the floor where snacks were available, as well as sleeping quarters for parents of patients.  Not a place where you ever want to end up with your child, but if you do have to be in a hospital under such circumstances, there is no better place.

I told my wife to take the Ronald McDonald accommodations in the hopes that she could get some rest.  I would of course have to text her from down the hall in order to come feed our little girl as necessary.  As a father who was new to changing the diapers of a screaming child at 3 am, I was thankful to have the tremendous nursing staff on hand, who took pity, and stepped in to help.  As an exhausted and stressed parent, this was invaluable.  Thanks again to those wonderful ladies.

In addition to the great medical care, there was, for lack of a better term, entertainment available.  On one or two days of our stay, a music therapist came to visit our roommate and sang some incredible songs which we were also able to enjoy.

Over the course of our stay, I had returned home occasionally to check in on our cat and pick up some clean clothes.  My wife also came home once or twice, as we needed to shower and so on.  Other than that, we were in the hospital the entire time, for a week or so.  While this was happening, I was unfortunately also required to plan lessons and whatnot for school.  Fortunately, my supply teacher at the time took on much of this burden, which she was not required to do, but I was exceptionally thankful for.

Over the course of our stay at the hospital, I continued to be amazed by the care we received.  Once patients are moved from the P.C.C.U they are assigned a P.C.C.U nurse who follows their recovery.  I can recall that during the visit from our nurse, we ended up chatting about our prior experience with Jacob.  She became emotional upon hearing our story, and said that unfortunately, in her experience, a lot of couples are broken up by such events.  She was happy that that had not been the case for us.

There is a chapel at the hospital, and my wife and I stopped in on one occasion on our way to the cafeteria.  For me, it was just an escape from the craziness of the prior week of our life.  I enjoyed the peace and calm that it afforded.

I did not ask God to help my daughter in this situation.  I did however, ask her big brother Jacob, to take care of his little sister.

Eventually, Hadley’s bilirubin level returned to normal, and with the doctors being happy with how she was progressing, we were cleared to go home again with our little girl.  The doctors were fairly confident that she was going to be OK.  But, they did want a follow-up scan in a few months to be certain.  In addition, we would have to wait to see if Hadley was meeting the various development milestones that are expected of newborn children.

Thankfully, Hadley continued to develop normally, and eventually, the time for the scan came.  After waiting for the results, we could finally be fully confident that our daughter was OK.  I already knew in my heart, from my own observations of my daughter, that this was the case, but it was of course great to hear the medical confirmation.

A short time after Hadley’s release from the hospital, we took her to our special spot in order to honour Jacob’s birthday, since we had been unable to commemorate it as intended while in the hospital.  During this occasion, I made sure to thank him for taking care of his baby sister.

Now, when I run marathons, I run with three names on my hand, my son Jacob, my daughter Hadley, and my wife Haylie.

Recently, I completed my fourth marathon, the Road2Hope marathon in Hamilton.  Afterwards, my family and I went for a walk to a local park.  My wife snapped this picture of Hadley and I, which is one of my favourites.

I’m beyond thrilled to report that Hadley is now 16 months old, and is a perfectly happy and healthy little girl.  She brings so much joy, pride, laughter, and love into the lives of my wife and I on a daily basis.  She is an absolutely amazing little girl.

I am extremely thankful for the tremendous care that my daughter received.  I am indebted for life to our family doctor, and to the heroic actions of the doctors and nursing staff at the hospital.

In honour of my two children, the patients and families that receive first class treatment and care in our outstanding medical facilities, and the great staff that provides that care, I am running the Canadian 24 Hour Championships, a 24 hour ultramarathon, in September.

I am attempting to raise $24 000 for the Children’s Health Foundation, which not only oversees the services that Hadley received at the Children’s Hospital, but also supports research initiatives for children through the Children’s Health Research Institute, and provides support through the Thames Valley Children’s Centre to children and young adults with a variety of special needs.

I am asking you to support the Children’s Health Foundation by donating $5 (donations of any denomination are truly appreciated) and sharing my fundraising page with 5 people.  These small gestures can make a huge difference in the lives of children.

All funds go directly to the Children’s Health Foundation.

I am also seeking corporate donations.  If you know of any available partnerships, please email me at neilgordonmckay@gmail.com.

Thanks again for reading my story and contributing to a worthy cause.

Please follow the link to my personal fundraising page.

Let’s work together to make a difference in the lives of children.

The Lament of the Injured Runner?

Well, that doesn’t feel good.  I’ll just push through and hope it corrects itself.  How many of us have made similar utterances?  I know I have.

I’m 39 years old.  On my 34th birthday I ran my first half-marathon in Stockholm.  Since that point, I’ve added seven more of those, a couple of 30 k races, four 10 ks, three 15 ks, four marathons, and a triathlon for good measure.  Up until 3 weeks ago, I was “healthy.”

Oh sure, there were aches and pains.  I missed a week or so once with a calf that didn’t feel right.  Blisters, some discomfort in my hips, and so on.  But, up until now, nothing that has put me on the sidelines for an extended period.

A few weeks back, I was about a kilometre and a half into a planned 12 k run when I felt a sharp pain below my kneecap.  “Hmm, that doesn’t feel right” I thought.  My first instinct was to perhaps call it a day, but that is not the runner’s way.  I have often had an ache or pain along the way during my runs, and usually, it subsides shortly thereafter.  However, this felt different.  Having said that, I carried on, the pain did not, and I finished my run that day without any problems or concerns.

The next day I went about my business as usual, but, the following two days, I found there was pain when going up and down stairs.

I decided this called for some ice and rest.  I did so, and it felt better.  A week after the initial pain, I set out for what I refer to as a “j.a.r,” or “just a run.”  This is a rare occurrence which is free of time or distance goals.  I don’t run these frequently, but thought it was wise to take it slow.

My original plan called for an 18 km run, but my revised plan, given my new reality, was for between 3 metres and 18 km, depending on how the knee responded.  If it hurt right away, I would stop, in the hopes of not causing any further damage.  In the event that it felt good, I would enjoy the day, and go for the desired distance.

I started my run, and shortly thereafter, a dull pain kicked in slightly before my knee quickly flipped me the bird and said “hey dummy, something’s not right here.”  A short two minutes after my run began, I was walking back towards my home.

I was not a happy man.

This was extremely disheartening, and to be quite honest, I was rather bummed out.

In the days afterward, there was no pain, even on the stairs.  I could be up and down on my knees, and playing with my amazing 1 year-old daughter Hadley, without any discomfort.  The disappointment could not hold on in the face of the happiness that is playing with my daughter.

I planned to visit the doctor that week after giving it a few more days rest, and one more attempt at a short run.

I headed out four or five days later and things started off better.  No pain was present at first, however, four minutes or so into my run, the pain began.  By the 5th minute, I was reduced to a reluctant hobble.

I headed to the doctor the next day and was referred to a physiotherapist.

It was frustrating to be missing out on many mild days and ice-free running conditions which are often not present in south-western Ontario during February.  However, my mood remained good.  Although I am registered for some smaller races, my goal race will not happen until September or October (still deciding on which one), so I was pretty confident that those would not be in jeopardy.

My fingers are crossed that I’ll be back in business by March, which would allow me to prepare sufficiently for a registered half at the end of April.

Well, the physio appointment occurred and went very well.  I was asked about my stretching routine, which went something like this:

Physio:  “So, do you stretch?”

Me: “I’m not really what you’d call a stretcher (This is an understatement.  I do not stretch before, during, or after runs….ever).”

Physio:  “You are now.”

She was also quite impressed that I had lasted this long without sustaining an injury.

As a (slightly) sub-four hour marathoner, I always liked to think that the first km or two were a good warm-up, and that stretching was not really necessary.  Besides, who has time for that stuff?  Let’s get out the door, get the run in, and get back to being a father and a husband (and maybe plan some lessons for that whole teaching thing).

Anyway, turns out I have some issues with the IT band and my patellar tendon in the right leg.  Encouragingly, it does not seem to be anything that will keep me out of action for too long.

I’ll be honest, it was tough on that first trial day.  It’s been tough watching the nice days roll by as I can’t get out for my runs every week.  And, I noticed in the first week or so that the stress of work and life definitely was building up without the release that is running.  This was a bit hard to reconcile, as I pride myself upon not feeling stress in general.

However, I’m still able to be pain free otherwise.  I can still run around and chase my daughter through our halls and up and down stairs.  In the end, if I could never run a race again, I could do far worse than being able to chase the love of my life around as she smiles and giggles away.

There may not be much better than being a runner, but being a father is certainly one of those things.

I’m pretty confident, that before long, I’ll be able to do both again.

In the meantime, I’ll do my rehabilitation exercises, hope the knee comes around, and enjoy the extra hours per week that I get to spend with my daughter.

Are you a runner who’s been injured?  How’d you cope?  Leave a comment below as I’d love to hear your thoughts on injuries.

Thanks runners!

 

Advice for New Dads

dad and daughter on the beach

Congratulations Dad to be!  You’re expecting the arrival of your child.  Now what?

Well, here is a little bit of information about pregnancy, the birth, and returning home from the hospital, from a male perspective.

This is of course based on my own experience.  As such, I’m going to refer to my wife throughout, but you can of course substitute the correct term based on your situation.

Step 1: She’s pregnant!

Hopefully, this is a source of joy.  It was for me, as we had planned to start a family.  If you, like me, were planning for the pregnancy, then it’s time to celebrate.  Congratulations!

If your situation is more complicated than mine was, that’s OK too.  Trust me, when you see that little one of your’s come out, nothing else will matter.  There is nothing better in the world.  Be a man, and be part of your child’s life.

Step 2: Preparing for the arrival

Do whatever she wants you to.  Seriously.  She is going to be growing a human inside of her body for around 40 weeks!  This new human will become the most important being in your world. Ever.

So, having said that, help out as much as you can.

You’ll of course need to prepare for the arrival of your child by buying all of the necessary items.  This can get really expensive.

You’ll likely have plenty of people around who are willing to offer advice, and likely give you things such as furniture, clothing, and so on.  Take it all.

There are of course also a number of books which can help you out through the process such as What to Expect When You’re Expecting and many others.

Your wife will probably have a shower thrown for her, which is also really helpful in gathering some useful items.

You should also have a Beer and Diaper Party.  Invite your friends over, have them bring beer, and diapers.  Drink the beer with them, keep the diapers for your child.  A big help.

Step 3: Holy crap, it’s time!

Midnight, your wife wakes you up, and says “I think my water just broke.”  This is not a time to suggest going back to bed for a bit (um, a “friend” of mine did that…).  However, if that happens, you do have some time.  My wife called the hospital and they said to have a shower and come on in.

Once we arrived at the hospital, we saw the admissions nurse who checked to see how far my wife was dilated.  Now fellas, be prepared, this is the first time, of quite a few, that somebody will be “up in your wife’s business” so to speak, so be ready for that, and don’t sweat it.  Having said that, if the janitor comes in for a look, that’s probably inappropriate.

We were told to take a little walk, and then to come back for another check.  During our walk, we made our families aware of the situation, as they live outside of town, and would need to make arrangements to come on down.

Once we returned, it was go time!  The nurse told us that we’d be having a baby that day!

Before I move on to the actual delivery room process, I’d like to pause to compliment the staff at London Health Sciences Centre – Victoria Hospital, because they are awesome!

OK, on to the arrival.

Step 4:  The waiting game

There will be some waiting around for things to get going.  Just enjoy that time with your wife and have fun.

You’ll have a nurse in the room with you for the majority of the time.  They will monitor vitals and whatnot throughout the process.

Now, you should probably have some discussion prior to this point about what your role in the birth will be.  I remember thinking beforehand that I would be there to hold a hand and offer comfort and encouragement.  I planned on staying up top so to speak, while letting the medical professionals handle everything below.

Your wife will of course also want to decide what she’s planning in regard to having an epidural or not.  If it was me, I know I’d be getting one!  Once again, I think that’s a decision for your wife to make, and you can add your two cents while being supportive.

My wife was open to the epidural, and in the end, she decided to get it.

From my wife’s experience, and that of some friends, I’ve heard nothing but good things.  They found that they were able to relax, be more comfortable, and enjoy the entire process.

Step 5: It’s go time

OK, so things are progressing.  In our experience, the nurse did a lot of the work leading up to the delivery.  Unexpectedly, she told me to grab a leg.  So, my visions of being up at my wife’s head did not come to be, and I’m thankful for that.  It was much cooler to be a bigger part of the process.  And, if you think of it, given the position your wife will be in while delivering, your going to be near the action regardless.

At one point, the nurse commented that our baby had “quite a head of hair,” so I went for a look.  Pretty cool to be able to see your child on their way out.

For my wife, the most difficult part actually was having to hold her breath and push all of that air out during the process.

The nurse will wait until the baby is pretty much ready to come out before calling in the doctors for the actual delivery.

For us, we had a med student with the regular doctor looking over her shoulder.

Before you know it, bam, there’s your baby.  It will be an awesome moment, so take it all in.

They will ask you if you want to cut the cord.  Prior to the delivery, I did not want to.  I figured medical procedures were best left to people with medical degrees.  However, during the birth I had decided that I wanted to cut the cord, so it took no convincing to get me to do it.  I have heard from some friends that some doctors can be really persistent about having you cut it, so be prepared for some pressure.  If you do decide to cut it, it is quite rubbery and does take a little bit of force to get through.

I know that some guys can be squeamish about blood and whatever other fluids are present during the delivery.  This stuff doesn’t really bother me, but having said that, I don’t think it’s that big a deal for most guys.  You’ll be more caught up in the excitement of meeting your child anyway.  Our little girl came out looking like a cheesecake, coated in a substance called vernix.

Step 6:  After the birth

Kiss your wife, kiss your baby.  Congratulations, you’re parents!

They’ll clean up your baby, weigh and measure them.  You’ll both get to hold your baby and enjoy some time as a family.

In our case, we stayed in the delivery room for a while before being moved into the recovery area overnight.  We were fortunate to have a private room, which was nice.

At this point, the nurse will show you anything you’re interested in about caring for your child.  For example, swaddling, nursing, bathing, etc.  The bathing experience was an eye-opener for sure.  It’s your child, and to you, they are this delicate, perfect little being.  The nurses being quite experienced, know how to move the babies around quickly and efficiently to get the job done.  Having said that, the bathing experience was a little crazy for us as it was done so fast.

Soon enough, you’ll be on your way home.  You’ll of course need to have the carseat all ready to go before you are allowed to leave the hospital.  A nurse will make sure you’ve got the little one secured properly.

Make sure that you plan for how your arrival to your home will go.  I know some people who have come home to unexpectedly have a bunch of visitors, which you probably won’t want.

Make arrangements with the people you want to be there.  In our case, we just had our parents come to the house afterwards.

I would recommend keeping things quiet in terms of announcing the birth until after you’ve had a bit of a chance to settle in.  Most people who have gone through the experience themselves will be understanding.

We were fortunate that my Mother-in-Law was able to stay with us for about half a week during the adjustment to full-fledged parenthood.  If you have a good relationship, this is really helpful when you’re just trying to wrap your head around everything.

Step 7: So you’re a Dad, now what?

Well, now it’s time to start getting used to that life.  You’ll spend the first while tracking how many times your little one is pooping and peeing to make sure all those systems are working correctly.

We had our baby sleep in a bassinet in the room which worked for us.  She slept pretty well in there, but occasionally, needed some alternatives.

Our daughter had a little reclined chair that we could set to vibrate.  When she got fussy during the night, my wife or myself would walk around the room with her, and then put her in that chair.  I spent more than a couple of nights sleeping on the floor beside her to replace her soother as it fell out.  It maybe wasn’t the most comfortable, but it helped her sleep, and was a bit of daddy-daughter bonding time.  It also afforded my wife the opportunity to get some better sleep.  It’s fair to say that she earned it.

There is some debate about letting your child sleep in your bed at this point.  We found our daughter would sleep in a bit longer if we put her in the bed with us in the morning.  Of course, you have to be aware not to roll over on them.  In our experience, this worked out well.  Our daughter is currently 10 months old, and is a great sleeper in her own room, so no negative impact in our case.

In a few days time you’ll take your child in for their first doctor’s appointment and go from there.

So that about sums it up.  Try to relax and enjoy the process.  When you stop and think about it, it really is remarkable, and in the end, you get to meet the love of your life.  How cool is that?

I’ll write more in a future post about life as a Dad during your child’s first year.  It’s awesome!

How To Help Your Child Succeed

As a teacher, I spend a lot of time with children.  I’ve taught extensively in Canada, and for a little bit in Sweden.  One of the great things about being a teacher, is that, not only do I get to teach children, I also learn a lot from them.

Sometimes, during some quiet work time, I will find myself looking out over the sea of young faces before me and find myself wondering about their futures.  What kind of people will they grow up to be?  What jobs and careers will they have?

A large part of my job is of course to teach kids particular subject matter, but I think it is far more important for them to become quality people, who possess the characteristics needed to have a happy life.  While I of course, try to incorporate these character traits into my lessons, there is a much greater influence upon the future success of your child than our education system.  If you are reading this article, you probably already know what that influence is.  You.

The following are based on my observations over the course of the last 13 years as a teacher.  I believe these tips will help to set your child on the right course toward being successful.

person mountain goals

Let Them Fail

In our society, all too often now, kids are not able to fail.  In our education system, students are far too often pushed along through the system, without really having demonstrated the necessary skills and knowledge to do so.  We see sports leagues now where the score is not kept, even though, let’s be honest, everyone knows the score.

Through failure, we learn resiliency.  Without ever having the opportunity to fail, how can kids learn to deal with adversity?  How will they learn, that failure makes you better?  I’ve failed many times in my life, and each time, I’ve learned valuable lessons from these failures.  Lessons that have allowed me to become better.  I see this quality in my most successful students.

I once stumbled across this quote by former NFL quarterback Brett Favre, which I think really speaks to learning through failure:

If I were to make a list, I would include the interceptions, the sacks, the really painful losses. Those times when I’ve been down, when I’ve been kicked around, I hold on to those. In a way those are the best times I’ve ever had, because that’s when I’ve found out who I am.  And what I want to be.

The kids that I see who are successful, academically, and socially, are the kids that can bounce back from a disappointment, and move on.  Teach your kids how to do this, and they will be more successful.

By failing, we learn.  As a teacher, I always encourage students to show their thinking.  It is OK to share a wrong answer (and yes, there are wrong answers), because that answer shows that that student is thinking, rather than sitting there, and being passive, or a non-participant in the learning environment.

So how do you let your child fail?  Well, I think it comes down to not doing everything for them.  Now, are you going to protect them from injury and dangerous situations?  Of course you are.  However, it’s OK for your child to fall.  You’ll be there to pick them up…just don’t do it too quickly.

Teach Them to Be Accountable

Some of the most successful students I see, are those who are able to admit when they’ve made a mistake, or when they’ve not acted responsibly.

In the end, these are the kids who are able to get back on track quickly, instead of obsessing about an error they’ve made.

Kids are actually generally pretty good at accepting the fact that they’ve messed up.  Often times, it is parents who have difficulty with the concept.  Here is some breaking news, your child may not act the same way at school as they do when they are around you.

Here’s the thing, as teachers, we don’t make up things about your child.  I will tell you what I see.  Let’s say for example, that a boy makes an inappropriate gesture towards a female student.  This is something that a parent should be made aware of.  In such situations, there are two types of parents.  The parent who acknowledges that their son did something wrong, works towards a solution, and helps to educate their son to ensure they don’t make a similar mistake in the future.  On the other hand, there is the parent who refuses to believe that their son would ever do such a thing.  In other words, what they are saying, is that their child’s teacher is a liar.  The student knows the truth.  The teacher knows the truth.  The parent refuses to see the truth.  Which parent do you want to be?  I want to be the one who is teaching their child that you are accountable for what you do.

Help Your Kids Be at Their Best

Nutrition:

Give your kids the tools they need to be successful.  Kids are taught from the earliest of grades about the importance of healthy eating.  So, we have our healthy eating lessons, the kids know what foods are good and what foods are bad.  They go to their lunch pail and they open it up to find a bag of Doritos or the eight Oreo cookies that Mom or Dad have packed.  What message are you sending them?

I know that there are school boards, schools, and teachers who police lunches and snacks at schools.  I’m not one of those who do.  I teach kids what they need to know, I’ll encourage them to make a good choice when it comes to their snacks, but in the end, you, as a parent, hold the power to allow them to be able to make a good choice.

Kids love to have a treat in their lunch, and there is nothing wrong with that in moderation.  However, I will tell you from my experience, that the first thing most kids pull out for a snack at 10:15 in the morning is the worst thing in their lunches.  So, if you’re packing treats, be sure and have a discussion with them about when they should be eating it.

Rest:

This should be pretty self-explanatory, but if your kid comes to school exhausted because you let them stay up playing GTA 5, had them watching The Walking Dead with you (for the record, don’t let your kids do those things either), or for whatever other reason, how do you expect them to function successfully academically and socially the next day?

Allow your kids to have the rest that they need, in order to have the energy to learn and play the next day.

Supplies:

Would you send your child to baseball practice without their glove or to hockey without their skates?  Let’s talk a little bit about equipping your kids with the appropriate materials to be successful.

I’m going to supply your child with what they need from my meagre classroom budget and from my own pocket (yes, this is true, teachers do this all the time).  However, if you are able to, send them along with some essentials.  I would suggest the following, if you are in a position financially to be able to do so:

  • pencils (the standard HB pencil with an eraser), stay away from the mechanical variety unless you want to have your kid attempting to spend 20 minutes a day messing around with lead refills or bugging their buddy for some
  • a ruler
  • pencil crayons (I find them to be more versatile and longer lasting than markers, and use them far more in my class)
  • lined paper
  • shoes for gym class
  • a pencil sharpener (please, not electric)

That’s about it.  Don’t spend a whole lot of money sending your kid back to school, but send them with enough be able to get the job done.

Also, check-in with them throughout the year.  The back to school supplies probably won’t last the entire year.

Be Involved

Hopefully, you’re already taking an active role in your child’s life.  If you’re not, start.  Get off your phone, get them off their phone, and spend time together.

You should also try to take an active role in your school community.  All too often, parental involvement at schools falls to a relatively small group of (awesome) parents.  They’re the ones who volunteer to help with pizza days, field trips, and after school activities.  Now, the reality is, not all parents have the freedom in their schedules to get involved in those ways, but luckily, if you fall into that category, you can help in other ways:

  • Get involved in advocating for what you see as being valuable in the curriculum.  What do you want your child to be taught in school?  In Ontario, we had a tonne of debate about the new Growth and Development (“Sex Ed.”) curriculum.  It was awesome to see parents get involved and voice their opinions to the government about these changes.  It would also be nice to see those voices speak out about math, language, the arts, and so on.
  • Advocate for more funding in the education system.  I receive $200 per year to purchase materials for my classroom.  Let’s take a modestly sized class of 25 students.  That’s $8 per child, for the entire year.  Enough said.
  • Contact your child’s teacher.  I will contact you if there is an issue related to your child at school.  Hopefully, I’ll also have the chance to contact you about what a great job your child is doing.  However, reach out.  Take an active role in this communication.  Go to parent/teacher interviews, discuss your child’s progress.  Be active!

Be a Role Model

Your kids will learn how to behave through you.  Show them how to do it.  If you are consistently being negative around them, complaining about everything, treating people poorly, not displaying manners, guess what?  You’ll likely see that reflected in your child.  Those behaviours will lead to poor academic results, and bad social relationships.  Be a positive influence on your child, not a negative one.

You’re the adult, act like one should.

Let Them Be Kids

At the start of every year, I’ll have parents asking me about how much homework their child is going to have.  My answer usually goes something like this: “I don’t really assign homework, if they work hard at school, and get their work done, then I’m happy.  They need time to play, be kids, and spend quality time with you at night.”

I truly believe that.  Show kids that if they work hard, they are rewarded.  Let them have fun when they get home, if of course, they’ve earned that.  If they haven’t, well, go back and read the section about holding them accountable.

In the End

It is really up to you to set your child up to be successful in school and in life.  Teach them how to function and interact appropriately with others.  Give them the tools to be successful.  Let them fail, and encourage them to learn from their mistakes.  In the end, you will be rewarded with someone who perseveres, is prepared, and is ready to learn and persist through challenges.  Along the way, maybe you’ll learn something too.