Anger Management Strategy from a 6-Year-Old

Like all parents, I was eating breakfast with my young children and quizzing them in the subject of mathematics.

There was one particularly difficult question that my 5-year-old son was struggling with. My 6-year-old jumped in and gave an answer. My son got angry. He stormed out of the room and started screaming and throwing things.

My daughter said, “Sam, you need to roll that anger into a ball and throw it out the window.”

I asked her where she learned that good strategy. She said her teacher.

I applaud those who have an awareness of their feelings and use calming techniques before they lose their cool. And I especially applaud the primary teachers who teach children these strategies.

Lego and Change

My 5-year-old son loves building with Lego, and for a 5-year-old, he’s pretty good at it. Sometimes, I’ll be staring at the instructions and he’ll already have the right piece in the right place. His mind sees how little pieces come together to make something whole.

My son recently had a birthday party, and of course, he got some new Lego.

“Dad, can you help me build this?”

“Let’s eat the birthday cake first.”

“Okay. Then can we build it?”

“Sure.”

We scatter all the pieces into an open container, open the instruction booklet, and start building. He’s very focused, but like most kids, his attention span is not very long. Sometimes, I look up and he’s no longer there. Other times, he’ll ask me to complete the creation.

The last time it was a dinosaur. Unlike my son, I don’t love building with Lego. Sometimes it’s painful locating a particular piece and figuring out where it goes. Anyway, after a little hard work I completed the dinosaur.

“Check it out, buddy.”

“Good job, Dad. Now let’s take it apart and build a different dinosaur!”

“But it took me so long to build this one! Let’s just keep it for a while.”

“No, Dad. Let’s take it apart and build something else.”

It’s then when I realize it’s not about the creation. It’s about the creating. It’s not about admiring the creation. It’s about taking it apart and creating something better. It’s not about constancy, but fluidity. It’s about building something with the pieces we are given and once it’s built, using the pieces again to build something even better. It’s about improvement. It’s about growth. And it’s about spending time with my son.

Losing Teeth and Change

My 6-year-old daughter was eating mint chip ice cream when she bit something hard.

My daughter had lost her first tooth.

It was an important milestone, but she was sad.

I asked, “Earlier you said that you didn’t want to lose your wiggly tooth because you were worried about how it might look.”

She said, “It’s not that, dad. I just don’t like change.”

Interesting, coming from a six-year-old. It reminded me of something my colleague said recently to students transitioning from high school to college, and I had my daughter repeat it.

With change comes opportunity.

Losing a tooth that you’ve had for most of your life is hard. It may hurt a little. It may bleed a little. You look into a mirror and things have changed. You may be sad. You may be scared. The gap is wide. The hole is deep. The wound is tender. But you’ve made way for something bigger, something better, something stronger. And when you realize it, you smile a little differently.

Reflecting on Insights from a Pure Mathematician

It is ironic that after years of studying graduate-level mathematics, it was a piece of literature I read during my studies that had the most profound influence on me. Mind you, it was written by a mathematician, but that doesn’t matter.

G. H. Hardy was arguably one of the greatest pure mathematicians of all time. He is portrayed by Jeremy Irons in The Man Who Knew Infinity, a movie that depicts his relationship with the mathematical genius Ramanujan from India.

Hardy’s A Mathematician’s Apology was published in 1940. His poetic and philosophical prose draws me in. In Apology, Hardy poses two questions that lead to the justification of his chosen profession:

A man who sets out to justify his existence and his activities has to distinguish two different questions. The first is whether the work which he does is worth doing; and the second is why he does it, whatever its value may be.

Hardy reflects on his life as a mathematician and concludes one, his work is valuable and two, he is good at it. Hey, if he had been a better cricket player, he may have chosen to be a professional cricketer.

And when others question my work, I reflect on Hardy’s morsels. I have no doubt of the answer to the first question, and I’m pretty sure I suck at baseball.

A Real Hero

My young daughter has been fascinated with Terry Fox ever since she learned about him in junior kindergarten.

I used to read Terry Fox: A Story of Hope to her at bedtime, and every time I’d be crying by the final page. My daughter was drawn to the story and pictures, especially the Terry Fox statues depicted in the book.

Last week our family travelled to Ottawa and across from the Parliament Buildings stood a statue of Terry Fox. It was a special moment for my daughter and me. She got to stand beside her hero Terry Fox, and being next to her, I got to stand beside one of mine.

In a world where people look up to those like Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber, I’m proud that my daughter looks up to a young Canadian who embodied hope and courage: Terry Fox—a real hero.

Using “F” Words to Build Rapport with People from Other Countries

Over the years in my work, I’ve had many opportunities to work with people from other countries. It can be challenging connecting with someone from a different culture. However, it can be an amazing experience if we are open to learning and willing to build relationships.

I’ve discovered that having a genuine interest in an individual is one of the best ways to build a relationship. And when it comes to building rapport with people from other countries, I use three “F” words to stimulate conversations: food, family, and future. These conversation topics are helpful in bridging cultural divides and making positive connections.

Food. Who doesn’t like food? It doesn’t matter where you’re from, you eat. You may not like eating bland food as much as I do, but I’m sure you have a favourite dish. What is it? How do you make it? Describe it. I’m getting hungry.

Family. Most people can talk about their family. It might be a special bond with a sibling or a loving relationship with a parent. Sometimes you don’t get along with family members, but you still love them. If you ask questions about someone’s family and actively listen to the responses, you show that you care.

Future. Questions about the future are very relevant to students in college, the population I work with. But I see this conversation topic working with anyone from another country. Everyone has hopes and dreams. Why not tap into this core human quality and connect with someone?

I guess “F” words aren’t all bad. Food, family, and future: topics that help build relationships and help us realize we are more similar than different.

 

On Celebrations

What comes to mind when I think of convocation ceremonies? Happiness, excitement, accomplishment, inspiration, celebration, and optimism.

convocation program
Cover of Convocation Program.
Photo by M. Fleming.

Last month I had the opportunity to attend a convocation ceremony at the University of Waterloo. It was a great experience, and I’m glad I took part in the celebration.

The positivity in the air was apparent. Graduates were elated, family and friends were supportive, and speakers were inspiring.

The valedictorian, a composed, articulate young woman at the top of her class, spoke of hopes and dreams. One recipient of an honorary degree spoke of determination and leadership. The other spoke of the need to speak out against xenophobia. The speeches were inspiring and thought-provoking.

As I listened to speeches and then watched people walk across the stage, I remained attune to the celebratory atmosphere. And I thought, why can’t we share this amazing sensation more often? Wouldn’t it be great if this feeling was long-lasting? Why can’t we celebrate every day?

I remember reading a line from a spiritual book I once read: We are what we celebrate. I hope we continue to celebrate. But I also hope we celebrate more often. Yes, let’s celebrate the summit, but let’s also celebrate the climb.

Prioritizing Accessibility Part 2

Last week I wrote about my goal to make my blog site more accessible and my embarrassment that my goal was an afterthought and not a priority.

I am happy to say (although feelings of guilt remain) that I have taken some steps to improve the accessibility of my posts.

First, I switched to a more accessible font. Although my outdated personal preference is Times New Roman, sans-serif fonts are easier to read. Readability needs to trump personal preference of squiggly lines on letters.

Second, I added alternative text to my images if my captions did not describe all the details of the picture. Alternative text is important because it is read by screen readers making the image more accessible to those with visual or other cognitive challenges.

Third, I utilized WAVE, a web accessibility evaluation tool, to provide feedback on the accessibility of my site. WAVE alerted me to some accessibility issues on my page.

I learned that it would have saved time if I had thought of accessibility at the beginning of my blogging journey (during the design phase) as opposed to considering it after I had written a number of posts. However, with the aforementioned actions, I was able to create a more accessible blog site. And, hey, you never know, maybe with a more accessible blog, my number of readers will increase from one to two.

Prioritizing Accessibility

Here’s a real problem that I’m embarrassed about: I have been blogging for a couple months now, and now my goal is to make my blog site more accessible to all readers.

The problem is not the goal, of course. It’s an admirable goal. The problem is the timing of the goal. Improving accessibility is often an afterthought when it should be a top priority.

Barriers to accessibility are like my kids’ toys lying around the house: they’re annoying, they’re everywhere, and they’re harmful. Stepping on LEGO© hurts!

Awareness of the barriers to accessibility has improved in recent years, but more is needed. Sure, it takes time to break down large-scale societal and systemic barriers. But barriers can be broken. Perhaps it starts with individuals. I hope that individuals start thinking about accessibility issues at the onset of a project. I hope that this forethought becomes the norm. I hope that one day barriers won’t need to be broken because they won’t exist to start with.

Now I shall go about picking up my LEGO© pieces.

I wish I hadn’t put them there in the first place.

On Being a Hero

If you’re lucky, there will be opportunities in your life to be a hero.

I was lucky enough to be given such an opportunity recently.

I wanted to taste the feeling. That is why I was purchasing a Coke© from a vending machine. Beside me, another individual was purchasing a bag of Doritos© from an adjacent vending machine.

doritos
A vending machine with Doritos at the top. Photo by M. Fleming.

My Coke© dispensed easily from the machine. I was excited to open happiness and make it real. My enthusiasm, however, was short-lived, for beside me, tragedy struck. The man’s Doritos© had not dispensed from the machine. The bag had fallen from its initial position and was stuck on a ledge.

The man’s face darkened. Oh, the disappointment and anguish. I felt his agony.

I saw my heroic opportunity and pounced. I tapped the glass. I tapped harder. The man’s face brightened a little. I saw a small sense of hope in his eyes. But the cheesy tortilla chips were still stuck. I tapped the glass harder. I stuck my hand in the bottom of the machine. It read, “push,” so I pushed. I pushed harder and harder. Finally, the Doritos© dislodged.

The man’s face lit up. The audience cheered. And the hero smiled.

Nothing feels more heroic than freeing another person’s Doritos©. So be mindful of the little golden things in life.