Exhausted, Overwhelmed and Drained

I’ve really struggled lately. Well, for quite a while actually.

I’m tired all the time. I find it hard to get through each day. Every part of me aches and it feels like I can’t take another step. Everything is too much.

Now, part of that is physical, since an auto immune liver disease makes me both want to scratch my skin off and leaves me exhausted (in that “hit a brick wall” kind of way).

But I’ve figured something else out. Or, perhaps I should say, I’ve remembered something I previously figured out and somehow forgot along the way.

Funny how old patterns suck me back in when I’m not looking…

It’s not “too much to do” that leaves me feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and drained. It’s the voice in my head that says “I can’t…” that sucks the energy out of every fibre of my being.

I can’t do this.
I can’t make it.
I can’t figure this out.
No one can help.
I’m all alone.


Which all pretty much amounts to some pretty fundamental fears: like “I’m not good enough” or “there’s something wrong with me.”

No amount of “I have to…” or “I will…” helps me. Actually, that makes it worse. Because then I pile shame on top of exhaustion and fear, which just makes me more tired.

Looking for activities that “fill me up” isn’t the solution either. Don’t get me wrong – self care is necessary and always a good thing. Being outside, making art, laughing with my kids, spending time with dear friends and talking about the meaning of life, baking, writing, sinking into a bubble bath, savouring chocolate – these are all important activities that feed my heart and soul. But they don’t come anywhere near filling the void of “I’m not good enough!”

I’ve been here before. I may have slipped back into an old familiar rut, but I also know I’ve found respite from these feelings at times.

Essentially, I’ve only ever found one way out of this hole – sitting quietly and feeling good about myself. Connecting to moments and experiences where I felt successful. “Seeing” myself as capable and strong and worthy. There are many memories for me to draw on – I just have to spend my time thinking about them and feeling them!

I meditate. Some people pray.

I think, perhaps, I’m talking about having faith – whether in myself or in a higher power. Or maybe, as Elizabeth Gilbert talked about in “Eat, Pray, Love” – in a higher power that manifests in me/through me in some unique way. 

So, here I am again!

Fall down seven times, get up eight.

Posted in Live, Love and Learn | 1 Comment

Understanding Ira Socol’s TEST Approach

I’ve been doing much pondering about Ira Socol’s Toolbelt Theory, and in particular, the TEST approach for equipping kids to function successfully in life (and school, of course).

To begin with, what is the TEST approach?


Quoting Ira from https://sites.google.com/site/iradavidsocol/home/toolbelt-theory:

“You need to know what you need to do (the specific task: cut 20 sheets of plywood or cut down a Christmas tree, find a book to buy or find a book to borrow). You need to know where you will be doing this (the specific environment: in a forest, in a workshop, in a town with a university library and four bookstores, in a place with neither). You need to know your own capabilities (your skill set: I am strong enough to cut down a tree with a hand saw, I am experienced enough that I can cut a straight line with a hand-held circular saw, I can walk to the bookstore, I know the Dewey Decimal System). And you need to know what is available to you to help you, and how to use those devices (your toolbelt: My neighbor has a chain saw, I can rent a table saw, a bus will get me to the bookstore, if I go online and reserve that library book it will be waiting for me at the counter).”

I also have the good fortune and privilege to be able to work with a wonderful elementary teacher-librarian who approached me, asking if I would help her think about a scope and sequence for teaching technology tools/skills to Kindergarten through Grade 5 students, in a way that would equip them well for middle and secondary school.

This immediately struck me as a great project to work out the realities of implementing/teaching the TEST approach. So I’m hoping to get feedback and ideas, to add to my own!

What do we teach, and why? And what tools could we make available in “Toolbelts” for students, in classrooms? Does that differ from a perspective of identified special needs students? 

To be able to apply TEST, I started thinking about what kids need. I came up with this list:

  • Self knowledge about how they learn/think, metacognition
  • To know/understand their strengths (natural abilities)
  • Their competencies at any given time (what skills they have learned and practiced)
  • Ability to understand or clarify desired outcomes of a task, what questions to ask (ie if writing isn’t your strength, can I graphically show my learning in science? Or is the teacher also assessing my writing in that assignment?)
  • What tools are available and practice using them.
  • How to assess and apply an understanding of risk (when is it ok to try something new vs there’s no time or it’s too dangerous and I better do something I already know)

From there, I wanted to think about the learning outcomes/competencies we want to build – and then added in some thoughts about what skills/tools we could teach as part of achieving those outcomes. (note: I’m sure this isn’t a complete list, but it’s a start and hopefully enough to show my thinking)

Skills/knowledge/competencies to teach, understand and practice:

  1. Ways to learn, research or find information
    1. Reading
    2. Using a library, books, index, table of contents, online library search tools
    3. Web Resources
      1. YouTube
      2. Search engines, search bubbles, parameters
      3. Wikipedia
    4. QR codes
    5. Ask someone – building a network, how to find people who have done it before
  2. Ways to communicate something and/or show your learning.
    1. Audio
      1. Audio books
      2. Digital recorders
      3. Phone
      4. Voicemail
    2. Visual/Audio-Visual
      1. Videography
      2. Photography
      3. Photo editing
      4. video editing
      5. Animation
      6. Art/drawing
      7. Slide shows
      8. Whiteboard videos (draw and speak)
    3. Text
      1. Writing/blogging/etc…
      2. Speech to text
      3. Word prediction
      4. Spell check
      5. Text to speech
      6. Text messaging
      7. Direct messages (ie through Facebook, Twitter, etc…)
      8. Email
    4. Build Something
      1. Electronics/robotics
      2. Programming
      3. Knowing about different materials, hardness, malleability, etc…
      4. Knowing about glue, nails, screws, and other ways of attaching/affixing something
      5. Stability, construction and engineering concepts
  3. Ways to organize/plan/self manage
    1. Calendars
    2. Brainstorming/mindmaps/webs
    3. Graphic organizers
    4. Lists
    5. Using reminders
    6. Handling frustration, self soothing
    7. How to respectfully question or challenge someone or an idea
    8. When to persist vs when to let go/move on
    9. Self regulation
  4. How to ask for/use feedback, self assessment
    1. Surveys
    2. Rubrics
    3. Knowledge of and understanding/application of models/attributes of self
      1. Introvert vs extroverts
      2. Your creative process
      3. Brain development and maturation process
    4. Embracing failure as part of learning/living
  5. Ways to connect with others, organize, engage
    1. Social media
      1. Discussion/microblogging
      2. Blogging/commenting
      3. Video conferencing
        1. Bring in an expert
        2. Connect classrooms/kid
    2. Clubs/interest groups
      1. In community
      2. On internet
    3. Government/civic engagement
    4. Crowdsourcing (when to put out a question/idea and let others add their thoughts, opinions, feedback)

What do you think? What would you add? Or take away?

I suspect our next step will be to select a focus area – something achievable to start with. Then plan out some specific projects, lessons, software/hardware purchases, etc…

Thanks in advance for you help!!

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

How Do We Connect? Part 3: Sameness

Continuing on in a series exploring “The Six Ways of Attaching” from Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté’s book Hold On To Your Kids:

Sameness – “Me too!”

The child seeks to be like those she feels closest to. She attempts to assume the same form of existence or expression by imitation and emulation.

                                                 Quote from Hold On To Your Kids


At first, this one made sense to me in terms of ACTUALLY being alike – physical “sameness.” Things like dressing the same, liking the same music or TV shows, choosing friends who look similar (same ethnicity, even same hair color). It’s something I’ve particularly noticed in preschoolers, and again in t(w)eens.

I wonder if this is a big part of how fashion or songs/books/movies become trends? Or how a video can go viral on the internet? We all want to feel a part of something, to “fit” or to be like our friends and peers.

It also explains the obsessions many have with celebrities. In a very non-threatening way, we can read about and watch gossip shows about the things going on with the stars. And feel connected to them through their stories. Even though it’s a “false” connection, it’s also safe, since we don’t have to share any of our vulnerabilities or secrets back!

As I thought about it more, I realized this way of connecting plays an important role in how we create our communities, how we market goods/services, how powerful storytelling is, etc… We shift from seeking very concrete ways of being the same (physical, clothing) toward more intellectual or ethical sameness.

Seth Godin’s bestselling book and popular TEDtalk about “Tribes” is all about finding people who are like us, who believe in the same things:


Falling in love often starts with a lot of finding sameness, don’t you think? As I recall, all that 101 questions and finding things to talk about until the wee hours of the morning can be pretty intoxicating.

I believe storytelling connects us when there is something in there that makes us feel “it’s not just me…” And oh my goodness, that feeling is so powerful, isn’t it? As much as I try to be internally motivated, I still find it feels incredibly good (and a huge relief) when I receive external validation of my ideas, thoughts and/or experiences!

I think this kind of intellection, emotional and/or spiritual “sameness” is a more mature variety – since it takes a level of self awareness and willingness to show vulnerability in order to find others who are the same as us these ways. It’s quite interesting to ponder, actually. Young children do this well, and self-actualized adults do this well. In between, I suspect the struggle of puberty and making sense of themselves and the world/society makes it more difficult for teenagers to connect this way. It’s like a combination of Sameness and Being Known (upcoming post, Part 7). Perhaps it’s no surprise that teenagers have such a need for connections via physical proximity and simpler forms of sameness (clothes, music, common language, etc…) – they fill their needs while they figure out who they are and become confident sharing that.

It makes me recognize that kids need us to be their mirrors and show them the things we notice beyond their physical appearance or simple likes/dislike – their personalities, their strengths/weaknesses, what we notice excites or interests them, etc…

I think of the quiet times during bedtime cuddles that my kids have said “Mom, tell me again why you love me?” They want specifics – and slowly, I notice they’re moving from asking and seeking, to seeing it for themselves. The end goal, as far as I’m concerned, is for them to know themselves through self reflection, experience and feedback. Then the connections they make can be richer and deeper, since they’ll be based on their own fundamental truths.

Many schools/teachers are moving towards more inquiry learning, passion based learning, project based learning, etc… with an intention of engaging kids through their own interests, rather than just forcing them to learn what/how we want them too. It’s a great idea and well intentioned – but I’ve noticed middle school and early secondary school students can struggle with knowing who they are and what they’re passionate about. What do you do when kids don’t KNOW themselves yet? 

I believe this offers an opportunity for meaningful parent engagement – to include parents in these dialogues and asking them to add their observations of their kids. If parents know what the learning intentions and project theme is, they can help kids make connections they might not see for themselves yet.

The example I’m thinking of was with my daughter – in Grade 8, they were doing an inquiry project during their religion unit. She struggled to make a connection to something she was interested in. In fact, she had already given up and started working on a very generic topic. One night, as we chatted and she stressed out, I asked her “You know, I’ve noticed you’re fascinated by Greek mythology. Do you think that’s a religion?” Her eyes lit up! And her energy for this project shifted dramatically! Suddenly, she was researching “what is a religion?” and asking amazing questions – like “when I google religion, why are there so many links about people HATING it?” or “which religions have goddesses, not just gods?” or “how has science and an understanding of how the world works changed religion?”

Her learning experience amazed me – she knows more and has thought more about religion than most adults I know! And she probably wouldn’t have made that connection without my perspective and observations of my child (and her passions/interests).

Hmmm… that was a bit of bird walk, but still connected. My point is that kids need help seeing and learning to understand themselves, in order to have the necessary foundation to form deep attachments based on who they are, not who they think they “should” be. We want them to have these meaningful connections based on shared ideas, passion, or values, rather than only staying at the surface and staying in shallow (and therefore more fragile) relationships based on more physical similarities. After all, if you’ve found a circle of friends who really “get” you – then you’ll all have the freedom and support to try different fashions, cut your hair, like different music, etc… and STILL be accepted and loved for yourself! That’s what kids need…

The rest of the series:

  1. How Do We Connect? Part 1: Overview
  2. Part 2: Senses – “Stay in touch!”
  3. Part 3: Sameness – “Me too!” (this post)
  4. Part 4: Belonging and Loyalty – “I pick you!”
  5. Part 5: Significance – “You matter!”
  6. Part 6: Feeling – “I love you!”
  7. Part 7: Being Known – “I love you anyways…”
Posted in Attachment, Kids and School, Parenting | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

How Do We Connect? Part 2: Senses

Continuing on in a series exploring “The Six Ways of Attaching” from Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté’s book Hold On To Your Kids:

Through our Senses – “Stay in touch!”

The first way we connect is also the first connection we experience in our lives – we touch, smell, hear and see each other. Babies even taste their mother’s milk, most often. In other words, through our senses and physical proximity.

Physical proximity is the goal of the first way of attaching. The child needs to sense the person he is attached to, whether through smell, sight, sound, or touch.

Although it begins in infancy, the hunger for physical proximity never goes away. The less mature a person is, the more he will rely on this basic mode of attaching.

Quote from Hold On To Your Kids

This one is easy for me to understand – and to recognize all around me! I like staying “in touch” with people! That might mean quite literally: being in the same room, cuddled up on the couch, a touch on the shoulder or hand, a hug, a smile, a phone call.

And technology has brought many new ways to stay “in touch” with my friends/community. I often think of the Danah Boyd quote that Dean Shareski shared:


Although there’s nothing wrong with staying connected through our senses, it’s the easiest (and therefore the most common fall back) strategy and the one that is most shallow. Being connected ONLY through contact lacks the complexity, depth and intimacy that gives relationships what I’d call staying power. Once you’re NOT in physical proximity of another, it’s easy to feel anxious or disconnected!

No wonder it’s so hard to ignore the “ding” of our devices! Adding technology to the mix makes this way of connecting even more seductive. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, flickr, Instagram, text messaging, etc… all make it really easy to stay in touch. We share a quick thought, an observation, a picture, or a link – but do we share something of ourselves at the same time? How much depth we allow through these mediums varies, depending on our choices and comfort with vulnerability – but it tends to invite a more shallow use. Or at least that’s what’s most often and easily seen, in my experience. Particularly with kids!

This remains the most basic and “primitive” way of connecting with others, but also very powerful. A touch and a smile go a long way to bridging the space between us. I often think about what impact we’ve had on relationships to make it “taboo” or at least awkward for teachers or other adults to hug kids, or that we look suspiciously at adults (particularly men) who are “too” friendly. Is there a balance we can find of appropriate, non-sexual ways to touch each other (and support healthy relationship building) while also keeping our children safe?

I also think about changing relationships between kids and parents. Texting has made my relationships with my kids richer and more connected. I’ve been able to provide coaching and support through a few minutes of text messaging or facebook chat – that I couldn’t have not that long ago! And yet, it’s also hard to begin to rely on that channel of support for my highly emotional kids, then have it severed once they walk in the door of the school. Do you think the logistics of agreeing on and teaching kids the expectations of “appropriate use” of personal devices will make it possible to honour all the ways our kids and parents connect or communicate? What has to change before personal devices can “come out of the locker”?

What are your thoughts? And what do you wonder about?


The rest of the series:

  1. How Do We Connect? Part 1: Overview
  2. Part 2: Senses – “Stay in touch!” (this post)
  3. Part 3: Sameness – “Me too!”
  4. Part 4: Belonging and Loyalty – “I pick you!”
  5. Part 5: Significance – “You matter!”
  6. Part 6: Feeling – “I love you!”
  7. Part 7: Being Known – “I love you anyways…”
Posted in Attachment, Kids and School, Parenting | 2 Comments