A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Posts Tagged ‘back to school

Not being a big fan of the one-two punch of heat and humidity that summer in Ottawa packs, I’m looking forward to the shift to cooler weather.

I recognize many people might glare at me for writing that. Maybe even growl.

The bitter truth: summer may not officially be over for a couple of weeks, but the more relaxed pace of the summer months will be behind us in a matter of days.

In my corner of Ottawa, I’ve already noticed higher traffic volumes at rush hour and people snapping up back-to-school bargains. Not to mention signing up children for music and dance lessons and league sports and trying to find good prices on the equipment they’ll need.

It’s enough to raise stress levels for commuters and parents alike.

One thing to savour about the onset of fall, though, is the range of new opportunities open to us, since activities for adults launch as the school year begins:

  • music and dance lessons
  • interest courses offered by colleges, school boards and the city in everything from blogging to language lessons to fencing
  • recreational sports leagues and drop-in programs
  • ministry opportunities at church
  • volunteer work: literacy tutoring, fundraising, friendly visiting, election campaign work, and more

Looking at work schedules, children’s activities and other commitments, we may be tempted to say we have no room for anything new in our lives. Yet without opportunities for growth, the days may seem a little too predictable. We may find it hard to truly appreciate each day God gives us.

What better time to look at just where we’ve committed our time, energy and talents?

my GG grandmother

My great-great-grandmother Sarah. Family tree research is one hobby I love to make time for. What are some new interests you could explore?

I have an old-school planner that features spaces for each family member’s activities and shows me the week at a glance, but a big whiteboard calendar is another great way to see where we’ve promised to be and when.

We may notice a lot of volunteer commitments that mean we don’t have time to take a long walk, play Scrabble or enrol in ballroom dancing as a couple. Or our children are so busy with rep level sports that they can’t take part in school clubs or spend much time with their friends. Or there’s no time to play hockey or grab a coffee with friends or even stay for coffee hour after Mass.

Before the faster pace of September overwhelms us, I pray that we’d look at our plans and see whether we’ve left room to grow in the gifts God has given us and to spend time with him.

I’ve noticed stores are helpfully providing checklists for back-to-school shopping, both for clothes and supplies. I usually make a checklist of the supplies needed and see what’s still useable from the previous school year.

I think we’re set for school supplies, but as my son heads into Grade 9, it’s not a stretch to say we might be starting from scratch with his wardrobe—he’s suddenly outgrowing his shirts, and I doubt last year’s jeans will fit.

In any case, helpful though these checklists may be, they lack an important item, particularly for high school students: supportive friends.

Discovering, developing and learning to apply our skills and talents is part and parcel of the high school experience. But so is the influence of peers. And some young people find themselves cutting classes, experimenting with substances and sex, and putting off pursuing their dreams in an effort to fit in socially.

This is the point where we hope our youth have surrounded themselves with others who aren’t interested in rebelling; who will call their friends on it if they act out; and who might even talk to a teacher, a counsellor, or their own or their friend’s parents if they have concerns about a friend’s choices.

Only it’s not enough to hope. We need to take action:

  • Get to know the people our youth spend time with by encouraging them to invite friends over and by volunteering to help with or chaperone school activities and extracurriculars.
  • Insist that we know where and with whom our youth spend their time.
  • Keep communication open with the school so that we find out quickly if our youth face learning challenges, falling grades, bullying, or changes in behaviour.

I pray that our youth, especially those just beginning high school or changing schools this fall, would choose their friends wisely—and choose to walk away from a group heading down a path they don’t want to follow.

Next week, my husband is taking some time off for a staycation, and so I’m also taking a little time away from this blog. I’ll be posting again on August 25th.

Other than the sounds of a few children playing outside and the occasional car or VIA train, my neighbourhood seems sleepy today. No doubt many children (and parents) are enjoying an unhurried start to the morning, getting some extra rest to face tomorrow’s back-to-school chaos. It’s the calm before the storm.

With all the schools in this area—public and Catholic, elementary and secondary, English and French—half a dozen school buses will pass through here tomorrow, along with the usual city buses, cars and service vehicles.

And with so many people back from vacation and ongoing roadwork for us to avoid or patiently wait to get through, travelling from A to B could be more challenging than usual. Especially for pedestrians.

At a four-way stop near my home, for example, maybe one in ten drivers comes to a complete stop. The rest roll through the intersection or fail to slow down, as though there were no stop sign at all. Even though this four-way stop is next to a busy park and many dog walkers, runners, and parents with small children use the crosswalks.

Stop. Spare a moment. Spare a life.

This is the request on a road sign in my area, and I pray we’ll all take it to heart tomorrow as the routine begins again. I pray that we’ll watch for those walking to school and boarding the buses and that we’ll drive carefully on the busier streets while we commute or run errands.

For those returning to work or classes after much-needed time off, I pray that you’d be refreshed and renewed to take on the new roles and challenges God has planned for you. And if your stress threatens to return to pre-holiday levels, I pray that you’d find some quiet moments to spend with God; as we read in Psalm 23:2-3*, “He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.”

(*Quote from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…

A time to break down, and a time to build up…

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together…

A time to seek, and a time to lose;

A time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to tear, and a time to sew(…)

Ecclesiastes 3:1, 3b, 5a, 6, 7a*

Each fall, I enjoy seeing the leaves change colour from green to red, orange and yellow. While I like the brilliant display of colour, I know that it comes through the loss of chlorophyll.

In the same way, when we want to make changes to bring new colour to our lives, we may have to let some things go.

Since I like the predictability of routine, I’ve always struggled with change, but I’m more open to the prospect at New Year’s and at the start of the school year, when it feels like a fresh start.

Now could be a great time to make changes to our routines before they become—well, routine and seemingly set in stone.

  • Church: If your church, like mine, has a fall ministry fair, this could be the time to step into a new ministry role. But before taking on yet another task, it’s worth looking at the ways you serve your parish to see where your gifts could best be used. Maybe you’d like to serve as a lector or as part of the music team, but it might mean stepping back from a committee first.
  • Work: If you seldom enjoy meals with your family and your PDA buzzes constantly at home, this could be the time to look at how much family time you have. Maybe you could leave work earlier to have dinner with your family and work a bit in the evening. And set your PDA to mute sometimes so that you check your messages in a block rather than after each buzz—something that my husband found a challenge when he took some time off recently but that gave us some uninterrupted family time.
  • Children’s activities: This could be a good time to look at your family’s schedule and lighten it up by limiting the number of activities family members take part in. The bonus could be that parents feel less like chauffeurs and mealtimes seem less rushed. In our family, to save driving time, my son and I take music lessons at the same time, and usually at least two of us go to taekwon-do together so we also get to spend time together. My son would like to play other sports and join cadets, but he isn’t willing to drop his other activities to make that happen.
  • Home: This could be a good time to purge junk drawers, clothes closets and toy collections to let go of things that have seen better days, that someone else could use, or that are part of projects that aren’t going to happen. And it’s definitely a great time to free up space in children’s rooms for school supplies and a homework area, which is a daunting task I’ll be taking on later.

I pray that this fall we would make room for change to make better use of the time, treasure and talents we’ve been given.

(*Quote from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Sometimes I think I should have been a teacher or a school librarian.

I loved school and still look forward to returning to routine in the fall. Poring over continuing education calendars is right up my alley; I love to learn. And I don’t mind back-to-school shopping for my son. Not that he’s so keen on hitting the books now, but that wasn’t always the case.

first day of school

My son’s first day of junior kindergarten in September 2004

I remember walking my son to school on the first day of junior kindergarten. He was excited to be big enough to go to school so he could have fun with the other kids as they counted, read, painted, checked out library books, played sports and went on field trips.

And I remember when my son had to change schools after our move back to Ottawa. He joined his new class in November and had to meet new teachers and classmates and adjust to taking the bus. Fortunately, the whirlwind of classes, book fairs, bake sales and spirit days made the change easier. And then he started middle school—and changed schools again—a year later.

Next year, my son will start high school, with its longer classes, heavier workload and greater opportunities to participate in extracurriculars and start focussing on a career choice. And before long, he’ll be in university.

Some people say the early years fly by; I find the time goes faster now as school, homework, taekwon-do, and drum lessons and practice fill the days, and we have to make time for family time.

With the start of the 2013-2014 school year just a week away, here are my prayers for my fellow parents:

  • For those with young children starting school next week, I pray that God would grant you patience if your children are anxious about making friends, spending the long day at school, or riding the bus—and comfort if, like my son, they barely wave before running into the school or onto the bus, and the change is harder for you. I pray that God would guide you in using the extra time you may now have, perhaps for volunteer work, paid work, or special time with your younger children.
  • For those with children starting at a new school, I pray that your children would find understanding teachers, new friends, and activities they enjoy to ease the transition. (My father was in the military, so I changed schools several times, and I’m shy as well, so I know how hard it can be to adjust.) And I pray that you would encourage your children to welcome new classmates.
  • For those with teens in high school, I pray that your children would keep up with their schoolwork even while they make new friends, join clubs and try out for teams. I pray that they would stay connected with the Church by attending Mass and participating in youth group activities. And I pray that their faith would help them resist invitations to cut classes or to try cigarettes or drugs.
  • For those with students headed off to college, university or trade school, I pray that your children would adjust well to their campus and professors and to life in another town and on their own if they’re attending school elsewhere. I pray that they would be responsible in attending classes, completing assignments, handling the tasks that come with greater independence (such as doing laundry, shopping for and cooking meals, and paying bills), and taking care of their health. And I pray that they would find a local church and a Catholic Christian Outreach group (or something similar) so they stay grounded in their faith, focus on their studies, and avoid the party lifestyle students can fall into.

Food for Thought

(Y)ou do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” ~ James 4:14-15

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