This is Life, Based on a True Story  

Lessons I didn't learn

The dawn of a new year has a funny way of making people reflect on their lives over the past year and seeing what lessons can be learned from experiences – both good and bad.

Typically, at this point, I’d start going on and on about the lessons I learned over the past year … but this time, I’m going to regale you with stories about the lessons I haven't learned over the last 365 days.

When I told my kids and boyfriend about what my column was going to be about to kick off the new year, they all had their own views about what I haven’t learned.

My daughter: “You mean like how you can’t figure out how to properly cuff your pants when your wearing short boots?”

My son: “How you hate letting the dog out before you go to bed because you’re too tired, so he wakes you up at 2 a.m. because he has to go?”

And, of course, my other half: “Like how you can’t just be like Elsa (from Frozen) and let it go?” (I still haven't let this comment go.)

Ummm, yeah. Thanks for the insights guys … I think. But my version goes more like this:

The first lesson I haven’t learned is to stop nagging my kids.

No, I don’t love doing it.

Yes, they sometimes hate it.

But because I constantly ask and talk to them, they communicate with me about pretty much anything going on in their lives.

I like to think that in my nagging ways, I’ve created a comfortable environment for them to not be scared to talk to me about anything or tell me what they’re up to. And my plotting seems to have worked.

Both my teens are very open with me and don’t feel the need to hide stuff from me – even when they know they’re in the wrong. So to me, that’s a great lesson to not learn.

Another (cheesy) lesson I haven’t learned is to stop expecting the best-case scenario even when the odds are against it. I’m the eternal optimist and when I wear my rose-coloured glasses, things always look … rosy. 

But the cool thing about this view is that the best usually does happen. It’s all about putting out the vibes you want to attract. So if you want to attract goodness, live it.

Learn to love, give and forgive.

If you’re negative and only see negative outcomes or wrong-doings against you, guess what’s going to continue to happen …

A lesson that perhaps I should learn, but seem to struggle with is giving myself a break. I constantly push  myself to do more, do better, be better, work harder. 

I typically overlook the results of what I’ve already achieved as not being enough, so I push myself further. Sometimes, it’s to my detriment, but other times, it’s to my advantage.

This is a lesson I don’t think I’ll ever learn, but know I should – at least once in awhile.

Although 2017 was a rough year for me, I’m still happy with the outcome – both in lessons learned and not learned.

As for 2018 – it’s off to a great start and I look forward to the lessons that await me – like properly cuffing my pants with short boots.

Thanks for reading.


Teach your children well

One of the biggest rewards when raising kids is seeing them develop into young adults with a clear sense of ethics and morals.

When our children are young, we teach them lessons with which to live life by:

  • treat people the way you want to be treated
  • don’t lie or steal
  • respect your elders,
  • clean up after yourself
  • and of course, use your manners

If all goes well, then the majority of young kids grow up to be responsible, respectful human beings who continue to perpetrate that cycle with their own offspring.

But what about the kids who don’t “grow up well” despite being raised to be that way?

This was a conversation between my 15-year-old son and me. He raised the question when we were discussing a news story we’d seen about youth “delinquents.”

My son was surprisingly knowledgeable and opinionated about the subject. He felt that if kids were old enough to understand that what they were doing is wrong, they should be held accountable.

He said he knows of many kids who do something bad behind their parents' back, and when they get caught, there’s no consequence. He surmises this is why so many kids attempt to break rules – because their parents will just make an excuse for the behaviour.

This is a 15-year-old saying this. His opinion is that we, as parents, are too easy on his peer group and that at times, we do too much for them.

I’ve been caught trying to do too much many times for my kids – and they call me out on it, like in this case.

I’d warned them I would be home late one night from work, so they both needed to go home on the school bus after school that day as I wouldn’t be able to pick them up from the city bus stop later.

My son, despite knowing this, opted to hang out with some friends after school. As a result, he had to take the city bus home. The problem with that is there is no bus route where we live and the closest bus stop is a mile away.

Since I wasn’t able to pick him up from the bus stop, he had to walk.

After stressing out about how to get him home, my son was quick to point out that it’s his problem. He knew the consequence of not taking the school bus home and would figure it out – even if it meant he had to walk.

That was a wake-up call for me. Our kids not only need the chance to figure things like this out, they want to. It’s part growing and becoming adults and proving to themselves, and us, that they are not only capable, but willing.

As my son and I bantered back and forth about the earlier news story, he asked me what I would do if he or his sister were caught stealing.

It was in that moment that my answer changed due to what he’d said to me that night.

I told him I would let them get caught and deal with the consequences. I know that their dad and I have done everything we needed to make sure they both grew up with morals and ethics.

Not only that, but they are both old enough to know the difference between right and wrong and so for either of them to be caught stealing, it wasn’t a result of them not being raised properly or us not teaching them about things like stealing is wrong.

So I guess in that respect, I’ve absolved myself — for the most part — of my kids’ bad choices at this age of their lives. Not for everything, but for many things.

When I told my son this and what my reaction would be, he looked at me, shrugged and said this is why he’s the person he is  — “and mom, I mean that as a compliment.”

Thanks for reading.

You don't have to be alone

I used to love Christmas. It was always guaranteed to please. There’d be presents and food, family and friends.

Nothing was better or cozier than opening presents on Christmas morning, staying in our PJs all day, playing with our newfound delights, while the smell of a scrumptious Christmas dinner wafted through the house.

My dad always had a fire burning in our fireplace, and my mom would spend weeks baking treats we weren’t allowed to touch till Christmas.

When I had my own kids and little family, I kept the same traditions I grew up with, and Christmas was always a family affair. I wanted to create the kinds of memories I had for my own kids, so they too would look back on Christmases past and feel that same warmth I did.

After my separation and subsequent divorce, things changed drastically in terms of holidays – not just Christmas. Christmas was just the hardest to handle.

I spent my first three Christmas Eves alone as my kids went to their dads on Christmas Eve and I’d get them the next day in the late morning.

Sure, I’d go and visit with the in-laws for a couple hours on Christmas Eve, but the time would always come when I’d have to go back to my home — alone. Those were the hardest moments and made me not only dread Christmas, but almost hating it.

My own family lives too far away to make the drive and getting plane tickets to go home was, and is, way out of my financial reach at this time of year. (One of my pet peeves — the airlines know they’re going to sell out the seats, no matter what. What’s the point of making it so only an elite few can afford to fly at Christmas?) But I digress …

I got to the point where I could just block out holidays – don’t go on social media, find something good to watch on TV, treat myself to a bottle of wine I wouldn’t normally buy and act like it was any other day.  

It’s a very lonely feeling to feel alone … but what I learned was, I wasn’t alone.

In the true spirit of the universal rule of like attracting like, I became friends with other single moms in the same boat. Not only were they in the same boat, they had also developed the same loathing for Christmas and other holidays that I had.

Perfect! Now, I had cohorts.

But instead of wallowing in our self-pity, we decided to just be together instead. We’d spend time together at Christmas and fill each other’s gratitude tanks so full that when we left to go to our own homes, we felt luckier and more loved than ever before.

And for me, that’s the key to fulfillment and happiness.

We’re all in this race together – the Human Race. We all have the same primal instincts to love and be loved. And this column is simply a reminder of that.

Perhaps you know of someone like me – divorced and sharing custody. Ask them if they have plans this Christmas and invite them to spend some time with you and yours. It’ll make everyone feel good to share those moments.

Or maybe you know someone who recently lost their spouse. Don’t assume they have other family to be with — they might not. Make the effort to ensure they’re not alone.

There are so many foreign students and others here in our fair town. Check in with them to see if they have someone to spend the holidays with.

Their gratitude and appreciation will be enough of a gift to carry you through till the next holiday.

Now, speaking of gratitude …

My Grow the Gratitude Project has started off better than I expected – thank you everyone who has contributed stories about kindness and pay-it-forward moments.

I knew the Okanagan would be good for it and I’m not disappointed.  

I still needing tons more submissions though, so please continue spreading the word and sending your stories to [email protected]. Don’t forget, I’d love to see your kid’s drawings depicting kindness too.

Full details are in my last column.

To wrap up, it’s our duty to look out for each other. And if you like to believe in karma coming back to you — then looking out for others ensures you’ll get a good return.

Thanks for reading.

The Gratitude Project

When I was a 20-year-old in college, I lived in a downtown Edmonton apartment with a roommate.

While I was doing my practicum, I wasn’t able to work enough hours to cover my rent, utilities and food because my practicum required me to “work” (a.k.a.: volunteer) full-time hours to graduate.

I only worked a couple evenings a week and weekends. But since I didn’t have enough money to cover my basic necessities, every month I fell more behind in financial obligations.

One morning, I was leaving my apartment, stressed over my finances and had a teary moment in the elevator going down to my car.

Someone got in the elevator with me and I was so embarrassed by having a red-eyed, “cry-face.”  I tried to hide myself from this person’s gaze, to no avail.

He asked me if I was OK.

I said I was, happy when the elevator finally arrived at my — and as it turned out — his parkade exit.

As I walked to my car, I realized, my elevator buddy was following me. As it turned out, we shared neighbouring parking stalls. He looked at me as I was getting into my car and said some words that meant nothing to me at that time – that I just have to trust it will be OK, and it will be.

I never thought about that moment or him till a couple weeks later when I went to the apartment’s office to submit my half of my rent (that’s how we did it “back then”). The lady taking payments said my rent and parking had been paid for the month.

I was shocked. Was she sure? Who paid it?  She was able to tell me nothing more other than I just had to trust it would be OK.

And that’s when I knew. It was him. My elevator buddy. I never met him or ran into him again. And his car was no longer in the parkade next to mine.

That single, secret act of kindness made one of the biggest impacts on my life on me and is one I remember to this day.

Which brings me to this column …

I was so excited to write this column for so many reasons. Here’s why …

A few weeks ago, I said to my editor of this column I wasn’t sure I’d be able to continue writing as a regular columnist as I was running out of ideas. I mean honestly, if there’s no crisis or dramatic teenager thing going on, I struggle for a topic.

My editor said he’d hate to see me give it up and suggested I write about other topics – as in, he’s not limiting me to be able to write about anything and everything.

That made it harder. I sometimes like having my “box” to write in because it reins me in. It forces me to control my out-of-control thoughts.

And then it came to me … I’ve been formulating a book idea for a while. Why not use this platform I’ve graciously been granted to help achieve that goal?

And this is how my next life chapter begins.

I have a few ideas for books I plan to write over the next decade or so. But I’m going to start with the idea that not only energizes me, but is also one I try to emulate in my daily life.

I’m a firm believer in the “pay it forward” action and the necessity to be kind to one another. Media love to capitalize on the bad and terrible; and its oh-so-easy to get caught up in that cycle.

We can all be vicious keyboard warriors on social media and other websites — happily typing and tearing apart one another over a mere opinion, protected by the cocoon of a username and anonymity only the internet can offer.

We need less of that. We need is to be reminded of how much goodness goes on all around us daily, whether someone is there to catch it on camera or not.

We need to be reminded that an act of kindness can change one person’s life – even when it’s not posted on Facebook.

And this is where my idea originated.

My first book will be about gratitude and kindness – and how we receive it and give it.

If you’ve ever been witness to, participated in or started any sort of act of kindness, pay-it-forward, gratitude moment, I want to hear about it!

In the beginning, I was going to focus on just Okanagan gratitudes. Then I decided to expand it to B.C., but then realized it’s not something I’d want to limit to a region. Although, I plan to have a special focus on our community because there’s so much good that goes on right here in our valley.

If I’m being totally honest, I fear I might not have enough material to move past a couple of chapters. But the optimist in me thinks I’ll have enough to do a whole series.

I went to a workshop not long ago about living my brave life. This was the first time I’d spoken publicly to people who weren’t my best friends about this crazy book idea of mine.

Speaking it out loud to people who didn’t know me has now made me accountable to myself — and a roomful of strangers — to follow through.

And so now, I have to do this. Am I scared? Hell, yeah. But if I don’t do this, my regret will be bigger than my fear — even if this idea is a total fail.

So, how can you help if you’re so inclined?

I need you to send me any acts of kindness, pay-it-forward moments or gratitudes you’ve either witnessed, started, know of or participated in.

I’m also open to receiving drawings your kids have done that captures kindness (scan and send as a jpeg).

I also need you to share this as much as you can … put the power of social media to use in a good way. If you have a special Okanagan connection to the story, please be sure to include that as well.

Send your story to: [email protected]. Include your contact info so I can clarify or verify info if needed. 

My ultimate plan is that this will be published as a coffee table book and sold, with a portion of the proceeds going to a local charity or charities.

Now for the boring part … your full name, email or other identifying info won’t be published.

I would like to print first names only of people who agree, and if not, it can be anonymous, but I still need contact info for any clarification.

The most valuable thing I learned while doing my college practicum had nothing to do with my course of study … but rather how one small token of kindness can make a lifetime of difference. It did for me ...

Thanks for your contributions and sharing … and as always, thanks for reading.

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About the Author

Tanya Gunderson has been writing for the heck of it for many years. Her inspiration comes from her kids, their friends and the craziness of life. She takes great pleasure in exposing life for what it really is and has an open-book approach to her writing.

Her formal education and background include a blink-and-you miss-it stint in the radio and television industry, but it gave her an opportunity to write professionally on a few different occasions.

Email: [email protected]



The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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