How to Tell Asians Apart

I’m going on a slight rant today…also if you’re someone who likes to nit-pick this is probably going to bother you. Equally some of you may not actually understand this struggle and I am sorry for that. However you must know that this happens, a lot.

When you meet me for the first time, I know my brown skin is super interesting and different. However when I tell you that I am Canadian, can we leave it at that? Maybe when I become really good friends with you I will share that I actually was born in Thailand and maybe you’ll get my life story but I promise you it’s not going to happen after knowing you for just 2 minutes.

Why does this bother you so much, Orn? You should be proud of your heritage! People are just interested.

I am not saying I am not proud of my heritage…but how common is it for someone to say, “Where are you from?” “Oh I am from Canada.” “I don’t mean that, like where are you REALLY from. Your white skin is slightly lighter than others I’ve seen so I thought maybe you were Swedish. I get Swedish people and Russian people mixed up all the time.”

I’m not even joking…this is literally almost every single conversation I’ve had with someone new over the past month and we are not talking about Swedish and Russian people. I have openly heard people say, “I get _______mixed up with ________ people all the time.” Okay, even if you do not know the difference, you don’t say that. That would be like me saying all white people look the same and that is simply not true. You say this to your confidants, not the new person you just met seconds ago.

Let’s talk about cultural relevance. Actually, let’s not. Let’s talk about cultural competence. Growing up in school I really didn’t care that in math textbooks there was a lack of Hu-Yungs and Ahmed’s listed as characters in them. Please remember this is my personal opinion and experience, however I found that when a text listed, Sally, David, Lucy and Addisu (who was clearly an ethnic minority) I laughed because if the text was attempting to cater to all backgrounds if anything it just proved a point that a minority is just that: the least represented. I remember my classmates and I laughing because it was so obvious. “There’s our representation in the text. Represent, Addisu!” Am I saying that textbooks should have equal amounts of every race on every page? No. I am saying though that a lot of children laugh because it’s obvious that someone does not match the other and they were intentionally put in there to “balance it out”. We laughed. Maybe that is where things have gone wrong, we were laughing about it rather than seeing it as just another page in a book. Rather than trying to make culturally relevant material, we should be teaching children how to be culturally competent. We should teach that we don’t laugh at different names. We don’t assume people are foreign because their skin is darker. We don’t stereotype races. We don’t use our skin tone as a reason as to why we can or cannot be successful.We do not encourage different treatment of people because of their skin tone. We need to encourage learning about cultures, ALL cultures. The Swedish and Russian cultures, the First Nations and African-American cultures, South Asia and East Asia (and knowing the difference). Heck, let’s learn about freaking Zimbabwe. The only time I ever learned about countries (and by learned, wiki’d a page or two) was when we had Olympic day or “cultural” day and you had to represent one country and wear their clothes. Once we had a unit in school about it but it was only for a grade or two. We are exposed to various cultures every day therefore the study of it shouldn’t limited to a unit. We did math everyday because apparently math is in everything we do…We need to know the histories behind cultures, the triumphs and failures of the countries within them. Maybe then when kids read the textbooks they won’t be looking and laughing at what’s different in the text, they will be looking at what is capable and expected.

There is no perfect equation on how to eradicate stereotyping, racism or prejudice. It is going to happen; we are an intelligent species and as that, we form our own opinions. We felt the need to create names for species of animals and genres for literature so we will create identifications for various cultures of humans too. It is not about teaching children about learning to love all types of people. Children are not born hating people. They’re not born loving people. They are born seeing people and how we communicate cultural differences to them should be more about acknowledging their intelligence and competence than, “Oh, they come from the country where there’s curry and cows everywhere!”. How about, “Oh! They come from India, the country that invented the number system and Zero.” Okay…I realize that was a far stretch that requires some knowledge about the number system, however that’s my point. Yes it’s important to learn about differences in food but what universal success have they brought to the world? Social Studies is supposed to be about connecting us to the world, not just politics and the economy or relevant national events. You will find that every country, culture, race, has brought something good and bad. We never learned this until we were much older and by then the exposure to stereotyping and racism had already happened. It is amazing how much kids are capable of thinking when you expect a high standard of knowledge and inspire them to want to learn it. The problem is, I think, that we think kids are too young to understand these things and we must do things step-by-step rather than have them see the whole picture and analyze it in a way they understand. Critical thinking skills, people, a slowly dying art.

I said in the title I would be telling you How to Tell Asians Apart. I am sorry to disappoint but I’ve decided not to do that. Actually, I was never going to do that. If you’re really curious about someone’s racial background, you need to get to know the person, maybe go for a few coffees or engage in a meaningful conversation or two and then maybe you will learn about where they might come or where their family originated from. Then, out of courtesy, I’m sure they’d love to know a bit about you too. If you’re the lucky person that meets me, you’ll learn very quickly that I know very little about Thailand’s politics, I do not think beauty is an appearance of fair, untanned, porcelain skin,  I do not know how to cook Pad-Thai, nor do I consider it a Thai food and I do not think I am the best nanny-material even though, “Those nannies from Thailand and the Philippines are so good with babies.”







Secret Handshakes

Summer is over and the school year has begun. For me it is a time to buckle down and get several things done at once, every day until the summer. I work at various schools, I teach cello and I teach at a private learning centre for kids who just need a little extra help. I am a student. Some would say I bite off a lot and I do choke a few times but eventually it does get swallowed. At one point, I did coach too on top of all this (but that is a story for a different day). It has been a great joy returning to the school that makes my heart so happy for so many reasons but I also decided to take a leap of faith and plunge into another school too. The position I have is funny because it is completely not suitable for my personality. Ever since I was little I needed a stable, constant environment that I could warm up to and learn routines and be a part of. I am a sub so I go everywhere. Did this give me anxiety? Yes. I can’t tell you the number of times my heart pounds before I walk into a new school. It is even more anxiety-inducing when the school is bigger than the schools I ever went to or the kids are bigger than me. Somehow though I have managed to do it enough to find what I like and don’t like. Getting to witness so many different teaching styles is amazing because like all positions in life, you realize there are people who are exceptional at their role and people who are really bad at it. The more you see the more you know and the more you know the more you can pick out the ones who are just people who teach…not teachers. Being a teacher’s assistant makes you a fly on the wall and receptive to everything. In a classroom that utilizes the help you’re a fly in the classroom and build relationships with the teachers and students. In a classroom that doesn’t, you’re a fly in the corner. Some days I am ecstatic because I’ve fallen in love with elementary and then other days I am reminded that my somewhat sarcastic self belongs in older grades. Regardless, the best education is experience and I am learning more about myself and the teaching world every single day.

What I have learned about working with kids (and am still learning):

  1. The kids who need the most love will show it in the most unloving ways. (I think I found this on Pinterest somewhere when I was having a particular rough day)

Having a cactus personality works well with these kids because you don’t want to like them anymore than they want to like you. I have been spat on, defied, kicked, growled at, cussed at and stared down by 5-year olds. The hardest part was understanding that it is not a personal reflection but a reaction. Sometimes you will break through their wall, sometimes you won’t. However you cannot give up on them, not for a minute, because the keys to their true person might be uncovered in even the smallest moments of the day, in places you least expect. It took me half a year to realize that about some kids and I’ve loved their hearts ever since.

2. Make their day.

I wrote this on our staff expectations daily chore list in the summer because I realized the importance of being someone’s someone. I learned this key from working in the private learning centre. Sometimes it’s about making them feel like something about them is unique and distinct from other kids when it comes to connecting with you. In the Grade 3 class I am in, remembering 25 different handshakes is extremely challenging, especially when you have to remember which ones utilize an Australian accent (Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oy, Oy, Oy, snap, snap, clap, dab). It is as simple as saying, “I missed your smile so much” to 25 different handshakes in the doorway.

3. Be silly, be okay with looking ridiculous.

We went and celebrated a Nationals win at the canoe club the other weekend and the end of the night was a giant dance party by the bonfire. I left. I’m sorry but there are two things: a) I don’t dance b) I don’t want to watch my athletes dance, I feel so weird about it.

The secret third: c) When a kid asks you to dance…you do it.

Too often I have seen rigged teachers. You can’t sing, you can’t hum, you can’t move, but you can do the prescribed hand actions that have been directed to you. Nothing else. Isn’t that fun?  I’m not saying there needs to be flexible seating coming out of everyone’s yoo-hoos or big group cheers and dances…but kids have to make it through 12+ years of mandatory education, why not make it different and exciting? To get a kid to eat lunch I turn into a yum-mometer and make beeping noises over top of their various food items to figure out which is the most tasty and lunch-worthy.

4. Sometimes being traditional is good.

I am currently working in an amazing Grade 3 class. The teacher is absolutely a gem. She is older and does teach in a more formal way. However she is so kind and so gentle. They don’t sit in a million different places. They don’t learn something in a million different ways. They don’t have tinker boxes or maker spaces but they do have an environment that is calm and expectational.  The other day she used a record-player to play a read-aloud and taught the kids about antiques which they were so enthralled by. I don’t believe it is because she doesn’t want these new things for them, it is just that the space simply doesn’t support this. Now, being someone who had maker spaces and tinker labs all summer I know how great they can be but I also know that those were cultivated in moderation. We started with one and added them as kids became more and more responsible and the interest built. We could do that because we had the equivalent of three classrooms. There is a place for school and there is a place for summer camp. Knowing how to sit in a chair is an important skill, knowing how to push in your chair every time you leave is simply a good habit. It takes 20 minutes to do agendas because we want to make sure everyone is writing exactly what is to be written properly and no one is left behind. On Day 1, I started writing the agenda for a child to trace  because he had trouble forming letters and by Day 6 he came to me and said, “Look! I wrote almost the whole thing by myself except for the last sentence you did…maybe tomorrow I will be able to write the whole thing!” When was the last time you heard a kid take pride in writing their agenda? This teacher reminds me of Miss Honey from Matilda. She always has time to praise a child and listen to their stories. She has time for them. It’s not about the material things but about what fills your day.

5. I’ve religiously followed this advice from a Disneyland princess my whole life but it means more now than it ever did before: When you’re hugging a child, you can be the last one to let go because you never know how much they need it.

As a cactus human being, cuddles come few and far between but hugs are important to me. I think I watched a YouTube video on a former Disneyland princess talking about their audition processes and stuff and she said that piece of advice on hugs and it just stuck with me. I’ve used it ever since. Walking into the happy school on Friday I could feel the advice sticking on my forehead. There were a lot of hugs from kids I hadn’t seen in three weeks and each one was so special and long. There is a feeling of magic when you go from asking a child if he/she would like a hug so they feel better to them just doing it when they see you. A hug is trust, for a moment in time it is safe. Sometimes people get all antsy when kids hug and cling or hang or climb so you’re holding them, but I think that’s what makes each reunion so cool. They’re all different. Some kids want to hug you from their level because it’s important that they see you from their line of vision. Some kids want to hug you and hang, just to make sure you won’t let go of them. Some kids want to hug you and climb up so you’re holding them so they can get what feels like two hugs at once. Some kids want to hug you, climb up and just stay there and ponder life for a few minutes…because they need it. In a world that will, by nature, teach them the harsh realities and injustice, I don’t believe there is any reason why you would ever deny a person a feeling of safety in a moment of reunion, happiness, sadness or excitement. Disneyland princesses make kids believe in magic, fairytales and reach out to children in split seconds in real life, so clearly she knew what she was talking about.

There is absolutely no mathematical formula for what makes each kid-day a raving success. However there has been a consistency with any exceptional classroom I’ve been in…teachers don’t talk at students, they talk TO them. They are people first, students second. They have a relationship built on a foundation of trust, empathy and connection. No matter who the student is, where they come from or where they’re at, their future is valid. Their future is valued.

Here’s to the educators of everywhere, not just schools, who defy the norm and strive for building good people. Here’s to the children who are untamed, spirit-filled, feisty and fighters…may someone teach you to turn all of that into a power that will change our world.




It Was Never About the “Could Nots” and “Can’t Haves”

Today marks a temporary end to an experience that has taught me more than coaching ever has. After being in the coaching world for six years, abruptly going back to my summer camp roots seemed like a far stretch. In fact on my first day of work there I sat in the office nearly in tears because I missed what I knew so much. Then slowly but surely everything started to have its reasons. I started to learn again. It started becoming a challenge again. There were things that I had no control over and no knowledge on how to deal with it but I learned, we all did.

The first day I was determined to establish a routine; that’s the first thing they tell you in a lot of kids courses, kids like routines. Kids with challenges like routine. So…here is my beef with routine. Routine is boring. Routine, no offence teachers, is too much like school and at summer camp we cannot be like school. Routine is not realistic. Traffic happens as do MVA’s and sicknesses that throw our lives around. I quickly learned that for some of these kids, life itself was more sporadic and spontaneous than anything I thought I knew. So why on earth would they thrive in an environment not similar to what they’ve only ever known? For a great portion of their day we encouraged them to act in the way they were designed to. This doesn’t mean we thrived on absolutely no schedule or set activities for the day-it just meant that when we promised something, we kept our word and when we said, “you’ll find out later”, we meant it. My routine on the first day did not work. Kids ate faster than I humanly thought was possible and it lessened the eating time by twenty minutes. Kids can get into a lot of stuff in twenty minutes. This was the day I sat in the office and contemplated what I was doing, I liked structure, strictness and a competitive edge and drive my athletes had. I thought to myself, “this is going to be a long summer”. Routine died that day at camp. The secret was having a routine in my head and not telling anybody.

Fast forward to today; I’d like to mention there were no tears shed today because it wasn’t sad to say goodbye. It was celebratory. It was a, “You can do it. You can conquer the world.” The kids who walked in here on the first day were not the same kids that walked out and for the better. We did that. So how did we do that?

First off, I had the most amazing leaders. These young adults grew up with these kids, tutor them and know them, their lives, their quarks, inside and out. Most important, they know how they grow up because they grew up the same way. They were the biggest asset. They saw kids for who they are, not just what papers and people may say about them. They could see the good in them but also knew when to be to-the-point about things that were wrong.  My contribution was the creativity and perhaps the fact that I came in from a different angle. The leaders led them to be good people today and I led them to be good people for tomorrow. Both of them are important. The way we dealt with discipline was not a trip to the supervisors office or in time-out chairs. There is ALWAYS a reason for a reaction, good or bad. So we came at it from a different perspective: let’s be over-the-moon ecstatic for exceptional behaviour and celebrate it. Every time. Every day. Each week. All summer. When there was a problem behaviour we didn’t baby, we didn’t soothe. There were no big speeches about right and wrong, good or bad, I’m calling your parents, sit here and think. There was, “And how are you going to make this better?”. “I don’t know” was accepted because honestly, if you don’t know that what you did was wrong how would you know what to do about it? However “I don’t know” didn’t mean you could walk away. “I don’t know” meant we added “yet” to the end of the sentence and we expected thinking to happen until they came up with the answer.  At some point it was mentioned, “you’re not a bad person, you’re a very good person who just did a really stupid thing.” Did that make sense to them? “I don’t know…yet”.

We did empathy focus. If someone got hurt by someone, either by mistake or on purpose, the “hurter” had to sit with the “hurt” until they felt better. Turns out this was the strangest thing I have witnessed (yes, beats pooping on the floor) because I realized we all needed lessons in empathy. The more the kid was hurt, the longer their buddy had to sit there…ironically saying “Stop being hurt so I can play”  for a bit was the go-to soothing phrase. Eventually though, two things happened: People stopped making drama about their tiny injuries or “He said, she said” because it was awkward having to sit together and figure it out in silence. The perpetrators stopped being perpetrators because it was awkward trying to figure out what to say in order to get them to feel better faster. This worked for both physical and verbal confrontations. I am not saying we expected kids to administer First Aid but we expected kids to acknowledge that we can hurt people both on purpose and by accident however both warrant an apology, empathetic actions and the ability to move forward.

The final piece was what I have decided to call, unstructured structure. What most people don’t know is that while we did majority of projects based on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) focus, we administered it as Problem-Based Learning (oooh…fancy). I also combined it with the way I completed High School as, Self-Directed Learning. This meant that I explained what it was doing (the problem it was solving), what the final product looks like, and a few things I had noticed when I was making it. Other than that, there was no step-by-step, there were no written instructions, there was just a model example and plenty of helping hands. I’d say, “This is what it needs to be able to do, how you do it is up to you. Because of that, it doesn’t need to look like this but following it as a model will help. However, you must do it. No options.” They needed to compile their materials, figure out how much they needed of what, figure out what needed to be done first (because let’s face it, we only had 4 pairs of scissors to go around). I’ll say it again, I had amazing leaders because we made amazing messes. The only challenge to this was that I had two age groups that had vastly different needs but both needed to be stimulating and Pinterest can only go so far. Being creative has its perks. STEM turned into STEAM as we added the art component…HAH. Because apparently when you’re trying to make things simpler you add on an extra focus (that’s Orn logic for you right there). And that’s how “Make Herman Float” was born.

That’s all we did. My title for this post is perhaps confusing for those who haven’t figured out our strategy for how we tackled the summer. Yes, you can say we had amazing things like STEAM, Taekwondo, camp pets, bouncy castles, Olympic day, Pie-Your-Fave-Leader, property wide capture the flag, frog releasing ceremonies but those were just things that happened-the greatness of the summer was not because of those things. It was never about giving them things they didn’t have, it was never about making them be someone they couldn’t be, it was always about meeting them where they were at and then expecting them to be greater. It was about challenging them to be good people because we recognized their goodness daily, it was about allowing them to make their choices but expecting commitment to the result. To do this we had to do those things but it was not because of those things that they left the building as different citizens. Most importantly, it was allowing ourselves and them to develop a bond and a relationship. Some kids needed a leader they could rely on whenever and while some people would say that it shouldn’t happen because it’s not good for their development in a world that is constantly changing…how can you expect spontaneous, sporadic kids to develop their own learning foundations when they don’t have an actual foundation with someone they have chosen to trust? Everybody needs someone they’ve chosen. If we can be that someone, we will be that someone until we can no longer be someone for them. Yes, summer is over, but I truthfully believe that with the attention to character that the leaders have given and the love that we have entrusted and instilled in each kid, there is a foundation if not with all of us, at least some of us. Each kid had a leader that meant something to them. There is the memory of it and I think we all know the power of memories.

In the future I would consider a “Pie-Your-Fave-Kid” activity, but the grocery store would be sold out of Cool Whip 🙂

The crystals we are drawn to are more

times than not

the crystals that we need

for healing.





There are Mothers, then there’s Mommies.

I’ve been up since 5AM and only now am I in my bed, eating Little Caesar’s Pizza, drinking  Smirnoff Ice. The day has been quite the day. It really was not out of this world, I didn’t coach a war canoe to a medal or break any world records but for some reason it was just “quite the day”. Perhaps it was the fact that on this day my job had me hauling 20 children around Superstore looking at the different fruits and with little success, convincing them that they need to eat 4 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. I did have success however at the bakery, where their noses pressed right up against the glass staring into the decorated cakes. There was equal success when we named a lobster in the tank in the seafood section, Leona. Suddenly I hear “Mommmmmmmmm!!!!” echoing from across the grocery store. How embarrassing. Didn’t those parents teach that kid to shut-up in the grocery store? “Mommmmmm!!!”, as we move closer and closer to the piercing noise. It has been a running joke within our camp that each of us leaders/supervisor take on a parent role to a group of kids who we call our own. They often come to us when they’re hurt, sad, or just need a little extra love. They also like to pit one another against each other (all in good fun though). They are our cuddles, they are our concern and although we do try and be as playful as possible we do sometimes have to lay down the law in our own special way. When our “sons” and “daughters” don’t show up to camp we are genuinely concerned and for most of the day, a bit saddened that our little buddies aren’t with us. “Mommmmmmm!!!” okay…this voice is sounding shockingly familiar now. Oh my god, I know whose voice this is. It’s my “daughter’s”.

“What do you think you’re doing?!?!?!? Why are you all the way over here????? If you need something use your feet and WALK to me. Are you kidding me right now?”

“I wanted to see if you would come if I called you that, and you did!!!”

In the moment, it was so humiliating, especially when on the civilized walk back I’m stopped by a lovely little woman who says to myself and my brood of 4 (as we have separated from the rest), “My, you have them so well trained”. Yeah k.

I’m a light weight drinker so I will just tell you now that this post has been slightly infused with some 5% alcoholic beverage. The biggest thing I have taken away from this position is how much power you have as “Mom”. To be called “Mom” is an incredible gift and burden in its own right.  After a particularly inspiring day where I talked to one of my children about their life I learned how much we just consider our lives as  what they are even though they are different from the norm. I have two mothers, although I call only one “Mom”. I do not believe that anybody can be Mom. Listening to the stories from these kids of what they consider to be normal Mom things I cannot help but wish and hope that one day, they experience a true Mom.

My mother had me at a young age. The decision to give me up for adoption must have been incredibly difficult. I’ve been told this and sometimes I felt like I was told that to lessen the blow that I was brought into the world when someone else wasn’t ready. My life was changed because someone else wasn’t ready for it. That was my mother and that is as far as that relationship goes.

You are supposed to live with your parents. At the very least, one of them. I don’t care what anybody says about that, we evolved as a species that exists from that single notion. When that doesn’t happen, it changes you. So you call someone else “Mom” if you’re lucky. Or you live with someone who can be like a “Mom” though you may never call her that.

The opinion I hold on Mom and Mothers has changed drastically. For example I don’t think that it is necessarily hard for all mothers to decide whether to give up their children for adoption, though it paints a pretty picture. The truth is, some mothers suck. Some mothers crank out children so fast, the family size box of cheerios still won’t cut it. You do not get to be a part-time parent. You do not get to leave your children in this world to look after themselves when you’re too tired or busy. I look in the faces of children who gleam of ambition and promise but are faded by the sad knowledge that they don’t have a Mom to show them that. They have a mother who made bad decisions.

Now Moms, Moms are heroes. They are the aunts, the cousins, the sisters, the neighbours who take on the role of expanding this ambition and taking a broken heart and piecing it back together. These moms are fierce, protective and would do anything to see their kids smile. They are relentless in their pursuit of parental imperfection and are never short of hugs, kisses or a shoulder to lean on.

Families come in all forms and ways. However the magnitude of a  child born to one woman, yet lays their heart and trust in another and the depth of that privilege are something that should never be lost or taken for granted. Yes, being adopted is a happy ending to a sad story but being called Mom is just as equally gratifying.

Please don’t worry Mom, I won’t be planning on turning my life into a remake of Matilda anytime soon. However I might just reconsider not being so embarrassed if I’m called that in the grocery store again.



My Heart, Inspired.

Back in the early days of my blogging I seem to recall a moment where I admitted that I would never adopt or foster a kid. I’m not cold-hearted, I just knew me. I knew me at a time when I was a difficult person to live with because I hated being adopted. I knew me at a time when I couldn’t separate my reality from what I always wanted. I wanted a white-picket fence life with a dog and two parents who looked like me. My world was surrounded by diversity yet still had me feeling all alone. Now, I am a visible minority and have never felt so alike. I guess that is what maturity does to you or perhaps, realizing the bigger picture.

In a short summary, for a time, because I knew me, I knew I never wanted to adopt another “me”. I didn’t want the questions that come with having been adopted, I also didn’t want the reality that when I went looking, my biological parents were just a name on a sheet of paper.  I remember the breakdowns and the angry spells. There was madness and frustration in this world that I didn’t get to choose what happened to my future as person in a blended family. I didn’t have the privilege of knowing everything about who I was, unlike others. It was for that reason that I chose and decided (although never had “family” on my mind), that I didn’t want my future children to go through the same thing. Bluntly put, I didn’t want to do deal with it-someone else could.

A lot has changed since then. Somehow no matter how hard I try to avoid it, I attract kids with baggage. I attract mini-me’s. For some reason despite not knowing the answers to every complicated situation I seem to enjoy finding the solution. The other day I became so in depth with what I was doing that I looked up “Requirements to be a Foster Parent”. Didn’t even blink, didn’t even question. My white-picket fence dream life is on a serious overhaul. I thought, this world has so many children. It has so many spoiled, bratty, self-centred children raised by parents who expect the same. It has so many underprivileged, sad, hopeless children raised by parents who live the same. Sometimes the combinations mix and that’s when you get the champion out of the woodwork. But what about those who will never see that “other” side? What about those who are products of their environment to a tee? This includes the spoiled ones but its sadness is equal to its counterpart.

Something I wish people knew more about mini-me’s is this: Sometimes having this back story that is not all picket-fence and doting Grandmas makes you grow up a little faster than those around you. It doesn’t mean we’re incapable of loving or caring, it just means we prioritize. If you met me at first glance you would think I am a dictator of children. The reality is, and I wish this didn’t overtake so much, I was raised to be diligent and obedient (although I stray from this one a little). The way that I am has no time for a child who is wild or goes outside of this. I’m working on it, I promise. But I love the kids who are roughed up, who ask for love in the most unloving ways and those who just are looking for “something” that can’t be bought but has to be instilled. Sometimes I like to think that my style and brain gears more towards them because we expect a lot from each other mutually both of sheer stubbornness but also because we want to see if we’re both strong enough to see it through. Somehow this mentality ends up being characteristics of foster kids. Survival of the bravest. I love brave people but most importantly I love helping people be brave.

Sitting on a pool deck today, many wondered why this little boy came on the field trip even though he can’t swim and hates getting wet. I sat around the pool, legs crossed, ready to supervise the chaos. With a quick gesture of his fingers I find myself the human lazy-boy to a 4-year old who proceeds to size up his hands with mine as he sits on my lap. He is intrigued by the camera on my phone and Pokemon Go. He is captivated by my sparkly watch and gestures that it is 3 o’clock after telling him to look at where the little hand is. He is 4. For a moment he is like any other kid with gadgets and gizmos. Suddenly these things get put down (onto the wet surface I might add…but I’m ruining the moment…sorry). These things get put down and suddenly this little body curls up into a ball and he nuzzles his head into my neck. And we just sit there. In amidst the chaos that is a public, outdoor swimming pool, he chose this moment to steal my heart. I was never meant for the picket fence life. My heart, inspired.



Is there something I’m missing?

I have hesitated to talk about this issue. I have hesitated mainly because it is going to come from a place that is personal and without a whole ton of research, which is what the issue at large has in their back pockets.

I read an article a few months back about a child, Lexi, who was in the middle of a custody battle from foster care in the States because she was being reunited with relatives who shared her ethnicity and courts felt that her current foster home was not allowing sufficient development of cultural appreciation. I let the issue sit and fester and I continued to live life as per usual. The article showed up again this morning: The child was officially removed. My heart absolutely sank. I do not know this child and I do not even know how “good” these foster parents were in terms of preserving her culture but I couldn’t help but feel slightly stabbed in the chest. The girl is 6 years old and has been living with her foster family since she was 17 months old. Reading the comments there is just as much confusion,”the foster family was wrong about keeping her for this long,” “the girl wants to live with her biological family.” There really is no right answer I suppose and my heartbreak has really nothing to do with this article. It has to do with something I was provided, that I feel is being largely overlooked in many foster cases around North America. I was provided a home, not just a house and a desire to look toward the future through being challenged and pushed.

Lexi’s future is determined by her race.

In a quest to see how this could have all happened I learned that a decades-old law in that state ensured that children were placed in families of similar origins. In a more shocking turn of events I learned this practice is still in place where I live. Maybe I can’t see it. Maybe I can’t see why it is so important to be with those who share ethnicities, because, for majority of my life I was the minority in my own family. Here is the thing, I was never made to feel like a minority. Ever.

Where is the line here? When is a child’s welfare, stability and development tied to the colour of their skin? At what point must we stop and realize that for a large proportion of the nations people, diversity is a beautiful thing. I know my parents made my culture a beautiful thing…so much so that I even started to ask that they not (yes, the teenage years).

When I work with children, I see humans. I see humans who might be slightly behind (or a lot), I see humans who have different facial structures and body types and I have caught myself saying, “That girl is just so gorgeous” or, “She has such great skin”. Yes, I see ethnicity. I see it as a way that separates each person physically but as a determining factor of their character? Absolutely not. This leads me to question, this child, Lexi, knew stability for 6 years.  She knew of her origins, her family, her extended relatives. In fact, she visited them time to time. Up until that point her future was based on the fact that her foster family COULD and WOULD care for her, they wanted to adopt her…they loved her. A judge’s mistake in reading her DNA testing changed that future. As people we are a combination of natural tendencies and nurtured tendencies. As someone who grew up not surrounded by my origins I can tell you I learned a lot more about cultural appreciation because my parents worked so hard at including me in both my native origins and the one I was living in.

I am not Thai. I am Thai-Canadian. I am damn proud to be both.

At the end of the day, I see kids who need to know what it feels like to be hugged and to be talked to calmly and softly. I’ve met kids who’ve seen more for their years and feel cheated to be treated by their chronological age. I meet kids who don’t think they’re worth a penny and you work so hard to make them feel at least worthy of a dime. Adopting a child or fostering one is not like becoming a parent to a biological child. You are healing someone, even if for a short time. You are taking a life that has been traumatized and changed and helping it grow. You are taking someone else’s gift and you are expected to cultivate it into a worthy human. Even those adopted at a very young age, the journey is always a little different. I truly believe that any person who is of good character and accepts this challenge is entitled to this healing ability. Healing people from the inside should be the basis of care, not whether or not your skin tone matches that of your charges. I do not believe it is a matter of preserving culture, I think it needs to turn into a revolution of building culture and letting it become diverse.

Embracing diversity in family life and life in general, is a chance to ensure that children know that they are okay, just the way they are. You’re not losing a culture, you’re gaining an education. With the events that have happened over the last week, a little education would’ve gone a long way.








You’ll Turn Out Ordinary if You’re Not Careful

“I want you to see what you can do”

I think deep, deep down I absolutely know that this statement was at the heart of what made my mother make me who I was meant to be. We talk about it. We talk about the times when I questioned right versus wrong, we talk about why we do things with the best intentions and sometimes they lead us in different paths. More and more, each day do I realize how much this statement can change the way you interact with people.

Prior to the age of twelve I never saw myself in a position working with children. They did not interest me and I was also quite tired of how we glorified the most ridiculous accomplishments (congratulations, you earn a sticker for going to the bathroom/for picking up a pencil/for not losing things/etc.) I was a kid and I thought those things. As I reflect back though, what normal eleven-year old writes her own Will and Testament? I viewed teachers as having a “ceiling” job, meaning that there was no room for advancement beyond a principal and you worked your butt off for nothing. I wanted to be a veterinarian because people sucked at looking after their animals and they like to pretend they know how they feel. Then I wanted to be a sport physiotherapist because I was sporty and basically knew how to work every physio device at the clinic after all my injuries. Plus, it made money. After, I wanted to be lawyer, a family lawyer. I liked evidence, cause and effect, justice and advocacy. The only problem was that lawyers are so secretive. I wanted a position where that I could share.  All of this and then I graduated High School.

Now you have background. So how did I end up working with children? I thank my mother for insisting that I volunteer as a Day Camp leader when I was 12. I’ve always loved being creative and I was a shy thing but a rough thing, so maybe kids would help un-harden my shell a bit? Well I don’t know how I felt about receiving the camp name, “Grumpy” from Snow White on the first day but I think it was after this that I was determined to be the most un-grumpy, Grumpy. Hell, I wanted to be Happy (which my friend got the coveted golden name of). I figured, at least if I was Grumpy I could only get happier and if I ever was grumpy it would make sense. It doesn’t look good to be a grumpy, Happy. Shortly after this stint I volunteer coached at my canoe club. I learned how much I did not know about paddling. However after these experiences I was hooked, I loved to teach and most importantly, I loved to learn.

“I want you to see what you can do” I say to my charges on the daily but I emphasize it the most with Masters. These Masters are not kids, they are adults and they could be my parents age. I am basically coaching my parents. From coaching kids to adults I have learned this: We are all really confused and age doesn’t make us more prepared. In fact, being an adult is very hard because you usually are just winging it. While I have preached this statement time and time again, I never really thought about what it meant because honestly it’s just one of those “growth-mindset” things you say. The past year has offered me the opportunity to really know how it feels when it’s working. I am a passionate, attached to everything that has goodness, kind of person but even some days my sarcasm can’t block frustration. Because of these days, I learned why people celebrate small, frivalous accomplishments. I learned how it felt to feel responsible for how someone was becoming. I learned the depth of my statement: I want you to see what you can do.

“I want you to help me see you” To a kid it means that you do not possibly know the signifcance of your being. I am not saying I can see it either (because honestly, sometimes the hamster wheel is hamster-less) but I am saying that you’ll regret not trying to see your significance. I am saying that no matter where you come from your dreams are valid.

“I want you to see who you are” You have snot running out of your nose or you always look tired. No matter what you say, what you look like on the outside is a pretty clear picture on how you feel about your inside. Yeah, I am aware. You’re not supposed to emphasize body image but I am emphasizing presentation. Just like a good lawyer wouldn’t walk into the courtroom in pyjamas, a person ready to grow their mind won’t show up with curlers in their hair and spinach in their teeth.

“I want you to know you can learn” This has been the biggest accomplishment for any Masters. Recently I started learning how to ride horses and on my first day I fell off. Embarrassed to have fallen I quickly got back on before I knew what had just happened. Things will always take time but just like you learn to ride a bike you can learn to paddle.

“I want you to know how to handle fear” I want you to CLIMB and climb HIGH. I want you to get stuck, look down and tremble. I want you to tip over. Then I want you to process and process well. What are you going to do? How will you get down? Do you need to ask for help? The biggest thing when it comes to kids is that we are so quick to jump in when all a kid needs to do is hold on or stand up. I think ANY child of ANY ability deserves to know fear (in a “as-it-happens” sort of way). I’ll stand there and cheer you on as you learn to handle fear. You know what can conquer fear? Hope. Hope is when you hold on and don’t let go. Hope is when you figure out that the mountain is not so high. Fear is good, panic is not.

“I want you to handle help” My teaching you or coaching you, that is something I’ve chosen to do. I have a way of doing things, you have a way of doing things. How remarkable would it be if we could combine superpowers? I’m not a slave and you’re not my minion. I am not good at math but I will try and help you no matter what. You’re not good at math, so you’ll explore the process with me. I respect you, you respect me. Easy.

“I want you to see the process” Like all things worth doing, these things take time. These things are not a once-in-a-while commitment, they’re an everyday habit. Want to be good at something? Do it, everyday. Get stuck, have a meltdown. Repeat.

“I want you to become yourself” As an EPA my job isn’t to have kids make my life easier. I make theirs a little more manageable so one day they can wear a cap and gown and know that they got themselves there. Does this mean I will pick up after you’ve angrily thrown your garbage on the floor. Nope. Does this mean I’ll solve all your life problems? Not necessarily. However, if you’re by yourself and want to play tag with someone, count me in. If you want to climb a wall with your friends, I’ll make sure you feel safe. As a coach my job isn’t to pump you full of feel-good quotes all the time. Does this mean I’ll say that you suck? Absolutely not, because, it’s not just you, we all suck at stuff sometimes so singling you out wouldn’t be fair. Does this mean I’ll hang around a little longer to watch you paddle? Of course. Does this mean I’ll come up with really cheesy sayings to remember technical tips or force you to try different things? Yup. All part of learning to become yourself. The great part is, as you learn to become yourself I learn to become myself too.

All of these things are what makes, “I want you to see what you can do” happen. While I attempt to live a growth-mindset and model it, I’ve already seen a snippet of what I can do. I went from being a child-loathing, Grumpy to a soppy, please-don’t-let-this-be-goodbye athlete herder, kid wrangler, motivational speaker and human tissue. While the pre-twelve year old me would have loved a job as a veterinarian living in a big mansion, I think the greatest responsibility one can have is teaching someone what they can do. It feels satisfying knowing that one day, the people who might look after me when I’m old are the people I taught that the world can be an unfriendly place but you have had the ability all along to be someone of significance within it.




And Now I’ll Do What’s Best for Me

Something amazing happens when your life is flipped upside down. You cry about it and you mourn, then one morning you wake up and you realize nothing is going to make it change but you alone can make it better. If you’ve read in blog posts from way back you will remember this. I’m a dweller. I literally suck the life out of issues and beat it over my brain a thousand times until I’m completely exhausted and burnt out from it. Some call it, “beating a dead horse?” As I’ve gotten older so many people have told me that I can’t do that; I can’t dwell. Unfortunately, the only way I learn is to do it so many times that I finally stop. You finally stop dwelling because quite frankly, you’re tired. This is the story of my tired. This is the story of the last three months when maybe I finally did a little growing and now, I’ll do what’s best for me.

I used to help lead a workshop for girls to help them develop leadership skills. Real leadership skills, not the “pump them full of feel-good mantras and tell them they’re beautiful” skills. I mean the ones where they can look in the mirror and attack the world by its balls and be who they were destined to be in it. A lot of what I learned from them was that they know that they can be who they are, they just do not feel they had the permission. Elementary school was about cultivating the learner and then middle school was about getting the work done and handing it in. Somewhere in that process they developed who they wanted to be but now there was no place to practice it and if there was, it was shunned because it was different. They were “uptight”, “high-strung”, “teachers pet”, “perfectionist”.  That is where we as mentors came in. We were the ones who said, “You’re right. It sucks. People suck. It’s going to suck. Things are going to hurt. They are going to hurt because one day who you are now will MATTER. You will not be the people who will get lost, you might get lonely (it’s lonely at the top) but you will not be lost. You know why? Because you matter to this. You matter to this group. This group will one day matter to the world.” This idea of being useful and this idea that eventually who we choose to be will add up is something I carried through in almost everything I did. Who my athletes are matters. Who they intend to be matters, but most importantly, who they intend to be when they’re challenged matters. Anyone can steer a ship when the water is smooth. Who can do it when it’s wavy?

That all sounds great, right? Well, it turns out I needed my advice more than any of those kids. Ever since I was a kid I had this idea of what success looked like. Money and a ceiling-less career. When I was in elementary I had good teachers but I also had teachers that brought out my worst fear: That I wasn’t good enough and I didn’t deserve to be. I swam in it and I let it drown me. The things I wasn’t good at I settled with. When I was in middle school I did better, but I was still drowning or I guess, barely keeping my head above water. Then I hit high school and I plummeted. If you don’t know me, I am a perfectionist. It doesn’t mean I get perfect grades or that I walk into school wearing a business suit and an apple for the teacher. It means that I am hard on myself when I am critiqued and that I refuse to do less than my best and I expect the same from those around me. So the years that I plummeted I didn’t understand myself, I did not understand how I could plummet because, up until then, things were perfect. Last October I became an Educational Assistant and very recently I have started teaching at an external learning centre. As you know, I want to be a middle school teacher. To me, the best education is experience and this is perfect. Although a substitute educational assistant, I get my fair dose of reality within classes. Now I am dealing with kids completely outside of the way I think. However, being a perfectionist, I try my best to float their boat. In the short time that I have been doing this I will say, at first I got into this because I thought I could do something for the kids. I realize now that they are doing far more for me. Every now and then I get a snippet of myself in some of them. There’s a perfectionist, a goof, a stoic-hearted, a compassionate, a stubborn, a relentless, an observer, a cautious one. In the moment I can’t stand it because they’re playing my game but then I shake my head and think “I should probably write an apology letter to some of my teachers. I  get it now. I was a little intense.” Being a teacher isn’t about teaching a kid stuff. It’s about raising a future doctor, lawyer, teacher, visionary. It’s showing the possibilities within the most complex and impossible of situations. It’s about taking the perfectionist and embracing her diligence and cultivating her creativity. It’s about taking the observer and encouraging some risk or taking the observer and making them a leader. Most important, it’s taking the defeated and saying, “No matter who you are, where you come from or what happened, you are worthy of this (an education) and you are the only one who can make that happen.” When I see it like that everything changes. The very idea of how I approach teaching or coaching changes. When you walk into work everyday the way you act, the things you feel, they become part of what THEY see. What an honour it is to be in someone’s mind like that. What a privilege it is to have them remember you when they grow up. At the learning centre we did training and we watched the way the fisherman at Pike Place Market in Seattle work.  They show up, they play, they make your day and they choose their attitude. The approach doesn’t eliminate hard days but it lets you sleep at night.

Growing up, sometimes being the way I was didn’t feel good. Sometimes it didn’t feel right because people made it seem like it was bad or unusual or you stood out. Of course, being an adolescent person you did whatever it took to be like everyone else. The friend I worked with in the girls leadership group always said, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” We preached that statement to the girls. Only now do I really realize the enormity of those words. With that alone it separates three types of people: The people who ignore you because they don’t value you, the people who notice you and find you too much, and the people who notice you and want to work with you. When you separate it like that isn’t it easy to see where you want to belong?

The movie scenes where the teacher is all inspiring and the class all of the sudden has this big life revelation that homework is cool and school is life…it’s not realistic. However the more I immerse myself in the culture of the fish market philosophy the more I think you always remember your teachers. You remember them because they mattered. So, elementary and middle school Ornmadee…now that you know what it’s like to be on the other end, you matter too. You always did.

Once when I was 11-years old, someone told me I wasn’t as smart as I looked. Now I’m 21 years old, and that statement makes me want to be a teacher. That person mattered because I couldn’t envision a better way to be useful in this world.

I’m ending my life revelation with what I always tried to push in any kid I coached. “I will keep telling you that you are strong, brave, courageous, worthy and important…until one day you finally realize it yourself.”





I have had the opportunity to go into elementary classrooms lately. As you know my goal is to become a middle school teacher. My interest in middle school stems from a lot of reasons:

  1. I have realized from being a coach that I have difficulty being “huggy” or “touchy-feely” or overall sympathetic to war wounds. Being in mainly elementary schools I have concluded that there is no good way for me to deal with, “I want a bandaid ‘cuz I scratched my finger on an eraser.”
  2. To add to point #1 I can deal with the emotional aspect of being a pre-teen. Many of the reasons are equally as stupid but the heart hurting versus the body hurting is something I can handle.
  3. I get it. Kids have stuff going on at that age and I feel the last thing they need is a teacher who can’t reach them through compelling lessons and stories that captivate them.

My list could go on an on but being in elementary school lately I discovered something that I didn’t know happened before. The discussion surrounding race.

Growing up I do not remember ever being talked to about race or ethnicity. The odd time our teachers would discuss our backgrounds and where we came from but it was often in passing. I grew up in a really diverse city and my school itself was insanely diverse. A few weeks ago I was talking to a substitute teacher in the staffroom one day and was told that, “Oh, they will definitely accept you as a teacher. Not to be blunt but they really look for teachers of colour and a different ethnicity.” It took me by surprise because up until that point I was pretty sure I was even in the race just like everybody else. However that moment made me more aware that, not everybody grows up with peers named Amin or Evgueni. A completely different time, different school, a teacher comes in and is marvelled at her craft project which she has completed with her students. She is teaching them about friendship and instructs them to draw a portrait of their friends. They can’t just draw a picture though, she wants them to be specific but she gives no more details. The kids rather than reaching for peach coloured crayons or brown crayons start mixing their colours, changing the pressure of the crayon, making actual skin tones that are not just “white or brown”. She explains to them that we as people are not defined by the colours of our skin or the places where we come from. It plays just a small role in who we really are. We are what we see ourselves as and by extension by what our friends see us as. She says, “You chose to be specific about their skin tone, not just categorizing them as white or black or brown. You have recognized that even lightly toned people have different tones from other lightly toned friends or people with dark skin have many different tones of dark.” She was excited to tell us this because she said she was sick and tired of hearing examples of just caucasian people and non-caucasian people. She wanted them to see that diversity exists within races themselves, including caucasian people. Brilliant.

Her message was inspiring especially since she managed to get this through to a bunch of Grade 2s. It reminded me of that staffroom encounter where I was told I would most likely be picked because they need “more people of your background”. In life, and in any position I get, I want to be chosen because I am exceptional at what I do. If I am not right for a position, do not give it to me. I want to be chosen because I am good enough not because I am a woman or of some ethnic background other than North American. The difference that I could make would be displayed by the materials and lessons I teach, not by the colourization of my skin. We need to teach about diversity that accepts it but not as prerequisites to what makes a person capable of completing a job. That teacher closed the portrait project by getting students to write character qualities of their friends on the backs of the pictures. There is only one side of that project that matters when it comes to friendship.






Another Coaching Post

Sometimes I feel like I could be both the genius and laughing stock of the coaching world. I’m always experimenting and my fall back is Orn the Coach who rules with an iron fist. So either you see me doing experiments or you see me with a crazed look in my eye. Today was an experiment day…actually, I’ve done this before but today I really tried to get myself to shut-up when I felt like I was being too, “coachy”. It’s not a bad thing to be “coachy”  but for the sake of this exercise it was. We’ve all heard them, the coaches who use their volume in their voice to exude a certain level of authority, like the ones on hockey benches yelling every single play by play. What they’re saying might not even need to be yelled but if they’re not yelling, it’s not effective in their eyes. I am such a coach at times. On good days I yell motivation, on not so good days, I’m yelling everything. Training athletes in a weight room has a certain amount of risk, weights can be dropped, people can bump into each other, it’s really not a great place for kids freshly let out of school, ready to conquer the world…only to be confined into a small room…again. So today’s experiment took some risk but had really good results.

When I went to the Sport Summit in June, I felt I represented a side of sport that came after the whole “get them into sport” phase. I did not really relate to Sport for Peace or even for Development but I was looking into ways on how to solve our own crisis, 70% of kids will drop out of competitive sport by 13. Many solutions included a ton of random games, something which I never did during my training although we did “fun” things. Why did we need to play all of those games? How is a competitive athlete to respond to partner push-ups? I feel it deeper. Not every athlete that goes into this sport is going to come out with a medal. For some coaches this is okay, for they have a goal to create winners and are paid to make winners. I think my strength came in the fact that I had very strong coaches who, no matter what development level, made sure you were there because you enjoyed it. You worked hard because you enjoyed it. We had an annual cardboard box derby, a ski camp, club movies, sleepovers, Olympic marathons…they were just events to me but as a coach mean something much different now. They were the alternative to those who wouldn’t get medals. Everyone who left the sport would at least leave with something.

Today I wrote the workout on the board. I put as much detail in to make it safe but left enough out to make them think. I too did the workout. I wasn’t answering questions, just showing them process. In an Orn setting, there is very little talking. Today was not an ideal Orn setting. But I did notice something. There was no talking while doing the exercise, just the in between. There has been a clear distinction made as to when it’s appropriate and when it’s not. I don’t have problem with that. Another thing, some people noticed the benefit of working alone versus working in a group. There was discussion on what a good weight would be for the number of reps needed. All questions asked amongst themselves. I have to sit back sometimes and remember that this isn’t boot camp or military training. I can expect them to fold their sheets perfectly or align their shoes by size but it’s not necessary. What’s necessary is they develop and understand how to train. This can’t be done by talking all the time or yelling or hovering or setting such strict guidelines there’s no room for individuality.

So how does this relate to the Summit? Varied programming is important but so is the delivery. I didn’t need to play workout games for them to have fun but they had fun testing themselves. Some exercises they did lazily, only to realize they definitely need to do them right. Trial and error can only happen when it’s permitted to happen. Coaches need to be willing to make changes in delivery. Coaches who can grow, will grow their athletes. Grow always.

On that note, I’d like to leave you with a pre-stretching spontaneous dance party.

“Dynamic Stretching”