It’s almost Christmas. As I put the finishing touches on this letter, there are white-out conditions outside and the wind sounds like it’s going to blow the door in. Gotta love these Ontario winters.
But I’ll take inclement weather over more COVID restrictions any day, and on that front, the situation is far better than the last two holiday seasons. Here’s hoping all of us will be able to connect with more family and friends this year and to do it with fewer masks and less anxiety.
Okay, here’s a skill-testing question to see how well you know us. What is more likely:
- A. We’re now living a nomadic life in a renovated school bus
- B. Linds is pregnant again
- C. We moved again
If you answered A, you probably know us pretty well because that sounds awesome – but, no. If you answered B, I don’t really blame you, but Lindsay’s ovaries quiver with terror just reading that sentence. If you answered C, congratulations!
Yes, we moved again. Picton was great in a lot of ways, but there were two big problems. First, the house was just too small for our family of six, particularly when two-thirds of us might stumble down the stairs on any given morning an inch taller than they were the night before. The second problem was the school situation. I alluded to some of the issues in last year’s letter, but the bottom line was that we felt strongly compelled to look for other options.
What we found was the International Baccalaureate (IB) program in Belleville – just 40 minutes north of us. It’s kind of like an enrichment program for Grades 11 and 12, but there are academic streams (“Foundations” and “Destinations”) that lead into it, all within the public system. The kids who choose this challenging path – and it is challenging – tend to have something in common: a desire to learn and do well in school.
When all four boys were accepted into these programs, we were ecstatic. But because transportation from Picton wouldn’t be possible for all of them, we looked at our constricting County house, did another family gut check and said, “OK, let’s find a place closer to Belleville.”
Here’s our new house. We love it so much we might even stay here for longer than five years.
One of the best things about this house is that all of the kids now have their own rooms. Speaking of kids, here are the highlights:
Owen is sixteen years old and in grade 11. Yep – that’s him with his learner’s permit. Scary.
For the first time since grade 6, he’s back in a real classroom, interacting with real humans. How has our homeschooled hermit adjusted to being fully, physically present? Well, aside from a lingering compulsion to wear shorts every day, even in winter, Owen has been doing exceptionally well, right from day one.
His enthusiasm for knowledge, particularly in science, has endeared Owen to his teachers while his friendly, confident, and easy-going attitude allowed him to make friends quickly and easily. The combination of these two things did cause a bit of worry last month, however, when I got a text from Owen:
“Metal fume fever”? I was not familiar. Google to the rescue. Phew – small quantities, likely harmless. I let him know.
Long story short, it was indeed zinc, but no one got sick. You know, the world needs smart people whose passion and enthusiasm run just a little faster than their restraint. Owen walks through life, fascinated by one thing after another – sometimes unaware of what’s right in front of him. That’s not just a metaphor. Last month Owen broke two toes on the same foot on different occasions in the same week by stubbing them. The orthopedic follow-up is tomorrow.
Jake is 15 and in grade 10 – and he’s had his share of adventures in high school this year too. But where Owen is absent-minded, Jake is strong-willed. His natural inclination seems to be to find the boundaries, judge them to be inadequate, and blow right by them. “Oh, I didn’t know that was an actual rule. And it doesn’t really make sense anyway because . . .” – you get the idea.
Being in the IB stream is a huge improvement over the academic situation last year and, even though Jake is not sure if he wants to continue in the program, he’s doing very well. Overall, Jake is a diligent and committed student in spite of the occasional resistance to authority. But those kinds of experiences are part of becoming a man, and Jake has grown up A LOT in the past year. Jake learns best from experience, and experience is a great teacher . . . if it doesn’t kill you.
One day not long ago one of Jake’s teachers brought in something that looked a little like a potato. It was cassava, a tuber that is a dietary staple in various parts of the world including Africa and South America.
The raw cassava was passed around the class. When it got to Jake, he took a bite. It tasted bitter, but he took another. And another. And THEN he Googled it. Turns out cassava is highly toxic unless it’s cooked because it has cyanide in it. CYANIDE.
Ten bites of a horrible tasting unknown food that NO ONE else around is eating . . . really? I’ve heard that our brains are not really mature until age 25 or so. Until then, things like impulse control and risk assessment are either bad or non-existent. Another long story short, Jake was fine after several hours of monitoring for symptoms. His poor teacher, on the other hand, was in far worse shape wondering if she’d accidentally just committed manslaughter.
When Jake is not exploring the boundaries of toxicology, he can usually be found surrounded by his modelling equipment building incredible replicas of world war two tanks and aircraft or playing his electric guitar.
Jake keeps us on our toes, Owen breaks his toes, and Ben never steps on anyone’s toes.
Ben will do everything in his power to make sure everyone is good and no one’s feelings get hurt. He’s so good at keeping the peace, going with the consensus, and generally just being a pleasure to live with that he has declared himself to be “The Favourite”. So don’t mistake agreeableness for a lack of confidence.
At age 13 and in grade 8, it feels like the transition from boy to man has begun. But the truth is, Ben keeps such a low profile that I’m struggling to think of an amusing anecdote from the past year. He does well in school, both socially and academically, is always super helpful around the house, and this year has taken a huge interest in sports and fitness. He often wakes up early to work out in our home gym before school and recently shovelled the basketball court of about 8 inches of heavy snow so that he could practice his shot.
Ben continues to take on massive coding projects and write epic short novels in his spare time. There is no task too big for Ben, and no task so small that hurrying is justified. If you’re behind Ben serving himself at the dinner table, prepare to wait a while because, well, you know, it takes time to make sure you’re taking enough of the potatoes, but not too much. So, sit back, and relax. Ben’s got this. Just don’t rush him.
One person who never stays upset for long is Eli. I feel like I comment on Eli’s cheery disposition and unbridled enthusiasm every year but it’s true. Frankly, I might be just a little jealous that his happiness set-point is so darn high if it weren’t for the fact that he spreads that positivity to everyone around him every single day.
Having said that, you might recall that last year’s school experience was deeply upsetting for Eli. He was bullied – tormented on a daily basis for the first half of the year. Things improved in the spring, but school was still boring, pointless, and frustrating for Eli.
Fortunately, he is now enrolled in an Adventure Class here in Belleville – a 30+ year academic “experiment” that focuses on experiential rather than didactic learning. Why this is not mainstream in elementary schools across the country is a mystery to us. “Sit down, be quiet and follow the instructions” is simply not the way kids learn and not an effective way to encourage creative, inquisitive and innovative minds – the kind of traits humanity desperately needs. Instead, the Adventure Class promotes, well – adventures! Cool projects, field trips, kids teaching kids, tons of parent involvement – it’s phenomenal. Eli found his tribe.
It’s no wonder. Eli is a maker and a sharer. Just the other day he presented us all with perfect little snowman decorations that he conjured out of a piece of packing foam. His room is a mash-up of tools, materials, and projects in various stages of completion.
And it’s not just little projects. Earlier this year he took on the Rubik’s cube. A combination of pure determination, an investment of $40 to buy a competition “speed cube”, and the memorization of about 70 algorithms (“Dad, it’s not enough for your brain to know them, your muscles have to know them too”) resulted in average solve times of less than a minute.
But perhaps Eli’s biggest challenge and passion of late has been Arduino. Arduino is a microcontroller – kind of like a mini-computer – that can be configured to control all kinds of things from robots to security systems, to video game devices. Eli’s still on the learning curve with this one, but we have no doubt that his persistence will pay off.
I would be remiss not to mention our little girl, Phoebe, who just turned two. She’s the one in the picture with Eli. Being a little high-strung by nature (I guess that’s the poodle in her), we are happy to report that the move to Belleville has her stamp of approval too. She’s still super-attached to Linds but has chilled out significantly over the past few months. So much so that Linds can leave for hours at a time without Phoebe going bonkers. Turns out this is particularly good news because . . .
. . . Linds is working again! After a few years of reflection, and 214 conversations in which I assured her that the rest of the family would not spontaneously combust if she wanted to go back to work (OK, I was at least 65% sure that wouldn’t happen), Linds started looking at job postings for speech therapy a few months after we moved to Belleville.
Although there were postings, her ideal place of work, a bustling clinic called “Big Words Little People” – how funny is that?? – wasn’t hiring. I stepped in – carefully.
Me: Just call them. Email them. Anything. Just introduce yourself. You never know. Maybe they need you but they just don’t know it yet.
Linds: [worried shrug]
Me: [Afraid if I push any harder I’m going to screw this up] Glass of wine?
A few days later she emailed. They said, “Thanks but we’re not hiring right now.” No problem. The point was to have tried.
Then the owner of the clinic, Heather, sent another message. Turns out she had Googled Lindsay’s name, found our travel blog and YouTube channel, and was intrigued. She offered to have a “We’re not hiring but let’s have coffee anyway” kind of interview.
An hour into that meeting, their coffees were cold and the conversation was still hot. They drove to the clinic for a tour. By that point, I think the job offer was a foregone conclusion. It was a classic win-win. They get an amazing person who does amazing work, and Lindsay gets to do what she loves.
Heather and the whole team are fantastic and, having attended their Christmas party, I can tell you that Linds fits right in. She is already taking on really tough cases, spends hours and hours prepping for her sessions, and comes home sparkling with excitement even after a full day of work. It’s awesome for Linds, awesome for the team, and awesome for the kids and families who get to benefit from her amazing talents. We didn’t know it when we decided to move, but this might be one of the best outcomes.
Last up . . . yours truly.
A few years ago I realized that my most important job wasn’t medicine, it was my family, and my family is doing well, so I am content.
We’ve also learned that the good times are not to be taken for granted, so I try to enjoy them while they last and, at the same time, do what I can to make the future a little more secure.
I’m 46 now, quite squarely in “mid-life” and I feel incredibly fortunate. I was able to drop everything to be with Ben when he got appendicitis in April. I have the flexibility to accommodate Linds’ new work schedule. And when the kids need help with a school project or tricky social situation, I can be there.
Some people wonder if leaving medicine a few years ago meant “retirement” for me. No way. In fact, if there is one thing that’s certain it’s that I love to work, and 2022 has been a really exciting year for me as I grow my efforts to help people with their financial lives. The investing blog that I started four years ago continues to grow and even resulted in a few podcast and webinar interviews. My moneySmartMD course for doctors has been really gratifying as more and more doctors seek to improve their financial literacy. But the really unexpected growth has been in the financial mentoring service that I started offering when I realized that a lot of people who want to manage their own money and investments are seeking one-on-one help from someone who’s been there, and done that.
So, after coffee and Wordle with Linds in the morning, my days consist of Zoom meetings with clients, studying for my Certified Financial Planner courses, writing articles, teaching courses and giving the occasional talk for physician groups or investment clubs. It’s a whole new world for me after medicine, but I’m loving the fact that I am not held back by a dysfunctional system; I can do whatever I think is right for the people I’m working with.
There is a concept that I came across a few years ago that has helped me understand why my current path feels so much more “right” than medicine did in the end. It’s a Japanese principle called “ikigai” and it translates roughly to “life meaning”. You can think of it like a Venn diagram of four overlapping circles: one contains activities that you love; the second, activities that you’re good at; the third contains activities that you can be paid for; and the last are activities that your community needs. When you’ve found a path where all of these overlap, that’s ikigai, and studies have shown you’re likely to be happier, healthier and even live longer.
On that note, I’ll end this year’s letter wishing you a very merry Christmas. From our family to yours, we hope that 2022 was better than 2021 and that 2023 brings even more love, achievement, prosperity and meaning to your life.