Writing

“Don’t punish yourself,” she heard her say again, but there would be punishment and pain, and there would be happiness, too. That was writing.

— from  ‘The Book Thief,’ by Markus Zusak

I write for young people and sometimes for their parents.  My articles and short stories have been published in children’s and parents’ magazines in the US and Canada. My book manuscripts are still a work in progress.

Here are a few samples:

DEALING WITH YOUR CHILD’S GRIEF
by Antje Martens-Oberwelland  (Published in BC Parent)

Nicholas has tears in his eyes while hammering his fists on his mother’s chest. “Why do you hide Abby from me?” he cries.

Nicholas is four years old. He doesn’t understand why his baby sister is not in her room. Where is she? Why did his parents take her away? He doesn’t know what it means that Abby has died. When will she come back?

“Between the ages of 2 and 5 children develop a first idea of death,” says Melissa Lambert, Executive Director of Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region. “Children at that age have no comprehension of time, therefore they don’t understand what ‘forever’ means. They still ask when the person will come home. They believe that death is reversible.”

Preschoolers have sufficient language to ask questions and express basic feelings. “Often children return to earlier development behaviours, like bed wetting or thumb sucking,” Lambert explains. “For parents and caregivers it is important to be consistent with their answers regarding the reality of the death,” advises Lambert. “Children at that age need the repetition.”

Anna, the mother of six year-old Sophie remembers, “I was five years old when my grandmother died of cancer. My parents didn’t take me to the funeral, because they believed I was too young. I was mortified by the ideas I made up of what people might do to my granny’s body that day.
“Children can almost always cope with what they know; it’s trying to handle what they don’t know that’s the big problem,” says Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., C.T. from the Center for Loss and Life Transition. “Children make up stories to fill in the blanks, stories that are much worse than the truth.

“Allow children to participate in the funeral,” advises Wolfelt. “Tell them what to expect. Explain that the funeral is a time to honor and remember the life of the person who died. Even though children may not understand everything about the funeral, they will always remember that you thought enough of them to include them.”

“When a friend of our family died from a heart attack, we took Sophie with us to the wake,” continues Anna. “I believed that if we prepared her beforehand of what to expect, it would help Sophie to accept death as a part of life. Sophie was very good the whole time. Only when she stood at the open casket starring at Teddy, it was heartbreaking. When asked, Sophie said, ‘I thought when I only stared long enough into his face he would wake up again.”

“5 to 7 year-olds begin to learn that death is real,” says Lambert. “Typical questions and worries include: How did the person die? Will I die? Who else will die? Who will take care of me? What is dead? What happens to the dead person?” Try to answer their questions as best as you can and encourage your children to ask.

“Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers,” says Wolfelt. “It’s more important for you to treat their questions with the same respect as you would another adult’s questions, than it is for you to know all the right answers.”
Most children experience the death of a pet first. Is it okay though, to mourn an animal the way you mourn a person?

My five year-old daughter, Emily, wanted nothing more than to have a bunny. When she got her beloved pet she was the happiest girl in the world. Shortly after, the bunny died, while Emily and I went grocery shopping. I remember Emily crouching in front of the cage, telling me she would never go grocery shopping again. Even though her father and I explained Emily that she didn’t do anything that might have caused the bunny’s death, Emily believed it was her fault, because she’d left him alone. Later we found out that the bunny was infected with a disease the breeder had in her barn.

“Sometimes children think that their thoughts [or behaviour] cause things to happen,” explains Wolfelt. “Explain to the child how somebody died. Assure them nothing they did caused the person [or animal] to die.”

“We at BFO (Bereaved Families of Ontario) do not compare grief,” says Lambert. “We say that everyone’s grief is the worst, because it is theirs and they must learn to cope with it. If a child is grieving a pet than it is serious, because their emotions dictate that. We would never compare different deaths and their importance or significance.”

When you tell your child about somebody’s death, it is important not to use expressions that require children to understand complex concepts. “We tell parents to tell children the facts,” says Ms. Lambert. “The person has died. If you can name a disease do it, saying illness or “because they were sick” puts fear of sick into children. Children do not get cancer from school or stay home from school because of cancer. When someone dies their body stops working, their heart stops beating, their lungs stop breathing, they cannot hear, see, feel, eat or talk anymore. Now that their body has stopped, it will not start working again.”

 

Here is a breakdown of Stage of Development for Healthy Children by BFO

0-2 years
Babies and toddlers have no understanding of death. They will respond to emotions they sense from the parent or caring adult. They protest through crying or temper tantrums.

2-5 years
Children at that age develop a first idea of death, but have no comprehension of time. They still ask when the person will come home and believe that death is reversible. They express basic feelings and might return to earlier development behaviour (i.e. bed wetting, thumb sucking, etc)

5-7 years
School age children begin to learn that death is real. They can think they did or thought something that caused the death and might feel guilty. Even though they have a better understanding that death is irreversible, they often view death as only affecting old people. Don’t get confused if your child exhibits only short periods of sadness. They can only cope with intense feelings of grief for short periods and then return to normal play.

8-12 years
Middle grade children know that both young and old people die. They are capable of seeing death as biological, universal and inevitable. They can develop a fear that family members might die and may keep feelings inside for fear of upsetting parents. This age group can describe their feelings of guilt and might believe in ghosts.

Teenagers
Teens are able to problem solve at a more complex level of thinking. They can develop a fascination with death. They may not be in touch with finality of death and be engaging in risk taking behaviours. They understand and think of funerals. Teenagers may internalize their feelings, therefore you need to encourage them to talk. Many talk to their peers or have a teacher they can confide in, instead of their parents.

“Don’t assume though, that every child in a certain age group understands death the same way or has the same feelings,” warns Wolfelt. “Healing in grief is a process, not an event. The child needs for you to understand that it will take a long time for them to grieve and that they must face the pain to heal.”

“It can be very hard on parents who have young children to care for while they are grieving,”says Lambert. “Society can expect that children bring people comfort and help them cope with their grief.  This is not always the case. Children have their own grief, their constant needs and demands. It is especially overwhelming for parents who have lost a spouse to suddenly have to do the work of two parents, while raising the children, caring for the house and coping with their grief.”
If you feel overwhelmed with your or your loved one’s grief, check out these websites:
www.bereavedfamilies.net/

www.bfomidwest.org

www.centreforloss.com

html www.tcfcanada.net

www.kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/feelings/death

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THE HEART OF A CHAMPION

(published in POCKETS Magazine)

It is not easy to be a good student when one also wants to become one of the best athletes in the world.

“On many days I have to leave school at 2:45 and sometimes as early as 11 a.m.,” says 10 year-old Lana Splettstoesser from Kincardine, Ontario. That’s because Lana is a figure skater and she is working hard to become one of the best skaters in her country. Lana’s goal is to skate in the Olympics someday.

After school Lana either walks to the local arena to train, or her mom takes her on a two-hour drive to the Kitchener-Waterloo Skating Club. Kitchener-Waterloo has one of the biggest arenas in Ontario, Canada. It has four ice pads that are open year-round with two pads of the Olympia size. Next to the ice rinks are a dance studio and a fitness studio.

Lana trains three times a week for one-and-a-half hours with Dianne Rouleau, her semi-private skating coach. Afterwards she has a five minute break. She then either walks over to the dance studio where she trains for another one-and-a-half hours with a professional dancer, or she has a specially designed program at the fitness studio.

“I do things like push-ups, bicycling and ball exercises,” Lana says. “This helps me to be in the best shape possible. Sometimes I also have health and condition tests.”

At the dance studio Lana does what they call “hip-hop ballet.” “It helps me with flexibility, balance and performing,” she adds. Lana has to watch her diet as well. “I have to eat healthy,” she says. “I can’t have fast food or candy, but need to eat something from each food group.” Thankfully Lana never had a “sweet tooth.”

Lana first tried skating when she was 5 years old. Her mom took her and Lana’s siblings to public skating at their local arena. Later Lana joined the local skating club and trained with a coach. When she was eight years old Lana decided to become very good at skating. During that summer she attended an eight-week skating seminar away from home. “I had to live with a host family and needed to get up every morning at 6 a.m.” Lana remembers.

In the past Lana has been successful in ice dancing. She and her partner won 1st prize in pair dancing in two Ontario based championships. But now Lana prefers solo freestyle skating. “I very much enjoy jumps and spins,” Lana says, “things I couldn’t do in ice dancing. Lana isn’t interested in pair skating, though. “It’s too dangerous,” she laughs. “You can easily get cut your face or cut off fingers with your partners blades.”

“To become a great skater you need to be committed,” Lana advises. “Don’t give up even if you fall. I used to fall a lot when I started out and sometimes I still get bruises at my knees and hips. But once you get better it’s a lot of fun.”

During her long car rides Lana studies to stay atop of her schoolwork. “I don’t think my teachers would let me leave school early if I wasn’t a good student,” she says. “Sometimes though, I have difficulty with math, because I often miss when my teacher explains new stuff.”

An athlete can’t try out for the Olympics before 15 years of age. That’s when Lana hopes to start competing against the best skaters of the world. Lots of hard work is still ahead of her. Good luck, Lana.

 

The Olympic games are one of the oldest and most famous sports events in history. The first Olympics were held as a running race in Olympia, Greece around 700 years before Jesus Christ was born. Only male Greek athletes were allowed to participate. Over the years competitions like discus throwing, boxing, wrestling and chariot racing were added.

 Even in times when towns were fighting with each other, Greek people would always make peace for the duration of the Olympic games. Then they gathered peacefully to watch or to compete in the games.

 Today’s Olympics are different from the ones in ancient Greece. Now there are summer games and winter games, alternating (taking turns) every two years. Athletes and spectators come together from all over the world. Many sports events have been added, but one thing has never changed – people still come together peacefully, even if their countries usually don’t get along.

 The Olympic Motto: “Citius, Altius, Fortius.” These three Latin words mean “Faster, Higher, Stronger.

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MARIE’S SURPRISE BIRTHDAY GIFT
(published in “Turtle Trails and Tales” Magazine)
Antje now lives in Canada, but when her mother was little, her mom lived in Germany during World War II. “Marie’s Birthday” is based on her mother’s birthday in 1943 when the city of Bielefeld, Germany was badly bombed. Sadly today, wars still exist and the people in them might find themselves in situations a lot like the situation Antje’s mother was in. What do you think Marie learned from her birthday experience?
            Marie sat on the kitchen counter holding a huge glass bowl full of rice pudding. This cost so much, she thought, swinging her legs, still in braces, through the air. The autumn sun shining through the window at her back felt good.
            “Mama, how come we have rice pudding today?” Peter, Marie’s little brother, asked.
            “Because it’s Marie’s birthday.” Mama smiled.
            “Do we have any food ration cards left?” Papa joked.
            “Today is a special day and tomorrow is early enough to worry again about such things,” Mama answered. She turned toward a stranger, standing in the doorframe. “You are welcome to celebrate with us,” she called, waving him to come inside.
            The stranger nodded a thank you, something Marie noticed that people who didn’t speak the language did a lot.
            Marie’s happy face turned sour. Why does a stranger have to be here on my birthday? She didn’t want him around. He was a prisoner of war. An enemy! That’s what everybody was saying around town. Papa said he was a good worker. Still, Marie felt uncomfortable having him there.
            “Let’s eat!” announced Peter, taking the bowl from Marie.
            Just then an eerie sound filled the air.
            “Air raid!” Papa shouted over the howling sirens. “Quick! To the shelter!”
            Everyone scattered toward the bunker, an underground room where they could all safely hide and be protected from the bombs. Everyone but Marie.
            And the stranger.
            “Because I cannot walk, I should die?” Marie cried. Hot tears raced down her cheeks. Her eyes rested on the stranger. What had Papa said his name was? Ivan. That was it.
           Strangers were not allowed in bunkers. He was in great danger as well. She took a deep breath and said, “Ivan. Please help me.”
            Ivan didn’t understand German. But upon hearing his name, it was as if Marie’s voice had shaken him awake.
           In three strides he was at her side, lifting her easily into his strong arms. Just as they left the kitchen Marie heard a crack! Looking over Ivan’s shoulder she saw the window behind where she had been sitting, shatter. The bombs were coming closer. She clung to him.
            “Thank God,” Mama gasped when Ivan and Marie entered the bunker. She looked behind them. “Where is Papa?”
            “He’s not here?” Ivan set Marie down and she looked around, alarmed.
            “He ran back to get you!” Peter cried.
            “Papa!” Marie turned her frightened eyes to the door.
            Just then Papa rushed in.
            “There you are!” He patted Ivan’s back, sealed the door, and then hugged Marie. “Sorry about your birthday getting ruined.”
            The bombing went on and on.
            “Bielefeld, our beautiful city, is surely gone,” Mama sighed.
            Marie sat wedged between Papa and Ivan. Her sore legs ached, and the cold wall against her back made her shiver. Ivan fumbled with something in his jacket pocket, pulled it out, and placed it into her hands. She cupped her fingers around the smooth, round shape. It was hard to see what it was. But even in the middle of the bomb attack she suddenly felt safe and happy.
            “Pajolsto,” Ivan said to Marie.
            Marie knew the word was Russian, but wasn’t sure what Ivan was saying.
            An eerie silence fell over them. No bombs. No noise. No nothing. Just silence. Afraid to speak, they all stared into the darkness, waiting. Finally Papa got up. “Let’s have a look outside,” he said.
            One after another, they returned to the kitchen.  Mama set the baby into the highchair, and immediately grabbed a broom. “I’m so sorry,” she said, glancing at Marie. Ivan had helped her into a chair. “We have to throw your rice pudding away. There are glass pieces everywhere. We can’t risk eating it.”
            “That’s okay,” Marie replied bravely. She was sad that her parents had spent so much money on her birthday treat only to have it ruined. To comfort them she said, “Look what Ivan gave me!” She showed them the hand-painted wooden doll.
            “It’s so beautiful,” Marie added.
            Ivan carefully took the doll out of Marie’s hand. He twisted it open and out came another tinier doll. He opened that one, too. And the next ones until Marie had five tiny dolls in her hands.
            “Matraoshka,” Ivan said, pointing to the doll.
            “Ma-tra-oshika,” Marie repeated, sounding out the word. “Danke, Ivan.” She put a hand to her heart.
            “Pazhalusta.” Ivan nodded his head. “You are welcome.”
There was much to do to clean up after the bombing. Everyone quietly went to work. Even Ivan. Marie smiled. Papa was right. Ivan was a good worker – and a good friend, too.