By: Emma Johnston

This past summer I had the brilliant idea that I should coach soccer. I’ve coached t-ball and taught swimming, but soccer was a new adventure. When I heard they were looking for coaches, something pricked my conscience and without a second thought, I signed my name on the dotted line.

What a wonderful opportunity I thought to myself. My youngest, then almost five, would be on my team. I could meet her little friends, I could chat with the parents, I could get out and exercise and take in the summer evening sunlight. I’d teach these kids to love soccer, to run hard and improve their skills. We’d win games and give it our all. It would be a pure delight to coach the junior Teal Coloured soccer team!

My first practice I was ready. I’d read every coaching manual, I’d learned the rules of the game (something I had no idea of before I signed up), I bought oranges and yogurt tubes and juice boxes – I was ready!

Twelve kids, five and under gathered around my little blue bench the first evening of practice, all big eyes and shiny new cleats. It hadn’t been more than about 11 seconds before I started to wonder what on earth I’d signed up for. We had one little girl who loved to run away, one who loved to practice her gymnastics whenever she got near a goal post. I had one little boy who would only play if no one chased him, and another who only came for the snacks.

Immediately the chaos ensued. Jumping, rolling, yelling, laughing children, all taking off in different directions, all telling me different stories while we tried to run in a somewhat organized jumble down the field. By the end of the first night I’d lost 10 pounds, drank 3 gallons of water and had completely lost my voice.

By the second week, a blessed mother took pity on me and joined me out on the field. The two of us spent week after week, trying to play something that looked like soccer – though more often than not it looked like two momma’s chasing twelve children around the park.

Anyone who has ever coached little ones in any sport may realize that it’s more of a lesson in futility than a time to impart genuine skill. By the end of week two our goal was to keep all the kids in the general vicinity of the field – that was it. And by about the third or fourth week, I was getting discouraged. I didn’t know if the kids were having fun, I knew for a fact (even though we don’t keep score) that we weren’t winning any of our games, and I wondered how ridiculous I must look to those parents who watched us on the side lines. I wondered if maybe they were appalled at the ridiculous volunteers our community accepted to coach their adorable children soccer – and I had a glimpse of self doubt.

But then, one evening, as we were running down the field, a child holding on to each of my hands and one doing summersaults in front of me, something happened.  One of the little ones beside me, a beautiful little girl with giant brown eyes and a bobbing ponytail, let go of my hand and ran off the field. I watched her run towards a little cluster of dandelions, and I figured I’d lost another one to the distractions of the playground. Within a minute she was back at my side. “Coach Emma” she said, slipping her little fingers back in mine and running along side me. “I picked these for you.” She handed me a stunning bouquet of bright yellow dandelions. I asked what they were for and she told me to put them in my hair, that they were a present for me, because “she loved running with me.”

I grinned down at that big, innocent smile and stuck the weeds in my hair.

Here I was thinking I was coaching soccer. That I should share some kind of skill or athletic ability with these kids. That maybe these kids should learn the rules of the sport or engage with the ball or learn to love the game. But – I think I was just there to play. Just to show up and run. To have a smile and encouraging voice. To hold a little girl’s hand and show them all how much fun we could have.

I realized that sweltering hot evening, while covered in sweat and mutilated yellow weeds, that sometimes, we don’t really need to be great – we don’t need to have that much skill or have it all together, sometimes the greatest thing anyone of us can do – is simply, show up.

This little girl wasn’t happy because I had taught her something astounding about soccer. She wasn’t impressed by how fast I could run or if I could score a goal. She didn’t care if I knew the rules of the game or whether I had any idea what I was doing. She liked running with me, that was it. Just the fact that I was there was good enough for her.

It had never occurred to me before that simply ‘being there’ was in and of itself a great gift to offer. Whether that’s for our kids at soccer or for our friends in times of need, or for our family members, apparently just being there, whether we know what we’re doing or not, can mean everything to someone else! We need to show up, be present, engage, that is a gift, no matter what our ability, we can offer to each other.

So this year, I will sign my name on that dotted line and coach again, even if its just for a crumpled yellow dandelion, I plan to always, keep on showing up!

 

 

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By: Emma Johnston

As I was growing up I had three younger brothers who played hockey, this means I have spent many, many hours of my life at arenas. By the time I was 16 I was a pro at dressing little children in hockey gear and tying skates and buying slushies. And I vowed, during my teenaged years that I would never, ever become a sports parent. I had seen what those parents did; waking up early for 6:00am practices, spending hours sitting on cold plastic seats, eating canteen french-fries. There wasn’t much worse. And as my brothers got older, if nothing else would turn a person off being a sports parents, the smell of drying hockey equipment scattered across the house certainly would!

My family, I vowed, would be into more refined things – fine art, playing the violin, perhaps join a choir… Not competitive sports!

By Tuesday of this week I had already spent four hours watching my sons play baseball. That’s right, four hours of baseball, by Tuesday, in November! I had always thought baseball was a summer sport. But in the world of competitive ball it runs 12 months a year!

And, this week, as I lugged baseball bags that are big enough to hold a human being, and tossed the 7th baseball glove out of my way as I looked for the right one – two very real things dawned on me…

The First realization was: Never say never. My pact to not be a sports parent was broken by the time my children were 6 years old. My house now boasts 6 baseball bats, 9 baseball gloves, every size of batting glove, helmets in a rainbow of colours, along with jerseys, jocks, baseball pants and league approved belts. We have 11 Blue Jays baseball hats, a Blue Jays blue bedroom and enough paraphernalia to open our own store. I spend hours every week watching baseball, playing catch, looking up baseball diamonds and booking hotels. I sigh, as I realize I’m a sports parent through and through.

However, as I watched my kids play this week, doing drills, running their hardest and practicing their slides – I had my second realization; a realization that came a little more begrudgingly.
That there’s actually a whole lot I (the parent) can learn from my wildly competitive children.
When I load my kids into the car at 8:30pm in the evening and I’m exhausted and hungry and ready for a glass of wine, they are running around – grinning ear to ear. When all I want to do is throw on a pair of pajamas and watch Netflix – they are happily chatting about their plays and what the coach said to them and how fast they pitched the ball. It’s as if they enjoyed running as hard as they could for hours on end… Every second of these long, grueling practices and hours and hours, day after day of games and tournaments, all just make my kids so much happier?!

And as I stood, scratching my head and pondering why anyone would find enjoyment in these kinds of things, I realized I’m not actually that different. In fact, I’d wager that many of us feel the same way. Perhaps not about baseball or hockey or athletics of any kind, but about that high we receive, that weird sense of accomplishment, the surge of energy we get when we’ve busted our backsides. When we’ve given something our all, pushed ourselves beyond our normal limits and extended ourselves to the point that we thought we couldn’t extend any more – and then conquered.

Whether we bust it raising a family and keeping a home, or ploughing fields or milking cows. Whether we push ourselves academically, learning and researching and studying, or whether we do it building cars, or owning our own businesses or pushing our bodies to perform at a higher level. There’s something deeply satisfying about competing with ourselves (not others) but with ourselves, with our own personal best – and then winning. Not just the act of working hard, but the act of pushing ourselves to be better, of going the next step, of training our minds or bodies to do what they haven’t done before.

At the kids’ baseball practices, they don’t remain stagnant – their skills need to improve. Each week they need to run a little faster, throw a little harder, do a few more crunches… and they love it!

I see the results. I see the hard work they put in, I see their bodies growing stronger, their eyes becoming keener. I see better abilities and I see happy children. They are growing and developing and pushing themselves to be the best they can be.

I want to do the same. I want to push myself. To every day get a little better, a little faster or smarter or kinder. To say “I see you – Emma of yesterday, and I raise you one day better.” Because I find great joy in beating the me of yesterday. To be my best, and then, the next day, try and be a bit better. To never just be satisfied with where I’m at but to do my best to continuously be growing, developing, learning and improving.

It won’t always happen. But I watch my kids do it every day. They go out and bust it. They practice hour after hour after hour. They plan and make strategies and push themselves to the limit. If nothing else, being a sports parent has taught me that I have a lot to learn from my kids. That their commitment, dedication and continuous improvement is to be respected… imitated.

So today, my goal, is to learn from my children and push myself to be, just, a little better than I was yesterday.

By: Emma Johnston

Normally I like mornings. I like getting up early and getting myself ready, waking my children up with kisses and annoying wake up songs and big bowls of oatmeal. I like their early morning cuddles and the way they drag all their bedding to the living room on those particularly dark or sleepy mornings. I like hearing about their dreams and their plans for the day. Mornings are a good time in our house…normally.
But sometimes, for some unknown and completely unidentifiable reason – our mornings take a turn for the worst. Sometimes one of us just wakes up grumpy or emotional or straight up mad at the world. And on the very rarest of occasions it seems that every single one of us, from the youngest to the oldest member of our family, we all wake up just a little crankier than we can handle. And on these rare, but disastrous mornings when the regular sibling rivalry morphs into full on fist fights, and the usual dawdling transforms into adamant defiance, it is on these mornings that I throw in the towel, scrap all my plans, and we all play hooky. Normally, when the tears start flowing and chaos erupts I simply put us all back into our pajamas, pull out the ol’ Disney movies and call it a ‘mental health day’.
However, this week, when my sweet, adorable, innocent children were abducted by aliens and replaced by fiends, and when this normally easy going and generally happy momma, had stepped on one too many pieces of Lego and broken up one too many fights to keep her cool, I realized with an overwhelming sense of dismay – that today, of all days, we couldn’t simply ‘call in’. The kids had things at school they needed to be at (and wanted to be at). I had meetings all day long. There were errands that had to be run and places we all had to be. And as I stood in my entrance way, my children and myself all sobbing with tears and snot running down our faces and as I looked around at the wreckage that was once my kitchen – I was filled with a sense of formidable dread. There was no escaping the reality of this day.
So, I did my best. I took a deep breath, I hugged my children, I handed out Kleenex, I tried to smile as I loaded three crying kids into my minivan and we went off to school. I pulled into the elementary school parking lot 30 minutes late. No one was wearing matching socks, no one had brushed their teeth that morning, and I’m pretty sure I hadn’t packed a single vegetable in any of their lunches – but we were there.
And as I walked each of my kids to their classrooms, all of us still crying, and I knocked on the classroom doors, I felt ashamed. Ashamed that I couldn’t hide my feelings better (at all), ashamed that I’m not always the calm, collected and organized person I want to be. Ashamed that my humanity was standing in the elementary school hallway a blubbering mess of a mom who just wanted to go home and eat popcorn with her kids on the couch. Not a shining moment for me…
But it was what happened next that I want to focus on. Because, when I knocked on those classroom doors I was greeted by the most incredible people – my children’s teachers. Teachers who took one look at us, this bedraggled mess of a family, and they wrapped their arms around my babies, and myself. They assured me that everything would be okay and, smiling down on my kids they ushered them into the classroom. There was no condemnation. No, ‘get yourself together woman and get to school on time’ lectures (a sermon I’d already preached to myself multiple times that morning). There was nothing negative in their demeanor, their words or their behavior. Everything about these teachers emulated a genuine love for their students and some much-needed compassion for this parent.
And as I peeked in the classroom windows as I left the school, I saw happy kids. My happy kids. They were surrounded by their friends and encouraged by teachers who clearly cared about the little humans that were under their protection that day.
I know it isn’t just these teachers who care. I know for a fact that our schools are full, brimming with teachers who watch over our kids and genuinely invest in who they are. I know that these teachers care for our kids when they’ve had wonderful mornings full of cuddles and warm breakfasts and big smiles, but they also watch over them on those lousy days, when their little worlds are tumbling down.
I am so thankful for those teachers who guard our children when we aren’t there. Who smile at them when they feel sad, and take their hands when they need it. I’m so thankful that they don’t condemn us parents when we aren’t the shining stars we all try to be, and I am so thankful that my kids get to learn in an environment where people care.
My heart broke a little saying goodbye to my kids that morning – but leaving my kids for a few hours in the hands of other adults who genuinely care, well, it’s not such a bad thing. In fact, looking at the teachers I know, it’s actually pretty amazing.

 

Probably 5 out of 7 nights a week the Johnston house has a full out dance party. The five of us clear the living room, crank TIDAL over the speakers and dance our troubles away. This may not come as a surprise to our neighbours, who can likely hear The Chainsmokers or Lumineers or Eric Church blast from our rafters on a fairly regular basis, but it’s one of our ‘things.’ None of us can dance, and we certainly can’t sing – but throwing on our music and prancing around the house is in some way – therapeutic.

We take turns, each of us getting to pick our music or our favourite songs – you’d be surprised who in our house likes to belt out Taylor Swift or solemnly sway to Passenger, but we all have our favourites and those favourites fill our home.

My middle son has the most varied and sophisticated taste in music. He’s constantly introducing new musical gems into our repertoire, very often powerful and anthemic in nature, these songs are quickly becoming Johnston classics. One of our recent favourites, brought to us by our almost seven-year-old, is a song called Warrior by Imagine Dragons.

At first I simply found the music catchy and empowering, but as I listened to the lyrics of this song I couldn’t help think of our little town.

 

One of the lines from the chorus goes as follows;

We are the warriors who built this town.

 

The song talks about those who labour. Who work hard. Who struggle and over come. It talks about those who have to prove their worth, and rise above, and be their best. It talks about the people who built ‘this’ town.

 

And I stand in my kitchen some nights and watch my children dance to the music, or spin in our living room or jump around in their father’s arms and I think – if there’s ever a town worth fighting for, being a warrior for, it is the town where I raise my children.

 

And I know I’m not the only one who feels like our towns are worth being warriors for. As we reflect on the heroes and soldiers and people who gave their lives, we realize that generations of people have been willing to fight to build this town. To make it safe, to make it great.

 

Perhaps some of them were soldiers, people who quite literally put on armor and fought for us.

 

Perhaps some of those warriors were farmers. Women and Men who even today, fight against drought and storm. Who brave harsh winters and famine and sandy soil. Who have woken up before the dawn to carry on, long into the night.

They too, are the warriors who built this town.

 

And parents. Those dads and moms who fight against tiredness and uncertainty. Who defend their children and fiercely protect them and adamantly support them.

Those parents, are the warriors who built this town.

 

Those who struggle with illness. The very battle which they fight is simply to make it through, yet another day. They are incredible warriors, who built this town.

 

The teachers who fight for quality education for our students.

Our Doctors who fight to get us the help we need.

 

Each of us, in our own way, from the blue collar worker to the specialist. From the new mom, to the aging grandfather, from the soldier, to the preacher to the janitor who cleans our halls.

 

We, we are the warriors who built this town.

 

Because building a great town isn’t done without hard work, without dedication and a bunch of incredibly tough people who face down hardship and trial and tragedy and who overcome.

 

And I think our town is worth fighting for. I want my children to always feel as welcome and safe and happy as they do when they dance around our home singing their favourite songs.

 

We have a long history of incredible people who have built this town…

 

May I always do my best to join the efforts and be a warrior for the amazing little town where I get to raise my family.

 

A huge thank you, to all those who ‘built’ or continue to build, this town!

 

Editorial from Nov 9 2017
I remember the surge of energy that washed over me as I entered through the doors of BDHS on my first day of grade nine. The school was virtually pulsing with energy and hormones and I was awed by the enormity of the building and the throngs of people that scurried around me. For a 13- year-old who’d spent her first ten years of education at Maple Ave, a primary school with a population of barely over 100, and then on to Coronation which wasn’t much bigger, Burford High School seemed massive. The two-story building was nothing short of an intimidating presence that for me, held a combined feeling of both anxiety and opportunity.
I walked through the halls, glancing down at the piece of paper clutched between my finger tips and faithfully obeying the little printed map that would lead me to my very first locker. I followed it, along with a sea of other grade nine students, up the first flight of stairs to a row of aging, particle board lockers.
Locker 510…Locker 510… I murmured starting at the windows, counting each locker until I came to mine. Locker 510, my locker, a locker painted a dusty grey/brown on the inside with a dented upper shelf and smelling of old socks, books and body odor. It was nothing pretty, but it was mine. I threw my backpack in, grabbed my grade nine math text book, and began my high school career.
The locker itself meant very little to me then, but the experiences that shaped who I was as an adolescent and later into adulthood have remained etched into the very fibers of who I am. It was in that grade nine math class that I met one of my best friends, a friend that I can still count on no matter what is going on in my life. It was at this high school that I learned that ‘alot’ is not a word and the important differences between the ‘there’s’. It was at this place that I met my boyfriend, it was there that my world expanded. It was in those very halls that I explored my independence, applied to university, formed a lasting friend circle and took the next step in my academic journey. The school continues to hold years of memories and experiences, many of which impact me to this day.
Now jump ahead with me, exactly twenty years when, this past September my nine- year- old son took me on a tour of his elementary school (BDES). He showed me through the halls, pointed out the library and gym and the offices (as if I couldn’t wander those halls with my eyes closed) and then took my hand and pulled me up the first flight of stairs.
“Now.” He had announced, waving his hands dramatically, “I want you to see my very first locker.”
We started at the window, counting down the number plates on the yellowing particle board lockers until he stopped beside locker 510.
I stood and looked at the very same locker where I’d thrown my back pack and stored my gym shoes and in their place I saw my son’s own backpack hanging there. The same ugly brownish/grey paint, the same dented shelf, the same pungent smell. My son, twenty years after me, was standing in the same hall, beside the same locker and I stood glued in place. A wave of emotion cascaded around me and as I wrapped my arms around my wriggling nine-year old and gazed into his locker, I couldn’t help but hope that he too will look back at this school and these halls and this locker with the fondest of memories.
I hope that he learns in these classrooms, gaining a foundation for a lifetime of seeking wisdom. I hope he make friends, and I hope a few of them stick around. I cautiously hope he explores his own independence. That he begins to figure out who he is and who he wants to be. And oh man, do I hope he learns the differences between the ‘there’s.’
Not many children will get to share the same locker, in the same school, in the same community as their parents. Not all will have the opportunity to travel similar paths in their own way. What I hope for my nine-year old son, is that the memories he makes walking those halls are as positive as mine were. That he will look back at those lockers and remember the friendships, the love, the learning, perhaps even the losses, but that all in all, he will come away from that school with a bank of memories that bring a smile to his face, because I know I have a whole lot of memories that do.
Here’s to locker 510 and the experiences I get to share with my eldest son.

Editorial from Nov. 2 2017
One early April morning in the year – 1999, I knocked on the front door of 115 King Street, in downtown Burford. The door overlooks the main street of my little village and for almost 15 years I had walked past that door and wondered whether it led to a house or a secret, magical passage way that would transport me to The Burford Times office.
I was nervous and excited and kept brushing imaginary wisps of hair away from my face. I had applied an ample amount of Lip Smackers lip gloss and had polished my Doc Martins till they shone (these were things teenagers did in the 90’s). I had barely a moment to take a breath, when Betty swung the front door open and I was met by the smiling mother of the good-looking boy from my youth group.
Betty brought me into the kitchen and plied me with sumptuous home made goodies and a decadent whipped cream topped hot chocolate, and as I stuffed my face and waited for David, I thought to myself “Gee, I like it here!”
From that morning in April, 18 years ago, the Johnston family and all that it entails has been a solid and joyfully unwavering part of my life — I’ve heard myself saying time and time again “Gee, I like it here.” I said it when the Johnstons accepted me as the loud and somewhat colourful girlfriend of their middle son. I said it when I married into the family and they took me in as a beloved daughter and surprisingly well accepted sister-in-law. I said it when I saw the smile on their faces as they met each of my children on the day they were born. And I say it now, with this brand-new adventure underfoot. Bill and Betty have taken me under their wing; taught me, guided me through the process of publishing a weekly newspaper, passed along their wisdom and three decades worth of trade secrets. And so, I continue to think “Gee, I like it here.”
And I don’t just say it in the home and office on King Street.
I say it when I walk down the Midway at the fair each year and talk and laugh with all those people I grew up with. I say it when I pick up sausage rolls from the bakery or order meat from the butcher or stand outside of the elementary school picking up my kids – I think “Gee, I like it here.”
I say it when I walk through Lions Park, or chase after my children at the local splash pad. I say it when I watch the community movies at the Ag Hall, and when pizza is delivered to my front door. I say it when I buy pie from the community bake sales, or when I cheer at the local soccer games or when I hear the church bells ring on Sunday morning. I think, “Gee, I like it here.”
The Johnston family has spent the last 34 years loving Burford, sharing its stories, promoting its businesses, attending its events and helping to bring the community together. They have actively loved the things I love. Because of this, I am awed and gratefully humbled that I get to be a part of both. That I am part of the Johnston family, the group of people who have embraced both me and this town, and that, from this point forward I get to spend my days showing our community, through The Burford Advance, how very much “I like it here!”