Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect: In chaos theory, everything is interdependent. Even a tiny change in one state or system can lead to a huge change in another. The example being that a butterfly flapping its wings in North America can cause a hurricane in China. Theoretically if the butterfly had NOT flapped its wings at that precise moment in space and time, the hurricane wouldn't have occurred. Sure it's a bit of a stretch but I believe there is actually something to it. The domino effect. It is all connected somehow. The tiniest thing can set off a chain reaction. Actions have consequences. Even small ones. Newton's Third Law is that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. I confess I tend to be a bit of a "reactionary." My therapist says it's because I'm "passionate." Things affect me deeply. In any event, a lot of strange things have been happening since my last post. Some of them involve actual butterflies. I'll get to that later. This post is about May and June. And maybe a bit of July... (Perhaps even a smidge of August. OK this is taking A LOT longer than I thought and the longer it takes the more things I want to include!) 
July would turn out to be somewhat catastrophic. On a global level, July 2019 was LITERALLY the hottest month ever on record. We're burning up. From global warming to global scorching. Even the arctic was on fire! On a personal level it was a disturbing time where I would have to face ghosts and demons, places I've avoided for more than a year. Everything seemed to be falling apart around me. And it wasn't just me. Bad things were happening to just about everyone I knew. Weird, awful, random things. My therapist said Mercury was in retrograde (meaning it appears to go backward in its orbit. It seems to throw everything out of whack. Technology can break down, people break down. Everything is a little off.) July could certainly be a blog post all on its own but some of it I don't even want to discuss/relive. Actually part of me is thinking of pulling the plug on this whole thing. To draw the curtains. To end my blog. To close this window into our lives. It's been 7 years. That's a long time even though, good and bad, it's gone by in the blink of an eye. This blog got me through some VERY tough times when I felt alone and needed to put my thoughts somewhere, to share them, so maybe I wasn't so alone. It did help me and I'm grateful for that. I'm thankful that I was able to help other single moms to feel less alone and having them reach out to me was extremely rewarding. But it's different now. This was supposed to be a "baby blog" and Michelle is a big girl now. Also there have been so many obstacles to me even doing the blog, just one extremely discouraging thing after another. My friends and family are all against it. No one wanted me to do it. Some begged me not to. (Mostly because of my incendiary previous post.) Of course my Mom has been a naysayer from the beginning. (Though she did used to enjoy reading it when I'd show her the posts. She still didn't think I should be putting all of this "out there," she thought it was dangerous. I told her that although I reveal so much I NEVER say where we live or any details.) Despite all the disapproval I was still clinging to it but now there are even more deterrents. Suffice it to say that at this point my blog CREATES more stress than it alleviates. The blog was supposed to help relieve my stress, to help me process things. Now it has become yet another source of anxiety. 

Writing is therapy but at this point I think I'm better sticking to pen and paper which no one will ever read. Because routinely spilling my guts out in a public forum no longer seems appropriate. There has been some fallout. Internally and externally. These posts take so much out of me. They require a lot of time and energy to do and those resources are in limited supply these days. Also unfortunately I've had some rather disturbing responses to my blog recently (emails etc and I've had a few online stalkers. I can block psychos on Twitter but the blog is open to anyone) and I'm questioning whether it's wise to allow strangers into our lives this way. There are some really BAD dudes out there who don't deserve to know ANYTHING about us. Anyway I don't want to get into all that. My last blog post was rather dark. I was hoping this one would be lighter! Though it still has some stormy skies... So here's one for the road. My last post. And don't worry. I would still like to hear from nice folks out there and thank you for following my journey all these years! You can still catch me on Twitter and Youtube. (Unless I go completely off the grid and move to a cave! Anything is possible I guess.) Let me know if you'd like to be on my mailing list. Maybe I'll do a private newsletter or something. But it won't be this. I'm not going to have a public play by play online diary anymore. Please feel free to comment/email etc if you're a decent human being. I've had some very kind people check in over the years. And I am so grateful for that. If you're a bad dude however I hope you can at least show me the decency to just leave me the Hell alone please because I have more than enough of my own issues to deal with already thanks. 

Anyway, where do I begin? May. If April showers bring May flowers then what do May showers bring? Just rain. And more rain. Of course even rainy days can't bring this girl down! Michelle is my bright and sunny beautiful little walking rainbow with the rubber boots to match. Actually I don't mind the rain too much either. At least it keeps the grass green. But sometimes it's a bit much. Mom was always calling to tell me about the latest horrors in the news -- fires, floods, plagues of locusts. Every day it seemed that yet ANOTHER place was flooded. Sometimes across the globe. Sometimes close to home. Too close for comfort. Apparently Burlington Beach doesn't exist anymore. The sand is gone. Climate change. We can't ignore it. So do we stay calm and adapt or do we panic? I'm just glad we don't live too close to a body of water, although that used to be my dream. I feel bad for people who have lost everything to a deluge. I can't imagine. Of course we might all be underwater someday at the rate we're going. I try not to worry about the Apocalypse too much. There are more mundane and immediate things to worry about. I was trying not too stress so much. I was trying to find my zen. I was actually doing pretty well. 

Michelle had a piece of her art included in a local art show! Her work was chosen to represent her class along with several other talented students in an exhibit at a local community center. I was so proud of her. Of course this was her second show now. She had one of her drawings included in my art show last year, at the now defunct "Starving Artist Cafe." I'm sure that the irony of a Starving Artist Cafe going out of business is lost on no one. It is tough to be a starving artist. Because you are literally starving. Sadly even some of the most famous artists of all time whose paintings sell for millions of dollars today, were penniless during their lifetime. It's tough to make a living as an artist. Only a lucky few do. Most have to compromise or find other ways of paying the bills.

We went to see the movie Ugly Dolls and it was really cute! It had a great message: that you don't have to be perfect, that your uniqueness, your quirkiness and imperfections are what make you special.

What a boring world it would be if everyone were "perfect." If we were all cookie clutter clones, exactly the same. Yet many of us are self-critical. We beat ourselves up over our flaws. Some people feel so self-conscious about what they consider flaws and actually go as far as having plastic surgery. The media can hurt your sense of self-worth if you try to compare yourself to an unattainable ideal. You can't compare yourself to supermodels and actresses. Even THEY don't look that good in real life, without perfect lighting and photo shop. Everybody has bad hair days, days they look tired, or they have pimples or wrinkles or stretch marks.
My pretty doll!

Michelle was adorable in her ballet outfit. We went to get her ballet portrait done with her class. Ballet season was ending. I couldn't believe it. I keep saying it because it keeps being true: TIME GOES BY WAY TOO FAST. Somehow the season has come and gone. Somehow Michelle is almost SEVEN YEARS OLD!? It's crazy. It's why I take so many photos though. Even though the photographer was taking professional ones I still couldn't resist snapping several of my own. It was adorable to see all the little dancers dressed up in their outfits. Cuteness overload! After speaking with a couple of parents who are very anti-photo I am careful not to include other kids in online pictures anymore but it's a shame to me because it's so adorable and I loved sharing pictures of Michelle with her friends. I get around it now by just editing them out of the photos I post online.

My girl and me. I couldn't resist a selfie with my Pink Princess. I am grateful I got to give her this experience. Ballet was my dream as a child and I never got to live it out. Someone suggested "You could still take classes now! It's never too late!" Except it IS too late. I'd feel pretty silly being a grown woman in a primary ballet class. Besides if you don't start young you lose your flexibility. No, that's one dream that's long gone for me. I think it's common for parents to want to live vicariously through their kids -- to give them experiences they didn't get to have or to watch them carry on your legacy, your dreams. Some parents will force kids into things they don't even want to do because it was the parent's dream. I would NEVER do that to Michelle. If she wasn't interested in something I would never force it on her. However, if she likes something that I also love? I am for SURE encouraging it! She ASKED to take ballet. And at the time it was scary for me because I was in a precarious situation financially and otherwise and wasn't sure what my schedule was going to be. Would I even be able to take her to class? I'm so glad I took the chance and got to give her this opportunity. She absolutely loved it. The time has flown by.

A visit with Grandma. Yes Michelle twisted my arm and got me to buy her an "Ugly Doll." Moxy is cute in her own way. Michelle brought her along for the trip. We were going to the mall. An outing at the mall can be dangerous for a recovering shopaholic but I try to limit my trips and to spend in moderation. It is hard when Michelle is with me not to get her everything she asks for but I'm able to restrain myself. My Mom is the Queen of Shopping. That is by far her favourite pastime (as her overstuffed home, packed to the gills with everything you can think of will attest!) I suppose that makes me a bit of an enabler. But it's hard not to give her the one thing she loves. I once asked Mom if she could go ANYWHERE in the world where would it be and she chose A MALL! In this God-forsaken world if you find something that makes you happy, go for it. LOL So off we went...

I scream, you scream...
Our favourite ritual is getting an ice cream at the mall while we're waiting for Grandma. They always put a chocolate on top because why not? This time Michelle even got a fancy waffle cone covered in sprinkles. I try to limit my calories but you have to splurge now and then. We had fun shopping. Of course I couldn't resist getting a few cute things for Michelle. She's easy to spoil because she gets so excited and she's so appreciative of everything. I love sharing adventures with her. With her infectious enthusiasm she makes everything fun. Sometimes I feel like she is Tigger and I'm Eeyore or she's SpongeBob and I'm Squidward. She's bouncing off the walls, happy, energetic, full of life and I'm kind of dragging myself along behind her, somewhat cynical. She does help me to get in touch with my inner child and find my inner joy now and then however. It's hard not to smile when you're eating an ice cream cone!

Michelle couldn't wait to go to the zoo. As soon as it was open (we drove by in April and it was closed) and weather permitted we where THERE. It was a perfect Spring day -- bright and sunny, warm but not too hot. Michelle LOVES animals. I think she'd take them all home if she could. She loved feeding the goats. She kept picking grass and feeding it to them. It was a challenge to capture them because they didn't stay still for long but I managed to get this shot of Michelle feeding grass to a baby goat. SO CUTE! Michelle was dressed for the zoo with her tiger dress, cat ears and matching sunglasses.
Monkey see, monkey do! These tiny monkeys were beyond adorable. At one point Michelle was smiling at the little monkey and he was staring back at her and it was so cute it almost hurt! It was tough to get a shot because without a flash it was a bit dark and with a flash it just bounced off the glass and you couldn't see the monkey then finally I got lucky with this one. You can see the monkey and Michelle checking each other out. She really has a way with animals. As a baby, monkeys were her fave. She had a pink monkey stuffie that she had to have at all times. There was one night she was staying overnight at Grandma's and I had forgotten it. I was beside myself. Somehow she got through the night. I barely did, fretting at work. I already had Mom guilt over leaving her and then I had to leave her without monkey.
Hey hey we're the Monkeys! A kind stranger offered to take our photo and thank goodness because you can not pass by a cheesy cut-out photo op. I should have been sticking my head through the hole better but I was having a hard time crouching that low. Michelle refused to take the lower spot even though she's much shorter than me (logic be damned!) It would have been nice if Michelle could at least crack a smile but she was just annoyed that we were taking this photo instead of her playing at the playground nearby. (She did get to play afterward.) Sometimes she does get exasperated with me taking so many photos but she knows it's part of the deal. If she wants to go on a fun adventure then she knows that my snapping away like the paparazzi is part of it. I can't enjoy myself UNLESS I take pictures of everything. To have an experience with no photographic evidence?! What's the point of that? It's as though it never happened! LOL Also, life is SO FLEETING. If I can't capture the moment and freeze it in time forever then it's just GONE. I've lost it. I've lost too many things. I need to hold on to the ones I can.

I think this was a Komodo Dragon. Or a blue tongued skink or something? It's been a while now. I can't remember. Michelle always enjoys the Creature Show at the zoo. She's always right up there wanting to pet them as soon as the zoo staff brings them around to feel their fur, scales, whatever the case may be. Michelle isn't afraid of anything. She has even petted BIG SCARY INSECTS at the Butterfly Conservatory, while I stand a safe distance away just taking pictures of the experience. She loves all creatures, big and small. She loves animals and wants to save animals. She's done a few missions for the Earth Rangers. She wants to save the world. Sadly the world does need saving. Climate change is affecting many creatures and human interference has resulted in the disappearance of many species. We need the animals, whether we realize it or not. The loss of biodiversity is a tragedy. It's that butterfly effect. You might not think that the extinction of one species of insect affects you but it creates a chain reaction in the ecosystem with far reaching effects. Insects, plants, animals, people. We are in this together and we need each other. You can't upset the balance of Nature. But we have. And we're suffering the consequences.

Michelle and a tiger, with the dress to match! It's just too perfect. Though she fights me on taking so many pictures at times, other times Michelle is quite happy to pose like the Diva she is! Here I think she realizes how fabulous she is in her cat headband and shades and a huge tiger's face staring out from her dress (a dress that I got for a few bucks at Once Upon a Child by the way! I love second hand stores now for Michelle and for myself because you can find things that are good as new and so unique. Pieces that you wouldn't find anywhere else. It's like a treasure hunt. I've been amazed at some of the finds. Rather than just not shopping at all -- because let's face it, I'm my mother's daughter and shopping is in my blood!) I shop smarter, getting better bargains and I shop far less often. An occasional treat rather than a weekly (or daily!) habit. Michelle loves clothes almost as much as I do and she's always happy with the items I choose for her. When she's a teen she probably won't let me pick her clothes but I'll enjoy dressing her while I still can!

The tiger was so gorgeous! What a beautiful animal. I almost wish I could have one! I was thrilled we got to see him so close. Usually the cats are sleeping when we go. Jungle cats, like regular cats, seem to sleep most of the day. Or most of the time they were too far away to see. This one was RIGHT THERE! There were signs nearby warning not to get too close because they can spray up to 6 feet(!) We took the chance for a photo op. "Mama, I think he's sniffing us!" Michelle said. You could see him breathing. He was probably thinking we'd be a nice lunch. He was beautiful but I was quite glad that he was on the other side of a cage. I couldn't resist a selfie with the tiger and Michelle in her tiger dress.

Leave it to Michelle to make a friend everywhere we go! She was having a ball feeding the deer. She would pick some long grass and stick it through the fence for the adoring herd. Then another little girl wanted to join her. At least it gave me a break to sit down because there was a picnic table nearby. I could relax for a moment and watch Michelle. It wasn't entirely relaxing. We'd had so much rain that the grass was a bit of a swamp in parts and Michelle's shoes got stuck in the mud at one point. I couldn't get the mud out even at home. Still, Michelle had a wonderful time so it was worth it. She would have stayed there all day with the deer if I'd let her. She didn't want to go, even after her new friend left. People came and went and Michelle stayed to feed her deer.

Talking turkey!

Then we met a VERY friendly, sweet little female turkey. I apologized to her for Thanksgiving. Michelle wanted to pet her. I told her it wasn't a good idea, that this was strange behaviour for a turkey and that she might be sick or something but then one of the zoo staff informed us that this was just their "pet cat turkey." She was so docile she would just sit there and relax and let anyone come up to her. She wasn't sick. She was just chill. She wasn't afraid of people at all. No fight or flight (well turkeys don't fly but they could run!) She felt safe and calm. I wished I felt like that most of the time. It was adorable. Michelle was thrilled. She stroked the bird's soft feathers. "Mama she's SO FRIENDLY! And SHE'S NOT EVEN SICK!" There was something so sweet and poignant about it. Michelle loved her. She never wanted to leave her. It melted my heart too. I almost felt like I'd never eat turkey again. Definitely not this one! What a sweetheart!

It is always a miracle to me to see the daffodils and tulips bloom again in the Spring. To think that you just plant this onion ball looking thing and it becomes a flower that returns every year. Gardening is like having faith. You don't really know if it will grow but you plant, you nurture, you try and you hope for the best. Some people say they just don't have a green thumb, they can't get anything to grow. It just takes a little effort, a little love. Sometimes it is disappointing. Sometimes it feels like you do all the right things and something still goes wrong. There are always things beyond your control -- the weather etc. But you do your best, like with everything. I love flowers. I need them. After the darkness and bleakness of Winter they really are a symbol of hope, for brighter days, for Spring. I need beauty in my life, as much as I need food, water, shelter. Without it I start to die inside. I was in such a dark ugly place for so long it nearly destroyed me.

Michelle and her furry sister. And a stuffed seahorse. Michelle and Ali don't always get along. It's tough to get Ali to do anything you want her to. Sometimes Michelle wants Ali to sit with her and watch TV. She wants me to pick her up and put her on Michelle's lap. But then Ali will just jump down again. "You can't MAKE her do things." I explain to Michelle. She has to want to. And sometimes if you let her be, she will jump up and sit next to you and purr. Michelle is sometimes a little jealous that Ali is closer/more loyal to me than Michelle. But I'm her Mama. (Not her master. Cats don't have masters!) Michelle is her little sister. Ali and me were together long before Michelle came along and we have been through Hell and back together. Ali has lived through the trauma of sharing her space with myriad other animals (who at least didn't stick around for too long -- especially the pitbull and two cats that someone brought with him.)

May is more than my sister. She is my best friend. She is the one person I can always count on, to listen when I need a friendly ear, to make me laugh no matter what. She has been there with me through the toughest times. She was with me in the delivery room, she took me for my surgery. Of course I always want to be there for her too. She was going through some health issues and needed to go to the hospital for tests. I was happy to take her. It went better than expected and we were even laughing as she filled in the paperwork. No one gets me like May. We have always shared this strange sense of humour, inside jokes that get us through even the darkest circumstances. When we got back Shane invited us to come with him for brunch. It was nice to spend time with them. It's rare that I see them without the kids (they were in school.) I still got back in time for Michelle.
What the duck?!

In all my years (and it's a lot of them! I can't believe how old I am now!) I have NEVER seen ducks walking down a suburban street that is NOWHERE near a body of water but then there was this. We've had so much rain that now even the grass can be a swamp. It was cute and yet a little disturbing to see these feathered friends waddling down the street. It's yet another sign of climate change. Animals and birds acting out of character. Everything is out of whack. Naturally I had to get out of the car and take a photo, or two. Or three.

They were so cute, this misplaced duck couple, looking for a place to eat/stay. Maybe it was a Duck Air B&B?

Sitting in on ballet class!

Normally I have to watch from outside a window to watch Michelle's ballet class but it was the end of the season and the teacher let us sit in for a change. I am always thrilled for a photo op. Michelle was smiling to have me right in there with her. I wished I could always be there with her and feel like I was taking ballet too.

It warms my heart to see my little ballerina, to watch her live out my childhood dream by taking dance classes. I want to give her everything I never had. It's not always easy. Sometimes I don't know how I'm going to do it, financially, logistically or otherwise. I do whatever I can for her because I want the best for her and I'm willing to make sacrifices to make her happy.
Michelle is my very happy girl. She's always smiling, laughing, full of life and energy.

Here she is laughing her head off. Unfortunately sometimes when she knows I am her captive audience she will deliberately act silly. Especially when she knows I'm trying to take a photo. "Please Michelle smile for the picture." And she'll make a ridiculous face. Or turn away and laugh. Maybe it's better that I don't sit in on all of her classes or she'd be acting goofy all the time.

Someone told me that your child will always save their worst behaviour/defiance for you. They will be good for teachers and other authority figures but they will act up with Mom because they are testing boundaries and they know that you'll love them no matter what.
I will love her no matter what. Even though sometimes she drives me crazy. She refused to smile for the photo here.

I almost always make her pose for a selfie at the end of ballet class. I still couldn't believe the season was almost over. It was going by so fast. Soon it would be time for her concert. Soon she would be finished school. My little girl was completing GRADE ONE! She'd be going to Grade Two in September. It's all happening too fast. I can't seem to take enough photos to slow time down.
Spring flowers! Michelle helped me with a little gardening. The perennial bulbs came back but I always put annuals in the pots. Something cheap and cheerful. Some spikes in the back and a few flowers at the front of the pot.

Michelle helped me pick out some pretty pink and purple flowers. Pink is our fave. Michelle likes digging in the dirt to plant flowers. I let her help. She did pretty well. She always enjoys helping me with chores around the house. As a control freak it's hard for me to let go but I know she enjoys it, so I try.

We found these starry night petunias that sort of look like a night sky littered with stars. We planted it in a pot in the backyard. I wish I had the budget for some large trees and a big garden in the backyard. At this point I'm just settling for a few little flowers in pots and the small garden at the front of the house. I did have a large garden before in a previous home but it was a lot of maintenance. Not that a lawn isn't high maintenance as well. My battle with the dandelions seemed to be endless. Some days I was outside for hours pulling weeds. Still, there was satisfaction in it. There are unpleasant things that I can't do anything about. It's nice to know that there are at least SOME unpleasant things that I can control and eliminate from my life. I love the popping sound they make when you get them by the root. I loathe dandelions. I can't even explain the depth of my hatred for them. To me, they just represent all that is evil. And I have a need to eradicate it. No evil on my watch!

Our modest little pots. Nothing fancy. Just some pink flowers for colour and some spikes for texture. I decided to add a bit of stonecrop from the garden too. These sea-weedy looking things grow really well. They make a nice accent on the sides. You just pluck them out of one spot and stick them in another and they grow. I wish that all plants and flowers grew so easily. The only thing that seems to grow FAR too easily are weeds. It doesn't seem fair. The beautiful flowers and plants that you WANT to grow are so fragile and need so much care and nurturing to thrive. The weeds, which you don't want at all, just spring up uninvited and are hard to get rid of. It's like life. The beautiful things are just more fragile so you appreciate them more. The ugly things are a nuisance so you just try not to focus on them. Get rid of them if you can. Live with them if you must. Don't let them destroy the good things in your life/garden...

And just like that, it was Mother's Day! Michelle gave me a special magnet she made at school with a photo that her teacher took. It was sweet. She also had cards and letters for me.

I got us matching black floral dresses, as you can see. I love dressing Michelle and myself in matching outfits. I know that when she's older she would probably be mortified to dress like Mama so I'm going to enjoy this sweet phase for as long as it lasts. Right now she's thrilled when we have matching dresses. She LOVED them.

Mother's Day has so much meaning for me now. Being a Mom has truly changed my life. I don't think I was really living before. I used to be a hopeless romantic and kept looking for that great love of my life only to be disappointed and heartbroken time and again. Of course it didn't help that I seemed to have a radar for the WORST guys around and then I'd proceed to fall in love with them/try to change or fix them. Now that I have Michelle romance doesn't seem that important. She is the love of my life and that is more than enough. I don't feel like I need a man in my life. Which is good because there aren't any around and it would be hard for me to trust one enough to let him into our lives. Michelle was the best and most unexpected gift of my life. I'm so grateful for her.

I never tire of hearing Michelle say how much she loves me and that I'm the "best Mama in the world!"

We went to May's for Mother's Day. I was relieved that C wasn't coming. He'd gone to my Mom's place the day before just to drop by. My baby brother Mike was in town and stopped by as well. C didn't even bother to give my Mom a gift. He said he was going to give her top soil but I'd already given her several bags so he didn't bother. (She asked me to pick up top soil for her so I did and I didn't let her pay me back. But that wasn't her Mother's Day gift, just an extra.) Who gives their Mom DIRT for Mother's Day anyway?! A dirt bag I guess or dirt squirrel like he called me! Then he doesn't even give her anything? Not even flowers? On top of that apparently he was SCREAMING at my Mom because she seemed to be taking my side about the whole garage debacle (and how could she not? He stole my stuff and tried to sell it. He was in the wrong and can't admit it.) Then Mom enraged him even further by asking if X was OK because she looked "even more sickly than usual" when Mom last saw her. So C screamed at her at the top of his lungs. In the backyard. The day before Mother's Day. Mike had to tell him to back off and stop yelling at Mom and in front of the kids. At least Mike got to see what a tool C is. I just wanted nothing to do with him. We were happy to be at May's. Shannon took some fun snaps with her i-phone. The Mother's Day filter had some pink confetti though that could wind up a blob on your face!

This filter will HAUNT MY DREAMS. It's me, as a man, apparently. It's one of the filters on Shannon's fancy snapchat thing. The most disturbing thing is that the guy (well, me really, as a guy) looks familiar but I can't quite place him! Is it my brother? (God forbid !) Is it Colin Firth? I don't know. If you think of it please let me know! It's fascinating and horrifying all at once. As a Single Mom I have to be both mother and father. So I guess this is the father side of me! LOL

Michelle as a guy was very creepy too! (As you can see below.) She looked familiar as well. I am really glad Michelle is a girl and not a boy. Not that I have anything against boys (actually I have a LOT of things against boys, especially the broken boys I used to date! LOL) but I wouldn't have known how to relate to a boy as well and I wouldn't have been able to share so many fun girly things with him.

Now that's more like it! These feminine filters are much prettier! Michelle looks like a little doll! So cute.

I love this photo. Of course it's a little scary though because when I see Michelle with makeup I can start to picture her as a teenager. It already feels like she's growing up too fast so I really don't need to see that!

Michelle says that she will still be my sweet girl, even when she's a teen. I said I'll try to hold her to that, of course you don't know how you're going to be years from now. People change. And adolescence, with the hormones raging and everything, can drive anyone crazy. I hope she doesn't give me too hard of a time. "I'll be like Shannon," Michelle says to reassure me. I hope so. My niece Shannon is such a sweet girl. She's a good role model for Michelle. And they are a lot alike. They are both very close to their Mamas. They both love art and cats. They're both sweet girls.

Mom wound up with a big piece of pink confetti on her face like a clown nose! It was still cute though. She said she was disappointed that her day with her sons was a bit of a fiasco (because C is an a-hole and just basically ruins everything he can) but she was glad to now have a nice day with her daughters. I am so glad that I had a daughter rather than a son. Daughters just seem so much more devoted to family, so much more sensitive, sweet, thoughtful, caring, nurturing. Nothing against boys but they are just generally...less caring I guess? (No offence to the caring guys out there but even you must know you're the exception to the rule.)

One day Michelle said to me "Mama. Girls are better than boys." I suppose I should have corrected her and said they are just different. Each has strengths and weaknesses. But who am I kidding? Yes. Girls are WAY better than boys. In pretty much every way that matters. Girls rule!

We had a lovely visit until after dinner when things took a strange turn.

My brother in law Shane had been driving back from the U.S. and just got back. Maybe it was because he'd had a long drive, hadn't had much sleep. Maybe it was because he was drinking too much. I don't know what but he suddenly picked a fight with me for no reason. It got ugly.

Ironically he had just finished talking about how his niece once broke a glass bowl over his head during a fight. He'd had fights with his sister and niece that even turned violent. At least I'd never had that. My brothers and me only ever yelled at each other. We never sent each other to the hospital!

The point Shane was making, I guess, was that no matter what, he never held a grudge. People could have disagreements but you still forgave each other right afterward and it was just water under the bridge. I said "Not me. I can hold a grudge forever." Then he started lecturing me. Saying that I shouldn't stay mad at my brother, C (how I refer to him since my last angry blog post about him.) Shane started talking as though he was on C's side (which was stupid because he had always been on MY side and agreed with me about their non-wedding, thought that C and X -- his worse half -- were selfish, shallow, insincere a-holes. He had even called X a selfish bitch right to her face -- one of the reasons she wasn't so keen on visiting anymore. He had made fun of their non-wedding. He believed X had stolen the $200. I guess in retrospect most of his anger was toward X rather than C. Maybe he still liked my brother. In any event, I was in no mood to hear how great C was and why I should make up with him. I was livid.) I was getting angrier by the minute but Shane kept pushing me. He can be infuriating. He doesn't know when to stop. It's almost like he WANTS to stir the pot, to push you over the edge. No wonder people break bowls over his head! If one had been within reach I may have.

So while it had been mostly a nice Mother's Day, it ended on a horrible note. It was a shame that Shane had even come home from his trip that night. If only the drive had taken him an hour or two longer. He wasn't in the best frame of mind and he made me irate. My nerves were shot and I didn't need this. I could ignore his nonsense about Trump being great and Earth being flat but I was in no mood to hear someone argue my brother's case. So we were screaming at each other and everyone cleared out to leave. I started grabbing my stuff too. I hugged his Mom on the way out and said "Sorry but your son is an IDIOT." She couldn't argue. Poor May already had a headache before our outburst so she wasn't doing well. She apologized for Shane. I apologized for myself. I told May she's got the patience of a saint living with Shane all these years and not killing him! Ironically it wasn't that long ago that Shane invited me for brunch. Shane could be very kind and generous. He could also be ignorant, ludicrous and deliberately annoying. Now we were screaming and hurling insults like mortal enemies. It was obvious I wouldn't be celebrating my birthday at May's place as planned. Now I wouldn't even feel comfortable going there. More family drama. Great. Just what I needed. Apparently Mom told C about Shane arguing on his behalf and he said he'd have to thank "his buddy Shane." Oh brother. Literally. Barf.

Bad enough bridges had been burned with my brother C but now my brother in law?! May is my best friend. She was the one I was the closest to and now I couldn't even go to her place because I didn't want to see Shane. Why did he have to do this? On Mother's Day of all things! And right before my birthday party. Ironically last Mother's Day he was saying what an idiot C was for giving #unvitations to his non-wedding (announcing their local elopement before it happened, total slap in the face. Like telling people you're having a party but they're not invited. I coined the term unvitation. The proper way to elope is to just do it without telling people but C and X seemed not to know this, nor care.) and breaking Mom's heart and this Mother's Day he's singing C's praises and saying I should make up with him?! WHY THOUGH?! My Mom tried to defend him. "I think his heart was in the right place. He just wanted you to make peace with your brother. He was trying to say you shouldn't hold grudges." How very Christian of him. But it wasn't exactly the Sermon on the Mount. "Well you don't get someone to make peace by starting a WAR! You don't make someone feel warm and fuzzy about reconciliation by deliberately ANTAGONIZING them!" It was idiotic. But Shane will argue with your until you're blue in the face and you will never convince him that the Earth is round, that Trump is evil, that we landed on the moon (he has an endless supply of ridiculous conspiracy theories.) He once argued with May that Egypt was not in Africa until she showed him on a globe. It's just best not to argue. He's a great cook. You can just sit there and enjoy his delicious gourmet meals and nod and smile while he blathers on about his stupid nonsense. Until he hits a nerve and just keeps striking. Sometimes you can't nod and smile. Sometimes you have to fight back. Fight or flight.

Meanwhile, X (how I refer to my odious fake sister in law, as of my previous blog post) left a NASTY message on my Mom's answering machine one day. (Or I should say ANOTHER nasty message because she has done it before. She is just off the charts rude, clueless, classless and possesses ZERO self-awareness.) Mom played it for me. It's shocking how ignorant X is. She literally has NO IDEA. She really is in her own little world. She was going on about how "something has to be done about" me. How I should be apologizing to her but that I likely wouldn't because I'm too "immature." She had apparently just read the text argument C and me had A MONTH AGO and was hurt by my calling her "his anorexic almost wife."

First of all, admittedly I shouldn't make fun of someone's eating disorder. That is pretty low. So I actually do apologize for that. Then again I had people call me anorexic in university but because I wasn't I just took it as a compliment and proceeded to eat a Big Mac right in front of them and gloat. Because that's just how I roll! When I was younger I had a fast metabolism so I could eat almost whatever I wanted and still be 100 lbs. My gorgeous niece Shannon is the same. She is beautifully slender despite the fact that she can eat 2 bowls of spaghetti and 3 pieces of cake in a sitting! Unfortunately that luxury grinds to a halt in your mid-20s. Your metabolism continues to slow down in your 30s and by your 40s, forget about it. It's like every calorie you consume just STAYS with you (in my case mostly on my belly and thighs) and it's an uphill battle to even maintain, never mind lose weight. X stupidly tried to compare herself to Shannon. Oh HELL no. It is one thing to be effortlessly young and slim but when you're pushing 40 and we can see your bones, honey you are starving yourself and you're not fooling anyone (except maybe yourself.) We see it all the time -- celebrities, models and actresses get carried away with dieting and just look sickly. I think that a wide range of body types are beautiful, from ultra-slim to Rubenesque, but there comes a point when certain extremes are just plain UNHEALTHY and putting a strain on your organs. Then you know you've gone too far. The focus should be health is all I'm saying.

There's a vast difference between being SLIM and being SKELETAL. X is like the Grim Reaper. The fact that she was trying to kill my Mom off doesn't help matters either. As I mentioned in the last post, X is a dead ringer for Beldam (the Other Mother) in the movie Coraline. Like she could play the part in a live action version and not even need any makeup. It's uncanny. Even the hairstyle. Anyway, the fact that X was hurt by my anorexic insult, pretty much proves that it's true. Because otherwise you'd be taking it as a compliment because you won the genetic lottery and can eat whatever you like? But I don't think that's the case. She just DOESN'T eat. Anyway honey bun, if you read this one day let me say out of genuine concern for your well-being, with all the apologies and maturity I can muster "I'm sorry you're anorexic. Please go and get yourself some therapy. And for the love of God GO EAT SOMETHING instead of having my bro clean your plate at every meal like a mangy dog begging for scraps! Maybe you can lengthen his leash too." I have NEVER seen X do anything more than pick at her dinner like a bird (which C then finishes for her like a human garbage disposal.) And she keeps C on a VERY short leash. With a shock collar I think.

Anyway, yeah calling X anoreXic was definitely a mean thing for me to say but in fairness I didn't say it TO her! I merely said it ABOUT her in an angry text argument back and forth to my brother (and let's remember some of the gems he had for me -- called me a dirt squirrel, the C word etc. Who calls their sister the C word for crying out loud?! A classless, ignorant piece of trash, that's who!) Anyway if C was STUPID enough to show X the text, knowing it would hurt her, then that's on HIM, not me. So HE should apologize for hurting her feelings. And if she was NOSY enough (and being as controlling as she is, and given the fact that she's seeing this a MONTH after the fact my money is on this one) to snoop through C's cell if he left it lying around one day, then that's on HER and she can apologize to herself. She can go fuck herself too. If you snoop on someone's cellphone you deserve what you find. When my Mom told me that X actually expected an apology from ME, I went ballistic. "IS SHE OUT OF HER FUCKING MIND?! THEY STOLE MY STUFF AND TRIED TO SELL IT! And she wants ME to apologize for calling HER names?! She's a thief, a vulture and worse! I was defending myself! THEY should be apologizing to ME! THEY were in the wrong! Even before they stole all our stuff from your garage! She's trying to kill you off, steal your wedding ring, your house out from under you, God knows what, takes Michelle's baby stuff and trashes it without my permission and she has the AUDACITY to expect an apology from ME?! IS SHE KIDDING?! HOW CLUELESS CAN SHE BE?!"

Sometimes I think my Mom actually WANTS to stir the pot. That she somehow enjoys creating drama. Otherwise why play me messages that will push me over the edge? Why add fuel to the fire? Meanwhile I had been working on writing a blog post about the feud between C/X and myself. I was debating whether to actually publish it (my Mom begged me not to), whether to edit out the bad parts (the whole section on C and X. Because it was a little too raw, revealing and dark.) But after hearing that idiotic message from X I thought, "OK bitch. Here you go! Here is why I am NOT apologizing and why YOU SHOULD BE saying sorry to ME."

That decided it for me. Action. Reaction. Don't push a reactionary and then act surprised when they react. Just DON'T. If it weren't for C and X's unscrupulous, vulturous ACTIONS I wouldn't have had my angry REACTIONS. And still at the end of the day my only weapons were words in a text and in a blog. What can words do? They say the pen is mightier than the sword but I wouldn't want to try fencing with a ball point. My Mom warned C about the blog and he said he didn't give a damn because he wouldn't read it anyway. I could write whatever I liked. So between X pushing me and my brother giving me permission to put it out there, I went ahead and published the whole damn thing. I guess there's little danger of either of them actually reading it. X is no doubt too busy starving herself and hatching her latest evil plots and my bro can't read more than two consecutive sentences at a time so they'll never see what I said about them anyway. At least I felt some relief getting it all out. It's frustrating when you have (or someone you love has) been wronged and the person that wronged you (or her) feels ZERO guilt or accountability. It's ANNOYING AF. Frankly I don't need any more unresolved anger taking up residence in an already crowded mind. At some point you have to get it out and let it go. So enough about C & X. They don't belong in my life, my mind or my blog. I see them for what they are and I'm DONE with them. FIN!

Admittedly I did start to feel a small degree of pity for my prodigal brother when my Mom told me that they are actually struggling financially. He came over for dinner one night and kind of spilled the beans to Mom. Hmmm. So HE is the dirt poor, dirt squirrel after all. My therapist had already guessed as much. C can't come to terms with his own pride and shame so it's easier to deflect it all on me. Why did they pretend they were doing well if they were struggling? So stupid. Why do people pretend to be something they're not? Pride. If he could have just admitted that he was having a hard time I would have felt sorry for him and maybe wouldn't have been so angry about him stealing from me but my brother is so proud he has to mask everything in this fake bravado and act like he's doing so well. It's annoying. Anyway, needless to say, C would not be coming to my birthday party. Now I couldn't even face Shane either after our fight. It seemed I just couldn't get along with men period. Good thing there weren't any around! Other than a few random online stalkers/would be paramours which I just either ignored/laughed off/or blocked from my Twitter etc. I really don't know what they hope to gain. Man, are you barking up the wrong tree! I have neither the time nor the patience for stupid BS. I've got enough on my plate, thanks. I give up on men. I just can't get along with them AT ALL! "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle" a wise woman once said.

"Mama! Look how high I can climb!" "Mm-hmm. Yeah. Well I really wish you wouldn't though!" "But Mama I CAN DO IT!" "Just because you CAN do something doesn't mean you SHOULD!" The "Cube of Death" as I call it (a huge metal and rope contraption that just seems like a monumentally BAD idea) has never been my fave thing at the playground. Actually I hate it. One of Michelle's classmates plummeted off of it months ago and broke his arm. Michelle usually had no interest in it but on this particular day a few of her girl friends were climbing on it so she did too. Some kids would even perch up on the very top. I almost couldn't watch. Some parents don't worry at all and I probably look like a neurotic bubble wrap parent to them (and they wouldn't be too far wrong!) but I can't help but worry. I don't want to tell Michelle that she can't play like other kids but some things really do cause me anxiety. And I REALLY don't need any more of that. No thanks!

Flower power! I got a few more flowers to add some colour to the yard. I even found one (actually Michelle found it) that looked like a starry night. Ali loves going outside and I let her enjoy a little sunshine one afternoon. Cats, sunshine, flowers. I needed to focus on the good things, my happy place to help me forget about the ugly, messy, broken, disordered things in my life. The things I couldn't do anything about and that stressed me out to no end. I don't know if you've ever heard a cat purring in the sunshine while you pet her warm fur but I highly recommend it. It's right up there with listening to the waves on the beach. Or hearing your little girl laugh. You need these happy place moments to keep you going sometimes. Because some moments just aren't happy AT ALL.

My little unicorn. She even dressed her stuffed kitty in a dress and insisted that Kitty wear her seatbelt. Adorable. Yes Michelle is my walking happy place rainbow unicorn. She makes it much easier to focus on the beauty and magic of life. I wish she could paint the whole world with her joy, love and enthusiasm. I hope she never loses her childlike sense of wonder. I lost mine a long time ago. I try to get it back now and then and having Michelle around definitely helps me get in touch with my inner child. Too often adults get wrapped up in grown up cares and concerns and they forget how to be whimsical, to have fun, to look for the beauty and the magic, even in the ordinary. It's hard to focus on beauty when you're stressed about things like money and career and failing relationships and the world falling apart all around you.

"Control what you can" was sort of becoming my mantra. I declared war on the weeds. Some unwanted things in your life you can't really eliminate. But dandelions in your yard you CAN actually do something about. And I did. It was just a LOT of work. I broke my back pulling HUNDREDS of weeds. It was annoying but it was also strangely satisfying. I love when they make a little squeak and pop right out, root and all. Some of them are really stubborn though. I hate them. I loathe weeds.They are bullies. They are the death of all that is good. For every single one I pulled I thought that is one less toxic, ugly, unnecessary thing out of my life and my perfect green lawn. It was discouraging though after all my back-breaking work, to see new ones pop up each day but I got some Weed Out and I shot them. It was awesome. "Take THAT fuckers!" One little spray and they would turn black and wither and be gone. Beautiful. If only all toxic things could be eliminated with a spritz. 'Be GONE!" Eventually I was on top of it. No more weeds. No more new ones. It took a lot of work but I did it. I really hate yard work but it's part of owning a house. First World Problems. I love seeing the expanse of green lawn. Being able to control some things around the house was gratifying at least. There were still so many things beyond my control. I really wasn't a fan of those. I was trying not to let things get to me so much. I wish I was one of those people who was so laid back that they didn't worry about a thing. My therapist reminds me it's because I'm type A. No matter what it is I feel like I have to do it perfectly. And sometimes there is no "perfect." In therapy especially. It's an ongoing process.

Michelle was invited to a friend's party. It gave me a couple of hours to get things done anyway. I am glad that my happy, friendly girl makes friends so easily. She is a little social butterfly. I remain a mostly anti-social moth. Most of the time I prefer to keep to myself. Though I am grateful to have met a cool couple of Moms that it's nice to hang out with now and then.

The only problem with dropping Michelle off for a play date or party is that she never wants to leave! It's so hard to get her to leave. She keeps saying "One more minute." Even when the parents are all picking up their kids and the hosts are handing out loot bags and probably anxious to be rid of the kids who have been running amok for two hours. Michelle's birthday party was coming up and I was sort of dreading it.

One of Michelle's friends on the street was driving a little dune buggy thing. Did she want to play? Of course she did. I was out mowing the lawn and was hoping Michelle would just draw with chalk on the porch or something but she wanted to go ride her bike and play with her friends. Even though I could see her from where I was it made me nervous. Still, I relented. I can't keep the poor kid from having fun with her friends. Next thing I knew she was DRIVING the dune buggy thing. And she was a bit of a reckless driver! She did pretty well considering she had ZERO experience but she was making me a nervous wreck.
"Please stop driving that thing! You're going to give me a heart attack!"
I finished mowing the lawn at the front and was going to be going around to the backyard. I wanted Michelle to come with me. She wanted to keep playing. Against my better judgment I said OK. I checked with her friends' parents. They are nice. I knew that she'd be supervised. I still worried. As I was mowing the back lawn I felt antsy. Suddenly, even above the sound of the lawn mower I heard a child crying. I ran to the front of the house. Michelle was sitting on the step. She'd tried to use her friend's scooter and skinned her knee. "How did you know Mama?"
"Instinct I guess. I heard you crying."
"But I didn't even cry!" "I just sensed it." I just KNEW.
It was kind of spooky but that's how connected I feel to Michelle. I sensed she was hurt. I carried her back home and she rested on the couch while I finished the lawn. It's always hard to leave Michelle and I worry and this was not helping. I know that realistically I can't protect her every moment. I know that she can get hurt sometimes, even when I'm there. I don't have superhuman powers. I can't protect her from everything and even if I could it wouldn't be right. Part of life and being a kid and growing up is exploring, trying and failing and falling down and getting hurt but getting back up and being OK. Even though logically I know that it is still VERY hard for me as a parent to let go. She means more to me than my own life and I NEVER want to see her get hurt. It's tough as a Mom with PTSD because you are even MORE protective, MORE vigilant. It's overwhelming. My maternal instinct is turned up to full blast. A Mama leopard has nothing on me! It is my instinct to protect her ABOVE ALL ELSE. No matter what. She comes first.

I have done everything in my power to give Michelle the best life I could. I want the best for her. I love her so much. At least she appreciates my love and work and sacrifice. When she says she loves me and makes me sweet cards and letters telling me I'm the "Best Mama in the world" it melts my heart and I know that all of my work has been worth it. Everything is for her. She is Priority One. No one and nothing else is even a close second. Not even me, although I am trying to prioritize some self-care if only because it's therapists' orders. As they keep reminding me, if Mama's not OK then Mama can't take care of anyone else either. A lack of self-care was one of the precipitating factors in my breakdown. You can only run on empty so long.

It was my birthday. I can't even believe how old I am. I'm really REALLY old! Or at least I'm at an age that I used to think of as old but your perspective changes. Thirty sounds so old until you're thirty. Thirty was a pretty good age actually. I far preferred it to my twenties. Then forty sounds SUPER OLD but you get there and realize you don't feel too much different from your 30s. It's just THAT much harder to maintain your weight. As you close in on HALF A CENTURY you think, JESUS! Am I really this old? But you don't feel a whole lot different. Health issues come up. Sometimes you feel old. Some days random things just ache for no reason. Sometimes you throw your back out just bending over to get something. But you look at people like JLo and think, "Hey! She's FIFTY and she's still got it!" Then again, I'm no JLo. Still, I'm happy to say that no one EVER guesses my age (usually they think I'm 10-20 years younger!) and they're usually completely shocked when I tell them. So that's nice. One day we were out and I met a girl celebrating her birthday. I told her I was literally DOUBLE her age. She absolutely couldn't believe it. She thought I was around her age. That made my day!
May was supposed to be hosting my party but now that Shane and I were at each other's throats on Mother's Day, it would have been WAY too uncomfortable. So we had my party at my Mom's instead. May was awesome. She still got special balloons and a sash and tiara to make me feel like a Princess. It was really sweet. It was nice to talk to everyone without the stress of worrying about C word (my brother) or now S word (Shane) starting anything. I was grateful for a lovely day with loved ones. I filled Dan and Julie in on all the drama with C and X because they didn't know. I was happy to hear them taking my side. "How could anyone NOT be on your side? Who DOESN'T think stealing is wrong?" Right? C and X, that's who. But they're still not apologizing. And X is delusional enough to think I should apologize to her. So, to Hell with them, I say! I'll focus on the good people in my family. There are still a lot of them!

One of my friends that I talked to every day at the park after school asked me to go running with her. RUNNING. "Seriously?!" "You can do it!" Sure. Easy for her to say, she's very slim, athletic. She's run marathons. I told her "I don't run unless someone or something is CHASING ME!" She laughed and then she said "I'll chase you!" And she did. I didn't want to do it. I didn't like it. OK I full on HATED IT. But somehow I thought what the heck, I'm old and I should try to be healthier and get back in shape so I went running with her. I had trouble breathing. My face was red. I probably looked ridiculous. I thought I was going to die. But somehow I managed to keep up with her. I got through our first run. And I actually agreed to go again! She kept pushing me. She'd make me go further. I thought we were stopping at the stop sign and then she'd say "Nope. Keep going!" She challenged me. She pushed me further than I thought I could go. And I sort of hated her for it but I loved her for it. She was making me stronger. I started to look forward to our morning runs. I even went on the mornings she couldn't make it. It became a habit. A good habit for a change. I realized that although you can't run from your problems, LITERALLY RUNNING was very therapeutic. It was a release of adrenaline. It gave a focus to that angry energy. It diminished my anxiety. It physically tired me out. It was good for me. I was so grateful to my friend for giving me the gift of motivation to exercise. I couldn't have done it on my own. I would have stopped. I would have said it's too hard. I'm too tired. But I had to keep up with her. She was a good coach. A good friend.

Something magical happened one day at the grocery store. I was talking to a girl about art and when I mentioned having a show at S.A. last year she remembered it. She'd actually BEEN THERE! "Were you the one by the window, with the Jesus, the ladies and the cats?!" "YES!" She said her Mom loved my watercolour pink cat and she'd love to surprise her with it for her birthday. She asked if she could buy it. I thought she was pulling my leg but I gave her my number and she actually followed through! I sold a little painting! It was awesome. I would never want to be an actual "starving artist" because I wouldn't want to starve but it is so rewarding to create something that someone appreciates and wants to have in their home. It was a very nice surprise. Life can be so full of unpleasant surprises, it's great to have a good one for a change.

Michelle and me were SUPER PSYCHED to see the live action version of Aladdin! I don't think I'd EVER been so excited for a movie to come out. It had some very big shoes to fill because the original animated version was incredible. Will Smith had his work cut out for him following Robin Williams as the genie. Williams was inimitable so Smith didn't even try to be like him, instead Will took the role and made it his own. A hip new rapper genie. It was brilliant. I loved it. The movie was so over the top gorgeous, action-packed, breathtaking, it FAR exceeded my expectations. I was blown away. I LOVE Disney and they never cease to amaze me.

One of my favourite aspects of the film was how they gave more power to Jasmine, to speak up for herself and to create her own destiny. They even added a new song "Speechless" where she explains how she won't be silent in the face of corruption (Jafar in power). Though the situation seems bleak, she speaks up and tries to appeal to the guards' better natures. (Spoiler alert: It works. They listen.) It was so moving and politically relevant. (Trump is like a real life Jafar, drunk on power and corrupt AF. #ImpeachTrump!) It was a beautiful, powerful movie moment. Like when Elsa sings "Let it go!" in Frozen. Some songs really get to you. Especially when they are sung by a woman finally recognizing her own inner power. I was in tears. I loved the song. I wanted to sing it.

When we got home I couldn't stop thinking about Jasmine's song "Speechless" so I looked up the lyrics online. I grabbed my guitar and worked out the chords and sang my own cover version of it. I put it on Youtube and it got hundreds of views. I have written hundreds of songs and most only ever get a handful of views. I guess this was different because it was a cover and I posted literally the FIRST acoustic cover version of the song because the movie had just come out. (There were some other covers of it but they were just vocals.) The song is so empowering for women and could be a feminist anthem. "I won't be silenced. You can't keep me quiet." It had special meaning for me as well because I was in the middle of writing a blog that everyone was telling me NOT to write. Mom told me to keep quiet. Not to speak my truth. Not to make waves. Too often when we see an injustice or suffer personally at the hands of a monster, we are told to keep it to ourselves, to let things go, don't make trouble. To stifle our emotions and keep our thoughts secret. But sometimes we have a right to be mad. Bad guys shouldn't get away with it. Sometimes it's not OK. Sometimes we need to speak up. And we can't be bullied into silence. We will speak our truth.

Ballet season was almost over. I couldn't believe it. It had flown by. I usually try to get some photos after the class empties out. I cherish these memories with Michelle. Ballet had been my dream when I was little and I never got to live it. I am happy to give that to Michelle at least. My passions, talents were never really encouraged and I suffered from so much self-doubt. I want to give Michelle all the love and support and encouragement I can so that she will go after her dreams and live life to the fullest. I don't want her to be afraid or to doubt herself or to hide her light. I want her to go out there and shine. And she does. She is a bright shining star.

Panda-monium! Talk about a bear hug! This guy is adorable but as I explained to Michelle he is WAY too huge. He wouldn't even fit in the car. And he had an enormous price tag to match. I told her maybe one day if we win the lottery. If we ever do actually win I'll have a LOT of stuff to get Michelle -- mini pink convertibles and massive stuffed animals for a start. Michelle has gotten so used to it that now she brings it up "Mama if we win the lottery can we get this?" And I just say yup. One day she hatched an ingenious plan to ask Santa for whatever she wanted. Even though Christmas was several months away. She was going to ask Santa for a REAL MAGICAL UNICORN. This was a tricky one. How was I going to get out of this one? I began by saying that I wasn't sure unicorns ACTUALLY existed and that if they did they would want to stay hidden. Otherwise they wouldn't be so magical. And if Santa gave Michelle a real unicorn, every kid would want one and they'd lose their magic. Or something. She says she's going to save the letter until December but I hope she just forgets about it or loses it. I told her you're really just supposed to ask for TOYS, rather than ACTUAL MAGIC. 
And of course Michelle already IS a magical unicorn herself! We did a little shopping and tried on some dresses. How could I NOT get a rainbow dress for my unicorn?! It was a must-have! I have been pretty good about fighting my shopping addiction. Now that I've acknowledged the problem and am more conscious of it it is somewhat easier to keep myself in check. I do still give in to temptation occasionally but within reason. I have very low resistance when it comes to Michelle though. It is far easier to talk myself out of purchases for me than it is to say no to her when it's something she wants. She loves trying on dresses as much/or more than I do and she even let me snap a couple of photos in the change room. Michelle can be quite the little Diva when she wants to be. I can't even IMAGINE how she's going to be when she's a teenager. She already struts around in dresses and heels like she's on a runway. I am DOOMED! She is the only one who wanted me to keep the blog because she likes that I post photos of her. Yes I've created a monster!

In Grandma's backyard. Most of our visits consist of my taking Mom shopping (her choice! She always wants me to take her shopping. That's usually the reason for the visit) but we do spend a little time in the yard when it's nice. Mom and me sit on the swing and relax while Michelle runs amok. I wanted a picture with the tree while it was in bloom with little pink flowers. Spring goes by too fast. You wait so long for Winter to end. Then finally it warms up, flowers start to bloom and before you know it they're gone, replaced with leaves. It's a brief window of opportunity to see them. That's why I love photos. You capture the moment and the tree is always in bloom with little pink flowers. And your Mom is always smiling with her matching maroon hat, sweater and pants. And the sun is always shining. And your little girl unicorn is always little and you can hold onto all of it forever. Because outside of the photos, it's all so fleeting. It all changes. 
May didn't want any fuss made about her birthday whatsoever. The kids would be having a party for theirs and she usually just lumps hers in with theirs but it doesn't seem right to me and I wanted to see her on her actual birthday. My brothers rarely if ever come to our birthdays anyway so we decided to celebrate it on her birthday with just Mom and Dad in the afternoon. It was a weekday so the kids were in school. We got cupcakes to put candles in. I think May would have preferred if we just didn't bother but I wanted to see her and thank her for how special she made my birthday. I love May so much. She's the best sister and best friend anyone could have. She deals with a lot of stress too and I worry about her. These are tough times for a lot of us and we're all just figuring it out as we go along and trying to get through one day at a time.
Michelle plays nicely with a couple of her male friends at the park after school. Unfortunately one day a group of boys were causing trouble. They took over a spot that Michelle had set up as a "camp site," basically threw her out and said "No girls allowed!" I told her to stand up for herself and say that she was there first. Finally they left and she got her spot back but by then it was almost dinner time and we had to go. I told Michelle we were leaving. She said "No! I just got my spot back." "You don't say no to me. We're leaving. Now." "No," she repeated. I started to walk away with my friend and her son. Michelle sat there with her backpack defiantly. I'd had a bad day and I didn't need a rebellious 6 year old adding to my stress. She could be stubborn but I'm Taurus the bull, I wrote the book on stubborn. I kept walking and refused to even look back. "Is she coming?" I asked her friend to check for me. "Not yet." "If this is a battle of wills," I told my friend, "she will LOSE." Then finally when the distance was growing too big for comfort, she started running toward us. Then she tripped and fell and started crying. She cried all the way home. It was hard for me but as I talk to other parents I hear that it's normal and natural for kids to test boundaries, to defy you, to assert their independence sometimes. It just hurts. It feels like I'm failing as a Mom. I've failed at so many things but being a Mom is more important to me than anything. I can't fail at this. In the end Michelle apologized and hugged me. She is a really good kid. I am so grateful to her. We will have disagreements. She is strong willed like me. I worry about her teen years! But in the end we love each other so much we can get through anything. We communicate. We respect each other. And we both have a guilty conscience that doesn't let us away with much. When we mess up we beat ourselves up over it.

One of Michelle's Earth Ranger missions was to conserve energy around the house by switching to energy efficient bulbs etc. I rarely have to change light bulbs because I don't use overhead lights too often (in the day you don't need to and at night they're not on too much.) We replaced a few with energy saving bulbs. I got the idea for Michelle to hold a bulb over her head -- like a cartoon idea. Michelle enjoys being an Earth Ranger. I am glad that she cares about saving the Earth. Lord knows her generation will have to care and work to save it from destruction. It is a good idea to make kids conscious of climate concerns, fading biodiversity and to enlist their parents' help to make changes that will help the planet. Unfortunately individuals can only do so much. Industries and governments need to take responsibility and step up to make changes necessary to reverse the damage we've done before it's too late. We are already seeing the devastating effects of climate change. And we are all interdependent. If the planet suffers, so do we.

I never imagined it would happen but I was a runner. Every day. At first it was just once or twice a week with my friend but then it became a habit and I actually looked forward to it in a weird way. I would drop Michelle off at school and go for a run. It was hard but I liked the afterglow, the feeling of accomplishment. I liked that I could just run and feel the endorphins kick in. I tried to run mindfully. To take everything in. The pad of my feet hitting the pavement or the crunch of running on wood chips or gravel, the sound of birds singing, the rustle of grasses or trees around me. The rhythm of my breathing. It was still hard for me to breathe. My friend tried to tell me to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth. That wasn't even an option. I was just gasping, panting. But I got through it. Even when I thought I'd collapse I kept going. Exercise was helping me to feel healthier, stronger, more in control. It was addictive. 

Pretty in pink. My little ballerina. I love this shot. It looks like an old fashioned photo. The creative multi-shots don't always work out but sometimes I love them. Michelle does get annoyed at times with my paparazzi tendencies but usually she doesn't fight me on it. If Mama was kind enough to get her ballet lessons the least she can do is let me snap some pictures. One of the other Moms takes photos during class sometimes but no one else is as obsessive as I am about it. Full blown photoholic.

Michelle was focused on her class but she caught me looking through the window and waved at me. I love this shot. So cute. When I found out that I was having a girl I think this was what I pictured. A little girl in a pink tutu doing ballet. Because that is somehow just as girly as it gets. Aside from the unicorns and rainbows and glitter, dancing ballet has always been to me the ideal of feminine beauty. Ballet is so beautiful. So graceful.

The greatest compliment I ever got was in university when a fellow student (who I dated briefly) told me that I was "too felinely graceful to be human." It made my day/week/life! I used to have strangers ask if I was a ballerina. I was very slim and I did love to dance but I'd never had lessons. It was a road not taken. Seeing Michelle dance is like watching my inner child come to life and live out her dreams at long last. Sometimes I tear up watching her. She's so sweet. My little miracle. She is my second chance. My better life. My best life.

I could never do the splits. Not even as a kid. You have to start when you're 4 or so or you lose your flexibility. Michelle was dancing and stretching even before she took classes. She could have taken gymnastics too but it's so expensive and I'd worry about her getting hurt. And gymnastics is more athletic. Ballet (though it requires a great deal of strength and agility as well) is more of an art. It is poetry in motion. I am so glad that Michelle chose to take piano and ballet, the two things that I love and wanted most. She is so much like me.


Unicorn rainbow princess ready to party! She wanted to wear her new rainbow dress. Michelle absolutely LOVES to dress up, especially for a party.

We were heading to my niece and nephew's birthday party but we had to wait for Grandma. Somehow we are ALWAYS waiting for Grandma. In the meantime we got a few photos in the backyard. It was a beautiful day.

I was looking forward to going to my sister's but also nervous because obviously Shane would be there (and we hadn't seen each other since our fight on Mother's Day) and even C would be there. (Yes he actually decided to show up at something.) I promised May I wouldn't start anything or take the bait if they did. I hoped they'd just leave me alone. No matter what I would keep the peace for the kids' sake.

Thankfully Shane and C just stayed out of my way. (X didn't come with him luckily. I don't think she'd have the nerve to show her face.) I got a family photo minus the guys. I didn't ask them to join us and they didn't offer. Our group photos were shrinking.

C and Shane just avoided me. Every so often I'd catch a bit of C's conversation and roll my eyes. He would sometimes passive aggressively make comments that were probably digs at me. At one point he made a comment that "God is quiet but the devil is really loud."

I muttered "Says the LOUDEST guy in the room!" under my breath. Sometimes I wonder if he even notices or cares how obnoxious he is. Michelle wasn't sure how he would be with her. She's more forgiving than Mama but she still felt slightly ambivalent. C made a big fuss of her as usual. He hugged and kissed her. My Mom made her thank him for the rainbow blow up pool he'd given Michelle. Supposedly to replace her water table that they'd thrown away without our permission. A terrible gift. How am I supposed to empty a pool in my backyard and flood the neighbourhood? Anyway C said to her, loud enough so that I could hear "The pool was X's idea. She felt bad and wanted to make it right." Oh. So she DID realize stealing from a child was wrong, but stealing from me was OK? Idiots. I just tried to ignore him. My Mom said he seemed happy that Michelle wasn't holding a grudge. Michelle is an angel and doesn't hold grudges like Mama though at the time of the incident a month ago she did say "Mama, Uncle C is a POOP!" I didn't disagree.

I was extremely relieved to have gotten through the party without an incident. I didn't say anything to them and they didn't say anything to me. When I was leaving, Shane joined everyone at the door to say goodbye. I felt like I should say something. I complimented him on dinner and on the roof he'd built on the back deck. And I thanked him for not saying anything about anything. "Of course," he said and hugged me. It was nice. Water under the bridge. He was a man of his word. He wasn't holding a grudge. It was nice to know I could feel comfortable at my sister's place again rather than walking on eggshells. My Mom said she wished C and me would hug it out too but I couldn't see that happening because we are both stubborn and both hold a grudge. Each one of us believes we are right (in my case I KNOW that I'm right! LOL) and we aren't willing to budge. I'd just prefer avoiding him. Avoidance is still my go to for most unpleasant things. We have blocked each other on our phones and are mostly just trying to not be in the same place at the same time. The kids' party was the exception. We got through that by keeping our distance.

I actually had a list in my purse to pull out if I needed it. My therapist had shown me a video about anger management. Maybe I could learn not to be so reactive, not to take the bait when people push my buttons, either accidentally or deliberately. I wrote out the "Five Keys to Controlling Anger" and had the list in my purse in case I needed it:
1. Don't get attached. The ego needs to be RIGHT. Mine sure does! We get attached to our ideas but our ideas are not us & it's OK if people attack your ideas because they aren't you. Try to be open to learning & understanding different perspectives.
2. Don't take things personally. Everyone has their issues. If someone insults you that's a reflection of THEM, not you. Happy people don't try to hurt others.
3. Let go. You can't always have your way. You can't control everything.
4. Be aware of what's going on in your body. Maybe you're just tired, or hungry or hangry. Maybe you're not mad, just stressed, exhausted etc.
5. Learn how to say what's really going on with you. Assert yourself. Holding it in will eat away at you. State your case, calmly and honestly. "I feel that..." Express yourself instead of bottling your feelings up.
It all sounds like good advice but easier said than done. At least I didn't have to pull out my list. Even if the guys HAD tried to push my buttons there was no way I was going to ruin the kids' party.

My absent minded girl got into the habit of forgetting something at school almost every day. A book, her stuffie, her water bottle. I started to wonder if it was just an excuse to go back to her classroom. She seemed to like me to see inside her class. I enjoyed seeing it too because it was a glimpse inside of her life at school that I didn't usually get to see. If I got to sit in on her classes I'd be taking all sorts of pictures of her learning and laughing with her friends. I don't like leaving Michelle. Not even when she goes to school but I know it's necessary. It's hard for me to let go and I don't do it very often aside from school, parties and play dates. My girl is with me all the time. It was so hard when I had to leave her for long shifts at work. It was far too long. I'm grateful to have had this time with her to make up for time apart.
In the swing of things.

I told her it wasn't the best idea but Michelle wanted to stand up on the swing. I remember not too long ago when she needed me to push her. Then she learned how to swing herself and didn't need me. It's hard as a parent. You teach them, you watch them learn and grow until they get to the point where they don't need you anymore. They become more and more independent. It will be so hard to let go. In some ways Michelle wants to be more independent and in other ways she still needs her Mama. I don't know at what point she'll stop wanting to wear cute headband cat ears and unicorn horns or letting me pick out her outfits (she already insists on picking her clothes a lot of the time). I just want her to be my little girl as long as possible. I enjoy watching her play. It has gone so fast. It keeps going so fast. It was hard to believe 7 years was just around the corner. 

It became my routine to take Michelle to school and go for a run either with my friend or solo. One day a teacher outside the school told me she could tell I was running every day because I looked "fabulous." It was so sweet. It made my day. I was grateful that my friend had started me on this healthy habit. Running or jogging wasn't something that interested me. I'd tried it once years ago and got discouraged because it was too hard and I thought never again. But it's different when someone is there with you, motivating and encouraging you, pushing you further than you knew you could go. I looked forward to runs with my friend and to our daily chats at the park. I got to know her really well. She shared stories about her childhood and things she'd never told anyone. Maybe because I'm such an open book she felt comfortable confiding in me. Unfortunately she was going to be gone for the entire Summer. I was going to miss her. I was growing quite fond of her. We were opposites in some ways and very alike in others. We seemed to balance each other out.

Michelle's big Spring Concert/ballet recital was coming up and there was no photography or video permitted. Were they kidding?! A professional photographer was going to be doing a DVD video of the entire concert which parents could purchase (so I ordered one of course!) but it wouldn't be out until the Fall. Although photos weren't allowed at the actual performance, we were allowed to take pictures at the dress rehearsal so I took full advantage and got several pictures of Michelle. I was careful not to include the other girls in the shots. It's better this way anyway because it looks like Michelle is alone on stage, my little star.

It melts my heart to see my little girl tiptoeing around on a big stage in a beautiful theater. Talk about a photo op!

My precious little flower. Sometimes I think my heart will burst I love her so much. She's so sweet.

I love these photos. Seeing Michelle glowing white against the black backdrop is like a little star twinkling in the sky.

I'm a sap. I'm a sentimental fool. I can't help it. I was surprised that other parents weren't even taking photos of their kids when they had the chance. Some of them didn't even have their kids in costume. WHY THOUGH?! It's called a DRESS REHEARSAL. Maybe they couldn't be bothered. I don't know. I can't relate to some people. Don't they know that the moment is precious and gone so fast and if you don't snap a picture of it it's going to be gone?! Some people are too busy checking their cellphones to even glance on stage and see their kid dancing. I don't get it. To each their own I guess.

Michelle was disappointed that her school's Fun Fair was the same night as her ballet dress rehearsal. She almost wanted to skip the dress rehearsal. I said no way. Priorities: ballet is more important than a fair. I hadn't even realized the conflict until the last minute because I was frazzled trying to keep track of everything. I had thought the fun fair was during the school day, not after. It was just too hectic. I told her that if her dance was done early enough we could go and try to catch at least some of the fair before it was over. She was thrilled when she finished her dance and we were out of there by dinner time so we could head back home, change and go. There was going to be a bouncy castle, games, balloons and treats. She couldn't miss out on that! Some days it seemed like such a mad rush to work everything in. Even just getting to school on time in the mornings was a challenge without lessons and extracurricular activities and everything else.

We made it to the fair! Michelle was thrilled. She loved the bouncy castle maze/slide thing. I actually considered renting a bouncy castle for her birthday party. This year I was going to do her party at the end of June since when I do it in late July half of her friends are away. It was going to be SUPER hectic having a party right after the last day of school but part of me just wanted to get it over with. I looked into the rental. Some were WAY too expensive but I found one that was more affordable. I figured it would keep the kids entertained in the backyard for an hour, then we'd have cake and it'd be done before we knew it. I usually want to have parties at home because I'm a control freak and there are too many uncontrolled variables in a public place. Still I wasn't in love with the idea of several kids running amok inside the house. The backyard seemed a better option.

Michelle wanted to try all the games. When she actually sunk a basket in the basketball game she jumped up and down with excitement and it was adorable. I'm so glad I actually managed to capture this moment with her ponytail in mid-air. Her enthusiasm is contagious. I'm usually low on energy and pretty much dragging myself around like Eeyore (although my running has helped my energy levels somewhat. It's cliche but it's true -- exercise creates energy. You think you don't have the energy to do it but if you force yourself it actually makes you stronger. The more you do, the more you can do. Still, even on my best day it's hard to keep up with Michelle!) Michelle is usually bouncing off the walls like Tigger! She is a little Energizer bunny. She can just keep going. She'd already done a full day in school, gone to her dance rehearsal and now was jumping around at the Fun Fair. There was no slowing her down. "What next?" She wanted to do everything. Even a game where you throw toilet paper rolls into a toilet. OK...

DEADPOOL! You just never know who you're going to meet at the Fun Fair. I was curious who was in the costume. We'd seen him before during a hailstorm at the ice cream place on Hero Day last year. Now he was walking around the school. I asked if I could get a picture of him with Michelle. A friend or acquaintance of his was joking that he liked to "pick up girls." He literally picked Michelle up off the ground. I joked that at least I was in no danger. I was no girl. I was an old lady, especially after my birthday. "NO WAY!" he was saying. It's nice to get a compliment when you're fishing for one. I am almost hurt if people aren't shocked by my age. I remember one guy I met that actually told people he was 10 years older than he was just to get compliments. "WOW! You look GREAT man!" He figured it was better than pretending to be younger and have people think he looked awful for his age. I could see the logic but I sure didn't want to be another decade older. I still can't believe how old I am. I don't feel it. Maybe that's another reason I was running. To prove I've still got it!

There was a long line up for the balloon guy but Michelle finally got her pink kitty balloon. The guy was so animated. He said he did birthday parties too and gave me his card. I should have considered it. It would have been a better option than the bouncy castle fiasco but I'll get to that later. Hindsight is 20-20. You just never know what's going to happen next. You can try to plan things to the letter but there is so much that's beyond your control. As the old Yiddish saying goes: "Mann tracht, un Gott lacht" -- Man plans and God laughs. I think he laughs even harder at women's plans. As a control freak I must give Him quite a few chuckles.

If there is a fuzzy creature or reptile anywhere to be found, Michelle is there!

There was a Reptile show/petting zoo at the fair and Michelle was right in there touching the turtles and lizards and who knows what. I got a couple of pictures of her. It was hard to snap without getting other kids in the photo. I reminded Michelle to please use the hand sanitizer afterward because reptiles carry bacteria like salmonella. She was hoping to get an ice cream after. "There's literally no way you're eating ice cream with turtle hands" I told her. Not on my watch. Sometimes I'll see kids touching things they shouldn't and then touching their faces. I want to scream "NO!" but the parent is sort of oblivious and it's not my place to meddle in someone else's life. I can't control the whole world. Some people don't worry about anything. I worry about EVERYTHING!

Photo op! How do you NOT pose for a photo with Elsa?!

I wasn't a big fan of Michelle using community hats/props but it was a cute photo op and it made her happy so I relented. OK. Go ahead. Put on the big straw hat and silly glasses and lei.

I even got in a photo with Michelle and Elsa.

They had some games and activities indoors. They had a version of Musical Chairs with a twist. There were numbers on the seats and if your number was called, you won a prize. A big cream pie. It was just as well we didn't win because I wouldn't have wanted to carry it around and also the last thing I needed in the house was a cream pie! Bad enough I'd be having cake at the end of the month!

Michelle wanted a hamster. Ever since she saw her cousin Reggie's. I kept hoping she'd change her mind or forget about it but no such luck. I told her maybe we'd get one AFTER her birthday. She would have to prove that she was responsible enough. At least the hamster gave me some leverage. I was able to get Michelle to do what I wanted by warning "Well if you want the hamster you have to earn it with good behaviour." Her little tantrum and act of defiance at the park was Strike One. Two more strikes and she was out. No hamster. It kept her on her toes anyway. We went to the pet store to look but they didn't have any Teddy Bear hamsters anyway. We could order one if we had to.

My friend had free passes to the indoor playground so we went. It was nice for the kids to run and play while we could sit and chat. I wound up telling her my life story, at least the part about becoming a single Mom unexpectedly. She was blown away by what I'd been through. She said what a great job I've done, what a great Mom I am to Michelle. It meant a lot. She is such a good friend. I was really going to miss her when she went away for the Summer. She was leaving even before the end of the school year. It was going to be bittersweet. She said her son would really miss Michelle too. That she's such a smart and fun and kind friend. They have a lot in common. They both love reading and math. My friend's son is so smart he's already reading Harry Potter and Narnia books. Michelle is reading some grade 5 level books and doing grade 3 math. My friend does homework with her son. She feels like they don't learn enough in class. I was kind of surprised Grade One wasn't quite what I expected. It almost seemed like she did more in Kindergarten. 
Michelle met another of her friends at the playground as well and they all played together. I was wishing we had more time but I'd forgotten she had a piano lesson. Lately I was getting confused and forgetting things. There was just too much on my mind. I could barely keep the days straight. 

After piano Michelle wanted to check out Toys R Us. I'd mostly been avoiding it these days because it's a dangerous place for a recovering shopaholic Mom with low impulse control! But we went to look and I was pretty good considering. We met a "Pets Alive" butt wiggling llama that was so stupid it was absolutely HILARIOUS. The fuzzy little thing twerks awkwardly and then spins around. We laughed and laughed. It almost would have been worth the $30 just to get a few more laughs with it at home but I resisted. "Maybe if it goes on sale half price," I reasoned. I can still picture it in my mind even without buying the thing. Even the memory of it makes me smile! That can be my new happy place! Skip the drama with a twerking llama!

Some geese had taken up residence near home. It was cute. We saw the whole family walking -- Mom and dad and the kids. Michelle wanted to go see them. It was a photo op so I was all over it although I worried the geese might feel threatened when Michelle went near. It's a mother's instinct to protect her babies. A father's too I guess sometimes, when they're around. When they care enough to stick around. Though there are a few notable exceptions in the animal kingdom it's mostly single Moms. The guy takes off as soon as the baby is born. If not before. It's the Mama who is left to do all the work, the nurturing, protecting. Geese and swans are an exception. Apparently they are very loyal. They mate for life. They stand by each other and protect each other and their offspring. When one dies the other mourns in seclusion. It's beautiful really. That's how love should be. But how often does that happen among human animals? I guess the key is to find your goose or swan...

Taking flight! After several failed attempts and blurry shots, once in a while I strike gold and catch a clear action shot with Michelle in mid-air. The grand jété is the most breathtaking leap in ballet. One of the most advanced moves. Michelle already attempts it. Here there are two of her flying. My little black butterfly. It was the last day of ballet so I was going to take advantage of every last photo op. It was bittersweet to be saying goodbye to the studio for the season. To see my little girl growing up before my eyes. School was ending. Ballet was ending. It was all going too fast.

I even got to sit in on her last class. It was a very small class so they figured why not. There was just one other child aside from Michelle that even showed up. I guess most of the parents figured why bother. The season was over anyway. I wanted to cherish that one last class. It was nice to watch her almost have the class to herself. She didn't fight me on taking photos. She knew that resistance was futile anyway. Let Mama have her last hurrah with the camera.

I enjoy living vicariously through Michelle. I get to experience ballet, piano and so many things through her. It's like getting to be a kid again but better. Having even more fun. Doing all the things I always wanted to do. And Michelle has far more energy and magic than I ever had, even as a child. She is a force of nature.

One last goodbye photo with Mama!

My baby girl. I don't know why she is leaning like this on her heels, lifting her feet off the ground. She almost knocked me over. Sometimes she does actually pull me down. I guess she thinks Mama is strong enough that she can lean on me, pull on me, swing on me and I will not fall. But sometimes I do. Mama is breakable. Sometimes Michelle wants me to carry her or give her a piggyback. Even though she is 60 lbs! Some days I do it. Other days it nearly kills me. I became a Mom at an older age. I have to stay young and healthy for Michelle's sake. Thankfully most people don't even realize how old I am. The other Moms I've met had no idea. They thought I was around their age. Even my friend was shocked when she heard how old I was. She's an older Mom too but still a lot younger than me. I am sure I am the oldest Mom in Michelle's grade, maybe any grade for that matter. But Michelle keeps me young. Because I have to be for her.

The last day of ballet was magical. There was a surprise waiting for us when we got to the car: A BUTTERFLY! A beautiful black butterfly with orange and blue accents. It was right near the car. She flew under one of the tires and I wanted to make sure I didn't run her over so I went to get her out. To my surprise she didn't fly away but stayed on my finger! Michelle wanted to see her so I transferred her to Michelle's finger and she STAYED for the longest time. I couldn't believe it. She wouldn't leave. Just like some of the ones at the Butterfly Conservatory. Butterflies love her. I had NEVER seen a butterfly this friendly out in the wild though. Maybe it was a baby, just hatched and we were just lucky to be in the right place at the right time. In any case, Michelle was THRILLED and I was beyond thrilled for the perfect PHOTO OP! My baby girl in her black tutu with a black butterfly on the last day of ballet?! It was too perfect. Photoholic HEAVEN! Naturally I snapped a dozen photos.

"Can we keep it?!" Michelle pleaded.
I tried to reason with her. No you can't "keep" a wild thing. She wanted to bring it home. I told her there was no way it would stay with her when she went in the car and even if it did there was no way I could drive with a butterfly flitting around the car. Still, Michelle insisted and I was half-curious how this experiment would turn out so I said "OK. We'll try it. But don't be disappointed. She'll never stay that long." She did. The butterfly, who Michelle named Riley, was such a sweetheart. She perched nicely on Michelle's finger and flew around the backseat a little bit but didn't disturb me whatsoever. We made it all the way home with her. I told Michelle she's probably going to fly away the second we open the car door but SHE DIDN'T! She stayed on Michelle's hand as she gently tiptoed toward the house and through the door. I couldn't believe it! The next obstacle would be Ali. We absolutely could not let our cat see the butterfly or she would swat at/eat it.
A pet butterfly?! You just never knew what each new day was going to bring. It was a crazy, beautiful, magical experience. Luckily Ali was oblivious. Riley kept a low profile when walking past Ali and only flew a little bit in the living room when Ali wasn't around. It was so surreal. Was this actually happening?! I have loved butterflies my whole life. They are, along with flowers, some of the most beautiful creations on Earth. God's masterpieces. But they always seemed so elusive. Like you could never get close. They would fly away. Like happiness, you can't catch one by chasing it. You have to let it come to you. Now it had. We had a butterfly book so we looked her up and found her picture. Riley was a Black Swallowtail and she was clearly a female because she had more blue on her wings. I figured she must be a baby since she didn't fly too much. Michelle wanted to keep her "forever." When I looked it up apparently their lifespan is only TWO WEEKS!

I told Michelle I didn't know how long we'd have her but she could certainly visit and stay at our butterfly hotel until she was strong enough to fly better and then we'd have to set her free. What do butterflies eat?! Flowers of course and I'd seen them on fruit at the Butterfly Conservatory. I got her some banana and some flowers from outside. I have a live plant we'd grown from an apple seed. She liked sitting on that. I made a little basket home for her with some water, fruit, flowers and plants. She seemed happy. She flew a little bit but still not very high or very far. I turned the air conditioning down because I knew butterflies like the heat.
Riley flew onto Michelle's hair. She almost looked like fairy wings or elf ears. I couldn't believe it was happening. Of course I needed photographic evidence so I took a gazillion pictures.
"We have to tell Grandma and Auntie May!" I called my Mom and sister to let them know. They couldn't believe it. They'd never heard of anything like it. Butterflies aren't usually this friendly are they? Maybe it was the Butterfly Effect. Maybe because the climate, the planet is so messed up it's throwing everyone, from animals, to people to insects, a little bit off. Or maybe Riley had just been born and was learning to fly. Or maybe she was old and too weak to fly. It's hard to tell a butterfly's age. From a baby to a teenager to elderly in two weeks.

We kept Riley in the bathroom for the night. She'd have room to fly around in there if she wanted to and would be safe from Ali. Michelle said she would miss her overnight. It's amazing how attached you can get to an insect after a few hours but she was so sweet and so beautiful you couldn't help but love her. In the morning Michelle wanted to have Riley on the bed with her. It was cute until... Ewww! Riley peed on the sheets! It hadn't even occurred to me that butterflies PEE but of course they have to eliminate somehow! I was a little grossed out and yet relieved because if she was peeing then she was obviously eating something. I didn't want her to starve. I'd researched what Black Swallowtails like to eat -- Phlox and Verbena and I planned to get some at the garden center that day. As luck would have it we were going to a church right near a garden center. It's like it was meant to be. Yes I was going to church... Maybe God had sent the butterfly as a sign!

I hadn't been to church in a long time. Mom used to force us to go and it felt more like a punishment than a religious experience. As an adult I went less and less and then basically not at all aside from occasionally at Christmas. The times I felt closest to God were usually in nature, not in a church at all. My friend asked me to go to church with her. Like the running thing my first instinct was to say no but then I considered it. My friend had been a Christian originally then turned Atheist and then found God again. She inspired me to try. She said that there was a non-denominational church she went to. I couldn't imagine such a thing. I was a Catholic. How could a church be non-denominational? You just go to celebrate Jesus. Without the rituals and rules and stuffiness. It was intriguing. So I agreed to try it. When I got there they had a sign outside saying "No perfect people allowed." It was sort of awesome. I like this place already, I thought. You didn't have to be perfect for God to love you. You only needed an open heart. People were welcoming me at the door. I'd never seen such a friendly church. My friend greeted me. She looked so pretty. She was all dressed up. Usually she wears no makeup and athletic clothes for running. I call her "Sporty Spice" and she calls me "Posh Spice" but today she was looking posh. She said I inspired her to dress up. We registered the kids (it reminded me a bit of IKEA and I liked that it was so controlled because I really don't like leaving Michelle with ANYONE) to go play in a room upstairs while the grown ups went to the service. It was very informal. They had free coffee and you could even bring your coffee in with you. And there was MUSIC.
There was a live band and they were AWESOME. The songs were so moving. Hearing songs about Jesus sung with so much passion was overwhelming. I couldn't even fight back the tears. They came streaming down my face. I felt like an idiot. But it was so emotional. I felt like it was all meant to be, meeting my friend who convinced me to run and to come back to Jesus. She had been such a positive force in my life. This was like no church I'd been to. It felt so warm and welcoming. Everyone was so nice and everything the pastor was saying resonated with me. Church had become a dark place and certainly the Catholic Church has a dark cloud over it in light of all the scandal. It shouldn't be about religion and rules but our relationship with Jesus.

The pastor talked about how sometimes it's hard to follow Jesus. To do the right thing. To speak your truth even when no one agrees with you. We have to live counter-culturally. Culture wants you to move one way (away from Jesus. To focus on material things instead of what really matters.) It can be lonely to go your own way when it's not the popular path. So much of what he was saying hit close to home. And I felt close to Jesus there in that room. Some people were saying "Amen" out loud while he was talking and it was a little strange to me. Like watching one of those televangelists or something but there was something so wholesome about it. It was dynamic. This was a community. The Catholic churches I'd been to were usually cold and impersonal. Everyone just keeps to themselves. You sit and stand and kneel on cue. It's very formal. This was the opposite. It was just a place to sing and to celebrate Jesus. To listen and be inspired. I couldn't stop crying. My friend cried too and hugged me. I felt so close to her. They had the words to the songs up on the screen. Though I didn't know the songs I was caught up in the music and started singing along. I thought of the times that Jesus was there for me when I didn't think I could keep going. I started to feel guilty about my anger toward my brother. I do need to learn to forgive. I carry so much bitterness. I have to let it go. Jesus sacrificed everything for us and he forgave us for our weaknesses. His love was unconditional.

After the service my friend introduced me to the pastor and some of her friends. One of them was a beautiful blonde. She looked like a Barbie. I couldn't resist commenting about it. "I don't know how they let YOU in here," I joked with her, "I thought the sign said NO PERFECT PEOPLE!" She was flattered. "Aww. You're so sweet! Thank you! And I'm having a bad hair day!" "THAT is a bad hair day for you?" I asked incredulously, "You look like you just walked off the set of a Pantene commercial!" Then I called her "Jesus Barbie." She loved that. She thought I was a riot. Everyone was so friendly. It was almost too good to be true. Like Stepford Wives or something. My friend was going to be going away and wouldn't be able to come with me but I thought maybe I'd go to this church again, Michelle and me. Unfortunately, Michelle's experience had NOT been so positive. When I went to pick her up from the kids' center she said "Mama. They were ANIMALS! Don't make me go back there!" I guess the kids' play room was a little crowded and chaotic and Michelle hated it. She said the only good part was when SpongeBob came on TV but then they switched it to Veggie Tales. I didn't want to subject Michelle to that again. Maybe she could just sit with me and the rest of the adults next time? But then she might get bored. And no one else seemed to have their kids with them. The next couple of weekends we were busy anyway and I didn't end up going back but I was grateful for the experience.

Afterward we went to the garden center and got some plants for Riley. It was all very strange how things worked out -- finding the butterfly, going to church next to a garden center, getting plants for Riley. It's like it was all meant to be. We found some phlox and verbena. I couldn't wait to bring them home to her. Riley LOVED them. She drank and drank the nectar. It was fascinating watching her drink with her long straw like tongue (proboscis). She ate so much that she was flying better and stronger. It was rewarding to feel like we were taking care of her, nurturing her, helping her to be strong enough to fly. It's like with kids. You nurture and love them so they can reach their full potential.

Riley started flying to the window. At one point she flew right onto Michelle's arm. Michelle really does have a way with butterflies and all of nature's creatures. They seem to love her. She loves all animals, birds, reptiles, insects (well some insects. The pretty ones anyway. Although she has even been brave enough to pet some creepy ones we've seen at shows and the Butterfly Conservatory.) She is such a kind, caring, loving, sweet and gentle girl. I am so lucky to have her. Of course I have showered her with love and attention so I know she gets a lot of it from me.

Yes Michelle is wearing a butterfly shirt and it's not by accident! We were definitely in butterfly mode. This was even better than a trip to the conservatory. I still couldn't believe we had a real live butterfly in our house. And she had chosen to stay with us.

We made a video of Michelle and Riley. It was sweet. The whole experience was magical. I almost felt like Riley was someone we knew. Although I'm a Christian I'm still open to the idea of reincarnation. What if this was a benevolent spirit who came to visit us. Maybe it wasn't just a random occurrence. Maybe it was a sign. Maybe it meant something. Then again I'm a hopeless romantic at heart and overly sentimental.

Michelle and me had grown very fond of our butterfly friend in such a short time. It would be hard to let go.

Here is the video of Michelle with Riley the Butterfly on Youtube.

Michelle wanted to keep Riley forever. I told her that that wouldn't be fair. Once she was strong enough to fly and was trying to get outside (flying toward the window) we would have to let her go. Then it happened. She ate so much she was stronger and now she kept flying to the window. "It's time Michelle." "NO!" "If you only lived for TWO WEEKS and you had a chance to fly wouldn't you want to touch the sky?" I asked her.
"No," she pouted, "I would want to be HOME. With my FAMILY."
"But we're not her family. She is a wild thing. And wild things need to be free, baby."

Michelle finally reluctantly agreed to let her go. I recorded a video of it. It was heartbreaking. I'm a sentimental fool. Michelle was sad about saying goodbye to Riley. She shed a couple of tears. I took it a little harder for some reason. I bawled. I got so attached to that sweet little butterfly. I explained to Michelle that sometimes love is letting go. I told Michelle that I will nurture her and care for her until she is ready to fly off on her own. It will be hard to let her go but I won't hold her back. That's just what you have to do as a parent. You give them the wings so that they can fly. You support and encourage and love them until they leave you and it breaks your heart. I sobbed. For Riley, for the thought of my little girl growing up and leaving me one day, for everything. Because nothing lasts but you still wouldn't trade it for the world. Even the heartbreaking stuff. That's just how it is. Cherish everything. It goes so fast.

Gheesh. I really am nuts, I thought. I'm crying over an INSECT. But it had been a magical experience. I realized how much I need beauty in my life. I would list beauty as a necessity. Right up there with food, water, air, shelter. Beauty gives me life. When I don't have it, when I'm surrounded by darkness and ugliness (as I used to be in my career) I start to die inside. The world needs beauty. I feel like if people focused on beauty the world would be a better place. Instead they get caught up in the ugliness and create a Dystopian nightmare. Destroying nature is destroying us. We have to save the planet and ourselves. Every life is precious. We can't take it for granted. Cherish the beauty and protect it. We NEED it for survival.

Riley had been like an angel. A sign. A messenger. Cherish life. I was grateful for the whole experience. It seemed like there was a lesson in it for me. I thought about how love, life and happiness are like butterflies. My instinct is to want to hold on tightly to the things I love. But sometimes you have to let go. The beautiful things in this world are fleeting. It is life's transitory nature that makes it so precious. Nothing is forever. You have to just be grateful for the moment. Be mindful of the moment and appreciate it before it's gone. I wrote a song for Riley. "Butterfly I don't want to say goodbye but I know you belong to the sky..."

Here comes the rain again. Grey skies can't bring Michelle down. My resilient girl is a walking ray of sunshine. I wish I was more like her. Even when she gets upset she bounces back quickly. You can not keep her down. I wish some of that would rub off on me. I was up and down but it was always hard for me to bounce back. At least running in the mornings was working wonders for me physically and mentally. I was committed now. In the beginning I used rain as an excuse to skip a day but now I ran, even in the rain. It was actually very refreshing. I was having a shower afterward anyway. I was starting to feel more in control. I had survived a family visit facing two men I wasn't speaking to (C and Shane). I was dealing with things at home. I was embracing my emotions. I was practicing mindfulness. Things still went wrong but overall I felt like I was in a pretty good place. 

Everyone said that I was doing well in therapy: "making significant functional gains", "progressing by leaps and bounds." As a type A personality and former straight A student, I approached therapy like it was a course and I wanted to ace it. A+. Gold star! Therapy seemed to be working wonders. The powers that be wanted to see exactly where I was at and to determine next steps. They ordered a comprehensive independent psychological assessment -- by a fresh set of eyes. I would be speaking with a psychiatrist and psychologist for several hours and taking a number of tests. It was intimidating but I decided to keep an open mind and approach it as an experiment. I gave them the Coles notes version of my life story, breakdown, therapy. I even mentioned my new friend, running, our recent butterfly pet, trip to church to rediscover Jesus. They felt I was thriving in therapy and should continue it but they also felt I was ready for more, ready to move on to the next stage. I was nervous but open to possibilities. I wasn't sure what the future held but I was hopeful it would be a better place than where I had been. 

It was an exhausting day. Reliving my story again, twice. It was also tedious filling out pages and pages of questionnaires with some of the most random questions on a scale from completely false to very true. Some of them were thrown in there I think to make sure people were paying attention, weren't lying or just circling all false or all true for everything. "My favourite sport is curling." "My favourite poet is Donald Duck." "I drop acid at work." Mixed in with more normal (though possibly no less false!) statements like "I get enough sleep at night." By answering the questions I realized how much better I was doing. My symptoms of anxiety were greatly reduced. I was in a good place overall. I was getting exercise. I was getting more rest. I was feeling better. At one point while I was filling in my test I was in a waiting room with a very loud male who possibly had Tourettes and was blurting out inappropriate things. It made it hard to focus/pay attention. I worried I may accidentally put very true for things like "I hear voices" and "I like to run naked in the street" or "I am possessed by Satan" (OK none of these were actual questions! I am being facetious.) Still I worried I may put very false when I meant very true or vice versa. All in all it was an interesting day and a positive experience. They were nice and encouraging. They said not to worry. They felt I was ready for next steps and that it would be a gradual process. I was happy at least that I was out of there in plenty of time to pick up Michelle from school. They knew that I was a Single Mom and that Michelle is my top priority.

One day a tune came into my head. A chorus "I'm not everyone's cup of tea, that's OK with me. This is who I am, this is who I am..." I grabbed my guitar and the song was written in minutes. I was in a pretty good place. There were people that disrespected me, people who just didn't get me (former frenemies, even my own brother) and that was OK. I wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea but I was OK with that. Everyone doesn't have to like me. I had a really cool friend that appreciated me. And I didn't mind being solitary. I was fine on my own. I was running in the mornings and it was just me and the birds and the morning sunshine (or rain). I felt like "I got this."

And on the days when I was getting a little stressed I could sit for a moment and listen to Ali purring. Cats are literally zen masters. They are experts in the art of chill. They don't worry about a thing. And why would they? Their only purpose in life is to be effortlessly beautiful and graceful and take a lot of naps. They're like Supermodels with fur. Oh to be a cat. Sometimes I would practice mindfulness by sitting on the couch with Ali purring on my lap. I thought of people who have companion animals -- seeing eye dogs are the most obvious but I've heard about people with anxiety who have a comfort animal they bring with them -- a dog, or iguana or whatever the case may be. I thought of bringing Ali everywhere with me. Of course it's easier to just stay home with her. Home is where I feel the most safe and in control. Not that I can't venture out now and then. Home is my refuge. My sanctuary. It's where I want to be. The reason I was doing better was because I got to be in my safe place and avoid the unpleasant, stressful, anxiety-provoking things I wanted no part of.

Of all the school trips/class excursions Michelle had been on, bowling would not have been my first choice to go along but parent volunteers were selected on a lottery basis and my name hadn't come up until now. At least I didn't have to bowl (which is good because I haven't even attempted it in years and I would have likely humiliated myself!) It was much more fun watching the kids. I was in Michelle's group of course and had three other kids with us that I had to supervise. They were all Michelle's friends so that was great. The kids were good. They were a little excitable but they listened well and everyone had fun playing. I cheered them on. Most of them had at least some experience bowling. Michelle had NEVER tried it and she did really well considering it was her first time. They were special bowling balls that weren't as heavy and the gutters were blocked so the ball would bounce off, much better than regular bowling where every ball might be a gutter ball if you're a beginner.

Of course I couldn't resist taking a million pictures. When Michelle knocked the pins down she got SO EXCITED it was adorable. I was happy for her. At one point she was winning, she had the highest score in the group but she was dethroned by one of her male friends who had been bowling three times at birthday parties. She gave him a good run for his money, especially considering she was an absolute beginner.

Michelle has inherited or learned at least a little of my type A ways. She is competitive. She wants to do well. She would pout when she didn't get a strike and jump for joy when the pins fell. Of course everyone wants to do well in anything I guess but some people really take it to heart. Some just can't bear to fail. I want Michelle to have fun without always being so results-driven but I know it's a tough thing to break and really you want your kids to strive for excellence. You don't want them to settle. You just have to remind them it's not always about winning. Try your best but don't sweat it when you fall short. No one is the best at everything. And you can still have fun no matter what.

In the swing of things!

Michelle was back to standing on the swing again. I wasn't a fan of it because I was afraid she'd fall and get hurt but I guess I can allow her these small daredevil moments. At least she wasn't climbing on the giant cube of death.

After the bowling trip we headed back to the school and had a picnic lunch outside. Then Michelle got to play with her friends for a while at the park. I enjoyed just sitting and watching them. I got to talk to one of Michelle's friends Moms. I'd seen her in passing but never really had a chance to sit down and chat with her so it was nice. After lunch we were allowed to head home early instead of her returning to class so we took advantage of it to get her ready for her ballet recital. From bowling to ballet! It had been an exhausting day but a fun one. I was so excited for her concert! We had done the dress rehearsal but now this was THE REAL THING! The SPRING CONCERT!
They had told us ABSOLUTELY NO PHOTOS in the theater and there were signs posted everywhere but excuse me, I'm a photoholic Mama and there is literally no way I can be at my daughter's Spring concert without a souvenir photo at least. I took a selfie of us in the audience while we were waiting for her turn to go on stage. A couple of parents shot me a dirty look. I rolled my eyes. Oh brother. So sue me. It's just a selfie. I realized I probably couldn't aim the camera at the stage during her performance without being burned at the stake so I restrained myself but it KILLED ME! I was glad I had snapped away to my heart's content at the dress rehearsal so I had all those lovely images of Michelle on stage, my little ballerina star. She was more excited than nervous this time around. She was a pro by now. She remembered at the Winter concert how terrified she had been and then wound up having fun in the spotlight and felt like it ended too soon. The great thing about being on stage is that with the bright lights on you, you can't even SEE the audience. Dance like no one is watching!

It still made my teeth itch to think that I couldn't take photos of her performance but at least in the Fall I would be getting a copy of the entire show on DVD. We only stayed for the first act. Michelle wanted to go home after that. There were a lot of very talented dancers and I don't get to go to the theater often (or at all!) so I enjoyed it. Of course seeing my girl up on stage was best of all but it was kind of torture knowing I couldn't film or photograph her. It took everything in me not to take my camera out.

I tried explaining to someone before how important photos are to me. Telling me NOT to take pictures is like telling me not to BREATHE. It is torture. If there is a cute or beautiful photo op and I CAN'T capture it in a picture then I almost can't even enjoy it because all I keep thinking is that I lost it. It's gone forever. That moment will never happen again and I didn't get to capture it. That is tragic to me. Most people don't get it. One of my exes sure didn't. He mocked me for how many pictures I took and said I'm not really living my life, I'm just photographing it. Ironically that same boyfriend later thanked me because if it weren't for me he wouldn't have so many beautiful happy photos of his Mom before she passed away. LIFE IS FLEETING. Shut up and take a damn photo for crying out loud.

I got Michelle a rose for after her performance. It reminded me of in the movies when dancers get flowers after they come off stage. She also got a medal from her dance studio. It was nice. I was so proud of my little ballerina and glad that she got to enjoy her first year of ballet. She likely won't become a ballerina (it would be hard to work in with her other careers, scientist, doctor, animal saving hero, fashion designer to name a few!) but it will always be a beautiful experience she will remember fondly and she won't have to feel like she missed out the way I did.

After we left we went for ice cream to celebrate. Ice cream is just always a good idea, no matter what the occasion!
My single Mom friend invited Michelle and me for a play date. She had coupons for free kids' meals at Boston Pizza which was very nice so we all had lunch together. I don't know if you've ever had lunch with three little girls but it gets pretty silly. They were making funny noises and faces and giggling. We had to tell them to settle down several times. They feed off of each other. They were supposed to be going to the indoor playground afterward but we kept threatening to just go home if they weren't going to behave. And they wouldn't get their free dessert either. My friend and me caught up on what had been going on since we last spoke. I was still blown away by some of my friend's dating mishap stories and some of the nightmarish guys that were out there on the dating scene. It made me relieved and grateful that I wasn't out there. She suggested introducing me to one of her male friends but I wasn't feeling it. Quite honestly with all that I've been through I can't imagine embarking on a romantic relationship now. It just seems impossible to me. A lot more stress than it's worth for sure. I've got 99 problems but at least a man ain't one!

My silly girl. At least I got a few photos of her actually smiling like a human because usually she would deliberately make a ridiculous face to ruin the picture. Sometimes when the girls were silly we would try to be stern with them but then laugh in spite of ourselves. I don't know what it is about kids joking about bodily functions but somehow the conversation always gets around to poop. At one point her friend's little sister was singing "I like to poop it, poop it!" to the tune of "I like to move it, move it." I couldn't help but laugh. Michelle had a male friend at her party last year that talked about how much his Mom burped and farted! It was hilarious because his Mom had told him to "make good choices!" And he definitely did NOT. He also ate a whole jar of jellybeans, picked the pepperoni off his pizza and put it in the grass. The funniest point was when he told the kids his Mom burped so loud she knocked over the vacuum cleaner. Kids say the darnedest things!
Despite the girls being a handful we still took them to the playground. They had a good time while I got to chat with my friend about her misadventures in the dating world. She recognized some of the dads at the playground from their Tinder profiles. It was kind of weird.
"That guy over there is a single Dad! And that one."
You would never know. I just always assume when a guy has kids that he's married. It's not like single parents wear a sign saying that they're single. Of course I suppose everyone else has apps on their cellphone and goes on dating sites and what not. Even if I had an up to date cellphone I can't see going that route. I remember back when I was on Plenty of Fish (where I met Michelle's dad) and one of my single friends who didn't date thought it was awful -- shopping for a mate out of a catalog. She found it so superficial. It was mostly. But sometimes you found someone that said something interesting and seemed to have chemistry. Still if I'm being honest it really didn't seem like a way that you should meet someone. It's too artificial. Meeting and falling in love should be organic. It should be FATE. One boyfriend I met when he bought my old car. It was love at first sight. That was romantic. That was a great "meet cute" story but that relationship, like all of them in one way or another, went south fast. Everyone had a tragic flaw. Of course I have my tragic flaws too. I think it's just better if I don't date at all. That is one giant ball of stress that I can avoid.

It's kind of a given that we will go to see just about every single animated film that comes out. Especially Disney. We had loved the original Secret Life of Pets and were excited for the sequel.

The Secret Life of Pets II was cute. I enjoyed it almost as much as the first one. Michelle loved it too. She wanted me to buy a stuffy souvenir but I resisted. We got a photo of it anyway so we didn't need to buy it. I always try to get the souvenir photo with the movie poster. This one didn't turn out so well, you can't even see the whole poster but they didn't have one outside where we usually pose so I had to settle for this. I have never seen anyone else taking a selfie with the movie posters but maybe they do. It can't be just me that records every moment of their lives. I know that some people even post pictures of their dinner on social media. It's just the thing to do now. Document every moment, no matter how mundane.

Michelle HATES Father's Day, understandably. The worst was when last year one of her classmates was harassing her about not having a dad. "You MUST have a daddy! EVERYONE has a daddy." And Michelle had to explain that nope, she doesn't, she hasn't, she never has, he has never been around, he wasn't there when she was born, he's never been there, he might as well not exist. Her friend made her feel bad about it and Michelle came home crying. I was livid. Her teacher at the time handled it really well and explained to the class as a whole that all families are different. Not everyone has a Mommy and daddy, some just have a Mommy or just a Daddy, or two Mommies or Daddies or they're raised by their grandparents or by wolves or whatever. Although 99% of the kids in her class seem to be the traditional Mother-Father families. The important thing is Michelle has a Mama that loves her WAY more than any two parents could. Anyway obviously it's a sore point so we don't even call it Father's Day. We call it "Grandpa Day" and she makes a Grandpa Day card in class. Michelle loves her Grandpa. Her teacher knew about the absent father thing and asked me if she should have Michelle make an uncle or grandfather card. "Definitely Grandpa!" I said. Even if I wasn't in a feud with my brother, we rarely if ever see my other brother for Father's Day and she's MUCH closer to dad than my brothers anyway.

Grandpa Day!

We were going to celebrate at Auntie May's. Luckily I had made up with Shane so I didn't have to worry about problems with him. Also thankfully my brother C would not be coming. He took my dad out for dinner the day before instead. Apparently my Mom was hurt that she wasn't invited and my bro inexplicably did NOTHING for her for Mother's Day using the excuse he was going to buy her bags of top soil but I'd already given her some. My brother is so weird. I don't know what's wrong with him. Anyway, as long as I didn't have to see him I was happy.

I told my Dad that he never smiles in photographs anymore (sometimes he looks down right MISERABLE or like he's posing for a mug shot!) so he made an effort to crack a bit of a smile at least here. I love this picture actually. Michelle has a sweet smile. We didn't plan it but Michelle and my dad both wound up wearing blue.

When I was working so much, Michelle practically lived at my parents' a few days a week. I hated leaving her so much but it was good for her to spend time with her grandparents. It was good for them to. They looked forward to seeing her. Mom said dad is very proud of Michelle and is always showing his friends pictures of her and talking about her. They would play ball and go to the park together. I feel like dad spends more time with Michelle than he ever did with me. Maybe it's a second chance for him too. Of course now that he's retired he has more time.
The group photo. It must have been a chilly day since we're all wearing sweaters. I guess my dad forgot about trying to smile for pictures and he looks slightly bewildered here.

It was a nice relaxing day now that Shane and me had made peace and I didn't have to worry about seeing C. My Mom still hoped we would make up some day. I would prefer to just avoid him entirely as I prefer to avoid most unpleasant things. I suppose if he gave a heartfelt apology I could forgive him but there is zero chance of that happening since he can't even admit he was in the wrong.

In the evening they went to check on Reggie's pet hamster. Michelle never stopped going on about getting a hamster. I wanted to say no but I said that we would see. She would have to prove herself responsible enough to have her own pet and she would have to take care of it (though I knew that in all likelihood the care and cleaning would fall on me.) I told her if anything we would get one AFTER her birthday. At least it gave me a little leverage to keep her in line when she was being difficult. "That's Strike Two. One more strike and you won't be getting a hamster!" It was very effective. Shane suggested I should put it off until Christmas time. I said no I would wait til just after her birthday as promised. I was kind of dreading the whole thing. The idea of having another pet stressed me out. I was worried it would be a nuisance to clean up after etc. I was worried Ali would find/attack it. I was worried because I'm not a fan of change and I have enough to worry about already.

After several scary and silly filters (one that even turned me into an ostrich which was pretty creepy!) this one was nice. I love this picture. Michelle's eyes look so blue here. I guess it mostly just outlines your eyes. I wish I had fun filters on my camera. The creative multi-shot option creates different colours and effects but nothing like this. Then again I guess it would be addictive and I'd be playing with it all the time. Then I'd be taking even more photos because no matter the occasion I would want to have a normal photo and a silly one and a cute one. "OK, this time with CAT EARS!" Michelle mostly indulges me because she knows she has no choice but sometimes she does grow impatient. "NO MORE PHOTOS MAMA!" I have tried explaining to her that if I can't take photos I can't even enjoy myself. To me, if you're not taking pictures you might as well not even be there. It's like it didn't even happen. My photoholic tendencies began in my 20s with my first camera and a trip to Europe. I've been snapping away ever since.

Mom as a cartoon! It's funny but creepy. The exaggerated white eyes, the creepy fake smile. Eyes are the windows to the soul. So when your eyes aren't real it's like you're not real. Mom looks like a doll or a ventriloquist's dummy or something. I didn't notice until afterward that you can see my Mom's actual reflection in the glass table which makes the effect slightly more unnerving. It's always fun to play with the various Snapchat filters on Shannon's i-phone. Even though some of the results will HAUNT MY DREAMS! When May saw her picture with this filter she said she actually didn't mind it. She usually hates herself in pictures. I remember when I used to complain about how I looked in photos (back in my 20s actually) and my boyfriend at the time told me that one day I would look back at these photos and think how great I looked. He was right. Youth is wasted on the young. We don't appreciate it until it's gone. Then again I think part of it is just being in your 20s. It's an uncertain time. Your confidence increases in your 30s and 40s.
My friend is so sweet she had an unexpected gift for me. I was planning on giving her a card and gift for her going away and she pre-emptively gave me a present. They were these earrings that she had MADE HERSELF! There were little dried flowers on a white shell disc. I loved them. I wore them the next day. She was happy that I liked them and was wearing them. She calls me posh spice because I like to dress up. I call her sporty spice because she's very athletic.

I am so grateful for her friendship. She has had such an impact on my life. Having someone I can trust to confide in, having someone who supports and encourages me, who motivated me to start running, convinced me to allow Jesus into my life again by going to church, someone who listens without judging, someone who makes me laugh and makes me think and see the world a little differently: she is a true friend. She took me quite by surprise when she entered my life but I'm so grateful. Just when I reached the point where I was going to just keep to myself and avoid other Moms because I'd been burned by a couple of mean Moms/frenemies, she appeared and restored my faith in humanity. Maybe one day Mr. Right will appear when I least expect too. I won't hold my breath...

In the nice weather we would go to the park pretty much every day after school. Michelle had fun playing with her friend and I enjoyed talking to mine. We were really going to miss them when they went away for the Summer. They were heading back to Europe. I asked her to send me a postcard.

I love this little jumper on Michelle. She loved it too. These cold shoulder tops with the strap and the off the shoulder ruffles are some of my favourite styles now. The weather was getting quite hot most days now. Global warming in action. Sometimes I worried about Michelle being in the heat and sun. We always covered her in sunscreen. Have to protect my little ginger. As a child I suffered through terrible sunburns. My Mom claims they didn't make sunblock back then. I know the SPF wasn't as high (maybe only 2-4 as opposed to 30-60 like they have now) but I think they still had it.

I wouldn't have believed I could actually enjoy running but it became a habit. It was nice getting exercise and fresh air in the morning. It was a great way to start the day. People seemed to be friendlier in the morning. Most people would say "Good morning" and smile when they crossed my path. I got in the habit of saying good morning, even if they didn't say it first. Sometimes it was a rather stern looking older man and I would say "Good morning" as I ran by and he'd say "Morning." It was all so out of character for me. It's like I was becoming a different person but this was the person I WANTED to be. I think Michelle was proud of me. She liked that I was going running. I want her to see me as youthful and strong. Even though sometimes I feel old and tired and lacking energy. It was frustrating that after all my exercise I hadn't lost any weight but people were asking if I had so I guess I looked slimmer anyway. It just didn't translate into numbers on a scale. Muscle weighs more than fat. I knew that but it was still frustrating to feel like all your work wasn't reducing the numbers. As you get older it's an uphill battle to lose weight. I'd fought that battle before, lost and then gained it all back. At least I was getting compliments so I figured running was working and I should just ignore the stupid scale!

The annual Teddy Bear Picnic! Every year parents join kids for a picnic with a few of their fave bears. Well most people only have one or two. I always bring several and it's hard to narrow it down to just a few bears from Michelle's MASSIVE collection. I love it. It's a cute photo op so obviously I'm all over it. My friend was going to be going too so we arranged to sit together. It was hard to find each other in the crowd and she had to text me where to meet. Michelle had fun. We ate sandwiches and cupcakes with the bears surrounding us. I sat my camera on top of my purse to get a self-timed shot of all of us.

I was really going to miss my friend while she was away. At least we got to have that picnic with them to say goodbye. We hugged, cried and parted ways. I couldn't believe they would be gone ALL SUMMER. She said she would write.

One of Michelle's other friends came over to say hello and to play with her. Michelle's BFF is so much like her. They both bring stuffies to school just about every day. They dress alike. They both wear cute headbands (cat ears etc). They enjoy playing together. They both love to dance and were even working on a dance routine/play together and would put on performances for other kids at recess. The girl's Mom was a lot like me too. We were two of the only parents who walked our kids right to the door in the morning. Most parents just drop them off from the parking lot and let them walk to the entrance on their own. I always like to take that extra step to ensure Michelle made it in. Overprotective PTSD Mom that I am. Michelle would really miss her friend over the Summer but I told her they could always have a play date. And she would be coming to her birthday party. After I sent the invitations her Mom texted me right away. I appreciated that. Some people don't even bother to RSVP at all. At least some told me that they were away that weekend. I was glad a few could make it at least. It's tough having a Summer birthday. It looked as though having the kid party in June wasn't much better than July anyway. But at least it would be over with and then I would just have to have the family party her real birthday weekend.

A selfie of all of us on a "People Mover" at Ribfest. It was my first time ever riding in a golf cart! (Yeah I don't play golf. Mini-putt was as close as I got.) Last year we had planned on heading to Ribfest but didn't get to go because it poured rain. This year the weather was beautiful so we took advantage and went. When we parked the car there were golf carts to take you into the event. Michelle was excited. I was a little nervous about her riding in the back like that but we weren't going very fast. I wound up riding shot gun with the guy. I managed to catch this selfie with all of us in it. I think it might have been my second or third attempt. "Everyone lean in so I can see you!" Perfect! We were ready for a day of fun. Michelle was looking forward to the rides. Reggie was anxious to play the games. I was psyched for the cute photo ops. There was something for everyone! You never knew what might happen. One year when we went Michelle even got her photo in the newspaper!
If there was a flat surface anywhere to be found I was setting my camera up for a self-timed group shot. Selfies are cute but it's hard to fit everyone in that close up. May is never that enthused. "I don't have to be in it," she'd say, "I hate myself in pictures." I would assure her that yes she had to be in it. These were my souvenirs of a fun day together. All of us. I always loved spending time with May and the kids. Michelle loved visiting with them too, especially when we'd go on fun outings together. Mom never wanted to come because she doesn't like walking, or being outside in the sun. Actually she would hate just about every part of it! And there was a lot of standing around and waiting in line. This year we got there SUPER early. We were some of the first ones there. Unfortunately they hadn't even started the rides yet. Michelle, my little daredevil, wanted to go on the scariest rides.

"The drop zone? REALLY?!" Well actually I think it was called the Free Fall. Same idea though. I loved the Drop Zone when I tried it at Wonderland but it was scary even for me. You go up to the top of this big tower and then they just drop you. I thought it'd be a bit too extreme for Michelle but she wanted to try it and she met the height requirement so we gave it a go. She absolutely LOVED IT! It is a weird feeling to fall like that. Freefall. It's like that feeling of suspension on a rollercoaster when you're just about to plummet. That's all it is really. It's like skipping to the climax, the best part of riding a rollercoaster. I love that feeling. I'd love to go skydiving one day but it's so expensive and I would worry more now that I'm a Mom. I got Shannon to take photos and videos of Michelle and me on the Free Fall ride. It's strange considering that I'm wracked by anxiety over many things that I would subject myself to rides like this. It's different. That adrenaline rush is excitement rather than fear. There are times when having your heart race (a fun ride, falling in love) is exhilarating. Other times (when faced with danger/a threat/fear) it is unbearable, frightening. If only I could reframe those moments when I'm gripped by panic and think "This is exciting. I feel so alive!" but no. There are moments, like going to the dentist, or facing pressure or any unpleasant, stressful experience when it's just scary and not fun at all. May, Shannon and Reggie aren't fans of the scary rides. They don't go on them at all. I guess Michelle takes after me. She wanted to try them ALL!

Another group shot, a better one because this time you could see some of the colourful fair around us, the Ferris Wheel etc.

The sky was SO BLUE! A perfect cerulean blue. Not a single cloud in the sky. It was an absolutely perfect day. I was grateful for it because last year was rained out and the kids were so disappointed we couldn't even go. We still had a visit but just stayed at May's. It was hard to plan for outdoor events. We got so much rain these days you just never knew when your plans might be ruined. I love the colourful fair in the background. Michelle was wearing a multi-coloured dress to match. It was cute that Shannon and me both wound up wearing black, almost like we'd planned it.

I loved the huge colourful mural in front of the Fun House. Perfect photo op! I set up the self-timer to take a couple of group shots. We look tiny next to the gigantic painted figures. There is something kind of timeless about carnivals and fairs, the colours, sights and sounds, the rides and games. It feels like you're transported to another time. I remember being so excited as a kid to go to the CNE. In my 20s I was a huge fan of Canada's Wonderland. My boyfriend and me had Season's passes so we'd go several times. I loved the rides. Especially the rollercoasters. The Bat was my favourite. I miss Wonderland but it's just so expensive, so far to go and I wanted to wait until Michelle was old enough to ride on the big rides. Maybe she's at that point now judging by Ribfest. She was going on everything. Even BY HERSELF. (Some of the rides she WANTED to go on solo and it used up less tickets that way.)

A selfie from a Fun House mirror. I'm usually not a fan of mirror selfies where you SEE the camera because to me that's cheesy but sometimes it just works.

I love that you can see everything in the background, the Ferris Wheel and slide, all the people and colours. It's so full of life. A fair really is photo heaven. Michelle was excited to go through the Fun House. I was looking forward to all the photo ops. The glass and mirrored maze is disorienting as you go in. I reminded Michelle to keep her hands in front of her so she wouldn't smack her head like an unsuspecting bird flying into a window. We found our way through and made our way to the top where they have the distorted Fun House mirrors that shrink you down and stretch you out. Although this time somehow none of them seemed to be elongating.

A view from the top. I couldn't resist a photo of us from the balcony with all the rides in the background. The sun was behind us so the photo came out a little dark but I was able to reduce the shadows on our face afterward.

I am so grateful to get to share these memories and fun adventures with Michelle and having photos of them allows me to look back and relive it all. It has been a gift having time to spend with Michelle. I need these beautiful and happy moments to counteract the tough times and the difficult moments when I don't know how I'll keep going. Overall May and June were pretty good. It seemed like I was making positive changes. I was heading in the right direction. After so many difficult days maybe the hardest part was behind me. I had no idea what awaited me in July. I guess I should have known. You can never relax and think you're out of the woods. There is always another unpleasant surprise/unforeseen obstacle waiting around the corner.
A view from the sky! We all went on the Ferris Wheel but there were too many of us to sit in one car so it was just Michelle and me together. She does not have a fear of heights. She loves being up there. Even on the drop zone where you fall so quickly from the top to the bottom, she loved it. After us going on together she even wanted to go a second time all by herself. Some of the rides, like Avalanche, she only went on by herself. I didn't have enough tickets for me to go and she preferred going it alone anyway. I'd already spent a fortune on tickets. I got the maximum and still had to go back and buy more when we ran out. My girl couldn't get enough.

He was a tall drink of water! Of course we had to pose with the stilt walker. He was quite a character. So lively and happy. I was amazed how easily he could walk around on the stilts but I guess he'd done it long enough that it was second nature to him.

I can't imagine it myself. I can barely even walk in heels anymore. I rarely do. I can't believe I used to go out DANCING in high heels! I don't know how I ever kept my balance. My feet were always aching by the end of the night. Though I like the look of high heels they are WAY too uncomfortable and comfort wins out over style these days. Sometimes I'll see a woman teetering along on super high heels and I feel like asking "Is it really worth it?" Then again I guess it's different if you're young and single and trying to look your best. They are sexy. At this point in my life I'm like. "Meh. I can't be bothered!"

Creative multi-shot GOLD!

Michelle wanted an ice cream and I took the opportunity to sit the camera on the counter and get a shot of us. This random creative shot turned us and the whole scene into a drawing and it's SO COOL! I LOVE IT! I wish you could select the drawing option every time but it's random what filters come out in the multi-shots. Sometimes you get lucky. It's like we're in a living cartoon. So much colour in Michelle's dress and in the fair in the background.

Fun Slide! Ride the rainbow!

The Fun Slide only took one ticket so the kids went a couple of times. It was so high up to then slide down in a sack. Like riding a magic carpet down a rainbow! Oh to be a kid again! It did look pretty fun but I would have felt silly to go on it. Besides I wouldn't want to waste a ticket on me. I wanted Michelle to have all the fun. I was content to just stand and watch and photograph her joy and excitement. I am happiest when I'm behind the camera anyway. I have this obsessive need to capture it all. Every moment. I have to. It's just what I do. For years now this blog has given me a forum to share so many of my photos and happy memories with Michelle. There is A LOT. Hundreds of thousands of pictures. That's why every post takes so long. Encapsulating two months means sharing hundreds of photos.

Michelle was so proud of herself that she went on the Free Fall/drop zone ALL BY HERSELF! I couldn't believe it. She wasn't even 7 years old yet and she was going on a ride that even most grown ups would find scary.

It was far more nerve-wracking watching Michelle on the ride than being on it with her. I worry about her. It's my control freak/overprotective nature. It's hard for me to let go and let her do these things but I don't want to hold her back. I want her to live life to the fullest and try things and have fun but it's really hard letting her do it. Part of me just wants to keep her safe in a box and not let her do anything. But that's not really living. I don't want to live in fear like my Mom. My Mom has no desire to go anywhere or do anything. She never went on rides, never wanted to travel. She's never been on a plane. Michelle wants to do EVERYTHING.
Pepe minus the Pew!

It was so cute! An animal rescue booth had an adorable skunk with her scent glands removed. She was like a big fluffy black and white cat. I couldn't resist getting a photo of Michelle with the skunk. How often do you get to be THIS close to a skunk without being sprayed?!

Michelle even got to pet her. It was so cute. My sister was excited to see the skunk too and made sure she got a picture of Reggie with it.

Michelle loves animals so much, all kinds of animals. Any time there is a mammal or reptile or even insect petting zoo/meet and greet she is right in there.

What a sweetheart! Look at that face!

Sure skunks don't seem so cute when they are ripping open your garbage or spraying you with a foul smell but when you get to see them up close like this they are just adorable teddy bears. So sweet. You can't fault the little stinkers for the whole spray thing anyway. They only do it to protect themselves. It's an in-STINK-t to scare away potential threats. A lot of us do it in one way or another. I'm grateful I've never had a run in with a skunk. I've known people who did and it is almost IMPOSSIBLE to get that smell out of a pet, your clothes, hair, home!

Look up, look WAY UP!

I let Michelle go on most of the rides herself, one because she wanted to and two because it used up less tickets and I'd already spent a small fortune on them. The one ride I really wanted to share in was the Ferris Wheel. So we went a couple of times. I love being up in the sky and looking down at the world below.

Fear is a strange thing. I don't know how we decide what is scary and what isn't. Some people are afraid of heights. I'm not. And yet I'm terrified of things that wouldn't bother other people at all. I've avoided certain things and places for almost two years because they scare/stress me out. And yet I can go on rides where I'm up in the sky and it's nothing to me. I guess it's all in our responses. Our brain tells us that certain things are threatening and that other things are fun/exciting. If only we could rewire our brains to think that everything is fun, an adventure. Then again the fight or flight mechanism was designed to protect us. Sometimes Fight or Flight is necessary for survival. But sometimes it isn't and it's too sensitive and it winds up controlling us and ruining our lives, limiting our world, preventing us from living life to the fullest. I don't want to be afraid but I also don't want to feel anxiety, stress, grief, anger. It's natural to avoid unpleasant things if you can. But sometimes you can't. And sometimes facing those demons is necessary to move on and to get stronger.

I can't remember what this one was called but Michelle wanted to go on alone which was fine because there weren't enough tickets for me to go with her anyway. Shannon and Reggie don't like rides so they didn't go on anything like this or the Avalanche or the Free Fall (drop zone type thing.) I like that Michelle is daring and wants to do exciting things. It also scares me. Even though I go on rides myself, it's more nerve-wracking to watch her on them. I want Michelle to enjoy things and live life to the fullest but it's also my instinct to protect her. It's tough to balance protectiveness and letting go. It's like when Michelle wanted to get her ears pierced. She was nervous but her desire outweighed her fear. And she went for it. And I allowed her even though it made me a nervous wreck. You can't live your life in fear hiding from everything that might hurt you. If you're not willing to take some risks, you will miss out. But part of me has been so hurt, so scared, so broken that it's natural to want to avoid ANYTHING and ANY PLACE that reminds me of that. Part of me just wants to hide in a magical world of rainbows and unicorns, and being Michelle's Mom allows me to do that to some degree. But I can't hide forever. Unpleasant realities and ghosts of the past are still there, put away in a closet, waiting for me to deal with them. I can't ignore them forever.

Princess photo op! Posing with Cinderella and Ariel is a must. They are two of my fave Disney princesses. Michelle's too. They were pretty good. Sometimes you see characters in costume and they look NOTHING like the actual character but these pretty ladies were close.

It was a long day. We were there for HOURS. Though I had covered Michelle and me in sunscreen we had sweated/rubbed some of it off. Michelle got a little pink. I got red. I was BURNED. My shoulders were the worst, one from carrying my purse. I was cursing myself that I'd worn an off the shoulder/spaghetti string top. I should have been in a t-shirt. I got a bit of a burn on my forehead too from sweating. It was just a lot of hours walking and standing in the blazing sun without a break. I was almost wishing there had been a couple of clouds in the sky. You wish for sunny days and then they come but it is possible to get TOO MUCH of a good thing.

I had run out of tickets. May gave Michelle some to go on the Ferris Wheel one last time with them but there wasn't enough for me to go too so I sat this one out. While I was waiting I met Buzz Lightyear and Ariel and, nerd that I am, asked if I could get a picture with them. You can't see how red I was here. Somehow it doesn't show up in the sun because it's too bright. When I went in I saw that I had patches of red. As red as a lobster. I had done a much better job of protecting Michelle. She was only slightly pink. I never worry as much about myself. I reapplied sunblock on my shoulders and started carrying my purse in my hands but it was too late anyway. The damage was done. At least we were leaving soon. It had been a fun day but a long one. My least fave part was lining up in the ENORMOUS line-up to get food. I didn't even get ribs. I got chicken, mac and cheese and corn bread to try it. I was wishing I'd gotten more corn bread. Michelle and me loved it. I'd only bought one as a sample.
In the parking lot we came across a jeep that was outfitted for a Zombie Apocalypse. I wasn't sure if they were joking or just a HUGE fan of the Walking Dead or if they really believed it was a possibility. Believe it or not there are apparently groups of people prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse as though it really might happen. I think of all the Apocalypses/Armageddons we might encounter, a zombie one is the least likely. I think there is a far greater danger from:
1. Climate Change 2. Nuclear holocaust (especially with idiot Trump still in power #ImpeachTrump!) 3. Disease/Pandemic 4. Overpopulation/Starvation/Disappearing Biodiversity 5. AI Uprising/Robot Apocalypse. In general I try not to think about the Apocalypse too much because I can barely deal with the more mundane and immediate stresses in my own personal life.

Michelle REALLY wanted a hamster. I was half-hoping she'd forget about the whole thing but no such luck. Especially when we would go to May's for a visit and she would see Caramel, Reggie's hamster again. She continued to ask me and I kept giving her the same answer. "Maybe. We'll see." One time she said she needed a yes or no answer. I told her no then. Then she decided maybe was better. I told her that it was contingent on her behaviour. She had to prove that she was mature and responsible enough to have a pet. Reggie was a couple of years older than her and even he didn't do all the work. My sister made sure Caramel was fed and she cleaned the cage. All Reggie had to do was play with the hamster. Michelle claimed she was going to do ALL THE WORK. I sort of knew that the control freak in me wouldn't allow that anyway because she might not do it or may not do things the right way (aka MY way!) so I'd wind up doing it myself to be sure. I'd heard of kids begging for pets (especially dogs) and promising that they would do EVERYTHING -- walking the dog, cleaning up the poop etc. Then they get the dog and lo and behold, the novelty wears off, the kids forget or can't be bothered and dad is useless and 9 times out of 10 it's MOM who winds up doing everything. Even if Mom didn't want the dog. Somehow most responsibilities in a household fall on Mom's shoulders. Dads may do a couple of things but more often than not it is Mom who does it all, especially when it comes to caring, cleaning, nurturing etc. Of course in my case I'm on my own so I have to do literally everything. I wasn't looking forward to the idea of cleaning out a hamster cage. Cleaning out Ali's litter box is already my LEAST favourite chore. At least hamster poo is tiny. But there can be a LOT of it.

Stopping for ice cream at the mall. It literally NEVER gets old. When I was a kid, Mom never took us for ice cream. Not even one damn time. She dragged us around shopping malls where we'd be hungry, thirsty, tired and bored and never rewarded us with anything. She said it was too expensive to get food when you're out. The most we could hope for was coming across a drinking fountain outside a public bathroom so we could have a drink of water. Or once she bought little fold-able cups to keep in her purse so we could drink tap water if we were desperate. As a kid everything was no. I literally never got anything I wanted. It was discouraging. It made me feel powerless, helpless, like I didn't matter, my needs would never be met. So yes I spoil Michelle a little (a lot?!) giving her just about everything she wants, within budget and within reason, because I grew up in a place of NO and I want to give her a place of YES. As a result she feels unconditionally loved and safe and special. Michelle is a lucky little girl. I give her the childhood I wish I'd had. All the love and attention she could want. She knows that she matters, that her needs (and wants) will be met. As a result she is far more confident, happy and healthy than I ever was. 

I try to do the best I can for Michelle. Always. Of course my Mom would just say that I'm spoiling her to death. I don't think you can spoil a kid with too much love and happiness. I still try to teach her responsibility and the value of things but to me, if something is within my power why not give it to her to make her happy? Life is too short not to enjoy every moment you can. There is plenty of time for unpleasantness, drudgery and disappointment when she grows up. Let me assure you: Rejection and denial as a child did not make me a stronger person. It made me an insecure one. Through therapy I have learned so much about myself, my own negative thought patterns and a lot of them developed in my childhood. The lessons you learn, the life experiences you have in childhood set you up for the rest of your life. That's why it is so important to raise a child with love, nurturing, support and encouragement. A child needs to feel unconditionally loved and safe. I never really had that. My Mom did her best but somehow I grew up never feeling good enough. While it pushed me to try harder and be my best (the type A) it also set up a pattern of insecurity/low self-esteem. No amount of achievement or awards could counteract the inner sense of worthlessness I felt. My Mom's negativity and my dad's lack of attention made me feel like I wasn't really loved, didn't matter and that nothing I could do would be good enough. 

So yes, I had some issues that stemmed from childhood, long before my breakdown as an adult. In fact, if it weren't for those issues, a lot of things would have been different. I would have made different choices. I may not have been drawn to relationships with men (boys) that would hurt me. If I knew that I deserved to be loved and to be happy, perhaps I would have been, instead of setting myself up to fail with tragic/broken boys. I may not have wound up in a career that would (at least partly) destroy me. Again, setting myself up to fail. Why did I get myself into toxic situations time and again and stay in them WAY TOO LONG?! Because I was a glutton for punishment? Because I never felt good enough? Because I didn't realize that I deserved better? What might my life had been if I knew that I deserved to be happy instead of just suffering and never feeling good enough? I don't know. Of course you don't get to go back and live your life over and do everything differently. One small change would change everything else. The Butterfly Effect. To change even one small moment in the past could unravel everything. What would my life have been like if I had learned to love myself and believed that I deserved to be happy? I would have made a LOT of different choices. Ultimately however, even if I could go back I wouldn't. Despite the difficulties and setbacks, the truth is that I am still glad I ended up here, as Michelle's Mom. I wouldn't undo the heartbreaks, the mistakes, the missteps. Because it all, in its weird and winding way, bumps and all led me HERE. So I am grateful even for my self-sabotaging and reckless choices because they set me on this path and I got the sweetest little girl in the world out of it. 

THE LAST DAY?! It couldn't be. But it was. Somehow another school year had gone by. Michelle, my baby, was FINISHED GRADE ONE! It was the last day of school and it was going to be a hectic one. It actually made my head spin thinking about it. We had been invited to a last day of school pool party, which was great except that tonight was also Michelle's PIANO RECITAL! (?!) So basically I had to pick Michelle up, hurry home, grab a quick snack, get changed for the pool (put on our swimsuits and get slathered in sunscreen), head to the party for an hour or two, get home and shower quickly and get dressed up for the recital. Michelle was a little nervous but mostly excited. She was going to be singing as well as playing piano in her recital. She'd picked the song "Hot Air Balloon" and when she was playing it at home she sang along. I suggested she should sing it at the recital. She was reluctant at first but then agreed. I was so excited for her. But I was also extremely stressed about a busy day. 

The LAST DAY! Of course it's Murphy's Law that if something CAN go wrong, it WILL! We were already in a hurry to get home and then I wasn't even allowed to pick Michelle up. No one could pick their kids up. Some kid had pulled the fire alarm at the last minute as a joke. The stunt backfired. Instead of getting to leave early the kids had to stay LONGER. Yes they evacuated the school, as in a fire drill, but then they had to wait for the fire department to check out the entire building before the kids could go back in and get their backpacks and go home. It was not ideal. One Mom said she'd ordered a pizza and now she wouldn't even be home to get it in time. Michelle and me had to change for the pool. But at least her friend's Mom having the party would also be running late. We got Michelle's stuff, said goodbye to her friends and her classroom and left. Goodbye Grade One! I asked Michelle to give me a nice smile and this is what she did.

It was a perfect day for a pool party. It was a SCORCHER! Most of the other Moms were just sitting and chatting while their kids played in the pool but control freak that I am I had to be in there with Michelle. Plus it was refreshing being in the cool water. Michelle wanted to stay of course (I knew it would be hard to tear her away) but I reminded her that we had to get ready for her piano recital. She definitely didn't want to miss that. I felt better when a couple of other parents and kids left before us so I didn't have to feel like we were the first ones to go. We had a really good excuse to make our exit. Her friend's Mom was so nice and invited us to come over and use the pool anytime we wanted, even when they were away. It was very nice but I'd never have the nerve to do that!

I did eventually feel comfortable to leave Michelle in the pool (I was still watching her like a hawk) while I sat and chatted with the grown ups. They were talking about grade two teachers etc. I really didn't know anything about any of them. I hoped Michelle would get a nice teacher and would have her best friends in her class. But those are things you can't control and I didn't want to think about grade two! We had just gotten through grade one. Michelle and me had fun. We swam for a bit, had a few snacks (PIZZA! YAY!) and then headed home to shower and change for her concert. A very busy day!

Michelle picked out a beautiful white and pale pink flower ruffle dress for her recital. I was so proud of my girl. We still managed to get there early enough to get a seat at the very front. I wanted to get photos and video of her at the piano.

Piano had been my other dream as a child, one I never got to pursue. Some of my friends had piano lessons and they would complain about it. I kept thinking how lucky they were. Mom just always said we couldn't afford it. It made me feel like I wasn't important. I never got to do anything I wanted. My dreams weren't encouraged and supported. My wants and needs didn't matter. That's why I wanted to give that to Michelle, although financially it was a stretch and logistically I didn't know how I'd do it, I made the effort because she wanted it and I wanted to give her that. She was doing really well and I was so proud of her.
I remember through her lessons there were times she got frustrated. She would look at her homework and the music for a song seemed so complicated. She'd say "I can't do this!" I'd tell her to keep trying, keep practicing and eventually she could do it. Sometimes she would wind up loving the song so much she'd play it over and over until she had it memorized. Sometimes she even changed the song a little, playing it her own way. Her teacher called this "transposing" the song. Michelle could read music. That was something I had never learned to do. I could strum guitar chords because a friend had taught me but I never learned how to read music.

Michelle was nervous but excited. This wasn't her first time. She had done the winter concert. Plus she had danced on stage which I thought would be much more nerve-wracking. She said dancing was easier because even though it was a bigger audience and she was up on stage, she wasn't alone. She had her classmates with her. Also the bright lights on her cast the audience in darkness, so she couldn't see them. At the piano recital, in a church, you could see everyone looking at you. And you were afraid of making a mistake.

I recorded her performance on video and put it on Youtube. I was kicking myself that the first few seconds are blurry! Because I'm getting old my eyes are changing. Now I have to put on READING GLASSES to see close up. I couldn't even see what was on the camera screen when I started to record. Luckily I zoomed in on her and when I did she became clear.

I was SO PROUD OF MICHELLE! My little girl playing and singing "Hot Air Balloon." It's a lovely song. My heart was soaring. All of my sacrifices were worth it. I am so glad I could give her this. Michelle loves music and it is one of the best gifts I could give her.

The weekend after school ended would be hectic/stressful/crazy. I had planned Michelle's birthday party with her friends for that weekend. (WHAT WAS I THINKING?!) When we had her birthday in late July half the people couldn't make it so I figured we'd catch them in late June before they have a chance to go anywhere. But some people still do go away, right after school. So some still couldn't make it. Others never even RSVP-d (I will never understand that! ALWAYS RSVP whether or not you're coming so they know ASAP!) Michelle decided this time she was inviting girls only. It was a Princess themed party so it made sense. Also boys can be a bit wild. Michelle made beautiful adorable chocolate cupcakes and I made a Princess Castle rainbow bit cake.

I still had the castle cake pan from a previous birthday, when she was much younger so it was great to use it again. I was having the party at home. I was happy that I had found a pink and purple bouncy castle that would match perfectly. When I first looked into bouncy castles they were like $300 but I found one that was almost half price ($170). The name of the company was literally "Affordable Bouncy Castles." It sounded too good to be true but I booked it online on my credit card, a month ahead. I emailed the guy to ask questions. He seemed nice enough. It was all settled. They would show up at 11 am in the morning to set it up and take it down at 5 pm. I thought maybe I might even try jumping in it once the kids were gone. The party was only going to be a couple of hours. I'd never been in a bouncy castle before. Michelle was so excited about the castle arriving. She wanted to go in it right away when it got there. I told her not to over-exert herself before the party. It was a hot day.

As a worrier/control freak there were many things that scared me about getting a bouncy castle for the party. I worried that it would RAIN and we wouldn't even get to use it. It rained so often you just never knew one day to the next and it was hard to plan something a month in advance. I worried that someone might get HURT. Sometimes kids collided as they were jumping around. I didn't want any hospital visits! My Mom worried that it might "blow away" -- there had been stories on the news of bouncy castles taking off, but I think that was in a tornado zone and it hadn't been properly staked. I wasn't really worried about it blowing away. The one thing I really didn't worry about, that I hadn't even considered was the castle just NOT EVEN SHOWING UP!

When 11:00 a.m. rolled around and the castle was not there, I thought, OK. They're running a little late. (Sh)it happens. By 11:05 I started to worry a little. Control freak that I am, I called the guy just to be sure. It went straight to voicemail. I'd give it a few more minutes. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes. Then I emailed him. No response. Then I texted his cell. No response. My anxiety was increasing by the minute. By 11:30 I was kind of a basket case. Sure the party didn't start until 1 pm but he didn't know that. He was supposed to be there by ELEVEN. I tried calling again and again. Straight to voicemail. My messages went from a polite "Hi. Sorry just checking that you're on your way...? Please let me know." until finally (by 12 pm when he STILL HADN'T SHOWN UP) I left a frantic and angry "Yeah hi. Me again. COULD YOU PLEASE GET BACK TO ME IMMEDIATELY. This is unacceptable. The party is starting soon and I don't know what to think. At least let me know if something happened?" I was a wreck. My heart was pounding. I was pacing the floor. This could not be happening. What a cruel joke. I didn't know what to do. I had built the whole party around a bouncy castle that WASN'T THERE. I had been STOOD UP BY A BOUNCY CASTLE?! WHY THOUGH?! I couldn't even REACH THE GUY for crying out loud! He wouldn't even take my calls?! Honestly. HOW DO YOU GET GHOSTED BY A FRIGGIN BOUNCY CASTLE?! Good Lord. This could only happen to me! (Or do these things happen to everyone? I don't know. People get ghosted but usually not like this.) By 12:30 pm it was obvious, this guy was a no show. I couldn't fathom how ANYONE could be that rude. How do you deliberately ruin a kid's birthday party? How do you take someone's money for a product/service and just NOT DELIVER IT? AT ALL! And NOT EVEN TAKE THEIR CALLS?! Not a single word of apology or explanation. Maybe something happened to the guy. Maybe he died. At this point death was the only explanation/excuse I would accept. I called my sister. She thought maybe someone else offered him more money to use it for that weekend and he just thought, screw me, he'd take the extra cash and ignore my calls. Who cares if my daughter's heart is broken? Why keep a promise? Why run a legitimate business? Why show any class or accountability or human decency when you can be a scheming opportunistic vulture and screw innocent people over to make an extra buck? It was beyond frustrating. No reply to calls or texts or emails. No excuse. No story. What could he say? He couldn't tell me the truth and didn't want to lie so he just avoided me like the plague. Coward. (A familiar scenario for me let me tell you!) I didn't know what to think. I noticed he had raised the price on his website. Now it was $200 instead of $170. At this writing he has raised the price AGAIN, now to $250. So it's not so "affordable" anyway. Maybe because I'd ordered it a month ahead of time at the lower price he didn't want to give it to me for that? Or maybe there WAS NO BOUNCY CASTLE AT ALL. Maybe it was all made up! It looked like a legit site. "Book online" though you'll never see it. The whole thing was maybe just an illusion/scam where they take your money and yet get nothing? It was so stupid. "Affordable Bouncy Castles" that aren't even affordable. And considering that he DOESN'T EVEN SHOW UP it should be FREE! What an a-hole. It was absolutely infuriating. After all my talk of vultures and scammers and then I get scammed? Or what? What excuse could he possibly have? Was he in an accident? Was he dead or in jail? Passed out drunk? Was it just one guy? He didn't have a back up? Someone else to deliver in case of an emergency? How do you run a business like that? Or maybe it wasn't a real business at all. Just a scam. In any event he obviously wasn't coming. I called and left a message saying if I don't hear from you in the next five minutes I have to assume this was a fraud/scam and I will be calling Mastercard and the police immediately. He NEVER DID GET BACK TO ME. What was I going to do? I thought the girls would be outside playing and now I had nothing to entertain them! The gazebo I had for Michelle's party last year had broken in a storm. I scrambled to put out a little princess tent and the rainbow tent in the backyard. It wasn't a bouncy castle but it was better than nothing. I had bottles of bubble stuff they could play with. Then I remembered I had a bunch of dollar store toys etc. They could play the unwrapping game that I had planned before I decided on the bouncy castle. You have never seen a woman wrap presents so fast! Last minute, frantically trying to throw it together. I was like a madwoman wrapping layer after layer of toys. I ran out of tape. I had to use thick tape. I ran out of paper. I had to stretch it and improvise. Somehow I got it done in time for the party. My heart was pounding. The bouncy castle not showing up would not be the only disappointment that day. One of Michelle's friends who was supposed to be coming was also a no-show. I was surprised because I had just seen one of the parents who assured me their child could make it. So I texted. Turns out they HADN'T EVEN PAID ATTENTION TO THE DATE! They assumed it was late JULY not June because Michelle's birthday was in July not June, close to their own daughter's birthday which they knew from last year's party. They felt bad. I said no worries, that's the least of my worries at this point. Bouncy castle no show. Friend no show. One unpleasant surprise after another.

Despite all the setbacks Michelle and her friends still had fun at the party. It didn't go as planned but we made do. The kids enjoyed the musical unwrap gift game. I was glad that I had those dollar store toys and craft things to use. I still couldn't believe how ignorant that bouncy castle guy was to NOT SHOW and NOT EVEN CALL OR TEXT BACK to explain or apologize. Then again I had been ghosted in the worst way by someone who claimed to love me so why not a stranger who didn't care about me at all? I just can't fathom how people can be so incredibly inconsiderate/careless/thoughtless/rude. Some people have ZERO sense of responsibility/accountability. Some people have no conscience whatsoever. Heartless creeps. Sniveling cowards. A real man would be there no matter what and if he couldn't be he would at least have the decency to explain himself and apologize. He would MAKE AMENDS. But real men are in short supply. Most guys are just stupid, reckless boys (even into old age sometimes). You can't trust them as far as you can throw them. And you should throw them. Or just avoid them entirely. Don't count on them for anything because YOU CAN'T. (Please no hate mail. Yes I am aware there are actually a couple of decent honest human males out there but too few to mention! And you guys are the exception, not the rule. Yes we wish there were more like you!)

A couple of the Moms stayed for the party. It was nice to have someone to vent to though I was mostly embarrassed about the whole thing. For a control freak, having something beyond my control go wrong was kind of torture. Here I was worried it was going to RAIN. Like that would be the worst thing that could happen. Instead it's a sunny day and the dang castle just NEVER ARRIVES! One friend suggested I let HER call the idiotic evil a-hole Bouncy Castle guy's cell. Maybe he had me blocked or was avoiding my calls but she'd see if she could get through. Nope. Her call went straight to voicemail too. You just could not reach this guy. No matter who you were. Maybe he'd gone away for the weekend and thought to hell with anyone's orders. Or like my sister said, someone offered him more money. Or there wasn't even a bouncy castle at all. He just took the money and ran. I couldn't wait to call Mastercard and the police the instant the party was over to get it sorted out. I tried to stop stewing over it. There was nothing I could do at this point. The kids chased bubbles for a while in the yard. Oh to be a kid and be amused by simple things like chasing bubbles. My bubble had already burst! I still couldn't believe the stupid bouncy castle never showed. My nerves were shot. I just wanted to curl into a ball and cry. It's her party and I'll cry if I want to! I held it together while people were there anyway. I was grateful to them for listening to me. They were very kind.

I couldn't enjoy Michelle's party at all. I was too stressed. Too upset. I am not a fan of things I can't control and this was one of them. You can't control some stupid random guy's behaviour. You can't make him be a man and do the right thing. You can't make him explain himself or apologize. The guy never did call back, or text or email. NADA. Not a word. Not a peep. WHY DOES THIS SHIT HAPPEN TO ME?! (Or does it happen to everyone? I don't know. I don't get out much!)

"This too shall pass." The saying is true. No matter what it is, it won't last. Time passes. Two hours passed. The kids had fun. I did not. But either way, the time went by. The party was over. It didn't go as planned (not even close!) but we got through it. I was grateful for that at least. Michelle had been a little disappointed but I was FAR more upset than she was. The other Moms were very understanding and supportive. They helped me to feel a little better. I was still a mess though. Stressed, angry, disappointed, hurt. And I couldn't wait to call Mastercard.
As soon as the party was over I called Mastercard to report the fraud and have the charges taken off. To my surprise, I HADN'T BEEN CHARGED?! Not for the deposit (made a month ago) and not for the balance (which was to be charged today.) So the a-hole hadn't shown up but at least I wasn't out the money? Weird. What did he get out of this then? The satisfaction of ruining a 7 year old girl's party? The delight of tormenting a control freak Mom who is already in therapy? WHY THOUGH?! I don't know. I never did get an answer. I guess I should be glad in a way. The bouncy castle might have been disastrous. A kid may have gotten hurt or gotten heat stroke. And by him not showing up it had actually saved me $170. Still it was a HUGE disappointment. It ruined Michelle's party and stressed me TF out! At least I didn't have to call the police to report a fraud because I wasn't out the money. I had just been EXTREMELY inconvenienced, disappointed. I was going to report it to the Better Business Bureau but then that seemed like a hassle too when I tried. I figured I'd just let karma deal with the a-hole, whatever his deal was. At least I wasn't out any money. I heard a quote once that you never really lose anything. You either WIN or you LEARN. Every experience has value. I guess. But there are some lessons it's REALLY unpleasant to learn. Or relearn...

Now that the party was over and I'd made my phone calls and I could finally take a breath, I just sank to the floor and cried. I bawled my eyes out for a while. It was a relief, a release because I'd been tied in knots during the party and now I could let it out. I try to make everything perfect for Michelle. I never want her to be disappointed. Her party had been ruined (well she still had fun but it was NOT how the day was supposed to go) and there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn't go back in time and do something else. We never know how things will turn out. We can have the best intentions. We can make plans but then people/life/events can let us down. The most ridiculous and random things can happen. And there's nothing we can do about it. I called my sister afterward to vent. I always feel better talking to her. She always puts things in perspective. I told her I guess I have no right to whine about a bouncy castle not showing up when there are people that have lost everything in a flood. There are people going through so much. It's all relative. No matter how bad a day you think you're having, someone somewhere is going through a LOT worse. My sister said she couldn't blame me for being upset. She said that that would be her worst nightmare. She said when she orders a cake or a birthday party plan or anything she calls the day before and the day of to check, double check and triple check that they have her order in case it gets lost. She is always paranoid that somehow they will forget or lose her order or something. Even though she has NEVER had happen what just happened to me she actually WORRIES about it! I guess I should have too! I thought I was a worrier but not enough. There was something I didn't even think to worry about. Something so stupid I didn't even think of it. "What if the guy just NEVER SHOWS UP WITH THE CASTLE?!"

I didn't realize May was even more of a control freak than I was. Maybe I was a slacker! Maybe I should have called the day before and the morning of like she does to make EXTRA sure they were coming (although it may not have made a difference if the guy was just an a-hole and he wasn't showing up regardless.) Of all the things I worried about -- bad weather or someone getting hurt in the bouncy castle -- the castle JUST NEVER SHOWING UP wasn't really even one of them. I didn't even realize that was a possibility. I know now. I would literally NEVER order a service like that from a fly by night company again. I should have known better I guess. Caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware. It's ironic that after a post about my hatred for vultures/opportunists/scammers I get taken in by one. Although I wasn't actually out anything financially. I hadn't even been charged. It was just the HUGE inconvenience and disappointment of planning a party and having the MAIN THING I based the party around NOT SHOW UP. It still boggles my mind. I did feel better after talking to May. Somehow she can ALWAYS make me laugh no matter what is going on. She is the BEST. Thank God for her. Best sister and best friend EVER!
After the party fiasco we needed to take our minds off of the things we couldn't control (or at least I did!) so we planned a beach day. Michelle wanted to wear her fave rainbow tankini. She even put a little lipstick on. Sigh. She's a diva already. She LOVES dressing up and wearing makeup and heels and she's only TURNING SEVEN YEARS OLD! Imagine when she's 17! I try not to think about it. I hear from everyone that the teen years are a nightmare. Michelle promised me she is going to be a "nice teenager" like Shannon. A good girl who doesn't get into trouble. A sweet family girl who spends quality time with loved ones and isn't glued to her cellphone every second. A responsible girl who does well in school. Yes Shannon is a lovely role model. But she is also shy and quiet and a very different personality from Michelle. Michelle is very outgoing and a bit of a daredevil in some ways so I worry that she may get into trouble. Of course I will always be there to try to protect her. I just hope she appreciates my love and attentiveness rather than resenting me or fighting me on it. I told her she can't promise how she will be in the future because it's unknown. No one knows how they're going to feel or what they may do in another 6 months let alone another 6 years. But I hope she always strives to stay my sweet girl.

The palm trees were BACK! Every Summer they replant them. Sometimes late May, other times not until June. I guess it depends on the weather and other factors. I never tire of seeing them.

Of all the beaches this one remains my fave because where else in CANADA can you sit underneath a palm tree at the beach? Yes I would love to go on vacations to tropical islands -- Mexico, Fiji, St Lucia, Hawaii -- but that's really not in the cards or the budget. At least I can make the drive to a local beach with beautiful palm trees. I always make Michelle pose with me by the palm trees because it's a MUST PHOTO OP! Luckily there is a counter where you can rent surfboards etc so I use that to sit the camera on for a self-timed shot. Or occasionally a kind stranger will offer to take our photo. Selfies are just too close to try to get the scenery in. My friend gave me a selfie stick before she went away (knowing what a photoholic I am!) but it's a bit awkward to use and it still isn't far enough away to get a proper shot.

In the pink! Literally! This floatie was a gift from a stranger last year. A couple of teenaged girls were leaving the beach and asked Michelle if she wanted their pink floaties because they didn't want to bring them home. It was very sweet. There have been a few times people have randomly given Michelle stuff. People just love her. Even perfect strangers. I suppose I shouldn't be letting her think it's OK to take gifts from strangers but as long as I'm there and it seems safe and I approve!

Michelle had fun floating in the water. It was ICE COLD. She tried to get me to go in but I wasn't having it. I have a hard time getting right into the water even when it's NOT sub-zero. Although the weather had been very hot the water hadn't had enough time to warm up after a long, cold, brutal winter. Even just going in up to my ankles hurt. My ankles were NUMB. I didn't know how Michelle could stand it but granted she is a lot tougher than me.

Leave it to Michelle to make a friend literally EVERYWHERE we go. She met another nice little girl her age who also happened to be in a pink floatie. They got along famously. Now I didn't have to worry about her trying to coax me into the water with her. I could watch her safely from the shore without getting hypothermia. I told her not to go too far out. Although the water is very shallow, even going out for several meters I still don't like her being that far away from me. And I really didn't want to have to go in after her. I had to remind her a few times. "Stay close to the shore!"

We got a shot from the steps of the restaurant. It was a nice backdrop with the palm trees and the beach. Often you can't get a shot there because there are too many people coming and going, sometimes even line ups of people waiting to go in. I took advantage of the lull to get a selfie of us.

It was a nice day at the beach. Sitting on the sand, in the sun, listening to the waves, the seagulls and the white noise of kids playing on the beach helped me to relax and forget about the stress and the mess of the party from Hell. I still couldn't get over how inconsiderate, irresponsible and cruel a guy could be but I've seen the worst so I don't know why it even surprises me. At the risk of sounding misandrous, MEN SUCK! You just can't trust them. Yes there may be a few nice ones, honest, respectable, reliable ones but they are the EXCEPTION not the rule. As a rule you can pretty much expect men to let you down. It's almost a given. So I figure I just won't expect anything from any of them, like ever.

And just like that, it was JULY! ALREADY?! Canada Day! We were celebrating with Auntie May. Shannon's camera had a special Canada Day filter that helped us to look and feel even more patriotic. Yes we are wearing matching Canada Day shirts because I am a total nerd. Michelle went the extra mile and had a Canada Day hat and even a Canada Beanie Baby bear. He's a classic.

So yeah. This post was supposed to be about May and June but since we're into AUGUST now and since this is my last hurrah and very last post ever I might as well include some of the cute/funny/sweet moments in July as well. There were a few of them. July also had some God-awful, catastrophic, disturbing, terrible, yucky wish-you-could-forget-them moments. But thankfully I don't have (too many) photos of them. Maybe just one or two. I want to focus on the good stuff. Canada Day was pretty good.

Michelle didn't get her birthday party bouncy castle but at least she got to jump in some bouncy castles on Canada Day and it didn't cost $170! So all's well that ends well.

It was very crowded. A cast of thousands in the park for the fireworks. We claimed our little spot on the grass. It was a nice evening, not too hot once the sun went down. I actually started to get a little chilly. Michelle was excited for the fireworks. At least this year I had the sense to pack plenty of snacks so we wouldn't get hungry during the long wait.

MICHELLE LEARNED TO SWIM! She was so excited. I was excited for her. She had been trying time and again but then we were at the beach one day and she finally got it! She dog paddled a few strokes. She told me to time her. First she could only go a few seconds, then 10 seconds. Then 20 seconds. Soon she got up to over 30 seconds. It was a start. With practice she'd get better and better. I had thought about getting her swimming lessons but now she had learned on her own! Swimming is a huge milestone. My father never did learn to swim. He drowned when he was younger so naturally he's afraid of the water and doesn't even try to go in.

Took Michelle to the dentist for the first time. She was a little nervous but she did great. They all made a fuss of her in the dentist's office. They commented on how polite and friendly she was. The dental hygienist said Michelle is extremely mature. She acts and talks like a 12 year old rather than a soon to be 7 year old. She enjoyed watching SpongeBob on the TV there. She only had one small cavity which we'd have to come back to fill but she was great even for that. She wasn't even nervous and said it didn't even hurt. She's such a good kid. I'm glad she's so brave and resilient. It's always a huge compliment to me when people say what a great kid she is. Raising her entirely on my own I know that I had a little something to do with that! Sure, some of it is her own beautiful inner nature but some of it is also that she has a Mama who loves her more than life, who does all that she can to make Michelle feel safe and loved and supported and encouraged, who helps her to believe in herself and know that she can do anything. 
My sweet girl. I am so proud of her. Sure I may spoil her a little but she really isn't spoiled. She appreciates everything. And she is kind and caring and respectful. But yeah she does get almost everything she wants, within reason. These high gladiator type sandals were to die for. How could I not get them for her when she asked? And they were on sale. OK I was mostly a recovered shopaholic when it came to resisting shopping for myself but as far as buying things for her, it was really hard for me to say no. I want her to be happy and I remember being a kid and never getting anything I wanted. It made me feel powerless and unimportant. My Mom would use the excuse that they couldn't afford it and she had four kids and blah blah blah. Yeah, I know. Regardless, I want to give Michelle the childhood I wished I'd had. Where she gets endless love and attention and praise. Where she knows she matters and is good enough and deserves to be happy. And deserves to be pampered and to have nice things. 

July started off OK but it got ugly real fast. In some ways that I can't even get into it was a total MINDFUCK! It's like the universe was messing with me. Some of it I suppose I brought on myself. I had been feeling stronger. It seems like any time I start to almost think "I got this" something will cut me off at the knees, knock the wind out of my sails, prove to me that I SO DON'T GOT THIS! Because my psychological assessment in June had gone so well, the powers that be decided I was ready for the next step. Unfortunately the next step was going to mean re-traumatizing me, forcing me to confront my past, my demons and the place that broke me. It was a cruel sort of exposure therapy. And it was happening REALLY SOON. So much for gradual. I still question the logic. Like if someone has a phobia of scorpions, should you really just suddenly THROW THEM into a pit of scorpions and go "Here you go! See how you do!"?! If someone drowns and finally gets over their fear of the ocean (mostly by avoiding it) should you celebrate it by forcing them to go to the beach? Or to use the camel analogy (I wrote a post "The Last Straw" where I basically compared myself to a camel...) If the camel with the broken back, who carried 1000 lbs for 1000 miles only to have her back broken by that LAST STRAW, finally starts to heal -- after a year and a half of therapy and self-care and massages, she finally starts to feel stronger -- should you start loading her up with straw again?! Should you keep piling it on? And you promise the burden won't be as great and the journey won't be as long but maybe she's afraid of the straw because YOU ALREADY BROKE HER and part of her DOESN'T EVER WANT TO GO BACK?! OK this is weird and I didn't even want to get into this but I have to at least touch on it. July was so messed up. It was such a slap in the face. I thought I was OK or starting to be OK and then I wasn't. But no one seemed to care. I felt stronger when I was in MY SAFE PLACE. I was HOME. I had SELF-CARE. I was AVOIDING THE BAD THINGS. If you pluck me out of my safe place, force me to go back to my worst nightmare, take away my self-care and everything that was making me stronger, force me to confront everything I didn't want to face then NO I AM NOT STRONG. I AM NOT BETTER. I am fragile and frightened and falling apart. The irony was that if I took my psychological assessment now, ALL MY ANSWERS WOULD BE DIFFERENT! (Well, Donald Duck would never be my fave poet, but I wasn't sleeping, all my PTSD symptoms had returned, I was tied in knots, falling apart, messed up!) I was not ready. I was NOT OK.

How do I even explain how bad it was? OK so one day I get this dreaded phone call which was basically akin to a bomb dropping. The powers that be exerting their power. I was told there would be next steps but that they would be gradual and then I get a phone call that's just like, "OK face your monsters, demons, ghosts and worst nightmares in 2 weeks! At least you have a couple of weeks to prepare!" The phone call about "the meeting from Hell" felt like a death sentence, counting down to my doom. I was totally stressed out the whole day worrying about it. I had plans to see my Mom that day. I was a mess. I couldn't even think straight. By the evening when I was heading home I was scratching my neck. I didn't think too much of it. When I got home and looked in the mirror I gasped. I was COVERED IN HIVES. My entire neck and chest was red and raw. I had never had hives in my entire life but that's what these looked like and they were itchy as HELL. I couldn't sleep because of the itch and nothing helped. Not Benadryl or calamine lotion or aloe vera or anything. I went to two pharmacies trying to get something but nothing helped. Even the pharmacist was like "Oh. That's a bad case of hives." And I'm sure they've seen it ALL! It was ghastly. My skin was on fire.  

I suffered for days. I kept hoping they'd go away. When they didn't I called my doctor. I couldn't get in to see her but she suggested I go to the E.R. to get checked out just in case. Great. Because when you've been sleep deprived for days and your stress is off the charts and you're covered in itchy hives there's nothing more fun than waiting for hours in the emergency room with a bunch of strangers. Just when I thought it couldn't get worse a disheveled looking scary dude sat near to us and was screaming randomly. Oh dear God. Get me out of here. At least we finally got to move to a private room to wait for a doctor. Michelle was being surprisingly patient for a kid stuck in a hospital waiting room. She's my magical little unicorn. The doctor determined yeah it seemed to be hives and sounded like it was largely stress induced. She prescribed Lorazepam for anxiety (she said it would help me get some sleep) and Atarax for the itch. Ironically I was vehemently opposed to the idea of taking medications for my anxiety but now I was taking one for a RASH. I was so desperate I figured I'd try it. The first night it was like magic. It did help me sleep. The second night I only got a few hours and was wide awake again and my brain wouldn't shut down. I was taking Lorazepam at night and Atarax in the day. And then I went into a severe depression. I didn't have a specific suicide plan or anything but I couldn't stop crying, life seemed utterly bleak, even Michelle couldn't pull me out of it and I remember thinking "Jesus Christ if I felt this sad every day I wouldn't WANT TO LIVE!" I realized it was the fucking drugs. I decided I would rather be itchy and sleepless than suicidal and I stopped taking them. The cream and drugs weren't helping anyway. I still had the hives. It seemed they would never go away and they were hideous. I tried everything and then stumbled upon the one thing that seemed to soothe them a little: coconut oil. I smeared it all over my chest. I also love the smell of it so it was the most pleasant thing. But I didn't want to leave the house. I felt like everyone was staring. It was too itchy to cover with clothing but I didn't want the redness to show. So I just stayed home wearing loose, low cut tops. My fight or flight was turned up full blast. My immune system was in overdrive. The stress was literally manifesting itself physically, burning my skin up. I was in Hell. 

A day later my doctor called that they could squeeze me in for an appointment. In tears I explained what I had been through, why I was so stressed. She could see for herself how bad the rash was. She suggested that if the meeting was stressing me out to the point that I'd broken out in HIVES that maybe I shouldn't go. She wrote a note asking them to relocate/cancel or postpone the meeting since it was causing me a HUGE amount of distress. The powers that be were merciless. I was having my cruel torturous exposure therapy come Hell or high water. I was obligated to go. My therapist said she'd work with me to try to prepare me. I would make a few trips to the neighbourhood (I literally hadn't set foot in the city since my last day a year and a half ago) to get me ready for the meeting. I didn't want to do  it. I wanted no part of it. I didn't feel ready. "You may never feel ready" my counselor said. It would always be scary. This was apparently all natural. "It's normal for your symptoms of PTSD to return." Oh great, I'm glad it's normal. I'm relieved that my torment is just par for the course. It was all so ridiculous to me. I was supposed to be stronger. I WAS feeling better but that was because I was in a safe place AVOIDING the things and the places that broke me. Now that they were sending me back there I was decidedly NOT OK. I was falling apart. I was a mess. Now I was back to not sleeping, nightmares, twitches, jittery jumpiness on top of the itchy hives. The anger and the anxiety, the fight or flight, it was all back. My body was literally saying "We're in danger!" and reacting accordingly. But no one seemed to give a damn. It felt like no one was in my corner. They were ignoring my distress. They were still going to make me go through it. July had more cruel and unpleasant surprises waiting for me but I can't even get into that. It would take another whole blog post and this is too long as it is. And I don't even want to relive it. This is excruciating. I didn't even want to mention the hives and now I'm typing all this. This is why I have to stop the blog. Once I get started, stuff spills out and it shouldn't. I wanted this to be a happy blog about my baby girl, not rehashing my own psychological issues. Suffice it to say July was a God damned fucking nightmare for me. It was also horrible for most of my family since the most insane, random awful things were happening to everyone. But then again the whole world is falling apart so nothing should be surprising anymore.

There was so much ugliness. Darkness. Memories of pain and despair. I needed an escape. I needed beauty. I needed beauty almost as much as I needed sleep, needed to relax, needed to take a moment to breathe. I hadn't just lost my zen. My zen had been ANNIHILATED. There was no hope of me meditating or doing yoga or anything. I wanted to run away. I tried running one day with Michelle riding her bike alongside me and it was a disaster. She fell off her bike and was crying and we decided it just didn't work. Never again. I couldn't run away from this nightmare. It was coming for me. Then one day I needed cheering up and put some butterfly ornaments in the garden. All of a sudden a beautiful butterfly came to say hello. I got a photo because that's what I do. Michelle asked if we could try to catch her. I told her what happened with Riley was a miracle and we couldn't expect it to happen again. But then it DID. 

Yes somehow against all odds and defying logic, we had ANOTHER pet butterfly. This time she was a Red Admiral Butterfly and Michelle named her Olivia. She stayed on Michelle's finger and let herself be carried into our house. I couldn't believe it. It was such a pleasant surprise and I really needed one of those. 

I love this photo of Michelle with Olivia. She was so happy. We didn't know how long we would get to keep her. We might have to let her go like Riley. We didn't know if she was a baby and had just been born or if she was middle aged or elderly. Butterflies don't live very long and how can you tell where they are in their life cycle? All we knew was that seeing her and getting to spend time with her was a gift and we were going to cherish it for as long as it lasted. Olivia seemed to be able to fly quite well and yet she also seemed content to just stay with Michelle. It was strange. Michelle really does have a magnetic personality. All creatures are drawn to her. 

Michelle had fun setting up a little butterfly hotel for Olivia. (One of her Happy Places doll houses.) It was adorable. Olivia actually sat on the couch and the bed. It was amazing. I got a bunch of pictures. Our cat Ali, once again was oblivious to our winged house guest. She left us alone. She was off napping in the hallway while we sat with the Olivia in the family room.

I dug out some of the flowers from the garden, the ones Olivia had been feeding on because obviously she liked those. Michelle asked if we could keep her. I said as long as she seemed happy but we would have to let her go if she was trying to get out, flying at the window etc. She was really docile and seemed to enjoy the little house. It was adorable.

I gave Olivia some fruit as well as the flowers to give her a variety of food. She seemed to be doing OK.

But she didn't last very long. She didn't try to fly to the window like Riley. Instead she stopped flying at all. She got very still. A few times I thought she was dead but then she would move slightly. Finally she stopped moving at all. It was heartbreaking. Once again I was crying over an insect. This was worse than losing Riley because at least Riley's life was just beginning and we got to see her rise up to the sky to freedom. Olivia may have been old. Watching her die was so sad. Life is heartbreaking. Nothing is permanent but impermanence. Life keeps trying to show me this and I keep resisting. Michelle wanted to keep Olivia forever so I got a shadow box to keep her in. Even in death I couldn't bear to put a pin through her so I got a piece of tape and very gently placed her body onto it and it stayed. I added a couple of leaves and dried flowers.

Olivia had been so sweet, so friendly. She stayed on Michelle's hand and on her head band. She stayed in her little house. We kept her in the bathroom at night and then Michelle was excited to see her in the morning. And then without warning she just sort of stopped. Like a wind up toy that just slowed down and became still. I took Olivia's death much harder than Michelle. I figured it was probably a good experience for her, to see the life cycle. To understand that nothing lasts, that life is fragile. To experience a taste of grief, disappointment. To see death first hand. Michelle is resilient and she bounced back. Unfortunately I was already in a really rough place and I had been through the ringer emotionally so THE LAST THING I needed was another heartbreak. It was all just too much. I felt too fragile to deal with anything. Olivia was supposed to cheer me up and help me to forget the dark places I had to go. Now she was just another reminder of the darkness that inevitably claims everyone and everything. I cried and cried.

Ironically if I had the psychological assessment at that point, all my answers would have been different. (I get enough rest -- VERY FALSE. I am miserable -- VERY TRUE etc.) My symptoms of anxiety and depression were back, WITH A VENGEANCE. I was falling apart. Sure there had been a point where I was actually feeling better, stronger, more in control of my life but I lost it. Everything was different now. Now I felt helpless and scared, unable to cope with anything. Now I had no self-care, no time to myself, no friend to talk to every day, no morning runs, no massages, on top of that I had no sleep, the stress of facing my demons and one crushing disappointment or unpleasant surprise after another. Olivia had been the one bright spot, one beautiful surprise in an otherwise horrid week/month and then she died unexpectedly and it was like "For FUCK'S SAKE can something NICE happen for a change?! Can I catch a break? Can I experience SOMETHING PLEASANT that doesn't turn to shit, that doesn't become bleak too because I've had my fill of BLEAK for now thanks! I'm all stocked up on BLEAK in here!" It was Hell. I still couldn't sleep. (And sleep deprivation makes EVERYTHING seem worse.) My rash still hadn't gone away. And now I was crying over butterflies again. God help me.

Life goes on. Michelle dressed in black but she wasn't exactly mourning anymore. She is a LOT stronger than me. Michelle will find her bright side, no matter what. She can cheer herself up. The world is still and always a beautiful, magical place to her. She dressed up in a black dress with a black fan and walked around like the glamorous diva she is. So I took advantage of the opportunity to snap a few photos and she didn't fight me on it. She is my Princess. She is stronger than me. She is happier than me. She sees the beauty and magic of life a lot better than I do. And while she may feel a little down or shed a tear or two here and there, she bounces back so quickly because her irrepressible spirit simply can't be kept down for too long. I am in awe of her. Mama is not quite so resilient. Mama can be knocked down. And July seemed to keep doing it. Things already felt bad but would go from bad to worse. And I can't even tell you. I still don't even believe some of the crap I had to deal with. A cruel joke.

Since we couldn't really take advantage of the weather (I didn't want to get a sunburn especially on top of my rash so we were mostly staying in) I figured I'd make the most of a bad situation and get Michelle's room done. We had talked about painting her bedroom. She wanted a hamster but we needed a place to put him/her after we got it. Michelle needed a desk. We needed to reorganize her room and I figured I might as well paint it too. Maybe once her room was pink and purple and had a hamster she'd actually WANT to sleep in her own room. We went to IKEA to look for a desk. I wore a top that mostly covered my rash. We saw an exhibit called "IKEA last straw." But it was about drinking straws rather than camels' backs. It was meant to deter people from using straws. It was a collection of millions (billions?) of them inside glass. I'm still not sure how collecting that many straws was saving the environment. Maybe they thought if they use every straw in the world for the exhibit there would be none left for people to use? 

I had one therapist that I met in an office and one that I saw at home or often met on the road. These days I would meet her along the Highway to Hell to prepare for the dreaded "Meeting." We took a little road trip. My therapist/life coach really had her work cut out for her these days because I was in a really bad place with the meeting coming up and she had to try to get me ready to face my fears. At least Michelle was with me for the journey. On the way we stopped at one of my old fave stores. It was pouring rain but then the sun came out (or SEVERAL SUNS!) so we walked around and looked at the different sculptures. I broke down in tears talking to my therapist. I still felt betrayed that I was being forced to go through this and it's like everyone was in on it. At least my doctor had advocated for me, not that it did any good. Everyone else was pushing for me to face those demons. I just wanted to run away.

I don't want to live in fear, just running away from and avoiding everything stressful, hiding from life. But at the same time I don't want to put myself back in a toxic situation. I stayed in relationships and even a career that were bad for me. I stayed a LONG LONG TIME. I ignored so many red flags. Sometimes you're so deep in a bad situation that you can't even see it clearly. Some women stay in abusive relationships for years. It's easy for someone to say "Why didn't she know better? Why didn't she get out?" But it changes you. You feel trapped. You can't even see a way out. And if you don't really believe in yourself and you don't realize that you deserve better, you just put up with it. You let yourself be torn down again and again until there's nothing left and you're too paralyzed to run away even if you wanted to. Then you FINALLY snap. You finally LEAVE. You finally reach your breaking point and say FUCK. THIS. SHIT. And you go to therapy and you try to heal and you realize that your life has value and that you need to take better care of yourself. You go through all that. And you start to feel healthier, stronger. And then they tell you, to go back to him. Give him another chance. He's changed. It will be different this time. I tried explaining to my therapist using so many analogies. I don't want to go back to that dark place. Or anything like it. She said that it WILL be different. I will not be returning to the same position. But it's the same field. There will be overlap. It's so hard to know what to do. Part of me wants to just run away and never look back. But I invested so many years and part of me doesn't want to give it all up, or burn bridges. I don't know what to do and it's terrifying and I don't feel ready to even deal with it. 

I needed to keep my mind off things so keeping busy redoing Michelle's room was just what the doctor ordered. It was a HUGE undertaking to move everything in Michelle's room away from the wall to paint. Michelle LOVED helping me paint. She said it was the most fun ever. I was unfortunately NOT having any fun. I was beyond exhausted and found the painting tedious and awful but I was thrilled with the results once it was done. I couldn't wait to see her room come together. She had chosen the colours -- pink and purple, the typical little girl Princess room colours. I loved it. Once we had all her toys set up it was just an EXPLOSION of life and colour. She had so many cute and pretty things. I got new shelves to organize her toys and books as well. She LOVED her new room. 

Nothing but the tooth! Michelle had another wiggly tooth and was excited when it came out. Once again she wrote a note to the Tooth Fairy and was able to negotiate to keep her tooth and still get a toonie. I love this shot of Michelle with her new gap-toothed smile.

Unfortunately even the new paint job and pretty new things wasn't enough to make Michelle sleep in her room. Not yet. Maybe once we got the hamster because then she wouldn't be alone. My brave girl wasn't afraid of too many things but she was still afraid of the dark and didn't want to be alone in her room. I told her I would never force her and would wait until she was ready but I was hoping that would be before she was a teenager! Fine thing if I'd gone to all this work and expense to give her the room of her dreams and she STILL wouldn't sleep in it. At least all the home reno work was keeping me busy because I needed to keep my mind of the horrors I was going to be facing. The meeting. The future. Exposure therapy. My worst fears.

It was an emotional month. One thing after another. I don't want to focus on the bad things. I want to focus on the happy moments. Michelle helped me through the bad times. She was there with me. Along for the ride during my trip down memory lane. So many memories. I cried so many tears. I thought I was all cried out and then there were more. I felt physically and emotionally drained. In the midst of it I got an email from my cousin. Her dad wasn't doing well. He wanted to see my dad. Could I bring him for a visit? Of course. It was good to see my Zio. It had been years. Him and dad were able to catch up while I talked to my cousin. She's a sweetheart and such a strong lady. She's been through Hell and back and still keeps going. As I talked she said we had a lot in common. She had been a single Mom for many years too. She said I've done a great job with Michelle. Everyone made a fuss of her. Michelle wanted to come along for the visit with my dad and me. Michelle is a ray of sunshine everywhere she goes.

We had our annual Wasaga Beach family trip. It was a beautiful day. It had been overcast and rained a little on the way there but thankfully the sun came out for us to have a lovely day swimming. The beach was a fraction of the size it used to be. Some parts of the beach were gone. Climate change in action. The world is changing. What can we do? Stay calm and adapt? Try to save it? It's scary sometimes. The world is changing. We can't ignore it. No matter what we have to cherish every day. It is all so fragile.
My brother Mike got a new puppy. Adorable! Michelle would love to have a dog but that's not in the cards. She'll have to settle for our cat, the occasional butterfly and, after her birthday, a hamster. Dogs are just WAY too high maintenance. It's like having a baby. With fur. We're not going there. But they are cute to visit now and then. I love this picture of Michelle holding the new puppy who will soon be a huge dog able to knock her over.

We had a nice visit with Mike and May. I was quite relieved that C and X couldn't make it. Apparently they had a rough July too. C had an accident at work and sliced his hand so bad he had to have an operation and couldn't drive or work for 6 weeks. I joked that maybe it was the guilt of stealing that subconsciously made him do it. It's biblical: "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off." No. It was just a weird, random, awful month for just about everyone. My therapist nodded and said Mercury was in retrograde. Terrible things were happening to everyone. The whole planet seemed to be off. I hoped things would be better in August.
Somehow we made it to the end of the month. Michelle had already had her kid party so now it was just the family celebration. I was relieved that she wanted a store bought cake since I wasn't feeling up to doing another castle cake and squeezing out billions of globs of icing. 

My hives were mostly gone. I started getting a little bit of sleep. I was trying not to panic too much about the upcoming developments on the career front. My therapist said to view it all as another experiment. See what happens. You can't hide from and avoid your demons. It's better to face them and take away their power. 

In some ways, therapy is like becoming a butterfly. You are in this cocoon of self-care. This period of hibernation where you are protected but then you reach a point where you have done all the growing you need to do and it's time to take flight. It's terrifying to break out of your safe, cozy little chrysalis. It feels like the end of the world. You want to stay where it's safe. You want to hide. But that's not living. You have to get out there and spread your wings. And you don't know how it's going to go. And there are risks. You could get hurt. You have to learn to fly. You're not strong at first. You may fall. But you don't get to stay in the cocoon. You don't get to stay a caterpillar. Even if you could, it wouldn't be right.

Avoidance was my go to for so long. I wanted to just unicorn and rainbow the crap out of everything. Just ignore the bad stuff. Just avoid everything that stressed me out or upset me. But life will never be all unicorns and rainbows. The bad stuff doesn't go away, even if you ignore it.

My therapist compared it to shoving things in a
closet. All the stuff you don't want to look at, don't want to deal with. Skeletons in the closet. Clutter. Mess. Mistakes. Uncomfortable realities. Past demons. You just stash it all in this closet and you close the door and try to forget about it. Except it's not gone. It's still there. And one day you will have to open that closet and everything is going to come spilling out and it's going to be overwhelming. But until you deal with it, it will always be there. The monsters stay monsters until you face them. Your fears will always have power over you until you disarm them. Until you confront them. I have a journal that says "Grow through what you go through." The only way out is through. I knew that but I still didn't want to do it. I would have avoided it forever. Except they won't let me. And they think I'm ready.

Sometimes I wish there was a knight in shining armour to rescue me. Some magical unicorn deus ex machina to make everything better. Some unforeseen happily ever after. Except that there's not. I have to save myself. I have to be my own hero. No one has my back. I have to take care of myself.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention! There is actually a new man in my life...sort of. My baby brother Mike introduced me to him. His name is Daniel and he's British. He's really good with directions. OK he's not a man exactly. Just the disembodied robot voice of a GPS! When Mike got a new car that comes with built-in navigation he gave me his old GPS unit. It is still VERY modern to me. I am resistant to technology (I will avoid it until someone gives me one of their fancy gadgets once it's obsolete to them!) so it took a while for me to even find the courage to hook it (I mean HIM) up in the car but it/he came in quite handy when I had to go somewhere I wasn't used to. Daniel is the perfect boyfriend actually: He leaves you alone when you don't need him but turn him on and he's there for you! Of course he can be a little annoying prattling on about turning left in 350 meters and all but if you're lost, he's got your back. We sometimes disagree. He'll suggest a route that I really don't like so I'll go my own way instead (a man can't boss me around after all! I'm used to being in control!) He doesn't argue. He just recalculates and we still get to our destination. It's like a compromise. (If only real men did that when you disagreed with them. Just said "recalculating" and let you have your way! LOL That's how relationships should be. Instead of couples bickering in the car and not wanting to ask directions. I suppose GPS solves a lot of those arguments at least. I was still old school. I have PAPER maps. And I check Google maps. But it is 2019 so I guess I should try to embrace robotics somewhat. Though I still low-key fear an AI Apocalypse. Stephen Hawking warned us it was coming and he was a genius.) But yeah, Daniel is a great guy. I just wish he came with a volume control. I couldn't find it. But it is sort of adorable the way he mispronounces certain street names. And I like how he says "Gate" abruptly and lingers on "Trail" as if he's trailing off. It's kind of witty. And I like the British accent. Michelle calls him "Clank" because sometimes he falls off the window with a bit of a clank. A little saliva puts him back in his place! LOL 

Sadly (or happily) Daniel the GPS is as close as I'm likely to get to having a boyfriend. It's been so long now (7 years!?! Back in the day I never went more than 7 minutes without a boyfriend. I'd jump straight from one bad relationship to a worse one. Frying pan to fire. Yeah. It was a trip. But not anymore. No thank you. Never again. Michelle keeps me safe and out of trouble because I would NEVER put her in harm's way. No jerks allowed. And lets face it there are a LOT of jerks out there.)

As I've mentioned before, from what I see of the "dating scene" I want no part of it! It's even worse than I remembered. Aside from a couple of creepy stalkers, would-be online paramours (one who wanted to marry me and fly me to Dubai supposedly!) there hasn't been anyone. Though I did have a couple of old flames contact me too... Some wanted to be friends. Some wanted to be friends with benefits. No thanks. No way. No day. I'm going through enough. Not interested in being toyed with. Not one iota. Bottom line is I would never allow someone into my life that wouldn't be a good father for Michelle. So that pretty much rules everyone out. The online stalkers/romance scammers are something else though. They flatter you. You're so beautiful, blah blah blah. Sure it is nice to hear but I take it with more than a grain of salt. You can usually tell the scambots right away. They have a name followed by a series of numbers, like they're not even capable of original thought. They speak in broken English. (Then again even the POTUS can't type to save his life.) Sometimes they use fake celebrity photos or other stolen photos. They'll start with hi how are you and it's downhill from there. I just nip it in the bud immediately. I have no time or patience for BS. I stop them in their tracks by saying "Oh really. So you're Ryan Reynolds? With a secret squirrel unverified account? K... so send me a photo of yourself holding up today's newspaper or holding your driver's license. Yeah. Proof of identity. Failure to do so will result in me knowing you're a phony and telling you to get a fucking life. Preferably your OWN next time. Tootles!" Of course they would never be able to provide such a photo. Then I'd never hear from them again. Go figure. Or they would chastise me, in broken English, for doubting their veracity. Yeah. OK. Seriously I really don't understand why people pretend to be someone else. What do they want? Most are likely just scammers but some seem like they're just lonely or something? Why waste all that time pretending to be someone else? I don't know. Some create a fake identity and live a lie for years. What do they hope to gain? I've heard of people being in online catfish relationships for years at a stretch. I mean I don't GET IT. You can shut them down in under a DAY. Just do the tiniest bit of research. Admittedly one almost had me fooled. There was one guy who almost seemed legit. He wasn't a celebrity or anything. He wasn't even that attractive. Just a pleasant guy next door type based on the photos. He seemed nice enough. He wasn't asking for anything. Just wanted to talk. He was extremely flattering. He looked forward to my messages. And I enjoyed it too. It was an ego boost. It was sort of nice. I thought it was harmless enough. Then one day it just seemed a little off. I got suspicious. I did a reverse image search and found they were stolen images using different names. I still don't understand what these creeps hope to get. I'm not rich or famous or anything. Just a struggling single Mom. Some guys think because you're a single Mom you'll be desperate for male attention? Dude I've gone SEVEN YEARS without a guy and I can go another 7 or 70 (if I could live that long! LOL) if I have to. I am managing on my own. Sure sometimes it'd be nice to have a guy to do more than help me drive to my destination. It'd be nice to play Scrabble and watch movies and go on outings as a family. It'd be nice to have a guy to mow the lawn and put out the garbage for a change! But I am fine on my own and until/unless I meet the second coming of Jesus/Superman, I am not interested. A guy would have to be a Saint for me to even consider it. It's so hard to trust. I keep hearing about guys who seemed like good guys and even THEY are corrupt so it's very discouraging. For now, I'll stick to Daniel. It's nice to know he's there for me if I need him. I do lack a sense of direction and I can get lost sometimes.

Recently there has been some disturbing male attention that is one of the reasons I'm pulling the plug on the blog. I never say where I live online, just in case. But I guess if someone really wants to find you they will. I started getting calls from private numbers where they just say nothing and hang up. I have cars go by my house slowly, late at night. I've had weird stuff happen that gives me nightmares. I've had disturbing emails. I've had enough. No thank you. I'm done. Thanks for the nightmares! I don't need this crap. And it may not all be related. Some of it could be coincidence. I could just be paranoid. (Sometimes you're just paranoid. Sometimes they really ARE out to get you! How can you KNOW?!) But there have been some other disturbing events lately that have me on high alert even more. My doors are always locked. Now I check even more. Just when I was starting to feel a little more calm and felt I could let my guard down somewhat, someone steals my peace from me again. I gave up even trying to meditate. No hope of getting my zen back. Can't let my guard down. PTSD symptoms are back with a vengeance.

And there is part of me that thinks, even if there was a good guy out there, how would I ever be able to trust him? I'd push him away. I think if he was a really good guy he'd care enough to be patient. He'd understand why it's difficult for me. He'd respect my boundaries and work within them. He'd go slowly and build my trust gradually. He'd prove himself, time and again. But it's not like there's any chance of my meeting anyone anyway. I'm shy and never speak to anyone unless spoken to. I don't trust anyone online. I'd never date online again. I don't have a social life or a way of meeting people. So yeah, not really in the cards. But it's fine because I don't feel like I need a man in my life the way I used to. What I always felt I needed was love. But my love for Michelle is far more true, more meaningful and all-encompassing than anything I ever had in any other relationship. So on the love front, I'm good.
It all comes back to butterflies. After a somewhat terrible day I decided to cheer us (well mostly ME) up with a trip to the Butterfly Conservatory. Beauty heals. Beauty saves. Beauty is our glimpse of Heaven on Earth and I NEED IT. Especially when life gets ugly as it did in July.

Once again, Michelle made some lovely winged friends. One of them, a blue morpho but more beige than blue, wouldn't leave her. It stayed on her for over an hour. Butterflies love Michelle. Everyone loves Michelle. Of course no one loves her as much as I do. I am so grateful for my girl. For all of July's terrible moments (and there were many) I got to enjoy some wonderful times with my girl. She is and always will be the best thing in my life. I am so grateful for her. Beyond words.

Man, this is tough. This post has taken me forever to do. It's a rough one. It didn't quite turn out as planned (DOES ANYTHING?!) I never intended it to take so long. We're halfway through August now which makes it more difficult. The more time goes by then the more photos I have that I want to include and at first I wasn't even going to get into July and now I'm into August and this is ridiculous. The blog used to be enjoyable for me. A hobby. A passion. Now it's like a chore. And not even a pleasant chore. On the fun scale now it's right up there with cleaning toilets or cleaning out Ali's litter box. But the silly thing is no one is asking me to do to it! Quite the opposite. Everyone is telling me not to. And now even the universe is waving some MASSIVE red flags saying STOP THIS NOW! HOW MUCH MORE OF A SIGN DO YOU NEED? 

And still it's hard to let go. Because for better and worse this has been a big part of my life. It is a habit and I have felt compelled to keep it up. But I do have to let this go. This one more for the road post is killing me though. I will be relieved when it's done. I don't even know if it's coherent. It's kind of all over the place. And the irony is that even with all these photos and all my writing there is still so much left unsaid. So much I can't even bring myself to say. So much that I've been through that I can't even bear to relive. I want to focus on the happier stuff. I have shared far too much as it is. I have to keep some things to myself. Some of the darkest nights of my soul will stay in my paper diary. Pen on paper. Maybe that's what I should have done all along. Instead of living our lives here with an audience.

Twinning. Michelle and me in matching shirts from Justice. They didn't go unnoticed. Michelle and me are soulmates. We both love cute and pretty things. We like the same clothes. We both love ballet and piano and unicorns and rainbows and butterflies and cats and the beach. My little girl will grow up and likely go through a phase where it's no longer cool to hang out with Mom or especially not to dress like Mom, but for now I'm going to enjoy this time where my girl appreciates me, wants to be with me, looks up to me. I want to be a good role model for her. Sometimes I feel like she is the role model. She is aspirational. If only I could be as daring, hopeful, loving, patient, kind, enthusiastic, strong and resilient as Michelle. I am so proud of her. Knowing that I had something to do with the amazing young lady that she is is my greatest comfort. Whatever else I may have messed up, at least I did one thing right.

Another day, another beach. It was a cute little beach May came across one day so we went to check it out together. The water was ICE COLD. Michelle was the only one brave enough to get right in. The rest of us couldn't get past our ankles. Still it was lovely to see the turquoise water, to watch the boats go by. And of course I'm always happy for a photo op. I made everyone pose for the obligatory group shot. The sun was behind us so we're kind of in shadow but it's still cute. I even caught a sailboat in the background. I am grateful for happy memories with my family.

We took a walk along the beach. I found a ledge to sit the camera on and get a group shot in the sunlight. The water looks so beautiful. It was so clear. If only it hadn't been so cold. You can't have everything. My Mom said she had a dream about a car just like mine parked next to mine. Then it happened. She dreamed about ants. Then we saw some ants crawling on the beach. I was glad that my dreams didn't come to life though some of my nightmares had. Mostly I was trying to forget about all that crap.

Even on the beach we had a visit from a butterfly! They seem to be everywhere we go now. I mean you expect them around gardens and flowers and you KNOW they're at the Butterfly Conservatory but even on beaches and parking lots and everywhere you go, there they are flitting around like random little reminders that no matter how messed up the world is there is still beauty to be found. Maybe they've always been there and I just didn't notice them?

As promised, I took Michelle to get a hamster after her birthday. I wasn't too keen on the idea but it was something she really wanted and I wanted to make her happy. I thought it might be a good experience for her and hopefully wouldn't be too much extra work for me. After all the work we had done on Michelle's room just to have a place for the hamster we had to actually get one. We got a cage and some accessories then we tried to find the perfect little hamster. Originally Michelle wanted a Teddy Bear hamster like her cousin Reggie's but the store didn't have one and we'd have to order it. Then we checked out another store and she fell in love with an adorable little Russian dwarf hamster named Maria.

How do you solve a problem like Maria? How do you catch a moonbeam in your hand? Maria was BEYOND ADORABLE. She was just the sweetest little thing you ever saw. We heard that it was better to wait and not touch your hamster for a couple of days, to just put a tissue in her cage with her that had your scent on it so she could get used to you. We didn't want to scare or upset her. We didn't want her to bite. Reggie had been bitten a couple of times the first time he picked up his hamster. Michelle was too anxious. She couldn't wait. So the very next day she picked Maria up. Maria didn't bite her. She was good as gold. It's like she trusted Michelle, sensed that she was safe. Michelle adores Maria and what's not to love? She's cute as a button. And apparently she won't grow much bigger than she is now. Maria even has Michelle sleeping in her own room now. After SEVEN YEARS I finally have my bed to myself again! Michelle asked if she could still stay in my bed one night a week for "movie night." I said of course. I told her no matter how old she gets, even as a teenager she can stay with me for movie night. Or any time she needs a snuggle. I will always be there for her.

We always keep Michelle's door closed. Ali doesn't seem to know or care about the hamster and we want to keep it that way.

Maria is so good she even poops in a litter box! I found this adorable mini litter box/hamster potty and I figured we'd try it. She's so smart she actually uses it which makes cleaning her cage a lot easier! Maria is a little spoiled. She's got a big cage with a series of tunnels and even a lookout tower. She has a bunch of toys and accessories. The hamster is only $15. It's the cage, accessories, bedding and food that add up. But I figured the money I saved on the bouncy castle debacle more than covered it. Maria is a sweet addition to our little family and we love her so much. 
 It's AUGUST?! AUGUST. Ridiculous. Time is speeding by. I wasn't supposed to be covering August in this blog. I wasn't even supposed to get into July. But there are so many pictures and this is my last chance to share them. Maybe I will just add a bunch of August photos, without context. Happy moments. Happy places. Here and there. With the people we love. These are what we need to hold onto. We can forget the not so happy moments. The bad places. And the people we'd just as soon forget. Those are what we need to let go of.

I survived the meeting from Hell. The meeting that broke me out in hives. The meeting I dreaded. It wasn't easy. I cried before, during and after. I was falling apart. I was quite open about how hard it was. I admitted that part of me just wants to run away and never look back. "Fight or flight," one of them said, "it's natural." "You should be proud of yourself, you made it here." Even in tears, even in frustration and anger and fear and against my better judgment. I hated every minute of it but I faced those demons and I will and I can. One day I had just finished talking about ghosts of the past when Ghostbusters came on the radio. It was so random. Michelle and me laughed and sang along "I ain't afraid of no ghost!" There have been a lot of weird coincidences lately. Someone told me there are no coincidences. It's all connected. It all means something. If you're paying attention you can see it.

Maybe life is trying to tell me that I am strong enough. Life challenges you to make you rise to the challenge. Life makes you face your demons so that you can disarm them. It isn't easy. It's terrifying. I don't know what's going to happen. But maybe I'm supposed to go through this now. 

I keep a Gratitude Journal. I force myself to write in it even on the crappiest days. Because even on a bad day you can find something to be grateful for. Even if it's just that the day is finally over. It does end. Everything. Whether you want it to or not. My therapist said "Some days you're the bug and some days you're the windshield." You never know how the day is going to go when you start out. You hope for the best. You prepare for the worst. You be grateful for landing somewhere in between. "Grow through what you go through." It isn't easy. Sometimes it's awful. But you do it. You show up. You face those demons, slay those dragons. And you come out stronger. And then you don't have to run away anymore. Then it's more about you running TOWARD the things you really want than AWAY from what you fear. I have a lot of choices and decisions to make. I avoided them as long as I could. But I can't hide forever. It's scary because I don't want to fail. I don't want to make a mistake. But it's part of the process. Growing is hard. It hurts. It stretches you. And it feels like it's breaking you, even as it is making you stronger.

 The world is in over its head in many ways. Drowning. There are beaches that have been completely wiped out. So many places have been flooded. People have lost their homes. After days of rain the sun came out again and we ventured to our favourite beach and found that it has been affected by climate change too. The lake had flooded part of the parking lot. More than half of the beach was gone. It was shocking to me. It didn't seem that long since we'd been there and it was completely different. There was still some beach left. Michelle wanted to go in the water. It was warm but the waves were so strong and so high. It made me nervous. This was my Happy Place and now I was worried about it too. The world is changing. Even from one day to the next. Nothing is permanent.

I think this is it. Winding to a close. I've been rambling for 7 years. I better wrap this puppy up. What else can I say? I can't do this anymore. I can't keep going month after month, photo after photo. It's too much. It's overwhelming. And why am I doing it anyway? I don't even enjoy it anymore. It feels like a punishment. Like going to confession. I'm done. So I guess this is it. After 7 years I am ending my baby blog. Thank you for reading. It has meant the world to me to have had this forum to share my thoughts and feelings around pregnancy, motherhood, raising a child on my own. All those insomniacal nights when I needed to vent. I'm grateful for this place to store so many memories. Whatever else happens, I've had this. Michelle didn't want me to stop the blog but I told her it's time. There have been several signs lately that I have to let this go. I may still post occasionally -- a short anecdote, one photo...? Probably not because I tend to be all or nothing. I tried to simplify but I wasn't very good at it. I'm a maximalist at heart and a total photoholic. As soon as I try to choose one picture I want to include them all. As soon as I go to talk about one story, they all spill out. And I just can't do this anymore. It's too much. It's been too much for a while but it took a giant slap in the face from the universe to make me stop. I finally had to listen.

It's hard to say goodbye. This blog has been part of my life for so long it does break my heart a little to end it but it just feels like it's time. For so many reasons. Sometimes we're given signs. We may not always know how to read them but we can't ignore them. The last straw for me came recently. Bottom line is that unfortunately there are some bad dudes out there that really don't deserve this window into our lives. So I'm closing the curtain. Fin. From now on Michelle and me will live out our lives without an audience. Most of the time anyway! (Aside from an occasional post on Twitter and Youtube unless I reach the point where I stop that too.) This has become such a habit that I almost can't imagine life without my blog. In a way it's a relief because it is overwhelming doing these posts but at the same time I'm a creature of habit and habits are tough to break. Then again I was pretty addicted to Facebook way back in the day but I boycotted it when it became a toxic place to be and I've never gone back. Sometimes you just have to move on... Oversharing isn't always the best idea.

The End. Somehow it doesn't feel like an ending. It's kind of a new beginning. Entering a new phase. Venturing into the unknown. I'd like to be able to say that all the loose ends have been tied up, everything resolved and that we "live happily ever after" but let's face it. That only happens in fairy tales. In real life, even when it seems like everything is settled it can all fall apart. No one is guaranteed tomorrow. No one knows what will happen next. Especially these days when even the world is coming apart at the seams. Sometimes having answers just creates more questions. No one has it all figured out. No I'm not cured. I'm not done therapy. I am entering an intensive phase. Literally facing my demons. I don't feel strong enough but everyone seems to think that I am. I don't feel ready for this but my therapist says I may never feel ready. There is no perfect time. If it were left up to me I'd postpone it forever. If you hide from your demons they will always be there waiting for you. It takes confronting your fears to take away their power. And it isn't easy. Therapy is a process. There is no stress free time. New challenges will always come up. So many things are still unresolved. I didn't make up with my brother. I do love my brother even though he's an obnoxious a-hole. Perhaps I can find it in my heart to forgive him and his other half. (Though it's tough to forgive someone who's not even sorry. Who can't even admit they were wrong.) Of course at the end of the day we all have our stories. We're different yet the same. We're all doing the best we can with the hand we're dealt. It's better not to judge. I need to learn more compassion for everyone. I need to be a better person. I'm working on it. I'm not there yet.(Not by a long shot!) I'm still (and always) a work in progress. I can't promise that I will ever be a perfect, saintly, self-actualized person. I can promise this: I will keep learning and growing. I will keep making mistakes. (Hopefully new ones though, better ones.) There will be good days and bad days. There will be moments I feel stronger and think "I got this!" only to be knocked down again and realize that you can't control everything and life can always break your heart. One thing I can guarantee is that I will love Michelle no matter what and be grateful every day for the beautiful adventure it is being her Mom. Michelle will keep me going no matter what. She is BY FAR the best thing that has ever happened to me and that continues to happen to me. I am forever grateful for the bumpy road that led me to her and the road we continue to travel together, despite all its bumps and unexpected detours, sometimes because of them. 

Thank you again for following along in our journey. If you've enjoyed my blog please do leave comments! I'd love to hear from you. And if you want to keep in touch this doesn't have to be goodbye. You can reach me via email in the link above if you like. You can also subscribe to me on Youtube and follow me on Twitter (NICE people only please! LOL) Not breaking those habits yet!

Ann Marie