Saturday, December 29, 2012

Baby's First Christmas!

Michelle and I had a very nice (though somewhat chaotic!) Christmas with the whole family at my sister's place. It is hard getting that many people into one room at the same time but I always insist on the group photo so that it happens for at least a few seconds. The rest of the time everyone is scattered -- smokers out in the garage, the rest of us divided between the family room, living room, dining room and kitchen, the children running around all over the place, frantically opening gifts then running through the hallway. So many people and presents and commotion. So much going on at once it's hard to take it all in. It's anarchy! I had the whole gang at my place for my Mom's birthday but of course she was the only one with presents to open and for dinner I just ordered in. My sister made a big delicious turkey dinner on top of everything else. I told her "I don't know how you do it." "I don't know either!" she said. I baked a chocolate cake at least and made some cookies, which is quite something for me considering I never bake. The cake didn't turn out quite the way I'd planned but was still good. There were a ton of desserts anyway from cookies to fudge to cheesecake. After stuffing myself with turkey the last thing I needed were more calories but who can resist? I probably gained 10 lbs by the end of the day!
Christmas Eve was much more quiet. Michelle and I just took it easy at home. I couldn't resist taking a bunch of photos of her. It was her first Christmas after all. I found these little angel wings that were just her size. She isn't always an angel of course. Sometimes I think it's getting easier and then it changes again. You just never know what she'll do. Lately she's been a night owl. She stays up until midnight, 1 or 2 a.m. Then of course she's tired the next day and naps in the afternoon. I've been napping with her because I'm exhausted myself. The problem is then it's a vicious cycle and it's hard to break out of it. If I don't need to go anywhere, I stay in my pjs all day and just catch a few zzzs when she sleeps. Then she's up late at night again. It's hard to get things done because I used to do things at night while she slept and that doesn't always happen now. She will play for a few moments with her toys, on her play gym, in her jolly jumper, jumperoo and swing so that buys me some time to do things like dishes and putting away laundry. Some things, like the garbage, are next to impossible to do while she's up. I have to wait until she's asleep and then run out and put the bags to the curb (with my coat thrown over my pjs. I just don't care anymore and there aren't too many neighbours out to see me in the middle of the night in the freezing cold anyway.) Then I come back in the house to hear her crying. It's like she knows I left the house for one second.
So yes she's very demanding and takes all of my time but I adore her. I wanted to make her first Christmas special (though she wouldn't really be able to understand or appreciate it yet anyway.) I'm on a tight budget but I managed to pick up great deals here and there so I could get her a few toys, a couple of dolls and some books. She puts EVERYTHING in her mouth these days so I got her a couple of teething toys.

I thought I'd have to open the gifts for her but she was actually curious about the bags and was reaching for and grabbing things herself. She seemed to like her gifts. Ali (my grey tabby) was happy with her gifts as well (some mice and butterflies.) She went crazy on the butterflies. They were made of the same crinkly material that some of Michelle's toys are. I tried to get a picture of Ali playing with them but she was too quick.

I'm so glad that Michelle likes books. We have storytime every day. I couldn't resist this cute and colourful fish book (as you know if you've been following my blog -- I'm OBSESSED with anything in the ocean theme. Michelle's nursery is painted ocean blue and features paintings of mermaids I did as well as ocean themed toys and decor.) I've always loved books myself (as I mentioned in a previous blog post, "Booking it.") I want to instill a love of reading in Michelle. My Mom hated reading but read to me while pregnant with me and when I was a child. I still remember how she made funny voices for the characters to bring stories to life. Now I find myself doing the same thing with Michelle. I think books are very important. As important as food. Nourishment for the mind. This is becoming such a digital age. Now they have gadgets where you can read books off a little computer screen. To me nothing compares to holding a book in your hand. Especially when it comes to children's books. They are works of art.

I enjoyed spending Christmas Eve alone with Michelle (and Ali). I read "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and sang her Christmas carols. We watched "Santa Claus is Coming to
Town" on TV. I wondered how I would handle the whole "Santa" thing in years to come. I'm still on the fence about it. My mother told us flat out that there was no Santa Claus because she didn't want to lie to us. I've seen other families go overboard keeping the illusion up. I'm kind of torn. The true meaning of Christmas is of course Jesus being born but I do think that the idea of Saint Nicholas (and I do believe there really was such a person) is a sweet one and fits in with the spirit of giving. I want her to believe in magic and wonder. I just don't know if I could flat out lie. Christmases were still exciting when I was a kid. I still enjoyed watching the Santa specials. I sometimes sat on his knee at the mall (after I was old enough not to be traumatized by the experience!) I think I was precocious enough to tell Santa one year that I knew it was just pretend and that my Mom was the one buying all our presents. It's not as though I lost anything by not having the lie perpetuated. Honestly I was a pretty analytical kid. I think I would have figured out on my own rather quickly that one man couldn't possibly visit every house around the globe in one night. My nephew James was starting to figure it out after Shannon told him Santa gave her an I-Pad for Christmas. "The elves made an I-Pad?!" he asked in shock. "I thought they only made TOYS!" I didn't want to shatter his illusion so I explained "Maybe they went to the Future Shop in the North Pole. Some of the elves might be lazy. Some may not like making toys. I hear some of them want to be dentists." This pacified him because he had seen Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and knew that Hermey, the misfit elf, wanted to be a dentist.

Michelle got some wonderful presents from Grandma and Grandpa, Auntie May, her uncles and cousin. This was my most exciting Christmas in a long time because getting gifts for Michelle is far better than receiving gifts for myself. When Shannon had asked me before what I wanted for Christmas I said I didn't know, that I didn't need or want anything other than things for Michelle. She is my life now. Everything is for her. Though I did get some lovely gifts anyway.

Since I don't like breastfeeding in public and I didn't want to miss all the activity by being upstairs feeding Michelle half the time, I planned ahead and pumped enough breastmilk to hold her for at least a feeding or two. I also had formula on hand if I needed it. It didn't quite pan out the way I'd hoped though. Michelle drank the bottle of my breastmilk at least which bought me a little time with the family but then she was still crying to be fed an hour later. I couldn't deny her because my breasts knew it was past time for her feeding and were aching. So I went up to feed her in privacy. She's still feeding every two hours or so. Even through the night now. She used to go 3-4 hours sometimes during the night but not anymore. She's so hyper and so active (constantly kicking her legs, trying to roll over, jumping in her jumperoo and jolly jumper) that she must burn off everything she's taking in. I should try to get just half as much exercise as she does and maybe I'd lose my "mommy tummy!"

As much as I love my family, having the whole gang around can be overwhelming. The commotion of 16 people, six of them young kids, can be exhausting. By the end of the day Michelle and I were both pooped. She even fell asleep in my arms in the midst of her cousins running around and screaming and Michael Buble singing Christmas carols on the stereo.

She woke up again and was crying when I put her into the carseat but thankfully fell asleep for the whole ride home. There were just a few flakes of snow for part of my drive. As pretty as a white Christmas can be I HATE driving in snow. It terrifies me. Especially now with the baby I don't want to take any chances. So when we got the snow after Christmas, I didn't go anywhere. I've been in hibernation mode. I'm not going to drive in snow if I can avoid it. Most days I stay in my pjs all day. My neighbour was kind enough to shovel my driveway for me. Aside from running out for two seconds to put the garbage out, I haven't been outside in several days!

I feel blessed to have my big crazy family. I love them so much and I cherish time spent with them. I'm glad that we're close. I know that some families don't bother with each other at all. I also love my own little family of two (three if you include my cat, Ali and she is part of the family.) Christmas Eve was peaceful. Christmas Day was boisterous. It was nice to experience both. Though it's a bit sad to have it all over with now it's also a bit of a relief. Christmas can be stressful (especially shopping which is close to impossible with the baby). Once Christmas is over I don't like seeing or hearing anything to do with Christmas. I couldn't wait to get the Christmas tree down and the decorations away. I like having the tree out before Christmas (since early November) but as soon as Christmas is over, I can't wait to put it all away and reclaim my living room.

I can't believe the year is almost over. 2012 has been such a rollercoaster year. It started out horrendously with heartbreak and difficulty but wound up being the best year of my life because of my little Michelle.

The world was supposed to end on December 21st so many people were saying. It didn't. Now a New Year is beginning. There's something about a new year that fills you with hope. Now that I have Michelle there is more to look forward to than ever. It's uncharted territory for me and there are still so many unanswered questions. Decisions I have to make. I'm hoping for the best. If there's one thing I've learned in 2012 it's that you just never know what might happen. And that even when things seem difficult or impossible if you have faith somehow things work out.

As this is my last post of 2012 I wanted to take a moment to say a big THANK YOU to my readers for following my journey this year! I was surprised when I looked at my stats to see that there were thousands of readers around the globe. Most in the U.S. and Canada but also as far as Europe, Russia, Australia and United Arab Emirates. I started this blog in late March during my second trimester of pregnancy. It became a diary of my experiences while pregnant. Then I wrote about my labour (in late July) and the challenges of caring for a newborn. Writing is therapeutic for me. When I have a bad day I know that I can vent about it here. When I have a good day, the blog is a way to relive it and celebrate it. Writing about the highs and lows of life as a single Mom is part of what keeps me sane! A special thank you to those who offered comments and encouragement. Sometimes I feel like I'm alone and it's nice to be reminded that there are others who understand because they've been there too.

Though it's often difficult to find the time, I plan to continue this blog through Michelle's first year and beyond. Creative expression has always been important to me and I like to have this outlet. I also want to record Michelle's history. This is her story as much as mine. My mother kept detailed baby books when we were growing up. This blog is my version of a baby book (though I am also making notes offline.) Time goes by so fast. Every moment is precious to me and this (like photography) is my way of holding on.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Yay! We're still here! December 21st 2012 came and went and as far as I can tell, the world is still intact. Silly Mayans! Now we can look forward to Christmas in a few days.

I took Michelle to visit Santa. It was a last minute decision. My sister had asked if I was going to get a picture of Michelle with Santa. Though I thought it would be cute I was reluctant to bring her because I was expecting the worst. Any outing with Michelle is a bit of a crap shoot. What will she do? Will she scream? Will she poo? I was afraid there would be a huge line-up for Santa or that she'd catch something from him (after Michelle getting sick with a cold last month I'm paranoid about her being exposed to germs. With kids crawling on him all day I can't imagine anyone having more germs on him than Santa!) But after seeing my sister's photo of her kids with Saint Nick I kept thinking what a nice souvenir it would be of Michelle's first Christmas. So I decided to give it a go.

We were off to a rough start with Michelle wailing in the car. "This doesn't bode well..." I sighed. Then getting out of the car there was an icy cold blustery wind that nearly took the stroller out of my hands. My hair was blowing in my face, my eyes were watering. I started to think this was a mistake. At least Michelle had been distracted by the cold gusts of wind and stopped crying. As we made our way through the mall I couldn't believe my eyes -- there was NO LINE-UP for Santa! Bonus! Then I was thrilled that Michelle not only behaved but even gave us (the girl working the booth and I making noises and faces) a smile for the photo! I was so glad that I'd gone. I was happy with my outfit choice for her too. Her little striped red and white sleeper made her look like a little candy cane. I'm going to try to make it a tradition to get her photo with Santa every year though I know it may not always work out. I was one of those kids that screamed on Santa's knee when I was little. Let's face it, with that red suit and big white beard, he is a little scary.

Picking up stamps afterward proved more challenging than I'd anticipated. Shoppers Drug Mart was actually sold out so I had to go to a little convenience store at the other end of the mall. Michelle was running out of patience by then and starting to fuss so I was literally running through the mall pushing the stroller at breakneck speed. Out of my peripheral vision I caught a few smiles and raised eyebrows as I motored through the mall like Mario Andretti on Red Bull. Unfortunately it was pretty crowded with Christmas shoppers so occasionally I got stuck in slow moving pedestrian traffic (which to me is even more annoying than vehicular traffic when you're in a hurry!) Please move to the right to let faster traffic pass! I rolled my eyes and meandered around them. Even Michelle stopped crying and looked up at me curiously. Mama was on a mission. When I got to the store I realized it had been a long time since I'd bought stamps. Last I knew they were around 50 cents. Now they've gone up to 65 cents. Between direct deposit, telephone banking and emails etc, I rarely have to send anything by snail mail anymore.

As hurried as I was to get home with Michelle before she had a meltdown, I did pause for a moment to admire the Nativity Scene. To see the real meaning of Christmas, in the middle of a shopping mall amidst the hustle and bustle of shoppers scrambling to buy armloads of gifts, was touching to me. Sometimes we forget what it's really all about. It is Jesus' birthday after all. Unfortunately he gets overshadowed by Santa Claus, Christmas trees and presents, just as Easter (Christ's resurrection from the dead and ascension into Heaven) gets lost in egg hunts and chocolate bunnies. They are Christian holidays yet many of the people celebrating don't even believe in Jesus. People forget (or maybe don't even know) what these holidays actually represent.

Apparently it's not politically correct to say Merry Christmas. I heard that in schools they have to say "Happy Holidays" to be respectful to everyone who may have different beliefs. I certainly don't mean to be disrespectful when I say Merry Christmas. It's what I believe. I wouldn't be offended if someone said Happy Hanukkah to me. I'd just smile and wish them the same or tell them I'm not Jewish but I certainly wouldn't be upset about it.

We had a nice visit at my sister's place. Of course my brother in law got a big Christmas tree again. It's actually not quite as huge as previous trees (believe it or not. Some of them looked like they were transplanted from Algonquin Provincial Park!) but still massive compared to an average Christmas tree. My brother in law doesn't believe in doing anything small. Many of the ornaments are large scale as well. Some of the balls are bigger than my head! Their living room is two stories high so it accommodates enormous trees. I'm not exactly sure how he gets them in the house! I've never had a real tree myself. I'm happy with my artificial white one (a gift from my sister years ago.)

My niece Shannon asked me what I wanted for Christmas this year. I told her I didn't really want or need anything in particular, I'd rather have things for Michelle. Like the shirt says, she is definitely my favourite present. The best (and most unexpected) gift of my life. Though she still has her moody moments, overall she has been getting better and is a joy most of the time. I love her smile, her giggle, her little sounds from soft noises and coos to ear-piercing shrieks of excitement. She's always making me laugh. Sometimes I'm so exhausted I can barely stand but her energy is infectious. Seeing how happy she is to play and jump around (in her jumperoo and jolly jumper) perks me up too.

Michelle is getting better at sitting. Of course she is only four months and I read that babies usually don't sit unassisted until six months. As with anything practice makes perfect. I try to give her time every day to experiment with sitting and standing as well as her "tummy time" which she's an expert at now and is close to crawling. She sits well in her Bumbo and when propped but couldn't sit up without support for more than a second until now. It's almost like sitting on Santa's knee had a magical effect because after we got home that day she was sitting up for several seconds on her own (of course she was on my soft bed where she could topple over without getting hurt.) She balanced herself quite well with her hands at her sides for support. I took several pictures of her and even a video (see below).

Michelle sitting video --
I can't believe Christmas is in just a few days! Thankfully I got my shopping done. It's not easy with the baby so I'm relieved not to have to go out again. My family agreed to scale back somewhat this year, mostly just buying for the kids. I know that Michelle is too young to understand or appreciate it but I still want her first Christmas to be special. She seems to like the Christmas tree. She gazes in wonder at the lights and glittery ornaments.
I often have to sing her lullabies to get her to sleep. One night I decided to sing her Christmas carols and to record it for Youtube. I thought it would be cute to sing a few Christmas classics and have her fall asleep on video. It didn't quite pan out that way. Instead I sang 10 Christmas songs, was losing my voice (and running out of songs that I knew by heart!) and she was still WIDE AWAKE. I posted the video anyway. I'd been wanting to do a Christmas video of some sort and could never find the time. Here is the video:
Singing carols to Michelle --

So many things I used to take for granted now mean so much more with Michelle in my life. She reminds me that life is a precious gift and that every day is a new adventure. This Christmas will be my most fun and most exciting ever since I was a kid. I love singing carols to Michelle (which I've been doing at night as well as in the car. She seems to prefer me to the radio and doesn't cry as long as I keep the show going!), reading her "Twas the Night Before Christmas" (she seems to enjoy it. I've made it part of our nightly routine this month) and I can't wait to share Christmas Day with the whole gang (though with six kids running amok, it may be complete anarchy!)

I want to wish everyone who celebrates Christmas a very Merry Christmas! To anyone else, Happy Holidays -- Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Eid al-Adha, Bodhi Day, Winter Solstice, Festivus, whatever you believe -- may your days be merry and bright! I think that universally this month should be about love and celebration -- cherishing time with the ones you care about, reflecting on the year that's passed and looking forward to the new year ahead. When I look back at the last year and all that I've been through I still can't believe it. It's been quite a journey. I'm grateful for all of it, even the most difficult moments because they led me here. And here, with my little girl, is a pretty great place to be.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The End is Near...?

The world is supposed to end in a few days -- On Friday, 12-21-12. Apparently the Mayan calendar (which has accurately predicted, down to the minute, every celestial event, every lunar and solar eclipse that has ever occurred over the past several millennia) marks December 21st 2012 as the end of days. This "long count" calendar spans 5000 years and just happens to end this Friday. Some would argue that since the Mayans didn't even seem to foresee their own end coming, anything they said should be taken with a grain of salt! Others believe that since they've been right about everything else, it must really be the end. Still others suggest that it is not the end, as in an Apocalypse, but just the end of an age or an era. It is the dawn of a new era, perhaps an evolution in human consciousness. That's my hope anyway. I really don't think that all life is suddenly going to end, that a giant meteor or some other extinction level event is coming to wipe us all out. At least I hope not!
How is it supposed to end? There are many theories out there -- asteroids, solar flares, polar shifts, fires, floods, natural disasters, chemical or biological warfare, economic collapse, depletion of resources, an epidemic. Aliens. Zombies. The movies have always had a field day with the idea, preying on our primal fears. They are creepy because on some level we think "What if?" There was a show on the other day that was investigating whether the zombie idea could happen. Apparently if the rabies virus were to mutate (as many other animal diseases have mutated and transferred to humans) then people could become brain-damaged, violent savages. A comforting thought. It also touched on how some people are hypnotized to become like mindless zombies -- such as the followers of Jim Jones who were all persuaded to commit mass suicide. The scary thing is that a crackpot with power can do a lot of damage (just look at Hitler.) Or aliens may be coming to claim the planet. To me the scariest scenarios are the ones that touch on resource depletion. If the world did run out of water or oil for example then we would be screwed. Especially without water. The Mad Max scenario wouldn't be too far-fetched if that were the case. Fighting over limited resources would get ugly. Then there's the "bee" idea as well -- I remember hearing a quote "If the bee disappears, mankind has four years." Without pollination there would be no crops, no food. Eventually we'd all starve. More disturbing is the fact that the bee population has diminished significantly and inexplicably. Someone suggested it might be the cellphones that are killing them. A fragile economy, random acts of violence, natural disasters -- there certainly is enough in the news to worry about and it may seem like the end of the world sometimes.
While everyone may wonder "What if" to some degree, some people carry it to insane lengths. There are a slew of "Doomsday Preppers" (it's actually a TV show. I caught a few moments of it the other day while flipping channels) who are stockpiling supplies and an arsenal of weapons for the coming Armaggedon. I have since learned that Nancy Lanza (mother of the killer in the Connecticut school shooting) was actually preparing for doomsday when she purchased her guns. She believed there may be an economic collapse and that she would need to defend herself against violent hordes in a kill or be killed post-Apocalyptic world. Ironically and tragically, the weapons that were supposed to protect her life actually ended it. If only she had realized how fragile her son was and not inadvertently provided him with the means to end not only her life and his own but the lives of 26 innocent people including children. Last Friday was certainly the end of the world for many in Newtown. As I said in my last post, GUNS ARE FOR COWARDS. If no one had them, no one would need them. I wish they didn't even exist. I hear that gunmakers' stocks are plummeting since the Sandy Hook massacre. Good. They should all go out of business. They are profiting from death. Guns are anti-life. The excuse that you have them for self-defense is hogwash. More often than not they end up in the wrong hands and innocent lives are lost.

Some would say that the strange events of the last couple of years have been leading up to a final catastrophic event, that they serve as signs that the end is coming. Granted there have been a lot of tragedies and natural disasters but there have always been tragedies and disasters throughout history. Someone is always saying the world is going to end and it's still here. Just out of curiosity, I checked NASA's website to see if there were any massive asteroids heading our way. There are not. (Mind you, the doomsayers would claim this is because the powers that be don't want to create a panic so they are hiding the truth from the masses.)

I don't believe the world is going to end in a few days. For one thing, I have a renewal sticker on my license plate that doesn't expire until 2013. More importantly I have a new baby girl that I have to see grow up (mind you, anyone who knew me through the years and how dead set I was against having kids would say that my being a Mom in itself is the seventh sign of the Apocalypse!) It's exciting watching her grow. At four months now she can sit for a few seconds on her own and can even stand for a couple of seconds (though I'm ready to catch her when she wobbles). She's getting more talkative with squeals, screams and raspberries. She has her hungry whine down to a science and now she's started making a new "H" sound. I'm trying to get her to say "Hi!" I mimick her breathy "H" and then make a long "i" sound hoping she'll take the cue. She just smiles at me like, "Come on Mom, get real! I'm 4 months old!!"

I wonder what the doomsayers are doing right about now? Are they stocking bomb shelters, driving to the wilderness, heading for the hills? You don't hear much about it, other than when you catch a documentary on the subject on the learning channel. It's always a small group, the lunatic fringe that catches the Apocalypse fever. Some people just seem to need to jump to the worst possible conclusion. Most of us seem to be carrying on as though nothing is wrong. I see people driving, walking, shopping, going to the drive-thru at McD's. No one seems panicked. When they mention the 21st it's with a light heart, as though it's all a big joke. As I mentioned in a previous post, Old Navy even had an ad campaign called "Cheermageddon!" with a picture of an asteroid. I don't think the majority take the Mayan prediction seriously at all. Most people are preparing for Christmas. The 21st is just a blip on the radar.

My Mom was a little worried (it's what she does!) What if there is something to this whole 12-21-12 thing? She wanted to make sure I would be with her on the 21st so we'd be together if it was the end of the world. I sarcastically suggested that I don't know if it's a good idea to drive that day. The highway may be packed with frantic commuters. Besides I heard that the actual end time is midnight on December 21st. So I'll count down to midnight and if we're still here, we should be good to go! It reminds me of counting down the seconds to Y2K (when all the computers were supposed to blow up because of the year 2000. So stupid!) only to have nothing happen. It was so anti-climactic. I was at a party with my boyfriend at the time. We were kind of hoping the power would go out or something. That would have been cool at least. Just a little something to give us a thrill. Instead, after all the build-up and fear, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HAPPENED! My Mom had been a little nervous about the whole thing and had stockpiled bottled water and canned goods just in case. I'm not sure why the year rolling over to 2000 would suddenly diminish the water supply but who knows?

Some people seem to want to create a panic. I know that some crackpot last year was saying the world was going to end in May 2011 and that everyone else had it wrong. He was so certain. My Mom was worried about it (she really shouldn't watch the news or read the papers they just feed her worst fears!) and didn't want me to go to Florida (Armaggedon was supposed to take place, according to this one guy, during my road trip to Daytona Beach with my boyfriend at the time.) I figured if the world was going to end then why not go out with a bang and have the adventure of my life driving south in a convertible with the man of my dreams (who turned out to be a nightmare, but everyone has their flaws!) As it turned out, nothing happened at all. I wonder how these people react when they're expecting and prepared for the end and it doesn't happen. Are they relieved, ecstatic, grateful? Or do they feel confused and stupid? Most likely they will say that the Apocalypse is coming at some later date. Some people just love to perpetuate the fear. Some are even profiting from it (there are businesses selling Apocalypse supplies such as gas masks, bomb shelters, underground condos, etc -- I guess they'll be out of business after Friday!) Only a minority believe Friday is the end. The majority don't seem too concerned or convinced.

All I can say is that the world better not end. There is far too much to live for. Michelle just started giggling. I even managed to catch her on video (see the link). I have to hear her say her first words, take her first steps, to watch her graduate from university. It can't end now. It's just getting started. She has so many milestones to go through. So much to learn and discover. So many adventures. The world can't end on the 21st. What about Christmas?  I can't miss Michelle's first Christmas!

One of the songs I like to sing to Michelle (it often takes A LOT of lullabies to get her to sleep!) is the spider's song from the animated film "Charlotte's Web" -- "How very special are we, for just a moment to be part of life's eternal rhyme. How very special are we to have in our family tree Mother Earth and Father Time..." The world has been around a long time. It changes and evolves. We are part of a story that began millions of years ago and hopefully will continue millions of years after we're gone. It is a gift to be alive, to be on this beautiful planet, however long that happens to be.

The truth is, as the Bible says, that we don't actually know the day or the hour when the end will come. The important thing is to make the most of your time while you are here. Enjoy yourself. Live. Laugh. Love. Learn. Live each day as if it's your last, as the cliche goes. I am so grateful to have Michelle. She was the biggest surprise and the best gift of my entire life. I love her so much. Each day with her is a blessing (yes even the difficult days!) I am looking forward to many more days to come.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Parent's Worst Nightmare

Of course there have been other horrific school shootings in the past, but the Sandy Hook School shooting on Friday December 14th in Newtown, Connecticut affected me more deeply than any other for a couple of reasons. This time it was an elementary school and most of the victims were younger than ever (six years old). Also this time I'm a Mom and listening to the story as a parent makes it that much more disturbing. It's a parent's worst nightmare to have something happen to your child. Your child is the most precious thing in your life. My heart goes out to the families of the victims. I can't begin to imagine how they can cope with this horrible tragedy. You drop your kids off at school in the morning. Then you get a message on your phone that there's been a shooting at their school. You rush there frantically, not knowing what to expect. You wait helplessly for news. You watch as other parents are reunited with their kids who had been evacuated safely. Then you are told that if you haven't been reunited with your child, you won't be, ever again. Though authorities hadn't identified the victims (a process that was going to take many more hours to accomplish) it was obvious to distraught parents that their missing children were among the victims inside the school.

Normally I don't watch the news (I can't stand doom and gloom. It's depressing and makes me feel helpless. The news is always bad news. It's all negative. I try to focus on the beauty of life, not the darkness) but when this story broke it was everywhere. I had Dr. Oz on TV while I was nursing Michelle and suddenly saw a banner at the bottom of the screen saying there had been a shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. An ELEMENTARY SCHOOL?! What the?! I tuned in to CNN to hear the full story. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. How could someone shoot children? Even the most cold-blooded of killers throughout history usually choose adult victims. Children are so innocent. To even think of harming them is beyond despicable which is why even among criminals it is believed that anyone who hurts a child (a pedophile for example) is vile, detestable and deserves to be punished accordingly (in prison they often have to be separated from other inmates who might beat or kill them.) To harm a child is unthinkable. It's beyond evil. Even the most hardened criminals know that.

All I kept thinking was "Why?!" Reporters were asking the same thing, wondering what possible motive there could be for someone to forcibly enter a school and murder 20 children and 6 adults? No one seemed to have an answer. Only one or two people may have been able to answer that (the shooter and his mother) and they're no longer alive to ask.

Later I searched online to see what I could find out about the gunman.

The shooter, Adam Lanza, was 20 years old. He had killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, a retired teacher from Sandy Hook, in her home then drove her car to the school where he shot the principal, a psychologist, other staff and a large number of students aged 6-7 years old with his mother's high powered rifle before finally killing himself. The guns (a Bushmaster .223 caliber high powered rifle which was used in the murders, as well as a Glock 10 mm and Sig Sauer 9 mm found onscene) were registered to his mother. His parents were divorced. His father and older brother Ryan lived out of town (apparently he had 24 year old Ryan's identification on him which led investigators to believe his brother was the killer at first). He lived in a nice home. People described him as intelligent (some even called him a genius), quiet, mild-mannered and polite. Others referred to him as awkward, socially inept and withdrawn. Apparently he had Asperger's Syndrome, a mild form of autism. The disorder is marked by difficulty communicating and a lack of empathy which can make social interaction a challenge. This certainly in no way explains how he would be driven to senselessly kill a class full of children and educators. There is no evidence that Asperger's leads to violent crime. Others suggested that he had a personality disorder. It's hard to say if he may have been suffering from another mental illness (such as schizophrenia) which hadn't been diagnosed. One would think there must have been some warning signs. He had no criminal record but there must have been some red flags in his behaviour. You don't wake up one day and become a killer. I read that his mother was no longer working so that she could be home with Adam to take care of him. Obviously his mother was aware he had issues but presumably didn't know how bad it was. If she had known what a danger he was, to himself and others (including herself) one would assume she'd have been more careful about keeping her weaponry out of his hands.

The incident is heartbreaking but more than that, it is infuriating. The only thing worse than an unspeakable tragedy is a preventable one. This shouldn't have happened. Why is it so easy in the United States to acquire guns? They should be banned. Aside from the military and law enforcement, NO ONE should be allowed to have them. There are far too many incidents where they end up in the wrong hands -- sometimes the hands of disturbed men who go on a killing spree and sometimes (which doesn't always make the news) in the hands of children who end up accidentally injuring or killing themselves or others. I don't know why on earth Nancy Lanza felt she needed an arsenal of weapons (including several handguns and assault rifles) in her home but if she had even an inkling that her son was mentally and emotionally unstable she should have kept them well hidden and under lock and key. If she hadn't become one of the victims I think she would have to be considered an accomplice to murder and charged with criminal negligence causing death because she gave her son the means to become a grim reaper and massacre a room filled with innocent people, including small children. Shooters are cowards. Stop giving them guns to hide behind! Obviously something was terribly wrong with Adam, whether he suffered a psychotic episode or whatever led him to this heinous act but if he didn't have access to guns, he could not have done what he did. If he snapped for whatever reason, he may have taken his own life by some other means, but at least the lives of the victims would have been spared. Armed with only a knife he probably wouldn't have made it past the school's new security measures and even if he did, an assailant with a knife is limited and much easier to subdue. No one stands a chance against a gun, so it gives the weak and desperate a feeling of power. Guns should be banned. They should be destroyed. No longer manufactured. No longer sold. No longer allowed. If they no longer existed then the majority of violent crime would be eliminated. I hope this devestating incident is enough to send the message. It has to stop. The U.S. can not allow innocent children to be slaughtered this way again.

It's impossible to know what the killer was thinking. Was he angry with his mother, with himself? Why take it out on strangers and innocent children? There was some speculation that maybe he'd had an argument with administrators at the school, but apparently that was unfounded. He had no previous altercation with the school, seemingly no cause for anger toward them. Did he suffer a psychotic episode? Was he having hallucinations or delusions? What was he trying to accomplish? Unless there was a note or unless his brother can shed some light on the matter, we may never know.

I don't know what the process is to acquire a gun in the U.S. I would hope that there is at least a process. A background check. A psychological exam. Of course even if the one purchasing the gun is a stable, upstanding citizen, what if they happen to have a psychotic son living with them? Shouldn't there be laws about keeping the guns locked safely away, not where they can be accessed? If it weren't so easy to buy a gun in the U.S., maybe there wouldn't be so many shootings. Of course people argue that most killers don't use registered weapons, there are so many unregistered ones, black market ones out there. My feeling is that it's too bad guns exist at all. Nancy Lanza had several guns. It appears she was a bit of an enthusiast (if only she'd had another, less deadly hobby!) If it weren't for her collection, 26 people would be celebrating the holidays with their families instead of lying in a morgue. Adam couldn't have procured a weapon on his own (apparently he tried to and was denied. You have to be 21 years old to register guns in Connecticut.) Without his mother's rifle whatever insane and homicidal impulses he had would have remained in his head and not acted out.

It's maddening. You can't help but wonder what if. What if we could go back in time and Adam could get the psychological help he needs whether through counselling or other treatment? What if Nancy didn't have all those guns or at the very least didn't have them out in the open where Adam could get his hands on them? What if on December 14th, Adam just had a breakdown while in the care of mental health specialists who could help him and the kids at Sandy Hook Elementary enjoyed an uneventful sunny day at school? If only we could go back and undo the mistakes that led to the deaths of so many beautiful, kind, happy, innocent people, including young children who had their whole lives ahead of them. Of course there is no going back. We can only move forward.

To the parents and families of the victims I want to extend my most heartfelt condolences. Also to the surviving students and teachers I empathize with the horror, the fear and grief you must be suffering after what you've encountered. We may never understand why this happened. All we can do is pray that it never happens again and hope that the powers that be will take a stand and put an end to this madness once and for all.

Newtown was a charming, safe, peaceful town with a low crime rate. There had only been one homicide there in the past decade. Now suddenly 28 members of the community had been killed in one day, in less than an hour. No one could have imagined something like this happening there. The town was so close knit that everyone was affected by the tragedy, even if not directly, the victims were people that they knew -- friends, acquaintances. Hundreds flocked to the vigil that was held at Newton's Saint Rose of Lima Church that night. And around the world, millions were praying for peace and comfort for the distraught families of the victims. A massacre like this would be shocking anywhere, even in a high crime urban area. The fact that it happened in a sweet little town like Newtown is a terrifying reminder that it can happen anywhere. Anywhere that guns are allowed. Guns are powerful instruments of evil. They can turn a quiet, polite boy into a monster. They can turn a peaceful town and a classroom full of angels into an unimaginable hell.

I don't know how the families can get through their loss, especially at this time of year. The only comfort they may find is that if they believe in an afterlife they can be sure that their loved ones are in a better place. A beautiful place where there is no violence, no suffering, no pain.

Heaven welcomes 26 more angels this Christmas. Their names are:

(children 6 and 7 years old)
Charlotte Bacon
Daniel Barden
Olivia Engel
Josephine Gay
Dylan Hockley
Madeleine Hsu
Catherine Hubbard
Chase Kowalski
Jesse Lewis
Ana Marquez-Greene
James Mattioli
Grace McDonnell
Emilie Parker
Jack Pinto
Noah Pozner
Caroline Previdi
Jessica Rekos
Avielle Richman
Benjamin Wheeler
Allison Wyatt

(school staff --)
Dawn Hochsprung
Anne Marie Murphy
Lauren Gabrielle Rousseau
Mary Sherlach
Victoria Soto
Rachel Davino

and Nancy Lanza, who was reputedly a kind and loving woman. Unfortunately for herself and the others she made two fatal errors -- collecting guns and allowing her son access to them.

May the victims rest in peace and may their families find peace and healing eventually. May they cherish the memories they shared with their loved ones and focus on their lives instead of their deaths. The people in our lives are a gift, however long they are with us, and we have to be grateful for them. We can also find comfort in the belief that we will be reunited with them again, in Heaven.

At least it seems that this incident has served as a final wake up call to the nation. President Obama has said that he's committed to action on gun control. Whatever that means. Probably not (as I would wish) completely doing away with guns altogether. At least maybe they will be a little more careful about how they sell them and who they sell them to. There are people that won't be happy about it. Frankly that shouldn't matter. According to their Bill of Rights, Americans have "the right to bear arms." I'm sure this was meant as a right to have a weapon to defend oneself against attack (as in a war). I'm sure the phrase was not meant to endorse guns being used against innocent victims, including children. It would seem to me that the right to own guns is anathema to other more important rights -- "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Anyone with a heart, anyone who is a parent, anyone with any compassion or decency has to see that incidents like this can never happen again. America has to take a stand to prevent it. Guns are anti-life. Plain and simple.

This incident may make people more fearful. They may see the world as a dangerous place. I don't think living in fear is the answer. The truth is that most people are basically good. Unfortunately some people are evil. Some are broken. Some lash out in ways that we may never understand. While we may not be able to fix or cure them all, we can at the very least try to reduce the damage that they can do. We can look for warning signs and try to get them help before they are out of control. Most importantly, we can take away their guns! For so long it seems that weapons have been glamourized in movies and in video games. It's one thing for a video game character to walk into a room and annihilate everyone in it. It's quite another thing when someone does that in real life. It's time that people tell it like it is: GUNS ARE FOR COWARDS! Imagine what a beautiful world it would be without them. None of these killing sprees could happen.

A story like this makes you realize just how precious and fragile life is. Our children are our hearts. They are our future. After hearing about the tragedy, I held Michelle tighter than ever. I am so grateful to have her in my life. She is everything to me. I love her so much that I want to protect her from ever being hurt. I start to understand why my Mom was so overprotective with us. Bad things can happen. As much as you try to live in order and harmony, you can't control the world. You can't eliminate all chaos and cruelty, all random acts, all violence, all tragedy. But you do your best. You can take precautions. You try to keep your children safe from danger. Life is precious and must be protected. Especially the lives of our children.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Go Elf Yourself!

Though "National Lampoons Christmas Vacation" always makes me laugh and I love the classic animated features like "The Grinch that Stole Christmas" and "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," I think my very favourite Christmas movie has to be "Elf." Will Ferrell is absolutely hilarious. He's funny in every movie he's in but there's something especially comical about a grown man (a tall one at that) dressed in an elf suit. As silly as it is, Elf's wide-eyed innocence and optimism is touching. He's just a sweet misguided man (who acts like a little boy) looking for love from his jaded estranged father and teaching everyone around him about Christmas spirit in the process. It always makes me cry. I'm a sentimental fool. I can't help it. It's genetic.

Anyone who wants to see him or herself as an elf can visit the Office Max "Elf Yourself" website (if you click on the links to my videos you will see a "Create your own" button on the page. To date, hundreds of millions of elves have been created on the site.) I remember seeing it for the first time years ago at work. Someone had sent me the link in an email. Last year my brother sent one in an email with his whole family as dancing elves. It's good for a laugh and only takes a minute to do.

This year I couldn't resist "elving" Michelle and I. She doesn't give me a lot of time to do things these days. She's been a night owl lately up until 2 a.m. sometimes and by then I'm too tired to do anything. So I've started trying to do some things while she's awake -- including checking my email etc in the afternoon. I managed to make the elf videos with her on my lap. It took less than a minute to upload the photos and resize them for the elf bodies. When I played the elf video she seemed to enjoy it.

Here are Michelle and I as dancing elves in the classic Christmas video singing "We wish you a Merry Christmas!" (note -- apparently these videos only work until January. I guess after then the link won't work so I took a photo of the screen as a souvenir, as you can see!)

Here's the "Soul" Christmas video, starring Michelle and me:

It's funny seeing Michelle as a dancing elf. It's kind of eerie. She can't even stand yet, much less walk or dance.

She did stand for two seconds on her own the other night though. I had my hands waiting on either side of her to catch her if she collapsed. I was amazed when I let go for a second that she was actually sturdy enough to stand on her own at ONLY FOUR MONTHS OLD! It's actually kind of scary. She will be crawling soon, standing, walking. There are probably a million things I'm going to have to change and childproof once she's on the move. I'm not sure what I'll do. I've heard of people hiring an expert to come into the house and tell them all the hazards they need to address so the house is safe for the baby. I'd be scared they'd tell me to get rid of everything I own!

I've already made some changes -- like trading my glass and chrome coffee table for a more practical leather storage ottoman (filled with toys). I know about childproof doorknobs and clips for the cupboards. I have packs of outlet covers. I have baby gates, including one I'll have to screw into the wall at the top of the stairs. A friend told me I'd have to get rid of my books in the living room. I'm not doing that. I just hope she isn't tempted by them. She'll have her own books and toys and I don't think mine will entice her. I will have to find another home for the breakables (glass sculptures and vases) that are on the shelves of course. One time when my brother's family was visiting my niece broke a decorative plate (with a painting of St Peter's in Rome on it) that was in my kitchen. I have a collection of Eiffel Towers as well on my credenza. My kitchen houses my Europe collection -- I backpacked in Europe with a boyfriend in 1993 and became obsessed with collecting memorabilia of the places we went -- including London, Paris, Rome, Florence, Venice, Munich -- once we got back home. I couldn't buy souvenirs while we were there since we had to carry everything on our backs. A shopoholic who can't buy souvenirs?! It was torture! So I made up for it by collecting souvenirs at flea markets, etc. It was kind of strange when we got back actually because I kept seeing the places we went -- Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria, Germany was suddenly on collector plates, calendars and books. The Eiffel Tower was everywhere. My souvenirs are part of what makes my house a home. They are pieces of me, the life that I have lived so far. I really don't want to pack them all away. Of course Michelle is the most important thing in my life now. She is my present and my future but I don't want to have to trash my past. So many wonderful memories. In any event, I figure I'm safe for a few more months at least so I won't worry about it yet. Maybe I'll get lucky and she will understand that certain things are "off limits" or she'll be satisfied with her own plethora of toys and leave my trinkets alone. I can only hope.

Michelle is a lot of fun. She helps me to get in touch with my inner child and my inner silly elf! I've always wanted to find someone that I could be myself with. Some of my boyfriends appreciated my weird sense of humour but with Michelle I get to explore my silly side more than ever. It's my life's mission to keep her smiling and to make her laugh so I do whatever it takes. If anyone else heard or saw me they'd probably think I was nuts with my high pitched cute voices and silly songs (like singing "She did a poo," while I'm changing her, to the tune of "Definition" -- it was a game show in the 70s-80s. I think they used it in Austin Powers actually and a rap artist did a rap version of it as well. Anyway, it's quite ridiculous. I don't know why I do it. It just puts a positive spin on changing a diaper full of orange/green goop and she seems to get a kick out of it.) I have to be careful when I'm out with her to tone it down a little so that people don't think I'm completely bonkers. At home it's just her and I, and Ali so there's no one to say "You're weird!" Maybe once she can talk...

Monday, December 10, 2012

Baby, it's you!

For most of my adult life, I always spent every Christmas Eve with my boyfriend (whoever that happened to be at the time.) We'd have a quiet, romantic evening, just the two of us and exchange gifts and then I would celebrate Christmas day with my family (some boyfriends would join me at my family celebration, others went to celebrate with their own families). This year of course, there's no boyfriend in the picture. I'll be spending Christmas Eve with my little Michelle. I'm excited about her first Christmas, even though she won't really understand what's going on. She seems to admire the tree with its glittery ornaments. I have presents for her though I'll have to open them for her and of course she's too young to really appreciate them. These days she just sticks everything in her mouth so I did get a couple of teething toys. Obviously she doesn't have any presents for me but that's fine. I really don't want or need anything for Christmas this year. She is the greatest gift of my entire life.

I wrote her a song, "Baby, it's you" about being a single Mom and how she's my dream come true and the love I've always been searching for. I made a video using photos I've taken of her and the ones my friend James Harvey took of Michelle and I together.

On Christmas Eve, I'll cuddle up with Michelle under the Christmas tree, open her presents and read her "Twas the Night Before Christmas" -- it's a family tradition -- my Mom used to read it to us every year. We will enjoy our quiet little Christmas together. Then the next day we'll celebrate with the whole gang. It will be a pretty chaotic, boisterous Christmas with everyone there, including six kids. It's a treat to have everyone together for Christmas though. It didn't always happen. Most years we didn't all get to be together on Christmas day. I often had to work. My brother Mike and his wife take turns celebrating Christmas at their families, alternating each year. Last year neither Mike (my brother) nor I could make it for Christmas day so we celebrated as a family the weekend before Christmas. As luck would have it, this year it's Mike's turn for he and his wife to be with his family so we'll all be there for Michelle's Christmas. It will be nice for all the little cousins to see each other. Christmas is just a few weeks away but I wonder if Michelle will be doing anything new by then. Maybe she'll be able to sit up (she can now but with support). Maybe she'll be laughing more (she has giggled a couple of times and it was the cutest sound I've ever heard but most of the time she just has a silent laugh, a big open mouthed smile.) 
My family agreed that we should scale back this year and just buy presents for the kids (even that is a challenge with so many kids!) Luckily I was able to cash in my Air Miles for several Toys R Us gift cards which was a big help. Money is tight on Maternity Leave and I have to be really careful. My Mom hasn't been able to shop much this year either. I told her not to worry about it. She shouldn't be shopping anyway. Since my Dad retired they've had to be more careful financially as well. I told her that Christmas isn't about the presents anyway. It's about love. It's about family being together. I love Christmas. The tree. The carols. Getting together with everyone. Now Christmas will be even more exciting with Michelle. Especially in years to come where she's old enough to understand and appreciate it. Seeing her face light up with excitement over simple things (silly songs, faces I make, toys, sounds) is such a delight. She smiles so much. One day when I was out recently a woman asked how old she was. She thought Michelle was 10 months. The woman said Michelle seems very intelligent for 4 months old. She's so alert and makes eye contact with you and flashes a genuine smile. I'm so used to her smiling (she has from the beginning) but other people seem surprised at how much she smiles as well as how much she chatters in her own little babyspeak. So many strangers have remarked about how alert she is, how bright she seems and what an amazing smile she has. Of course I think she's amazing but I'm a little biased and certainly can't be objective! Of course her Grandma makes a big fuss of her too. I like hearing such positive comments from strangers because I figure if they're noticing it, it must be true.
Michelle is very sensitive and I have to be careful about my moods because she can pick up on them. I try not to get visibly angry in front of her (I used to curse out loud at other drivers. Now I just mutter under my breath if someone annoys me.) I try not to worry. I try not to look sad. A couple of times I've had to fight back tears. I don't want her to see me cry. I have to be strong for her. "It's OK," I say and force a smile when she can tell I'm upset and starts to mimick my worried face. I'm so relieved when she smiles again. She manages to pull me out of my bad moods. There isn't time to get down if I wanted to. She keeps me too busy. And she always ends up making me smile. There were times in the past when I let things get to me. I would overanalyze and get my mind spinning worrying about things. Now most of the time I'm happy because I have my angel with me. I have to make her happy and in the process it picks me up too.
I was always looking for a partner that I would share an unconditional love with. Someone to share my life with. Someone I could trust and admire. Someone who could make me laugh. Someone who would bring out the best in me. I never imagined that when I finally found that wonderful person that it wouldn't be a man but a baby girl. I'm not saying that I would never get involved in a romantic relationship again. I'm open to the possibility but I'm certainly not holding my breath and not trying to meet anyone by any means. I used to always feel like I "needed" a boyfriend in my life. The love I have for Michelle is different than any I've ever experienced and it fills my life so that I don't feel anything is missing. She is everything to me. Being a single Mom, though it can be challenging in so many ways (not having help physically, emotionally or financially) is so rewarding because I get to share a bond with her that is deep and fulfilling, more so than any relationship I've ever had. I'm glad it's just Michelle and I right now. Frankly a man would have been in the way. I wouldn't have had my full attention to give to Michelle. The first year of a baby's life is so crucial for their development. I really want to be there for her completely and not have anyone or anything get between us. I may be a bit of an obsessive Mom but I think that's OK. All the attention I'm giving her is helping her to learn and to feel loved. That is more important to me than anything. 

Friday, December 7, 2012


If you read my previous post, "Venting" then you know I had an absolutely horrendous shopping excursion at a grocery store that shall remain nameless. (I'll give you a hint -- it's just Basically Food...) A staff member was rude, a customer was even worse and Michelle had a Stage Three Meltdown at the checkout. I used to shop there because it's cheap but after that experience I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and frankly I don't think I'd go back if they were GIVING food away. Thankfully now another store has restored my faith in mankind and retail kind. This time I'm not venting, I'm raving. In a nutshell -- Walmart rocks!
After my grocery nightmare last week I actually never wanted to set foot in ANY store again, period. I was toying with the idea of becoming a shut-in and just ordering groceries online from now on (apparently it's only $12 for the delivery fee to Grocery Gateway, mind you they get their groceries from Longo's which tends to be on the pricey side. But it might be worth it to avoid the hassle.) Anyway I realized I needed a couple of things so I decided to bravely venture out again, this time to Walmart. Good old Walmart has everything. Groceries. Housewares. Clothes. You name it. I hoped that I'd make it through the store without incident.
I knew I was off to a good start when there was a "Parent with Child" parking space available right in front of the door. Score! I was quite pleasantly surprised. Most stores don't even have those spots (especially the bargain basement stores who couldn't care less about their customers) and even when a store actually has those spots, they are ALWAYS full. I finally caught a break. Then I managed to get a cart with a single bar across the front that accomodates the car seat (which doesn't always happen. The new stupid carts have a double bar so that the seat doesn't click on properly so you have to just hold onto the seat and hope it doesn't fall off. If I put it in the large part of the cart there would be no room to put anything else which defeats the purpose of shopping!) So that was awesome. With my trusty list in hand, I bee-lined it through the store grabbing what I needed (they actually had everything in stock) and hoping Michelle would let me finish without a screaming fit. Success! I was done and Michelle was still behaving. But when I headed for the checkout, my heart sank. There were MASSIVE line-ups. "Oh God," I thought, "here we go again!"
Then suddenly something miraculous happened.
As if he had read my mind, a very kind male employee (who, it turned out, was the manager) said "Come with me" and escorted me to a register with a "Lane closed" sign.
"But he's closed..." I said, incredulously.
"His break can wait. I don't want to leave a lady with a baby waiting. Just tell him Ron sent you."
Wow. Was this really happening? I got to bypass the line-ups? Was someone actually being considerate to a woman with a baby?!
So I told the cashier, whose name was James, that "Ron sent me." I thought he might be annoyed to have to wait for his break but he couldn't have been more friendly and enthusiastic. Michelle was so pleased not to be stuck in a line that she didn't even act up. Rather than complain, James was happy to help me out. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. A store that actually cares about its customers! Imagine that! Employees that are sweet and helpful, that act like it's their pleasure to help you. And Michelle wasn't crying. It was the perfect contrast to my hellish grocery store experience. I was grinning ear to ear. Something so simple but it had made my day. 
Then Ron came over to talk to James and I thanked the two of them again profusely.
"You can't imagine how much I appreciate this. I went through hell at (insert evil grocery store name here) the other day with her screaming at the checkout."
"We try to make our customers happy. After all, without you we wouldn't have a job."
And here I thought chivalry was dead. I hugged him.
"I'm going to tweet about this on Twitter!" I told him.
And I did. That night, I went on Twitter to thank Ron and James at Walmart for their amazing customer service.
Women with small babies shouldn't have to wait in a long line. Thank you Walmart and especially thank you to Ron for recognizing that! In the long run, he not only helped me but everyone in the area because they didn't all have to listen to a shrieking infant. The sound of a screaming baby is just about the most stressful noise there is, especially when it's your own.
I remember when Walmart was first coming to town, years ago. A lot of people were against it. They even had a petition going to ban it. Someone asked me to sign it. "Are you out of your mind?" I said at the time, "I love Walmart!" but today I mean that more than ever. Not only are their prices and selection great but their staff are friendly, kind and thoughtful. I hear that Walmart will even match prices so if you really wanted you could bring them the flyer from that hellhole bargain basement grocery store (that treats you like crap, doesn't care if you wait in line for 30 minutes with a screaming baby, has no parent parking, advertises a bunch of things on sale to get you into the store and has none of them in stock, employs a surly band of unhelpful nitwits and attracts customers who are rude busybodies who will insult you in line when your baby cries, but I'm not bitter! OK maybe a tad. Sorry this is probably the longest run-on parenthetical statement ever!) and still pay those prices for the things you need. The nice stores are too expensive and the inexpensive stores aren't nice. But then there's Walmart. It's clean. It's simple. It's affordable. Their slogan "Save money. Live better." is true.
With money being tight and shopping being just about my least favourite thing these days, I probably won't be going out much, but let me tell you, if I need something again, I'm heading to Walmart! No doubt. They kick the competition's a$$! They have no competition. Other stores can try to do what they do, but they don't come close. That was actually one of the arguments people had against Walmart coming to town. "They're going to put other stores out of business!" Well I can see why. Maybe other stores don't want your business. Maybe they don't know anything about customer service. Maybe they are charging too much. Why would I pay $50 for something if I can get it for $20? And why would I shop somewhere that treats me like garbage if I can shop somewhere that treats me with respect?
There's something comforting about Walmart too. The uniformity. They're pretty much the same everywhere you go. The ubiquity. They're everywhere. It feels like home. Someone even wrote a book about living in a Walmart. You could. It has everything you need.
I used to laugh at those photos on the internet -- The People of Walmart or "Walmartians." Some of them I thought had to have been photoshopped. Surely nobody actually dressed that way, even on Halloween. But now that I think about it, I think it's cool that an old man in a tutu, or a 400 lb woman in a bikini, or any nearly naked, cross-dressing, clown wig wearing, dinosaur tail wagging customer can shop there and not be turned away. It's refreshing to know that you are accepted and valued as a customer no matter what. "Give us your tired, your poor, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores..." Anyway, who am I to judge? These days I haven't been quite as particular about my own appearance. Half the time I'm wearing sweats, with my greasy hair in a ponytail, my face a mess. One day I came home and realized my mascara was smudged and running from getting caught in the rain and my hair was sticking up in a weird way at the back because I'd just thrown on a ponytail thing quickly so Michelle wouldn't pull my hair. Walmart doesn't care what you look like. Mullets. Colostomy bags. Butt cracks. Let it all hang out. "Welcome to Walmart" the greeter says as you enter the store. No matter who you are. Be yourself. Come on in and shop. 
The other cool thing about Walmart is when they start being open 24 hours. I don't know if that's already started this year or if it's just closer to Christmas. I remember previous years going shopping in the wee hours of the morning. Perfect for a night owl. It was so peaceful. No line-ups. There were a couple of questionable looking characters but I probably looked pretty questionable myself! Who shops at 3 a.m.? I do! Maybe not this year although it might be a good idea. Michelle would probably be asleep and there wouldn't be a line at all...
Not every trip to Walmart has gone as perfectly as my last one but overall, it's usually pretty good. I find what I need rather quickly. Usually the items they advertise are actually in the store (what a concept!) Efficiency. I love it. Get in. Get out. Michelle likes Walmart too. Mommy runs through the place in 15 minutes and sometimes doesn't even have to wait in line. Not like those other stores. Michelle doesn't even have time to get hungry or mess her diaper. Good customer service is good business. With so much competition out there, customer loyalty is everything. If you make your customers happy, they'll keep coming back. If you keep my baby and I happy, I'll be a loyal customer for life! If you alienate us, we may shake the dust off our proverbial sandals and never set foot in there again. Thank you again to Walmart for a pleasant shopping experience when I needed one most of all.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


To quote the film "Network," "I'm mad as Hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

This post is about unsolicited advice and where you can shove it. I'm sorry but I need to vent. I'll warn you now. This is not going to be a positive, life-affirming post. I'm angry and need to blow off some steam. Contents under pressure may explode. There was an "incident" recently at a grocery store. I kept quiet at the time, in the interest of civility, but I wanted to react and it's been eating away at me that I didn't say something to her. They say that the pen is mightier than the sword. My words, even if they could wound, will likely never meet their intended target but I have to get this out anyway. It's therapeutic for me if nothing else. If words are weapons I wish these could rip her to shreds but someone without a heart and made of tin is probably immune to hurt anyway.

I had a particularly Hellish day recently. It wasn't Michelle's fault. I can deal with a screaming infant. It's stressful but manageable. I love her which makes anything she does bearable. Besides, she's a baby, she doesn't know any better. What I can't deal with is an IMBECILE, a thoughtless stranger, a stupid, condescending, judgmental busybody who offered her misguided, unsolicited advice while in line at the grocery store while Michelle was having a meltdown. That I can't deal with. Please people, for the love of God, if you ever see a woman with a screaming baby, who is clearly already stressed to the MAX and rushing to bag her items as quickly as humanly possible, keep your idiotic comments to yourself!

Let me walk you through my little nightmare...

Michelle just turned 4 months. Some people have said it gets "easier" at 4 months. They lied. Don't get me wrong. Some days she is an angel -- well-rested, in good spirits, smiling, playing gleefully, sleeping peacefully, making adorable cooing noises. She's even started to giggle occasionally. But there are other days when she hasn't slept, won't sleep, screams and complains, isn't content to do anything for more than 2 minutes, won't let me put her down, won't give me a moment's peace. And God forbid if I try to go anywhere. I do try to avoid going out as much as possible but unfortunately I do have to eat. So once in a while a trip to the grocery store is a must.

Michelle is extremely demanding but I do my best to meet her demands. Breastfeeding every two hours or less. Changing her diaper 12 times a day or more. Not letting her cry for more than a few seconds before I attempt to comfort her somehow (usually by picking her up.) Entertaining her is a full-time job. Reading to her, singing to her, dancing with her, playing with her. It's gotten to the point where I not only meet her needs, I anticipate them. I'm changing her before she even has a chance to complain that she's wet or dirty (so far any time I've checked her diaper, it's needed changing. Once every hour or two at least. She is a non-stop pee and poop-making machine!) She doesn't need to cry to be fed anymore. She just makes a little "Uh uh" sound and I race to feed her. I cuddle and kiss her all day long. I sing silly songs and make funny voices. I couldn't be a more devoted Mom.

Most people wouldn't have the time to indulge their baby's every whim. Most people would have a partner, other children, a job, many other things that require their time and energy. Michelle owns me completely right now. She has my undivided attention. It's just her and me. I am literally at her beck and call 24-7. Because I don't have a partner, I don't get a break. Ever. Even if I'm sick as a dog and on no sleep and so weak it feels I'm going to collapse, my legs buckling under me. Once in a while when I'm visiting someone offers to hold her. That's the only break I get. Luckily now she will play for a few minutes on her play gym, in the jolly jumper, swing or jumperoo and she enjoys tummy time. So that buys me about half an hour a day to give my arms a rest.

Going shopping with Michelle has always been tricky. Very rarely I get lucky and she sleeps. The rest of the time, she cries. Sometimes she cries the entire time I'm shopping. Other times not until I'm checking out but it's almost every time. The problem is timing. It's nearly impossible to time it right because there is such a small window (about 15 minutes) where she isn't hungry and doesn't need to be changed. She eats every 2 hours or less and messes her diaper almost constantly. If you go out immediately after a feeding, she may poop. If you wait for her to poop then you're getting dangerously close to her next feeding. Either way is a recipe for disaster. It is a nightmare trying to change her in a public washroom and I worry about the germs. It just seems filthy and she puts her hands everywhere now and then puts her hands in her mouth. She wiggles around and rolls over so much it's hard to keep her on the tables they have in restrooms, if they even have them. Frankly it's more trouble than it's worth. It's easier to just wait to change her at home. As far as feeding goes I would never breastfeed her in public (especially not in a grocery store!) and I don't want to have to pump and bring a bottle every time I go shopping. So again it's just easier to feed her when I get home.  If I run through a store at warp speed and manage to get through it in under 15 minutes, she's usually OK. Unfortunately there are always things beyond my control -- products that can't be found, people getting in the way and of course the nightmarish line-up at the register. Michelle can tolerate being in her carseat in a cart as long as the cart is in perpetual motion. If you stop, the protest begins. And so long lineups at the cashier are horrendous. What I've started doing is taking her out of the seat if it's taking too long. As soon as she's in my arms she stops crying. So I hold her while I'm unloading my groceries onto the belt. It is much more awkward with only one arm but at least she isn't screaming. In fact she usually even smiles and coos at other people in line.

On this one particular day, a horrible day from the start, Michelle was cranky on too little sleep and I was rather irritable on next to no sleep myself. I made the mistake of trying to buy groceries. I didn't want to go out. I had been avoiding it for a while but I was completely out of most things including things I simply can't live without so I had no choice. I headed to the store with Michelle and she seemed to be OK. She had her soother. She wasn't crying. Perfect. I managed to find a cart that the carseat actually clips onto. (Another triumph. Unfortunately many of the stores have redesigned their carts with two metal bars going across the front instead of one so that the carseat doesn't clip onto it. Obviously they don't give a rat's ass about single moms like me who have to take their babies shopping.) So far so good. I had my list in hand and began racing through the store grabbing items and putting them in my cart as quickly as possible. Many of the sale items on the list were missing in action which figures but I let it go. Unfortunately green garbage bags (for compost) were at the top of my list. I couldn't live without them. I went to the section. The shelf was bare. Just a hole where the bags I needed were supposed to be. My heart sank. "You've got to be kidding me." The thought of dragging Michelle through another store made me shudder. Usually when something is missing on the shelves I ask a young male employee if there are any in the back and he promptly returns with a case full. On this day unfortunately there were no young men to be found and the only employee on the floor was a sour faced older woman. She looked annoyed before I even asked her about the bags and her reply was "If it's not on the shelf, we don't have it." "Are you sure? Usually the guys get things from the back." She rolled her eyes at me and said she'd check. Meanwhile, Michelle had lost patience and was starting to cry. "Oh God." I thought, "here we go." The woman took an eternity. I don't think she cared one straw that I was waiting with a fussy baby. She finally emerges from the back room and shakes her head. I wanted to throw up. Now I had to not only get through the line-up with a screaming baby, I had to go to another store to get the damn bags.

Of course there were only three cashiers working and long line-ups at each one. I picked what appeared to be the shortest line, but as you can imagine, Murphy's Law never fails and it was the worst one of all. The cashier took off to wander the store checking a price or something. We were going to be here a while. I took Michelle out of the carseat and held her in my arms. She stopped crying instantly. Now she was even smiling at the woman ahead of me in line. The woman smiled and commented on how cute Michelle was, asked how old she was, said it must be exciting to have her first Christmas coming up. She mentioned something about Mommy and Daddy but I forgave her. She couldn't know there was no Daddy. I didn't think it was worth mentioning. Finally it was my turn. The cashier had asked everyone else how they were. He didn't ask me. He probably took one look at my face and knew. I was stressed, exhausted and sweating (since I tend to have hot flashes, especially when holding a 14 lb baby while wearing a winter coat in a store.) I kept holding Michelle throughout the transaction, even while I put my credit card into the machine but when it was time to bag the groceries (which is close to impossible with one hand and especially when you're in the way with people waiting behind you) I put her back into her carseat. So of course she screamed bloody murder. There was no consoling her. She wouldn't take her soother. "Hang on lovebug. We're nearly done."

I was throwing the items in bags and throwing them into the cart as fast as I could, bruising fruit and denting boxes in the meantime. Suddenly, the brain-dead troll behind me, undoubtedly perturbed by the wailing has the nerve to bark at me accusingly "Talk to your baby!" Quite possibly the dumbest sentence ever uttered by a human in line at the grocery store. My first instinct was I wanted to punch the woman in the face. But I was in a hurry and didn't want to be arrested for assault. She wasn't worth the time or the breath that it would take to explain that I do talk to my baby all the time. I started when she was still in utero. If she was implying that I don't comfort my baby, the stunned see-you-next-tuesday had no idea what she was talking about. I couldn't be more devoted to Michelle. I know what she needs. She didn't need conversation at that moment. She wanted to be out of that seat, she was smiling moments before when in my arms. Unfortunately the law requires that I have her securely fastened into a child restraint seat while travelling in a vehicle. Michelle didn't want talking. She wanted to go home, be changed and nursed and cuddled, not waiting at a grocery store checkout. If I stood there trying to entertain her (an exercise in futility when Michelle is that angry) it would have just been a longer wait until we'd be safely back home, not to mention a longer wait for those waiting in line behind me. If you don't bag your groceries fast enough then there is no room for the next person's items to continue along the conveyor belt. That woman obviously thought I was a bad Mom for seemingly ignoring my baby while I threw groceries into the cart. But moving as fast as I could to get the hell out of there was being a good Mom. I have been with my baby every single minute of every day for the past four months, I think I have a better understanding of her needs than some lunatic who just glanced at her for one minute in a store.

It kills me. "Talk to your baby!" What an insane thing to say! As if it's that easy! Michelle is four months old. I'm pretty sure that children don't develop the ability to reason until, say, after the age of THREE so at four months trying to explain to her that Mommy needs to buy groceries and if you just wait one minute we'll be out of here is probably a waste of breath (though I did keep telling Michelle "Mommy's moving as fast as she can!") I wanted to lash out at the woman to mind her own business because she has NO CLUE about my baby or me. No right to pass judgment. Unless you are a single Mom in line with a screaming baby yourself then you can't possibly understand. I don't know whether that witch had no children of her own, or was too old to remember what it was like when her kids were babies -- or perhaps she had one of those zombie babies that sits there catatonic and doesn't cry or laugh (I've seen a baby like that and frankly, it's creepy.) Even if someone had a baby, they didn't have MY baby so they can't understand my experience. Besides, there are colicky babies who cry for five hours solid and can not be consoled. How did the B-Itch know my baby wasn't one of those? (Thankfully though Michelle cries, she can be comforted. You just have to figure out what's wrong and fix it ASAP!)

No one can understand how tough it is being a single Mom unless they've lived the experience themselves. Most people with fussy babies would avoid dragging their little ones to the grocery store if it was avoidable. Logically if there is a father in the picture, unless he is incredibly selfish, clueless and a useless lump of testosterone, either he would be doing the shopping and leave his wife home with the baby, or he'd stay home with the baby while she shopped, or they would brave the store together (it's much easier with an extra pair of arms -- from carrying the baby to carrying the groceries.) When you have no one to help it means bringing baby everywhere, including to the dreaded supermarket every time. The offensive woman who had to stick her nose in my business likely had no idea what I have to deal with. She's obviously never been through it herself. All the more reason why you should keep your mouth shut if you don't have something nice to say. Making a snap judgment about someone you see for a minute is unfair and if you voice your harsh views, can be hurtful and cruel.

I almost wish I'd told the woman to "Get a life" (she obviously needs one of her own so she's not so interested in the lives of total strangers) or "Go to Hell" (which she no doubt will. I think there's a special section in Hell for people that insult single Moms) or just "Go f%&^ yourself!" I was trying to be a mature, responsible adult by just ignoring her, not even dignifying her with a reply. But there's no emotional satisfaction in that.

I don't know why I let it get to me so much. It could have been worse. A friend of mine many years ago was accosted by a racist woman in the grocery store who rudely said "Why don't you go back to your own country?" Which doesn't even make sense. Canada is her country. Canada is a cultural mosaic. Unless you're Aboriginal, you (or your ancestors) came here from somewhere -- Europe, Africa, anywhere around the globe. The fact is that there are some rude, cruel, ignorant, arrogant people out there. They think they know everything and feel that it's their right to criticize others and tell them what to do. I can't let it get to me. Most people are nice. Most people understand the rule "If you can't say something nice, say nothing." No one has a right to judge a stranger and even worse to pass that judgment on and insult them. You don't know their story. You don't know whether they may be a single Mom that can barely make ends meet, that hasn't slept in two days, hasn't showered in five, that is just trying to buy groceries and get home with her baby.

If I ever saw that stupid woman again I'd give her a piece of my mind, but at the time I was too angry to even look at her face. I just ignored her and refused to acknowledge her ridiculous comment whatsoever.

It shouldn't bother me that a moronic stranger thinks I need to be told how to parent my child. The people that matter, that know me, all say that I'm doing a great job. My Mom just told me the other day how very proud she is of me, at what an amazing Mom I am. She was surprised at how committed I am to Michelle and to doing all the right things for her. She was impressed, considering that I never planned to have children, that I have risen to the challenge and am doing well, on my own. As many have remarked, Michelle is a happy, healthy, bright and alert baby so I must be doing something right. Seeing her screaming for two minutes at the checkout a stranger wouldn't know that she smiles 90% of the time. That she giggles at me now. That she reaches up to touch my face. That she is the sweetest baby in the world. She just doesn't like shopping, doesn't like being strapped in her seat, doesn't like staying still. She gets bored. She likes being in Mommy's arms. Nothing wrong with that.

While I'm getting things off my chest I might as well spout off about someone else who said something rather insensitive to me. To make matters worse it wasn't a stranger. It was someone I know. I wouldn't go so far as to call her a friend. More of an acquaintance. I've only seen her once I think in the past year or so and it wasn't by choice. She didn't even congratulate me on the baby and when she saw Michelle all she had to say was "The baby looks exactly like Mike!" (The baby's father. Apparently she had met him with me once last Christmas and from that one meeting remembered him enough to recognize a resemblance to the baby. I didn't even remember that she'd met him and then I realized that yes she had. In fact she even made a point of telling him off for dropping an F bomb, which he did often. I usually just save it for special occasions. Like when I'm LIVID!) I found it extremely rude of her to say the baby was just like Mike. Most people say that Michelle looks like me. She does look a lot like my family. She looks a lot like I did as a baby and looks IDENTICAL to my nephew Dan as a baby. Of course I do see Mike in her as well, I certainly don't need it pointed out to me in such a cruel way. Anyone with half a brain stem could figure out that a mother DOESN'T want to hear how much her baby resembles the heartless coward of a father that abandoned them while she was four months pregnant, but some people lack any tact. I'm not sure if she was just clueless or cruel (given other things she's said and done, my money's on cruel) but she should have kept the comment to herself. Again, if you can't say something nice, SHUT YOUR CAKE HOLE!

Ok. Deep cleansing breaths. I have to find my Zen again! I'm sorry for posting such a negative piece but sometimes I really just need to vent. This blog is like my diary and of course I'm going to have good days and bad days. I'm human. I'm not perfect. I'm doing my best. I do feel better getting this out rather than having it eat away at me. I have to learn to let things roll off my back more. With all these breastfeeding hormones (not to mention sleep deprivation) I have definitely been more sensitive. It's like pregnancy, the sequel.

After leaving the supermarket from Hell, I popped over quickly to another one to get the green garbage bags. I took Michelle out of the seat and just ran through the store with her in my arms. It was easier that way. I was just getting one item after all. Thankfully God was merciful after my ordeal and when I went to the cashier there was NO ONE IN LINE! The cashier commented about how cute Michelle was. I explained why I was carrying her rather than having her in a carseat. "Spoiled little girl," the woman said. "Anything to keep her happy!" I said. As soon as I put her back into the seat in the car she started screaming again. At least it wasn't far to go home. I couldn't wait. Of course I hit every. single. red. light.

Once Michelle and I got back home from the store I fed her and she was content. As I watched the snow fall outside I thought how good it was to be home. I really wish we could just hibernate and not go out for the rest of the winter! Unfortunately I didn't realize I was almost out of mustard. My sandwiches will just have to go without for a while. I won't be going out grocery shopping again any time soon. I'm going to put it off as long as I can.

Michelle is the light of my life. She may be a monster sometimes but she's still my little angel. She doesn't have to be perfect. Sure she screams sometimes. She's a baby, she has a right to! And the times when she smiles and laughs at me more than make up for the tantrums. I may not be a perfect Mom but I couldn't possibly love her more. I don't pretend to be June Cleaver and honestly, who knows what she'd have been like if she'd been a single Mom. I bet she wouldn't be so calm, with perfect hair and wearing dresses and pearls every day if she had to manage on her own! Maybe she'd be wearing sweatpants or pjs with greasy hair hastily tied back into a ponytail, like me.

I would like to end on a positive note at least. I can't let one or two mean women out there get me down. The truth is that most people are kind and when they see a frazzled single Mom at the checkout with a screaming baby, they usually say nothing, some just smile knowingly, or say "Hang in there, it gets easier" and some even offer to help. Most people know that if you can't say something nice, say nothing. Most people with kids understand that being a parent is the toughest job in the world and none of us are perfect.