Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I've never been a fan of winter. The cold. Grey skies. Snow. Almost makes me want to crawl into a cave and wait for Spring. I don't ski, snowboard or skate. I'm not a fan of icicles forming inside my nostrils (which actually happened a few times on really cold days just walking to my car in the parking lot at work). Of course when Michelle is older she'll probably love the snow, as kids do and I did as a kid as well. It's magical when you're a child. For her, I will brave the cold and snow. When she's old enough to enjoy it in a year or two, I will go out with her and build snowmen, make snow angels and go tobogganing with her. But until then, I'm not venturing out in it any more than necessary.
We had our first snowfall the other night. I heard the wind howling and took a peek outside to see white flakes flying and some actually staying on the ground. As much as I dislike snow, I have to admit it is pretty in the moonlight. The fresh white snow glistening on the ground like diamonds. But the dark side of snow -- shovelling it, driving in it, the sleet and slush and ice, is not pretty at all. That's the part of winter that I dread. I was always nervous driving in snow. I never have snow tires and  I can't stand the sensation of sliding. Now that I have Michelle I would be more cautious than ever. I won't be driving in snow at all if I can avoid it.
Michelle and I had a really good sleep the other day. We slept a good part of the day. After getting up for a while in the early morning we headed back to bed for her feeding and we both fell back to sleep until after noon. It was amazing. We were both exhausted from the night before (where Michelle had been up until after midnight) and needed to catch up. I thought for sure with her sleeping so much during the day that she would never sleep that night, but surprisingly she slept better than ever. Maybe being sick had knocked the wind out of her. (Though it was only really bad for a few days, Michelle and I still have a touch of the sniffles and a cough.) Maybe all the exercise she got in her Jolly Jumper and Jumperoo had worn her out. (I know that when I used to work out it left me exhausted and better able to sleep at night.) Or maybe, like me, she's sensitive to the seasons and senses it's Winter, time to hibernate.
A former shopoholic, I've had no desire to go out shopping lately. My Mom called to tell me about all the great Black Friday sales on the weekend. "But it doesn't even make sense. That's an American thing. It has nothing to do with Canada. Our Thanksgiving is in October!" I said. Apparently retailers were eager to cash in on the success of the American phenomenon and were hoping to keep people from crossing the border to get in on the sales. Everywhere I turned (in the paper and on TV) there seemed to be ads for Black Friday. And the sales lasted all weekend. Old Navy was calling their sale "Cheermageddon" which I found hilarious. I've never heard anyone try to make Armageddon cheerful before! I'm not sure whether Old Navy is confident the world is not ending on December 21st 2012 and so is comfortable making light of it or whether they figure if the Apocalypse is coming, you might as well be cheerful and enjoy the next month wearing cute outfits at low prices. As the song goes "Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think!" There are doomsayers who are sure the end is coming. They point to the Mayan calendar as proof. I think they're just misinterpreting it. I wonder what they'll do when the 21st comes and goes uneventfully. I remember when everyone was panicking about Y2K and then it was so anticlimactic when absolutely nothing happened. All those months of people worrying, scrambling and spending God only knows how many hours and how much money preparing for it, all for nothing. Apparently the year 2000 was supposed to "confuse" all of the world's computers (which were used to the year having only 2 digits and now it would have 4. Ooooo scary!) and they were going to blow up or something. What a farce that was. The truth is they're always saying the world is going to end. They were building bomb shelters in the 1950s and going on about the Apocalypse. They've been making movies about it since the 70s. Nuclear war. Asteroid. Aliens. You name it. And yet here we still are. Of course if the world really were ending I might be tempted to go out and max all my credit cards. Why not if you'd never have to pay them off? But I'm pretty sure the world will continue as always. As tempting as some of the sales were, I opted NOT to go shopping on Black Friday weekend. The fact is that money is tight and I'm trying to avoid stores as much as possible except for necessitites. I can't believe there is only a month until Christmas. My family is trying to cut back this year, mostly just buying for the kids. My Mom used to go overboard but she can't do it anymore. Since my Dad retired things are tight for them as well and since they no longer drive there isn't much opportunity to get out shopping anyway. Of course for me, even if money were no object, Michelle isn't a fan of shopping anyway (she basically screams EVERY time I go out. Even if she makes it through the store, she cries at the checkout and it's just not worth the aggravation) and she calls the shots!
It's funny because before I was pregnant I used to go stir crazy if I was home too much. I always wanted to get out and do things, especially on the weekends. Now I've become a homebody. I'm content to stay in with Michelle. I never get bored or lonely. There isn't time! Most of my day is spent entertaining and looking after the baby and the few moments to myself are spent getting caught up on things. This blog means a lot to me and I always manage to carve out some time to write something. I need to have some form of creative expression. It's something I've always done and I don't want to give it up. I think when you're a Mom it's important to have something that you do for yourself even if it's just a few minutes here and there. For your own sanity. It's good for the soul. You spend all your time taking care of your child, you need to take care of you sometimes too. I was craving a candlelit bubble bath. It had been a while since I'd had one. I've had a few since the baby. It feels like such a luxury now. I sink into the hot bubbly water and say a prayer that she stays asleep long enough for me to enjoy it. Thankfully she usually complies. There was only one time that I had to get out of the bath after just five minutes. I'm always so paranoid about her waking up and crying when I try to do something that I sometimes imagine I hear her. Especially when I'm in the shower. I'll swear I hear her but then I turn off the water and listen and when I hear the silence it's like winning the lottery.
I used to go out dancing on the weekends. Those days are gone for quite a while anyway but I still dance at home. Sometimes I'll crank the tunes and boogie around with Michelle in my arms. Now that I have the Jolly Jumper in the nursery, I can dance in the hallway and let Michelle "dance" or jump along with me. She seemed to get a kick out of it. I decided to be really silly and do a baby video of her jumping along to PSY's hit "Gangnam Style." I love the song (even though I have no idea what he's saying!) Michelle seems to like it too. I put her little shades on her to get into the PSY spirit (he wears sunglasses throughout the video -- I love his video too. It's hilarious.) At least that way we both get some exercise. I need it. I have yet to begin my 30 Day Shred. I keep putting it off. My excuses are very convincing (it's hard to find the space and the time and I'm afraid of waking Michelle. I also worry that such strenuous exercise could interfere with breastfeeding. I'm also scared I won't be able to handle it anymore so I am avoiding it!)
During winters past I often seemed to fall into a funk. I probably had a touch of Seasonal Affective Disorder. The lack of sunlight would get to me. Months of cold, grey days would drag me down. I had no energy. I felt depleted and sad. Before I went to the Dominican (in the winter, a couple of years ago) I had gone to a tanning salon for the first time. I thought I'd better get a bit of a base to prepare my skin for the hot Caribbean sun. Being a redhead I wasn't even sure that I could tan. The girl working at the salon, a redhead herself, assured me that we could. We just have to be more careful. So I started out with just 5 minute sessions (which works out to being the equivalent of two hours in the sun.) It worked out well because I did get a bit of a tan and I didn't burn while in Samana, even spending the entire day in the sun (mind you I was careful to wear sunscreen all the time.) One unexpected side effect of the tanning salon was a huge mood boost. I found that those few minutes under the bright lights gave me a feeling like I actually had been in the sun and it made me feel energized and happy. I felt alive again. I would put my sweater and jeans and winter coat on over my bikini and head back out into the blustery weather and I felt great. It was like a mini-vacation from the bleakness outside. 
This year is different. Having Michelle in my life keeps me from getting down. She is my sunshine. Though I still have occasional blue days now and then, most of the time I am happier than ever. Every day she makes me smile and laugh. Every day she surprises me with something new. She lifts her arms up now for me to pick her up. She nuzzles into me when I'm holding her. She holds herself up so well during tummy time that it always looks like she's just about to take off crawling. She constantly comes up with new little sounds -- squeals of delight, attempts at conversation. She had her first laugh out loud, an adorable little giggle. Hopefully the first of many. Up to now her laughter has always been silent, just a huge open-mouthed smile. Michelle is an adventure. She is the sweetest companion I could ever hope to have. I love snuggling with my little teddy bear. When it's cold and snowy outside, I'm more than happy to stay in and cuddle with her, reading stories, singing songs, dancing, laughing, or curling up and having a long teddy bear nap. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Dollars and $ense

I discovered two fascinating reality shows while flipping channels recently -- "Extreme Couponing" and "Extreme Cheapskates." The couponing show was unbelievable. These OCD and usually quite bubbly couponers would go into a store and purchase a motherlode of items worth $1000 for about $5 after coupons, sometimes even for free, and in some cases the stores even paid THEM! I guess retailers are different in the U.S. that they allow this activity. Stores here in Canada wouldn't have it. They impose limits on how many sale items you can buy and how many coupons you can use. The stores on these shows allow you to use hundreds of coupons and even double your coupons so that in many cases the items wind up being free. So these savvy shoppers wind up with a massive stockpile of items (that looks like a store in itself) that they've paid next to nothing for. It's amazing that they're able to provide for their families that way. In some cases they even donate items to charity. Of course it takes a huge commitment of time to research, organize and cut the thousands of coupons. It's almost a full time job in itself. And the big shopping haul excursions usually take several hours to complete. I don't think I'd ever have the patience. As much as I admire their resourcefulness, I can't imagine shopping with someone like that. I remember it used to embarass me as a kid when my Mom just used a few coupons. Now I find myself using them. Every bit helps.

The "Extreme Cheapskates" show was much more bizarre. It was amazing the lengths that some people would go to to save money. One man was eating other people's leftovers in a restaurant! His wife was understandably mortified. One woman was dumpster diving for dinner. (Note to her friends -- DON'T go to her place for dinner!) One woman was creating her own reuseable toilet paper (!) out of cut up t-shirts that would be placed in a basket by the toilet and washed later! Disgusting. Another woman was peeing in a jar to save on the water bill and she had all her utilities calculated on a spreadsheet so that she knew down to the penny how much she was using. Being a germophobe, none of those money-saving ideas sounded very appealing to me!

There were other cheapskates who tried to negotiate a lower price on everything they bought, or tried to barter for items they needed instead of paying for them. Though most of them seemed eccentric at best and insane at worst, some of them were clever and inventive. One couple had chosen to live modestly and were able to retire early as a result. They only purchased what they needed and were masters of reducing, reusing and recycling. They had a ritual which they called a "fiscal fast" every so often where they would go a week without spending any money whatsoever. They wouldn't buy groceries, they just used up whatever they had on hand already in their cupboards, freezer etc.

I've actually gone on "fiscal fasts" since having Michelle. Days where I didn't spend a dime because I didn't go anywhere. There were times I couldn't get out shopping with her anyway and saving money on groceries was a big help so I just used up things at the back of the cupboard (cans of soup etc) and in the freezer (bags of veggies I'd forgotten about etc). Not going out also meant saving money on gas. While I was working I tended to spend a lot of money on fast food as well. Now even when I'm craving it, Michelle usually won't let me hit the drive-thru windows! She has simplified my life in many ways that end up saving me money. I can't get out shopping recreationally. I don't eat in restaurants or go to the movies. Of course she can be expensive when it comes to diapers and wipes but I always look for sales and use coupons for them. Breastfeeding, aside from being the healthiest choice for the baby, is also a blessing financially because it's free milk to feed the baby for six months. Saving that money on formula is a big help.

I don't shop for clothes for myself anymore. I make do with what I have, even though my pre-pregnancy clothes are a bit too small and my maternity clothes a little too big. If I get a hole in a sweater, I sew it rather than throwing it out. When you're on a tight budget you can't afford to be wasteful. I save money on makeup now because I don't often get to wear it. There isn't usually time. I stopped wearing foundation altogether because I couldn't be bothered. If I have to go out I try to throw on a bit of eyeliner so I look somewhat human at least. I wear my hair in a ponytail 99% of the time because Michelle pulls it if I have it hanging down. I never did anything fancy with my hair anyway, even before the baby. I never went to a hairdresser. I just got my Mom to trim it. Or sometimes I just trimmed it myself.

I buy things for Michelle but I always look for sales and shop in bargain stores. I was very fortunate to get a lot of gifts and donations from friends and family which saved me buying a lot of things including clothes and large items (all the nursery furniture etc.) 

When it comes to groceries I have become more careful. I try to limit myself to the staples, just the necessities. I shop at the cheapest stores and wait for sales. I stock up when an item is on sale. I also try to stretch things out a little more. I re-use paper towels (if I just used it to dry my clean hands, I fold it and leave it on the counter to use to wipe up spills, clean the counter etc. I know some people just use towels and dish cloths in the kitchen but those seem unsanitary to me.) I water down orange juice so it lasts twice as long (and has half the calories.) I don't buy bottled water. Tap water is free and I just use a Brita filter. I water down shampoo to stretch it out if it's getting low. I don't take daily showers anymore either (Michelle doesn't let me) so I'm saving money on body wash, shampoo and water. I'm always too hot so I save money on my heating bill as well not turning the thermostat up. I always do my laundry and dishes during off-peak hours to save money on hydro and I never leave lights on. I sometimes use a flashlight (and it's a wind-up one that doesn't take batteries) rather than turn the lights back on if I have to go back down for something after I've gone to bed. It's funny. Things I used to find annoying and silly about my Mom I now find myself doing!

My Mom was a penny pincher. She always shopped in bargain stores, clipped coupons, never bought anything unless it was on sale. She stayed home with the kids and somehow we managed, all six of us, on my Dad's modest income. We never took a vacation. My parents never even ate in restaurants or went to the movies. We never had name brand anything. It was frustrating when we'd ask for things that other kids had. The answer was always "No." Back then I didn't understand or appreciate how tight things were and why Mom was so careful with money. I swore I would never be like that. It used to embarass me going shopping with her and she'd be pulling out all these coupons. Now I find myself using coupons. I try to buy only things that are on sale. As much as we try to avoid it, sometimes we do become our parents! These days I have no choice but to be frugal. On maternity leave there is just barely enough to cover the mortgage and bills. I am grateful to have the option of a year off work to spend with my child. I know that this wasn't always an option. Mothers used to only get a couple of months, if that. I think this time with my baby is so important that I just can't miss it but financially it is difficult.

I used to be somewhat of a shopoholic, though a bargain hunter like my Mom. These days it's not an option for a couple of reasons. I have to try to limit myself to necessities while things are so tight. Groceries and things for Michelle. And secondly even if I wanted to shop, Michelle doesn't let me anyway! I can't spend more than 15 minutes in a store without her having a meltdown so it's just not worth it.

It's amazing how little you can live on if you have no choice. The mistake most people make is living way above their means. It's a consumer society and everyone buys into it. Everyone wants to have more stuff, new stuff, the latest stuff. I don't have the latest toys and gadgets (I never had an iPod or iPad or tablet or whatever they are). I never had a video game system (Wii or whatever). I still don't even have a cellphone. Sure there have been times I wished I had one for emergencies. But I couldn't justify the money going out every month for something that I really don't need. Unless you're a Hollywood actor or a real estate agent I don't think you need to have people reach you at every second of the day (in line at Walmart, while you're driving etc.) I can always get to a phone if need be. I may be the last person in North America over the age of 12 who DOESN'T have a cellphone but I'm standing my ground. I'm old-fashioned. Whenever I tell someone I don't have a cell they look at me like I'm from outer space. To me, it's a waste. I make and answer my calls at home. If I'm not home, they can leave me voicemail. With the baby especially I'm home more often than not! Besides, I think people get addicted to their cellphones, become slaves to them and then they're never free again. I've seen them texting on it, checking it constantly, pressing the little buttons like zombies. Even couples having lunch together, ignoring each other while they click away on their little devices. It's sad to me! The human being sitting across from you should be more important than the one that isn't there.

I don't pay for fancy TV channels. I just have the basic cable package. I had switched to Rogers years ago when they offered me 6 months free service. I couldn't argue with free! Bell couldn't compete with that. They gave me all top of the line services for phone, internet and cable, including all the channels and PVR which was really cool. Once it stopped being free however I gave up the PVR and downgraded to basic service. Of course there was a catch. I had to sign up for a long contract (I can't even remember if it was 2 or 3 years) but it was OK. After the free ride was over, it still wound up being about the same as I paid to Bell and that 6 month break in payments was a godsend.

We live in a society of spendthrifts. Most people live above their means to some degree, buying things they don't need and can't afford. I knew a couple who furnished their entire house at the "Don't pay a cent event." Those sales get people into so much trouble. If you don't have the money to pay in full once it's due in a year or two, you pay back interest retroactively from when you bought the items. Credit is a trap that most people fall into. It's just so tempting. People want everything now, even if they can't afford it and they wind up buried under a pile of debt that they can never get out of. Cheapskates, on the other hand, especially the ones on those shows, live below their means, carrying frugality to insane extremes. In the long run I don't think some of them will be saving at all because they'll wind up sick with e-coli or something after their dumpster dinners and run up a big hospital bill, considering the U.S. doesn't have free health care. Unlike spendthrifts who want everything now, cheapskates deny themselves things now in order to save for later. But quality of life has to count for something. If you're skimping too much your wallet may be healthy and you may not be. You can't take it with you. I wouldn't want to be a cheapskate or a spendthrift. I'd like to think I fall somewhere in between.

I think the best thing to do is to live within your means. Don't spend more than you can afford and if your situation changes, adjust and cut back accordingly. We live in a consumer society and it can be hard to scale back and realize the difference between "wants" and  "needs." You don't need to have expensive gadgets just because everyone else does. As children we worry about having what all the other kids have (I got picked on for wearing clothes that weren't popular name brands) but most of us carry that mentality into adulthood. They call it "Keeping up with the Jones'." I've always moved to the beat of my own drummer anyway. I never worried about having what everyone else had just because it's cool. I don't have the latest toys. In a digital world, I'm an analog girl. So many people go into debt trying to have everything they want, even though they can't afford it. You have to practice restraint to keep yourself from spending more than you can actually pay off.

Since having the baby, I'm having to stretch my dollars a lot further but I don't mind. In many ways, it simplifies my life. It's worth the sacrifices I have to make. I will do whatever it takes to have this time to spend with Michelle. Sometimes I stress out about money. I wonder how I'll make ends meet. It is a struggle as a single Mom, figuring out how to manage but somehow you do it. You adapt and do your best. Of course I still keep hoping I win the lottery. They say money can't buy happiness but it buys freedom and that's close enough for me! To have enough money to never have to worry about money again would be amazing. To be able to travel, to live wherever you want, to have time to spend with family and never have to worry about working...It's a nice dream. Of course even without the lottery I feel very blessed. As they say, the best things in life are free. I may not have an entertainment budget anymore but I have Michelle to entertain me. Every day she makes me smile and laugh. 

I don't go to the movies anymore but I've been making movies of Michelle. I take so many photos but my sister suggested I take some video of her and I know she'll grow so fast I'll be glad to have these moments captured. I got some video of her with my cat Ali on the couch. I took a video of her dancing the "Highland Fling" in her little tartan skirt and I shot some video of her in her new Jolly Jumper which my Mom just gave her. I put them on Youtube in the playlist along with songs I'd written for her -- here are the videos --




These days with Michelle mean more to me than anything. She is more than worth any sacrifices I have to make. I try not to panic about money. I know that things have a way of working out. In February when Mike left us, he left owing me money and I was in a bad situation. On top of that everything else went wrong and all sorts of unexpected expenses came up (as they say, "When it rains, it pours"). I didn't know what I was going to do but I did what I could and miracles started to happen. Things just fell into place. It's like someone up there was looking out for us. So I know that we'll be OK. I'll just do what I can and hope for the best.
And who knows? Maybe I will win the lottery...The funny thing is, even if I had a million dollars, Michelle still wouldn't let me go shopping!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Anniversary of Yes

Tests were always stressful for me. They're not fun. They take so much out of you and you don't know how they'll go. In school I would cram for exams and worry about how I would do. During the test I would sweat so much I wound up with a blue hand from writing on sheets of foolscap. (I was a straight A student but still always worried and doubted myself. I'd tell my friend "OMG I totally FAILED that exam!" Then I'd get a 90%.) After learning to drive, my road test was just about the most nerve-wracking thing I'd ever done. I was so scared. Most of my family had failed their road test the first time (or first few times.) I was so afraid of failing. Luckily I passed on my first try. The one thing I kind of messed up was parallel parking (I was too far from the curb.) I told the guy "Don't worry. I'll NEVER do it again!" and I haven't! The only way I parallel park is if all the spaces are empty and I can just drive along into one of them! Of course the worst tests of all were blood tests. They were always terrifying to me because I had a phobia of needles and fainted every time.

Then, last year, on November 18th 2011 I took the most frightening test I had ever taken. One which changed the rest of my life. I took a pregnancy test. I had never been late before. My periods were always on time (every 3 weeks and 3 days. Lucky me. Not even 4 weeks between my horrendous monthly visitors.) I had never missed a period. Not in 30 years of menstruation. Not with any of my boyfriends. Even ones that lasted several years. It was bizarre to me. It made no sense. I finally resigned myself to the fact that I was probably going through early menopause. But I got a pregnancy test just in case (it was my sister's idea.) I peed on the little plastic stick. I was expecting "No" the way that you expect the sun to rise in the morning, or rain to be wet. I was not expecting "Yes" any more than I was expecting pigs to fly, or Hell to freeze over. Me having a baby was not within the realm of possibility. You don't get pregnant at 42 with a guy you've only been dating a month. It just doesn't happen. I was with someone for almost a decade and didn't get pregnant so it just didn't make any sense. But there it was. After I finished shaking and crying I thought "Oh my God. I'm going to be a Mom." And beneath the shock and the fear there was something else, a kind of joy. Love. I was going to have a baby. I took a picture of the test as a souvenir because it was digital and I figured the little yes would fade eventually. I always took photos of all of my adventures and this was the beginning of my biggest one so far.

When I broke the news to Mike (Michelle's deadbeat dad who took off when I was four months pregnant) he was sitting at his computer, drinking his third cup of coffee, leaning back in his broken black leather chair (he leaned back so far in it that the spring was shot) in his office, in what is now Michelle's nursery.
"I'm pregnant."
"You could take a morning after pill." he suggested.
Inside I was screaming "God, you're an idiot!"
Instead I just rolled my eyes and said "Well first of all it's NOT the morning after. It could have been any time since my last period in October. And second, a morning after pill is like an abortion pill. I wouldn't do that anyway. I'm against abortion."
He didn't know what to say. I could see the wheels spinning in his spiky blond head. He had just turned 32 years old. We had only been dating a month (mind you he moved in after two weeks which was HIS idea.) I decided to put him out of his misery. I didn't want him to feel trapped. I gave him an out, if he chose to take it.
"Ok look, I'll fully understand if you want to leave but I'm keeping this baby. This isn't something I ever planned or expected but it must be God's will for me. It's Fate. I know you didn't sign up for this, nor did I. I mean we've only known each other a MONTH. If you want to leave you know where the door is. I'll understand. I don't expect anything from you."
I fully expected him to start packing his things and scurry out the door. But he didn't. A while later, after he'd had a chance to process the idea, he told me that he was sticking around. "I knew when we met that you were special and that this was meant to be," he said. "I've never had a family before... We'll make a cute little family. And I'll teach him everything I know."
"That's pretty scary!" I said, "or her. I hope it's a girl."

I called my sister and my Mom. They were so excited and happy for me. I thought my mother would have gone ballistic. "Are you crazy?! You get pregnant to a guy you just started dating?!" but instead she was thrilled. Apparently she had WANTED me to have a baby. She thought that I would regret it if I didn't. She'd even been praying "Please God don't let Ann Marie regret not having children." "So it's your fault!" I said to her, "You prayed for it!" It was just too bizarre. I still couldn't believe it was happening. I was the last person on Earth that I ever would have pictured having a baby. I didn't feel mature enough, responsible enough, patient enough. I didn't think I could ever be a Mom. I could barely take care of myself. But I started to change after the test. My feelings, priorities, everything changed. My maternal instincts (which before that day I didn't even realize I had) started to take over. I was becoming a Mom.

I had been posting an original song on Youtube every day of 2011. Many songs I'd already written and many brand new that I penned about the latest experiences in my life. The songs almost became like diary entries, sharing what I was feeling on any given day. So on November 18th I couldn't resist writing about my news. I wanted to tell the world, without really telling them. I'd heard it was bad luck to announce your pregnancy in the first trimester because you don't know how it's going to go. The thought of losing my baby was too painful to even fathom (though I hadn't expected her, I loved her and felt protective of her almost instantly after finding out I was pregnant) but it was a possibility. I'd known so many people who suffered the heartbreak of a miscarriage in the first few months.

I wound up writing, recording and posting "Never counted on yes" -- a song about my pregnancy test. I kept it vague enough that no one in the world would know the real meaning, except Mike and I, my sister and my Mom. It just sounded like a song about life, about love, about embracing change. "I confess I never would have guessed that life could become such a beautiful mess. And I'm stressed but I'm blessed. Never counted on yes, yes, yes."

Now here I am a year later. Michelle and I are both sick with the cold. Caring for a sick baby when you're sick as a dog yourself is one of the hardest things I think anyone could go through. Especially for a single Mom, with no one there to help. No one to run to the store to grab things for you. No one to take the baby to give you a break. Somehow I find the strength to carry her when my arms are aching and I'm so weak I can barely move. To force a smile when I want to cry. To play "This little piggy" and "Was a little monkey" to make her smile even though I'm beyond exhausted, drained, depleted, my nose running, my head aching. To comfort her and take care of her even when it feels like I'm running on empty. To put on a brave face even when it feels like I'm falling apart. Because I'm a Mom now. And that's what you do.

My little girl and I have been through a lot already and there's so much more for us to go through. Ups and downs, adventures, discoveries. We're both learning as we go. It seems like a lifetime ago that I sat in the bathroom waiting for a word to appear in that little plastic window. I know that it was meant to be. Mike obviously got scared about the idea of fatherhood a few months later, or figured that we were better off without him (because we are -- financially, emotionally and in every way he was a MESS. More of a hindrance than a help.) Someone told me that a mother is a mother from the instant she's pregnant but a father isn't a father until he sees that baby. He doesn't feel the same bond. He wasn't attached to the baby the way I was. If he was, he never could have left.

She had me at "Yes." As soon as I knew I was pregnant, I started to love her and I changed my whole life for her. I would do anything for her.

I feel so blessed to have my little Michelle. In spite of all the heartbreak I went through earlier this year, all the difficulty of being pregnant, all the pain of labour, all the stress and sleeplessness of having a new baby, I feel like the luckiest person in the world to have my little girl. If I had it all to do over again, I would.

It's a funny thing to be given an unexpected gift that changes life as you knew it. Like winning a lottery with a ticket you didn't know you had, forgotten and scrunched up in the bottom of your purse.

I never counted on yes. But I am so grateful.

Friday, November 16, 2012

In sickness and in health

I don't think there can be anything more stressful in life than your child getting sick (or hurt). I guess that it was bound to happen eventually. I just didn't think it would be so soon. She's only 3 and a half months old.

Michelle got her first cough and cold. She caught it from my nephew Reggie who had been sick since Halloween. It was a cold and rainy night for trick or treating this year. (So many people have told me you don't catch a cold from being in the cold but you DO! I ALWAYS caught colds in the winter. You're out in the cold and damp and your nose starts to run and you wipe it and germs get in and you've got yourself a cold.) We didn't think a baby Michelle's age could get sick and even if we thought there was a danger it wasn't as though we could avoid exposure. It was my Mom's big 70th birthday party and everyone had to be there. We also had a smaller celebration on my Mom's "real" birthday. Reggie didn't have any direct contact with Michelle but of course he was at the same table, was coughing, touching things. My sister and my Mom were alternately holding Reggie and then holding Michelle. She seemed fine the next day. She sneezed a few times but it didn't seem that unusual. Later that night however, the nightmare began. It was after midnight and I heard Michelle coughing which was strange. I hadn't heard her cough before. When I went to check on her she was wheezing. Her nose was running and all stuffed up. She woke up crying and it was difficult to console her. Poor little thing. I know how much I hate having a cold. Everyone feels like a baby when they have a cold. And it's far worse for a baby when she has no idea what's going on, why it's suddenly hard to breathe and her nose is sore and runny.

She was understandably upset and wouldn't go back to sleep. I walked with her, rocking her and singing to her for hours trying to console her. When I tried to breastfed her she would take a sip, turn away and cry, take a sip and turn away and cry. She couldn't breathe through her nose which made suckling almost impossible. She had to choose between breathing and eating! I kept trying to clear out her nose with a Kleenex. I'll have to get one of those nasal aspirators to clear it out. I didn't want to drag her out to the store to look for one while she was sick. It's tough for babies who don't know how to blow their noses to clear out the congestion. And you can't give them anything (not that over the counter cold meds do much anyway. I've never found one that helped. The only one I ever really liked was NyQuil because it's yummy and knocks you out at night so you get some sleep at least.) With a child there's not too much you can do for a cold but wait it out.

I made a makeshift humidifier by putting boiling water in a bowl and throwing a towel over us to breathe it in. I thought it might help to clear out her sinuses. She wasn't too keen on the experience. I'll have to look for a humidifier the next time I'm shopping as well. Oh and some Kleenex with lotion. A great invention. So much softer on the nose.

Thankfully the congestion seemed to subside enough for her to breathe a little so that she could feed. And then she fed voraciously. Every hour instead of every two hours. I guess it's like they say -- "Starve a fever. Stuff a cold." She was probably also dehydrated from losing so much fluid. At one feeding she drained both breasts and still seemed thirsty. I tried giving her some water in a bottle. She made a face like "Are you kidding me?" and didn't drink more than a drop. The doctor had told me at the last check-up that I could start giving Michelle a little water if I wanted. I only tried it once and she wouldn't drink it so I didn't bother trying again until she got sick. I know you're supposed to drink lots of fluids.

At one point when I tried to feed Michelle she went ballistic. It didn't seem like milk was coming out. She was screaming as though the world was ending. I was worried I may have actually run out of milk. She'd been feeding so often maybe my breasts couldn't keep up with the demand. To be sure,  I went and got the pump to see if anything came out. The milk was still flowing so that wasn't the problem. Michelle was just frustrated. Luckily she got over it and started to feed again shortly thereafter.

It was a horrendous day. She was fussier than ever and I felt so bad for her. She wouldn't nap for more than a couple of minutes all day. I was so exhausted and drained I started to cry. I wondered how I was going to survive the next 40 years or so worrying about her. I can't even deal with the simplest things. I fell apart when I accidentally cut her thumb once while clipping her nails and now I was crying over the common cold. How would I find the strength to deal with all the challenges and heartbreaks children bring? I get so stressed out when something goes wrong, something beyond my control. I always hated being sick myself but having my child sick is a billion times worse. I wanted to be able to fix it, to cure it, to make her better instantly, to take it on myself to spare her. But of course it wasn't something that I could change. It was a case of the sniffles and would have to run its course, as hellish as that course might be, for Michelle and for me.

I consumed plenty of orange juice and chicken noodle soup thinking that some of it would get to her through my breast milk. I had heard that breast milk was full of antibodies. I guess I had hoped it would make her immune to everything but babies are so vulnerable. Everything is new to them so if exposed to a virus, it's very hard to fight off.

I figured that plenty of fluids and a lot of rest were her best bet for a quick recovery so I didn't mind feeding her every hour or so, day and night when she demanded it and I tried to stay with her almost constantly so that she'd sleep (she would wake up and cry the instant I tried to get up. She finally settled down late at night the next day and I had to rush to put the garbage out while I had the chance. Meanwhile I was in my pjs, hadn't bothered to get dressed all day, hadn't showered or done my face. I looked like a zombie. But at least there was no one outside at that hour anyway.)

The next day Michelle was a little better but I had caught the cold. Figures. My throat was sore and my nose was running. I wish someone would come up with a cure for the common cold. All 200 strains of it. I've had so many colds in my life I would have thought I've had almost all of them by now.

It's hard. Before becoming a Mom I only really had to worry about myself. Now I worry about her and if something happens to her it's far worse than if it happened to me. I love her more than my own life. It terrifies me. I can be a bit of a control freak. Part of me just wants to keep Michelle in a protective bubble and keep her away from the world so she's not exposed to anything. People have warned me that when children start school, they are constantly getting sick because they are exposed to so many germs from other children. Children get sick all the time because their immune systems aren't fully developed yet. It's scary. But I can't protect her from life. I can't keep her away from other children. I try to be careful. I wash my hands a hundred times a day. I try to clean everything. But then you go out and you can't control what everyone else is doing. She is going to touch things and people and be contaminated by germs. It's inevitable. You can't control the world. You can't guarantee a clean environment (you could drive yourself crazy and become OCD, wearing gloves everywhere or sporting a Hazmat suit and running around sticking biohazard stickers on everything.) Everyone could be contagious. Everything could be a hazard. At some point you have to relax, lighten up, let life happen. As a child I didn't worry too much. I was a bit of a tomboy for a while. I spent the whole day outside, playing in the dirt, catching frogs and snakes. And I survived. My brother accidentally ate a piece of bread full of beetles when he was a toddler ("Wait a minute. We don't have raisin bread!" my mother screamed as she realized what he was eating in the backyard) and he survived. Some people argue that being exposed to some germs helps to toughen children up and make them healthier later in life. If you do live in a completely sterile environment with no exposure to anything then you never develop antibodies or immunity. So maybe Michelle getting sick so early has an advantage. It may toughen her up. It may give her body a chance to learn how to heal itself and recover from an illness.

In the scheme of things, this really is no big deal. It was just a bit of a rude awakening, seeing my child sick for the first time. It's not pleasant. I want the best for her. I can't bear to see her suffer even in the smallest of ways. But maybe it's a learning experience for us both. I get to be a Mom and comfort her. I'm making sure we're both getting plenty of rest and fluids. We stayed in our pjs all day. Michelle seems to be dealing pretty well with the cold now. She was smiling and back to her old self again. She had her tummy time, played on her gym and in her jumperoo. I cheered up a little too when I realized that she's OK. It is just a cold after all.

At some point I'm going to have to learn to let go. To relax. It's not the end of the world (even though sometimes it feels like it.) This too shall pass. Life isn't perfect. She's going to get sick occasionally. Sh%$ happens. She'll be exposed to all kinds of things out in the world and from other people. I can do my best to protect her and watch out for her (and hopefully not let her eat any beetles!) but I can't drive myself crazy worrying or try to keep her sheltered. I can't keep her in a bubble, as much as I may want to.

Maybe this is another rite of passage for me as a Mom. Somehow when we're sick we need Mom most of all. When we catch a cold, many of us wish we had Mom there to nurture us, tuck us in, bring us orange juice and chicken noodle soup. To hug us and love us and tell us we're going to be OK. Now I get to be the nurturing Mom helping my little one to feel better. Michelle is learning at a very early age that I am there for her, in sickness and in health, that I will always be there to comfort her and help her through anything. And maybe I'm learning to lighten up a little. As a new parent, I'm nervous about anything going wrong. It's all uncharted territory. But once you have dealt with something, you gain confidence. You realize that it's going to be OK. Each small catastrophe that we survive (whether it be a cut finger or a runny nose) makes me a little stronger.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Happy 70th Birthday!

I can't believe my Mom is 70. She looks 20 years younger. Of course she does a lot to protect her skin. She's been slathering on moisturizer for decades and she avoids the sun. Not only does she baste herself in sunblock but she stays in the shade and even in the car will hold a newspaper up to block out the sun if there isn't a blind on the window. I tried explaining to her that when you're wearing SPF 60, the sun is not getting through but she doesn't want to take any chances. I do have to hand it to her. People never guess her age. Maybe it runs in the family though because my sister looks younger than she is and I was still getting asked for I.D. a year ago. (Even at the casino where you only have to be 18!)

I offered to host Mom's birthday party last weekend. It's a challenge having the whole gang over in my little house. With five kids running amok, it can be chaotic at times. We survived it. Some of the balloons did not. My nephew James dragged them over toward the ceiling light and popped a couple. Then he pushed them against the Christmas tree lights and popped some more. I wouldn't have thought those tiny tree lights had enough heat to break a balloon. It kind of makes me nervous now to have the lights on at all. If they can burn a balloon why not the ornaments?

It was a challenge preparing for the party. Transporting three large balloon bouquets and a baby home in the middle of the night was a surreal experience. I was starving at the time and tempted to pick up McDonalds but thought better of it. I would have looked like a circus act! Besides I was anxious to get home. Michelle was being good but was staring at the balloons on either side of her as though they were aliens from outer space. It must seem strange to her when these unusual objects suddenly invade her world. One night she went to sleep and woke up the next day to find a white Christmas tree in her living room. Then the kitchen and living room are filled with balloons. She seemed to take it in stride. The cat wasn't too impressed though. Cats don't like change. Aside from the balloons I had also moved a bunch of chairs into the kitchen to make more seating room for the party.

I had hosted Mom's birthday party last year, of course that was before I was pregnant, or rather, before I knew I was pregnant. Ironically, as I've mentioned in previous blogs, it was on the evening of my Mom's birthday party that Mike (my baby's father) was kidding around and stuck a silver balloon under my shirt like a pregnant belly. Six days later I would find out I was pregnant. You would think I'd be afraid of balloons now! Actually they do scare me a little. I'm always afraid they'll pop.

I had Michelle dressed in a little black and pink velvet, lace and satin dress. I love dressing her up. She doesn't seem to care what I put on her though she tries to chew everything. The lace on the dress was soaked from her chewing on it. I got her some teething toys but she has no interest in them. She only wants to chew the things that you'd rather she didn't. Like her own hand, my hand or shoulder, and everything else in sight! She's drooling a lot too which I've heard from other moms is common at 3-4 months. So I guess she is teething. My Mom wanted me to put a bib on Michelle at all times but it seems silly to dress her up and then stick a big ugly bib on top of it. Mom then suggested putting the bib underneath her top so her chest wouldn't get wet with all the drool but then it looks too big and bulgy and doesn't seem like it would be comfortable for her either. They should invent a little mock undershirt (like they have mock turtlenecks for adults) to go under baby clothes. Something that isn't too bulky but that would protect them from the drool. I guess it could be worse. One Mom that I spoke to recently has a baby who throws up constantly. Every time she feeds she spits up at least half of it. At least Michelle doesn't spit up that often. It's only happened a few times and even then it's just a tiny bit. (Knock on wood!)

Michelle had been talking up a storm in babyspeak and my sister suggested I take a video of her "talking." I'd taken so many photos of her but hadn't done much video. Of course as soon as I turned the video camera on her, she clammed up. "Show Mommy how you can talk...Say something sweetie..." And not a peep. Just staring at me wide-eyed every time I tried. I did manage to get a few tiny clips of her making little sounds and put it together in a video. It will be interesting to look back on it someday and remember these days before she could talk. I can't wait until she says her first words.
Michelle has started trying to communicate in ways other than crying (which is a welcome change!) Now when she's hungry she says "Uh uh uh." Always like that. A "u" sound in a group of three. I mimick her which she finds funny and smiles a big smile. Everytime she does that I feed her right away and she seems happy which is awesome. One less thing to cry about! Now if she could make different sounds for when she needs to be changed, when she's tired or for anything else she wants or needs, we'd be all set! She does seem eager to communicate so I hope she's talking soon. I always try to imitate the sounds she makes so that she feels like we're having a conversation. It always makes her smile.
Mom is a proud Grandma to seven grandchildren now. She's thrilled with Michelle, unexpected lucky number 7. She didn't think there would be any more grandchildren since my siblings with children didn't plan to have any more and neither my brother Chris nor I ever planned to have any. My Mom was concerned that I would regret it someday if I never had children, that I would feel I had missed out. I don't know if I would have. How can you miss something you never had? I couldn't picture me as a Mom. I didn't think I had it in me. Of course everything changed once I found out I was pregnant. My maternal instincts took over. I loved my baby from the very beginning. Before she was even born and now I know she is the best thing that's ever happened to me. I still can't believe I got pregnant so easily at 42 but I know that it was meant to be. Someone told me that they know several women who have become pregnant in their 40s. It's almost like a sudden burst of fertility takes over. It's as though the biological clock is ticking, the body knows it's running out of time so it kicks things up a notch. The body's last hurrah. I know that I was healthier than I had ever been. Eating right and exercising. So I guess it was the perfect time for a baby to make an appearance. Little did I know.
When the party was over and after I finally got Michelle settled down I went to tidy up. There were chip crumbs everywhere, cake remnants on the floor, the table (even under the glass table that I'd covered with a tablecloth) and chairs, bits of crayon smushed on the hardwood, crumbs in the couch. I smiled. Kids are exhausting. They are messy. They can be wild (I was afraid at a few points that my nieces and nephews were going to spill something or break something -- it's happened before -- and they were trying to play with Michelle's swing and jumperoo.) But they are so full of energy and excitement. They're so free. They're not uptight and stressed out like me. I wish I was a little more laid back. I tend to be a bit of a control freak. I hope I'm able to relax enough to give Michelle room to explore without worrying and nagging. I don't want to be a Mom who worries about everything and who says "No" to everything. I know I hated it when Mom said "No" so much (and apparently it wound up being my first word!) I will probably have to kid-proof the house a lot more before Michelle is on the move. She's already trying to crawl (rolling onto her tummy and lifting her butt up like an inchworm trying to scooch along the floor). Who knows when she'll be walking? I want to give her a taste of freedom and independence while still keeping her safe. It's a tough balance as a parent. You don't want to be too strict or too lenient. You don't want to be a nag or a pushover. At least there is only one of her. I don't know how people manage with several small children!
I love my big crazy family, even though at times they can be overwhelming. I feel blessed to have them in my life. I am especially grateful to Mom and Dad for bringing us into the world. Mom was feeling very sentimental while she was reading her cards and started to tear up. I've always been a sap and am even more so these days with my breastfeeding hormones raging. I started to cry when I picked out Mom's birthday card. It talked about being a Mom -- being the first voice that your child hears, the first face that they see, the first pair of arms that hold them. There is nothing on the planet more difficult or more incredible than being a Mom. One woman that I ran into recently said that she believes having children is something that every woman should experience. As a woman it is the most extraordinary experience you can have. I agree. I never expected it for myself but I am so grateful. It is the greatest gift.
I will try to be the best Mom I can be. I won't always be perfect. I won't always be patient. I won't always have the right answers. But I will always always love her. My Mom wasn't perfect but I am so grateful to her for all that she's done for me. It wasn't until having my own child that I could fully appreciate and understand what being a Mom means.  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Happy Anniversary!

My parents just celebrated their anniversary recently. Last year it was their Golden Anniversary. Fifty years. It's hard to believe two people could stay together that long! They met at a dance. It must have been fate. If they hadn't met, 11 incredible people wouldn't exist -- four children and seven grandchildren.  

I remember one time when we were at a relative's wedding they were going around to each table with a video camera, asking couples for advice to give the newlyweds. "What is your secret to a lasting marriage?" they asked my Mom. Without missing a beat she answered "Tolerance." Hardly the stuff of fairytales! But then Mom is more pragmatic than romantic. The truth is that when you are with someone a very long time, you do have to tolerate each other. There are times when they get on your nerves. There are times you disagree. There are times you just want to run and never look back but if you love each other, you stay, even through the worst of times. That's why they say "For better, or for worse" because there are times it will be worse. There is no such thing as "happily ever after" in real life. You can't be happy every day. Life isn't perfect. My Mom and Dad may not have an epic romance but they have a partnership that works. Mom is good at some things, Dad is good at others, and so everything gets done. They don't have everything in common. Dad likes sports and likes going for walks. Mom hates sports and likes to stay indoors. They each have their own space. My dad barely speaks. Mom barely stops talking. Like yin and yang, they balance each other out!

The reason I never married (well one of the reasons) was that I wasn't willing to settle. It seemed to me that there were two kinds of love. Some men (well, boys really) I loved as friends, a platonic sort of love. I felt comfortable and safe with them. We had fun together but it seemed like something was missing. I longed for passion and excitement. Then there were other boys that I loved romantically, that I was "in love" with. They gave me butterflies. I felt so alive. But it didn't last. Each time it would self-destruct. There was no stability, no security. What I really wanted and needed was both -- someone who could be my best friend and lover. Someone that I trusted and felt comfortable and safe with but who also gave me butterflies. That can be pretty hard to find. My longest relationship was nine years. That was as close as I came to a marriage or long term commitment. Actually nine years is longer than some marriages last! Mind you, we did break up every three years or so and then get back together. So if you deduct the time apart I suppose it was more like eight years! We kept breaking up because we were opposites and would get frustrated when we couldn't meet in the middle. Then we would get back together because what we had was so strong and we didn't want to trash all the memories we'd shared together (Europe, NYC and so many other adventures and inside jokes.) We had invested so much time in it that it was hard to let go. And we kept getting sucked back in. It's tough to keep a relationship alive after that many years. You take each other for granted. When you see someone day in and day out, you get so used to them you stop cherishing them. After we'd break up, we'd miss each other. So we'd get back together thinking, this time will be different. We'll change. We'll compromise. We won't fight. But nothing would change. At first it was wonderful. We were on our best behaviour but before too long we were back to the same old patterns. I wanted him to be more like me (emotional, intense) and he wanted me to be more laid back like him. The biggest mistake you can make in a relationship is thinking that you can change someone. If you can't love and accept them as they are, then they are not for you.

I always thought that if I met the right person that we would fall in love and stay in love, even into our old age, that we would still hold hands, still laugh, still dance, still say "I love you" every day. You see it in the movies but not as often in real life. Being a hopeless romantic, I kept looking for that fairytale love. Sometimes I would catch a glimpse of it, but it would fall apart. I had my heart broken so many times. I fell for all the wrong men. The weirder they were, the harder I fell. I had a penchant for broken boys. Somehow drama felt like love but it was more tragedy than romance. I wanted to believe that you could have passion and friendship in one person. A soulmate. Someone you could share forever with. But in my experience it seemed as though friendship and passion were opposites. You couldn't have both. So I swung back and forth between two opposite kinds of men. And it never seemed to work. I never found my Mr. Right. So I remained single into my 40s. And suddenly my world was turned on its head. I found my greatest love and it wasn't at all what I expected. It wasn't a man. It was a little girl. A miracle. An unexpected gift. Baby Michelle is the love of my life and my biggest commitment ever! It's an entirely different kind of love than any I've known. Everyone tried to tell me that the love you feel as a parent trumps absolutely everything else. I couldn't understand until I had my own child.

My Mom and Dad are very proud of their seventh grandchild. Michelle and I went to visit and she was in very good spirits, smiling and laughing for her Grandma and Grandpa. My dad was so pleased to see her smile at him. He was hurt when he tried to pick her up before and she'd cried. I told him not to take it personally. Sometimes she's just moody and doesn't want anyone but Mama. Other times she's quite friendly and will let other people hold her (which gives my poor arms a much needed break! My left arm was hurting so much from carrying her that I switched to my right, only to damage my right arm as well! I'm running out of arms!)

Michelle looks like she's going to roll on the floor laughing with my Mom. She still has mostly a silent laugh. I can't wait until she can laugh out loud. Yes my Mom already has her Christmas tree up. She always puts it up in November. So do I. I usually wait for the Santa Claus parade. I try to have it up before my Mom's birthday so that the family can see it since they won't be at my place for Christmas. I didn't know how I'd manage to put the tree up this year with the baby but I rushed to put it together while she was asleep. I'm hosting my Mom's birthday party this weekend. The whole gang will be there and I wanted them to see the tree. I love the tree. It makes the room so cozy and I figure you might as well enjoy it as long as you can. I've been singing Christmas carols to Michelle. I wondered what she'd think of the tree when she saw it. She did seem fascinated by the lights and glittery ornaments. It must be strange to wake up one day and find that your world has changed overnight, that suddenly there's a big white tree with silver and turquoise ornaments in the living room!

I'm so relieved to have the tree up. I still have a million things to do but the tree was the fun part! It is definitely tricky getting things done with the baby. She doesn't let me shop more than 15 minutes. She doesn't nap much during the day (if at all) and sometimes won't even settle down at night so it's a real challenge trying to prepare for my Mom's birthday party. You just grab a few minutes here and there when you can. At least I don't have to worry about cooking. I'm just ordering in. I was no Martha Stewart even before I had the baby!

I hosted my Mother's birthday party last year. That was before I knew I was pregnant. It was that night that Mike had taken one of the balloons and stuck it under my shirt as a joke. I told him not to put that into the universe but I must have been pregnant already because the next week I was late and when I took a pregnancy test, it was positive. It still blows my mind. If I hadn't met Mike, Michelle wouldn't exist. It was meant to be. Life leads us where we're meant to go.

I don't know if I'll ever find my soulmate. He would have to be a pretty amazing multifaceted guy. Strong and sensitive with a great sense of humour. Smart. Stable. Sincere. He'd have to be not only a perfect partner for me but a wonderful father for Michelle. That's a pretty tall order. So I won't hold my breath! I'm not looking for Mr. Right anymore. If he finds me, great and if he doesn't that's fine. My heart belongs to Michelle anyway. And I will love, honour and cherish her for better and for worse as long as I live.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

My Left Arm

I woke up one morning to find that my left arm was in agony, from my fingers up to my shoulder. The pain was so severe it almost made me throw up. For an instant I thought, maybe I'm having a heart attack. OMG. My mind started to spin. How could I go to the hospital? Who would watch Michelle? Then I calmed myself down when I remembered that "numbness" in the left arm signals a heart attack, not pain. The pain was more likely the result of holding Michelle (who is somewhere between 12 and 13 lbs at this point) for a solid four hours the night before. I was carrying her around, singing to her, dancing with her and even when she fell asleep I left her resting on my shoulder because I didn't want to disturb her during my show. My shoulder was hurting at the time from the pressure but I guess, as with any workout, I didn't feel the full effects until the next day.

Photo by James Harvey
It's tough because my left arm is the arm that I usually hold her in. It just feels more natural to support her on the left so I still have my right arm free to do things. I could not lift her while my arm was that sore though. I had to give it a rest. So I tried to take it easy. Luckily Michelle complied and slept more than usual that day. I carried her around on the right, even though it was awkward (especially when I tried to eat with my left hand.) When I tell some people about how much I hold her they look at me like I have two heads. "You CAN put her down, you know." But I can't let her cry. At least my arms get a bit of a break for a few moments while she sits in her Bumbo, or her swing or her jumperoo, plays on her play gym or has her tummy time. But there is no substitute for Mama. Especially when she's tired and cranky and only walking and rocking and singing can soothe her.

My doctor had told me it was safe to take Tylenol while I was pregnant but I was nervous to and managed to survive without it. I still don't have any in the house. I should get some just in case I ever wake up with that kind of pain again. I would assume if it's safe to take while pregnant then it would be OK while I'm breast-feeding as well.

My left arm had already been through the ringer before I even held Michelle. I actually had carpal tunnel in my left wrist while I was pregnant. My doctor said it was common in pregnant women. I wondered how on earth I would manage holding an infant. It is a challenge. At least after giving my left arm a break it didn't hurt quite so much. I will try to use both arms so that I don't have a flare up like that again.

Some days it feels like she's in my arms from morning until night. She just won't let me put her down. She has good days, not so good days and horrific days. She had one of her worst ever recently. I don't know why some days she wakes up and decides to make my life a living hell. I guess it's not her fault. But it's brutal. She is a force of nature, like a storm. Hurricane Michelle. You never know when she'll strike.

She awoke at 5 a.m. which you might say is normal for a baby. Usually she doesn't get up until about 7 a.m. Now don't misunderstand. It's not as though she sleeps through the night until 7 a.m. But on a good day she wakes up every few hours to feed but doesn't start to make a fuss and demand to get out of bed until about 7-ish. I often don't get to bed until about 3 a.m. so on less than two hours sleep, I'm a zombie and it's tough to lift myself, let alone Michelle, out of bed. On a bad day, she gets up at 5 a.m. and fusses and doesn't go back to sleep at all and doesn't nap more than two minutes all day. Sleep deprivation has been used as a form of torture. Every mother knows it's not fun. Usually Michelle eats every two hours during the day and every 3-4 hours at night. Then once in a blue moon on a hellish day, she goes on a hunger strike and won't feed. Two hours go by, three hours, four hours go by. I keep trying to feed her because she's showing hunger cues (chewing her fist, moving her head around as though looking for the breast, crying a desperate cry) but then she rejects me, turns away from me, pushes me, at one point even punched and kicked me when I tried to feed her. It was so frustrating. I didn't know what to do. I started to panic. What if she just never fed again? Finally I would give up but she'd keep crying. She had been changed so it wasn't that. She'd been burped. She wouldn't be soothed with rocking, singing, playing, wouldn't let me read a story or do anything. She was hungry but wouldn't eat. It made no sense. Finally, thank goodness, though she was still crying I tried yet again to feed her and she latched on and fed voraciously. My impossible girl. The next day she was back to her normal feeding routine as though nothing had happened.

She started rejecting the bottle I'd been using for breast milk (the one that came with the pump.) It really worried me because I refuse to breastfeed in public and rely on the bottle when I have an outing or appointment to attend. If she wouldn't drink from the bottle I was doomed. I decided to try another kind of bottle. Maybe she just didn't like that one. I picked up a Playtex nurser one for $5 (for $5 it couldn't hurt to try it.) My Mom had suggested Playtex. She thought they were the best. Thank Heaven Michelle actually went for it. It's a huge relief to know that once in a while I can actually take her out somewhere or leave her with my Mom and know that she'll still be fed.

I met several other mommies with young babies recently and it was an interesting experience talking with them. On one hand it was nice to speak to other women who could relate to having a new baby (getting no sleep, breastfeeding, trying to clip their nails so they don't claw themselves to bits, etc.) On the other hand it was difficult realizing that there aren't too many people that can relate to my situation as a single Mom. Many of them were complaining about their in-laws -- about how much they bud in, how they want to hold and feed the baby and do things for the baby and the Moms just wanted them to back off. Then I shared with them that I'm a single Mom and that I never get a break and what a treat it is when I visit relatives/friends and they offer to hold the baby for a few moments. I got a few "deer in the headlights" looks. It was awkward. They seemed shocked or ashamed as though they were complaining that their shoes were too tight and then realized I had no legs. I didn't want them to feel bad. It didn't really bother me. But on some level I thought, they really have no idea what it's like to be the only pair of arms. They say that they "want" to do everything for the baby but they know that they don't have to. They have help, financially, physically, emotionally. Someone else to get up in the night with the baby. Someone else to do the grocery shopping etc. And two sets of grandparents eager to take the baby any time they want. Now of course as I mentioned before I know that even a lot of the dads who stick around aren't a whole lot of help. Some have never changed a diaper. Many take a hands-off approach and let their wives handle all of the childrearing. But there are some who help. And the fact that they are there at all (presumably earning a living at the very least) is still a help. To go it on your own is really a challenge. There are disadvantages to having in-laws as well. They try to tell you what to do -- "Go on, give your baby pablum at 3 months, I did." and can cause friction and stress in your life when you don't see eye to eye. At least I have complete control and don't have anyone to bud in and undermine my parenting. (Other than my Mom throwing in her two cents now and then.) Still, sometimes I think it would be nice to have help. An extra set of arms, or three. But it's all me. And sometimes it feels like the weight of the world.

After my announcement about being a single Mom, one woman just shook her head in disbelief and said "I don't know how you do it!" I smiled and said "I don't know how I do it either!" But I don't have a choice. I have to do it. I love Michelle more than anything. And I'm all she's got.

Of course I do get awesome support from my family and visiting with them means the world to me but it's not the same as having someone there day in and day out.

Sometimes it feels like I'm the only one of my kind. I wish there were a Mommy and Me group for single Moms of young babies. There may be somewhere, in a bigger city. I doubt there's anything like that in my neck of the woods. I'm a bit of an anomaly in my suburban neighbourhood. Even before I was pregnant, I was the only single woman on my street. I'm surrounded by married people, young families. I'm the smallest family now. I know that there are a lot of single moms out there but they don't live on my street or in my city. Or if they do, they probably don't get out much. They're probably too busy.

Of course I'm busy myself. Sometimes it feels like I'll never be caught up. Still so many things to do and organize, so many occasions coming up (anniversaries, birthdays, not to mention Christmas) and I don't know how I'll prepare when Michelle doesn't always allow me time to do things. That's one thing since having the baby, I'm never bored, never lonely. I'm never alone. I remember I used to always want to be out on the weekends. Now Michelle is my date on Friday and Saturday nights! And honestly, I'd rather spend a weekend with her than out partying and dancing anyway (although I do plan to go dancing again someday, somehow.)

Michelle is officially three months old now! I can't believe it. How time flies. She's grown so much just in these few months. She's really trying to talk now. While I'm reading to her she makes little sounds as though she's reading along as well. She chatters in babyspeak. She's even started doing this new sing-song whiney thing that isn't a cry it's just an extended weak little sound between a hum and a whine. It's like she's finding her voice, realizing she can make sounds and wants to be heard. She does a high pitched squeal now too, sometimes out of joy and excitement and sometimes out of frustration. It's so cute I have to laugh, even when she's mad. I'm hoping she'll be talking soon. She seems so determined to communicate. Sometimes she looks into my eyes like she's really concentrating and tries to talk but it just comes out as a vowel sound "aaaa" "i." She has accidentally said a few words already including "Hi" "Mama" "I" and "Meow." I always echo her back so that she really feels like she's talking and she smiles in delight to feel like we're having a conversation. The way she reacts to things I say sometimes makes it seem like she actually understands but it may just be a coincidence.

She grabs onto me a lot more now. She'll grab my shirt, reach for my hand. The other day she even wrapped her legs around my arm while I was changing her, with her toes curled in clinging to me as if she was a monkey climbing a tree. It was adorable. I have been singing "There was a little monkey, climbed up a tree" to her. She loves when I sing her silly songs and rhymes as I'm changing her. She laughs and coos and talks. Then I run to get the camera to capture it and she stops. It's so frustrating. It's like they get camera shy, though I have been lucky enough to catch a few smiles from her I don't seem to have any luck with video. My sister tried to capture my nephew dancing in the summer on the deck. He was doing all these hilarious moves and then as soon as she had the camera ready he froze up and wouldn't do anything. Maybe the trick is to have a hidden camera somehow.

Many months ago, while pregnant, I had written a post called "My Left Foot" when my foot swelled up to three times its size. The right one eventually became swollen too but not as severely as the left, I guess because of the heart being on the left, all that extra blood to pool. At the time I thought I had it so rough. I didn't realize how easy it was. My time was my own. I could sleep in (theoretically, though I made many trips to the bathroom in a night!) I could spend hours gardening. I could sit on the swing and read a novel. I could go shopping (for more than 15 minutes at a stretch), have daily showers or long luxurious candlelit bubble baths, do some painting, play guitar and write songs. Now it's hard to steal a few moments for myself. Michelle doesn't let me do much. I don't always get to shower and when I do it's a rushed couple of minutes hoping she doesn't wake up and cry while I'm in there. Shopping is a race too. I'm always rushing, stressed out, trying to get done before she has a meltdown. Between feedings and pooings and everything else there is precious little time left for me. And then "me time" is usually spent getting caught up on laundry, dishes, etc. That's why this blog is so important. Though it's hard to find the time, it's something I need to do. Something creative, something for myself. I give her 99% of my time and energy. I still need that 1% for me.

Some people tried to tell me that pregnancy is the easy part, that even labour was easy compared to the work of caring for a new baby. I didn't believe them until now. Yes this is the hard part. Raising a baby on my own. Taking care of her 24-7. It is an exhausting, back-breaking (and arm-breaking!) job. But this is also the best part. Sharing each day with the most amazing little person I've ever met. Discovering who she is. Each day a new surprise -- a new little quirk, or expression or sound or gesture. Every day a new adventure. Learning patience (something I never had before) when she's at her worst. Enjoying her when she's at her best. Feeling more love and more joy than I have ever experienced, even the times I thought I was madly in love. It's a different kind of love now. Deeper and more true. And there are times when I'm snuggling with her or when she smiles at me and I think I'm the luckiest person in the world. And yes, I'd give my left arm for this. I'd give everything I have.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cutest Halloween Moments

I've always enjoyed answering the door to the kids on Halloween night but this year was even more fun since I was answering with a baby in my arms. Kids are so cute. They just say what pops into their heads. The youngest trick or treaters come early in the night. They started at 5:30 pm. I had several people say "Cute baby" and "cute skeleton." One of my favourite comments was from one little girl (a princess) who said "I like your baby!" as though Michelle was an accessory like a purse or a pair of shoes. I replied "Thanks. I like her too!" Maybe she did look like an accessory perched on my arm. I was dressed in black too and carrying a black cat head full of chocolate bars to give out. I was pleased that Michelle was so good throughout the night but then I didn't put her down the whole time. I finally wound up singing her to sleep with the lullabye from Rosemary's Baby "La la la la la la la la la la la la..." which is admittedly creepy but I was in the holiday spirit!

Another adorable comment came from a little boy who asked "Is that a real baby?" I laughed and said "No. She's just a baby for Halloween. She's a grown-up the rest of the time!" He cocked his head and asked "Really?" It was too adorable. I had to set him straight. "No no. I'm just being silly!" How did he actually think an adult could shrink down to the size of an infant for one night? Then again, children believe that Santa can fly all over the world in one night and put gifts under billions of trees. It's amazing what young children will accept as true. I guess I'll have to be careful about kidding around while Michelle is young! I don't want to mess with her head.
Michelle in her skeleton sleeper was a hit with the kids and the parents. A few mothers admired her and congratulated me. One father who was walking with his kids said "Beautiful baby! How old is she? 3 weeks?" "3 months" I answered. I guess she looks young for her age. At first I thought she was such a big baby. (Let's face it 9 lbs 4 ounces at birth is big!) but now that she's three months she just seems a normal size (though she is 12 lbs 4 ounces and wearing 3-6 and 6 month old clothes). People say she's a "petite" baby.
Speaking of petite it looks like I won't be any time soon. Not only can I not seem to psych myself up to start the 30 Day Shred but now I have a bunch of bite sized chocolate bars tempting me. I went out and got extra Halloween candy so that I wouldn't run out and now I have leftovers. I thought it would be cute if Michelle held some candy for a picture. Don't worry I wouldn't actually give her Smarties! Even when she starts solid foods I won't be giving her chocolate for a while. The Smarties made a good rattle. They're one of my favourites. I should have only bought candy that I don't like so that there would be no temptation. Oh well. At least we're heading into winter so I can hide the mommy tummy under layers. I'll try to start working out before the Summer at least. That seems a lifetime away at this point but then I know how quickly the time goes. This year has flown by. 
Now that Halloween is over, Christmas is just around the corner. My first Christmas with baby! I'm so excited. It will be even more special when she's old enough to appreciate it. I'm not sure how to handle the whole "Santa" thing. My mother never let us believe in Santa. She said she didn't feel it's right to lie. We knew that Christmas was the day Jesus was born in a manger and frankly, that's a better story. Later on I thought it wasn't fair of her to deprive us of the whole Saint Nick fantasy but then Christmas was still exciting. We got a lot of gifts. We just knew that they were all from Mom. I still enjoyed Christmas specials about Santa. I knew that there was a real person named Saint Nicholas who at one point went around giving gifts to people. But the jolly old man in the red suit with the flying reindeer bit did seem a little far-fetched, even to my young mind. I remember once being in a grocery store bakery when I was a kid and seeing a cake with a Santa head on it. The woman behind the counter (who was a little confused herself) said "That's a cake for Santa's birthday!" "Christmas is Jesus' birthday" I corrected her. I was a precocious little thing. I also came from a Catholic mother who read the entire Bible while pregnant with me. So, I'm torn. Part of me wants to carry out the whole Santa Claus ruse like everyone else, wrapping up gifts labeled from Santa and putting out milk and cookies but another part of me doesn't feel it is right to lie. Either way I want her to have happy, magical Christmases.
My scariest Halloween moment was when I misplaced my nipple! I use a rubber nipple shield for breastfeeding and it is a life-saver. I couldn't get by without it. In the commotion of Halloween, back and forth to the door (luckily I managed to squeeze a feeding in between answering the door to trick or treaters) I had lost it. I was in a panic. I have an emergency back-up one still in the package but I wanted to keep that as a souvenir and I'm not even sure where it is for that matter. I started looking frantically. What if I couldn't find it before her next feeding? I couldn't do the bare nipple thing. The last time I did that was when I first brought her home from the hospital and she chewed me to bits! (Literally. I was bruised and bleeding!) I usually have the shield sitting on a tissue after feeding, waiting to be washed. I checked by the sink. It was nowhere to be found. I was afraid I'd accidentally thrown it away. Then I suddenly saw it stuck to the oven! I guess the oven wanted to be a breast for Halloween! After feeding Michelle I had rushed to the kitchen to pick up the candy and answer the door and I guess I dropped it at that point. I was so relieved to find it. 
Michelle fell asleep in my arms and stayed asleep even when the last of the stragglers were at the door trick or treating at close to 8 pm. "I hope I didn't trick or treat too loud for the baby!" said one boy after realizing there was a sleeping skeleton in my arms. But he hadn't. She seemed quite content with all the commotion of the evening. The doorbell, the knocking, the strangers. I enjoyed my first Halloween with Michelle and I was pleased that it was all wrapped up in time for me to watch Survivor! I'm a reality TV junkie. It's my guilty pleasure. That and sugar. Those Smarties are beckoning me...