Thursday, March 28, 2013

Happy Easter!

If you're a Christian or you like bunnies, chances are you'll be celebrating Easter this weekend. Michelle and I will be celebrating both Easter and my brother's birthday with the entire family. I love when all of us get together, even though it can be a little chaotic. We're going to be at my Mom and Dad's house (and Mom has a full house even when no one is over because she has so much stuff!) so it will be tricky fitting us all in. Maybe we'll get lucky and the weather will be nice so we can hang out in the big backyard. I know it's supposed to be Spring now but it's still been pretty cold. We even had a little snow the other day. I'm hoping it will be warm and sunny on the weekend. And from here on in!

Growing up in a Catholic family, of course I always knew the true meaning of Easter -- Jesus' sacrifice -- his crucifixion and glorious resurrection to save us all from sin. In 2011 when I was recording a Song a Day all year on Youtube, I wrote a song for Good Friday called "Sacrifice". "You sacrificed everything for me. You gave your life to set us sinners free. I don't deserve it but you've given me the key to join you in Paradise for eternity. I'm sorry I'm frail. I'm sorry I've failed you. Forgive me, I love you. I know not what I do. I am so grateful for the way, the truth, the life, for your love, your sacrifice."

Sacrifice -- an original song by Ann Marie Pincivero. Here's a link to the video:

Like Christmas, Easter is a religious holiday yet it winds up being a pagan/non-denominational holiday for treats and gifts as well. (Christmas, literally Christ's Mass, is the birth of Jesus and yet it has become largely a consumer holiday focused on Santa Claus and presents.) Our family, like many other families I'm sure, celebrated both the Christian and pagan aspects of the holidays over the years. Easter is also a time to celebrate Spring, new life, renewal as symbolized by eggs and bunnies. As a kid I looked forward to getting a chocolate bunny every Easter. The hollow ones with the candy eyes were pretty but the solid chocolate ones had a lot more chocolate to eat. I remember always starting with the feet and feeling guilty about eating bunny's cute little face! Michelle is too young for chocolate bunnies or Easter egg hunts at this point but I wanted to get her into the Easter spirit so I picked up a pair of pink bunny ears at the dollar store. The huge pink bunny was Michelle's before she was even born -- it was one of her gifts at the baby shower last June. She loves her pink bunny. Sometimes bunny even joins her for a hopping fest while she's jumping in her Jolly Jumper.

I'm excited about Spring. Winter has always been my least favourite season and this winter has been one of the coldest and snowiest in a long time. If you've been following my blog then you know I've been in hibernation mode, staying in a lot. (As mentioned in posts like Homebody and Hibernation I even started ordering groceries online from Grocery Gateway to avoid going out at all.) Once the weather is nice I'm looking forward to spending a lot more time outside, going on walks with Michelle. There were a couple of days where it looked sunny so I ventured out with her only to find that it was still freezing cold and I nearly got frostbite on my ears, nose and cheeks. I kept thinking "I'll be glad when it's Spring!" It will also be nice to open up the windows and let the fresh air in. The only problem is that when Michelle has one of her tantrums and screams like a banshee (when she's tired and cranky and doesn't want to be changed for instance) I just hope the neighbours don't think I'm killing her! One time when I was on the phone with my Mom and she heard Michelle screaming on the change table on speaker phone she said that I'm liable to get complaints from the neighbours once I have the windows open. Without air conditioning, keeping the windows open is a necessity through the warm weather. Of course Michelle will be a little older by the Summer and hopefully much more well-behaved. She'll be an absolute angel by then I'm sure!

Michelle is getting much more mobile. I can't believe how fast she can move just doing her little caterpillar crawl. She pulls herself along, mostly by her arms and gets from one end of the room to another in seconds. Now I have to keep the basement door from the living room closed just in case (much to Ali's chagrin. Ali used to be able to come and go as she pleased. Now she has to wait at the door for me to let her down to use her litterbox.) I have put socket protectors on all the outlets, removed the breakables and put pillows to block the entertainment cabinet under the TV (because even though she has a soft blanket covered in toys she will crawl past it all to get to the cabinet under the TV and touch the word SONY. Everytime she gets near it I'm afraid she's going to bang her head on the glass doors. So I finally just stuck pillows in front of it.) I still have to childproof the kitchen but I'm torn between moving everything dangerous from the bottom cupboards to the top (which would be a huge undertaking and may not even be possible -- they may not fit in the smaller cabinets up top) or just tying the lower cabinets closed so she can't open them. I figure I'll usually be in the kitchen anyway to keep an eye on her. I have to put the baby gate up too so she can't venture up (and more frighteningly down) the stairs. It's times like this I wish I lived in a bungalow. It's scary having ceramic tile and hardwood floors as well because I know as she learns to walk there will be a lot of falls. She is starting to attempt pulling up on the ottomans and my legs. It's only a matter of time before she's stumbling around on her own.

Michelle is turning 8 months old this weekend as well. I still can't believe it. Time is going way too fast. She'll be a year old before I know it. I'm having so much fun with her these days. Her personality is really starting to come out. Her sense of humour is more developed and I love making her laugh. She understands a lot more and gets excited when I guess what it is she wants and get it right. I love when she gets so excited she shakes and clenches her fist (she does it a lot!) More and more I'm starting to see her as a little girl, not just a baby. I have a ball playing with her (even when it's breaking my arms and my back!) I'm looking forward to all the things we can do in the coming months, getting out more in the nice weather. Going for walks in the park, heading to the beach. It's exciting watching her grow. Each day wondering what she'll do to surprise me. Lately she likes sitting under her little Ocean Wonders Kick and Crawl play gym. She rubs her head on the material and her hair stands on end like when you put your hand on the ball at the Science Centre. I love my funny girl. I'm so grateful to be on this adventure with her.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Separation Anxiety

Michelle and I had a nice visit with my Mom and Dad. Mom gave Michelle a little Easter gift to enjoy before Easter. An adorable little bunny book. Later we went to Walmart. I needed to get all my grocery shopping done and Mom loves to get to Walmart any chance she can. She offered to walk around with Michelle while I shopped unencumbered for a change. It gives her a chance to visit with her granddaughter and gives me a rare opportunity to shop without a baby fussing. We were going to meet at the front of the store in an hour. I said I'd probably be done before that and where might I find her. Mom said she wanted to look in Menswear for a gift for my brother. I rushed around to get my shopping done and asked someone the time. I was a bit early. I thought I'd run into my Mom somewhere in the store but didn't. I checked back at Menswear a few times. Then I started to worry. I searched from one end of the store to the other, all the places I thought she'd be. There was no sign of her. I thought maybe she was checking out. I scanned all of the line-ups and didn't see her. Finally I decided I might as well cash out and put my groceries in the car because I could run around the store a lot faster without the cart.

When I went back in the store, a feeling of panic set in. "What if something happened?" My Mom is just about the only person I would trust to watch Michelle but even with Mom I worry. After all, Mom admits she left my brother Mike behind in the bank when he was a baby. She had Chris as a toddler and me as a child and I guess a young baby was just too much. As she left the bank, the teller called after her "Aren't you forgetting something, Ma'am?" "No," Mom replied, "I have my purse." Priorities! She always laughs when she tells this story but now I was recalling it with horror. What if she left Michelle somewhere and someone took her? My Mom was famous for walking away from her cart. I remember even as a child I had to keep saying "Mom! Someone is going to take your cart!" (I'm not sure why I didn't tell her about little Mikey when she left him behind. Maybe I didn't notice. Or maybe I thought one brother was enough...) She was always misplacing her purse and her keys. My mind started to race. Where was she? Was Michelle OK? I thought I heard a baby cry. Was it her? I looked down one aisle after another. Each time I saw a babyseat in a cart I'd get excited then disappointed it wasn't her. Where were they? What if Mom had to go to the washroom and left Michelle outside? What if Michelle needed to be changed and Mom couldn't get her out of the carseat (my Mom had problems with the buckle. It is pretty hard to undo)?

Ironically I thought I needed a break from Michelle. As a single Mom I look after her 24-7 with no break, ever. You would think that I'd be relieved to have an hour to myself. Instead I missed her. I worried about her. It didn't feel right not having her there. When I went to pick up some baby food there was another Mom with her baby. The woman looked a  little dishevelled, tired and distracted like me except she had her baby with her so you knew why. I realized that without Michelle I just look disshevelled, like I don't care. I would just look like a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Stained jeans, sweatshirt, messy hair, crooked glasses (Michelle keeps grabbing them off my face) exhausted expression. Most of the time when I was shopping with Michelle, strangers would smile, make conversation, comment on how cute she was and make a fuss of her. Now shopping on my own, no one acknowledged me at all.

I'm closer to Michelle than I've ever been to anyone. It's only natural. She's my own child. I feed her, play with her, read to her, sleep with her. In my entire life I've never spent so much time with anyone. Every hour of every day and night. I'm an Attachment Parent for sure. I couldn't be more attached! It's like she's part of me and when she's not there it really doesn't feel right. As difficult as it can be sometimes to care for her constantly on my own (especially when she's fussy and difficult and I'm on no sleep) I love her so much I can't bear to be apart from her. God forbid when the day comes when I have to leave her with someone. I'm trying not to think about that. I'm having enough trouble sleeping as it is.

So I sprinted around Walmart, growing increasingly anxious. I wondered if I should have my Mom paged (of course she was ALWAYS late whenever we were supposed to meet but this time she had my baby.) Where could she be? I realized I could probably search the store forever and not find her because as soon as I go down one aisle she could be going up another and I could keep missing her. Where could Mom be with my baby?! Maybe she'd kidnapped Michelle and was on her way to Mexico! (OK, now I was just being silly.) I had spent so much time with Michelle, the bond was so strong that not being near her felt wrong. I started to soften when I thought of times Michelle had awakened and started to cry that I wasn't there. I always got so frustrated when she'd wake up before I had a chance to get anything done. (Like when I FINALLY thought it was safe to take a shower and had just stepped in only to hear "Waaaaah!" a minute later. So I'd curse silently like Yosemite Sam, dripping wet, throwing on a towel, thinking how unfair it was that I couldn't have even 5 minutes to myself.) Now I understood. She had that moment of panic. "Where is Mama?" We're supposed to be together. And as I raced around Walmart, all I could think was, I can't wait to see her face. I can't wait to hold her. Even if it is breaking my wrist. (I had carpal tunnel in my left wrist while pregnant and I've been having a lot of pain especially since that's the arm I carry her in the most. These days she's over 16 lbs so it's murder on my poor arm.) In my panic all I could think was "Where is my baby?"

When I finally saw the carseat in the distance, brown and turquoise with a pink blanket and a little pink baby inside, a wave of relief and joy washed over me. I almost ran across the store to get to her. "There you are! I've been worried sick!" "Oh sorry," my Mom said. "I didn't want to stop in Menswear until Michelle was asleep." Meanwhile Michelle wasn't suffering from separation anxiety at all. She was sleeping sweetly, quite content to roll around Walmart with Grandma and wasn't worried where I was.

So apparently an hour is my limit to be without Michelle. I have left her with my Mom for an hour before to go to a doctor's appointment. It's strange that I didn't even plan to have children but now she has taken over my life so completely that she's everything to me and I can't imagine life without her, not even for an hour. I used to use the excuse that I had to feed her every couple of hours but I've managed to stretch the breastfeeding to every three hours now. The truth is that I can't bear to be apart from her. Yes she needs me but I need her just as much.

One of the stories I read to Michelle often is called "We Belong Together." We belong together like milk and cookies, "like peanut butter and jelly, like a pencil is drawn to paper..." Michelle and I belong together. She is my other half, my better half. My reason for being. Yes there are times when she drives me crazy but most of the time she is the joy of my life. She IS my life. Maybe I love her too much. Maybe I go overboard. I can't help it. I never expected to be a Mom but this is the only Mom I can be. All in.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Ottoman Empire

Michelle can stand for several seconds holding onto the ottoman. She likes to "walk" around (with me, hunched over, guiding her and my back is definitely paying the price!) and cruise down the hallway or move from one ottoman, stool, couch -- or any other object of the right height -- to the next. She wobbles like a drunk old man leaving a pub, staggering and holding on to things. It's only a matter of time, I suppose, before she can do it on her own and then a whole other world of stress will begin. As much as my back could use the break, I know that once she is truly mobile, I'm in serious trouble. I still have to install the baby gates, remove all the breakables and put plugs and child safety closures on everything. I've been reading "What to Expect the First Year" and it has me REALLY stressed out. Things I never would have thought about, like those door stopper spring thingys that go boing -- apparently the plastic part can come off and is a choking hazard? I really don't know what I'm going to do short of removing everything from my home. Even with that, the main floor is hardwood and ceramic tile. Very unforgiving when she falls. Though I changed out my glass coffee table with a storage ottoman, there are still other hard surfaces and corners to bump into. I can't cover everything with padding. Even in her nursery she could bang her head on the dresser or bookcase. She's already been scooching around, pulling herself as opposed to crawling and I've had to stop her short before she banged her head on something. My stress level is starting to rise.

I got a video of her walking with me down my hallway. She has been practicing her steps at my sister's place and mine. She was almost running for a while here but she seems to have slowed down somewhat. Or maybe she was a little camera shy (any time I try to capture something on video she won't do it. I should try to hide the camera!) Here is the video on Youtube:

I kept waiting for things to get easier. In some ways they had. She was behaving better in the car and out in public, not fussing as much. She sleeps for the most part in the car and even when she wakes up seems interested in looking out the window. She was eating well and sleeping well. Her new routine was oatmeal at 7 pm and then nursing her at 8 pm after which she'd fall asleep and only wake up to nurse and go back to sleep every few hours. Amazing! I could actually get things done. Until suddenly one night she woke up after five minutes (while I was trying to grab a shower) and wouldn't settle down until midnight. Then she still woke up at the crack of dawn. The next day she was cranky all day and rubbing her eyes but wouldn't sleep. She finally had a nap mid-afternoon but still seemed out of sorts. Maybe there's too much going on in her mind. She's trying to take it all in. She's on the verge of one of the biggest steps of her life -- her first actual steps on her own. Right now she has me and my aching back to hold her but I can tell she wants to move on her own.

She is developing an independent streak. She gets frustrated when she wants to do something and can't. She tries to do things herself. She loves sipping water from her sippy cup. She tries to do it herself but usually ends up pouring it all over herself. When I ask "Do you want some water?" she kicks her legs and shakes her fists and smiles from ear to ear. I've never seen anyone get so excited over water. You'd think she was in the desert. I guess just because it's different. She was relegated to warm milk for 6 months so I guess a nice cold glass of water is a welcome change. Though she doesn't seem to like variety when it comes to food. She hates just about everything now (even things like green beans which she used to like) except cereal, sweet potatoes and pears. I tried experimenting with different foods. Broccoli was her least favourite to date. I should have snapped a picture of the face she made. One day it even made her cry. Each new food I give her for 3 days to test for allergy. A lot of them I just won't bother to buy again because she won't eat them. At least she likes her cereal -- rice, oat and barley -- particularly oatmeal. I've made it a nightly routine for her and I to have our oatmeal (mine is Maple and Brown Sugar. Mmmm) before she settles down to bed. It usually works like a charm. My Mom thinks that cereal is comfort food and helps you sleep. I guess a full tummy helps. I'm thrilled that she likes Sweet Potatoes with Turkey so she's getting some protein. I've tried mixing chicken into regular sweet potatoes. She'll usually tolerate it. I just have to be careful not to put too much chicken in it. Pears remain her very favourite food. She likes apples and bananas too but she goes over the moon for pears. Peaches were a flop. I sampled a little and couldn't blame her. I love the actual fruit but for some reason the baby version was just sickening. Too sweet (and this is coming from someone who loves Coca Cola!) I was surprised she didn't like corn. It's always been one of my favourites. It doesn't have a lot of nutritional value so I probably won't get it again. I just thought if it was something she liked I could mix other things with it. God help me if she ever loses her taste for sweet potatoes! She did eat some of the beef with spaghetti but she wasn't in love with it. My Mom said she always thought those mixed baby foods wouldn't be nutritional enough. I said if I can get her to have a little bit of meat it's more than worth it.

She's developing a sense of humour as well. She keeps knocking my glasses off and laughing. She laughs her head off if I make a silly face or noise or voice. She understands more of what I say and reacts to it. The other day she passed gas and I asked her if she tooted. She found that hilarious. I would later learn that she found it so funny because she'd done more than tooted. She had pooped. Her poo now, since starting solid food, is UNGODLY. It stinks to high heaven. I can't believe something so foul can come out of an innocent little baby. No one warned me. I'd been accustomed to her breastmilk poo which was essentially odourless. For 6 months it was a non-issue. I had an open wastebasket for diapers in the nursery. Now since starting solid foods I had to put in a steel garbage can with a lid and it still smells.

Pretty soon I can start giving her finger foods. At eight months babies are allowed to nibble foods that will dissolve in their mouth -- like little pieces of bread, soft cheese, pasta, Cheerios. That will be exciting. I know that she'll love feeding herself. It will be a bit nerve-wracking too. I'm so scared of her choking on something. I will be so careful with just little bits at a time and will never give her anything dangerous (nuts, hard fruit etc). She still doesn't have any teeth or the beginnings of any. Hopefully teething won't make her fussier and keep her up at night when it happens. My Mom got me a little mesh thing that you can put fruit in so that they can suck on it and get the juice without eating the actual fruit. It will be interesting to see her taste a real pear. They're not quite as sweet as the baby version. Finger foods will definitely be an adventure. After seeing how excited she got over a glass of water, I'm guessing Cheerios will really blow her mind! She's constantly putting her toys in her mouth (and trying to put anything else she comes across in too but I stop her when she tries to chew books etc -- except the bath books) so it will be fascinating to her I'm sure that she can put things in her mouth that actually taste like something. I will try to get a video of her eating Cheerios for the first time.

When I see her holding onto the ottoman and I let go for a few seconds, it's scary to think that one day she will stand without holding onto anything, then she'll be taking her first wobbly steps alone. It's hard to let go. I remember when she was a newborn and I was so overwhelmed with her crying all the time and feeding almost constantly but part of me now looks back at that time and thinks "in a way it was easier." She was helpless. She needed me. She couldn't move around or do anything on her own. She couldn't get into trouble. And she didn't weigh so much to carry her. Yes although she does like to be independent sometimes, there are other times (usually when she's overtired/cranky) when she will not let me put her down and it KILLS my arms, wrists, back. Still I am excited about where she is now and where she's going. In some ways it's easier, in other ways it's harder but it's a rollercoaster and I'm enjoying the ride. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Something borrowed, something blue

As soon as I found out I was having a girl (at 32 weeks pregnant) I went out and got her some frilly little pink dresses but it turns out that blue is really her colour. Of all the dresses Michelle has worn so far, this little blue satin one is by far my favourite. It just suits her. She may have been born in the Summer but as far as colours go I think Michelle is a "Winter" with her pale skin and blue eyes. The light blue really brings out the blue in her eyes. My sister gave me this adorable dress. It was my neice Shannon's when she was a baby. It was sized 12 months but Michelle has been wearing a lot of sized 9-12 month clothes and I wanted to make sure she wore it before she outgrew it.

It was my nephew Dan's birthday, which also happens to be St. Patrick's Day. My Mom said we should have been wearing something green (we are partly Irish after all!) but Michelle and I didn't have anything green.

It was a nice day with the family at my sister's place. Michelle, as expected, was thrilled to be able to walk (run) around my sister's house. I insisted on getting the group photo as I always do. It's more difficult now that my camera doesn't have a flash (if you read my post "Gone in a Flash" then you know that my camera flash died. A new camera isn't in the budget at this point so I've found a work-around -- I just take photos in natural light or use the sport mode setting. Photos aren't as clear but at least it allows me to continue taking photos.) We weren't quite sure when it was done. I always count to 10 but am silent for the last couple of seconds so the picture doesn't snap while I'm saying "two" and I wind up looking like a weenie (which often happens!)

I love spending time with my family. We'll be getting together again for Easter and Chris' birthday with my brother Mike as well. I wish I lived closer to my sister and my parents. Since I've had Michelle there have been times I really wished they were right next door. Of course they're just a phone call away but it's not quite the same. The night that Michelle was sick I was so scared I wished my sister or Mom were there to see her and reassure me that she was OK. Thank God she was. I know that it used to be -- and still is in many families and cultures -- a tradition for families to stay together, many generations living together in one house. Though it would be difficult in many ways it would also be comforting to have so much support. Going it alone can be tough. Living in the suburbs as a single Mom surrounded by couples and families can feel isolating. I know there are a lot of single Moms out there of course but they don't live on my street!

My Mom made sure to wear green in honour of St. Patrick's Day. It's easy for her though because she has outfits in every colour under the rainbow and then some. When she wears a colour, EVERYTHING matches right down to her purse, shoes and hat.

Michelle is always so excited to see her Grandma. She clenches her fists and shakes with excitement. She's so used to hearing my Mom's squeaky voice over the phone so experiencing it in person just puts her over the top. My Mom always insists on wearing necklaces, brooches and earrings so Michelle grabs at them. I never bother wearing any jewellery and I've been wearing my hair in a ponytail since she was born so she couldn't grab at it. My Mom is also always wearing lipstick so Michelle ends up with a bit orange stain on her cheek. It's nice to give my arms a break though. My Mom was really feeling it. Just in the short time she was holding Michelle her wrists were aching. "Welcome to my World!" I said. Of course Michelle will sit on the floor and play sometimes but a lot of the time she still wants to be picked up and carried around, or walked around now that she's taking her first baby steps, which is murder on your back.

My dad noticed Michelle was getting heavier when he held her as well. She's over 16 lbs now. Not only is she heavier but she's so wiggly that it makes it even harder to hold her. She twists and turns and wriggles and bends until you're afraid you'll drop her. In a slippery satin dress it's even more of a challenge to keep a grip on her.

She was happy and excited to see the family. It must be strange for her to be with just Mommy most of the time and then occasionally to be surrounded by so many people. She's always friendly when we go out. She'll even smile at strangers. She doesn't "make strange" the way my Mom says I used to as a baby. Hopefully she doesn't go through that stage. She did start making strange with objects but she's gotten over that now. The things she was afraid of she's now curious about and grabs at.

It is a treat when I'm visiting at my sister's to have several extra pairs of arms to give me a break for a few moments to grab a bite to eat, head to the washroom, or just breathe and stretch my arms for a few moments. It's tough when you're the only parent 24-7. Especially when your wrist is ready to break and she's crying to be picked up. So many people have said "Why don't you just let her cry?" but I just can't do it. I feel guilty if she cries for a minute while I try to finish a shower or do anything. That's why I have to wait until she's asleep to get most things done and why I've had to give up daily showers because it's just too difficult. Sometimes I think she's sound asleep and it's safe so I jump in the shower only to hear her starting to cry. It's like she knows. One woman tried to tell me there was something wrong with me if I couldn't grab a shower. "My baby just sits in her bouncy seat while I shower" the clueless woman explained. Well woop-de-doo for you! I didn't get so lucky. Michelle doesn't let me do things. She expects my constant, undivided attention and is quite vocal if she doesn't get it. So, she usually gets it. Maybe I have spoiled her but someone told me you can't spoil a child with love. I may not be able to give her much financially but I can certainly shower her with love.
I knew that I'd gotten a little trigger happy with the photos of Michelle in her fancy blue dress. I started even before we left the house. I figured I must have taken at least 100 pictures. When I uploaded them to the computer I realized that I'd taken more than 300 photographs! In one day! Maybe it's better if I don't dress her in blue dresses too often! It's too much temptation to get carried away. When we're just hanging out at home she's in her comfies. Often just a pair of pjs or a sleeper (if we're not going anywhere I often stay in pjs myself!) As soon as I dress her up it feels like a photo shoot and I can't resist snapping away.

I'd heard of kids chewing their toes before and thought it sounded gross but of course anything is cute when a baby does it. Especially your own baby. Michelle has been sucking on her toes for a while. She puts everything in her mouth and as soon as she discovered she could reach her toes, in they went. She started doing it while we were at my sister's place and I snapped a few photos of her. It was funny to see her all dressed up like a lady but behaving rather unlady-like. I even caught a little of it on video:


When babies are first born they look so similar that it's impossible to tell whether they're boys are girls. The only way to differentiate is to dress them in pink or blue. Sometimes people don't pay attention and still ask "Is it a boy or a girl?" even when she's wearing a frilly pink dress with a flower and a bow on it. People who don't want to know the sex of the baby before it's born often stock up on neutrals like yellows, beiges and greens. After seeing Michelle in this dress I wish I had more blue things for her. My favourite photo of Michelle is the one at the start of this post. It's one where I can start to see the little girl emerging from the baby. She's growing up so fast. She seems to like the picture too. I made it my screensaver on the computer and she was grinning ear to ear and kicking her legs when she saw it. "Yes that's you baby!" I had a picture of her and I up before, from a couple of months ago. It's amazing how much she's changed just in a few months.
I wish I could afford to buy my princess hundreds of dresses. If only I could win the lottery. There are so many things I'd love to get for her and do for her. Luckily family and friends helped out with a lot of nice outfits and toys for her, new and used. I'm grateful to my sister for so many things and this little blue dress is just one of them. Michelle has several other dresses for 12 months. Most of them are summery. I had picked up things on sale when I was pregnant. I tried to buy things according to size and season. I figured that when she was 12 months old it would be summer. I couldn't have imagined that I'd have a 9 lb baby who would be 3-6 months ahead in sizes. At least Spring is almost around the corner (although it's been snowing all day and is supposed to snow all week this week!) so she can probably get away with wearing Summer dresses with a little sweater over it and some tights (which I did have on her but my sister's house is always so warm she didn't need it.) I guess at 12 months she'll be wearing size 18-24 months. I can't think that far ahead though. It still freaks me out that she's 7 and a half months old already!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Baby steps

There's a saying "You have to learn to walk before you can run" but Michelle doesn't care about that. She takes off like a shot out of a gun. Yes she's walking -- make that RUNNING -- with help. A lot of help. I basically have to bend over and hold her chest while she takes off dragging me along. It's murder on my back but she loves it and squeals in delight as she makes it from one end of my house to the other in a couple of seconds. It started with her standing, leaning onto the ottoman. She's gotten really good at that and can stand by herself (leaning on her friend Otto-man) for a few minutes. Of course my hands are ready at her sides to grab her if she teeters. Then it graduated to her taking a few awkward tenuous steps while I held her. At first she looked like John Cleese from the Ministry of Silly Walks. She would take one giant over-exaggerated step with her left leg and then a tiny one with her right. She got a lot of practice walking at my sister's place which has a lot more room to move. She sure has the hang of it now. One foot in front of the other at lightning speed. I can barely keep up and I may have to seek out a chiropractor. If she had a walker she'd be running around in it. Of course they've been banned for years. I fell down the basement stairs in one as a baby (my sister left the door open and down I went) and still have a scar on my chin. They didn't worry about safety back in those days. You didn't even need a child safety seat, you could carry your baby loose on your lap in the car. You could smoke in front of them too. So when my Mom says things like "In MY day you only fed your baby every 4 hours. In MY day you left your baby to cry." I retort that they didn't know any better back in her day and it's a miracle any of us survived. These days they're so careful. I heard you can even get jail time if you try to sell or order a walker on the black market. It's a shame actually because as long as you're responsible and careful to keep doors closed, babies would have a lot of fun in it. And it would save my aching back!

Sometimes I worry if I'll be able to keep up with her. I hate when my Mom brings up my age as though that's why I have so little energy. The truth is I'm stronger and have more energy now than I did in my 20s but it's still difficult. There is still so much to change around the house, to childproof it -- install baby gates, move breakables, move toxic chemicals (cleaning supplies etc) from the bottom cupboard in the kitchen to the top cupboard above the stove -- before she can walk on her own. Once she's fully mobile, all bets are off. She's a ball of energy and there's no stopping her. Sometimes, particularly when I haven't had enough sleep (which is often!) I feel so weak and sore. I wonder how on Earth I'm going to manage. She's so fast and so strong already. It's harder to carry her because she twists around and kicks her legs in excitement and of course she's getting heavier all the time. My left wrist aches so bad sometimes it feels like it's going to break (I had carpal tunnel while I was pregnant. Carrying a heavy and constantly squirming baby doesn't help.) She won't keep still. On the change table she keeps trying to twist and turn over. I'm afraid she'll roll off. I have to hold her down with one hand the whole time. There's a strap on the table as well but she hates it. She always hated to be restrained. Some babies liked being swaddled when they're newborn. Not her. She probably thought it was a straightjacket. She can't stand being buckled into her carseat. She wants to be wild and free, arms flailing, legs kicking, running amok.

She doesn't quite crawl but she squirms along the floor like a caterpillar. I put her on the blanket with her toys and in less than a second she's off the blanket, on the carpet. No matter how big a blanket I put down, she moves to the edge. She loved running around my sister's place (May's house is twice the size of mine.) I can imagine her when she's older running along the beach, running through a field, running in the mall. I will have to stay in shape so that I can catch her! I was a fast runner back in the day but I don't have the speed or stamina I used to. I really do have to work out again.

Life with Michelle is always an adventure. Always a surprise. You never know what she'll do next. I was pleased that she was sleeping so much better now that she's on solid foods. She was normally settling down around 9-10 PM and then only waking up to nurse and go back to sleep until 5-6 AM. Awesome! But just when you think you're safe, she's back to her old tricks. Suddenly she fell asleep at 8:30 PM, woke up at 10 PM and was WIDE AWAKE as though it was morning and wouldn't settle down until after 2 AM. So you can never really be sure how it's going to go. You try to use logic to figure her out (OK, well she didn't have a nap at all today so she'll definitely be tired) but she'll just make a fool of you because it's never quite what you expect. All you can do is hope for the best and roll with it.

I have been keeping notes on new things she does month to month. One milestone this month is that she can sit up by herself now from a laying position. She understands so many words too. She knows "pears" now. It's her favourite food and when I say it, her face lights up and she kicks her legs in excitement. She gobbles them up like it was ice cream. (They are good. I always taste the spoon after I dish some out for her.) If you caught my post "Trial and Error" then you know she had a really ugly and horrifying bout of nausea. I was blaming myself for overfeeding her but the truth is I don't think I'll ever know what it was. Other people were suggesting it was food poisoning or a virus. I didn't think a flu would come on that suddenly and end so quickly (after one night) but I've since heard of other people having projectile vomiting for just one night and then it goes away. My Mom said she heard on the news that even the Queen was sick with the flu. So there you go. It must be going around if even the Queen caught it!

She's got her mother's nose. Literally!
If I had to pick one word to describe Michelle at 7 months it would be mischievous or curious. She loves grabbing things, especially my glasses off my face and laughs her head off because she knows she's not supposed to. She loves playing with the nipple shield now and nearly takes my nipple with it when she grabs it off. I'll tell her not to do something and she'll deliberately do it and then smile at me defiantly. The things that she used to be nervous of (like my tropical fish shower curtain and a monkey made out of a coconut from the Dominican Republic) she is now intensely curious about and grabs at. She's becoming fearless.

I keep hoping Michelle will say "Mama" but it hasn't happened yet. I know that she understands "Mama" but she still doesn't say it. Sometimes when she cries it almost sounds like she's saying it but I know that's a fluke because even when she was first born it sounded like she said Mama when she cried (even my Mom heard it.) My sister said that her kids were saying Mama at 7 months. I guess she still has a couple of weeks to go. It's hard not to have expectations. I know that all babies do things at their own pace. She's still saying Dada a lot but I don't take it personally. (To mothers out there who are hurt when their babies say "Dada" before "Mama" this is proof that it doesn't mean anything. Even with no Dada in the picture -- her father has been absent since I was 4 months pregnant -- and never hearing the word, she's saying it all the time.) It doesn't mean anything. It's just a sound. The easiest sound to make unfortunately. Sometimes I let Michelle see videos of other babies on Youtube. She seems to get a kick out of other kids speaking her language. One of the videos that made her smile was the one of the twin boys talking (it's one of those viral videos with millions of hits). They have an entire conversation with inflections and everything saying nothing but "Dada" the entire time. Here's the video if you missed it:

I think it's important for her to be exposed to other babies so I took her to the public playtime again, this time on a different day because she's in a different age bracket. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a fiasco. She hadn't had a nap and was cranky. On top of that it was so crowded they had to start turning Moms away because they were at capacity. With an older group of babies (7-12 months) it was a lot rowdier. There were babies crawling and walking all over the place. One 10 month old boy tried to sit on my knee. I didn't even know where his mother was. There were babies everywhere crying, screaming, rolling, wiggling, walking, running, grabbing. It was anarchy. Michelle had been used to a room of relatively docile 6 month old and younger babies sitting quietly and playing at the old playtime. This was too much for her. I felt a bit overwhelmed myself. When a kid suddenly threw up on a xylophone inches from my foot I took the cue and beelined us out of there. Michelle was so exhausted she fell asleep in the car instantly so I took advantage of the rare opportunity and checked out the new Target store that just opened. (The last time I was in a Target was in the U.S. several years and I loved it.) It was nice but shopping just isn't as fun when you don't have money to spend. I got a couple of jars of baby food for 67 cents. (I guess Walmart is competing because they recently lowered their baby food price to 66 cents. Competition is definitely good for the consumer.)
Michelle has some new little quirks. She does something that I call "jazz hands" where she waves her hands around a lot. It's not that she's waving "hi" or "bye" it's just a constant gesture. I mimick her and exclaim "Jazz hands!" and she laughs. She sometimes does a new laugh where she snorts and screws up her face. She's also started doing this strange gasping sound for fun. She scares me sometimes because she'll even do it while she's eating and I'm afraid she'll choke. As soon as she discovers something new that she can do -- a new sound she can make or a new gesture, she'll keep doing it until it gets old and then she never does it again. She's started chewing her toes a lot. The timing couldn't be worse since she's now walking around so much. I have to try to keep the floors clean since she's basically putting the floor in her mouth. I used to be such a germophobe but I'm having to let things go somewhat because you just can't possibly sterilize everything on the planet. Besides, exposure to germs helps them to develop immunity. You can't keep your baby in a bubble (as much as you may want to sometimes to protect them!) She likes having "free feet" (it was an expression my sister used and it seems appropriate). She doesn't like socks and tries to pull them off. I guess it's more organic for her and easier to walk with bare feet. I'm usually barefoot myself so I can't blame her.
I can't believe we're halfway through March already. Time is flying by. It still blows my mind that one day soon she'll be able to walk (RUN!) on her own, that she'll be able to say Mama and many other things, that she'll be eating regular food. I had myself so stressed out for a while there (if you read my post "A taxing time" you know that money is a huge source of anxiety on top of all the other worries that come with being a new Mom, a single Mom at that) but now I'm trying to take it easier. I was so busy worrying about the future that I couldn't enjoy the present. I have to relax. I know that everything will be OK. I don't always know how but I have faith that things will work out. All I can do is my best, from where I am, with what I have. Like Michelle, I have to learn to just put one foot in front of the other and take things one baby step at a time. The important thing is to cherish these precious days with Michelle because they will go by so fast.  

Monday, March 11, 2013

My masterpiece

Back in the days before I knew I was going to have a child, I referred to the things I created -- my poems, songs and paintings -- as my "babies." It used to be very hard for me to part with my artwork. It was kind of silly. As an artist, you hope to sell some of your pieces -- that's the whole point to painting in the first place. Over the years I only sold a few paintings and each time it was difficult to let them go. I really did consider them my "babies." I had created them and lived with them for so long that they felt like members of my family. When I sold one of my favourites -- "Wind" -- I actually cried.

Singing on stage, my art in the background
There was a local bar that used to have an open mike for songwriters and they also exhibited work by local artists, a different artist every month. I was thrilled when they let me show my work there. Being a featured performer during the same month was a dream come true. It was kind of surreal being able to sing my songs and show my artwork in public at the same time. It felt like I was sharing the moment with my "girls" on the wall. I received a lot of compliments on my work but I never expected to actually sell a painting there. It was a bar, after all, not somewhere people would be looking to buy artwork.

at Manhattans -- "Wind" painting in centre.

I got a call from a man whose wife had fallen in love with one of my portraits, "Wind." He told me that his wife had given up a baby for adoption when she was younger. It was an "open adoption" and she was still in contact with the adoptive family. They sent her pictures of her daughter through the years. Her daughter was now a teenager and apparently looked exactly like the girl in my painting. I was so touched by the story that I couldn't say no. I couldn't imagine ever giving up a child for adoption. I had a hard enough time parting with a painting! I cried when I said goodbye to her. At the same time it was very rewarding to know that she would be hanging in someone's home and that she would be loved. It was also exciting to actually sell my artwork. I felt like a real artist now.

I painted another version of "Wind" because I missed her. The new version was quite different but I was still happy with it. Any time I sold a piece I tried to make another copy for myself but they were never quite the same.

I exhibited my artwork in a couple of other galleries and shows. It was a win-win situation. If I didn't sell any pieces, I was happy that I got to bring them back home where they belonged. If I did sell something then I felt gratified that someone liked my work enough to own it. I did some custom portraits for people as well. For a while I was painting almost every day. I seemed to go through phases where I craved writing, phases where music was everything and other phases where I lived to paint. As long as I was being creative, I was happy.

Art on the Street show
Art in the Window show

After a trip to the Dominican Republic, I wanted to create a tropical ocean view in my bedroom so I painted several canvases with palm trees and ocean vistas. My bedroom had been decorated in subdued earth tones but I added tropical splashes of colour -- a new quilt and pillows in bright shades of turquoise and fuschia. If I couldn't live on an island, I would bring the island to me. I even created a beach in my backyard, with sand and a tropical garden -- everything but the ocean. The ocean theme began to take over my entire house. There were shells, seahorses, mermaids, palm trees everywhere.

Painting was a way to escape, I would lose myself in it. I filled my entire house with my artwork. I remember when I first moved into my house it didn't feel like home until I put my paintings up. It was like having members of my family all around me. Many people have told me that I put a little of myself into each painting.

Then for a long while I didn't paint at all. A boyfriend had given me three large canvases as a gift hoping to inspire me to pick up the brush again but they sat there blank for months.

When I was decorating the nursery for the baby I wanted to do an ocean theme and was inspired to finally paint the three large square canvases with mermaids and babies. It felt good to paint again. I had missed it. Michelle was fascinated by the painting that hung over the change table and stared at it everytime she lay there.

Last year in February, after Michelle's father left me, I was in financial trouble and looking for ways to make money. (He had left owing me money, prince that he was, and had run up my bills before he left. Also some unexpected expenses came up so it was just a brutal month all around!) I sold many items on Kijiji trying to make ends meet and one of the customers who came to the door admired my artwork in the hallway. She wound up buying a few of my paintings. I sold them for a fraction of what I normally would have because I needed the money desperately to buy a new washer (my washing machine had just died on top of everything else.) Though they were a few of my favourites it didn't have the same sting as selling "Wind" did. My priorities were different now. There was a real baby on the way and she meant everything to me. I'd do whatever I had to for her. I do still plan to do new versions of them one of these days. I didn't get around to it while I was pregnant and it's close to impossible to paint these days. Maybe when Michelle is older she'll be interested in art and we can paint side by side.

When I was talking to a friend about not painting anymore she said that now my baby is my masterpiece, my greatest creation of all. She's right.

Recently I was inspired to write a song for Michelle called "You're the best." It begins --
"Of all the things I've made and done, my life's greatest feats --
You're my favourite one, you're my masterpiece.
Of all the things I've seen -- beautiful and new,
nothing can compare, my sweet love, to you."

Here's a video of it on Youtube. "You're the best" -- music and lyrics by Ann Marie Pincivero:

Before I ever knew that I'd be a Mom someday I remember hearing about mothers "giving up their dreams" when they had children -- leaving careers, artistic pursuits, etc to devote themselves to their children. Now that I'm a mother myself I understand that it's not as though you "give up" your dreams, it's just that your dreams change and priorities shift once you have a child. Suddenly your baby is everything. Anything that seemed important before pales in significance. That's not to say that I will never paint again. I will. I still write songs. I still need to express myself creatively. It's just that many of the things I used to do have to wait a while now. Michelle takes up 99% of my time.

Of all my creations, she is the most unique, the most precious. I am so grateful for her. She is my magnum opus, my masterpiece.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Taxing Time

Michelle is sleeping better. I however, am not. My brain won't shut down. At night I lay there making to do lists and worry lists in my mind -- some things are relatively easy to resolve and I can go through and check them off one by one, other things are still up in the air, confusing and almost impossible to resolve and just send me spinning. In the morning sometimes I wake up super early and can't get back to sleep. I watch Michelle lying peacefully next to me. I start to understand what they mean by "sleeping like a baby" -- when a baby does actually sleep (which is new for her and yes I am grateful!) she looks like a little angel. It is a sound sleep, a slumber of innocence, the kind of sleep you only get to have when you're a baby and you don't know enough about the world yet and you don't have enough responsibility yet to keep you up worrying! These days when I wake up it's very hard to get back to sleep because my mind starts spinning through unanswerable questions, thoughts of past, present and future. I wrote a song once called "Think Too Much." The chorus goes "Some people drink too much. Me, I just think too much." I was an insomniac even before I had a baby so now that I'm a single Mom and have a hundred times more things to think/worry about, it's even harder to catch some zzzs.

I've been so stressed that sometimes I get a pain in my chest and a splitting headache that feels like my brain might implode. I've been absent-minded and forgetting things -- like forgetting to bring things with me when I go out, or leaving things behind when I go somewhere to visit. One night I put the garbage out on the completely wrong day (the week before that I had missed garbage day entirely.) Sometimes it really feels like I'm losing it. I hope I didn't hit my head too hard the other day. I was rushing to bring the groceries in from the car, back and forth with one armful after another. I was moving as quickly as possible because Michelle was waiting inside the house in her carseat screaming (one of the reasons online shopping is so much easier. When I do try to venture out shopping it means listening to her scream, if not while shopping then at the checkout, or in the car, or when we get home and I try to bring everything in.) Suddenly I slipped on the ice and banged my head on the brick wall of the garage. My ear was bleeding a little. At least I didn't have a concussion. When I told my Mom she was having a fit, as if it was my fault. "What if you were knocked unconscious and the baby was alone inside the house!" I said that hopefully eventually a neighbour would find my car doors wide open a curious sight, would see my body lying on the driveway, would check my front door which was unlocked and see Michelle in her carseat. Sometimes it is scary to be alone and trying to do everything on my own. Some days I do feel isolated. I wish I lived closer to my Mom and my sister. My neighbour has been kind enough to shovel my driveway for me which is very sweet and a huge help because I'd never be able to leave Michelle long enough to do it. She barely gives me three minutes to run in and out with groceries.

I try to relax. I sing Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" and Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry Be Happy" and try to take deep cleansing breaths but lately it seems like there is just one thing after another to stress me out. I had an argument with a credit card company who said they weren't paid when I did pay them and had the confirmation number from my bank to prove it (it turned out it was a bank error -- they corrected it and apologized to me but it still doesn't undo the fact that I had a rather unpleasant conversation with two people at the credit card company because I thought it was their mistake.) Ever since Michelle's episode (if you missed my previous post she had a violent and terrifying bout of vomiting that could have been a scene from The Exorcist) I've been nervous about feeding her. I'm so afraid of feeding her too much that I've been denying her when she keeps asking for more and then I worry that I'm feeding her too little.

Money is probably the biggest stress. Trying to survive on a tight budget and not knowing how to make ends meet. I keep hoping I win the lottery. They say that money can't buy happiness but it certainly would make things easiser. I heard a quote "Your child needs your presence more than presents." I may not be able to buy lots of things for Michelle (thankfully she has most of the things she needs, a lot of which were donations and gifts from friends and family) but at least I get to be with her. As difficult as it is financially I feel that staying home with Michelle is the right thing to do. I know some women who returned to work after six months (or sooner) because they couldn't afford to stay on maternity leave and they had HUSBANDS earning an income too. Going it alone is really tough but there's no way I could have left her and missed out on the rest of her first year.

Tax time is always a little stressful. This year I didn't know what to expect. I always find it daunting filling out my taxes. Usually I look at the previous year's and copy it but since my life situation has completely changed I had to study the form carefully line by line. My sister had told me about the Amount for an Eligible Dependant (it apparently used to be called Equivalent to Spouse) which I could claim for Michelle. I was hoping it would make a big difference and I would get a big refund but then I started to worry that maybe I hadn't paid enough tax since they don't charge you much tax while on maternity leave and it would get added onto my pre-pregnant income. I was anxious to do my taxes and get it over with but I was still waiting for two T4 forms -- one for my maternity leave and one for the Canada Child Tax Benefit. I checked the mail again and there was still no sign of them. The CCTB I found out is not taxable and so no T4 is issued. I decided to check my Service Canada account online to see what was going on with my T4E. Maybe it had been lost in the mail. I hadn't logged into my account since July when I was still pregnant, before my maternity benefits had started. The site changed how you log in since then and my access key no longer worked. I finally figured it out and got to my page only to discover that my T4E wasn't mailed because I had opted not to have it mailed but to just view it online! When had I done that?! I must not have realized it. I was pretty distracted while I was pregnant. Anyway all this time I'd been waiting for forms that either didn't exist or were never going to come in the mail anyway.

So finally, with all my paperwork ready, I began to do my taxes. At least Michelle was sleeping peacefully which was an enormous relief. I was afraid I wouldn't even have time to work on it. It wasn't quite as difficult as I'd anticipated. I just went line by line and filled out the appropriate schedules. It was disheartening to fill out schedules thinking they were going to make a big difference and they would only make a small one or none at all. One phrase I really hate is "If negative, enter "0." Sometimes I would fill out an entire form and do all the calculations only to find that it made no difference. At least when I was done I ended up with a refund, not quite as much as I was hoping for but every bit helps. I'm grateful to get a refund at all rather than owe at least. It's a relief to be done anyway. Now I just have to write out my good copy and mail it in. I think the government is trying to save money any way they can -- not only did they not mail out the tax forms this year (I had to hunt the city to even find a store with a post office to pick one up) but they didn't even include envelopes in the package.

Physically, emotionally and financially I'm feeling more stressed than I ever have in my life. It's like I'm stretched to the limit. The things that I used to do to reduce stress -- long bubble baths, doing yoga, painting, playing guitar and singing, watching movies etc -- I haven't been able to do in a long time, since the baby. Now that she's sleeping better maybe I'll try to take some "me" time in the evening to de-stress while she's sleeping. Usually though when she does sleep I'm running around trying to get things like housework done. This blog is one of the few "me time" things I get to do but I usually just write a bit and leave it and then add more later when I can until it's done. I miss doing yoga. I really should do it again. Physically and spiritually it just makes me feel stronger, more grounded and more balanced. I'm feeling unbalanced these days! The trouble is I'm a creature of habit and find it hard to get back into something after I get out of the habit of doing it. For a while I was trying to do the 30 Day Shred but gave up when Michelle kept waking up during it and I never got to finish it. I lost a couple of pounds while doing it. Ironically I've lost more weight since I stopped and haven't really had any sort of a workout aside from carrying Michelle. I've also been eating a little healthier and eating a bit less. I've lost 10 lbs so far and still have another 10 to go. The Mommy tummy is a little smaller. I guess the expression "tighten your belt" works two ways -- you have less money so you eat less and lose weight.

They say that laughter is the best medicine and it's true. It is the greatest stress relief too. Visiting with my sister she had me laughing my head off, like I haven't in a long time. No one makes me laugh like she does. We have the same strange sense of humour. Michelle makes me laugh too. She's becoming a bit of a comedian. She enjoys knocking my glasses off and laughing or putting her foot in my face when I'm changing her. I make an exasperated expression each time and that makes her laugh even more. She's laughing a lot more now. I remember hearing many years ago that children laugh hundreds of times a day while most adults only laugh a few times a day, if that. I guess it's like the sleeping -- it's easier for children who are free and innocent. A light heart laughs easily. When you're burdened with anxieties and responsibilities sometimes it's hard to lighten up. Then Michelle reminds me not to take myself so seriously.
Though I do have bad days and moments when I feel overwhelmed, most of the time I am happy and grateful. Seeing Michelle's smiling face makes me smile. Hearing her little squeals of delight lightens my heart. As long as she is happy, it's OK if I'm having a hard time. Sometimes when it feels like I'm going to fall apart, Michelle keeps me strong because I have to be, for her. I try not to worry. As many people have told me worrying never solves anything. It doesn't stop bad things from happening and it only ruins the moment you're in, which could be a happy one. I have to have faith that everything will be OK, even though I don't always know how. At least my taxes are done. One less thing to worry about.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Trial and Error

Michelle has little rubber blocks. Every time we play with them I stack them up into a tower and she knocks it down instantly. I stack them up and she knocks them all down. Over and over. It's kind of a metaphor for parenting her -- every time I think things are getting easier, each time I start to build up confidence as a Mom or start to feel in control and think "I've got this!" I get knocked down again, reminded I'm not in control and that I've still got a lot to learn. I can never say "I've got this." Every day I have to start from scratch. I never know what each day will bring.

It's hard for me because I like knowing what to expect, having my ducks in a row. Now I have rubber ducks around my kitchen sink and they're in a row (the kitchen counter is where I bathe her in her whale tub) but most other things in life are not so simple, especially with a baby. I admit I'm a bit of a control freak. I can't bear to fail. It came in handy while I was in school because my relentless pursuit of perfection is what pushed me to work so hard, to get straight As and win academic awards through high school and university. Unfortunately life isn't like school. Sometimes there are no definite answers. You can't study for life's tests. They come upon you unexpectedly.

Nothing could really prepare me for being a Mom. There is no manual (well there are a lot of books on the subject but they can't possibly cover every minute detail that may come up day to day when raising a child.) Ironically you need to takes tests and get a license to drive a car, but they let you leave the hospital with your baby without so much as a pop quiz. They let you walk out with a small human being and absolutely no idea what you're doing. It's scary. It is such an enormous responsibility and yet there is no way to prepare for it. You are just thrown into it and learn as you go through trial and error. It's the error part that I have a problem with. I can't bear to make a mistake, especially with my child who is more precious to me than anything including my own life. The stakes are so high. Unfortunately I do make mistakes. I felt horrible when I accidentally clipped Michelle's finger once while cutting her tiny nails (in my defense it is almost impossible to cut their tiny nails! Every parent I've spoken to has nicked their child accidentally at least once.) I thought that was traumatic enough but it was nothing compared to what I just went through with her recently. It was like a scene from The Exorcist.

Michelle has been on solid foods for a month now. It has been a challenge to say the least. There are foods that she doesn't like and she just won't eat. There are foods that she likes but sometimes she's cranky and won't even eat them. I had to get really creative sometimes to get her to eat -- with a series of distractions, songs, noises, games and other tactics. Then suddenly it was like a miracle, she was eating! Willingly. Effortlessly. Without songs, games or trickery. She was just eating because she WANTED TO! Victory! Hooray! She would gobble up every bit of her cereal without a fuss. She would try new foods and like them and actually eat them. When it came to fruit (apples and pears) she loved them and would even eat an entire jar! I thought, this is great! Considering that not too long ago my doctor was concerned that Michelle was underweight, to have her eating so well was a huge relief. She was sleeping better too, more content. Awesome. I thought, maybe we've turned a corner. I've got this all figured out now, Woo hoo! Yeah, not so much.

When it came to feeding, as in everything else, I let Michelle call the shots. She could eat as little or as much as she wanted. I remember when I was a kid my Mom used to force us to eat everything on our plate, even if we were full. She'd lecture us about there being starving kids in the world. "Then send it to them!" I would argue. We weren't even allowed to leave the table until it was gone. So we'd sit there, hours later crying, trapped in purgatory with a dinner that was even more unbearable now because it was cold. Sometimes she'd leave the room and then I'd throw it in the garbage without her seeing. I will never do that with Michelle. I will never force her to eat if she's not hungry. When she refused to eat, I didn't push. I threw it out. If she wanted to eat, I was relieved. If she kept wanting more, I didn't deny her. I was just so happy that she was eating. I had all sorts of literature on WHAT to feed. I knew that at 6 months old their iron levels drop so they need iron fortified cereal, need sources of protein and of course need vegetables and fruits. What I didn't know, what no one seems to tell you, is HOW MUCH to feed a six to seven month old baby. When I looked it up the answer was anywhere from a teaspoon to a jar because every baby is different. There is no set answer.

Where breastfeeding is concerned, I was told that you can't overfeed a baby. It's self-regulating. The baby instinctively knows how much she needs and your breasts magically know how much to produce and it works out perfectly. Sometimes Michelle only nursed for five minutes. Other times it was almost an hour. I couldn't tell how much milk she was getting at any given time. It's not like giving a bottle where you can measure. I trusted Michelle to know how much she needed. It's a little different when it comes to solid food though. Your baby doesn't know when she's full. Clearly. I learned this the hard way. The worst way of all. My Mom used to have a saying "Your eyes are bigger than your belly!" Michelle's eyes were DEFINITELY bigger than her belly and stupid me I just kept giving her spoon after spoon when she asked for it. She was having meat, vegetables and fruit. What can be wrong with that? Well, you CAN get too much of a good thing.

It started out as a great day. Michelle had slept pretty well, was in good spirits. She ate her cereal at breakfast and even seemed to want more so I gave her an extra teaspoon (on top of the two tablespoons she usually has). At lunch I was giving her baby turkey with sweet potato for the first time. And she liked it! She actually ate it without me having to trick her into taking a spoonful or hiding it with anything else. A meat that she liked?! I was THRILLED. She even seemed to want more. At dinner she had meat, vegetables and fruit. A whole meal. She kept wanting more and more of the fruit. I was just so happy that she was eating that I kept adding another teaspoon and another to the bowl to give her. Before I knew it, she'd had the whole jar. Wow! She was hungry.

That night when I nursed her I was surprised that she was still drinking just as much milk as ever even after her big meal. I didn't think she'd need to breastfeed much with her belly full of food. She was drowsy and I think sometimes uses me as a soother to comfort her to sleep. She was almost asleep when all of a sudden she started to throw up. I picked her up and she threw up again, all over us both. I was in shock. She was scared and upset and I tried to calm her down but I was pretty shaken (and shaking) myself. For a moment I stood and looked at us in the hallway mirror. I didn't know where to start. I managed to get us both changed and tear the sheets off the bed and throw them in a pile in the hallway. I thought it was over but it was only beginning. She vomited again and this time it was worse. Projectile. Like something out of a horror movie. All over my fresh t-shirt. She was screaming, I was almost in tears myself. I changed our clothes yet again as quickly as possible and put the clothes in the sink to soak. I thought it had to be over now. She couldn't possibly have anything left. She had thrown up everything she consumed that day. But then it happened again. I finally thought there's no point dressing her until I'm sure she's done so I just wrapped her in a towel in my arms. She was exhausted now and starting to fall asleep. There was no way I was putting her down. If she threw up while lying down she could choke. I would hold her for 24 hours if I had to. I was terrified.

I called my sister for advice. My sister thought it could be a viral infection. I had taken Michelle to the public playtime that week. Could she have caught something from one of the babies? My sister suggested I take the baby's temperature to rule out a fever. Her temperature was low not high. I dressed her in a warm sleeper. Even if she was going to puke on it again I didn't want her to be cold. Was it a virus? Or could it be an allergy? Was she allergic to turkey? I had been introducing each new food and trying it for three days, as you're supposed to to test for allergy. That's all well and good but I never stopped to think what might happen if she actually WAS allergic? Vomiting could be a symptom. Or was it, most likely, that she had just eaten too much because, idiot that I am, I let her? I told my sister that Michelle had eaten a whole jar of pears. My sister thought a jar would probably be too much for a baby her size. But she had eaten a whole package (like a big tube, bigger than a jar) of sweet potatoes at my Mom's place and was fine. I figured if she was still hungry I wasn't going to deny her but the problem is that she loved the pears so much it was like a dessert. I know that even myself, if there's a food I really love, something really delicious, I can eat it even when I'm full and just stuff myself and feel awful afterward. I should know better but sometimes you just give in to temptation. She's a baby and doesn't know any better so when she tastes something delicious she just wants more and more. I should have limited it to a tablespoon or two at the most. I guess her tummy was so full that when she had milk later there was no room for it and everything came out. I felt horrible. I didn't know any better. I sure do now.

The worst part was that now I was afraid for her safety. She kept throwing up. Even when I thought there was nothing left, clear liquid would come out. She wasn't herself. She looked pale (well, I mean she IS a redhead and has never been in the sun so she is always pale but this was different somehow. She was alabaster. And it looked like there were dark circles around her eyes.) My sister said to make sure she's hydrated. I gave her some water and she threw it up too. My sister had never experienced any of her kids throwing up that much and suggested I call Mom to see if she had any advice or experience in the matter. She did. When I called my Mom she said that yes she'd certainly seen her share of kids throwing up. I was the worst but it was when I got the flu as a baby. I was throwing up for a week and actually had to be hospitalized because I was a skeleton baby, way underweight and dehydrated. Though I would have been too young to remember it perhaps on some level the experience stayed with me because for my entire life I had a phobia of vomiting. I remember having the flu as a kid (12 at the oldest) and dreading that awful feeling -- retching, leaning over the toilet, crying. It hurt my chest, my throat. Every time it felt like I was going to choke or die. I always felt better when it was over but during each bout of nausea it was unbearable. To this day I can't drink ginger ale because it reminds me of being sick (for some reason Mom always gave us ginger ale when we were sick.) As an adult the only time I ever threw up was once in my 20s when I got drunk. I don't drink alcohol and only got drunk once (it was by accident. I'm not a drinker. I actually hate the taste of alcohol. The only drinks I could tolerate were sweet drinks where you don't taste the alcohol. I was at a party and someone kept handing me "brown cows." I was drinking them like they were chocolate milk. Clearly Kahlua is NOT chocolate milk.) After the terrible hangover the next day (the entire world was tilting to the left, I had a headache that felt like my skull would explode and I had a nasty bout of nausea, puking my guts out in the toilet) I swore I would NEVER drink again and I didn't. Through the years there were a few times when I almost felt like I was going to throw up but I managed to ward it off by chewing gum and thinking happy thoughts. Fast forward to last year while I was pregnant. The morning sickness in the first trimester was brutal. Throwing up is awful enough but the worst part was the anxiety that it might happen at work. I hadn't told anyone I was pregnant yet. I was waiting until the second trimester. Anyway, I'm getting off topic here. The point is vomiting has always been very traumatic for me and seeing my baby throw up was far worse. It was one of the scariest experiences of my life.

The most frightening part was that even after the vomiting stopped, Michelle didn't seem like herself. She's usually bursting with energy, kicking her little legs, smiling and making noises. She was lethargic. Almost zombie-like. Staring with a blank look. She didn't even have the energy to cry. I'd never seen her like that. She was almost falling asleep. Her eyes were glazed over. Was she just tired or was something wrong? I didn't know what to do. Should I call 9-1-1? (The weather had been bad and I didn't think I could even drive to the hospital with the snow so deep.) I was panicked. Was I overreacting? Ironically my Mom, who is usually the biggest worrier on the planet, managed to calm me down. I was so freaked out that I was blowing everything out of proportion. Michelle was almost asleep before any of the nausea happened so she would definitely be exhausted after that. My Mom suggested I just let Michelle rest in my arms and when she woke up if she wasn't better I could think about getting her checked out.

"Are you OK Michelle?" I asked after she was awake and I was changing her. She still looked a little out of it. Then suddenly she smiled at me and I felt a huge wave of relief. She's back! She's OK. She started kicking her little legs. She was back to normal. I was afraid to feed her again but I figured she needed her nutrients since she'd lost everything she'd eaten. My Mom said not to give her anymore food that night (usually she has some cereal in the evening) but just to breastfeed her later, at 10 p.m. and see how that goes. She also said to make sure Michelle has water right away though so she doesn't get dehydrated. Michelle couldn't seem to manage from the sippy cup so I filled one of the liners for her playtex nurser and gave her the bottle. She guzzled the entire thing. I was scared when her diaper was empty. It was the first time I'd ever checked her diaper and found nothing. It had all gone out the other end instead. The next day I was relieved to change a soaked diaper and a poopy one. I never thought I'd be so happy to see a soiled diaper!

Michelle nursed at 10 p.m. and went off to sleep happily. I was so grateful and relieved that she was OK. She slept well through the night. I guess the ordeal had taken so much out of her that she was exhausted. The next day she was in good spirits. It was like the incident never happened. I would never forget it though. And I had about 3 loads of laundry to remind me. I decided to be extra careful about feeding her and never give her too much. No matter how much she begs. She ate her cereal and dinner well and was fine. So I ruled out allergy or virus and realized yes she had just overeaten. I remembered the Monty Python skit where the man in the restaurant eats an insane amount of food and then the waiter suggests one more bite "It's only wafer thin" and that's the straw that broke the camel's back and he unleashes a torrent of regurgitated food.

Now I know to limit Michelle to no more than a couple of tablespoons of food at a time. She has since tried bananas and loved them. She was whining and reaching for more but I wouldn't let her. It's bizarre that I went from worrying about her not eating and not weighing enough to worrying that she'll eat too much and make herself sick. It's a delicate balance trying to get it right.

I felt so guilty, so stupid, so angry with myself about it. My Mom said that it was just a lesson, as there will be many lessons in parenting and I know better now. Just a month ago I was at my Mom's place having brunch and she had told me "You're doing all the right things." I think it was the first time in my life that she'd said that so my curiosity was definitely piqued. Apparently she'd read a doctor's advice column in the paper and they were saying how important breastfeeding is and how many benefits there are to it, healthwise and as a bonding experience with your baby. They also said that rather than let a baby "cry it out" that you should comfort your baby when she's crying. A baby who feels loved and secure, whose needs are always met will become an adult who is happier, more confident and empathetic toward others. Before reading the article my Mom was trying to say that it wouldn't hurt to let the baby cry. Mom told me that she was proud of what a good Mom I was, how devoted I was. It was good to hear. I wanted to do all the right things. I was trying so hard. Now I'm beating myself up that I did something wrong. Sometimes giving a baby what she wants isn't the answer. You have to set boundaries and limits. Solid food isn't like breastfeeding. I can't trust her to know when she's full. Lesson learned.

When it comes to introducing solids it's so confusing -- if you ask 10 people about it you get 10 completely different answers. Some say don't wait until 6 months. Some say a baby's digestive system can't handle food until six months (this seems to be the guideline from a medical standpoint and is what I followed.) Some say start with cereal, fruits and veggies. Others say that protein is important because of their iron deficiency (I was trying to follow that because of the latest medical research.) Nowhere in my literature did it say how much to feed them. Nowhere did it warn that if your baby loves a food they will eat it non-stop until they explode, if you let them. I suppose it should have been common sense but I don't know how big her stomach is and how much it can hold. One thing is for sure: I'm far more careful now!

I am so grateful to my Mom and my sister for being there for me to offer support, advice, and help when I'm at the end of my rope. They have been a lifeline for me. Times when I feel so helpless and scared and don't know what to do they talk me through it and help me figure it out. I couldn't go through this without them. As they say "it takes a village to raise a child." Michelle and I are alone but it's good to know that May and my Mom are there to reach out to when we need help. The next day my sister called to see how Michelle and I were doing. I was happy to tell her that we were both doing great.

Just out of curiosity I searched for "baby throwing up at seven months" on the internet and found a whole score of entries. As I read through several of them I started to realize how lucky I have been. Some babies throw up ALL THE TIME! This was Michelle's first (and hopefully last!) bout of vomiting. I met someone who was feeding her baby formula and she threw up a lot. I guess it happens less with breastfeeding. Some mothers said their babies threw up everything and couldn't keep any food down, not even rice cereal, so I am very grateful that Michelle has been able to eat everything and doesn't appear to have any allergies so far. So it could have been a lot worse. At the time it felt like the end of the world. I was petrified. I felt so helpless. I overreacted. I'm glad I didn't call for an ambulance at least in my panic.

A few people had told me before I even had Michelle that NOTHING is worse than when your baby is sick. It is the most stressful thing to go through. You feel helpless. You wish it were you. When Michelle had a cold months ago I thought that was bad enough. Seeing her throw up was far worse. My Mom told me it's just part of being a parent. Not only worrying about kids getting sick, you have to worry about them getting hurt. My Mom said all of us had a trip to the hospital for stitches or broken bones at some point. It happens. I can't even imagine it. I love Michelle so much that it's unbearable to think of anything happening to her.

I wish I was one of those laidback, relaxed people who don't get flustered by anything and just let things roll off their backs. Nothing is as bad as it seems at the time. Somehow you get through it. I'm trying to cut myself some slack. I had the best intentions. I'm not perfect. This is all new to me and I'm learning as I go. I will make mistakes. I'm human. I try to do all the right things but sometimes I just stress myself out and that doesn't help. Sometimes maybe the right thing is just to lighten up a little. Michelle doesn't need me to be perfect she just needs me to be her Mom, to do my best and to love her with all my heart. That I can definitely do.