Saturday, July 26, 2014

June too Soon: Snapshots of Summer

I am a functioning photoholic. I am addicted to capturing every moment of my life in images. It started with my first camera. I was in my 20s and going to Europe (backpacked in England, France, Italy, Switzerland and Germany.) It was old-fashioned film in those days. I had a cheap little 110 mm camera (with the parallax error you had to be careful to point the camera a few feet over from what you actually wanted to take a picture of. My boyfriend at the time had a better camera he borrowed from his Dad.) I went through 30 rolls of film in 26 days. At the time that seemed excessive but I thought I may never be back again and wanted to record everything I saw. I didn't regret any of the photos I took. In fact I wished I had taken more. I was hooked. From then on I was determined to take pictures of EVERYTHING. I couldn't let a photo op pass me by. I almost always had my camera in my purse just in case. I kept trading up for better cameras. They never lasted more than a few years (probably because 3 years with me would be like 20 years with anyone else.) Canon. Kodak. Minolta. Pentax. Nikon. I spent a fortune at photo labs. Back then you had no choice but to print the whole roll. Blurry ones and all.

With digital cameras, the quantity went up a hundredfold. These days I could take 100 pictures in just a couple of minutes. Even just at home, never mind on vacation (if I could afford to take one). Since you don't have to print them all out, why not take a hundred shots to try to get one really good one? A professional photographer told me that once. You shoot quantity to get quality. The more you take the greater the chance that you will capture that perfect moment. You can ignore/delete the myriad shots that don't work out but once in a while you get lucky and get just what you were hoping for. Or better.

I could never resist a good photo op. There were times I didn't have my camera with me and it physically HURT if something cute/amazing happened and I couldn't take a photo of it. Because of course if it's not in a photo, IT NEVER HAPPENED. LOL. My own child is of course the greatest photo op of all time and needless to say I snap countless pictures of her. Time is so fleeting. She's growing up so fast. I'm going to hold on to every single moment. Pictures are forever.

With websites like Twitter and Instagram it seems that more and more people are becoming like me. Taking pictures of just about anything and posting it online for the world to see. I just want to say that I was doing it long before it was cool!
I used to write a blog post every few days. Now that I'm only doing one a month it's hard to capture the whole month in one blog. So this one is June but I'll be lucky if I get it done by August!

In June I  tried to take Michelle out on as many adventures as possible. I worry sometimes that she doesn't have siblings or kids her own age around. I want to do fun things with her. During the long brutal winter months I vowed to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible once Spring came. So once Summer was here, we were out just about every day. The park, the beach, forests, gardens. And naturally, I ALWAYS have my camera on hand. Michelle is used to it by now. "Cheese!" she'll say, often without being prompted. Of course the best smiles are those that come spontaneously when she forgets the camera is even there.

I couldn't wait to check out the Zoo with her. I chose a day when it was a little cooler so I wouldn't spontaneously combust from the heat. We went to the Zoo last year. It was more fun (and more challenging) this time with Michelle being older. She ran amok several times. The problem is that now she can run pretty fast. When I'm in sandals (as opposed to runners) I can barely keep up with her. Sometimes she'll dart all of a sudden as if she's trying to lose me. I've tried explaining to her how dangerous that is but of course she doesn't understand and just laughs at me.

It's amazing how much Michelle has come out of her shell. She used to be quite shy and avoid strangers. Now she's becoming fearless. At the Creature Showcase she was right in there checking out the animals. She's obviously not afraid of snakes (see photo on the right of her reaching out to grab one!) At one point she crawled under the chain and ran out in the middle of the stage. "Really?!" I shouted and crawled under the chain to get her. "Sorry" I muttered at the staff. The audience laughed. Way to embarrass Mama in public. Oh well, at least she was happy and not having a tantrum.

Michelle was so excited to see the animals. The monkeys were still her favourite but she got a kick out of just about everything. If she could have climbed into the cages with them she would have. She's gone from being a relatively timid child to being almost fearless. (I'm in big trouble!) I almost had a heart attack when she bolted into the woods. I had to leave my purse and stroller behind and high-tail it along the dirt path. She was laughing up until the moment I caught her and then she screamed and wriggled to be free. Like a wild animal, I thought at the time. How fitting that we were at the Zoo. I saw someone at the mall walking her child on a leash and it is soooooo tempting. "You don't run away from Mama! You could lose me forever!" I wound up buying new running shoes after that so I can outrun her. Though it can be warm on hot Summer days. I can't believe how fast she can take off. It's scary. When she's a little older there will be no keeping up with her.

Nearly all of my exes made fun of (or complained) about my photo habit. One accused me of being so busy snapping pictures that I wasn't actually "in" the moment to enjoy it. I argued that not only am I in the moment but I'm preserving it forever and can go back and look at it anytime I want. Ironically years later, after we were apart, he thanked me for having taken so many pictures. It was because of me that he had a beautiful photo of himself and his mother smiling. A picture he would treasure all the more after she passed away. His Mom was a fan of my photos too and had some of them (ones of lighthouses) enlarged and framed on her walls.

It goes without saying that I can not pass up a cheesy photo op. It's just too easy. Trying to walk by would physically hurt. It would be like an alcoholic passing by a cold glass of beer on a hot day. Not happening. So no I could not let this tacky monkey cut-out mural go to waste. Michelle and I became monkeys. I didn't think her head would be in the right spot but she actually did a better job than I did (in my defense it was hard stretching over to fit in my hole while balancing her on my leg.)

Even when we're not going anywhere or doing anything special I can't resist taking pictures just hanging out in the backyard or at the park. I love Michelle's laugh and her smile and it's a joy to capture it in photos.




 I love dressing Michelle up and going somewhere girlie -- like gardens, galleries and of course, the ultimate photo op: the Butterfly Conservatory. My photo card actually ran out there and I had to painfully go through photos and delete some to make room. Strangely, every time I have ever gone to the Butterfly Conservatory (either the Niagara Falls or the Cambridge one) there is some camera emergency: the battery dies, the memory card is full. At least it kept me from staying too long which is probably a good thing because I was sweating profusely! I remembered them keeping it warm (it is supposed to be a tropical climate for the butterflies) but I didn't remember sweat dripping off my face before. Maybe I was having a hot flash. Maybe it was from chasing/carrying Michelle. I looked around and everyone else was acting normal, they didn't look like they even broke a sweat. Some were even wearing long sleeves and seemed quite comfortable. Meanwhile I was DRENCHED!

It was worth roasting in a sauna though to see Michelle's excitement as she walked around looking at the butterflies. The last time I was there with her, last year, she was walking around bare foot because she wasn't used to shoes yet. It's hard to believe my baby is already a little girl and getting bigger every day. She looks so grown up when I put her in pigtails now and she acts so much older. (With the exception of potty training which was a debacle but I'll save that for my next blog about July...)

Once again I was determined to have a butterfly land on one of us and get a photo of it. One finally landed on her skirt. "Don't move!" I said. I managed to snap a couple of shots before she flinched and it fluttered away. Maybe it was better that she couldn't see it on her. It might have freaked her out. As pretty as they are, they do scare her a little when they fly right at her face.

Most people can afford to go away on vacation -- tropical destinations, cottages etc. I figure I can at least take Michelle on day trips for an adventure, a change of scenery etc. Besides, at least if she has a tantrum on a field trip, we can head home. If she had a meltdown on an airplane for several hours or in another country, that would be pretty scary. (I would still risk it if I won the lottery though! LOL)

There is always at least one special occasion -- birthday or other holiday -- every month. In June it was Father's Day. Since Michelle's father isn't in the picture, I call it Grandpa Day. I got Michelle all dressed up for the occasion. I love putting dresses on her every chance I get. These days she's even started picking them out herself in the store. "This one Mama! I love it! It's fabulous!" (yes, this is an actual quote. She has the vocabulary of a four year old but try getting her to use a potty! Next blog!)

It seemed like Michelle did want a man (or two) in her life that day as she insisted on bringing Ken and Ryan for the drive. When I looked in the rearview mirror I found her hugging them both. Of course anyone can pick up a Ken or Ryan at Walmart. The hard part is finding the life-size version and one that's a good person, kind, loving, employed! For now, I am both father and mother to Michelle. Filling both roles because I have no choice. I am glad there are a lot of men in our family though so Michelle does get to have male figures in her life -- her Grandpa and her Uncle Chris (also her godfather), Uncle Mike and Uncle Shane. As well as her cousin Dan and James. Her Uncles she sees on special occasions but her Grandpa she sees all the time when I go to work. He loves playing with her in the yard, playing ball, pulling her in the wagon, taking her for walks. He's a big help to my Mom when she's watching Michelle.

 I am so grateful to my Dad and my Mom for watching Michelle when I work. I don't know what I'd do without them. I still can't imagine ever leaving her with a stranger. People are quick to remind me that I'll have no choice once she goes to school but that is still a couple of years away and hopefully I'll be ready by then. It will be very hard to entrust anyone with watching her. She means more to me than my own life. I'm even nervous leaving her with my parents but I have to earn a living.

I grew up in a house where Mom was always home. I guess subconsciously I always thought a mother should be home with her kids. I never expected to have kids. Now that I am a Mom she is my number one priority. In a perfect world I would never have to leave her but short of winning the lottery, staying home with her is not an option. As a Single Mom I am the sole breadwinner. (Of course most Single Moms are divorced and are not in quite the same situation. Many of them still have an ex in the picture, a father to share in child care and help financially.) There is no weekend off for me. No time when I don't have her. There are no support cheques or help of any kind. No break. No vacation. The only time I'm away from Michelle is when I work (and I even go through guilt about that.) I've been on my own since I was 4 months pregnant. Maybe the only ones that can really relate would be Single Moms by Choice and Moms like me who found themselves alone unexpectedly (either by disappearance or death of the father.)

We were at the park one day and there was a man pushing his daughter on the swing. "He's a Daddy." Michelle said to me later. "Yes." She thought about it and concluded "Some kids have a Daddy and some have a Mommy. Caillou has a Mommy AND a Daddy." "Yes. Every family is different. You don't have a Daddy but you have a Mommy that loves you very much." I worry that the older she gets the harder the questions will be about her own back story. The truth is I don't know the real story. I will never know (to this day, not a peep from her father) or understand how he could leave the way he did, without a word. I'll have to tell her I don't know why but I hope it was because he loved us enough to let us go and knew we'd be better off without him (because he was more of a burden than a help with so many issues of his own, financially, emotionally and in every conceivable way.)

Michelle has started asking me "Do you love me?" several times a day. I always answer "Yes. I will always love you. No matter what." Even when she's annoying the heck out of me. "Sometimes I make Mama sad or mad," Michelle admits. "Yes but I still always love you no matter what." "And I make you happy and proud?" "Yes you do sweetheart." She is so affectionate she hugs and kisses me and tells me she loves me all day long. Once in a while, to test me I guess, she'll say "I don't love Mama." I smile and say "You don't mean that. I know you love me." Strangely her father used to always ask for reassurance. "Like me, damnit!" he used to say several times a day. "Like me!" he'd demand. Even though I did. I loved him. I let him into my home, my heart, changed my whole life for him. Somehow even that wasn't enough. Maybe because he never loved himself so no reassurance could be enough.

We celebrated Father's Day with the whole family at my sister's place. It was a lovely day and we spent most of it outside. Unfortunately Michelle decided to be difficult and cranky and insisted that I play with her inside the basement. (Auntie May has a play room for the kids in the basement, filled with toys. It's like Wonderland to Michelle. She's always asking to go for a "play day." I tried explaining to her that it's a beautiful day outside and the whole family is outside but she chose to sit in the basement and play with a Fisher Price farm instead. Auntie May even offered to bring some toys outside but Michelle wouldn't budge. The kicker was later when she bumped her head on the kitchen table and screamed so hard she made herself throw up on both of us. I finally snapped and cried myself. At least I managed to get some photos outside with her before it all went to Hell. I had packed an extra outfit for Michelle just in case but hadn't thought to bring one for myself. My sister loaned me a blue dress of hers.
Here are Michelle and I posing with Grandpa in our "post-A-puke-alyptic" outfits!

I was relieved she didn't have a concussion or anything. My dramatic girl throws a complete tantrum if she doesn't get her own way and has an absolute MELTDOWN if she hurts herself accidentally. Luckily when she slips and falls most of the time she just dusts herself off and says "I'm OK. I'm OK." but once in a while when she bangs into something (the corner of a wall, a dresser, or a glass kitchen table) she goes ballistic. I guess I'm lucky most of the time she doesn't have much of a mark and has never needed stitches. KNOCK ON WOOD!

Every Summer I look forward to going to the beach. As I learned last year it is quite a different experience going with a baby. I was hoping it would be a little easier going with a toddler. Unfortunately you just never know how the day is going to go. It's hard to predict the weather and even harder to predict the many moods of Hurricane Michelle.

I'd been working out since April and managed to lose 15 lbs. My goal was to wear a bikini again. I was starting to reach a stage where I thought what the heck. Michelle was actually ASKING to go to the beach. I'd mentioned it to her and got her a new pail and shovel. She'd seen shows about the beach too and wanted to play in the sand. So I thought, Summer's here, let's go for it. Just Michelle and I heading to Dover. I foolishly didn't check the weather ahead of time to see that they were calling for thunderstorms most of the day. In a way it was a blessing because we had the beach to ourselves and it wasn't too hot. Michelle was so excited she was dancing around saying "I love the beach!" and playing in the sand.

Unfortunately we had to pack up when it started to rain but we went around to some of the little shops. A lady working in one of the shops was amazed at Michelle's vocabulary. "How old is she?!" "22 months." "OMG. She sounds like a 4 year old!"

It was a shame the weather wasn't cooperative because Michelle was an ANGEL that day. She napped on the way there, was in a good mood, excited, sweet. She hugged me and kissed me on the beach and said "I love you Mama! I'm so happy!" It would have been a perfect day.

After that I felt more confident about hitting the beach with her again, solo. I made sure this time that I picked a sunny day without a cloud in the sky. This time the weather was cooperative but Michelle, not as much. She didn't nap on the way and was a bit cranky. She threw tantrums on and off. She'd be good one minute, laughing, playing. Then she'd scream because she didn't like the water, didn't want to play in the sand. I suggested leaving since water and sand are really the only things on a beach but then she'd scream "Beach!" because she didn't want to leave. She finally started running amok deliberately darting away from me as fast as she could. I nearly had a heart attack when she'd bolt toward the lake until I realized she's actually terrified of the water. She wouldn't even let me dip her toes in it. (In fairness, the water was still quite cold in June.)

Going to the beach with Michelle alone means I really don't get to go in the water. I have to watch her every second. I really can't sit and relax for more than a few consecutive seconds. It mostly consists of me pulling a 1 ton stroller loaded with things through the sand, smearing Michelle from head to toe with sunblock (and let me tell you this is no easy feat when the lotion is so greasy and sticky and you have sand on your fingers), building sandcastles, chasing seagulls, playing with Barbie and Ken, chasing Michelle around, feeding her snacks, trying to keep her from having a tantrum. I still love it and Port Dover is still my favourite. We had some other good, bad and ugly beach experiences in July but I'll save those for the next blog!

I often feel bad that Michelle doesn't have siblings or kids her own age to play with. She loves visiting her Auntie May and playing with Reggie and Shannon. The other day she said to me "Mama, you're my best friend." It made me tear up. "You're my best friend too sweetheart." I do think it's important for her to interact with other small kids. I'm pleased to see her coming out of her shell more when we're at the park. She'll talk with other little girls there, go on the slides with them, play in the sand. I take her to the park just about every day so I guess she's starting to feel at home there. Sometimes she'll even approach strangers and say "Hi."

Sometimes I wish I had half (or even one tenth!) of Michelle's energy, enthusiasm, joy for life. When she's not overtired and throwing tantrums, she is pure bliss, basking in the wonder of everything around her. She squeals with glee and shakes with excitement over the smallest things. "Look Mama! A birdie!" "Wow! Pretty flowers!" She is my reminder that it really is a beautiful world and you have to take time to appreciate it. Literally stop to smell (and take pictures of!) the flowers. Michelle is of course my favourite flower, a tough yet delicate little wildflower and it is a joy to watch her grow and blossom more each day.

In addition to taking photos, I have been taking videos of Michelle since she was born as well. I just took one of her on the swing at the park, talking about her birthday. Here it is on Youtube:

After posting the video, I went back through my Michelle playlist and watched the other videos, seeing Michelle get younger and younger before my eyes. Watching her first steps again. Seeing her count and say her ABCs. I started to cry. I can't believe how much has happened in the last couple of years. I have to remember when I'm having a rough day with her that these years are so precious. They don't last long. I have to cherish them. 

June ended too soon. Now in the blink of an eye, July is almost over. The Summer (and life for that matter!) just goes by way too fast. As I've said before, photos and this blog are my way of holding on and preserving the memories. The photos here are just a fraction of the ones I have taken. I probably take more pictures in a month than some people do in a lifetime. I don't know how else to be. I have this need to live twice. If it's not in a picture it's like it never happened. I'm a visual person. I have my memories of course but seeing them actually preserved in an image is one of my greatest joys. I was a photoholic even before having a child, so especially now I can't resist snapping away as my little girl grows up before my eyes (and camera lens.) She's about to turn two years old. She's excited about her birthday. She's been saying "It's my birthday at the end of the month. I'm turning 2 years old!" for weeks now. She likes calling herself a big girl and drinking from a big girl cup. She loves putting on my shoes. If only she wanted to use the potty! (Gah! I'll tackle that topic in next month's blog. Suffice it to say, my Mom was pushing me to potty train Michelle and it did NOT go well.)

I guess what I like most about photos is that they are (usually) some of the happier moments, the best, most beautiful times of your life. The people you love, the places you've seen. I don't take pictures of Michelle having tantrums (though perhaps I should, to show her someday -- "Look what you put me through!") or throwing up or being cranky and miserable. I try to capture the smiles, the excitement. Despite the rough patches, pictures remind me that there are so many happy moments and those are what I need to focus on. Life is beautiful and when I look back on Michelle's early years, that is what I will remember the most. Not the tears and tantrums and shrieks and sleepless nights but the adventure, the fun, the joy. The smiles, the love. Despite the tough days, these are still the best days of my life.