Tuesday, September 2, 2014

It's her potty and I'll cry if I want to!

Never listen to your mother when she's making you feel bad. These would be wise words to live by. Unfortunately my Mom seems to have the power to manipulate me. As much as I try to avoid it, on some level, I do crave her approval.

Mom was on my case about potty training Michelle. According to Mom I had waited too long. Mom had us all potty trained at 9 months. Now Michelle was nearly 2 years old and hadn't been trained. Slacker that I am. I tried to reason with Mom. There was no rush. The deadline, if any, would be 4 years old when she starts school. (Kids HAVE to be trained before school of course because there's no way a teacher is changing diapers for 20 kids!) Most kids start using the potty between 2 and 3 years old. A child isn't even able to control bladder and bowel muscles until about 24 months. The average potty training age is 27 months. When I first bought Michelle the Princess potty seat (when she was about 15 months) I did try briefly -- not really "training" her but just trying her on it to get her used to the idea. It was a novelty and she kept asking to go on the potty just for the attention and stories. She never did anything. I got fed up and told her flat out not to SAY she had to go potty unless she REALLY had to go. The novelty wore off and she stopped asking. I was relieved because it was more of a nuisance than anything. "Potty Mama," at all hours of the night and day just to manipulate me. Not cool.

But now, at 23, almost 24 months, she had been asking to watch the Elmo potty DVD over and over. She talked about going potty. I thought it was a sign that she was ready. A child has to be physically and emotionally ready for potty training. If they're ready, it's a breeze. If they're not ready, it's close to impossible. Every child is different and you can't compare. My sister said my niece Shannon was extremely easy to potty train. She got it in like a couple of days. My nephews weren't quite as easy.

Because Michelle is so advanced in many ways (especially her vocabulary) my Mom assumed she would be easy to train. She's a smart girl. She can do this. I kind of fell for it too. This will be a piece of cake. I decided I was going to go for it. I researched how to go about it. I picked up every potty book I could find: an Elmo potty book with sound effects, an Elmo search and find, a girl's potty book, another potty book with a flushing noise, a Caillou potty book and an Ernie potty book. I also got her an Elmo potty coloring book that came with a chart and stickers. I went on the internet and found a list of songs and rhymes to sing to encourage her on the potty. I had packs of pull-ups and brand new pairs of princess underwear. I had rewards -- stickers, presents. I had a potty seat for each toilet (Disney Princesses and Minnie Mouse) and a stepping stool so I could help her sit on the big girl toilet as well as a froggy potty for the floor that she could sit down on by herself. I was ready!

So I had a week off and I decided it would be a good time to potty train Michelle, just before she turns 2. Of course it would probably only take a week, right? I was feeling really ambitious, cocky (aka STUPID!) and decided that week that I would also take on Jillian Michaels' "One Week Shred." I'd been working out since April. I'd lost close to 20 lbs but I still had another 6 lbs to lose. The One Week Shred boasted that you could lose 7 lbs in just one week. So far I'd been losing about a pound a week. A pound a day sounded a lot better! Especially with it being Summer. I wanted to wear a bikini in public again. So I was going to attempt my hardest workout (a grueling routine consisting of a morning strength workout and an evening cardio workout. An hour of working out each day.) and potty training IN THE SAME WEEK. I was Icarus and I was flying straight into the sun. Boy, did I get burned!

The first day I was actually hopeful. As soon as we got up in the morning I sat Michelle on the potty. She was resistant for a moment but then she was excited about the new books. She laughed at my silly songs and rhymes. "It's my potty and I'll pee if I want to..." And then, the magic happened: she did a pee! Just a little trickle but it was a pee in the potty and I was thrilled. Success! I made a huge fuss of her. I made sure she knew that Mama was very happy and proud of her. She was a big girl now using the potty! She could even wear underwear if she wanted to! I showed her the pretty Disney princess undies I got for her. Maybe she'd want to try them on and see how soft and comfy they were. Much better than diapers! She'd never want to wear diapers again. She got to pick out a sticker and put it on the chart. She got up on the stool and washed her hands at the sink. She could barely even reach the stream of water from the tap. How did Mom have us wash our hands at 9 months I wondered. I guess she didn't.

I put a pair of undies on Michelle as an experiment. I figured she wouldn't be able to go in the undies so she'd have to tell me. I put on the Elmo potty DVD while I made breakfast. I told Michelle to make sure she tells me as soon as she gets that feeling that she has to go pee or poo. Things seemed to be going well. She'd be trained by the end of the week, I thought.

Then all of a sudden she went "Uh oh" and she peed all over the floor. I thought wearing the undies would be a deterrent but she just stood there and peed right through them. Thank God I don't have carpet in the living room. And thank Heaven I had a lot of paper towels. I tried not to get angry. After all I'd had to listen to Grover & Elmo singing "Accidents happen and that's OK!" about 50 times. It could have been worse. It could have been diarrhea on carpeting. But I'm a bit of a germophobe and cleaning urine off the hardwood is not fun for me. So I decided that was it. No more undies until she'd had dry diapers for a day, or three. I had bought some pull-ups to use during potty training. They seemed the perfect transition because they absorb like a diaper but pull up like underwear. I even got ones that change colour when they're wet and that get a bit cooler when wet as a signal to the child "Uh oh! Time to go potty!" In theory, anyway.

After breakfast, I was waiting for cues that Michelle was ready to poop. You could usually tell when she had to go because she'd avoid you at all costs. She'd go off and hide in a corner, slip in between the couch and the wall. She'd try to lay low so you wouldn't try to change her. Those are the times I can actually get something done -- dishes, etc. I know I have a few moments of peace because Michelle doesn't bug me when she's gone poo. She doesn't want me to know. But now it was different. I was potty training. So I was on her like white on rice. "Do you need to go potty? Do you have to poo?" "No," she would say. I watched her like a hawk. If it looked like she was about to squat or go off and hide, I scooped her up and ran with her to the potty. I'd sit her there, read her stories, sing her songs, wait and wait and wait until my butt was numb and my back aching from sitting on a ceramic tile floor, All for naught. She would not go poo in the potty. I've heard that kids have a hard time with numero dos on the potty. For some reason, even when kids are OK with peeing on the potty, going poop is a big hurdle. It freaks them out somehow. I don't understand why. You would think that it would be a relief to defecate in a toilet instead of in your pants. Why would anyone want to sit in their own feces, wet dirty and smelly?

The next few hours were excruciating. It was like a Mexican standoff. I kept watching Michelle, waiting for her to do something. I kept running her to the potty only to have her do nothing. To make matters worse, I was supposed to be doing my morning strength workout. I didn't want to have breakfast until after my workout (I was counting calories and trying to keep them as low as possible. I'm always ravenous after a workout so I didn't want to have to eat two breakfasts.) I couldn't eat until I'd done my workout and I couldn't do my workout until Michelle went poo on the potty (because I knew the second I was occupied with something else, she'd squat and do it in her diaper.) I was starving and getting frustrated and angry. I am a control freak and I don't enjoy situations beyond my control. This clearly was. So my whole day revolved around watching Michelle and waiting for her to go. Then I had to go myself. Sure enough the second my back was turned, she went in her diaper. Fail. I was so disappointed. It was hard not to get angry. "Why would you do that? You were supposed to tell Mama when you needed to go."

Between my workout and potty training I was physically and emotionally drained. It was brutal. I was so stressed. Everyone told me potty training would be stressful but nothing really could have prepared me.

The next day I decided to try something radical. A lot of people said they potty trained by having their kids go around naked. Then if they needed to go, they'd have to put it somewhere. I had initially been against the idea of sitting a potty in the middle of the living room. To me, it was disgusting. I didn't really even want to use the little froggy potty I'd gotten as a backup. So far she'd only ever been on the actual toilet with the princess seat on it but now I was desperate. I'd try anything if it would work. So I stood Michelle in the living room wearing nothing but a smile, once again watching the Elmo potty DVD. "See Michelle, if you need to go potty, it's right here. You can just squat and go on the froggy potty. You can sit on it yourself like a little chair. You don't even need Mama to help you up." No clothes to take off, no step to climb up on, it couldn't be easier. Again, we played the waiting game. I waited and watched and watched and waited. I tried her on the potty a few times. She did nothing. Not even a pee. For HOURS. Considering how many cups of milk she drinks, this is UNHEARD OF. She had to go. She must by now. She was deliberately holding it in. At least I know she can control her muscles. Finally, the dam broke.

"Uh oh!" I heard her say when my back was turned for a second. And there it was. She had peed all over the floor. RIGHT BESIDE THE FROGGY POTTY! "Really? Are you kidding me? Michelle! The potty is RIGHT THERE! You could have sat down and gone RIGHT THERE!" You're not supposed to get angry or be negative during potty training. You're supposed to be a saint, supernaturally patient and kind and forgiving. "Accidents happen!" Grover and Elmo continued to sing until I wanted to slap their furry monster faces. This wasn't an accident. She had AMPLE opportunities to go on the potty in the bathroom or even in the middle of the living room. I was furious. I had to walk away.

I sat down on the floor and cried. I felt like a failure. I was always very hard on myself. In school I always had to get straight 'A's. I beat myself up if I got a B. I had to be the best. Failure wasn't an option. My fear of failure was so strong that if I didn't think I could do something well, I just wouldn't attempt it. That was why I didn't take phys ed, didn't play sports. That was also partly why I didn't plan to have kids. I didn't think I was mature enough, responsible or patient enough to care for another small human.

It wasn't working. This wasn't healthy for Michelle or me. I kept trying to catch her in time so she'd HAVE to go poo on the potty but it was no use. She would deliberately hold it in until the diaper was back on. One night she even pooed during the night which she had NEVER done. She would go to any lengths to elude me. This was a battle I could not win. I'd drive myself insane trying. And it couldn't be healthy for her to be holding it in either.

To add insult to injury I was killing myself with the workout and only lost a pound (though there may have been a delayed reaction because the next week I started a new workout -- Dancing With the Stars Cardio Dance and I started to lose a pound a day. I think my metabolism just finally changed. Thank Heaven. It was a long time coming. I reached my goal weight minus 1 lb.)

It was foolish of me. I had unrealistic expectations. Michelle was so bright and advanced for her age that I kind of assumed, as my Mom had suggested, that she would be easy to train. But going potty has nothing to do with being smart. It's about being physically and emotionally ready. Michelle is a control freak too. She has to get her way. She wasn't going to do what I wanted if it wasn't what she wanted. I was hopeful because she did seem to want to please me. She was always talking about wanting to make me happy and proud. She was excited to get stickers on the chart. I even had a "poo present" wrapped up for when she did her first poo on the potty. Of course it didn't happen. Not in July anyway. Rewards, bribery, I would have done anything to make it work but it just wasn't meant to be. Not for Michelle. Not yet.

In the midst of my week of Hell, talking to my Mom made me feel even worse. She informed me that some actress (Alicia Silverstone) was on Dr. Oz bragging that she potty trained her kid at 6 months. Well, whoop de whoop. I had heard about Alicia's parenting style before. Something about her chewing on food and spitting it into her kid's mouth. She's an attachment parent and believes in co-sleeping etc. While I do agree with her there (I've been co-sleeping with Michelle since birth), I don't go as far as masticating food for Michelle like a crazy Mama bird. And no I did not potty train Michelle as an infant. I don't believe that "elimination communication" really works. If you're potty training your kid under a year old, it's not the kid that's trained, it's YOU. YOU are just sticking your baby on the potty all day long. Frankly, I don't have that kind of time! Just trying to do it for a week was brutal. I'd had enough so I went off on my mother "Yeah, well maybe if I was a MILLIONAIRE actress with a full staff to clean my house, make the meals. Maybe if I had NOTHING ELSE to do but to sit my baby on the potty ALL DAY LONG then maybe I could be like Alicia too! But I'm a SINGLE MOM! There's no help. I have to go shopping, cook the meals, do the chores, earn a living, do everything ON MY OWN without even a deadbeat dad in the picture to help ONE IOTA!" And I hung up on my mother. Don't listen to your mother when she's making you feel bad. Sometimes I do take my own advice.

So I called my sister. She's the opposite of my Mom: Nurturing, kind, understanding. She never makes me feel bad about myself. She always puts things in perspective. May is an angel. She has gotten me through some of the toughest times in my life and she got me through potty training week. She told me not to beat myself up. Michelle wasn't ready and there was nothing I could do about that. She said Reggie wasn't ready when she first tried with him. So she tried again a few months later and he got it in under a week. Michelle wasn't even officially two yet. Even my Mom realized she had to back off. She told me I had become "obsessed." The whole thing was pushing me over the edge. My whole existence suddenly revolved around getting Michelle to urinate and defecate in the toilet and it was making me miserable. So I gave up. No more pressure. If Michelle asked to go potty I would gladly put her on it but I wasn't bringing it up again. I wasn't going through that any more. Interestingly, the next time I had to work and my Mom was watching Michelle I said "Ok Mom. See if you can do better, work your magic!" Part of me would have been jealous and furious if Michelle went potty for my Mom instead of me but part of me would have been relieved if she'd been trained, even by someone else. Of course my Mom had no luck either. You can not make that girl do something she doesn't want to do (I hope she stays that way when she starts dating boys! Stand your ground girl! Just say no!) My Mom has an excuse for everything though. "It's because you started her too late." And you want to scream. Let it go.

Emotionally spent after one of the worst weeks of my life, I then got some sad news that my Aunt Romana, my Dad's oldest sister, had passed away. She lived in Italy and I hadn't seen her in years but I had some very fond memories of her. Years ago when I was with my boyfriend of 9 years we had made a trip to Europe (my only trip to Europe) backpacking in England, France, Italy, Switzerland and Germany. While in Italy we stayed with my Zia Romana in her apartment in Latina, 40 minutes from Rome. We also got to stay at her house in Pisterzo, a beautiful, quaint little village on a mountaintop. We got to see the house where my father was born. It was such an amazing adventure. Romana was so sweet and generous and welcoming. She opened her home and her heart to us. I will always cherish the memories of that time. She cooked for us -- Delicious home made pasta (noodles that have been made by hand -- watching her rolling the dough was so cool -- are a billion times better than store bought ones.) Cleaned for us. Took care of us. Insisted on giving us gifts (though we tried to explain we couldn't carry much in our backpacks). She proudly introduced us to everyone in town. I didn't understand most of what they were saying but I kept hearing "Bella!" and she said I looked like the "Madonna" (Mary, not the singer! A compliment either way though!) One of my regrets is that I didn't get a picture of Romana. She didn't like having her photo taken and kept making excuses every time I asked. "No. No. Maybe tomorrow when I'm fixed up." And then she never was fixed up. And then it was time for us to catch the train and we were rushed and I never got to take a picture with her. People may mock me (and many have!) for taking too many photos but I will tell you this: I never regret the pictures I take. I regret the ones that I missed.

The news didn't fully hit me until I was driving later that day. Michelle was asleep. A sad song came on the radio. Singing about memories, times that were lost. Suddenly I had flashbacks of being in Italy and staying with Romana and I started to bawl. The way she smiled. The way she touched my cheeks and said "Che bella! Che bella Madonna!" (By the way, driving while you're crying is NOT a good idea. Driving while you're tired is a terrible idea as well but I'll save that for another blog.)

July proved to be a pretty trying month. I was hoping the Summer would bring some rest and relaxation but sometimes even trying to relax is stressful when you're a single Mom to a toddler! Nothing is easy with Michelle. The expression "a walk in the park" is supposed to mean that something is a breeze, no problem. With Michelle even a walk in the park is stressful. Will she hold my hand and walk nicely or go darting off suddenly toward the road? Or will she throw a tantrum and humiliate me. A day at the beach used to be a relaxing experience, before having Michelle. It's different now. It can still be fun. It's just much more challenging and sometimes downright scary. Even if the weather is perfect and Michelle is in a good mood it's a struggle. I have to try to load up a stroller with a tent, a bag of towels and clothes, beach toys, snacks, drinks and then push the stroller (which once Michelle and all the baggage are in it, weighs about 150 lbs) through the sand. If you've never pushed a heavy stroller through sand, you can't quite imagine what it's like. The wheels sink into the soft sand and you have to push (or pull, which seems to be easier) with all your might to make it budge. And you're not going very far. Better set up camp as close as you can to the parking lot. It's just about impossible. It's a good workout at least.

I love the beach so I wanted to go as often as possible, easy or not. Sometimes I got lucky and Michelle was good, other times not so much.

So one day the weather was perfect and Michelle wanted to go so I thought we'd give it a whirl. Port Dover is my favourite beach because I love palm trees and there aren't too many places you can find them in Ontario! I paid $10 to park, dragged the stroller through the sand, struggled with the wind to get the umbrella to stay put and I was ready for a day of fun. Unfortunately it barely lasted an hour. Michelle decided to be impossible. She didn't nap and was in a cranky mood. She hated the water. She didn't want to play in the sand. I explained that water and sand are the very DEFINITION of a beach and it was her idea to come here but she would not listen to reason. There was no pleasing her. I couldn't seem to cheer her up or convince her to do anything other than shriek and complain so I packed everything up and left and cried on the way home. I thought about trips to the beach in the past. Grand Bend. Wasaga. Port Dover. The adventure of driving to Daytona Beach. The amazing experience of being at the Grand Paradise in Samana, Dominican Republic. The life I used to have when I could actually just relax and enjoy the warm sun on my skin, the sand between my toes. Listen to the sound of the waves and seagulls flying. When I could float on my back in the cool water looking up at the sky. Not a care in the world. I didn't know how easy I had it. Trying to drive home and every song on the radio seemed to be about Summer or lost dreams. So I bawled. (and yeah, again, crying and driving don't mix.) Then I got lost on a country road because I was crying and missed where I was supposed to turn and it just seemed to go from bad to worse. I can really throw a pity party sometimes and I sure had one that day. Michelle fell asleep and had a long nap because of course she was overtired. I was discouraged that I wouldn't get to enjoy Summer, the beach or anything ever again.

Luckily our next trip to the beach went MUCH better. We went to Burlington Beach with May, Shannon and Reggie (my Mom decided to stay home) and it was AWESOME! Michelle was in a good mood. She had a blast playing with Reggie and Shannon and even made friends with some other girls on the beach. She still refused to go in the water but she loved running around, dancing and playing in the sand. I even got to relax in the sun for a bit while she played nicely. It was a perfect day. Why can't every day be like that?!

Sometimes she's my little angel and she makes me so happy and proud. Strangers remark how cute she is, how tall she is for her age, how clever she is. Then there are the days she's a screaming banshee and people just shake their heads or glance over in annoyance or sympathy at my plight. And it's a crap shoot. You never know what you're going to get. Some days it's the terrible twos and some day it's the terrific twos. Of course she wasn't even two yet. In celebration of her upcoming birthday we shared some birthday cake ice cream from the snack shop at the beach. DELICIOUS! Even though I'd been counting calories for months I allowed myself a couple of cheat days a week.

Our next trip to the beach with the whole group was disastrous. We headed to Port Dover with my Mom, Auntie May, Shannon and Reggie. Michelle napped on the way so I thought we had a good chance of having a good day. Strangely, she stayed asleep even as I moved her to the stroller and into the tent once it was set up. My Mom had a pillow and I lay her on a towel, in the shade. It was a hot day but cool enough in the shade. I figured she must have been really tired to nap that long. It gave me a break at least. I was able to go and swim in the water with May and the kids while Mom kept an eye on Michelle. I kept looking to the shore for signs from Mom. "Thumbs up?" I would gesture meaning "Is everything Ok? Is she still asleep?" Poker face. No hand signals. No reaction. Mom didn't seem to understand basic sign language. I had to run back to shore to ask how Michelle was. I finally told Mom just flail your arms if Michelle wakes up screaming.

For a while, it felt like a vacation. I could actually relax on the beach, swim in the water (Michelle never lets me take her in the water). This was great. I started to worry though (and my Mom was way ahead of me for worrying. She's a hypochondriac so every time Michelle does ANYTHING, Mom thinks she's sick. She throws a tantrum: "Maybe she's coming down with something." She sneezes once "Maybe she's coming DOWN with something." She coughs lightly, or doesn't eat that much, or pretty much does anything that an impossible toddler does, maybe she's coming down with something. My Mom even admits she ran to the doctor's office so often with all of us kids that the doctor just told her to stop coming. There's no cure for a cold, your kids are fine. Calm down.) So I usually just tune her out.

But even I was getting worried when Michelle was still asleep for a couple of hours. Sometimes her naps do last 2 hours if she's really tired but this was different. Plus I didn't want her to miss out on the fun of playing with her cousins. She got up at nearly dinnertime and was asking for a hot dog so we went to the snack bar to get one and then the day got REALLY bad. All of a sudden she threw up, on the pavement, right by the picnic table at the restaurant. OMG. If there's anything worse than your kid throwing up in public, right next to where people are eating, I don't know what. I had to clean her up as best I could, change her clothes, I didn't have extra clothes for me (and I got splashed too.) Maybe she had heat stroke? Maybe it was spoiled milk? Who knows but now I was worried. When we got back home Michelle seemed fine. She was running around, laughing and playing with Reggie and Shannon. After they left however I noticed that Michelle seemed really warm. (She's always warm, like a little furnace but this was hotter than usual.) I dug out the baby thermometer and took her temperature. It was over 101. That seemed high to me. I called my sister. She said she thought 102 was really high and if it went to 102 I should take her to the hospital to get checked out. I was pretty sure 103 was the official "fever" number. I remembered the cheesy song from the 80s "I'm HOT-BLOODED, check it and see. I've GOT A FEVER of 103." I called Mom. That was a big mistake. She really had me worried. She thought I should go to the hospital too. She even told me to read up on the symptoms of meningitis. MENINGITIS. Seriously? Thanks Mom! That's helpful when I'm already panicking. Michelle seemed sleepy again and judging by the long nap she'd already had, this was even more of a concern. I was pretty sure it wasn't meningitis but what about heat stroke or something. Was she outside too long? I felt horrible.

I tried to get her temperature down by having a cool bath. It seemed to work but Michelle was shivering and almost seemed to be purple. I kept a cool cloth on her head. I got the cold stuffed monkey out of the freezer and put it on her head. I kept checking her temperature. 101.9. I was scared it would go to 102, 103. Should I go to emergency? Drag her out, wake her up and have her screaming (which makes her even more warm. Her face gets red) and wait for hours to be seen? Finally I decided to call Telehealth. In the past I found that all they ever seem to tell you to do is go to the hospital to get checked out but this nurse was saying the opposite. She was amazing. She was very authoritative. She told me exactly what to do and was very specific. She asked me to take her temperature again. She asked me all sorts of questions (which seemed ridiculous at the time -- about medications, surgeries, etc. I guess they have to cover every possible situation.) I told her that we'd been to the beach, that Michelle had a long nap, maybe she overheated. She threw up at dinner. She hadn't thrown up again but felt really warm. The nurse assured me that 101 was no cause for concern. She said it isn't until 104 that you should start to worry and even then it doesn't necessarily warrant a hospital trip. She told me to calm down. I told her Mom was talking about meningitis. I could almost hear the nurse roll her eyes through the phone. "No. Just ignore your Mom if she's saying things like that." To my great relief, Michelle's temperature kept going down. Now it was 99. Now it was 98. Now it was 97. I was a mess though. I couldn't sleep that night. I hadn't eaten. I was a wreck. When your child is sick it is the worst feeling in the world. You realize just how much you love them and you can't bear for anything to happen to them. The next day Michelle was her lively hyper non-napping self again with a healthy appetite and a normal temperature. The cold monkey and the kind nurse had gotten us through it. I was so glad I didn't rush to the hospital. I refused to be a hypochondriac like my mother. Unfortunately I had inherited the worrying gene and I can worry myself sick, literally. (I did after that episode. I was a wreck.)

Needless to say, I was reluctant to go to the beach for a while after that episode but we did go again in August a few times and thankfully had a wonderful time -- Michelle finally even got in the water but I'll save that for the next blog. This one is dedicated to July (and I'm writing it in September. Hard to find the time!)

Of course the biggest occasion of the year for Michelle was at the end of July -- her birthday! My little girl was turning 2 YEARS OLD! I couldn't resist spoiling her. Princesses, castles, books, puzzles. I love dolls myself so now I have an excuse to shop at Toys R Us without looking crazy (I used to collect Barbies years ago, long before I knew I'd ever have a little girl. I was my own little girl!) I kept picking things up whenever I'd see something really cute or on sale. Before I knew it I had quite a stockpile. I don't buy much for myself anymore but I can't resist getting things for Michelle and with her birthday coming up I really went overboard. She opened some of her gifts at home with me and then I brought the rest to Mom's where the whole family celebrated her birthday.

Thankfully it was a nice day so we could hang out outside. The only problem was the wind. The giant inflatable Minnie Mouse that I got (what WAS I thinking?!) kept threatening to float away and kept attacking me while we were opening gifts. Some of the balloons blew into a tree and popped. I didn't want Minnie to suffer a similar fate so we tried to weigh her down. She was a little more expensive (I got the balloons at the dollar store but they were a little more than a dollar!) She kept blowing into me during the gifts and photos. It was like an obnoxious person behind me at the theatre, whacking me in the back of the head. She was cute though!

Michelle was in a good mood thankfully even though she'd had almost no nap (that can be a fiasco as I'd learned the hard way a couple of times!) She was so excited to see everybody. Plus she'd been looking forward to her birthday for a while. She kept saying "I'm turning two at the end of the month! I'm going to get presents and cake!"

I was so grateful that the day went well. I wanted Michelle to have a very happy birthday. I had worried she would have one of her (in)famous tantrums but she was smiling and laughing and running amok most of the day. She did finally wear herself out by the evening and had a good sleep.

 Her reaction when she opened the Princess Castle (the second one, the first one was for Little People, the second one was for her Barbie sized Princesses -- Cinderella, Rapunzel etc.) was priceless! She was so excited she clenched her fists and jumped up and down. She had picked it out in the store months ago but either didn't realize I'd gotten it for her or forgot about it.

My little girl is growing up so fast. She may be in diapers but she's not a baby anymore. She actually picked out her own party dress. We were in Sears looking at dresses (they have the nicest ones there) and she saw the one covered in pink blossoms and said "This one's fabulous! I love it!" so I had to get it. I can't believe some of the phrases she comes up with -- some from movies or TV, some from me. I have to be really careful what I say. "Oh for Pete's sake!" Michelle will say and it sounds hilarious coming from her. She has become a flatterer (usually when I'm dressed up): "You look beautiful Mama, you're gorgeous!" Some random phrases she comes up with all on her own. One night she says "Goodnight Chipmunks and Superheroes!" before going to bed. I don't know how on Earth she came up with that! She amazes me. She makes me laugh. I am truly blessed.

Michelle loves her Uncle Chris. She doesn't get to see Uncle Mike as often because he's farther away and can't always make it to family events. Not having a Daddy in her life, Michelle really needs male role models in her life. I'm grateful that she has her Grampa and her Uncles. She loves when Uncle Chris lifts her up in the air. "Fly in the sky!" I lift her up too but I can't lift her quite as high as Chris does. (He can throw 30 lbs up like it's a feather!)

In one of Michelle's books there was a tiger cub that gets reunited with his family. When she saw the tiger parents Michelle said "That's Mama and that's Uncle Chris." Instead of Mama and Daddy it was a Mama and Uncle Chris tiger. My Mom thinks it's because she's always telling Michelle "Uncle Chris is your Godfather." She wouldn't know what that means but maybe she figures he's a father of sorts. He has been to my Mom's place to visit a few times while I was at work as well so she sees him pretty often, which is great. I want there to be men in her life and Lord knows there probably won't be one in mine for a long time (if ever at the rate I'm going. There was one day I think a guy was trying to pick me up and I totally shot him down without realizing it until after. D'oh. Oh well. Just as well. My little Leo takes the lion's share of my time/energy. There is nothing left for anyone else.)

It will be tough one day when I have to explain why her father has never been around (and for those who are curious, still not a peep from him by email or anything years later.) He was very troubled and hopefully left because he loved us enough to know we'd be better off without him. He would have been more of a hindrance than a help, a toxic father. I'd like to believe his motives were altruistic. I really hope it wasn't just that he was a cruel, heartless, selfish, spineless coward who couldn't bear the responsibility of a child and had no interest in being a decent human being with a loving family for the first time in his life. I'd like to believe he didn't just choose to slither back into the dark, meaningless life that he was in before he met me (a life he had claimed to want out of, which was why he suggested moving in with me. To get out of the hole he was in. To have a new, better life. I was supposed to be saving him. Of course you can't save someone who doesn't want to be saved. Anyway I'm getting off on a dark tangent and I'm supposed to be discussing a happy occasion! I do wonder if he ever thinks of her. If he reads this blog, stalks my Twitter, to see how we're doing. If he's curious, if he cares at all.) Some day it would be nice if Michelle had a father figure in her life but I can't even imagine dating at this point.

 I am so incredibly grateful for my big crazy family and especially for my little family of two. Michelle is definitely the love of my life and has brought more joy and meaning to my life than I ever thought possible. Sure she can be difficult sometimes. They don't call them the terrible twos for nothing but when she's at her best, she is extraordinary. Sweet, loving, funny, clever. She sees the magic in the world and helps me to see it too. She is my friend. My partner. The one I share my life with.

I can't believe how fast she is growing up. Two already. Next thing I know she'll be four and heading off to school (I'm DREADING that! It will be so hard to let her go.) Life speeds by. It seems like Summer just started and it's over already. Though this post is about July I'm writing it in September.

After turning two I took Michelle for her 24 month old checkup at the doctor. "Tell the doctor about her fever!" my Mom said. I mentioned everything to the doctor but she didn't have any concerns. She weighed and measured Michelle. "Oh my goodness. She's in the 98th percentile for height." She showed me the chart. At 37 and a half inches Michelle was taller than 98% of 24 month olds, male and female. Her weight, 30 lbs, was also higher than average.

The doctor was impressed at how well spoken Michelle was. "Her comprehension is amazing." Michelle said "Ahh" for the doctor to check her throat and turned her head for the doctor to check her ears. The last time we'd been to the doctor, Michelle wouldn't let the doctor near her ears. "I gave her a doctor kit for her birthday. So she's been checking my ears and taking my blood pressure and everything." Maybe it warmed her up to the idea. I started calling her Dr. Michelle and she liked it. She said she was going to be a doctor when she grew up. I have my fingers crossed. Before she was saying she wanted to be a Princess. Since there aren't many Princes around (my Mom pointed out that Prince George of Cambridge is only a year younger than her, so there's a chance!) I think she's better off focusing on becoming a doctor!

July certainly had its rough spots but ended on a high note at least. August was wonderful with more trips to the beach, family get togethers and adventures. I'll catch up on that in the next blog.

Thank you for reading (if anyone is!) It's nice to hear from people sometimes and to know there are people out there who can relate on some levels. For the most part though, this blog is for me. It's my therapy. It started as a pregnancy/baby blog after Michelle's father left me four months pregnant. Now it's a hard habit to break. I got used to writing these installments and I don't know how to stop. It's a diary. A record of our life story. It's also one of the few things I do for myself. Most of my hobbies and passions have been put on the backburner because 99% of my time and energy is devoted to Michelle. I still feel a need to do something somewhat creative. I used to love writing -- songs, poems, stories. Now this blog is my outlet.

It is hard to find the time but I make time. Just like working out. I can find 30 minutes a day to do something for myself, for my own happiness and health. I've lost 25 lbs since April and I feel stronger than I have in a long time. I did Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred, 6 Week 6 Pack, Yoga Inferno, One Week Shred and Dancing with the Stars Cardio Workout. I've also been counting calories. After months of struggling I've finally reached my goal. I'm not stopping. I'm going to keep working out to maintain my weight. I keep changing my workout because I think it's better for your muscles. I used to try to work out when Michelle was in bed but that became impossible so now I just find ways to work it into the day. A lot of times she's under foot, making me laugh, trying to copy me. I think it's good for Michelle to see me trying to be healthy with diet and exercise. "You look beautiful Mama!" she says and it keeps me going.

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