Thursday, May 12, 2016

Spring Forward!

To blog or not to blog, that is the question...
I've thought about ending this blog a few times but I can't seem to give it up. Even though it's hard to find time to write, it's something I love. And it's become a habit, keeping an online record of our journey. I started "Bump in the Road" when I found myself pregnant, alone and overwhelmed. This was an amazing outlet to vent about my troubles, celebrate my triumphs and share my story with the world. To hear from others who had been through similar experiences, to know that my story touched people, to look at my stats and see that people around the globe -- the U.S., Russia, the UK, France, Germany, Australia etc -- were following my journey was enormously gratifying. Suddenly I didn't feel so alone. Maybe I wasn't the only one who had gone through this. I figured if I can reach even one other single Mom and give her some comfort and encouragement, it would be worth it.

I've had people tell me now and then that I'm stupid and/or crazy to share so much of my life (and Michelle's life) and to post pictures online. The truth is I don't see the harm. I've gone to great lengths & made enormous sacrifices to ensure that Michelle is safe and always with me (or my parents when I'm working.) I would never leave her with a stranger. (It will be hard letting her go to school in September but it's inevitable. And I know that she'll be safe in school. At least I hope so.) My Mom is CONSTANTLY clipping out articles about babysitters and daycare centre workers who abuse/molest children. "I KNOW, MOM! I would NEVER take the chance and leave her with a stranger! That's why I commute for hours just so that I can leave her with you and dad!" Not that Michelle is entirely safe with Grandma and Grandpa either (I'll get to that story later!) but they're still my best bet.

Somehow when you're a parent (a mother especially) it's as though you can do no right. There is always someone who will tell you you're doing something wrong. I've been told on one hand that I'm too overprotective because I never let Michelle out of my sight. I'm a hoverer. And I'd never leave her with a babysitter. On the other hand I'm told that I'm not protective enough because I post pictures of her on the internet. Some parents don't post anything about their kids online. Others post everything. As far as I'm concerned, you have to do what feels right for you but don't impose your views on someone else. If it makes you happy, go for it! Don't let critics stop you from living your life the way you want to! As long as you're not doing anything immoral, illegal or deliberately hurtful to someone else, fill your boots! There are people who will lecture you on what you should do (while their own life choices are often less than stellar.) There are people who will tell you how to parent your kids (even when they have no children of their own.) It's best to just nod and smile. Everyone has their own opinion. The only one that matters is your own. No one loves your kid as much as you do and chances are you know best. So just be you and celebrate it! Ignore the naysayers. We're all individuals. You have to use your own judgment.

Between my blog, Twitter, Youtube etc I have posted THOUSANDS of photos and videos over the years. I'm not about to delete them all. When my ex sabotaged my hard drive (because he was jealous I had pictures of my old boyfriends) I lost TENS OF THOUSANDS of photos and videos from 2006-2011. If it hadn't been for sites like Myspace, Youtube, Twitter etc where I had posted many of my fave photos, I would have lost everything. (No I didn't have my pictures backed up. The internet was my back-up!) When people are asked what their most treasured possessions are photos are usually right up there. Now instead of photos in albums and shoe boxes we have them online. Somehow it's comforting to know that even if I lost everything, I could go anywhere in the world and hop on the internet and my photos, my story would be there to see. Michelle loves the limelight and she certainly doesn't mind me posting pictures online. She enjoys seeing herself on the computer and she's watched videos of herself as a baby on Youtube. She was fascinated watching herself eat solid food for the first time and take her first steps. I'm so glad that I have those moments captured. Many people share their lives on the internet in photos and in videos. So long as they're not negative/exploitative, I fail to see the problem. Life is so fragile, so fleeting. It's a human impulse to make your mark. To share your life. To write on the wall "I was here!" I tweet, therefore I am! You could hide your light under a bushel, but what fun is that?

As an artist/writer I feel a need to express myself and tell my story. I always have. At 11 years old I wrote a speech about my dysfunctional family (we could choose any topic. Other kids prattled on about dinosaurs, outer space, animals etc. Most nervously reading their script in a monotone.) I spoke from the heart, speech memorized (because it was MY story) I was the only one who dared to be honest/funny/to use personal experience as my subject. I won for best speech in the class and then had to recite it to the entire school where I won best speech in the school! Mom was both proud and mortified as I revealed embarrassing stories about our crazy clan. Even then I seemed to know the cardinal rule of a writer: Write what you know! In my 20s I wrote deeply personal poems about my relationship(wreck)s and heartbreaks and was thrilled to have several of them published in literary magazines. I also dabbled in stand up comedy at Yuk Yuks where I did sarcastic 5 minute bits about my life and my family. In my 30s I began writing songs about my life, my loves and the lessons I'd learned and performing them on stage and in videos. I put out a CD of deeply personal songs, one of which is even called "My Heart is on My Sleeve." At 42 when I found myself pregnant, I even wrote a song about the pregnancy test and posted a video on Youtube. I was telling Michelle's story before she was even born. I don't believe that it's hurting her in any way. To me it's a positive thing. I love Michelle more than my own life and I'll shout it from the rooftops if I want to! Sure there are scary people out there but there are nice people too. I've made some great friends online. The creepy ones I avoid. I've had a few marriage proposals (and indecent proposals!) on Twitter etc but if someone becomes aggressive/inappropriate with their messages I just block them. On the whole most people have been kind and I'm grateful to have an outlet to share my thoughts, photos etc. These days it's the closest thing I have to a social life. Besides, as much as I reveal about our lives, I keep a lot secret. I never mention where we live, where I work or any specific details. Most of my readers don't even live in the same country. I think we're pretty safe here in Anytown, Canada. Besides I'm not a celebrity or anything. Some people reveal a lot more than I do. There's even an app that shows where you are geographically every moment of the day. Big Brother is watching. I'm behind the times and I don't even have apps. So there you go, you can call me stupid and crazy but I gotta be me! I'm an open book and I wear my heart on my sleeve. I started this online diary years ago and I'm not pulling the plug now! If you don't think my websites are a good idea, you don't have to look at them. My mother warned me years ago that I shouldn't be on the internet at all because it's "too dangerous!" and I shouldn't put my name out there! But my mother lives in fear. She doesn't even own a computer. She has no desire to ever get on a plane. Living in a safe prison where you never go anywhere, never do anything and never risk anything isn't living. I am cautious when I need to be but sometimes I throw caution to the wind and because of that I've had some amazing experiences I wouldn't trade for the world. Whether or not anyone approves of my choices they are MY CHOICES. We're all human, none of us perfect. You do you. I'll be me! Namaste!

So now that my rant is done I'll get on with catching up on the past few months which flew by and yet somehow seems like a lifetime ago!

As I've mentioned numerous times, I am NOT a fan of Winter. (aka I loathe winter with every fiber of my being!) I couldn't wait for Spring. February is my least favourite month. At least it's the shortest month of the year (though it often feels like the longest.) To get through the cold, grey, miserable, monotonous days I tried to find things to look forward to. Every winter I seem to gain 10-20 lbs because I slip into a slump, overindulge on junk food and stop exercising. I was determined this winter would be different. I was doing pretty well maintaining my weight by continuing to count calories and doing yoga. Then cookies happened. It was February. I had been experimenting with cooking/baking (something about being locked in the house on cold winter days makes you crave comfort food!) I learned how to make shortbread cookies perfectly. I was so proud (I've never been much of a cook/baker and usually find a way to mess recipes up somehow.) I had planned to give the batch to my Mom (shortbread is her fave.) Unfortunately only half of them made their way to Mom's. I started baking cookies & eating half the batch (or the whole batch!) myself. Before I knew it, I'd gained almost 10 lbs! I was so angry with myself! At my age your metabolism slows and it's a struggle to lose weight yet it's ludicrously easy to gain it. And eating dozens of cookies at a time doesn't help! So the yoga wasn't cutting it anymore. I had to start working out more. I wound up turning to Jillian Michaels again -- she's tough but she's the best. I did the 30 Day Shred through March and lost half the weight. In April I did Tabata (another workout I'd read about in a fitness magazine and researched online.) It was invented by Japanese physician/researcher Dr. Izumi Tabata who was working with Olympic athletes and discovered that short bursts of intense exercise were actually more effective than longer periods of moderate exercise. Tabata is a 4 minute workout consisting of high intensity intervals -- 20 seconds of full-throttle exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated 8 times. It improves aerobic and anaerobic fitness, raises metabolism and heart rate. Working out for 4 minutes rather than an hour obviously sounded too good to be true. I figured I'd give it a go. But it is INTENSE. Those 4 minutes nearly kill you. (You should probably consult a doctor first & it wouldn't be advisable for anyone with heart problems as your heart rate SOARS during the 20 seconds of work. My heart is pounding and I have a hard time catching my breath during the 10 seconds of rest.) I did wind up losing a couple of pounds doing it and improved my endurance. I want to keep switching up my workouts so I don't plateau. And I don't think Tabata is meant to be done indefinitely. I've heard it loses its effectiveness if you do it too long. I figured going back to Yoga would be a nice change of pace though even with that I'm changing it up -- from relaxing sessions of old school Hatha yoga to more intense Jillian Michaels' "Yoga Inferno." The beauty of yoga is that it works on your core strength physically and spiritually. As you become balanced and centered in the postures it can translate into feeling balanced in life. Mind you, it's hard to do headstands at work or to do the lotus while you're stuck in a traffic jam on the highway. I have to find a way to hold on to my Zen wherever I am and whatever is going on around me. Especially when I have a monster to deal with on a daily basis...

I had often joked that Michelle was half vampire on her father's side but it wasn't until one day in February that I realized she actually has VAMPIRE TEETH! Her canines are sharp and pointed! She thought it was the coolest thing in the world and went around saying she was a vampire (but a nice one, like Draculaura from Monster High.) Michelle (like her father and like me when I was in my 20s) is a bit of a goth. She LOVES Halloween, monsters, all things creepy. She was already talking about what she wants to be for next Halloween. I told her she may change her mind over the next 8 months.

There isn't much to celebrate in February aside from Valentine's Day of course and Family Day (which was only invented a couple of years ago so that Canadians would have something to celebrate on President's Day.) Really every day is Family Day for me. I spend 99% of my time with Michelle and we visit with the rest of the family often as well.

Michelle LOVES visiting her Auntie May and playing with her cousin Reggie. I love visiting with May too. May always has me laughing as we catch up on life, our favourite shows etc. It's one of the few breaks I get from Michelle because she goes off to play with Reggie and I can just sit, relax and talk to grown-ups for a change. Sometimes I think having more than one child might actually be easier because the kids can play together at least. Michelle is always asking me to play with her. I do as much as I can but I explain to her that I'm on my own to do everything -- cleaning the house, making the meals, doing laundry etc. It's hard when you're on your own to keep up with everything.

One tradition my Mom and I (and my sister when she can make it out with us) always look forward to is visiting the Princess Margaret Lottery Dream Home. It's for a good cause (cancer research) and buys you a dream for a while. Of course the reality is that even if you won it you'd have a hard time paying the taxes unless you're a millionaire, but you could maybe live in it for a while before you sold it.

Valentine's Day is different when you're not in a romantic relationship. I used to be quite a romantic. Now I've learned to live without that sort of love. My love for Michelle surpasses anything I've ever experienced so I don't feel a void not being in a relationship though admittedly once in a while I think it would be nice having someone to watch scary movies with again. And play Scrabble with. But as far as holding hands and laughing and going places and having fun with, Michelle has me covered. She's my Valentine now.

I wanted to do something special with Michelle for Valentine's Day so I wrote a little song called "I love you" and got a video of us singing it together. She wanted to play her own little guitar while I played mine. She wound up getting a little distracted (as you can see in the video!) But we had fun and it was cute. Here's the video on Youtube:

Michelle was happy with her chocolates and stuffies. I was happy with pizza for dinner (that was my Valentine's gift to me!)

As much as I hate snow, I love seeing Michelle happy. So we always went out to play on snow days. Making snow angels, building snowmen, riding on her toboggan. At Grandma's house, Grandma and Grandpa even came out to play with us for a while. Instead of a snowman this time we made The Three Snowbears. Grandma made the baby bear. I made the other two. I like watching Michelle play. She has so much joy and enthusiasm for everything. She told me one day "Mama, I'm ALWAYS happy!" I told her that's a good way to be and that I wish I was. Unfortunately I let things get to me and I can get depressed, stressed, tired, frustrated. I told her she's more like Ernie, cheerful no matter what and I'm more like Bert, more prone to grumpiness. Or she's Sponge Bob, eternal optimist and I'm Squidward, ever the cynic. I wish I had one tenth of her energy. In fairness a sunnier disposition is easier when you're actually rested and when you get to play all day with no cares or responsibilities! Oh to be a kid!

My Mom admitted how much easier it is to care for a child when you have two people. When my Mom is busy with something, my dad entertains Michelle. Michelle loves playing with Grandpa. It's hard when you're on your own and have to do everything. In two parent families sometimes Dad gets to be the "fun one" and play with the kids while Mom is busy working around the house. Or vice versa. When it's all you, you have to be the fun one and the working one, you do everything. Some single Moms at least have an ex in the picture contributing somewhat (whether financially or with child care etc). To have no help of any kind ever can be overwhelming. Luckily, knock on wood, it's gotten somewhat easier as she's gotten older. Michelle has a wonderful imagination and is content to play independently more and more while I try to get things done. She still has me role play while I'm doing dishes, laundry, in the bathroom etc. "Mama you be Sponge Bob and I'll be Sandy!" So I put on my best Sponge Bob voice and act out her scenario, as best I can, from the kitchen sink, bathroom etc. I wish she did have other kids to play with more often. Michelle is excited to go to school and make new friends her age. She's always happy to play with other kids when we go out somewhere.
Michelle loves parties and absolutely lives for dressing up. She picks out her own dresses and dresses herself. If she had her way she'd be in a dress every day. I tried to explain to her that her fancy dresses are just for special occasions and that they'll get ruined if she wears them all the time and just to run around the house. We went to Jocelyne's (my brother in law's sister's) birthday party. It was a full house between all of Shane's family and ours. Michelle had a blast playing with all the kids. I couldn't resist having an ice cream cone with the girls. (I think I was the only adult who did. How do you say no to ice cream?!)

Michelle loves art, like her Mama and her cousin Shannon. Drawing, colouring, painting. She's getting very meticulous about staying within the lines. It's fascinating to watch her style change. She used to do portraits of people full arms, hands and fingers. Now the arms tend to be sticks with just three prongs on them. My Mom thinks Toopy & Binoo are to blame because she noticed that's what Toopy's arms look like. Interestingly even though Michelle does stick arms she'll still do feet and toes! And she puts more detail into clothing now. She asks how to spell words and even figures some out on her own by sounding them out.

As much as she loves playing in the snow, even Michelle was longing for Spring. She would ask to go to the park and I'd have to explain it's much too cold. Luckily there is an indoor playground where she can run amok, climb and ride on the slides. She makes a new friend every time we go. She has a ball on the yellow tube slide. A complete photoholic I can't resist snapping a hundred photos, almost every time she goes down the slide. It takes a lot of bad shots to capture the perfect one. I never tire of seeing Michelle's smile.

She was so excited at one point that she did a happy dance -- a gleeful little wiggle before she climbed up to the slide. A younger boy saw her do it & he started doing a wiggle dance too. Then his Mom turned the corner and asked him "What on Earth are you doing?!" I chuckled to myself. I didn't have the nerve to tell her he was just imitating my nutty girl.

Toys R Us were giving away pink t-shirts for anti-bullying day. It says "Be a Buddy, not a bully." I hope that Michelle never encounters bullying when she's in school. I don't think she will because she's a tough cookie and wouldn't take flack from anyone. (I just hope she doesn't become a bully! She is pretty bossy!) I was bullied as a kid (even into adulthood). I was so shy and passive I just sort of took it. Looking back I wish I'd been assertive and stood up for myself rather than allowing myself to be a victim. I'm thankful that Michelle is much more outgoing and self-assured. She would definitely stand up for herself in a way I never did as a kid. 

Dressing up is by far Michelle's favourite game. Now that she can dress herself there's no stopping her. She drags her step stool from the bathroom over to her closet and pulls down whatever she wants. For a while, she was a fairy EVERY SINGLE DAY. She'd go off to her room and say "Mama! I have a surprise for you!" and the surprise would be that she was dressed in her Barbie Mariposa butterfly fairy outfit for the billionth time. I'd feign shock and awe as she'd pirouette around. I asked her if she could use her fairy powers to bring about an early spring. She waved her magic wand but it was still winter. We got snow off and on. Sometimes she even tried to dress up the cat. Ali was a pretty good sport about it for about a minute, then she wasn't having it.

While I was pregnant, before the sex of the child had been determined, I had a feeling she was a girl and I had hoped she'd be a girlie girl and like flowers and fairies and dolls and pretty things. I got my wish, and then some! My little Princess is the girliest of girlie girls! She has a more rugged/earthy side too though -- she loves running (and she's fast -- she can ever outrun me!), likes playing ball (catching or kicking), loves being outside, isn't afraid of getting dirty (whether it's mud or sand or splashing in puddles she loves it).

Michelle has such a vivid imagination. She doesn't just dress up in the outfits, she takes on the role. She'll jump around and act out stories, whether she's a fairy, a superhero or a princess. She's so full of joy and energy there's no way of keeping up with her.

The only time she slows down somewhat is when she gets sick. Unfortunately she got a terrible cold and cough in February. The first night was AWFUL. She coughed so hard it made her gag and she threw up in bed. Any parent that has had to clean puke off of a kid and a bed in the middle of the night (washing off a crying child, pulling off sheets and rinsing them before loading the washer and putting on clean sheets) knows that it's a trip through Hell. Even worse than when your kid wets the bed (which is no picnic either. Thankfully Michelle has had very few accidents since she's been potty trained.) The following day was brutal too. Michelle's nose wouldn't stop running and she kept crying. I insisted she rest, have lots of juice and water and I even made her homemade chicken noodle soup. By the next day she was herself again, still with a red runny nose but laughing and running around and wanting to play dress up again. I got pictures of her as Minnie Mouse with her poor red nose. (And in case you're wondering that's Dracula Mickey posing with her. He's supposed to be a Halloween ornament but Michelle loves Halloween and she adores her Dracula Mickey.)

It's all fairies, unicorns and rainbows in Michelle's world. Everything is magical. I envy her that. I lack her sunny enthusiasm. And when I caught her cold (because as old as I am I still haven't had all 2000 strains of the common cold and of course she had to catch one I hadn't experienced yet), I didn't bounce back quite so quickly. In my defense I didn't get to rest and have someone bring me OJ and chicken soup when I was sick. A single Mom doesn't get to take a sick day. I even went into work. They asked me why I came in. I said being at work was actually more restful than being home. Michelle doesn't give me peace.

On Oscar night I had an idea. Why let Michelle have all the fun? Maybe I could play dress-up too. So we dressed up for the Oscars. Michelle loved it. Any excuse to wear a dress and she's happy. And of course I had to get some pictures of us posing with our Academy Award for Best Actress (that I picked up at a souvenir shop in Niagara Falls years ago!) Michelle even wound up watching a little of the Oscars with me. She enjoyed seeing all the ladies in pretty dresses walking on the red carpet. After she settled down I got to enjoy them in peace. Chris Rock was a phenomenal host! There was so much controversy surrounding the Oscars and the "lack of diversity." Chris tackled it beautifully -- using humour to confront the issue head on. He was hilarious and brilliant and made far more of a statement than those who simply boycotted the Oscars. He got his point across. Public Enemy's "Fight the Power!" played over the closing credits. It was unforgettable. One of my favourite moments from the show was Lady Gaga performing "Til it happens to you." It was so raw, so powerful I was on the verge of tears when a group of survivors joined her onstage and I just bawled.

Even with all of her dresses and costumes Michelle couldn't resist raiding my closet as well. "Can I wear this?!" she asked reaching for my high school prom dress. I was curious to try it on myself. It almost fit me if I didn't do up the zipper at the back. At all. It looked good on Michelle -- I just had to put a clasp on the back to hold it on! She wanted me to dress up too so I put on the dress I wore to my brother's wedding years ago. I find it fun to dress up now and then and there aren't a lot of occasions that call for formal wear.

On gloomy days we made our own sunshine inside. Michelle loves arts and crafts. She'll draw and paint, play with clay and make crafts. She loves gluing glitter, sequins and jewels. Sometimes we'll have a CRAFTernoon where I break out all the supplies and we'll make fancy crowns and things. It's fun but a HUGE mess. I wind up finding glitter and sequins all through the carpet for weeks. Even after vacuuming.

Then it was March. I was hopeful that Spring was on the way and the worst of Winter was over. Unfortunately in Canada you just don't know from one day to the next, or even one minute to the next, what the sky will bring. One day we went to Auntie May's for a visit. My Mom had heard about an impending snowstorm but the skies were completely clear. (And weather people are wrong 50% of the time, right?) All of a sudden it went from 0 to blizzard in under 1 minute! We looked outside and couldn't believe it. The kids were thrilled. Considering I had to drive in it, I was less enthused. 

Good sport that I am, I played in the snow with Michelle though in my mind I kept thinking how happy I'd be to NEVER SEE ANOTHER SNOWFLAKE IN MY ENTIRE LIFE!

I suppose I did like snow as a kid. Everything is fun when you're a kid and all you do is play. You don't have to worry about shoveling driveways or driving on slippery roads without snow tires. As a kid, snow means schools closing, tobogganing, making angels and building snowmen. As an adult I just grit my teeth and wait until we can go in and have hot chocolate.

Now that Michelle's older (and better behaved for the most part -- because she's old enough that I can usually reason/negotiate with her now) there are more things I can enjoy with her. I don't have to worry quite so much about her having a tantrum/creating a scene in public. We went to see Zootopia 3D at the theatre and we both loved it. It was funny and clever with a really positive message about going after your dreams no matter what and never judging a book by its cover. The main character, Officer Judy Hopps, is an amazing role model for girls. She faces her fears and goes after what she wants, no matter what anyone else thinks. She does the right thing even when it's hard to do. She wants to make the world a better place. She is a true heroine. I'm glad to see Disney creating strong female characters. In contrast to the classic Disney Princess movies -- where the damsel in distress had to be rescued, today's heroines do the rescuing. And the sloths working at the DMV are HILARIOUS! The great thing about Disney films is that they're adorable and visually stimulating to keep the kids amused but they throw in enough adult wit and commentary to keep grown ups entertained too. Michelle was riveted through the entire thing.

Once in a while however, Michelle can throw one DOOZY of a tantrum! Thankfully we're at home when it happens. Michelle is becoming a bit of a perfectionist. She loves drawing and I've been told she's extremely advanced in terms or her artwork and writing but she can be hard on herself and gets very frustrated when she can't do something. "I can't do it!" she'll huff "I QUIT! I can't do anything right!" One day she was screaming and crying because she couldn't draw an elephant and a giraffe "properly." I told her to cut herself some slack. I explained to her that her elephant and giraffe were beautiful and actually far better than a lot of adults could do. I told her that artists can express themselves through their work. You don't need to make an exact replica. That's what cameras are for. Your art is your expression, your "interpretation" of the giraffe. And she really does have talent. Even at 3 she has a great sense of line, colour and composition.

I understand her frustration of course. I was always a bit of a perfectionist myself. It can be a good thing -- in school it pushed me to excel. I was a straight A student through high school and university and won several awards but I drove myself crazy trying to meet my self-imposed standards. I stressed myself out unnecessarily and never felt good enough. I want Michelle to strive for her personal best but I don't want her to make herself miserable trying to meet some unattainable ideal. I want her to enjoy herself and not to be so hard on herself. Learning and creating should be fun, not torturous!

I love Michelle's artwork. Her whimsical pictures shows so much creativity. It makes me want to paint again. Somehow I never find the time. I have to make the time and it's something I could share with Michelle. It's bad enough to procrastinate things I don't want to do (like things that need fixing around the house etc) but I shouldn't procrastinate the things I enjoy. Life is too short to procrastinate your own happiness. I want to paint again and to write. I have to carve out some time to do things that nurture my spirit. Maybe then I won't feel so tired, drained and depleted a lot of the time. It's a common problem for Moms -- single Moms especially. You spend all your time and energy caring for your kids and there's nothing left for yourself. You almost feel selfish/guilty taking time for you. The thing is that you need that. By take care of you you are healthier, stronger and better able to take care of everyone else. Good advice if I'd take it. I try to. 

Michelle is also a bit of a perfectionist in other ways. She wants to be able to do everything perfectly. She has been dressing herself for a while. She gets angry if she can't get things on herself and has to ask for my help. As if needing help is a sign of failure. I explained to her that certain things are just hard to get on, even for me (pulling dresses over her head, pulling up pants that are too tight etc). I know when I was a kid I wanted to be able to do everything my sister could do, even though she was 5 years older. With Michelle not having siblings I guess her only role model is me and she wants to be able to do everything I can do. "Michelle -- You're ONLY 3 YEARS OLD!" I try to remind her when she gets frustrated and expects too much of herself. Everyone comments on how bright she is and how advanced she is for her age. But she wants to be able to do EVERYTHING. NOW!

I don't know where on Earth she gets it from (heavy sarcasm!) but Michelle is a bit of a drama queen. At 3 years old she already has a gift for hyperbole. At my sister's one time she said "This was the BEST day ever but now it's the WORST day ever!" because Reggie wouldn't play what she wanted to play. If she doesn't get her way she'll say "That's it! I've had it! I'm leaving!" and stomp up the stairs. She told me once that I was "Ruining her life!" because I wouldn't let her do something (imagine when she's a teenager?! I'm DOOMED!) I usually can't help but laugh when she rants because it's so adorable and ridiculous. One night when I was driving home one of my favourite songs came on so I turned it up and started singing along. (Alanis Morrisette -- Oughta Know. I censored out the same part the radio did.) I remembered singing it when I was in a band, doing cover tunes. It's such a powerful song. When the song was almost over I thought I heard Michelle saying something but I was enjoying the moment and thought whatever it was she wanted could wait a second. When the song was over I asked "Did you want something, honey?" And she yelled "HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO FALL ASLEEP WITH ALL THAT RACKET?!" I apologized, laughed my head off, turned the radio down and found a more soothing song for her. I can't believe some of the things she comes out with! "Oh dear!" "Oh brother!" "Are you insane?" Some expressions she gets from me but sometimes it's old fashioned, even for me. It's like she's middle aged already. My Mom suggested maybe Michelle is "an old soul." It's like she's been here before. The things she knows and learns with little effort. How bright she is for her age. It's funny because a friend told me Michelle was an old soul when she was just a baby. Before she could even talk. The way she'd look into your eyes. Michelle is always saying. "I know, Mama. I know EVERYTHING." I told her she certainly doesn't. No one does. There's more to know than anyone could know. But maybe she has been here before. As much as she has to learn it seems like she teaches me even more.

Michelle and I were happy when the weather finally started to warm up and we could actually go to the park. March is supposed to be the official start of Spring after all. The first day we could go outside WITHOUT A COAT was glorious! (Mind you everyone has a different reaction to/interpretation of the weather. Some people will jump the gun and be in shorts. Others are still in their winter coats. I tend to fall somewhere in the middle.) 

Michelle gets so excited at the park. She tends to say "BEST. DAY. EVER!" almost every time we go. For me, just getting some fresh air and a bit of sunlight after being cooped up for months in hibernation mode was incredible. It makes such a difference. The lack of sunlight is what makes Seasonal Affective Disorder so brutal. I look forward to Spring Forward when we put the clocks ahead, even though it means losing an hour. (This year I actually had to work nightshift which was perfect. If you're going to lose an hour it might as well be when you're working a 14 hour night!)

Michelle was ecstatic to be able to ride her bike again. We usually just go around the block. One time she wanted to go further then ended up tired and wanted me to carry her and her bike. I explained that wasn't happening and she was just going to have to muddle through. Usually she has boundless energy though and there's no stopping her. But a long trip up hill is tough, even for her. She's getting better at smoothly turning corners, speeding up and slowing down. I'm not sure at what point I'll be brave enough to take off the training wheels and let her learn to ride a bike without. Not yet anyway!

One of our favourite places to go is the Butterfly Conservatory. No matter what time of year it is you can enjoy Summer in there -- it is the temperature of a tropical jungle! Even in short sleeves I'm sweating buckets. Michelle and I love the butterflies. More than that I adore the photo ops! My goal was to capture shots of Michelle with a butterfly. I actually got a few so I was over the moon! There was a group of kids on a field trip when we were there and many of them were grabbing butterflies left and right. Michelle wanted to hold one. I told Michelle it's important to be very careful and NEVER to touch their wings because they're so delicate and if you damage them, they can't fly. She was very gentle and stayed very still as a kind boy (who was covered in butterflies because he had some sort of food/butterfly catnip that the facility had provided the students with) asked "Do you want to hold one?" and placed it on her hand. Later I was able to coax one from my finger onto hers as well. Of course the beautiful Blue Morpho (my favourite and the most elusive of the butterflies) never stays still long enough to get a photo. And will never sit on your hand or finger. Only occasionally on your shoulder, if you're lucky.

Somehow I even managed to get a selfie with a smiling Michelle and a butterfly. If it had been a Blue Morpho, my head would have exploded. I take so many pictures that Michelle's becoming a pro at posing, asks to see the pictures and even takes some herself. She doesn't do too badly considering she's 3 years old. I may have to give her her own little camera for her birthday.

To me, photography has become such a natural and necessary part of my daily life that I couldn't live without it. I have this need to record every moment (or at least the good moments. It's the smiles I keep. The tears and trials tend to stay off camera.) Posting photos on sites like Twitter is an extension of that. I'm not the only one. This is the Instagram generation -- people take selfies EVERYWHERE and snap photos of EVERYTHING, even their dinner. (Incidentally, I couldn't get an Instagram account because you need to upload it as an app on a device. I don't do apps. I have an old fashioned cellphone just for emergencies. It doesn't let you sign up from an old school computer. I was disappointed because a site BASED on photos would be right up my alley! For now, Twitter and this blog satisfy my need to share (or as some put it -- stupidly, crazily OVERSHARE!) my life.

Though some families rarely get to together (maybe at Christmas if that) mine are always gathering to celebrate birthdays (and in a big family like ours there are a lot of them!) etc. We got together for my nephew Dan's birthday in March. Michelle picked out her own turquoise and silver dress and was happy that it was as comfortable as it was stylish. She had a ball hanging out with the family, playing with Reggie and dancing around when they put the stereo on. Sometimes I feel like she misses out not having siblings so I'm glad when she gets to spend time with the whole gang.


And then it was Easter. As a Christian/Catholic of course I know that Easter is the day Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven, sacrificing his life to free us from sin so that we could one day join Him in paradise. Then there's the more pagan aspect of the holiday -- celebrating Spring, new life -- Easter egg hunts, chocolate bunnies. I joked on Twitter -- "Happy Easter if you're Christian or love bunnies!" Or both! As with Christmas, I let Michelle know and appreciate both aspects. I told her about Jesus rising up to Heaven. I also told her the Easter Bunny would hide eggs and bring her chocolate. Because why not? I even had her make Easter cards celebrating both sides. I was impressed with her rendering of the Ascension of Jesus (she gave that card to my Mom.) Her bunny was cute too (that was for my Dad.) Like Santa, my Mom boycotted the Easter bunny as well. We never had Easter egg hunts because the holiday was "about Jesus" not bunnies. Curiously she still gave us chocolate bunnies for Easter. Usually those solid 1 lb ones. I used to save the head for last because I felt sorry for him. Michelle is the opposite of me in that way. She bites off the head first and laughs! That ruthlessness is from her father's side I guess! Mom drew the line at inventing an Easter Bunny, but I guess she figured we shouldn't miss out on chocolate. And they don't make chocolate Jesuses! It would be kind of weird if they did.

This year I actually had to work all Easter weekend. Friday to Sunday. Curiously the Sunday doesn't even count as a stat holiday. I guess because it's a Sunday and most of the 9 to 5 office types don't work anyway. I tried to explain that if anything should be a stat holiday it's Easter. More than Christmas: Anyone can be born. More than Good Friday: Anyone can die. The most important part, the crux of the faith, is that Jesus ROSE FROM THE DEAD on EASTER SUNDAY. Of course, a lot of people celebrating Easter don't even believe in Jesus. They're just in it for the bunnies. But they still get Good Friday and Easter Monday off.

On the Saturday I dropped by the mall on my lunch break. Probably a crazy idea Easter weekend when parents would be scrambling to buy last minute chocolate bunnies. When I got there I was surprised to see kids and Moms lining up, all through the mall. I wondered what on Earth they were waiting for. Did kids line up to sit on the Easter Bunny's lap like they did with Santa? It seemed to me I had seen some Awkward Family Photos and Creepy Bunny photos where kids pose with a man in a (sometimes horrifying) makeshift Easter Bunny suit. Turns out they were waiting for the Bunny train. There he was. E.B. waving from a little train, choo chooing through the mall. Adorbs. Geek that I am, I snapped a photo of the Easter Bunny on the train to show Michelle.

"Hey! Look honey! I saw the Easter Bunny today on my lunch break!"
Michelle was impressed. I was thankful that she wasn't angry about missing out on seeing him in person. And E.B. was kind enough to hide eggs at Grandma's house AND at our house when we were back home to celebrate on Easter Monday. Sometimes Mama working through holidays isn't such a bad thing. She winds up doubly gifted.

My Mom and I were both moved when Michelle's favourite present wasn't the chocolate or stuffies we'd gotten her but a Children's Bible! Stories from the Old Testament -- Creation, Noah's Ark etc and Jesus' life in the New Testament turned into concise, cute, colourful, kid-friendly tales. I read it to her and she looked through it over and over herself. She recognized Jesus when she saw Him (she'd seen Him in other pictures.)

Michelle had the time of her life searching for the Easter eggs. She even asked me to hide them again so she could gather them up a second time. She LOVES collecting things in baskets and boxes. She has a ball with marbles, beads, jewelry, coins -- any small things she can count and store in containers. Some of the eggs were just pretty, others Michelle was delighted to discover had surprises inside (PlayDoh/candy/etc). In true, Geek Mom-Photoholic fashion, I had to get photos of us in our matching bunny ears from the Dollar Store. It's amazing how much fun Michelle can have with little Dollar Store trinkets (I get a lot of craft supplies -- glitter, beads, sequins etc -- there too.) Bling on a budget.


It seemed like Spring was here to stay. It rained a fair bit but I could deal with that. April showers bring May flowers after all. I figured I had escaped the Winter without having to buy snow tires (one more expense I could do without). Then my Mom cruelly pointed out that we CAN get snow in April. That some years we even got snow IN MAY. I didn't remember that. I must have blocked it from my memory. My visions of May involved warm, sunny days, sometimes even at the beach. 
And then just when I thought we were out of the woods, we got a blizzard. In April. Crap. My Mom got a picture of me looking morose as the snow started to fall. Michelle found it funny. The worst part was that I was going to be doing a lot of driving that day. It would turn out to be sheer Hell heading back home -- a white-out on the highway, cars almost at a standstill. I was white knuckled, cursing the weather and praying the whole way to make it home alive. But it was for a good cause. At least I got to spend time with my family.

For my brother's birthday, his girlfriend Christina decided to do something a little different and invited us all to celebrate at Mandarin. I headed there with some trepidation to say the least. Don't get me wrong -- I LOVE Mandarin (though an endless buffet of delicious food is a lot of temptation for someone who's counting calories. I figured that would be my cheat day.) It was one of my fave restaurants. Right up there with East Side Mario's which I haven't been to since before I was pregnant with Michelle. I hadn't been to Mandarin in several years. Since having Michelle I've only been to restaurants a couple of times, and it wasn't exactly smooth sailing. She was younger, but still. I think I still have PTSD from that time I went with Michelle and my parents to Swiss Chalet.

Going to the movies with Michelle is one
thing -- she's enthralled by the magical world on the big screen. How on Earth was I going to keep her still, FOR HOURS, at a birthday party at a RESTAURANT, with no movie, no entertainment? Just food that she may not even eat. If she was her usual self, it would be a disaster. I'm sure the staff wouldn't appreciate a 3 year old girl running, bumping into people, breaking plates. Michelle doesn't sit still for a meal. At home at dinner time, she eats a little, gets up and runs amok. I follow her around with fork fulls of broccoli to make sure she eats it all. 9 times out of 10 I eat my meals standing. Michelle eats them RUNNING. I tried getting Michelle to sit down with me at the dinner table and eat like a normal human and it lasts about 2 minutes before she's up and sprinting again. It's a battle to get her to eat. I guess if I just left her to eat on her own she'd starve. Some parents don't bother. Some kids don't seem to eat anything and somehow they survive. I'm more of a worrier. I make sure she has her veggies and at least some protein. The carbs -- pasta, rice, tater tots she usually gobbles up no problem. And she loves cheese. But you can't live on that. I remember my brother in law's Mom saying when Shane was little they went on a trip to Mexico and all he would eat were M&Ms for a whole week. Somehow he survived. (I would have been chasing him with forks full of spinach and broccoli but to each his own. My Mom kept us prisoner at the table until we cleaned our plates. I refuse to do that to Michelle. Though I wish she would sit still and eat at least half of her dinner without me running around trying to feed it to her.)

When we have dinner at Auntie May's Michelle takes a few bites, runs amok, takes another bite, runs amok. I couldn't imagine how I was going to keep her in her seat. Thankfully when we got to the restaurant I realized we'd be seated by a wall (she was barricaded on one side at least!) and there were massive aquariums to entertain her!

Michelle loves fish. She and her cousins (and me if I'm being honest) were fascinated by the fish. So that was great. Michelle couldn't go too far even if she wanted to. She did eat her dinner pretty well (I got her some chicken and veggies though her faves were french fries and pizza.) I went through my usual Mandarin ritual (which I used to do years ago -- first sampling a bit of almost everything, then getting a second plate of my faves -- curry chicken, rice, chow mein etc --- then a third & fourth plate. Then a dessert plate. Michelle enjoyed her dessert plate as well -- ice cream and cakes and cookies. After stuffing ourselves to the gills we all headed out. Though it was a little stressful at first, it turned out to be surprisingly fun and a nice change having a birthday at the restaurant. It was very brave (and generous!) of Christina to offer to take our huge clan to dinner and we appreciated it. A waitress was kind enough to take the obligatory group shot that I always insist on at our big family get-togethers.

Michelle adores her cousin Reggie. She always has a ball running around with him at Auntie May's. Affectionate girl that she is, she always wants to hug him goodbye. Boys aren't quite as keen on displays of affection and he usually looks uncomfortable (ranging from slightly reluctant to mildly horrified) but it's so cute I can't resist getting a picture.

One day my goofy girl said she had a surprise for me. "Police, Fire, ANIMAL!" I couldn't stop laughing. Her career choices have ranged from Doctor (my personal fave!) to Rock Star, Princess, Superhero, Builder, Artist, Writer, Actress etc. Now she had added -- Ballerina-Leopard-Firefighter to her wish list. And who knows? There may be occasions that call for a ballerina leopard firefighter to be dispatched (though I'm drawing a blank.) As a kid it seems the possibilities are limitless -- "What do you want to be when you grow up?" As you get older, you start to limit yourself in some ways, at least I did. You become more practical. Sure I'd love to be an artist. But I don't want to be a starving artist. I have to do something practical to pay the bills. And before you know it, the dreams start to fall away. Michelle is so strong and confident (things that I never felt I was) that I know she truly can be whatever she wants and puts her mind to. I will support her in whatever she wants to do or be, as long as it makes her happy. For me, I'm grateful that I got to dabble in so many different things -- acting, modelling, writing, art, music -- and creativity will always play some part in my life if only as a hobby. (When I can find the time!) What you do for a living isn't necessarily your life. Your life is what you love, how you choose to spend your time when you're not being paid -- the things that make your heart sing.

One of my dreams as a child was to be a ballerina. My parents couldn't afford lessons. I envied the girls who got to take ballet and piano, many of them forced to go and complaining about it. I would have loved it. With ballet especially you have to start so young or you lose your flexibility. Michelle was pirouetting around one day and suddenly did the splits! "I didn't realize you could do that!" I said, envious. I've always wished I could do that. She just smiled. Though it may be a struggle financially I will try to put Michelle into whatever she wants to do whether it's ballet, piano, gymnastics, sports, or putting her through medical school when she's old enough if that's what she wants! (Fingers crossed!)

Michelle loves the spotlight and I imagine once she goes to school she'll be thrilled to be involved in school plays, recitals etc. She's a natural born star! "Watch me Mama!"

My Mom says Michelle is so much like me that it's like having her own little girl back again. I think Michelle is a far better version of me -- Ann Marie 2.0! She's stronger, more confident and self-assured. On top of my creativity she has the determination to follow through with her dreams, whatever they may be. She's also incredibly bright, funny, loving and wise beyond her years.

At her worst, Michelle can be a moody demanding monster (she is a 3 year old girl after all!) At her best she is an angel, a blessing beyond anything I ever could have hoped for. The true love of my life, my greatest joy, my everything. I'm so lucky to have her.

Since I almost can't imagine ever trusting a man enough to have a relationship, much less get married, it had crossed my mind that I might actually see Michelle get married before I do. I just didn't expect it to be when she was 3 YEARS OLD! Yes. Michelle has married Sponge Bob. One day she dressed herself in a "wedding dress" (or at least the closest thing to one that she could find in her closet) and announced that she was marrying her favourite yellow sponge. It was a small ceremony. I stood in as officiant and improvised a ceremony "By the power vested in me by this stairwell, I now pronounce you girl and sponge!" Yes she loves Sponge Bob THAT MUCH. I don't see the attraction. Personally I find his squeaky voice grating and the show ranging from slightly funny to incredibly annoying but the heart wants what it wants. As men go, I'm thankful her affection lies with such a sweet, good natured, non-threatening one at least. She loves Dracula Mickey as well but more like a brother. Yes my girl is a little "different." I just roll with it.

Though I have a goofy/fun/lighthearted side, I admit that (more often than not) I tend to be more serious/a worrier/control freak. Keeping Michelle safe is PRIORITY ONE. I admit I am a card-carrying bubble-wrap/helicopter parent if there ever was one. I don't know how else to be. My maternal instinct kicked in the instant I found out I was pregnant -- it's an instinct to LOVE and to PROTECT no matter what. So I am a Mama leopard and I will shelter/safeguard/secure my cub to the best of my ability. (And tear out the throat of any predator who dares to come near her!) It's non-negotiable. Michelle comes first & anything else (up to and including my own life) comes second. I'm determined that nothing bad can happen to Michelle. Not on my watch. Unfortunately, I have to work to earn a living. So I have no choice but to leave her with someone, sometimes. My parents seemed like the best option because they at least love her almost as much as I do. The problem is that they're older, more forgetful, easily distracted, perhaps not quite as vigilant as I am. (No offence guys! I love you! BUT...)

Case in point...Recently something happened while Michelle was in their care that frankly, FREAKED ME OUT TO THE NTH DEGREE!

After a series of exhausting nightshifts I picked up Michelle, packed up our things, loaded up the car and headed home. After a 15 hour day on almost no sleep I was like a zombie. So I didn't even notice anything different about Michelle. I could barely see straight. I just wanted to get to bed more than anything and I had a long drive and a lot of unpacking/chores to do before that could happen. The next day however, I looked at her and did a double take.

"Wait, WHAT?! You have BANGS! How did you get BANGS! Did Grandma cut your hair?!" I was about to phone my Mom and blast her. After all what kind of a psychopath would cut a child's hair randomly without the parent's permission?! I thought of all the times my Mom complained that Michelle's hair was just "hanging in her face" and figured she'd taken it upon herself to rectify the situation. (Of course when Michelle is with me I usually brush and style her hair -- pigtails are my fave but she likes ponytails.) At Grandma's sometimes Michelle ends up looking like a rag-a-muffin.
Michelle's lip quivered and she started to cry.
"I DID IT!" she confessed. "I cut my hair!"
"YOU DID IT?!" my mind was racing, struggling to process how this could have happened. Somehow my (knuckle-headed?!) parents had left her alone in the room with a sharp object (and without supervision?!) long enough for her to have styled her own tresses. And no one thought to mention this little incident to me? After I stopped being angry I was actually in awe of what a good job Michelle did considering she's only 3 years old! The bangs were a tad short, granted, but relatively straight and even and didn't look half bad. It could have been A LOT worse. I called my Mom and she was in shock. She had no idea.

"What?! You didn't notice?! Well can you check the living room because there must be a CHUNK OF HAIR lying somewhere!" Of course with all the cat fur floating around Mom probably wouldn't even notice.

I asked Michelle how she managed to do it & she showed me she just grabbed a chunk of hair in front of her face and snipped. I was flabbergasted. I had given her craft scissors that were plastic, kid-safe and meant to cut paper, not hair. I didn't think they could cut hair. They can't. It turns out Michelle didn't use those. The next time we were at Grandma's Michelle showed me the scissors she'd used instead -- small, sharp hair-cutting scissors that she'd pilfered from Grandma's desk caddy filled with pens, reading glasses and sundry sharp weapons apparently. Thank God Michelle hadn't hurt herself. My Mom kept going on about how cute Michelle looked, what a good job she'd done, how nice it was to have her hair out of her face. "But YOU'RE MISSING THE POINT!" I exclaimed. Michelle said she wanted to be a hairstylist when she grew up. If she's this talented at 3 years I imagine she'll be Edward Scissorhands by the time she's an adult.

I made my Mom hide the non-kid-friendly scissors where Michelle can't see or reach them EVER AGAIN. I'm not sure which part of the whole ordeal distresses me the most. My Mom just mostly finds it funny and is happy with Michelle's hair being out of her face. I can almost see the humour in the situation. And in my Mom's defense, Michelle is actually quite mature for her age. In some ways you don't feel like you have to watch her like a hawk because she doesn't tend to do dangerous things. Even as a baby she was playing with objects with small parts and never put them in her mouth. She showed no interest in hazardous materials (though I did keep things out of reach.) Michelle knew about the stove being hot and steered clear (I also wouldn't let her anywhere near it!) Sometimes Michelle acts so grown up that you forget she is only 3 years old. Plus no one imagined she'd do something random like sneak a pair of sharp scissors and start a career in hair design. She hadn't done anything like that before.

So now when I drop Michelle off at Grandma's, I'm always a little afraid the next time I see her she'll have her ears pierced or a tattoo or something. (I'm sort of kidding.) I joked with my Mom that maybe I should find a safer babysitter. Like JACK THE RIPPER, perhaps! (I am kidding. I know my parents love her, almost as much as I do. And are careful most of the time. I just worry. Now more so.)

Mom reminds me that as a child I sneaked into her room and cut up photos and necklaces in her jewelry box. I was only 2 years old. My response is "AND WHY PRAY TELL DID I HAVE ACCESS TO SCISSORS AT TWO YEARS OLD?!" Mom has other stories about all of us hurting ourselves or getting into dangerous mischief as kids (like my brothers smashing glasses with a rolling pin, Mikey burning himself on the stove, eating live bugs etc. Her attitude is "Sh*& happens when you have kids!" Mine is more "SH*& HAPPENS WHEN YOU'RE NOT LOOKING!" To be fair my Mom had more distractions -- other kids, a hubby and her mother to worry about. I only have Michelle. She gets all of my attention so I'm able to keep an eagle eye on her and mostly keep her out of harm's way. And even with that she does get hurt now and then. Mostly from running -- a scrape on her knee from falling at the park, a bump on her head from running into a door or wall, rug burn on her arm or leg from slipping on the stairs. Of course I do warn her. "Don't run! You're going to get hurt!" and then she does. Thankfully, knock on wood, it's never been serious enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room. A bump that lasts a day, a tiny cut -- A Sponge Bob Band-aid or a minute with the freezer monkey on her boo boo and she's all fixed up. Of course you can't bubble wrap your kids and if you don't let them run amok and be kids, don't let them explore and take some risks, they can't learn and grow. It's a tough balance. For the most part I'll err on the side of caution.

Michelle is my opposite in some ways. When I was a kid I was painfully shy. Even as an adult I'm not an overly social person. In a million years I wouldn't dream of walking up to a random stranger and saying hello. (Perhaps this is why I like the internet. You don't actually have to "talk" to anyone and somehow you can have 6K followers on Twitter.) Michelle on the other hand is EXTREMELY outgoing, friendly, overly social and fearless. She is as confident as I was insecure. She insists on making friends with just about everyone she encounters. It's not so bad when it's a kid her own age in the park. She's met some nice ones -- this boy was one of the sweetest. He was so polite, kind and well-mannered.

"Can I help you with that?" he asked as she dug in the sand. He was so patient, did whatever she asked him, willing to follow her lead even though she's a year his junior. Good sport that he is he even posed for a photo. (I didn't ask him to but Michelle was posing and he followed suit.) I ADORE this kid! Unfortunately, as Michelle has discovered, not all kids are quite this nice. Some a little rude, selfish, unwilling to share, bossy. Some just completely ignore her (sometimes she approaches an older child saying "Hi! What's your name?" and they look at her like she's from outer space and walk away. I told her she has to be careful, especially with older kids and to never talk to strangers. She knows never to let a stranger near her and knows to defend herself -- kicking and screaming -- if necessary. She's remarkably strong and VERY LOUD for a little girl. I pity the fool that would try to mess with her.

Michelle's friendliness does concern me. She'll smile, wave and say hello to people at Walmart. She'll smile and wave at passing motorists. Every time she sees someone walking a dog she wants to say hi and pet the dog. I tell her it's OK if I'm with her and she asks the owner if it's OK first but sometimes I try to dissuade her (if and when the dog and/or owner look a little scary.) Images of a man in a white van "Want to see my puppies?" flash across my mind and I shudder.

I try to explain to Michelle that there are bad people out there and that you really can't tell them from the good ones. One time we were in the drive-through at Tim Hortons. An employee was moving some boxes at the back of the store and walked past the drive through. "Is that man a nice man or a bad man?" Michelle asked.
"I don't know!" I told her, "he's working. He's a stranger. That's the point. You DON'T know. That's why you DON'T TALK TO STRANGERS! They might look nice or look mean but you really can't tell by looking!" She knows about the "Hans" principle. You can't judge a book by its cover (well sometimes you can. Frankly some people you just look at them and think "Serial killer" and if someone really gives you the creeps it's probably best to avoid them but that doesn't mean that just because someone seems attractive or pleasant that they're good. I explained to Michelle that she's safe with Mama and the rest of her family but to NEVER go off with a stranger. EVER! No matter what they say, just stay away. Stay safe! And if someone tries to grab you -- SCREAM, kick, punch, whatever it takes!"
"Well that man must be nice because he's carrying boxes," Michelle reasoned.
What absurd kind of logic is that?!
"No. You don't know. You just don't take the chance. Don't talk to strangers. NEVER go off with a stranger. No matter what they say!"

I remember walking home from school with my brothers when I was a kid and suddenly a car pulled up beside us. The woman smiled and offered us a ride. I shook my head and started trying to usher my brothers away but they were going over to the car and getting in. My eyes wide, chest clenched, I sat in the backseat with them, unable to breathe, wanting to scream "NOOOO! We're in a stranger's car! We're going to die!" Instead she dropped us off at our house. It turned out to be the Mom of one of my brothers' friends but I didn't know and I had gotten into her car against my better judgement. I couldn't let my brothers go alone. In retrospect I'm glad I didn't scream (it would have been humiliating and she would've thought I was a psycho) because she did turn out to be OK. But it went against everything I'd been taught and believed. Don't talk to strangers. And NEVER get into their car!

The weather continued to warm up. One day it even went up to 24 degrees Celsius! I decided to go to the beach. Not to swim of course but we could sit by the water, play in the sand. We headed to our fave beach. It's not quite the same without the palm trees (they always arrive in late May) but it was still nice. We weren't the only ones there either. Several others had the same idea. Some of them even went IN THE WATER! We didn't go any deeper than our feet and just got water in our pails to make sandcastles with.

Michelle and I had a race across the beach. I couldn't believe how fast she can go! I had intended to let her win (I usually do when we play games etc) but I didn't even have to throw the race. She beat me fair and square! I couldn't keep up. Running on sand is a Hell of a workout. I almost couldn't breathe and she was just laughing like she could have gone another 2 kilometers, no problem!

While at the beach Michelle saw a boy and asked if she could go over and say hi to him. I glanced over. "I'd rather you didn't," I told her. He was older than her, more than twice her age and did not look nice. He was kind of a rough looking kid with scruffy hair, a scowl on his face, a black t-shirt and kicking sand. Unafraid, Michelle marched over to him and introduced herself "Hi! I'm Michelle!" It was so awkward. I felt sick to my stomach. It was like a lamb marching up to a lion and batting her eyelashes "How are you?" At least he didn't lunge at her or anything. Instead, he completely ignored her. She was persistent. "Hi!" she tried again. As cheerily as she could, standing in front of his line of vision so he had no choice but to acknowledge her. I was cringing. He wouldn't speak to her, wouldn't look at her. It was like she didn't exist. Or he was terrified of her. Then the boy literally ran away from her and found a group of boys closer to his age who were playing with trucks in the sand. She walked back to me looking defeated, her shoulders slumped. "He didn't want to play with me," she pouted. I was thinking "Thank God!" but I said "Michelle -- you can't make friends with EVERYONE. Some kids, especially older ones, especially boys, may not want to play with you. Or they might be shy. Or they might be mean. You just have to let it go. Try to focus on kids closer to your own age." (Preferably who don't look like angry serial killers in training.)

Though I love Spring it does bring a lot of (back-breaking) yard work with it. My grass was in dire need of rescuing. I was outside for hours raking and it didn't even seem to make a difference (though I filled 5 yard waste bags with straw.) Michelle wanted to help. Somehow the chores that make me grind my teeth are a magical wonderland of fun to her. So I let her try to help, a little. Careful not to let her injure herself with the rake. I was happy to find out later that raking the lawn burns 200 calories an hour. I enjoyed a late night snack with those extra 400 calories that night!

I told Michelle that once we were into May I'd get some flowers for the planters and garden and she could help me plant them. Just something cheap and cheerful to add some colour.

Michelle and I both love our visits to Auntie May's. Like Michelle and I, my niece Shannon is an artist who loves to draw. She also loves reading, writing and is a budding filmmaker who has created a series of brilliant stop motion videos with her Pullip dolls. Recently I was happy to collaborate on a music video with her. One night when I couldn't sleep I had an idea to write a song about being a doll and maybe Shannon could make a video for it. So I got up, picked up my guitar and (very quietly) wrote the song "Doll." Shannon created a stop motion video to go with my performance. Aside from just being a cute video about a doll, it's a metaphor for a girl who is afraid to show her real self, to reveal her emotions, who pretends not to feel anything, to just be pretty and perfect.

Here's the video on Youtube:

Doll -- video

Every Spring there's a children's educational fair where various booths are set up with games/attractions for kids and resources for parents. They usually have people dressed up in costumes as Disney characters, superheros etc. This year we were thrilled to see a host of Disney Princesses, performing and posing for photo ops.

Geek that I am I sat in the front row, with the kids, singing along to all the Princess songs. Especially as Elsa belted out "Let it go!" I'm just a big kid at heart. Michelle had a great time meeting the princesses, building a toolbox (Home Depot provided the kit and we worked on it together. I even let her hammer a bit -- after I had the nails in 90%), getting balloons, playing games, meeting snakes and lizards, building a wall, having her face painted etc. At one point Batman asked her for a high five and Michelle hit his palm so hard she almost broke his arm. "Wow!" he said, "You're really STRONG!" Coming from a superhero this is high praise indeed. (And she is unbelievably strong for a kid!)

Cute and/or cheesy photo ops are my jam so I was in my glory, snapping away like a fiend. Belle was my favourite Princess. Really gorgeous, natural, could have been the real Belle. Not only did I get a dozen shots of Michelle with the Disney Princesses, I couldn't resist getting in a couple of shots myself. I have no shame when it comes to selfies with Disney Princesses! The fair organizers even had a station set up where you could dress up with silly accessories and they'd take your photo free of charge as a souvenir of the fair. I loved it. I take so many photos but rarely print them. I'm a couple of years behind when it comes to printing for Michelle's baby albums.
Michelle and I put on matching feather boas, she took a magic wand and I held a mask. Michelle was happy with her butterfly makeup. She asked if she could keep it forever. I told her that no, she'd have to wash it off before bed, otherwise it would end up on her pillow anyway. Dressing up and wearing makeup are two of Michelle's favourite things. I let her keep it on for the rest of the day anyway. I was surprised she didn't even get it smudged.

Then one day I decided I'd let Michelle have fun dressing up and modelling for photos. She was in her bliss. Like a kid in a candy store she picked out fancy dresses one by one that she wanted to wear for her "photo shoot." Unfortunately it wasn't until the shoot that I realized how bad my camera had become. There are scratches right across the lens. In some photos it's unnoticeable but in others -- when they are close-ups or in direct sunlight -- it casts a blur across your face. The camera has been dropped a couple of times. It's also been left sitting when I'm visiting somewhere and want it handy to snap a photo op. I've gone through several cameras over the years. Somehow they never seem to last more than 3 years (Of course I take more photos in one year than most people would take in an entire LIFETIME!)

I've thought of getting Michelle into acting/modelling. She's such a character and I know she'd love it. I just don't know a lot about it and I'd be wary of scam artists. When I was younger I was approached by a couple of people about modelling. Some were just modelling "schools" -- agencies who wanted an exorbitant amount of money for lessons, photos etc. It seemed like a scam to me and I steered clear. When I was older I did get an agent and got a few acting/modelling gigs but gave up on it after a year. The difficulty of getting to auditions etc downtown Toronto only to face rejection just became too discouraging. I tend to give things a half a$$ed effort and give up when the going gets tough. I suppose if I was serious about being an actress I would have moved to Hollywood. I wasn't quite that daring.

Michelle has star quality. She loves to sing and dance. She's very dramatic. She will make up her own little plays. She performs her own original songs. She loves dressing up, putting on makeup and dancing and strutting around. I know it can be a tough industry, especially for kids. More than anything I want Michelle to be happy. If I think something is good for her, I'll try to make it happen. If I think it's a bad thing, I'll steer clear. She's an amazing girl and I believe she could do just about anything she wanted to. And she has her whole life ahead of her to live out all of her dreams.

This blog has been harder to write than I can explain. Trying to find the time, trying to fit in all the photos (because I can't seem to narrow them down!) and there are glitches that make it incredibly tedious and frustrating to post photos in the text of the blog. They don't go where you want or move to wonky spaces and the mouse doesn't cooperate. It's a miracle I ever get it done at all. Not sure whether it's the fault of my old laptop (which is on its last legs and is always freezing/shutting down) or the site itself but there are a LOT of glitches, malfunctions and errors when I try to compose my blogs (ESPECIALLY adding photos in the text. It's maddening! <Almost> makes me want to give up.)

I had planned to post a blog in April about February and March. I kept putting it off and then when I started it it was taking too long and kept getting put off so more time would go by and there would be more photos to include and it was a vicious cycle! I didn't think I'd taken many photos in the winter but apparently I was wrong! So now we're into May and April wound up getting included so it's taken even longer. I used to be able to just sit down and write a blog post in one or two sittings. Now I can only seem to carve out a few minutes here and there. Not enough time to do much but post a few pics and write a few lines. Then when I was almost done the blog I tried to log in to proofread and add some finishing touches when I got an error message: 502 or something! The site was down. Between computer issues, internet problems and not having enough time to myself, it'll be a miracle if I get to post this at all! Still, as challenging as it may be, this is a labour of love for me and I'm determined to continue as long as I can. Maybe I'll try not to leave so long until the next post so it's not so overwhelming trying to catch up! Maybe I'll do a post about May in June... There's already so much in May I want to talk about & the month isn't even half over!

Another reason some people have told me that I shouldn't post pictures of Michelle online and write this blog is that my ex has no right to see us or know about our lives. While I agree on some level, there is also a part of me that thinks -- Sure. He may be curious. He may read this. Well, let him look! Let him see that we're doing just fine without him, thank you. They say that "living well is the best revenge." It's not always easy by any means, but we're happy. It's a beautiful life and one that he doesn't get to share. Of course I don't know if he's even interested or curious. He may not read this. Maybe we were just a bump in his road and he's moved on, forgotten about us, doesn't think of us at all. Or maybe he's haunted. Maybe he cries himself to sleep over all he's given up... Sure. Could happen!

If he does read this I'd like to say thank you for the incredible gift you left me (Michelle is the best thing that ever happened to me) and thanks for the gift of your absence. You would have been a toxic father. You had so many issues, it was a struggle to take care of yourself let alone anyone else and you may have been more of a burden than a help to us. Maybe you knew that. Maybe your leaving was an act of love. Maybe you knew we were better off without you. If you love someone, set them free. I'd like to believe that. And when Michelle asks someday, that's what I'll tell her. I'll show her the photos of you. I'll tell her she got her name, her pretty blue eyes, some of her wit, her fire and her love of monsters from you. Tell her how you kissed my belly while I was pregnant and called her Michelle. Tell her that you loved us in your own way but you had to go. I'll never say a bad word about you because you're still half of who she is and I want her to love herself. For all your flaws you had some wonderful qualities and she has them too. Thank you for my beautiful, extraordinary girl. I can't hate you because without you she wouldn't have existed.

I have no regrets. To unravel my past, even the crazy and stupid parts, would undo everything. Ironically while I'm such a cautious person overall, I've had my moments of recklessness where I followed my heart whatever the cost. They led me to bliss. Somehow, when the control freak in me dared to surrender control and throw caution to the wind, I was blessed with some of the best moments of my life.

Despite the challenges I've been through, the heartbreaks and sacrifices, I wouldn't trade this for the world. I love being a Mom. I'm grateful for it. I'll tell Michelle you weren't a bad man, just a broken boy who never really felt loved and didn't know how to have a happily ever after. You left us so that we could have one. And we are...