Wednesday, August 31, 2016 be tied

For many of us, it's an uphill battle to get (or to stay) fit. Especially if you're over 40 (when your metabolism slows) and a Mom (because well, they call it "mommy tummy" for a reason!) A number of factors make it easier to pack on the pounds and harder to lose them: aging, stress, lack of sleep... So, basically my life in a nutshell! Being a single Mom it's that much harder to find the time (or energy) to take care of yourself. Every winter I manage to put on at least 10 lbs (sometimes 15-20) and every spring/summer I work my butt off to lose it (or some of it at least) again through diet and exercise. Last winter I told myself this is absurd. I can't do this up and down thing anymore. I was at an acceptable weight (I seemed to hit a plateau at 140 lbs and finally just accepted it) and for a while I was actually pretty good about maintaining it until COOKIES HAPPENED in February and it was all shot to hell!

Then I started working out in March. I decided to be ambitious and set a goal to be 135 lbs by my birthday in May. (That was even 5 lbs less than I was the summer before. But 10 lbs more than I was before I got pregnant because 125 just seemed unrealistic.) And then, a couple of weeks before my birthday I got down to 137. I was psyched. I thought "Wow! I'm so close!" so I kicked things up a notch, cut calories even further and exercised even more. I continued doing yoga & went back to doing my Tabatas as well (because I'm all about efficiency and if I can work out for 4 minutes instead of 1 hour and get the same results, I'm all for it!) I did 3 sets of Tabatas each day -- a cardio, a strength one and an ab one. But somehow I had reached a stalemate. The number on the scale wasn't budging no matter what I did. Then I even went up a bit and was close to hurling the scale out the window. So I didn't reach my goal by my birthday. But I was close.

Then in June all of a sudden it's like my metabolism had shifted and I dropped the last two pounds. (It also probably didn't hurt that I was doing yard work/going for long hikes, getting more exercise in general.) More importantly than the pounds, I had also dropped another percent of body fat (I have a BMI scale that measures body fat percentage as well.) So I felt like I was losing fat AND building muscle. I still had some firming up to do (unfortunately when you go from 125 to 190 lbs carrying a 9 lb infant it stretches your tummy a little! That "pooch" may never completely disappear...) but I was pleased overall. I was feeling reasonably healthy. Unfortunately I was going to have a bit of a health scare to knock the wind out of my sails.

June was a tricky month work-wise. I wound up taking a lot of extra hours. I work 12 hour shifts. With my commute this makes for a 14-15 hour day, most of it spent sitting.
By the end of June I was exhausted/depleted. After working a 15 hour day, I started feeling a little numbness in my right leg. I didn't think too much of it. My circulation isn't the best anyway and sitting/driving so much wouldn't help. Sometimes I wake up with my arm or leg a little numb and I figure I was just lying on it and it's gone to sleep. Then it goes away. This was different though. My foot and leg were numb and early the next morning I noticed a blue lump on my right foot and veins sticking out all around it. "Oh. That can't be good," I thought. My leg felt a bit numb & when I went to get up for a glass of water I got dizzy and collapsed. I worried it might be a blood clot. My Mom told me about a relative that had a blood clot in her leg and her husband massaged her leg to ease the pain. The clot traveled to her brain and she died. I thought "Well I'm for sure not going to MASSAGE it!" but I called Telehealth to see what I should do (9 times out of 10 they tell you to just go to the hospital to get checked out but I figured it can't hurt to ask.) I had to leave my number and have a nurse get back to me which she did within a few minutes. When I told her my symptoms she said "I'm going to call you an ambulance!" "No you're not!" I explained I'm a single Mom with a toddler who couldn't ride on board an ambulance. "I can drive myself to the hospital!" She asked (rather sarcastically I might add) how I could drive if my leg was "numb." "Well maybe that's a poor choice of words," I explained. "I can still WALK on it. I can still DRIVE. It's more just pins & needles/gone to sleep like I was lying on it the wrong way or something." "Well," the nurse warned me, "get yourself to the hospital RIGHT AWAY then." I called my Mom and my sister to get their take on it. They were pretty worried and wanted me to get checked out as well. I did plan to go to the hospital but Michelle was still asleep and I didn't want to drag her out of bed cranky so I waited until she got up and got her breakfast. Then I broke the news. Michelle wasn't the least bit upset. She saw it as an adventure.

"Mama has to go to the hospital so they can check out my foot..."
"Cool! Can I go too?!"
"Of course, you have to come with me. I can't leave you alone."
"This is so exciting! I've never been to the hospital before!"
(Yeah she was really worried about me!)
"Well I don't know if exciting is the right word...but it will be an adventure. Hopefully we don't have to wait too long."

I'd heard horror stories about waiting in emergency for hours on end so I was prepared for the worst. Whether I just got lucky or whether they felt sorry for me (a single Mom with child in tow, hobbling around with a blue foot/possible blood clot and I mentioned that Telehealth wanted to send me an ambulance...) I was done in about an hour. From triage to the first, second, third waiting room and then to see a doctor, all in under an hour! I was pretty worried but Michelle's cheery disposition helped me to feel a little better. I'm not a fan of hospitals on the best of days. Michelle helped them take my blood pressure, helped me follow the footprints on the floor that led to the next of a series of waiting rooms and was good as gold until we got to the last waiting room which was full and a little creepier than the previous waiting areas. This one had a man in a hospital gown with questionable wounds and tubes coming out of him. Michelle was staring. In my head I was chanting "please don't say anything, please don't say anything!" And she didn't. She did finally run out of patience however and sighed. "How long is this going to TAKE?! I don't think it could get much WORSE?!" I laughed. "Honey. It's not so bad. And it can ALWAYS be worse!" I always remember the line from Shakespeare's King Lear: "The worst is not. So long as we can say "This is the worst." As I sat there, adjusting myself in my hard plastic chair, my leg feeling increasingly numb, I glanced around at the other people, wondering what they were there for. I was trying to stay calm for Michelle's sake but I was a little nervous.

A nurse came and had me sit on a chair in the hallway. Then she got a stethoscope to listen to the lump on my foot. I felt awkward. I'd never had anyone listen to my foot before. Especially on a hot summer day when I was wearing sandals. The nurse explained she had to listen and make sure blood was flowing. "It's not a DVT," she told me as though hospital lingo meant anything to me. "DVT?" I asked. I thought the v might stand for vein but I was fuzzy on the rest. "Deep vein thrombosis." Next I was directed to a room where the doctor came to look at my foot and explained that it was just a small clot in a small vein in my foot. He used the metaphor of a tree to illustrate that an issue with a small branch doesn't affect the trunk. Had it been a major artery in my leg, a DVT, it would have been very serious. He suggested I keep my foot elevated for a bit. (That wasn't going to happen but I had fun daydreaming about actually putting my foot up as I lay in a hammock on the beach. The reality was I would be going home to do housework and then working nightshift that weekend so I'd be sitting and or driving for 14 hours a day.) He said I didn't really have to do anything about it. It would just work itself out. I asked if I should take aspirin. He said I could take baby aspirin if I wanted but that it wasn't really necessary. I explained that I sit A LOT when I'm working. 12 hour shifts + 2-3 hour commute. He didn't say I couldn't work or anything so I went ahead and worked that whole weekend. I did try to elevate my foot somewhat for a few minutes here and there. I'd also read online that it helps to get up and walk every hour and a half or so if you can when you have to sit for long periods. Even just a trip to the bathroom helps (and I make a lot of those anyway!) I was happy that I was going to live but I was starting to feel like an old lady with my swollen blue foot. Whether it was psychosomatic or had something to do with taking the low dose aspirin, I felt a little strange, arms and legs numb for a couple of days. Especially at night. I couldn't seem to get comfortable. And I couldn't shut my brain off. Thinking, worrying. On top of everything else my periods had stopped which don't get me wrong, I was happy about and wouldn't miss them but at the same time the prospect of going through menopause made me feel old. I felt like I was old and falling apart.

Ironically I had a fitness test booked through work that week. It had been booked months before all this foot business. My Mom thought I should cancel. She thought it would be crazy to do a grueling physical test (running etc) on a blood clotted foot. My foot might explode! (I was pretty sure that wasn't possible.) I didn't want to cancel. The doctor didn't tell me I couldn't do things. I figured if anything exercise is good for circulation and may actually help since it was an abundance of sitting and lack of exercise that caused the issue. Also I felt like it would be admitting defeat/failure and people would just think I had chickened out. At least if I failed the test I'd have a good excuse. So I went ahead and did it. The test was a province wide fitness test used by employers as an incentive to stay fit. If you passed (achieved a score of 70% or greater) you got an award pin and time off work. I just wanted to challenge myself and see if I could do it.

The day of the test I was a nervous wreck. I would have been anyway but now even more so going into it with a bad foot. I had to fill out questionnaires/waivers about my health before the test. "Here's where you sign your life away!" someone always jokes when you sign a waiver. It's not encouraging. I read over the questionnaire. Nothing really seemed applicable to my foot situation so I didn't mention it (plus I was worried they wouldn't let me take the test if they knew.) They took my blood pressure which was on the high side (usually my BP is on the low side of normal but I was pretty frazzled that day. I also worried if my foot could be throwing off the rest of my body. Even though the doctor's tree metaphor replayed in my head. Branch-trunk.) I figured it was just as well that my BP started out high because it was bound to be REALLY high when they took it again after the test for comparison.

There are 4 components to the test: push-ups, flexibility, core endurance and a shuttle run. To level the playing field, the requirements vary according to age and sex. So I only had to do the female version of push-ups and do as many reps/sets/last as long/stretch as far as an old girl like me required. The shuttle run scared me the most so I wanted to get that over with first. I am not a runner. As a kid I could run pretty fast (I won a few races, got the Canada Fitness Award of Excellence and Gold etc) but I had no endurance. Short distance runs were great but I couldn't do a marathon. Though I'd done aerobics/cardio off and on (Jillian Michaels etc) there was nothing quite like this. Basically I had to run 20 metres back and forth at increasing speeds (keeping up with recorded beeps which kept getting faster) for 7 minutes. I wasn't sure how I was going to survive it. Luckily I had a very kind colleague/cheerleader there for moral support. She'd already done the test and knew the pace so she ran with me and encouraged me "You can do it! Keep going! You got this!" She also slowed me down when I was going too fast (I didn't want to miss the beep but I might have burned myself out too soon.) Though it was a little disheartening seeing her barely break a sweat and have no trouble breathing (while I was drenched and panting like a dog) it was great having her there and she got me through it. "You did it!" I couldn't believe I'd made it through the full time and had a perfect 50/50 score. My face was red. I couldn't seem to catch my breath. But I'd done it!

For the next part of the test, doing yoga had given me a bit of an advantage. I got through the full 3 minutes of the core endurance test (basically lying with your bottom half on a bench and your torso hanging over the edge so you have to use your core to hold yourself up. I was hurting but I did it. My cheering squad started to sing and then even played me a song on an iPod to help me get through it. (Ruth B's "Lost Boy" which I couldn't resist trying to sing along with, even though I could barely breathe!) I lost one point on the flexibility test because I couldn't stretch any further (I can touch my toes but this little wooden torture device/measuring thing) requires you to stretch WAY beyond your toes. Then I had to do 33 push-ups which was basically 30 more than I had ever done! At least they were the female version of a push-up (with the male version I probably could have only done 1.) There was no time limit but going faster actually helps you to power through them. I couldn't believe I did it and was SO relieved when I was done.

So at the end I had achieved a total of 99/100! I was THRILLED! Though hurting, exhausted, red-faced and sweaty, I felt like a million bucks! I went from feeling like a decrepit old lady, menopausal with a clot in my foot to a strong, fit young woman again. They took my blood pressure which was high, but basically exactly what it was before the test. They gave me my pin and then I told them about my foot. They looked a little shocked. "The doctor didn't say I COULDN'T take a fitness test. He said it would work itself out. I figured exercise is probably a good thing for circulation anyway." I was so relieved, proud and happy that I couldn't stop smiling. The last time I felt that way was the day I got the ultrasound and found out I was having a girl. I was on top of the world! I smiled all the way to my Mom's house. Even in traffic. Nothing could bring me down!

My Mom and Michelle were both very proud of me. Michelle tried to steal my fitness pin. "No WAY! Do you know what Mama had to GO THROUGH to get this?!" My Mom thought I should wear the pin everywhere. I wanted to keep it somewhere safe. I got a photocopy of my scores as a souvenir though to keep in my purse at all times in case I ever start to feel old and feeble again, to remind myself I can be a fitness beast if I push myself! My Mom couldn't believe I got 99/100. I couldn't believe it myself. But it felt really good. I want to hold onto that feeling. I don't want to give up on myself and my health again. Come winter, I hope I can remind myself how hard I've worked and not to let it slip away. I have to stay motivated and KEEP MOVING. No matter what. It's not easy to be fit but it's a choice. A choice you keep making each day. Even when winter comes. Even when you're tired and feel like you don't have the energy to move. That's when you need to the most.

For me, fitness isn't just about the physical/superficial benefits (trying to look less frightening in a bikini!) -- It's about feeling stronger, healthier and happier inside. It's a vicious circle: in the winter when I feel down I don't exercise and gain weight and feel more down. When the warm weather comes and I feel motivated again, I exercise and lose weight and feel happier. I also want to be a good role model for Michelle. She tries to do yoga with me. She copies me when I'm working out. She talks about how strong I am, admires my muscles (she asks me to flex my bicep so she can squeeze it and then says "Wow!") What I don't want her to see is me obsessively checking the scale every day (or twice a day. Yes I'm OCD about the scale. I wish I could stop.) I want to send a message that it's important to exercise and be healthy but I don't want her to obsess about weight. As long as you're eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and getting a lot of exercise that's what's important. Michelle will likely never have to worry about weight because she's so active she can't sit still for a minute and she eats pretty healthy. I don't have a lot of junk food in the house and she doesn't really eat it anyway. Obesity is an epidemic in America. Apparently 2 out of 3 adults are overweight or obese and childhood obesity has tripled in the past few decades. Overall people are eating more junk food and exercising less. It's an easy trap to fall into. (Happens to me every winter.)

Before having Michelle I had dreamed about living "a bikini life" someday -- to win the lottery, move somewhere tropical and live by the beach. I had amassed so many bikinis that I could wear a different one just about every day. Then I had a baby and wondered if I'd ever have the nerve to wear a bikini again. I still have some tightening/toning up to do but I am pleased with the progress I've made working on my abs. And when I go to the beach I'm happy to find women of all shapes and sizes wearing bikinis -- rolls, stretch marks and all. At the end of the day the important thing is that you are happy in your own skin. It's what's inside that counts anyway. It's important to be healthy but we can drive ourselves crazy trying to be perfect. No one is perfect. Not even the models in the magazines (they have photographers, makeup artists, Photoshop wizards to make them look perfect. In real life maybe they wake up with a pimple or a wrinkle or they're a little bloated from eating broccoli.)

Though I'm unfortunately unable to travel (or move) to the tropics, luckily I can pretend by going to my favourite beach right here in Ontario -- Port Dover Beach. The palm trees ARE BACK! (They plant them in late May and they remain until the Fall.) Michelle and I went several times. The beach is our happy place. I like to lie on the sand, watch Michelle playing, look at the water. Michelle likes building (and stomping on) sandcastles, chasing seagulls, being buried in the sand (being turned into a mermaid by Mama!) and sometimes playing in the water when it's not too seaweed-y. My princess simply refuses to walk through seaweed. 

It's always been my dream to live on the beach. I'd love to live on an island. Somewhere where it's warm all year. The problem with that is that tropical climates tend to have more turbulent weather/natural disasters -- hurricanes etc. In Canada we are blessed (though in the winter I would probably call it cursed) with a wide variety of weather: hot summers, cool springs and falls, cold winters. Though I'm not a fan of Fall or Winter I can see how for some people (and probably for kids mostly) it would be fun and exciting to enjoy all kinds of weather. Michelle loves Halloween (I don't mind it either.) The changing leaves are pretty. She loves playing in the snow, making snowmen. But there is nothing quite as glorious as a summer day spent at the beach. When the sun is shining, the sky is blue, the waves are crashing on the sand, seagulls calling, palm trees swaying in the breeze and my little girl running and laughing. Pure bliss. And in the dead of winter when it's cold and dark and grey and I'm feeling blue, I will try to hold onto these memories...

I have a love-hate relationship with bikinis. I loved them before I was pregnant. After my tummy being stretched way beyond its limits I felt a little self-conscious. I still wear tankinis sometimes (especially if I know I'll be eating a lot because I tend to bloat!) I also avoid wearing bikinis around my mother (because she made a snarky comment about me once when I wore one. I don't know if my Mom ever had a filter but as she's gotten older she has even less of one. She just speaks her mind. Even if it's something insulting. Make that ESPECIALLY if it's something insulting! Anyway, as long as my Mom isn't there to critique my loose skin/stretch marks, I try to brave bikinis now and then, especially when I'm heading to my palm tree paradise.

Lately it seems like more women are wearing bikinis. Or maybe I just never paid attention before. And there is a wide range of body types sporting them. I remember seeing instructions on the internet: "How to get a bikini body: Put a bikini on your body!" And it was a good point. Why should you feel like you have to be a supermodel/athlete to wear a bikini? Of course you get the teens who are a size zero but even older and larger women, unconcerned about their rolls, strut around in a two-piece and I think "You go girl!" It's beautiful and inspiring. Months ago I was happy to see gorgeous Ashley Graham, making history as the first plus size model to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. Some of the sexiest women I've seen were the ones with curves and so-called imperfections. Their confidence was sexy and it made me realize I shouldn't be quite so hard on myself because really, who cares?! We're human. I should wear my stretch marks with pride! The important thing is to be HAPPY and HEALTHY. Not what size you are. To be too thin can be as unhealthy as being too heavy. Somewhere in the middle is ideal.

Michelle's joy is infectious. Even when I'm not in the best mood she can usually pick me up. Life is a magical adventure to her. Don't get me wrong, she still has her moments/bad days where she can be a little cranky/overtired/moody but overall she's happy, excited, ready to take on the world. I wish I had even a fraction of her energy and enthusiasm for anything. At least it keeps me young trying to keep up with her. She challenges me to races. I still let her win but she gives me a good run for my money! Sometimes she almost wins FOR REAL, which considering her legs are half the size of mine, is quite a feat! She gets a lot of practice though. She rarely sits still she's running CONSTANTLY. At the beach, at the park, at home (back and forth in the hallway.) Unfortunately she winds up wiping out sometimes and gets a few scrapes and bruises her and there. I'm grateful at least her boo-boos are never too serious. Our only trip to the hospital was for me.

"You're going to the beach AGAIN?!" my Mom asked. I tried to go as often as possible. If it was a nice day and I didn't have to work, I packed our towels (and toys and sunscreen and cooler bags!) and went. If I lived by the beach we'd be there every day. I told Michelle if we win the lottery we'll go to Hawaii. "Can we go to Disney World?! And the pyramids in Egypt?!" Michelle asks. "Yes honey! If we win the lottery we'll travel all over the world!" Of course I have mentioned to her that the odds of winning the lottery are about 1 in 13.9 million but considering she can only count to 100 she doesn't really get that.

June was a hectic month. There was so much going on it's no wonder that it flew by in the blink of an eye. Even when we don't go anywhere, Michelle can have fun in her own backyard. We found a toad (or a frog? I think toads are brown and frogs are green so likely a toad but Michelle called it a frog) and Michelle named him Mr. Hoppity. She wanted to keep him but I said no we'd let him live in the yard and we could visit him when we're outside. We have seen him a few times since then (or maybe there are just a few of them living in the yard. They're still all "Mr. Hoppity" to Michelle.) As a kid I used to catch frogs & tadpoles and keep them as pets for a while. As an adult I'm less inclined to want random creatures in the house (I'm surprised my Mom wasn't worried about it). Plus I know it's better for them to live in their own natural habitat. Michelle has asked about having another pet. I told her maybe a kitten someday but our cat Ali is all we need for now. (And she weighs almost as much as Michelle!)

Michelle loves her cousins, Shannon and Reggie. It still blows my mind that they have the SAME BIRTHDAY, 10 years apart. I mean what are the odds on that?! 1 in 365 I guess! It's just weird. My sister was hoping Reggie would NOT be born on the same day as Shannon because May didn't want Shannon to have to share her birthday. Of course thoughts become things and if you devote energy (positive or negative) to thinking something, you'll draw it to you. (Yes, even knowing this I have drawn many negative things into my life by worrying about them.) Still, it's kind of cool that they have the same birthday and I don't think they really mind. They still have separate parties with their own friends and then have the big family get-together.

Michelle loves birthday parties. She loves dressing up, playing with balloons, spending time with family, the cake, the whole thing. So far she's only been to family parties. From what I've heard once your child starts school there is an onslaught of birthday parties. I'm sort of dreading it. I know Michelle is eager to play with other kids her age but just the thought of parties and play dates and meeting strangers makes me apprehensive. I'll do anything to make Michelle happy though so I know it's unavoidable. I'm not the social type but Michelle is so I'll have to put up with it for her sake.

When Shane's family is at a party as well it's a REALLY big gang with a house full of kids. It's pretty chaotic/noisy. Michelle loves it. It can be overwhelming and getting everyone to sit still for 10 seconds to get a group photo is close to impossible (still I always insist on it and don't take no for an answer!) Sometimes I get lucky and everyone's actually looking (and/or smiling!) People roll their eyes at me with my camera but someday they'll thank me for capturing all these moments (or not!)

Working a lot of extra hours in June and July, I felt guilty leaving Michelle more and made sure to spend quality time with her on my days off. I usually let her call the shots (within reason) as far as what she wanted to do: go to the beach etc. One day she wanted to wear her vampire dress from last Halloween... Sure, why not?! Yes she's already thinking about Halloween (she wants to be a werewolf this time) in the middle of summer. My girl is a goth, what can I say? She still proudly displays her vampire fangs. I warned her not to do that at school or she may scare some of the kids. (She's half vampire on her dad's side. I'm sort of kidding.) Not everyone would appreciate her passion for monsters/Halloween etc. Again, it is probably in her blood because I was a goth back in the day and her father was a horror movie fanatic. I have never let her watch anything too scary so what she considers monsters are the cute animated ones from films like Monsters INC or Hotel Transylvania or pretty ones like the ones in Monster High.

On a rainy day we decided to head to the Butterfly Conservatory. We've been a couple of times. It's one of my most favourite places. You basically feel like you're in a jungle (and you have to dress accordingly because you're going to sweat, no matter what time of year it is!) As photo ops go, you really can't beat it: Beautiful tropical plants, butterflies and Michelle. So basically Heaven. The problem is trying to capture butterflies and my girl in one shot. I even managed to do that! We were lucky and some actually landed on her. So I was snapping away like a fiend. This shot of Michelle with a couple of butterflies on her butterfly dress and a big smile on her face was almost like winning the lottery for me! This was the money shot I was aiming for. The only way it could have been better would have been if a Blue Morpho landed on her head (but they are the fastest, most elusive of the bunch so that probably won't ever happen!) Michelle is so used to me snapping photos now that she doesn't mind and actually enjoys posing for me.

Thanks to the self-timer I'm actually able to get in some shots too. Otherwise I'd always just be the one behind the camera. I remember looking at pictures when I was a kid and asking my Mom where she was. She was the one behind the camera. Back then people didn't take "selfies" and they didn't have self-timers so Mom (or Dad, or whoever the designated photographer was) was just S.O.L. and looked like they were absent at every occasion (unless they made a point of asking someone to grab a quick picture of them to prove they were there.) Years ago I remember being in Europe with my boyfriend (at the time) and wanting to get souvenir shots of us in front of every major landmark. "We may never be here again! We have to get pictures of us in front of (the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, etc.) He said he didn't want us "cluttering up the shots!" He wanted to get cool shots of landscapes, streetscapes etc. "Are you crazy?!" I said, "if you just take pictures of buildings, it's like a postcard ANYONE could have taken! You need to be IN the pictures to PROVE YOU WERE THERE!" This could be one of the many reasons we didn't work out. (Then again none of my relationships did obviously but I'm grateful for that. It was that rocky relationship road that led me to my true love, my girl.) Anyway, I'm glad I was able to twist his arm to get SOME souvenir shots of us. I haven't been back to Europe and I don't know if I ever will (unless of course that lottery win comes through.)

If I'm being honest, my obsession with capturing everything and having a photographic record of our lives is somewhat misleading. It's part of the Instagram/Twitter/selfie generation to capture every moment, the minutiae of our lives -- even what you had for dinner -- but the reality is that we don't actually capture and share EVERY moment. Overall we take pictures of and share the HAPPY moments. The smiles. The good times. I don't tend to take pictures of us when we're sick/crying/having a bad day. (Though a very brave soul, Greg Pembroke did write a book "Reasons my kid is crying" and had people submit their own photos. It was a gift from my sister. It's hilarious & I kind of wish I'd snapped some pics of Michelle's breakdowns but photos are usually the furthest thing from my mind when she's screaming.) I don't post the pictures where we're pulling a weird face or we blinked or something. If you take 10 shots and 9 of them are awful but one is OK, that's the one you post. We wind up representing our best selves online. Everyone is happy. Everything is sunshine and rainbows. Then again I usually do mention our less sunny moments in my blog posts and on Twitter. I just usually don't have an accompanying photo for the bad times. So it's a bit of a lie, all these shiny happy posts that we have on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram. It's like "Here is my happy life!" on a Monday when meanwhile you may be curled up in a fetal position sobbing on the floor on Tuesday (I'm just using that as an example...Not that that ever happened. Yes, of course it did. I am human.)

I don't remember a lot from my early childhood. My Mom tells me Michelle likely won't remember a lot of what I do for her -- the places I take her etc in these early years. I told Mom it doesn't matter. On some level she will know that I lavished her in attention and loved her and took her fun places. Plus I have the photographic evidence to prove it! So when she's a teenager and giving me a hard time I can show her -- look at all I did for you! Look how happy you were! But hopefully she won't give me too hard of a time as a teen. (Sure. She's already getting an attitude and she's only 4.)

We hadn't been to the zoo in a while and it wasn't too scorching hot of a day so we decided to go. I say we because I usually leave it up to Michelle what we do each day. I give her options -- within reason -- and let her decide. Or she comes up with ideas on her own. I remember as a kid I rarely, if ever, got to go where I wanted to go or do what I wanted to do, so I try to do the opposite for Michelle and grant her every wish, to the best of my ability. Of course the trip to Egypt to the see pyramids is a bit out of reach, for now. But at least we can visit lions and zebras and monkeys if we want to.

As Michelle gets older it becomes more fun to go on adventures with her. She's able to walk long distances on her own (so she doesn't need to be pushed in a stroller or carried.) She's better behaved. She gets so excited it's fun to watch. She was thrilled with getting to meet various animals at the creature show. I love capturing her expressions. (This photo was right after she met an albino ferret.) I was admittedly a little squeamish about her touching the creatures, especially since I'd forgotten to bring my hand sanitizer. (Yes I'm a bit of a germophobe but you have to be practical especially when kids are touching animals.) "Don't touch your face or your mouth!" I warned her after petting the creatures. "After the show we're going to go to the washroom and wash your hands." Who knows what kinds of bacteria are in their fur, on their scales etc? Heck I've heard there are frogs that sweat pure LSD (though I'm fairly certain the zoo wouldn't have kids pet hallucinogenic frogs from Peru. Still...) Michelle was touching turtles, snakes, lizards, hedgehogs and I don't know what all. And who knows where they've BEEN! (Rolling in their own feces etc)... I've seen dogs eat their own feces and then lick a kid's ice cream. Yeah. Not on MY watch!

Michelle was thrilled to feed the goats. When we went into the petting zoo section a kind stranger offered Michelle a bag of feed. (The woman had purchased the food for her own shy, somewhat squeamish daughter who it turned out had NO INTEREST in feeding goats and was having none of it.) So she offered the bag of feed to Michelle who was ecstatic to feed them. The thought of goat slobber in her palms made me a bit antsy but I figured I'd sanitize her hands in the car. Now I know what you're thinking but the chubby goat in this photo did not overeat! She's actually a Mama goat about to give birth (according to a staff member there). I thought Ms Prego Goat was a really good sport. I remember in my last trimester I had a pretty rough time. I didn't hear this goat complain once!

I can never resist a cheesy photo op. It's not even an option. So I set the timer and Michelle & I posed as monkeys in this cut out. Again, like many other things, this is easier now that Michelle can reach up on her own & I don't have to awkwardly try to hold her up to the hole (it was really tricky when she was a baby and sometimes resulted in me injuring myself.) If people give me weird looks I just explain "I'm a photoholic! Don't mind me" and they usually just chuckle. Either that or shake their heads and give me looks of pity, muttering "loser" under their breath. Hard to say.


Uncle Chris was kind enough to let us have the water slide that he'd purchased for a party at my Mom's (my sister's birthday in May). He wanted the kids to have a good time at the party and figured Michelle would enjoy it at our place. My Mom loaned me the air pump so I could blow it up (I certainly wouldn't want to blow it up by myself! I have a hard enough time with balloons!) Michelle loved it although she still refused to go through it properly -- to run and slide. She preferred to crawl through it like a tunnel. I became an expert after several runs and really gained momentum sliding through. It was quite refreshing on a hot day. I never remember this many hot days in previous summers. So many days over 30 and even up to 40 degrees Celsius.

 It's nice that Michelle can appreciate the simple things like a water slide in the backyard because on my budget, trips to Great Wolf Lodge etc are out of the question. Maybe one day. For now, I'm happy with playing with sprinklers and water slides in the yard or going to the beach. Sunshine, running and splashing around in the water, what more do you need? The thing about the water slide is it seems to take twice (or three times) as long to dismantle it as it does to blow it up and fill it with water. It's still worth it though. I've thought about getting a blow up pool but I wouldn't want to have to flood the yard with water afterward. The water slide is bad enough. 


Father's Day is kind of a strange day for me since having Michelle. Of course I have a dad and I was glad to spend some time with him (even though I had to work that day.) Because Michelle doesn't have a dad, we call it "Grampa Day" for her sake. A very kind co-worker friend (and fellow single Mom) left a card on my desk at work. When I opened it I started to tear up. It was a Father's Day card for me because as a single Mom I have to be both mother and father for Michelle. It was such a sweet gesture. Only a single Mom can truly understand how tough it is having to be everything to your child. Especially a single Mom in my situation -- where there is no father in the picture whatsoever -- with NO support financial or otherwise. It's all you. I try to explain to Michelle sometimes when I'm busy that I have to do EVERYTHING -- go out to work and make the money to pay the bills and buy the food and take care of her and do all the chores around the house. Couples usually (hopefully) share the chores. One gets to be the fun one and play while the other does the work at home. I have to be the working one and the fun one and everything. I often think if Michelle had siblings it would be more work in one way but less in another because she'd have someone to play with so she wouldn't expect me to play with her all the time. I'm grateful to have my Mom and Dad to watch Michelle when I work. My Mom admits she couldn't manage without my Dad's help. She appreciates how hard it must be for me all alone. Michelle loves her Grampa and has a ball playing with him. I'm glad she has some men in her life (she's crazy about her Uncle Chris too.) One day it would be nice if I met a really great guy and she could have a male friend of Mama's/father figure in her life. I'm very protective of her though and it would be tough for me to trust someone enough to let him into our lives.

Some days Michelle doesn't want to go anywhere. She just wants to chill at home or go to the park for a bit. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to be busy all the time and you just need to take a day to do nothing. "La dolce di fare niente!" as the Italians would so. Of course realistically I don't actually ever get to do NOTHING! There's always making meals, dishes and laundry to do at the very least. Sometimes I think about how nice it would be to have help. To be able to sit and put my feet up once in a while while someone else made dinner or did the dishes (or fixed the dishwasher! I still haven't gotten around to getting it fixed and it's been broken since last Christmas!) I used to date men who loved to cook. I really miss that because I don't enjoy cooking and it's a chore I'd gladly do without if that were an option! Someone else to put the garbage out and mow the lawn would be awesome too! My Mom said she has NEVER had to put the garbage out all these years. Must be nice. Somehow that was my dad's job. Though my Mom does the taxes and all the bookkeeping for the house. Somehow they divided up the roles of running a household/caring for a family. In my house of course, it's all me.

Michelle has a water/bubble table in Grandma's backyard that she plays with. One of my favourite things is sitting on the swing in my Mom's yard and watching Michelle play. Seeing her run around, dancing, jumping, chasing bubbles and laughing is Heaven. She'll often ask me to chase her around, race her or play hide and seek and I usually comply but sometimes I'm so bone tired, exhausted, I beg her to just let Mama rest for a bit. Ironically the days that I work are somewhat of a break for me because when I'm at my parents' before work (on nighshift) or after work (on dayshift) I can at least relax for a bit and not have to worry about doing chores because I'm not home. (Of course I have a mountain of laundry etc by the time I get back home.) Staying at my parents when I'm working is just easier as far as commuting and logistics. It requires a lot of packing and unpacking all the time though. It feels like I'm going on trips all the time but it's just heading to Grandma's while I'm working.
We make sure to have fun outings with Grandma as well on my days off. We went to Burlington Beach. The water was pretty cold but relatively calm at least. Michelle always loves the beach, no matter which one we head to. My favourite part is relaxing on the sand. It's my happy place and when I try to relax at home or fall asleep (though it seldom works!) I daydream about winning the lottery and living on a beach somewhere. Forever. For now, we just visit the beach every chance we get. I wish Summer would never end. (Unfortunately it's close to ending as I type this...)

One day Michelle said she wanted to go to the water park. I was surprised she would think of it/remember it because we hadn't been in a while. I reminded her that when we went in the past she didn't like the pool or the sprinklers and needed to be coaxed to go in the lazy river. Of course now that she's older she's more flexible/open to things and she loved everything. The lazy river was her favourite and she insisted we go around several times. I can never get a photo of it because we're IN the water and I can't bring my camera with me (which is torture for me! LOL Especially when Michelle is smiling and laughing and it would make such a cute photo.)

Michelle is such a fickle girl. She has a lot of stuffies and keeps changing her mind which is her fave. For a while her white kitty was her most precious and she wanted to take her everywhere until Snowflake was no longer white. Lately though she seems to change her mind every week or even day to day and she'll pick a different stuffed animal to take with her on car rides, etc. A stuffed animal that she took almost no notice of can suddenly, magically grab her interest and become her new "baby" and go with her everywhere. I figure it's a comfort thing having something soft to hug. I've heard of kids having a favourite blanket that they take everywhere. It's kind of a relief that she keeps changing her mind so at least I don't have to worry about the one stuffed animal getting too tattered/getting lost etc. When she was a baby she had a stuffed pink monkey and I panicked if I forgot to pack it or it got lost.

I absolutely LOVE Michelle's artwork. It gives me life! It always makes me smile. Sometimes it makes me laugh out loud but I have to make sure I don't offend Michelle because she's very sensitive and can be a little hard on herself. Sometimes she'll say "This isn't any good!" and I'll tell her it's excellent, that she's an amazing artist for her age. Sometimes she'll ask me how to draw something so she can copy mine and hers turns out better than mine! She did a portrait of Grandma and Grampa, herself and me. I love that she even included Grampa's awkward old man black socks. Though I hope he's actually wearing pants. It's kind of hard to tell. I love that everyone smiles in her pictures. Even the sun.

These butterflies look slightly demonic. I can't say that I've ever seen a butterfly with a uni-brow. It's awesome. Her work is so distinctive. To me, it's pure genius (though I may be a little biased.) I keep nearly all of her artwork and storing it all is becoming a challenge. I can't imagine once she's in school and making crafts all the time. I won't be able to part with any of them. I remember a friend from work who was decidedly less sentimental and said she couldn't stand clutter and threw her kid's work out but she brought it to work to dispose of because she didn't want her girls to see it in the trash at home and be hurt. It seemed heartless to me! I couldn't imagine doing that. Everyone is different though. Not everyone is a sentimental fool like me.

Speaking of sentimental fools, I took Michelle to see Finding Dory. As a huge Finding Nemo fan I was really looking forward to it. I'd read that when Ellen Degeneres was offered the part of Dory many years ago she was just excited to have the work at a time when she was feeling vulnerable and not sure if people would want to work with her. She had no idea how huge the film would become. She suggested to them that they make a Finding Dory and all these years later they finally did. My expectations were high and they were met. It was a sweet, funny, wonderful sequel. Of course sentimental fool that I am, I cried. I thought at least the 3D glasses would hide my tears and I tried to be subtle as I dabbed my eyes but Michelle ratted me out! Asking right out loud "MAMA! Are you sniffling?! Are you CRYING?!" "Shhhh! Yes!" Without ruining the ending for you (in case you're still planning to see it) suffice it to say that it is VERY TOUCHING. All that Dory goes through to find her parents and then you don't even know if they'll still be alive when she gets there...I also relate to Dory on a personal level because my short term memory is shot. If I don't write things down I can't remember what I did yesterday. Or 5 minutes ago. I'm sort of kidding. Not.

When I ask Michelle "What do you want to do today?" and she says "Go to the beach!" I'm game. It's our happy place. I LOVE this photo. Michelle is laughing and a seagull is flying by at just the right moment.

I never get tired of heading to Port Dover. I'm addicted to the palm trees. Each time we go it's a slightly different adventure. Sometimes we mostly play in the sand and she doesn't even want to go in the water. Other times she wants to be in the water for ages. Sometimes we walk around the little shops, other times we just chill on the beach. Sometimes we walk down the length of the beach (or in her case, run to chase the seagulls.) It feels like our second home now we've been so often.

Some people go away on vacation once or twice a year. We never get to go but at least our day trips to Dover feel like an exotic get away when we sit under the palms...

Michelle loves to dress up. Of all her role playing games and outfits, Princess still seems to be the clear winner. She has a number of Disney Princess outfits -- Rapunzel, Cinderella, Belle, Ariel -- as well as fancy shoes, tiaras and crowns etc. I have to admit I encourage the habit by watching Disney movies with her and getting her the outfits. This was exactly the kind of thing I had imagined when I found out I was pregnant with a girl. I wanted a girlie girl. I certainly got my wish! Of course if I had a boy I would have loved him too but then I'd have to pretend to be interested in sports and have to settle for bland, boring clothes and get him cars and dinosaurs (although Michelle has some cars and dinosaurs as well, they're outnumbered by pretty dolls and cute stuffed animals.) Michelle loves pretty dresses, wearing makeup, doing her nails, having tea parties, dancing ballet. She is my dream come true, the girl I imagined when I had that final ultrasound and heard the news I'd been hoping for: "It's a GIRL!"

Though it's something I often take for granted, I am very grateful to live in Canada. It's a beautiful and relatively safe country. I'm grateful for our diverse landscapes, our people, free health care, iced cappuccinos from Tim Hortons, so many things that make it one of the best countries in the world to live in.

Though I had to work on Canada Day Michelle and I still had a little time together before I had to go in for nightshift and I made sure we dressed in red and got a couple of pictures. I even found a little red dress with maple leaves on it for Michelle. She picked a maple leaf at Grandma's house as well. She actually recognized it as a maple leaf like the one on the flag. All the way to Grandma's she was pointing out Canada flags and maple trees. It's amazing how many places you see our flag -- on businesses, homes, even on people's cars. Though we may be a little more laid back/less aggressive about it than our American neighbours, we are still patriotic, eh?

My Mom has told me a number of times what a blessing Michelle has been in her life and my dad's life. Taking care of Michelle when I work has given them a new purpose later in life, something to look forward to and keeps them young (because you need energy to keep up with my girl!) I'm extremely grateful to my parents for watching her. I wouldn't trust anyone else with her. I know how much they love her. I also like that I get to see my parents regularly. We've always been a close knit family and of all of my siblings I've probably felt closest to them. I was the last to leave home.

I'm also glad that I get to see my sister May so often. She's my best friend in the world. Michelle looks forward to us all going on outings together. We went to Bronte Pool on a really hot day. I got Michelle a life jacket to help her float. I really want her to learn to swim. I've never been a strong swimmer and I'm still nervous of deep water (I can't be in over my head literally or figuratively or it freaks me out! I have to be able to touch bottom.) My sister had swimming lessons in school when she was younger so she's a good swimmer. My Mom is a nervous swimmer too (and also doesn't like getting her face wet/smearing her makeup!) My dad can't swim at all and is afraid of the water (which is understandable since he drowned when he was 12 years old.)

There's a park near the woods and sometimes we go hiking (though my Mom warns me I should avoid the forest because there could be ticks, mosquitos etc.) On a really hot day it's nice to talk a walk in the shade of the trees. We went exploring and found a fort that kids had built with branches. Michelle loves being outdoors. Running, climbing, exploring, looking at flowers, finding caterpillars and lady bugs.

I LOVE this photo of Michelle, her impish grin as she sits on a log. She dressed herself entirely that day, grabbing clothes out of the drawer. I tried to explain that the lace pants didn't really go with the colourful print shirt and that usually you'd pair a print with a solid rather than mix two clashing prints but she was proud of herself and I figured her sense of independence was far more important than her fashion sense. I have to pick my battles. So if you ever see pictures of Michelle dressed a little wonky, just assume she probably dressed herself. (She dresses herself most days but I usually put the outfits out for her so she doesn't have to choose.)
We'd seen the trailer for "The Secret Life of Pets" several times and it looked AWESOME. We were very excited to go see it. We were NOT disappointed! It was very funny and sweet and surprisingly action packed and we both adored it. I've always loved animated films and now being able to share them with Michelle is amazing. They usually have plenty of visual interest, cute and silly parts to keep kids entertained and enough adult humour to keep parents chuckling as well. Kevin Hart was HYSTERICAL as psycho bunny Snowball! I loved all the characters. Of course, sap that I am, I still managed to find touching moments that made me cry. Thank God for 3D glasses. This time I even managed to hide my tears from Michelle.

After seeing the movie I made it my mission to collect ALL the Secret Life of Pets characters from the McDonalds happy meals. Which either makes me the best Mom ever, or the worst. Yes I take her to McDonalds! She gets the chicken nugget Happy Meal and I get a cheeseburger Happy Meal. When I was a kid my Mom refused to take us to McD's and I felt deprived. I'm not doing that to my kid. I was so dedicated to collecting the toys that I even picked up a Happy Meal on my lunch break from work on nightshift. I can't tell you how foolish I felt, a grown woman at 2 a.m. asking them at the Drive Thru "Ummm. What Secret Life of Pets toys do you have? It's for my daughter...Seriously." And I heard the girl in the drive thru chuckle and I thought "Don't judge me!" The worst part was carrying the Happy Meal box back into work and having people stare. Then I literally said "DON'T JUDGE ME! I got Tiberius and Chloe! So psyched to show Michelle!" and they smiled and likely muttered "loser" under their breath. But I gotta be me...

One time at the beach Michelle wanted me to bury her legs so I thought I'd be creative and turn her legs into a mermaid tail. I didn't realize that that would become a ritual and she'd want me to do it EVERY SINGLE TIME. The problem is she gets sand inside her bathing suit and it's EVERYWHERE when we get home. She leaves little piles of sand in front of the toilet when she goes potty. Our car is FULL of sand. I never get around to cleaning the car. I should vacuum it out sometime but I can't be bothered. And honestly having a little sand in the car (and my purse, and everywhere) reminds me of the beach so it's not such a bad thing. I have a lei hanging from my rear view mirror, a collection of "Beach Parking Lot" tickets and a hula girl on my dashboard as well so I always have a little of the beach with me. Though in the dead of winter when I'm scraping the car windows sometimes these things make me cry (and then my tears turn to ice.) Have I mentioned I HATE winter?

And then one day at the beach we MET A REAL MERMAID! Ok well not really but I thought that tail was the CUTEST THING EVER! I asked her where she got her tail (in retrospect probably a really awkward thing to ask a young girl!) and I can't remember the name of the website but it probably costs a million dollars anyway (well, more like $100...) The coolest part was she could ACTUALLY SWIM WITH IT! I asked if she'd mind being in a picture and she said no because honestly how could I NOT take Michelle's picture with a real live mermaid?!

I've become a master at locating spots to sit the camera for a self-timer shot. Sometimes a friendly stranger will offer to snap a picture for us and I've taken lots of pictures for strangers as well when I see them struggling to get a selfie in front of the palm trees. Hand held selfies just never quite work for me. Even though I have a camera phone now I don't use it very often. It's too close up. You can get a selfie stick but I prefer to just sit the camera somewhere, set the timer and run! 10-9-8... People usually look at me like I have 2 heads but I'm old school. They can hold their cellphone in front of their faces for a too-close selfie but I'll stick with my old Nikon perched on a bench and run for the countdown.

One of the best things about the beach is that it helps you sleep a little better. Something about being in the sun all day just makes you feel peaceful and exhausted. On non-beach days though, sometimes it's a struggle to fall asleep at all.

In varying degrees insomnia has been an issue for me my whole life. It's like my brain won't shut off. Thinking, worrying, making to do lists, reliving the past, wondering about the future. I wrote a song once called "Think Too Much." Some people have a drinking problem. I have a thinking problem. Being pregnant (and alone) and raising a child on my own made it that much worse. Breastfeeding. A screaming newborn. A night owl toddler. Co-sleeping with a restless girl that flips and flops and inadvertently clocks you a few times a night. I got used to never getting more than a couple of hours sleep. If that. It's even worse if there's something specific to worry about -- health, money issues etc.

Then in July I got involved in a fender bender. It was so stupid and random. I still can't understand how it happened. I was backing out, the other driver was backing in. Thankfully no one was hurt and the damage was minor (little if any damage to my rear bumper, just a scratch you wouldn't even notice. A dent to the other's driver's front bumper though unfortunately they had to replace the whole bumper.) I called my insurance company in tears. The girl tried to comfort me. "Don't worry. They're called 'accidents' not 'on purposes.'" I wasn't even making a claim for my vehicle but the other driver was and I was concerned it may affect my rates. I couldn't seem to get a straight answer about whether it would. Something about it was up to the "underwriters" and I wouldn't know until next year when my policy is renewed. She said the good news was there was going to be a rate decrease next year anyway and hopefully that would offset any possible increase as a result of my minor mishap.

So, it wasn't so bad. It could have been much worse. I should have been able to get over it. For whatever reason though, the incident haunted me. I lay awake at night and couldn't sleep. It was insane. I mean, someone involved in a 20 car pile-up probably wouldn't be this upset. It's like I had PTSD over such a minor occurrence. It just drove me nuts. I kept thinking it just shouldn't have happened. I kept thinking if I'd only left the house one minute earlier (or one minute later.) I couldn't understand it. I drive ALL THE TIME. I drive all over hell's half acre and don't have accidents. I commute for 2-3 hours when I work. I've made road trips to Algonquin, New York, Daytona Beach, Florida and nothing. Then I get into a stupid accident so close to home. Of course they say most accidents happen at home but I figured they meant slipping in the bathtub or falling off a ladder.

I wasn't sure why it bothered me so much until I realized that I expect life to be perfect and when it isn't (which is pretty much all the time!) I can't deal with it. In school, a desire for perfection was a good thing. I got straight As and won awards (though I often nearly gave myself a nervous breakdown doing it.) In life, there are no As and gold stars. There's no reward for doing things right, though there's usually a punishment for messing things up. And it's bound to happen. We're all flawed humans after all. And when you're sleep deprived and not all there, it's even worse. Not to mention there is so much that you can't control: the weather, other people, etc. Random things can go wrong at any time and there's nothing you can do but deal with it. You can't control it. All you can control is your reaction and apparently I can't even do that. I lack resilience. I am the opposite of resilient, whatever that is... Brittle, maybe? Some people are so laid back, they just go with the flow. When bad things happen they shrug their shoulders and say "Oh well." I wish I was like that. I wish I was the "happy go lucky" "lack-a-daisical type." But I'm not. I'm a neurotic mess. I torture myself with over-thinking, analyzing and worrying and replaying things in my mind and wishing they were different. I've had people tell me that I'm "strong" and "brave" to have survived the things I've been through -- being abandoned while pregnant and raising Michelle on my own. But I don't feel strong or brave. It's just that I had no choice but to deal with the hand I was dealt. I love Michelle more than my own life so I've had to keep going for her sake. Sometimes though, I'm overwhelmed. And somehow this stupid accident was like the last straw after a lot of straws and stress and days of running on empty. I don't get enough sleep. I work at a stressful job with long hours (14-15 hrs with the commute.) It's like I'm hanging by a thread half the time and as long as nothing goes too wrong I can manage but it doesn't take much for the thread to break.

Negativity is a tough habit to break. It comes as naturally as breathing. The positive always takes more effort. Once the negative gains a hold of me, it's insidious. It feeds on itself. It magnifies and multiplies and becomes a soul-swallowing black cloud of fear, doubt, despair, you name it. Once I'm upset about something, my mind starts replaying the greatest hits of all the other things I have to worry/be upset about. It's like my brain is throwing a pity party and all my demons are invited. I beat myself up. The latent anxiety and depression that I've fought with on and off since my teens comes bubbling to the surface. Everything seems bleak, unbearable. I'll try to be reasonable. It could be worse. I should be grateful. I'll try to think about how there are people in the world going through so much worse. But even that doesn't help because I feel sad for all the people suffering in the world and I start to think the world is so f*&ed up it's like this is the Apocalypse and why even bother? When I lie awake at night and the negativity takes over, I'm SCREWED. I can't seem to relax or calm myself down and then I can't sleep a wink and I feel even worse.

Insomnia is the worst when I have to work because I get up at 4 a.m. for dayshift and sometimes I'm on no sleep at all. Then have to drive for an hour, work 12 hours and drive another hour back home. There are days I'm so completely drained physically and emotionally I don't know how I survive. Sometimes I lay there for hours staring at the clock. Other times I get up and cry. Or I read or watch TV. One night I got interested in a French movie that didn't even have subtitles. I was pretty lost but trying to figure out what was going on even though I only understood a few words here and there. From what I gathered the guy was depressed and felt cut off from the rest of the world and then commits suicide by overdosing. Yeah, not exactly a cheerful, feel good film to soothe you to sleep.

Insomnia wasn't always so bad. When I was on my own it used to be a more constructive time -- I'd get up and play guitar, write a song or paint, do something creative during the wee hours. Now if I'm home I sometimes go on Twitter but usually just lay there and suffer, looking at the clock thinking "Ok if I fall asleep now I'll get 2 hours sleep...Now I'll get 1 hour..." It doesn't help that Michelle wakes me up in the middle of the night either by accidentally punching or kicking me (she's a restless sleeper and though I've tried to get her into her own room but it didn't take so I'm still co-sleeping with her) or asking for a drink, telling me she needs to go potty (even though she goes on her own now. It still wakes me up.) And once awakened, I have a hard time getting back to sleep.

One sleepless night I just started to cry and couldn't stop. I wondered if I was having a nervous breakdown. How do you know? How can you tell the difference between just being sad or having a really bad day and completely losing your mind? Then I went to the bathroom and realized it was hormonal: My monthly visitor, which I mistakenly thought may be gone for good had apparently just taken a brief holiday. The b&*%$ was back, with a vengeance. So it was PMS rearing its ugly head. And aside from the flood of emotions, the blood flow was back and making up for lost time. The Red Sea. Borderline hemorrhaging. Good times. So I wasn't in menopause after all. Lucky me.

Thankfully I did eventually get over the accident (and on-again off-again menopause and everything else...) Luckily there are more good days than bad and overall I'm happier than I've ever been in my life. Of course most of that is thanks to Michelle.

Michelle is my inspiration and my teacher. She doesn't worry about things. Now, it helps that she's a kid and doesn't have responsibilities/worries, and that life is just play to her. She sees life as a fun adventure. I envy her energy, enthusiasm and excitement. And when I see how happy she is, how confident and strong and bright it makes me feel a little better because even if I feel like a mess, I did something right. She's OK. I've helped her to feel safe and loved even when I felt scared and alone and falling apart. Her happiness is more important to me than anything and if she's happy, I'm happy.

One of our fave summer rituals has been having ice cream cones on the garden swing in Grandma's backyard. Whenever we're over for a visit we go out after dinner and have dessert on the swing. The days are so hot but in the early evening when the shade falls over the swing it's just warm and comforting and ice cream is a wonderful treat. Although I'm counting calories, there's always room for ice cream. (100 calories for the ice cream and only 15 calories in the cone!) Michelle's getting better at eating her ice cream before it melts and drips all over the place. Kids and ice cream can be a bit of a disaster.

I'm so proud of my little artist that I wanted to frame some of her work and hang it up. I chose a couple of her mermaids and tropical birds (a flamingo and a parrot) to hang in our (well, it's supposed to be MY) room. They fit in perfectly with the room's tropical theme. Michelle was so excited and proud to have her artwork hanging with mine. I called it our own gallery. She couldn't wait to show people. I told her she'd get to show the family when they came over for her 4th birthday party. (I can't believe my little girl is 4 and going to school soon but I'll save that for the next blog post! This one is too long as it is!)

Michelle's pictures are whimsical and expressive and really advanced for a (just turned) 4 year old girl!

Michelle's art next to mine. Palm trees, the ocean, mermaids and tropical birds. We may not live in Hawaii, but we can certainly pretend. And we always have an ocean view... Michelle calls it "our room." For now she is co-sleeping with me. I keep hoping I'll get her into her own room. Maybe I'll paint the room pink and purple like she wanted to get her enthused about her own room. I'll have to take on projects to keep busy while she's in school. Starting next week...

"Say cheese!" She knows the drill. Michelle actually likes posing for pictures now. There was a time when she would just get annoyed and wouldn't cooperate but she's over it. Now she'll model, strike poses, smile, whatever. She's told me she'd like to be an actress but I'm a little wary of trying to put her in show biz. I know it's not an easy career to get into. I wouldn't rule it out but I'm reluctant to pursue it either. She'll have enough going on getting used to going to school soon anyway.

One day driving back from the beach I had the window down and my favourite songs kept coming on the radio. I was singing along and Michelle started singing along too. I smiled at her in the rearview. For a minute it wasn't like she was my little girl but like she was my girlfriend and we were just on a road trip, bonding, singing our favourite songs together at the top of our lungs. Off having adventures. Like Thelma and Louise (but without the sex and shooting and suicide...)

"You're my best friend Mama!" she told me.
"You're mine too sweetheart."
"I love you."
"I love you too. More than I can possibly tell you."
"I love you most and best for always and forever!"
"I love you most and best, so much, too much, for always and forever, more than anyone or anything in the whole world. To infinity and beyond."
Yeah, we're saps.

Every year the whole family gets together at Wasaga Beach to celebrate Evie's birthday, Michelle's birthday, as well as celebrating summer and having an excuse to go to Wasaga Beach! It's always a blast having everyone together and Michelle loves it too. She had a ball playing in the water with me, riding on a raft with her cousins, playing in the sand with Reggie, playing catch with Uncle Mikey. This year we even had a BBQ right by the beach. Of course I always have to get the group photo and it was a REAL CHALLENGE getting the whole group together!

I'm used to slathering Michelle in sunscreen but when we're going to be at the beach ALL DAY, I'm careful to reapply it as well. I can't tell you how tricky it is to get greasy, sticky sunscreen on a kid who's covered in sand (it's no picnic, let me tell you!) I made sure Michelle was wearing a hat as well (I managed to find a matching hat and swimsuit her size!) because my Mom is ALWAYS pestering me about how Michelle should be wearing a hat (this coming from a woman who let me get so badly burned as a child I turned purple and got blisters...) Yeah, Mom, I think I've got this. Michelle will NEVER get a sunburn on my watch. EVER.

What is it with girls and unicorns? I loved unicorns as a little girl. Most girls do it seems. I guess because they're mystical, magical creatures so beautiful that you wished they actually existed. Like love... (I'm sort of kidding. I'm not quite that cynical yet. I do think romantic love is possible and I may actually date again someday...) Michelle wanted to know how to draw a unicorn but then figured it out without me even showing her. Yeah it's pretty much just a white horse with a horn. Nailed it. I can't get enough of Michelle's artwork. She's only 4 and I could already fill a trunk with her drawings. I have them in a few different boxes which is a step up from when they were just accumulating in massive piles on top of the shelving unit in her room. I try to remember to label them on the back but usually I can tell what age she did them just by looking at them. Her style continues to evolve.

I love my girls. I try to get a photo of us as a "family" every week, if not every day. Ali usually joins us when we sit on the stairs. Or sometimes we have to call her over, or "Meow" at her so she'll join us. Not that Ali looks at the camera anyway, but hey, you can't tell a cat what to do! She has to want to. It always makes Michelle smile/laugh when Ali comes over at our "Meow-ing" so at least I get Michelle smiling if nothing else.

It's been quite a summer. Thankfully there have been more good days than bad. It's gone by so fast. I'm grateful for all the happy days at the beach with my girl. It makes up for the bad days.

I read a quote by Gretchen Rubin recently: "The days are long but the years are short." It's so true. There are days that are so exhausting and stressful you don't know how you'll get through. You look at the clock and an hour (when you're in pain or have insomnia or are just in the throes of a bad day) seems to last forever. But those bad days don't stick out in your mind. Overall when you look back at your life, you see the happy times and somehow they seem to speed by in the blink of an eye. I can't believe Michelle is 4 already and starting school next week (I'll save that for the next blog). She's excited. I'm heartbroken. It's hard to let go. The last 5 years have been very short. My baby is growing up. She's a little girl and soon will be going out into the world, without me. It goes too fast. I'll keep taking a million pictures to slow it down.

Michelle picked out this outfit herself. I told her it might be overkill on the printed shirt and pants (I try to stick to the "pair a print with a solid" rule) but she loved it. It was like an explosion of summer -- flowers and flamingoes, all pink and purple. Michelle wants to do things herself. She may not do them perfectly or the way I would do them but she's learning to accomplish things and make decisions on her own. That's a milestone. School will be another milestone and she's eager for it. I wish I could say the same but I'm dreading it. I'm glad that she wants to go to school because if she was scared and didn't want to go it would be even harder for me.

As much as I've tried to teach Michelle, she has just as much to teach me. I'm proud of my independent girl. I admire her confidence, her energy and enthusiasm. I wish I had her sunny view of life, all the time, even when the sun isn't shining. She doesn't worry about things, doesn't doubt herself. She loves who she is, a strong girl, inside and out and she knows the world is her oyster. I wish I was more like her...