Tuesday, February 13, 2018


Christmas is complicated. It's the best of times, it's the worst of times...(To misquote Dickens again!) My Christmas spirit usually kicks in early November. I get excited about putting up the Christmas tree (I always put it up the 2nd week or so) and decorations. I love my white tree with silver and turquoise ornaments and it makes the living room feel cozy. I smile at Christmas lights outside and carols on the radio (though depending on my mood/the song, I may have to change the station. Some songs are just too sentimental and I'm not a fan of "ugly crying" when I'm out. "I'll be home for Christmas" is gut-wrenching! My Mom and I sang carols one night and we BOTH choked up with that one! At the exact same part!) I get excited about Christmas shopping for Michelle. The rest of my family is often a challenge but it's all too easy and fun to buy toys for Michelle! I tend to spoil her for that reason! If I see something cute or on sale that she's asked for, how could I NOT get it? So yeah, I get stoked about Christmas and all its trappings however, the INSTANT that Christmas is over, I HATE IT. Until next November. Once Christmas ends, I don't want to see/hear ANYTHING to do with it anymore and I can't wait to take everything down! I can't STAND hearing about Christmas because once it's over it's just depressing and anti-climactic and the bleakness of Winter stares me in the face and there's just nothing to look forward to and hearing the word Christmas is just a reminder of that. Decembering is fine in December but once it's over I just CAN'T. My Christmas spirit expires December 26th. Then it's time for De-cembering and start January-ing (making resolutions you'll never keep, hoping the next year is better than the last, curling into a ball and crying etc.)

And even in December it can be difficult. Yes Christmas is a beautiful holiday about love and giving and I appreciate time with family. I love the excitement of sharing Christmas with a child. But then there's the other side: the stress, the expense, the pressure to make it a perfect Hallmark card and all the things that inevitably go wrong and just Winter itself sucks. (I have Seasonal Affective Disorder and lately I've been dealing with acute anxiety/severe stress from work and my life in general...) Thankfully this year at least I wasn't sick with pneumonia at least. I had health issues off and on but I wasn't hacking my lungs out as I usually seem to be through the Winter. So there's that. Still, more often than not I was sleep-deprived, stressed, irritable, falling apart. Coasting on the fumes of cortisol and caffeine. Some days were better than others. Some days it was all I could do not to just lay down on the floor and sob. (I tried to save those moments for when I was home rather than at work or shopping for groceries.)

For Michelle it's all good, all happy, all the time! Every day is Christmas! And why not? She couldn't be more adored by her Mama, or grandparents. She pretty much gets whatever she wants (within reason.) She makes friends easily everywhere she goes. Life is all sunshine, unicorn and rainbows, a magical adventure. She's cute, strong, talented, brilliant and doing well in school. The world is her oyster! (Her Mama is falling apart half the time but I try to keep that hidden from her!)

And when you don't have Santa's lap to sit in there is always Ronald McDonald. (Michelle is not creeped out by clowns yet. I will not allow her to see "It" until she's at least 18 years old. Or maybe never. I find clowns creepy. Especially the psychotic killer clowns!)

Every time we go to Walmart Michelle wants to sit on Ronald McDonald's lap. We usually have to wait for Gramma to cash out anyway so I let her sit while we wait...

It is heartwarming to see people filled with Christmas spirit. Some people REALLY go to town with their Christmas lights. It's fun. While I can't imagine ever putting huge inflatable decorations on my own front lawn, I do enjoy visiting other peoples'! I took Michelle to look at some neighbours' lights and snapped a few pictures. When Michelle said she wanted to see "more lights Mama!" I decided to surprise her and take her to a big light display I'd passed by and was curious to check out. It was a perfect night for it. It wasn't too cold. I am NOT a fan of Winter. At all. If I never saw a snowflake again I would be happy. (Unfortunately we would see more than a few in the coming weeks...)

The lights were awesome. Michelle was thrilled. A lot of my pictures were blurry/didn't quite work out (night shots are always a little tricky. I experimented with using the flash/using night mode without a flash etc but it was hit and miss.)

Sometimes the awkward up-close hand-held selfies turned out the best because at least you could see us.

A lot of other people had the same idea -- taking advantage of a mild evening to go for a walk through the festival of lights. It wasn't really that late. It just gets SO dark so early in the Winter. (Yes that's also depressing!) It was a school night but I wanted Michelle to see the light show and I often work weekends so I have to seize the moment while I can! Plus weekends are probably too busy/crowded.

Another selfie... I wanted to get a good shot of us WITH the lights but it seemed I had to choose to get a picture of us OR the lights.

Being a photoholic I just kept snapping and hoped for the best. At least I wasn't alone. A lot of other people were there taking pictures too -- of course they all had their camera phones rather than an old fashioned camera like my Nikon.

This section with the deer by the water was one of my favourite displays but unfortunately my photos really don't do it justice. (Obviously!) The distant ones are a bit blurry and too far away and this close-up barely shows the deer at all. It was hard to find a happy medium.

When we came to a gazebo I used it as a place to stand my camera for the self-timer. Being a photoholic I'm always on the lookout for photo ops AND flat surfaces where I can sit my camera for the timer. Occasionally a stranger will ask if they can take our picture, which is very kind but I'm always a little wary ever since an incident in Montreal where a stranger offered to take my picture (with my boyfriend at the time) and proceeded to DROP MY CANON ON THE CEMENT! Killed it. I was devastated. Many of my cameras met with disaster after a few years. I went through a Canon, Minolta, Pentax and a Nikon. Even my current camera has a scratch across the lens but I keep putting off replacing it. It does still work. It just sometimes adds a ghost/blurry spot in daylight shots...

And then finally I figured out the perfect placement/distance to get both the lights and Michelle and me in a shot! Of course now we were leaving. Michelle would have stayed there all night but I told her we had to get home. It was a school night and she had to have her bath and get ready for bed. I was very glad we seized the opportunity to go though because the weather got very cold after that and I was working so much there wouldn't have been another opportunity. I thought about us going a second time but the next time I passed the park at night the lights were gone.

In the Bible they describe Hell as being a place of "weeping and gnashing of teeth." So apparently I'm already in Hell considering how often I cry and grind my teeth. Actually I've been grinding my teeth for about 17 years (which not coincidentally is how long I've worked in my job! Just one of the effects of stress. IBS is another.) At one point a dentist fitted me for a mouth guard to wear at night but I couldn't stand it and never used it. I have problems with my teeth hurting/jaw aching now and then. I try not to think about my teeth because I'm not a fan of them. They're crooked (I was supposed to have braces as a child) and yellow (apparently I brushed them too hard and wore of the top layer of enamel.) Most of the time I just hope they don't give me too much grief.

Then I was working one night when I got a terrible toothache. It seemed to be more than just my tooth. It was emanating from my gums behind my back tooth. Deja vu. I'd already had an abscess in July and went to the dentist for anti-biotics. Now I had pain in my gums/rear tooth on the opposite side. For crying out loud I thought, it's always something! So I went to the dentist and sure enough it was an abscess again. He prescribed anti-biotics (AGAIN!) and a rinse to clear up the infection. He also referred me to a periodontist who recommended surgery -- gingivectomy so that I don't keep having this problem. There is an opening at the back of my mouth in my gums where my impacted wisdom teeth were removed decades ago. It's easy for food to become trapped back there which can cause infection. So it's easier to just remove that section of my gums once and for all. They booked the surgery for the beginning of 2018. Last year it was a lumpectomy. Now a gingivectomy. Because Winter isn't already unpleasant enough, you might as well have surgery in the middle of it! Woo hoo!

I got a 360 X-ray and they managed to do it without bonking me in the head like the bumbling dentist office I had tried once in the Spring (and mentioned in a blog post. I never went back to them.) When I saw the X-ray it was so creepy and cool I asked if I could take a picture of it. They probably thought I was a weirdo but they said "Sure." It's not very Christmas-y but as a photoholic I appreciated having this scary skeleton shot of myself. I'm not looking forward to having my gums cut out but if it's going to prevent going through this whole abscess thing ever again I'm all for it. Michelle was fascinated by it all and wanted to look in my mouth with a flashlight. She thought about being a dentist like Hermey on Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. I told her it pays better than making toys.

Of course I had to take Michelle to see Santa. And this time at least I wasn't sick with pneumonia and standing in a long line while hacking up a lung this year. We really lucked out and there was no line at all. Michelle was excited. Even though she'd mailed a letter to Santa to tell him what she wanted (a Teddy Bear) there was still nothing like visiting him in person. I always worried about her asking logistics questions about Santa flying around the world, looking a little different every time you see him etc. Instead at one point she just flat out asked, "Is there really a Santa Claus?" I answered that of course there is. She said that some kids say there is no Santa Claus. I said that the spirit of Saint Nicholas is very real but that unfortunately some people have no Christmas spirit and don't believe. I told her that just like with God and Jesus (whose birthday is the most important meaning of Christmas!) you don't SEE them but you have FAITH that they exist. You just know it in your heart. And some people don't have faith. My Mom always told us that there wasn't a Santa, that Christmas is Jesus' birthday and that is that. I never agreed with that. When it comes to parenting I normally do the opposite of what my Mom did! In the case of Christmas I want Michelle to experience all the joy, wonder and magic of Christmas -- both Jesus AND Santa! So YES, Michelle, there IS a Santa Claus!

This classic letter in "The Sun" puts it beautifully:

The Sun letter, New York 1897 -- "Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus"

"Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy...."

Naturally I was going to purchase the professional shot of Michelle with Santa but it didn't stop me from snapping several pictures of my own. I am a photoholic. I CAN NOT resist a photo op!

I was thrilled that Michelle had a big smile! I couldn't, however, say the same for Santa. In his defense maybe he was smiling under the beard but it didn't show. His eyes didn't seem to be smiling... They seemed somewhat stern if anything. Then again it must be tiresome to have kids sitting on your lap all day. They're probably not all cute or friendly. You get the ones who cry or scream or squirm or are dirty or sticky or (Heaven forbid!) soil themselves?! My Michelle was an angel of course when she was a baby she was terrified of Santa and screamed bloody murder when I tried to get a picture with him. (I wound up having to get in the photo holding her that year.)

And then, because I'm a photoholic and nerd I got in a picture as well. Michelle was so excited. "Santa Claus PICKED ME UP!" She was star-struck like he was a celebrity. Usually you just write him letters or sit on his lap but he actually gave her a hug and picked her up. We lucked out and picked a time when there wasn't a huge line-up to see Santa so he wasn't rushing us out.

I loved their professional photo and got a couple of copies as well as a light up folder/frame to put mine in.

I love having printed photos (especially since I haven't printed photos in years so ones that I get when I'm out somewhere or school photos are the only hard copies I have!) but I still want a digital copy so I can post them on Twitter/my blog etc. They gave me a code to download the picture online.

After our successful Santa visit Michelle and I did a bit of shopping and then got an ice cream while we waited for Gramma. It seems every time we go shopping with Gramma we end up waiting for her but ice cream makes the time pass more pleasantly! Since my Mom doesn't drive she relied on me to take her Christmas shopping most of the time. It was tricky to work in with my insane schedule. Even when I had time off work there was so much to do. Time to myself was in short supply, basically non-existent. Sleep deprivation was an on-going problem. Even when I finally would get to lay down my brain wouldn't shut off. I would spin and spin. Worrying, making to do lists, overwhelmed. Tired just thinking of all that I had to do.

I wanted a picture of us with the huge mall Christmas tree. Michelle just wanted to keep riding the escalator up and down (we did a few times!) and was annoyed to have to stop for a photo. At least she smiled for this one. I guess I couldn't complain when she'd already flashed a killer smile for the Santa photo. I finally said that was enough trips on the escalator. Sometimes she was nervous about getting on. At one point she almost did the splits like Elf does in the movie when he rides the escalator for the first time. Got to love childhood innocence when you're still amused by the simple things!

As we walked through the mall people were admiring Michelle's adorable red Santa/elf outfit. She loves dressing up and is always in her glory if she gets to wear a fancy dress.
December was a mixed bag. It was a busy/chaotic month and went so quickly, with good and bad days. Work was stressful. As I've mentioned before my schedule was insane (16 hour days usually on no sleep) and I was beyond depleted. On good days I just dealt with it. On bad days I felt broken. You can only run on empty so long before it breaks you. For the most part I tried to focus on the positive -- Decembering -- getting ready for Christmas, sharing time with Michelle. She is my light and my life. Everyone has stress, in varying degrees. Not too many people have an "easy" life -- even those who may appear to from the outside. We all have our trials. All you can do is get through the day, one day at a time. Enjoy the good days, endure the bad days and hope that you have more of the former and less of the latter. Just cherish the smiles and laughs along the way. But some days it's just too much. Sometimes you need a break but as a single Mom you don't get one. Ever.

Michelle was happy and carefree for most of December (as she usually is!) Mama however was another story. Between my insane schedule and sleep deprivation I was pretty stressed a lot of the time. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing and yoga helped WHILE I was doing them however unfortunately I didn't often have time to do them. Most of the time I was on no sleep trying to get through a 16 hour day (with my commute), trying to get Christmas shopping done, take care of the house and everything else. When people would learn I was a single Mom they would almost always say "I don't know how you do it!" because they found it hard even as a couple taking care of kids etc. "I don't know how I do it either!" I would laugh. Except that some days it wasn't funny, running on less than empty. People would always say "You have to take care of yourself," but sometimes it doesn't seem like an option when you're too busy taking care of everyone else...

Michelle was invited to a boy's birthday party. She was excited about it. I was a little nervous about it. Boys can be a little rougher and more wild than girls. I wondered what the ratio of girls to boys would be. What if she was the only girl there? Michelle is a tough cookie. I'm sure she could hold her own. Still, I was worried.

I'm always reluctant to leave Michelle, (other than for work and school when it's unavoidable) even for a few hours but it's the only time I have some time to myself. Most of the time when Michelle is invited to a party I've been able to stick around anyway but a couple of times it's a party at home and you just drop them off an go. They're always kids from her school and the parents always seem nice, still the control freak in me has a hard time letting go.

Before I left I got a picture of Michelle and some of the boys. The fact that one is wielding a hockey stick and another is pointing a gun at me tells you all you need to know about a boy's birthday party! It was madness from the moment we walked in. My fears seemed well-founded as Michelle was the only girl there. Then I talked to the boy's Mom who told me that at first her son didn't want girls at the party at all (because, come on, when you're a boy, girls are "yuck!") but then told his Mom that he wanted his two girl friends there... Michelle and her best friend! Michelle was so excited her friend would be there.

It was perfect! Michelle had been wanting a play date with her BFF and now she had one (with a bunch of crazy boys tagging along.) Michelle had a blast at the party although when I went to pick her up she had green icing in her hair and wasn't even aware of how it happened. I wondered if it was accidental or intentional. (The kids had cupcakes.)

After dropping her off I decided to run some errands. I had a package to pick up at the Post Office. I'd been out the day that the delivery arrived and I had a card to attend the post office to pick up my package.

I was expecting something small. I'd been approached on Twitter about tweeting #TogetherWithTwoOceans during The Bachelor Canada (#BachelorCA). I was offered a care package with a bottle of wine, an Emoji pillow, chocolates etc. I told them that I don't even drink wine but I can't say no to chocolate and the other stuff sounded neat. And I could always give the wine to my brother.

After waiting in a long line I got my package and I was shocked that it was a huge box! It was so nice! A basket (which matches my wood floors and I love it!) the Emoji pillow, tissues, a rose pen, a mood ring, rose shaped chocolates, wine and glasses! Bling! It was so cool! They called it a "Mixed Em-Oceans kit" designed to help you get through watching the show. I was so grateful that I wanted to make sure I promoted Two Oceans. When I work I'm usually out of town/off the grid in the evenings but I made a point of traveling home that week so that I could be there to watch/tweet the show and #TogetherWithTwoOceans. The show wound up having an unhappy ending. The love story that I was rooting for (#TeamLyndsey!) fell apart and he wound up settling for the other girl. They didn't wind up staying together. It's hard to make love work period never mind on reality TV. Still, I don't date myself so watching people date on TV I get to live vicariously through them at least. I felt bad being away from Michelle that night but I figured I should have at least one night to myself once in a while.

Most Moms, even if they don't have a partner, have some kind of social life, girl's nights out or they date, go on vacations etc. I don't do any of that. So this one night, to be at home on my own and get to live tweet my show, was the closest I've come to a social life/date in several years! Occasionally there are single Moms who go on the Bachelor and they have to leave their kids for months. I could NEVER do it! I feel bad being away from Michelle for ONE DAY! Michelle even asked me once "Mama would you ever go on vacation without me?" Hell no. I told her that the only way I could go on a vacation would be if I win the lottery (in which case I'll be booking a trip to Hawaii/Fiji/somewhere tropical!) and even if I was going anywhere I would bring her with me! No adult resorts for me. It would have to be kid-friendly hotels etc! Any adventures I have will include my girl!

The only thing worse than my hellish commute was a commute in snow. Driving in bad weather is Hell on Earth. Shoveling the driveway isn't much fun either. Shoveling the driveway only to have a snowplow leave an iceberg at the end of the driveway for you to chisel again is even worse. Trying to sleep in the day (when the most you could get is 3 hours to begin with) before a 16 hour nightshift only to have your neighbour test out his new snowblower for an hour so you get no sleep is just cruel. Not that I'm bitter. (Actually I was very bitter and cursing like Yosemite Sam half the time.) I was this close to yelling outside "Look FUCKO! I'll shovel your driveway with my PLASTIC SHOVEL and be done in 10 minutes! Why is it taking you an HOUR with a snowblower! I need to catch a few minutes of sleep before I drive in hellish weather and bad traffic and work in a stressful job and then drive another 2-3 friggin hours afterward!" Instead I just lay there cursing them... Even when the noise stopped I was too riled up to sleep.

So the snow is absolutely no fun for me. It is at best a nuisance and at worst a hazard. But Michelle loves it and so I do make a point to drag myself out and play in the snow with her sometimes. But aside from the photo op I'm really not a fan of the cold! I mostly just count the minutes until I can go in and get a hot chocolate! One day Grampa came out to play in the snow too. Sometimes it was too cold to be out even for a few minutes. We had some bitterly cold days. I HATE the Winter. Summer is my favourite season. And Spring. Michelle loves it all. "What's your favourite season?"
"Christmas!" she said "and Halloween!"
"Well those are HOLIDAYS not SEASONS. Halloween is in the Fall and Christmas is in Winter."
But as a kid it's all fun. It's all magic and adventure and treats and toys. You don't have the expenses, stresses, responsibilities and burdens. Just the fun stuff.

I found a Christmas tree dress on sale and had to get it for Michelle. For a second I considered not getting it. It was a bit over the top but then I thought Michelle would love it and sure enough she adored it! She wanted to wear that one for the Christmas celebration with the family. I even got a Christmas tree hair band to go with it.

She wanted to try it on right away when I showed it to her.

Michelle is my happy place. She is my shining star. She is ALL that keeps me going these days. I've been through a really rough time.

After a breakdown in late September-early October I'd gone to my doctor who referred me to a psychiatrist. Apparently the waiting list was so long my appointment with him wasn't until mid-December. In the meantime I was also referred to a psychologist (through work) and went to see her in November. I had always wondered the difference between "Psychologist" and "Psychiatrist." I really know now! (Bearing in mind that my experience is limited and that I happened to meet a very nice female psychologist and a rather terrible male psychiatrist... So this may have affected my opinion as well...)

A Psychologist offers CBT (like TCB!) -- cognitive-behavioural therapy -- helping patients with emotional and mental issues through counseling and behavioural intervention. They give you the tools to take control of your life and help you to feel better. At the risk of generalizing (and sorry my experience in this realm is limited but from what I've seen and heard from others as well) a Psychiatrist is basically a drug pusher. As medical doctors they can prescribe medications. And unfortunately that's about all they do. Their entire focus seems to be that you are broken and that only drugs will fix you. They want to throw drugs at everything. Anxiety? Here take these anti-anxiety meds (which may cause depression or worse anxiety or become highly addictive or even kill you.) Depression? Here take these anti-depressants (which may cause anxiety or worse depression and will make 1 in 10 people turn suicidal/homicidal and have a host of other symptoms that are actually worse than what you're trying to cure.) Hyper-active kid? Put him on psychotropic drugs (which may actually cause hallucinations and really mess the kid up!) Yes I'm simplifying but every one of these examples is based on someone that I've known and seeing what they went through.

Now don't get me wrong. (And please don't send me hate mail -- these are MY opinions which you may not share and that's fine. I don't claim to be an expert, far from it!) If your condition is so severe that you see no other way and you find a medication that works for you, then by all means, do what you need to do to feel better. But I don't believe in taking drugs myself and I think that shrinks are too willing to give drugs to everyone (even CHILDREN -- Ritalin when they're hyper-active etc.) And I think it's diabolical. Too many drugs are addictive and/or have horrendous side effects. Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease! When you see those commercials on TV where they show people laughing and running and then quickly rhyme through the side effects of the medicatons ("May cause diarrhea, internal bleeding, DEATH...") the drug companies are banking on you focusing on the happy people (actors, mind you, NOT people on the medication!) and not the horrid side effects. The thing is that while a drug MAY work for someone, each individual is different and to expect it to work for everyone is dangerous. It's all experimental. It's a crap shoot and they can't quite get it right. I've talked to people whose anti-depressant medications made them like zombies with no emotion. (To me that is NOT PREFERABLE! I'd rather feel all my feelings and shout my rage and cry all my tears than to feel nothing!) I've talked to some who were prescribed anti-anxiety meds that were so addictive they were climbing the walls when they tried to wean off of them. I've seen drugs destroy people. Substance abuse of one kind or another (alcohol and drugs) destroyed two people that I loved. Bottom line: I don't believe in drugs. For something like physical pain, sure, I'll take a pain killer (though I'm careful not to overuse them.) But something as complex as a mental and emotional problem, or for dealing with stress that is more situational than anything I don't believe that popping a pill is the answer. I would rather learn relaxation techniques and find ways to feel better on my own. I would rather feel stronger on my own than to become dependent on a pill to feel better (and which in many cases can make you feel worse! I remember one guy that I dated many years ago was throwing up every day for weeks on a new anti-depressant. How is that OK?! I would have given up and tried something else.) I'm a control freak. I want to feel in control. I don't even smoke or drink. I don't do drugs. I've never even tried marijuana and I am not about to take a psychotropic drug that will mess me up even further just because some doctor is getting kickbacks from Pfizer for pushing it.

With all this in mind, I went to see the psychiatrist for an appointment that I had waited two months to get. And he was the WORST. Calling him a "shrink" seemed fitting within the first two seconds of meeting him. He must have shrunk the doorway as he walked through because he banged his shoulder on it as he led me to his office. Like he couldn't make it through the door. It was awkward to say the least. I was going to ask whether he was OK but then thought this would be more embarrassing for him. His office (if you can call it that) looked like a cross between a garage sale and a flea market -- a cluttered mix of tacky art and brick a brack circa 1975. His floor was lined with stacks of books and papers. Couldn't he afford a bookcase?! Had he just moved in? I didn't bother to ask but he struck me as pretty disorganized to say the least. The word "bumbling" comes to mind. And he was supposed to be helping me with MY issues?! Maybe he was just eccentric. Like the absent-minded professor type. Then his questions began and my last remaining shred of faith in him was destroyed. English wasn't his first language so that may have been a factor but basically he would ask me a question and then repeat and type everything I said except getting it COMPLETELY WRONG. For example he asked about my childhood and I explained that being the middle child I always felt like I didn't get as much love and attention as the other kids -- my sister was special being the oldest and my brothers were special because they were the babies. I felt like the chopped liver in the middle and knocked myself out to be the best at everything (straight As in school, winning races etc) just to get some attention. But I still didn't get as much attention as the others. My Mom explained that because I was the "good kid" all through school -- a goody two shoes, with good grades, never smoked or drank or got in trouble -- that I didn't need as much attention. She didn't have to worry about me. From all that he types (and says out loud) "Sooooo... your mother didn't love you..."
"WHAT?! That's not what I said at all! I just didn't feel I got as much attention because--"
Maybe he wasn't even listening to a word I said. Just spouting his own cliched psychoanalyses...

He kept typing things I said and repeating them but getting them DEAD WRONG and putting his own (WRONG) spin on it and it was so frustrating! I felt like telling him "Don't bother to record any of this because you won't need these notes. I don't want to be your patient. I will NEVER see you again! Like EVER!" But I just sat there in disbelief, watching it happen like it was a bizarre SNL skit or something. Trump is President and this guy is a psychiatrist. The idiots are in control. This is what the world has come to in 2017. Still, if nothing else I had a listener (albeit a VERY flawed one) and it helped to vent. I cried as I recounted what I was going through in my life lately -- my job, the stress, the symptoms, being a single Mom without help etc. (Incidentally I did NOT get to lie on a couch like they do in the movies. I just sat in a chair. Maybe he couldn't fit a couch in his office with all the clutter.) He basically told me that my anxiety was situational. I was in an impossible situation (a single Mom in a stressful job working 16 hour night shifts on no sleep) and that ANYONE in my position would be stressed. But instead of suggesting ways that I could control the stress, take control of myself and my life, he just wanted to put me on anti-anxiety meds. He started going on about some medication that wasn't supposed to be addictive. He started writing out a prescription. Because that's what shrinks do. They shrink you to fit into their little box. Like Alice in Wonderland with the bottle marked "Drink me."

"I'm sorry," I said, "I don't believe in taking drugs. Especially for emotional issues. I've never done drugs. I'm kind of a control freak. I don't want to mess up my mind. I don't even drink or smoke..." He was annoyed. "Ha! You don't BELIEVE in drugs?! And some people still BELIEVE the Earth is FLAT!" he shot back with disgust. I was livid. I wanted to call him a patronizing, pompous prick. I wanted to say I wish I hadn't wasted my afternoon on a clueless, condescending quack like him. I wanted to tell him that the 1970s called and wanted their tacky ornaments and paintings back. That IKEA called and said they have lots of shelving for his books and all he needs is an allen key. Instead I told him that that was NOT a fair comparison. It has been scientifically PROVEN that the Earth is round. It has NOT however been scientifically proven that drugs work for mental illness. Not by a LONG SHOT. It's hit and miss. And sometimes the misses are disastrous. The commercials speak for themselves - for every drug on the market there are a host of possible side effects that are potentially WORSE than what they're trying to cure. Pharmaceutical companies profit off anguish and desperation. It's still just guess work. And I'd rather not offer my brain up as a guinea pig to some smug lazy a-hole with a messy office & a prescription pad. I told him that I don't believe popping a pill is the solution. That I think meds are prescribed too widely and often the cure is worse than the disease. It's laziness. It's the easy answer. Put them on meds. Turn them all into mindless zombies because it would take too much time/effort/compassion to help them to feel better naturally. He was as frustrated with me as I was with him. We had reached an impasse and would have to just agree to disagree. Our time was up, thankfully. Before I left I asked if my makeup was OK or whether I bore any resemblance to Alice Cooper after crying. He seemed uncomfortable and stammered that my makeup was beautiful/perfect. "Very good makeup. You can tell you didn't get it at the dollar store!" It was possibly the weirdest, most awkward compliment I'd ever received. Judging by the decor in his office, he spent a lot of time in dollar stores. But no I had never bought makeup there. Not that my makeup is expensive. (Maybe she's born with it. Maybe it's Maybelline.) As I left his office, almost certain I was walking out of a Twilight Zone episode, I knew it would be for the last time. I would never EVER go to see him again.

When I told my doctor how awful the shrink was she apologized. "I'm sorry. He was the only psychiatrist that was available!"
"Well I can see WHY he was available." And even at that it took two months to get an appointment with him. Welcome to the mental health crisis! In fairness I'm sure there are some very good psychiatrists out there. Unfortunately the waiting list to see them is likely several YEARS long.
The cold reality is that there are a finite number of mental health professionals to deal with an infinite number of people with mental health issues. There are only so many hours in the day. Most therapists already have a long list of patients/clients that they see regularly and don't have time/room to take on any more. So you get the ones that are "available." The ones who aren't so good. The ones who aren't the pick of the litter (but more like something you'd pick out of a litter box!) Lesson learned. No more bargain basement shrinks for me! Of course I'm fortunate that because my stress is work related my psychotherapy is covered. (The term psychotherapy bothers me though I mean I am NOT A PSYCHO! Just a severely stressed out/anxious single Mom who has reached her breaking point!) I would not be able to afford to see a psychologist on my own. But she's wonderful and I'm grateful for her. One thing that the psychiatrist and psychologist agreed on: my situation is EXTREMELY STRESSFUL and no one would be able to survive my schedule without falling apart. There was some comfort in hearing that at least. The equation is pretty simple: Single Mom + stressful job + sleep deprivation = BREAKDOWN. My four hour commute was even longer in the winter. There were some days driving in the snow that I didn't know if I'd ever make it home. One night on the ice I saw a car spin out in front of me on the highway. A complete 360. Thank God he didn't hit anyone but it scared me to death. I drove home white-knuckled, heart-pounding. But chronic stress, coasting on caffeine and cortisol had become my new normal. I tried to just take it one day at a time but there were many days I didn't know how I'd get through. A sense of humour is a survival mechanism. Unfortunately some days even THAT was out of reach.

While Mama was falling apart at least Michelle was happy and healthy mostly -- except for a cold/cough that she'd had pretty much since she started school in September. I didn't bother taking her to the doctor because I figured there's not much you can do for a cold anyway (and I tried to NOT be like my hypochondriac Mom who dragged us to the doctor for every sniffle.) A few Moms at Michelle's school suggested I take her to get checked out though and sort of guilted me into it "What?! You haven't taken her to the DOCTOR?" (Mom guilt gets me every time. I try to do all the right things for Michelle & I can't bear to think I'm doing something wrong where she's concerned!) So I took her just to get the other Moms off my back and to be reassured that yes she's fine, just a sniffle. It gave me some peace of mind though having taken her.

Having a cold never seemed to slow Michelle down. She was still full of energy and wanting to run amok. I couldn't understand how she did it. I was dragging myself around like a zombie, barely alive and she was like the Energizer Bunny wanting to GO GO GO! I wish I had even a fraction of her energy. She wanted to hang around after school to play with her friends whenever she could (there were many days I had to pick her up early and make the long trek to Grandma's and work so on the days when I didn't have to work she wanted to hang around.) I would sigh and stand there waiting, feeling like I was going to collapse. At least I got to talk to some of the other Moms. So often I feel completely isolated where I am. I don't have a social life. I don't date. The only interaction I have with other adults is at work (which is a stressful place to be.)

Michelle loves to play in the snow. She wanted to make a snowman. It wasn't packing snow but we improvised this little guy. I hate the snow and cold. I grit my teeth and bare it for her sake. Counting the seconds until we can go in get a hot chocolate and warm up. I have a hard time saying no to Michelle when she asks me to play -- even when I don't really have time or energy I force myself because I want to make her happy. Seeing her smiling and laughing is the highlight of my life, even as I'm frowning and crying inside and stressed to the max.

"Mama pull me on the sled!" So of course I do but it knocks the life out of me. Michelle weighs 50 lbs now. With her winter coat and boots somehow it feels like 100 lbs (especially when she falls asleep in the car and I have to carry her up the stairs to bed -- it nearly kills me every time!) So pulling her on the sled is hard on my arms, back, lungs, everything. I run around in a circle pulling her behind me. She's laughing hysterically. All of a sudden the sled feels light because she's fallen off and is in a ball in the snow laughing. "Again, Mama! AGAIN!"
"Well that's easy for you to say! But it's hard on Mama. I can't even breathe!"
"Come on Mama! I want a free ride!"
"Well it may be free for you but I'm the one paying for it!" But it's a metaphor for our relationship. She gets a free ride where she has the time of her life laughing her head off and Mama breaks her back trying to make her happy. But I love her so I do it.
On the bright side at least I wasn't suffering with pneumonia like last winter. That was brutal. This year I managed to avoid the sniffles mostly. Somehow even with everyone getting sick around me I wasn't catching it. I had a cold for like a couple of days and it went away. I had ongoing intestinal issues (IBS exacerbated by stress. Sorry I know that's TMI!) but aside from that at least I didn't seem to be getting the obligatory winter cough and cold that I get EVERY YEAR. They say that you don't catch a cold from the cold but somehow I always did. Of course there wasn't time for me to get sick with my crazy schedule. I was just a ball of stress. Work 12 hours. Sleep 2 hours. Drive 2 hours. Repeat. Work/Barely Sleep/Drive. I was looking forward to having some time off for Christmas anyway which doesn't always happen. Theoretically I could catch up on my sleep. (Yeah, unfortunately that never happens. Even when I have time off, my brain doesn't come with an off switch. Too much on my mind. Always. As I've said before -- some people drink too much. I THINK too much!)

My little unicorn! I love this unicorn hat! When we came across it I just had to get it for her. Michelle is my happy magical little pink and purple unicorn. She is my Princess. My walking Disney movie. It's a nice contrast to the horror show that is the rest of my life. It's tough to make the shift sometimes. It's kind of surreal -- stepping from one world into the other. And I don't really have anyone to help me with the transition. I don't have a support network at work the way I used to once upon a time. I never really bonded with anyone. My boss keeps asking "Are you OK?" but then I just respond with "Still no..." And he doesn't know what to do. One day he brought us ice cream after a really awful day which was kind of nice but still doesn't really cure my chronic stress. (Still I will NEVER say no to ice cream!) Other people have a partner, friends, girls' nights out, a glass of wine, a bubble bath, something to de-stress after a trying day. I don't really have anything or time for anything. I just get home and switch to Mommy mode. Paste on a smile and try to pretend I'm not falling apart.

I love this little headband with the teeny Santa hat! Like a little elf. And this adorable Christmas kitten shirt. Michelle even got Ali to pose with her though she closed her eyes. (You can't have everything.)

Michelle and Ali were my happy place. No matter how crazy and stressful the rest of my life was I was always happy to be back home with them (even if it was only briefly before we were off again.)

Michelle was super psyched for Christmas. I had mixed feelings about it. I was looking forward to seeing her open presents and to spending time with family but it still seemed like chaos to me. Even happy chaos can be stressful when you're so exhausted you could just lie down in the middle of the floor. I basically just didn't sleep. The days I worked there were only a couple of hours available when I COULD sleep and even on my days off I could never catch up. I still lay there, my mind racing, spinning, worrying.

"Mama! Can you get me this teddy bear?!"
Hell to the NO!
"No way! He's bigger than ME! He wouldn't fit in the car! He wouldn't fit in our HOUSE! Plus he's $75! So it's a hard pass!"
Nonetheless he was super cute and it was a photo op so I was ON IT!

Michelle was happy to sit on his lap for a picture. Why buy the thing when you can just get a cute picture with it? Part of me was almost tempted to get the bear. When I'm having a rough day I could go and give him a bear hug. I used to cuddle teddy bears as a child. I sort of miss that kind of unconditional comfort. Of course I have a couple of living, breathing teddy bears -- Michelle and Ali -- to cuddle!

I felt bad when I had to work so much and had to keep leaving Michelle. When she made me a Christmas card saying that she "misst" me (while I was at work) it broke my heart. But what could I do? I have to work. As the sole breadwinner it's all me. I explained to Michelle that unless I win a lottery or something, I have to work to pay the bills. "I hope you win the lottery Mama!"
"You and me both!"

Every single time we go to Walmart Michelle wants to sit on Ronald McDonald's lap on our way out. I almost always concede. Especially if she lets me get a picture of her.

Oh to be a child again when your needs and desires are so simple and attainable. When the smallest things can make you smile and laugh! At this point in my life my needs and desires seemed so unattainable I pretty much shelved/forgot about them. I was lacking even basic necessities like getting rest. I was letting myself get so depleted there was nothing left. I was like a shell of a person. But for Michelle's sake, I forced a smile. I got good at forcing a smile. When she wasn't around I let myself cry. I didn't really have a choice. You can only hold it in so long. Crying in the car became a common occurrence. It was the one place I was alone, between being at work and being at home. The one place where I could just let go. My car saw a lot of emotion -- tears of anguish and exhaustion, stress and anger (a long commute on no sleep and dealing with other drivers.)

And then I'd be with Michelle and have to switch to Disney "happy Mom" mode. Most of the time I managed it. A couple of times I broke down. Luckily my girl is so kind and compassionate she comforted me and brought me a Kleenex. She comforted classmates at school when they were upset. I was glad that she was a kind and caring girl. At times it's almost like our roles were reversed. She had her act together. She was strong and stable. I was falling apart.

Michelle loved playing "Mama" sometimes -- pretending that she was the adult and that I was the child. That her little kitchen was the real kitchen where she would do the dishes and make supper and that I was the one playing at a toy sink and stove. She made it clear though that she did NOT want kids when she grew up because "babies are WAY too much work!" I told her they're a lot of work but they're worth it and I've never loved anyone or anything as much as I love her!

I'm so glad that Michelle loves school and is doing so well. She is (unlike me) very social and makes friends easily. In SK she made a new BFF and they're pretty much inseparable. I was allowed to come into the class one day so I took the opportunity to get a picture of Michelle and her friend in front of their class Christmas tree. I've often thought that I'd love to be a fly on the wall and watch Michelle at school. I've had a few chances to be a visitor/guest in the class on Scientist day and Career day.

It's always like pulling teeth asking Michelle what she does in school all day.
"Did you learn anything new?"
"Well what did you do?"
"I don't know." Then gradually she'll open up about things that happened. A new song they learned etc.

I had heard from her teachers that she was doing very well. Michelle is reading at a grade 2 level. She's even good at math and will randomly rhyme off addition problems & answers (and they're always right!) that she's figured out on her own.

Just as important is that she is doing so well socially. She gets along with others. I always struggled with social interaction. I was shy and found it tough to come out of my shell in a social setting. Michelle is definitely NOT shy.

And then one day I was taking Michelle's agenda and lunch bag out of her backpack and I came across this. I was FLOORED.
"Michelle! You won a CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP AWARD?!" I wish I'd been there to see her accept it in front of the whole school. I was so proud and happy I thought my heart would explode. I was proud of my girl being so clever, but this, to see that she is also exceptionally kind -- "a shining example of Gospel values" in her class and her school was possibly the most proud moment of my life! I have made so many sacrifices for Michelle -- did everything in my power to make her feel safe and loved and to help her be the best person she could be. Even if I was falling apart it was worth it to see that Michelle was doing so well. At least I had done SOMETHING right. Although I had won many scholastic awards myself in high school and university, somehow this award of Michelle's meant so much more. It pretty much trumped everything.

When I saw that May, Shane and the kids had all dressed in maroon and black, I thought it was adorable. When I heard that it was quite by accident (Shane, who usually doesn't even dress up had gone to buy a shirt and tie and had no idea what the rest of his family were wearing when he picked the colour!) I was amazed. Michelle was in her Christmas tree dress and I was wearing an "ugly Christmas sweater" with a snowman body. Because why not? The rest of the family hadn't arrived yet but I couldn't resist getting photos with them in front of their huge Christmas tree. Not as big as some years but still two stories high!

There's a fine line between tacky and cute... I think the important thing is to have fun with it. The whole "ugly Christmas sweater" thing seems to have become more popular than ever. There were a lot to choose from. And I LOVE this crazy Christmas tree dress of Michelle's. It was in her size and on sale so really I had no choice! Of course one day (in her teens likely) she will refuse to wear anything so garish (and will probably insist on name brand this and that) so I might as well enjoy this time while she's young and willing to wear fun, wacky things that I find on sale. I won't do to her what my Mom did to me: dress her in embarrassing things that make her get picked on as an adolescent. Then again, Michelle is pretty tough and assertive. I don't think she would ever get picked on. She can take care of herself. I wish I had been more like her when I was growing up! Heck I wish I was more like her NOW! I admire her confidence -- that's one thing I always lacked and it's still in pretty short supply! While I'm plagued with self-doubt, she believes in herself.

And then, the WHOLE GANG gathered for a shot. I never tire of these big group shots! Everyone knows the drill. Everyone poses as I set the timer, count down from 10 (I'm always fast by a couple of seconds) and run to get in the shot myself. This one turned out better than usual. Everyone is looking and sort of smiling.

I love my family. I am always grateful for the time I spend with them. My sister is my best friend. No one really gets me or makes me laugh the way she does.

I always take a second shot just to be sure. This time I got in the front to make it easier not having to climb over people. And this way you get to see my lovely snowman sweater! Chris is leaning on the giant Jenga set that he made for Reggie and Shannon. (We had played with one outside in the summer. The kids loved it. It is a little scary when they fall since they're big blocks of wood but no one was hurt thankfully!) Being a carpenter Chris often makes homemade gifts. He made May and I beautiful birch candle holders. I love rustic things to match my barnwood floors.

My brother Mike had called one day to ask what he should get for Michelle for Christmas. He knew that she has so many toys he didn't want to duplicate. He wasn't able to get me but he chose this adorable FurReal Polar Bear.

Michelle LOVED it! She wanted to take him out of the box right away and was cradling him like a baby and giving him his bottle. He makes little noises. It was so cute. She wanted to take it to bed though I worried it wasn't the best idea since his chattering would keep her awake. Not to mention he had a hard body not like a stuffed bear.

Michelle also loved her Zoomer Show Pony from Auntie May. Basically if there was a cute/pretty girl's toy out this year, she got it! Michelle was spoiled by the whole family!

My sister got me this sweatshirt which was frankly PERFECT for me! It's a snowman melting and it says "I'm having a meltdown!" Hilarious. Yes I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown (or already having one!) but at least I could laugh about it.

That's what I love about family and especially my sister May -- that she accepts me as I am. That I don't have to worry what she'll think. She can see me at my worst and it's OK and she helps me through it and helps me to laugh about it. I wish I lived closer to her. It's hard to be so far away from my family and to feel so isolated a lot of the time and to have to commute so far to work and child care/family. If I did win the lottery I'd want to live close to my sister and my Mom. (Unfortunately I would NEED to win the lottery to do so! Housing prices have gotten INSANE to say the least. Which is why I live so far away (because that was what I could afford.)

Michelle with Uncle Mikey and her beloved Polar Bear! When he couldn't get me on the phone he had called my Mom to ask what to get Michelle for Christmas. My Mom suggested a box of crayons and paper because she loves to draw. While she DOES love to draw that would have been a pretty lackluster gift compared to this adorable bear so I'm glad he didn't take her advice!

Michelle adored her polar bear and carried him around the rest of the day and night and for the next few weeks. She named him "Peanut" (I'm not sure why...) and treated him like he was her baby. She even asked me to watch him for her when she had to go to the washroom or something. She can be quite an attentive parent! She is fickle however and keeps changing her mind which toy/stuffie or doll is her favourite at any given time. She certainly has a lot to choose from!

Uncle Shane is quite an avid movie buff and has decorated their movie room with TV/movie collectibles -- from Pop! figurines to Lego (Ghostbusters and the Beatles' Yellow Submarine) to these large artist pieces. I think the fellow on the left is from Game of Thrones (or something. I don't watch it so I can't confirm!) but Shane gave him a Santa hat to make him a kind of horrifying Santa. We recognized Slimer right away from Ghostbusters.

How can you resist a twisted Christmas photo op? They are the colours of Christmas anyway! Red, white and green! I laughed my head off when I saw Slimer. I nearly screamed when I heard the price but he's one of a kind and Shane just HAD to have him...

As much as I love getting together with the whole fam-damily I also love the times I get to spend as a little family -- just Michelle and I (and Ali!)

It was Christmas Eve and Michelle was extremely excited. I told her she could open half her presents on Christmas Eve, the other half on Christmas and then she'd open presents from Grandma and Grandpa at their house (there were so many presents to bring that to cut down Mom left Michelle's and mine for us to open later.) The big family Christmas was before Christmas. My brother Mike and Barb alternate years to spend Christmas with their families and this wasn't Mike's year. Still we were going to be seeing Grandma and Auntie May again on Christmas day. I was beyond grateful to have Christmas off this year (which doesn't always happen. When I was forced to revert to full time in January of 2017 the up side was that at least I had my pick of vacation time for the whole year so I took a few days off each month to make it more livable. It still was NOT livable. The 16 hour shifts on no sleep were killing me but somehow I made it through the year into December, mostly intact!)

We went to Christmas Eve mass and it was BEAUTIFUL! We went early to make sure we got a seat. I love singing Christmas carols. Luckily they started them early so it filled the time. Most of them I know by heart. They played just about all of my favourites: Oh Come all ye Faithful, Silent Night, The First Noel, Angels We have Heard on High, Joy to the World. I was enjoying it. I used to go to church every Sunday but got out of the habit (especially with my crazy hectic work schedule and having to work a lot of weekends.) There never seemed to be time and the few times I had gone to mass with Michelle (for weddings, communions etc) never went well -- she was restless and acting up. Now that she was older I figured she'd be much better behaved. And she WAS but she started to lose patience and started asking when it would be over halfway through the mass.
When it was over I wanted to stick around for a bit to get some photos -- I'm a photoholic! I can't help it! The church was so beautiful and I just couldn't resist! Michelle didn't mind getting some pictures even though she couldn't wait to get home and open some presents. She was also excited about Santa coming that night. I assured her that he would but that she'd have to go to sleep because he always waits until after kids have gone to sleep. In the morning we would come down and find our presents from him under the tree. (Yes he always leaves a little something for Mama too!)

There was a dark scary staircase off to the side but we braved it to go up to the balcony for a great view and we were glad we did. Michelle was nervous at first (she's not a big fan of the dark) but then she said it was like an adventure and she was so glad she went. I even set the timer to get a picture of us. A kind lady had taken our photos earlier but now we were the only ones up in the choir loft (and hoping we wouldn't get in trouble for sneaking up there!)

I was so happy that we got to Christmas mass. Christmas is the birth of Jesus after all and it felt right to celebrate with him in church. I really should get to church more often it's just not easy. As a kid Mom dragged us every single week and it felt more like a chore and a punishment than anything. I don't ever want Michelle to feel that way about it. To me that defeats the purpose of going.

Say "Meow!" Michelle LOVES cats. Here she is snuggling with Ali and a couple of stuffed kitties to add to her already MASSIVE collection! It's a problem. If I see a stuffed cat that's cute and that she doesn't have yet I pretty much have to get it! I'm a shopaholic (really as addictions go I think mine -- shopping, taking photos, eating junk food -- are pretty forgivable! Everyone has their vices!)

Ali got a few presents too but she wasn't very good at posing. She chased after her catnip mice etc and all my shots were blurry.

Stuffies. You can never have too many. Well you probably CAN and she probably DOES but again, I can't help it! The truth is that I've always loved stuffed animals -- even before I had a child. FOR MYSELF. So now that I have a little girl to share everything with OF COURSE I am going to pick up cute stuffed animals when I see them. And she loves them. I don't think it can hurt to have lots of things to hug. I am glad that my girl is so loving and affectionate. She is always hugging and kissing me and giving me love notes (and I have been putting a love note in her school lunch every single day since she started school.) You can't love a kid too much. Hugging stuffies just makes her even more lovable and affectionate so, the more, the merrier!

I found this magic set and thought she'd like it. She was fascinated by her cousin Reggie's magic set and she always tries to do tricks even without the props. She put on a little show for me and I feigned amazement at her tricks. She didn't have the patience to read through the actual instructions for the hundreds of tricks so she just improvised. It was still cute. The set came with a plastic top hat, magic wand, trick cards, rings etc. For some reason almost all kids seem to love magic. My nephew Dan used to be into magic as a child as well. Childhood itself is magical. It's all unicorns and rainbows and fairytales and Santa Claus. Magic and wonder and adventure and fun. Then you grow up and you lose your sense of magic. You get too lost in grown up realities and responsibilities. You lose your sense of fun. There isn't time. You give up on your dreams. They call it growing up but in some ways it's shrinking... (and sometimes you wind up seeing a shrink!) As a child your imagination is boundless. As a grown up, you start seeing limits. Of course if you're lucky, you never lose your childlike sense of wonder...
Christmas morning Michelle was thrilled to see our presents from Santa under the tree. I couldn't resist getting photos even though she was still in her jammies! I wasn't able to convince her to get dressed first. She was WAY too excited!

She had asked Santa for a teddy bear (a choice which was considerably better than her original idea -- to ask Santa for the $400 pink car at Toys R Us that Mama couldn't afford! Thankfully I was able to talk her out of it because logistically it just wouldn't work on so many levels!) and was anxious to see what kind of a bear he had for her. She was quite confident it would be a bear. Santa always delivers! Santa was kind enough to give Mama some bubble bath -- inviting me to pamper myself and take a moment to breathe. Unfortunately there never seemed to be time to take him up on this suggestion. Someone at work had said the same thing, that I had to take time for myself. But when I only had a 4 hour window to even grab some SLEEP most days, a bubble bath was pretty much out of the question!

Her gift was wrapped in paper AND in a gift bag to add to the suspense. The paper said "Ho ho ho!" and the bag had a Santa face on it. When you're Santa, you might as well roll with it!

I LOVE watching Michelle open her gifts. I used to love opening my presents as a kid but watching Michelle open hers is even more fun! It's like reliving my childhood again but better because I get to be an observer and share in Michelle's joy. These moments with her melt my heart and are the perfect antidote to the stress and mess that is the rest of my life...

A teddy bear! A cute one and a very special one because she even had a dress with Michelle's NAME ON IT! Well done Santa! And even a little necklace with Michelle's name on it. I am always looking for things with "Michelle" on them and coming up empty. Her name isn't one of the common girls' names these days (Amelia seems to be a favourite -- there are like two or three Amelias in her class.) Michelle was my best friend's name when I was a kid and of course was also a play on her father's name. I decided to keep it even after he skipped out. Anyway, I love Michelle's name and I was glad that Santa was able to find/make these personalized touches for Michelle. She was very happy and surprised. He even included a little teddy bear for her favourite doll Sara...
(Santa thinks of EVERYTHING!)

I got in a few shots after we were dressed. Photos of kids in pajamas = cute. Photo of Mama in pjs (with her hair a wreck and no make up etc)? Not so cute! Maybe if I'd had cute Christmas pajames to match Michelle's I would have considered it.

Another day. Another ugly Christmas sweater! It's actually kind of cute. This time with a cat on it. And sequins. Of course. The best part is that it says "Meowy Christmas!" Because when you're sleep deprived, hanging by a thread and on the verge of a full scale mental breakdown you have to at LEAST find a way to lighten up and laugh at yourself! Plus I love cats and if I see anything with a cat on it I pretty much HAVE to buy it!

I love Michelle's reactions. She is so animated. Larger than life. Her joy and excitement is infectious!

I swear that watching Michelle open her gifts is even more fun than opening my own gifts was when I was a kid. I think. From what I remember. This just trumps everything. Even after going through so many rough days it absolutely melts my heart and makes my life to see Michelle so happy.

She really is all that keeps me going. I love her so much. And I would do just about anything to make her happy. So I am grateful that she is happy. Now we just have to work on Mama...

Michelle had asked for the Chocolate Pen. I had my doubts about it but I gave in. (My doubts were VERY WELL-FOUNDED as you will see later!) She was so happy that I got it for her. I was concerned that it wouldn't work the way it was supposed to (which of course it DIDN'T).

I have a hard time saying no to Michelle and at least it wasn't a $400 pink Cadillac so it was within the realm of possibility. To the degree that I can I try to give Michelle what she wants. Her happiness is my #1 priority. My own happiness, doesn't even make the top 10 in my priority list, based on the evidence and how little I take care of myself. In my defense there was just never time. Sometimes I felt like I was never still for more than a minute, if that. At home, I almost never sit down. There's always something to do. Even on my laptop for the few internet moments I steal, I'm standing. When not at home I'm almost always driving/working/on the move.


Michelle certainly isn't photo shy anymore (if she ever was!) Now she enjoys posing for the camera. I wanted to just snap candid shots of her opening her gifts naturally but she would ham it up and pose for me. I guess it's hard to be "natural" with the paparazzi snapping away at your every move. She is becoming quite a Diva and loves the attention so I suppose I've created a monster! As a photoholic however having a child that actually cooperates and LOOKS at the camera and SMILES is a godsend! I can't ask for better than that! Once in a while she does tire of the camera and say "Mama. Do you HAVE to take so many pictures?!" but more often than not she's as happy to be in the photos as I am to be taking them!
Pure joy! I love this face!

I didn't even notice that her bow had come undone because I was too busy looking at her happy face. This is the best gift of all for me -- just getting to watch Michelle's excitement as she opens her gifts. I remember in the past as I got older and wasn't getting toys anymore I felt like I was missing out. I would watch my younger brothers open their gifts and feel like Christmas wasn't as fun for me anymore. Now it's like I get to relive my childhood through Michelle -- her joy is mine, only magnified. I feel all her excitement. It's palpable. Someone once said having a child is like having your heart walking around outside your body. And it is -- everything that happens to them happens to you. That's why you want the best for them. That's why you want them happy and you couldn't bear to see them hurt. At least that's how I feel. She's like part of me but the most precious, most important part.

Another present she had asked for. The Hatchimals hatchery. I was a little bitter last Christmas when I wasn't able to get my hands on a "Hatchimal" because they were sold out everywhere but then I got one for her at Easter. (What better time to give someone an egg anyway?!) I have to hand it to the geniuses at Spin Master -- they have capitalized on the whole egg/surprise thing. Now they have these little mini eggs with mini collectible animals. Michelle already had a LOT of them and now she had a tree playset/hatchery thing for them. She was thrilled. It was adorable so I didn't mind getting it for her. There are so many cute toys for girls. I have a hard time saying no to something cute. I think I have as much fun buying collectibles for Michelle as she does playing with them!

And then it was on to Grandma and Grandpa's house for Christmas #2 (or #3?) Michelle and I opened our gifts from Grandma and Grandpa because with our huge family there wasn't room for everyone's presents in the car at the big family get together so we decided to leave ours for later. Plus it gave us something to look forward to when all the chaos was over with at Auntie May's.

We were heading to Auntie May's again afterward to celebrate my Dad's birthday as well. Michelle certainly wasn't complaining about having so many Christmas celebrations. And she always loves visiting with family. It was tough to tear her away from her new toys though.

Auntie May in her adorable Mrs. Claus outfit! So cute! She didn't keep it on too long. It was just for the photo. Their house is always so warm you have to roll up your sleeves or wear a t-shirt. Michelle had a ball at Auntie May's and I always love visiting at my sister's place.

Chris and Mike had already given dad his birthday presents at the Christmas celebration. Having your birthday near Christmas you wind up having them both lumped in together but at least Dad got a separate celebration with May and I. Dan and Julie were there as well. We had a blast talking and laughing at dinner. Shane made a brisket which was BEYOND DELICIOUS but my Mom's compliments were awkward to say the least. She told Shane "This is so tender you could eat it WITHOUT ANY TEETH!" We laughed our heads off at that but it got even better (worse!)

My Mom told Shane that he's such a good cook he should get a job cooking the last meal for death row inmates! I know she meant well (that you would want your last meal to be the best ever!) but it just sounded wrong on so many levels and we all nearly died laughing. I had to run to the washroom before I wet myself. Then I was telling Dan and Julie about Mom's hoarding and how she has so many random things you could name just about ANYTHING on Earth and she probably has one. She's been preparing for the Apocalypse even before Y2K (and that was a big nothing burger after all!)
"An axe?" Julie asked.
My Mom replied "Yes. Beside my bed." (WHAT?! Don't even ask!)
"A raft?" Dan asked.
"Yes," Mom said, "but only one oar." (So when the deluge comes, she'll float away but can only go in a circle?) No matter how bad life gets I can count on my family to make me laugh!

You know those #Fail photos you see when someone attempts to make something and it turns out NOTHING like the original photo? Yeah. So one day Michelle talks me into trying her new Chocolate Pen. Sure. I mean how can you go wrong with chocolate? Well you can, go very VERY wrong. I wanted to fling that chocolate pen across the room. It didn't work. I melted the chocolate I put it in the stupid pen and it just wouldn't squeeze out properly. It was a fiasco. So we had to instead just awkwardly smush the melted chocolate with our fingers into the molds. On top of that the blue chocolate was missing. By the end of the failed experiment I was pretty stressed but stressed backwards spells DESSERTS and at least there was chocolate to cheer me up! I was mad that the pen was crap though and wound up returning it as defective. I'm not a big fan of baking in general which is probably for the best or I'd weigh 1000 pounds. When there are sweets around it's very hard for me not to eat them!

Well, it was a rough go but I did it! I survived Christmas! Got through December, got through 2017. There were quite a few moments I didn't think I'd make it.

Of course 2017 was a tough year for a lot of people. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to call it an apocalyptic year. I decided to do a blog about it (the post just before this one: "2017 had its moments -- all of them bad!) I thought it would be good to take a more global perspective for a change except that it got out of hand. The more that I researched, the more I wanted to include. I knew that there were a lot of natural disasters and tragedies but I only knew the tip of the iceberg. There were so many stories to share and it became overwhelming. I don't know how I even found the time (insomnia helped!) but somehow I did it. And it was therapeutic in a weird way to get it all out.

And then it was New Year's Eve. I spent it with my Mom and Michelle. 2017 was a tough year. I was hoping that 2018 would be much better on a personal and a global level. Both myself and the planet were pretty stressed out! I was hoping we would all find peace. Sure. Could happen!

I took my parents out to dinner and then we just hung out at my Mom's to watch the ball drop in NYC on TV. Even though we weren't going anywhere fancy Michelle loves any opportunity to dress up and we all dressed up in silver. I got some goofy props -- hats, glasses, etc -- to add to the photos. I am a photoholic after all. I've never done anything too exciting on New Years. Even when I was in a relationship and tried going to events and parties it was usually a huge disappointment. Sometimes the best New Year's is just staying home with the one(s) you love...

My Mom had fun with the silly poses too. Here she's laughing her head off. I couldn't believe she had shiny silver pants! (Then again I should have expected it because she does have one of everything on Earth! Including one oar for her inflatable life raft!)

You would never know my Mom is in her 70s. She looks like a young girl. I love this picture of Mom and Michelle. They're just crazy.

Such a DIVA! This is a great shot of my little party girl! So cute. I used a sparkly blanket I had as a backdrop for our photo shoot. It worked pretty well except when it would fall down between shots. I loved the pictures of Michelle and my Mom but I wasn't a fan of any of the shots of me. To me they were too close up and I look TIRED. Of course I WAS tired, as always but you don't want to LOOK tired.

I wanted to celebrate 2018. To commemorate the fact that 2017, one of the worst years ever, was over and that we had gotten through it.

The New Year always feels like a clean slate, a fresh start, a chance to get it right. Unfortunately my problems weren't just magically going to go away.

Glamour shots! Can you believe this pose?! This is her coy Princess pose. Complete with tiara! I think of people standing for hours in Times Square, shivering, waiting for the ball to drop to count down the seconds to midnight and on some level I think yes, it would be epic to do that some day, to be at the center of it all. Still, I think I'd rather be inside where it's warm and cuddling and laughing with my little girl to welcome the New Year. I wasn't sure I'd be able to stay up until midnight but I did. We hugged and kissed and said "Happy New Year" and my Mom and I sang "Auld Lang Syne."

Happy New Year! Welcome 2018!

So here we are. I'd like to say that the year is off to a good start (as I finish this it's already mid-February! Time flies!) but it has actually been pretty rocky so far. The bad news is that my problems didn't miraculously disappear in January (Some of them even got worse!) so I was still a stressed out (sleep deprived, running on less than empty) mess. The good news is that I'm working on it... I'm finally taking better care of myself (or trying at least.) But I'll save those details for the next blog post about Jan-Feb... Which at this rate will be done in April...?