Thursday, September 20, 2018

Who are you?

"Who are you?" the therapist asked one day near the end of our session. Before I could answer her question with a question or say something facetious she added, "I mean who are you when you're NOT a Mom, sister, daughter, employee etc... Who are you REALLY, inside? That's your homework." My homework so far had mostly been reading, filling out Thought Records, exercises for challenging intrusive and unhelpful thought patterns (which I had a LOT of!), deep breathing and meditation exercises, exploring my values etc. This was the most deep and philosophical question so far. Who am I? Did I even know? When people ask who you are your reflex is usually to answer with your given name and your occupation. But is the name someone else gave you and what you do for a living really the sum of who you are? What else defines you? Gender, marital status, citizenship, culture, religion? Categories and groups you fit into? Now that I'm a Mom it's the first thing I would say. I'm a Mom. I'm a Single Mom. But she asked who I was OTHER than being a Mom etc.

We play so many roles and may define ourselves by them but who are we, independent of our external definitions or our relationships to others? What is the spirit, the essence of you? I thought about it. First I made a list of all the external I ams... a Mom (daughter, sister and all my other relationships to others), a woman, Canadian, Catholic, etc. I filled two pages double sided with all of the roles I play, categories I fit into. They were all me but not me. Who I am, the spirit inside exists independent of anything else. When all else falls away I am the spirit. I am my character, my personality, my unique collection of quirks and emotions and abilities, my experiences, my passions.

Then I realized I don't even have to add to "I am" -- it stands on its own. Who am I? I AM! It was an epiphany. We put ourselves in these boxes. We categorize. We label. We think so small. But who we REALLY are is limitless and eternal. So I made a list of who I am in spirit. My qualities, character, essential being. Instead of just writing it out I made a watercolour painting of it. I used the four elements and the seven chakras. I am a child of God. I am an eternal spirit. I AM. There was so much peace and freedom in that because if I just AM, if who I truly am doesn't depend on any individual role it takes the pressure off. I don't have to feel bad or feel like I'm not good enough or that I'm failing at anything. If you are more than just these roles and you don't have to define yourself by them then you can feel free and powerful and know that any problems you face are just temporary. You are eternal. You are the spirit inside. No matter what I've been through and mistakes I've made; no matter if I feel broken and uncertain; any problems that I face are TEMPORARY. I am eternal. I AM. And no one and nothing can take that from me. It was a powerful realization. If only I could hang on to it.

I tend to be VERY hard on myself. My inner critic is far more scathing than anyone else could be to me. As a student I was a type A personality and pushed myself to get straight As. I took my role as a student seriously. I had to be the BEST student. My parents never had to push me to work hard, to do my homework, to get A's. I pushed myself. While I did get good grades and win awards I often made myself miserable. It's like I never felt good enough and nothing could fill the void. I would push myself to write the perfect essay, to ace the test, to get a high grade, to win an award. But then what? When I graduated, the "real world" was a cruel slap in the face. In school you could work hard and get your gold star or A. But in the real world no one gave a damn. When I was looking for work I had some employers tell me not to put my education and awards on my resume because it made me seem overqualified, like I wouldn't be challenged. I was proud of my academic success but no one cared and the entry level jobs I was applying for weren't interested. I dabbled in a variety of jobs. The career I inevitably ended up in for almost two decades was quite unexpected. It didn't seem like a fit for someone with my temperament but I thought I'd try it. It was challenging and stressful but I had a network and social life outside of work to keep me balanced. I tried not to define myself just by my job (where I felt like a square peg in a round hole) but also as a friend/girlfriend/artist -- all of the things I was outside of work. Somehow I always felt like a bit of a failure in every role I played. Despite being told I was good at my job, I often felt like I wasn't enough and I never fit in. Most of the people in my job seemed to be tough as nails. I was decidedly NOT. I was far from bulletproof. If anything I was more sensitive than the average person. Outside of work, I felt like a failure in relationships (it didn't help that I seemed to gravitate toward relationships that were doomed to fail!) I painted but I wasn't really an artist. I wrote songs but I wasn't really a songwriter (not a professional one anyway.) I had these hobbies but they were just hobbies. I loved to write but I wasn't a writer. I had a few poems published when I was younger but fear of rejection kept me from ever sending anything out again. There wasn't really any aspect of my life where I felt confident or in control. I mostly felt like a failure at everything. Although a certain amount of humility is necessary -- to keep you grounded and striving for better, constantly beating yourself up and suffering from low self esteem is not healthy. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You feel like a failure so you fail. You don't even try. You don't live your life fully. Becoming a Mom was my most important role and I strove to be the best Mom I could be. Hearing Michelle say that I'm the "Best Mama in the world" is wonderful but somehow I still feel like a failure. I worry that I'm not good enough. At least in that respect I think I'm not alone. "Mom guilt" seems to be common. You want to do the best for your child. You love them so much. You try to give them everything. But no one can DO and BE EVERYTHING. Raising a child is tough. Especially on your own. Being a single Mom is the hardest and most important role I've ever played. I can not fail at this.

At this point as far as my career was concerned, I felt like a total failure. I had tried. I struggled. I couldn't handle it. The job was pushing me over the edge for a long time and finally broke me. Now I was in therapy, trying to heal. If you are your job/occupation, if that's all you are then what was I now? Not. A failure. Broken. Stressed. On pause. But what if who I am is not dependent on my job? I thought about who I want to be: the person I am when I'm sharing time with Michelle, when I'm doing yoga, when I'm creating art. The happy me. The creative me. The zen me. I didn't like who I was when I was stressed out and angry and anxious, worrying about everything. I didn't like who I had become in my job. Of course we are not one dimensional. There are many sides to us and we need to accept all of them. I am the sum of my feelings and thoughts and actions. I am good and bad, yin and yang.

My therapist loved my painting. Whenever she gave me homework I tried to do it to the best of my ability (the student in me coming out!) She said some clients/patients don't even do their homework. It never occurred to me that that was an option. The homework was part of my therapy and I wanted to do everything I could to get better. I usually found a creative way to do it (the artist in me coming out!) Painting again felt good.  For so long I hadn't done anything creative. There simply wasn't time. Art can be a form of therapy. It was relaxing. I started to use it as a sort of meditation and did a series of zen lotus paintings -- Yoga, Namaste, I am. I felt calm while I was doing them and when I looked at them. Unfortunately the rest of the time life was still there to stress me out. Picasso said "Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." But sometimes there is a LOT of dust!

Then one day I decided to watch "The Secret." I got the DVD and the book over a decade ago. It came out in 2006. When I first watched it, and read it, it seemed so powerful. I was fascinated by the Law of Attraction. I realized that for much of my life I had been negative and had been attracting the negative. What if I tried to be positive instead? Maybe good things could happen for a change. For a while I was using the Secret and it was magical. I made a vision board and actually started to attract a lot of the things that I wanted. I got a part in a film, put out a CD called "Magnetic," lived out a lot of my dreams. Things kept happening that were quite unexpected. I started to believe in myself and really go after what I wanted. I got my dream car, met my dream man. Unfortunately, doubt and cynicism began to set in. Life isn't perfect and when things went wrong it was hard to keep being positive. Inevitably it all fell apart. It seemed there was always too much negative and the positive didn't stand a chance against it. After a while I pretty much gave up on the Secret. Now, all these years later I thought I'd watch it just for fun. Just as a sort of "Alternative Thought." The movie stresses how you can attract anything you want if you just ASK -- tell the universe what you want, BELIEVE -- have faith that it will come to you and RECEIVE -- visualize already having it and feel grateful about it. It all sounds lovely but when you're sort of broken and hanging by a thread it can be harder to get yourself into that mindset. It feels like a lie. It's hard to believe. At the part where they say "Start with something small. Make it your intention to attract a cup of coffee today" I said out loud "Yeah. OK. Someone will randomly bring me an iced capp. Sure. Could happen." I didn't really believe it. I was sort of being sarcastic. I had no social life. I barely talked to anyone aside from my Mom on the phone and she didn't even have a car so she sure wouldn't be bringing me an iced capp. I could go get one myself but that's not really the same. The odds of someone suddenly bringing me an iced capp were slim to none. But then something REALLY weird happened...

An old boyfriend that I hadn't heard from in a year or so randomly called me up. He asked how I was doing. "Uhhhh...Well. Not very good actually. I had a breakdown and I'm on stress leave from work." There was a long silence. He wasn't expecting that! I'm an open book. I wasn't going to pretend everything was OK just to impress an old flame. Finally he replied "I'm sorry to hear that. I hope you're OK." Apparently he was going to be in town later that day and he asked if he could pop by for a visit. TODAY? OMG. The house was like a bomb hit it. I certainly hadn't been expecting company. I never have company. But somehow I couldn't say no. He said he'd be there in a couple of hours. I had two hours to transform the house from the apocalyptic state it was in to an actual presentable livable home. I didn't know if it could be done. I was almost going to say I'd changed my mind and it was a monumentally bad idea when he said: "I'll stop at a Tims on the way. Do you want an iced capp?" OMG. Suddenly I got a chill down my back. Seriously?! What were the odds?! Someone was suddenly BRINGING ME AN ICED CAPP just like I'd said! So weird! The Secret was working. That was FAST! Now I was wishing I'd asked for a lottery win!

He was going to be there in a couple of hours. I raced around like a maniac to clean and tidy the house. I got a wicked headache on the left side of my head. It was blinding. I wondered if it was a migraine. What the hell was I doing? I spent most of my days trying to avoid stress and now I was inviting it. Literally. Stress (in the form of an ex boyfriend) was coming to my friggin house. This was ridiculous. Why didn't I say no? No would have been so much easier! I didn't want to see him. The last time I'd seen him was at my Mom's one day when he was in town and called me up. He popped by for a visit. It was after I'd worked a 16 hour dayshift on no sleep and I looked and felt like Hell. He told me I looked "tired." A-hole! Do not tell a woman she looks tired, even if she does! He told me to call him sometime to go for a coffee (or iced capp.) I decided it would be a cold day in Hell before I ever called him. And I didn't. Now he was calling me. Out of the blue. Because I said to the universe "Someone will bring me an iced capp." And the universe responded. He just happened to be heading to my neighbourhood that day. Maybe he wouldn't have called me but the universe nudged him. "Hey that's Ann Marie's neck of the woods. You could drop by and see her. Maybe she won't look so tired this time. Bring her an iced capp."

So he came over, iced capp in hand. Michelle had been excited to meet him. I told her he was an old boyfriend and now we were just friends and he was just popping by to say hello. It was evening and past her bedtime by the time he arrived. So after a brief introduction she went upstairs. She wouldn't settle down. I could still hear her. My visitor and I sat on the couch and talked. We talked about life, work, stress. He said it was good that I was finally taking some time to take care of myself. He told me how beautiful I looked, how sexy I was. I argued that I was anything but. I was tired and looked like Hell and I was sweating from running around the house trying to clean and tidy and vacuum etc. I'm too honest. I've got no game. I didn't feel attractive. I wasn't trying to be attractive. He laughed and said I worry too much. He leaned in for a kiss. I didn't feel comfortable. I felt guilty. I told him my daughter is just upstairs and isn't even asleep yet. I'm not making out with a guy when she's just upstairs and could come down at any moment (and likely would make some excuse to.) I realized then that my chances of ever actually having a romantic relationship were less than ZERO. Because Michelle would ALWAYS be there and I would never feel comfortable having a man in the house unless it was strictly platonic. I also realized the feelings I had for him once upon a time (I was gaga over him when we dated a long long time ago before he flew across the world and broke my heart) were not the same now. He was older. He was different. More importantly, I was older. I was different. I'm not the girl who needed to define herself as someone's "girlfriend." Now I was a Mom. That was far more important. I didn't feel that void I used to feel that I needed a man in my life. I told him that it wasn't a good idea. That I'm fragile and the last thing I need is to be toyed with. I don't want that kind of drama. He was never the most reliable sort. The truth was I just really wasn't feeling it. He whispered "Don't you miss this?" as he kissed me. I pushed him away. The truth was I didn't. I'm like a camel. I've gone 7 years without sex. I can go 7 more or forever if I need to. It's not a big deal. It was kind of empowering to reject him. He wanted me and I was like "Meh." This was one of the most handsome men I had ever met in real life. I was head over heels for him back in the day. Now he was just a middle aged man on my couch and I was like, "Nah." He gave me his number/address and told me to call him/visit him someday which I never did. I mean it would be nice to have a friend. It's not like I have many. (Or any, outside of family.) But I questioned his intentions. And I don't have time for BS. Still, it felt good to have a man's attention again. To feel like a "woman" again rather than just a "Mom." It had been a long time. I used to get hit on all the time when I went out. Now it's been years. Of course I don't go to bars or anything anymore. Unless someone happens to hit on me at Walmart or the park, it's not happening! The attention was nice. Still, it was drama that I didn't need. I've got 99 problems but a man ain't one! I need time to heal and get myself together. The last thing I need is to embark on a relationship(wreck). Especially one that already sank like the Titanic a long time ago. He obviously wanted to be more than friends (he probably wanted to be friends with benefits but I don't do that.) Now that I'm a Mom, Michelle is my top priority. So no, I don't have time for that. It was cool to have someone randomly bring me an iced capp though right after thinking it! That was sort of spooky. Thoughts can become things. If only I could think positive more often. I wish I wasn't a worrier.

I wish I could be the Zen version of me. I want to be the person I am when I'm doing yoga. Calm, strong, balanced. If only I could hold onto that feeling. But of course you can't do a headstand or a lotus when you're stuck in traffic. In the rest of my life I don't feel calm or strong or balanced. I often feel like a mess. I'm working on it. You can't always find your zen. Things go wrong. Even though I go out of my way to avoid stressful situations and to do the things that make me happy, life happens. You can't avoid all stress. I don't watch the news but I still hear things. I spend most of my time at home but even there things go wrong. And I worry. What am I doing? What does the future hold? I want to be the best Mom for Michelle. Can I do that? Can I be strong for her even when it feels like I'm falling apart?

Time was flying. Even on the stressful days. I couldn't believe it was May already. It was insane. Almost half a year had gone by. I would have thought I'd be "better" by now, have things figured out by now, be settled by now. Not so much. I was still a work in progress and taking it one day at a time. Michelle was what kept me going. I was so grateful to have time with her.

This is a little late. Yes this post is about May and June. I started it in July. I was hoping to finish it before the end of August but here we are in mid-SEPTEMBER and I'm still working on it!) Part of me thinks I should just stop writing this blog because I reveal too much and it's hard to find the time but then this is so therapeutic for me and my way of working through things. I need it. Even if no one reads it (thank you to those who do!) it is for me. It is my diary/record of my experiences. Socrates said "the unexamined life is not worth living." I find it rewarding to examine my life. To relive it in this way. It helps me to look back and see the positive instead of focusing on the negative. I have so many photos and they are always my happy moments. I don't take pictures of my bad moments. As part of my therapy I was trying to have as many happy moments as possible. To literally and figuratively "Go to my happy place." To stay distracted from the distressing and uncomfortable aspects of my life. At least now that the weather was good we could get out and breathe fresh air again. Spring had barely started but Michelle and me were already dreaming of Summer. We went to the beach. We were just about the only ones there. The palm trees weren't there yet. They usually arrive at the end of May. There were just the stumps of last year's trees. I was trying to find my zen -- doing yoga every day, going for massages, learning relaxation techniques. Going to the beach was another way to find peace. The beach is my happy place. Michelle loves it too.

My girl and me! She wanted to go in the water. I told her it would be ICE COLD. It was really too soon to be going to the beach but I figured we could still play in the sand and listen to the waves. The beach, like yoga, art and music helps me find my zen. Again I wish I could bottle that feeling. Just close my eyes and be there. Somehow visualizing is never quite the same as the real thing. Listening to the waves on the shore is one of the most soothing sounds on Earth.

Flowers blooming are one sure sign that Spring has arrived. In the Fall last year Michelle's school was selling bulbs instead of chocolates. I was relieved because at least I wouldn't have to worry about gaining 10 lbs eating a case of chocolate this time but I worried that my tulips wouldn't even grow. I've never had tulips before. I wasn't sure if I'd planted them correctly. You really don't know until Spring comes. I was happy to see them coming up.

It's amazing how the world renews itself. After the dead of Winter, everything buried under the snow, somehow life finds a way, they push through the darkness and bloom.

I had been through a very dark period. Maybe I could find my way out of it too and blossom someday. Some days it's easier to believe than others.

A trip to the park, finally getting some fresh air can do wonders for your spirit when you've been cooped up for so long during a cold, dark, brutal winter. Especially one where you've been dealing with so much emotionally/mentally. It felt like I could finally breathe again. Michelle was excited to go to the park too. The trees were still looking pretty bleak and barren but we'd be surrounded by green again soon enough. The weather had been so strange. From bitter cold and icy to warm from one day to the next so you never really knew if you could trust the good weather. I decided to take the chance and put my boots away. It was sandal weather and I was not going back. People never knew quite what to do. You might see someone in a parka and boots and someone in shorts and sandals on the VERY SAME DAY. Once I committed to it being Spring though, the winter coat and boots were packed away and they were NOT coming out again, no matter how cold it got!

It always amazes me how Michelle can make friends absolutely everywhere we go. Of course she's a child and it's easier than it is for adults but even as a child I was shy. I never made friends so easily. Michelle can talk to anyone. She's so confident, extroverted, the opposite of an insecure introvert like me. I'm glad she's different. I'm glad that she won't have to go through a lot of the struggles that I went through. It will hopefully be much easier for her in school, in life, in relationships and work.

April showers bring May flowers. Of course it still rained in May. The rain never dampened Michelle's spirit. Rain or shine she could find the beauty in each day. It's a good way to be. Again, I could learn a lot from her! But it just seems to be in her nature to be happy. I wish I was like that. I have to work at it. The negative emotions seem to come more naturally to me, happiness is more of an effort. It's always so fragile and so conditional. It can disappear so easily as soon as there's something to worry about (which is almost always!)

Michelle wanted to "save the worms." We'd seen worms on the sidewalk. Sometimes she'd see dead ones dried out in the sun and I'd explain that they come out of the ground in the rain then some of them get stuck on the sidewalk and dry out when the sun is out again. So she decided to save the worms on the sidewalk by picking them up and putting them back on the grass. It was cute (and sort of disgusting.) I thought it was sweet of her and let her do it for a while but after being in the rain a while I said OK that's more than enough worm saving for one day! I'm glad that she's a sweet, caring girl with such a big heart. Gentle even to the smallest of creatures. And as much as she is a Princess she is still down to earth enough to like digging in the dirt and touching worms!

I was thrilled to see the tulips growing! Of course I had chosen pink. After months of grey, seeing a hint of green and pink was soothing to the soul. I remembered the Hans Christian Andersen quote: "Just living is not enough... One must have freedom, sunshine and a little flower." There is something so comforting about flowers. They are magical, otherworldly, perfect. It's no wonder that people give them for gifts or send them to you to get well. They give you hope. They remind you that life is beautiful, even on the most difficult of days. You have to look for the beauty. Sometimes it's hard to find. The world has gone to Hell in many ways. It's relentless. Fires, floods, disasters, violence, pain, despair. You can't focus on that. That is the dark side of humanity. The bright side is when we focus on the beauty of Nature. When we find what is good within us. When we find our oneness, compassion, joy, love.
Michelle did a portrait of her and I. I loved her artwork. It was interesting how her style started to change and evolve over time with more details.

The world Michelle created was beautiful -- all smiles and sunshine and rainbows. Full of love and hope and magic. We should all get to live in that world. I am grateful that I get to live in it, at least some of the time, with her. Seeing the world through Michelle's eyes helped to counteract the dark and hopeless view I sometimes had. Work had been such a dark place. Now with some time away from it I could try to see the bright side of life again.

Michelle is always telling me she loves me, hugging me, writing me love notes. I never tire of it. I know that some people aren't affectionate or demonstrative. I can't imagine being that way. I think the world as a whole needs more love and affection. Maybe the world wouldn't be as messed up as it is if everyone every day hugged someone and told them they loved them. I think most of the anger, hatred and pain in the world stems from people who don't feel loved. I'm grateful for Michelle. I have never loved someone so much or felt so loved. Being a Mom is the best thing that ever happened to me.

The flowers continued to bloom. Tulips and daffodils. I'd admired bulb flowers in peoples' gardens before but never had them myself. I was glad that Michelle's school was selling them or I wouldn't have ever bought them on my own. I was always intimidated by the bulbs for some reason. It seemed strange to me -- these packages of strange looking pods that you plant in the ground in Fall not even knowing if they'd actually grow or not. I worried I'd mess it up somehow. I tend to doubt myself. Even over the silliest things. I remember one guy that I dated was the opposite. He bought a car, a standard, before he even got his license. "How do you know you can even drive it?!" I asked him. No one in my family could drive standard so I never even tried. I learned on an automatic.
"If other people can do it, I can do it." he reasoned, "I'm at least as smart as everyone else." It was the opposite of me. He was confident and an optimist. I was insecure and pessimistic. I felt incompetent and doubted myself. I always assumed I couldn't do things. Even successes (in school etc) didn't eliminate the self-doubt.

Michelle loved piano. I was happy to be able to get her piano lessons. It was something I'd always wanted as a child and never had. It was exciting to see her start to read music, recognizing notes on the staff. Even though I'd been playing guitar for years I never learned to read music. I just learned the basic chords and never really progressed from there. Michelle was excited that she knew something I didn't. She knew a lot of things I didn't of course. Like how to be happy, enthusiastic and resilient all the time. She was my inspiration. Of course she didn't have the stresses and responsibilities I had.

While I was working Michelle saw Gramma and Grampa A LOT because they're my child care. Now that I was off work we didn't see them as often but we made sure to visit now and then. Michelle loves her grandparents and made them a card to say she'd missed them.

I wish I lived closer to my Mom and Dad and my sister. They are my lifeline and I feel pretty isolated where I am. Unfortunately (barring a lottery win or something!) I can't afford to live in that neck of the woods.

It's tough being on my own without a partner, without my family in town, without a social network. It's one of the reasons I go online, on Twitter and on my blog. It's a small way that I can sort of connect with people around the world briefly. As alone as I may be or feel sometimes, it helps to know that there are people out there who can relate to me in little ways.

Of course I'm never actually alone. I have the sweetest little girl in the world and her love is what keeps me going no matter what. But sometimes you need to talk to someone who isn't 5 years (going on 6 years) old. Talking to my sister on the phone and seeing my therapist once a week helped me to keep it together. I was trying to be happy. Even my therapist said it's not realistic to expect to be happy ALL THE TIME. No one is. No matter how good they may be at faking it. It's natural and healthy to experience a range of emotions, many of which are negative. It's just a matter of being able to deal with the unpleasant ones when they arise.

I love flowers. They're like these gorgeous little alien beings. I envy their peaceful existence. They don't have to worry about anything. Just sit in the sun and look beautiful. A pretty sweet life. Seeing flowers grow after such a dark, barren, brutal winter did my heart good.

I was happy to see the daffodils coming up. I'd never had daffodils before. I wasn't sure if I'd planted them right. It's weird to be sticking this onion-looking thing in the ground in the Fall and just trusting that it's going to grow in the Spring. But somehow it does. Daffodils are flashy. Such a showy, extravagant flower. I can almost hear them say "TA-DAH!" like they are the show-stoppers of any garden. Of course in mythology the daffodil is Narcissus -- the god so in love with his own reflection that he couldn't love anyone else and died to be reborn as this beautiful flower. I would love to have a big garden like I used to. Of course it's a lot of work and expense but it is so soothing to be around flowers.

My little unicorn!

One day her school was having an open house. There was a big school assembly earlier in the day but Michelle said that she wasn't part of it or anything so we agreed I didn't need to come for that. I also told her I had errands to run that day so I would just come to her class for a few minutes at the end of the day to visit with her for a bit before the bell went.

Unfortunately Michelle didn't remember that. Apparently other parents had gone to the assembly because they had older kids involved in it. Michelle was upset that other parents were there and I wasn't. She kept watching for me and being disappointed I wasn't there. So when I finally showed up at the end of the day, instead of being glad to see me she was pouting and angry.
"You weren't here!" she accused, exasperated, "I thought you weren't coming!" Her eyes were welling up with tears. I felt awful. "But I'm HERE NOW!" I reminded her, "and instead of being happy to see me you're complaining? I told you I was just coming for a few minutes before the bell!" "I forgot!" she told me. I finally managed to calm her down and she hugged me and was glad I was there. Some parents weren't able to go at all. Michelle was disappointed that I'd missed her singing a song with her class so the teacher had them perform it again. I held it together while I was at the school but after we got home I went off for a minute to cry. I try to do everything for Michelle but sometimes it feels like it's never enough. I want to be the perfect Mom and to make her happy, to be strong for her and someone she can look up to. And lately it just seemed like I was a failure. And being a Mom is more important to me than anything. No matter what else I may have done wrong in my life. I HAVE to get this right.

I thought that I was supposed to be happy and that if I wasn't that there was something wrong with me. My therapist insisted that it's not normal or possible to be happy all the time, nor should you try. She introduced me to Susan David's work. David had a TED video where she talks about Emotional Agility. I loved her line "Life's beauty is inseparable from its fragility." I loved that she referred to the "tyranny of positivity." It was a sharp contrast to most of the self-help, positive thinking books out there. We always think we SHOULD be this or that. We strive to be positive/happy/perfect/so-called normal. We set ourselves up to fail. Some of us should ourselves to death! We feel like we SHOULD be happy and positive all the time but that's not realistic. It's not healthy to try to stifle your negative emotions. It doesn't work. It also isn't healthy to wallow in them. To be resilient and emotionally agile you have to accept ALL of your emotions and work through them. It was liberating to think that I don't have to be perfect/happy/positive all the time because realistically NO ONE IS. Life is difficult and it is natural to respond with a range of emotions. Your negative feelings aren't all bad. Very often they are signs that a change is needed. After seeing Susan David's video I ordered her book and I LOVED it. I wrote a review for it on Amazon:

Click here for my review of Emotional Agility on Amazon

Michelle and me LOVED the movie "Ferdinand." We'd seen it in the theatre and got it on DVD. It's about a bull who doesn't want to fight. He wants to stop and smell the flowers. It's adorable and has a beautiful message: to be who you are, instead of being forced to be what you're expected to be. Among the bonus features on the DVD there were instructions for creating your own garden from an egg carton. You used the egg shells as planters and can actually put them into the ground like that. Michelle wanted to try it, so I boiled some eggs (I had a LOT of egg salad!), filled the shells with soil, planted the seeds, watered them and waited. And waited. It seemed like nothing would ever grow. Then finally we started to see a few little sprouts. When they were big enough we planted them outside. Again I was reminded of the metaphor not to give up. Even when it seems like there's no growth, no hope, you just give it time and nurturing and eventually out of the dark soil, a final hint of green...

Not having a dad in her life Michelle unfortunately is somewhat starved for male attention. She LOVES her uncle Chris and hangs off of him at family events. Then after school she was hanging off of her friend's dad. While he said he didn't mind I kept asking her to kindly not hang off of him like a monkey on a tree. I don't quite have the arm/upper body strength to swing her around like a jungle gym! I do still carry her into the house when she falls asleep in the car but it NEARLY KILLS ME!

Another day at the beach! The palm trees were still Missing In Action but it's still nice to have the water and sand. 2 out of 3 ain't bad! We pretty much had the beach to ourselves because it was still May and not exactly beach weather yet. Michelle tried to go in the water but never made it farther than her feet. It was of course ICE COLD! I was just grateful to have the sun overhead, sand in my toes and the sound of the waves on the shore. If only I could bottle those sounds and that feeling. I feel at peace at the beach.

One day Michelle was all excited that she "won the castle wall" in her class.
"The what now?"
Her teacher apologized. She said the class had created this castle wall. Then to get rid of it they had a contest/raffle for someone to take it home and Michelle was the winner. Whoopee. So now I was stuck with this MASSIVE grey painted roll of paper.
"" I said.
Her teacher told me "I told Michelle that maybe you'd have it for a few days and then have to 'put it away.'"
Put it away was a euphemism for throwing it away. I had a friend once who threw out all of her children's artwork, almost immediately after them bringing it home. She didn't like clutter. I couldn't fathom it. I had a sentimental attachment to nearly everything Michelle created. Even this large group project castle wall in a way. Even though she'd only had a small part in creating it. How could I throw it out? I decided it actually wasn't so bad. It made a good backdrop for photos. I could always put it in the basement which wasn't finished anyway and anything would be an improvement over bare insulated walls and boards. Dear Teachers: PLEASE don't give me large craft projects or I will feel compelled to keep them and then I will have even more clutter to make room for!

The Butterfly Conservatory is one of my happy places. If I ever just want to forget my worries and become immersed in another world, it's the place to go. You walk in and no matter what it's like outside, inside it is HOT. It's like walking into a tropical jungle, literally. You're surrounded by palms, hibiscus, all varieties of beautiful plants and flowers, a waterfall and of course butterflies flitting around you everywhere. It is PARADISE!

I need beauty. As humans we need certain things to survive: air, water, food, shelter. But living is more than just survival. We need love. We need beauty. We need creativity and laughter and fun. I spent so long in a dark and ugly place and it broke me. My soul was starving for light and beauty, for the brighter side of life. Beauty nourishes the soul. It makes you feel close to God.

A Blue Morpho on Michelle's finger. Not that you would know because the underside of their wings are brown with camouflage to look like eyes. I tried to get her (or him?) to open her (or his) wings for a photo but she (he) wasn't cooperating. You can't have everything. It's pretty amazing to have a butterfly light on you at all.

The staff will tell you not to touch the butterflies. You can't touch their wings or you could damage them. Also, butterflies taste with their feet. So if they're willing to sit on you they must find you sweet. They could always fly away if they weren't happy.

Michelle takes it personally when butterflies fly away from her. With something as elusive as the butterfly, I remind her how amazing it is to get their attention at all.

Another butterfly and a big smile! Photo gold. I love these moments and capturing them warms my heart. My little girl is growing up so fast and getting to hold on to moments like this means everything to me. It just goes TOO DANG FAST. Even as I type this I think of how fast the Summer went. It seems like it just started and it's over. But at this point it was still May. Summer hadn't even officially started yet.

There were many occasions coming up -- birthdays, Mother's Day. I was grateful to have this time to share with Michelle. Since she's been in my life she has become my life and I don't know how I ever lived without her.

My very brave girl holding a VERY BIG BUG! Staff asked me if I wanted to meet Mr. Bug. I said no I'm good thanks. I'll just stand over here at a safe distance and watch my daughter holding the monstrous thing.

Yes Michelle is obviously far more courageous than me. She's far more resilient than me. I wish I was more like her. She is always filled with energy and enthusiasm. She sees the beauty and magic of life. Her imagination is limitless. She's happy and confident. She believes in herself. Then there's Mama. Tired much of the time and tenuous. Scared. Plagued with self-doubt. I want to see life's magic and beauty and sometimes I do, but I'm often dragged down by disillusionment and ugliness. I'm broken. The world is broken. And sometimes I don't know how to keep it together. But these happy times, these fun adventures help to distract me from my issues. Distraction and avoidance were my main survival tools these days.

Mother's Day! Since becoming a Mom it has so much more meaning for me. Michelle is always telling me she loves me and I'm the best Mama but it's especially nice to hear it on Mother's Day.

Michelle is the best gift I could ever receive. She did make a few things for me, at school and on her own. Little love flags, cards and pictures. And wrapped up there was a board with a heart made of buttons: "Moms are like buttons. They hold everything together." It made me cry. Am I holding it together? I can barely hold myself together. But I try.

Of course we're in matching outfits again as you can see. I'd gone to Superstore with my Mom before Mother's Day. She had told me that they had matching mother and daughter outfits for Mother's Day. I looked around the store and wasn't able to find anything so I asked someone in the store who didn't know either. Then my Mom showed me the flyer and I saw this matching pattern. So I looked for it in women's wear and children's. Failing to dress up matching Mom and daughter mannequins seemed like a missed marketing opportunity to me but maybe most people aren't like me. I was thrilled to find us matching outfits. Especially for Mother's Day. So I got Michelle the dress and myself the shirt. They're not identical but close enough. I love dressing Michelle and me alike. Mom and daughter squad.

A group shot outside.

I've had my Nikon for years now and I'm attached to it but it is getting more and more distressing to see blurs across the photos where the lens is scratched. Sometimes I luck out and the blur is in a spot that doesn't matter -- just a blurry bit of background. But sometimes it's like a ghost over people's faces. It drives me crazy. Still I don't get a new camera. I'm resistant to change. Most people just use their phone as a camera. My cell is old and I can't even take photos with it anymore.

Michelle loves her Uncle Chris. She's always hanging off of him. Uncle Chris dropped a bomb on us on Mother's Day. He was getting married. Finally! When he gave me the card I hugged and congratulated him. I hadn't really read it properly. I thought it was a wedding invitation but it was a wedding #unvitation (I coined that word myself by the way so if it catches on please give me credit!) What the card actually said was that Chris and his other half were having a private ceremony that we were NOT invited to however we were welcome to join them at a public concert afterward. It was strange. Several times they'd gone on tropical vacations and I wouldn't have been surprised to hear they'd eloped and tied the knot in Jamaica or Cuba or wherever. It would be understandable that no one could go because we couldn't afford to fly to Jamaica. But now they were announcing their elopement before it happened and were getting married on a local beach (where we COULD have gone but weren't invited?) Weird. It put a damper on Mother's Day for my Mom who was heart broken and fighting back tears. It was kind of a slap in the face. Like telling her she didn't matter. She wasn't even invited to her son's wedding. At the end of the day you have to do what feels right for you, whether people like it or not. You just have to know that some people won't like it. We were a little hurt. Still, I love my brother. It is what it is.

And then there's Mom. She drives me crazy but I love her. I talk to her every day. She calls every day to make sure that I'm OK because she worries that I'm on my own. Michelle knows how to call 9-1-1 if she needed to (hopefully she never needs to!) My Mom doesn't worry about my siblings as much because they all have a partner. Someone has their back. With me, it's just me. Sometimes it's tough not having a partner. It's all me. My Mom and my sister are my lifeline. I wish I could afford to live closer to them because I do feel pretty isolated where I am.

Having time off to heal and care for myself was making a difference. My focus now was on self-care. I was doing yoga every day, writing and painting, doing things to help me relax and nourish my soul. I went for massages and the massage therapist was very kind and a good listener (it was like another psychotherapy session!) It's amazing how much stress we hold in our muscles. Having those knots worked out helped more than I could have imagined.

I had gone so long not taking care of myself at all. It wasn't even an option. There wasn't time. My schedule was crazy. On top of the traumatic stress of my job itself I had to deal with running on less than empty -- sleep deprived, unhealthy eating habits (grabbing fast food during my long commute), no exercise. I was physically and psychologically beyond broken and still kept pushing myself. Now I finally had time to take care of myself. I remember hearing a quote a long time ago: "Treating myself like a precious object will make me strong." The better care you take of yourself, the stronger and more resilient you feel. Neglecting yourself, hurting yourself with toxic habits, lack of sleep etc makes you weak. It breaks you down. No one can run on empty. You can only coast on fumes for so long until you just stop.

My Mom stresses me out a lot of the time. She is very negative. It's who she is. She catastrophizes (a habit I unfortunately picked up too!) But I still love her and I can't imagine life without her. She looks so cute here with the little bear ears and nose!

My Mom was going through health issues as well and I worried about her. It made me more compassionate toward her. She looks so good for her age that sometimes I forget that she's elderly. As much as she does drive me crazy sometimes I love her so much and I'm grateful to have her in my life.

My little Princess and me. I love these filters from Shannon's camera. They're so cute. Michelle looks like a little doll. She is my angel.

Being a Mom myself helps me to appreciate my own Mom more. Yes she made a lot of mistakes but she was trying to do what she believed was right. No one has all the answers. There are conflicting schools of thought/research on how to be the perfect parent. The bottom line is that no one is perfect. You just do the best you can. You love your child. I try to learn from my Mom's mistakes and often do the opposite, trying to give Michelle everything I didn't have. My Mom did one thing right: when she was pregnant she read to me. I believe it helped me develop a lifelong love of words and reading and I did the same with Michelle. I read and sang to her in utero and she loves reading as much as I do.

The winter is so bleak and barren. Dark, grey skies, leafless trees. Springtime with the sun shining, fresh air and green appearing everywhere helped me to feel more hopeful. It's like the world is coming back to life again and I was feeling more alive again.

I felt like I was starting to find my way. I didn't know what the future held but I was hopeful.

Unfortunately it didn't quite work the way I expected. I expected to "get better" or "be cured." To be fixed/done. Instead it's a journey of ups and downs. I would have good days and bad. Sometimes it felt like I took one step forward and two steps back. Bad days really knocked the wind out of my sails. I would become discouraged. I just wanted to be OK. I had to be OK for Michelle.

Michelle wants a man in her life. I see it. I feel it and it's devastating. I try to give her everything but that's one thing I can't give her. I refuse to let someone into our lives that isn't worthy of her and my standards are very high. I would rather not date at all than to get involved in a toxic relationship (which was almost all I ever had in the past. I'm not going there again. It's different now.) Michelle loves playing with her Uncle Chris and is always climbing all over him. Unfortunately she was also doing it with her friend's dad. "Michelle," I scolded her, "leave him alone."
He said he didn't mind but I was embarrassed by her grabbing him, hanging off of him, pestering him. Everyone else has a dad. It's hard for her sometimes. I remind her that she has a Mama who loves her VERY much. More than any other TWO parents could. But I know she'd like to have a man around. And sometimes I wish I did too. Unfortunately I feel like everyone around me is married. I seem to be the only single parent in the world (or at least my neighbourhood.)

Michelle's school was having a Walk-a-thon for charity. I decided to join her and walk around the track as I did last year. I had to get photos of Michelle of course. It was pretty tough to snap photos without photo bombers (sometimes deliberately, like this guy. It was pretty funny though!)

It was good exercise and fun to walk around with her. Michelle is so full of energy she wanted to run a lot of the time. I would have been content just to walk. I was getting winded.

The day wound up being a lot cooler than I'd expected. We'd had some really hot days but this wasn't one of them. We were actually a little chilly. I was wishing I hadn't put Michelle in shorts. I just didn't want her to be too hot. The climate has changed so much and is so out of whack you just never know what to expect. On any given day it could be unseasonably warm or cold.

The walk-a-thon ended in time for recess. Michelle didn't want me to leave so I hung out with her for a while. The kids gathered around us in a circle. It was cute. It was cool to be able to hang out with Michelle at school for a while. I often wonder how she's doing throughout the day when I'm not with her.

My birthday was coming up. For the last several years I haven't really been a fan of birthdays because it's a reminder that you're getting older. I actually can't even believe how old I am! It's crazy! Happily people who don't know me still guess me to be 10-20 years younger than I am, which is nice. It's strange how your perspective changes. When you're young, 30, 40 and especially 50 SOUND SO OLD! Then once you reach each milestone you feel like, OK I'm not so old, there are other celebrities my age and they don't seem old (then again they may have plastic surgery etc to keep looking young!) I kept waiting for the day when I'd feel like a "grown up" but I still feel like basically the same person inside. My responsibilities change, life changes but I'm still me, at any age. Michelle made me this adorable birthday card. I love her cards and pictures. At least she only put 4 candles on the cake! My Mom used to put one candle for each year but after a certain age there just isn't room on the cake for that many candles and you might start a fire!

I found us matching dresses! The EXACT SAME DRESS in a size 7 children's and a size M ladies. The store (Giant Tiger) even had them hanging together. PERFECT! It's like they read my mind. They had a few different patterns but this was the only one in both of our sizes and it was my favourite pattern anyway.

Michelle was excited to dress alike too. I even put a little shell necklace on her to match Mama's. I know the day will come (when she's a teen) when she'll likely just be embarrassed by me so I'm going to enjoy this stage as long as it lasts -- when she still thinks Mama is cool and wants to dress like her! She is a little mini-me in some ways but I'm glad that she's different from me in many ways too so she won't have to go through a lot of the struggles that I did. I'm grateful that she's confident, outgoing and socializes easily, the opposite of her insecure, shy and solitary Mama!

May took some photos of Michelle and me in the yard at her place. I love this one even though there is a bit of a blur on Michelle's face. I really should get a new camera! The scratches on the lens are so noticeable in some pictures. I think it's the worst in sunlight because the light refracts off of the scratched surface and makes white ghosts in the image. It's very hard to try to work around the scratched spots. I'm so resistant to change (also want to avoid the expense!) that I don't get a new camera. Considering what a photoholic I am, if anyone should have a decent camera it's me! Maybe one of these days. For now I'm making do with my old Nikon. It's just maddening when a picture is ruined with a white blob or blur across it. I'm just hoping when I finally get around to looking for a new camera that cameras still exist! I know that most people just use their cellphone camera. That wouldn't work for me even if I had a new phone. I take WAY too many photos. I could never store them on a phone.

The group shot. I originally thought Chris wasn't going to be there but he made it after all which was a nice surprise. Mike has so far to come that he usually doesn't make it for most family events and get-togethers. We usually see him just a few times a year.

The white blur is unfortunately across half the family here. I really do have to get a new camera! I have problems off and on with my old laptop as well. And I can only use my old phone for basics. I'm resistant to technology...does it show?! I also try to avoid the expense and make do. Actually my vacuum is broken too. It still works (sort of) but shakes and makes a lot of noise. Sigh. I need to win a lottery and replace everything!

Shannon drew this adorable portrait of Michelle and me. I love it! So cute! With our matching hair, blue eyes, dresses and necklaces.

Shannon makes amazing animation videos and I'm so proud of her. Art is something that Shannon, Michelle and me all share. I had forgotten how much I loved creating art. Now that I had time I was drawing and painting more and more. Art really does heal the soul.

Michelle and me ready to blow out the candles and eat cake! Yes I cropped the photos to hide my age candles (my Mom still insists on having numbered candles for our birthdays even though we're adults. I think the big numbers are fine for kids. 1-9. Maybe even 10-20 but then I think you need to let it go. Maybe for the milestones -- 30, 40 etc. But do you really need to get a 3 and a 9 candle when someone is 39? No. Please don't. Just stick a couple of normal non-numeric candles in the cake. Because no one wants to be REMINDED just how old they are! Not over 30. Especially not OVER 40!)

Michelle and me heard about an exhibit at the AGO that we really wanted to see: Yayoi Kusama's "Infinity Mirrors." They talked about it on YTV. It looked so cool. All these strange and magical rooms looked like "Selfie" Heaven! Unfortunately when I looked it up online the tickets were all sold out. Then I found out that they were releasing a small number of daily tickets but you had to line up for them. It seemed impossible. Weekends would be too busy and I wasn't taking Michelle out of school just to line up for the chance of seeing the show during the week. I really wanted to see it though and I thought it would be a nice birthday present to myself to go so we gave it a shot. I got up SUPER early and made the very long drive there. Driving in Toronto is a challenge. Finding parking when you're not used to it is more of a challenge. I managed to find an underground lot but it was quite far away.

We made the long walk (run) to AGO only to find that there was a lineup all down the street. My heart started to sink. Would we even GET tickets? Then I saw someone walking with a clipboard. She was apologizing to people at the end of the line saying "There are 113 people in line for 102 tickets." I couldn't understand why they were still standing there. She was pretty much telling them to get lost. There is NO HOPE. GO HOME. Still they were waiting. In case there was a miscount? I wasn't going to wait for the impossible. I talked to the staff and told her our situation -- that we'd come from far out of town, traveled all this way, really wanted to see the show and this was the only day we could possibly see it. I asked her if there was anything she could do. She apologized. "I don't want to break my daughter's heart," I pleaded. "Sorry. We've broken a lot of hearts today," she said coldly. My only hope would be if someone was willing to give us a spot in line.

I didn't want to give up. I remembered when we'd gone to the Safari show at the library and I'd been told there were no tickets but I wouldn't take no for an answer and we wound up getting in. I didn't want to give up yet. Michelle was pouting. I felt like I'd failed her. I was crushed. Swallowing my pride I approached a couple of people in the middle of the line and appealed to their sympathy. Michelle was the only child there. They were all adults and mostly younger (teens and twenties) people. No one had children. Because these people had been lined up since the wee hours and you wouldn't do that with kids. Sometimes teens/young adults will camp out overnight for concert tickets. My sister did that once to see the Rolling Stones. But I'm a single Mom. Single Moms don't camp out in line with their kids because that would be really bad parenting. So I guess AGO didn't want single Mom's at the show. They made it impossible for anyone with children or anyone out of town to go. The only people that could line up would be youth or adults without families who lived in town and could just sit there for hours. It seemed like a long shot but I decided to appeal to human kindness. How could someone say no to a 5 year old girl's pouty face? I asked one couple if they'd consider letting us in line. I told them about the long drive and how disappointed my daughter was. They looked at me like I was from outer space. Like I had three heads. Like I was a raving lunatic. (And maybe I was!) They just stared at me like deer in the headlights. They didn't even answer. They just had this look of horror/disgust in their faces like they couldn't even respond. Or maybe they didn't speak English? I approached another woman who looked nice and she was. She smiled at Michelle. "She's adorable," she said. She did sympathize and said she would like to let us in but she'd be afraid that the other people in line would be angry because of course they would. I thanked her anyway. Then someone close to the front of the line, clearly annoyed with me called out "Hey! Just so you know we've been here since 4 a.m!" "Yeah. But you're not a single Mom with a 5 year old who made a 3 hour drive. Thanks." That shut him up.

Michelle and me started to walk away. Defeated, heads hanging. I was fighting back tears. "Well this SUCKS!" I said. I felt like I'd been sucker punched. I wished I hadn't even tried. Why did I even put myself through this? I wasn't in the best place to start with. Feeling broken, going through therapy, trying to feel better. The last thing I needed was to put myself through this stress and disappointment and feel like a big huge failure. My own disappointment was bad enough. Michelle's disappointment was UNBEARABLE to me. I had let her down. Mom fail. It was crushing.

Michelle was upset. "I really wanted to go," she muttered sadly. "I know, baby. Me too. There's nothing I can do. I tried..." She looked like she was going to cry. I felt like I was going to throw up. I felt like a failure. We got up so early and came all this way and ran there for NOTHING. Part of me just wanted to go home and cry. But that would be stupid. "No damn it!" I thought. This was TORONTO. There are MILLIONS of things to do. AGO could suck it! I would give my daughter a fun and memorable day. I asked her what she'd like to do and gave her several options. She chose the CN Tower. That tall tower that she'd seen in the distance, one of the tallest buildings in the world (at 1820 feet/553 meters at one time it WAS the tallest but of course someone had to outdo it. The Burj Khalifa in Dubai is 2720 feet/830 meter.) Michelle thought that would be cool. So it was settled. We would go to the CN Tower. She wasn't afraid of heights. I told her there's even a glass floor you can step on. I hadn't been there in years so I was kind of excited to go too. So that's what we did. It was a lesson in resilience -- sometimes in life things don't work out like you want/expect. You can curl into a ball and cry or you can pick yourself up and make a plan: OK so that didn't work, what now?

Obviously (on top of the all the photos I took myself) I couldn't resist purchasing the souvenir CN Tower shots they do for you even though we look super cheesy raising our arms up like that!

I always want to get a souvenir self-timed shot so that I can get in it. I was struggling to find a spot to sit the camera when a kind staff member offered to take our photo. And it turned out great with no blurry spot on our faces! Michelle loved the CN tower. She loved every part of it. The elevator up, the view of the city out of the windows, the glass floor. I'm glad that she's not afraid of heights. Sometimes she seems fearless. I was glad that she cheered up and got over her disappointment about AGO. I did too. This was just as fun as an art exhibition. Maybe even more fun.

Then a staff member offered to take our photo on the glass floor. I got the idea to do yoga on the floor. He said no one had ever done that before so I thought it was cool to be the first person to do a lotus on a glass floor 1000 feet above the city. Some people are too nervous to even STAND on the floor. Even though the staff assure you how strong the glass is and that it can't break. It is still kind of creepy being able to see through the floor to the ground FAR FAR FAR BELOW! Ironically there are many things that cause me anxiety but this isn't one of them.

We even lay down on the floor. The germaphobe in me was kind of going "Eeek!" but it was too cool of an opportunity not to go for it. Considering how down in the dumps we had been an hour earlier it was nice to feel on top of the world (or at least on top of Toronto!) We took a really bad day, turned it around and made it a good day. That's something I wish I could always do. Of course I could learn a lot from Michelle. She makes it easy to find the magic, the joy and the beauty of life every day.

When I was younger (in my 20s) I went through a phase where I loved to do "flying leap" photos. I made my boyfriend at the time take pictures of my leaping. I even got one while we were in Europe. Now I thought of taking pictures of Michelle doing flying leaps. When the crowd thinned out and we had some space to ourselves I asked Michelle to run and leap while I snapped a few action shots.

I LOVE THESE PHOTOS! This is freedom. Bliss. To think she'd been sulking and I almost thought of just heading home and crying and now here she was smiling and laughing and literally jumping for joy. It was a good lesson for me to learn too. Don't give up. Things will go wrong. Things beyond your control. You do your best and then you just change your plans as necessary. It can still be OK. You can't always get what you want but you can still make the most of the day and enjoy yourself despite setbacks.

And how can you not hug a GIANT teddy bear?! I was happy to get a photo of Michelle and me with this giant stuffie even though there are some blurry spots which stand out all the more against the black bear and our black outfits. (I'd dressed us in black because I was trying to be artsy to go to the art gallery.)

We looked around the gift shop and picked up a couple of souvenirs. I was so glad we'd gone to the CN Tower. I was bitter about AGO. I couldn't understand why they wanted to limit tickets and keep people from seeing the show. Later online a very kind woman told me that she'd gone to the show and found it rather disappointing/overhyped anyway. On top of the long line outside there were long lines to see each individual piece. You'd wait 20 minutes to see the art for 20 seconds then wait another 20 minutes. Maybe she was exaggerating to make me feel better but it did help me to feel better! Michelle would have lost patience with that. The woman said not too many people brought kids. Kids would be bored to death. She said the CN Tower was 1000% a better choice. So maybe it was meant to be. Sometimes you're disappointed you lose out on something but you're far better off without it anyway.

It's frustrating when you're a control freak and there are things beyond your control. It's defeating. It makes you feel helpless. Of course the key is to focus on the things that you CAN control -- like your response to life events. Things will always go wrong. You have to be able to roll with it and know that it's OK. That was something I really struggled with. I want life to be perfect. I don't want things to go wrong. Yeah, that's not really an option! At work especially I was forced to confront things going wrong CONSTANTLY. The world is falling apart in many ways and I had a front row seat for it. Now I try to avoid anything stressful and just do things that are relaxing or make me happy. But you can't hide from problems. Things go wrong no matter what, no matter where you are. Life happens. When problems arise you just deal with them without letting it drag you down. You have to look for the positive. Bad things happen. You have to focus on the good. There is always good to be found if you look for it.

Later Michelle wanted to go for a bike ride. We talked about taking her training wheels off soon. I suggested maybe after her birthday when she's 6. She said maybe she could try it and then put the wheels back on if she didn't like it.
"No," I told her, "there's no going back. Once I take the training wheels off I am NOT putting them back on. So then you'll just have to learn to ride a two-wheeler."

That made her a little nervous. I told her that once you learn to ride a bike, you never forget. Once you get it, you've got it for life but learning can be a struggle because it's about balance and strength and steering and several things at once. It becomes second nature but when you're first learning it is unnatural and it's tough and you could get hurt. It sounded stressful and I was not looking forward to it. Potty training was one of the most stressful experiences of my life. Teaching her to ride a bike might be another.

Dressed in maple leaves and twirling sparklers in the backyard for Victoria Day.

I thought about taking Michelle to see fireworks sometime. I didn't know if it would be a good idea because anywhere you go is so crowded and they never start them until late at night because the sky has to be dark. Keeping her out til after 10 pm sounded like a bad idea but maybe for Canada Day?

We heard fireworks while we were in bed. I always loved fireworks. Like most things in life however you wait hours for something that lasts a few minutes. It is sometimes worth the wait though. Fireworks are magical and beautiful. I was sure Michelle would love them too.

I love Michelle's artwork. She made this adorable cat at school out of paper plates. I keep almost all of her artwork. I keep piling it up and planning to organize it all one day (that hasn't happened yet.) At one point I did organize some of her artwork but since then I've accumulated hundreds and hundreds more drawings etc and still have to label and file them. I love when things are organized but it's so much work to do it and there always seems to be something more pressing.

I hate when people ask "What do you DO all day?" as if you have so much time. It's really only a few hours during the day. By the time you try to get some housework done and run a few errands the day is already over and it's time to pick her up from school again. Most people have a partner. When you're on your own and you have to do everything yourself -- mowing the lawn, cleaning the house, taking the car in for an oil change etc -- your to do list is much longer and never ending. I was also trying to make time for healing -- yoga, art, reading, writing -- all the things that helped me to relax and feel stronger.

Michelle loves her Uncle Chris. As soon as he's around she's there, hanging off of him. Sometimes he lifts her up, throws her in the air. I told her I don't have the arm strength to do those things (and even if I did they make me too nervous!) There are times that I do wish she had a daddy to lift her up and run after her and teach her to ride a bike (because I worry that I'm too much of a nervous wreck and I think a guy would be more laid back about it and give the freedom and space she needs to learn, even if it means letting her fall. I didn't know if I could do that.)

Kids love Chris. Michelle and Reggie adore him. He's so good with kids. He's so natural with them. So lively and animated. He's like a big Disney character. He would be a great dad. It's kind of sad that he's never having kids. I get it though. I hadn't planned to have kids myself. But Michelle is by far the best thing that ever happened to me. I didn't know I could love another human this much.

It was May's birthday. She had hosted my birthday at her place so I thought the least I could do is return the favour, even though it is farther for everyone to come to see me.

It's nice to have company once in a while. It doesn't happen too often. I put up the pop up gazebo for the party. Luckily it was a nice day weather wise so we could hang out outside. I put up some tropical decorations.

Michelle and me in matching outfits again. I found these tops at Justice. When I can find a matching shirt in size 7 and size 14-16 children's, I'm ON IT! I love these off the shoulder tops. Michelle was excited to dress just like Mama again too.

I cherish these moments with my little girl. One day when she doesn't have time for me and thinks she's just too cool to even be around me I will still have these photos and be able to show her how much she loved her Mama. And how she even liked dressing like me. Or maybe she will always be my sweet girl, even when she's a teenager?

I can dream!

I'm so proud of May. She had some issues with her health and her doctor made her go on a strict diet. She stuck to it and has lost so much weight and improved her health.

May didn't want a cake because she can't eat it anyway so I did a fruit platter for her instead and stuck candles in a pineapple in lieu of a cake. I thought it was kind of pretty.

I wish there wasn't a blur over Michelle's face! I really do need a new camera! Man, I keep saying it!

I got Shannon to take a couple of silly snaps on her i-phone. I love this filter with the tropical flowers in our hair, butterflies and big doe eyes. It's amazing what they can do now -- filters that instantly add makeup and highlights to make you look better.

I read recently that more and more people are getting plastic surgery so they can take better selfies. But why even bother when you can just take pictures with a filter that makes you look more perfect?!

It's sad that people feel they aren't good enough. I know I'm not perfect but I would never want to get plastic surgery, even if I could afford it. I think you need to just be who you are. We are all unique. We're not all meant to look the same. We're not meant to meet some abstract ideal. Just be who you are. But filters are nice to play with!

Another trip to Port Dover Beach. The beach literally is my happy place. I can visualize being there or I can just actually go there. The real thing is a lot better than just my imagination. There is something about the sun and the sand and the sound of the waves that is so soothing on a molecular level. My whole body relaxes. I feel at peace for a few moments and I can forget everything that's wrong and everything that I need to figure out. I can just BE. Michelle loves it too. I was bummed the palm trees weren't there yet but you can't have everything!

Dancing for joy! I love these shots of Michelle. She doesn't even fight me being a photoholic. She knows it's a given. I can't just go places or do things I have to take photos of it. Photography is also a form of therapy for me because it is one thing that I can control. I can see something beautiful/cute/happy/soothing and I can capture it. I can hold on to that moment forever. There is power in that. And looking back at the pictures makes me happy. It's like living twice. It's partly why I continue to do this blog too, even though it's a lot of work and it's hard to find the time -- because it allows me to look back at all these beautiful moments and to feel better about my life. Despite the bad days and struggles, there are good times and I need to hold on to them, having a tangible record of them, having these photos, means the world to me.

Sometimes I'll say "Smile!" to Michelle and just elicit a half hearted smirk or an obviously forced grin but then once in a while I get a perfect happy smile. A genuine heartfelt smile.

Michelle has fun no matter where we are and she seems to make friends everywhere we go. I wish I was more like her in that way but I've got to be me. I am by nature mostly solitary. I am not a social person. I feel uncomfortable around strangers. There aren't many people that I'm close to. I don't have a lot of confidence and I would NEVER DREAM of just approaching someone and striking up a conversation like Michelle will do. She will literally go up to anyone and say "Hi! I'm Michelle! What's your name? Want to play?" 99.9% of the time, it WORKS. Oh to be a kid. But even as a kid I was NEVER like that.

I scream, you scream, we ALL scream for ice cream!

We just have to get ice cream at the beach. It's non-negotiable. Every time. I always ask Michelle, as if I don't already know the answer: "Do you want to get ice cream?"
It's always an emphatic "YES!"

This time Michelle got cookie dough and I got strawberry. It's hard to take a selfie while you're eating ice cream but I like to capture the happy moments and this is one of them. Like ice cream, the moments don't last. They are sweet and brief and they melt away so you have to savour them. And if you're lucky and you pay attention then you can enjoy them forever. Photos are magic. They make the temporary permanent. They let you hold on. #Photoholic #ControlFreak #IGottaBeMe!

Before we knew it, it was JUNE. Time was flying by. That's the thing. It flies regardless. You think time just flies when you're having fun but I think back even to some of the toughest times in my life and time FLEW BY. It's hard while you're in it, while you're having a bad day an hour can seem like an eternity, or when you have insomnia it can feel like a million years until morning but then you look back and a month has passed, or a year. Or seven years. It's crazy.

So yeah, apparently it was June already.

Aside from going to the beach sometimes the best thing to do on a hot day was to play in the sprinkler for a while.

The lawn needed a drink. We hadn't had rain in a while. Michelle asked if she could play in the sprinkler. I couldn't say no. I even got in it myself for a bit. It was refreshing after working out in the heat, mowing the lawn, pulling weeds etc. Sometimes I really do wish I had help. I know that in a lot of couples the yard work is the man's job. I see other guys out mowing the lawn. Maybe I should've lived in a condo. But then you're too close to other people. I really don't want to hear strangers through the walls. I'd live out in the country without neighbours if I could. Of course then I'd have even MORE lawn to mow. I'd have to have a riding one I guess.

One day I was out pulling weeds and I could hear tweeting coming from the long grass in the backyard by the fence. I left some long grass to grow really long because I thought it looked like bamboo and I liked it. I looked and found the source of the tweeting: a nest of baby birds. It was SO CUTE! I could see a worried looking Mama bird on the fence waiting for me to leave so I made myself scarce. I watched her getting worms for her babies. It made me happy to think that I could host a family of birds in the yard. Naturally I had to get a photo!

And then there's Michelle running amok outside her school...

She was trying to fly a kite that she made at school. The kite wasn't really flying but she had fun trying anyway. It had been a rainy day in the morning but turned sunny by the afternoon.

Michelle has so much boundless energy that she can never seem to burn it all off. She's in perpetual motion. Running, jumping, dancing, twirling. I'm usually the opposite. I wish I had even one tenth of Michelle's energy. She's never still. I'm glad she's so active because I know these days a lot of kids are hooked on their devices and video games and what not and don't get any exercise. I'm a bit of a technophobe and in no hurry to get Michelle her own tablet or whatever. I think kids should be kids. Run around and play while you still can. You have the rest of your life to sit and look at a screen.

I went to check if the baby birds were still there in their nest in my backyard and they were. I took a couple of pictures and I couldn't believe this one: they LOOKED RIGHT AT ME! So cute! I saw their Mama later. I even got to watch them leaving the nest and flying around for the first time but I didn't get my camera in time.

Experiencing the beauty of nature is good for the soul. Seeing these adorable baby birds warmed my heart and gave me hope.

Birds in the backyard and mice in the front!

I was pulling weeds in front of the house and caught a glimpse of this little guy. Some people are afraid of mice but I think they're adorable. Don't get me wrong, I don't want them IN the house but I'm fine with him living outside (under my front steps apparently.) He was so cute. He moved pretty fast but I did manage to get a picture of him before he scurried away.

Shannon's birthday was coming up and I asked what she wanted. One of the things was a specific black Micron marker/pen for drawing. I hadn't been to Michaels in years but I wound up going to look for Shannon's special markers. While there I found a beautiful book by Jane Davenport "Drawing and Painting Beautiful Faces." I LOVED her artwork. It inspired me to draw and paint portraits again. I'd been experimenting with watercolours and doing the zen lotus paintings (which my therapist inspired through her "I Am" project) but I hadn't tried doing watercolour faces. I used to do portraits in acrylic years ago but since having Michelle and working so much there was never time to drag out my paints, brushes and easel. The watercolours were easier. I used small letter sized papers so I didn't need an easel. Plus I could just draw it in watercolour pencil and then add water and more paint with the brushes later. It was organic and soothing and I absolutely loved it. It was therapeutic. Art is a form of therapy. It really did help to calm me down and forget about my stress for a while. I did several portraits. I was grateful to Shannon for giving me an excuse to go to the art supplies store and reawaken my passion for painting portraits!

Work had been so stressful for such a long time and it was more than just the job itself. The long hours and commute, the sleep deprivation, it all broke me down. I became so drained and depleted that there was almost nothing left of me. I was a shell. There wasn't any time for self care or to take a breath or to do any of the things I enjoy.

Looking back I can't believe what I went through and how long I lasted. I realize what a blessing it is to have this time to heal, to go through therapy and to get back to all the things that nourish my soul. Art has always been and will always be a part of my life. Art and writing help me to express myself. When I stop creating I start to lose myself. I was so grateful to be finding myself again through drawing and painting. Walking around Michaels, looking through Jane Davenport's book, painting again reminded me how important it is to look for the beauty in life. Beauty is good for the soul. Too much ugliness (darkness and chaos and despair -- everything I had to face in my career) destroys the soul.
My little fairy Princess! I was always finding new headbands for Michelle. I couldn't resist them. Michelle is my little Princess and it's always fun dressing her up in cute accessories. I almost wish I could wear them! (Yeah I would probably look pretty silly! I just wish they'd had things like that when I was young. Not that my Mom would have gotten them for me anyway.) Girls have it made now. There are SO many ADORB accessories!  Michelle has it all -- Princess tiaras in pink, silver and gold, unicorn horns, cat ears. This one had turquoise wisps of hair which I thought was really fun. Michelle looks like a little fairy in it. It's fun being a girl, especially a girly girl, so why not enjoy it?! That's how I feel anyway.

We got a few pictures in my Mom's backyard before heading over to May's for Shannon and Reggie's birthday party.

Michelle had so much fun playing with her cousins (and cousins in law) in the backyard. I love when the whole gang is there so she has a lot of kids to play with. I sometimes feel bad that she's on her own and I can never give her siblings. It's just her and I. At least when we go to family events she gets to see our whole big crazy family. Sometimes when my brother in law's family is there too it's both sides of the family and even more kids for Michelle to play with.
While we were hanging out in the yard someone spotted a raccoon climbing on the neighbour's roof.


Of course I ran with my camera for a better look. I couldn't believe my luck when he LOOKED RIGHT AT ME. I was trying to get his attention in the usual way (making a loud kissing noise which I usually do to attract an animal's attention but sometimes backfires and scares them away.)

The whole HUGE gang. Two families. Chris couldn't make it this time but Mike was there with the kids and Shane's sisters and Mom were there. So there were a LOT of us.

It's hard to fit everyone in but we did it. Unfortunately the blurry spots are blocking a few faces but most of us are in there at least!
I always get a second shot just to be sure. I had the camera set up on the railing of the deck. It's a bit of a distance to run in 10 seconds but I made it. TWICE!

It's impossible to get everyone looking and smiling perfectly. It's impossible even to keep them out of the white cloud/ghost of a scratched lens but you press the button count to 10 and hope for the best.

Another shot of Michelle and me in May's yard. We're not matching this time but both in shades of blue.

I like dressing us alike. We're a team. Mom and daughter squad. My Mom says Michelle is so much like me as a child. She's a mini-me. When we dress alike it's even more obvious how similar we are. My little ginger girl. I am so grateful for her. I don't know what I'd do without her. She is like me but not like me, so much better than me. Stronger than me. It's like she's the new and improved me. And she can do things I was never able to do. She won't let fear hold her back. And she will live a life filled with joy because she'll believe in herself and go after what she wants instead of sabotaging herself.

Another visit to Grandma's, another trip to Play Place! I dropped my Mom off at the mall and went with Michelle to let her run amok and slide down the slides at McDonalds. Usually she plays and then we eat. This time she wanted to eat first.

I remember as a kid my Mom never let us have McDonalds. I always felt so jealous of other kids who got to go. I try not to have it TOO often with Michelle but we do go at least a few times a month.

You know you're in Oakville when... At the mall there was an orange Lamborghini in the parking lot. It was too cool not to get a picture. No one was around so Michelle and me posed with it. This is as close as I get to a Lamborghini. I've only ever seen a few in my entire life. I explained to Michelle how rare they are and how expensive they are, so it is a treat to see one every now and then.

I had a coupon for an aquarium store and I thought we'd check it out for something fun (and FREE!) to do. I would love to have an aquarium. I find watching fish so soothing but I didn't think it would be practical because for one Ali my cat would be trying to eat the fish and for two they're much too expensive/difficult to care for etc. At least that's how I talked myself out of it.

I was partly right. Some of the tanks and fish are extremely expensive. The store owner tried to tell me that they're not that hard to care for however. Filters do most of the work keeping it clean. Also, there are cheaper options (just getting a little bowl with Beta fish) but it still didn't seem like a good idea. So we settled for a fish puppet and a shell souvenir of our visit. It was a perfect outing on our way to Michelle's piano lesson.

From looking at fish to playing piano to running in the yard, just a day in the life of my little Princess! I envy her boundless energy and enthusiasm (which I basically never have!)

It amazes me how Michelle almost never gets tired. She could run all day long and not wear herself out. I have a hard time keeping up with her. Most of the time I don't even try. I just watch her in awe from the sidelines. And snap as many action shots as I can. A lot of them were blurry but I managed to capture a few moments. I love this one of her smiling and running in her little seashell dress and Princess tiara.

The only downside to my little ball of energy is that it is hard to get her to settle down at night. It's like she doesn't want to sleep because she doesn't want to miss anything.

On a walk with Grampa! While I was working Michelle practically lived at Gramma and Grampa's a lot of the time. Now that I was off I made sure we still went for visits now and then. She always loved seeing her grandparents. I took Gramma shopping and Michelle hung out with Grampa. They went for a walk to the park. We passed them on the way and I got this photo.

My Mom has been going through a few health issues and said that she didn't know how she would have been able to watch Michelle all the time if I'd still been working full time. She did say it was good for them to spend time with Michelle and helped to keep them strong and active but sometimes it was too much for them. I don't like leaving Michelle with anyone. No one will ever love her as much as I do. My parents are the next best thing. Of course over time I have been able to let go somewhat. I have to leave her at school. I've left her at friend's houses for birthday parties and play dates. Baby steps. It's tough for me.

Michelle was growing so fast. Sometimes at night she said her legs hurt. Growing pains. Literally. Like you can FEEL your muscles and bones growing, being stretched. It was happening too fast. She had outgrown her old bike helmet. I couldn't believe her head was that much bigger! I found her a pink kitty princess helmet complete with a tiara so it was literally perfect! Then I found her pink elbow and knee pads for learning to ride on two wheels.

Michelle was ready. She wanted to learn to ride her bike, without training wheels. I was nervous because I was the one who would have to teach her. I knew it would be hard. I had no idea how hard it would be.

I couldn't remember learning to ride a bike. I know that I did. I just don't know how or when it happened. I think my Dad taught me but I don't actually remember. It's pretty fuzzy but it seems to me that I learned in one day and that dad just let go and I went ahead. But I'm probably just misremembering it. I'm probably blocking out the times I fell and scraped my knees and cried and got discouraged.

So we went out one day to start bike riding lessons. After a bit of a struggle with the wrench (thank goodness I had one!) I had the training wheels off her little bike. There was no going back now. Michelle's bike looked so small for her. It was good in a way because she could almost put her feet flat on the ground beside her. I still worried that she was going to fall and get hurt.

I am a control freak. I am admittedly a helicopter/bubble wrap parent and if I had my way I would protect Michelle from EVER being hurt. Unfortunately that would also prevent her from living her life. Teaching her to ride a bike would be one of the hardest (if not THE hardest) thing I'd ever done. It was hard on her and even harder on me. It was, in a word, a NIGHTMARE!

Nervously I ran alongside Michelle, holding on to the bike, coaching her ("Steer straight, look straight ahead, just keep pedaling as if the training wheels are there.") and letting go to let her try. It was so hard. I kept wanting to grab her to stop her from falling. I couldn't win. If I held on too long she was frustrated that I wasn't giving her room to learn. If I let go for longer she fell and got hurt and blamed me for not grabbing her in time. I reminded her that she could step down on the ground if she lost her balance. She didn't like the little bike. She found it uncomfortable and thought a bigger bike would be better. We went to Toys R Us to look at bikes. Maybe they would have one on sale. Or maybe we'd just look and I could let her ride one around the store rather than on the pavement outside. Not that it wouldn't still hurt to fall on the hard floor but at least it was a change of scenery.
There were pros and cons to a new, bigger bike. She might feel more comfortable sitting on it (and not look so silly). She'd be able to grow into it and it would last her a while (hopefully) but a taller bike wouldn't allow her to step down as easily. She would only be able to reach the ground on her tippy toes. It might be harder to learn on a bigger bike. She tried a couple of bikes in the store, just for fun. Fun for her anyway, not so much for me. At least the store wasn't crowded so she could ride around the Babies R Us section of the store past the cribs as I ran alongside her, exhausted, stressed out, my back and butt aching. Yes, don't ask me why but my left butt cheek was in AGONY! I was butt hurt literally. I could understand why my back hurt from holding on and twisting to hold the bike. I could understand my legs hurting from all the running. But why on EARTH did my butt hurt from running alongside and holding on to her bike? It's funny the muscles you could be working without even knowing it. It's official: Teaching your kid to ride a bike was LITERALLY A PAIN IN THE BUTT!
We got her a new bike. It was on sale. It was a Monster High bike and looked the right size for her, even though she could only touch the ground on her tiptoes.

The only problem was I wasn't sure how I was going to fit it in the car. One of the store staff came out with me to try to put it in the trunk. It didn't fit. Close but no cigar. She suggested I could take the tire off. "Oh HELL no!" I protested. I had a hard enough time getting training wheels off. I sure as heck didn't need the stress or work of taking off a tire and putting it back on. After a few minutes of futile struggling the woman suggested "If only you had a bungee cord or something to secure it."

And then, a miracle happened. All of a sudden a cute young guy from the parking lot came over to us with a bungee cord. "Here you go," he said, and not only gave us a cord but fastened the bike into my trunk for me.
"You are a PRINCE!" I told him, "Thank you SO MUCH!" And I hugged him. I was tempted to ask "What are you doing for the rest of the day?" (or the rest of my LIFE!) but thought better of it because for one he was much too young for me and for another, I can't/don't date anyone and as if someone that nice and that cute would be single anyway.

The lady from the store joked about chivalry not being dead and wondering if that guy was single and I was like "RIGHT?!" It was so random. Sometimes you ask for something and the universe just says "HERE YOU GO! Hey girl, hang in there!" I managed to get home with the bike. We struggled with bike riding lessons for a while. Michelle got her balance for a few seconds and lost it. After a fall and a few tears we called it a day. We tried a couple more times and then gave it a rest. I wasn't going to push. I was in no hurry. I had planned to teach her AFTER she turned 6 anyway. She hadn't even had her birthday yet. The weather was so hot too -- like 40 degrees Celsius every day. It was too hot to be running up and down the street beside a bike. Plus my butt needed a break!

It's all rainbows up in here...

Being with Michelle is like living in a world of unicorns, rainbows, hearts and magic. And that is not a bad thing. Of course the real world can be a very dark and troubling place. I try not to watch the news but I hear things. It's disturbing when you feel like the world is falling apart. It makes you feel helpless. I'd rather focus on the happy things. The beautiful things.

Michelle's world is beautiful. I love her artwork. Her innocence. Her optimism. I need that.

That awkward moment when Cinderella had man hands!

I love this adorable portrait on carboard of a blonde in a blue gown with enormous hands. For a long time Michelle didn't draw hands. They've never been my favourite either. Michelle used to just draw little stick hands. A three pronged fork at the end of the arm. Like snowman twig arms. Now she was at a stage where she drew arms, hands and fingers, but as you can see they weren't exactly proportionate.

I love kids artwork. I could look at it all day. It's just so funny and sweet to see their imperfect, whimsical version of the world. It's even better when they include funny little misspelled captions as well.

You can't rain on Michelle's parade. Her irrepressible spirit is not dampened by the weather. Sunny or rainy days are wonderful to her. In the rain she loves to splash in puddles. I let her (even though I don't want to because I'm not a fan of her getting messy) because I know it makes her happy and I'm willing to be a little uncomfortable if it makes her happy. Unfortunately for her on this particular day there weren't any really big puddles. Sometimes I've let her jump in them and get soaked (and boots filled with mud.) I figure she can always get changed afterward. You only live once. I don't remember ever jumping in puddles as a kid. Or even wanting to. I think my Mom would have said no even if I'd asked. She wouldn't have wanted the extra laundry. Any time I mention things I didn't get to do as a child she reminds me that she had four kids and that everything was harder. When you have one child you can spoil them a little more. Michelle is my first, last and only. I can't resist spoiling her any way I can.

Mom-daughter squad! I can't even tell you how excited I was to find these shirts in our sizes. I decided it would be perfect to wear matching outfits for the annual Teddy Bear Picnic at Michelle's school.

I asked Michelle what she wanted for lunch. Her answer was the same as last year -- grilled cheese sandwiches and brownies. So that's what I brought. And of course I brought along a handful of stuffed bears to join us.

I looked around at some of the other families. People must have taken time off work to be there. There were mothers and fathers and siblings. Then there was Michelle and me and our bears. Michelle didn't have a daddy or a brother or sister to join us but we had more bears than anyone. Maybe that's why I buy so many toys for her. To make up for the things I can't give her: namely a bigger family.

A few people commented on our
#MomDaughterSquad shirts. One mom said how much she loved them and how much she wished she had a daughter. She only had sons. I am so glad I had a girl. Of course I would have loved a son too but there are so many girly girl things I can share with Michelle and it would have been different with a boy. Pink bears and purple bunnies probably wouldn't have been the first choice. I am happy to share days like this with my girl.

And that night the Mom Daughter squad went to see a movie. The new Incredibles II in 3D. It was AMAZING. I loved the first one (14 years ago! Can't believe it's been that long!) and was worried the sequel wouldn't live up to it. I was very pleasantly surprised. It surpassed my expectations.

The Incredibles II was hilarious, heart-warming and absolutely action-packed. I was impressed also that they let the Mom be the hero. She's the one going out and saving the world while Dad stayed home with the kids (and learned how difficult THAT actually is!) It was very empowering for women to show just how hard we work, in the home and outside of it. While some men take an active role in raising the kids, the lion's share of it falls on Mom's shoulders. And it's tough. For single Moms, it's all you with no help at all. I was glad that they were acknowledging and showcasing the power of women. It's a far cry from the old Disney movies where the hero was male and rescued the damsel in distress. Now it's the women who do the rescuing. I loved the movie. Michelle loved it too. She was happy with a wonderful day spent with Mama. "I love you Mama! You're the BEST MAMA IN THE WORLD!"
"And you're the best girl!" I told her.

Another day, another matching outfit, this time matching off the shoulder tops from Justice.

I can't help it. I get a kick out of dressing us alike. I'm not sure at what age Michelle will put her foot down and say "Heck no" but for now I'm enjoying it. Of course there will come a point, in her teens or later when we may almost wear the same size. Maybe she'll be raiding my closet. Or maybe her taste will be completely different. At this point she seems to love everything that I do. We are girly girls.

It was Father's Day. It's a tough day for Michelle and was a sore point for her in school leading up to the day. She came home upset that they were making Father's Day gifts. She made something for Grampa instead. I told her we'll call it Grampa Day for her sake. Of course I still have a dad. I can't believe the blur on the lens was right over my dad for this shot! I didn't know until later (it's hard to tell outdoors in bright light looking at the small screen). I just press the button for the self-timer and hope for the best. I've GOT to get a new camera one of these days! I've said that like 10 times now!

Michelle gave Grampa his certificate for the World's Greatest Grandpa.

Father's Day is a strange day when you're a single Mom. I'll never forget one year someone from work surprised me with a Father's Day card because as a single Mom you are both mother and father. You play all the roles. It's all you. It was very thoughtful and made me cry. A small act of kindness is welcome when you struggle so much. No one really understands how hard it is to be a single Mom unless she is one herself.

Michelle's class was going on a trip to the zoo and I was happy to be able to volunteer as a chaperone. I had a great group of girls but it was pretty stressful trying to keep them all together.

It rained a little but it was actually preferable to have an overcast, slightly damp day than one of the unbearable 40 degree Celsius days we had been having. When you're doing a lot of walking that kind of heat and humidity would have been unbearable. The teacher pointed out that thanks to the rain we got to see more of the animals. On a hot day they would have been hiding out in the shade and we wouldn't have seen them as much. You have to look at the bright side on a rainy day!

Oh deer! Michelle loved the deer. She would have stayed there feeding them all day long if I'd let her. At least I managed to get a selfie of Michelle and me with some of them. The other girls loved the deer too. They also loved playing in the playground, petting the goats etc.

It was a fun day with a lot of cute photo ops and I was so glad I got to be there. Day trips like this helped me to forget my own personal stress and problems. It's easier to focus on the good stuff when it's right in front of you. This was a form of therapy too. Finding my happy place(s). Nature, animals, cute photo ops, capturing it all on my camera = HAPPY PLACE!

A group shot of the kids and me. I finally managed to get one. I found a table to put the camera on, set the timer and ran. Michelle is doing a crazy leopard paw pose but you can't really tell. The scratch/blur on the lens is starting to drive me crazy. It's just luck of the draw when you take a photo. You just hope the blur isn't over someone's face but sometimes it is in the worst possible spot.Like Michelle's face in a group shot, or my dad's face on Father's Day. I hope they even still MAKE cameras. Most people just use their phone. Of course I am not most people.

Just trying to get your goat! Getting a selfie of Michelle, me and one of the goats was not easy but I kind of like this one. The goat is kind of looking anyway even if Michelle isn't. You can't have everything!

Being around cute or beautiful things and taking photos of them is my medicine. Honestly it is the best drug. It is my happy pill. The world can be an utter mess but if there is still something cute or beautiful in this world then by God that's what I'm going to focus on!

Talk to the palm!

The palm trees were back! I actually called the Beach House ahead to see if the palm trees were there yet and they said yes they'd just arrived. So we made a trip to the beach. Again, this is my medicine. To lie on the sand under a palm tree and listen to the waves and watch Michelle play is better than any drug. It is my happy place, my cure, my zen. Michelle loves it too. I needed this. What a luxury to be able to go to a beach with palm trees and not have to get on a plane to do it (because that was NOT an option.)

Michelle in the water with her lion floatie, all smiles. Though the weather had been unseasonably warm (actually unbearably hot more days than I can ever remember it being, even before Summer officially started), the water was still pretty cold. Michelle didn't seem to mind. I swear kids don't feel the cold the same way. It takes me a LONG time to get right in to the water. The cold hurts my knees. Then it takes a long time to psych myself up to get in up to my waist. The cold really hurts my crotch! Then the hardest is getting up to my chest. The cold really hurts my chest. "Come on Mama!" Michelle would goad me, not understanding what took me so long. Sometimes I would just dive right in but the cold hit so hard. I hate when people say "You get used to it." Of course you do to some degree but that doesn't really help. Michelle wanted to stay in the water. I preferred to relax on the sand. So we did a little of both.

My crazy girl doing the splits at Play Place. Just because she can. She always has fun wherever we go. She always makes friends. I've never been able to do the splits. Or been very good at making friends. So Michelle is winning in ways I never dreamed of. As much as she's like me in some ways I am glad that she is the opposite of me in many ways. She's stronger than me, happier than me. As a parent I'm supposed to be the role model but it feels more like I could learn a thing or two from her. Like how to get out of my head once in a while, just chill and have fun without worrying so much.
Michelle and me at Auntie May's wearing matching shirts and eating a REALLY big burger. OK no. We loved Shane's BBQ burgers but they were never quite THIS big. This was just a fun floatie they got.

We always had a ball at Auntie May's. Michelle loved playing with her cousin Reggie and I loved talking and laughing with May. We also enjoyed watching Shannon's new animation videos on the big screen.

Michelle had only been taking piano lessons for a couple of months but her teacher asked if she'd like to be in the Spring Concert. Though she was a little nervous whether she'd be ready, Michelle said yes. She was going to do "Ode to Joy." Michelle's teacher created an arrangement that was simple but beautiful. She would be playing with both hands. Seeing my little girl play Beethoven, even a small part of it, choked me up. It really was an ode to joy.

Michelle loves dressing up anyway and I wanted her to wear something special for her first recital. I was so proud of her. I wished my family could have been there to see her but it was tricky on a weeknight in the Summer. Living such a distance from everyone else in the family can be a challenge.

Just before her debut, Michelle was getting nervous and I was nervous for her.

I managed to get a bit of a video of her playing but I was kicking myself that I didn't have the camera ready because it was over so quickly. I missed the beginning. The video is only a few seconds long. I'm glad that I got it though. I was so proud of her. Some of the kids messed up. There were kids older than her that had probably been taking lessons much longer and many of them made mistakes. She played her piece perfectly.

Here's the video of her piano recital on Youtube: Michelle playing "Ode to Joy." --

When I was a kid I loved catching frogs. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. As much as she's a Princess in some ways she can also be a tomboy and is not afraid to play in the dirt. I got her this bug catcher/science kit on sale and it came in handy when we found some baby toads. Michelle wanted to keep them. I told her they could stay at the "Michelle Hotel" for a day or two but then we had to let them go back outside because it wasn't fair to keep them captive. She said that when she's older she wants to help save and protect animals. I told her that she could do anything she wanted to do and that it's nice to love nature and want to protect the animals.

We caught some worms and other bugs to feed our little toad friends. It seemed like they were eating some of them because some of the bugs disappeared and there were little poops around the container. We kept our toads for a couple of days and let them go.

School was ending. It was crazy. Could it really be the end of June ALREADY?! The time had flown by.

The school had an assembly and parents were allowed to come so I hung out with Michelle for a bit. She was happy to have her Mama there. It was pretty crowded so I had to have her on my lap at one point to make room for others. My legs started to go numb.

They made a slideshow video of the older kids -- showing photos of them as babies then pictures of them now, in grade 6. It brought tears to my eyes and it wasn't even my kid! It does make me sentimental to think how quickly the time goes, how fast our kids grow up. They're babies, then they're in grade school, then high school, university, out in the world. I can't even think that far ahead though. I have a hard enough time dealing with a year or a few months going by. For now I'm just holding on to the moments, and holding on to my girl, as long as I can.

It became a ritual. I would mow the lawn, Michelle would save the toads. We'd keep them with us for a bit and let them go again.

I tried to photograph them in their little temporary home. Most of the shots were blurry but I managed to get this one where he's actually looking. They're so cute! I was worried Ali might attack them but she couldn't have cared less about them. She was more interested in getting outside. I did let her outside in the yard with us sometimes.

Michelle's teacher made this collage of pictures of Michelle throughout the year. It made me cry. I love getting these glimpses into Michelle's day. A lot of times I'd ask her about what she did at school and it was like pulling teeth to get an answer. "I don't know..." she'd answer. I'd have to ask follow up questions: "Did you learn anything? Draw anything? Read anything? Sing any songs?" Seeing these snapshots of her school days was awesome. 
This shot of Michelle was my favourite. I LOVE her expression here. The half grin, looking off to the side and holding up her story about a flying car: "I made a flying car and you just say where you want to go and it takes you there." Of course one day we may actually have that. They already have the technology for self-driving cars with GPS and everything. They are talking about flying cars. Uber has already bought the rights to it or something. The world keeps changing. I remember hearing that our kids will likely end up in jobs that DON'T EVEN EXIST YET. Because they will be in a different world. It's mind-boggling. I am not modern. I am always somewhat resistant to new technology. But the world will keep changing whether I like it or not.

Michelle didn't want to let the toads go. She'd get attached to them even after a short time. I told her that sometimes love means letting go because it's better for them and you want them to be happy. She was glad that some of the toads didn't just hop away right away. Some of them stayed in her hand for a minute. I was even able to get a picture of one in her hand. It's so tiny you almost can't see him.

And then we watched them hop away, happily into the grass.

"We may see them again," I told Michelle, "They live in our backyard. They are our little neighbours. You can visit them again."

I discovered the Starving Artist Cafe one day. A place where local artists could show their work and even play music at an open stage once a week. I asked if I could bring a child and the girl said yes. So we decided to go. It had been a long time since I'd played my music on stage. Sharing my music has always been therapeutic for me. I asked if I could show my paintings there and showed them some of my work. The girl said yes they had an opening in July. I was ecstatic. Getting to show my art and share my music was a dream come true. I loved that it was called the "starving artist" cafe. I always used to joke that I couldn't be a starving artist because I wanted to eat. I loved to create art and music but I still needed a regular job to pay the bills and earn a living. I am in awe of the artists who struggle to make ends meet through their art alone. For me it's always just been a hobby. For a while it wasn't even that because there wasn't time. Now I was starting to see how much art and music were helping me. In the past when I was still making art and music that helped to keep me sane, even when things were stressful at work. Creativity is such an important outlet for me. I really do need that. It felt good to discover it again.

My doctor was retiring. The news hit me hard. She was like a member of the family. She had been there for decades and had seen me through so many things. She delivered Michelle. Now she was going to be gone. She was passing her practice on to another younger doctor who she assured me was very nice but it was still going to be a stranger. The thought of starting from scratch with someone new was overwhelming. I still had ongoing issues with mental health/being on stress leave. How would I explain everything to someone new? I didn't have a choice. I would just have to. As I kept being reminded, change was a constant, whether I liked it or not. Michelle really loved our doctor and she was going to miss her too. I took Michelle to see her one last time. It was good to hear that Michelle was healthy and that I'd done a great job with her anyway. It was always nice to hear, especially from a doctor. I may have messed up when it comes to my own health but I had taken good care of Michelle anyway.

My Mom can't understand why I do this blog and others have commented that I'm crazy to put so much of my life out there. It probably isn't wise, to wear my heart on my sleeve, to share my diary with complete strangers, but in a crazy way it helps to keep me sane. This is one of the good things in my life, no matter what else I'm going through, there are these happy moments and I need to celebrate them. It took a long time for me to finish this post and I did consider not posting it for a while and just stopping this blog period. If you're reading this it means I decided to publish it. It was supposed to be done in August but now we're 3/4 of the way through September...

One really hot day after mowing the lawn I asked Michelle if she wanted to run through the sprinkler to cool down. I set the timer to get a photo. I even managed to catch myself mid flying leap as you can see above. Mind you this was after a couple of rather clumsy failed attempts which I won't share here! That's the thing about selfies -- no one will see the really bad ones.

Michelle caught some toads again. We weren't even sure if they were different ones or maybe the same ones we met before. We caught some worms, grasshoppers and flies for them while they stayed in our little plastic bed and breakfast.

School was over. June was over. Summer had just officially begun. I would have two months to spend with my girl, or not... I didn't know what to expect. My situation still seemed pretty precarious. I didn't have answers -- what, where, when, how? It's scary for a control freak who likes to have all their ducks in a row to not know what's going to happen or what to do. To be in this state of limbo, trying to figure things out. I decided that all I could do was take it one day at a time. Keep focusing on the good, trying to avoid stress, doing things that made me happy, going to therapy. I had good days and bad. Writing was cathartic on the bad days. Photography was a celebration on the happy days. These are the happy days. I am grateful for them. I'm happy to have this outlet to share them. Thank you for reading and sharing my journey with me. Summer would be an adventure too... I'll save that for the next blog if there is one. I think there will be but it's hard to say because I'm just taking it one day at a time. I don't know what tomorrow holds. What I'm starting to realize is that NO ONE DOES. No one is guaranteed tomorrow. Even if they think they're settled in their career, relationship, home, health, sanity, situation. It can all change. In a day, in an instant. All you have is this moment. So be in it. I'm trying to remember this...