Friday, November 30, 2018


July and August were like fireworks. Hot and brief. Beautiful, crazy and over in seconds. It was the hottest Summer I could remember. So many days were 30-40 degrees Celsius out. Too hot to handle. It's not normal but it's the new normal. We tried to limit our time outdoors. Global warming, #ClimateChange were wreaking havoc around the world. In Canada things were just a LOT hotter.

Michelle loved catching toads. Here she is holding a baby toad so tiny you almost can't see him in her little fingers. Adorable. She was thrilled to find them and I was thrilled for the photo op.

Michelle became our official toad saver every time I mowed the lawn. I'd see one hop out in front of me and stop the mower, then she'd collect him in her little plastic toad hotel. We'd catch bugs for them to eat. We'd keep them for a day or two and then let them go. Michelle said when she grew up she wanted to "Save the Animals." I told her she can do anything she wants to do.

Just like that it was JULY! July 1st. Crazy. Time was flying. Michelle was done school and now we could share adventures together. We were going to spend Canada Day with Auntie May. We let our little toad friends go and then headed off for a visit. 

Michelle was excited to see fireworks for the first time. I had always loved fireworks. I was a little worried because it was SUCH a hot day and there would be a lot of walking. Also there is always a HUGE crowd for fireworks displays and it can be overwhelming. Parking is always a nightmare. And the show can't start until it's dark enough, which, in the Summer is VERY LATE. Like 10 pm. A bit late to be out with kids but people do it. And after all the walking and wading through the crowd and waiting for it to start, the show itself is over in a few minutes. It's sort of a metaphor for life.

Shane dropped us off near the park so we didn't have to contend with parking anyway. There was a HUGE crowd and it was still fairly early in the day. We got maple leaf temporary tattoos and Michelle got a red balloon animal. A lot of people were dressed in red and white. At least sometimes other people are into theme dressing too -- so it's not just me! I was wearing a red shirt and maple leaf pants. Michelle had on a red and white maple leaf dress (no they didn't have a matching one in my size unfortunately. Though it's probably just as well. It would likely not have been as cute on me!) Shannon and Reggie were very festive in red and white too. I don't think May was wearing red and white. She didn't want to be in the pictures.

It was a HUGE crowd with a very LONG line up for everything. Michelle and Reggie wanted to go in the Bouncy Castles. Personally I couldn't understand the appeal of jumping around in 45 Celsius heat. Even just standing still I felt like I was going to spontaneously combust never mind jumping up and down, but kids will be kids. The heat didn't seem to bother them that much. It was late in the day but the sun was still out just as bright as if it were noon.

Of course I couldn't resist snapping some photos of Michelle bouncing around in the inflatables. She was having a ball. Mama, not so much. I was hot and tired and thirsty. The line up to get ice cream was about 100 people deep and I wasn't feeling that ambitious. Plus I had to keep an eye on the kids. May had gone to the washroom I think. There were so many people that everything was just a huge hassle/ordeal. Still, it was the first time Michelle would be seeing fireworks so I figured it was worth it.

It still wasn't nearly dark enough for the fireworks to start but we figured we'd claim a spot on the grass before there weren't any spots left. We figured we'd have a good view near the stage. Unfortunately it was going to be a long wait and Michelle was running out of patience. She wanted ice cream. The line up for ice cream was now about 1000 people long. I figured I'd be better off leaving the park and finding ice cream somewhere down the street at that rate. So I set off on a venture while they waited. I walked. And walked. And walked all the way down the street. There were crowds everywhere. After a certain point I did the math and realized that even IF I found ice cream now, at this distance, by the time I got back to the park with it, it would be melted. After my long absence Michelle was BEYOND bummed that I had no ice cream for her. I told her it was a trip through Hell for me too and all for naught. I promised her we'd get ice cream somewhere after the fireworks were over.

Trying to be patient, we took some pictures at least. It was getting a little darker out and we were excited to see the fireworks. There were crowds everywhere. Shannon saw a couple of her friends in the crowd and went to sit with them.

Michelle and Reggie were getting restless. At one point Reggie started flossing (the dance, not the tooth cleaner!) to break the monotony. At this point I really just wanted to get out of the crowd and get home. Huge crowds start to make me feel claustrophobic. Mostly because I was nearly crushed in a crowd at a concert once.

Michelle asked if she could play on my phone. The only games I have on my ancient i-Phone are Angry Birds and Nom Nom (or whatever that monster eating candy game is called.) I only have them because Shannon put them on there for me. I don't mind Michelle playing on it for a few minutes here and there (in doctor's offices etc) to keep her happy.

I tried to catch a picture of her in the light of the screen and it turned out kind of cool, like there are two of her. Trippy. So she had her game and I had photography. We were both happy. But I really wished the fireworks would start. Capturing fireworks is a challenge but sometimes it works out.

When we claimed our spot we didn't realize that the stage actually blocks a lot of the fireworks so we didn't get to sit and enjoy them after all. We had to get up and move to a better spot and stand for them. It was worth the wait though. They were beautiful and Michelle was THRILLED!

It's magical. Out of the darkness the sound, the explosion of light and colour and these breathtaking creations like flowers that bloom for only an instant then disappear. It's such a metaphor for life. You wait and wait for these beautiful, magical moments and then they arrive but just as quickly they're over. That's why I take so many pictures because it's the only way you get to hold on. Something so ephemeral is suddenly eternal. The moment frozen in time.

I took a hundred pictures. They weren't all gems. A lot of them I snapped too early or too late or they were blurry. It's hard to get the perfect shot unless you have a fancy camera on a tripod and everything. It was hard to keep my hand steady enough. Especially when I had to hold Michelle with one arm because she said that she couldn't see in the crowd. I can't tell you how hard it is trying to balance a camera on your palm with one hand while holding a 50 lb girl on your hip with the other.

We didn't want it to end. 1. Because you never want good things to end and 2. Because once it was over we had to make our way through the MASSIVE crowd and make a very long hike to meet Shane. In order to escape the parking nightmare Shane had dropped us off and was picking us up. Unfortunately he couldn't get anywhere near the park. There were thousands of people flooding into the streets. So we had to walk a LONG way to meet him. Michelle was tired and asked me to piggyback her. I was tired too and being a beast of burden was not helping. It had been a long day/night. I couldn't wait to go to bed or even just to LIE DOWN. Still, even if it's midnight, a promise is a promise. I told Michelle we'd get ice cream somehow. Shane stopped by McDonalds so we could get cones. Everyone was pretty sleepy but you just can't say no to ice cream. We also had sparklers to light so we did that for a minute before we headed home.

All in all it had been a fun day. I love spending time with May and the kids. My Mom doesn't come on outings like this because she's not a fan of being outdoors, walking etc. She would have been complaining it was too hot, nowhere to sit, etc. Also she's never been a big fan of fireworks.

I love sharing adventures with Michelle. I wanted to give her the best Summer ever. I was grateful to have more time to spend with her. She's growing up so fast and these moments are precious. I thought about all the things we could do together -- trips to the beach, excursions, whatever she wanted to do. There was a lot to look forward to. I needed that. Even though it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows, Michelle helped to keep me distracted from my own problems. I was still going through therapy. I still had a lot to work out.

Now that Michelle was out of school, I had to take her everywhere with me, even to my therapy appointments. I worried how she would be. I asked her to please sit quietly and read or draw or play on my phone. She chose to play on my phone at first.

She was good as gold and didn't really interrupt or anything. She just sat there quietly in the corner. Of course I didn't really feel as free to open up with my therapist about my struggles. I try to shield Michelle as much as possible. I don't want her to realize the degree to which Mama is falling apart. I cry during many of my sessions. With Michelle there I managed to restrain myself. Just barely. My eyes were welling back but I choked back the tears. I want Michelle to feel secure. Part of that is pretending that Mama is strong and is holding it together. Even when that couldn't be further from the truth.

I'm not a fan of guns but if it's a bubble gun I can allow it! Michelle loves bubbles. Most kids do. Even I do for that matter. There's something magical about them. These tiny little glassy orbs with swirling rainbows of colours. There they are out of thin air, round and perfect as a planet but so fragile. You chase them and then POP they're gone. It's like fireworks. I have a weakness for beautiful things that don't last. (Like love too I guess but I've managed to live without that for years now. Romantic love anyway. Michelle is my unconditional love now and that's all I need.) Once again, the impermanent (bubble) is made permanent in photos. It may have only lived for seconds but there it is in a photographic image forever. I am a photoholic because I have this obsessive need to hold on to the moment forever. It's the only way you can. Each moment is gone. Just like that. Summer ended like a moment. I still can't believe it's Winter now as I type this...

Spending time with Michelle was the best therapy. The stress and worries would melt away for a few moments at least. What could there be to worry about when your little girl is laughing and chasing bubbles? She lives in this shiny, perfect, magical, beautiful world. It was a world I wanted to inhabit too. Such a sharp contrast to the real world, the one I was trying to forget about, the one that broke me, the one that was falling apart, full of despair and pain and anger and fear, a people and planet in trouble while I felt helpless to do anything about it. Sometimes watching Michelle I could silence the anxiety for a few moments. Real life it seemed to me was a horror movie. I wanted to live in a Disney movie. Sharing your days with a Princess helps!

Ali loved being outside too. I let her come out with us most of the time. We had to keep an eye on her though. Even with her big round belly she can slip under the fences in a couple of spots. For the most part she was content to relax in her own yard without making a break for it.

She was happy and purring. Her fur warm in the sunshine. The sound of a cat purring is one of the most soothing sounds in the world. If I could spend every minute with my two girls, Michelle and Ali, they could keep me safe from any distressing thoughts or dark realities. Unfortunately ignoring and avoiding problems doesn't always (or ever?) make them go away. They were still waiting for me to deal with them. Usually they would wait until I try to lay down at night to sleep and then my mind would not shut off. I would worry and spin and get myself into a panic about all the things I couldn't control (just about everything!)

"Where do you want to go today?"
"The BEACH!"
It was our happy place. Michelle loved playing in the sand and water. I loved the zen of relaxing at the beach. The sun, sand and sound of waves and seagulls. And the palm trees. I LOVE palm trees. I may not be able to fly around the world and visit the tropical paradise of my dreams (with #ClimateChange and natural disasters wreaking havoc on many of my bucket list locations it may be just as well!) but I could at least make a day trip to Port Dover Beach and relax in the sand underneath the palm trees and PRETEND I'm somewhere tropical!

Michelle is a social butterfly. It just comes naturally to her. She makes friends everywhere we go. I envy her confidence and ability to turn strangers into friends so easily. I have NEVER had that. Not even close. I'm an introvert. Insecure, shy, quiet. I could live somewhere for years and not talk to anyone. She will go somewhere for one day and she knows everyone. I'm glad she's that way. It makes life easier for her. I know that some of it is innate -- as a Leo she's a natural born leader -- but I'd like to think part of her confidence comes from her having a solid foundation of love and support. When you feel loved and safe and secure you have the confidence to take risks because you know someone always has your back. I never really had that. I know my Mom loved me in her own way but I always felt somewhat unloved, unnoticed and unappreciated in the family. I constantly doubted myself and felt like a failure at everything (even when I won first place, awards etc.) It felt like I was never good enough. I felt like I had to knock myself out to get any attention and even then it didn't matter. But enough about me! Long story short, I wanted Michelle to have the advantages I didn't have in life. I do everything I can to help her to believe in herself and to be happy and feel like she can do anything because I never had that.

After a trip to the beach we also both love looking around the little shops nearby with cute beach decor. There were so many cool things. We couldn't buy it all so we got a picture with it at least. I thought how nice it would be to have a beach house by the ocean and fill it with all these cute beach themed decorative items. Of course in today's climate coastal living is risky. So many apocalyptic storms. At least we're relatively safe in Canada. For now. I try not to think about the Apocalypse too much. But it does keep me up some nights.

One day Michelle just wanted to hang out at home and dress up and do her makeup. She wound up gothing it up with a bat headband, black dress and lipstick. It's not surprising she's drawn to things Gothic. Her father was basically a goth (or actually the Prince of Darkness himself!) and would watch nothing but disturbing horror movies. Her Mama had a Goth period (in my 20s) where I would only wear black, watch and read horror, draw and paint morbid self portraits, reading Sylvia Plath and penning my own depressing poems. These days I prefer bright colours. Pink, turquoise, lavender. These days I can't even watch horror movies because I don't want to go there. I feel like I lived through it in real life (in my job and personal life.) I don't want to think about the darkness. I want to focus on unicorns and rainbows. I want to live in a magical fairy tale world of smiles and glitter and pretty things. And as the Mom of a 6 year old girl, it's not hard to do. Spending most of my time with Michelle helped to keep me distracted.

As a child I wished I could take piano lessons and I never got to. So when Michelle wanted to take piano I said yes. I'm so grateful to be able to give her that. It's been amazing watching her learn to read music and play so many songs. I'm proud of her. She loves it too. Sometimes I had to hound her to practice piano and I told her how lucky she was because I never got lessons. But soon she was enthusiastic about practicing. She wanted to do it on her own. I didn't even have to ask her. And when it was a song she really liked she would play it over and over until she had it memorized. One time she even transposed a song. Her teacher was impressed.

I never learned to read music. I just learned to play basic chords on the guitar. But even from those chords the songs came flooding out. It was wonderful to be able to share my songs again, to be part of a songwriting community. It had been years since I'd done that. After having Michelle I figured it wasn't an option. I couldn't drag a baby out to open mic nights. But now she was old enough to appreciate it. It wasn't too late of a night and being Summer it's not like she had school the next day. So we started going to the open stage at the Starving Artist Cafe. I loved seeing art from local artists and hearing other singers/songwriters perform. It was like coming home.

Our own art show! I was thrilled not only to be able to play my music again but to be able to show my artwork. Michelle wanted to be involved too so I included one of her drawings of a cat in the show (along with my pink and turquoise cats and portraits.) We got the spot right by the window so people passing by on the street could see our work. It was kind of surreal to see my paintings in the cafe. Art had been therapy for me. I included many of my new watercolour paintings in the show. I got a lot of positive response on my work however I didn't sell any paintings. Michelle said she was a bit sad we didn't sell anything but also glad because she really didn't want to part with her work. I felt the same way. When the month was over and we were taking the work down I told her we'd display them at home and have our own art gallery.

One of my pieces was considered somewhat controversial: my Yoga Jesus. An East meets West/Christian meditation watercolour with Jesus in lotus. It's something I had thought about years ago and wanted to do. There were times in my life when I really needed Jesus to watch over me. I thought it would be cool to do a portrait of him to watch over me. I picture Jesus as this calm, cool, laid back peace and love hippie and that's what I love about Him. He's the opposite of the fire and brimstone angry God of the old testament. Anyway, I never got around to doing my Yoga Jesus portrait until now. I felt like I needed Jesus more than ever and now I had the time to work on it. Plus I was doing yoga every day and it just felt right. One woman in the cafe questioned whether it was blasphemous to show Jesus like that. I said I meant no disrespect. I love Jesus. But I also love yoga. To me you can be spiritual and embrace both eastern and western philosophies. Peace and love. How can that be wrong? I was relieved no one bought Jesus because I wanted Him back home with me.

My paintings, like my songs, are so intensely personal. It's like putting my heart and soul out there for the world to see. It was nice to hear positive feedback about them. Some people said that I put a little of myself into all of my portraits. I've heard that about other artists. It's natural. Every artist has their own style and you can tell it's theirs when you look at any of their work. I was a little hurt/disappointed not to sell anything but it goes with the territory. It's called the "Starving Artist" cafe for a reason. Very few are able to eke out a living as an artist. Many of the most famous artists, whose paintings sell for millions today, died penniless. I was too practical/afraid to go all in with any of my creative pursuits. I dabbled in art, writing, acting. I always had a regular job to pay the bills. But I needed creativity as a hobby to keep me sane. When I lost that I started to lose myself and break down. Of course being under constant stress and on no sleep didn't help much either!
Michelle posing with her own picture in the art show. She was so proud. "I can't believe I'm only 5 years old and I HAVE AN ART SHOW!" I was happy to be able to give her that. I wanted to support her and encourage her to go after her dreams whatever they may be. Some days she wanted to be an artist or a designer. Other days she wanted to be a doctor or a scientist. She loved ballet and piano. I told her she could be whatever she wanted. She has the talent, the intelligence, the spark and most importantly the confidence to go after whatever she wants and get it. It's like I get to live my life over again, only better. Michelle is a vast improvement over Mama. Where fear and self-doubt held me back and kept me from taking risks most of the time, Michelle has the courage and confidence to just go for it. It helps that she gets so much love and support, attention and praise. I figure if I've done nothing else right in my life I can at least get this right. She is more important to me than anything.

Michelle and me dancing with a flock of other random strangers at the Children's Festival. I was glad to share adventures with my girl and moments like this one, even though it was a bit embarrassing. A dancer approached us and asked if we'd be involved. All we had to do was follow her movements swaying back and forth. Then it would pass to another dancer on another stage and we'd have to follow them. At one point we were just flapping our wings like birds. It was sort of freeing to be standing in the middle of a crowd, looking sort of silly and not really caring. I had been so serious for so long, it was about time for me to get back in touch with my silly side. The secret to happiness is to maintain your childlike sense of wonder, to be spontaneous once in a while. For a control freak and worrier like me it's not easy task. But I can do it for a few moments here and there!

Wherever we are, if there is face painting, Michelle is down for it!

She wanted to be a pink kitty because of course she did. It's so cute. I love the little ears drawn over her eyebrows and her pink nose.

I was so glad that Auntie May had suggested going to the Children's Festival even though it was such a hot day I felt like I was going to melt. Just about every day was like that. It wasn't so bad if you were going swimming but if you were walking around it was scorching. Somehow kids don't seem to feel the heat as much. They still wanted to run amok anyway. We needed to stay hydrated though. Luckily they had fountains to refill your water bottles as needed. And we spent some time in the building to get a little A/C.

Bucket list: bucket ride!

Michelle wanted a ride in the bucket so we waited in a VERY long line for her to get her wish. Some kids had their parents with them in the bucket. Michelle said no, she wanted to go it alone. It was a little unnerving for me to watch my baby being hoisted into the sky in a bucket attached to a crane. But I let her do it because it made her happy and I know that letting her do things that scare me is necessary for her to learn and grow and be all that she can be. But the bubble wrap/helicopter parent in me was silently screaming. Still, it was a photo op. I asked her to wave when she got to the top but she forgot. I could barely even see her looking out over the edge. We waited for what seemed like an hour and then the ride only lasted a few seconds but that's just how it is with everything.

We went inside the building to cool off and there was some beautiful colourful artwork on display. So of course we had to pose with some of it. There were also activities for the kids. I was in no hurry to venture back out into the heat and the kids seemed relieved for the break as well. I can see in the photos how shiny we were. It was a scorcher but then there were a lot of those. At least we are in Canada where it's still habitable. Places that were already hot now experience lethal temperatures. Global warming is wreaking havoc in so many ways. For the most part I tried not to think about it. Staying distracted by doing fun things with Michelle seemed to be the best medicine against anxiety about my own life and the world in general. Unicorns and rainbows. Focus on the pretty things. Don't even look at anything mildly distressing.

And then there were bubbles!

We came upon a theatre room where kids were running amok chasing bubbles. Michelle and Reggie were right in there too. There's something magical about bubbles and kids can't resist chasing them. Unfortunately the kids were so focused on the bubbles they weren't always watching where they were going and there were a few head on (literally) collisions among the kids. When the decibel level of the screaming became unbearable we decided to move on. There was a craft room where the kids could make their own leaf magnets.

I absolutely LOVED the artwork. It was so vibrant and happy. So many rich colours. It almost made me want to break out my easel and paint canvases again. For now I was content just to paint my small watercolours. Unless you have a gallery showing to display your work, massive canvases can take up a lot of room. I thought how wonderful it would be to have a studio with room to work on enormous canvases. Maybe if I win the lottery. To be able to paint full time would be amazing.

Michelle is not afraid of snakes. Not even a HUGE python. I'm not afraid of snakes either. Mice, frogs, lizards, snakes. They're all cute to me. I can't be afraid of things that are cute. Insects, faceless, multi-legged, creepy sinister looking monsters are NOT CUTE. They are the ones that scare me! I've always had a phobia of bugs and spiders. Although I am warming up to spiders since they at least eat the other insects. Also because of Charlotte's Web.

Whenever Michelle wanted to go to the beach I was game. Summer wouldn't last forever. It was going so fast. If it was a nice day and the sun was shining, why not go for it? It makes both of us happy. It is literally my happy place. Of course it was always a bit of a production for us to head to the beach. I wish I was one of those people that could just throw a towel in a bag and be done, but no. We're gingers so we have to slather ourselves head to toe in sunscreen. I have to pack a bag of towels -- ones to sit on and ones to dry off with, a bag of snacks and drinks, a bag of sand toys. A trip to the beach means a LOT of baggage. Thankfully there is a parking lot right by the beach but on a busy day it can be hard to find a spot. Weekends in the Summer are pretty crazy. Even weekdays could be busy in July with all the people on vacation.

I never tire of the palm trees. I just love them. There is something so comforting about palm trees. When I went to the Dominican Republic, it felt like home. Part of me wanted to live there. I tried to bring the tropics to my own home by creating a mini tropical paradise in my backyard (with tropical plants, an artificial palm tree and a "beach" of sand. All I needed was the water) but it wasn't the same. My dream was to live by the ocean. Of course with climate change even paradise isn't paradise anymore. There are people who have lost everything. Their homes washed away. Natural disasters are at an all time high. It's dangerous to live too close to the ocean when the polar cap is melting and water levels are rising. At least a day trip to Port Dover lets me feel like I'm somewhere tropical, right here in Ontario.

"You're the best Mama in the world," Michelle said to me often. I always loved hearing it.
"And you're the best little girl in the world!"

My Mom said I was spoiling Michelle by indulging her every whim. Getting her whatever she wanted (within reason), taking her everywhere she asked. "She won't even remember all the places you took her and all that you did for her," my Mom warned me.
"Yes she will!" I said "I have photographic evidence!"
Yes someday Michelle will be a teenager and maybe Mama won't seem so cool anymore and maybe she won't want to go anywhere with me but at least I'll be able to show her all the adventures we had together. And I hope she won't give me too hard of a time when she's older. I hope she'll always be my sweet girl. For now I'm just so grateful to have time to spend with her. It means more than anything.
Ali needed a bath. She had for quite sometime but I kept putting it off because it's just about the most unpleasant thing you can imagine. Michelle kept asking me to do it because she thought it would be fun/funny to watch. Oh sure. It's fun if you're not involved but it's the opposite of fun for Ali (cats are NOT a fan of water) or for Mama (who just about gets clawed to death trying to wrestle an overweight soaking cat). Ali was definitely NOT amused but at least we all survived the experience. Michelle laughed her head off.

We became regulars at the Starving Artist Cafe. It was a chance to visit our art and for me to share some of my music. Though I didn't sell any paintings I did sell a CD one night when a woman admired my music and bought one of my CDs. It was nice. My CD "Magnetic" was released TEN YEARS AGO! A decade ago. It's crazy. It seems like a lifetime ago. My life is so different now. Back then I was in a relationship, part of the musical community, playing music, working full time. I never could have imagined back then that one day I would have a child, be a single Mom. You never know how your life can change. It felt good to be playing music in public again. I had missed it. Michelle enjoyed it too. She often wanted to come up with me on stage and stand beside me while I performed. It was different every week. Some weeks there were only a few stragglers. Other weeks it was packed. You just never knew. It wasn't air conditioned though so it was VERY HOT in there. Especially on stage under the lights!

One of Michelle's best friends wasn't able to come to her party because she was going to be out of town so she asked to have a play date with Michelle. The girls had a blast. Her dad had a sprinkler underneath the trampoline (genius!) so they could jump around and be cooled off at the same time. The control freak in me was a little worried that she could get hurt. Something about jumping around on a slippery surface sounded dangerous but I just let go and trusted she would be OK. I had some things to get done around the house and having a little time to myself was a godsend. It was tough having Michelle home all Summer because I had to drag her everywhere (grocery shopping, appointments etc) and I had no time to myself. Michelle was becoming more independent and could entertain herself playing or reading but most of the time she wanted me to play with her or we'd go out. I felt pressured to entertain her and it made it hard to get anything done.

Every time I mowed the lawn now Michelle would
catch toads and put them in her little aquarium. They were cute. We always let them go the next day. It was pretty cool to watch them for a while. I wondered if they appreciated the break from the heat being inside an air conditioned home. It was so hot most days -- like 40 degrees. I was sweating buckets when I mowed the lawn. My face would be beat red and I'd feel like I was going to collapse. Then I couldn't even go in and cool off/relax because I had to help Michelle get bugs and worms to feed the toads!

When I made pancakes Michelle would tell me what shape she wanted them to be in: cats, bunnies, butterflies. Some were harder than others. Then one day I surprised her with frog/toad pancakes in honour of our little toad guests.

"Do we HAVE to let them go?" Michelle would ask me.
"Yes. It's not fair to keep them captive. They need to be free." So she'd reluctantly let them go and I couldn't resist snapping several photos of the experience. They were so tiny and cute in her little hands.

She asked me again if we could keep them. I told her absolutely not. They needed to eat and we weren't going to go looking for bugs and worms again. I wasn't even sure if they were eating them or not. Plus, they wanted to be free. It wasn't fair to keep them cooped up.
"I'm going to miss you little guy," Michelle said. I assured her that she would probably see them, or some of their brothers, again.
"They live in our yard. They're our little neighbours. You can catch them again next time I mow the lawn."

It took twice as long to mow the lawn these days because I had to keep watching the grass to make sure no one was in harm's way and to stop the mower and pick them up if a toad hopped into my path.

Michelle told me not to come into the room. She was working on something and I couldn't see it until she was done. Then I saw this adorable poster -- it's a huge drawing on a piece of bristol board.
"You are the best Mama in the world."
It was so sweet. I put it up on the basement door so I could see it all the time from the kitchen. Michelle loved drawing. She made a series of portraits of the family -- a self portrait, a portrait of Mama, Gramma and Grampa. They're so cute. The one of my dad looks just like him! She even added details like the little tufts of hair on his head. She put more details into the eyes and eyelashes. She had been studying my drawings and paintings closely and wanted to draw more like Mama. She didn't think her drawings were good enough. I reminded her that I'm a LOT older than her so I have a lot more practice. For five years old (almost six) her artwork was excellent.

We went to see Hotel Transylvania 3 in 3D and loved it. It was cute and hilarious. We pretty much see every animated movie that comes out. The Hotel Transylvania series is one of our favourites. We were looking forward to seeing the new one. It was cool to have a change of scenery as well with the characters on a cruise ship.

Movies are such an escape. Whatever else is going on in your life you can sit in the darkened theatre and let that magical world on the screen pull you in. You forget everything for those two hours. The movie is all that exists.

Distraction was what I needed. Spending time with Michelle and trying to make it a shiny happy Disney movie for her 99% of the time seemed like the right thing to do. Some days it was easier than others.

We went to Nelson Park Pool one day with Gramma and Auntie May. We all love the pool. The beach is great except that the lake is cold, even on the hottest Summer day and dirty and full of seaweed and it's usually too wavy to swim. The pool is clean and HEATED so even if it's not too hot outside the water is perfect. The cold doesn't seem to bother the kids as much but for my Mom, my sister and me, we have a hard time easing into the water. We have to go in stages -- up to our knees, up to our waist then up to our chest (the chest is the hardest.) In a heated pool you can just go right in and it's refreshing.

I tried teaching Michelle to swim but it wasn't working. She was getting frustrated and I was getting stressed out. She enjoyed floating in her floatie lion anyway. I thought about getting her swimming lessons. I wish I'd had swimming lessons as a kid. My sister did as part of her school curriculum but I went to schools without a pool. Though I did learn to swim eventually it wasn't very well and I don't feel confident in deep water. I tend to panic if the water is too deep so I just avoid it. I like to keep my head above the water in every sense.

I had an important meeting to go to and I had to take Michelle with me. It just didn't seem feasible to drop her off at my Mom's in the opposite direction. I asked if it was OK if I brought my daughter. Thankfully it was. I was a nervous wreck on the way. Worried I'd be late, worried how it would go, worried how Michelle would be. Construction issues and road closures notwithstanding I managed to make it on time. Thankfully Michelle was an angel during the meeting. Everyone commented how good she was. She sat there quietly drawing and playing on my phone and didn't make a peep. If only Mama was as calm and composed. I was pretty emotional. It was a lot. I tend to catastrophize. I was worried what the future would hold, scared that I didn't have all the answers. Everyone was very supportive, kind and reassuring. They weren't putting pressure on me. I was putting pressure on myself. After the meeting I needed to go to my happy place to break the tension so we went to the Butterfly Conservatory. 

Stepping inside the Butterfly Conservatory is literally like entering another world -- a magical tropical world where it's always Summer, there are always flowers and butterflies. Like going to the movies, it's a beautiful distraction, sheer escapism. I wanted to be distracted. I didn't want to face the issues in my life, in the world. I wanted to focus on beautiful things -- a perfect world of unicorns and rainbows and butterflies. Michelle helped me to do that. I could use the excuse that I was doing these things for her but they were just as much for me. Beauty is a necessity for me, as much as food, water, shelter. When I feel surrounded by ugliness and there is no time or opportunity to appreciate beauty, my soul starts to die. I get sick, physically and mentally. I had been there. I never wanted to go there again. I didn't want to think about it. My Mom was always calling to tell me the latest horrors in the news. "Nope. I don't want to hear it." What is the point of focusing on things that make you feel helpless/hopeless? I needed to be hopeful. For myself and my girl.

I love these moments with my sweet girl. I had read books about mindfulness. Sometimes I was able to be in the moment, especially when it was a moment I wanted to be in. I could take a deep breath and appreciate the beauty of my surroundings. Noticing every detail. Being really present. The past and the future didn't matter. I had this. I could cherish this. There were other moments I didn't really want to be in. When I was stressed, stuck in traffic, having a bad day. Sometimes I was anywhere but in the present -- I would swing back and forth between regret and despair over the past and anxiety over the future. Living in the past and the future can never bring happiness. The only way to be happy is to enjoy the Now, which is really all that there is. It's easier for children. Michelle's joy was boundless. She appreciated every moment. Life was magical to her. I wanted to feel that way too. Being around her helped. I was hoping her enthusiasm would rub off on me.

I love this picture! I love Michelle's cute smile here.

A butterfly landed on her foot and stayed there quite a while. Maybe it was drawn to her glittery bejeweled sandal. A kind stranger offered to take our picture so I didn't have to set the self-timer which was always a bit of a crap shoot. You never knew what it would take or whether someone who blunder right into the shot.

You feel privileged when a butterfly lands on you. One of the staff told us at one point that butterflies taste with their feet. They land on fruit and flowers to drink the sweet nectar so if a butterflies lights on your they must think that you're sweet. Michelle is sweeter than any fruit or flower.

Michelle makes friends just about everywhere we go but it's not often that I do. We met a Mom and her son. Her camera was broken so I offered to take photos of she and her son and email them to her. We wound up walking around together and talking. It turned out we had a lot in common -- both single Moms who suffered from anxiety, who worked in stressful fields, who had been in toxic relationships. It was sort of uncanny. The kids were getting along famously too. She said it was unusual for her son to click with someone so well and he was very fond of Michelle. It was sweet. Even after leaving we stood and talked for an hour. We made plans to get together again for a play date. The kids didn't want to leave. "Can't she come over for lunch?" he asked. "Yes Mama can't we go with them?" It was nearly dinnertime by this point and they lived a distance away. We assured the kids we'd see each other again sometime.

I got a group photo of all of us. It was so nice to talk to someone who could relate to a lot of what I had been through and was going through. I told her about my situation, my stress, going through therapy, my meeting earlier and how we stopped by the Butterfly Conservatory afterward to cheer me up/get my mind off things. It seemed like it was fate that we meet. The kids bonded so well too. It was wonderful. 
The butterflies loved Michelle. At one point one of them landed on her hair and was fluttering its wings right by her ear. It was almost like it was trying to whisper something into her ear. I caught a little of it on video as you can see. It was such a sweet experience. I was so glad we had gone. If I'd headed straight home after the meeting I would have been stewing and spinning and worrying about the future, getting in my head and torturing myself with what ifs, thoughts of failure, guilt etc. (It's what I do!) Instead, we went to our Happy Place and were reminded that life is beautiful and there is hope. And I'm not alone. There are people who understand and can relate. 

My little unicorn and me. We had become regulars at the Starving Artist Cafe. Some weeks it was so crowded I was worried we wouldn't get a seat. Luckily we got our bench by the window underneath our artwork. It would be a little sad when we'd have to take our paintings down. It felt good to display my art again. Michelle was so proud that she had a picture in the show too. She talked about selling her artwork. I reminded her that we may not sell anything (which we didn't!) Our work was a little different from a lot of the other artists. A lot of the work was rather dark, gothic and macabre. Skeletons, ghoulish faces or angry looking abstracts. If that was what people were looking for they would find our pretty girls and pink cats a little too frou frou. Art is so subjective. I was a goth back in the day myself and my art used to be very dark -- mostly morbid self-portraits. Now I like to focus on beauty and hope. My happy place. Yoga Jesus, pretty girls and cats.

Bunny! We were visiting Auntie May one day and spotted a rabbit in the yard. The kids got as close as they could before it hopped away. I managed to get a photo or two before he was gone anyway.

Michelle and me always had a ball at Auntie May's. This time it was to pick up Michelle's birthday present. My sister got her a sandbox. My Mom thought it was crazy "She's too old for that!" I said you're never too old for sand between your toes and she loves playing in the sand. I used to have a beach in my yard.

Uncle Shane and his toys... He flew a drone over the house and showed them the video footage that it took. It was pretty cool. It almost looked like a UFO up there. Shane loves technology. He's pretty much the opposite of me. He always had to have all the latest gadgets and gizmos while I continued to muddle through with my ancient cellphone, old laptop (that was on its last legs) and old camera with a scratched lens. I know that most of the world is like Shane. They replace their computers and phones every couple of years. Forced obsolescence almost gives you no choice. But I'm stubborn and resistant to change so I just make do.

Michelle wanted to go shopping. She wanted to bring her own purse with her own money from her piggy bank and buy things herself. The Dollar Store seemed the best bet because it was somewhere that she could actually afford things. She wanted to push her own cart. The carts in the dollar store are so small it was the perfect size for her. She had a ball picking things out. She got a bit carried away grabbing things and I reminded her that she couldn't spend more than she had. She had to try to add it up in her head to make sure that she had enough to cover it. Everything in the store isn't $1 anymore. Some things are even $4. I thought it was a good experience for her though to get practice counting her money. She had so much change -- loonies, toonies, quarters, dimes and nickels. I was worried when she went to cash out that people would be getting impatient if she was counting out nickels.
She was so excited to cash out. She felt so grown up. It was cute and I was happy for her but I was also close to having a panic attack worrying about her dumping a purse full of piggy bank change on the counter and counting in slow motion while a long line up of strangers grumbled expletives behind us. At first she had said she wanted to pay by herself without help but she caved in when she realized it was going to be trickier than she thought. So I helped her. We used up most of the larger change but we did get rid of some of the nickels too. I counted them quickly on the counter. I had worked retail for years way back in the day so I could count change pretty quickly. After we left the store Michelle proudly carried her bag. She couldn't wait to get home and look at all her items and her receipt as a souvenir of how grown up she was.

In the pink...sand that is! Yes we filled Michelle's new sandbox with PINK SAND. I didn't even know that was a thing until we went to buy sand and they asked me which colour. Made by Crayola of course. When you're a girly girl you might as well have pink sand! It was pretty cool and was so SOFT! Softer than ordinary sand. The problem was that now there would be pink sand all over the house! It was bad enough with regular sand after a trip to the beach. I put a little mat by the patio door so we could wipe our feet as we went in. I just thought it would be nice for Michelle to be able to play in the sand while I do yard work.

She wanted me to come in and play with her so I did for a bit. I just sat on the edge. The box comes with a lid to protect the sand and it can be turned into a planter later on if you decide you don't want sand anymore. I wished I'd gotten her one years ago but better late than never even though my Mom still maintained it was a silly idea and she was too old for it. To me, she's only going to be a little girl for a short time so why not enjoy it any way that she can. She loved it and I thought it was pretty cool too.

When my sister had asked for birthday ideas for Michelle I'd only mentioned it in passing because sometimes they have sandboxes on sale but May surprised us with a huge one and then wanted Michelle to have it ahead of her birthday. It was too big to fit in the car with the whole family when they come for Michelle's birthday party.

I signed Michelle up for ballet. It was pretty stressful. It was a risk because ballet didn't start until the Fall and I had no idea what my schedule would be or anything but I took a chance. It was a studio that was less than half the price of other studios and it was too good an opportunity to pass up. If I didn't sign her up now I would miss out. Taking ballet and piano lessons had been my dream as a child and I never got to do it. Now that Michelle had the same dreams I wanted to encourage and support her any way I could. It's like I get to live over again, through Michelle and give her everything that I didn't have. So of course I will do anything I can to make that happen. Michelle had a ball running around and playing while I was handling registration. Once again she makes friends everywhere we go.

One of Michelle's friends came by to join her in her new sandbox.
"Pink sand? Cool!"
As a child I would have thought it was the coolest thing ever. Sometimes I envied Michelle. As a child I felt like I got the least attention and it seemed like I never got anything I wanted. Michelle is showered in attention and love and gets just about everything she wants. My Mom says I'm spoiling her but I don't think you can spoil a child with love. If giving her a lot of love, attention, praise and gifts makes her feel secure and loved and special then that sounds good to me!

As an early birthday present to Michelle I framed several of her drawings to hang around the house. She helped me decide how to lay them out in our home gallery. She was so excited to see her art in frames and displayed as though it were in an art show. I hung several of her animal portraits in the hall near the door, some of her abstracts beside the stairs and her family portraits at the top of the stairs. I left one empty wall on the landing of the stairs where I would put my watercolours from the art show when they returned home. I was pretty much resigned to the fact that none of them would sell and they didn't. Selling them would have been bittersweet anyway because I get attached to my creations and don't really want to part with them. I have only sold a couple of paintings in my life and it hurt to part with each one. I always tried to paint another version of it to replace it but it was never the same.

Michelle loved her piano lessons. She got especially excited when it was a song she enjoyed playing. Sometimes her teacher would give her a sticker as well as a check mark after she'd learned a song and played it to perfection. Her teacher didn't hand out stickers very often which made it more special and gave Michelle something to strive for. If it had been me I would have been inclined to give her a sticker every single time but then it doesn't mean as much. Sometimes Michelle struggled with a song she didn't really like or that was more difficult. I reminded her how lucky she was to be able to have piano lessons -- something I had always wanted and never had. Some days she didn't feel like practicing and I told her how important it is so that she will learn. Then other days she wanted to practice. She was excited to see herself progressing. I was proud of her.

Weird weather was the new normal. All around the world climate change was causing fires, floods, hurricanes, typhoons, tornadoes, sink holes. In Canada we mostly had a lot of hot weather and a lot more storms. One day the sky was dark and we could tell a storm was brewing. I thought it was just a thunderstorm but then we heard the pelting of tiny hail stones! I opened the front door to watch it for a bit and filmed Michelle's reaction. She held a piece of hail in her hand. It seemed bizarre that ice could fall from the sky in the middle of a hot Summer day.

We had been planning to go out that night to the Cafe but not in weather like that. We just stayed in.

Here is my video of Michelle "Hail!"

It was just as well we were staying in. I had a lot of work to do. Michelle's birthday party (parties -- one with her friends and one with family) were coming up and I had my hands full trying to get the house in order. The house was like a bomb hit it. I don't usually have visitors so I had kind of let it go for a while. Now it was overwhelming trying to tidy and clean everywhere. It took me days. On top of my seemingly endless to do list I was feeling especially tense, stressed, tired. I couldn't sleep which made everything worse. I was sort of hanging by a thread.

One night I was so exhausted I was like a zombie throwing the last load of laundry in. When I went to take it out it was the cherry on the cake of my day. There had been a Kleenex in the wash. "For fuck's sake!" I can't remember why I put a tissue in my pocket (to wipe my nose or my eyes?) but clearly I forgot about it and didn't check my pockets before throwing everything in the wash. Now there were THOUSANDS OF TINY LITTLE PIECES EVERYWHERE. It was like a metaphor for my life: Trying to hold it together but coming apart in thousands of pieces. I took the clothes out and shook them and it was like it was snowing in my house. Fucking figures. Michelle was asleep. I couldn't sleep. I was at the end of my rope. I just shook everything and put it in the dryer and cried and cried.

Michelle was excited for her birthday party with her friends. I was a nervous wreck. At least it was a nice day so the kids could be outside in the gazebo as planned. Unfortunately there were a few last minutes glitches that were pretty unsettling for a control freak. I'd given out the invitations a month ago because I wanted to catch her friends in her class before school let out. (I didn't have contact info for all of them so there would have been no way to invite them. The perils of a Summer birthday. Easier when it's during the school year.

Some people I never heard from at all. The RSVP date came and went and not a peep. OK. I mean I don't get it. If I can't make it to something I let people know ASAP. Some people think RSVP means you respond if you're going. Whatever. Then I thought maybe some people didn't even see the invite. It was the last week of school. Maybe parents didn't even open their kids' agenda or maybe they lost the invitation? A couple of the parents I had cell numbers for because Michelle had been to their parties so I texted them just in case. One of them said yes she had lost the invitation and her child would be coming. The other one STILL never responded. OK. I mean I guess she could have changed her phone number or died or something but I took it personally.

So only half of the kids invited could even make it but that was fine because I would have been overwhelmed with a huge group. Then the morning of, one of the Moms texted me that she couldn't make it. She had to go to the hospital to see her sister. That was a good excuse. It was last minute but life happens. At least she let me know and she said she'd pop by the next day with Michelle's gift. Another of Michelle's friends had moved away and I would have understood if her Mom didn't want to make that long trek but she said she was coming before school ended and texted to confirm. The day before she even asked if she could bring her other two daughters and stick around. I said yes of course and I had extra loot bags and everything.

So that day I was expecting her and her three daughters. When the party started and she wasn't there yet I figured she was held up in traffic or something. I checked and there was no text from her. It was a long drive (which I was sympathetic to because I had made many of them myself!) After half an hour of holding up the games however, I was getting worried/stressed and didn't know what to think or do. I tried to reach her and got no response. After 45 minutes I figured we couldn't wait anymore. She never showed. The party came and went and Michelle's friend and her Mom and her two sisters who were supposedly coming and who I waited 45 minutes for before starting the games were NO SHOWS. I couldn't fathom someone being that rude. Far worse not bothering to RSVP she had said she was coming (even bringing EXTRA KIDS!) and then doesn't show. No explanation. No apology. Nada. Unfathomable. Then a few hours after the party ends I get a text:
"Sorry. I just emerged. I must've had food poisoning. I was throwing up." I mean it COULD be true...but I felt like saying "Sorry I'm calling BS!" You could have texted between waves of nausea or asked your hubby to text and warn me that you weren't coming instead of making me wait for people who weren't coming! I told her I wish I'd known because I held up the games for almost an hour waiting. She said she would be in town in a couple of weeks and would drop by with Michelle's gift. I knew she was lying. I just couldn't understand. Why bother going through all that? Why not just say you can't make it because it's too far and you don't want to make the drive. It wasn't fair to Michelle and it wasn't fair to me. But as my therapist keeps trying to tell me there is no point stressing over things that you can't control -- other people being one of them. You can't control what happens. Only your reaction to it.
Aside from all that the kids had a ball. They loved the unwrap game and pin the smile on the Spongebob (Michelle helped me to make it.) And then the pinatas. I wound up with two because Michelle wanted a SpongeBob theme and I found the circular SpongeBob and Patrick one on sale but then we found the SpongeBob one which was way cuter so I had to get that too. Yeah. Michelle is a tad spoiled. Also, because clearly I'm a masochist, aside from filling the pinatas with toys I added colourful glittery SpongeBob confetti to make it more festive. Not thinking that my lawn would be full of little spirals and stars of confetti that it would be murder to pick up.
At the end of the day no matter how stressful it was or how much work it was for me the important thing was that Michelle was happy. She had a great birthday. That was all that mattered. The kids descended on the candy like vultures on a carcass. Great, that's all they needed was sugar when they were already bouncing off the walls. The party was over before I knew it (especially since we wasted the first half hour to an hour waiting for a bonehead who wasn't even coming. But I'm not bitter. Yes I am. Very bitter.)

Michelle wanted a SpongeBob cake which was great because I still had the cake pan from her birthday years ago. I figured now that I was more of a pro my cake would be much better than last time. It was a little bit better but still nothing to write home about. Not exactly Pinterest-worthy. Michelle loved it though. It took me hours and every time I make a birthday cake for Michelle I think about how I understand why they charge so much for cakes when it takes forever to make them. If you had told me 10 years ago that one day I would love another human so much I would willingly give myself carpal tunnel by squeezing thousands of globs of icing onto a SpongeBob shaped cake I would have said you were crazy.  You just never know where life will take you.

One of the parents was kind enough to take my picture with Michelle. Talking to some of the Moms I mentioned how hard it had been through the Summer having to drag Michelle with me everywhere, even to my therapist appointments. She was pretty good and usually just sat nicely drawing or colouring or playing on my phone but often she'd interrupt and want to be with me and it was hard to really talk about things openly with her there. One of her friend's Moms said I could drop Michelle over for a play date anytime. I warned her I would take her up on that so we set a date when I had my next appointment. I was so grateful. Now I could go to my psychologist without worrying about censoring myself with Michelle there. And she was excited about having play dates with her friend. She didn't want her friends to leave but at least she knew she'd be seeing her one friend once a week now. And she'd be back to school before she knew it.

I don't have the family over at my house often but it's nice to have them there once in a while. My brothers couldn't make it but May and Shane, Shannon, Reggie and Mom and Dad were there. Michelle loved her presents. She was excited that she got to celebrate her birthday three times -- once with her friends, once with family and her real birthday with me. She was a lucky girl. I only ever had one birthday party a year that I can remember.

I had a SpongeBob Happy Birthday sign too. All the SpongeBob items were on clearance because they were being discontinued. It worked out well for me when that was the theme that Michelle had wanted. She loves SpongeBob. She watches it all the time. I can tolerate it. Some of it is funny. My Mom can't see the appeal at all. "Why does she like a yellow sponge?!" It's his character that Michelle loves. He's so sweet, kind, optimistic, pure-hearted. We should all be more like SpongeBob. Unfortunately I'm probably more like Squidward if I'm being honest.

I kept the gazebo up after the party. I figured why not enjoy it once in a while for the rest of the Summer? That was a mistake. When there was a bad storm it snapped in half. I was so mad. It wasn't that expensive. It was a just a cheap pop up one but it was convenient when there was a party. Now I couldn't use it at all and it would be a pain to get rid of it because it wouldn't fit in a garbage bag all jagged long metal pieces jutting out. I should have known better. Storms had even taken down trees and damaged homes never mind a flimsy little pop up gazebo.

At least someone kept their promise! After her other friend's Mom blowing off the party and saying she'd drop by one day with a present I was pretty skeptical of the other friend actually showing up with a gift but she really did.

Michelle was so excited to see her. They ran around and chased her little dog. Michelle wanted to play with her but they were on their way somewhere and we still had family inside. My Mom came out to say hi (because she's nosy and wanted to see what was going on) and was a bit embarrassing (as she tends to be) saying ridiculous things (as she tends to do) but the woman didn't seem to mind and laughed saying that Mom is cute. "You say that because she's not YOUR Mom!" I told her. I wonder if someday I'll embarrass Michelle like that. I sincerely hope not.

I wasn't going to make two SpongeBob cakes (one was MORE than enough!) so for the family birthday party I just did cupcakes. Michelle helped me decorate them with colourful icing and sprinkles. She loves helping to mix the colours.

When I was little my Mom never let us help with anything in the kitchen because she said we wouldn't do it right. The control freak in me sort of feels the same way but I force myself to let go and let Michelle help because I think it's good experience for her and makes her feel important and involved.
"Make a wish!"
We'd already had pizza at her birthday party so for dinner with the family we had Chinese food. I always order in when I host a party. I am no Martha Stewart. Hosting a party is stressful enough for me without trying to cook a meal on top of it. It's just not my thing. It can be expensive ordering takeout for a large group but to me it's worth it to not have the hassle of cooking on top of everything else.

I  had a balloon animal making kit and we all had fun trying to make balloon swans, dogs etc. We were laughing our heads off at some of our mishaps/balloon fails. Then we posed for a picture with our creations (the ones that didn't accidentally pop or deflate or go horribly awry.)

It had been a fun day but I was beyond exhausted after such a busy weekend. I couldn't wait to crawl into bed. I had gone days with barely any sleep but now I was out like a light. And no Kleenex in my pockets. And no more stress. We could sleep in and relax (theoretically.)

We still celebrated Michelle's birthday again on her real birthday. Just my girl and me. I had her open my presents in our room because it was just the happiest and most colourful backdrop. She was excited to open her gifts. She got a bit spoiled. Pretty much everything she asked for or even mentioned in passing.

The problem is that I have a weakness for cute and pretty things. When you have a six year old girl, EVERY TOY is cute and pretty!

My little girl was SIX YEARS OLD! It seems like she was my baby a day ago and now she's a big girl. Going into Grade One.

One of the items on Michelle's wish list was the Project MC2 Spy/Science kit. I wanted to encourage Michelle to have a love of science. At school they call it S.T.E.M. now -- Science Technology Engineering Math. I always shied away from maths and sciences as a kid. I was good in math but it didn't come easily to me. I got 80s and 90s but I struggled and suffered through hours of math homework. When Math was no longer compulsory and was branching off into Calculus, Algebra etc. I got out. The same with Science. Although I always found it interesting, when it was at the point where it wasn't compulsory and it was going to be Biology I ducked out. I knew that I would have to dissect a frog and I knew that there was no way on this Earth I was going to do that. Still, part of me wishes I had gone further in science. I loved that Michelle had a wide range of interests -- from Art to Science. I wanted to encourage all of it.

My gifted girl! Admittedly I got more than a little carried away with Michelle's gifts. As usual. I had been amassing presents for her for months. Any time something was on sale or caught my eye I'd put it aside for her birthday so by the time her birthday came there was an overwhelming number of presents to wrap. Of course gift bags are easier. You just put it in a bag, add some tissue and you're done. There were a LOT of bags! Michelle had a ball pulling the tissue out of the bags. Sometimes she threw it up in the air. Sometimes I imagine what it would have been like to have been an only child and to be loved and spoiled the way Michelle is. As it was being a middle child of four kids I usually felt like the least loved or noticed one of all. Anything I tried to do to get attention (getting the highest grades in school etc) only backfired. My Mom said because I was a good child she didn't have to worry about me. I didn't need as much attention. Sigh. It may be a bit of an overcorrection but I make extra sure that Michelle gets all the love, attention and appreciation she could ever want or need. And then some!

Then Michelle wanted to go to Toys R Us and spend her birthday gift cards. I didn't want her wearing a fancy gown out shopping but my little Diva still managed to glam it up with a tiara, a gold cat emoji shirt and gold pants. She kept her gift cards in a pink kitty cat purse because why not? She's only 6 but she already loves shopping. Being able to see something you want and get it with your own money/cards etc is empowering. Retail therapy. Once again when Michelle picked items out I told her to add things up in her head. She couldn't have everything she wanted. She would have to choose one or the other up to the amount that she had to spend ($50) I tried to teach her about value. "You could get these little things or get something bigger. When you get something that's on sale you're getting more value for your money. You could get something that's $50 regular price or two $25 dollar items that are half price (a $100 value.) My Mom was always a shopaholic but a bargain hunter. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree!

I sang Happy Birthday to Michelle again and we had more cupcakes. I must have gained 10 lbs that week with all the cake. And pizza and Chinese food! I was eating leftover Chinese food all week. Don't get me wrong, that's not a bad thing. Though I was sick of it by the end of the week. I never got sick of the cupcakes. As if one ever could! (Although strangely my nephew Reggie doesn't like cake. At all. How can someone NOT LIKE CAKE?! Like HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?!) When I was ordering the Chinese food Michelle didn't really want to try the Almond Chicken Soo Guy until she heard that Reggie loved it. "EVEN REGGIE likes it so it MUST be good! He doesn't even like cake! Or pizza!" A lot of kids are fussy eaters. I've literally never seen my nephew James eat anything. Not a single thing. Ever.
We survived (well mostly I survived, Michelle was having the time of her life!) THREE birthday parties. I was so relieved that it was all over with. Finally I could relax and breathe for a moment again. I felt completely drained. I wish I didn't stress out so much about everything. I wish I was an easy-going laid back person who could just go with the flow and not sweat the small stuff. But I sweat ALL the stuff! Especially when it's for my little girl and I want it to be perfect and nothing is ever perfect. 
Michelle was psyched for a play date with her friend. I was so appreciative of his Mom for offering to have Michelle over so I could have some privacy to talk to my therapist.

I told her the stress I'd been under with the birthday parties. I told her how hard it was to keep trying to smile for Michelle's sake even when I wasn't feeling it. Sometimes the contrast between Michelle's boundless energy and joy and my fatigue and stress was so sharp it took everything in me not to collapse in sobs. I didn't want Michelle to see me falling part. Sometimes it was exhausting trying to be a smiley happy Disney Mom all the time when inside it felt like I was coming apart and breaking into a thousand pieces like a Kleenex in the wash. I tried to stay distracted so I wouldn't get myself upset about everything I was worried about but the worries were there, underneath everything and when I lay down at night it was all staring me in the face. It wouldn't let me rest.

Michelle had a great time at her friend's house. Not having siblings I figured it was a good experience to be around other kids. She enjoyed seeing her friend's newborn baby brother. She even wanted to hold him and feed him. It was so adorable I thought my heart would explode. Cute overload! Total photo op! Even the baby is looking in this one!

Her friend's Mom said Michelle was a joy to have around and no trouble at all. I was glad that she extended the invitation to have Michelle over every week during my therapy appointment. It was a godsend. When I went to pick Michelle up I stayed for a while chatting with her friend's Mom. Michelle didn't want to leave yet anyway and it was nice for me to talk to an adult aside from my family and my therapist!

It couldn't be August already! But somehow it was. Time was flying. The Summer, like life in general, was so fleeting. I realized how much I had been stressing about Michelle's birthday parties and just wanting it to be all over with so I could relax. Now that it was over I felt like it had flown by too fast. I wished I could just go back and enjoy it rather than stressing over everything. But stress is my default setting. Especially when I feel like I'm under pressure to do something. Of course I'm the one who puts pressure on myself. That's just the way I am.

Blowing bubbles in Gramma's backyard. It just never gets old. Michelle loves bubbles and I love a photo op. My Mom was always happy to see us. At one point I asked my Mom if she could go anywhere in the world, where would she like to go. (I was thinking like, Hawaii, Australia.) She said Dixie Value Mall. DIXIE MALL?! That's it?! If you could go ANYWHERE ON EARTH?!
"Ummm...I'll take you there then!"
Australia would not be a do-able but a trip to the mall was. My Mom had some health issues and it made me more compassionate toward her (even though she still drove me crazy!) I wanted to do things to make her happy. She loved shopping and she liked visiting with Michelle and me.

Another day, another play date with another friend! Michelle's social calendar was packed!

She was excited to see the rest of her friends at school in September. I was glad that she was looking forward to rather than dreading heading back to school or it would have been even harder for me. As it was I was stressed enough about the idea of letting her off at the main entrance with hundreds of other kids. I was having nightmares about it. It just seemed like it would be too chaotic and crowded. I was wishing she could still go in and out of the Kindergarten door. Couldn't she stay my little girl in a safe penned in area? She's growing up too fast.

It was the last time I'd be performing at the Cafe with my artwork there. We were taking it down. It had been a month. Nothing had sold but at least we got to take all our creations back home with us. I made room to display them at home so our art show could continue forever. It had been a good experience and I was grateful for it. It's fitting that the restaurant is called the "Starving Artist." Many artists and musicians struggle and don't make any money with their art. Even if you don't do it as a living, art and music can give you life. Getting in touch with my creativity again, expressing myself through painting and song was healing to my soul. Art therapy. Music therapy. No matter what the future holds I realized I always have to find time to express myself. Just as your body can become depleted and broken down if you don't get enough rest, food etc, you're soul can become drained and diseased if you don't take the time to nourish it. Everyone needs to take time to do the things they love.
Just as I had asked my Mom "If you could go anywhere..." I asked Michelle. One of her friends' Moms had said that on their child's birthday they give them the option -- you can have a party or an "experience" a trip etc. Michelle had already had her parties but I wanted to give her an experience too. Hopefully it would be something that was within reach.. "Legoland!" she said. 
Well it's a bit pricey but it's within reach. At least she didn't say Disneyland. (I think she realized that wasn't in the realm of possibility.)

I couldn't quite match Michelle's enthusiasm for Legoland. Don't get me wrong. There are parts of Legoland that I love. The mini Toronto is too cool for words. I absolutely adore that. Unfortunately there are other aspects of the attraction that are not my favourite -- (like most tourist traps) the high prices, big crowds, long line ups etc. But if it makes her happy, I'm game. I wondered if Michelle would have a new appreciation for the Lego CN Tower now that she had seen the real thing. She mostly just wanted to hurry through the mini-city to get to the rides. I made her stop for a photo anyway. We managed to get one without anyone walking in front of it but it wasn't easy!

By far my LEAST favourite part of Legoland is the playground part. To me it's a living nightmare. From the hamster wheel spinning entrance where kids tumble around like toys to the fact that your child DISAPPEARS INTO THIS STRUCTURE FOR HOURS AT A TIME AND YOU HAVE NO FRIGGIN IDEA WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THEM. As usual I sat there frantically eyeing the exits, waiting for Michelle to emerge. I had told her to make sure and check in with me periodically but she was having so much fun that I guess she forgot. Then as if I wasn't panicked enough I suddenly heard a kid screaming and crying and saw him come out covered in blood. Blood was dripping all down the floor. Now I was losing my shit. I wanted Michelle out of that death trap. NOW! If she wasn't out in 60 seconds I was going to start full on screaming her name and I didn't care if people stared. Luckily she did come out. I overheard someone say that the boy had banged his head on a corner of a wall. Why did they have walls so sharp they could split your head open?! I guess they couldn't make the whole thing out of rubber. I was just glad that Michelle made it out in one piece. "Please NEVER go in there again!"

Michelle wanted to build a car at the Build and Test area. This wasn't exactly my favourite either because you had to scramble to look for parts -- wheels etc in containers -- reaching around strangers to compete for pieces to put together a car only to send it down a slope where it would in all likelihood smash to pieces at the bottom anyway. Not my idea of fun but this was Michelle's day and I wanted her to get the most out of it.

She wanted to explore everything. We had been there before but each time she was just as excited about everything. I wish I had half her enthusiasm. Or even a tenth of it.

And then we stopped for a bite. No the pizza wasn't literally made out of Lego! This was just a prop. Lunch was expensive. It's amazing what they can charge for a tiny mediocre at best personal pizza and tiny cupcakes but it goes with the territory. She'd already been spoiled on her birthday and now she was getting spoiled again. But I can't seem to help it when it comes to Michelle. If it's within my power, she's getting what she wants. Because when I was a kid I literally never got anything I wanted.

I love you to the moon and back! There was a mini rocket ship that would countdown and launch and everything. That was pretty cool. I wished I could time a photo with the launch but there were too many people around and it was a stretch just to get a photo with the timer period.

Then Michelle wanted to go to the 4D movie. We were early so we were at the front of the line at least. The movies were short so it wasn't too bad of a wait (15 minutes) between them.

It was almost more fun watching Michelle's reactions than it was to watch the screen. The 3D effects were so real that kids were actually reaching out to touch the things that seemed to be floating right in front of them. Michelle was right there grasping at holographic images. Being 4D it not only had 3D effects but had the added effects of cool air and mist so when the characters were going through adventures, flying and being splashed, you felt like you were in the movie too. It was fun but being damp in a cold air-conditioned room gets a little chilly. I was freezing. Being tired didn't help either. I just wanted to go home and I was dreading the long drive back.

The most fun part for both of us was the Wizard's flying ride. Usually Michelle rode in the same compartment with me but this time she wanted to be on her own like a big girl. I was a little nervous watching her on a flying right without me beside her. At least I got to take a picture of her. She was securely fastened in the ride but it still made me antsy. If I said no about everything that made me nervous she'd never do anything. But I didn't want her to go through what I did (Mom never let us do anything.) So I say yes and let her do things even when it makes my teeth itch.

When I look at the pictures Michelle does look a little bit nervous. It was her idea to be on her own but it is a little scarier when you don't have someone right next to you. I want Michelle to be brave and not afraid to take risks. I want to encourage that. I want her to be strong. I don't want to make her nervous and fearful. My Mom always operated out of fear and she put her fears into us. Of all my siblings I feel like she had the biggest hold on me. I have my Mom to thank for a lot of my neuroses. Life experiences just aggravated my anxiety even more. I want Michelle to be able to chillax. Something Mama was never much good at!

And as if I hadn't spent enough I couldn't resist getting the cheesy photo that they take of you when you go in. The thumbs up was sort of cute anyway. At least I hated all the photos taken on the Quest ride. We always looked like deer in the headlights even when we KNEW there was a camera at the end. It's just as well because it would have been too expensive if I liked all the photos.

Michelle had a great time. After Legoland she always wants to go to the Build A Bear Workshop across the way. She twisted my arm and I got her a Build a Cat but I drew the line at getting clothing and accessories for the cat because then it winds up costing a million dollars and I was pretty sure kitty could just wear some of the dolls' clothes.

The whole thing is cute. How they let the kids feel involved by stepping on the pedal to add the stuffing, choosing how soft or dense they want their stuffie to be, giving it a heart, a name etc. Then you can give your new pet a bath in the pretend bathtub. Yes it's all very adorable but when you've already re-mortgaged the house to go to Legoland you need to buy an overpriced stuffed animal like you need another hole in the head. Still, it made her happy so she got it. It was a long drive home but Michelle slept through most of it.

After that trip I really didn't want to go ANYWHERE for a while. Michelle was more than happy to play at home. She wanted to have a "science day" and do experiments. I had the idea to use her play doctor's coat as a white lab coat so she could pretend to be a scientist. She LOVED it. She felt like a real scientist and had a ball playing with mixing chemicals in her little test tubes. It was fun watching her reactions to chemical reactions.

Letting Michelle embrace her inner Mad Scientist was priceless! It was a huge mess but if it made her love science I figured it was worth it. She talked about becoming a scientist one day. She asked me once if scientists could "create life" like Frankenstein. I told her that even if it was possible to re-animate a corpse it wouldn't be ethical. "It's dangerous to play God. That's what the movie is about." Michelle sighed in frustration. She was disappointed. She said she wanted to create a person! I said she could always give birth as a mother. That wasn't what she had in mind. I told her she could make a robot instead. She decided she could settle for that. "OK maybe I'll create an android then."

Summer was almost over. I asked Michelle if there was anything else that she wanted to do before Summer ended.
"We haven't gone to the Water Park yet!"
So we did.

It was OK. Any pool is a let down after the beautiful heated Nelson Park Pool. The water was cold. Even after all the unbearably hot days we'd had the water still seemed cold to me. It was small and crowded too. But it was all good. I could cross it off the list. Michelle got to go everywhere she wanted. I was able to say "yes" to everything.

Michelle had fun running around the splash pad as well. She made a new friend, as usual and was running around chasing her. It made me nervous to see her running on wet concrete. I was afraid she'd fall and split her head open. I wish I wasn't a worrier. Worrying is my default setting.
"Be careful!"
I called after her as Michelle ran by, laughing.
Michelle, unlike Mama, does not worry. She just has fun.

I was going to an Art Show with May. I talked Michelle out of coming with us because she'd be bored and it was like 100 degrees outside. She finally agreed. I dropped her off with Gramma and Grampa and I headed to May's for Art in the Park.

Shannon was a volunteer for the event. It was such a hot day that one of the volunteers' duties was walking around with a bottle of water to spray exhibitors and visitors if they were getting overheated. It was HOT. So hot I was surprised the paint didn't melt right off the canvases. It was beautiful though and I was glad that I went. I even got to meet some of the artists. It was really cool. I love art. Whether creating it or admiring it, art really does nourish my soul.

May and me taking a break to sit for a moment... We ran into Shannon and I did get her to spritz me with water! It was so refreshing. I was wishing I had more water to cool me down. Unfortunately I would get my wish. The darkening sky was a hint of what was to come. The unbearable heat would be broken by a thunderstorm. A torrential downpour.

The downpour started and people were scrambling to find shelter. Most people were huddled under a large gazebo. May and I took refuge in an empty tent. We were drenched but hadn't lost our sense of humour. We were laughing our heads off at the ridiculousness of the situation.

It was sad though. The art show was cut short. There was no hope of the rain letting up. Artists started packing up their canvases to leave. Shane had dropped us off and would be picking us up. We didn't even have an umbrella. Shannon had a rain poncho so she was covered at least. I was wishing I had one of those garbage bag Maid of the Mist ponchos that always seemed tacky but would be really practical when you're stuck in a thunderstorm.

Michelle looked forward to her weekly play dates with her friend. They had so much fun together even though sometimes his little brother was a bit of a handful. Like one time he licked her leg or something? I'm not sure. Anyway, she survived. And not having siblings I think it was good experience for her to be around four kids of varying ages -- a newborn, a toddler, a 4 year old and a fellow 6 year old. She always had fun there and never wanted to leave. I usually wound up sticking around a long time talking to her friend's Mom anyway. Sometimes I even held the baby and helped rock him to sleep. There is something so comforting about holding a baby. It makes you feel for a moment like all is right in the world. Babies are so new and innocent. I can't believe my baby girl is growing up so fast. She was a newborn in my arms not long ago...

Another trip to our favourite beach. It was a windy day but warm. It wasn't too crowded. Michelle always wants to go straight into the water and I always want to get a souvenir photo (or two, or three!) first. Michelle knows by now that photography is part of my being. It's not an option. Asking me not to take pictures would be like asking me not to breathe. (Actually I think I could hold my breath longer than I could go without taking a photo if there was anything cute or beautiful around. Yes I have a weakness for cute and pretty things. And I am physically incapable of passing up on a photo op!

Say cheese! Well sometimes the smiles are a little forced but it's OK. The scratch on the lens really stuck in my craw when one of us ended up with a big white blob in the middle of our faces. I needed a new camera. You'd think to someone who's a photoholic replacing their old scratched lens camera would be priority one but I am such a creature of habit and resistant to change that I just kept putting it off. My computer was dying too. It was getting slower and more glitchy by the day. The battery backup had died years ago. I had to keep it plugged in at all times. Now even the cord was going. It would shut down suddenly for no reason or take forever to do anything. Most people replace their electronics every couple of years. Everyone wants the newest latest fanciest fastest gadgets. Not me. I just want what I'm used to. What I'm comfortable with. Maybe it's the Taurus in me. I'm loyal. I will stay with things, people etc (even if they're really bad situations for me) rather than get out.

I loved looking in the little shops near the beach. Sometimes I imagined having a beach house someday, if I won the lottery and decorating it with all these sort of beach-themed cute accessories. It was a nice dream. Of course nowadays living near the water isn't the best choice. Too many storms. Too much danger of flooding. But I've always felt drawn to the water which is ironic considering my fear of drowning. What can I say? It's complicated. I remember hearing years ago that Angelina Jolie had a tattoo of Quod me nutrit, me destruit. "That which nourishes me also destroys me." I get that. That's sort of how I am with water. It's like love. You're drawn to it. You just don't want to be in over your head. The fear of drowning is real in my family. My father literally drowned when he was 12 years old in a canoe accident and was in a coma for two weeks.

Oh Captain, my captain!

I simply can not resist a cheesy photo op! I look like a slice of Hell here but Michelle is adorable so I still like this picture. I think we were standing right in front of a sign that said please don't try on the hats but I have a slight rebellious streak, especially if it involves a photo op. Sorry guys. I usually do follow the rules. Unless I can't.

I was almost tempted to buy the hat but it would really just be a prop for photos and I'd already taken the photo so now I didn't need to buy it!

I was going to take my artwork down the last time I was at the open stage but the staff convinced me to leave it a few more days and I figured that gave more people a chance to see it. Maybe someone would buy one of my paintings after all. Nope. Nada. It was OK. I was a little sad though. It's tough as an artist to put yourself out there and be rejected. Not that people were telling me it was bad or throwing tomatoes or anything. But no one wanted to buy them. The thing is, I'm not everyone's cup of tea. It would have to be the right person. We don't all like the same things. You can never please everyone and that's OK. You do you and if people appreciate it, great and if they don't? Oh well. Don't worry. Just let them do them. Easier said than done. I wish I didn't worry about what anyone thought or seek their approval but to some degree I still do, whether I always admit it to myself or not. Of course the only approval I should need is from me but I can be my most merciless critic.

After my artwork was down there was less incentive to go to the open stage. I went one last time and made the mistake of singing a song about my life. It was a little too real and I broke into tears in the middle of the song. I was so embarrassed I never went back.

The staff at the Cafe texted me at one point asking if I'd be interested in doing a concert, performing my songs for an hour. It was a day that I already had plans. She asked me to pick another time. But I said no. I told her my family likely wouldn't come anyway so there would be no point asking them. It was too far. My brothers were a definite no and I didn't want to make my sister drive all this way again (and she's the only way my parents could come.) In September Michelle would be back in school and I wouldn't be able to go anymore and have her out late on school nights. I just wasn't feeling it. It was a bit sad to feel like I was letting go, saying goodbye to that part of my life again. Playing music in public. But after breaking down on stage I figured it's just not the best idea anyway. I'd rather share my thoughts and feelings and creativity online from the safety of my home. Then one day when I was driving by the Cafe I saw that the sign was down. Were they closing? Next time I looked it was empty inside. They had gone out of business. It was sad. It was right in the name though. You probably won't get rich as a starving artist. Or a Starving Artist Cafe. It was nice while it lasted though and I'm grateful I got to share that experience, in art and music, with Michelle. She was so good. She would sit at the table and draw sometimes. She liked going there too.

We got together with our friends from the Butterfly Conservatory for a play date. We met at Mastermind and then went to a local park. I love Mastermind but it's dangerous. So many cool and adorable toys. It's hard for me to say no to Michelle. I didn't want to spoil her too much, especially when I had another Mom with me who would probably think I was nuts.

Michelle had fun with her friend and his sister (who hadn't been at the Conservatory that day.) I had a nice conversation with my new friend. She suggested a book for me to read. I wound up ordering it. A lot of it covered the exercises I had been doing in CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy.) Having a text book was comforting somehow. It's like I was in school again. Only this time it was a course in myself. Becoming a better me. I had a lot of work to do!

The park was amazing especially considering it was all free. It had a huge splash pad. The kids ran amok while we sat and talked. I got them to stop long enough to get a group shot at least. I told Michelle not to go too far. The area was so big you could lose sight of your child in the crowd. For me that would NOT be OK. I told Michelle to stay near our end of the park. The other end was just to far away to hear or see them and it was too close to the exit. I had to keep reminding them to move closer. "Don't go past the snakes!"

Save the llama for your Mama! Michelle was excited to see the animals. Her friends had been there before so they weren't quite as enthused but this was the first time Michelle and me had gone to the park. I went there years ago with one of my exes and his kids. I couldn't have imagined at the time that one day I would be going there with my own daughter.

My little Mad Scientist was at it again. Mama always wound up having to clean up the mess but it was worth it to see Michelle stoked about science. She loved seeing liquid bubble up and froth over. Baking soda, lemon juice, vinegar. And glitter of course. You have to add glitter to everything!

"I want to do experiments, Mama!" I told her she should write down her observations so she wrote a couple of cute things but mostly she just enjoyed making a mess I think.

My girls bonding on the couch. Michelle called Ali her furry older sister. They looked so cute and cozy I just had to capture the moment. Being with Michelle and Ali was my happy place. They were my home. Watching them snuggling together, listening to Ali purr was so sweet it helped to melt my anxiety away for a few minutes at least.

We didn't get to enjoy Oakville Ribfest this year  because it teemed rain but we thought we'd check out a smaller local Ribfest. Not for the ribs, just for the rides. The ads had promised bouncy castles and characters so Michelle was down for it.

I got tickets for Michelle to try the bouncy castles. She loved the shark the best. They talked me into getting the unlimited bracelet and we got more than our money's worth because Michelle went on it like a bajillion times!

Michelle was having a ball. I was just hot and tired and ready to leave but I was willing to stick around if it made her happy.
"Just one more time!" she would say and I didn't believe her.
Sure enough after that time she'd say "Just ONE more time!" It was too fun and there was no lineup. It was like a kid's dream. I was almost tempted to slide down the enormous inflatable shark's throat myself.
"Can we leave yet?"

As usual, Michelle made a friend. Then they wanted to go down the slide together. Again. And again. Michelle's new friend was giving her parents the same story: "Please? Just ONE MORE TIME?"
Her parents wanted to leave as well. At least now I had reinforcements.
"OK," I told them, "if you go it will give me a stronger case to get Michelle out of here too!"
They were cute together though. They were having a ball.

Sometimes I think how lucky Michelle is. I would have been thrilled to have the life she's living now when I was a kid. I guess it's natural for parents to want to give their kids a better life than they had. I never want her to struggle the way I did.

It was kind of a random collection of characters: Anna from Frozen, the Cheshire Cat and Skye or whatever her name is from Paw Patrol... In any event it was a cute photo op so I was ON IT! Selfie time! I love how Anna and the cat are bending down to make sure they're in the shot and Skye is just standing there like "Whatevs. I don't really know and I don't really care." I had tried to set up a self timed shot but the camera got knocked or something and none of us were even in it.

Michelle's face was red after all her running amok and jumping and sliding. I didn't know how she could have the energy to exert herself in that heat. I was just standing around and I was sweating buckets. They had a cooling station by the exit so we made use of it to cool off.

I had a couple of things to get at the mall and Michelle wanted to spend her gift card so we went and we couldn't resist stopping into the Disney store. This little princess castle inside as so cute! Photo op! My Princess and me in the doorway of a castle.

Michelle picked out a fancy pair of shoes at Payless and insisted on wearing them right away even though I told her they're just supposed to be when she's dressed up and were not practical for walking. I can't imagine when she's a teenager. She's already such a Diva. Parading around in heels. God help me.

My girl with pink hair. She has SO many cute hairbands. To me they're the perfect accessory because they keep her hair out of her face and allow her to be all these beautiful, magical characters -- kitties, unicorns, fairies, princesses. They didn't have anything like that when I was a kid. The only hairband I had was a knitted flower one that looked like the tea cozies and was awful and embarrassing.
Another play date at her friend's house. Her friend was going to be away at camp for a couple of weeks. I told his Mom that I didn't want to impose and have Michelle there when her friend wasn't even there. Then it was more like she was just babysitting Michelle instead of a play date but she said that was nonsense. Michelle was no trouble and was actually a help entertaining the younger siblings.

Michelle wanted to hold the baby again. This is so sweet. He even looked right at me! ADORABLE! This is PHOTO GOLD!

One day Michelle wanted to do face painting on me. So I let myself be her canvas and she turned me into sort of a clown cat. She even drew paws on my hands and made me pose like this for a picture. She wanted me to leave the house like that and I said oh hell no. I mean, I'm a pretty good sport and all but I have to draw the line at looking like a raving lunatic in public. I told her at home was fine but I was not going out like this. After I washed my face off she said she wanted to draw something else so I let her paint my face again. She said it would be a surprise. I was surprised but I had no idea what she had drawn. Only that I had gold and purple blotches on my face. I think I was supposed to be a flower. Or something.
Beach day! Because you can't have too many! Looking back I can't believe we went to the beach so often. It didn't seem like it at the time. It just made sense when every day was so hot and the beach was our happy place. Why not? Going away on vacation wasn't an option but we could at least make day trips to a local beach. Getting to sit under palm trees was just the icing on the cake. Some people fly all the way to Mexico to sit under palm trees. We get to do it close to home and it costs us nothing.

Michelle wanted me to bury her in the sand and she wanted me to make her a mermaid as I often do. It's a bit of a process. It takes a while and she starts getting impatient, wiggling her toes and cracking the sculpture but I managed to get her to stay still long enough to get a couple of photos and she really does look like a mermaid! She tried to bury me once and make me a mermaid but it didn't work out so well. She didn't have the patience to bury my big legs and I started to go numb from the waist down after a while.

Each time we went back I would think "This could be the last time this year." But it wouldn't be. The weather would stay warm even into the Fall. We would be back again and again. Still each time we'd say goodbye to the beach and I'd think about Summer ending it made me melancholy. I didn't want Summer to end. At least in this blog it doesn't have to. In this post we will be on the beach forever, smiling. It will stay Summer and we will be frozen in our little rectangles.

Michelle loved the song "Lavender's Blue." It was one of my favourites too. She did it so well she even got a sticker. There were a few songs that were really pretty -- Lavender's Blue, Scarborough Fair, Aura Lee (the tune to Elvis' Love me Tender.) It was nice to be able to listen to pretty songs unlike some of the annoying ones in her book. The only thing worse than an unpleasant song is listening to a child practicing it over and over and over. Sometimes Michelle would get frustrated when she couldn't learn a song right away but then she'd be so happy and proud when she finally got it.

I was so glad that I was able to do this for Michelle. I wanted to support and encourage her creativity in any way I could. I would never force her into anything but if there's something she wants to pursue I will support her any way I can. It was my dream as a child. I can at least give her that.

Another day playing in the pink sand. It really was a mess. I swear it was stickier than regular sand, and of course, more pink. It would get stuck to her clothes and wind up everywhere. I had to vacuum a lot more often. Not that I mind sand per se. My car was full of sand and I never vacuumed it. I collected all the Beach Parking passes on my dashboard. Souvenirs of Summer. There is something very zen about sand. I guess that's why they use it in zen gardens.

There were unicorn headbands and kitty headbands and then there was the unikitty headband! I love this one! So precious! Michelle and me dressed up for our trip to the Dream Home. I figured if you're walking around a million dollar home you might as well dress up a bit for it. It was an annual tradition for my Mom, my sister and me to go to the Dream Home. I never won anything in the lottery. My Mom and sister had won small prizes here and there but me? Nada! Still I kept thinking my luck's got to change sometime. Plus the proceeds went to a good cause -- cancer research. So I could feel good about getting a ticket regardless. Michelle liked looking at the Dream homes too. She'd always say something like "I wish we lived here! I hope we win!"
"Me too!"

I was trying to get a selfie and it wasn't working out so a kind stranger took our photo for us. We were meeting May there but she wasn't there yet. The Dream Home was beautiful, as always. Some years are better than others. Sometimes they include features that really don't suit me but you could always change it. Really it would be amazing to win regardless! Even if you didn't live there and wound up selling it. Of course you'd pretty much have to sell it because even if you won it you couldn't afford the property taxes unless you were already a millionaire!

I really could have lived without a bowling alley in the basement and a giant snakes and ladders board on the wall but it was cute anyway. I loved the mural in the living room. Michelle and me posed with it. I was lucky to catch a moment without throngs of people blocking it. The house was very crowded. It was supposed to be the VIP preview just for previous ticket buyers but there were a LOT of VIPs! You could barely walk at some points it was so crowded.

I love this photo of Michelle sitting back and reading a book like she owns the place. She's so chill. She seems perfectly comfortable and able to ignore the fact that she's surrounded by strangers. I love that no one is looking at me in the photo. Everyone is doing their own thing. And I can't get over the coincidence that the two men's shirts and the book Michelle is reading are all the exact same deep cobalt blue! What are the odds! A perfectly balanced composition! Maybe we'll win the house and Michelle will be able to sit and read in the living room. It's nice to dream!

And then one day Michelle just wanted to play dress up. She put on her fanciest dress and helped me pick out mine and did my makeup and helped me to choose accessories. The pink cat eye sunglasses were a nice touch and she let me borrow her pink hair headband. I thought it would be cute if Ali would look at the camera too but you can't have everything. Ali made it very clear in no uncertain terms that she was NOT interested in playing dress up with us.

Bubbles! I love the kaleidoscopic rainbows of colour you can see in them when you see them up close.I caught this right in front of the camera. Michelle always wanted to pop the bubbles. I wanted to see how long they could float before they'd pop on their own. Sometimes we'd see them soaring up into the sky and the wind would carry them into a neighbour's yard. I wondered what's the longest a bubble could last. Is there a Guinness World Record for that?

Our lives are like a bubble in the grand scheme of things. Beautiful and brief. Fragile and fleeting. We're here and we're gone. But we're magic for a few seconds anyway.

My baby holding a baby. So cute. Michelle was so good with the baby. So gentle and careful. Her friend's Mom said she'd make a good little babysitter. I was feeling kind of guilty for leaving Michelle there each week even while her friend was away but her friend's Mom assured me it was her pleasure. Michelle always had a great time and the family enjoyed having her there and I got to have my therapy session in peace so it was win-win-win. I was so grateful for the offer. There was a time that I couldn't have imagined leaving Michelle with anyone but my parents but I was changing, taking baby steps. Learning to trust other people. Learning to let go. Michelle had had several play dates with her friends now and she survived all of them! I can't be with her every minute. When she goes to school I have to leave her and trust that she'll be OK. The thought of Grade One did scare me but it was inevitable and I would get used to it eventually.

It didn't wind up being a very warm day but the pool was warm anyway so it was still a great day at Lord Nelson Pool with Auntie May. We thought we'd go one last time before Summer was over. My Mom didn't want to come but I think she regretted it later. It was a fun day but it's always fun with Auntie May, Shannon and Reggie. They are our happy place too!

I love these silly snaps with Shannon's i-phone. It's just so much fun. Michelle looks too adorbs in this picture. It's just perfect. Little cat ears made of flowers. What more could you want?! I love it. I wish we could stay this way. Actually Michelle sort of can because she has headbands with cute cat ears and unicorn horns and tiaras and God knows what. So she can walk around and be an adorable magical princess anytime she wants. I, on the other hand, would probably look pretty silly if I wore cat ears out in public. Just a guess. But in this silly snaps anything goes! I like being a cat sometimes too!

Nice as mice!

Michelle looks adorable as a little mouse! Look how huge her eyes are! She's like a little doll! Or a cartoon character. It's just too cute for words. I look a little goofy but she looks like a perfect little animal. Meanwhile for some reason Reggie is glaring at us in the background. Maybe he's angry that he didn't get to turn into a mouse too? Hey bro, don't be a hater! Or maybe he just didn't realize he was in the photo too? It should be a rule that if you're going to photo bomb someone you have to at least smile.

Sew what? Michelle wanted to have a sewing day. It was her idea. Out of nowhere she wanted to learn to sew and for us to make our own stuffies. So we went to Lens Mill to pick out fabrics and buttons and threads and get some stuffing and then we drew our designs and pinned them to the fabric and cut around it and sewed. I'm not an expert by any means. My skills are basic at best but I tried to teach Michelle what I know (which isn't much!) It was nerve-wracking to me to hand Michelle a sharp object. It seemed wrong somehow. I mean, is she old enough? What if she stabs herself with the needle?! Part of me thought it sounded like a monumentally bad idea but it made her happy so I thought I'd let her try. It would be a learning experience. She actually did really well for her first attempt! I had to fix a couple of spots where she left a gap in the stitching but aside from that she did it all by herself! She made a stuffed orange cat and named her "Ginger."

I made a stuffed cat too. Mine was gold. I think hers actually turned out better than mine. My fabric was actually inside out but I liked the gold part better than the paisley print that was supposed to be on the outside. Michelle was so happy with her little cat that she made all by herself! I was proud of her too. She did well for her first time with a sewing needle. She didn't even stab herself. No blood at all. (In fact I think I pricked myself with needles more than she did! She just barely poked herself a bit but not enough to break the skin.) She had a lot of fun and I was glad that we shared that together.

Every year the whole family got together at Wasaga Beach to celebrate Evie's birthday. Unfortunately this year there was a 100% chance of rain right when we were supposed to meet. Michelle and me had been looking forward to the beach. I'd packed all the beach toys, put on our swimsuits, slathered in sunscreen. The sun was shining and I was relieved it looked like a nice day. I wish I'd checked my cellphone in the morning. Mike had sent a text that it was going to rain and there was no point even trying to go to the beach so just go to his place.
Michelle was disappointed. I was mad. I wished I hadn't gotten all ready for the beach and now had to change everything. It was still good to get together with the whole family but it made me sad to miss out on our annual Wasaga trip so Mikey suggested we get together in September for his birthday. Chances were the weather would still be warm. Sometimes Global Warming comes in handy.

It's not every day that you see a unicorn on a trampoline. Michelle had been disappointed about not going to Wasaga Beach but she certainly bounced back, literally and figuratively when we got to Uncle Mikey's and she got to play with her cousins. The kids had a ball jumping on the trampoline. They were all in there at one point. I was afraid there would be a head on collision but they all managed to bounce around without getting hurt. I'll never forget the first time I went on a trampoline many many years ago. A girl who was a lot heavier than me sent me flying like s small toy. I thought I was going to die. I had no control. Actually that's kind of how I feel about my life right now. Like I'm not really in control that some giant random is just jumping around and I'm just ricocheting. It's not a good feeling for a control freak. There are so many things beyond my control. There are so many unanswered questions, unresolved issues. I try not to think about them but ignoring problems surprisingly doesn't make them go away.

My freezer leaked. It was one of the many annoying things in my life. (All the toilets made a noise too but at least they didn't leak.) It was a huge nuisance and a nightmare and I had to chisel ice out of the bottom of the freezer every day or water would leak on the floor. I thought maybe I could pull the fridge out and see if cleaning the vent in the back would do anything. I was going to wait until Michelle was in school but my therapist asked. Why not do it with her there? I don't have to put everything off until she's in school. So one day I pulled the fridge out and Michelle thought it was the coolest thing ever. Unfortunately it didn't stop the freezer from leaking.

Another play date! Michelle was excited to show off her new creation to her friends so she brought "Ginger" along on her play date. Michelle had fun playing with her friend and her sister and it gave me a little time to myself.

I had a new therapist on my team now. Sort of a life coach to meet me at home and to discuss strategies and give me tools to conquer my anxiety and move forward. She was very nice. I was grateful to have my therapist(s) in my corner but part of me felt guilty -- like I'm getting all this help and there are people with far more serious issues that may not even get help. As my coach pointed out however, there are people who may need  help but would never admit it or reach out for it so I can't feel guilty about making my mental health a priority and doing all that I can to feel better. I am a work in progress and I am doing everything I can to be OK. I have to be for Michelle's sake.

We found a store called Itzy Bitzy Glitzy that seemed to be made for us! Everything sparkly and glittery and magical -- a girly girl paradise! Unfortunately it didn't last long. The next time we went to visit it had closed down with a note saying they would only be available online from now on.

So many stores are losing business to online stores. To me, there is no comparison to going into a store and picking things out.

Toys R Us in the United States went bankrupt and closed down. The Canadian ones seem to be OK so far (maybe because I'm single handedly keeping them in business! I'm sort of joking. But not.) Toys R Us Canada knows how to use marketing. They have kid's events to get people into the store because once you're in the store you're more likely to buy something. Especially if you're like me and have a weakness for cute things.

On a day when it wasn't so hot that we might spontaneously combust we made a trip to the park.

It had been a while. For most of the Summer we either went to the beach or stayed inside. It was just too hot to try to do anything else outside. Mowing the lawn was a killer but it had to be done. Aside from that I wanted to stay in air conditioned areas as much as possible.

Michelle had fun on the swings. She seemed so big on the swing even though I think it said it could fit kids up to 7 or 8. Michelle already wears size 8, she's very tall for her age. The "big kid" swings were all taken so she had to take the little kid one.

Michelle was looking forward to September. Although she'd enjoyed her Summer adventures she missed seeing her friends and was looking forward to going back to school. She was also psyched to start her ballet classes. She wanted to try on her tutu and practice ballet.

I was NOT looking forward to September. It depressed me. I wanted to rewind and live the Summer over again. Not head into Fall. Though in some ways it would be a relief, to have some time to myself, to scratch some things off my to do list, I would miss Michelle terribly. This year was harder than ever because not only was she going back to school, she was going into GRADE ONE! My little girl was growing up. It would be different. She wouldn't be in a safe little penned in area like she was in Kindergarten. She'd be going into the main doors with all the other big kids. The control freak in me was panicked about the whole thing. I wasn't a fan of change.
We decided to make one last trip to the beach. Michelle wanted to be a mermaid this time. She wore a little purple mermaid outfit. She wanted to wear the skirt in the water. She'd seen other girls wear a special mermaid tail to swim in but I told her those are special (and very expensive!) tails made for swimming in. Hers was just a costume and not meant for the water. It wasn't a durable material. Plus, she had a hard time trying to swim even without her legs squished together in a mermaid tail! There was no reasoning with her so she tried it and learned the hard way that no the mermaid skirt/tail is really NOT made to swim in. Especially in a lake. She did have fun posing in it for a while though.

At the beach with my mermaid. It is surreal to me as I type this now at the end of NOVEMBER! I meant to do this blog in October but that was out of reach. There always seemed to be something else that had to be done. Then I thought I'd get it done in November but here I am in the 11th hour literally scrambling to finish it. I may hit publish even though it's not done just because it seems ridiculous to write a post about July and August in DECEMBER. I just can't do it. It's December tomorrow. In an hour. Crazy. Life is on fast forward.

It's tough summarizing (Summer-izing) an entire Summer in a blog post. It's hard when you take a million photographs. Each time I tell myself "OK just include a few pictures. Then I go to upload them and I can't decide and I just use all of them. It's a lot."

"Why do you do it?!" my Mom keeps asking me.
"I don't know. It gives me comfort somehow. I just have to."
She said she wouldn't want to put her life on display. She's not even on the internet period. I've gotten into this habit of sharing my life online and it's a tough habit to break. And now in a weird way it helps me. To make sense of my life. To focus on the good parts. To find meaning in it all.

This isn't done and I apologize if you're seeing this in a state of disarray (half finished/full of errors/a bit of a mess -- kind of like me!) but I'm going to hit Publish and finish it later. Because I wanted it to be done in November and I've run out of time. Hopefully I get it done before anyone actually reads it!

It was bittersweet being at the beach for the last time in August. Knowing that Michelle would be starting school soon. Knowing that Summer was ending and life just keeps going by way too fast.

You can't stop time but you can enjoy the time you have and snap a million photos to freeze it. You can capture and keep that perfect moment when the sun is shining and life is beautiful. And you can cherish those fleeting moments and those smiles forever. The moment doesn't last but at least you had it. And you have the proof. And on the days when you can't find your smile you can look back at the times that you did and remind yourself that yes life is difficult sometimes but there are still these moments of joy and they are what you need to hold on to...