Friday, May 24, 2019

Pretty Far from Perfect!

Spring has sprung! FINALLY! Sort of. (Actually we're into MAY now and it got cold again!) March came in like a lion. I wasn't sure whether it would go out like a lamb. I was just sick to death of the cold and snow, tired of scraping ice off the windshield every morning. Done with dark, grey, miserable days. Looking forward to warmer weather, sunshine, birds singing, flowers blooming. SPRING!

It had been a long, hard Winter. One of the worst ever. I was really ready for it to be over! I was hoping Spring would bring happier days. It did bring some. It also brought some VERY DARK DAYS. I ended my last post talking about beautiful birds of prey (like the handsome golden eagle who posed with us!) Of course there are some ugly, sinister feathered predators too. Now I have encountered some very creepy vultures circling and it wasn't at a Bird Show... But I'll get to them later...

At least my little girl, my Princess is the bright spot in my life, even on the darkest of days.

It figures that right when I decide I'm going to "simplify" my life it gets more complicated. There is a lot to cover in this post and it's going to be messy, chaotic and rambling so I apologize in advance. This blog is like a diary to me. It has become a habit and I need it, as a way to help me process things. Writing is therapeutic. If I talk about what's bothering me then I'm free of it. If I don't get it out then it weighs on my mind. March and April certainly had their moments, good and very bad. So here goes...

Though I was a "recovering shopaholic" for the most part I still had to get my shopping fix now and then and I couldn't resist things that were really cute/beautiful/a great bargain. Plus Michelle is growing so fast she's outgrown most of her clothes so I HAVE to pick up new things for her, right?!

Looking forward to Summer already, I found Michelle an adorable rainbow striped tankini. She absolutely loved it. She couldn't wait to try it on. Then she wanted to have a "fashion show." I took some pictures of her while she spun around like a model. It's nice that she doesn't fight me on taking pictures like she did when she was younger. Now she even likes posing for the camera. (Yes I've created a monster!)

I got a beach backdrop so we could pretend to be at the beach even on a cold Winter day. We can't wait to go to the beach again. So far Spring has been mostly cold, windy and rainy. Not exactly beach weather...

Michelle is my sunshine on a cloudy day! She never ceases to surprise and delight me. One week she had to memorize a play in French for school: "La Poule Maboule." It's the story of Chicken Little. As a catastrophist myself, with a tendency to panic, I can TOTALLY relate to Chicken Little and sometimes it really does feel like the sky is falling! Of course it doesn't. Nothing is the end of the world and whatever happens somehow you just deal with it. Michelle was afraid she'd never learn the whole play by heart but there was a lot of repetition and she had it down in no time. It was cute how she acted it out with the little paper characters so I decided to film her. She did a great job even if she did get distracted by Ali meowing partway through... 

I was in "fix it" mode. I had been repairing things around the house and making videos. I realized that aside from the basic satisfaction of fixing things that are broken there was a deeper spiritual meaning behind it. Focusing on the things that I COULD control (as opposed to all of the things that I COULD NOT) was empowering. It was therapeutic. It brought me peace. I made a video: "Zen and the art of fixing things." Of course SOME things (situations/people etc) can't be fixed and you just have to find a way to accept those/let them go. It isn't always easy for a control freak! Through therapy and doing things around the house, I was feeling better, stronger and more calm. When things would go wrong I would try not to panic. I started doing yoga every day and trying to meditate. I was reading about and practicing mindfulness. I was listening to Jon Kabat Zinn. I was eating slowly and mindfully. I was learning to be in the now, if only for a few minutes. I felt like I was on the right track... 
I started doing yoga again, every day. It is as much spiritual as physical. Yoga really helps me to feel balanced, strong and at peace. It calms me, grounds me, helps me to find my zen. For too long I had neglected it. When I think back to how I was living just before my breakdown, it wasn't even living. I was just existing. There was no time for any sort of self-care. My entire existence was to help others -- at work and at home. I got depleted to the point where I had nothing left to give. Trying to multi-task and speed through 16 hour days on no sleep was a recipe for disaster. It is strange now to be doing the opposite -- trying to learn to take care of myself, to take time and to "mono-task" -- to be mindful and focus on just ONE thing at a time. I am grateful for this opportunity. It is a challenge for me. It is so easy to slip back into old negative patterns and let stress get the better of me. It keeps happening. The difference is I'm trying not to beat myself up over it. As my therapists tell me, mindfulness isn't just being positive, it is being open and accepting to all of your emotions -- even the so-called negative -- sadness, fear, anger. For so long I tried to deny/hide them. To actually breathe into them and let them be is tough. I am still very far from figuring it all out but I'm trying.

I added another new video to my "Life is an Experiment" playlist on Youtube: How to Meditate. Of course I'm no expert. Just a beginner myself! But the point of the playlist in general and this video in particular is to give yourself permission to attempt things. To try. To experiment. You don't have to be an expert. You don't have to do it perfectly. For so long I told myself that I couldn't meditate because I'm an overthinker and couldn't clear my mind. I didn't realize that NO ONE CAN! Our minds are literally designed to think constantly -- we can process thousands of bits of information every second. We need to in order to survive. So it's not a matter of "clearing" your mind like erasing a blackboard and thinking of nothing but rather acknowledging the endless stream of thoughts and letting them pass by like cars without engaging with them and then just patiently coming back to what you're focusing on -- your breathing/mantra etc. I used to think I couldn't meditate because I was too hard on myself. I needed to approach it with openness, acceptance and non-judgment. It isn't about thinking NOTHING. It's about consciously focusing on ONE thing and not beating yourself up when your mind wanders because it will wander a thousand times! "Focus on your breath" sounds simple but it's not EASY. It's the hardest thing in the world. It's an uphill battle for me but I want to learn. I really want and NEED to find my peace.

There are SO many health benefits to meditation -- physically and mentally. It is even a fountain of youth. It just takes so much practice to get it. I made the video because I wanted to inspire others like me to attempt it. You don't have to see meditation as this unattainable perfect state -- You don't have to be a Buddhist monk meditating on a mountaintop saying "Om." You can be you, with all your imperfections and worries and still sit for a few moments and be in the Now. It's there for anyone willing to try it. Even a stressed out single Mom with all kinds of issues! Even I can just sit and breathe and just BE for a few minutes and try to find my zen.

Of course unfortunately there will always be someone or something to come along and steal my peace but at least for a few minutes while I'm doing yoga or meditating or consciously being "mindful" I can experience being in the "NOW." Where I'm not worried about anything. Not living in the past or future. Just being. It is a liberating feeling. Even if I can only hold onto it for a few seconds at a time! As Eckhart Tolle says "In the Now, in the absence of time, all your problems dissolve." Sure there were those terrible things that happened in the PAST and there are those awful things to worry about in the FUTURE but what is wrong in THIS MOMENT? It's such a relief to just be in the moment. Unfortunately before too long the Past and Future start knocking at your door again and stressing you out! (Of course we just shouldn't answer the door!)

Movies are always a great form of escapism. Michelle wanted to see Captain Marvel. I love that we're not limited to just animated films anymore. She likes "grown up movies" now. I've been able to watch several rated PG movies with her and she really enjoyed them. I was worried however that Captain Marvel might be too violent or scary for her. It wasn't. She LOVED it. We both did. It was AMAZING. I think it's good for Michelle to see female heroes. To see women as powerful and able to change the world for the better. It is tough when you see the world in such a mess. It can make you feel powerless. Really what can you do? Most of it is beyond our control. You can try to do the right thing in your own life but you can't stop bad people from doing terrible things out in the world. I try not to watch the news. I don't want anything to do with it. I wind up hearing about the latest tragedies/atrocities from my Mom anyway but I mostly just can't deal with it. It stresses me out and I'm trying to find my happy place for the most part. I spent too many years in a dark place, surrounded by the ugliness and the evils that I could not change or control and it broke me. I can't go there again. Seeing the good guys win once in a while in a movie is so satisfying. We need superheroes now more than ever. They give us hope. Something to believe in, to aspire to. 

We loved Captain Marvel so much I decided to try the new Wonder Woman on DVD. We still hadn't seen it. When it came out in theaters I was concerned it might be too violent for Michelle but now I found it on sale and figured we would try it. We loved it too. Wonder Woman, even this modern incarnation, is an AWESOME superhero and role model. Gal Gadot does a phenomenal job of embodying Wonder Woman as an Ambassador of Peace and Goddess of War. The film far exceeded my expectations. Of course I grew up with the Lynda Carter version on TV. As a child, Wonder Woman was my IDOL. (Along with the Bionic Woman! Yes I was a child of the 70s!) She was everything I wanted to be -- beautiful, powerful and good. Unfortunately for most of my life I felt like the opposite -- the ugly duckling, powerless and never good enough. I was always so hard on myself. I had my moments though. When strangers would approach and compliment me, asking if I was a model and when I started getting attention from men I felt beautiful for fleeting moments here and there. When I was a child and excelled in track and field, winning races, achieving gold medals and the award of excellence in Canada Fitness, I felt strong and athletic. More recently when doing yoga, especially headstands or when and I got 99/100 on the Fitness Pin Test (testing flexibility, endurance and core strength) a couple of years ago, I felt strong/powerful, albeit briefly. More important than being beautiful or powerful is being good, having strong morals, standing up for what's right. I try.

I always wanted to be "good." (Whether that meant being a good daughter, exceptional student, hard worker, law-abiding citizen. Of course of all the roles I've played being a good mother is more important than anything.) I've always had a strong conscience and it doesn't let me away with much. I was always a "Goody goody" straight A student, never drank, smoked or did drugs. Never got in trouble with the law. Growing up I felt like I got less attention than my siblings. My Mom said it was because she never had to worry about me. I was her model child. I never got into trouble. No matter what I could be counted on to do the right thing. Not that I'm a saint by any means! I have my faults. I'm admittedly not the best Christian. I'm not terribly forgiving. I have little patience for bad people and wrongdoing. I'd like everyone to live by my standards and they definitely DO NOT. I've been called angry, impatient and "judgmental." Of course if people wouldn't keep doing the wrong things I wouldn't have to judge them would I?! LOL. I can't help it. I need things to be "fair." (And life certainly isn't a lot of the time!) I have a strong sense of justice. I want the good guys to win. I get very angry when I see bad guys getting away with it. (At this writing Trump is still President and it's deplorable! #ImpeachTrump! For the most part I just try to avoid reading about him because it's just frustrating. And I'm a Canadian anyway!) My Mom wanted me to be a lawyer. I did get 90%+ in Law in high school. (Not that the world needs more lawyers! LOL It would have been a lot more schooling and as much as I found it fascinating I didn't see myself as an attorney. I really don't like arguing if I can avoid it. As a lawyer you basically argue for a living. While it would be satisfying when you win and justice is served, it would be crushing to lose and have the bad guys win. Yes it should go without saying that I could NEVER be a defense attorney! Defend someone who is guilty? Not bloody likely!) I also excelled in History. But creativity -- Art and Writing were my passions. Of course I didn't want to be a starving artist. I'm thankful I got to work as a writer briefly and to dabble in acting and music. Even if it was never my living art gives me life. The career I inevitably wound up in for 17 years didn't allow much room for creativity however I was grateful at least to be in a field where I could make a difference, help people (even if it was killing me!) It was always important to me to stand up for what was right. Especially when the world goes so wrong. But sometimes it feels like you're fighting a losing battle and it's beyond discouraging. It can break you.

There is a scene in the new Wonder Woman where she is grief-stricken when she sees how people are suffering. She wants to help. She gets angry. Thankfully she has the power to do something to fight evil and protect the innocent. Unfortunately in real life we don't have superpowers. You can empathize with victims and be furious with the villains, but you can't always resolve/change the situation. Bad things happen. The legal system is flawed. Sometimes it seems like the victims are punished and the guilty go free. It isn't right. It isn't fair. We need superheroes! We need Wonder Woman's lasso of truth to make the bad guys ADMIT what they're up to! (Yes they have lie detectors but even they aren't foolproof. Some sociopaths are able to cheat/fool even the polygraph.) I hate seeing people taking advantage of. These days it seems more common than ever -- predators of one kind or another preying on the vulnerable. I don't judge predators in the animal kingdom. They're acting on instinct but among people, I would expect some decency, compassion. But some people have no conscience. Some people value money and power above human lives. (Again, Trump is an example of a materialistic monster drunk on power and he doesn't care who he hurts -- even separating children from their parents. He steals from the poor and rewards the rich. He is a cruel, ignorant, fraudulent, traitorous, racist, misogynist, Narcissist. And somehow, even after all that he's done, he is STILL PRESIDENT?! How does he keep getting away with it?! What is wrong with America/the world?! The only thing worse than an evil con man is one who gets elected President! Never give power to a monster. Not only because of the damage he can do (to people/the planet etc) but because it sends a TERRIBLE message. It's like it's OK to be an asshole now. But it's NOT OK. #ImpeachTrump for the love of God. But I digress!

Being a Single Mom is one of the hardest roles you can play and unless you have done it yourself you can't imagine how tough it is. Ignorant people are quick to disparage and dismiss single mothers but they have no idea what it takes. Raising a child is tough for TWO PARENTS. To be doing it on your own is a struggle but it is rewarding. I have talked to many single moms and children of single moms who have said the bond they share is stronger than any you'd ever find in a so-called regular family. I am fiercely protective of my daughter. I love her more than anything and I would do anything for her. As a child I wanted to be Wonder Woman and in a strange way I got my wish because I am independent, never married; I wound up in a strange career where I tried to save the world (to a small degree at least); and now I am raising a girl on my own.
Apparently I'm not the only one who has noticed that a Single Mom IS Wonder Woman and embodies many of the same qualities: 1. Independence -- like Wonder Woman, a Single Mom has to do it all on her own without a man to help (especially ones like me who have no input/support from a father whatsoever.) Instead of being rescued by a Knight in Shining Armour, WE do the rescuing. 2. Honesty -- We've been through Hell and back and we have no time/patience for BS. We demand the truth. We can spot a liar a mile away. 3. Resourcefulness -- We will do what needs to be done, thinking outside the box, solving crises on our own, making the most of whatever time and money we have (even though it's never enough). No matter what, you get the job done and save the day because you have to. It's all you. 4. Strength -- physical and mental. You don't have to lift weights to build muscles. You are alone to carry groceries, build/move furniture, carry your sleeping child in from the car with heavy coat and boots on. You may not always feel mentally strong because life can break you down, but even on your worst day you show up and do the best you can for your child. You get knocked down and you get back up every time. You have survived adversity and you can face whatever life throws at you because you have to be strong for your child. 5. Protectiveness -- You can be loving and nurturing. You are dedicated to protecting the innocent but you can also be a warrior when you need to be. You will keep evil at bay. You will defend and protect your child above all else. You will ensure that your child is protected, safe and loved no matter what and pity the fool who tries to interfere with her! So yeah, we may not have bulletproof bracelets, a lasso or truth or an invisible plane but a Single Mom is Wonder Woman. I just remembered that I actually wrote a post years ago called "Single Mom, Wonder Woman" if you want to check it out:

So yeah, I'm a fan of superheroes. I don't think it's unreasonable to want the good guys to win and to be angry at the bad guys. My therapist says I think too much in terms of black and white but it IS black and white to me. Good vs Evil. Victim vs villain. Predator vs prey. As a child I was bullied mercilessly. I didn't stand up for myself. I passively took the abuse. Ironically if I saw someone ELSE being picked on I stood up for THEM but I never showed myself the same courtesy. When my brothers were being bullied as kids, I took their tormentor to task, held him up against the wall and told him don't EVER bother my brothers again. And he didn't. In high school I stood up for students that I saw being bullied.

As an adult, not too long ago actually, I stood up for my parents when I saw a slimy sales/service person trying to take advantage of them. I told him it sounded like a fraud and either he make it right or I would report him to the police. (He had sabotaged their brand new air conditioner to make them pay for service when he was supposed to be doing a free maintenance call. I called BS.) All of a sudden their air conditioner worked again and they didn't owe anything? Hmm. The next time he was there he asked my Mom where her "overprotective daughter" was. She explained that I'd just been visiting that day and didn't actually live there. Sometimes it helps to be in the right place at the right time. Try to take advantage of my Mom? Not on my watch!

Too many people are taken advantage of. Vile opportunists/con artists/predators prey on the elderly in particular and it's despicable. Sometimes I'm glad my Mom has no problem saying "No!" so she's not taken in by many charlatans/scammers/aggressive sales people. Unfortunately some of them can be very sneaky. There were a number of phone scams going around. Crooks would call and claim to be with the government and say that you owe money/were going to jail etc. My Mom was in tears once over a disturbing message some creep had left. "He sounded so official! He said it was Officer So and so and he'd take us to court..." "Mom it's ALL MADE UP! They are just low life scumbags who do nothing but try to rip people off!" I told her to ignore all of those stupid calls. If it was really the government they would be sending you something in the mail. Don't believe a word anyone says on the phone or at the door. "Don't talk to strangers" isn't just for kids. Adults need to be more careful too. NEVER give personal information over the phone. Just assume that they are lying until and unless you check it out to make sure it's legit. I don't think I'm "overprotective" (OK maybe a little!) To me it's just protectiveness. It's a natural maternal instinct to protect the innocent. I've always had that and even more so now that I'm a mother. (My PTSD and anxiety also make me hyper-aware of and reactive to potential threats. And if you threaten someone I love, it will be FIGHT not FLIGHT that takes over!) Thieves and con artists are among my least favourite people. To me, it makes sense to be angry with them. Even JESUS got angry with a "den of thieves" when he encountered them!

Bullies are another category of a-holes that I particularly despise. There have ALWAYS been bullies. At least nowadays schools have rules in place and a no tolerance attitude toward bullying (Though I'm sure it still happens.) As a child I was bullied for being shy, quiet, different, not fitting in. As an adult I was sometimes bullied for the same reasons. Looking back I don't know why I didn't speak up. I could have asserted myself. Now I understand the psychology of bullying. I know that the bully feels insecure and that attacking others gives them a feeling of power. The more you cower, the more they know they can get away with it. I wish I had asserted myself sooner. After being pushed too far I went from being passive to aggressive. I would tell ANYONE to fuck off if they messed with me. I didn't care who. 

When you're pushed to the edge the stakes are higher. It's fight or flight. Kill or be killed. If you are passive for too long (remaining silent when you should speak up, avoiding confrontation) eventually you may reach your breaking point and go into survival mode. "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" The pendulum swings and you turn aggressive, defensive, confrontational, ready for a fight. The thing is, I don't want to be passive OR aggressive. I don't like being angry and I don't like confrontation but when something is bothering me I need to speak up about it or it eats away at me. My days of suffering in silence are done. Of course there's always passive aggressive: The sneaky two-faced liars, pot-stirrers, shit disturbers who pretend to be nice but stab you in the back, who incite war and then stand back with an innocent face like they had nothing to do with it. I joked once that it would be nice if everyone could just wear labels on their shirts so you knew what they were about when you saw them. Of course some people are pretty transparent anyway. 

As I learned in therapy, being passive isn't fair to you because your rights are violated. Being aggressive isn't fair to the other person because you are infringing on THEIR rights. The ideal is to be ASSERTIVE -- to defend your rights without discounting anyone else's. You calmly work out a resolution that is fair to both of you. Peace and love, man. Yeah. It sounds lovely. But unless you're Jesus/Gandhi or Mother Teresa how the Hell do you manage that one? How can you be calm and respectful to someone who is a complete asshole? When someone has violated your rights why the Hell should you even worry about theirs? Sure in a perfect world I would like to just be ASSERTIVE, to stand up for what's right in a calm and controlled manner. It's just not always easy! Some people push my buttons. I'm trying to pick my battles at least. I try not to get bent out of shape over everything. I don't sweat the small stuff as much anymore. Unfortunately I still sweat the big stuff and the medium sized stuff. As my therapist says, I'm a passionate person. I wouldn't get so angry if I didn't love so much -- I am protective of those I love. Emotional depth is not something to be ashamed of. It means I'm human. I get fiercely angry and deeply sad about things BECAUSE I CARE. And sometimes I have every right to be angry. There is more to this but I'll get to that later... Not even sure how I'm going to cover it all but I need to vent and writing this blog is part of my therapy.

My happy girl! At least Michelle is happy 99% of the time! I am glad that Michelle is resilient, optimistic, energetic and gets along so well with everyone. (The opposite of Mama I guess!) She had one friend in particular that kept letting her down/hurting her and I wondered if it was intentional (turns out the child's mother had some issues and it was coming through the child in little passive aggressive ways.) I was more upset about it than Michelle was. (My protective nature. You don't mess with my kid!) I never want to see her get hurt. Of course it's part of life. You can't protect them from everything (as much as you may want to!) Luckily Michelle got over it and moved on. She has so many friends she doesn't have to worry about one disappointing her. I just didn't want to deal with it or hear about it anymore. Michelle is not one to hold grudges. (Unlike Mama who can hold a grudge for a lifetime!)

One day Michelle had a play date at Play Place with a couple of her ballet friends and had a great time. I love watching her play. It was nice talking to the other Moms as well even though I had been a little nervous about it.

Michelle being so popular sometimes puts her introverted Mama in an awkward position! A play date doesn't just mean Michelle plays with her friends. It often means I am there too, hanging around, having to interact with other parents. Sometimes I do drop her off if it's at a party/in a controlled environment (at someone's home etc where I feel she's safe) but I don't feel comfortable leaving her in a public place with someone else. And sometimes you can't. The play date includes you. After my last budding pseudo-friendship turned out to be a fiasco I was that much more hesitant to even attempt to be social. Luckily the Moms were very nice and we were able to bond over a number of things. We were all ballet Moms. We all had things in common. One of them was rather shy, like me and the other was outgoing and friendly so it was a nice balance. I can be somewhat coaxed out of my shell but it's generally not in my nature to be friendly and outgoing. Unless someone else initiates an interaction it's just not happening. I will gladly keep to myself 99.9% of the time.

Then Michelle, my little social butterfly, had a play date with another friend. I felt comfortable dropping her off because I'd met the Mom before and she seemed very nice. Michelle had gone to her friend's birthday party at a theater and at the time I was hesitant about leaving her but the Mom was very sympathetic and it was still a controlled environment -- she would be in the party room with her friends and then walking single file into the theater with the rest of the party.

Being a single Mom with no one to help with child care means that aside from when Michelle is in school I have virtually no time to myself so having a couple of hours once in a while is a blessing to try to get things done. Not that Michelle can't play on her own now but when she's around she does try to get me to play with her and I usually comply. My Mom never played with us as kids. I feel obligated because she's an only child and I want to make her happy. Siblings are something that I can not give her. So sometimes I have to be the big sister as well as the Mom.
Michelle loved this bohemian/gypsy style tunic I found her. It was one of the treasures I picked up at Once Upon a Child, which had become my new go to children's store. Justice has so many cute things but so overpriced. Michelle is growing so fast I was getting rid of her size 7 clothes and getting size 10 or sometimes 12-14! The great thing about OUAC is that I could sell her old things and buy new ones and break even or even come out ahead. They had a clearance sale where there were items for $1 AND buy one get one free!?!? I couldn't resist getting several things -- even a size 14 prom dress because it was only 50 cents!!! Michelle loved all the clothes (she loves beautiful clothes, just like Mama!) and wanted to try them on. She'll probably be wearing size 14 in a couple of years anyway. Then I guess she'll be into Women's size XS! She's growing so fast I can barely keep up. Thrift stores are definitely the way to go. It's not about cutting shopping out entirely, just shopping smarter. Learning to be a Frugalista! (I read Natalie McNeal's "Frugalista Files" and I LOVED it!) 

It was March break and I wanted to plan fun outings with Michelle without going too crazy/spending too much money. Her school gave out the green passports filled with free activities like they did last year. I can't argue with free so we planned out activities to go to and I signed Michelle up for a free singing lesson. She loved it but I told her it really wasn't in the budget to take on any more lessons since she's already in piano and ballet. I reminded her how lucky she is to have the opportunity to take lessons at all since that was my dream and I never got to do it. I love seeing Michelle play piano and dance. It's like living vicariously through her. I'm glad that she loves the same things I do so we can share it and enjoy it together.

The singing lesson was interesting. I never had singing lessons. I've just always loved to sing. She sang Zippity Do Dah and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! The teacher said she had a nice voice and great sense of rhythm. Piano lessons were paying off.

Michelle wants to save the world. She begged me to let her join the Earth Rangers so she could be an animal saving hero. So I signed her up. Aside from fundraising for animals you have to do energy saving missions (which is more the parents' responsibility than the child's) but we did them. One of them was to turn the thermostat down. Another was to look for energy stealing culprits -- like appliances plugged in when they weren't in use. I got a photo of Michelle with her Earth Rangers shirt and badge, as well as the little paper Polar Bear we made for "Operation Conservation" -- an officer on the look out for "energy wasting culprits" stealing energy and water from your home and contributing to climate change by putting more of a strain on the planet's resources. Michelle was also helping at school by picking up litter and speaking out against littering.
The indoor playground isn't always my favourite place -- it's too big and chaotic and generally stresses me out but I can take it in small doses and especially if it's free! They had free play days/hours for the kids during March break so we went. They had moved the playground to a new location and added some new decorations. We met this old pirate as we went in so I couldn't resist getting a picture with him, even though he was a little creepy!

Apparently everyone else had the same idea. It was even more crowded, chaotic and noisy than I had imagined. It was an absolute ZOO. The things I go through to make Michelle happy! At least I hoped all the running would get all that excess energy out of her system. She made a new friend as always and didn't want to leave. Luckily her friend had to leave finally so I had an excuse to make our exit too.

Another day, another trip to the indoor playground. Why not if it's free? This time we were greeted by Moana and Ariel! Two of our favourite Disney Princesses! They were actually just on their way out but I asked if they could please stop for a picture and they kindly agreed. Some people go away on vacation for March break. We were just staying home but I wanted to make it fun for Michelle. She was having a blast. As long as she can play and be active, she's happy. I managed to find a comfy corner chair to try to relax while she went running amok. She was good about checking in with me periodically. I was glad that the new playground didn't have as many blind spots/areas to lose track of her. In a crowded place like that I like to be able to see her at all times. Once again she made friends. I am glad Michelle is such an outgoing child and gets along with everyone. It makes life a lot easier. I never want her to struggle the way that I did.

My happy girl. She was having a blast. I knew that if nothing else she would have to come over when she got thirsty (which was often with all of her running around.) I was glad that the community had these passport activities for kids. The whole idea was to make kids more active because a lot of them are just sitting around playing computer games all day. I don't want Michelle to be one of those kids. I'm glad that she has so much energy and wants to move all the time (even though admittedly it can be EXHAUSTING trying to keep up with her! Sometimes it wears me out just looking at her!) Michelle said that she would never be one of those teenagers who is on their phone all the time and that's all they do. "Well you say that now, honey but you don't know. Hopefully you won't though." She says she's going to be a "nice" teenager! I sincerely hope so. "Can I get that in writing?!" I asked. She's only 6 years old and sometimes she already has an attitude. Overall though she's a sweetheart. So grateful for my girl.

How could you resist taking a selfie with a cute giraffe?! You couldn't! It is a MUST photo op.

We also spent some time with Gramma and Grampa over March break. My Mom wanted me to take her shopping. It is tricky now to avoid falling into my old shopaholic habits but I am pretty disciplined. Now everything has to meet my criteria -- Do I really need it? Do I really love it? Is it affordable? Will it add something to my life (as opposed to depleting it?) My Mom has become more conscious of it too and I was proud of her for getting rid of several bags of clothes at least. I sold a few things for her at a thrift store (and gave her twice the money just to reward her for her work and inspire her to do more) and donated the rest to charity. She saw how happy I was with clearing things out and wanted to try. It is very hard for her to part with things though and is an enormous task. Baby steps.
Well we may not be able to go to Hawaii, but we could at least go to a luau at the library! It was another free event. They had an area set up where you give your name and find out your name in Hawaiian. Michelle's was Mikala which I thought was pretty cool. Michelle wore her new Moana t-shirt. They were having a Moana event later in the afternoon and I was torn whether we should leave and come back or have lunch downtown and try to stay. Instead it was neither. The day was not going to go as planned whatsoever...

We sat on the floor making leis, Michelle did the limbo and bowled with coconuts. If I had hurt my back by sitting hunched over on the floor for an hour (it probably didn't help) and/or thrown my back out doing the limbo it would have made sense. (I did NOT even attempt the limbo!) Instead, I threw my back out randomly, all of a sudden, just leaning over to pose for a photo, and it was excruciating! This is the photo that broke my back. As you can see it was NOT worth it! This blurry/out of focus photo fail nearly killed me. All I did was set the timer on the camera and stand next to Michelle bending slightly when all of a sudden "AAAACK!" I had somehow twisted my back in a weird way and it was AGONIZING. "OMG! I can barely walk!" I had to get home. I didn't know how I'd get back to the car. When I got home I sat in the massage chair, took pain killers. I had some old Robaxacet from the last time I hurt my back years ago. I injured my lower back as a teen, slipping on the ice and had to lay on the floor for a week. Ever since then I've had recurring injuries that come and go in my lower back and shoulders. The action of lifting a baby in and out of a car seat aggravated it MANY times. Sometimes I would just bend to get groceries and feel a twinge. Once I even sneezed in the shower (which sounds so STUPID but the spasm twisted my back in a horrible way and it was excruciating.) Now I was just bending slightly to pose for a photo (which DIDN'T EVEN TURN OUT!) I was getting old. I felt like the old man in Sanford and Son holding my back. At least we had gotten through the week but I'd wanted to go to the Moana thing and there was a magic show coming up too that I wanted to take Michelle to. Instead now I was stuck at home trying not to move my back. Getting in and out of bed was almost impossible. 
Broken back or not I didn't want Michelle to miss out on ballet. I wore an old Robax heating pad and took pain killers. I was walking slowly and stiffly like an old woman but I wasn't sure if anyone even noticed. I just kept to myself. I was hoping I wouldn't have to explain to anyone that I had thrown my back out just trying to get a photo. There had been so many times I had carried Michelle from the car up the stairs and into bed when she fell asleep, times I'd given her piggyback rides, times I had lifted heavy things by myself, or done weight lifting/strength training. And if I injured my back ANY of those times it would have made sense, but no it always happens over the most random, stupid thing. I told Michelle I wouldn't be able to carry her anymore if she fell asleep in the car I'd have to wake her and make her walk because she was getting too heavy and I couldn't risk injuring my back again. Thankfully after a few days I was on the mend. I could understand how people get addicted to pain killers. There is nothing worse than being in pain. You think you would be so happy just to NOT be in pain but then the pain eases up and you find other things to complain/worry about. It's human nature. You just take your health for granted when you have it. It's not until something goes wrong that you appreciate what a blessing it is just to be healthy and not in pain.

Luck o' the Irish! We celebrated Dan's birthday and St Patrick's Day at Auntie May's as always. Shannon took this photo with the cute St Patty's day filter. We always love visiting at May's. Michelle has a ball playing with Reggie and I love talking to May, Dan and Julie. We were laughing our heads off. I laughed so hard I had to run to the bathroom a couple of times before I wet myself. We were all talking and laughing after dinner. My brother Mike rarely comes for Dan's birthday because it's a long way for him and we only usually see him a couple of times a year. Chris usually comes but this year he didn't bother. He tried to pretend he expected us to just celebrate Chris, James' and Dan's birthday all together at his birthday celebration at the end of the month (I'll get into more detail about that later. There's a bit of a story with it!) But PLEASE! As if May wouldn't be throwing a birthday party for her own son? She was a bit surprised Chris wasn't coming over but I'm sure it was his "other half" that talked him out of it. She doesn't like coming to our family events and wanted to keep him from them too. 

The whole gang! Of course I had to get the obligatory group photo. Most of us were wearing a little green for St Patrick's day anyway. Michelle still had her green streamers headband and it still lights up. It comes in handy for St Patrick's Day and Halloween. We had a great visit, a nice dinner and a lot of laughs. I am so grateful for my family. We would be seeing each other again for Chris' birthday celebration but that would only be for a couple of hours at a restaurant (of course we got together at May's place afterward.) More on that later...

Michelle LOVES ballet. I watch her during her classes and she's doing really well. She pays attention to the teacher and follows the steps exactly. It's usually too hard to get pictures of her during class so I make her pose after class.

Her Spring recital is coming up and one day they brought the girls' costumes in to try on. I ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT! So did Michelle. Some of the moms were saying we were really lucky because they'd had kids in other classes for other shows and the outfits were twice as expensive and not nearly as cute. It is such a beautiful dress with cream coloured lace, a pink skirt and a dusty rose accent at the waist and for the hair. Michelle wanted to keep it on the rest of the day but I said no we aren't going to let anything happen to it before the show.

My little ballerina!

I LOVE this photo! It was one of the camera's creative "multi-shots" -- which are always random and don't always work out (like sometimes it's just a close-up of your foot or something!) but sometimes they are just perfect. I love this little vignette effect, with a slight sepia tone so it looks like an old-fashioned photo that could have been taken a century ago.

I have been obsessed with taking photos ever since my trip to Europe decades ago, but of all the subjects I have photographed, Michelle is my favourite by far! My angel, my flower, my work of art! She is growing up so fast and I'm glad I'm a photoholic so I can capture it all...

I am a die-hard #Bachelor fan(atic!) The Bachelor franchise (including Bachelorette, Bachelor in Paradise, even Bachelor Winter Games last year) is my favourite of all though I do also watch Survivor and Dancing with the Stars. Of all the Bachelor shows my favourite is #TheBachelorette. The next Bachelorette is Hannah B (one of two beauty pageant contestants that was on the show.) Some people weren't happy with the choice. I was kind of up and down about Hannah but what really sold me on her was her exit from The Bachelor and subsequent appearance on #TheWomenTellAll. She talked about the kind of love she wanted -- someone who would choose her every day, not take her for granted, love her FIERCELY. I loved that. It struck a chord with many of us I think. I tweeted that we all deserve to be loved fiercely and it got 1.6K likes: 

Of course I haven't exactly been looking for love. Like at ALL. I haven't dated since Michelle's father left me four months pregnant. (Believe me that will pretty much destroy your faith in men right there!) I refuse to date online again and I don't know how I'd ever meet anyone or whether I could even trust someone again. I've pretty much ruled out the possibility. But there's still that small part of me that thinks maybe. One day. If it was the right person. (Like Jesus/Superman!) I would want someone to love me fiercely, with all of his heart and to love Michelle too as his own daughter. I was inspired to write the song "Love me Fiercely." For now I have Michelle's love and that's more than enough!

It was still a little too cold to go for a bike ride but Michelle was eager so we went out. She was a little rusty. I warned her that it would take some getting used to. She just learned how to ride in September and then she couldn't ride all Winter so she hasn't had much practice. It was tough with her pads on over a thick coat. She couldn't move her arms very well. It was also cold and windy which didn't help. (Almost every day is WINDY now. I never remember this much wind before. Possibly part of climate change? All the cold and rain as well. So much flooding everywhere.) Anyway it wound up not being as fun as she expected and Michelle was getting frustrated. I told her it would be much better on a bright and sunny warm and beautiful day when she wouldn't have to wear a winter coat. Spring wasn't really here yet. She could ride her bike through Spring, Summer and the Fall. I reminded her that she still needs practice. Practice makes perfect. The more she does it the easier it will get.

I had several songs I'd never played for anyone or recorded and decided to post another one on Youtube, as a sort of antidote to "Love me Fiercely." This one is called "Be My Own Hero." As a Single Mom I have no one to count on but me and that's OK. I've gotten used to managing by myself. I've gone 7 years now without a man in my life. I can go another 7 or 70 if I have to! Fixing things around the house has been empowering in a way. Things that I never would have attempted or thought that I could do. If you are truly independent and don't need anyone, you are free. You feel strong. And no one can take that from you. If you rely on someone else they can let you down, but you can always count on yourself.

Actually, I haven't always been there for myself. For much of my life I was my own worst enemy. I had low self-esteem. I had no self-respect. I put up with a LOT and suffered in silence when I should have stood up for myself. I was my own harshest critic. So negative. Always doubting myself. I would sabotage myself -- gravitating toward people and situations that would hurt me the most because I didn't like myself. Now I know that I deserve better. Through therapy I'm learning my self worth. As a child I loved fairy tales and I dreamed about being "rescued" by a Prince or a Knight in Shining Armour. Of course they never showed up and I met mostly villains instead. I realized at some point that the women I admired the most (superheroes like Wonder Woman) were independent. They fought their own battles. They didn't need a man to rescue or validate them. I can be my own hero, face my own fears, slay my own dragons. Through therapy I am trying to be my best self. I have the best incentive in the world -- trying to be the best Mom for Michelle. I need to be strong for her. I will love and protect her no matter what. My life has more value, more meaning now than it ever did because I'm her Mom.  

One day when I least expected it I accidentally made a new friend, sort of... I have Michelle to thank, of course. The weather was warming up slightly and Michelle wanted to go to the park after school. I sat and watched her as always. There was a Mom standing nearby that I figured was probably mother to the child Michelle was playing with but I was too shy to say anything. (I normally don't speak to someone unless spoken to and I wasn't venturing out of my shell especially now.) But then suddenly the woman came over to me and introduced herself. She was so nice! Her child had been talking about Michelle -- how nice she was, how smart she was. She said she was impressed how well-behaved Michelle was and she could tell how much I loved her. So nice! 

The woman was from Europe and had a cool accent and was a PHOTOGRAPHER!!! It was awesome. We talked for over an hour while the kids played. We had a lot of things in common with some differences in parenting style (she was a little more strict than I was about meals etc -- I told her about my Mom and how I try to do the opposite.) She never made me feel bad about anything. She said I was really funny. I was cautiously optimistic. It was nice to have another Mom to talk to. I told her I'm too shy and wouldn't have approached her. She said she's normally shy too but something made her approach me and I'm glad that she did.

It was still a little chilly but it was as close as we were going to get to Spring for now so we'd take it! Each day after school we'd go to the park and Michelle would play with her new friends and I would talk to their Moms. Being an introvert I am fine with keeping to myself but it is also nice to have an actual grown up to talk to now and then. It was interesting to talk to someone from a different background, from another country, with unique experiences and perspectives on everything. I love accents. I am fascinated by other languages. In my life I have learned a little French, German, Italian, Spanish, Hungarian and Arabic (mostly through boyfriends). Words are magical to me. Learning new words for things in other languages is like discovering precious new jewels. I wish I could speak other languages fluently. French is the one I know the most having studied it all through high school but even with that I'm far from fluent.

We pretty much go to every Disney movie when they come out. Of all the classics, one of the closest to my heart was the sweet Ugly Duckling tale of  Dumbo. As a child I was a misfit and was bullied for being different (substitute big ears for being a shy, pale, freckled ginger girl.) I could totally relate and empathize with Dumbo not fitting in. I felt so protective of him and I loved how his mother loved him unconditionally and tried to protect him. When they get separated it is CRUSHING. The new live action Dumbo had some very big shoes to fill but it exceeded my expectations. It was BEAUTIFUL! They even included the Pink Elephants on Parade sequence with bubbles and it was SHEER GENIUS! The new Dumbo was magical, heart-warming, jaw-dropping, extraordinary. Michelle and me loved it so much. The elephant they create is SO REAL and SO ADORABLE you can't help but love him and root for him. I heard Danny DeVito (who plays the Ringmaster in the film) saying "When you see that elephant soar, YOU soar with him!" And you do. It's breathtaking when he flies. And (spoiler alert!) I loved that karma catches up to the villains. I LOVE when the bad guys get what's coming to them. Nothing is more satisfying than that. I always root for the underdogs. I hate the expression "Nice guys finish last." It shouldn't be that way. Good should conquer evil, damn it! We need more movies like this to give us hope: where the bad guys are punished and the good guys win. For a change.

That's how it SHOULD be in real life. Good conquers evil and all is right in the world. Unfortunately it doesn't always play out that way. In real life, good people suffer too often and villains don't always (or ever?) admit to being villains do they? Too often they get away with it. Even if they're taken to court they're often found not guilty. I would like to believe that most people are basically good but there are a lot of bad people. And some of them can be very sneaky. Hiding in plain sight. Pretending to be your friend (frenemies). Getting close to you to sabotage you. Sometimes monsters can pretend to be charming. Look at the con man in the White House for instance! Look how many people Trump has fooled and continues to fool. I can only hope that the collective delusion in America falls away and that eventually they will #ImpeachTrump. The #Resistance is at least awake and aware enough to see him for what he is. Now if they can just talk some sense into the MAGA imbeciles...

I may edit this dark part out later... If you're reading this then I left it in...

I love this quote by Muriel Rukeyser: "What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open." Too often we hide the truth or can't even bear to face it. Too often we remain silent when someone has wronged us. More and more women are breaking their silence about all kinds of abuse. And sometimes the predators are the last people you would expect. Look at Cosby. He seemed like such a great guy. Funny, charming, America's Dad. And yet he was a serial rapist. And got away with it for decades. Never underestimate a Narcissist, a predator, a pathological liar. They have everyone fooled. They abuse their power and bank on the victims' silence. Someone once said "there are two kinds of people in the world: predators and prey." Villains and victims. In the movies it's usually easy to spot the villain. In life it can be a little trickier. Sometimes it's the last person you'd expect. Sometimes it's even a member of your own family. Of course there is a third category, aside from victims and villains. There are heroes -- the ones who say "Fuck that shit!" and step in to save the day. Of course sometimes it's hard to do. Sometimes there's nothing you CAN do. Except maybe to speak up and say "Hey, this is NOT OK!"

WARNING: The unicorns and rainbows have left the building! This is not my usual focus on the good things, "Disney mode" happy post. It will likely be my darkest, most incendiary post to date. I need to spill my guts a little, for my own sanity. I have some unpleasant truths to unleash here about a couple of vultures I have the misfortune of knowing. And I have to vent because it's eating me alive. I can't hold it in anymore. This is part of my therapy. So it's all coming out and it's going to be messy and it's going to take a while but I HAVE to do this so here goes... If hearing someone air their dirty laundry and family conflict issues isn't your bag, please stop reading NOW! If you scroll through this angry tirade there will be some happy bits at the end but first, the GRUDGE...

I can hold a grudge forever. I can't help it. Deliberate cruelty is, to me, unforgivable. I can't "forgive and forget." If someone hurts me, or worse -- hurts someone I love, I REMEMBER FOREVER. They go on my grudge list and they never really get removed until/unless they redeem themselves (which almost never happens.) I've heard that there are no "bad people" just people acting out of pain and you're supposed to hate the sin but not the sinner. Fuck that. Some people are just evil. They have no moral compass. No conscience. No remorse. Their priorities are out of whack. They don't care about your feelings. You are nothing to them. They value themselves, money, control, power more than human lives. They will step on anyone or anything to get what they want. All that matters is their own gratification at someone else's expense. They don't care who they hurt. They are opportunists just out to get whatever they can. They don't do anything without an agenda. They will pretend to be generous when their actions are merely self-serving. They will lie, cheat, swindle and steal from you. They will pretend to have your back but they're just setting you up to stab you in it. There are con artists who will scam you out of everything if you let them. Even famous celebrities have lost everything to crooked managers etc. Even members of your own family sometimes can be up to no good. Granted because of my PTSD/anxiety my amygdala is more active than in the average person. I am hyper-aware of potential threats. Some threats are obvious. Others more insidious and sinister. I was trying to let things slide for the most part, trying to find my zen and not get bent out of shape about little things -- bad drivers on the road, rude people in public. Who cares anyway? It didn't have to affect me. But there were some bigger things that had been bothering me for a while. Closer to home. Sure it doesn't much matter if a stranger is a complete a-hole but it matters if someone I know is. It matters if they wrong me personally. It's hard not to call them on it. There were a couple of vultures, (circling scavengers) that I felt were up to no good. I kept hearing one shady story after another about them. I wasn't really allowed to say anything (my Mom kept saying "Don't start anything!") and I tried for the most part to "keep the peace" and not confront them about it but I kept hearing things and my suspicion/resentment was building... Not even sure how to get into this... I'm just going to say it. This could take a while. I've been bottling this up for ages...

I have two sister in laws. The first, my "real" sister in law, is an angel, a beautiful person inside and out. A sweet, sunny blonde, charming, kind -- you couldn't help but love her. They say behind every good man is a great woman. My baby brother was admittedly pretty wild and crazy when he was younger but his better half was a good influence and she has turned him into a strong and admirable man, a good husband and father, a great guy that I'm proud to call my brother.

The second, my "fake" sister in law is a demon -- evil, and ghastly inside and out. A dark-haired, scrawny, sinister, scheming, insincere witch. You could say behind every bad man is an evil woman, a bad influence, his worst half, a Lady Macbeth, a toxic, controlling, manipulative, selfish monster with more ambition than ethics, who goads her partner into evil-doing. The eldest of my two younger brothers was mostly a sweet kid but he outgrew it. He could be cruel. He was irresponsible. His recklessness went well past his teen years. There were moments he almost seemed redeemable. The right woman may have steered him in the right direction. Unfortunately he inevitably got involved with a toxic narcissist and she has brought out the worst in him, poisoned him against his family, poisoned his true nature, destroyed the few things about him that were beautiful and genuine, turned him into nothing more than a self-serving vulture like she is. For brevity's sake I will refer to my black sheep brother as "C" and his wretched bitch of a pseudo-wife (non-wedding, not sure it was legal. I wasn't there. No one was invited.) as "X." I had been hearing a LOT about C and X over the past year or so (mostly from my mother) and it was mostly bad. Frankly I was getting sick of it.

My mother calls me EVERY SINGLE DAY and vents to me about things that are bothering her, in the news and in her life. Mostly I kept getting an ear-full about all of the shady, suspicious, disturbing and bizarre things that my brother "C" and his almost-wife "X" had said and done. Frustratingly my Mom forbade me to confront them about any of these things. "Don't start anything!" she'd say if there was a family event. She knew that I was growing angrier and angrier with them with each story she told me but she still insisted: "Don't say anything!" So I had been holding things in a long time. I promised I wouldn't "start" anything but if they brought it up, if they pushed me I would be forced to tell them exactly what I thought/felt about all this shit. There was an incident recently that kind of blew the lid off so it's all coming out now, here.

There was a time I wanted to believe X was nice. She was with my brother so she was going to be around. I was nice to her. I tried to like her. Really I did. For the most part I try to see the best in people but it's hard to ignore when they keep showing you their worst. Time and again she kept trying to turn my brother against his family. She got angry with my Mom and Dad for getting her name wrong (leaving off the last vowel), even after she'd been with my brother for years. She told my brother "Your family DOESN'T EVEN KNOW MY NAME!" even though all the rest of us got it right. It was just my Mom and Dad. In fairness, they didn't see her that often, maybe a few times a year. My Mom is terrible with names. She sometimes gets MY name wrong. My dad was in a coma for weeks as a child and had a stroke as an adult. He's been diagnosed with cognitive impairment. So I don't think you can fault HIM for getting your name wrong. (At this writing I think he still calls her the wrong name. Luckily he doesn't have to see/talk to her much if at all.) And hey, he only missed one letter. I used to have people call me "Mary-Anne" all the time. I tried not to take it personally. I thought "Oh well, they were close. At least they're trying." Mind you I don't think I ever had a boyfriend's parents get my name wrong.

So, OK I suppose you might be hurt if people didn't remember your name. But X was so easily offended, even by things that had absolutely NOTHING to do with her and seemed to think the world revolved around her. One year at Christmas I made a song and slideshow video for my family called "My Home" and gave it to them on DVD. There were several family photos in it. I didn't have too many photos where we were ALL together as a group so I used what I had. There was ONE group photo of the family where my brother was with another girl that he had dated. X was apparently jealous and enraged by the photo (which is on the screen a whopping 3 seconds out of a 3 minute song) and brainwashed my brother into thinking I had made the video JUST to hurt her. "OMG. WHAT PLANET IS SHE FROM?!" I said to my Mom. Meanwhile the guy that I was dating at the time didn't care one straw that there were SEVERAL photos of me with a previous boyfriend (12 seconds worth of air time!) He wasn't jealous. He didn't think I was trying to hurt him. He knew that I made the video for my FAMILY, to say how much I love THEM. He knew that I obviously had a life before him and he was fine with that because he was a normal, sane individual who didn't expect the world to revolve around HIM. But to X, a text-book NARCISSIST, EVERYTHING is about HER. Now that she was in C's life I guess we were all supposed to bend over backwards to make her feel important. The thing was she was constantly proving how insignificant we were to her. It was apparent she'd rather have nothing to do with us. The feeling was mutual.

You couldn't win with X anyway so there was no point trying. She was so strange you just never knew what to expect from her. Some of her actions and especially her timing was off the charts awful/tone deaf/ridiculous where you'd have to ask "Is she really that CLUELESS or is she really that CRUEL?!" My money was on cruel. It seemed she didn't like our family. She didn't like coming to family events and tried to stop C from going. She even made a comment to my sister at one point -- "I'm excluding myself from Pincivero events" but then would randomly show up when you least expected. She made them miss my niece's communion. She started a fight with C so he missed my brother's 40th birthday. My brother never used to miss my nephews' birthdays but then he missed a few because of her. Most recently he told my sister he was coming to Reggie's communion but then never showed up and said he "forgot." I'm sure that X was behind that.

She made a comment once to my sister that "MY family was very different. WE were independent. WE all worked for a living." The implication seemed to be that her family dynamic was preferable/superior. May felt it was a dig at her because she works from home (meanwhile X is self-employed too) and meant to disparage my stay at home Mom. (She was a home maker while my dad went out to work.) X's family was very different. The opposite of ours in fact. While my Mom wanted to keep all her baby birds in the nest, X's parents couldn't wait to push she and her brother out and move far away from them so X and her bro apparently wound up moving in together to make ends meet. I think that either extreme -- holding onto your kids too tightly so that they can't grow/stand on their own or pushing them out too soon so they feel rejected and abandoned -- could be detrimental. Somewhere in the middle -- being supportive and loving and making your children feel safe while also encouraging them to learn and grow and stand on their own -- would be perfect. But there are no perfect parents and everyone does the best that they can. You need to do what's right for you. For my Mom, her kids were her top priority. Other people might value career, travel, other aspects of life aside from their children. Some people don't even raise their own children -- they send them away to boarding school, have nannies to look after them etc. Like my Mom, I put my child first. I certainly would never push Michelle out of the nest too soon but unlike my Mom I do want to support and encourage her independence as well. I would not hold her back if she wanted to leave. I would not try to imprison or emotionally blackmail her into staying like my Mom did with me.

Not all families are close. A lot of people are estranged from their families. Many people find it strange that ours gets together so often. Most people stop celebrating their childrens' birthdays with them once they reach adulthood. They may get together once or twice a year at the most. It's my Mom who insists that we get together for every birthday and occasion. My sister and me are also devoted to our family. My brothers are a little less involved (well one of them lives quite far away so he has a good excuse!) but still get together a few times a year. My Mom refers to the saying "A son is a son til he takes a wife. A daughter's a daughter all of her life." Females do tend to be more nurturing and involved. I'm so glad Michelle is a girl!

X was a bit of an anomaly. You never quite knew what to expect. Sometimes it seemed like she was trying to win us over but it just felt unnatural and insincere. It's as if she wants to  "appear" to be generous but it's inappropriate and there's usually a self-serving purpose in it for her. She wouldn't just do something nice, there had to be an agenda behind it. She invited us all for dinner at a restaurant for Chris' birthday one year (mostly because she didn't want to have us all at their condo) but then said she was writing it off as a business expense because she talked to us about her painting services. Incidentally she offered to paint my niece's room at a "discount" but my sister politely declined because I would help for FREE. Why would she PAY someone to do a job that I'm happy to do for nothing? I love my sister and I'd do anything for her. I can paint canvases OR walls! We actually had fun painting Shannon's room, May, Shannon and me. I've helped other friends paint their hallways etc and didn't ask for anything. In my first home I painted several rooms myself and did a pretty good job I think! But I guess if that was how you were trying to make a living you'd want to charge for your services, even if it was family. I guess X thought of us more as "potential clients" than family. An opportunist has to be on the lookout for opportunities, after all. She had worked in bars and restaurants but always wound up fighting with the staff because she wanted to control everyone which didn't always go over very well. So then she started doing painting jobs with her brother.

One of the most disturbing things about X was her tendency to do the most random and inappropriate things with no regard for how it might affect you. It's like she was in her own little world. You had to wonder what the Hell she was thinking. At one time she gave an arbitrary, inapt overly-generous gift to my Mom at a bizarre time and for no occasion. It wasn't Mother's Day or her birthday or Christmas. It was March. The only event that was coming up was that I was going into the hospital for surgery and I was terrified. Out of the blue, X decides to randomly give my Mom a TABLET as a gift, for no reason, no occasion. WHY THOUGH?! It felt like a slap in the face to me. Why would you give my Mom (who is even more resistant to technology than I am) a friggin TABLET when I'm going into the HOSPITAL the next day and then she had the nerve to email us (May, Mikey and me) pestering us for photos to put on it?! Her email even said "You may think I'm crazy..." Well yes, crazy, clueless, an insensitive bitch among other things! It MADE NO SENSE. WTF?! THE DAY BEFORE MY SURGERY?! It was insensitive to say the least. It wasn't like she didn't know it was bad timing. The stupid thing was that X KNEW I was going into the hospital (she wished me luck! LOL) and that my sister was taking me the next day because we had just seen her at a family get-together. She knew it was a difficult time for me and that I was stressed about going to the hospital. She knew that my sister was taking me. We were busy. We were worried about my health. WHY ON EARTH was she wasting our time and getting my Mom a stupid friggin tablet and asking us for pictures?! NOW of all the times! It made NO SENSE. "What the HELL is wrong with her?!" It's like she's so devoid of human empathy she could literally hand out her business card at a funeral or ask the grieving widower if she could take his wife's ring because "Hey we're the same size! And she doesn't need it anymore..." I was furious. My sister was exasperated. "What do I even say? I'm just not responding to her." It was WEIRD AF. When I replied to X's ridiculous email (days later, after surviving surgery) I tried to restrain myself from asking "What the FUCK is wrong with you?!" and  just said it was kind of a STRANGE thing to do/UNUSUAL timing and that my Mom hates new technology so I wasn't sure it was the best idea anyway. I couldn't make sense of it. No one could. Was she trying to be nice? What did she hope to gain? In retrospect I think perhaps X was hoping I'd die in surgery and then she could swoop in as a hero to my Mom like "Hey, I can take her place as your other daughter! Look how nice I am! I got you this expensive tablet!" I don't know, man. I'm at a loss.

It's like she gets an idea in her head and will just run with it whether you want it or not. Maybe she's trying to be nice but it comes out wrong? Or maybe she's just trying to manipulate and control people in some way. When someone insists on giving you something you didn't ask for and don't want, that's not generous, it's oppressive. It's a way of controlling you. Telling you how to live your life: Like giving a cookbook to someone who hates cooking, self-help books to someone who doesn't like reading or believe in self-help, or forcing unwanted technology on a technophobe. Giving my Mom the tablet quickly seemed like a sneaky way for X to try to control Mom, to keep tabs on her. My Mom was rather creeped out that X had set the tablet up for her with a banking app on it and everything. She thought maybe X was trying to hack into her banking information. My Mom was clueless about technology (she doesn't own a computer or cellphone) and got my much more techno-savvy niece to delete the apps Mom didn't want (like banking and Uber! As if my Mom would ever take an UBER! Like hitching a ride from a stranger! She won't even take a regular CAB! Clearly X knew NOTHING about my Mom. But shouldn't my brother have known better? Oh, right, my brother probably didn't have much say in anything now that X owned him.)

I have no patience for BS and insincerity. Why even bother? There was one time that X told me she'd sent me a long heartfelt email and wondered why I never responded. I was shocked. I never got it. I wasn't sure if it wound up in my spam folder or what. If I'd seen it I definitely would have been curious because we'd NEVER had a heartfelt talk. I wasn't even sure she had a heart to speak from. I told her that I never got it but please send it again and she never did. She said she was glad she hadn't sent it and didn't really feel that way anymore. It was weird. Had she really even sent it or only thought she did? Later I realized there probably never WAS such an email! Maybe she made the whole thing up! But WHY would you invent a story like that?! What could she hope to gain? Maybe she just lied for the hell of it. Or perhaps she wanted it to seem like she had tried to open up to me and that I was the one who was closed off. Maybe it was to fool me into revealing things to her. Of course I'm an open book, heart on my sleeve anyway. Unfortunately opening up to her even slightly was always a huge mistake because she would twist everything you said until it bore no resemblance to what you said. It seemed it was better just not to talk to her at all, which was easy because I never saw her. Never called or emailed her unless she sent me something. But then for some reason last year she kept showing up at my Mom's. And I kept hearing about her. Each story more cringe-worthy than the last.

Things seemed to get worse after their "non-wedding" last Summer. First of all none of us could understand why after living together for a decade or more, C and X all of a sudden HAD to get married, the next month, without a proper ceremony, without any rings (nope my bro didn't spring for an engagement OR wedding ring) and to drop the news on MOTHER'S DAY and break my Mom's heart (because she wasn't invited, nor were any of us.) Why the sudden urgency? My brother in law joked that maybe X was pregnant. AS IF. X looked rather disdainfully on the very idea of having children. When my Mom and Shane asked her about having kids her answer was "Why would I DO that to myself?!" She is anorexic. You can see her bones. She's like 80 lbs. She barely eats enough to sustain her own life never mind house an infant. She would NEVER let herself get fat. No chance of her getting pregnant. Plus she was bragging how well off they are, how their condo is almost paid off, how they can go on trips whenever they want. Why would they spoil that with children? Let's face it: Kids are EXPENSIVE!

My brother in law, who doesn't worry about offending people apparently called her a SELFISH BITCH right to her face! (EPIC! I wish I'd been there for that!) Mind you, in fairness deciding not to have kids doesn't necessarily make you selfish. Quite the opposite sometimes. I had a friend years ago that didn't believe in having kids because the world is already too overpopulated and messed up as it is and how could you bring a child into that? So I get that. There was a time (for most of my life actually) when I felt that, like my brother, I would never have children. I couldn't see myself as a Mom. I didn't think I could handle the enormous responsibility. I thought that I was too immature, too selfish. It all changed when I found out I was pregnant. My maternal instincts kicked in, full blast. I was living for someone else. I felt more love than I had ever felt. Michelle is the best thing that has ever happened to me. She brings so much joy and purpose to my life. But not everyone gets that. To each their own. Still, if your reasons for not having kids are because you'd rather be skinny and have a lot of money that does, at the very least, sound pretty shallow.

The weird thing about C & X suddenly RUSHING to get married (all of a sudden a month after their announcement and at a local beach no less) is that they had AMPLE opportunities to get married before that, in FAR better circumstances. They could have eloped on any of their tropical vacations and it would have made a lot more sense. My brother told my Mom that SEVERAL of the trips X had booked for them -- to Jamaica, Cuba, etc had all been WEDDING PACKAGES! Each time, it would seem, X was trying to lure/trap my brother C into tying the knot but it never happened. My brother made it sound like HE was the one who didn't want to get married but X made it sound to my Mom like SHE was the one who had been holding out until he finally convinced her to tie the knot. One of them has to be lying. Weirdly C never did give X a ring of any kind. No real wedding. No ring. It's like he didn't really want to marry her. So why do it? Even my brother in law teased him about it "What's the matter C? Too cheap to get her a ring?!"

At one point things got really weird. Apparently X had the NERVE, the UNMITIGATED GALL to ask my Mom for her wedding ring! Wait, WHAT?! At some point they were at my sister's place (maybe before Christmas?) and X was trying on my Mom's rings and saying how she and my mom were the same size. (To clarify: My Mom is 90 lbs because she's a petite 4'11". X is 80 lbs because she DOESN'T EAT!) She rudely asked my Mom for her ring and then suggested she could leave it to her in her will?! WTF?! IN HER WILL?! Who the FUCK does she think she is?! My sister and me were LIVID when we heard about this but my Mom told me not to say anything to C or X about it. I rarely see them and when I do it's at a family event where I see them in passing and rarely have a real conversation with them. My sister abhors conflict and will keep the peace no matter what. So we just kind of held it in but it has been eating away at me. This bitch is BARELY EVEN IN THE FAMILY and she's already asking to be in my Mom's will and trying to TAKE HER WEDDING BAND?! Not OK. Not even subtle.
An important side note -- X had apparently pestered my Mom about making a will ON SEVERAL OCCASIONS (because I kept hearing about it!)

One time X even showed up at my Mom's place like the Grim Reaper and said she'd help her to "clear out/get rid of" Mom's stuff (my Mom is a hoarder and X is an extreme minimalist, so yeah, like TOTAL OPPOSITE ENDS OF THE SPECTRUM). My Mom politely declined X's offer to pillage her home to which X replied that Mom better get rid of stuff or else "someone will have to do it once you're gone!" Nice daughter in law! Monster. Trying to steal my Mom's ring, take her stuff and kill her off? Kind of makes you all warm and fuzzy inside, doesn't it? X has shown up at my Mom's place uninvited several times. She always says she was "just in the area." It gives me the creeps just thinking about it. Talk about unwanted guests! I don't know why my Mom answers the door. One time my Mom said she was walking back from the mailbox and X was there in the driveway waiting for her. CREEPY AF.

Apparently both C and X have gone to my Mom's place and badgered her about keeping the main floor bathroom clean. My brother installed a toilet and sink for my Mom. When her toilet stopped working he said he'd get her a new one and gave her a used one from a house he'd been working on. Then he said he'd replace the sink too to match and X painted the room. After that they started acting like they OWNED it, were possessive of it and would show up randomly to check on it. (Weird, right?!) My brother gave my Mom a hard time once about leaving a bit of soap on the sink! (This coming from a guy that was a total slob growing up and left clothes and trash everywhere. And you would have JUST cleaned the bathroom so it was spotless and then he'd shave and leave little black hairs everywhere and not even rinse the sink! But now his "wife" has him so brainwashed he's turned into a "Sleeping with the Enemy" OCD psycho control freak?) First of all, Fucko, I don't keep my house spotless every moment if I'm not expecting company. Who does?! Our mother who is elderly and blind in one eye doesn't have to keep her bathroom spotless every second just in case you drop by like a psychopath. Secondly, don't do the "pop in!" The pop in is RUDE AF. It's passive aggressive and unfair. Let her know you're coming so she can pretend not to be home! I don't know why Mom even answers the door to you freaks. CALL AHEAD. Give her fair warning.

In fairness my brother usually does tell my Mom when he's coming to her place for dinner. (Mostly because he wants the food ready when he gets there.) He usually pops by when he needs something from her garage (he doesn't have a house, only a tiny condo so he uses my parent's garage as a workshop and storage for his tools among other things), to pick up his mail (he STILL gets mail at her house 15 years later?!) or because he's working in the area and he might as well get a free meal while he's there. My Mom looks forward to seeing him but it's never really a visit. It's more like feeding a wolf. He shows up for dinner late, scarfs down the meal and leaves. He's a dog on a VERY short leash. He's got to hurry home to the master.

Even in the brief time that C is at my Mom's, X has called or texted him at least 3 times to check on him. Bizarre! She can't let him out of her sight. Strangely enough, when my brother is coming for dinner, let's say on a Thursday, sometimes X will show up earlier that day to talk to my Mom, saying she was just "in the area." It seems like she's checking up to make sure that C's alibi checks out and that he really is having dinner at his Mom's? (Maybe she suspects him of cheating? And with how fast he rushes out of my Mom's maybe he does go somewhere after?) It's just super weird that my Mom sees X in the afternoon and C for dinner on the same day but they never come over together. Just one of the many strange things about C and X. And whatever. I don't really care. It doesn't matter to me what is wrong in their relationship. I just worry about their intentions and their actions toward my Mom. I don't trust them.

C and X have both pestered my Mom about "getting rid of things." Now granted, my Mom is a hoarder or more euphemistically, a "Maximalist." She has a LOT of stuff. But X is the LAST person that should be talking to my Mom about it because she is an EXTREME Minimalist. She doesn't believe in having ANYTHING. She has almost no possessions. No sentimentality. No stuff. She has like one sweater, one purse, one pair of jeans. My Mom has hundreds of sweaters and purses and pants in every conceivable colour. Yes X and my Mom are polar opposites. X can't stand cluttered spaces because they make her feel suffocated (needless to say she finds my Mom's place quite unbearable. Then stop going there uninvited!) My Mom can't stand empty spaces because they make her feel sad/lonely.

Hoarders are trying to fill a void. It's not rocket science to figure it out. All addictions come from a need to fill a void/a distraction from a painful loss etc. What my Mom wanted more than anything was to hold on to all of her kids. Some parents can't wait to push their kids out of the nest. My Mom is the opposite. She never wanted us to leave. I was the only one to never get married/live with anyone so she got to hold on to me longer than most and she said she'd die if I left. Paralyzing guilt and fear notwithstanding I did finally move away and get a home on my own but I made a point to visit her as often as I could. And talk to her every day. I was the one she held onto the longest. With all of her kids gone she started filling the space more and more. If she can't have her KIDS at least she has her THINGS. She loves cute and beautiful things that make her happy.

As a fellow shopaholic/maximalist/collector myself, I can relate to that. While I do find some minimalist decor beautiful to look at in a magazine, to me that's not a home. It's cold and soulless. Empty. A home is meant to be LIVED in, filled with memories and souvenirs of the life you've lived. I like when everything is tidy and organized but I have a LOT of stuff. I like to think of myself more as a "collector" than a hoarder. If you have a collection that is aesthetically pleasing then that is not clutter. (For instance I organize my books by colour like they've done in this photo here. I have a mild case of rainbow-itis and I love having a lot of colour around me. Michelle's toys are slowly taking over the house, including the kitchen and family room so there is a LOT of colour!) I love my things. I would not be willing to throw them all away. Of course "stuff" isn't as important as people but you do get attached to it.

One of my cousins who talks to my Mom often complains almost every day about the "things" that her kids got rid of when they helped her move. Her kids selfishly trashed many of her beloved possessions because it was "just junk" to them -- her collection of tacky 1970s bric a brac -- most notably her cherished "doll lamp" (which WAS admittedly hideous but she loved it. It was worse than the one pictured here.) No matter what anyone else thought of it SHE loved it. Her kids had no right to get rid of her things without her permission. She has NEVER gotten over it. She talks about it all the time. It is cruel and callous to take away something that someone loves. Now her kids are bickering over their father's estate since he passed away, instead of cherishing their time with their mother who is still here. The family is in turmoil fighting over who gets what. (Their father didn't make a will. He didn't want anyone to have anything.) With her kids at war she said to my Mom "You're so lucky your kids get along!" My Mom was like, hold my beer. She should have explained, it's only because I won't let Ann Marie speak up about all the shady stuff her a-hole bro and his bitch fake-wife are up to. But they will push her too far and she will finally spill the beans in her blog...

My Mom, like our cousin, LOVES her stuff. For my Mom, stockpiling, shopping, accumulating was her way of dealing with her baby birds leaving the nest. If you moved out, Mom turned your room into another storage room. Pain sends her shopping. It was her way of coping. To fill the void, fill the emptiness with stuff. So the 4 bedroom house is now a 4 closet house. Does my Mom have WAY too much stuff? Yup. Should she try to clear some of it out? Of course. But bullying her into doing it is not the way. Telling her that her treasures are junk and telling her to get rid of it is not the way. And someone who doesn't believe in keeping ANYTHING is the last person that should help her. To X, ALL of it would be trash. And she's got C brainwashed into minimalism too. He used to have a LOT of stuff. He had to get rid of most of his clothes when he moved in with X. In fairness I'm sure they don't have room for clothes with all the skeletons in their closets. But I won't even get into that.  My beef with them is their treatment of my Mom, my sister and me. Still so much to get through and this is already so long! I have to get this crap out like exorcising a demon because holding it in all this time has been killing me and now after Easter weekend I am DONE holding stuff in.

Of all the annoying/frustrating/creepy/awful things that I heard or learned about X, the worst was her badgering my Mom about making a will. It's not a good look. Callous exploitation of others and an utter lack of empathy? TOTAL NARCISSIST. Just out to see how much she can get. She doesn't care about anyone but herself. I mean, she's not even SUBTLE about it! Barely even in the family and trying to get into my Mom's will?! What the holy hell is wrong with you?! My Mom was getting so fed up that she finally told us "If X asks me about my will ONE MORE TIME I'm going to tell her I'm leaving everything to my GRANDCHILDREN!" So childless C & X would get NOTHING. My baby brother, incidentally found that hilarious when my Mom told him. Of course he and my sister each have 3 children and I have one. I have NEVER asked my Mom about a will. Because I love my MOM. I'm not out to get her stuff/home/money! I don't even want to go there. I can't even think about losing my Mom period. My sister and me were FURIOUS that X would have the nerve to ask for my Mom's ring. Who the HELL does she think she is?! My Mom has two daughters and several grand-daughters. If she was leaving something as personal and valuable as a gold ring it would go to one of us, not some greedy/grasping barely family VULTURE! Who cares if they're the same size?! I'd wear it on a chain around my neck. I told May she should have it because she's the oldest. She said I should have it because I'm the most sentimental. The bottom line is we want to keep our MOTHER not her damn ring and who the Hell does this gold-digging little snake think she is?! My parents aren't even wealthy. It must be scary for rich folks. After Eric and Lyle Menendez killed their parents to get their money it must have made a lot of wealthy people nervous around their sons! Especially if they kept asking about the will! You don't even have to be wealthy for people to try to steal from you though. It happens all the time. And who wouldn't be a little wary of a creepy daughter in law stalking you and asking about your will?!

On X's birthday she showed up at my Mom's place, uninvited as usual. My Mom didn't realize it was X's birthday. Even though X put it into the tablet. (She added all of our birthdays into my Mom's tablet but had the dates wrong. The only one she got right was her OWN birthday. I guess she was hoping it would inspire my Mom to get her a gift?) Anyway she shows up and says she's there for a hug and brags to my Mom about how she's having a big party for her birthday (and my Mom isn't invited. Because slapping my Mom in the face with #unvitations is her jam, apparently.) After her birthday she told my Mom about the Japanese restaurant where they had dinner, a place where they prepare the food in front of you, with a flame on the grill etc. My Mom, trying to be polite, feigned mild interest. "That's nice. I've never had Japanese food." X took that to mean that my Mom wanted to go there and offered to host C's birthday there. She invited the whole family saying it was on her, she would pay for dinner (actually lunch because it was from 2-4 pm.) We could contribute to tips if we wished. How generous of her to host a lunch for 17 people. My Mom was worried about it. She didn't know if she'd like the food. She was nervous about sitting close to an open flame (she's terrified of fire.) I told her it would be fun. I was curious to see what it was like. We figured X was willing to pay for the lunch because at least then she wouldn't have to have us over to her condo (we'd only been invited there once in the past 15 years.) And she would probably write it off as a bogus business expense anyway.

Next thing you know, X CALLS MY MOM (Oh! So she IS actually capable of CALLING on the phone instead of just SHOWING UP AT THE DOOR UNINVITED LIKE THE GRIM REAPER!) and leaves a message: "I hope you're going to bring a POSITIVE attitude to the restaurant because this is costing me FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS..." OMG. It was the tackiest thing I'd ever heard. Who DOES that?! Why do it then if you're going to complain about it? Why offer something no one asked for and then complain about having to do it? We didn't ask you to buy us lunch so why are you telling us how much it costs?! That's the OPPOSITE of generosity. If you're giving from a stingy heart, honey don't even bother. I would have thought my Mom was exaggerating/making it up. I didn't think anyone could ACTUALLY be that rude/classless but Mom played me the message on her answering machine and there it was. Yup. X was a next level crass, crude, classless bitch. But things were going to get even more cringe-worthy with C and X...

My brother in law finished the basement, with a movie room, Lego room, play room and art room but he left a few finishing touches undone. My niece was in her art room downstairs and was concerned about spiders/bugs coming in because there was no baseboard. Shane was busy and didn't have time or feel like doing it so he called my brother, who is a carpenter, to see if he could do it. He had done work for them before.

Coincidentally the job was going to cost $400 (sound familiar?) The materials were $200. My sister said don't be shy and to charge them whatever he'd normally charge for his time. So he charged another $200 for his labour. (It's worth noting that although C has never been fond of me, he loves my sister and I was surprised he would actually take money from her for his labour, especially charging her the same as he'd charge someone off the street. She's his SISTER! I'd think maybe he was hard up for money but C & X had both bragged about how well off they were -- the condo being almost paid off, rich enough to go on trips and take everyone out to restaurants etc. C at one point even told my Mom he could afford to BUY HER HOUSE (out from under her, for a small fraction of what it's worth.) He tried to convince her to downsize, get rid of all her stuff and move into their condo and then they would take her house to fix it up and presumably sell it for 3x what they paid because my brother is just a low-life shyster who will try to steal my Mom's house out from under her and profit from it. Diabolical. Luckily she said HELL NO! When my mother told me about that it gave me the creeps. My sister found it disturbing as well but we never confronted C about it. May because she's Switzerland and will try to keep the peace and avoid confrontation no matter what and me because my Mom kept saying "Don't say anything!" and truly I don't see my brother often and when I do we don't exactly have REAL conversations.

Anyway, so C does this job and takes the $400. Two days later in a bizarre twist of events, he suddenly calls Shane and says that he just realized he only had $200 not $400 and was accusing Shane of short-changing him. Wait, WHAT?! According to my sister, Shane paid C in four $100 bills. One, two, three, four. You might miscount a stack of $20s but you can not miscount FOUR BILLS. He counted them out to C. C took it and left. He would have noticed at the time if there had been only TWO bills. (I believe my sister and Shane over C and X 1000%!) Then two days later two of the hundreds were supposedly missing. My Mom just assumed that because my brother is a bumbling, scatter-brained, disorganized loser that he probably lost the bills or didn't remember spending them. But how humiliating to call my brother in law and ask for more after he paid him! Unbelievable. It was odd to say the least.

When my sister told me about it, I knew something didn't add up. Something felt really OFF about the whole thing. Then it occurred to me. Of course! An explanation of what really happened: X STOLE THE MONEY. She stole the $200 and fooled my brother into thinking he never got it! I was almost certain. I felt it in my gut. My sister told me Shane thought the EXACT same thing. The fact that without speaking to each other we both jumped to the same conclusion is not a coincidence. It's because we can both see through X. I told May "OK. X 100% took the money and there are two reasons:
1. It puts a dent in the expensive lunch that she was griping about having to pay for ("This is costing me $400!" -- even though it was HER idea and we didn't ask her to do it.)
2. It creates a rift between C and Shane -- C thinks that Shane has cheated him and will be resentful. Shane thinks C is trying to cheat him (actually he thinks passive aggressive X stole it) -- so C won't want to come over for family events anymore. X has been trying to keep him away from his family and now she has caused a conflict, while she appears to look innocent!" A fiendish plan but it works like a charm! It's all a show with X. She is completely insincere. She will offer to buy you lunch and then complain about it. She will pretend to be nice while she plots your destruction. She will steal money and put the blame on someone else to destroy a relationship. Pure evil. My poor sister found the whole thing upsetting, suspicious, shady and felt caught in the middle but she was determined to keep the peace so despite her suspicions/concerns, she certainly wasn't going to confront C or X about it. She did find it curious however that X didn't respond to her text when she said Shane couldn't make it to the lunch because he had to work. X could have at the very least said "OK. Thanks for letting me know." She should have been relieved she had one less mouth to feed. I think she was too ashamed/embarrassed to even acknowledge my sister because of her guilt over stealing the money from C and putting the blame on Shane. It was a very awkward situation and my sister wasn't sure how to even deal with her. Luckily she was seated at the very opposite end of an extremely long table (the last supper had nothing on this one!) So she couldn't have said anything to C and X if she wanted to.

I was pretty stressed about the lunch because I was disgusted with C and X and couldn't even say anything about it. Then to add to the stress traffic was horrendous and I wound up being late. I had to drive all the way to pick up my Mom and Dad and then all the way to the restaurant. Feeling pretty frazzled when I arrived I just handed C a bottle of wine, wished him happy birthday and took my designated seat. Yes there was literally "assigned seating." It was hilarious. X is such a control freak she had place cards dictating where we had to sit! I would have liked to be next to May so I could talk with her. Instead we had all our kids as a buffer between us. (I'm sure it was designed that way so we couldn't gossip/compare notes.) At least X sat my Mom in the middle by the sink and away from the flame she was terrified of. My Mom leaned away as the flames shot up. I thought it was cool and took a photo. Michelle loved it.

At least the restaurant was pretty cool, I'll give her that. The food was delicious. I loved the spectacle of it -- the flames shooting up, how they chop and cook the food in front of you. It was fun. The chef even threw pieces of broccoli for people to catch in their mouths. I was the only one at my table who caught it. Michelle enjoyed herself too. She even ate with chopsticks which was adorable. She didn't finish her chicken and rice so I wound up eating the rest of hers. It was so good. So the restaurant was good. If you could forget all the drama and incivility and underhandedness surrounding the event. It was kind of an awkward meal time. Too late for lunch, too early for dinner. Maybe it was cheaper that way. They were singing "Happy Birthday" at another table. I guess X didn't spring for that for my brother. It didn't feel like a birthday without cake or anything but she was just anxious to be rid of us. We were going for a visit at May's afterward anyway.

After lunch I wanted to get a photo with the whole group. My Mom had gone to the bathroom and people were getting tired of waiting, some were just taking the picture without her. I didn't want a photo with everyone BUT Mom in it. That would be stupid. I wanted the WHOLE family together for what may be the last time because X seemed to have a plan to divide and conquer and it was going well for her so far. We (everyone but C & X and Mike and his family had to head back home) went to May's for a visit afterward because we barely got to see or speak to each other at the restaurant. It's always great hanging out at May's. We had a ball talking and laughing and comparing notes. Apparently X told Julie that she'd become a vegetarian? That was new. Of course when you don't eat anything anyway you might as well say you're a vegetarian! Might as well say vegan for that matter! What difference would it make? We all agreed that X was constantly saying one thing and doing another. She loved to travel but then said she'd never get on a plane again after their last trip. It's like she was always trying to be something she wasn't. Pretentious. Nothing was ever real. It was always for show. She'd pretend to do something generous just to get praise for it and then complain about it. Anyway it was nice to be around real people and having some real laughs. We wound up watching stand up comics and I laughed so hard my head hurt. It was nice to forget about our own family drama for a while. One stand up comic even made a joke about the "pop in" -- In the old days you looked forward to surprise visits but no one wants them anymore. Now if someone shows up at the door unexpectedly you're on high alert. Sometimes for good reason. It's important to find a way to laugh. Life is ridiculous and laughter is absolutely a survival mechanism.

I'd like to say that this concludes the dark and angry portion of my blog but something happens Easter weekend that actually pushed me to talk about any of this so I'll get to that later...I'll leave the venting parts in asterisks so you can skip through them if you choose to. Or I may have edited this out and you won't even see it. I'll decide once I finish the whole post. My Mom doesn't want me to publish it. I told her I'd wait until after Mother's Day at least...


And then it was April! Just like that! It was still pretty chilly. Michelle wanted to go to the park even if it was in her Winter coat! She had fun playing with her friends. At one point she was telling them to act like they were cats and she was telling them what to do. It was cute. I like to see my Girl Boss in control! Hopefully no one ever pushes her around.

At one point there was an older boy at the park picking on her friends. I asked him didn't his school tell him that bullying was wrong and to just leave them alone. I will never understand why big kids have to pick on little kids. I guess it goes back to the David and Goliath thing. It's a challenge as old as time. I root for the underdogs, little guys, good guys. If I had my way nice guys wouldn't finish last. Aside from the bully it was a nice trip to the park and I enjoyed talking to the other Moms.

And then I met another Single Mom! After school one day one of Michelle's friend's Moms caught up with me and in the midst of chatting she mentioned her "ex." "Oh, you're divorced?" I hadn't realized she was on her own when I'd seen her before. "I thought I was the only Single Mom in the neighbourhood!" I said. "Nope! There are two of us!" High five! She was so cool. She read Eckhart Tolle, she loved art and flowers (she even worked in a garden centre.) Later she sent me a text inviting us to a BBQ at her place on the weekend. Michelle could have a play date with her friend and I could talk to her Mom. We were psyched. The weather was FINALLY going to be warm!

It was a beautiful day. Michelle had a ball playing with her friend and I had a lovely afternoon talking to my new friend. I was so happy to meet another Single Mom. I had felt like I was the only one. There is a sisterhood in being a Single Mom. No one else can really understand what you go through on your own.

My friend had had a rough time in her relationship, in many ways far more difficult than what I'd been through. In a way Michelle's dad did us a favour. His absence was the best gift he could have given us. To have someone around who is toxic and be fighting all the time would have been far worse. It would have been a nightmare. At least there is no one to fight with and no one to fight about custody or anything. Michelle is all mine and I have complete control so I can give her the best life possible. I know that a lot of people stay together "for the kids" but it isn't good for kids to see their parents fighting all the time. I think having one parent that loves you completely is better than having two parents in a dysfunctional relationship, whose hatred of each other gets in the way of loving their child. Of course having two happy, loving parents would be ideal. But how often does that happen?

My new friend's ex was still in the picture and he had the kids every other weekend so my friend was able to date. Since I've been out of the dating scene for almost a decade I was curious to hear what it was like and to live vicariously through her. It was as bad or worse than I remembered.

There was a dating app called "Tinder" which would set you up with matches based on your criteria (kind of like Plenty of Sharks -- my name for Plenty of Fish after my experience and yes, it was how I met her dad! I'm still glad I did or I wouldn't have had Michelle! Thank goodness for my brief acts of recklessness in an otherwise cautious life!) The app even shows you how close they are to you. It was pretty similar to the experience I'd had with POF -- It was discouraging. Most of the guys seemed to only be after one thing, some guys seemed OK but there was no chemistry. There was one guy that she met on the site and he lived right in the neighbourhood. He wanted to come over right away. She was like "Ummm NO!" As if she would just let some random stranger into her home just like that. It was clear that he wanted a hookup. He was very attractive. She wondered if that was really even him. She asked him to send her another more recent photo. In the photo she noticed a wedding ring on his finger. Was he MARRIED?!

Then she saw him at the school dropping his kids off. I got a chill down my back. No. It couldn't be. When she described him he sounded familiar. A photo confirmed it. OMG. OMG. I felt like I was going to throw up. "I KNOW THEM!" On the surface they seemed like the perfect little family. I thought he was a nice guy. And here he was with a fake name on a dating site trying to hook up with random women. I was in shock.

I don't know why it was shocking to me. I had seen it before. I used to work somewhere where it seemed like everyone was cheating on their spouse. It was so disillusioning for me as a hopeless romantic wanting to believe in soulmates and happily ever after. They called me a dreamer/delusional and were quick to point out that was why I wasn't married. They tried to tell me that even if you think you're in love in the beginning you can fall out of love, get bored and then you need something else so you either cheat or at the very least fantasize about other people to spice things up. It was heartbreaking. Is that just what men are like? Or was it just a certain type of man -- the womanizer/philanderer, another sort of con artist who would use his charm to seduce every woman he met, who could never really settle down, who thrived on the adrenaline rush of lying, cheating, sneaking around?
"OMG," I said. "I'm glad I don't date! If this is what's out there. Just a bunch of creeps looking for a hook-up and even worse, a-holes out cheating on their wives. No friggin thank you."
I wondered if his wife had any idea. I was heartbroken for her and their kids. What a world. Is anyone what they seem? Is anything real? Does anyone have any morals anymore? It was so disheartening. I couldn't get it out of my mind. I wanted to tell him off. I wanted to warn her. But it wasn't my place. I wasn't that close to them. And maybe she knew? Maybe they were getting divorced? Or maybe she had no idea. It was just so shady. It made me wonder how many others were leading double lives. Using fake names, sneaking around. How many others were a complete sham? You just never know what's going on behind closed doors. So many people wearing masks, carrying secrets. If only everyone just wore their hearts on their sleeves and were open and honest about their feelings. But the truth blows things up and people will hang on very tightly to their illusions and go to great lengths to avoid facing the truth.

When you're stressed out, take a hike! I needed some air. Wanted to clear my head. Unfortunately the warm weather didn't last. It was much colder the next day. We should have bundled up more.

I wanted to go to Webster's Falls. I hadn't been there in years. Michelle's piano teacher had mentioned it.

I wanted to see the Falls and take some photos. We got a photo from the top of the Falls but I was hoping to hike in the ravine and get a shot from below the Falls. It had been more than a decade since I'd been there and it had changed a lot.

It was disappointing. There used to be a little path you could take down to the bottom. Now they had a fence built all around so that you couldn't hike down to the bottom of the Falls. Maybe people had gotten injured so they blocked it off so that people couldn't go. The last time I went was in the Summer with a boyfriend at the time and we went right up to the Falls.

As Michelle and I stood up top looking down we saw some teens at the bottom. They waved up at us. Obviously they had ignored the danger signs and went over the fence to get down there. If I was younger and didn't have a six year old with me I may have attempted it. As a total photoholic I have been known to risk life and limb (even climbing a mountain in Bavaria while wearing a dress! Not exactly dressed for mountain-climbing!) for a photo op. I won't however risk putting Michelle in harm's way.

Michelle was a little disappointed. I told her we'd go hiking another day to another waterfall. Hopefully one that you could actually GET TO!

Afterward we went to the park. It was getting really chilly. It makes a big difference when the sun isn't out and it's ALWAYS so windy now. I never remember so many windy days before. Must be another symptom of climate change.

Michelle still had fun sliding and swinging. She is my sunshine even on a cold, grey, cloudy day. I wish I had half of her energy, optimism, joy for life. Even as a child I don't know that I was ever that carefree. Then again I never felt completely safe or unconditionally loved. That's why I work so hard to give that to Michelle. When you know you are safe and loved it gives you a firm foundation. Then you feel strong enough to face anything life throws at you.

Sometimes it's hard to keep believing. That's why faith is so important. Believing in something with no evidence, even when all hope seems lost, is really tricky.

I had an orchid plant that I got a year ago. I ADORE orchids. They are so beautiful. It had several blooms when I got it and they lasted a long time but finally one by one they wilted until it was just a bare stick. I kept it, even without flowers because the leaves still looked healthy and I thought maybe it could bloom again. I continued to water it. It was a bit of an eyesore, my bare green stick but I pruned it and eventually a whole new branch grew with several little buds. And finally, miraculously a glorious mauve and fuchsia flower opened. Flowers are magical to me, otherworldly. They are so beautiful. Beauty makes me feel close to God and when the world has become so broken and so ugly, I need that more than ever.

One day Michelle wanted to blow bubbles outside but it started to rain. It rains a lot now. More than I ever remember it raining before. #ClimateChange at work. Disappointed, Michelle asked if she could blow bubbles inside and I said no I didn't want the floor and furniture ruined. I finally relented and said she could blow bubbles in the basement where she couldn't do too much harm. My basement is unfinished cement floors with just some foam mats in the play area. It is cluttered, filled with toys, a catch all for toys, storage, etc. One day I really should organize it and clear more things out but it will be a herculean task. For now I just mostly avoid going down there unless absolutely necessary (like when I have to clean out the litter box or change the furnace filter.) Michelle goes down there to play. The mess doesn't seem to bother her. For a kid I guess it's just a Wonderland of toys.

Michelle had fun blowing bubbles and chasing them. Sometimes life doesn't go according to plan and you have to improvise. On a rainy day you can still have fun inside. There were little soapy circles on the foam floor mats but I figured it wouldn't do much harm. As long as Michelle was happy.

I got a Princess Castle backdrop to hang in the basement to block out some of the unsightly clutter, the litter box, the furnace etc in the background. Michelle is my Princess. She might as well have a castle. She still has her pop up tent pink Princess castle from when she was little. She still goes into it sometimes even though she's getting too big for it. She even insists I join her in there sometimes even though I'm completely hunched over.
Yes I love unicorns but I was NOT about to get this HUGE one! It was bigger than Michelle. That's the last thing we need to have taking up more room in our already crowded house. Still it was fun for Michelle to visit the unicorn and ride around with him in the cart. I am glad that she's a girly girl and loves cute and pretty things like dolls and stuffies. It would be different to have a boy and have to pretend to be enthused about cars and dinosaurs and things. I've heard of parents trying to raise their kids with "gender neutral" toys and not trying to influence them to like "girl" toys or "boy" toys but to make their own choices. Michelle actually liked cars and dinosaurs too and she did have a few but dolls and cats and bears and unicorns won out. I'm glad that she wanted to take piano and ballet rather than to play sports. I would support Michelle in anything that she wanted to do but I am extremely relieved and grateful that she loves the same things I do! I hate sports and they're SO expensive!
Another rainy day project -- origami. Michelle discovered a couple of miscellaneous presents that I had hidden in the guest room. She wanted to try to create origami creatures. The instructions were a little confusing. We were both getting frustrated. We did however manage to make a dragonfly, ladybug and butterfly, however they did NOT look quite like the pictures. Does anything EVER? Life is an experiment and you try things but it seems they don't always (or ever!) turn out exactly the way that you hope. You just sort of go with it. Results may vary. Nothing is perfect. You don't have to put it on Pinterest. The experience is what matters. As long as you had fun who cares if it's not perfect, right? (The perfectionist in me still struggles with this but I'm TRYING to let go more!)

Michelle also came across a puzzle that I was saving for when she got a little older. It was 300 pieces (to this point she's only ever done 50 piece puzzles and I think one 100 piece one.) Three hundred seemed like a lot. We worked on it together. I do the outside and she does the inside picture pieces. The hardest part was the foliage because so many of the green pieces SEEMED to fit together but not quite. It was a challenge to find the right pieces. This puzzle is a bucket list puzzle for me. Going to Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria is something I've already crossed off my bucket list (when I went to Europe in my 20s.) Riding in a hot air balloon is a bucket list item I have NOT done yet. Michelle said she would love to as well. Maybe one day. I have no idea how/where/how much it costs (probably A LOT!) but I will try to share that with Michelle.

You could wait for the rainy days to end but they just wouldn't. Bad weather was the new normal. There was more rain and more wind every day than I ever remember there being before. Many places were being flooded. Climate change continues to wreak havoc. It had always been my dream to live by the water but now I'm relieved that I don't because people have lost cottages and homes to flooding. These are scary times. Whatever problems we may have we have to remember what's really important and know that it could always be worse.

Michelle keeps her sunny disposition even on cold, dark, grey, rainy days. On this particular day she had brought a bunny to school. (She often wanted to bring a stuffie to class. Her best friend did the same.) Michelle made sure her little stuffed bunny stayed warm and dry.
After taking a vow of frugality (a nod to Natalie McNeal of "The Frugalista Files") and controlling my shopaholic addiction, it seemed I was surrounded by temptation. Two people told me about a liquidation store I'd never been to, with rows and rows of brand name clothes that were a fraction of retail. Like Guess tops for $5. Curiosity finally got the better of me and I went to check it out. I was like a kid in a candy store. I didn't get TOO carried away. I got some amazing deals but I only bought half of what I tried on and every item had to meet my new more responsible shopping criteria:
1. Is it a real BARGAIN? Too good to pass up.
2. Do I LOVE it? Can't live without it!
3. Do I NEED it? I don't have one like this and it will be put to good use.
4. Will it ADD something to my life? (Or deplete/take up space and not be used/worn etc.)
Shopping is my drug. It gives me a rush. So I haven't given it up entirely but I am much more responsible. I try to limit how often I go, how much I buy. For the most part now I just shop for necessities -- groceries etc. But I do allow myself a clothing shopping trip now and then. Even my therapist says I should treat myself once in a while.

We went to see the movie "Penguins." It was adorable. It follows the life of a particular penguin, named "Steve." You see what he goes through to find a mate, create a family and protect them. There are some very tense moments but thankfully it has a happy ending.

The reality however may not be so happy for the penguins. Climate change is the most devastating to animals in the wild who depend on their environment for survival. A change in temperature changes everything. It upsets the balance of nature. Many species of animals have already become extinct and many more become endangered at an alarming rate. We have to do something to protect the planet. If we destroy the earth it is not only the animals and plants that will suffer. We are all interdependent. To upset the balance will threaten all of us. We need to do whatever we can to save the planet. Michelle is doing her part with her work for Earth Rangers. It is up to world leaders to do their part to protect the environment. Unfortunately imbeciles like Trump who deny climate change are part of the problem. #ImpeachTrump

It was the anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death. People were tweeting where they were when they found out 25 years ago. I remembered I was at a hotel with my boyfriend at the time. A big Nirvana fan, I was heartbroken by the news. It was frustrating to lose yet another brilliant, beautiful artist to suicide. It happens too often. It's always a shock when someone who seems to have it all -- a beloved celebrity with millions of fans -- will throw it all away. But it doesn't matter how rich or famous you are, mental illness -- depression can hit anyone. In a way it may be worse to seemingly "have it all" because if the world is your oyster and you STILL aren't happy then what hope is left? Many people are gripped by a painful emptiness, a darkness, a void that no amount of celebrity or money or addictions (to drugs, alcohol etc) can fill.

"God is dead," Friedrich Nietzsche said. Of course He isn't but sometimes it seems like God's away on vacation at the very least. The world has gone to Hell in many ways. It can be hard to have faith. With all the scandals in the news surrounding the Catholic church (corruption, crimes and cover-ups, a history of sexual abuse and lies) my Mom said she was almost ashamed to wear her cross anymore. I told her that's ridiculous. It's not Jesus' fault. When we think of all the horrible acts committed throughout history in the name of religion, it would be easy to lose faith. God is love. It should be pretty easy to get. As Catholics, we used to go to church every single week but it often felt like a punishment. We were dragged there and as a child especially it was an unpleasant experience most of the time. I tried to tell my Mom I think it's more important to be a good person than to march off to church like a hypocrite.

As an adult I stopped going to church regularly. I still went from time to time. It wasn't just me that stopped going regularly. The few times I did go I couldn't help but notice that the overwhelming majority of people were elderly or very young. No one in between. My generation wasn't attending. Maybe because like me they'd just been bullied into going every Sunday and weren't feeling it. Now that they had a choice they chose to skip it. The reality is that the times I felt closest to God were never in a church (though admittedly I was awe-struck inside some of  Europe's most beautiful cathedrals.) Watching the sun rise over Smoke Lake in Algonquin Park, walking in a cathedral of trees, looking into my child's eyes, hearing a transcendent piece of classical music, looking at a flower or a butterfly -- to me beauty is our glimpse of Heaven on Earth. That is when I feel close to God. But there is so much ugliness and pain and hatred that sometimes it feels like we're losing God. And it is pretty disillusioning when even those who are supposed to represent God (like priests) can be capable of unspeakable evil. I will always believe in God and love Jesus and feel a spiritual connection but going to church, with the exception of attending for special events etc, is not something I feel compelled to do.

I try to avoid watching the news because it's just depressing but I usually hear about the latest tragedies from Mom. One day she asked me "When you were in Paris did you go to Notre Dame Cathedral?" "Of course...Why?" She told me that it was on fire. I went online to look for photos/videos and was horrified. Begun in 1160 it took 100 years to build and survived centuries of wars, revolutions, plagues. It had been damaged and restored time and again. Even when I was in Paris many years ago the front facade was under construction. Now apparently under reconstruction the roof had accidentally caught fire. The wooden spire, with 800 year old oak timbers, can't be replaced. Not with wood anyway. It will have to be re-imagined in another material -- glass or metal. Many have come forward offering donations to rebuild it. A building so rich with history has to be preserved.

I can't imagine how devastated Parisians must have been to see one of their beloved monuments in flames. My heart was broken and I only ever saw it once. Years ago my boyfriend at the time and me went backpacking across Europe -- England, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany. In one month I tried to cross several landmarks off my bucket list. It was surreal to actually be standing there, to see in person all these architectural marvels I had studied in Art History class. It was beautiful, magical, the trip of a lifetime. I wanted to capture every moment of it. My boyfriend thought I took too many photos. I didn't feel like I took enough. He didn't want to take "touristy" souvenir shots in front of everything but I insisted. "We may never be here again!" I said. It's the reason I take photos, the reason I write, to say "I was here. This is my life. These are my memories." Here I am sitting in Place du Trocadero with the Eiffel Tower in the background. It was the trip of a lifetime and I am so grateful that I got to experience that. Photos are my way of holding on forever.

My dream castle: Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany. "Mad King Ludwig's" castle. (He wasn't really mad just passionate and intense. OK maybe a bit eccentric.) It was the inspiration behind the Walt Disney castle. It is THE quintessential castle. And I was there. I climbed a mountain in a dress to see it. I walked inside of it. When we came back from Europe I kept seeing it on the covers of books, calendars (and 300 piece puzzles even today.) Just a glimpse and I was transported back to that magical castle on a mountaintop. Like a living dream. I couldn't believe I had actually been there.

We never went back to Europe but years later we (my boyfriend of 9 years off and on and me) wanted to travel again and went to NYC in March 2001. We stood at the top of the World Trade Center. We couldn't have imagined that months later tragedy would strike -- 9/11 -- and the iconic twin towers would be GONE. These monuments, landmarks stand as symbols of their cities and they seem so permanent, as though they'll always be there. But even they can fall and we are reminded how fragile we are, how fragile it all is.

The 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School Massacre was approaching and a disturbed 18 year old woman who was apparently "infatuated" with the attack was threatening the school. She flew from Miami to Denver and purchased a shotgun in Littleton (because even after all of the shootings America STILL does not have proper #GunControl and a maniac can still walk in off the street and buy a gun to go shoot innocent people.) Thankfully police caught up with the suspect and the only life she took was her own. It is hard to imagine how anyone could conceive of taking innocent lives but it continues to happen.

The world is so messed up. My Mom thinks that all of the signs -- the climate change and natural disasters, the increasing violence and pain and misery -- point to the end of the world. She thinks the Apocalypse is coming within our lifetime and that the devil is busy trying to claim as many souls as he can before the end of time. The news does seem Apocalyptic much of the time. It seems half the world is on fire and the other half is flooded. I try not to watch or listen to it because it is too awful and it makes me feel helpless. I try to focus on the things that I can control. But how can we bury our heads in the sand and pretend everything is OK? Everything is NOT OK.

In the world and in my own life it just seemed like things were falling apart. I was worried about my sister who was going through some health issues, worried about my Mom who always has issues, about myself and dealing with my own issues, about the world in general, which was mostly a friggin mess. I tried to hold things in around Michelle but when she was asleep or at school I would just cry. "I wish I was more resilient," I said through tears at my therapy session. I felt so weak, falling apart. I tried to hold it together but everything was getting to me. "You ARE resilient," she told me. "You CARE. That doesn't make you weak." She explained that bottling up your feelings, keeping a stiff upper lip is NOT strength. And wearing your heart on your sleeve, expressing emotions openly is NOT weakness. Most people go to great lengths to hide and numb and deny their feelings. Some people shut down and become apathetic, dehumanized. Nothing affects them anymore. I never got to that point. My job toughened me up somewhat (apparently not enough!) but I never stopped caring about people. For 17 years I struggled as a square peg in a round hole, wearing my heart on my sleeve in a career that requires you to be bulletproof. I never stopped caring or sympathizing for the people I helped but it broke my heart and it finally broke me mentally.
Most of the world prefers not to show emotion. You wear a mask, you hide your true feelings (if they are so-called "negative" emotions like sadness, fear and anger.) You are supposed to act as though everything is OK even when it's not. But I want to be real. I want to feel. It takes enormous courage to show your humanity and express a full range of emotions. Yes I feel deeply. Yes it's hard. But I still show up. I still keep going. I'm raising my daughter on my own. I can cry and still get everything done that needs to be done. I still keep going. I still survive and thrive no matter what. Being a Single Mom, taking care of Michelle alone, taking care of the house, even fixing things myself, going through therapy, working through my issues. "You show up. Even through tears. You get the job done, whatever it is, no matter what. THAT is resilience."

My little unicorn! Michelle's joy, energy and enthusiasm is infectious. Sometimes she does manage to pull me out of my dark cloud. She is my light, my ball of hope and no matter how dark things seem, I keep going because she is there. The world is better because she is in it. And she talks about saving the world someday. Saving the planet. Saving the animals. She is so full of love. She is always kissing and hugging me and telling me she loves me. I have never felt so loved before by anyone. And I love her more than I thought it was even possible to love another human being. I love her unconditionally. There is literally nothing she could do that could make me stop loving her.

When it comes to everyone else however, I do have conditions. If someone hurts me I find it very hard to forgive them. If someone hurts someone that I love I find it impossible to forgive. Especially if they're not even sorry.

Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice. Even as people were crucifying he forgave them and asked God to "Forgive them, they know not what they do." I am a Christian but I have always had a hard time with the forgiveness and turning the other cheek aspect of the faith. I could never be deliberately cruel to an innocent person but I can be vengeful against a guilty one.

I wrote this song, "Sacrifice" years ago as a tribute to Jesus and the sacrifice he made to save us from sin. Every Good Friday I make a small sacrifice by fasting for the day -- Nothing but water to drink all day and nothing to eat for breakfast or lunch until I have fish for dinner. It is a challenge but I figure it's the least I can do as far as a sacrifice to show my love and appreciation for Jesus. It was very hard when I had to work on Good Friday and was surrounded by people eating in front of me. Sometimes it felt like they were deliberately torturing me! One year someone even had a burger in front of me and she was someone that normally didn't have fast food. The smell almost made me swoon I was so starving. I got fainting spells a number of times. It was a very long day (16 hours) to go without eating. It's something I've done for decades but some years it was harder than others. It is a LOT easier if I'm home and don't have to put up with people eating all around me and I can lie down when I feel weak/faint from not eating. This year I made meals for Michelle through the day but without meat. "You don't have to do that," my Mom always told me. "The Catholic church doesn't say you have to fast anymore." I told her it's nothing to do with that. It's just something I do. A small gesture of sacrifice. I don't go to church regularly anymore but I still love Jesus and feel his presence in my life. He has always been there for me when I needed him, at some of the lowest points in my life -- like when I found myself alone and pregnant and didn't know how I'd get through it. This was the least I could do.

On Good Friday, aside from telling me that I should eat something my Mom called to say that she'd had an unexpected and decidedly unpleasant visit from my brother C and his "wife" X. They were supposedly there to "help" my Mom and Dad but inevitably wound up hurting them. I guess it was fitting that my brother come and betray my parents on Good Friday, like Judas, the ultimate frenemy. When someone pretends to love you, betrays you with a kiss just to sell you out for 30 pieces of silver, it's pretty disheartening. How could someone be so heartless and cruel? The bottom line is that an opportunist is incapable of love. He is ultimately self-serving. He has no loyalty. He will pretend to care about you to earn your trust but he will only use you however he can and dispose of you when you've outlived your usefulness. Your feelings don't matter. But I guess I should put this dark section in asterisks again so you can choose to bypass it if family drama and stories of betrayal aren't your bag... (Or I may edit it out later if I decide it is too dark or inappropriate to share.) This year the part of Judas was played by my brother.


On Good Friday C and X randomly showed up uninvited at my Mom and Dad's house and declared that they were "cleaning out" my parents' garage (whether they liked it or not.) I guess C and X had nothing else to do that day and thought "Hey, why not break your mother's heart before Easter? We already ruined Mother's Day and Christmas last year!" "Great idea! Let's go!"

C and X, in their infinite benevolence, under the guise of "helping" my parents, stormed in like a couple of Nazis and raided their garage, forced them out and proceeded to loot and pillage everything without their permission. My Mom was able to stop them from taking things like a new bike she had purchased (why were they taking brand new things? Possibly to sell them?) The only things she asked them to take -- the rusted up old bike in the backyard and the huge wooden eye-sore of a structure my brother had built years ago for instance-- they left behind.

It was kind of the opposite of help. They were supposed to be helping my Dad by giving him more room in the garage but even my Dad was upset and was apparently running around like a scared little boy hiding from a tyrannical father (in a bizarre role reversal with his cruel son) sneaking some of his belongings out to hide in the bushes so C wouldn't take them. My Mom wanted to see what all they were taking but they wouldn't let her in and just kept shoving everything into huge contractor garbage bags in secret. My Mom was worried she had things in there that were brand new and that she needed. As the owner she should have had a say in what happened to her belongings -- what to keep, toss or sell/donate. But C and X took it upon themselves to decide. They would sell what they liked and take the rest to the dump. It wasn't even their stuff!

So my parents' garage went from full to empty after several hours and C and X were painting themselves as heroes. They even sent Before and After pictures to my brother to say "Look at all the work we did in your parents' garage!" My baby brother later got the real story from my Mom who said how they upset her, bullied her and trashed her stuff without asking.

C and X are phonies. They like to "seem" to be generous when they are merely self-serving. Their reason for clearing out the garage was to help themselves, not my parents.

Because they live in a condo, they don't have a garage so they need my parents' as storage space. X stores her jeep roof in the garage during the nice weather. My brother C uses the garage as a workshop and a place to store his tools. All of his tools are still there. C and X said it cost them $100 to drop junk off at the dump but my Mom said that all of the heavy items were C's own garbage -- construction materials he'd dumped in Mom's garage after jobs he did. He still has a stacking washer and dryer stuck in the corner of her garage. He still has all his tools there. He seems to think he owns the place. He used to call it "Pincey's garage" when he lived at home because he and his dirt bag friends would hang out in there smoking, drinking and God knows what.

My Mom said that I had some of Michelle's baby stuff in the garage that I'd almost forgotten about -- her stroller, water table etc. They left it there for me to see. They knew I was coming the next day to pick my Mom up and go to May's. X specifically told my Mom "We're leaving this for Ann Marie to look at. This is her stuff to decide what she wants to do with it."

So on Saturday, the day after Good Friday and the big "Garage looting debacle," I showed up to look at my stuff. Michelle was still playing with the water table in the Summer even though she was getting big for it, the stroller I thought maybe I could sell. When I opened the garage, it was empty. All of my stuff was gone. Weird. Why would X tell my Mom they were leaving it and then take it all?

I was extremely annoyed but I thought, OK. Whatever. It's Easter. I'll let it go. I fired off a somewhat sarcastic text to my brother about letting me know in the future before trashing my stuff. It wasn't as hostile as it could have been. I still ended it with Happy Easter xoxo. But then when I went into the house I heard my Mom on the phone with C. Apparently C and X were TRYING TO SELL MY STUFF AT ONCE UPON A CHILD?! Oh HELL NO! ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!?!
Wait, WHAT?! Let me get this straight, a CHILDLESS COUPLE who brags about how well off they are (because they're not stupid enough to waste money on something as expensive as having children. Not to mention the sacrifices, weight gain etc that it entails -- "Why would I DO that to myself?!" in X's words) has the nerve to STEAL BABY STUFF from his SISTER who is a STRUGGLING SINGLE MOM  and try to SELL IT?! Where do they get off?! On what planet would that be OK?! Who WOULDN'T be angry in my situation?!?! I had every right to be pissed. I literally can't even. I was LIVID! I don't like confrontation if I can avoid it. I will be peaceful and passive (for months, years even) when I can but if you DELIBERATELY PROVOKE ME then watch out. If you poke the bear, you can't really fault the bear for attacking.
I fired off another text to my brother and this time there were definitely no kisses and hugs. I told him he had absolutely NO RIGHT to steal my things and try to sell them. What the HELL was wrong with him?! Why on EARTH would X tell my Mom they were leaving my stuff to look at and then show up THE DAY THAT I'M COMING TO SEE IT and take it all right before I get there?! It was a deliberate slap in the face but they're so incredibly selfish and thoughtless that that's how they operate. C texted back "Settle down ya grump! I was just trying to help Mom and Dad!" No you were HELPING YOURSELF to our stuff! I replied that I'd rather be a GRUMP than a THIEF! What kind of a low-life steals from his sister?! (Though he'd already tried extorting money from his other sister/brother in law and that's the sister that he
I had been holding so much in for months now with C and X. There were so many times I wanted to ask "WTF?!" but I kept quiet because my Mom told me not to "start anything." But I could not keep quiet anymore. They had crossed the line. They had NO RIGHT storming into my parents' garage and taking their stuff and absolutely NO RIGHT to take my things and try to sell them. C and I proceeded to have a fight via text messages. It's hard to scream via text but I tried. I was seething. That angry sparring back and forth was the most communication/interaction that my brother and me had ever had. I didn't want to be doing this. I had been looking forward to a nice day with Mom and May until this crap. It didn't make any sense at all.

Then my brother, instead of owning up to how WRONG he was took the opportunity to insult me. He inexplicably texted "You're the DIRT POOR DIRT SQUIRREL that needs to sell stuff to make money!" The what now? I didn't even know that "dirt squirrel" was a thing! Was it like "dirt bag?" Curious, I Googled it to see if it was actually an expression or my brother had just made it up. So apparently the definition of "dirt squirrel" is an urban slang derogatory term for a woman who either:
1) is promiscuous (Now, considering I've been celibate for almost a decade now and have only ever been intimate within the confines of loving relationships and have only slept with a handful of men -- even though I had offers/indecent proposals in the triple digits back in my day! When I used to go clubbing I got hit on ALL THE TIME! I could have gotten into a LOT of trouble! I even had an offer of a menage a trois with two cute guys at one point but I politely declined because like Seinfeld "I am not an orgy guy!" or girl... As tempted as I may have been I am a hopeless romantic at heart and very old-fashioned. I could never sleep with someone unless I cared deeply for them and they for me. I don't believe in casual sex. To me there's nothing casual about it. So no one night stands for this girl. Quite the opposite. Many called me a tease/prude! I was always very good at saying NO!)
So yeah that one really doesn't fit. AT ALL!
2) is unhygienic, dirty, literally. (Umm in light of the fact that I'm a germaphobe, OCD and wash my hands about 80 times a day that's not really appropriate either is it? And actually, brother, you're the one who is filthy almost every time I see you. You show up at Mom's after a construction/carpentry job and you are a dirt bag literally, covered in dirt, dust, paint etc. You're the dirty one! And a dirty rotten scoundrel to boot!) So no, I'm not dirty in any sense of the word. If cleanliness is next to godliness I'm going straight to Heaven. Unfortunately my knuckles are cracked and bleeding from over-washing my hands! You can call me a lot of things but unclean? NOPE.

3) is trailer trash/People of Walmart. (OK I don't live in a trailer. I live in a detached house which I purchased myself -- unlike C who is a leech, has NEVER purchased ANYTHING and has only ever lived off of people -- my parents, a girlfriend and then another girlfriend now turned fake wife!) Now mind you I DO love Walmart, I'll give you that but I'd like to think I am somewhat more fashionable than the "People of Walmart." (If you've never checked it out, have a go... Personally I have never gone shopping wearing a 3 foot mohawk, a dinosaur's tail, fishnet stockings and a feather boa or short shorts with a colostomy bag and I never wear t-shirts with obscene sayings on them. (Though at this point I may start! Like maybe "My brother is an f-ing a-hole!") Anyway squirrels are cute and I guess there are worse things I could be called. You can call me a squirrel or call me nuts but at the end of the day I'm not the low-life scumbag trying to steal my family's stuff and sell it! The hilarious part is that C is so obtuse he doesn't even see the irony in STEALING FROM ME AND TRYING TO SELL MY STUFF but calling ME a dirt poor dirt squirrel! Clueless. My therapist said it's because C is "deflecting" -- he is too proud to admit his weaknesses so he accuses others of them. He can't own up to ANYTHING he does. He has to put it off on others. He can never accept guilt or blame but will instead make YOU wrong for your reaction to the terrible things he does. ZERO SELF-AWARENESS. In fairness, he's not in therapy. Though he probably SHOULD be! Not to mention his worse half. Some REAL psychological issues THERE! At least I OWN my issues and am in therapy. You a-holes don't even own your shit. Constantly pretending to be something you're not. As if the rest of us (or at least me) can't see exactly what you are.

"How did we get here on a dime?" C asked me at one point, mid-argument. As though I was making too much about it. I should have said it's more than a dime a-hole. More like $400! C didn't fully understand that the garage incident was just the tip of the iceberg. He probably doesn't realize that Mom calls me EVERY SINGLE DAY and tells me EVERYTHING that he and X have said/done for months now. He didn't realize that I have seen a pattern/an agenda for some time now and that this was the LAST. FUCKING. STRAW!!!

I see through the BS. C and X were pretending that they were doing a good deed for my parents but they actually hurt my parents and me. Again you could wonder whether they were just completely clueless or deliberately cruel. It seemed cruel to me, like a slap in the face, yet again, like the non-wedding, the trip to Mexico when it was supposed to be Mom's year to have Christmas etc. C claimed to want to help my dad but my Dad was upset that they took things he needed, like the blade to his lawn mower etc. It wasn't up to them to decide what was junk and wasn't. It wasn't their stuff. My Mom has since found other things missing that she's afraid she may have put in the garage. C and X had no right to take things without asking, period.

Someone like X is the LAST person to be doing a job like that because she's an extreme minimalist. She just thinks EVERYTHING is junk. The bottom line is that it was my parents' stuff and they had no right. My brother tried to be litigious and said that because I'd left stuff there for a year or more it was no longer mine, it belonged to my parents. But it still didn't belong to HIM! By his logic I should be able to go into the garage and steal his tools and sell them! But I won't because I'm not a low-life thief like he is. Poor or not I would NEVER stoop to stealing, especially from MY OWN FAMILY. He should be ashamed. But he has no shame or guilt because he has no conscience. C pushed me too far with this. That's why I have to let it out. My Mom warned C I was going to write about all this in my blog. He said he didn't care because he doesn't bother with the internet anyway. So he'll never read this. He can't read more than a couple of sentences anyway. He'd never be able to scroll this far down a page. And would X read it? She's probably too busy plotting her next scheme.

They had done enough damage as it was but C said that the garage was JUST THE BEGINNING. That they weren't done. They were planning to do a lot more, taking over the house, ransacking it room by room. They were going to clear things out, as X had suggested/threatened before. C was going to renovate the kitchen, like they had done the bathroom that they acted like they owned now.  My Mom felt uneasy about it too. She asked me brother for years to help renovate her kitchen and he had no interest. Now that he seemed to want to do it she didn't trust his methods/motives. She put extra locks on the doors. She was afraid to go out in case they came in while she was gone. A mother shouldn't have to feel that way about her own son and daughter in law.

Ever since the fake wedding C and X had been more aggressive with my Mom -- telling her to make a will, talking about buying her house out from under her then fixing it up, clearing things out, trashing her stuff. They were after Mom's house it seemed. To steal it out from under her, fix it up and sell it. If she wouldn't make a will then they'd just steal it from her while she was alive. Maybe that's why X married C? Trying to get into my Mom's will and steal her ring/house out from under her?  This is a picture of the monster "Beldam/the Other Mother" from the movie "Coraline." It reminds me of X. It's actually a perfect likeness of her! Spitting image! This is how I see her. This hideous menacing creature trying to get her bony hands on my Mom's house. Diabolical. I couldn't hide my animosity toward her. In one of my angry texts I referred to "X" as C's "anorexic almost wife." C asked why I had to bring her into it. I should have said because she's 100% in it! I feel like she's behind the whole scheme. Behind all the schemes. I don't trust her.

C and X both make me sick to my stomach. They make my skin crawl now. I can't stand them. I don't trust either of them. X is pure evil and she has my brother, who was half-evil and half-stupid, completely brainwashed. Could be the Stockholm Syndrome. (Is she holding you prisoner buddy? Blink twice for yes.) My Mom won't fully admit it but she doesn't trust them either. This is why she's been confiding in me all the disturbing details about them for months. Of course she still loves her son unconditionally even though he's a heartless creep. My love for him is a little more conditional and he's broken all the rules now.

To me, C and X are absolute VULTURES. There's no other way to see them. Horrible, ugly, self-serving VULTURES. Nature's best scavengers, I don't fault ACTUAL vultures. The poor birds can't help being ugly and they only act on instinct. What I detest are the human variety of vultures: The scheming, opportunistic kind. The slimy, selfish, morally bankrupt kind like the used car salesman who would swindle his own mother to make a buck. The ones who prey on the vulnerable. The ones who wait to swoop in and take whatever they can from whatever unsuspecting victim was fool enough to let them get close. The ones who seem to say "Hey if you die, I've got dibs on your stuff!" Even before you die there they are, circling, waiting. It's creepy AF.

Elder abuse happens all the time. Sometimes it's a stranger/supposed caregiver who takes advantage of the elderly. Sometimes it's the victim's OWN SON (and his vile bitch of a fake wife.)

I was so angry I couldn't get it out of my mind. For days. I didn't get any sleep that night or the next couple of nights. I was furious. I wanted to protect my parents. I didn't trust C and X. I could SEE what they were doing. They weren't even subtle about it! It was obvious and it's REPULSIVE. Of course it happens all the time. Vultures prey on the vulnerable, especially the elderly. When it's their own parents it's even more despicable. I finally wound up writing a song about them called "Vultures" and I felt a lot better just getting my feelings out. I finally got the first sleep I'd had in days. Here's the video from Youtube:

Here are the lyrics in case you can't make them out:
"Vultures" original song by Ann Marie Pincivero Copyright April 2019

The vultures are circling Mama, open your eyes, your eyes, your eyes
The devil never stops working, feeding you lies and lies and lies
The enemy hides in plain sight. I'm telling you this:
A villain can smile to your face and betray you with a kiss.

Murderous opportunists planning their attack.
Sharpening their knives to stab you in the back.
Be vigilant of con artists they'll take from you more and more
Don't answer to the Wolf and the Grim Reaper at your door.


They think because you're half-blind Mama that you won't see
My vision is sharp as a knife and they're not fooling me
I just want to warn you of their malicious intents
You can't ignore, you can't ignore the mounting evidence.


They say they're helping you but they're helping themselves
They'll rob you blind, you will find they're emptying your shelves
They have no conscience, they don't care and they don't feel
Greedy, grasping, take-without-asking predators, scavengers seeing how much they can steal!

If something seems a little bit off kilter
It's cause they'll sell you for 30 pieces of silver
I'm sorry Mama, don't want to hurt you or make you scared
I just want you to be cautious and be prepared

The vultures are circling, Mama.

When I brought it up at my next session my therapist told me I had every reason to be angry, that anyone in my position would be. They had "overstepped boundaries." Still my therapist felt that I needed to forgive, as in let this go, for my own sanity because holding on to anger hurts me. I had to find my peace again. "What if," my therapist asked, "C and X are just incredibly selfish people with no regard for how their actions affect others. And that's just who they are. So you don't expect any different from them. They consistently do things that are self-serving because it's who THEY are but you don't have to let it affect YOU. You can let them be who they are and you be who you are."
"Pfft," I said, "yeah. At least they're consistently assholes. Everything they do is a slap in the face."
"So you don't have to be disappointed. Because that's all you can ever expect from them."
"I can't forgive someone who shows NO remorse. Who can't even admit they were wrong."
"Forgiveness isn't for them," she said, "You never have to say 'I forgive you' or speak to them again. You just forgive them in your heart by letting go because you will not give them the power to upset you anymore."
Yeah, I'd like to do that. I'm not quite there yet...

So all in all, it started out as a horrible day on Bad Saturday (the day after Good Friday)! C and I continued to "hate text" back and forth to each other even as I sat at my sister's place. I wasn't texting while I was driving so I had a few to catch up on when I could look at my cell again. It was frustrating and futile. There was no getting through to him. At one point he had the nerve to say tell Michelle he loves her and misses her and I saw a way that I might actually get to him. I told him Michelle was sad that he trashed her water table (which she WAS.) Aha. That made him feel bad. He said he'd get her a new one. I said that's not the point. She was STILL PLAYING WITH THAT in the Summer. It was only in the garage for the Winter. If it was dirty it could have been cleaned out. It's a WATER TABLE after all. Complete a-hole. How could he not see that what he did was wrong? It's like X has him so brainwashed he just goes along with her schemes. X is in control. SHE definitely wears the pants in the family. Someone asked me at one point "Doesn't your brother have any balls?" "Not anymore." I said. She owns him and she controls his actions. Even to the point of making him turn against his family. The fact that X told my Mom they were leaving my stuff for me to look at and then they go and trash it the day that I get there PROVES she is just trying to break up the family. She knew that stealing the money from C ($200 of the $400 from Shane) would create a rift between C and Shane. Now she had created a war between C and me. So now C told my Mom he wasn't going to any more family events. X had gotten her way! She didn't want to come to our family gatherings and didn't like C to go anywhere without her so now she was keeping him from his family entirely. And C is so stunned/brainwashed/hypnotized that he doesn't even see what she's doing.

I need to have the last word so every time C sent another hateful text I had to have a retort. But I was getting sick of it. It was pointless. Back and forth, one text angrier and more hateful than the next. It wasn't accomplishing anything. So I finally said I wanted to focus on the beautiful people around me (my sister, Mom, niece etc) and not this ugliness. He called me the "c" word (yeah that's how crass he is. As crude as it gets. To his own sister. Disgusting!) and texted that he was blocking me from his phone and his life again. Again? Had he blocked me before? Hilarious! If he did I hadn't even noticed because we never call/text each other anyway. He has literally never been there for me. He didn't even come to visit me when I had Michelle. He didn't come to the hospital or to visit me when I was staying at my sister's. In fact he didn't congratulate or visit me AT ALL. I looked back at photos and saw that my baby brother came (even though it was a 2 hour drive for him) with his family to see Michelle and me when she was a newborn but C and X never did. The first time I saw C was months later for Mike's birthday. C never congratulated or supported me for anything I did. He didn't come to my CD release party either. When I sent out the invitations I said I will likely never get married or have a baby (I was half right!) so this CD WAS my baby and meant a lot to me. I hoped that people would come out to support me. Again my baby brother Mike made the 2 hour drive, after work to come out and support me. C couldn't be bothered. He never cared. He was never there to cheer me on during my successes or to comfort me during my sorrows. He just never gave a damn about me. So why should I care if he's not in my life? That would be preferable in fact. You can't communicate with him. The only thing he responds to is arguing and I'm not a fan of confrontation. If someone is going to deliberately antagonize me I would prefer if they would just leave me the Hell ALONE. Don't interfere with me/my daughter/my Mom/my sister. Because if you mess with any of us then I will have to say something. And I REALLY just want my peace. I want to be free of all this nonsense. Getting it out is my way of letting it go. After I finish this blog I am done with this mess and I want nothing to do with it ever again. OWN YOUR SHIT. I fully acknowledge that I have issues. At least I'm in therapy working on mine. People who can't even accept responsibility for what they're doing annoy me. People who will LIE, CHEAT, STEAL and PRETEND to be something they're not just so they can swindle everyone around them infuriate me. But you can't change them, fix them or even get them to admit what they're really about. So you just call them on it and let it go. They are not worth your time. Just lock your doors and don't let them in.

After C's parting text I need to have the last word so I texted him back but it bounced back, I thought because he'd blocked me (I wasn't sure what happens when you're blocked.) Apparently it was just a coincidence. I have a pay as you go plan so I'd actually just run out of minutes/texts with all those angry texts back and forth with C! What a waste! Used up all my time fighting with a useless asshole. So I blocked him and X from my phone just in case (though I'm sure they'd never be contacting me again.) And that was that. It's weird. Of course the anger wasn't just about some stuff in a garage. The feud/bad blood between C and me had been there for a long time. Latent. An unspoken resentment. A conflict that never really got resolved. 

There had been animosity between my brother C and me for years. I thought it was water under the bridge after I moved out and we weren't under the same roof like rats trapped in a cage but it seems that C always held things against me. He always talked as though May was the "nice" sister and I was a monster. It was much easier for May to be nice since she wasn't around. She was the first one to move out so she didn't have to see how annoying and obnoxious C was once he hit his teen years and beyond. Our baby brother moved out too so it was just C and I left. We spent the most time together so naturally we got on each other's last nerve. We fought as brothers and sisters do. C was the opposite of me in many ways -- an extrovert who was very social and always wanted to be surrounded by hundreds of friends. I was an introvert that mostly just wanted to be left alone. Needless to say this was a clash when C was filling the basement/backyard/garage with his loud, obnoxious drunken friends (though in fairness C was the loudest of them all!) when I wanted peace and quiet. Some nights I'd be ready for bed and going to watch a movie and a complete stranger would go walking through to use the washroom. No peace. No privacy. It was Hell on Earth. It was like living in a frat house 24-7. You'd think that would have been enough to push me out. Then thankfully, C finally left. 

C had a very sweet long-term girlfriend at one point and moved out to go live with her so that was a HUGE relief. I should have personally thanked her! She was too good for him really, a shy, quiet angel of a girl (the opposite of C) and completely adorable. Her face was like a greeting card. She looked almost exactly like the actress from Father of the Bride (Kimberly Williams) With him gone it was just Mom and Dad and me so it was pretty quiet at least. There was a point when I thought I'd never leave home. I always thought I'd move out when I got married but I was in an on again off again relationship for 9 years and never got married. My Mom didn't want me to leave. When Chris broke up with his sweetheart common law girlfriend unfortunately he moved BACK into my parents' house. It was like a horror movie. There was no longer a room for him. My Mom had converted his bedroom into storage. I was in the basement apartment. He had nowhere to go. So he just stuck his stuff in the other end of the basement, which wasn't even finished, wasn't even a proper room. Ugh. It was a fate worse than death to be sharing a bathroom with my brother again. As kids you may annoy each other. As teens it's worse, but to be ADULT SIBLINGS in the SAME HOUSE is like a LIVING NIGHTMARE! Especially when your sibling just happens to be an unbearably boorish, rude, thoughtless, loud, abrasive, inconsiderate, reckless, self-centred slob...I could go on but you get the idea. 
Actually as insults go you really can't do better than Chevy Chase's  in the movie "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." It's such a great moment because you see this poor guy, Clark Griswold, who loves his family so much and who just wanted the picture perfect Christmas. He tries so hard and everything goes wrong and then his heartless boss stiffs him out of the Christmas bonus money that he'd been counting on. No one WANTS to be angry (well some people do look like they enjoy fighting since they keep trying to start fights for no reason) Most of us just want to live our lives peacefully, happily, without incident but then some cruel, inconsiderate a-hole just ruins everything and it pushes you over the edge. I don't like to be annoyed. I try to avoid annoying people as much as I can. Unfortunately sometimes you have to LIVE WITH THEM.

I wasn't the only one that found C incredibly annoying. He was having loud parties in the backyard (sometimes even hanging out in a TENT like a kid) until the wee hours of the morning. The poor man next door nearly had a heart attack over fighting with C and telling him to shut the F up. The distressed guy finally wound up moving out, selling the home he had loved for decades because he couldn't take living next to an a-hole like my bro any longer.

One day a neighbour came to the front door with a clipboard. She told me that all the neighbours in the area had signed a petition to throw C out of the house/neighbourhood! My face lit up. "OMG! WHERE DO I SIGN?!" I asked her. She seemed confused. She continued "I mean, he's not even a TEENAGER anymore. He's IN HIS 30s ACTING LIKE THIS?!" I chimed right in "I KNOW! Honey you're preaching to the choir! NO ONE wants him out of here more than ME! Imagine LIVING WITH HIM!" She still didn't seem to acknowledge/was in disbelief that I was on her side. I almost said "Amen Sister!" and gave her a high five. She just looked flustered and didn't know what to say or do. "Anyway, if he makes noise like that again until 3 am I am calling the POLICE!" "Please do!" I insisted and gave her the local police phone number to lodge a noise complaint. You know when they show the stereotypical neighbour from Hell in cartoons/shows and movies? Yeah, that was my brother. But he shouldn't even have been living there. Then again, neither should I. At least I was finally getting my act together and saving to buy a house. Someone at work had dared me to buy one and I went to the bank just as a lark to see if I'd qualify for a mortgage. I did and it was empowering. So I bought a house out of spite in a way. Well it was also because it became apparent that I was NEVER getting married and I figured I couldn't live with my parents the rest of my life. And C had made living at home that much more unbearable. In a way I have my brother to thank because if he hadn't been so incredibly annoying I wouldn't have been so motivated to strike out on my own.
Then something strange happened. Though we were still in the same house for the time being, my brother and I became friends in an odd way... He started dating a beautiful blonde. It was sort of a star-crossed lovers thing because they worked together and weren't "allowed" to date. C was the manager at a bar and, I'll call her "L," was a waitress. The owner strictly FORBADE them to date so they did anyway and eventually got fired over it. Who could blame them? There is nothing more attractive than the forbidden. Look at Romeo and Juliet! Family hatred wasn't going to stop them! (Of course they both wound up dead but anyway...) L seemed like a nice girl. I could certainly understand why C was drawn to her. She was lovely, smart, friendly. Strangely it seemed like she wanted to be friends with me. I wasn't used to my brothers' girlfriends even acknowledging me much less trying to befriend me. I found it odd but kind of nice. When she would come over to see C she would actually wind up hanging out with me. One time I was sitting with my Mom and my cousin on the back porch talking and L came up to sit with us for hours instead of hanging out with Chris. It was a little weird. Maybe she just wanted some girl time? (I don't think she had a sister?) Anyway, she seemed pretty cool. We had a lot of things in common. She even commented that we wore the same size clothing. "We're both a size 9!" Next thing I knew L and C were inviting me to go out places with them. It was different but in a good way. It was a bizarre love triangle of sorts with L in the middle as a peace keeper.
L was like this angel bringing my brother and me together. We went from being enemies to friends. I'd never hung out with my brother before. One night L and C took me with them to a party. It was kind of surreal. I was always a nerd/bookworm in school. I didn't go to many parties. (Just a few in university and I felt REALLY uncomfortable, like I didn't want to be there. AT ALL. Like get me the Hell out of here. Like Alessia Cara's song "Here" NAILS IT!) I'd especially never been to a party with C. Usually I was on the outside (like the neighbours) having to listen to his stupid late night parties. C was the "life of the party" type. He always had an active social life, a million friends. He was probably one of the popular or "cool" kids in school. I was the nerd in school. Then again the "cool" kids were smoking, drinking, doing drugs and God knows what and I wasn't interested in any of that. I'd rather be reading, writing poetry and getting an A average. It was strange but pretty neat to actually be hanging out with my brother at a party, after all these years. I would have felt like I didn't belong except that I was there with my brother and his girlfriend and it seemed like they were enjoying my company. I laughed so much. C was hilarious. That was one thing about C (when he wasn't annoying the HELL out of you) he could be very witty, very funny. And so animated, larger than life, like Jim Carrey almost.

I started to really like L. It felt like she was really a friend and even a fan. She knew that I was a songwriter. She showed an interest in my music, wanted to hear me sing and play guitar and then suggested going to a local bar that had an open mic/musicians' night where you could get together for a jam session. We wound up meeting an awesome guitarist who could play anything and EVERYTHING. All the songs we loved. It was great singing Tragically Hip, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Pink Floyd songs with my brother. The guitarist was really cute too. He invited us back to his place after leaving the bar. It was like a double date, my brother and L, the guitar guy (I can't remember his name. He was tall and muscular and blond I think. I mostly just remember the guitar!) and me. It was awesome. SO MUCH FUN! It wound up being one of the BEST nights of my entire life. I will always be grateful to L for that.

We went to the park and sang and played guitar (and they drank and smoked) until the wee hours of the morning like we were hippies. Peace and love, man. Of course I was the only sober one but I was still feeling it. I loved it. At one point, so late that all sensible folk were in bed (and it was a weeknight) we were all walking down the middle of the street, in the rain while the guy played guitar and I sang at the top of my lungs. It was like a scene from a movie or a music video. Was this real life? I WAS SO HAPPY. It was beautiful. C and L and the guitar guy (I can't remember his name) and me. I was hoping maybe I'd see him again. I can't remember if I gave him my number or not. I thought maybe I'd see him at open mic night again but we never went back. Nothing would ever be like that again. That night would disappear like a dream. Reality was a cold, cruel slap in the face.
Was it all an illusion? All a sham? When something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Granted, being the self-deprecating/low self-esteem sort, I did find it a little strange that L seemed to want so badly to be my friend. (Because why would anyone want to be MY friend?) She said she didn't have female friends. I wanted to believe she was genuine but then things started to change. It seemed she had an agenda all along that she and C were just putting on an act, buttering me up, pretending to be my friends because they wanted something from me. Then L dropped the bomb (no it wasn't the L bomb!): they wanted me to buy them a house. Well, they knew I had saved to buy a house. They suggested that I let them move in with me. They would finish the basement and live there rent free. Wait, WHAT?! I can't remember my exact response but I would think it was something along the lines of  "ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR FUCKING MINDS?!" I was FINALLY going to be moving out on my own as an adult and was looking forward to having peace and privacy so why THE HELL would I let my BROTHER and his girlfriend move in?!

Now I started to feel like she was just an opportunist. Just trying to steal my house out from under me. Had the whole thing been a con? They didn't want my friendship. They wanted my house. As soon as I vetoed the idea of buying them a house, C and X wanted nothing to do with me. Next time I suggested going to the open mic night they were busy. Now that they didn't get what they wanted they dropped me like a hot potato. They had no use for me anymore. Now they didn't invite me out with them. They just avoided me. It was clear as day. They had never been my friends at all. It had all been staged. Maybe they even knew that guitar guy. Maybe it was all part of "the plan." I hated them. I felt like a sucker for ever believing they cared about me at all.

Now it was just uncomfortable to have them in the house at all. To make matters worse then some of my clothes went missing: a few pairs of my fave capri pants. I remembered L commenting "We're BOTH size 9!" I wondered if she had taken some of my things when I wasn't home. I'm not sure if I actually accused her or just said something to my Mom or C but I guess it got back to her. Next thing I knew, C and L had broken up. I wound up finding the clothes after all. I'd put them away during the winter and forgot where I had stored them. It didn't make sense to me that that would end their relationship (unless she'd actually stolen them and the guilt was too much.) I couldn't fathom it. Of all the reasons I might break up with a boyfriend, his sister not liking me would NEVER be one of them (Of course my boyfriends' families always liked me as far as I know!)

I figured oh well. Good riddance, fake friend! Bye Felicia. I got over it. But C never did. My Mom thinks that L was the love of his life and he never got over her and he blamed ME for her leaving him. But that's so stupid! How is it my fault? Because I wouldn't buy them a house?! First of all it doesn't even make sense. If she didn't want him living in his MOTHER'S basement why would it be any better living in his SISTER'S?! And why would I move in with my brother when he was one of the main reasons I wanted to LEAVE in the first place! My Mom had another theory. Maybe I was the one that L really loved. It was me that she wanted to hang out with. It was me that she wanted to move in with. I don't buy that. I think the whole thing was an act. Whatever her reasons and motivations I guess I'll never know for sure. The villain never admits what he/she is up to.

I could have let bygones be bygones but C could not. He hated me. He blamed me for ending his relationship (while if he was honest about the situation he would have called BS and said OK she obviously didn't love me or she wouldn't leave me because of my sister but anyway.) He could be vicious and cruel. I mostly tried to avoid him because we couldn't have a conversation without conflict. He just wanted to insult and hurt me. Then I'd feel compelled to counter-attack. We had some TERRIBLE fights. At one point he literally wished me dead. He said that he wished I would commit suicide so he could dance on my grave. Yeah, a pretty cruel thing to say to an emotionally unstable sister. Thankfully even on my darkest day I never got to that point. I always believed that even my very flawed life was precious. And I believe it is wrong to take a life, even your own. These days suicide is definitely off the table because I could NEVER do that to Michelle. I'm all she's got so I have to stick around, even on my worst day. It is tragic when someone feels so desperate that the only way out seems to be to pull the plug. It's hard to understand when celebrities like Robin Williams, who seemed so happy and seemed to have it all resort to suicide. It's unfathomable. Depression doesn't discriminate. It doesn't matter how beautiful or rich or talented or successful you are. In fact, in a strange way, depression can hit even harder when you "seem to have it all." Because if you have it all and you STILL aren't happy then what is there to hope for? If you're poor you can blame your misery on a lack of resources. But if the world is your oyster and you still feel empty inside? That's a whole other level of darkness. And some turn to alcohol and drugs. Which seem to be a cure but wind up being a disease in themselves. Life is hard. We all fight our own battles and no one truly knows what we're going through because no one else is inside our head and heart to see what we're grappling with.

At one point after a vicious argument where C had tried to tear me down I wrote a very nasty letter (because I HAVE to have the last word and it's somehow easier for me to get my thoughts out in text rather than vocally.) He apparently saved that letter and showed his friends, using it as evidence of what a "monster" I am. I'm sure he conveniently left out the horrible things he had said to me which had instigated the whole thing. This is how C operates. He pokes at you until you finally lash out in frustration and then he cries victim like I'm the bad guy. "Don't poke the bear" as the saying goes and it bears repeating (see what I did there?!) If you are going to deliberately infuriate someone and push them over the edge then you should own that shit! You made it happen. You messed with them. If you'd left them well enough alone everything would have been fine. And what kind of sadistic a-hole deliberately aggravates someone who is already dealing with enough? Some people have no sympathy. My brother doesn't give a damn that I'm a struggling single Mom who had a breakdown and is in therapy. Zero empathy. Zero conscience. I wrote another cathartic angry song "Pushed me too far" and posted it on Youtube. Here are the lyrics:

"Pushed me too far" -- original song by Ann Marie Pincivero Copyright May 2019

It's eye for an eye brother, or can't you do the math?
If you hijack my peace, you will incur my wrath
Don't poke the bear unless you're looking for a fight
And no one wins then. Two wrongs don't make a right

I don't want to be angry so why do you push me? Why do you push me?
It's just how stupid you are!
You couldn't just let me be, let me be free, no!
You had to push me. Now you've pushed me too far.

There is no resolution. Agree to disagree.
I need my "namaste" so stay away from me
There is no solution, no cure for your ignorance
We'll always be on opposite sides of a barbed wire fence.


I was OK when you weren't here
I kept my rage at bay, until you interfered
I was silent but I can't hold back anymore
The reckless attack you can't take back was a declaration of war!

You can deflect your guilt
You never accept the blame
You can lie & cheat & steal
Go on and call me names
You can be the villain
And look out for number one
But Karma will catch up to you
Your time is gonna come


I can not even tell you how cathartic writing is in general and songwriting in particular. Just writing the words helps. Singing them feels even better and sharing your song with the world (even if it's just a couple of random strangers) is SUCH A RELIEF. No one really gets it but a songwriter. People should know though, you don't betray Taylor Swift if you don't want to be the subject of her next song. Don't wrong your sister if you don't want her to bring it up in her blog. Of course unlike Taylor my writing doesn't reach millions. I'm lucky if it reaches tens. It doesn't matter. If even ONE person hears/reads  what I have to say, it is enough. As a writer you need to get that stuff out. I have been on stage in front of hundreds of strangers (performing at the River Run Centre etc) and sang the most personal stories of love and loss, anger and disillusionment. The things that most people hide and never admit, all those messy feelings and vulnerabilities, I wear them on my sleeve and sing them on stage and post them in my blog, because as a writer I HAVE TO. I need this. I will cry and scream and write it out, paint it out, because it HAS to come out. And anyone who would hold it against me isn't someone that I want anything to do with it. If you don't like my blog you don't have to read it. You don't have to listen to my songs. You don't have to have anything to do with me. Please. I write from my heart -- messy, open and honest. And it's definitely not for everyone. My wish/hope is that at least one person out there will understand and appreciate what I have to say. I write for that person.

When I found myself pregnant and abandoned this blog was one of the only things that kept me going. I was isolated, afraid, betrayed. Yes I talked to my Mom and sister on the phone but I couldn't call them in the middle of the night when I was tortured by insomnia. Writing is always there. The blank page listens without judging and lets you fill it. You can spill into it all of your anger and your tears. It is a relief and a release. Michelle kept me going of course. My love for her gave my life meaning. Words kept me going. Having an outlet to share my thoughts helped me to process what I was going through. When I would look back on my blog posts I saw that even the hardest times had beautiful moments and those were what I needed to focus on. When I shared my story and had people from around the world say "Thank you. I thought I was the only one who went through this!" It felt like a hug. I wasn't alone. Someone else had been through this. Someone else understood. Someone whom I had never met looked at their computer screen and felt a connection to another Single Mom. That is beautiful to me. I will never apologize for that or give that up. When I saw my stats and knew that people from the US to Australia were reading about my experiences, it made me realize that no matter where we are and how different our lives may be, we are all connected. We all strive to love and be loved and we all suffer the pain of loss. We all struggle to make our way through life, feeling scared and confused much of the time. My experience felt so solitary yet it was a human experience. Others have experienced loss, betrayal, fear, anger. My most popular posts are the early ones about pregnancy and raising a baby (especially potty training etc). I think my posts must come up if people Google certain subjects. My more recent posts only get a handful of views. I can't make people understand why I need to do this, just that I do. I have had a lot of people judge me and call me "crazy" (well I am in therapy!) for revealing so much personal information about my life. It's what a writer does. And if you don't like it, of course you don't have to read it. I can't imagine too many people would have the patience to read through all of this anyway.

My Mom begged me not to post this. It was along the same lines of "Don't SAY anything! Don't START anything!" The thing is, I've been holding this in for MONTHS (if not YEARS) now and the lion's share of the grudge that I hold against C and X came from my mother. She confides in me. She was my main source of intell. She said because she never had a sister and no longer has a mother, I have taken on that role for her. When she needs sympathy over someone doing her wrong, I am the one she turns to. She has to understand though that when she tells me about those who hurt her (namely C and X) then it turns me against THEM. I am not a detached/disinterested observer. My loyalty is to my Mom (who I talk to DAILY), much more so than my brother or his pseudo-wife (who I barely see or talk to.) It's my instinct to want to protect Mom, Michelle, my sister. I have always had a protective nature and it has been amplified by my becoming a Single Mom and having PTSD. If someone seems to be a threat to my Mom I am going to want to react. My sister compared it to a friendship she had with a woman we'll call G who was being verbally and physically abused by a hubby we'll call T. G would call her and tell her all the horrible things T had done. May is a very good listener so she was there for G, to comfort her and listen to her plight. G talked about leaving the a-hole, especially after he hit her, yet she kept staying with him. My sister is good at keeping the peace and saying nothing which is what she did, even sitting across the table from T acting like nothing was wrong when she hated him for the cruel, controlling, vile, vicious violent monster he was. See I would have had a really tough time with that one. I would have wanted to punch him in the face. I would have wanted to tell him off. I probably would have called the police to report domestic assault. But G still wouldn't leave him and it would only make things worse for her. Sometimes it seems like there's nothing you can do except to listen and sympathize. But how can you not hate someone who is hurting someone you love? How can you not say anything? Don't give me information if you don't want me to act on it.

For a while I thought that it was "wrong" to be angry. I saw anger as something to avoid or to cure. Nice people don't get angry right? Nice people are polite, calm, cool and collected, feeling zen, doing yoga and meditating (in fairness I was REALLY trying to do that!) But that's not realistic. Sometimes we get angry because we have every right to be angry. Stifling anger doesn't work. It eats away at you. My therapist said that anger serves a purpose -- it is a survival instinct -- It is the FIGHT in "fight or flight." Unlike fear, which paralyzes us, anger energizes us, motivates and mobilizes us to take action. Look at the Hulk, a superhero whose anger and adrenaline gives him superhuman strength. Anger is helpful if it gives you the power to make a difference, to stand up for what's right. But what if there is no action you can take? What do you do with all that angry energy? Exercise is a healthy release. Boxing would probably help. Many people get their aggression out through playing sports. It has to come out somehow. The expression "Never go to bed angry" is because you won't get any sleep! You can't just go to bed at night and let the thoughts fester. That's a one way ticket to insomnia! Trust me. The bottom line is that if you are angry about a situation that needs to change then you need to speak up. Even if you can't change anything, at the very least you can say what you feel. If something isn't right we can say "This is NOT OK!" In the Divided States of America these days there are two very outspoken camps, the Right and the Left. Each will argue ALL DAY LONG and they never resolve anything. Of course I side with the Left, the Resistance (as any decent human being would). I can't believe Trump hasn't been impeached yet. #ImpeachTrump Now Canada has its own a-hole for a premier #WTFord. But I don't want to spend the whole day arguing. I mostly try to avoid political discussions now because it's just an endless argument. Some people avoid ever discussing politics, climate change, anything real. It's all unicorns and rainbows. But is that really the answer? To just pretend it's not happening?

It is futile to argue. You can't cure ignorance. You will literally never get through to a Trump supporter. Don't even try. At some point you have to just agree to disagree. I do chime in occasionally to comment on whatever new idiotic thing Trump has said or done but for the most part I stay out of it. Unicorns and rainbows. Many years ago I accidentally got into an argument with a belligerent group of atheists. Intelligent Design vs Big Bang and evolution. Hours and days and endless tweets later and nothing was resolved. They just wanted to hurl insults. We would never see things the same way. There is no point arguing. You say your piece and be done with it. I don't want to argue. I don't want to be angry but if I see someone doing wrong and ESPECIALLY if they are hurting me or someone I love, I HAVE to say something.

The world is so messed up right now. I don't even watch the news but I hear about the latest tragedies from my Mom or on Twitter. When something horrible happens, it seems like you have to acknowledge it. How can there be a shooting without you mentioning #GunControl? How can there be one natural disaster after another without acknowledging #ClimateChange? It doesn't seem right to bury your head in the sand or pretend everything is OK like that dog meme sitting in flames. Everything is NOT FINE, damn it! But what can we do really? We can at least say something. Write folk songs, speak our minds on Twitter or our blog. IT IS NOT FINE. But I also don't want to be consumed with thoughts about Armageddon. That's part of what led to my breakdown at work. Yes the world is falling apart. No I can't fix it. I can acknowledge it and then go back to loving my little girl and trying to focus on what is still good and beautiful in the world.

Wow! I've gotten a little off track here! I was trying to explain the history/bad blood between my black sheep brother and me and went off on a tangent or two (or nine). It's a lot to get through. I love my family. Even my brother. Well he's not my favourite right now admittedly. I don't like him very much. I didn't always feel hateful toward my brother. I wanted to be civil. I figured when we no longer lived under the same roof we'd get along much better. Maybe we weren't as different as I thought. We actually did have things in common. We just dealt with our emotions in very different ways. Later when I was moving out and feeling much more charitable and compassionate toward my brother (I was probably just so happy to be moving away from him!) I wrote him a long and loving letter. It was twice as long as the angry letter and filled with compliments. I was hoping to inspire him to go after his dreams and live the life he was meant to live. He had so much potential. He had acting talent (he'd done a bit of acting in school), writing talent (he'd written essays and a song). He wanted to be a carpenter (hey it was good enough for Jesus!) He had so much energy. I don't know if he even READ that letter. He never mentioned it. I'm sure he never showed anyone. C doesn't respond if you say something kind or neutral. He only responds if it's negative so he can fight back. That's why our angry texts on "Bad Saturday" were so addictive. But it was futile. Hurling insults back and forth, accomplishing nothing except making each other angrier.

On Thanksgiving last year we were at my sister's place. Both sides of the family (Shane's family as well as ours, even some aunts, cousins etc) were there. I was sitting in the dining room. C was at the table in the kitchen with my Mom, Shane's aunt etc. (X did not attend because as she'd told my sister she wasn't going to any more family events. But then she showed up for the pre-Christmas celebration.) At one point I could hear C yelling my name. I couldn't hear what he was saying only that it was obviously unpleasant. Later I asked my Mom what he was on about. She said everyone was talking about fighting with their siblings and C mentioned how much we hated each other when we lived in the same house. Later I heard that C was also bad-mouthing my sister May in the garage where he was out smoking. It was strange and out of character for him to breathe a negative word about May. She was always the sister he liked (only because she didn't have to be around him very long and she is VERY good at keeping the peace and not saying when things bother her. A talent I am sorely lacking in.) It sort of surprised and bothered us but you can't really talk to C. Before you know it he's out the door anyway. Later I thought about it and wanted to ask him what was up. Was he resentful that May and me didn't go to the concert after his non-wedding? Was he holding a grudge somehow. One day when I was waiting for Michelle at ballet I texted him just for fun to see what he'd say. I kept it light and fairly neutral. I said that I'd overheard him talking smack about me but I knew it was just about us fighting and it was water under the bridge. I told him I hope he knows I've always loved him. Then I said how surprised I was to learn he was even saying awful things about May that weren't even true and I wondered what was up. I told him I'd see him at Mom's birthday celebration (which I always host at my place). I ended it with xo as I always do. HE NEVER REPLIED TO MY TEXT. I sent him a kind, inquisitive text and he had NOTHING TO SAY TO ME. My Mom asked him about it and he said it was too long so he didn't read it! OK... Then a month or so later he apparently FINALLY read my text but he STILL didn't reply to me whatsoever. All he did was call my SISTER to make amends and to explain that he'd just been repeating stupid gossip our idiot cousin had told him over a decade ago. And he didn't mean to hurt May. He ignored me entirely. I figured as long as he ignored me I could ignore him but there were SO MANY TIMES I wanted to confront him about things he had done or said to Mom. But you can't talk to C. So I just didn't. I held it all in. One shady thing after another, getting angrier and angrier until we finally had our big text battle.

It's tough because I really don't want to deal with this crap. I don't want to hold onto anger. I want to let it go. I know that it only hurts me. It's so frustrating because I didn't ASK for this. Before those knuckleheads started looting Mom's house, I was TRYING to let things go, to control what I can, to find my peace. I am trying to live in alignment with my values and I value peace and love, man. But sometimes there are conflicting values -- I value standing up for what's right and it eats away at me to have to hold things back. I'm not good at being insincere. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I want to be authentic. And sometimes that means being messy and inappropriate. My therapist says it doesn't make me a bad person. I'm a passionate person. I FEEL DEEPLY. I CARE. Much of the world seems as if they don't care or feel anything. They will numb and anesthetize themselves with addictions (drugs, alcohol etc) rather than deal with their emotions. Many people have been so overstimulated in this messed up world that they're burned out, spent, they've seen it all and they just don't care. Nothing surprises or affects them anymore. They are desensitized. Like robots, zombies, ignoring the tragedy surrounding them. Even after 17 years in an unholy nightmare of a job I never lost my humanity. I never stopped caring. But it broke me. Therapy is supposed to help me to manage my emotions but that doesn't mean eliminating the negative ones. It doesn't mean that I stop feeling. It is a struggle and I've been trying very hard but I obviously have a long way to go. And conflict isn't my favourite.

Part of my therapy involves doing "Alternative Thought Records" -- a way to challenge unhelpful thought patterns. You consider other possibilities, look at things from new angles. There are basic FACTS and then there are your interpretations, the feelings and meanings you attach to them, the narrative you build around them and it all depends on your vision of the world/yourself etc. When you have a certain viewpoint, you look for evidence to support it. The thing is, if you LOOK for evidence you will ALWAYS find it. But you tend to mostly ignore evidence to the contrary. If they're being honest, everyone is "closed minded" to some degree. It's very hard to be open minded. You either believe the world is ROUND or you believe it is FLAT (I kid you not, there are actually "flat earthers" out there. It's a thing!) Some things you can't really sit on the fence about. It's one or the other. Now you may have feelings about certain things but as my therapist says "FEELINGS are not FACTS." So even though I FEEL in my gut that C & X are vultures, that's not really evidence. If I just look at the basic facts as a detached observer then yes:
1. C & X rushed to get married and didn't invite us. C did not give X any rings. They announced it on Mother's Day.
2. C & X went to Mexico for Christmas, though it was my Mom's year to have her whole family.
3. X kept asking my Mom about her will and trying to make her get rid of stuff.
4. X asked for my Mom's wedding ring. Mentioned she could will it to X.
5. X has a history of giving inappropriate/strange gifts or making seemingly generous gestures and then complaining about it.
6. C wanted to buy my Mom's house for half what it was worth and fix it up. Mom said no.
7. C & X renovated my Mom's bathroom and then kept checking up on it.
8. X kept showing up uninvited at Mom's, asking about her will and offering to clear the house out.
9. C did a job for my sister and her hubby for $400 and said he only got $200.
10. X offered to buy everyone lunch for C's birthday then left a message for my Mom that it was costing her $400.
11. C & X showed up uninvited and cleared out my parents' garage, taking things without asking from my dad, Mom and me. They tried to sell some of my baby things without my consent. They planned to do more work in the house, getting rid of stuff and renovating.

My take on it of course, because I don't trust them, is that everything they do is shady/self-serving, hurtful and that they are scheming opportunistic vultures but what's an ALTERNATIVE perspective? What if I tried to see it from their point of view. How might they justify their actions? They could say that maybe they were just trying to be "practical" and "helpful" in their own misguided way and not realizing how callous they came across (namely to Mom and me, though my sister is too nice to say she found a lot of it fishy too!) Some of it could have been miscommunication/mistakes (like X telling my Mom they were leaving my stuff and then C taking it because he didn't know. C is very distracted and makes a lot of mistakes Maybe the left hand didn't know what the right was doing. He still could have apologized instead of antagonizing me but that's just his way. I don't think he has EVER said sorry to me once in his life. Maybe C lost the $200 rather than X stealing it. Maybe X didn't know it was rude to leave a message about how expensive the lunch was. Maybe they aren't bad people just really really stupid people. Anything is possible.) The road to Hell was paved with good intentions. Perhaps they weren't trying to hurt anyone and they really were, as my brother claimed, just "trying to do good" but it went horribly awry. Maybe C & X are struggling financially and too proud to say so? Maybe they don't even know why they do things. Maybe they aren't working and were bored and were looking for something to do.

The thing is, it's not as though they're going to blurt out a confession, even if their intentions were malicious. They will likely deny it until they're blue in the face. People will go to great lengths to hide their motivations, sometimes even from themselves. Sometimes people can't even explain why they do what they do because it's largely unconscious. People plunge ahead without considering how their actions will affect others. We are all guilty of it to some degree. We should at least try to "do no harm." If it's avoidable. As I've said before I would never intentionally hurt an innocent person but I have no qualms about taking a guilty one to task. I can be peaceful and namaste all day long until you interfere with me. Then we have a problem and if you push me far enough, I will explode. I'm still not a danger to myself or others. The worst I'll do is talk about you in my blog. Don't worry, I change the names to protect the guilty.

If C and X are guilty they'll be furious that I figured it out but they would never admit it. If they're innocent they'd still be pissed but if they have even a shred of human compassion they could consider how things looked from MY perspective and why. If nothing else they can dismiss it all as the insane ramblings of a mentally unstable sister who's been in therapy for more than a year. And maybe they'll back off and let me be as I would like to do for them. Let's just agree to stay out of each other's way. If they are not attacking I will not need to be so defensive. It's the Golden Rule. Treat others as you'd like to be treated. I'd like to be left alone, thank you. So leave me alone. That also means backing off from taking advantage of those I love. At least from the sounds of it, C and X are backing off. The mission to take over my Mom's house has been aborted.
OK, DEEP CLEANSING BREATHS! Breathe in cool calm through your nose, breathe out hot stress through your mouth. I'm tired of this shit. I don't want to think about it anymore. I don't want to focus on this negative stuff. This is WAY longer than I intended this post to be but it's a big can of worms and you might as well let them all out and be done with it. Now that I have spilled my guts here I hope that I will feel more free of it. I am feeling a little more at peace just having gotten all this crap out! It's like I can finally BREATHE again. I feel like I've lost 10 lbs (no such luck though!) So let's get back to the rest of that Saturday, the rest of April, the happier part of Spring. As I said to C, "I want to focus on the beautiful people around me, not this ugliness." So here goes...

What started out as a very "Bad Saturday" (get it? Because it was after "Good Friday," which incidentally I've always thought was a strange name for the day when the nicest guy in the world was nailed to a cross and died. Calling the anniversary of Jesus' death by torture "Good" Friday seems a tad insensitive, no? I mean it wasn't really a "good" day for HIM. But I digress...) became a good one once I was done arguing with a fool and could just be in the moment with my real family. I may have lost a brother but I still had an awesome sister and I was happy to be spending the day at her place. Michelle had a ball playing with Reggie as usual. Michelle is my rainbow unicorn, literally! Here she is even dressed the part. Shannon took some cute photos for us with her Snapchat filter thing. There were some adorable (and horrifying! Like the egg head!) filters so he was fun playing with them. It was nice to talk and laugh with them. Admittedly I did spend some time venting about C and V because it was still fresh in my mind. C called May just to check in and make sure she wasn't "on my side" because I'd mentioned everyone thinking he was wrong (they did all agree he had no right to take my things without my permission and try to sell them.) He was concerned I guess that they also thought he had an "agenda" as I'd accused him. May is Switzerland, the peace-keeper so she assured him she was fine with him anyway. She said his voice was a little shaky. Maybe I had gotten to him after all.

May is so thoughtful she had a cute unicorn basket for Michelle filled with chocolate eggs. (Not that Michelle needed more chocolate, mind you! She would be getting spoiled with a lot the next day!)

Shane was cooking a delicious meal -- a brisket and was even making HOME MADE BREAD! He'd never tried it before but it was a very successful experiment. It was absolutely DELICIOUS! I could have eaten a whole loaf myself (actually I might have!) Michelle loved it too. Such a treat.

It was so nice to hang out at May's. My Mom, May, Michelle and Shannon are my heart. Not that I don't love the men in my family. It's just hard to talk to my Dad and I don't see Mike much. Dad wanted to stay home to watch sports. My Mom also wanted him to keep an eye on the house because she didn't trust my brother and C and thought they might show up and do something/take something from the house again. And my brother in law, well we don't always see eye to eye (he is a flat Earther who believes Climate Change is a hoax and Trump is a great guy just to give you an idea!) but as long as we don't talk politics he can be very funny, kind and generous. He is a great cook. It is always a treat to go there for dinner!

The group shot, albeit a smaller group. It wasn't even Easter technically and we don't usually get together for Easter. I insisted on a group photo anyway. Obviously this one didn't exactly go as planned. I told them the timer would take three shots. My Mom was looking at us. It's hard to make out what she has on her legs. They're like furry boot slippers or something? Michelle was making a crazy face and moving so she's a blur and I just look like an idiot. I wanted to have at least one where we were all looking and smiling nicely but this was not it.

Finally we're all looking and smiling together. Organized chaos. My sister deals with so much. She has had health issues and all sorts of stresses. She is always there for everyone else and usually not for herself (it's a Mom thing.) I worry about her. I love her so much. She is the best sister anyone could have and my best friend. She has always been there for me and I will always be there for her. I feel lucky to have her in my life. I know that not everyone gets along with their siblings. (Obviously I'm in a feud with one of mine as we speak.) After dinner we watched "Hop" together. On the way home and when I finally got to bed I couldn't stop thinking about the C and X drama. It ruined what would have been an otherwise lovely day. I was sorry it had to happen. I couldn't understand why they had to do that. They just never consider anyone else's feelings I guess.

And then it was EASTER! Easter Sunday we just stayed home, Michelle and me. I was feeling pretty rough after getting no sleep. The drama with C had taken a toll. I just couldn't get it out of my mind.

Michelle put on her bunny ears and went on her annual egg hunt. The Easter Bunny was good to her this year. She had a blast searching for and collecting all the beautiful eggs. She wanted to go downstairs in her pjs and look but I made her wait until we were both dressed and ready so that I could get photos.

It's all about the photos to me! Life is so fragile and goes so quickly. If you don't capture the moment then it's gone! I love my little pink bunny here in her ears and pastel rainbow dress and carrying her pink basket. I want to enjoy this time while she's young and still willing to wear bunny ears! I know that the day will come when she'll feel "too cool" to wear ears!
Michelle and me and Ali makes three! And we're all looking and smiling-ish. OK well Ali isn't smiling but she finally looked at the camera or at least in that general direction.

Thankfully I don't look nearly as rough as I was feeling after a night of tossing and turning consumed with anger at my brother. That's the funny thing about photos. You can smile and act like life is perfect even as you're falling apart. No one would know what you're thinking, all the messy thoughts and feelings you're hiding.

Michelle isn't hiding her impatience very well. She was anxious to get on with collecting the eggs. "Do we HAVE to do another photo Mama?!" "Baby, let me have this."

It was adorable. As a photoholic there is nothing that makes me happier than taking photos, especially taking photos of Michelle doing cute things. It's like I have my very own unicorn/happy bunny/angel of joy.

Michelle is my Happy Place. She is my Goodness and Light. She is the one pure, real, perfect, beautiful thing in this world that keeps me going no matter what else is going on around me. She is what keeps me going. She is my reason for living. I am so grateful for her. Even C had a moment of sentimentality about Michelle amidst all of his angry hateful texts to me: "enjoy that beautiful life of yours." And I do. This is what I want to focus on. And as long as no one interferes with us (or with my Mom) then I can just carry on enjoying my life and focusing on the beautiful things. I am not a fan of the darkness intruding into my life. If I had my way I would never have to hear about it again.
Found one! It was a cow egg. Or a dog or something? Because sure, why not! The Easter Bunny left Michelle a wide variety of cute, silly and beautiful eggs. There were pastel coloured ones, animal ones, sequined and glittery ones. Her basket was getting heavier and more full. I could suddenly understand the expression "Don't put all of your eggs in one basket!" because literally it would get too full and the handle would break and then they'd all smash and you'd be left with nothing. But how many baskets could you carry, realistically? Some of Michelle's old baskets had broken over the years from over-stuffing them.

My gifted girl! So she got a little spoiled by the Easter Bunny and Mama. It's OK. Really considering how much of a shopaholic I used to be I managed to restrain myself pretty well. I couldn't resist getting her some chocolate and stuffed bunnies (to add to her already bursting collection of bunnies who seem to multiply like, well like BUNNIES!) I have a weakness for cute and beautiful (cutiful?) things so if there's a multi-coloured pastel bunny or a bunnicorn (a bunny unicorn, yeah I didn't realize it was a thing either until I found one!) that she doesn't have, I'm for sure getting it.

On Easter Monday I told my Mom I'd take she and my Dad out to dinner. She wanted to go shopping in the day. We were hoping to get some last minute deals at Payless Shoes but it was already closed. Then to our shock and horror we found that one of our FAVE stores had closed: ARDENE! They weren't out of business entirely (thank God!) just at that location but we were heartbroken. We asked in another store and they said it just happened two weeks ago. A shock to everyone. Another victim of the Retail Apocalypse. Well, my Mom and me had done more than our share to help the economy. And we were both trying to cut down on our spending considerably.  

My girl and me. It was a beautiful day. You had to be grateful for those because they didn't always happen. There were so many cold, grey rainy days. I managed to get a picture of Michelle and me in Grandma's backyard before we headed to the restaurant for dinner.

It had been a strange Easter to say the least. C and X had cast a very dark shadow over much of it but it still had its fun and beautiful moments. I wanted to take Mom and Dad out for Easter dinner. Nothing fancy but they really enjoyed it. Michelle loved it too.

Michelle and me have a special relationship with Grandma and Grandpa. When I was working full time I saw so much of them. They looked forward to being with Michelle. Now they don't see us as often but they still love their time with Michelle.

The selfies I attempted were all fails (as you can see! I couldn't fit us all in!) I finally asked the waiter if he could take our picture. He did a pretty good job. I am not sure why my dad always looks slightly bewildered when the camera clicks but you can't have everything. Michelle isn't exactly smiling either. At least my Mom and I are trying. I didn't realize until just now that my Mom, Dad and me are all dressed in blue. It was a Blue Monday of sorts but we made the best of it and I was happy we got to share that.

Spring was in the air. Ish. Well you never knew from one day to the next whether the weather would call for a Winter coat and boots or capri pants and sandals. It was best to dress in layers. We went to the park after school to enjoy the sun while it lasted. Michelle had a Spring jacket on but insisted on taking it off. She never seems to get cold but then she's always running around. She loves playing at the park with her friends and I enjoyed talking with their Moms as well. I gave people the "Coles notes" versions of my family drama. They were sympathetic and understanding. There are often vultures in the family and it is upsetting. One Mom told me that the aggressive ones get everything, the passive ones who are nice, get nothing. That's just how the world works when it comes to family inheritance or anything. But it isn't right and it makes me angry. To see the worst in someone's nature come out is discouraging. Don't they have a heart? Is money all they care about? Some people really are that selfish. 
Michelle refused to put her jacket on. Meanwhile I had mine zipped up to the top and I was still shivering. It would almost seem warm one minute but then the sun would dip behind the clouds and an icy wind would rip through you. It was ALWAYS so windy! Every day it seemed. I never remember this many windy days before. I didn't watch the news but I was always hearing from Mom about #ClimateChange wreaking havoc -- wind, rain, fires, floods. So many people had their homes or cottages flooded. So many people lost everything. I used to dream about living by the water. You couldn't now. Not with the way the world has changed. It's too dangerous. Water levels are rising. It's scary. I remember my sister talking about a poster she saw on Climate Change: "Stay calm and adapt." How can you stay calm when everything is falling apart. But somehow you have to adapt to survive. Hopefully we can take better care of the Earth so we still have a world for our children to grow up in.

One day after school Michelle had a stuffed dog in her backpack. "Sparky the Fire Dog." There was a booklet with him and some activities. Apparently the kids each took turns having a "sleepover" with Sparky while he taught them about fire safety. Luckily we even had a bed in Sparky's size!

There were exercises to do. We had to test all the fire alarms (I warned Michelle to cover her ears because it's ear-splittingly loud, as it has to be to make sure you hear it and get out) and design a fire escape plan. We drew a map together making note of the exits and decided on our plan if need be. We walked through possible scenarios. It was creepy and I really didn't want to do it but it was important. Some things are awful and you don't want to think about them but you have to be prepared just in case. It is a good way to get kids to learn the basics to deal with an emergency and it forces parents to test their alarms (which admittedly I hadn't done in a while.)

After all the family drama and subsequent stress and insomnia, I pretty much gave up on meditation and mindfulness for the time being. My mind was too active to even attempt to be still and find my zen. But sometimes I would take a moment to just breathe (mostly because my therapist told me I had to.) Sometimes I would pet Ali and the sound of her purring was like medicine. For an instant at least I could feel the stress melt away. I envy cats. They are ZEN MASTERS! They don't stress. They spend most of their lives looking beautiful and graceful and all they do is nap. I wish I was more like a cat. They are the only creature that is so happy their happiness has it's own sound. We should all be able to purr. Maybe we'd be nicer to each other then. Actually cats get angry too though. They hiss and scratch and bite when they have to. Everyone gets angry at some point. It is natural. It is a defense mechanism when attacked. Cats can be very vicious if you threaten them, but they are the most chill, sweet, zen little creatures if you're nice to them or just leave them alone. The same could be said about me. Sort of. Ok I'm not very chill, even at the best of times.

We went to see the Avengers: Endgame. I was torn because I was curious to see it and we LOVED Captain Marvel but I was concerned once again that it would be violent. I also was afraid that THREE HOURS was way too long and that Michelle would lose patience with it. She didn't even know most of the characters. She had only seen Captain Marvel and Iron Man. Would she even understand the story? Anyway she begged me to go and eventually wore me down. We loved it but it was REALLY REALLY long! My legs went numb. I had to go to the bathroom REALLY bad. I do love a good superhero movie though. I really need to see the good guys win once in a while. I'm so sick to death of the bad guys winning and getting away with it time and again. "Life isn't fair," my therapist tells me. As if that's supposed to be comforting or make it OK.

One day my therapist wrote a series of equations on a piece of paper and handed it to me. The first was wrong so I corrected it. "Why did you feel the need to correct that." 'Because it was wrong," I answered. "Did you notice that all the others were right? Why do you only focus on what's wrong?" "Because the ones that are right you can just leave. It's only the wrong one that you have to change." She tried to get out of me why I need to be right. I don't know. I just do. It's why I got As in school. I loved that in school you COULD get a right answer and get a gold star or an A. In real life it wasn't quite the same. You could be right but no one would give you a check mark. No one would even acknowledge it. In fact some people would even make you wrong for it. I remember one of my boyfriends using a Dr. Phil line on me "Would you rather be RIGHT or would you rather be HAPPY?" I replied that "Being right MAKES me happy!" We had so many arguments. He was a Taurus so he could be very stubborn and bull-headed too. Then one day he finally had to admit that in most of the arguments we had, I had been right and he just couldn't admit it. I made him write "Ann Marie is always right!" and sign his name under it. I kept it in my wallet. I kept waiting to pull it out the next time we had an argument but we didn't seem to have many after that.

One of my therapists said that "if two people in a relationship always agree, one of them is redundant." If you were with someone EXACTLY like you then what would be the point? You already have YOU. You might as well just be alone. People are different and it is the ways that your partner challenges you that help you to grow. Of course if you are too different, if your fundamental goals and values and temperaments are at odds, it will be a constant battle and that's no fun. Sometimes I'll see a couple arguing and think how lucky I am NOT to have someone to argue with. At this point I can't even imagine getting involved in a romantic relationship and I wouldn't want to. I have enough to deal with just working on myself. Obviously I still have a LOT of work to do. As my therapist reminds me it's not about being "cured," suddenly becoming this self-actualized perfect human. It's more about acknowledging your full range of emotions, noticing and challenging negative and unhelpful thought patterns. Being true to yourself and living a rich and fulfilling life.

My little ballerina. I love watching her dance. I am so proud of her. I can see myself as a little girl in her. It's like I get to live again but get it right this time. Not that my Mom did everything wrong. I know that my Mom loved me in her own way but a lot of the time it felt like my needs weren't met, my dreams weren't encouraged or supported. I felt insecure and afraid a lot of the time. I want to give Michelle wings so she can fly. I want her to believe in herself and know that she can do anything. And when she asks for ballet lessons and piano lessons and anything else she wants I say "YES" because as a child everything that I wanted and asked for the answer was always "NO." It made me feel powerless and unimportant. It's like I didn't matter. Of course Mom always just said we couldn't afford it. I'm a Single Mom but I will still do whatever I can to make Michelle happy.

I can't even put into words how much Michelle means to me. She is my everything. She is by far the best thing that has ever happened to me. I have never had so much joy and meaning in my life. Though I still have my stresses and struggles, even on the darkest day I have this brilliant light shining in the form of Michelle. She is my angel. She is the sweetest little girl and I know that for all my flaws and mistakes at least I did one thing right. I am raising a wonderful little girl entirely on my own and it is my love and nurturing and support that help her to be who she is.

I would give Michelle the world if I could. I keep hoping I'll win a lottery or something. We usually go to see the Princess Margaret Dream Home but this year any time my Mom and I thought about going it was terrible weather. Even when we were sure there wouldn't be another snowfall, there was. Finally it was getting down to the wire. The tickets were almost sold out. It was going to be a sunny day, albeit a little windy and chilly so we decided to make the long drive to see it. It was worth the trip. We all loved it. It was SO BEAUTIFUL. Michelle wanted to move in right away. I explained that we have to win it first. Though even if we won it we couldn't afford the property tax! LOL

A selfie of Michelle and me in our new living room... Hopefully! I loved how it was decorated. Everything was so beautiful.

My Mom was worried that it would be too crowded to take pictures but it wasn't as bad as we expected. The house had been open for over a month. Most people would have already gone if they wanted to see it. We used to go an opening weekend back in the day.

May was going through a lot and wasn't up to traveling so she didn't make the trip this year. She usually just goes to see the one that's more local. King City is quite the trek. Michelle liked that it was called King City. "And I can be the QUEEN!" she said. "Or at least the Princess." I added.

The basement was for Star Wars fanatics. I liked the original Star Wars trilogy but I'm not exactly a fanatic. I loved the cool, modern space themed decor but I might have to remove some of the Star Wars memorabilia (and find a new home for it with a die-hard fan.)

There was even a room covered in Storm Trooper wallpaper! Every year there's something different in the basement. Sometimes it's a home gym or bowling alley or golf course. Back in the day they used to put in a home theatre with a HUGE screen and actual movie seats which was really cool but they stopped doing that. Maybe it was too expensive. They can't possibly please everyone with their themes but it is always done beautifully.

I loved this white zen room. There was a statue of Buddha and I could imagine doing yoga bathed in sunlight.
"I hope we win, Mama!"
"Me too!" I said.
My Mom told me that the house was much too big for just Michelle and me or just her and my dad so either way we would have to move in together. It is a big house but it would be very hard for me to live with my parents again. It took so long for me to move out on my own as it was. It would feel like a step back. Plus I'm a control freak and it would be hard to share my space again and my Mom has so much stuff...

My girl is out of this world! It was fun to think about winning the house but also kind of scary to contemplate the logistics of it all. My Mom has mentioned us living together in the future, for me to take care of her and my dad when they get older. It sort of terrifies me. I love my parents but the thought of the responsibility is overwhelming. It takes so much patience and understanding and surrendering of control (all things that I struggle with!) to look after aging parents. I want to protect and love them but it is also a scary prospect. I like being on my own with my girl. My Mom says it would be ideal to live next door to each other. Each in our own space but close enough to visit all the time. That used to be her dream -- to win the lottery and buy a street of houses and have all her kids living on it. Out of the 4 siblings I was the only one willing to consider living on that street! I am the closest to my Mom and Michelle is very fond of her Gramma and Grampa. 

Michelle was doing a Gospel reading at her school liturgy. I was proud of her and wanted to see her so I went. She was so nervous about the reading. I told her there was nothing to worry about. She didn't have to have it memorized. She had already done piano recitals and even a ballet recital dancing on stage in front of hundreds of people. "But this is different. On the stage with the lights I couldn't SEE the people in the audience. It was just BLACK. And I wasn't up there all alone. Now I'll be able to see everyone. And they'll be watching me stand there by myself. Even the big kids. What if they laugh at me?" "No one will laugh at you." I assured her. Michelle doesn't seem like the shy type. But when it came to stage fright she did get nervous. At least she got to talk to her friends beforehand to settle her jitters. I was disappointed I didn't get to sit with her but I watched her from a distance. I got to talk to one of her friend's Moms. 
Michelle did really well with her reading. I was proud of her. It was a long passage. Some kids just had to say a line or two. She had to read a whole paragraph. It was about the Resurrection. When the women go looking for Jesus' body He isn't there. He has risen from the dead. Giving hope to the rest of us. There is more than this life. This life is messy and heartbreaking and wonderful and terrible and seems so important to us because it's all that we know but it is only a small part of the story. There is the afterlife. Heaven awaits us. We have to make the most of this life. And we don't always get it right. We make mistakes. But we have to at least try to do what we feel is right. I am trying. I am pretty far from perfect. The good news is that I gave up even trying to be perfect. No one is and it is just pointless. All I can be is the real me. "The good, the bad and the hot mess" (to quote Hannah B from the Bachelor, the new Bachelorette!)
"Let go of aiming for perfection. It is much more satisfying and fulfilling to be human." Russ Harris. My therapist recommended this book and I LOVE it. There is a lie/a trap that many of us fall into: the happiness trap -- illusion of perfection and happily ever after. The reality is that it's impossible. Movies and fairytales end with "They lived happily ever after." But it's easy to say that as the credits roll and you don't have to see the couple coming face to face with real life challenges and heartbreaks. We all seem to think we are SUPPOSED to be happy all the time and that if we're not we're somehow defective. When I started therapy that's how I used to think. I thought I shouldn't be scared and sad and angry and that the answer was to rid myself of these unpleasant emotions. I thought if I went through therapy I would be "cured" and would learn how to be happy all the time. I thought that painting unicorns and rainbows and glitter over everything and avoiding my issues and problems would make them go away. It doesn't. The messy business of life will catch up to you. And it is NATURAL and HEALTHY to get upset or angry or sad or to feel afraid. Our emotions are what make us human. People PRETEND to be happy all the time on Instagram. They force a smile and post an inspiring quote and make their lives seem perfect. No one's life is perfect. "If we live a full life , we will feel the full range of human emotions." Russ Harris

So I am trying to find a way to accept and deal with my anger and fear and sadness rather than pretend they're not there. I don't want to be angry all the time. But anger is a sign that something is wrong. If we have a reason to be upset then we should do something or at the very least SAY something about it. Not that we should get bent out of shape over every little thing. This sort of misplaced rage is a sign of other resentments that have been bottled up and are coming out inappropriately. Therapy is tough work. In many ways it is like excavating, doing an archaeological dig. The bones you are searching for are you, the real you that has been buried for so long under unconscious patterns and traps. It is hard to face yourself and confront your issues. I KNOW that I have issues. I fully own that. I am working on them. I am nowhere near done. I don't claim to have it all figured out. In spite of my work on self-care I still beat myself up sometimes. I still have that negative inner critic to deal with. There is a hilarious section of Harris' book that suggests you give a voice to your inner critic. So when my negative voice says "You are a failure" (as it often does for one reason or another!) I hear it in Arnold Schwarzenegger's voice! Or Mickey Mouse's! I tried it and laughed my head off. It helps you to realize that the negative thought is just a thought, they are just words and not reality. You don't have to take it so seriously. 

I don't want to be so hard on myself and others. I don't want to be negative and judgmental. I want to be kind. When people leave me be I can leave them be. When people are kind to me it's easy to be kind. The challenge is when people are rude or cruel. How can you show compassion to an asshole (even if or especially if it's your own brother?) It's tough. I want to be a better person. But I've got my work cut out for me just trying to deal with my own issues (which I fully own) without having to confront anyone else's unacknowledged issues. Sure I'd like to be the bigger person. I'd like to be a Saint. I'm NOT. I wish I was all "Peace and love, man." I really think being a hippie is easier if you're stoned. I don't do drugs. I remember that old 70s song "Get together" by the Youngbloods -- "Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together try to love one another right now." I can't smile on my brother. Literally. I am angry with my brother and I don't see any resolution because he can't even admit he did anything wrong. I don't want to be angry. I want peace. To me the only way that is possible is just to leave each other alone. Live and let live. Agree to disagree. We will never see eye to eye. Just don't interfere with me (or my loved ones or our stuff) and I won't interfere with you. I will gladly leave C and X alone the rest of my life so long as they show me the same courtesy. 

It's so complicated. This post is a complete mess! Rambling, too long, bitter, too personal. The darkness and drama of family conflict interspersed with little happy moments with Michelle. Then again that pretty much sums up March and April: Darkness and light, good and bad. As I write this (still trying to finish the post in mid-late May) it is a strange day. In the morning it was overcast. The sky got so dark it was like night time and I was almost going to get up and put a light on. I thought there would be a thunderstorm but it was eerily silent. Then the sun came out and I thought. Oh, it's going to turn into a sunny day after all (and dang I didn't put sunscreen on Michelle before school because it looked like a dull, rainy day!) Then it got dark again. Then the sun came out again. This is life. The light and dark, yin and yang, good and bad. The sun (like hope, like love and beauty and all good things) is always there but sometimes it's behind the dark clouds. The clouds (like despair and hatred and ugliness and all things evil) can seem to take over the sky and blot everything out but they don't stay. Everything passes. We have to take it all, the light and the dark. It is all part of life. And as the yin and yang symbol shows, positive and negative flow together. They are two halves of the whole. And nothing is wholly positive without a little negative just as no one is completely negative without a little positive. Even the hero has flaws. Maybe even the villain has a good side.

Recently I saw a teaser trailer for the movie "Joker" that's coming out in the Fall featuring Joaquin Phoenix's harrowing portrayal of the infamous villain. It shows the Joker's heartbreaking tragic back story. It is far too dark and disturbing a film to take Michelle to (and I think it's rated R anyway) but it looked fascinating and I'd love to see it. It's easy to see Batman as the good guy and the Joker as just this sick sadistic bad guy in the movies. We never wonder how or why he became that way. Are monsters born or made? Maybe it's a little of both. And maybe even monsters have a little humanity that they keep locked deep inside. We want to paint people as heroes and villains (I've always found labels very enticing as a form of mental short-hand but they're usually not entirely fair. Labels are for envelopes, right? But it's hard not to pigeon hole people and make snap judgments. It can be a defense mechanism. To protect ourselves. "That guy seems like a bad guy. I'll avoid him." As I told Michelle though, you can't always tell. Sometimes even a guy who seems good can really be bad. I call it the "Hans principle" -- think of Hans in Frozen, he seems to really love Anna but is really just plotting to marry and murder her then steal the crown. Vultures can be very charming when they're circling their prey.)

We like to simplify, to see things in black and white terms (as my therapist says it's how I tend to view the world.) Good and bad. But everyone has a back story. Even the villain who may seem so despicable, has his tragic back story. You just don't know it. He just appears heartless. As the saying goes "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about." It's a beautiful sentiment but it's really hard in practice. Especially for someone like me who finds it hard to forgive anyone who hurts me. Maybe I should try to see things from their perspective. Maybe they have their own stuff going on, that is just as difficult or even more painful than what I'm going through. Maybe they didn't mean to hurt me. Maybe they're just clueless, not cruel. Maybe I misinterpret people's actions because it's coming through my filter which is admittedly suspicious to begin with. Perception is reality. What we see and feel and think is real to us. Maybe with more information, maybe with a wider perspective we would understand more. I am not wise, all-knowing, patient, all-loving. I am not a Saint. I get angry at assholes. I can't help it. I wish I could just let things go.

It's not just me. It seems the whole world is fighting with each other. Fighting about politics, religion, money, relationships, everything. Everyone is stressed out. Everything is falling apart. There is so much turmoil. People love to point fingers. Everyone casts him or herself as the victim or hero and the other side as the villain. No one is open to viewing the world from the other person's perspective. Very few people have mastered the ability to be a detached observer. It's hard to be impartial when you're involved. There are three sides to every story -- one side, the other side and the impartial truth. Witness testimony is always iffy at best. Ask 20 people what happened and get 20 different answers. They're not even lying necessarily, it's just the way that they remember events, how it got filtered through their perception, their own unique set of experiences and beliefs and values. We never really know the "whole" story. Is it fair to judge without knowing? Maybe even the so-called villains aren't all bad. Maybe, like the Joker, he had a really good reason. The world can break you. And being broken could humble and soften you or it can harden your heart, make you cold and hard as stone. If we only understood the pain that everyone carries and deals with in their own way, we might feel compassion for them. We might see that they're not all bad. That life hardened them to the point where becoming cold was a survival mechanism. Some people are very good at wearing masks and they will never let you see the real human behind it. Some people are so proud they would rather you see them as cruel heartless assholes than to see them as vulnerable. Vulnerability is seen as weakness. Yet here I am advertising my flaws, writing about my weaknesses, wearing my heart on my sleeve. No wonder people think I'm crazy. Or maybe they see me as a villain. I certainly can be unkind. I speak my mind and I will speak out when I feel like someone has done wrong. But I would never willingly hurt an innocent person. Never. 

Thank you for reading this, if you have actually made it this far down the page! I don't even know how many pages this would be if it were on paper. I just keep scrolling down the screen. I'm sorry for rambling. I'm sorry for all the anger. I know it's not very becoming. This is my dark side. At least I am being honest and it's stuff I need to work through. Writing this has helped me. Just typing all of this crap. I feel lighter. I feel like I can begin to be free of it. It hasn't really resolved anything. (It may even make the situation worse although Mom warned C I'd be posting this and he said he couldn't care less and doesn't go online anyway, so I took that as permission. Not that I needed permission. I am writing this against the wishes of my entire family. I asked my therapist whether I should do it and she circumvented it by answering a question with a question. The bottom line is I am dealing with mental health issues and I have enough stress to deal with. I didn't need all this added drama. And if writing about it is going to help me put it behind me then that's what I have to do.)

I am the first to admit that I am pretty fucking far from perfect. My life is not perfect. The thing is NO ONE'S IS. Even if it looks that way on the surface. I could have just included smiling happy photos with Michelle and pretended life is just hunky dory. (I have never written the words hunky dory and now that I have I realize it makes me sound really old. Of course I am really old. I just had a birthday but I'll save that for the next blog post which will hopefully be much lighter and happier! I will do my best!) In many of my posts that's mostly what I did -- included the photos of the happy moments without saying too much about my darker moments. But I am trying to be authentic. I am overcoming addictions and "control strategies." I am trying to work through my issues and part of that is ACTUALLY FACING AND CONFRONTING MY ISSUES and acknowledging the things that bother me instead of ignoring and avoiding them. The only way OUT is THROUGH. You face the demons instead of pretending they're not there. If nothing else at least I am real. I don't have the time or patience for BS. I want to be who I really am. I just wish that was a more calm, cool, collected and compassionate person. I'm working on it. Obviously I have a LONG way to go. 
Michelle had asked me for a KidiZoom watch/camera thing a number of times in the past but it was too expensive and I didn't really understand how it worked and I thought you needed wifi or an app or something so I just always said no. Then we found it at a liquidation center for less than half price so she talked me into it. I have a hard time saying no to my girl. She had a ball playing games on it, taking photos and videos. She took a picture of herself as a bunny. It was kind of like the Snapchat filters Shannon has on her phone. Michelle would love to have a cellphone or tablet but she's WAY too young. For now she's having fun on her watch. She was SO happy with it. She kept saying "Thank you Mama! I love it! You're the best Mama in the world! You're the best Mama EVER! I can't believe you got me this!" At least when you get Michelle something she is incredibly grateful and appreciative so it's more than worth it. I love making her happy. If I get nothing else right in my life I want to at least do that. Michelle truly is more important to me than anyone or anything. I would literally give her the world if I could. 

You could choose a filter and shoot a video with it too. Michelle chose a mirror one where there were two of her. She tries to explain in the video which one is the "real Michelle" but when she points they both do so you can't tell who the "real" Michelle is. Of course I can tell because I'm her Mom but someone who doesn't know her wouldn't know. Just like people can't tell twins apart. I love this video. It's sort of strange seeing two Michelles. Each of us has two sides. The dark side and light side, good and bad. Our public and private persona. Which is the real us? In a way they both are. We choose what side we show to the world. Or we show it all and risk the world saying we're nuts because how can we show all that stuff?

Well there have been some VERY dark moments here but I'll end with unicorns and rainbows at least! Michelle took this selfie of us with her new Kidizoom watch. It's a little blurry but still cute.

I REALLY want the unicorns and rainbows. If I had my way we'd be living in a Utopia where nothing bad ever happened. Unfortunately these days we're living in a Dystopia where everything is falling apart. I don't want to face the darkness and ugliness of life but sometimes you have to. I used to think the answer was to just be "happy" all the time. But no one is. Sometimes negative emotions are a signal to change, to take action because something isn't right. It's OK to get angry when someone wrongs you. It's OK to speak up. The thing about emotions is that none of them, not even the bad ones, last forever. The uncomfortable feelings (especially if you're able to express them openly) will pass and you will feel better again. No, life is not all unicorns and rainbows. At least now I'm not pretending that it is and I am willing to face the unpleasant feelings, to deal with them head on. I am willing to be honest, to own my issues and my mess. I have come a long way but I still have a lot of work to do and I'm the first to admit that.

The sun is out now! It's a beautiful Spring day. FINALLY. The fresh air brings a feeling of hope. Maybe the dark days are past. Thank you for your patience, for listening/reading if you made it this far! I know it's been A LOT! This has been such a chaotic one! I know it's too angry and too personal. I know I'm probably crazy to put this "out there." I'm sorry for that. I'm working on being a better person but you can see I have my work cut out for me! And this clearing out of mental crap is part of it. It's better to have this out of me. I don't want to carry it anymore. I want to let go. This was the only way. Writing all this has taken a long time and it was rough going but it's been so therapeutic for me. To forgive doesn't mean to condone or accept behaviour. It just means that you let go of its hold on you. Forgive means literally to loosen or untie. I've been tied in knots too long. I want to get back to the peace that I was beginning to find. I needed to get all of this out of me so that I can be free of it. I am pressing publish and I'm not editing out the bad parts. Whatever the fallout may be, I think it's better to say what you feel than to hold it in and let it eat away at you. Hoping to get through this dark patch and find better, brighter days ahead, maybe even a few actual rainbows...