Dear body, I promise I am trying not to hate you so much

I was recently in Panama where it was sweltering and called for wearing bathing suits 90% of the day when not meeting sloths and monkeys, of course.

I, like most people, am not the biggest fan of bathing suits, especially when worn in front of others. However, a couple years ago I started saying eff it to most of my clothing discomforts, including shorts and showing my legs. So, ironically at 35 after three kids, I found myself wearing probably the skimpiest bathing suit I have ever worn. And it is definitely not possible to hide your stretch marks or cellulite in a bathing suit, but honestly, when have you ever looked at someone and judged them for having cellulite? I know I haven’t, so why would I be kinder to everyone else than myself?

It is a bit sad how quickly vacation mentality can disappear though because as soon as I was back, I was poking my stomach and hating the way my clothes fit and wondering why my triceps aren’t looking as fit as my biceps. But the same week, someone sent me an old picture of us, about 8 years ago, before kids, before turning 30, and when I generally had way more free time and I was shocked at how I looked. Seeing that photo jostled me back to reality and made me recognize how much I have put into myself. I may never reach and maintain my “goal weight” and I will probably always have cellulite and a bit of a tummy, no matter how little food I eat or how much I exercise. One thing that has changed is the amount of weight that I am lifting; in most cases two to three times heavier than when I first started LIIFT4. A pretty proud moment for myself as I have to acknowledge that I am physically stronger and I continue to work daily on my emotional and spiritual strength.

I have to recognize as well that having children has made me hyper aware of how everyone talks about bodies in general and how the conversation around exercise and eating well are about being healthier as opposed to being thinner. Raegan told me about how one of her friends at school called someone else fat and we talked about how that felt and how being a bystander to those kind of comments also feels. I think we all need to do better about being kinder to each other and to ourselves so that we remember how amazing and poweful and strong we are, stretch marks and all. How we all look different and that is exactly what makes life fun and exciting as opposed to having carbon copies of each other.

While my body and I have always had a tumultuous relationship, this body has birthed three beautiful humans, it has taken me to tops of mountains and hidden beaches tucked amongst caves, it has been pushed and shoved and name-called, it has walked and swum and danced, it has been a source of sadness and of pride, it houses scars and wounds and artwork, it has shed tears, but has laughed and laughed, and never let me down yet. I guess I really am as strong as a mother.

The skimpy suit in question, Panama 2019

Advertisements

I can assure you, there is absolutely nothing wrong with my daughter

I think most adults are terrified of the moment when their child starts noticing differences and then promptly points them out (very, very loudly) or asks questions about them. The general feeling within the accessibility community is actually that your child should ask questions in order to learn and that adults should model how we can ask questions and gain new understandings in a respectful manner.

I completely understand the wonderment of kids; everything is so brand new to them. However, what I don’t really understand are the adults who stop me, point at my child and ask, “What’s wrong with her?” I can assure you, there is absolutely nothing wrong with my daughter, you, on the other hand, I couldn’t say.

I have heard for years that so many assume that a wheelchair automatically means a cognitive or developmental delay as well, and, unfortunately I see how early that assumption is made and how my daughter, at only five years old, is already battling stereotypes. Ella is not cognitively or developmentally delayed in any way; she is bright among her many attributes, so she understands exactly what people are saying, and exactly what my response is. So, while I want to tell people off through sobs of anger, frustration, and sadness, instead I respond after a beat, “Absolutely nothing, but she does have Cerebral Palsy.” I have had to say this to ten different people in the last two weeks, Ella will most likely be saying it her whole life, and soon Braeden and Raegan will be saying it as well.

It has always saddened me that people will see her chair first or ask, “but will she ever walk?” when Ella is this hilarious, sassy, empathetic, and brave girl. Friday she performed in her class play, nailing her delivery with enthusiasm and I can honestly see her entering the world of entertainment as she loves performing and making people smile. She is a superstar, as are Braeden and Raegan in their own ways as well.

Let me assure the world again how there is nothing wrong with our family; we march to the beat of our own drum, while also singing loudly and inventing our own games. We are a bit wild and nutty, but my kids will always have each other’s backs and when tested, the mama bear will come out and I will protect those monkeys no matter what, cause my kids sassiness didn’t just come from nowhere.

One is the loneliest number

Today I turn 35. I suppose it is official; I am an adult. Raegan has been asking me lately what I want to be when I grow up, and while I tell her I’m pretty sure I’m fully grown, I do have moments of wonder about the next part of my life’s adventure.

My only work experience has been in non-profits, but it is a dying field of lost funding and new graduates who see social work as armchair therapy as opposed to in the trenches, and the drama of work often seeps so deeply into my bones that I can feel them ache. Removed from clients, it can be hard to remember why I do what I do, hard to remember what change I have helped create in some. But as an adult with only one field’s experience, where do I go from here? Could I ever see the day where my writing could actually pay the bills? With the kids on my own, it feels like an impossible leap, too dangerous to step out onto the ledge. And yet, my soul has been so tired, so overwhelmed, so empty at times that finding words to say has been exhausting.

I have not been avoiding today or ever been one to care much about the number, after all age is just a reflection of life experiences, but I find I am growing so impartial to celebrations. The words no one will ever love you often echo through my mind, the words that kept me in a rough place for so long. They are, unfortunately, reinforced in the few times that I have allowed myself to try and believe otherwise, to have hope in a few words, that split second before it all comes tumbling down again, and alas, I remind myself, I am alone.

I am sad for the kids, that they miss out on that experience, and sad for others who can’t see past the hard times for those amazing moments where having these three wild monkeys in your life is the single greatest feeling of all, and sad for myself, who wanted something more and left something terrible with so much hope, only to find more sadness and loneliness.

I am weary of the future, but so hopeful for something more. A partner who makes me smile, a career that allows me to flourish, kids who are confident and make an impact on the world. So, tonight, I blew out one candle and made a wish, and here’s hoping that wish comes true, and that I will be welcoming and ready for it.

As I moved Ella to bed tonight, holding her in my arms like a baby, she snuggled in and said, “Happy Birthday, Mama. You’re the bestest Mama ever!” And really, how am I not supposed to completely melt at that moment, recognizing that with the hard days come the good, and moments like that are just for me, maybe one day that will change, but for now, they’re all mine.

Happy 5th birthday, baby girls!

Today the girls turn 5 years old! It is hard to believe that 5 years ago, they were the tiniest things I have ever seen, just over two pounds each, and now they are 40 pounds, tall, and chock-full of personality (and curly hair.)

The last few months have been extremely busy but also exciting; the girls started Junior Kindergarten and adjusted to school really well. Ella got her wheelchair and is getting better at navigating it – steering is not the easiest!

They are making their own friends at school, picking their favourite parts of school, and learning all kinds of new things. While still loving unicorns and princesses, Raegan asked for makeup at Christmas and the girls asked to get their ears pierced for their birthdays. They really are getting to be big girls.

I got to see Ella using her school’s walker in gym class; she putted around the gym chasing her friends and giggling and when she spotted me through the glass window, she started telling everyone; “that’s my mama! Look! There is my mama!”

I am always so amazed at how far these girls have come, how strong they have been even from birth, and how brave they sometimes have to be with appointments or life in general. But, they are still little and sometimes it doesn’t seem that long ago that they both napped on me during the day. Time is an incredible thing sometimes; just when you think you have it figured out, five years have passed and you’re not even sure how. I don’t want time to speed up at all but I am curious what the girls will ultimately do in life, what will draw their attention, because as Dr. Seuss says, kid, you’ll move mountains, and I cannot wait to see.

The year that was

It feels like it has been forever since I have put pen to paper, metaphorically of course, and that really is to do with just how busy we have been this year (and last year, and the year before…)

I am consistently reminded that my babies are no longer actual babies; the girls are about to turn 5 in a week and Braeden will be 7 in February. They are tall and boisterous and full of their own personalities.

I am incredibly proud of Braeden this year. His behaviour at school improved tremendously and he started talking more about his feelings and asking lots and lots of questions about our family and our lives. He is so bright and energetic and equally loves sports and animals and science. Some days he looks 12 and others I get flashes of him as a baby. He recently learned to read and is working on his lettering. His French is improving but he is not at all a fan of homework nor am I a fan of chasing after him to do it.

Raegan is loving Junior Kindergarten. She is one sassy lady who can be challenging at times as she equally wants to be her brother and do what he does and be as far away from him as possible. She has discovered a new love of makeup and doing hair and nails which again reminded me that they are getting older but princesses still reign supreme here. Raegan too is not much of a fan of writing, but she loves going to the library every week and picking new books.

Ella is absolutely loving school. She goes swimming weekly and rides an adapted bike which is her favourite thing ever. I watched her in gym class, in a new walker, moving herself along and giggling hysterically. Ella got her wheelchair recently and she adores it. She loves the ability to be somewhat independent and her favourite thing to do now is to take her brakes off and wheel herself away from me, giggling. She is still loving Jasmine above all but also loves music and plays the ukele every day, singing along.

And for myself, well, I survived. It has been a year full of many ups and downs and an extremely busy schedule at home and at work has left me feeling exhausted and a bit depleted. I have committed to being kinder to myself in 2019, though I am stressed as we move into the new year with so many things on my plate already. Looking back, I am incredibly proud of myself for many things this year, including attending therapy, but mostly for my solo trip to Puerto Vallarta in May where I took a boat trip to the Marieta Islands and was the first one to take a flying leap off the side into the Pacific in order to swim through a tiny cave to a hidden beach only few get to see every day. After swimming through the treacherous and dangerous waters with nothing but my arms, legs, and sheer determination, I know I can handle pretty much anything this topsy turvy universe is gonna throw at me.

And finally, today, digging through my apartment I found my sonograms of the girls and of Braeden. I showed them and they were so amazed and surprised at how small they were. The girls loved the picture of their two heads next to each other, and I was amazed at how long ago that seems, that Christmas and New Year’s spent in the hospital before their surprise births only a few days later. So much has happened in five years, and who is to say what is in store for us next but as this year was filled with so many adventures, so much laughter, and yes, many tears, I can only hope that we are as lucky next year as we continue to be one little family of wild animals.

Amazing Ella is off to Kindergarten

Ella has officially graduated from preschool! On her last day of school, all the parents and caregivers came and watched a video of the previous year followed by a graduation ceremony to say au revoir to preschool and get ready to start Junior Kindergarten in September.

As I watched the video play, I kept an eye on Ella who excitedly clapped for her friends when she saw them onscreen or gently patted their shoulders or legs to cheer them on. As her pictures filled the screen of her various adventures over the school year, I teared up looking at my amazing Ella.

There she was, a smiling, cheerful 4 year old who once struggled so much to survive that I wasn’t sure if she would ever see life outside of the hospital walls. But not only has she survived, she has thrived as her own little rainbow of sunshine and lollipops that fills the air with giggles and songs.

I teared up hearing Ella’s teachers asking her what they would do without her next year and as one of her friend’s dads told me that my daughter is amazing. And she is, people fall in love with Ella and her cheery disposition everywhere they go. On the weekend at a family event, Ella laughed and played with a guest and then gave her a big hug, as the woman told her that she would never forget playing together, and I don’t doubt that she will.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if Ella had been born first. What if Raegan had CP and not Ella? I imagine Raegan’s frustrations at wanting to do all of the things RIGHT THIS SECOND, but mostly I just think how suited Ella is to having Cerebral Palsy, almost as if fate intervened and said that girl, that one with the sunny disposition, she can handle it. Her frustrations exist but are usually replaced by her excitement at doing almost anything, and even in her crankiest and most exhausted moments, Ella always knows what others need. After her Botox injections, I said to Ella how proud I was of her for being so brave, and she said to me, “I’m so proud of YOU, Mama!” and it was exactly what I needed in that moment of chaos and worry and fear.

As I looked at Ella in her cap and gown, I see such an amazing little girl. A girl who beat the odds, who fought the fight, who sings on the subway, and who will change people’s perceptions of what it means to have Cerebral Palsy and to have different abilities. In short, my amazing Ella will impact the world, and this is only the beginning of her journey.

Happy Father’s Day, Mama

I think it was last year that I received my first ever message of Happy Father’s Day. It wasn’t ever something I had ever really thought of; us singles celebrating both Mother’s and Father’s Days until that moment.

I know several other single mamas, and a couple single dads, whom I’ve chatted about this with. Not all single parents take on the role of both parents because they don’t need to, but there are many of us who do. Not only do we never get a sparring partner or someone to tag team when we’re sick/tired/fed up, we also have to be both good guy and bad guy. We have to be equal parts nurturer and disciplinarian. And quite frankly, old ideas of gender and parental norms have no place anymore as my role as “mother” isn’t instantly noticeable from my role as “father.” Basically, I’m just trying to raise some decent humans and that means accessing all parts of myself while trying to maintain my sanity.

At the beginning, I would say we were just surviving; trying to figure out what the hell life was going to look like, but now we’re thriving. We are our family, just the four of us, and while it would be amazing to have a positive male presence and role model in their lives, I’ve come to understand that that probably doesn’t mean romantic partner for myself. We would definitely welcome others into our fold with open arms, but we don’t need anyone else. We definitely don’t need a knight in shining armour or any such nonsense, cause I got this. That’s not to say I’m some super human parent laughing in the face of adversity; shit gets real around here all too much, but we have our routines and our inside jokes and our special moments. We have trips to the zoo and walks to the movies, we have picnics on our living room floor, and afternoons spent braiding hair and doing nails, and yes that includes Braeden.

There is a sense of loss for my kids and I know that, particularly for my son who finds today triggering. But we talk and apparently my son’s vocabulary for feelings and understanding of feelings is advanced for his age, so cheers to my Master of Social Work for that. There’s a small ache in all of us, including myself, as I sit on the sidelines as my friends and family get to watch their partners parent, for my friends with children with different abilities, seeing them altogether battling, as a family, brings a lump to my throat.

So yes, some of us do damn well take on both parenting roles. All the time. And it’s exhausting and overwhelming and sometimes crap, but also, it’s all the cuddles and giggles and dimples to ourselves and when our kids turn out to be decent humans, we’ll know where they get it from.

Adventures in Mexico

I recently got back from a trip to Puerto Vallarta. I fell heads over heels in love with Mexico last year when I stayed in the Mayan Riviera, and was excited to see another part of the incredible country.

The trip was the cumulation of recognizing how done I was with everything; work, home, life. My stress level was beyond high with little sleep and total body, mind, and soul exhaustion.

I’m in that age where pretty much everyone I know is married or partnered and those who are not are still enjoying the single life with no kids. Being single and looking more to chill than party, my travel partners were limited but ultimately I decided to go on my own, and that probably was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

You know how you can get into a routine and mostly just wander through life in a series of this then that then that other thing and you realize where did that week even go? I feel that that has been going on for awhile, constantly feeling like I’m forgetting something. All of that just stopped in Mexico; I had no timetable, no agenda, no real plans except sun and water and not making a single meal. I could sleep in (it never happened), I could eat when and what I wanted (that definitely happened), and I could go on as many adventures outside of the hotel as I wanted or could just lay by the pool for a whole week.

Ultimately, I went on a couple of adventures because that’s what I’m like and I’m so glad I did. The first, a trip into the Pacific on a speed boat to the Marieta Islands, protected islands where you can snorkel and swim amongst the massive rock formations. On our way out to the islands, two dolphins jumped and twirled in the air, reminding me of the girls. The highlight was jumping into the treacherous and incredibly strong waters, the current pushing and pulling you to the point where it felt as if you weren’t even moving. A swim through a small cave to a hidden beach that only 100 people a day are allowed to visit. The sand felt incredible, especially since for awhile the swim was so challenging I wasn’t totally sure we would ever make it home again. Once I got back on the boat, heart pounding and out of breath, I realized how proud I was of myself. Of my bravery for being the first one in the water, of my swimming for making it through the cave and back again, and for just giving it a try without a hand to hold.

My other adventures took me into town, wandering the boardwalk and then through the cobblestoned streets, admiring street art, and sucking back a mango popsicle in the heat. I walked the entire town and back to the hotel, being offered fresh pineapple on the side of the road, and encountering a wandering chicken. I spoke Spanish and bought food and souvenirs for the monkeys. Everywhere was more beautiful than the next; water and mountains and kind smiling faces.

I took a bus into the jungle, where I spoke with an older man and a horse before dining on some amazing food and finding myself in a tequila distillery surrounded by lush greens, horses, and beautiful flowers as bananas grew nearby.

I salsa danced, made jewelry, ate, swam, sung along with live bands, read, and started every morning with champagne. I spoke to other tourists and made friends with locals. I spoke Spanish and tanned and I felt my soul being filled as I felt like myself for the first time in probably forever. I was alone but never once felt lonely, a feeling that accompanies me almost everywhere I go and every day I parent on my own, yet in Mexico, it felt as if my soul was on fire and was properly being nourished for the first time in a long time.

Of course, I returned to real life, but with a vow not to allow myself to go so long before taking care of myself, before filling my own cup so that I can full others’ with ease. I may not be in Mexico, but I will feed my soul, and I’m going to start with salsa lessons, as there is no better way to feel on fire than some Latin dancing, and if I happen to grab tacos and margaritas after each class, then so be it.

A smattering of memories…..

Oh mama, mama, mama

I recently saw a quote about motherhood; a woman recalling that her favourite meals with her mum growing up were the cheese and cracker nights with cut up apple, having a picnic on the floor in front of the TV. When she told her mum that, she was floored, “But, those were my fail days, the days I couldn’t get my shit together.” In those fail days, memories were made, but her mum was probably racked with guilt that the dinner wasn’t planned, wasn’t up to snuff in her head, that the TV was on, that she was probably exhausted. Too exhausted to even notice that those might be the moments her daughter would remember.

Motherhood is nothing short of many fail days in our eyes, but to our kids we really are supermums. We kiss the boo-boos better, we soothe the nightmares, pack the lunches, give the tickles, read the stories, and share in our kids’ dreams. For every day we feel shitty about ourselves as parents, our kids are looking at us to help guide them, care for them, and love them.

For my fellow single mamas, we do it all with no breaks and no one to tag team with us. We pay the bills, we save for university, we get all the fail days, but we also get all the hugs, all the kisses, all the hilarious stories. Unless you’ve lived it, you don’t know it. And we are like a sisterhood of breaking down barriers and beliefs that others hold. We work tirelessly to keep our families strong and to ensure we just keep swimming. We do it without thanks or the help or support or love of a partner and Mother’s Day is usually just like any other for us until our kids are old enough to start to fathom our experience. But we are tough and raising some amazing humans and when they grow up to be something incredible, we can say, I did that.

To all the special needs mamas, here we have found ourselves living a new different life. A life of therapies, surgeries, equipment, doctors, and hospitals. A life of worry and sometimes of grief over what may never be. We are the strongest of the strong. A life many will never understand and we wouldn’t want them to. We were thrust into becoming more because our beloved children needed more. And they always will. They may always need our hand to hold, but we will be strong together. This week, Ella received her first Botox injections and after I told her how brave she was, how proud of her I am, to which she replied, ” I’m proud of you too, Mama.” Together, we got this. I am strong because she is strong and she is strong because she got it from her mama.

So to all the mamas, all the mamas to be, all the women wishing they could be mamas, those who have found themselves in the motherhood through chance, circumstance, love, or fate, today I salute you. For all the days we fail, all the days we are super, all the days we got our shit together and especially the days we don’t, the days we miss the school concerts, the days work has drained us, the days the dishes just don’t get done, the days we advocate for our kids, the days we demand better, the days we need another glass of wine, the days we laugh, the days we cry, the days we feel alone, and the days we feel loved. To all the days it takes to be a mama, you got all of them. Be easy on your soul and your heart and know you got this.

The day that could have been

March 20th, the first day of spring, and the girls’ due date four years ago. I often reflect on this day as it gets closer. The day doesn’t cut as deep as it once did, especially the first two years; when they were still in the NICU and their due date came and went and the following year where I recognized how strange it was to only have one year olds developmentally when we had already celebrated their birthdays two months before.

Today I wonder about this day. The day that could have been. If the girls hadn’t been born so early, if this day was their birthday and today we celebrated turning four, what would have changed? I wonder about the girls’ personalities, so ingrained since they were still holding down the fort in my belly, but would the resilience be there? Would they still be so empathetic? Would they be the same if their lives hadn’t started too soon?

Raegan recently had an appointment and the nurses kept saying how calm she was! How patient! Most kids won’t sit still! And knowing that normally that girl is a ball of energy I wondered if that calmness came from the experience of being through the gamut as a tiny baby and then after as she grew. Did being born premature normalize being in a hospital more than it would for other kids? Are those beeps and bells a comfort that connects her to her own experience that she couldn’t even remember?

For Ella, has the challenge of physical limitations made her love life more? Her infectious laugh at some of life’s silliest moments could be because her view of life and the world shifted when she had to work just that much harder to get the things that she wants.

There’s no way of knowing for sure, of course, but I suspect that those girls are who they are because they were born ten weeks early, because it took them 80 days to breathe fresh air and have spent years going from hospital to hospital and appointment to appointment that their beings were changed slightly in the best way because I couldn’t have asked for two happier, sillier, funnier, more loving, or empathetic girls, and of course that day changed me, those 80 days changed me, and I couldn’t parent in the way that I do if we didn’t all become resilient together.

And so, happy due date, baby girls, no matter the coulda woulda shouldas, I wouldn’t change a thing about you.