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.

Advertisements

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.

Happy birthday, little bear

Six years ago, you made me a mum in an epic delivery story that literally involved me being wheeled down the hall ER style before you were born in the middle of the hallway surrounded by onlookers.

You burst into this world and every day since you’ve been asking questions, figuring things out with a never ending curiosity.

Unlike me, you are extroverted; talking to everyone and always making friends. But like me, you are empathetic and compassionate, calm and a bucketful of energy.

I am so proud of the little man you are becoming, or not so little as you tower over your classmates. You are picking up French and excited to learn. You are adapting to change and learning how to handle emotions in the most challenging of times.

You are hilarious and silly but serious about building and the Pittsburgh Penguins. It seems like only yesterday I had you in the baby carrier and now you want to wear shirt and ties.

I long to see who you will become, but also willing time to slow down ever so slightly to soak up more moments with you and your sisters.

Happy 6th birthday to the boy who made me a mum, the boy who keeps me on my toes, and the boy who filled my heart the first time we met. You’re one of a kind, kid, and I’m so proud to be your mama.

Oh motherhood, how you’ve saved me

Admittedly, there are lots of things that children can make difficult; sleeping in, dating, staying up past 9 PM, and finding any relevant solo time. For single parents, we don’t get the opportunity to tag team; to switch off when we’re tired, sick, or just downright done. We are on all the time. Middle of the night nightmare cuddles? Yup. Tantrum at the grocery store full of people judging and staring? You better believe it. Phone calls home from school? Absolutely! It’s constant, and it is mentally and physically exhausting and that’s before even going to work.

But, as someone who struggles with having mental health concerns; trauma, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, I really believe that my kids have saved me. There are days when I feel it in my bones, the extreme loneliness, the isolating thoughts from my OCD and depression, the physical and mental scars burning into my flesh that the idea of getting out of bed seems overwhelming. But, knowing that there are three tiny humans who need me, who need their mama to not only be there physically, but to be present in the moment, it fuels me.

Admittedly, we often find ourselves in survival mode; there is so much to do between work and three different schools and meetings and appointments that just getting through the day seems to be more than the average human can muster. Yet, we manage. In our own crazy way, we push and pull through survival to thriving.

There are days that I look at my daughters and I am simply amazed by them, by their strength, their determination. Those two fought to survive and I feel it is my duty as their parent to show them how wonderful and bright the world can be. To show them double rainbows and the wonders of hot chocolate with marshmallows. No, there will be no more surviving for those two. At one time I wasn’t sure Ella would ever see outside, would ever breathe air outside the hospital, and now, there is no stopping the dreams I have for all three of my kids.

And then there’s Braeden, so big it is hard to believe he was born under seven pounds. I see how much he struggles with feelings and how strong they can be; a trait I believe must come from me. To be overwhelmed with feeling is something I know almost daily, but I have learned to adapt and he will too.

Today began as a dark day – tears and hollowness and then my daughters were in the car singing together, and giggling and Braeden skated, something he has been so scared to do and was just so proud. And they lit me up. Those crazy, off the wall monkeys, they keep me grounded and on my toes but they have kept my soul warm and my heart full, and I am the lucky one who gets to be their mama.

Happy 4th Birthday, baby girls!

Today, my dear sweet girls, you turn four. You have turned the last four years into one hell of an adventure and I expect nothing less for your futures.

Four years ago today, at this time, I hadn’t yet met you. Instead, I was being prepped for my c-section; terrified of what was to come, scared for my tiny babies whose hearts weren’t beating much. But then, you came, two dark-haired warrior princesses. And through thick and thin, we’ve been together. Through the darkest of days, you have made me smile and laugh.

To Raegan, my Itty Bitty one;

Never change. Always be your eccentric, sassy, loving self. I hope your curly hair continues to grow as wild as you. You are so silly, loving, and kind and want to do everything your big brother does. Your love of pandas and babies and dolls is as fun to watch as your love of cars and trucks. You love princesses and especially the bad ass ones, which is of no surprise to me. May you continue to grow and learn. May you explore the world knowing that I will always be here to bandage your cuts and scrapes. May your smile warm other’s hearts as much as mine, and I hope your excitement for life continues to grow as you do.

You will always be my tiny fighter.

To Ella, my big hearted warrior;

May the world know your laughter more than your tears. May you find yourself growing in a place that will accept you and love you for who you are and all that you can do. You have been a fighter since birth and so empathetic to others, so kind hearted and understanding. I hope that never changes; hope your compassion and lightness of heart stays with you always as you navigate a world built to exclude you. I yearn to watch you grow and to become your own advocate more and more. I cannot wait to see you moving on your own. I hope that you always ask questions and that you love finding the answers. I can’t wait for us to explore the world together.

You will always be my big, brave girl.

I am so lucky to be your Mama, girls. My life is a whole new adventure I never saw coming but wouldn’t change for the world as I get to watch you become the people you are meant to be. I love you baby girls, my fighters from birth, my sassy monkeys, my heart. Happy birthday, girls 💕

Happy New Year, Mama

Tomorrow marks yet another year and even more new year, new me pledges. Of course, we all recognize that change is hard but there’s a deep seeded desire to change things; to not remain status quo. This year has been a hard one to witness; a year full of social movements fueled by the daily assaults and microaggressions faced by thousands, a President whose office has sickened me every day where I cannot handle watching the news anymore, countless natural destructions, and the loss of many. It has been difficult to parent in this state of unrest, difficult to sometimes find the goodness in others, and for many of us, difficult to find the ability in ourselves.

So, of course Happy New Year to one and all, but I’d like to leave a note in particular to my fellow mamas.

Happy New Year, Mama. Happiness to you and your loved ones as the year starts fresh. May your littles be tucked into bed at midnight and may a smile or snore find you come the strike of the clock. May your heart be full of light and ready to hold steadfast as the North Star of your family. My biggest wish for you and I is to know how badass we are, how our parenting may be nothing alike but we’re holding it down for our tribe in the best way we know how. And may judgmental glances bounce off our glittering souls as we recognize that we’re doing a fantastic job that is usually thankless, and often unnoticed until we’ve essentially screwed up or let one ball in our constant juggling act bounce to the ground.

Happy New Year, single Mama. You tough as nails strong souled woman who is probably, like me, entering this year feeling exhausted down to your core. My biggest wish for you and I is for us to one day know our strength. For you to wake up, look in the mirror and see your cape flapping behind you. I hope we can see how we’re superheroes; how parenting isn’t meant for one and how it is beyond necessary to remember we are human with our own hopes, dreams, and aspirations and we are allowed to feel loss that we are in this alone, to acknowledge that this isn’t what we pictured for ourselves, or our kids.

Happy New Year, caregiver Mama. For every mum who is caring for a child with different needs, whether it be illness, disability, or injury, may this year bring you and I peace. May we wake up without tears, but with hope. May the grief we experience for our child be lessened; may we recognize that our kid’s awesomeness is at least in part to our own. My biggest wish for you and I is to have a year where we compare our stories less with others’. May the heartbreak we experience as we see other families be lessened, may we know that there is no perfect day, no perfect life. May we see our child’s strength and begin to recognize our own.

If nothing else this year, I hope that I and all the mums in my life, fighting their own battles, wiping their own tears locked in their rooms, know that this job will never get easier, not really, but we can handle it. If we can handle the side eye and the calls from school and the tantrums at the mall, it’s because we were built to handle it, those stretch marks on our tummies or dark eye circles proof that our bodies are strong enough for whatever shit gets thrown our way.

Happy New Year, Mama. May you keep being the mum you need to be and start loving yourself as much as you allow yourself to love others, you deserve it.

This little light of mine

In all the craziness of this time of year; the wrap up at work, present buying, birthday and Christmas celebrations, wrapping, wrapping, and more wrapping it is easy to get swept up into the madness of the holidays. Every night has been filled with either baking goodies to give out or wrapping presents, after spending a day working and living the glamorous mum life.

But, other things have to get done too, and as the girls move from preschool to Junior Kindergarten, I have decisions to make. Raegan doesn’t need to register for school yet, but as I’d like Ella to be enrolled in a school program with therapeutic elements and reverse inclusion, her application is due sooner. So this week, I met with Ella’s teachers to complete the application and naturally this includes areas of strength for Ella and other areas of difficulties.

Ella’s teachers started by telling me how empathetic Ella is; how much she cares for the other kids and wants to include them; how she offers them a hand when they’re sad. They told me about how curious she is; always asking why something is the way it is. They told me how determined Ella is; how she will attempt to army crawl throughout the whole school just so she can be independent. As much as the idea is difficult and upsetting, one of the reasons I’d like Ella to be in a wheelchair is for her own independence; for her to be able to move around on her own.

Ella’s teacher described her body as not being as strong as her mind; something that is true, though difficult to hear nonetheless, how no matter how determined that girl is, her body has limitations that she tries to push through, often completely exhausting herself. Her list of goals for next year is really focused on building that strength for her to gain more independence, something most 4 year olds are really craving.

But it was when her teacher described Ella as a fighter – no matter what, fighting to use her right hand, fighting to sit up straight, fighting to walk a little further in her walker, or fighting to keep going despite it all – that I really flashed back to that tiny baby born too soon. I told them, then, that Ella has been a fighter since birth; literally fighting to survive, the tiniest baby I had ever seen demonstrating a strength and desire to live that I had never seen before, or since.

Because the simplest truth about Ella is that she is a fighter, but she’s also incredibly smart and bright, she’s happy and loving and longing to experience life. Ella is the brightest light on any dark day and I’m lucky to call her my daughter.