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.

A little Christmas jiggle

It’s funny how much our bodies really take a physical toll from our emotional scars. I’ve noticed lately how much my back hurts, my shoulders, my arms on a Monday morning after carrying Ella around all weekend. How much harder it is to get out of bed just from exhaustion no matter how much sleep I get.

Someone recently said to me how they eat to fill an emotional hole; something I know all too well. After all, I’m the woman who sought solace from the NICU in a bag of Oreos. When the weekends are long and stressful and exhausting I’m like GIVE ME ALL THE SNACKS and frantically try to dig through the cupboards for some semblance of junk food. Of course, I’ve been healthier so yummy soul filling snacks are few and far between now. I’ve been exercising and increasing my weights and walking my butt off; my Fitbit and I are such buds.

But, this morning I got dressed and just saw jiggle. Rolls. Fat. Mounds even. I’m 100% sure that we all have these days, even the most confident must at some point feel as if they’re less on point, justified or not. I recognize these negative thought patterns now and how quickly I can spin out of control, throw in the towel, and shed tears instead of pounds.

I have learned how hard it is to recognize my own value. No matter how hard we resist, we have been told by social and cultural norms that our appearance is our value and that our partners will love us even more if we look damn fine. I’ve given that idea the middle finger; recognizing that it is no one else’s role to make me feel confident than myself. It is up to me to look in the mirror and see strength, determination, and perseverance. And yes, to see how hard it is to not eat my feelings, to not gorge myself on salty delicious snacks (did someone say snacks?), but not to only see the lumps and bumps, the stretch marks, the jiggle. To see the muscles and tone, to see that big god damn smile. To recognize that confidence is beautiful and that I can be confident and curvy.

Today, as my mind whirled, as thoughts of you’re not good enough danced in my head, as images of delicious and unhealthy food floated through my brain, I shoved them aside, put my workout clothes on, and while snowflakes fell from the sky, did Pilates barefoot, stretching my body, feeling it shake, and seeing just how strong this mama is – Christmas jiggle and all.

Fa la la la la

I’ve written about the holidays on several occasions; my first four years ago when I was living in the hospital at this time keeping a watchful eye on those sassy babies living it up in my tummy. Last year, my focus on the holidays was hopeful; with a long year behind me but hopeful for a better year ahead.

This year, as Braeden and I decorated our tiny yet full Christmas tree, I became reflective again, as I always seem to this time of year. As he carefully chose the location for his favourite ornaments; the minions, fire trucks, and Santas, I watched him as his excitement grew that Santa would now see that we’re ready for Christmas. His calm happiness reminding me of the juxtaposition I face with him; so loving and cuddly one minute to explosive anger and frustration the next; how hard I have been working to keep him from being labelled as a challenging kid in class or a behaviour kid. How hopeful I am that this year will bring him peace and allow him to love school again and want to learn and lead.

As he placed Ella’s fairy princess on the table for me to hang, I thought about the year we’ve had, how strong my girl is, how much she has to say and how determined she is to do things on her own, and I look ahead, somewhat sadly, knowing that it is less and less likely that my sweet girl will ever walk on her own, instead finding herself in a wheelchair, something I suspect sooner than later. As people tell me how far her personality will take her, I am hopeful that she too will lead and will break down barriers within so many who place so much value in physical attributes, often missing the very core of what makes people incredible.

Raegan’s ballerina reminded me of her incredible determination and lately I have noticed how much she has changed; gone is my little baby and here is a big girl with wild hair and deep set dimples. Here is a girl who is so happy and wants to be and do everything her brother does. She is sassy and sweet and cuddly and determined and seeing her grow, I am so proud of my former two pound tiny sack of sugar, and I know she has some incredible aces up her sleeve in store for me.

And, this year, I have a new favourite ornament; a small ball filled with purple glitter and the word sparkle on it. It’s really such a core of myself; to sparkle. To bring out an inner fabulousness that fills my life with something beautiful. Many days this year it has been hard to find it, only a glimmer appearing on my darkest of days, trapped within a cloud in my soul, and yet others, the sparkle has been so bright it has opened up my life in ways I did not see possible. I am so hopeful to have that sparkle more; to really feel it and have others feel it. Remember how nobody puts Baby in the corner? Well, it’s about time that this mama take control of her sparkle and not let anyone dim it. After all, ’tis the season to spread love and where better to start than within oneself?

Once a preemie, always a preemie?

Today is World Prematurity Day, our third since the girls were born ten weeks too soon.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on prematurity and its place in our story. I recently spoke on a Parent Panel to share our stories of prematurity and journeys home from the NICU. I caught the tail-end of a former preemie’s talk; that preemies are resilient. And, of course I couldn’t agree more.

Though, as I found myself telling our story, talking to our 80 Days, it was hard to speak some of those words, not because of the pain or the memories, more because of how it doesn’t feel like our truth as much anymore. You would never know looking at my girls now, 36 pounds and three feet tall that they were once so tiny, so terrifyingly small. You wouldn’t see the appointments, the surgeries, the early mornings and late nights. But, you would see the equipment, the AFOs, the difference in these identical girls.

Of course, Ella’s cerebral palsy is directly related to her prematurity, and a more resilient girl I doubt I’ll ever meet. But, our story has evolved.

I often wonder who wears the scars from prematurity the most; those tiny babies bear the physical scars, though they get smaller as the girls grow, but I’d say the parents truly carry those scars. Sometimes almost invisible, hidden behind the busy days, the normal life of families, sometimes a burning red, an overwhelming feeling.

Last night, I met with Ella’s teachers. One of her teachers said how hard it must be to see children with CP who are doing more than Ella can, who are able to successfully walk on their own. At that moment, my scar was burning and I felt as if she knew my parenting shame, the thoughts that make me feel like a terrible human; that yes, it kills me that Ella can’t walk, that she can’t have the surgeries, that my strong, sweet, amazing Ella may never know what it’s like to walk on her own. That she will find herself in a wheelchair soon. How unfair it seems that others can, but my Ella can’t.

My girls, those premature babies, born too soon, surviving so much. Yes, preemies are resilient, but god damn preemie parents are resilient too, after all, where else would they get it from?

It’s all about the sparkle

I have a smattering of freckles and moles, mostly on my arms, that Ella has taken to calling sparkles. At first, I corrected her, as she was trying to say freckle but sparkle was easier. Then, I realized that her calling them sparkle was not only that much more fabulous but just so Ella.

Some people have taken to calling me Glitter Girl as I love glitter and anything sparkly. Love it. LOOOOVE it. Someone once asked me what the deal is with my love of glitter, and when I was thinking about it, I think my love of the sparkle comes from my work. Having always worked in social work, I’ve heard about and experienced many a dark day, sometimes those days making it hard to see anything of lightness in the world, and yet, glitter is a constant reminder to myself that no matter how dark the night, there is always beauty to be found in the world, in people, in life, though sometimes it takes some digging before the true shine comes through.

So, when Ella started calling my freckles sparkles, I was all, “ya damn right, I. am. fabulous. Check out my sparkles!” Then, Ella pointed out her own sparkle on her foot, right by her toe; “Look, Mama! I have a sparkle too!” her face was all lit up and she excitedly giggled. And I thought, if any one could personify sparkle, it’s this girl. This strong as a warrior kid who has been to every hospital in the city twice, whose life is full of equipment and appointments, whose body bears the tiny scars of a terrifying day, and who works harder than any three year old I’d ever met is glitter in a bottle, sparkly from her curly hair to her AFOs.

At my desk, pinned to my board, is the quote, “She who leaves a trail of glitter is never forgotten,” and all I see in this girl’s wake is sparkling glitter, the next generation Glitter Girl.

Oh Mama, you’re doing just fine

So, for those who don’t know, I work in children’s mental health and spend a lot of my time talking about parenting and parenting skills. And all too often am I reminded of my own parenting journey when talking about families.

Since starting school last year, Braeden has had some pretty challenging behaviours that I have thrown every skill and technique in my arsenal at. It’s been exhausting and I’ve definitely questioned my ability to parent, my ability to keep any level of sanity in the house. I was hopeful that this school year would be better, but there were some phone calls from the school within the first couple of weeks and I thought I might lose it.

Instead of totally giving in and berating myself, and him, we talked about how much Mama would like the next phone call home to be something positive that Braeden did that day at school. That’s when he excitedly told me about the postcards his teacher sends when he collect lots of checkmarks. So, every morning I’ve been reminding him about the postcard and about making choices that allow him to bring one home.

Tonight, Braeden excitedly told me he had a surprise for me, when he showed me his first postcard! The look of pride on his face was so incredible and I was so proud of him and happy that he has a moment like this to encourage him to keep up the good work, and really, a moment for me to remind myself that parenting is hard work that even the experts struggle with, and that it’s the little things like this postcard that will keep us both motivated and reminded that we can handle this crazy ride.

And the fact that he was so happy to show me his postcard while all dressed up for picture day was really the icing on the cake.

All the thanks I be giving

Today is Thanksgiving in Canada, and naturally social media is flooded with posts about what everyone is thankful for. Instead of posting a drawn out Facebook status, I figure I’ll write about my thankfulness here.

First of all, I’m thankful for my three curly-haired minions. They can drive me up the wall, but my life has changed for the better since becoming their mama.

I’m thankful to those who have helped me navigate life as a single mum. It’s been a lonely, bumpy, uphill road, and I couldn’t have done it without you.

I’m thankful to have just been able to reconnect with friends and to have been back in Chicago, a city that holds a huge piece of my heart still. I grew so much during my time in Chicago and made ever lasting friends who aren’t afraid to have a few laughs at my expense, or talk to strangers with me at 1 AM.

I’m thankful to have access to incredible health care. Firstly, for keeping my girls safe in my tummy and every day after, and secondly, for the ability to have Ella attending an amazing school and therapists.

I’m thankful to have spent yesterday with extended family and to still have my grandparents in my life, especially thankful to see my kids’ relationships with them. Ella and Great Grandma chatted about earrings, as ya know, you do.

I’m thankful to be employed in the field I am extremely passionate about. Social work is in my bones, and it’s hard to imagine doing much else.

I’m thankful for friends from all walks of life who allow me to be myself. Especially thankful for friends who are truly more like family.

I’m thankful for my city, so full of beauty and grace and history. Thankful to be raising my kids where I grew up and embarking on many memories.

Lastly, I’m thankful for remembering to be thankful. Some days the sun is hard to find behind the clouds and it can be easy to get stuck there. And that’s when you need the people in your life to pull you into the warmth.

That’s not fair!

Ask any parent and I would almost guarantee that their child has a certain behaviour that is like nails on the chalkboard to them. Maybe it’s the fact that they’re a screamer, or that they incessantly yell are we there yet in the car over and over until you want to pull the car over and just say YES WE’RE HERE!

For me, the thing that sends a frisson down my entire body is when my kid yells at me, “That’s not fair!!” It’s like his catchphrase, uttered even in the fairest of situations that just may not be what he wanted. And every time he says that to me, every time I hear those words, I want to sit him down, look him in the eye and tell him what’s really not fair.

See, it’s not fair that Ella has CP. It’s not fair that I have to watch her struggle to be able to do the things that she wants to do. It’s not fair that the world isn’t made for kids like Ella, that it’s made for able bodies, no matter how much one might dream. It’s not fair that there’s therapies and surgeries out there that her doctors don’t see helping her. It’s not fair that for every two steps forward we take, it seems like we’re forced to take a couple hundred back. It’s not fair that I’m doing this all on my own. It’s not fair to be so exhausted and have no one to share life with.

It’s not fair, but it’s life. It’s not fair, but you’ll never hear Ella say that. Ella doesn’t spend much time talking about what she can’t do, instead she tells you what she can and WILL do. Ella takes on every single day with a giggle and a determination that only the strongest warriors possess. Ella’s teachers have the best stories of how hard she works, and though I wish some things could be different, I’m so proud of my tough girl. My sassy princess who sings at the top of her lungs and says hi to strangers on the subway.

It’s not fair, but patience and teaching are paramount in parenting, and so when my kid says that to me over some trivial matter, I remind him how lucky we are, and then I give them snacks, because snacks really do make the world go round.

Give me a second while I readjust my crown

I’ve written a lot about trauma, especially the trauma that accompanies a premature birth. I think a lot of the post secondary trauma I’ve experienced in the girls’ lifetime is related to their birth; more so than the NICU stay. Maybe it was the suddenness of the delivery versus the time I had to adjust to the NICU life, or maybe it was the feeling of loneliness involved with the delivery, the feeling of being stuck in a tunnel and just having to wait and see when and where you would exit.

For the last two and a half years, I’ve had a hernia. Not really a super big deal, it just kind of became like my annoying pet that would sometimes get obnoxious before simmering down again. I didn’t think too much of it until it was my time for surgery. Then, it wasn’t just routine day surgery, but more of a return to the same hospital, the same hallways, the same loneliness that accompanied the girls’ delivery, and truth be told, it was those things that made me anxious, that filled me with a coldness and a dread that was so hard to explain to others. The responses of oh but it’s routine and you’ll be fine and won’t it be nice to have it dealt with made me feel more anxious, and slightly crazy. Of course it’s routine. Of course I’ll be fine. Of course it’ll be nice to get rid of that nagging pet. But you’re speaking logic to a woman whose heart is trapped in a moment three and a half years ago and who can’t catch a breath.

The morning of the surgery I went alone to the hospital, checked in and changed into my oh so fashionable gown. I was asked at least seven times who was there with me. The nurses couldn’t understand how I could be alone, their looks of pity almost rendering me to tears. The seconds dragged and then I was being wheeled through the hospital, peeking out over my feet, just like when I was moved to the operating room to birth the girls. The porter talking to me and me tying to catch my breath to answer him, to not be rude. And then after a years of this annoying little pest, it was as if time zoomed forward and I was in an operating room again. The coldness the same as last time, chilling to the bone. Laying on the table, then the arm rest, the same as my c section. I was given oxygen except it felt like I was suffocating, the ceiling and walls closing in on me, a tear streaming down my left cheek as I tried to remember to breathe, a reflex touch to my belly, except, no that isn’t now, that was then, and instead of waiting to see two tiny dark haired girls appear above me on a screen, my eyes fixed on the surgical lights. Then, nothing.

That moment, the moment when the walls were closing in on me, the ceiling feeling inches away, was the loneliest I have ever felt. With no hand to hold or comforting voice and a room full of people unaware of how major this was-I felt utterly alone, not just physically, but in my soul. I awoke, dizzy, feeling that there should be a face I would see, but instead just the time blazing at me in red.

I’m not sure that the physical healing has been as hard as the emotional. I have wallowed this week in that sadness, and forgot about my suit of armour, my warrior queen status. How easy I find it is to forget that I walk through life every day with a god damn crown on. How we have survived as a family through the ugliest and darkest of days because I’m leading us forward. How sometimes wearing that crown is lonely and the weight is hard to manage, yet I still remain the queen; a queen with all her faults. And so, as a reminder to always put on my crown and armour, I got the simplest of tattoos in a place I will always see, a place to always remember my warrior queen status.