Father’s Day

My parents divorced when I was just a baby. I lived with my mother full time, and saw my dad every other weekend.

He travelled for work and spent lots of time on the road. But on Fridays, when it was my weekend with him, I remember sitting on the back of the couch staring out the window, waiting for him to come pick me up. I’d get into the car, and it was usually Q107, classic rock, on the radio. A song would come on, and he’d ask me, “Do you know who sings this song?” I rarely knew unless it was Kim Mitchell. I think this is where my affinity for good music came from.

On the weekends we would go fishing, go for bike rides, do our routine Saturday morning grocery shop, along other things. My dad taught me how to bait a hook, how to cast, how to gut and fillet a fish, how to do laundry, how to cook, how to sew – yep, even sew.

My dad would take me on our yearly summer, and sometimes winter, trip to Agnew Lake Lodge where we would spend a week on the boat and in the water. Some of my greatest memories came from this place, with my dad.

My dad is a soft spoken man, never yelled, and was rarely angry. Every opportunity was one for learning, and he was a wealth of knowledge.

In my wreckless teen years, my dad intervened after I dropped out of school and took me from my mother’s custody. I went from directionless to enrolled back in high school in a matter of two days. I became an honor roll student, and even dropped my lunch period to take on as many classes as I could to get caught back up.

My dad gave me the direction I needed; the solid foundation I needed to stand on to get ahead. He instilled a work ethic in me and drive to be better; to do better.

My dad walked me down the aisle last year, and I was never more honoured to share a moment with such a man. He quietly coached me to put one foot in front of the other, and to just breathe. He had a father/daughter dance with me and talked me through my tears. He gave a speech to honour the marriage and talk about me as a daughter, and how I lacked commitment to the sport of skiing – but surely had commitment to avoiding it ever again.

Today on Father’s Day, I reflect on my own dad and how he shaped me to be the woman/wife/mother I am today. He taught me the importance of family and traditions. He taught me patience, and important life skills. No matter what, he’s been there. If something happens, I can call him and he’s there. If I’m stuck on the side of the highway at 4am, he comes to rescue me. If I need someone to get the kids from school, he’s there. If we are sick and need to borrow a humidifier, he shows up with two brand new ones for us.

My dad has been my rock. It’s cliche, I know. But I mean it. And I’m so, so thankful for him.

Happy Father’s Day to my dad, and all the other dads who have made a impact on your life today.

Mourning the undead

I have tiptoed around the idea of writing about this.

But here we are. 5am coffee in hand, kids are sleeping, and I am alone with my thoughts once again.

How often do you speak with your parents? Siblings? Family in general?

I always thought I’d grow up and be super close with family. That my mother would annoyingly stop in to just visit. That my dad would call me and check up on me, or invite me over for Sunday dinners. That my sisters would just come by to hang out.

But that’s not the case.

Life gets busy. Calls never get made, and dinners never happen.

I honestly don’t remember the last time I spoke to my mother, let alone saw her. But she’s in another province. As is my sister, who is busy and runs her own business. So I get that making time for family is a challenge.

My dad and step sister are one town away.

And honestly? It’s a lonely feeling.

I don’t know at what point family time became secondary. We just let life blow past us. And the kids get older, moments get missed. Faces are barely recognized. We are aging. And you know what? The window of time just gets smaller and smaller.

As a co-parent, my time is divided up into every-other-week. I live bi-weekly if you will. One week we have a full house with four kids running around, and practices, and dinners, and coordination of daycare and school pickups. And then one week of just a toddler – a week when I work overtime at the office. You become hyper focused on survival; just getting from one week to the next. Taking time out is a challenge since you’re running such a tightly held together ship.

But then you blink and a year has gone by.

And you look around, and the memories you have of family are just the ones from childhood. Nothing beyond.

And it hurts.

I suppose the road to reconnection goes both ways. It’s a phone call out. It’s a text. It’s a branch out to say, “Hey, how ARE you?”

It’s taking the reins and demanding a relationship.

Maybe you’re in the same boat? Maybe you have allowed someone to phase out of your life and you are wanting to reestablish a connection? Maybe someone has left your life, still very alive, but you have to go through the motions of letting go.

Maybe you, too, feel a sense of loss; a sense of mourning for the undead.

It’s HARD, my friends. It’s fucking HARD. You’re not alone in your thoughts. I’m with you on that one. Letting go of someone when you don’t know if you should fight for them, or just move on. If you should try to make new memories with them, or go make your own.

It’s not an easy decision, nor is it a simple answer.

I guess my point to all this is to say: I get it.

Health update

I have been not-so-silently suffering some weird symptoms over the last almost year and I finally saw a doctor yesterday to get the ball rolling.

It started a year ago when I became very tired. Like, first trimester exhausted. I was even sneaking in little naps in my car on my lunch break. I saw my doctor then to check my thyroid and she discovered I had mono.

Shocking right?

I thought I already had it as a teenager, but I guess not? Or maybe I had it again?

Fast forward to October last year when I started having what I thought were anxiety attacks. I felt this pressure in my chest and it would cause my heart to race. It was debilitating. So I saw the doctor again and she recommended Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (she’s pro-natural and definitely doesn’t jump the gun and push meds, thankfully!)

Everything actually seemed to clear up but then I started having seriously bad acne. Painful, cystic lumps on my face, a rash on my body and tongue, and yeast infections… I assumed it was from the sugar overload over the Christmas holidays, so I implemented a Candida Diet (see previous post…) and had decent results.

Everything was great, until about April. Then things went downhill fast.

Extreme chest pressure, joint stiffness, swelling in the body, contact lenses that no longer fit in my eyes, heart palpitations… I felt like I was completely falling apart. The symptoms hung around for a few weeks and then slowly dissipated. BUT – next game the severe acne. It came back ten fold. It’s all over my face, neck, chest, back, arms… my legs were even flaming itchy. It hurts, it feels like a sunburnt feeling by the end of the day. My tongue has white, burning patches, and I have another yeast infection.

I went to the doctor (again) and presented her all these symptoms. She ordered a blood test to check my thyroid, test for Lupus, and also see about getting a gluten antibody test run.

She also recommended sticking to a gluten, dairy, and sugar free diet to see if it clears up the rash on my body.

Who know what this all is?

So I’m back to square one and on a strict elimination diet – which isn’t really that bad. My body responded well to it before, and I’m glad she wasn’t like “Here take this antifungal!” She actually said it’s only really used on someone with a severe case or if they have an already weak immune system.

Stay tuned – I’ll keep you all updated with the progress.

It’s not your job to make someone happy

As parents we often question whether we doing the right thing for our kids.

Do you let them cry it out?

Am I breastfeeding long enough?

Are they spending too much time on the iPad?

Did I give the right consequence?

I feel like I’m constantly questioning myself. Always wondering if I did something I shouldn’t have, or maybe not enough. I go to bed thinking about my day and the goingons, and what I could have done differently.

When you’re a co parent, you question yourself a little more. I know now that I’m divorced I see things a little differently. Now I wonder not only if I’m doing the right thing, but also if what I’m doing is going to rock the boat with the other parent.

We are all doing this blindly. No parent has the single answer that solves the parenting mystery.

Yesterday I had a long, busy day. I came home and was just overwhelmed with trying to get the house tidied, wash the barf laundry from the night before (my youngest caught a stomach bug), I was tired from not sleeping the night before, and I was processing my own feelings about my day. I was clearly frazzled and maybe a little short tempered with the kids.

I was folding laundry and my eldest daughter came to me and said this:

“Mom, is there something I can do to help you feel less stressed…?”

Ugh.

“No honey. I’m sorry. My being frustrated is not your fault.”

“But I want you to be happy. I don’t want you to be upset and stressed…”

I paused.

This was a pivotal moment in my life.

This was the moment when I realized something.

“Avalon, it is not your job to make me happy. Don’t ever feel like me, or anyone, being upset is YOUR fault. It’s not. It’s my fault for making you feel like it’s your fault. Don’t EVER think that you did something wrong. I should never have made you feel like my frustrations were your problem…”

I was displacing my anger and she felt like it was her responsibility to fix it.

I want to raise a strong daughter. One who can feel confident in her skin. One who doesn’t feel the need to fix someone else. She is so grown up and so mature for her age. I quickly forget that she is still only a child.

To feel someone else’s emotions, that’s complex. But to feel them and then want to fix it… that’s a very grown up quality.

It was a reminder for me to keep my emotions in check. For me to not displace my feelings onto others. For me to be stronger. For me to raise a daughter who doesn’t walk into a relationship feeling like it’s her job to make someone happy.

I sat with her and reminded her that she did nothing wrong. She’s wise beyond her years, but there’s still a little child-like essence left in her.

And I’m going to soak it up for as long as I can.

If today was my last day

Imagine today was your last day on earth.

Imagine that today you could look back and reflect on all the things you would have done differently.

Would you have regrets?

I can tell you that as I sit here in the dawn of the early morning, sipping my coffee and reflecting on the going-ons of my life – I would have changed a few things…

I would have would looked at my body in a different light. I wouldn’t care about those few extra pounds, or my lack of definition in my glutes.

I wouldn’t care about the 500 calorie chocolate chip muffin I finished for my toddler.

I would have yelled at my kids a little less, cuddled a little more, and watched a little more intent. I would have said “yes” when I said “no” – when I said no to a freezie, or no to playing LEGO, or no to “Mom, come watch this!”

I would have rolled the windows down and let my hair blow around instead of glaring at my husband for messing up my hair.

I would have taken more trips; road trips, day trips, exotic trips… I would have soaked in all the culture and adventure life has to offer.

I would have cared less about the mess and spent more time doing things with my loved ones.

I would have put the phone down. Opened my eyes to what’s around me; the sights and sounds of the world and the people in it.

I would have chatted with more people in line at the grocery store, instead of caring what people thought about me for asking about their top.

I would have gone out with friends instead of cancelling last minute because my anxiety would rather hide in the comfort of my home.

I would have put on the bikini and strutted across the beach, not giving a damn. I would have picnicked with my kids on the blanket, sitting with all of my loose skin and rolls hanging out, as I ate sandwiches and grapes and juice boxes.

I would have gotten up early and watched more sunrises. I would have appreciated more of Mother Nature’s natural beauty.

I would have visited my grandparents more. Listened to them, talked with them about life…

I would have cared less about dirt tracked in the house by the kids because they just came in from playing outside.

I would have kissed my family more; said I love you way more.

I would have said yes to more bike rides, and more after dinner walks to the park.

I would have held my babies a little longer despite society telling me “not to coddle them”.

I would have left the house without makeup on, or my hair done.

I would have taken the long way home, drove a little slower, and listened to my kids talk about their day.

And most importantly, I would have done my Sunday dinners with my parents. I would have talked to them more, visited more.

Today might not be my last day – it could be – but it might not… I may actually have the chance to knock one these things off my list. Maybe 5… maybe more.

What would you change? Would you have regrets?

I know for sure that those small things that you have been worrying about don’t really matter. In the end you may have regrets, but you don’t have to. You can implement these things now.

Stop overthinking. Stop worrying. Start LIVING.

The semantics of being a step mom

Being the mother of a step child is a very complex topic. I’m sure there are lots of step parents who may disagree with the following post, but I want to talk about this – and I’m sure there will be lots of step parents who nod their heads in unison about the following. For some, being a step parent comes naturally. You take any child, any single person, and immediately form a bond. Perhaps you had the chance to become a step parent to child very early on their life. Maybe, like me, you came a little later.

I was a relatively young mother, 19 when I became pregnant to be exact. I was basically a child up to the point when my title changed to “mom”. My first born shaped me into the woman I am today. I carried her, a labored and birthed her. I breastfed her, and woke at all hours of the night to be there for her. We formed a bond right from the very beginning. And so I did with my two subsequent children.

But a step child?

Let me see if I can put this into words that help you understand my step son’s place in my heart.

I didn’t carry him like his own mother did. I didn’t get the chance to take a pregnancy test and run through all the emotions like his own mother did. I didn’t feel those first flutters from his kicks, nor was I the first person to hear his heartbeat on a Doppler.

I didn’t labour with his father by my side, holding my hand through the contractions. I didn’t feel like my entire world was being lost when his heart rate dropped during the birthing process. I didn’t cry tears of joy when he was finally here. I didn’t hold his tiny body on my chest as he let out his first wail. I didn’t get to see his father cry when he held him for the first time.

I didn’t hear his first words come out of his mouth. He didn’t call me “mama” first, nor did I hear him call his daddy “dada” for the first time.

I didn’t breastfeed him, I didn’t wake with him through the night, I didn’t take him for his shots; I didn’t hold him and cry when they pricked his little baby leg. I didn’t see him crawl, or take his very first steps. I didn’t care for him when he was sick. I wasn’t by his side for any surgeries.

I didn’t kiss his cheek and hold his hand to the door on his very first day of school. There are no pictures of him sitting on my lap. No memories of me tickling his little belly as he laughed. No laying in bed reading stories, or singing songs together.

Quite frankly I missed a lot. There was no bond formed from the very beginning. His mother loved him without ever questioning where that love comes from, and he loved her unconditionally in return. I am envious. I long for that connection with him; for those memories with him. All I get are uploaded pictures in Facebook albums.

But me? I walked in when he was eight. I was more like a friend; not a parent. We have other milestones that we get to celebrate. Like the first time he openly chose to call me “mom” – which graduated to “Mamma Mel”… I was so proud of the name that I actually name my cupcake business after it. And then there was a time when kissing him good night became a ritual – I can’t recall at what point. But it’s something that I am thankful for every night at bedtime. He doesn’t have to let me kiss him, nor am I required to do it. But we do. And it’s a routine that I miss when the kids are gone.

Every morning I wake and I choose to love him; I CHOOSE to be his step mother. The place he holds in my heart is one that I opened up just for him. And every day I remind myself to work on this relationship; it means the world for it be a strong one. It does take work.

My step son is my world. All my kids are my world. They all have different personalities and strengths and weaknesses. I love them all in different ways, and each relationship is piece to our family puzzle.

I am excited for different kinds of memories that we will make together. His report cards that he excitedly brings home, his graduation, his first car, dancing with him at his wedding, holding his first baby in my arms… These are the events that I will consciously be aware of. The memories that we now get to share together as a family.

Step parents, you’re doing a good job. If you’re reading this and it resonates, then you are definitely doing a good job. It’s not easy taking in someone as your own, but it’s also not easy for a child to make room in their own hearts for another parent. So if they do let you in, be gracious. Because they don’t have to love you. Loving each other is a choice.

Appreciate the memories that you get to make going forward. More importantly, appreciate the ones they already made with their birth parents. You are there to compliment an already working relationship.

Lastly, I am thankful to my step son and his mother for making my own husband into the daddy he is today; the daddy he gets to be to my two children, and our “ours” baby. They paved the way for him. They pioneered the path to fatherhood, and I am so lucky be a part of this family.

Together we make a beautiful, complex picture. Each wing uniquely intertwined. Its work, and its love, and its messy, and its a whole lot of laughter. But I don’t think I would ever trade this for the world.

A hand out vs a hand up

I was working at a country club as a front desk attendant when I became pregnant with my second child. I worked evenings, usually from about 2:30pm to 10:30pm. I had no car. My partner at the time had use of our only vehicle during the day. So I would load up my daughter into her little seat on the back on my bike, pedal uphill to the home daycare she attended, drop her off, coast downhill (a complete sweaty mess) all the way home. I’d have enough time to get ready for work, walk 20 minutes to the center of town to catch my first bus. I would ride south into the next town, catch another bus, head to the next town over, and then walk another 20 minutes to work.

Coming home after my shift was a toss up. Sometimes I would have to repeat the same routine, but backwards. Sometimes I was lucky enough to catch a ride with a co-worker directly to the bus terminal. There I would be with the drunks and the panhandlers, desperately trying not to get mixed up in the chaos in and around the terminal so late at night. I’d catch the last bus heading northbound, get dropped off in the middle of town and then walk home. By the time I made it into the house, it would be well after midnight.

When I finally started my maternity leave I was beyond thrilled to simply not have to make that awful treck back and forth between home an work. The days were so long, and I hated being away from my daughter. I was also thankful to not have to fight daily about the rides I was graciously provided by my coworker. I will say however, that when you are visibly pregnant (not just “I ate too many tacos” pregnant) people don’t even bat an eye at you when you take the front seat of the bus. I felt so much safer being close to the driver, and for the most part, they provided some great conversation.

I took a month off before my son was born. A month to spend some time with my daughter, and some time to nest and mentally prepare for being a mom of two. I put my Christmas tree up in the middle of November, I sewed some handmade stockings for us all, and I cleaned and tidied like it was my job.

My maternity leave payments hadn’t started yet, and because I was no longer working, I had no income coming in. My partner was waiting for his snow removal season to start, so his income was also minimal. We fell behind on payments. We awoke one morning to find our vehicle had been repossessed over night. Next, our living room set was repossessed (we had it on payments from Easyhome…) Collection agencies were calling. Bills were beyond late and services were getting cut off.

My son was born and we were thankful to have a roof over our heads at that point.

One day my dad stopped in. He had tried to reach us by phone, but they had been cut off. He walked in, looked around, and asked: “Is everything ok…?”

I fell apart into a sobbing mess.

This was my new low. I was a new mother with a preschooler and a life that was falling apart at the seams. My dad asked why I didn’t reach out for help. I told him I didn’t think I needed it… Then he said to me some words that changed my life forever:

“Melissa, do you need help? It’s ok to ask for help. It’s ok to ask for hand up, and not a hand out.”

A hand UP and not a hand OUT.

We often withdraw in times of need for fear of being judged. I was so focused of “doing it myself” but the more life added to my plate, the less I could keep up. I pulled away. I became focused on hiding; surviving. The day my dad walked in it felt like I could breathe again. He helped us pay some bills and get caught up. We found some couches on Freecycle. My maternity leave payments came in. Things turned around that day.

I look back on this period of my life and I am so thankful for the lessons it taught me. I planted some firm roots in the foundation of life that day. This experience makes me appreciate all that have so much more. The vehicle I drive, the job that I get to go to everyday, the roof over my head, the hot water I can shower in, the couches I sit on.

I earned them.

Don’t be a superhero all the time. There is a certain level of independence we all need to uphold, but sometimes life gets you down. And you need to ask for help. It’s embarrassing. It’s admitting defeat. But it also makes you human. Maybe it’s not financial distress… maybe you feel overwhelmed as a mom with life’s daily tasks: mothering, working, laundry, dinner making etc and your mind starts to drift. You go to a dark place…

Ask for help.

It’s ok.

We are all in this together and asking for a hand UP; a hand to lift you out of darkness… well, that’s one of the most gracious gifts anyone could give.