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.

The marks on my mother

I remember my mother taking us to the beach in the summer time. We would take a week’s vacation and head to her friend’s cottage in Kincardine. There would be a group of adults and kids collectively. Myself, my little sister and another pair of girls shared a room with bunks. We drank Koolaid – but my mom’s friend called it Freshie.

I had seasonal allergies and I’d be doped up on Benadryl. I was the loser kid passed out on the beach blanket, drugged up and always sleeping away the summer.

I remember my mother baring her stomach in a bikini. She was naturally dark, like my grandfather who was of aboriginal descent. Her hobbies included tanning, so it added to the deep tone of her skin.

Her stretch marks were beautifully lit by the sunlight as she lay on the blanket beside me, catching some of the sun, hot and high above us. She had loose skin from her pregnancies with my sister and myself. I was fascinated by the pattern across her belly. She always spoke so unkindly about the marks; I didn’t understand why. It was skin.

As I grew older and had children of my own, I often thought about my mother and her own body. I thought about her perspective of herself compared to my perspective of her. I didn’t see a problem with it, but she assured me that it wasn’t right; that she wasn’t right for looking a certain way. I mean she exercised regularly and ate healthy. I saw strength, not weakness. In turn I looked at my own body and started to wonder if it was shameful to have stretch mark and loose skin. Society kept telling me it was wrong. The media and my peers kept telling me it was wrong…

I had friends telling me, “You need to be disciplined, Darling…!”

I grew self conscious. I looked at my body as a disgrace; like the marks on it equated to neglect. Never did I think that I was just like 100 billion other woman before me or beside me, having gained or lost weight, or a bearer children.

When did the shift happen? When did our bodies become shameful? When did our marks turn ugly?

I looked at those lines on my mothers stomach and it reminded me of home. This line, that’s where I came from. And this one, was a sister or a brother lost. And this one, it’s my baby sister. Each line connecting and telling a beautiful, cohesive story. Those are our roots. When I laid my child-like head on her I felt nothing but love and warmth.

Now when I see my marks I remember my own story. This belly is where I began my own love story with my littles. I hope one day they look at the lines and how they connect, and they feel at home, too.

We should learn to celebrate our bodies and what they have accomplished; what they can accomplish. We overcome hardships and don’t take the time to truly appreciate what we are capable of. We grow from tiny, useless beings into intelligent, strong, free-thinkers. We innovate, we work hard, we are self sufficient masterminds. We train relentlessly, and lift more weight than we would ever think possible. We endure heartbreak and still manage to carry on.

We are simply amazing.

But still we look at the markings and defects in our bodies as setbacks.

No more, my friends. No more.

Cut that shit out.

You are perfect. I am perfect. And the more we spread this message, the more confident the next generations to come. These lines on my stomach are a sign of life; and a sign of the amazing things I am capable of. I hope you look at your body today and remember all that it has done for you. Be grateful. Be proud.

Put on the bathing suit and just live.

Early morning = me time

It’s 5:30am.

The early mornings are my time. I rise before the sun, before the kids wake, before the cat starts meowing for food. It’s my time to get things done before the chaos ensues.

At 5:30am, I stumble into the kitchen and put on some coffee. This morning particularly, my husband is also up and getting ready to leave. We chat for about 45 seconds in passing – he didn’t get home until midnight from his “other job” (aka bottling syrup) so we didn’t see each other yesterday.

I sit down on the couch and soak in the silence. It’s beautiful. I can hear the faint sounds of Finn’s white noise app playing, and some slight rustling from one of the boys in the bedroom behind me.

I think about my day; my weeks to come. What needs to be put on the calendar and which loose ends need to be tied. The appointments that need booking, the cake orders I have coming up, the workouts I hope to accomplish, the meal prepping, the cleaning, the bills that need to be paid, the summer schedule that needs to get hammered out, the vacation times that needs to get booked, the baseball practices/games/tournaments…

It’s silent, but my mind is loud.

It never shuts off… the mental load is bearing down on me and it’s screaming at me to put something onto paper.

I sip my coffee and hear the baby start to whimper. It’s now 5:45am… too early for her to be waking.

The coffee is cold now. Nothing out of the ordinary… I drink it anyway.

It really made me think. Think about the little things and how much I appreciate them – like early morning coffees. As a mom I take on so much to ensure the smooth sailing of this ship.

I had a chat with a coworker yesterday about the sacrifices we make as mothers for our kids. She explained to me that her mother told her “I worked for free for 5 years!” and it makes sense. You pay for daycare, and car insurance, gas etc and hope that you’ll break even. But still I get up everyday, drive them all over the planet, work 9 hours, come home, do all the mom things, and repeat. It never slows, the loads never lighten.

And I know the kids don’t appreciate it now; but my coworker assured me that they will as adults. One day they will get it. One day they will be grown with their own children, driving them all over gods green earth, and they will think, “I remember my mom driving me everywhere…. man that must have been tough.”

One day they will appreciate the lunches I packed with little notes, the boots I made sure still fit them, the Taco Tuesdays I would plan, and the appointments I would schedule and take them to.

And maybe one day they will appreciate their own 5:30am coffee. Sitting in their homes, in the silence of the early dawn, and they will think of me… just as I am sitting here thinking of my own mother and all that she did.

Thanks for this one, Avalon. Just a little reminder that maybe I am, after all, a Supermom.

32 years of life lessons

32.

Tomorrow I turn 32.

32 comes with a great deal of knowledge, love, lessons, and happiness.

I want to share with you 32 things I’ve learned over the last 32 years – and I hope that some of you can take something from this.

1) Love wholly, completely, and selflessly. When you meet someone, listen to your gut. It never lies. When you get that can’t eat, can’t sleep, reach for the stars, over the fence, World Series kind of thing. When you look at the person and feel at home; you feel safe. And when you talk about them, you say all the good stuff. You are equals; you don’t feel superior. And most important: they truly inspire you to be more ambitious and to do better in life. Don’t settle for anything less – you are worthy of great love and respect and all things wonderful.

2) Your friends are there to lift you up. Lean on them. Support them. Cherish them. And don’t settle for friends, either. Find the good ones and hold on tight.

3) Love yourself as you are. We all have little differences and that is what makes us unique. One day, we’ll be old and wrinkly alike… and what matters is your heart; your kindness and compassion. THESE are the things that make you a beautiful human.

4) Eat the donut. Or the cupcake. It’s not going to kill you.

5) Treat your body with respect. Fuel it with good things and positive energy. Speak to yourself as though you would speak to your daughter.

6) Trust your heart. If something doesn’t feel right, walk away.

7) Your past doesn’t define you. How you carry yourself after, is what makes you YOU. We all have a story; you have the power to respond to that as you may choose. So choose your path wisely.

8) You are stronger than you think. Physically and mentally; you’ve made it this far. Isn’t that quite the accomplishment? *pats self on back*

9) Your mother was right.

10) So was your dad.

11) Physical beauty won’t bring you happiness. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. Take care of your soul first and the rest will follow.

12) You CAN swim after you eat.

13) Wear the sunscreen. A tan is nice, but it’s only temporary. Your skin will thank you later.

14) Learn to control your emotions. Yes, we have emotions. Let them happen, feel them, validate them, and then look at the big picture. Bad days happen, and then will happen. Own them, and remember: it’s just a bad day, not a bad life. Your emotions are yours; they are not meant to control someone else. Nor should you let someone else’s emotions control you.

15) Do the speed limit. Driving like an asshat doesn’t get you there any faster. It just makes you look like an asshat.

16) Write thank you letters. People DO appreciate them.

17) Credit Cards are a privilege, not a right. Spend mindfully and carefully. And live within your means.

18) Take that vacation. You’ll appreciate the memories so, so very much. (Remember: it’s a privilege, not a right)

19) Ask someone before you pet their dog.

20) Speaking calmly, and respectfully is more like to get your point across rather than yelling. You’ll get more flies with sugar than with vinegar.

21) Selflessness is an understated quality. People deserve more of you, than you deserve of them.

22) YOUR MOTHER WAS RIGHT.

23) Blue eyeshadow and thick eyeliner is a right of passage. You must first fail before you succeed.

24) Always be on time. For dinners, for appointments, for interviews – just be there ON TIME.

25) Take pictures. Not only take them, but be IN them.

26) Read books. Read alllll the books.

27) Never underestimate the power of a clean home. Declutter, let go of things you no longer need, rearrange your living room. Sometimes you just need to shake things up.

28) Call people. Don’t just text or email. Call them.

29) Take control of your life. You get to choose your own adventure. You are responsible for YOU and your own happiness; not anyone else.

30) Trust everyone until they give you a reason not to (I’m still working on this one…)

31) You don’t need an education to be successful in life. Your passion and drive matter more than a diploma.

32) Always look at things from someone else’s perspective. They may treat you poorly because they are having a bad day, not because they are a bad person. AKA if the cashier is snippy, don’t be snippy back. Just be a good human.

Next year maybe I’ll come up with 33 things, but DANG… 32 was hard enough.