Gratitude

I guess the sisters have all shocked you at one point or another, so I really have nothing to lose…here it goes….

Christmas is NOT my favourite holiday.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore all the family time, delicious food, time off work to unwind, joy in the children’s shrieks and giggles…

But what trumps Christmas for me in terms of ranking holidays, is Thanksgiving – it will always be my very favourite of the days we celebrate.

There is something about the simplicity of this holiday that melts my heart, slows me down, brings me back to my centre.

Thanksgiving day – weekend, in my family, really – filled with family gatherings, where we simply set aside the time spend with the ones we cherish dearly, in gratefulness and reflection for all we are blessed with has always been the one I look most forward to every year.

Last year, for no specific reason I can think of, the day spent at Jacqui’s with most of the family I got to thinking (scary thought, I know) of how full I was that day.

Last year's 30lb bird

Last year’s 30lb bird

And while yes, I have been known to be able to pack back my fair share of food in atrocious amounts, in this instance, I do not mean the physical sense.

I mean spiritually, emotionally, and even mentally. Full.

I was so full. Full of love, full of happy, full of peace, full of hope. Just so full. And I loved just how full and satisfied I felt.

I decided then that the focus for my years ahead on this earth would be to consciously be grateful, thankful, and satisfied with whatever present I was faced with.

SO, so much easier said than done, let me tell you. While I do feel I have been so much fuller throughout this year, I know I have most definitely struggled – some days more than others – to keep a perspective of gratitude for whatever the present moment presented to me.

Yet, I still feel full. Thankfully.

With my most favourite holiday just around the corner, I was happy when our editor-in-chief, Julia, suggested we dedicate this week to mark its approach. In tradition and honor of this wonderful day, I am most grateful for:

Love: the ability to give it, and to recieve it. The people I am proud to say I love and even prouder to say love me. I’m thankful for the handsome man who loves my heart – especially on days when I’m not sure why, even the wild and crazy parts, the babies he’s blessed me with in the non-traditional sense – my beautiful step-children and yes, even my fur-babies, and the home he’s helped me build for us.

So thankful for this love

So thankful for this love

Love in the sisterly sense, my inspiring sisters by blood (I will never tire of saying “I don’t know what I would do without you”), the ones through marriage (Kim), the ones we’ve adopted, and the ones through kindred spirits that I find in my closest girlfriends.

This love <3

This love ❤

I’m thankful for the love in the smile of a stranger on the street on the days I so desperately need it. I’m thankful for the people that will never know just how much I truly love them – my ridiculous nieces and nephew. I’m thankful for the love of my parents, the one I was born into and the one I’ve grown to appreciate. So, so thankful for love.

These faces <3

These faces ❤

Ability: I’m thankful that I can. That I can run, that I can breathe, that I can sing (even if not well), that I can see, that I can work. I’m thankful that I can drive, that I can walk, that I can vote. I’m thankful that I can say I’m healthy, that I can buy and afford healthy food, that I have – for the most part – the freedom to choose my own path. I’m thankful I can love, laugh, feel and express without fear.

Ability to take this in

Ability to take this in

Growth: I’m so very thankful for the lessons I’ve been faced with that have allowed me to grow. I’m most thankful for the hard ones I’ve already been able to get out of the way – the ones I’ve watched many loved ones older than me struggle to grasp and still haven’t arrived at. I’m thankful for these lessons that have resulted in growth because it pushes me to grow more – it keeps me thirsty to uncover the next adventure that will show me another true part about myself, that will bring me closer to understanding my purpose and my place.

Always.

Always.

Grace: so incredibly humbled in thankfulness for the grace of God and his love. Thankful that I know in my heart, even when my brain fights me on it, that I am not alone, never without purpose, never without his love, shelter and protection. I’m thankful for the path he’s chosen for me, the faith he’s instilled in me and the sacrifice he’s made for me.

Gratitude makes the heart full

Gratitude makes the heart full

I’m thankful for grace in the human sense – the forgiveness that has been extended to me, especially when I didn’t exactly deserve any of it. Grace that’s come in the chances people have taken on me, and the grace that has come from them overlooking my shortcomings. I make it a regular occurrence to make an ass of myself, and I’m always so grateful when grace is granted instead of making me live it down.

I hope this year, as you gather with your loved ones and share in a feast, that you take the time to really reflect – not on the material possessions and earthly accomplishments – but on the parts of your life that touch your heart daily, that you take for granted, the ones you sometimes forget to recognize your gratitude for, the moments with people that matter that we are often so busy we forget to take note. Revel in your lives in whatever the present moment offers you. Breathe, focus your mind on the abundance that we all have and see how full you can make yourself feel.

From our family to yours

From our family to yours

I wish you a happy, incredibly filling Thanksgiving.

~ Toni

Motherhood: I love this choice

When my sisters and I sat down and decided to honor motherhood this week, I have to admit I experienced a fair amount of anxiety about my post.

I didn’t know if I should write about what motherhood means to me because of the amazing examples in my life, if I should write about the part of me that as a woman, I’m not quite sure I have what it takes to be a mother, or if I should draw from my experience as a step-mama.

I decided to write from my heart.

Motherhood to me is a choice. It’s not a must-have right of passage because society deems it to be the way it is supposed to be, it is a choice. It is the conscious and sub-conscious choosing, every day from the day you decide to create life, until your last breath, to often put another’s needs, wants and desires before your own. It is a choice I wish more women would be more conscious of making. It is a choice I wish some women would realize they are allowed to choose not to make without fear or judgement – at least they should be. I love this choice.

Sometimes the children you choose to mother are not yours by birth-right, but are brought into your life because little did you know just how much you needed them. And sometimes you get to be the person they need. That’s the choice I made. It’s not to say that I won’t one day have a baby of my own, but for now, helping to raise Michael’s children is the right choice for me. Hearing M introduce me to her new host-family via Skype as her “mere”, the “I love you” I get unprompted from J when we’re dropping him off after our weekend together, lets me know that while I am not a necessity in their lives, I am wanted, loved and appreciated by them. I love this choice.

M, myself and J ♥

M, myself and J ♥

Sometimes the mothering we choose to do is for our siblings or our sibling’s children. These past few months I have caught myself on a few occasions mothering my big sister – standing up for her when she couldn’t do it herself, sending her for naps and time outs when I could see on her face she so desperately needed one, making sure she said “no” to people when she could not handle another responsibility being put on her and sometimes even refusing to let her handle the tough stuff on any given day. I love this choice.

Sometimes the only comfort good enough in the world is that of our own maternal mama. To this day, telling my mother about something that is hurting me, something I’m facing that is hard or even telling her I got a speeding ticket, can be the biggest release of emotion of all – even a week later when the wounds are not as fresh. There is something about the way my mom comforts me that gives my must-always-have-your-shit-together-self the permission I need to let go and let it all out. Sometimes I even choose not to be fully open about my heartaches to anyone but my mama. I love this choice.

Sometimes the mother we choose is our sisters. Recently, I received some news that personally reminded me of my own heartache I had been facing. Thankfully, my sisters were not far away. In minutes I found myself on Julia’s couch with a tissue box in my lap, earnestly being reminded that what I was feeling was not, as I had repeatedly referred to it, “stupid”, but completely relevant, real and appropriate. A tea, some more tears and a piece of Julia-baked cake later and my heart was reminded why God had chosen these beautiful women as my siblings and why life chose them as my best friends. I love this choice.

I love this choice!

I love this choice!

To all of the mamas out there: I choose to admire you, honor you (not just on the second Sunday of May), and be in awe of you. Your courage, strength, grace and wisdom are breathtaking. I love this choice.

~ Toni

Two down, one to go

I am a step-mother.

And no, not in the Disney way.

Evil-step-mother

Evil step-mother

But in the kind of way I would want my own children treated by another woman if they ever had to raise them with or for me.

More appropriately, I am a step-mom.

M, myself and J ♥

M, myself and J ♥

I am an incredibly blessed and lucky step-mom.

Seriously.

When Michael and I first began dating a million years ago, we both thought it best to hold off with meeting his then young children until we were sure our relationship was a long-term thing. He wanted to make sure I was the kind of woman he would want loving and helping raise his children, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t get sucked into a life that, to be honest, I was not exactly sure was made for me. I had a gripping fear of falling in love with such little people, with such tender hearts, that could be terribly hurt if we were to break up.

This is a decision I am so thankful we made.

Finally, when we were both ready, and we felt the children would be ready, Michael introduced his two beautiful babies to his ‘friend’ Toni. (Side note: my step-kids are incredibly smart, perceptive, and other than J adorably informing his father of his intentions to one day marry me, they saw through this ‘friend’ label faster than we thought.) Nothing could have prepared me for this moment or the million amazing and rewarding moments that would follow.

I had heard horror story, after horror story of hard, terrorizing, wicked and evil step-children/step-parent situations, and to say I was apprehensive about the whole thing would have been and understatement.

But I hit the freaking JACKPOT of step-children.

J was outgoing, loud, funny and attached himself to me quite comfortably, quite quickly. Always making sure to put a smile on my face, J’s heart is bigger than most full-grown men I have met and for that I am forever thankful.

Date night with J at the movies

Date night with J at the movies

M was a different story. When I met her, she was roughly 9 going on 40, wise beyond her years with view of the world that was a little bit different than J’s.

Saying goodbye to M before her flight to France

Saying goodbye to M before her flight to France

Slow to let in, M is an introvert by nature. Quiet, sweet, and observant, she slowly warmed to me. As I am an extrovert (SHOCKER!) by nature, and grew up in very big and loud family, this was a bit of a learning curve for me, but over time we found our groove.

Fast-forward to present day where M is my partner-in-crime and go-to girl for all things from car-ride singalongs to balancing out the testosterone/estrogen levels in our home. We share secrets, the latest gossip, nail polish and a love for shopping. More intricate than sisters, much different than mother-daughter, more fulfilling than I could have imagined, I wouldn’t trade what we have for anything.

A few years ago, my brilliant, intelligent and driven M was approached to participate in a European student-exchange program that would grant her the opportunity to host a student here and then spend three months in France. While the trip was a few years off yet, her early acceptance into the program (THAT’S how brilliant she is!) was cause for excitement, commotion, and tears of both joy and worry. We were so proud.

Our exchange student arrived this past August and fit right into our beautifully-blended family without missing a step. C was loud, loving, happy and most of all fabulous. We laughed (A LOT), shared tears of anxiety about her having to leave us, and grew together as a family with the experience.

Our last night with our C  <3

Our last night with our C ❤

In the days approaching M’s departure, I found it hard to sleep, hard to talk about her trip without tearing up, and my nerves, frankly, were shot. The drive to the airport was no different, and neither were the moments leading up to us having to let her go through her gate. I’m not quite sure which one of us was struggling with the reality of THREE whole months apart from our normal lives more – M or I – but watching her say goodbye to her two closest girlfriends, her boyfriend, dad, brother, step-dad and mom, made me want to grab her and make a run for the car, James Bond style. My inner monologue kept reminding me how amazing this experience was going to be for her, that she would be reunited with C, that she would never have this opportunity again, that it’s FRANCE…no amount of reasoning calmed me down, but it did allow me to hug her tightly, remind her how proud of her I was, tell her I loved her and then let her go.

While my composure only lasted until I was tightly strapped in for the return home, my pride in her bravery definitely has. I’m not sure high school me would have had the guts to take such a trip.

Yesterday we celebrated our M’s two month anniversary in France and it being only a few short weeks away from her return. I’ve already begun planning that week’s shopping trip to include all of her favourites and fully anticipate a request for dinner at Ye’s Sushi.

M, we can’t wait to hug you. We miss you a ridiculous amount.

~ Toni