Birthday love: 2 on the 25th

I love this week in July.

I love it because two of the most remarkable women in my life are celebrating their birthdays this Friday.

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That being said, it’s only natural that I should write a mushy, full of sap post in honour of these incredible blessings I’m so lucky to have – you’ve been warned.

Tania – a very long time ago, a time before Michael and rings and bridesmaid duty, you and I determined through a series of events and discoveries that we were probably the loves of each others lives. Since then, you and I refer to each other as just that.

Love of my life – I have watched you grow, change, love and learn. You have taught me what true class and grace is. You have also taught me what a backbone is and more importantly when and how to use it. You have been there for my very first firsts, laughed with me at the funny ones and held my hand through the worst of them – you have never failed me. You are my ride-or-die chick.

I hope this beautiful year ahead of you brings you more joy than you know what to do with. I hope your heart is always full and I hope you know just how much you mean to me. Happy, happy birthday my beautiful friend! I’m so very looking forward to this weekend of celebrating you!

Chantelle, Tania and I celebrating last year

Chantelle, Tania and I celebrating last year

M – God blessed me with you as a bonus to loving your dad. That’s the coolest gift I’ve ever received and I am so thankful I hit the jack pot in bonus love. Your brilliance was and is hard to hide and I knew from our first few encounters that you are a very special person with a very big heart.

You are destined for great things and it makes me so proud to say you are my family. You have taught me so much about life and helped me grow an incredible amount as a person. I am so grateful to call you my daughter and even more so my friend. You mean the world to me, beauty.

I hope on this birthday – besides soaking in the Southern sun – you can feel how loved, wanted and celebrated you are. Happy, happy birthday our beautiful girl. I hope this year is incredible for you in every way possible. (P.S. I miss you and want sushi. Come home now?)

M and I <3

M and I ❤

I’m so very lucky.

~ Toni

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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

Dear 16-year-old me

Dear 16-year-old me,

This is the year that you change high schools (by choice this time), the year you start grade 10 as the new girl again, meet and fall in love with two of your still-close girl friends, meet and fall in like with a few boys and then finally meet and fall in love with your first serious boyfriend. He will teach you that laughter really is one of the most important things in life and also that saying goodbye to people you love is hard, but sometimes completely necessary.

Michelle, myself, Katey

Michelle, myself, Katey

I want to tell you that you should be a little more sure of yourself, you’ve got more to offer the world than you give yourself credit for and you shouldn’t put so much weight on the negative influences you’ve faced. I want to tell you that your anger was so, so wasted and it took some joy out of what could have been even better moments. I wish I could tell you that if you could have been a little softer, a little sooner, you might not have been so quick to cut people out of your life. But, you eventually get it in your own time – go you!

You will know by now that your curves – especially your boobs – can and will be both a curse and a blessing. You will one day embrace them for both sides of the coin, especially when it comes time to attend court for your first speeding ticket…don’t worry, he lets you off way easier than the cop did.

You will kick yourself when you realize you should have thanked your big sister sooner for stepping in, every time, without question, whenever, wherever and however you might have needed her – she kind of raised and saved your ass…a lot. (Seriously, thank you, Julia.)

Where would I be without you?

Where would I be without you?

You don’t know it yet, but you are about to make the bold, almost stupid, decision of not attending college directly after high school – I want to thank you for that. Seriously, good move. You get to meet the next great loves of your life – your future fiancé, the man you will marry and his beautiful children – because he remembers you years after your stint in the automotive industry is over. He’ll contact you on a site called Facebook (which I won’t even attempt to explain to you) and the rest is history.

Future You still doesn’t fully understand the feeling women are talking about when they say they “can’t wait to have a baby!” and that’s still okay, but stay open. Try not to let the influential voices in your life dictate this one for you – it is a choice that only you are allowed to make as you are the only one who will live with the results of that choice. And when women who don’t understand your indecisiveness about it make you feel small and ashamed, please don’t let them get into your heart. Not wanting or wanting children of your own does not shape the woman you are and the quality of life that you will have. Those women can suck it.

I wish I could find some way to tell you to be kinder and to go easier on your mama (not that you would have listened, you mule). She has always been your biggest cheerleader and your biggest defender – whether you believe me or not. One day you will be blessed to count her as one of your best friends and won’t ever be able to make it up to her for all the heart attacks and aches you’ve caused her. No matter what path you will choose – even the decisions you’re not proud of (there are eventually a few, trust me) – she will never leave your side. She’s also kind of the best example EVER for a mother’s love and will unknowingly provide the strength and wisdom you need when you become a step-mom.

mama and me

Mama and me

Also, it turns out there is a way to get what you want out of life without fighting and building brick walls at the first hint of heartache. You don’t have to be so ready to fight for your life at a moment’s notice and you will learn the hard way that people will only love and care about you when it’s good for them too. You will also learn that if you continue to make it impossible, they will walk. And some never come back.

Please don’t stop painting. I guarantee you will regret it.

You foolishly will stop running when you begin your first full time job. Thankfully, somewhere in your mid-20s you will fall in love all over again – with the freedom you feel mid-stride, heart pumping, legs aching, sweat dripping, telling yourself just one more kilometer, every kilometer, until you feel satisfied. It’s an even more amazing and rewarding relationship the second time around. ***Bonus hint: this rule DOES NOT apply to all relationships…but you’ll learn that one eventually too.***

Yes, you still cry easily – when angered, when happy, when sad, when overwhelmed, when frustrated, when elated…even commercials do you in. You don’t yet fully love this trait so innate to you, but you get used to it. Eventually. I hope.

You should be warned that people will tell you whatever you want to hear to get what they need or want from you. You learn this rule the hard way a few times (See a theme here? Donkey.). However, be grateful that it still has yet to harden your heart and you learn to always hope for the best from people, every time. The good thing with this is you’re a lot happier this way and more in tune with your gut feel about people or situations.

16 year old me

16 year-old-me

You still have an amazing circle of people that love you and want only the best for you – you have just become a whole lot more appreciative of them and almost hyper-aware of how incredible your friends, family and loves are.

Please, try to remember daily – you are so blessed. Never forget what God has done for you.

Love,

~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