If you were to walk into my house right this very moment I wonder what you would think. Would you think me a terrible homemaker because the dishes sit drying in the rack on the counter instead of put away neatly inside the cabinets? Would you look at the pile of stuff sitting on the dining room table and wonder why it’s not put away somewhere out of the way? Would you shake your head as you look out my window into the backyard and see the array of outdoor toys scattered across the grass?
Here’s the thing: life is busy. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. Somehow we manage to squeeze a lot into one day; school, two jobs, home cooked meals and homework. That’s not including soccer practices, physio appointments and dishes. Yet it’s still not enough. Something has to give and each and every day I have to make choices about what is going to be sacrificed. In all honesty, as often as possible, chores get placed on the back burner.
I’m a bit of an odd perfectionist. The idea of perfect is what I’m obsessed with. Nothing ever ends up perfect but so much of my life is spent trying to align everything to ensure perfection ensues. The vision I have in my mind is beautiful and is almost always impossible for me to achieve. Yet, I often feel like a failure when reality isn't a reflection of my imagined utopia.
It’s usually as I scan through social media photos or Pinterest when I start feeling defeated. Logically I'm aware that all the photos I am scanning through are just a tiny peak into someone’s life. The little slice they are allowing the world to view, usually filtered and always taken at just the perfect angle. It’s the irrational side of me that will sometimes take a look around my own house and wonder if I’m doing something wrong.
You would think with as much time as I spend scrolling through Pinterest my parties would be visually award winning but they aren't always even worthy of a re-pin. After many a late night spent trying to figure out the best way to lay out my party snacks I've learned that all it takes is good food, fun music and great company to throw a successful party.
I have wasted so much energy trying to be perfect in every aspect of my entire life. I have stressed that my house isn’t tidy enough. I’m ashamed of the piles of clean laundry sitting in baskets just waiting to be put away. I run around every evening like a crazy person trying to clean, organize, help with homework, cuddle and make sure I add a little fun in there. I have tried and tried and tried to do it all, often unsuccessfully and always frantically.
I’ve had to make some choices. They seem like hard decisions to make but in fact they are not difficult at all. I choose my family. I choose to go for bike rides after dinner. I choose to read a couple extra stories at bed time. I prefer to colour with my kids and go for frozen yogurt. I want to enjoy extra cuddles and giggles and fun. I would prefer to make memories at my parties than spend the entire time worried that my loot bags aren't perfectly arranged.
So if I’m going to be judged because my house doesn’t look like it’s straight out of a home décor magazine then so be it. What it lacks in organization it makes up for in love. My parties may not have Martha Stewartesque detail but I promise fun is had, memories are made and there is always laughter.
I’m usually tripping over a pile of shoes as I come in the door at the end of the day and swearing under my breath, but I am always welcomed home by a bombardment of hugs and kisses. Those are worth every stumble I make.
Instagram filters can do wonderful things. Sometimes I have to remind myself that what I see is filtered, posed and perfected. My life is far from picture perfect, it’s flawed, messy and even more beautiful than any photo can ever capture.
We like to celebrate every little thing in our family. I once threw a potty party, complete with pizza, cupcakes, and balloons, when my youngest said goodbye to diapers. The start of Junior Kindergarten was another exciting set of celebrations. First back pack...check...first ride on the school bus...check...first visit to the Optometrist...check.
I booked her first visit with a Doctor of Optometry to coincide with her first week in JK. It was strictly a routine visit in my mind; she had never exhibited any signs of vision problems. She always looked us right in the eye, we read books, we coloured, and we loved watching movies. There was no indication that she was struggling to see.
As we headed into her first appointment, I reminded her of how this was an exciting part of being in JK and we chatted about the neat tools the Optometrist was going to use to make sure her eyes were working - just like they did with her older brother. I sat in the corner giving her the thumbs up and expected to walk out in a few minutes.
My concern began when she couldn’t identify all the letters, as I knew she was confident in her alphabet. Next, she was shown pictures and when the Optometrist asked her to identify a photo of a house, she looked right at me nervously, shrugged her shoulders and said “I can’t see it.” It was the very first time she had used those words. I slumped back in the chair as the reality slowly made its way through my body; she can’t see properly and I, her mother, had no idea. What I did not know was how common this is. 1 in 4 children has some form of vision problem and they need to use their vision to learn as almost 80% of learning is visual. This is why it is so important that children have their eyes checked by a Doctor of Optometry to ensure that any vision limitations are caught early on.
It turns out, she was almost always focusing out of one eye instead of using both. The other eye was not seeing clearly. There were no signs at all that we could have picked up on and the Optometrist confirmed that this was not unusual; often parents are totally unaware their child is having trouble seeing. She learned to cope (like many kids with vision problems do), using one eye for almost everything and no one had a clue.
Eventually, the Optometrist explained, her vision would have deteriorated even further. The one eye doing all the work would have tired and she may have started struggling in school. This is the exact reason parents are encouraged to bring their children in to visit a Doctor of Optometry by the time they reach school age. The great thing is it is covered by our Ontario Health Card (OHIP) so there is no out of pocket cost to get checked.
We were lucky, we caught it in time!
After a follow up visit to ensure we had the right prescription, it was time to choose her glasses. This was the most exciting part! “You get to choose your very own glasses!” I exclaimed “I know!” she squealed back with anticipation.
I eyed the wall containing the kid’s glasses. As I searched for my favourite, she grabbed a pair, put them on, and smiled at herself in the mirror. My honest first reaction was no, I don’t like them. Too bright, too flashy not my style, I thought to myself. I pulled down a pair that were a little more reserved and coerced her to try them. She put them on to please me, looked at me and frowned. She didn’t like them. She then grabbed her first choice and put them back on and her smile lit up the room. I stood back and watched her beaming in her bright red glasses and reminded myself: this isn’t about me. This is her day. Her choice. Her glasses.
I held my breath after I quietly asked “how much are these?” I hoped her choice wasn't pricey. It was then that I was told about the Eye See…Eye Learn program and found out that my daughter's very first pair of glasses would come at no cost to me. I instantly felt a huge weight lifted. I didn’t have to worry about how much the glasses were going to cost and if we could afford the ones she wanted. She was able to choose the beautiful red glasses that she fell in love with at first glance. And we didn’t have to stress about what those glasses were going to do to our bank account.
This program is fantastic and makes it so easy for parents to have their children’s vision checked. Her eye exam was covered under OHIP and her very first pair of glasses were covered under the Eye See…Eye Learn program. The entire process came at no expense to us; all it cost was about 45 minutes in total of our time.
Take a look:
Just over a week later, her glasses arrived. As is customary in our family, we celebrated! Off we went to her favourite restaurant and toasted clearer vision with pizza and cake pops, with my daughter showing off her brand new shiny red glasses.
Our son was already six weeks-old the first time he made his grand entrance into our own home. We had spent six weeks riding the emotional rollercoaster that is the life of a NICU parent yet the moment we set foot in our home the world expected me to – poof – be better.
In the days after his birth when the ambulance rode off, sirens blaring and carrying my baby in the back, I instantly became a part of a club that I knew nothing of. There was no experience required to join this group; no rule book, no instructions. An unspoken energy of support was constantly flowing throughout the parent waiting room at Sick Kids Hospital. Eye contact was minimal; we respected each other’s privacy. When one of us broke down and succumbed to our fears, the rest of us quietly stood by offering our support without even saying a word. All of us were in this thing together and the end goal was to get our babies home.
Yet once our son came home my real battle would begin. The loneliness consumed me. It wrapped itself around me and tightened its grip leaving me short of breath. Fear forced itself into my everyday life; it was stronger than I was and much craftier. It appeared in the middle of the night when I had let my guard down and escaped in the screams that interrupted my nightmares.
Instead of feeling supported and understood, I felt judged and alone. “You need to get over it,” they said. “Let it go.” In their minds he was home and it was over.
“What do you know?” I wanted to scream at them. They weren’t there when the doctor explained to us that his heart had stopped beating during surgery. They weren’t told that they couldn’t touch their brand new baby because his breathing tube absolutely couldn’t be moved. They didn’t see him all bruised and tubed and tiny. Who were they to tell me how I should feel, when I should heal and what I should do to get over this hurdle?
Most new mothers have no idea how important oxygen levels are. They aren’t measuring out medication in tiny little syringes to give their infants. I loved meeting new mummies and in those first two years I made great friends at play groups, parks and libraries. Chatting about breastfeeding, when to introduce solids and naptime schedules helped me feel normal, yet in the back of my mind it felt as though we were walking different paths. I found myself longing for those parents back in that NICU parent waiting room. They understood me in a way these mother’s on the outside just couldn’t.
One night, a couple of years into my journey, my nightmares were keeping me awake and in desperation to feel just a little bit normal, I allowed myself to speak my fears. Though rather than speak them, I wrote them. All of the emotions that were hiding deep inside me, those feelings that made everyone else uncomfortable poured out of me in the form of a blog. In my mind all these terrible thoughts that had been weighing on me for the past two years were floating around in cyberspace with no eyes to read them.
I was wrong.
The messages from other NICU parents started coming in almost immediately. They thanked me for putting words to how they felt. I found online communities filled with parents who were struggling with their own experiences. I wasn’t alone. We were parents of NICU grads and we understood each other in a way that no other parent could. We swapped stories and looked for opinions. We cried, we vented and we complained that it wasn’t fair. We offered each other a support system and a light at the end of the dark tunnel we had been traveling.
I had found my tribe.
We aren’t all travelling the same road. Those closest to us, though they love us, may not be able to understand us in the way we need them to. Sometimes we have to look in the unexpected places for someone who can really hear our story. It took me two years but I finally found my people and I will always be grateful for them. They offered no judgement, they didn’t expect me to forget all we had been through; we were simply connected to each other.
I found my tribe when I least expected it but it was finding them that helped me through my darkest hour.