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Alberta Mamas SkirtsAFire Artist Spotlight – Writer Michelle Todd {+Giveaway}

As I prepare to perform Deep Fried Curried Perogies at SkirtsAfire Festival this March, I think of the person who made me a mother.

My first born. This beautiful, tall, lean, long physique, gorgeous smile, thoughtful, patient, gooby sense of humour, mini-man. And promptly burst into tears. It has been such a surprisingly long road, it’s not over, but man!

Suddenly he’s 16 and adulthood is around the corner. For him! I can barely believe that I’m no longer the “young adult”. I still can’t exhale. I’m still scared. When he was first born, to the oft asked “How is he? How is motherhood?” I would reply, “Still alive,” not because he had any history of disease, but because it was my new mantra and let’s be honest, many an African violet and bamboo plant have expired in my care. And now I had a human?!?!

I had a lot of support; a wonderful partner, friends, family, and the greatest, most loving, frustrating, cheerleader support I had was my own mother. My mom was so great, I can’t even listen to Jann Arden’s “Mother” song without choking up. I don’t just mean the burning eyes and rapid blinking, but the closing, tight throat, with the pinching-of-the-spot-between-your-eyebrows, tears-streaming-down-your-face, reminding-yourself-to-breathe kind of crying. Sucker punch every time.  

I was lucky enough to be friends with my mom. We talked pretty much everyday. Sometimes more than once. I saw her at least 3 times a week. We lived 10 minutes away. The last thing I said to her was how much I love her and how thankful I was for her. I’m damn lucky.  

The love affair my mom had with her first grandchild gave her a new lease on life. My mother loved my son, so much, most grandmother’s do, but she would call to see what he ate, how long he slept, if he pooped! That’s love. There’s no one I’m calling to check on their BM’s (bowel movements). I came to an agreement with my mom that she would get him one night a week – she could spoil him to her heart’s content and I could eat with BOTH hands, shower ALONE, clean the apartment all AT ONCE and MAYBE workout.  It was great. My maternity leave was pretty awesome.

My son was three when she passed away.

My emotional state was trash. I seriously thought I was going crazy until my doctor told me it was my thyroid reacting to a major life event. Hard, hard, hard, hard, hard. And not just for me. Amazing day centre staff, social workers, and counsellors let me know my beautiful 3-year-old baby boy was depressed. More tears. Depressed? Isolated. Lethargic. Not smiling. I don’t blame him. My mother died in October. It was like being on a plane and the air pressure drops and those masks fall from the roof. I can’t grab mine and get it on. And I can’t grab my son’s mask to put his on. We’re just gasping with grief. Spinning through the turbulence of funeral arrangements, viewings, prayers, moving in with my newly widowed father, therapy appointments for my son, blood tests for me. Can I tour like this?  

Receiving great reviews, earlier that year I entered Deep Fried Curried Perogies in the CAFF (Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals) Fringe lottery. The winners would be guaranteed spots in five Canadian Fringe Festivals. My partner would be touring Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, and Vancouver. I won. I’d start touring in June and do Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto on my own. I would meet my son and his father in Winnipeg in July and we would all continue west to Vancouver until September. My partner encouraged me to do it. Not only would we be out thousands of dollars if I pulled out, but my mother had really supported my decision to tour. So in June, I headed off to Montreal. Performing this show, seeing my friends out east, travelling with the gypsy tribe of Fringers, helped me find and put on the air mask. I levelled out and started to fly again. Theatre saved me. Artists saved my son.

It was in beautiful Winnipeg in mid-July where curmudgeonly poets, silly clowns, amazing acrobats, dancers, actors, musicians, writers, directors, stage techs, and volunteers all engaged with my son. They would meet him in whatever moment he was in. Making believe he was invisible. Yelling in confusion. Pretend fights in the street. Crying in frustration. Mad break dancing. It felt like the first time he laughed in months. Really laughed. Hyuking it up. The clouds cleared, my doubts about going on tour cleared. This was right. This beautiful troupe of traveling gypsies, a melange of kid lovers, breeder deniers, merely tolerant of kids – they all showed adoration and he blossomed.  

When we returned to Edmonton and life, I thought it would get easier somehow.

We lived downtown and balancing time management, activities, birthday parties, family – it was hard to keep friends his age in his life. It was hard to keep friends in school or in activities – with the rotation of teams, friends who moved away, bullying.

Then his principal called and wanted to meet in person. She had concerns about his troubling artwork and worried that he may be depressed. Breathe. My beautiful 8-year-old baby boy was depressed? Tunnel vision and from it I could see her and hear her say words. Suicidal. Isolated. Alone on the playground. No friends. More tears. Counselling. You grab tissues she pushes towards you and just feel useless.

Then an onslaught of counselling, talking strategies, seeing these horribly lonely drawings by your 8-year-old and reading these sad entries in his journal. Feeling lonely, trying to be brave. Terrified. Thinking you’re never going to make it, strategies, mechanisms, charts, reading, websites, research, watching, analyzing, comparing, hating happy kids, stalking kids to be friends, heart break, crying, crying some more, suck it up and then more crying. You grab more tissues and just feel useless, and like a horrible mother who can’t give her kid happiness.

And at some point, the strategies become life, and the charts get recycled, and you’re not reading every little thing or comparing. And you breathe. And you meet his friends, and his girlfriend, and his team mates, and his teachers, and you go to his games, and his shows. And you breathe. And you pick him up from work, or the movies, or cart racing. And he asks you questions, and shows you things, and you talk, and you laugh. Suddenly he’s 16 and adulthood is around the corner. This beautiful, tall, lean, long physique, gorgeous smile, thoughtful, patient, gooby sense of humour, wonderful mini-man. And you smile (and promptly burst into tears).  

Keep going mamas! You got this.

Michelle Todd is performing her show, Deep Fried Curried Perogies, at SkirtsAfire Festival, March 9-17 as part of the SkirtsAfire MainStage.

Win 4 tickets to Her Night Out on Thursday, March 14th at 9pm: SkirtsAfire Festival’s MainStage performance of Deep Fried Curried Perogies by Michelle Todd. Every ticket will get a complimentary glass of wine and popcorn to enjoy during the show! We draw February 25th!

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Click here for showtimes, and purchase your tickets at Tix on the Square now.

This post was sponsored by the SkirtsAfire Society.