Even in the womb, my daughter Marissa was a gift.
Before I got pregnant, I was struggling to lose the baby weight I had packed on during my first two pregnancies and was just beginning to lose some. In vitro, Marissa became my personal trainer.
During the nine months Marissa camped out in me, I actually lost that baby fat. By the time she emerged, I was a scrapping size 10. Nobody, not even my doctor, could explain that.
She was born on this day, 24 years ago, in the stinking hot tub we call Mississauga, Ontario. It was so smoggy that day, we couldn't see Lake Ontario which was just down the hill on the way to the hospital.
Even then, she was an impatient girl. She could barely wait for her father to get home from the city and was stomping on my backside with her little imaginary stilettos.
Let me out, she seemed to be saying, the world needs to meet me.
Four hours and she was out, and perfect, a tiny little six pound two ounce charmer. That's what I thought, until she clamped down and nearly broke my nipple.
I'd like to say that I had a wonderful breastfeeding experience with Marissa. Truth is, I was spurting blood so she became a bottle feeder only inches into her new life. TMI, I know, but I believe it's the time I first noticed the independent streak that would define her.
Marissa was a scary dame right from the beginning.
She needed to be to survive her difficult childhood.
She survived her parents acrimonious split at age three, a childhood with no discernible male role model, ten years with a severely depressed mother, a brother with ADHD, a stepmother she detested, a house marked by chaos and economic uncertainty. And so on, and so on.
She did so by being tenacious, a virtual Oliver Twist. She played the system, and she played me.
When I wasn't giving her what she needed, she'd wear me down until she got her way. There was absolutely no chance of escaping the wrath of Marissa.
She was the Alpha in the house.
She reminded me with the full force of her personality that a promise made is a promise kept.
When she couldn't find me once, when her brother was babysitting, she called 9-1-1 and unleashed a whole shit storm on my head. Police, social workers -- they all showed up on my doorstep. As a mother, I was traumatized, but Marissa was matter of fact.
"You told us to call 9-1-1 in an emergency," said my precocious eight year old. "You didn't tell me where you went, so I called the policeman to go find you."
We were always fighting about money, as kids and their moms do in a single parent household.
She needed money for this or that. A new pair of jeans. A CD. I didn't have any.
"Look," one day, I said, my voice shaking. "I can't invent money."
So she did.
She got herself a job at the Ottawa exhibition serving burgers to low lifes and made $600 that summer. She worked at a greasy spoon while still under age. Then as a shop girl at Le Chateau, then as a car salesperson at 19.
She hated school and I was sure she would end up flunking out -- and she almost did.
Years later, I met her principal who told me the story of Marissa leaving school one day driving
a pack of sketchy teenagers.
"I said 'Marissa come back'," the principal told me. "She just looked at me and took off."
To my great relief, she smartened up, took summer school and graduated right on time.
Of course she did.
It's a story parents know well. Teenagers take you to the brink, leave you hanging on the cliff by only your toes. And just before you give up all hope and fall onto the craggy rocks below, they pull you back up.
"What?" they ask, when you're once again on solid ground. "Seriously, I wasn't going to leave you there."
After a year of making no money as a shop girl, Marissa agreed to go back to school and enrolled in a marketing program at Alqonquin College. Suddenly, school made sense to her and she seized the day securing a good job right after graduation. She now works as social media maven.
She has never looked back.
Today, she makes more money than I ever did, enough to keep her in cars and heels and stylish hairdos.
She proved herself right all those years ago in the maternity ward at Mississauga Hospital.
The world did need to meet her.
I'm reminded of something I told her when she was a teenager on a typical day when I didn't think she was listening.
I was telling her about her grandma who struggled for decades as a widowed single mom. And I was reminiscing about my own journey which had been derailed because I counted on a man instead of myself.
"Be the man you want to marry," I advised her. "That way you'll always be able to take care of yourself."
She repeated that line back to me a couple of years ago, on Facebook, one Mother's Day.
I couldn't have been more proud of her.
At 24, she's looking forward to a bright future, a marriage to the love of her life, the hip hop artist known as Flo, a family.
A career in a field she adores.
Trips to the Caribbean. Shoes with heels that go on forever.
And a life many girls can only dream of.
She wasn't lucky. She's worked hard for everything she has. And she fills the hearts of her friends and family every single day.
At the end of the day, she knows what's important.
If I were to leave the world today, there would be no regrets.
Just love and admiration.
Happy birthday to the Divine Miss M.
You've always made me look good.