It was 1986 and I was very excited heading to my first babysitting job; I would be babysitting my three cousins, Nick, Shawna and Kirsten. Thinking it would be easy, did I have a surprise. They were really fun to babysit but when the dreaded word ‘bedtime’ came into the conversation my cousins became sneaky kids avoiding bedtime at all costs, especially, Shawna. How could I negotiate a smooth transition to bedtime? That is when I created MISHMASH. The deal was if I told them a MISHMASH story they promised to go to bed! Perfect, I thought, little did I know what the stories and characters would lead to.
I told many stories for the next few years while babysitting, at our family gatherings, every time we got together. The Christmas of 1989 I was in grade 9 and still told MISHMASH stories to my cousins when we gathered at my Aunt and Uncle’s house. Nick, Shawna and Kirsten were getting older but still loved the stories, and I loved telling them. The year 1990 rolled in and before Christmas break was over my Mom had to go back to University in Toronto. My Dad, Mom and I had to go to Toronto and bring my Mom back to her residence. She was becoming a United Church Minister. Before we left, my best friend had confided in me that she was afraid she was losing me to all the new people, sports, etc., happening in our new High School. So, I asked if Sara could come to Toronto with us and I could show her she was still my best friend, no matter what! Having a great weekend, Sara and I had shopped, swam and hung out. Then, it was time to say goodbye to my Mom and get home as our 2nd semester of grade 9 was going to begin after the great weekend we had reconnecting. As we were leaving, Sara and I argued who was going to sit in the front seat for the car ride home, she won. So, we climbed in the car, and fell fast asleep.
Next thing I remember was waking up in a white walled room, machines attached to me. We had been hit by a drunk driver. Sara had died on impact. My Dad was rushed home to Sudbury hospital, and I fought for my life in Parry Sound Hospital, then stabilized and was transferred to Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto. I remained in a coma for 3 and a half weeks as I sustained a very serious enclosed head injury, many broken bones, collapsed lungs, etc. I had a series of 7 operations in 7 days. When I started to come out of the coma flashes of my life came to me and I will admit when I wasn’t trying to plan how I would escape the hospital and go home, or sneaking to call people from the nurse’s station, I thought about my MISHMASH stories and what he would do. Four months of Sick Kids, and Hugh MacMillan Rehabilitation Centre I was finally going home.
Got home, and I began school again, but it was tough! Lots of resource and special support at school helped me to complete 2 out of 4 credits that 2nd semester of grade 9. Sometimes, when I was in the resource room, getting tutored, working on homework, or just taking a mental break, I would jot down MISHMASH adventures that I wish I would’ve kept. I had lost a lot but he was still in my head. High school was a lot of work, and I worked hard to recover. I still babysat a little through the years continuing to tell MISHMASH stories. In my last year of high school, grade 13, I had a pivotal moment. I had got an algebra test back the week before that I had studied countless hours for! I had gone to my algebra teacher’s house to do practice questions, worked with my tutor, etc,…needless to say, my teacher, the late Mrs. Ceasar (Please God, rest her soul) announced 2 people got 100% on the test. One was her son, who had tutored me, and the other was ME! That meant so much! It had been a long road through high school, and I wanted to graduate with my class more than anything. So, that meant Summer School, and multiple tutors until I accumulated enough credits to graduate with them. Finally, graduation came, and my resource teacher who had been by my side throughout those years always helping me, had sent an application to the Terry Fox Scholarship Program for me. This is an award which is given to recipients who have overcome adversity in their life. I was awarded that scholarship at my high school graduation, what an honor!
I went onto University in general science, wanting to transfer to McMaster for Physiotherapy. But, my initial plan changed after a neuroscientist that had done an assessment on me, requested by our insurance. I was given a recommendation that I remain home for my post-secondary education. They were worried I couldn’t handle the workload, and everything else that came with going away to University. What would MISHMASH do? I’d occasionally think of stories and then think he’d just push through determined as ever! So, I did too. I successfully did my 1st year general science in 2 years, and decided it was too much, feeling defeated. I transferred into a 3-year Physical Fitness and Leisure Management Program at a college. I completed that with honors and began working as YMCA as a personal trainer.
Still not happy, I enrolled in a Practical Nursing Program, graduating in 2002. Worked as a nurse in research, long-term care, and in a hospital. Finally, I decided I was going to do it! I wanted my degree! I enrolled in a Health Promotion Program and I graduated in May 2004! See I could do it, felt like a victory to me! I worked at a Health Unit as a coordinator for the Youth Smoke Free Ontario Program, which was fantastic! It was a contract role and during that year I found out I was pregnant with my first child.
My doctor was concerned if there would be complications in my pregnancy due to the internal injuries I had sustained. But after an emergency C-section, Zach was born October 2006. While on maternity leave, I became pregnant with second, Jake 9 months later. We decided that I would not return to work right away until the kids were old enough for school. Again, MISHMASH stories emerged and became an integral part of their bedtimes. They always were so mesmerized how MISHMASH did a lot of the same things they did, and had same likes? I reflected of how and why I had first created MISHMASH for my cousins and now telling stories to my own kids, and they loved the cute character too.
Then something tragic happened, one of my cousins who helped me create MISHMASH and motivated me to make his personality into an adventurous, inquisitive character was devastated by depression. She sadly took her life. Everything stopped in time for me when I first found out. I reminisced how many MISHMASH stories, she negotiated me into telling her before she would finally go to bed. As I mourned her loss, I vowed that I would write a MISHMASH book one day and dedicate it to her.
My oldest, Zach, began school in 2010. I volunteered at the school while my boys were young. One day Zach came home with a project, he had to write a story and he choose to write one about MISHMASH! He did a great job, writing it in French, and his class loved it! So, as I volunteered, sometimes I would tell a short MISHMASH story if the teacher needed a few minutes of prep. Soon both my boys were in school full time and I began a position of lunch-room supervisor in September 2013. My first day as lunch-room supervisor, I was a bit taken back as the kids were loud and rambunctious, so I began reading books from home. Slowly I ran out of books to read, so I thought what could I do? This gave me an idea, the next week I walked into the classroom, sat on the floor and asked everyone to join me. Then I began making up MISHMASH adventures for the next six years. The MISHMASH character is inside my heart and I love to bring him to life. Having made a promise to myself and my cousin, I spent many nutrition breaks free sketching MISHMASH stories on the blackboards, then whiteboards until finally I wrote and drew my first actual book in 2017. Multiple parents asked me, when was I going to write MISHMASH? But I was curious, I researched and researched about how to do it, sent queries to publishers, and started to consider self-publishing. I met with local publishers and kept sending queries to publishers and questions to self-publishing companies. The task of self-publishing seemed daunting and scary. I spoke to a Canadian company that assisted writers in self-publishing multiple times. Many discussions with my family and even more research I decided to enlist them to assist me on this Mishmash journey. Tellwell Publishing, in British Columbia have been instrumental in helping me to design and publish my Mishmash book which I am just elated over and so very proud to call my own.
It has been a long up and down road to Mishmash, and I am curious and excited to follow this new road that has begun. Not sure of its exact timeline, as it did take me 33 years to make it to this point…Needless to say, I like to believe Shawna is reading Mishmash somewhere, asking when the next one will come.😊