Sunday felt like a quintessential Carrie-style day. I was on my own with the three youngest kids, with Kevin and Albus at a soccer tournament in Ohio (yes, back-to-back weekends in Ohio, switching up the parent/kid combo). Despite wishing to sleep in, I got up (relatively) early to run the dogs. While running, decided to bake bread. Vacuumed the downstairs. Grabbed a quick shower. Cleared the dining-room table. Made lots of coffee, plus waffles, plus cut up a watermelon. Fooey helped set the table and organize. And then my sibs arrived for brunch — yes, this had been planned in advance; it was my idea! And then we all relaxed and ate and chatted at our leisure, sitting around the table for ages. Even the kids sat and enjoyed the conversation (listening intently, quietly, miniature big-eyed spies soaking up intel from the adult world). And the bread came out of the oven in time to be “dessert.” Mmmmm.
After everyone left, I put AppleApple in charge and went for a run with a friend. After that, there was really just laundry, leftovers for supper, and a whole lot of downtime to talk and read together.
While in the midst of the morning prep work, pre-shower but mid-bread, I texted Kevin to say: “I feel like sometimes I make life too complicated …”
And it’s probably true. I probably could arrange things differently. I probably didn’t need to bake bread, for example. I didn’t need to squeeze in a run. I didn’t need to offer to host brunch on a weekend when I was parenting alone. But it all worked out so awesomely that I’m going to reassure myself: how you do stuff is just fine. Go ahead and keep doing it, not because you need to, but because you want to. Keep making life complicated. It’s complicated; not too complicated. There’s investment and reward. It’s busy, but we have a lot of fun — I have a lot of fun (and the kids need to know: moms just wanna have fun, too). Best of all, for those of us who enjoy adventure and excitement and a shot of adrenalin in our every day, complicated makes every day is a little bit different. There’s variety amid the routine, chaos in the order, storm in the calm. But also, thankfully, calm in the storm.
PS Girl Runner was reviewed this weekend in the Independent on Sunday (UK) — the only novel in a round-up of running books, in celebration of the London marathon: “It’s a joy to read about a woman finding pleasure in her body that isn’t sex or diet-based.” (Not that there’s anything wrong with sex or food, the author of Girl Runner would just like to add …)
Oh, the word WRITE. How I love it, on a day like today, after a week like this week, when my mind is rich with ideas and enthusiasm, and the joy that comes from working. Work that sometimes, truly, feels like play.
I think we fall into our themes. We can’t always understand them, or know why they’ve become the themes to which we’ve devoted our creative lives, but they’re there. If I am to identify the themes that have occupied me in projects past, and that are highly likely to continue to occupy me during the years to come—many productive writing years, oh Lord, please, grant me—they include the following: midwifery; abortion; pregnancy and birth; mothering; siblings; running; competition; feminism; activism; rule-breaking or unconventional behaviour; gambling and debt; small-time criminality and the huckster or the shyster; peace and justice; adoption; parentage; memory; forgiveness; gifts or gift-giving; music; fame/performance; horses; spirituality; love; friendship.
I’m absolutely bubbling over with joy at having all of these pieces of life to explore. And more, and more. (Where does The Candy Conspiracy fit into the thematic framework? Hedonism? Entertainment? Fun purely for the sake of fun? Yes, sometimes all I want to do is goof off and have fun–can that be a theme too?)
I’m listening to my eldest daughter play the piano. She’s practicing her songs for the Kiwanis festival later this month. The music is beautiful, though right now she’s going over and over a few rough patches. She’s got a batch of hot-cross buns rising on the counter and she was singing the song this morning, in her pyjamas. The other kids are off with Kevin at his office, helping him reorganize and rearrange, though it’s just as likely that they’re playing video games rather than lugging stuff around.
On Wednesday, we found ourselves with a free evening. Nobody had anything to do or anywhere to go. This is so rare on a weeknight that we all felt celebratory. After supper, the adults drank a beer and the kids each had a pop and we sat around the table talking and drawing. Everyone took a turn suggesting a subject to draw, and we had two minutes to try to draw whatever it was.
Above are our people, drawn on the chalkboard, which is where we started.
It’s Good Friday. I’m going to make paska this afternoon, a Russian Mennonite Easter bread, although I’m not Russian Mennonite. Eggs, spring, colour, sweet bread, new life.
If you notice I’m writing here a little less frequently, it’s due to writing elsewhere a little more frequently. On balance it all equals out, although the other things I’m writing don’t receive instant publication.
It feels really really good to be writing, especially new fiction. It’s so deeply satisfying to my brain. Like scratching a hard to reach itchy spot, or discovering a stretch that eases a tensed muscle.
I’ve been reflecting more deliberately this month on my word-of-the-year, which is SUCCESS. Such a daunting word to take on, yet it keeps calling out to be wrestled with. Any change in identity causes disturbances within the self, even positive change, even success. Even the meaning of success changes depending on the kind of day I’m having. It’s really personal. I also find myself rolling over the idea of how much a person can change, fundamentally, throughout a lifetime. Do the same insecurities that arose in childhood continue to affect my behaviour and choices now, or am I wise enough to stand counter to the pettier of the emotions and weigh my reactions rationally? I don’t have the answer to that.
On instinct, I continue to do the things that ground me. I set the alarm early. I run. I read. I spend time with friends. This weekend I also baked. In fact, I went on a baking tear yesterday afternoon. Kevin was out most of the day with the older kids at two separate soccer events, and therefore I was home alone with the younger ones, who still need supervision. For a fruitless hour around noon, I kept trying to arrange their happiness so that I could go into my office and work. Best-case scenario involved being interrupted every few minutes with reports from CJ’s latest invented back-yard soccer match, while Fooey and friends played tea party with soapy water in her bedroom.
So I capitulated. I picked up the cards I’d been dealt. I wandered into the kitchen and remembered baking. Remember baking? I used to bake all the time. Then the oven broke right before Christmas and by the time it got repaired, two months later, I’d kind of forgotten all about it. But yesterday I remembered. I now know why I used to bake so often — because it gave me the satisfaction of being productive while looking after young children. I tuned in to CBC Radio, tied on my apron, and went to town. First, Fooey and friend and I baked brownies from a box. Then they went outside to play, and I carried on, sans boxes. I baked granola bars, I baked granola, I baked mac & cheese, and I baked bread. The afternoon turned to evening, Kevin texted me updates from the soccer sidelines, the radio kept me company, and it didn’t feel like an intrusion when CJ ran in and out of the kitchen to report on The Crushers vs The Avalanches of Doom, both teams of ducks, he said, whom he was training up to play soccer.
All of this was made easier by two things: one, that I have some really heavy work to do this week, going through two sets of page proofs for Girl Runner, and I probably needed the mental break, and two, that I had gone for a long run the day before, so I figured a day of rest wouldn’t hurt.
I’m not playing soccer this summer.
I miss it already and find myself mourning for my soccer-playing self. But I can’t take the risk of getting hurt again and being unable to work or think, especially in the lead-up to this fall’s challenging workload. So to comfort myself, I’m doing more distance running. Soccer tended to beat me up at the best of times, making distance training a challenge, so I’m looking at its absence as an opportunity to run long.
I announced this intention at a family meal last Monday and my little sister literally rolled her eyes at me. I know, I know. This is my idea of fun? And comfort? But it makes me feel good. Grounded. Strong. Present.
It’s what I need. I’m going on instinct here.
I went away for the weekend.
I needed to be unwound. That’s what it felt like: a slow and steady unwinding of the tightly knotted self. It was almost like I’d forgotten how to have fun. How to partake of fun. How to be fun.
Responsibility requires armour, maybe.
I skiied on this frozen lake. I hadn’t been on cross country skiis since childhood, but it felt like I could have gone forever. It’s much easier to glide across the snow than to slog through the snow in running shoes. Winter’s long long iteration spoke so differently when I was gliding like a hot knife through butter into the wind. Isn’t this a blast, it said.
Our oven has been fixed, have I mentioned this?
AppleApple baked an apple-cranberry crisp to christen it. The crisp took all evening to prepare, and we devoured the entire pan in fifteen minutes flat. Fooey made brownies a few days later. I’ve used it to bake potatoes, but that’s all so far. I’ve got to get some veggies roasting while winter’s still on.
Oh, yeah, winter’s still on. I checked the 7-day weather forecast, and it’s going to be cold, cold, and also, cold.
I’ve come home thinking: I’ve got some work to do. I don’t mean the laundry or the scheduling or even writing. I mean something different. Maybe I don’t even mean work. I mean: I’d like to figure out how to unwind myself. How to be unwound. How to break down my fears.
I don’t like to think of myself as fearful, but it’s there, so why hide it or hide from it? I’m not afraid of external challenges; I accept many things I cannot change. What I fear is closer to the bone: it is the bone, and the guts, the heart, the spirit. I fear the limits of my mind and imagination, and the limits of a body that ages and changes. And I’m afraid of my fears, closing me off from laughter and lightness of heart.
But I’m not afraid to call them out. And I’m not afraid to chase the light — or maybe it’s enough simply to turn toward it. Throw open the windows and doors. Bask. It might be cold, cold, cold, but the days are getting longer, the sunlight is growing stronger.
AppleApple is obsessed with names. Yesterday, while we were sitting around the supper table, she looked up all of our names in one of her (many) baby name dictionaries: according to this one, Carrie derives from Caroline, which means small and strong. I like that very much.
She’s back! (Arrived home on the bus at 2AM this morning; Kev picked her up since I was getting up at 5AM for spin and kettlebells. But of course I ran down to give her a hug as soon as I heard them come in.) And one of her roommates on the trip had brushed through the gigantic knots in her hair, which we’d been putting off for rather awhile. (I’d suggested this might be a possibility, remembering what it was like to be an 11-year-old girl, and sent along a spray bottle of detangler and a fat-toothed comb, just in case. Apparently, she simply asked her roommates if either of them liked brushing hair, and one did and volunteered for the job, bless her.)
I’ve got an early Christmas present. I’m typing this on my new laptop. My work is now officially portable. Kevin tells me I can work at his office over the holidays if it gets too noisy here at home (and good grief, my children are loud).
I spent all weekend working on revisions. I’m a bit like a woman possessed right now.
Our oven isn’t working (it’s been that kind of a year), but that should be fixed on Wednesday, just in time for hosting. My mom had the younger kids over to bake and decorate cookies yesterday afternoon. Outsourcing Christmas activities. That seems to be my solution to the holidays versus revisions show-down currently on play.
That said, I took time off for a few activities on the weekend. There was snow shovelling to attend to, and happy was I to burn off steam while in the great outdoors, my energetic daughter helping for the entire project. Most fun was that a few people stopped to say hello as they were driving by. It felt very neighbourly. Speaking of neighbourly, when I mentioned our stove woes on FB, three neighbours offered their ovens for Christmas day. Three! In a matter of minutes!
So I may be huddled up in my office, bent over my keyboard, caught up in my imaginary world, but when I take a moment to look up and around, there are lovely people who don’t seem to mind that I’m fuzzy-headed and needy and mildly dazed. Or even wild-eyed and mildly frantic (that happens sometimes too, around here, believe it or not).
We had to bake Christmas cookies. So said this lass, and she would do the mixing and measuring herself to make it happen. So while I whipped the butter and sugar, she sifted the dry ingredients. When it came time to combine the two, there seemed not nearly enough dry to sufficiently turn the wet into cookie dough.
“It looked like too much flour,” Fooey explained.
And then I explained that baking is like a chemistry experiment, and doesn’t respond well to measurement by whim. So we re-measured the dry, added it in, then added even more, and voila, cookies. We ate them plain as we didn’t have time to frost them, but it was a double batch, so we’ve got three trays’ worth of dough waiting in the fridge, wrapped in wax paper, ready to be rolled out and baked as an after-school snack. So far, we haven’t quite managed to follow through on that plan.
Today we’re getting the water softener replaced. We figured out something was wrong when we turned on the tap the other morning and nothing came out. Kevin was able to bypass the softener, so we do have water. Really, it could have been worse. But then the stove’s front panel stopped working. So it’s been that kind of a week.
Yesterday evening, while I was out at a soccer practice, Kevin received delivery of my manuscript, marked up with comments. I resisted the urge to read through it for about, oh, thirty seconds, and then gave in, and skimmed and scanned over a bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup. A short while later, I opened a message about the possibility of teaching again. At which point, I slid these two separate Big Things to the back of my mind and ordered them to stop yammering at me. And then I sliced up apples and pears for snack and wrangled the little kids into bed, read them the death scene from The Lion, The Witch, and Wardrobe, which required reading them the resurrection scene, too, which meant the lights went out later than planned. By then, Kevin and Albus were home from their soccer practice, and AppleApple was delivering a school presentation to the dogs (for want of a better audience), and we made tea and hot chocolate, and Albus and I texted while standing side by side in the kitchen, cracking each other up. (Butt jokes never really go out of style, I find.) And then Kevin went to hockey. The laundry never got folded. I set my alarm for an early morning boot camp. I climbed into bed.
Guess what was waiting for me — yup. My thoughts. All night, a mash-up of Girl Runner and teaching anxiety dreams played in my head. I spent an hour, around 3AM, wide awake, thinking thinking thinking. Begging my thoughts to turn off, please. Knowing everything would be clearer come morning. (Or at least less dire; I find middle-of-the-night rumination very unhelpful in this regard.)
Early this morning, I dragged myself out to boot camp. The theme appeared to be: train like a volleyball player! I have never done so many jumps — onto platforms and balls and just generally into the air, arms up — in my life. Now I’m at my desk with a where-do-I begin sensation. So I begin with the blog, naturally.
little Albus, kindergarten era, pre-texting
And I’ll end the blog by circling back to Christmas, the preparations for which seem especially scattered and ill-thought-out this year. Children do not have gifts. We will be scrambling at the last-minute, I fear. I seem to be waiting for someone else to take the initiative, to organize the outing to the toy shop, or the baking of the cookies (thanks, Fooey!), while I sit at my desk and wander through my imaginary world, trying to fit all the pieces together that still need fitting. Trying to make it all work.
I heard myself say to myself, around 3AM this morning, “Carrie, you can’t do everything.” Don’t tell me that! I told myself. Truth is, I long for multiple lives, for the ability to step from one identity to another, from one kind of work to another, with singular devotion to each. I would be so many things, if only there were little rooms in life that one could exist in simultaneously. Here’s my wish list of multiple lives: writer, devoted mother, teacher, long-distance runner, midwife, singer-songwriter, stage actress. Oh, and I’d have horses, too.
Anyone else have the multiple lives fantasy?
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