Roused myself this morning after a too-fun evening out with siblings last night, and organized the children for a bike adventure. The photos are taken by my ancient cellphone (I got it three years ago, which means in tech years it’s one hundred and thirty-three); here we are toward the end of our journey, when the children were splashing themselves liberally with melting popsicles. It got ugly. Well, it got sticky, to be more precise. There was some semi-serious discussion of whether hands might get glued onto bike handles, that’s how sticky it got. But prior to that, we biked all the way to Columbia Lake and picnicked in the shade on a hill overlooking the water, a field of black-eyed susans waving below us in the cool breeze. The only thing that could have made the event ever so slightly more charmed would have been the addition of Kevin; though I actually find the children are better behaved, and rise to the occasion more earnestly, when they are being supervised by only one parent (why is that?). After lunch, we followed the gravel trail along the stream and found a patch of red raspberries. I almost encouraged the kids to clamber down a steep hill into the swampy creek, but thought better of it. We biked amidst the lunch crowd on the trail going through campus, and the concession stand at the park was our final stop. With the exception of one small meltdown over having to share the much-coveted slushie (our newly four-year-old girlie is still learning to control her impulses for “now, now, now!”), by the time we were home the children were in a blissed-out state. CJ crawled out of the bike stroller and into the sandbox where he spent almost an hour, the big kids read on the couch, and I sipped a cup of cold coffee (let’s pretend it was iced) on the back porch while browsing the paper.
And I’m ever so reminded of why I love summer.
Weekends are chore times, and four busy summery weekends had passed without us being here to do the picking up. The kids’ rooms were particularly disastrous. I made several mid-week attempts, with children helping, to tidy their rooms, without getting much of anywhere. Finally, yesterday, we awoke with the gleeful knowledge that we had nowhere to go and nothing much to do. Can one clean gleefully? If you’re Obscure Canlit Mama, yes, yes, you can. There’s something so satisfying about cleaning when it’s really beyond dirty: moving furniture, organizing, purging (don’t tell the kids). Under the couch in the girls’ room I found: fuzz, fabric, dead bugs, a spider’s web with large unhatched egg, crayons, pencils, hair bands, toy cars, Little People figures, several bouncy balls, a nightgown (!), a bath toy, and that’s just what I can recall. Didn’t take any before pictures, but see above … the rooms: floors cleared, shelves tidied, everything in its place and a place for everything. It took hours. And the kids didn’t help (which was helpful in and of itself; thanks, Kevin).
After supper, we hitched up the new bike stroller–yes, we did! After contacting the manufacturer directly, Kevin discovered that the necessary parts were living in our basement (we’d had them all along). So we went for a family ride, all the way to TCBY for frozen yogurt, and then a bit further, too. After jogging with the stroller these many weeks, biking with the stroller didn’t even feel like real exercise. Which was pretty nice.
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Obscure Canlit Mama has news. It’s kind of good news/bad news, except I can’t separate the two. My agent called on Friday afternoon. To set the stage, we’d just gotten home from Nina’s buying club, CJ was pounding on a wok with a barbeque tong he’d dragged out of a bottom drawer, and I was preparing a baked mac-and-cheese for the kids’ supper so that Kevin and I could go out to celebrate our anniversary, so my hands were kept busy during the conversation. My agent hates to give bad news (who doesn’t?). Listen, there’s bad news and then there’s bad news. Along that spectrum, this was disappointing but not unexpected. She doesn’t think the stories will sell (to a publisher). She’s read the earlier novel version, and feels the stories leave too much out, all sorts of research and context; besides, she says, it’s grim out there and publishers aren’t buying novels these days let alone a difficult-to-sell, almost-certainly money-losing dreaded short story collection. But. She said, Let me just toss an idea out there … have you considered writing this material as a memoir?
She said she’d give me a few weeks to mull it over, and call back.
So, let me ask you: if you could choose, would you rather read a short story collection or, hmmm, let’s call it “creative non-fiction,” set in Nicaragua in the early 1980s, during the contra war, told from the perspective of an American child living in Managua, whose parents are peaceworkers? In other words, would you rather read what could have happened, or what really did? Be honest.
Here is the other thing my agent said (to paraphrase): You are meant to be writing, this is what you’re supposed to do.
It’s a tough thing for me to believe, sometimes. I know the work that will be involved, maybe. But I also know I could write what she’s suggesting. I could do it. And it wouldn’t have to mean giving up on the collection of stories, because the two would be quite different beasts.
The real problem is that contemplating taking on this project would be like moving that couch. What awaits beneath? Do I really want to know? And the things I’d choose to purge or to arrange on the shelf: are they even mine, or do they belong to too many other people, too?
Figuring out (or remembering), based on today’s success, that a mixture of planned and spontaneous is the way to increase each day’s pleasure. We started swim lessons this morning, a two-week every-day stint that unfortunately won’t include CJ, whose session got cancelled. But he comes along anyway, and proved easy to entertain today, as we spent a great deal of our time coming in and out of various changerooms with various combinations of children in various stages of wet and dry. We transported ourselves to and from using the bike/run combo, which makes me feel fit and fitter, and ate a snack at the nearby park after swimming, then went onto the library to refresh our reading material. Home for lunch, siesta, and cookie baking. Yesterday evening, while Kev played soccer (almost the whole game … on that knee … he came home and iced it for ages), the kids and I biked/ran to the zoo at the park. Not an especially exotic zoo by any stretch of the imagination, but absolutely thrilling to the smallest of our crew, who almost lost his mind with excitement–uh, Mama, can you believe this, like, seriously, I’m going to have to crouch over, point and scream, because I think, if I’m not mistaken, that what we have here before us is a DI-DI!!! And another, and another, and another!!! Bunnies, deer, a cow-like animal, miniature horses, donkey (“what’s the difference between a donkey and a horse?”), goats, sheep, peacocks, and two piglets (“Look–‘these two little piggies are not going to market’. That’s good, right Mom?” “Hmm, it says that every year, but I have my suspicions …”). We snacked beside the deer, and arrived home in time to brush teeth and go to bed: perfect timing. Alone, at last, I indulged in the Bachelorette while folding laundry because heaven help me, I’m a summer reality television addict (not recovering). This afternoon, figuring they’d gotten a good dose of healthy exercise, I gave into the three oldest children’s pleas for “screen time” and let them spend our siesta playing on the computer; which meant that I couldn’t. So I read instead. It was LOVELY. At least as much fun as Facebook. Simple pleasures.
When I started this post, CJ was sitting at the counter on Albus’s former stool, proudly eating a cookie fresh from the oven; he’s now “dow, dow” and bringing me stuffed animals, kissing them, telling me stories, imitating their noises “woo, woo,” and requesting attention, please, Mama. Supper’s well underway (brown rice in oven; beans already cooked). Sure, kid. Meow, moo, peep.
“Bocs, bocs, bocs,” says CJ, and his big siblings go to play blocks with him. CJ is showing such excitement about communicating. I think of him as being a late talker, but in fact he does have words, they just aren’t always immediately recognizable. It gives him great joy to snort like a pig, woof like a dog, run to the door to shout “Dada!” and a sound like haaaaa! that means Hi. I remind myself to explain everything to him (this helps slightly with tantrums), because he understands a great deal. The other night I took all four kids to the little park after supper, riding in the wagon, and CJ took along his talking doll (“didi”). He cradled her all the way there, handed her to me when he wanted to go play, and collected her when I said, “Don’t forget your baby doll!”
Yesterday, of necessity because Kevin had our vehicle, I ran while pushing the stroller, with Albus on his bicycle, all the way to Apple-Apple’s daycamp to pick her up (Kevin had dropped her off in the morning with her bicycle so she could ride home). It’s not a small distance, and I was dreading the errand, while talking it up to the kids as an adventure. We currently have no working way to transport small children via bicycle; so I had to run. New running shoes helped, but what surprised me was that I felt pretty fit. I arrived somewhat red-faced at the daycamp site, but much earlier than anticipated. We took the long way home, stopping by our favourite City Cafe Bakery for a treat. I’m thinking we’ll repeat the experience tomorrow (today we’re combining camp pickup with CSA box pickup, since it’s nearby).
The bike stroller … this is a story that keeps brewing. You will recall that our former stroller was stolen off our porch several weeks ago. Much mourned, then we moved on as friends supplied us with a replacement (for which we’ve yet to purchase a bike hookup). Well. End of story? If only. Last week, our neighbour (the one who gave us a little red wagon awhile back) knocked on the door early in the morning. He’d found our stroller, could we come and confirm that it was ours. Kevin went first, came back ages later looking confused. He thought he’d recognize it, but it was so changed, he wasn’t sure. I didn’t really want to go, but of course this stroller was my fifth baby, and I was the one who’d spent all that time strapping children into it … Fooey went with me. I saw immediately what Kevin meant: it was hard to tell. The fabric was already sun-faded, there was green mould on the inside, it had some new rips and tears, had been stripped of many of its parts. Our neighbour flipped it over to show me the squirrel holes (a squirrel ripped through the bottom seat netting last summer to get at some cookie crumbs; pretty distinctive). Yes, they were there. Then I looked inside at the straps. They hadn’t been adjusted, and were set up, as always, for CJ on the left, Fooey on the right. CJ’s strap was always twisted, I could never figure out how to untwist it, and that was the final confirmation. Our neighbour had quite a story about how he’d recovered it, but suffice it to say the stroller was being used to transport beer bottles and other junk.
I brought it home, though I didn’t want to. The smell that now permeates its fabric is astonishing, and despite a concerted effort by Kevin and me involving bleach, scrub brushing, the hose, plain old soap and water, vinegar, et cetera, the scent doesn’t budge. Though at first we’d thought we could still hook it to our bicycle, I can’t imagine putting my children into this stench, and while scrubbing the other afternoon felt almost murderous rage toward the person who had taken our stroller and ruined it. But that emotion is so fruitless and destructive. Who am I, that I’m so privileged I can throw away the thing stolen and then returned? I wonder if I’m a wasteful person. The stroller’s return has made me reflect on how much easier it is to cope with something that is permanently lost to us; it’s almost as if absolute absence invites acceptance. I was at peace with the loss. It didn’t bug me. Seeing that stroller, what had happened to it, how it had been abused and destroyed, now that bugged me. But I’m not entirely sure why. Is it because I feel an emotional obligation to this wrecked object, an obligation which I resent? Makes me admire the father of the prodigal son who welcomed him back with open arms. Or maybe I’m investing too much emotion, value, and meaning into a Thing.
In any case, for now I will be running instead of biking with children, because it seems wasteful to buy a bike hookup for the new stroller when we have a functioning stroller that we could hook up to the bike; that I will, however, refuse to use. How dumb is that? Except the run was so good yesterday, maybe it’s a fine thing. I find it so much easier to exercise, to make the time, when it’s somehow encorporated into my children’s lives and to their direct benefit. This is why I so enjoyed being pregnant: I could take special care of my body and feel I was taking care of someone else, too. If it’s just for my own benefit, it feels … selfish (and, yah, I get that having a mom who is strong physically and emotionally benefits them too, it just doesn’t compute in the same way; but you’re looking at someone who actually feels guilty using the bathroom some days).
Apparently typing this blog doesn’t apply to the guilt factor.
We are having our back porch ripped down and rebuilt right now. CJ is engrossed. “Will they find any rat’s nests?” Albus wonders.
I’m figuring out that the stroller isn’t coming home, won’t miraculously turn up on our porch one of these mornings; and we’re thinking about how to replace it. But I’m amazed how many vivid memories are linked to that stroller. Before moving on completely, here a few …
We bought it deep in wintertime when Apple-Apple was an infant; and almost immediately questioned the purchase. The stroller wasn’t designed for infants, and Chariot hadn’t yet invented its “infant sling” attachment; Apple-Apple screamed and Albus tried to climb out as I plunged through snowbanks on our first walk around the block. So it spent winter buried under a plastic tarp behind our house in Guelph and I used a heavy Graco double-stroller instead; I used to drive to the mall and wander around, feed them french fries at the food court, just to get out of the house. That June we moved to Waterloo; even after Apple-Apple was big enough to sit up, I rarely used the Chariot. The side-by-side seating of a two toddlers resulted in … violence. Albus was a biter, and Apple-Apple fought back.
One of the first times I hooked that stroller to my bicycle, Kevin was far away, travelling for work (as he was required to do regularly, during our early years as parents), and I set out alone after supper, hoping to pass the time and get some exercise and entertain my two little ones … who were jolly right up until they weren’t. I turned around on the trail, the stroller crowded with howling babies. We were about two kilometres from home and there were no easy solutions. So I carried the littlest, who’d been bitten and didn’t want to be carried, whilst pulling bicycle and howling two-year-old-in-stroller combination All The Way Home. It was summer, hot, and felt epic in terms of sheer physical and emotional will. If that doesn’t teach you forbearance, nothing will. Didn’t use the stroller again till the following spring, when Albus was nearly three. This was when life got easier, and the two children did not require utter and constant vigilance. The stroller really came into its own, became a huge part of our daily lives and journies.
When I was just a few weeks pregnant with Fooey, just before Christmas, we set out for the library in the midst of a blizzard. Why? No longer remember, but suspect I enjoy setting such challenges for myself; and this one turned out to be greater than anticipated. Heaving, pushing, sweating, tossing the stroller over giant snow banks, snow falling thickly, cars getting stuck in the middle of the road. It truly seemed we might never arrive, yet there was no way we could turn back, my two little ones safely tucked inside with the cover down. The warmth of that library, when we stumbled into it, at last. But we thrived on such adventures. Often, we’d make them up for ourselves: Arctic explorers crossing frozen seas, on the look-out for polar bears; or desert explorers; or pioneers crossing mountainous terrain. The ordinary was made extraordinary.
That spring I was big and pregnant with Fooey, Apple-Apple was two and Albus was almost-four, and I transported them everywhere in the bike stroller, peddling my impressive bulk around the city till about a month before giving birth, when I could no longer reach the handlebars. Albus started school in the fall, and from that moment onward we gave the stroller a twice-daily workout, in fair weather and foul, with baby in sling. Kids grew. The stroller’s front wheel could be used to nudge a tricycle forward, or a bike with training wheels. With the two older ones on their own bicycles, the stroller could be pulled behind loaded with a picnic lunch and swim clothes. Last summer I added a top-rack for carrying extras, and ran after the older ones, baby CJ in a borrowed infant sling attachment, big sister Fooey lovingly beside him. I’d been anticipating new bicycling adventures this summer, with CJ now old enough to be pulled behind my bicycle.
And we’ll still get to do that; just not in our well-worn, much-loved, raggedy old Chariot. Life goes on. Maybe this is a lesson in material attachment. Whatever. I’ve got the memories.