DJ is posing for the camera, which we’re all finding hysterical
Somehow, last week’s brief thaw fooled me, despite knowing better, into thinking that spring-like conditions were in the offing. I keep stepping outside and registering the cold as a shock — as a personal affront — as if it weren’t absolutely to be expected at the end of February. The windchill registered at -21C on my run this morning, for heaven’s sake! AppleApple has told me that on April 1st, she is wearing a sweater to school no matter how cold it is. I was just glad she didn’t set that particular deadline for March 1st.
To further gather my thoughts regarding yesterday’s post on fear and unwinding, I would like to observe that there’s a fine line between acknowledging and reflecting on one’s fears, and becoming mired and stuck in an introspective feedback loop of one’s fears. I feel like I’m atop a small hill that I’ve been climbing for awhile, and this is a good place to pause and acknowledge that it was hard to trust my brain post-concussion. It was hard, and it was scary, but I don’t want it to colour my life. I’ve got other hills to climb.
That’s why I played soccer a few weekends ago. That’s why I write every day. That’s why I meet friends. That’s why I want to go out dancing and do kundalini yoga again and get a decent pair of snow pants and maybe some cross country skiis so I can play outside whatever the weather — take that, February! I’m a huge believer in imagining your way to success. You have to know where you want to go or you’ll never get there.
Writing and meditation and reflection are expressions I’m naturally drawn to as an introspective person. It’s why I’m a writer, I am sure. But life is lived concretely. It’s hands in bread dough. It’s running as the sky grows light. It’s vacuuming the dog hair (or teaching the five-year-old how to vacuum the dog hair).
Here’s what I’m visualizing. And doing.
My big (overarching) goals for the year:
* write the first draft of a new novel
* promote Girl Runner
* create a solid curriculum for my creative writing class
My small (everyday) goals for the year:
* write daily meditations
* run, weight lift, yoga, spin, bike, dance, play soccer
* help and support my family
* give the kids more responsibilities around the house
* offer and accept invitations to spend time with friends
* play the piano and sing
I could go on. But that’s a good start.
two Saturdays ago: this was taken after we all pitched in to clean the house together; I hope to blog more about this new plan, if all goes well
A total side note that spoke to the fitness guru in me: I read in yesterday’s newspaper that sprinting is more beneficial to the aging body than distance running (the caution being that you need to be a strong runner, and probably a distance runner, before attempting sprints, because non-fit sprinting an excellent way to injure yourself.) No wonder I love soccer so much — it’s basically sprinting, except you get to chase a ball.
I also read that going for a walk has an almost medicinal effect on the mind and body. Why don’t we build our cities and communities around that simple concept? Imagine the health benefits. Imagine how we’d all be walking off the edges of our worries. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?
|note the floor this morning, and what’s not on it|
Yesterday, I sat down before the kids arrived home from school and wrote up a little list for each child of “Must-do’s.” I’m not 100% confident about my punctuation of that title, but I’m very very confident that each child can easily accomplish his or her tasks. I’ve loosely linked the tasks to their allowances, but we’ll approach this on a case-by-case basis, rather than a flat-out charge per task undone. Basically, I’m going to go on the assumption that the kids can and will accomplish these tasks. I’m going on trust.
Everyone seemed open to the plan. There were no outliers or complainers, though several suggested we use other methods they’ve heard about from friends’ families, where loonies are lost for infractions or dimes put into jars. To this I said, No. We’ve tried such methods and failed miserably. We lose track. We have no dimes on hand. The IOUs get confused or misplaced. It’s hard enough to remember to dole out allowances on a monthly basis. Therefore: trust.
The must-do’s are as follows:
Albus: practice viola 1x/week for half an hour (he rarely brings his instrument home, so this would be an improvement); brush teeth; homework; place all electronic devices outside bedroom at night; and, of course, put dirty laundry in hamper
AppleApple: practice piano 3x/week; brush teeth; homework; put dirty laundry in hamper; pack swim and soccer bags
Fooey: practice piano 3x/week; brush teeth; homework; put dirty laundry in hamper; swim lessons; walk CJ to school
CJ: practice reading 1x/week; brush teeth; put dirty laundry in hamper; place electronic devices outside bedroom at night; swim lessons; no throwing snow balls on walk to school
|the basket is where the electronic devices shall be placed; this is also a new night-time reading nook for Albus (so as not to disturb his sleeping brother)|
I added a few “sometimes-do” suggestions to the list:
* walk dogs *help make lunches *read books *play with each other * carry dirty dishes to counter *hang up coats and school bags (yes, those last two should probably be must-do’s, but I’m focusing on being realistic; I want this plan tailored for success!)
|Fooey’s floor this morning|
|AppleApple’s floor, also this morning|
We’re into our second month without a working oven. This has been less horrible than I would have imagined. It’s also forced us to think about our priorities, and make some choices. We’ve gone the long-and-drawn-out but definitely less expensive route of digging up old paperwork, talking to the manufacturer, and ensuring that when the stove is fixed, its replaced parts will be under warranty. (And by “we” I mean “Kevin,” who’s done all the legwork.)
On the subject of priorities, we’ve also scaled back our AppleApple’s swimming schedule, somewhat, in consultation with her coaches. This was not easy, and I sense it will be an ongoing process rather than a problem neatly and definitively solved. The larger question at play is: why do we do what we do? Why get up early and work out? Why run? Why swim? Why be on a team? Why challenge oneself? Ultimately, it can’t be for some imagined competitive outcome — for the ribbons and medals and wins, for far-off goals, for numbers and times. It just can’t be. It has to be for the joy of the process itself. I’m not against high personal expectations, as you can probably tell, but I know that high personal expectations can kill the love of the thing you’re practicing, if not tempered with realism, kindness (toward yourself and others) and fun. Play. The joyous expression of the self. I don’t get up early and sweat because I’m going to set any records. I do it because the challenge makes me feel good, mentally and physically.
How to nurture the child who is ambitious and competitive and loves to challenge herself? How to make sure she doesn’t burn out or over-do? I think this is something to be lifted up daily, just as I lift up daily the question of how to motivate and support and nurture each of my children, each with such different ways of being in the world.
|frozen world out my window|
I’m spending my days, recently, reading. Right now I’m reading a book my dad gave me called This Bright Abyss, by Christian Wiman. I’m not ready to start writing something new, but I’m ready to begin thinking about writing something new. I’m ready to reflect on what intrigues me, what I want to know more about, and how to illuminate that in fiction. So I’m reading. It couldn’t be cozier. Unless we had a wood stove.
We’re meeting with a builder on Thursday to discuss just such a possibility. A house is a lot like a family. It’s always changing, too, to meet different needs. We improvise. We use what we’ve got. We purge. We add. We experiment. We’re remain both flexible and committed to what’s before us. We’re in motion, and so is our house.
I’m comforted by the thought that my work is unfinished.
|“I am thankful for …”|
“You’re much more picky about everything when you’re irritated and grumpy, Mom.” (“I’m irritated and grumpy, am I?”) Not to be confused with merely grumpy. A brisk run on the treadmill to blow off steam. Bless the new treadmill.
Long shower followed by the donning of comfy pants.
Low-key supper: bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches; fried rice; steamed broccoli.
Piano practice. Still being done, in fact, while I write this post beside a rather recalcitrant practicer; I stop typing on occasion to play the duet parts, where appropriate. Bless the new laptop.
the new beanbag chair
Schedule arranged on the chalkboard for the week ahead.
On a whim, piano practice has been unexpectedly and oddly enhanced by the addition, between difficult bars, of sprinting the room length and leaping into the new “cow chair.” (Bless the new beanbag chair.) Wow. Kid is happy! “I’m going to do one more cow jump, Mommy.”
Lunches still being made; the sound of a drawerful of plastic containers with missing lids being impatiently searched through.
Everyone motivated by the promise of a few episodes of Modern Family, if only we get all the work done! Somehow, TV + snuggling time is highly motivational.
But best of all, I think, are the comfy pants. They make everything better.
I stayed up late last night reading a book till the end. And then I got up with my alarm, early, and ran before the cars could take over the streets. It was still and quiet and not all that slippery, with a fresh dusting of snow falling, and a huge full moon.
But then I was tired, and napped after the kids left for school, and I couldn’t wake up for ages. Not recommended. I was dreaming about parenting — and it was clearly an anxiety dream. There are lots of subjects I don’t touch on this blog, for reasons of privacy. I’m not the only “character” in the stories I tell, and my kids, as they grow and change, may have their own opinions about how things are going down — their own interpretations. I remember how annoying it was when I would overhear my mom telling another mom a story about me — I would jump in to proclaim that wasn’t what I said, or not what I’d meant, missing the point that she was embellishing for effect or humour; missing the point, too, that the primacy of my point of view was questionable.
So I’m trying to remember that, now. The primacy of my point of view is questionable. I’ve got in my possession the stories of my children. But they’re not mine, not really. So as we stumble into different territory, as they grow into the more opinionated, complicated, autonomous people they are destined to become, I’m taking care — trying to, that is — not to pin them down according to my view of who they are. I’m training myself to let go, at least a bit. Or maybe a lot, at times.
Right now I’m struggling with something that sounds really basic. I want a certain kid to pick the dirty clothes off the floor and throw them into the laundry hamper in the hallway. I’ve been at this certain kid to do this for, well, weeks. I’ve forced myself not to pick up the clothes myself, letting them fester for days, which bothers me greatly, and bothers the kid not at all. Not at all. When we chat, I find myself bringing the conversation around, relentlessly, to the clothes on the floor. The clothes that seem to say so many things: this kid is over-privileged, hasn’t been given enough responsibility, fails to appreciate the efforts that sustain the well-being of all in this household, refuses to participate in the simplest chores; but mostly, I’ve realized, the clothes seem to say: I don’t care. I don’t care about your rules. I don’t care about you.
In other words, I’ve successfully turned a pile of dirty laundry into a metaphorical mountain of mothering guilt.
More precisely, I’ve turned the dirty clothes on the floor into an indictment of my own parenting, because if the kids are poorly trained at household chores, it’s my doing, not theirs. My anxiety is the lens through which I see the scene: I haven’t taught them right, I’m not moulding them into respectful, hygienic, thoughtful human beings, I’ve spoiled them, and the proof is right there festering away on the floor! And … and … (here’s the greatest anxiety of all) … I’m running out time.
My kids are growing so quickly, changing before my very eyes, growing away from me. Am I doing enough? When they’re unleashed on the world, will they be the kind of people who notice what other people need, who care, who offer to do the dishes, who look out for friends in trouble, who look out for themselves, too, and treat themselves with kindness and compassion, and floss and do yoga? You know what I mean?
This was totally not what I sat down to write this morning.
But parenting. It’s such an enormous responsibility and yet ultimately I feel kind of helpless, so utterly human and fallible as I go about the daily tasks and interactions. I feel sometimes like maybe there’s an ideal parenting script out there in the ether, with perfect words that I’ll never quite manage to speak, at the right time, or in the right amounts.
The thing that keeps me hopeful is that I love my kids, and they know it.
This morning, upon waking from the nap and the anxiety dream, I decided I wouldn’t mention the dirty clothes to said kid again, at least for awhile. I’d like to talk about other things, together. I’d like to let go of what matters to me, just a little bit. Maybe if I can, I will understand better what matters to the kid. Let me listen. Let me listen.
Here’s where I’m spending this week. My favourite part of the photo, above, is CJ’s tiger overseeing the situation (ironically, it’s the part that gets cut out of the photo when this blog is posted online; I’m sure that’s a metaphor for something). I’m marking. That’s what I’m doing. By the end of this evening, I expect to be more than halfway done. (That’s the sound of me knocking on wood.) If all goes as planned, I will finish on Friday. (The knocking is getting louder.)
Maybe then I can fold that basket of clean laundry at the end of the table, which will no doubt have expanded into two wildly overflowing baskets of clean laundry if left until then.
Anyway, if you don’t hear from me between now and the weekend, you’ll know what I’m up to. And why my posture is deteriorating by the hour. And why I suddenly have the urge to write. In broken. Oddly, punctuated, sentences. Grumpy oldster comment ahead, but I don’t think anyone’s teaching kids grammar anymore (did anyone, ever, come to think of it?). It’s like they’re on their own, trying to negotiate a sea of inexplicable commas. I want to help them!
Here’s an awkward transition. I’ll just throw it in like this.
Can you spot the common theme in the following two photos?
new art area
I’m signing off. Pencil in hand, freshly sharpened, back to the table, back to the tiger. I can see it, even if you can’t.
Yesterday, while grabbing a book to bring along to a soccer field I mentally composed a perfect blog post. Maybe I’ll blog on my phone beside the soccer field, I thought. But the post vanished, and instead, beside the soccer field, I chatted with other parents (whom I see far more often than I do my closest friends) and watched, mesmerized, our daughters pass the ball with great skill and determination. The book stayed unopened in my hand.
The perfect imaginary blog post is not unlike the perfect imaginary book, I suspect, a subject Ann Patchett addresses in her very funny and quite serious essay on writing, “The Getaway Car,” in her new book of essays, THIS IS THE STORY OF A HAPPY MARRIAGE.
Logic dictates that writing should be a natural act, a function of a well-operating human body, along the lines of speaking and walking and breathing. We should be able to tap into the constant narrative flow our minds provide, the roaring river of words filling up our heads, and direct it into a neat stream of organized thought so that other people can read it … But it’s right about there, right about when we sit down to write that story, that things fall apart.
Two things in that passage. One, the obvious point that writing is not a natural act; and two, that we narrate our lives, and it’s the second I’ve been thinking about most.
Yesterday, I imagined writing from inside the new car. I would tell you about the sudden shock of snow, the windshield wipers working, the warm hum from the vents. I might add in a snippet of caught conversation between me and a child. I might even admit to a burst of irritation at the stupidity of another driver. There would be the hush of tires turning. The flash of lights and the smear of their colour across the wet windshield in the early dark.
It’s fitting that I put my book advance toward a new vehicle, as the new vehicle has become my second home in a way that seems almost outrageous when I add up the hours. I’ve undone every green dream I ever had, whilst supporting my children in their extra-curricular interests. On Monday, between 5:05pm and 9:15pm, I spent a total of two and a half hours in our new vehicle, including an hour and a half venture, around town, that had me climbing out at home with a numb posterior. During that particular round, “Aggie” and I visited a far-flung indoor soccer field, a gymnastics club on the opposite side of town, and a pool, before returning home. And it snowed the whole time. The best part was when the eldest voluntarily joined me for the final trip of the evening. “What should we talk about?” he asked cheerily, and, as we’d already covered the intricacies of the PS4 gaming system he’s hoping for, we moved on to music, and soccer, and the mall, and fantasizing about food we’d like to eat.
That’s the one good thing about all this time in the car. It’s time with the kids, and we talk, a lot.
But later, home again, kids in bed, I said to Kevin, “When I’m all done driving these kids around, I’m going to be old. That’s what’s going to happen. I’ll be done driving them, and I’ll be old.”
photos in this post taken by child in passenger seat
Meanwhile — and this may save me — I’ll be “narrativizing” my life.
Yesterday afternoon, I listened to a Writers and Company podcast: Aleksandar Hemon interviewed by Eleanor Wachtel. Hemon uses his own experiences in his fiction, without qualms or apology: “The way I write fiction most often is that I imagine a different outcome of a situation.” Hemon observes something unfolding and ending, a snippet, a glimpse, or a straightforward hike from A to B, and he wonders: what if X had happened instead? A character might appear to be based on himself, yet he seems to harbour no worries about being mistaken for a character. In short, the line between fiction and non-fiction does not seem to trouble him. He’s writing stories, not history, whether they are “true stories” (non-fiction) or fiction. “We go toward the things we do not know in literature. To go in the opposite direction is to write only about the easy things.” (I’m paraphrasing; I took notes while listening, as non-fiction versus fiction has become a bit of an obsession while I try to teach it to my students, and while I reflect on what writing/publishing The Juliet Stories has both given me and cost me.)
I feel myself urgently wanting to use what I’ve got at hand, and to spin it into something different; “to arrive at something,” as Hemon puts it. There is life. There is the rendering of life into story. I’m missing quite a few pieces in my life, right now. Apparently I can’t squeeze everything in to satisfaction, not while driving for hours a day. What gets lost? Wouldn’t I love to host more suppers? Yes. My social life is pinched. I’m tired far too early in the evening. The laundry overwhelms. But there’s something about writing that can set life into balance, for me. I arrive at something there that I can’t here.