Yesterday morning, I carried my three-year-old to nursery school, nearly one kilometre away, in the rain. Why? Well, he wasn’t in a walking mood, that’s why he was on my back. But the reason I was walking was bare bones basic: I didn’t have a car at my disposal; Kevin had an early appointment to which he needed to drive. About six months ago, as part of our family’s Green Dream plan, we downsized to one vehicle. Are we a greener family than before? Yes, mostly because having fewer options forces us to make different choices.
Such as carrying a kid on my back in the rain to nursery school.
Listen, if I could have driven, I would have. I’d been up early swimming, I’d gotten four kids fed and organized and three of them out the door. That left one little guy, and he couldn’t get to school by himself. I wanted my quick restorative morning nap. It was too wet to fire up the bike stroller. If there had been a vehicle in the driveway, would I have chosen to walk? Not a chance. So the omission of the vehicle itself is feeding into the success of our Green Dreams. It’s so easy to take the easy route when it’s easily available.
Sometimes, I’m grumpy about it. If you see a bedraggled woman, surrounded by a pile of kids in raincoats, shaking her fist at you as you drive by, think of me. In fact, hey, that is me! And yes, I just cursed you and your car for blocking my family’s passage across the street. Or maybe just for being inside a warm dry moving vehicle. Sorry. It’s wet out here. And we’re moving so slowly.
I am not a naturally patient person, but do subscribe to the notion that by walking (or biking) rather than whisking along inside the sealed world of the car, I am experiencing life differently. Out here, I know the weather. I know the seasons. I know the geography. Plus, I have to leave on time, or I’ll definitely be late. There is no such thing as breaking the speed limit when walking with four children.
But here’s my confession: you’ll still see me in a car pretty frequently these days (maybe that was you shaking your fist at me.) We do have ONE after all and I can’t imagine life without it. Well, I can, but life would include a whole lot less soccer. There are no direct bus lines to either of the two sports facilities that draw members of our family upwards of nine times a week. One is 5.5km away, the other is 9km. In other words, not terribly far, and probably biking distance (though not for short legs on tiny bicycles); but in addition to there being no direct bus routes, there is also no safe bike path to either place (not to mention, as the season changes, we’d be biking after dark.)
It’s one thing to complain about this, but another to ask: Would we choose to bike or ride public transit if it were an option? And truthfully, I think we would not. Not unless we had to. Because we’re usually in a hurry. We’re dropping one kid here, and racing to get another there. We’re cutting corners, juggling schedules, trying to cheat time. Having a car allows us to schedule our lives in a way that cannot be transposed into a car-free life.
So, I’m resigned to carrying some Green Guilt. In fact, our family’s increasingly busy sports schedule also means we consume more water than we used to. I’m telling you. The laundry. Wash those socks as quickly as possible! I hang everything to dry, with the exception of giant loads of towels, which tend to go in the drier. But still. Green, it ain’t.
Maybe it was the Green Guilt over the car and the sports that led me to introduce our latest experiment: we’ve gone vegetarian at home. We are neither buying nor cooking meat (with the exception of seafood, on occasion). The kids are missing ham on their sandwiches, and I am constantly brainstorming ways to get more protein into all of us (like starting the day with eggs for breakfast). And if a grandparent invites us for a meal that includes meat, we’re happy to eat it up. But at home, we’re meat-free. It’s been about a month, and I’m sticking to it, despite the odd complaint, because a meatless diet is one sure-fire way to shrink a family’s ecological footprint. And we’ve got such a big (sweaty) one. We’ve got to try.
Even if it means grumpy walks in the rain. And children fantasizing about summer sausage.
I really should not be blogging right now. I should be in bed. But we arrived home late this afternoon, after a week’s holiday, and I want to write. Need to write. There are many things on my mind, but I haven’t got the capacity to synthesize them all, just now, even if they belonged together, which I suspect they do not.
So here they are, in no particular order.
We uglified the backyard, but it’s nothing compared to what happened to the front today: our falling-down porch got ripped off, with a little bit left, stairs and such, so we can get to the door. As we drove up to the house, I got a glance, no more, and I just felt sick. The house looked so strange, so faceless. I couldn’t take another look. But after a few hours, and before it got dark, I went out on my own with my camera and it looked … okay, really. I could imagine what would be there in the future. Even a little office for me, out that side door.
So, we just went a week without doing laundry … I can’t even describe the pile in the basement. Being obsessive compulsive about tasks, I’ve been running the machine non-stop.
Oh, and on the drive home, we stopped for a bathroom break and discovered an awesome farmer’s market. So Kevin made room in our already packed truck for a bushel of romas and a bushel of red peppers. The red peppers are already roasted and in our freezer. The canner is ready to go tomorrow.
But I am overwhelmed and exhausted and daunted by the tasks ahead this week. There seems too much. This is VBS week, assuming the children agree to go (CJ is the wild card; he spent large portions of today in fits over non-existent catastrophes … nothing like a good half hour of crying in the car to make you feel like a holiday is really and truly over; even better if no good reason for crying can be identified by cry-er or his attentive family).
Lessons, schedules, organizing. Confirming manuscript ready to send, and sending. That’s the week ahead.
But the thing on my mind most of all tonight is the passing of Jack Layton. What to say? There’s no one like him in Canadian politics. And it seemed his optimism might carry him over yet another obstacle; after all, he made all kinds of seemingly impossible things happen. Cancer. The language we use to talk about it is the language of battle; but I’ve never liked that language because it implies that those who cannot fight it off somehow didn’t fight hard enough, weren’t strong enough, succumbed. A word that implies defeat. I really hate that. I don’t know how to talk about it differently, though. Anyone’s who’s lost a loved one to cancer knows that it feels like they’ve been stolen, sometimes slowly, and sometimes suddenly, by an opponent. I don’t know why we personify cancer like that. I’m trying to think if we personify other diseases in the same way, and it doesn’t seem like it. Cancer seems personal. It seems crafty and sneaky and it doesn’t fight fair. And this morning, it stole from Canada a real fighter, a tough and bright and incredibly energetic person who can’t be replaced. Goodbye from us. We’ll miss you, Jack.
No summing this mess of a post up, I’m afraid. Photos from holiday to come at some later time. Maybe when the tomatoes are good and canned.
Yesterday, I did two things that scared me, and surprised me. Both happened spontaneously, arising out of situations that I could have chosen to walk by. Instead, I engaged.
First story: I was pushing the stroller (uphill, through heavy snow on sidewalks that hadn’t been cleared), which possibly put me into a grumpy mood. I entered a crosswalk, at a four-way stop where my kids have to cross every morning on their way to school. While I was crossing, a car pulled up at the stop sign behind me, and turned left, into the street that I was crossing. He was in such a hurry that he didn’t wait for me to cross the street to the sidewalk–worse, he didn’t even wait for me to cross half of the street. His car brushed right behind me, near enough to touch, on his way to somewhere very important. I was surprised and annoyed. And then I saw that we were headed in the same direction. And then I saw him pull into his driveway. And then I pushed the stroller faster.
“Why are you running, Mommy?”
“I think,” I said, “I think I’m going to tell this man that I thought he was driving carelessly.”
The man went into his house, leaving his car running (fancy car, fancy house, well-dressed sixtyish man), and by the time he came back out and got into his car, he’d seen me coming. I walked up the driveway and he rolled down his window. I said that I felt his turn had been unsafe, given that I was still in the crosswalk when he turned. He responded with anger, defensively: “You were never in any danger. I was not driving dangerously.” I asked him if he knew that a child had recently been hit by a car in our neighbourhood. He said: “What? By me?” I said, of course not, but likely by someone in a hurry and driving carelessly. He pulled out of his driveway, but his window was still down. I knew I hadn’t gotten at the crux of what I wanted to say, so I called after him: “Please, ask yourself, why are you in such a hurry that you can’t spare a few seconds to let a mother cross the street with her stroller safely?” The thought left my mouth almost exactly as coherently as I’ve written it down. He heard me. I don’t know what he thought. But it looked like his expression changed fractionally. Maybe he was thinking about what I’d asked.
In thinking it over, I wish I could have phrased my question a little bit differently. I really just wanted to say: Slow down, please! Be careful! You could hurt someone. His stance was: I knew you were perfectly safe, so it’s a judgement call, mine to make. And it’s true, when you get into a car, you make judgement calls all the time. I made a judgement call just the other day, when driving the kids home from piano lessons: I turned left even though a pedestrian had stepped into the crosswalk, because I was in a hurry, and I knew I wasn’t close to her. But I shouldn’t have, and even while I was doing it, regretted that I was making that choice. What if another left-turning vehicle had followed me blindly? Had that pedestrian been able to follow and question me for my choice, I would have felt awful–very much in the wrong, and very apologetic.
This man didn’t feel either of those things. But you know, I’m glad that I ran after him. It’s pretty rare that the opportunity arises, given that cars are usually speeding off to parts unknown. I’m still in awe that I was brave enough to talk to him. (I hate to use the word confront … it sounds so confrontational …). I was definitely upset by the interaction, and wished I could have felt calmer on the inside during our conversation (though I tried to appear calm on the outside). It took me awhile afterward to shake off the nervous energy. Let’s just say that conflict of any sort does not come naturally to me. And I don’t think conflict is necessarily a bad thing: we can’t always agree. But it’s a hard thing to learn: how to disagree respectfully, to discuss, to listen, to go to uncomfortable places, to find resolution, to compromise, to be challenged, to be willing to change. I’m trying. Having firm boundaries within one’s own self (to thine own self be true!) is the first step. The next is being willing to go to places of discomfort.
Story two: On my way to yoga class, I saw a child-sized person who looked lost. As I drew nearer, I saw that he was a small adult, developmentally challenged. He still looked lost. His coat was open, he had no mitts, he was wearing a backpack, and dragging another … and I couldn’t pass him by. But I was afraid, because I didn’t know him, and because it was dark, and because he was standing in a poorly lit spot where there weren’t other people around. I spoke to him, but tentatively, and he didn’t answer, but he started to follow me, which was good, because I was headed toward the parking lot which had light and people. I asked him again–“Are you lost?”–and he said, no, and told me where he wanted to go. I pointed the direction (he’d been going the wrong way). He thanked me. I said, it’s cold, you should zip up your coat. He smiled and showed me that he was wearing several layers of coats. I asked him to please be careful crossing the street. He thanked me and promised he would, and he walked on his way … maybe home? Maybe? I don’t know. I went inside the warm yoga studio, down to the changeroom, and started to cry. I was questioning myself: had I done the right thing? Did he really know where he was going? Even if he knew, was he going to be okay? If I were going to call someone for help, who would it have been? When we spoke to each other, he seemed calm and happy, almost content, very child-like and innocent, and terribly vulnerable … though, who knows, maybe I’m projecting my own sappy middleclass ideas.
Truthfully, I felt heartbroken by the situation. He seemed to embody the lost people of this world … whom I don’t want to pass by, but don’t know how to help.
A word came to me, and I reflected on it during class. Engage. How do I engage with the people I meet? With the situations that present themselves? With friends, with family, with issues that concern me? Am I strong enough, now, in spirit, to consider opening myself to more engagement–more risk? Because it’s risky to engage. There are so many potential pitfalls: there is over-engagement, and taking responsibility for problems that aren’t mine to solve; there’s the risk of pissing people off, and saying unpopular things, and not being liked (and I’ve gotta say, I really prefer to be liked); there is more potential for conflict, for saying the wrong thing, for error; and there’s the huge risk of being judgemental and self-righteous. And of course there are times when disengagement is the better choice. Am I wise enough to know?
This reflection is unfinished, in progress. What would you have done, in either of these situations? What would you want to do?
I want to capture the flavour of our summer holiday so far. It’s been busy, but relaxing. We started with a camping trip, and the beach, experienced a couple nights of overnight camp (and for Kevin and me, experienced only having two children around–it was quieter, but the workload was not noticeably different, except that the younger ones missed the entertainment of the older ones). I enjoyed doing a long drive with the kids, and could imagine attempting something like that again–destination as yet unknown. Though it does go against my no-driving summer. Confession: We have done extremely poorly with that plan. Drove to camp, to beach, to camp, to home, to camp, all the while enjoying the air conditioning. For our Friday outing, we walked, but it’s not a huge accomplishment–the movie theatre is uptown. We saw Shrek Forever After, which was more entertaining than I anticipated–and the kids were awesome the entire time. Five kids, one parent, and no bathroom breaks, spilled drinks, or even excessive whining. Thank heavens, because I’d had a writing morning, and I am finding the transition between writing and parenting particularly challenging; translation: Mama’s been grumpy.
AppleApple had her soccer tournament this past week. We dragged out the whole family (some of them kicking and screaming) to the Saturday matches. I felt like a terrible parent, because honestly, folks, I squirmed the whole time she was playing. It’s a peculiar pain–mental anguish. Shouldn’t I be enjoying this, as a loving caring parent? Or maybe it’s that I care too much? In the second game, the ref called back a penalty kick on which AppleApple had just scored an amazing goal (he apparently had called an indirect penalty kick, but gave the children no direction or explanation about what that meant; he, of course, was just a kid himself, and looked pretty nervous; but it was a sad moment to see her beautiful goal called back). And I muttered to Kevin, I just can’t take this, and walked down to where my other three children were wrestling in the grass; but I couldn’t go far. I knew if something happened I’d want to be there for it. And sure enough, after a few deep breaths, I returned to the sidelines–and watched my red-haired fleet-footed daughter on a breakaway–and she scored. The only goal of the entire game, for either side. Now that was a moment worth being tortured for. (And it was a merciful high to end an otherwise losing tournament.) AppleApple cannot wait to go to skills camp this fall, and wants to play indoor soccer over the winter–she’s seen her own potential, and she’s excited to play more.
I must steel myself. How do other parents cope? I imagined being a family member of those young men playing in the World Cup final yesterday–standing on the sidelines, pacing, or unable to look.
That was Saturday. We ended with a marshmallow roast over the fire pit. This was a classic family event, following the classic arc, rising slowly to pleasant heights, and crashing steeply to the depths. That would be the classic tragic arc, but our event did not end in tragedy, just bathtime (which for some of us might just be considered a tragedy). We set up the fire pit, gathered drinks and stools and chairs, and sat around, fooled around, then out came the marshmallows and pointy roasting sticks, and the guitars (that was Albus’s idea). Kevin and I tried to coordinate our chording. I have rhythm, and he does not; he can play chords, and I cannot. We make a swell team. The neighbours must have been thrilled. But for a brief spell it felt like such a holiday, such a time away from ordinary: the smell of the campfire, the mellow sound of guitars, making up funny verses to songs. (“CJ is sticky,” was a popular line.)
And then CJ wanted to play “Dragon Warrior” and Albus had an itchy back, and the two of them were rolling around the grass, when calamity struck–or more accurately, CJ struck. With two mini-hockey-sticks. Two-year-olds. They don’t get boundaries. So that was that. I put down the guitar, plucked up the sticky two-year-old, confiscated the mini-sticks, and headed for the bath. Soon, everyone was in the bath/shower, watering can was applied to the fire, and it was bedtime. But Kevin and I stayed up late after the kids were asleep.
That’s been the story of our summer holiday so far. Kevin and I have been staying up late. The kids have been staying up late. We’ve had some fun; and we’ve had some abrupt end to the fun; we’ve been sticky, and we’ve gotten clean.
Wish I had time to blog. That’s on today’s wish list.
If I had more time, I’d write all about Sunday, which was just the best day ever. It shouldn’t have been–Kevin and I were out Saturday night, till late, and should have been punished with hang-overs and early-rising rowdy children, but instead, everyone slept in. Everyone! We lazed around and dozed till late, then rose and decided to get on with our day’s plans. I’d planned a baking day. So I baked: a batch of bread and granola. Also worked on some Christmas presents. Kevin took the kids–all of them!–snowboarding in what became a drizzling rain, after which they went through the McDonald’s drive-through and ordered up some Happy Meals. This happens less than annually in our family, so Kevin and I thought it would be a treat, but the funny thing was, the kids didn’t love the food. It felt like a treat because it was unusual, and because everyone got a toy, but Albus was famished AFTER eating his burger and fries and choc milk, and was forced to scavenge a second meal from our fridge. I felt the same way, and so did Kevin; almost as if we’d eaten nothing, or worse, that we were hungrier than when we began. Our innards are spoiled by all the legumes and fibre and veggies and whole grains we consume every day. But, still, I got a kind of lazy pleasure from the meal.
After lunch, we did … what? I can’t recall in detail, just remember that we spent the whole day together, and happily. The two eldest played Bananagrams. Fooey and CJ played together, too. Happy together.
Yesterday, CJ and I spent the morning together, just the two of us, spewing our fair share of carbon as we zoomed around town running errands, snacking on gummies, swimming at kidsplash, visiting the library, efficient as all get-out. These are the days when I despair for humanity’s ability to do anything productive on climate change. It is so much easier to enjoy life when I’m selfishly transporting myself and my offspring in our personal oil-burning pod. What occurs to me often, and kind of hangs over my head like a cloud, is my belief that the only way to truly effect carbon change is to live a life greatly scaled back: no waste, ever–no wasted drop of water or food (the people who live like this generally do not choose to, but do so because they have to); walking not driving, no matter the blowing sleet and howling babe; skipping kidsplash and library time because it’s too hard to get there, because there’s not quite enough time; all chores that must be done by hand still expend energy, it’s just human energy (mine), not a machine’s. And that takes time. Lots of it. Don’t get me wrong, I truly and sincerely want to live a less wasteful lifestyle, and strive to do so, but on days like yesterday, I sigh inside myself, and secretly feel greedy and grateful for the advantages and undeserved privileges of this crazy, unsustainable North American lifestyle I’m living.
Um, that was a tangent. What I meant to say was: hurray for a day with CJ! Together.
Now I’m all caught up. Now I’ve reached today, and today has been another story. Today I have labelled a “fail” day, though perhaps unfairly. Today it felt like every good intention was thwarted by circumstance. Let me give you an example. I grabbed ten minutes to whip together fresh pumpkin muffins for the kids’ after-school-pre-music-lesson snack. It was after one o’clock and I’d just put CJ into his crib for a nap. Did he fall asleep, like he does every other afternoon at this hour? He did not. Instead, he screamed incessantly, while I madly poured and sifted ingredients. I knew the project would never get done if I brought him downstairs, so I just mixed as quickly as was humanly possible. And then I went to get the pumpkin, roasted last week and stored in the fridge. It was covered in mold. No kidding. That was the kind of day this it was. (Though the reason it’s unfair to label this chain of events a complete fail is that in a blink I substituted applesauce, and the muffins turned out beautifully, quite possibly superior to the pumpkin variety). And no, CJ never went back to sleep. Instead, he got up and hung out all afternoon without sleep. He’s still going strong, leaping up and down in his crib as I type. Though the lack of sleep may have contributed to the rather bad decision (example number two) he made to set up the art-table chairs in front of the couch, and then count, “One, two, three, JUMP!” before leaping off the couch, landing on a chair, crashing it down, and smushing his finger. Seriously. You might ask, why, Perfect Mother, did you not prevent this catastrophe from occurring? (What is that sign on the pool wall? “If you’re out of arm’s reach, you’ve gone too far!”). And I might reply that we needed to leave in two minutes to pick up the big kids for piano, and I was industriously gathering entertainment and snack items in preparation for an anticipated hellish hour of waiting in an empty hallway while entertaining three out of four children. That’s why. Totally not in a defensive tone of voice.
Yes, we were late.
But hey, I did just get my wish. And I feel much much better. Today is looking a whole lot brighter on this side of things. Can I add that I laughed quite a lot (if sometimes in despair), and that the kids enjoyed my comical descriptions of all the day’s tiny calamities as we burned across town, packed into our personal transportation pod, and the snow fell gently, and the roads turned to skating rinks, and we did not get into even the tiniest of fenders bender. So, it wasn’t really that kind of day, after all.
From fail to fine in one little blog post.
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