Oh man, I look nervous. This is a totally unconvincing smile. You can see it in my eyes: Do I really want to do this?
Someone stop me, please.
Hours later, only 200m left to go. Fooey removes lollipop to cheer her mother’s approach. Her mother is feeling, oh, a million bajillion times better than she did in the previous picture.
There I go down the homestretch. A huge feeling of wow. Forty-two point two kilometres completed. Time on the clock: 3:42:13.
“I still can’t believe you ran a marathon today, Mom.” – AppleApple
Yeah. Me neither, kid.
(For the completely and totally unabridged version, please visit my triathlon training blog.)
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.
This morning, I slept until 7am. I did not get up early to swim or to spin or to run or to yoga. In my dreams, I would get up early five mornings a week, but in reality, four seems to max out my energy reserves. Yesterday evening, post-dishes, I sat down with Fooey to look through a book of baby photos (good grief, I had cute babies!), and when we were done the couch’s pillow looked like it wanted my head to rest upon it, and quick as a wink, I’d dozed off while Fooey and CJ played a game that involved using the angles of my legs and arms as rooms in an imaginary house. Clearly, the game did not disturb my sleep because I didn’t hear Kevin return from dropping Albus at piano lessons, nor did I hear him leaving again to pick Albus up, and therefore assumed I’d been “in charge” of the children all that time. I also assumed that I’d done a good job of supervising them, while asleep. Only to realize that any supervision had happened in dreamland. Sometimes when I’m asleep, I feel awake. And vice versa.
Long story. Very little point.
Today, a couple of things that are making me happy.
1. Albus at supper last night: “Guess what I got on that social studies test?” Me: “Was that the one in French?” “Yes. Guess what I got?” “The one on governments?” “I got an A!” Maybe he didn’t add the exclamation point. The kid prefers announcements by stealth, gotcha announcements. But it’s a big deal. It’s a big deal because usually he doesn’t seem to care, much. What makes me happiest about this result is not the mark, exactly, but the mark’s accurate reflection of his interest in the subject. He was the only one in the house truly excited about the recent provincial election results, and we let him stay up late to watch the polls report. We don’t often see our eldest get excited about things (aside from Lego, food, and high scores on wii games). And you want your kids to get excited about things. It means they care. It means they’re expressing themselves, exploring their own interests, developing unique passions and making connections.
2. Piano. Oh my goodness, but the piano playing is making me happy. Real music is being made in our living-room, people! This year, we implemented a reward system of stickers which has been enormously motivating (at least for those kids who need an extra boost of motivation; I note that though AppleApple practices almost as frequently as her siblings, she has far fewer stickers, because she forgets to add them. Obviously, for her the reward is as much the playing as the getting of something afterward.) But on that note, I’m beginning to suspect that the others, though outwardly motivated by stickers, are by stealth discovering and reaping the reward of regular practice, which is that YOU CAN PLAY MUSIC! I love this. I can’t even express how much I love it.
3. Participation. I also love seeing my kids volunteer and sign up and participate and try things out and expand their fields of vision and experience. Albus just signed up to play volleyball; practices are before school, so he’ll have to get up early on Tuesdays. AppleApple, of her own initiative, created an organizer to keep track of her daily tasks. She is notoriously distractable and understands that her life would run more smoothly if she weren’t always scrambling last-minute (or forgetting important items and events entirely.) And Fooey, who has long been my least-active child, who would take a stroller ride over walking right up until the end of kindergarten (ie. this past June), has suddenly burst forth as a very active soul: she started Highland dance classes, which involve a ton of jumping around (I’ve tried to follow her steps!), she walks to and from school on her own feet every day (more than a kilometre each way), and when we asked whether she’d like to try indoor soccer this fall, she immediately said Yes! And surprised all of us over Thanksgiving by wanting nothing more than to go outside and practice kicking the ball. Watching these personalities develop independently is downright thrilling. There’s probably no greater joy in parenthood.
4. Rest time. AppleApple especially has expressed a need for quiet time. She loves lying on the couch and reading a book for hours on end. So, we’ve been emphasizing that. Even on days when she has an activity, like piano yesterday, she can come right home afterward and flop on the couch with a book. For Albus, his down-time happy-time involves friends. He checks in every morning to ask, “Is today a friend day?”
We all love friend days. And as I write down these thoughts, I think, wow, everything on that list makes me happy, too, not just as a parent watching my kids do these things, but as a person doing these things. I’m happiest when I’m digging into activities and subjects that interest me, when I’m practicing regularly (could be writing, could be photography, could be yoga), when I’m widening my field of vision or trying new things or simply signing up and showing up, and when I get ample rest time, time to veg, time with friends, time to allow the brain to be fallow, and quiet, time to absorb experiences.
So that’s my question for today (don’t worry, I won’t always have a question of the day; sounds too much like homework): What makes you happy?
I’ve been wanting to blog all weekend, and have been too busy with food preparation (recipes to come), canning, and parties (tough life, I know). Hurray for a quiet house on a beautiful Monday morning!
For four out of six of us, this morning began swimmingly. Let me explain. We keep aiming to make room for plenty of physical activity, individually and as a family. Kevin has soccer and hockey. I swim, run, bike, and yoga. And we’d like the kids to enjoy the benefits of burning off steam, playing, and being fit.
(Side note # 1: I just found last year’s fall calendar in a drawer, and saw that I’d scheduled “hiking” as a possible family weekend activity. Sadly, that happened precisely never. Given that we had, last fall, a two-year-old, I can see how it fell off the priority list.)
This fall, we’re continuing with activities that have proven easy to maintain, such as the kids walking to and from school every day. We live 1.4km from school, so that’s nothing to sneeze at. Even CJ walks every morning to his nursery school, with his dad. AppleApple will likely continue with rep soccer, and the three oldest kids will play indoor soccer this fall/winter. It’s inexpensive, once-weekly, and will be Fooey’s first experience with organized sports. CJ joins in on weekly swim lessons for all, coordinated so that all kids will be in the water at the exact same time.
(Side note # 2: When examining our budget last month, I discovered that our biggest expense, aside from food and shelter is extracurricular/sports activities. There’s a desire to want to accomodate every interest, but we need to be more creative sometimes. For example, instead of the kids doing hockey, we rent ice time and skate/play hockey a couple of times a month with a bunch of neighbourhood families.)
Earlier this summer, AppleApple mentioned she’d like to swim more often, so she tried out for a swim club … but when I investigated cost and schedule, we realized it was a) crazy expensive, and b) would conflict with other activities. Plus Albus expressed interest in swimming more often, too, and there was no way we could put two kids into this club.
Long story short: it occurred to me that the older kids swim well enough to participate in lane swims, which are quite affordable with a pool pass. Plus, Kevin is learning to swim and would like the chance to practice, too. On Monday mornings, I swim very early, and can do an hour in the pool, shower, and be home before 7am. When I arrived home this morning, Kevin and kids were waiting in the front hall, a bit groggy, in swimsuits, ready for the lane-swim experiment. (And how proud I am at their willingness to give this a try).
An hour later, they burst through the door, glowing. Thumbs up. They’d consulted with a lifeguard, swam with the “oldsters,” and practiced their strokes up and down the lanes. Albus was musing about going more often, on “bad” days (ie. days when he has subjects at school that don’t interest him).
When I start the morning with a run or a swim, I notice an immediate boost in mood; why wouldn’t it be just the same for kids, too?
The energy at breakfast was upbeat and positive. Porridge, toast, boiled eggs. And we still had plenty of time to chat and prepare for the day before saying goodbye.
(Side note # 3: Not everyone needs to schedule time for exercise. The little kids, who won’t get extra swimming time, more than make up for it racing their bikes around the house on the loop of driveway, patio, walkway, and sidewalk. Not to mention much trampolining. CJ: “Look how high I can jump, Mom! You have to come and see me!”)
Wait. I have something to add to my previous post. Just went out for a (luxurious) late lunch with my husband, as our evenings have been consumed by soccer soccer soccer. Got a chance to bounce my guilt/greed/gratitude thoughts off of him, which is always helpful: processing out loud.
And I realized that I feel something very strongly: neither sport, nor art, is a luxury. Both are human necessities, and if not expressed in positive ways, will find other ways out. Sport is a way for human beings to live fully in their bodies, and to compete, without doing violence to one another. At its best, sport can be clean competition, without conflict; a pure expression of physical exertion and skill. Every human should have the opportunity to experience the joy of his or her body, and of physical expression.
Sport over war.
And art is so essential to human life. Without it, there is darkness and depression and silence and disconnection. How could we live in a world without creativity, without lasting expression, without some way to translate the pieces of human experience that would otherwise be beyond us? It is so essential that you might not even recognize it around you. Buildings, graffiti, a photograph album, a blog post, the design of a garden, the words of a song that get stuck in your head, dancing.
So maybe my gratitude should go like this: I am grateful that I get to participate in sports, and that I get to create and enjoy art. These are gifts that should be available to everyone on earth. How can I share the wealth?
Before. I was smiling, but feeling pretty anxious to get going.
After. Best feeling ever (well, right up there). It was a beautiful day for a run on country roads. Sunshine, breeze, birds chirping. I almost burst into tears at the beauty of it about three kilometres on. And I’m pretty sure I grinned the whole way. There were moments when it got hard, such as around 18k when I realized that I could probably finish in under two hours if I could keep up my pace. The last two hills took guts and slowed me down, and the final sprint to the finish could have been a bit more sprint-like, but it was pure joy to cross the finish line, to see my family waving and shouting, and hear my name on the loudspeaker, and see the time. My new personal best (okay, my only possible personal best), first half-marathon: 1:55. Yah. I’d do that again.
(If you’re interested in the nitty-gritty details, visit my triathlon-training blog).