We basked in glorious weather this weekend. We tuned bikes, ate outside, and got a bit too much sun on our noses. But I have to tell you. There is grief and worry rivering under our spring gladness — it feels false not to write about it here, and yet I’ve been hesitating to do so, being as this is not a story directly about me. But here it is. My stepmother (my dad’s wife) has been diagnosed with cancer. All who’ve had illness alight when least expected must know how this feels: shock, sadness, determination, all mingling together with a sense of helplessness, and the parallel impatience to get going already and live each day. Maybe it’s why I’ve been running so much lately. I don’t know. But that’s the other thing I did this weekend: I ran a long way. The mind goes quiet, when running a long way, and the body begins to take over and grow stronger until the mind has almost nothing to say anymore, but waits in stillness and calm, amazed at the effort accessible to the body in this state that seems to me almost intensely serene.
Supper prep is calling. Get going: eat, drink, jump, play, run, but most of all love.
After re-reading yesterday’s post, let me rebut myself, point by point.
How do you manage to travel, to run to appointments, to make presentations, and dress professionally, and be brushed and unwrinkled and fresh smelling?
You do your best. Sometimes you fake it. You nap when you can, and drink plenty of water. You remember to smile. You find a good deodorant. You carry floss. You gain a few key pieces in your wardrobe that are trustworthy. You apply makeup, if necessary. You give yourself a break.
How do you exercise and eat well and keep a sharp eye on your children’s needs, both physical and emotional?
You do your best. You don’t get down on yourself if you can’t run as fast as you used to. You go as hard as you can, in the moment. You exercise with friends. You pay attention. You listen. You show up.
How do you clean your house and yard and fold laundry and cook food from scratch, and lovingly tuck your children in at night, and read them bedtime stories?
Forget the house and yard. The dog hair matters less than you think. Do the laundry when you get a chance. Let your husband cook. Make your kids do some chores too. And then you’ll have time to read to them and tuck them into bed most nights. And when you’re not there, they can look after each other, because you’ve taught them well, so be glad about that—plus they relish the freedom of independence, so it’s good for everyone some of the time.
How do you go to the soccer practices and piano lessons and swim lessons and travel tournaments and meets?
You don’t go to them all, and that’s the long and the short of it. You represent as best you can. Sometimes you won’t be able to be there. Support them in other ways. Schedule rides, carpool, ask questions, cheer when you can. This isn’t the end of your world or theirs.
How do you teach classes and welcome students and read essays and comment and mentor and remain open and flexible and funny and never bitter?
You treat this as seasonal work. It isn’t year-round, because you’re not a full-time teacher. If you’re fortunate enough to be asked to teach, it means you’ve reached a stage in your career when you have something to offer. Remember the wonderful teachers who nurtured and inspired you. You’re getting the opportunity to give a bit of that back to others. And you learn a great deal by teaching.
Also, you don’t want to be bitter. So don’t be. Easy as that.
Journal. Run it off. Don’t say yes if you really mean no. This is your life. Don’t sleepwalk, don’t idly wish or wait for someone else to point the way. Take responsibility.
you braid your daughter’s hair
How do you host meals and go to parties and celebrate birthdays and be a good partner?
You drop some things in order to do others. You compromise. This is seasonal too, in a sense. You accept that you can’t go to everything, and so you prioritize. You spontaneously dash out to a movie on a weeknight with your husband. You decide not to play soccer this summer so you can save your head, and suddenly Sunday evenings open up.
How do you meditate and feed your spirit and do yoga and stay fit and healthy of body and of mind?
You do. Because if you don’t, you won’t be you. You get up early. You pray. You read. You practice breathing. It works.
How do you continue to make art that is worthy of being called art?
This you cannot answer. All you know is that there is mystery in making art, and it’s none of your business as the maker to judge it worthy or not worthy of being called art. What you do is this. You begin. You dream. You research. You prepare yourself in a million different ways. And when you’re ready to write, you’ll know, and you’ll make time and space for it (with help from your husband, who is the person who reminds you that you still know how to do this).
Also, you keep short-term goals present in your mind. You make lists. You check them off. It all adds up.
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?
It was the weekend of free stuff. On Saturday morning, my dad called and said they were clearing out their basement and had a lot of items to give away, if we wanted to take a look. Sure, I said. I love free stuff! Very little could make me happier than free stuff! Top of the clear-out list was this treadmill. “I could probably turn it into a treadmill desk for you, if you’d like,” he offered. (He reads my blog.)
I’d literally just given up on the idea of having a treadmill desk — I’d been pricing out the options last week, and come around to the conclusion that it wasn’t feasible in the short-term. I kid you not, I made this decision on Friday. The very next day, I have a treadmill desk.* (*Technically, I don’t have the desk part yet — it will be a simple removable platform to hold my laptop — but it’s coming soon!)
Yesterday was a very icy day. People were walking in the street to avoid the sidewalks. I was going stir-crazy from a) too much on my mind, b) driving to Mississauga for an early soccer game, and c) lack of exercise. C) was the only factor I could actually actively affect. Forget the ice outside. I changed into work-out clothes, got on my new (free!) treadmill and ran for 50 minutes.
As I ran, the kids kept turning up in the doorway. When I stepped off, each kid wanted a turn — and then another. I laid out the ground rules: no one is allowed to use it without supervision/permission, and you have to attach the safety cord. Also, after AppleApple’s trial run, we decided no bare feet allowed. Ouch.
The results were visible: rosy cheeks, sweaty faces, improved moods, happy dinner chatter. CJ even managed to run for half a mile. AppleApple has devised a treadmill schedule, so that kids can sign up for half hour intervals. (Included on the schedule is a note saying that Mom’s schedule can over-ride what’s on the sign-up sheet. Phew. And I didn’t even tell her to add that clause.)
What’s slightly amazing is how perfectly the treadmill fits in the office, as if this space has been awaiting its arrival. It’s a tiny room, but it can accommodate an awful lot. I’ve got my great aunt Alice’s cozy little rocking chair for reading. I’ve got a small filing cabinet to contain current odds-and-ends and another for office supplies, which also holds my reading lamp. The dog beds fit. The treadmill folds up, which means there’s still room for yoga. I would like to think of this as a space dedicated to reading, writing, research, running, walking, and yoga. It’s a space dedicated to quiet contemplation and reflection, and to physical movement and health. Stillness and motion. Mind and body. The ephemeral and the visceral. A room of my own.
1. Family photo out-takes
We didn’t make a Christmas letter this year. Maybe I will get it done over the holidays (think of this statement as speculation rather than a plan). Nevertheless, as a first step toward creating a Christmas letter, yesterday, I attempted to take our annual family-photo-with-Christmas-PJs. CJ wasn’t very happy about leaving his new Christmas present to join the shot (new present = Game Boy, old school, bought used).
when is this going to be over?
help me pick up the dog, Dad!
please, smile, CJ? please?
he’s smiling! Now, what’s in your mouth, Foo? “Nothing.” Um, can you take it out, please?
could we get just one good photo, here? just one?
this is as good as it gets (click on photos to see in full)
lots and lots of candy; thanks, Santa
This wasn’t on my wish list, but it was the perfect gift. A radio that turns on when you turn it on. Radical concept! No need to download or refresh or mess around with speaker connections. I opened the box, plugged it in, turned it on, tuned it to CBC Radio One, and the rest of the day was perfection. Music all day long. The Messiah in the morning, and cheesy seasonal songs the rest of the day. It’s the one day of the year that I can listen to cheesy seasonal songs with appreciation. Even the Queen’s address sounded good.
I’m embarrassed to say we gave in to his relentless campaign for another of-the-moment electronic device
“Coconut” the giant-eyed monkey (she has a weakness of stuffies with giant eyes)
the “new” Game Boy
3. Do nothing all day
how I spent my Christmas day: my job is done here
This third is a new tradition, only conceived of this very year, in fact, only thought of late on Christmas eve when Santa was packing the stockings. Kevin and I were feeling very full indeed after three consecutive days of Christmas meals (ham; turkey; paella + grazing). Our counters were blessed with pans of sticky buns given us by generous neighbours and family, and we looked at each other and said, “Who needs a big Christmas dinner?” So we decided to skip that part.
We skipped everything, really — all obligations, all work, all chores.
The kids let us sleep in till 9. I kid you not. We stayed in our PJs all day. I did no laundry. We did no meal prep. We did no dishes. I sat and drank coffee and tea and worked on a puzzle and listened to my new radio all day long. The house was thrillingly disastrous, so much so that the 12-year-old looked around last night and said, “This place is a mess.” HAHAHA! This is what it would always be like if Daddy and I took every day off! Then we watched a movie together (Parent Trap, the one with Haley Mills, still as funny as I remembered it from childhood). We ate sticky buns, basically. The kids added sugary cereal to the menu. There were the oranges from the stockings. We did not go hungry. It was exactly what we all wanted — to be together, and nothing more. It was the most peaceful, blissful Christmas I can remember.
These are my favourite people. We almost never get to spend unadulterated time together. What could be more special, more celebratory, more holiday-making?
4. Boxing Day turkey dinner?
Today we’re being healthy and eating fruit and doing laundry and yoga and cleaning up the dishes. Our neighbour has loaned us her electric turkey roaster (there it is behind AppleApple), and we’re going to roast up our turkey today, and make the trimmings, too. I’m feeling ready for it again.
We had an ice storm. These photos are from yesterday, on the way to swim girl’s morning training session.
We had actually gotten up extra early for a soccer game in Mississauga, but the coach cancelled it. I’d already chipped the car out of the ice, filled up with gas, and acquired coffee and bagels for the road when I got the message, but we were happy to turn around. Back home, I walked the dogs, a more treacherous undertaking than being on the roads.
When I stepped outside in the dark yesterday morning, the noise stopped me cold. It was dead silent except for the ominous creaking and cracking from the trees overhead, their icy branches shifting in the wind. Branches fell, big chunks of ice fell. We lost power for most of yesterday, and our guests left a bit early, gathering their belongings in a house that seemed dark and gloomy by 3pm. Electricity is nothing to sneeze at, at this time of year.
Kevin’s family joined us for the past few days. I didn’t get a lot of fabulous photos, but Kevin and I managed to whip up an excellent feast, and hardly even missed the oven. The ham went on the BBQ. The grannies went to the market and brought back pies. Also on the menu: creamed leeks, a vat of mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy, stewed cranberries, broccoli, and coleslaw.
Albus reprised his Santa role, stuffing himself with a pillow and listening to the wishes of the little ones, who decided to be elves, too.
And it wouldn’t have been Christmas without some soccer. Everyone came along to watch Albus and Kevin’s boys team scrimmage for the first time this season. The littlest fellow couldn’t wait to get on the field himself.
That pretty much catches us up. Gifts, guests, parties (a swim banquet and a solstice party), food, soccer, swimming, writing (I’ve been working on my laptop at every swim practice, and there have been lots), and, thanks to the power outage, an impromptu supper with friends in their warm house, a sleepover, and a full-on friend day today. Ahead: more of the same! (I could do without the power outages; our house was cold).
Stay safe, stay warm, stay close to your favourite people.
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