I’m basically scooping my daughter’s homework deadline, but I just had to share her response to a school assignment to write a six-word memoir. After trying out a variety of ideas that played around with her connection between the imaginary and the real, she came up with the six words above, and had me take an accompanying photo. I love the dreamy, peaceful, joyous expression on her face. The saddle is from my own pony-owning era, with safety stirrups that I remember my Gramps, who loved horses too, insisted I use. We couldn’t find a bridle with reins in the attic, so she’s got a skipping rope instead. Hey, the imagination works wonders. Her little brother and sister have also been welcomed into this imaginary world and AppleApple happily responds to all requests to “go ride Nellie.”
(As an aside, do you think you could write a six-word memoir? Could I? Maybe I will ask my students to try this exercise when we meet for the first time tomorrow.)
This is turning into Carrie’s bad news bed bug and concussion blog, but I figured you might like an update on my head. I saw a sports medicine doctor today. If you’ve got a few minutes, take time to watch this surprisingly helpful and succinct video on concussions made by a doctor in Montreal. Unfortunately, I’m not even at step one of the steps to recovery: I’m still suffering symptoms even while at rest. But overall, I was relieved to know that I haven’t done anything too terribly wrong, with the exception of going back on the field to play out the game in which I suffered the concussion. In retrospect, I realize I would never let one of my kids do that, but apparently my judgement wasn’t the best following a blow to the head; and it’s not a mistake I’ll make twice. Otherwise, I’ve been properly conservative in my attempts to return to activity. I’m going to see a physio tomorrow, who also specializes in post-concussion syndrome, and will report anything of interest. Meanwhile, I need to be cautious even about my cognitive activities (argh!), which obviously take precedence over any exercise-related activities. The doctor’s words that stick in my head are: “You will get out of shape. I know that’s frustrating.” I think my main goal for right now is to accept that, and be grateful for all that I can do in the weeks and months ahead.
For example, I recognize that I won’t be able to race the Run for the Toad this year. It’s not that I couldn’t do it, rather that I would pay a very heavy price to complete it. Running seems to be a major symptom trigger. At this point, if I feel well enough, the doctor suggested an easy walk, and possibly an easy swim. But if I’m honest about how I’m feeling, even an easy walk hurts rather than helps right now. So does looking at my computer screen. Which means I’m signing off for now.
Thanks for all who have reached out to me recently with thoughtfulness and care!
I didn’t tell them to do this.
ALBUS Started yesterday. Grade seven. Junior high. New school, starts earlier, ends earlier. Walking with friends. Returned home excited, likes the idea of moving around from classroom to classroom, subject to subject, having a variety of teachers. Likes his locker’s colour and location. Did not jump on my idea of decorating it. His main worry: that he might be late for class and get detention due to being unable to open his lock. Not reassured by parents telling him this is not, generally speaking, a leading reason students get detention. Practiced piano as soon as he got home. Had no homework.
APPLE-APPLE Started yesterday. Grade six. Same school as last year, same classroom, same teacher, same classmates her age. There are new grade five classmates added to the mix, so that’s the only real difference. One of the new students is a soccer-loving girl! So that’s different too. They played soccer together during recess, and today she took her own ball to school, as the school’s ball is flat. Did her homework as soon as she got home. Also, I brushed her hair in the morning while she was practicing piano. She didn’t object in the least. (But I didn’t have time to brush it again this morning.)
FOOEY Started yesterday. Grade three. Same school, same wake time (7:25!), same exit time. Walking with friends and brother. Returned home satisfied with first day, reporting that she’s in her former kindergarten classroom (there is a new wing of brand-new classrooms for the all-day, every-day kindergartners). Went directly to a friend’s house after school to play. I did not, therefore, get a full and immediate report. But she did play the piano after supper: she didn’t want to practice, just noodle on a particular song that we could play together. That was nice. (And I just had to show her carefully chosen outfit in full!)
CJ Look at this guy! He started this morning. Senior kindergarten. Will get to school using a combination of bus and walking. Gave me lots of hugs and kisses and waves as we waited outside the new kindergarten wing. There were six kindergarten classes going in, a huge crowd. His best friend is with him. He said he was excited. I came home and cried my eyes out. Can I admit that?
Now, here are some out-takes from this morning’s shoot.
I am making them hold hands. Ha!
We’re holding hands, we’re smiling. Are we done yet?
Seriously, Mom. Are we done?
Wait! How did that one look? Let me see, let me see!
And the school year begins again. And here I sit alone (save for my doggie companions, who think this office actually belongs to them), in quiet, if not at peace. Too much happening, too much to prep for, too much I can’t prep for, can only plunge into. The good news is, I’ve been able to get up early-ish to run these past two mornings, and my head doesn’t hurt. The bad news is, even during these happy running moments my mind is turning over and over in restless sifting of must-dos and worries. I think of running as a curative for my restless mind, but sometimes the mind doesn’t want its rest, or refuses to take it. I’m not fighting it because there must some purpose to it, some need it is meeting. I’m not fighting it because life has its rhythm of cycles, of tides, of pull, and rest will come again, I know.
We’ve been away on holiday, a fact I choose never to announce on social media, including this blog, perhaps out of paranoia, but it gives me a sense of security. So anyway, you didn’t know we were gone, but, hey, we’re back!
Right before we left, I took the kids on our annual back-to-school shopping trip. I hate shopping, they hate shopping, we all hate shopping, so we only do it once a year: a visit to the mall that always includes the food court.
Also before leaving, we ditched our couch upon finding a bed bug associated with it. One bug. God knows if it came from the couch, as we couldn’t find any signs of any others, but we’d had the couch for thirteen years, and I’d disliked it strongly for the last three, at least. I was almost afraid of myself — how easy it was to get rid of the couch, after years of indecision. What else might I suddenly admit dislike to and get rid of? A neighbour took it home — the couch, I mean. Albus tried to stop him, citing the bed bug, the broken springs, the etc. etc., but the neighbour insisted. He identified himself as an “unpublished writer,” who was working on screenplays for the CBC. You never know who’s living up the street, do you? But now we know what he’s sitting on.
On our holiday, I read J.K. Rowling’s new mystery, The Cuckoo’s Calling, (being a sucker for mysteries), which rendered me completely useless to my family for an entire day and part of the night, too. I also finished Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, which I loved, though it did take me four months to get from one end to the other. I also read through my dad’s collection of last year’s New Yorkers (so did the older kids, unexpectedly). We swam in the cool lake, kayaked, took the dogs for a row boat ride (a mistake, as apparently both suffer from seasickness), played outside all day long. We went skinny-dipping one night — all six of us, including our five-year-old who spent the entire time announcing delightedly what we were up to at loudspeaker volume. He LOVED it. I hope the neighbours didn’t hear, however. My favourite part of that experience was when we were all standing on the dock, towels dropped, shivering — that awkward moment while we worked up the nerve to jump into the freezing cold. (No photos of that!) There were starry skies, several seriously hot perfect summer days when we didn’t even need a towel to dry off after a cooling swim, a day of rain, three successful water skiers, and lots of junk food and fancy drinks.
(That’s AppleApple, Albus, and Fooey, twice, respectively.)
No electronics were mentioned, though we did watch movies on the rainy day. Work and home started to interrupt a few days in (for me and for Kev), and it was hard to stay in relaxation mode knowing what was waiting for us back here.
Kev and AppleApple worked on a project inspired by a curiously water-carved log that turned up on the beach this past spring — my dad thought it would make a totem pole, and Kevin ran with the idea. He spent the holiday happily working on this project.
(“I really like what you’re doing on the smaller totem pole.”
“You mean, the one with the towel on it?”
“Oh. Uh. Is that a towel?”
Being Kevin, he did not take this as criticism, but ran with it. Towel as inspiration.)
He also brushed AppleApple’s hair. Wow.
I felt a bit starved for creative expression, myself, and found myself missing my desk and computer. I call writing “work” but it isn’t, really. It’s life, for me. I took a lot of photos instead. Way too many. So many sunsets! I include some here.
What else happened? Well, the dogs went swimming:
Oh, and I did something I’ve never done before: I drove a boat. I’ve never driven a boat before, but the cottage is boat-accessible only, and my dad thought I should learn. I might have been sixteen again. AppleApple came along to help, because we had to make the return trip on our own (just me and her), and she took some photos. It might look like I’m relaxed and smiling, but check out that grip on the steering wheel — my knuckles are literally white.
On another and not entirely unrelated note: I feel old! I don’t know why. Maybe it’s my hair. We were comparing hair colour, the kids and I, our different shades of red, and one of them told me my colour was “red-grey.” Really? Okay, maybe it’s not that I feel old, it’s that I look older than I feel. I may never resolve this problem.
School starts tomorrow. I’m working through a mountain of cottage laundry. Kev’s got vertigo from swimming in the cold lake (he gets it every year and forgets every year, and goes swimming). I haven’t been for a run in nearly two weeks, rendering my training plan for the Toad pretty much back to square one, but my mildly concussed head is appreciative, and I haven’t had any symptoms for over a week. There won’t be time to get into proper shape before the race. I’m trying to be at peace with this, and be happy about all those sunsets we got to see. And the sound of loons. And watching my children enjoy each other’s company.
We’re privileged, and I know it, to have a week like this in our summer, and to share it together, no matter the blips and bugs and breaks along the way.
Onward. Keep breathing. Keep hoping.
ALBUS Grade seven, new school, French immersion, with lots of clubs and teams to join (looking forward to seeing what he’ll gravitate toward). Rep soccer: tryouts for next season start Sept. 21, with a commitment of 1-2 practices a week, plus skills (Kevin likely to coach). Piano: weekly lessons plus practice time. Passed Rookie Patrol this summer, so he’s free from swim lessons til next summer (that was our deal).
APPLE-APPLE Grade six, enrichment program (lots of homework). Rep soccer: tryouts for next season start Sept. 21, with a commitment of 2-3 practices a week, plus skills, plus games. Swim team: six practices a week, including at 5:30 AM, Tuesdays and Thursdays, plus monthly meets (good thing I’m already comfortable rising early; too bad she’s not!). Piano: weekly lessons plus practice time. Horse riding lessons: what she wants to spend her summer babysitting money on, if she can find the time to squeeze one more thing in!
FOOEY Grade three, French immersion. Will walk to and from school, and be in charge of her brother one way. Beginner gymnastics (her choice). Weekly piano lessons plus practice time (my choice). Swim lessons (maybe). Indoor house league soccer (probably, especially if Kevin coaches). Oodles of time with friends (my prediction).
CJ Senior kindergarten: full days, every day. Plans to walk to school with Fooey and ride the bus home. Early childhood music, weekly. Swim lessons (probably). Indoor soccer (definitely, and Kevin will coach).
COACH KEVIN Soccer, soccer, soccer, and more soccer. Well, what did you expect? Plus work, all day, every day, with occasional weekend training sessions. Oh, and late-night hockey (almost forgot about that!). Making school lunches (bless him) and breakfast smoothies.
CARRIE Teaching Thursday evenings, 6-9. Writing daily, 9-3ish. Early morning exercise: weights, spin, running, swimming, yoga. Napping (often). Cooking supper (in harried fashion). Laundry. Driving children to activities and making carpool and carshare arrangements. Preparing weekly schedules to maintain all-family sanity. Readings (here and there). Indoor soccer (maybe). Poetry book club, monthly.
SUZI AND DJ Walks (twice daily). Naps (in office). Food (twice daily, plus treats).
ALL FAMILY (Couldn’t find a photo that included me, too.) Family skating/hockey, weekly, organized by Kevin. Bedtime reading (chapter books, out loud), as often as possible. Also considering: church (occasionally), supper invitations to friends and family (must make time for this!), and planning a trip together.
Hi there. For some reason this old blog post, titled “Where mom-at-home meets working-mom” has gotten a ton of hits this week, so I went back to re-read it, and found myself entirely drawn in to the conversation (if you go to read it, too, definitely read through the comments).
It was originally written in October, 2011: nearly two years ago.
I was asking myself some tough questions.
**When I unpeel myself from them [my kids], who am I? **Who am I outside this home? And the question I’m most scared of, the one I really want to ask: **How do I begin to develop my working self, now, after a decade of being mom-at-home?
It’s funny how these questions have answered themselves. The good fortune of having The Juliet Stories recognized danced me outside of the house, and unpeeled me from them. And it turns out that the answer to those questions is: I’m pretty much exactly the same person, except in nicer clothes (maybe: ask my stylish daughter).
What about this question: How do I begin to develop my working self, now, after a decade of being mom-at home?
Now there’s a tougher one. Clearly, my career has developed in the past two years. I have publishing contracts for two new books, essays in three upcoming anthologies, and a new teaching job. I field regular invitations to do readings and host literary events. That said, it’s not a career that involves full-time hours and the corresponding full-time pay. It’s a pretty insecure career, built around a constant flow of push and energy that must be generated by me alone. Funny, kind of sounds like parenting. Turns out that my working self is not all that removed from my mom-at-home self. Both roles have developed and changed, but it’s not like one cancels out the other. Maybe my original question framed it wrong: it’s not either/or. How could it be?
What’s gotten cancelled out is other things I didn’t expect. I miss my playgroup, meeting up with other women once a week — the regular, routine warmth and connection that I have yet to replace. I rarely bake anymore, and haven’t canned a thing this summer; probably won’t. I don’t have the energy, even if I had the time. We now have a dishwasher and I drive much more than I’d like to, ferrying older children to extra-curriculars. I’m alone a lot, which I relish and appreciate (it is essential to my work), even while missing contact that can’t be replaced by social media. Oddly, the thing I thought I’d miss — full-on time with my children — I don’t, because, as it turns out, we still share a ton of activities, scheduled and unscheduled. You never stop being a parent, no matter what else you might be doing.
But here’s a confession: this past winter, I tried to find a traditional job. You know, a job-job. This is an insurance town, so most of the openings were inside insurance companies. We were going through a tough financial spell, and my writing career had never seemed more risky and indulgent. I sent out a dozen resumes. I received one reply. ONE. It was a no-thank-you, but I was grateful even for that. The worst thing about the experience was discovering that I wasn’t even qualified for jobs I didn’t want, let alone jobs I did. Thankfully, we got through the very bad month and the slightly-less-bad next month, and our fortunes steadily improved again. But the fear lingers: that if my family were to need me to find a job-job, to keep us afloat, I would be useless as tits on a bull, as my mother-in-law would say.
It’s been a decade since the famous (infamous?) “Opt-out revolution” article was published, interviewing women who’d given up promising careers to become stay-at-home moms. I’m not sure I gave up a promising career when I became a stay-at-home mom at the age of 26, but I had recently been promoted, and the opportunity to advance and develop within my chosen field of media / publishing / editing / journalism was there. I can’t remember whether I related to the women in the original article, but I remember thinking it was annoying, setting up this dichotomy between women, making it so either/or. Aren’t we all in this together, I thought?
I also thought, secretly, quietly, that there would be time for everything, and I didn’t appreciate being told that one choice might disadvantage me in another area of my life.
Recently, a follow-up article was published on those same “opt-out” women interviewed a decade ago: what had happened to them? (“The opt-out generation wants back in.”) Well, the economy had happened to them (all were American). Most had gone back to work, whether they wanted to or not; most had found it difficult to re-start their careers, and many had taken jobs that were below where they had been or could have been. Those whose marriages had ended were particularly disadvantaged and struggling. Few, however, expressed regret about their original choice. One woman struck me particularly — she had been in a traditional media job (like me), and found it virtually impossible to find work in a much-changed industry. The article ends with her landing an exciting job, after searching for several years, but at much less pay than she would have earned a decade before, only to have the project shut down six weeks later, and everyone let go. She was back to square one.
Let me tell you, I sure related to that article with a pang of recognition. Yet, I can’t feel regret, either. Because there are other interesting questions posed in my post, two years ago, questions that seem at least as significant, and more mysterious. I can’t answer them, especially the last one, but that’s why they’re so fascinating.
**Where am I heading, at my breakneck pace? **What am I failing to stop for? **What if I can’t squeeze every fascinating everything in? **What matters? **Will I always be so impatient? So goal-oriented? **Can I be both ambitious and content, or do those two states of mind cancel each other out?
Because it isn’t all about money, is it? If I look directly into my fear, and stare over the precipice of what would happen to my family were we thrown into financial crisis, and it were suddenly up to me alone to support us, I see many possibilities beyond disaster. I see family and friends. I see lifestyle changes and probably a lot of creative improvisation. I see a web of connections. We’re not without resources — I’m not without resources. That’s what I see, two years on, despite my recent experience of hunting for jobs I didn’t want and for which I was not qualified.
Because, I see, too, that I am already qualified for other jobs — ones I do want. This work might not offer the same security and stability, but maybe that just keeps me a step closer to reality. Stability is an illusion anyway, as we all secretly know.
It’s a gift to be doing what I love. I love being a mother. I love writing. I love thinking things through. My hope for myself, now and future, is that every time I doubt or question, I return to this: gratitude.