Oh summer. Summer summer. Summer! I love you and you are killing me with your demands, with your late nights and early mornings, your travel time spent in highway traffic going to far-flung soccer tournaments, swim meets, and beaches, and I realize how privileged that sounds — and is — but I’ve been to Toronto (twice), Ancaster, London (twice), Kincardine, Ottawa, Sauble Beach, and Kingston in the last five weeks, and if I have to spend another kilometre on the road I might dissolve into genuine rage. Or tears. I might come undone. Oh wait, summer, you’re sending me to Elora tonight for a soccer match in a rainstorm. Okay. I will do it. There’s seems no other way but through.
Summer, there’s more. I know I’m putting this all on you, but I have to tell you. You are killing me with your lack of school. It’s my own fault that I have four children. I take full responsibility for that. But there’s no substitute for school. Despite no lack of planning and foresight, summer, these four children, or some combo thereof, have taken over the house all day long. And for large portions of the evening too. I’ve started going to bed before some of them do. They are right this second making themselves elaborate lunches in the kitchen. I can’t even discuss the state of the living-room.
And the laundry. I weep.
I have told my four children to leave me alone for twenty minutes, which, frankly, seems a lot to ask given all the elaborate lunch-making currently underway. I am going to my office, I cried, and you must pretend that I am not here for twenty minutes!
I see my time is nearly up.
I am about to get in the car and drive to another set of swim lessons.
I have a message from a publisher, waiting, regarding a book cover. I have a magazine pitch to work up on a story I’m really excited to dig into — on women in sports. I have an essay waiting to be finished. Not to mention the book-writing writing that is on-going, and that I try to make an every-day event, but which is suddenly — summer, this really is on you — a rare occasion, shoved into corners, typing away in a car at a soccer field behind a high school in Elora. You know? It isn’t ideal. I don’t think it’s conducive to top flight work, summer.
And what of the lounging with gin & tonics, summer? Can you slide that in somewhere, please? Could you give me an evening out with my husband to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary? Could you let me lie around and read a book?
I’m putting this all on you, summer, but I get it, I do. I’m the one setting the course, running the race, putting in the miles. While you while away. So maybe it’s not you; maybe it’s me. Whatever, as the kids say. What’s clear is this: one of us is killing the other.
completely unrelated photos of SPRING!
8:40 PM. Home from AppleApple’s first outdoor soccer game of the season. Kevin off to his soccer game.
Me, at dining-room table, eating a late supper, Business section of the Globe open before me (nothing else available, clearly).
Him, two bowls of bedtime-snack-cereal consumed and teeth brushed, arrives at my side.
Me, hugging him, while trying to finish eating: “It’s bedtime. Would you like me to read to you, or I could play the ukulele for you, or would you like AppleApple to read you some more Harry Potter?”
Him, no hesitation: “Harry Potter!”
Her: “I can read you a bedtime story, Mom.”
Me: “Okay. You can start while I’m loading the dishwasher.”
Her: “It’s about this dog and a boy, and the boy can read the dog’s mind.”
Her: Reading out loud, stumbling over words like “array” and “campaign.”
Me: “This book uses a big vocabulary.”
Her: “Can we read in my bed now? I’ve set it up for you.”
Me, awhile later, dishwasher running, pots washed: “Sure.”
Her: “Are you coming, Mom?”
Me: “I just have to … kiss your brother goodnight … tuck in your brother … get a sheet for your brother because his blanket is too hot … tell your sister to brush her teeth ….”
Her: Waiting in a little nest she’s made for us in her bunk.
Me, climbing up: “Do you want me to read to you for a little bit?”
Her: “You can finish the chapter!”
Me: Finishing chapter.
Her: “Now I’ll read.” Stumbling over words. Patiently continuing. Laughing with genuine delight when the dog eats the boy’s pillow.
Me: “Look at the clock, honey.” [9:30 on the dot.] “We have to stop here.”
Her: Bookmarking spot.
Me: “This book really has a lot of big words. But I don’t think it’s actually very well written.”
Her: “I finished all the Magic Treehouse books …”
Me: “And we’ve already read a lot of the really good ones, like Pippi Longstocking, Charlotte’s Web.”
Her: “I’m not going to read Because of Winn Dixie. We’re reading it at school.”
Me: “I’ll bet your sister could recommend some really good books for you to read. She’s read just about everything. Let’s ask her in the morning.”
Us: Goodnight kisses.
Me, back downstairs: “You are not allowed to start reading another Agatha Christie book right now!!!!”
Her, blank-eyed, glancing up at me: “Whaaa?”
Me: “Mark your page and put down the book, or I will take it away from you.”
Me: “You need to go to bed. You’re swimming in the morning!”
Her: Eyes gazing downward on page.
Me: Turning book over.
Her: Sad face (fake).
Us: Hugging goodnight.
Me: Folding laundry, nearly 10 PM.
Him, coming downstairs, plopping into nearby chair: “Mom, what if video games had been invented before books? Do you think that parents would be making their kids play video games instead of reading books?”
Him: “I mean, what makes books better than video games? At least in video games I get to choose what I want to do next. In books, the story stays exactly the same, no matter what.”
Me: Wondering if fundamentally I don’t get how the mind of a nearly-13-year-old boy operates.
Him: “Why is reading for entertainment better than playing a video game?”
Me, launching into it: “I think it’s because reading is creative. You have to see the characters in your mind. You have to make them up using symbols on a page. In a video game, it’s all there in front of you. You’re just viewing it.”
Him: “I mean, I like reading some books. But it seems like they’re less creative than video games because you can’t make any choices.”
Me: “Well, a book is a linear creation. But even a video game is limited by its own parameters. And in really good books, everything isn’t neat and tidy, and you have to figure out for yourself why characters do certain things, and you wonder afterwards what might happen next.”
Him: “I don’t do that.”
Me: “You don’t wonder why a character did something? Or wonder what might happen next?”
Me, climbing onto soapbox: “Also so many video games are extremely violent. You’re in a fantasy world where you can’t empathize with the people you’re killing. And you basically have eternal life.”
Him: “Exactly. It’s a fantasy. That’s what people who play video games want.”
Me: “Sure. I agree with you. Lots of people want the fantasy. Lots of people watch reality television too. It’s easy entertainment. I guess I just don’t really get it.”
Him, sadly: “I’m going to bed now.”
Me, feeling crummy, missing his company, hearing my ponderous long-winded lecture through his ears (have not transcribed entire ponderous long-winded lecture for the sake of brevity and face-saving)
Me, to self: “I’m the worst mother in the world.”
Self, to me: “No you’re not. Don’t get down on yourself. It’s not going to help.”
Me, awhile later, laundry folded, knocking on closed bedroom door, sitting on the end of his bed in the dark: “Maybe we can agree that we don’t quite understand each other’s preferred forms of entertainment. Maybe you can figure out how much time you think is reasonable to spend playing video games, and I’ll figure out how much time I think is reasonable to spend reading books. And then we can talk about other ways to be entertained too.”
Him, quite agreeably: “Ok.”
Ok. Okay? Ok.
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.
More projects on the go! Kevin’s on a painting kick. This weekend he’s tackling the stripes Fooey requested for her bedroom. The kid is onto something. Her instinct for style is uncanny. Kevin’s only finished the blue stripes (there may be green and yellow ones yet to come, depending on his patience for what has turned out to be a time-consuming job), but it seems to have added something dimensional to the walls. I swear the room looks cleaner. Stripes as mess-camouflage?
I can tell my head is better not only because it doesn’t hurt, but because I was operating at high efficiency yesterday. I tackled a series of projects of the sort you never intend to tackle, but simply find yourself head-shakingly in the middle of. It was all precipitated by an order of a half-bushel of roma tomatoes, which I knew I would both regret and appreciate. I never intended to can them, there being ample room in our freezers due to lacklustre enthusiasm (from me) on the food preservation front this summer. I’ll freeze them, thought I! Nothing simpler! (Really, there isn’t; I just toss them cored but whole into freezer bags). Then I scouted out the freezers. Two half-full small chest freezers desperately in need of defrosting. Perfect! No time like the present! I’ll just defrost these, one by one, switching the frozen items between each, clean out the interiors, oh, and wash behind and underneath while I’m at it, discovering enough fur-like dust to make a pile that looked (disturbingly) mouse-like (it wasn’t). And then I froze the tomatoes. The defrost project dragged on all day, but freezing the tomatoes took less than half an hour; I’ve ordered another half-bushel to process next weekend.
I also made a run to the grocery store for boring bulk essentials that we were totally out of like TP and rice and dog food.
on the landing
I declared Saturday to be cleaning day (that made me popular), and ordered the kids to strip their beds. There were mountains of laundry. I attacked hard water stains in the upstairs bathroom with vinegar and elbow grease.
A million friends came over to play, with children rotating between houses on scooters. One child did nothing but Rubiks cube all day (“cubing” is all the rage in her class, which probably tells you something about her class). Kevin and I, at the eleventh hour, left a houseful of kids playing the card game “Pit” at the highest imaginable volume, in order to go shopping for a new bed. We’re sticking with our living-like-grad-students theme and made the purchase at a futon store uptown. Kev’s picking up the new frame and mattress this afternoon. Photos forthcoming.
the colours in Albus’s newly painted room (I told you Kevin is on a roll!)
And then we fed the kids pancakes for supper, and took ourselves out for dinner to celebrate: our first opportunity since Monday’s news. Truth be told, we were both really tired. We drank, we ate, we tried to talk about it. We don’t know what’s ahead, can only sit in the strange calm of right now, shaking our heads and laughing at the ridiculous year we’ve had so far, a year of extremes and unforeseens, of injury, bed bugs, concussions, fresh paint, career turns, difficult choices, and, at times, seemingly no choice at all but to keep on keeping on. So we’ve kept on. Thankfully. And here we are. Thankfully, and with thanks.
Above, our house, captured, in reflection, in its natural state. We’ve got son plus friend, plus clean laundry unfolded in basket on dining-room table, plus piano (not being practiced), plus basket of mail (unopened), plus family photos more than a decade old (which I long to update), plus book on table from Friday night’s poetry book club meeting (The Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology 2013), plus covered chalkboard wall, plus broken bridle on living-room floor (remnant from my childhood, used recently as a prop in a child’s school presentation on horses). I also spy art supplies on the dining-room table, because art supplies are like weeds. You think you’ve got them coralled and under control, and bam, they’ve sprouted everywhere again.
I’m feeling at peace with the messiness, with the constant state of disorder. I don’t like dirt. Or dog hair. But I love this evidence of flourishing life, creative, shared, blessed, untidy, in the midst. I love being in the midst. Keep me here.
I like to note what’s working for our family at any given time, even though this is bound to change.
Piano practice: What’s working is to tailor a small reward system to each individual child. Albus earns screen time following piano practice. Fooey puts a sticker on her school calendar every time she practices, and earns small rewards (books or crafts) for every twenty practices. AppleApple likes to play the piano and doesn’t like keeping track of things, so she doesn’t want or need a reward.
I’ve put a dishwasher emptying schedule on the chalkboard. The three eldest take turns unloading, and put a check mark beside their name each time. This helps balance it out on days when one child can’t take his or her turn. No fighting over who has done it more often. CJ is too small to unload the dishwasher, so his job is to the water the plants every few days. He gets a checkmark too.
The laundry is an ongoing issue for me, for which I seem to have less and less patience. Since the bed bug situation began, I’ve been running everything through the drier as a precaution. A pattern has taken hold: the laundry gets washed, dried, then left for days sitting crumpled in baskets until I finally undertake the task of folding and distributing it. This does not make me happy. Last night, while I was at class, AppleApple and CJ spent an hour folding and distributing laundry: they made it into a game, apparently. This makes me very happy.
this is my office, with bonus points to anyone who can actually find it, or move that duct-tape-covered chair
Everyone was waiting up to hear about my first class last night.
this is my echoing classroom
I can report that the classroom is not an ideal workshopping space, and I’m hoping to get the class moved. I can also report that that my concussion symptoms did not feel worse after teaching for three hours, for which I am more than grateful, I am deeply relieved.
I woke this morning feeling better relative to every other day this week.
A friend sent me a link to Tabatha Southey’s reflection on her own experience with concussion
. Given that it’s Tabatha Southey, it’s very funny, and also comforting: I relate to the feeling of disassociation she describes, and her inclination to start crying just about whenever. I am not a crier, generally speaking, yet I’ve found myself slipping easily into tears. (Parking ticket? Tears! Children holding hands on the way to school? Tears! Someone “hates” the supper I’ve made? Tears!) It doesn’t seem like a bad thing, though that may be my disassociative self talking. Nothing seems like a bad thing, really, which makes life very liveable.
But I look forward to exiting this fog. I really do.
It worries me to think of my brain being bruised. It worries me to consider bruised the part of me that I rely on for judgement and self-critique and sensible advice and the ability to focus intensely. It’s given me a whole new perspective on injury and fitness, and also on the idea of pushing beyond one’s limits. I can push my muscles beyond what seem to be their limits, and I trust my body’s capacity for endurance, but it never occurred to me that I might have to extend the idea of physical limits to my brain. It doesn’t seem the same, to me, as a hip injury or an ankle sprain: I wouldn’t shy away from activities that might re-injure those body parts, but would I risk re-injuring my head? I don’t think so. My head is my livelihood.
A few more good things, before I sign off: my kids like to read the newspaper, comics and obituaries. I know it’s off-beat, but I gravitate toward the obituaries, too: all those stories, the attempted summing up of all those lives. Here is AppleApple, before leaving for school this morning: “Mom, you have to read today’s obituary about a nun who was 109 years old
!” That makes me happy, too.
And I’m oddly happy living with my dresser drawers emptied out and the majority of my clothing temporarily stored in giant plastic bags (a bed bug precaution). I have a tiny rotation of clothes available, all are clothes I like wearing, and the lack of choice every morning is a peaceable thing. I may never go back to full drawers again.
Finally, I’m very happy with the random tasks that got accomplished over the summer. The following messy places got thoroughly cleaned and organized: the fridge (!!), the art table and accompanying bins and shelves (why do we have so many art supplies?), the children’s rooms and their bookshelves, the bathroom cabinets, the swim stuff, the bins of gift bags in the attic (I know, you wouldn’t think that’s much, but it felt like an accomplishment), and my home office. My office, with its tidy new filing box, makes me especially happy.
Oh, and one more good thing! Here’s the link to the official announcement in Quill & Quire about Girl Runner.
A few things. If you don’t hear from me, assume I’m writing. Or summering.
So far, this holiday has made a lot of sense. The kids are swimming in the mornings, and I write (working on revisions) all afternoon. We’re travelling by bicycle as much as we can. I’m back to running and soccer, so life it is good. It is filled with goodness.
I took my yoga mat and stretched on the grass, Saturday afternoon, while watching my daughter practice her keeper skills. Rain was lightly falling. It’s been hot, humid. It was just about the perfect afternoon.
No photos of my younger daughter, but you never know, she might step in and make a claim for the title “soccer girl,” too. On Thursday evening, Kevin and I watched in amazement as our sturdy and determined seven-year-old carried the ball up the field, beating out player after player, and calmly fired it into the net. Five times. Seriously. We know she’s got the skills, but this was the first we’d seen the fire-in-the-belly. Our jaws were dropping. We were so curious to know what had inspired her, but all Fooey said afterward when we asked how did you just do that??? was, “It was a different goalie, so it was easy.” Um, okay.
(I wish I could say that. And I wish I had even half her foot skills. I mean, she dominated. That is not a word Kevin and I tend to associate with sweet Fooey.)
I love the very different personalities that pour out of these fascinating individuals I get to claim as my kids. I love trying to figure them out. What makes you tick? What gets you excited? What brings you to life?
It’s berry season in our backyard.
And it looks like rain, again.
We’ve got more soccer coming up this evening, I’ve got laundry to drag off the line, and another half an hour to direct toward Girl Runner. I love when life makes sense like this. It doesn’t always. I spend a lot of time flailing around worrying about direction, although I don’t love to blog about those parts. (Maybe I should? So life doesn’t look too perfect?)
I’m super-thankful when everything seems to fit together.
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