[Your eyes do not deceive you. This is not a photo of a cricket.]
**Morning-nap thoughts (yes, I take a 20-minute nap on the mornings I get up early to exercise; if perfectly timed, I lie down as soon as the kids have left for school, and I’m up before 9am) …
My poetry book club meets tonight. Spoiler alert, book club friends: I’m going to write about Mary Oliver in today’s post. Specifically, the poem that lay gently in my mind this morning while I drifted toward rest, which is titled “Song of the Builders,” and comes from her collection (fittingly, I see): Why I Wake Early. It is a poem, like most of her poems, set outdoors. In it, the poet sits in the grass and thinks about God while nearby a cricket moves grains of earth: “How great was its energy, / how humble its effort.” Of course, she is talking about herself, too. They are both at work, “building the universe.”
This poem came gentle to me this morning as I thought about work. Which you know I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. In my conversations with Kevin, we’ve come to some pretty comfortable conclusions, by which I mean we’ve settled, together, on things we can live with, happily. One is that there is work, and then there is a paycheque, and the two are easily confused but largely unrelated (but you wise people already knew that, didn’t you!) Kevin loves his work. He doesn’t feel burdened by it, and would do it, in one form or another, whether or not our family depended on the paycheque that comes with it. And that makes a difference. I have the desire to work; but it’s gotten muddled with a desire for a paycheque.
Money is such a complicated and powerful concept. I don’t have the time or brain power to address its many uses and seductions here. But suffice it to say, I am setting it aside in my considerations.
What is clear to me is that the work I long to do is available in many forms. It already exists, and I am already doing it. If a new opportunity calls me, and calls to my interests and abilities, I would leap to do it. But I respect and cherish the work I’m already doing.
What I love about Mary Oliver is her utter lack of interest in hierarchy. The work of the natural world is as fascinating, as valuable, as universe-building as any work that you or I could do. It’s really quite an anti-capitalist view, if you get right down to it. She has no interest in capital. I admire the poets who do not apologize for being poets. Who is to say that sitting quietly on the grass and thinking about God is not work? Such humility. Such stillness. Such grace and goodness. She’s not saying everyone should be a poet. She’s saying be who you are. If you are a cricket, you work like a cricket without worrying whether your work is valuable or necessary or useful.
I would like to work like a cricket. Or a poet. Or, more precisely, like myself.
And that is my drifting nap-time thought for the day.
How to pare down today’s thoughts into a blog-worthy parcel? First, I want to say thank you to the many who added their comments and experiences to the working-mom meets stay-at-home-mom post. So much food for thought. And I’ve been hungry. Here’s where your thoughts led me:
1. Six-and-a-half years ago, I read an essay by Carol Shields that both comforted me and rung true. In it, she offered the idea that there is enough time. She was writing the essay while dying of breast cancer, but even for dying, she wrote, there is enough time. When she was younger, she worried about fitting everything in, but in each stage of life, she discovered time enough. It wasn’t that she could do everything all at once, it was that she honoured and lived out each stage.
I loved that idea (still do). That I could enter fully into intense hands-on motherhood and take my time. And when the stage passed, I could enter fully into whatever came next. And in my untested theory, somehow those years of intense motherhood would be an asset to whatever came next: all the juggling of multiple demands and scheduling and coping with crises and being nurse / healer / calm-amidst-the-storm / psychiatrist / chef / chauffeur / event planner / and on and on as the moment required would be valued, and would add value to whatever I chose to do next.
A couple of big assumptions in my theory. a) That employers would value experience that couldn’t be validated or quantified. b) That careers could be built overnight or slipped into like a pair of shoes. c) That I would get to choose my career like an item picked off a menu. d) That I would have a clear idea of whatever came next. e) That the intense hands-on motherhood stage would pass.
Reading your thoughts, it struck me: my theory is entirely unproven. I’ve spent six years quietly and confidently assuming everything would fall into place at the right time. (And who knows, stranger things have happened.) But let’s just say things don’t. Let’s observe that intense motherhood doesn’t pass, exactly, things just calm down somewhat. Even a decade on, it’s still pretty intense (with children ages 10, 8, 6 and 3). Meeting their needs continues to occupy a large portion of my mind and my time. The stages of life, therefore, aren’t so clear-cut and tidy.
2. Beyond that, I’m feeling a deeper appreciation for the work that career-building takes. Success in a chosen field isn’t something you can step into. It’s a slow build, a steady climb; you have to be there in order to make connections and to stumble into the right place at the right moment. It takes hard work and commitment. And time. Time and commitment that I’ve chosen to put into my home life and my children. Not into a career.
3. But: At the expense of a career? I still refuse to believe that. Especially because I have been (slowly) building a career as a fiction writer, and, yes, it’s taken time and commitment. But as most writers of fiction will tell you, this ain’t a career known for wild profiting; or even, in all honesty, breaking even. Which brings me to …
4. How much do I prioritize financial independence? I am in a marriage with a supportive partner who has shouldered the burden of our expenses ever since we started having children (you could say, conversely, that I’ve shouldered the burden of caring for our children during that time; and that perhaps we both have made sacrifices–and gains–in this arrangement.) I realize that I’m fortunate even to be able to ask this question, but, if I had to choose between nurturing my creative life and becoming financially independent, which would it would be? Because, let’s be realistic, it may be that there isn’t time to be a mother, and a writer, AND a [fill in the blank] money-earner. At least not all at once.
5. Feminism. One reader commented that her mother strongly prioritized financial independence, for herself and by extension for her daughters; and I know my own mom was troubled by her lack of financial independence, and hoped for better for her daughters. I haven’t done much better, not yet. Why does this weigh on me? (Because it does.)
And, finally …
6. Experimenting freely. Does all of this worry and analysis leave out the most important part, the most exciting part, about where I stand, right this second? (Okay, I’m actually sitting.) Because there is so much possibility in the unknown. My imagination runs wild. Sometimes I’m afraid; but mostly, here’s how I want to frame this nebulous whatever comes next stage that no longer seems so well-defined and particular …
**Like I’m marching joyfully up a giant rock in my rubber boots to survey the fields all around.
**Like I’m climbing an old apple tree, not necessarily expecting to find edible fruit, but for the heart-pounding excitement of being up so high; and to test the branches, and my own bravery.
(Now, if you please … tell me what you think.)
Signs, balloons, excited preparation.
A Friday-afternoon notion turned into a Saturday morning project. We’ve been talking about doing this for years.
The kids did the pricing. And chose the toys from the cornucopia in the attic. Household items were added from basement and garage. There is always, but always, too much stuff. How did we accumulate all of this?
No one bought the office chairs for $1.00. No students came by, which surprised us. (We also had two working TVs for sale, neither of which sold).
But the lemonade and popcorn were a hit. We used last year’s sign, but we didn’t have any “chocolate treats” to sell this year, so we marked them as “sold out.”
We met lots of neighbours. Nothing says, “hey, drop by for a chat” like arranging the contents of your basement and attic on your front lawn.
What didn’t sell was loaded up in the truck and donated to the local MCC store. Everyone chose something to keep (like this pink flashing butterfly wing musical device we’d forgotten existed).
It was fun. But these photos look a little melancholy to me, as I put them together in Blogland. Maybe it’s the concept of arranging your belongings on the lawn and waiting, wondering, who will show up? What will happen? Will anyone want these things that we once wanted and needed and used?
This was an all-family project. At the start of the summer, we talked about getting a trampoline for the back yard. The kids seem to keep growing. And the old swing set looks kind of destructible with several ten-year-old boys playing on it. But trampolines are expensive. So, we started saving for it. In the end, the kids emptied their piggy banks (literally), we wrapped coins (a project still underway), used the money from the long-ago “reward jar,” found a whack of Canadian Tire money, and, after a lot of online research, chose a trampoline. It’s supposed to be the safest one around. Fingers and toes are crossed.
The trampoline came home from the store in three boxes. Putting it together was a two woman/man job requiring a lot of physical strength, and some smarts, too. Albus and AppleApple were both very helpful with the smarts.
We were hosting a double sleepover yesterday evening, so we had some extra help. After many hours of labour, the whole thing was finally built before it got dark.
The boys thought it would be funny to show this.
Followed by this. (I hope the trampoline doesn’t laugh last.)
We do have rules. Our rules are: no shoes, zipper closed, and only two kids at a time (kids of similar weight).
Oh, and it’s not just for kids.
My friend Rebecca wrote this thought-provoking post on ‘thin spaces’, the Celtic concept of places (or moments) where the spirit world comes very near to our world. We can reach through and touch it; or it brushes us. She asked where we find our thin spaces. It might be a physical place, or it might be an experience. It might be something we can seek out, or it might be something that we can’t, that just comes upon us.
Here is my short list, the things that jumped immediately into my mind:
– being with someone during labour and birth
– sometimes while writing, when the words seem to come from beyond me
– when someone reads a poem out loud
– when my body is working very hard and my mind becomes very quiet
I was out with my siblings last night (and Kevin!), and I was thinking about how all five of us Snyder kids are both creative and impractical (thank heavens Kevin is practical). I don’t mean we’re disorganized or incapable of functioning in the world, but I do think we look at some practical things, such as work and earning a living, differently. Somehow, we must have been raised to value the making of things more than the buying of things. I think within that is some quiet value, never spoken of, of thin spaces. And our thin spaces maybe aren’t that profitable, but we were raised to choose unprofitable over practical if unprofitable feeds us in other ways.
I think many people choose the work they choose because it brings them closer to those thin spaces. What’s your work? Does it take you to unexpected moments or places of peace / calm / meditation / joy / insight / grace / giving / acceptance / fill-in-the-blank-with-your-word-for-a-thin-space?
My girl takes after me. I like to write my ideas down. I have to write my ideas down, more precisely. It’s my version of “thinking out loud,” and I recommend it to my older children when they are having trouble with anything: mean siblings, unfair situations, anger management, you name it.
Yesterday, I took my own advice. The big kids are at overnight camp, and the little kids are at a dance camp during the mornings, just for this week; and I have no projects on the go. I’ve completed the triathlon, and the related Chatelaine.com blog. I am waiting for line edits on The Juliet Stories. I seem unwilling to commit to a new character and a new story, just yet. I am at the crux of something. Restless. Curious. So I spent the morning talking to myself in terrible printing (barely legible, even to me) inside the pages of a handy notebook.
Did anything come of it? But of course! If not exactly peace of mind, then peace of purpose.
My mother has a phrase she uses often: She likes to “stay open to the possibilities.” And while there’s plenty to recommend the idea, I’ve decided that rather than staying open to the possibilities, I prefer to pursue, invite, and seek out possibilities–and when the time is right, to choose and to commit, which is kind of the opposite of staying open to more and more and more. Commitment means closing off possibilities–at least, some of them. But it also means believing in the possibilities before you and available to you, and not forever hoping that something better may be waiting around the corner. It’s kind of like getting married. When I commit, I like to get it right. That comes with a certain amount (okay, a giant unreasonable amount) of agonizing and analyzing.
But I’m seeing that commitment can be lighter than that, too. I have before me a flexible year. Certain elements are inflexible: my youngest is still a preschooler for whom I am the primary caregiver. But depending on my income generation, there are childcare options to supplement my responsibilities. And I am at home. I can juggle. I’m not tied to the structured hours of a 9-5 job.
One thing became very clear during yesterday’s brainstorming: I am finding more satisfaction from expanding my working life–my public life, essentially. To connect, to be engaged with the world–it’s what I want.
Something clear to me at this exact moment, as my littlest leans his face onto my leg and says, “I’m bored!” is that I’m not a great mother when I’m typing on the computer or trying to think. The balance … is so imperfect.