This morning, after breakfast, Albus practiced piano. He always checks with me before getting a sticker, to make sure he’s earned it. Which is awfully sweet. He’s a good kid. Except this morning I really didn’t think he’d earned it. He kept rushing the half-note, always the same mistake in the same place. So I asked him to play the song again, with that in mind. I suggested playing the difficult spot several times over, with the correct notes and timing. But all he wanted was to hack his way through the song and be done with it, regardless of notes and timing.
Then we looked over his dictee results. In French, his teacher had written: “You need to study.” Things is, he’d studied. A fair bit. He’d sat down several evenings last week and worked on his homework, including studying for this dictee. He’d shown me his worksheet. I knew it was true. But the proof wasn’t there in the final test results.
As we were having this conversation, and I was offering more advice re efficient piano practice, Fooey happened by with a question. Albus was extremely rude to her. I reprimanded him. He pushed her. ie. things went from bad to worse, and quickly. I sent him upstairs on a time-out.
Why does he need to act like this? the thought half formed as I raced around the kitchen and cleared the breakfast dishes and wrote a cheque for AppleApple’s sub order and helped Fooey ready her bag for school and tried to remember all the details that needed to get done in the next eight minutes before everyone would leave and the house would go suddenly quiet, and I would eat breakfast and pour a cup of coffee and greet this computer.
Why is he so angry?
And I found myself looking at this morning from his perspective, not mine. From his perspective, he got up and got dressed and ate breakfast and then he practiced piano. And even though he practiced, it wasn’t good enough, and he couldn’t make it better, and he felt frustrated. And then his mother had to sign his dictee and he knew it wasn’t a great mark, and his teacher thought he hadn’t even studied. But he had studied. And he couldn’t make it better, and he felt frustrated.
I called him downstairs, and I said the above, an abbreviated version. He was quiet. Is that kind of how you feel? I asked, and he nodded.
I’m not sure how to make life better for him. Or easier. (Why do parents so often want to make life easier for their kids? But I do. Or not easier, exactly, just gentler.) What is the lesson, if hard work does not pay off in success? You know, it doesn’t always. Some people have to work much harder than others to achieve the very same level of success. I don’t want him to get frustrated, to give up, to not care.
I do want him to take responsibility for the choices he makes. I don’t particularly want to lower the bar.
But what if he’s trying, and it’s not working? Is the answer always: work harder? I’d feel frustrated, too.
This past week’s lack of posts does not indicate a lack of activity, but the opposite: too much on the go, and no time to sit and create captions for photos. Or, in many cases, even to take photos.
So, here, instead, are sketches of all the blogs I meant to write.
The children migrating to the basement blog
This week it got hot. We chose not to run our air conditioning, which requires shutting up the house. Instead, we toughed it out (still toughing it out, in fact; still hot). On the hottest day (37 degrees C), which was Thursday, it was also oppressively humid. That night, the kids slept in the basement. They’d been migrating there all week anyway, seeking the coolest space in the house. One morning, before swim lessons, they made a band (Fooey, who is really and truly a loud child, did an excellent impression of a punk rock singer; the song went “Ya, ya, ya, I love penguins …”). And I thought to myself: man, I love these kids. (Tiny related observation that could have been its own blog: how awesome to have older kids organizing the younger ones into activities like making a band and putting on plays, which they also did this week; I spent a lot of time on musical marches around the house and homemade plays when the older kids were little; how awesome to see that investment paying off).
The choosing the activities I really like to do blog
(No, the photo is not related.) For two weeks, we’re doing a summer activity I really look forward to: every morning, we bike to an outdoor pool a couple of kms away, the kids have swim lessons, and due to fortuitous scheduling I get a half-hour lane swim, too. Then we shower, snack, and bike home again. Sometimes we stop along the way at the library or grocery store. It’s been hot. I realize this activity, with four children in tow, might sound positively torturous to some; but I really love it. The rhythm is relaxed. We’re getting good exercise together. It’s a mini-adventure, but its daily repetition requires of me little thought or extra planning.
The day of crazy chapters blog
Some days are mere phrases, a sentence at most; some have chapters. Friday had chapters. Chapter one was not good: worn out from a week with the children, breakfast damn near did me in. The complaints. The whining. The stream of criticism. I’m talking about you, offspring. Nevertheless, I chose not to quit my job (ie. of mother). Chapter two: We biked to the pool. We swam. We snacked. We biked home. We lunched. Chapter three: I gathered props and drove to a photo shoot (Kev spelled me off). Yes, you read that right. A photo shoot. I’ll explain later. Chapter four: Home again to pick up local food order from Bailey’s, with three-year-old in tow. Unpacked food. Made supper. Welcomed babysitter. Added necklace to my outfit. Chapter five: Drove away with Kevin to Hillside Festival. Just the two of us. Blissful outdoor evening of dancing, eating delicious food without interruption, drinking beer, washed in music.
The comparison between evenings blog
A little too blissful: Friday evening. Because Saturday, oh Saturday … soccer game in Orangeville, driving in the heat, sitting on the sidelines in the heat, wrangling offspring in the heat, endless trips to porta-potties, ditches, community centre bathrooms in the heat … and then, finally, supper, back home, prepared with care: freshly made gazpacho, steak sandwiches, grilled zucchini and cauliflower, completely rejected by two out of four children. More whining: “I want pearsauce! I want pearsauce! I want pearsauce!” More demands: “Why aren’t you getting my water that I asked for when I asked for it!” More dirty dishes. Kevin and I looking at each other across the table, wishing we were back at Hillside. Just the two of us.
The Mary Oliver blog
All week I’ve been reading a collection of essays, prose poems, and poems by Mary Oliver, called Winter Hours. Enticing title in this heat. There’s a longer blog here on the subject of poetry — writing it and reading it — but I haven’t got the mental space to pull it all together. This is a book I will read again. Every evening, before sleep, it’s been like cool water pouring over me. There is a chapter on her poem The Swan in which she effortlessly tells me everything I’d need to know to write and read poetry with more depth and insight. Count me a convert.
Last week was a hard one for me. Home alone (with the children), I thought, well, I’ll think of it as a holiday. But it didn’t feel like a holiday. It felt like me, home alone with the children, with no writing time. It felt like in one short week, I’d lost the ability to talk coherently to grownups. My patience was thin. My envy of anyone with a job outside the home was thick. Note to all mothers of young children who read this blog and wonder how the heck I do the things that I do: I do those things while other people look after my children. There’s no secret to it, really. When I’m home alone with my children, I can barely string together a sentence without interruption. It’s a recipe for madness, not for insightful thought.
(I write this while one child quizzes me in multiple choice form and we all stare out the window at a man with a hammer breaking apart some copper piping in front of our house — not our piping, but I’m guessing he didn’t come by it honestly; but as I’m sitting in my bathing suit because it’s really really hot, and though the kids have suggested it, I’m not going to approach the man with the hammer to ask what he’s doing on our sidewalk).
Neither, really. But this morning, I got up early and went to a yoga class: my first in nearly two weeks. A short list for mental survival arrived. I must write this down and remember it, I thought. Why is it so hard to remember the little things that make life better? And then to step out of inertia to do them?
– yoga, for meditation and quiet thought
– writing, journalling
– reading poetry
And while this week alone with children is not a holiday, and it’s not going to be productive work-wise either, it is time with my children, unstructured together-time. We made an attempt at an adventure this morning. It didn’t really turn out (too many mosquitoes), but everyone enjoyed it. “This really is an adventure!” someone said, as we fled the woods amidst a storm of bugs. This week, I’m going to write a bit more, hang out a bit more, and yoga a bit more. And not try to wish this summer into something it’s not.
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.
Ever feel like you’re just not into the domestic necessities? I can usually find some smidgen to enjoy in some portion of the daily chores that Must Be Done. But not right now.
Right now, due to soccer-all-the-time, I am washing dishes in a grumpy stupor after 9pm. “Remember when I got to wash dishes right after supper while listening to ‘As It Happens’?” I said to Kevin last night, who was also in the kitchen, putting together lunches for school. “Who knew that was such a treat?”
And hanging laundry–an often peaceful activity, a moment of quiet in a noisy day–right now, feels like a relentless intrusion on my time. There’s so much of it and so many stages to the doing of it: gathering, washing, carrying the basket up and down stairs, hanging inside or outside, gathering, folding. The only thing I refuse to do is to put away the stacks of clothes neatly piled and arranged from youngest to oldest, on my bed. C’mon. It’s the least they can do.
Even cooking is not drawing me these days. I haven’t baked bread in over a week. I’ve been stocking up at the half-off shelf at our nearest grocery store (and because our grocery store is frequented by a lot of students, the half-off bread is usually the best they sell: multi-grain or spelt or Red Fife wheat).
I haven’t baked a cookie, square, or cake in ages. I offered my two youngest a half-bag of cheesies to snack on while we sat waiting in the hallway for AppleApple to be done her final piano lesson. I’d assumed we’d be alone, because the music school is pretty much shut down, but of course there was a mother across from us, watching my offspring coat themselves in sticky orange powder. I pretended no shame.
Maybe I wasn’t even pretending, come to think of it.
I am consumed, right now, by two major projects. One is the triathlon, which will happen next weekend (not this one). I am training heavily, and it is eating a great deal of my time, mentally and physically. What I’ll do after it is over, I just cannot fathom. I can’t really think that far. I love the early mornings, but they take a toll. I would like to get together with friends and enjoy a drink of an evening, again, for example. But meantime, I am aimed like an arrow at a target, with a focus I just can’t turn off.
My other major target, on which I feel just as significantly and undistractedly aimed, is my Juliet Stories, several of which I am reworking in quite radical ways. I am rolling with ideas, especially after a conversation this morning with my editor, and trying to be patient and to work within the limits of the time that is put aside for writing work. I am grateful to Kevin, who is taking over everything this weekend, so that I can write.
And so the kids are eating cheesies, and I am resenting the laundry, and we are doing a lot of last-minute barbequeing.
I just realized something. It’s not pretending. There’s no shame. I’ve lost whatever guilt I once had, as a mother, about pursuing interests that don’t revolve around my children and my household. Right now, I am wired tight as can be, focused, excited, energized, exhausted, stretched, and it’s all good.
Awhile back, I wrote a post about “Conscious Discipline.” At the time, I copied a list of ten parenting principles onto a piece of green paper, which is still hanging in our kitchen. I think the list is terrific, and continue to refer to it from time to time.
Most recently, number eight jumped out at me: “Become the person you want your children to be.” I love that line.
I’m becoming a fairly fit adult, and someone who takes great pleasure in running, biking, yoga, swimming, etc. And my kids know how I feel about it. I talk about it as relaxing, or as an outlet for difficult emotions, and a way to make life, generally, happier. The kids have now been to three races and they’ve seen how happy running makes me feel. One might say, job well done, Mom. You’re becoming the person you want your children to be.
Last week, Albus brought home a piece of paper from school, which he grabbed and tried to hide as soon as he saw me heading to check his backpack. What on earth? I thought. Is it a note from his teacher that he doesn’t want me to see? Is he in some kind of trouble? When he sheepishly showed me the piece of paper, it had information about the school’s Running Club. “You’re going to make me sign up,” he said, despondently. Of course, I said I wouldn’t force him to do it, but wouldn’t it be lovely, blah blah blah? And he said, no. He doesn’t want to waste his recess time on running club. AppleApple was equally disinterested. I was mildly disappointed.
But when my eye caught number 8 on my “Conscious Discipline” poster, I just had to laugh. Here I am modeling away, and my kids are, so far, oblivious to the hints; at least to the most obvious and particular of the hints. I do think it’s a good thing to become the person you want your children to be. But hopefully you’re doing it as much for yourself as for them. They will have to make their own choices along the way, and there is only so much a parent can/should push for. It’s just not a one-to-one ratio: do this, and receive that result. Life, and parenting, is much less predictable.
They’re going to break out of my mold, and be themselves, be the individuals they already are. Maybe the more subtle messages will get across; that’s what I hope. The messages about focus, working hard, and enjoying what you do. May it be so.
In other news, please read my latest blog on Chatelaine.com. It’s about learning to swim last summer, with an unexpected teacher.
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