Yesterday afternoon, I spent some time helping two little guys launch a squeaking balloon down the staircase, with the happy effect that it squealed overhead and repeatedly smacked its little balloon head against the wall or ceiling before deflating and twisting earthward.
It would be pleasant to turn this into a metaphor, but I’m struggling.
There, no metaphor needed. I’m struggling. That’s it, plain and simple. I hesitate to spit it into word form, especially on a public forum, but there it is. A blog is a troublesome creation: it’s very much in the moment, and therefore can magnify the smallest ups and downs in a person’s life, and this here is a down. Right now I’m happy when I’m running, and that’s about it. But get that right now really is right now.
Suffice it to say that I’m tired after a second night up with a sick child. I’m irritable after another day home with my children, who are on holiday, but who can’t leave the house or have play dates due to the aforementioned sickness. It occurred to me today that the only thing a person can really accomplish while home with four children is cooking and housework — plus the vacuuming covered the noise of the periodic tantrums and steady stream of complaints. So the house is pretty clean. Which is something. But it’s not enough.
I would like to reflect on my impatient response to International Women’s Day, a day I usually respond to with honour and interest, solemnity, even pride. But this year, on this International Women’s day, all that welled in me was intense frustration. And I think my response is the key to unlocking exactly where I’m at right now, and why I’m struggling.
My expectations do not seem to be in line with reality.
I expect that girls and women will be treated as individuals, with the same opportunities as boys and men to pursue lives that are interesting and fulfilling. Every time I read another story about a horror perpetrated on a woman — because she’s a woman — my response is THIS CANNOT BE! Every time I read another statistic coldly demonstrating women’s under-representation in, well, you-name-it, most anything that has to do with power or cultural critique or leadership my response is HOW CAN THIS STILL BE? Every time I read some trumped up story on “The Mommy Wars,” or “Stay-at-Home Mothers v. Working Mothers,” or even hear myself referred to as “a full-time mother,” (what, exactly, is a part-time mother?), I want to shrug it off as mere noise, but instead I feel something akin to disbelief: WHY?
A few more WHYs.
WHY would any family rationally choose to have more than one or two children, understanding that childcare, particularly during the early years, will either cost one parent his or her career, or two working parents the better part of a decent salary? Let’s ask the politicians who a) have no interest in funding childcare and b) want Canadian families to produce more children FOR THE ECONOMY. (Surprise! They tend to be the same ones.)
WHY is Canada’s major news magazine running a photo, this week, of a woman shaving her face under the headline “Man Up,” suggesting that women should be more like men if they want to succeed in the workplace? WHY are we always being told to be someone we’re not? Which reminds me: WHY is success in the workplace our main measure of success? Further to that, WHY are good and moral choices so often couched in economic terms, as if that’s the only language that matters, the only real currency? I heard a news report, happened to be on International Women’s Day, in which an economist (who was a woman) explained that educating girls and women is a sure-fire way to increase the economic well-being of communities and nations. So let’s do it, people. Let’s do it FOR THE ECONOMY.
It’s International Women’s Day. As a long-term forever feminist, I appreciate there being a day to shine light on the distressing and mind-boggling inequities suffered by girls and women world-wide. But I noticed a curious tone to some of the posts coming through on my Facebook feed on the subject: irony, impatience, humor mingled with rage. Oh, a whole day for women? How can we thank you enough? (As an aside, I was also intrigued by a post on a cookbook devoted to vulva-shaped cakes.)
I don’t know if it’s something in the air, but I’m feeling a bit impatient too.
What’s so radical about the idea of men looking after their children with the same intensity and care and aptitude that women do? None of us know what the hell we’re doing when we start off parenting and I refuse to believe I’m somehow instinctively better at it than my husband. Just like I refuse to believe that I’m better at housework. Hey, we can all learn how to clean a toilet. Just like I refuse to believe that it might be damaging to claim for myself the words “competitive,” “driven,” “confident,” and “leader” (because it’s unwomanly? it wouldn’t look good? because I shouldn’t naturally feel or be those things?). Just like I refuse to believe that it might be damaging for my husband to claim for himself the words “nurturing,” “collaborative,” “gentle.” Those words aren’t in conflict with each other; we could both claim them all, and wouldn’t that be fabulous!
Finally, I’ve observed that neither my husband nor I is necessarily better at being the stay-at-home parent than the go-to-work parent. The stay-at-home parent is inevitably more harried and flustered and irritable by the end of the day when compared to the parent who has been out of the house. So it’s nice to mix it up and share. We’re all happier.
Our most contented days combine elements of just about everything. Alone time. Parenting time. Play time. Work time. A bit of cooking, but not all of it. A bit of dish washing, but not all of it. You know?
My greatest goal, in our family’s life, is to share everything and get along.
Maybe that’s what is grating on me when I think about the concept of International Women’s Day. A day where women are told we’re different. We’re singled out into a category that is, still, somehow, seen as inferior, or whose inferior status must be overcome. We’re a plight. We’re a cause. We’re not like men.
None of us should carry a heavier burden, in any one area, merely because she is female, or because he is male. Are we different? Sure, we’re different. But we’re not that damn different, people. We’re just not.
Maybe my body is trying to tell me something.
Maybe my horoscope on Thursday was right (it said I was doing too much and needed to slow down).
Maybe one cannot hold a pose of strength all the time.
After a solid writing day on Thursday, and an evening of driving children around to swimming and soccer, I returned home realizing that I felt … not quite right. In fact, a good deal worse than not quite right. In fact, I felt quite terrible enough that I needed to climb into bed without bothering to eat supper.
A few hours later, the youngest woke up with the unmistakable symptoms of stomach flu. I will spare you the details. I realized that I, too, was so queasy I was having difficulty sleeping. By yesterday morning I was basically prone, laid out flat. I didn’t even resent missing a writing day due to looking after a sick kid because all I wanted to do was sleep. He watched movies, I slept, piled upon by concerned dogs.
By afternoon, when sick kid was feeling improved and I discovered myself lying under a blanket on my office floor (it’s very warm) unable to respond to his demands for his water bottle, I texted my mother an SOS. She arrived and stayed until Kevin was home with the soccer/skating children at around 8pm. I slept and slept and slept. And then I slept all night too.
I’m a little less prone today. In fact, I am sitting at my office desk. Yay! Yesterday I was pretty sure I was dying, but today I’m feeling more optimistic about survival. (Yes, I am a hypochondriac; no, I would not make a good invalid.)
Rest, rest, rest.
Can I manage it? Seems an easy demand to meet, especially given that it’s the weekend, Kevin’s home, today is quiet.
Rest, rest, rest.
I’ll try, body. I’ll try.
I hope you recognized the tongue-in-cheek nature of yesterday’s “I finished my book!” post. There is a never-really-done-ness to book-writing, and that’s what I wanted to get at. So I’m done, yes, in that this book now has a lovely completed first draft with all parts in place. But I’m not done, no, in that the book is not even at the show-it-to-my-agent stage. If there’s one thing book-writing does not equal it’s instant gratification. It’s a slow burn form of exertion. It’s made for the marathoning spirit.
I’ve got big goals for this year.
Hugely ambitious goals. Probably far too ambitious. But I’m pleased with progress so far.
Goal for today: open Mama’s Salon.
hair cut in progress
I’ve been trying to convince her to keep her hair long. So pretty in braids! Pony-tails! But no. She wanted it cut to just below her ears. I didn’t quite go that short. We don’t have adequate after-pictures yet because the hair is still wet from her post-cut shower. It’s still long enough for a tiny, stubby pony-tail.
It was this fellow who really needed a hair cut.
He wanted to be sure I recorded his true feelings on the subject: grumpy. But I don’t think he minded all that much. The after photos were pure ham. I don’t know what this kid is going to do with his talent for physical humour, but it’s going to be good.
“Get my ‘cool guy’ pose, Mama!” (above)
(I also realize it’s time to clean my camera’s lens.)
Woke up yesterday to this: silvery wonderland, trees covered in what I remember being called hoar-frost. I walked the dogs, then came home for the camera. By noon, or sooner, the long white shards had melted off the branches.
I had the urge to slow down this weekend. It didn’t happen, but I wondered whether I might find a way to shift my habits and routines, even just a little bit, in order to allow myself to alight in the moment, and rest. I alight in many moments. It’s the rest part I can’t seem to locate. I parented alone all weekend and sprinted from task to task, from must-do to must-do. At one point yesterday, I realized that I was using precious adrenalin to whisk bread dough into greased pans before racing out the door to soccer — it struck me as oddly wrong. The slow preparation of bread, the two long rises, the “simplicity” and genuine goodness of homemade set against my relentless schedule — shoe-horned into my relentless schedule. What is the cost of operating at such high levels of intensity? Is it my health? I definitely feel like I’m aging more rapidly or visibly these days — rogue white hairs squiggling out of my scalp, facial wrinkles deepening.
I laid the bread into the pans and forced myself to breathe deeply.
But, oh, worth it. That’s why I can’t seem to stop. Homemade bread. And a really fun soccer game.
Last night, before bed, I applied a face-mask of yogurt and grains: maybe the sloughing of a little dead skin will help with the rapid/visible aging problem; maybe not. Still, I took the time.
celebrating a birthday
Sometimes it’s best to measure a day’s success by values other than productivity. Sometimes, rather than thinking about what I’ve accomplished, I notice: I’ve connected with friends and family today.
I appreciate that on most mornings, when I get up early, I’m meeting a friend. A surprising amount of ground can get covered during this sleepy, short time together.
I appreciate the drives to and from swimming and soccer and piano. I especially love finding myself one-on-one with a child. We don’t have to talk about anything big or exciting. We’re just happy to be together. There’s a sense of purpose as we head toward our destination, but there’s no sense of hurry.
I appreciate saying yes to crazy projects/events with friends. Yesterday morning, I was running through a snow-covered farmer’s field with a friend. Yesterday evening, I was eating smores beside a campfire under a dark and starry sky. In between, I had lunch with a friend, ferried children to piano lessons, ran fast at an indoor track, hung laundry, washed dishes. I also got zero new writing done. How to measure yesterday’s weight and meaning and worth?
On Tuesday night, instead of reading in bed, I stayed up to listen to my eleven-year-old enthuse about a school project (who knew he could be enthusiastic about school?).
Sometimes I text a friend (or my sister) whom I miss, but don’t have time to meet face-to-face. These disjointed abbreviated back-and-forths feel oddly conversational, like we’ve been with each other during that time.
I am often rushing from task to task, moment to moment, place to place. But in between, sometimes even amidst the rushing, I recognize that I feel quiet, stilled, present, at ease. I feel connected, strongly, to the ones I love. I feel solidly, persistently myself.
I’m not necessarily being productive by worldly measures. I’m not making anything. I’m not earning anything. I’m not going anywhere. I have nothing visible to show for my day’s labours. So it might be asked, why bother throwing yourself in deep, whole-heartedly, if there is no apparent goal being forwarded or accomplished?
Ah, but you know exactly why, I’m sure: because. Just because. This is life.
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