Category: Mothering

Dark days

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I took a holiday from electronics over the weekend. The word “electronics,” aka ‘lectronics, is heard often in our house, and is often a source of conflict, as I, responsible mother, repeatedly refuse my children time on their ‘lectronic devices.

Yesterday, driving home from a soccer game, the whole family in the car, the youngest in tears because we weren’t watching a movie or letting him play on his brother’s Playbook — during the relatively short car ride — I had one of my ranting moments, this with the theme “Addicted to Electronics.” It’s kind of like a Ted talk, only unedited, and interactive.

“But what about all the time you spend on Facebook, and doing your blog, and writing?” my eldest pointed out. “What about email? And you have your Blackberry that you’re always checking.”

So we drew some lines. Games and Facebook are kind of the same thing: entertainment. Email/texts are, for me, and for better or for worse, like the telephone; they connect me to friends and family. Writing and blogging can be useful and creative. “If you want to write a story on the computer, I will make sure you have a computer to use,” I said. “But an hour of wii-time on Saturday and Sunday seems like enough.”

I don’t want to ban ‘lectronics from our lives. I want us to use them in ways that are positive, that don’t cause conflict, and that don’t prevent us from exercising our brains and collective selves in non-‘lectronic creative ways.

This is what passes for family meetings these days. I actually think it was a fairly effective conversation, by the end. I had my rant, the kids got to counter with their arguments, and we all finally agreed that Facebook and computer games needed to be limited, but that there are occasions when ‘lectronics are useful tools.

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I’ve spent the weekend in a kind of hibernation. I’m sick, but functioning, up all night coughing, slogging through during the day. “How can I feel so yucky, and still rock a 10 kilometre run?” I asked Kevin on Friday night. I took two extra-strength Tylenol and ran for fifty minutes at soccer yesterday — our team had no subs. I felt terrific during the game; chilled and feverish afterward. I’m a believer that exercise is curative. But I still feel sick.

I don’t think my electronic hibernation this weekend was about feeling sick, though. I think it was about the latest shooting in the United States. I didn’t hear about it until late Friday afternoon. I’d spent all day setting up my new book in Scrivener, cut off from the world, marvelling at this brand-new-insanely-useful tool, feeling like I could have happily chained myself to my desk for the next three months and just lived in my imaginary world. Which isn’t practical. So at around 4pm, I turned it off to get ready for our complicated Friday evening ritual, which involves a carshare car, a picnic, soccer equipment, and me in running gear.

But first I checked Facebook.

And then I saw the news. And then the news was all I could see or think about or handle, except I couldn’t handle it. Fury and rage. That was my gut response. The thought that these weapons are legally obtainable. The thought, maybe, that these weapons even exist. Tell me why we need them. Why does anyone on earth need a gun that can rapid-fire hundreds of rounds of deadly ammunition? And if you think you need something like that, I’m pretty sure that should disqualify you from getting access to it. As I ran, sick and sad and furious, on Friday night, I thought, this could be my hill. This could be where I take my stand. But I drove home, alone, weeping so hard that I had trouble seeing the road ahead.

How to pick one hill? I feel a familiar sinking. The injustices and wrongs and evils are too numerous to list, let alone to comprehend. Child soldiers, dictatorships, unsafe factories where people work like slaves so we can buy our clothes for cheap, repression, rape, self-interest, tar sands, money and the lack of it and the greedy excess of it, drones, refugees in Canada denied health care, hunger even right here in our very own wealthy country. Is evil ordinary or extraordinary? Can it ever be contained? What is the meaning of safety and security? What is the meaning of prosperity? How can I do no harm? Or even just do less harm? How can I help.

This is the darkest time of the year. The holidays at this time of year celebrate the coming of light, and all that that means.

I don’t know that I know what it means.

These are the words that come to me: Pour out your love, you won’t run out.

Falling into a powerful book

I finished reading a beautiful and powerful book last night. It’s called Out of Grief, Singing, and was written by Charlene Diehl, who is a poet and also a friend and mentor. It is a difficult book to read, in some ways, because it is about a mother experiencing something no parent wants to imagine: the death of her child. But it is not as difficult to read as you might imagine before opening its pages. You only need to be prepared to be moved profoundly and deeply as you follow this mother on her journey out of grief, singing. I started reading the book in an airport, which I cannot recommend unless you are comfortable sobbing in public. I finished it in the privacy of my own bedroom, and I let the tears flow freely.

In a sense, the book is about the grieving we do in public and in private — the ways in which we are permitted to welcome grief (or not) into our daily interactions, and the discomfort (or fear) that many of us feel when we hear about someone else’s experience with death and loss. I’ve been thinking about the book all morning. I’ve been thinking how I’ve felt awkward and anxious about approaching someone who has suffered a profound loss. I’ve felt at a loss myself. At a loss for words, or actions. The people who help Charlene on her journey show love, compassion, patience. They don’t tell her what she’s feeling or what she’s supposed to be feeling, but honour where she is. They don’t pretend nothing has happened. They are open to her story. They are open to her daughter’s existence, and to the fact that her daughter lived and died.

That may sound really obvious, but I think it is not.

The greatest hurt seems to come from strangers who make assumptions, and so many assumptions are made about women of childbearing age; I know I’ve made thoughtless assumptions myself. Is this your first baby? is maybe not the best question to ask the pregnant woman standing behind you in line at the grocery store. Or, be aware that you may be expounding on the wonders of natural childbirth to a woman who has delivered prematurely, her baby kept alive by machines: and in your ignorance that you are suggesting that this woman has done something wrong, as if she had choice in the matter. Know that your childless neighbours may or may not have chosen to be childless; or that they may have suffered losses, that they may be parents without living children. Know that not everyone gets to choose their story. Know that people’s experiences are not all the same.

This is profoundly hopeful book, full of grace.

Charlene’s two living children, born after the death of their sister, hold her in their lives in ways that are completely natural. The older sister they never knew is present in their family. In the book, Charlene relates how her son says that his older sister is there whenever he has a feeling that surprises him, or that he can’t know — much like he can’t know this sister, yet she is mysterious and present.

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me and Charlene in Winnipeg earlier this fall

Charlene was my professor that November many years ago when she went into early labour. I remember the shock of hearing the news, and hearing, less than a week later, that the baby girl had died. I was twenty, and I hadn’t the slightest idea how to respond. I signed a card that someone more thoughtful than me bought and sent on behalf of our class. I never thought to visit. I think I would have imagined it an imposition. I think, also, that it’s okay to be where we’re at, and I wasn’t in a place where I could have been helpful. We aren’t, always, are we.

I hope I’m somewhere else now. I hope, if called upon, that I could be like the friend who listens to Charlene’s story over and over again, and because she is present and listening, is able to reflect back to Charlene that her story is not repetitive, nor is it a trap, but it is ever-changing, changing with Charlene as she moves through that long first winter after the death of her daughter.

I don’t know why the book has come into my life now, but it came and I am glad for it. Thank you, Charlene.

Our Halloween: the good, the heartwarming, the parenting fail

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ring wraith (he and his dad are currently into the second book of The Lord of the Rings)

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seriously, when she said she wanted to go as a book, I had no idea which book she had in mind

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butterfly in flight

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and the knight is the last to emerge

This was the actual order in which they exited the house.

The ring wraith left early to meet a friend. They’d already plotted their route to maximize candy gathering.

The book also trick-or-treated with friends, and stayed out latest of all. She arrived home saying her favourite house was the one where she heard adults on the porch saying, “Hey, it’s The Juliet Stories! Isn’t it up for a prize or something? I heard the writer lives in our neighbourhood!” And then she was proud to tell them: “My mom wrote this book.” She was hampered, however, by the costume design, which went down a little long in the legs, making step-climbing tricky. (And I worried that neighbours might suspect I’d sent my kid out as a walking billboard …)

The butterfly and the knight came with me and some friends.

There is a great article on the joy of Halloween in the Globe and Mail this morning (which I’m still reading despite resident-books-writer John Barber’s seemingly bottomless dislike for contemporary Canadian book publishing). I felt the Halloween magic yesterday evening. The decorated houses, the efforts to entertain and welcome. Children knocking on strangers’ doors and receiving compliments and candy.

The butterfly and I outlasted the knight, and made an effort to visit our nearest neighbours, who don’t get many trick-or-treaters. Our street is busy with traffic, and it is populated by more of a mixed crowd than the family-oriented streets that surround us: students, the elderly, people who have lived here for decades and haven’t renovated their kitchens and never will. We knocked on some doors I wasn’t sure about, even with the porch lights shining. And at every one we were greeted with welcome and kind words — and treats. The students who had dressed up their cat as Superman. The man whose wife came quickly to tell him what to do with Fooey’s treat bag, which he’d taken into his own hands, and stared into as if trying to decipher its purpose. The neighbour who recognized me from the article in the Chronicle and said, “You wrote a book?” as if he were saying, “You’ve been to the moon?”

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Back at home the candy-eating and sorting was well underway. Our littlest ate candy like I’ve never seen a child eat candy. He just didn’t stop. I was entranced by his enormous appetite for chewy faux-fruit-flavoured sweets and I stood by his stool watching him with amazement and, I’ll admit it, admiration. When apparently, as evidence would show, I really should have stopped him.

Parenting fail. Yes, parents of four can make rookie mistakes on the last kid. How were we to know? Our other kids have all shown restraint, over the years. Not one of them has ever eaten themselves sick. Which is exactly what happened to CJ last night: he ate himself sick. Even when we declared it cut-off time for candy-eating, he would have gone on; but then he rolled off his stool and collapsed to the floor, holding his tummy. “It hurts!”

Uh oh.

I tucked him into bed, hoping he’d wake up feeling better. But instead he woke up feeling worse. It was one o’clock in the morning. I won’t paint the scene for you, but suffice it to say, his stomach didn’t even bother trying to digest those masses of chewy faux-fruit-flavoured sweets. The cleanup took a long time. And then I got up early for spin class. Ouch. This is not an error we intend to make more than once.

At least he felt instantly better.

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my favourite photo of the evening, which sums up the agony and ecstasy of excess: view on Flickr for full scene

{this captioned moment}

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{This photo hints at how difficult it is to capture my emotions, to see myself clearly, in a week that has included: a challenging 25km trail race; an early Thanksgiving dinner with family; witnessing The Juliet Stories becoming a GG finalist; many interviews during which it was not me holding the recorder and taking notes; a celebratory reading; lunch out with Kevin (rare); a dear friend’s birthday party and morning coffee with more friends; an inbox full of greetings from friends near and far; prepping to host family for Thanksgiving; and the every day domestic work of cooking, dishes, laundry, groceries, school schedules, bedtime reading, hugs and kisses and soccer and swimming and ordinary life.

I’m here, in the midst of this wonderfulness. Feeling at once stronger and more centred than I’d imagined; and unexpectedly vulnerable, open to tears and laughter and big emotions. Open to putting my foot in my mouth. Open to stumbling (or, more accurately, stumbling no matter how much I want not to).

I am failing to caption this moment. Am I supposed to admit this? That life is too sprawling and complex and amazing and heartbreaking and mundane and fabulous to be captured in the words I spell out, with hope that I’ll transcend my limitations? Knowing I can’t? Knowing I’m going to keep trying, imperfectly, for as long as I can find words?}

Yes I am a soccer mom

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Sometimes I find it hard to watch.

Sometimes I wonder whether I’ll survive the emotions. I can’t explain rationally why I care so much–not whether she wins or loses, but whether she’s out there believing in herself and playing with confidence.

Sometimes I wonder whether it’s helping her in the least to have a pacing anxious mother on the sidelines. After a really tough loss on Saturday afternoon, I went to visit her under the tent where she and her teammates were resting and waiting for another game. She looked despondent. I tried to think of the right things to say: praise, mostly, for another game well-played regardless of outcome. I couldn’t tell whether it helped. Kevin took a turn too, and then I went back again just to hang out, appreciating how the coaches were keeping the atmosphere light, and glad to see that a Freezie had put some colour back in her cheeks. Both Kevin and I know we can’t force our kids to believe in themselves; all we can do is believe in them and let them know that we do. I’ll admit it: I was worried to see her so down.

“Did it help when Daddy and I came over to talk to you yesterday?” I asked her when we were talking after the tournament was over. We were talking about winning and losing and playing with consistency no matter what’s going on around us. I was wondering how to help her cope with the ups and downs that are part of competitive sport.

A warm, appreciative smile, a simple: “Yes.”

(My silent response: relief that our offerings of help are welcome; hard to tell in the moment.)

What amazed me and made me most proud was that by the time her team went onto the field for their next game, Saturday evening, she was ready. She played a big game, making aggressive saves that were audacious and, frankly, heart-stopping. She drew the impressed notice of other coaches. Her team dug out a win.

This season, in these tournaments, she’s been fighting nerves before games. Butterflies. Feeling sick. But as soon as she takes her place on the field, you’d never guess it. She throws herself in time after time. She looks like she loves what she’s doing.

The least I can do is watch.

Just one small thing

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She’s at camp. And I miss her.

All the way home, after dropping her off, I felt a vague uneasiness, an undercurrent of anxiety. When I expressed it to Kevin, he understood. We were both feeling it. The feeling of not being near one of our children, which is a luxury we completely take for granted in every day life.

It came to me: this is parenthood. Our children are going to grow up and away from us, but we may not exactly grow up and away from them. In some fundamental way, we will always feel that they belong to us; even when they are quite certain they don’t.

I’m not talking about this little one, of course. She still makes her claims on me as strongly as I claim her. But in ten years? Twenty? Thirty?

Will it feel then, as it does right now, that a small piece of me has been mislaid?

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