File this post under balance. Sort of. I’m not convinced I’m actually someone who cares to live a “balanced” life. In fact, I’m fairly certain I’m someone who wants to live at full throttle, whether I’m sleeping, socializing, parenting, cooking, writing, or whatevering. I’m all in. That doesn’t mean I want to live at a manic breakneck pace, just that I want to be present wherever I am, fully appreciating that speck of time, that particular activity. That’s my version of balance.
Anyway, I want to reflect on how our crazy schedule is working this fall — because against all odds it does seem to be working.
Most of the kids’ extra-curricular activities occur after school. Piano is a constant, with the three eldest taking weekly lessons and practicing quite regularly (sticker charts work for two of them, and one doesn’t need the encouragement). We’ve skipped swim lessons for the fall. But AppleApple swims three times a week with a competitive swim team. I was remembering how she used to be kind of rotten when she was bored, and how rarely we see that behavior from her anymore. Maybe she’s matured. Or maybe she just doesn’t have time to be bored.
Kevin organizes a weekly neighbourhood hockey/skate hour at the rink, which all the kids do.
And the rest of our lives revolve around soccer. Every single family member now plays soccer. We’ve got soccer every day of the week except for Wednesdays (and even Wednesday is looking to go to soccer very soon). Further, Kevin coaches all of the kids, except for Fooey who chose to do soccer skills rather than play on an indoor team (her time slot would have been 8am on Saturday mornings, so we did not object to her choice). You wouldn’t think of soccer as a year-round sport in Canada, but with indoor fields all over the place, it’s just as year-round as hockey can be. AppleApple plays four times a week (once on an indoor house league team that her dad coaches; he doesn’t coach her rep team for which I am truly grateful). Albus plays twice, but will soon be adding an extra evening. The rest of us only play once a week. But with six people in the family, even once a week would add up.
We are using the carshare car all the time. Still, it’s more economical than purchasing a second vehicle, at this point.
Most of my exercise occurs early in the morning, and occasionally overlaps with a soccer practice or swim. It’s very regimented, actually. I don’t mention it because I just keep doing it: running, spinning, weights. In fact, the whole schedule is very regimented, and I think that’s why it works. We all know what to expect, day by day.
What I hadn’t anticipated, with all this soccering, was that I would have many evenings alone with the kids — the three that aren’t playing on any given night. Kevin is getting more one-on-one time with them, but I’m getting the calm and really very lovely bedtime routine. (All except for the toothbrushing, which is never calm and lovely, and which I loathe, having a bit of a tooth complex.) I have the after supper cleanup, piano practice, homework, playtime, sometimes dog walking, snacktime, pajamas, and then reading before bed.
With CJ now old enough to enjoy chapter books, we’ve been revisiting the classics: Charlotte’s Web, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and now Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing. I’m thinking of suggesting the Little House on the Prairie series next. I’ll never get tired of re-reading these books! It’s the perfect end to the day.
So that’s been our fall. Without the chalkboard wall, I couldn’t possibly keep it all together. Every Sunday I write down each day’s special activities. This week I have a section just for teacher interviews. Kids scrawl phone messages on there. I write down ingredients in the fridge to remind myself what to cook for supper. We’ve got a monthly soccer chart with all the dates and times of practices for each family member. It keeps us all together.
It takes a lot of energy to keep us all together. But I’m all in.
Today is brag-about-my-brother day. My brother Karl is the youngest of my three brothers (I also have a sister who is the youngest of us five siblings). I was seven-and-a-half when he was born, and there’s a fabulous photo floating around somewhere of me on my red bicycle with baby Karl plopped in the basket on the handlebars, with my mom, another brother, and my best friend Katie all posed around us, every last one of us grinning with delight; ah, the freedom of the early 1980s. Karl also spent a lot of time being swaddled and stuffed into my toy baby carriage — for a big sister, what could be better than a real live baby to play with?
As he grew, Karl demonstrated tenacity and an outsized will. He was always a tiny child, but absolutely fierce.
He wasn’t interested in school or academics. But he was talented at many things, including playing the drums, among many other instruments. Somewhere along the line, he and my brother Clifford acquired equipment for recording and producing music at home. There was the studio in my parents’ basement, lined with egg cartons; and a portable studio that he could set up anywhere.
And now he has his own studio, out in the country, with a wall of windows overlooking fields.
What makes me most proud of my brother Karl is that he knew he wanted to make music. He knew it was what he wanted to do with his life. And so he set about becoming a musician, no matter that others might have wished for him a career that would promise greater financial stability and security. He’s worked incredibly hard. Fame has never been a motivator for him — what he loves to do is to make music. And as anyone who chooses the creative arts as a career knows, there are years of invisible, unseen labour and practice underlying any visible success.
Well, Karl’s had some success recently. His song, which is titled, simply, “Song,” is the music for Apple’s new MacBook Pro commercial, on television and online, worldwide. Click here to listen to the entire song. And if you like it, you can get the entire Kidstreet album on iTunes. (Kidstreet is made up of my brothers Karl and Cliff, and my sister Edna; all of them talented musicians.)
To see Karl’s work and talent appreciated on this level makes me just ridiculously proud. I will try to restrain myself from running up and down the streets whooping with delight.
Instead, I’d like to make a toast to everyone who chooses to a pursue a dream, against the odds, and despite the heartbreaking challenges along the way. Join me? All I’ve got this morning is a cup of coffee.
Karl, you’ve made something beautiful.
Hello, weekend. Hello, rain.
I don’t mind. I feel indoorsy today, sleepy. A long run is planned for late this afternoon, but I prefer running in the cool damp than hot hot heat. I’m baking bread. I’m sipping a cup of coffee and opening the newspaper — and finding a review that I wrote on an essay anthology called In the Flesh (read it here.)
That’s an awfully lovely discovery after a weird writing week. (The dinosaur story got sent yesterday; an interview for another story due next week went well; but I got very little work done on my new novel. It’s always easier to set aside work for prospective payment in favour of work for guaranteed payment.)
Above, a photo of my well-dressed recital children. With the approach of summer holidays, we are coming to the end of lessons. Last piano lessons last week. Last swim lessons next week. Highland dance recital next weekend.
(Soccer, however, will go on. And on. No matter the rain. But it wouldn’t be summer without soccer, at our house …)
Usually on Monday mornings, I post my “week in suppers.” Today, I’m going to change the routine to honour where I’m at. Which is not to say I’m cooking no suppers. Suppers have been and will be cooked. But this has been an emotion-filled weekend. I’m not even sure where to place myself in the midst of the emotions and events. Am I observer? Participant? Witness? Conspirator?
On Saturday, parenting alone, I enjoyed the company of six children for part of the morning. I have difficulty describing how happy it makes me to be with my kids and their friends. To be part of their conversations. To listen to them relating. To laugh. To consult. To make plans together. And to allow myself to be swept along by their energy.
One of my closest friends lost her father on Saturday. He’s been our neighbour for the past few years, too. Thinking about him as I drove across town to pick up my soccer girl, I thought about how life sweeps us along, and how we are both at the mercy of a greater current, and yet blessed to be a part of it. I sat in the parking lot and wrote the poem I posted here on Saturday (typed into my BlackBerry; first BB poem of my life, I must admit). Then I picked up my soccer girl, and watched her transform into piano girl — and win a prize at a piano competition.
Piano and competition are two words that fit together rather uncomfortably. I considered my emotions as we listened to the competitors playing their songs, and I found myself disliking my instinct to contrast and compare rather than simply appreciate and celebrate. Nevertheless, to see my daughter rise to the occasion and play her song with imagination and flair, and then to see her rewarded with a ribbon … it was such a joy. I kind of wonder at myself for taking so much pleasure from the achievement. Why should my pride be any greater for her winning than for her purely being willing to try, practicing, working hard, and performing her heart out? You know?
We stopped at home to get changed before going to Grandma’s (where the other children already were). My friend called just then with the news of her dad’s passing. “His spirit has left his body.”
When I think about her dad, I remember a man who lived with an almost casual generosity. It was so much a part of his being. There was nothing forced about it, not like he had to remind himself that others needed caring for. Simply: he wanted to help, to be of help, and he did, and he was.
I almost want to stop this post right here, but there’s more. It was such a weekend. A big birthday party had been planned for Saturday night, and I was hosting it here at our house (hence the children off to Grandma’s). With my friend Zoe in charge of vision and decorating, we transformed our house into a … hm, how to describe it? Indian colours and food and music and bindis and a mehndi artist and hanging silks and mango lassies and women. It was a party of many layers. I’ve never cried at a party before — good crying. I’ve never om-ed at a party before. I’ve never limboed under a platter of Indian funnel cakes, either. It was a beautiful night in honour of a beautiful friend.
By morning, the house was spotless (true story). I picked up my soccer girl and drove her to another game, and watched her play a position she never played even once last year: forward. I watched her make passes and chances and exciting runs and assist on a beautiful goal. And then I watched her play the second half in her usual position in net. She played the whole game with intensity, and such happiness. Pride doesn’t cover my emotions.
When I brought all the kids home, we snuggled in our rearranged living-room (there are a lot of pillows on the floor right now). They watched a movie, I napped, they were all around me. And then Kevin arrived home from Ottawa, putting us all back together again.
So, you see, I spent a lot of the weekend on the sidelines, just watching and taking it all in, doing what needed doing, being of use, being present.
I have this feeling that life is filling me up. I might be here for awhile. When I’m full, it will be time to share and process and, maybe, who knows, to write another book.