Category: Play

Swimming Studies, by Leanne Shapton

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Nothing very exciting is happening here. It’s the last day of freedom before school starts (that is my 11-year-old’s take, anyway). Swim practice was cancelled. Soccer is on (one game in Mississaugua, hers; another in Cambridge, mine). Soft wet snow is falling in quantities voluminous enough for the building of snow forts.

I went for my first long run of the year yesterday — 15km, which is pretty short by long run standards. It felt easy, and I went slow, and I enjoyed it a great deal. I spent a few kilometres sorting out structural details for the new book, and I spent the rest of the kilometres kind of thinking about absolutely nothing, except for running itself. The discipline and routine of an athletic pursuit seems to keep me happy, grounded.

I’ve been reading Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton, utterly fascinated at the glimpse into how a young person can be shaped by the rigour and routine and discipline of participating in competitive sport. This was not part of my growing up experience, although I suspect my personality would have been well-suited to it. It might have made my teenage years easier too — a safe place into which to pour those wild energies and the longing for devotion, purpose, “specialness,” which Shapton writes about. But what happens to the athlete who, despite great discipline and effort, does not achieve her original goals? By the age of nineteen, Shapton knew she would never make Canada’s Olympic team, despite intense devotion to her sport. There are limits that we all have to confront. If you’ve devoted five to six hours a day, six days a week, for most of your teenage years, training for a race you’ll never get to race — what then?

Well, I suppose there could be a sense of aimlessness. Or perhaps, instead, you find ways to transfer your disciplined routine to other aspects of your life. Shapton is a very successful writer, artist, and designer. This is not something that just happened, I am sure of it.

I have more to say on the subject, but will have to leave it here for now. I’m off to a soccer game with a child, aged ten, who seems inclined to pursue competitive sport one way or another, who thrives on disciplined routine, and who can’t wait for school to start tomorrow. I wonder, as I read this book, whether I am reading a story that might in some way be hers, in the years to come. I wonder, as I read this book, how my child will be shaped by her participation in competitve sport, with the demands on her time and energies, and the pressure to perform.

My definition of happiness

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Christmas eve elves

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AppleApple discovers something else she’d like to do: learn how to play the cello!

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Settlers of Catan and butter beer

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cousin love

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Santa, with pillow-enchanced profile 

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er, too much butter beer?

Tomorrow is my birthday. I usually get all philosophical right about now. But today I don’t feel philosophical. I feel busy. Tired. Happy. Surprised, though I shouldn’t be, by the ongoingness of laundry and dishes. And these people I live with keep needing to eat.

We enjoyed four consecutive days of Christmas celebrations with various parts of our extended family, and some friends, too, although my camera didn’t make it to every event.

For the record, that’s four consecutive Christmas dinners: ham, ham, paella, and turkey.

I embraced the excess, then wondered why I felt so sluggish on yesterday morning’s run. Especially because I took Boxing Day morning and did not get out of bed til noon, reading and finishing Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter, in one big gulp.

So many late nights. So many second glasses of wine. So much wheat and butter. Why so sluggish?

Yes, really, Carrie, why.

This morning Kevin rented a full indoor soccer field (huge!) so his U12 boys team could practice. AppleApple and I got kitted out in soccer gear and came along. It was 90 minutes of blissful scrimmaging, the boys’ team against everyone else — adults, friends, siblings. AppleApple was the only girl, and I was the only woman, and I’ll admit I felt a little intimidated going in. I’m thankful to have joined that team last spring, because all I can say is: soccer … so fun! It would totally be bragging to mention that I scored the sweetest replay-worthy goal (yes, against 11-year-old boys), but I can’t help myself. If only I could score goals like that for my current team. Sadly, we don’t play against 11-year-old boys, which is not to malign the skills of the boys, who are actually very good, and made us play hard.

Now Kevin is trying to snag more field time. And I think it would be fun to play on a co-ed team together — taking our marriage to new places, whilst our knees and hamstrings are still in working order. See, this isn’t a dream that can really wait for retirement.

“I wish we could play every day,” Kev said, and I had to agree. So that’s what we’ll do if we ever strike it rich.

Random fact: I got hit on the head with a soccer ball

Random facts.

My hair looks good this morning. So far, the only people aside from family to have seen it have been the school bus driver (who wears a knitted toque himself) and a man walking a dog (which sniffed me; dog, not man).

The school bus was late this morning.

I didn’t eat breakfast until after doing the dishes I should have done last night.

I was too tired to do dishes last night, or even to function as a responsible parent, and instead fell into a deep sleep on the couch while my children entertained themselves in the new Lego play area. Bits of their play drifted into my dreams. I swear they’ve got a game going on right now that involves taxation for the benefit of the greater good. CJ wasn’t keen to pay his taxes. This caused problems. (Meanwhile, Kevin took the dogs on a car-ride to pick up a child who’d been at a birthday party playing laser tag, much to the envy of her military-minded brothers, who bring me to grief regularly with their battle play. War is not a game! I feel this deeply! And yet my boys — yes, boys only — take great pleasure in imagining themselves blasting imaginary opponents with imaginary weaponry. Is this play harmless? Inexcusable? Inevitable? A necessary fantasy? Related to their genitalia? This aside is getting way too long, but I want to add an aside to my aside, and ask: Are humans hard-wired to desire conflict? Is conflict itself a kind of fantasy that helps us escape from the boredom of our adult responsibilities?)

Um. Where was I?

I did get hit on the head with a soccer ball yesterday. I meant to head the ball, which is not my favourite thing to do as I am a bit protective of my brain, and in my fraction-of-a-second hesitation was instead hit upon the head with the ball, which is not the same thing at all.

Also, we lost.

But my teammates have found out that I’m a writer, and one of them had actually heard of The Juliet Stories!!! Because someone at her book club had recommended it!! Which is really quite thrilling because it means the book is making noise enough to get through to new readers! And that is all an obscure CanLit writer can really hope for. (Maybe it helps that The Juliet Stories has been noted on end-of-year-best-of lists in The Globe & Mail, the National Post, and K-W’s own The Record? Do people shop off these lists? Do you? Do I?)

Driving home after my soccer game, I wondered, am I more fuzzy-headed than usual? But it was hard to tell whether it was ball-on-head-induced fuzziness or up-before-dawn-driving-all-day fuzziness. My big girl had a swim meet on the east side of Toronto, which required us to be poolside at 8 in the morning. She is not a morning person. She also gets carsick.

It was raining. The trip was by turns exciting (when we picked up coffee and bagels for breakfast from the sweet-smelling City Cafe Bakery on our way out of town), uneventful (safe driving), and tedious (nothing on the radio; aforementioned carsickness).

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She won both of her heats.

I missed seeing the second one because I was chatting with a dad sitting next to me, whose daughter happened to be in the same heat, so we shared the parent-guilt equally. (Random fact: I enjoy chatting with people I will never see again.)

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Anyway, AppleApple and I decided to skip her last race of the morning because it meant we could just make it to her soccer game in nearby Mississaugua. Her team won. I observed several girls heading the ball properly. We were then home in time for me to change and get back into the car to drive to my soccer game.

All of this activity involved way too much driving. I found myself making up the lyrics to a sunny little song: “I’m driving all day in my car / it’s really not that hard.” Sitting in the driveway, back home again, I felt this strange attachment to the car, as if it had become a cocoon world of slightly stale bagels and cold coffee and radio talk, temperature controlled, seat-adjustable. I didn’t want to go anywhere else. But I didn’t really want to get out.

Eventually I did. And then, it must be said, I really really didn’t want to get back in again.

Today, Saturday

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Wake to a winter wonderland.

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Date with daughter: Starbucks and errands uptown. Such a good start to the day, I’m thinking every Saturday morning should begin with a date with one of my kids. Albus calls the next one.

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Advent begins. “Mom is so freaky organized she’s got an envelope in her office with advent activities!” (This is true. I just put them away from last year’s calendar, knowing the season would come around before we knew it. And here it is. Looks like we had a lot “hot chocolate for breakfast” last year.)

Today’s activity: Get a tree!

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Uh oh. First we have to clean up the gigantic Lego living-room mess.

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Good opportunity to create a new Lego playspace upstairs instead. Buy small area carpet while shopping for the tree, which comes in a box. Yes, we bought a tree in a box.

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Tree-in-box was family decision: it’s economical and reusable. And it’s not like we’ve been hiking out to our back forty and chopping down an adorable and unique tree replete with picturesque memories that the children will carry with them forever. No, for the past couple of years, following some truly disastrous never-again hiking-around-tree-farm-experiences, we’ve purchased our tree in a Dairy Queen parking lot. So, really …

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Also this afternoon: big kids had their second babysitting gig (he’s the other curly head in the foreground).

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And now it’s dark, and we still haven’t had supper. Kevin and the boys are out picking up a take-out Thai order. I’ve got a very hungry and grumpy child curled in the rocking chair beside me, and another trying to solve a sudoko puzzle at the dining-room table (and she’s stuck on something, from the sounds of it). Also crossed off the list today: fresh sheets for everyone, tons of laundry, library run, creative Shakespeare presentation completed, and — still in the works — bread baking.

Hey, food’s here! As Fooey says, “Let’s eat! Let’s eat!”

Entertaining at home

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If you happened to call this morning, you might have thought I was running a small daycare on the side. But it’s just temporary; today’s a PD day, so I’ve got a few extra. I’m also missing a few. All in all, it worked out to five kids total for the morning, and now we’re down to four, plus dogs.

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So far, we’ve baked and eaten a cake (very popular activity).

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The girls found a chunk of ice in the backyard, the melting of which has provided at least an hour of excitement, believe it or not. They requested I take photos, after I refused to let yet another icicle get stuck in our freezer where it will only be instantly forgotten and found years later.

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The boys, meanwhile, got busy crashing cars down the stairs.

Next up: lunch. And, no, we’re not having cake. I’ll think of something.

The two oldest kids are at a babysitting course all day. Albus sees dollar signs in his future. He and AppleApple plan to work as a team, if anyone in the neighbourhood is looking to hire a responsible pair, who will now be trained in first aid and diaper changing (and who have lots of experience looking after their younger siblings, too).

On the balanced life (aka “balanced”)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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