Christmas eve elves
AppleApple discovers something else she’d like to do: learn how to play the cello!
Settlers of Catan and butter beer
Santa, with pillow-enchanced profile
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.
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).
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.)
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.
Wake to a winter wonderland.
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.
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!
Uh oh. First we have to clean up the gigantic Lego living-room mess.
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.
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 …
Also this afternoon: big kids had their second babysitting gig (he’s the other curly head in the foreground).
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!”
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.
So far, we’ve baked and eaten a cake (very popular activity).
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.
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).
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.
For about 48 hours after the GG announcement, I found it very amusing to narrate my life by captioning all activities with “GG finalist, Carrie Snyder …”, as in “GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is going to finish these supper dishes before anyone gets a bedtime snack,” or, “GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, would like a cup of tea and a back rub.” I’m not sure anyone else found it quite so amusing.
But it amused me this morning too, as GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, stood on a stool in the downstairs bathroom attempting to remove spiderwebs with a wad of toilet paper, and a giant nest fell down her sweater sleeve. (“I told you that bathroom is infested, Mom!” “Yeah, there’s definitely a weird looking nest above the sink.” “That’s an orb spider.” “A what?!” “Don’t worry, it’s not poisonous.”) It continued to amuse me as GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, trudged upstairs to clean the bathroom floor. (“Someone peed on the floor!” “There’s pee in the upstairs bathroom!” “Somebody missed the toilet!”) And the fun kept on rolling as GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, sorted a dark load of laundry while repeatedly shouting up the steps, “I’m in the basement, come down if you want me to zip you up!” Apparently, GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, had misheard the request. “He said that he wants you to pick him up from nursery school.” “Oh.” Sorry kid, but GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is leading a writing workshop for high school students this afternoon, and can’t. GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, also has a vague toothache in the very same spot where the dentist put in a filling last winter (remember that?), which seems like ominous timing given she’s flying to Vancouver in two days. GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is also panicking slightly about what to pack for her trip (how many shoes can she fit into a carry-on bag?). GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, got up in the middle of the night to turn off her alarm and did not go to yoga this morning. Despite getting extra sleep, GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, did not look fabulous in the mirror this morning; she really should have gone to yoga.
GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is putting the hammer down. Stop this now, GG finalist, Carrie Snyder.
This feels like a miscellany day. I’ve been having some random and more serious thoughts on a related subject.
It’s the subject of being paid for one’s writing. The Globe and Mail (a newspaper in Canada) is going to attempt a “paywall,” by asking subscribers to pay for content; apparently, readers are not pleased. The New York Times does this as well, and the truth is, ever since it did, I’ve stopped reading NYTimes articles online. And I’m a writer! I get that writers and editors need to be paid for the work they do, and I respect the work that they do; so why not pay for quality online content? I think the answer is three-fold: one, I’m lazy and it seems like too much work to set up an account and try to remember passwords, etc.; two, I still get most of my news from the daily paper and from CBC radio; and three, there’s a ton of free content online.
Let’s address that final issue. I write a blog. I provide free content, practically every day! I understand why professional writers dislike bloggers — professional writers would like to make a living doing what they do, thanks very much. Most bloggers, like me, do this in our spare time. I have no desire to monetize my blog, nor to figure out how to make money off of it, mainly because I do it for fun. It would change everything to try to blog for a living.
That said, here I am, trying to write for a living. It’s dismal to report, but freelance rates, per word, have actually gone down since I first started freelancing, over a decade ago. I’m not sure freelance writing (for magazines and newspapers) was ever an excellent money-making occupation, but in today’s climate it’s an excellent way to sponge off your spouse. So, is being a writer a sustainable occupation?
GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, has yet to figure out how to make it so.
And it isn’t for lack of trying. I’m beginning to wonder whether being a writer, a serious writer of fiction with hopeful freelancing on the side, is in actual fact a hobby, or an act of volunteerism, or of love, or of obsession, rather than being what one could legitimately call an occupation. A job.
This isn’t meant to be a pity-me rant. I don’t feel pitiable, not at all; I’ve been doing exactly what I want to do; and I do make (some) money at it. Nevertheless, I feel prepared to look at coolly at my options and draw some fairly harsh conclusions. Our four kids need more than I can offer them as a writer; and I don’t believe the burden should be carried unequally by Kevin. The question is: what, then? Well, I’ve got some ideas, to be revealed in good time. For the immediate present, I’m sticking with the status quo, doing the freelance jobs that come in, working on a new book, applying for grants, hustling, and jumping up and down for The Juliet Stories. And blogging.
I love writing. I never started writing fiction thinking that it would earn me a living; and that wasn’t why I started blogging either. With my writing, every step along the way has felt like a gift: the first time I had a poem accepted for publication; the first time an editor at a magazine wrote back to tell me she liked my story (even though she was turning it down); the first time I earned a grant for an unfinished manuscript; the first time an editor called to tell me that she loved my book and wanted to publish it; and on and on. In between all of these steps were innumerable impersonal rejection letters, fat self-addressed envelopes stuffed with rejected stories, and, once I’d acquired an agent (another exciting step), calls of reassurance that also brought news of “no, thanks.” None of this could have been undertaken if it weren’t answering an extreme personal call — a deep probably irrational desire — to keep writing, keep learning, keep practicing the craft. None of this would have been undertaken if I hadn’t loved doing it.
Certainly, none of it was undertaken with an idea of dollar signs dancing in my head, a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I’m a highly impractical person, and I encourage my kids to dream impractically too. To pursue doing what they love, no matter what it pays in monetary terms.
But the thing is, we also have to figure out how to pay the bills. That’s where I’m at right now. I’m doing what I love, and I’ll keep doing it forever; but I’m going to have to do something else, too. My word of the year, this year, was actually two words: work and play. An interesting, difficult, troublesome choice, I think, and prescient.
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