Category: Play

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.

On being a professional writer who also provides free content

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October hosta

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.

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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.

{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?}

Eight kids, two dogs, one woman in charge

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Today was a PD day: kids home from school. A friend and I are exchanging some babysitting this year, and my part of the deal is to take her kids on PD days (she’s a teacher, so she has to go to work). Our kids match up almost perfectly, ages and sexes, so this is a much easier gig than it may appear on first glance.

That said, I’ve been operating full-tilt, work-wise, and was a bit terrified about not getting anywhere near my office all day. To compensate, I put in some extra hours last night. And then I decided to embrace today for what it was: a day when I couldn’t get near my office.

Which is actually kind of awesome, from time to time.

I sipped my morning coffee and chatted with the kids who were feeling chatty. I took my time. No anxiety. No sense that I should really be doing something else. Then I whipped up a batch of bread dough while listening to the radio. Then I made banana bread. Then I made lunch. Then I cleaned up lunch. Then I hung laundry.

Around mid-morning, I was called upon to work out a deal: puzzle-making in exchange for screen-time. But mostly they played on their own. There was a bumped head, a bumped finger, and a skateboarding accident. Some hot chocolate spilled. A loaf and a half of banana bread was speedily consumed.

It was all quite surprisingly peaceful.

But now it’s nearly 5pm. The house is quiet again (Kev’s got our kids at the first skate of the season). And I’m tired. Really tired. I am fantasizing about an end-of-the-week ritual, something involving cozy pjs and bad tv and flopping on the couch and a wee glass of wine. The kids can join in too (not on the wine part). And the dogs. We could make popcorn. It would also be really really nice if I didn’t have to make supper.

(We don’t really have an end-of-the-week ritual — in fact, we’ve often got soccer on Friday nights, though thankfully not tonight. What about you? Do you have a Friday night ritual?)

Wearing my writer hat/hair: Eden Mills, part two

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So I’ve had my writer hat on for the past two days. Luckily it’s invisible because I don’t look good in hats, having been blessed with a teeny-tiny head. Maybe I should say I’ve had my writer hair on for the past two days.

In any case, on Sunday, I read at Eden Mills; and we brought the kids along. There was much complaining about being forced to spend the day doing something other than lounging in pajamas in front of a screen. I’m obviously parenting badly. I assured them that Writers Festivals were Fun, but they weren’t buying what I was selling. We proceeded to spend approximately 85% of the car ride being tormented by one child who kept repeating, “I’m bored! I’m bored! I’m boooooored!” I wish I were exaggerating. This monotonous soundtrack was occasionally interrupted by a) the same child hollering, “And no one’s even listening to me!”; b) other children screeching at said child; c) parents trying not to lose it. Fun times.

Luckily, the day was sunny, the townlet of Eden Mills was most welcoming (we were directed to our parking spot by no fewer than seven boy scouts/cadets), and we caught a ride up the main street on a golf cart, which the kids thought was pretty nifty.

Three of four children had never been to one of my readings. This seemed like the perfect setting to introduce them to this part of my job. But for the most part, the younger two didn’t really get that I was working. Eventually, I gave up and removed myself from their company for a few minutes of peace before the reading began — the new soundtrack at that point had become, “Why can’t I just have some ice cream!”(Yes, there was ice cream — see, told you, kids. Writers Festivals are Fun.)

I was reading with Dani Couture and Tanis Rideout, and we strolled together to the site — someone’s beautiful backyard overlooking a little river — which was set up almost like a Greek amphitheatre (minus the stones, and on a smaller scale), with stage down below and audience on the hill above. Upon arrival, I observed that my children and husband were arranged handsomely upon our picnic blanket. But perhaps they were a little too close to where the writers were seated. I could hear that the soundtrack was still going on, although sotto voce. “I want ice cream!”

I was reading last.

And so I sat and watched the slow motion hour-long crumbling of my handsome family. They were pretty well-behaved, all things considered. But I was cursing our parental lack of foresight — really, we should have gotten them the damn ice cream. After all, it was lunchtime, and then it was past lunchtime.
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By the time it was my turn to get up and read, Kevin had retreated far away up the hill with CJ, who was quite far gone in ice-cream-starvation-mode. But my other three children stayed to listen.

Afterward, Albus whispered, “That was really good, Mom!” And Fooey wondered whether Ronald Reagan was a real person. And they all said that Writers Festivals really weren’t so bad after all.

So it was worth it.

And then we got ice cream. And hot dogs. And soda pop. “This is full of vitamin C,” one of my brilliant offspring proclaimed. We checked the label. And I regret to report that Orange Crush offers not a jot of vitamin C. It is, in fact, 0% vitamin C.

We were a much jollier bunch driving home, all except for Kevin. The solo-parenting-while-Mom-was-in-work-mode had taken a toll on his ordinarily equable personality. And I, too, had to confess my exhaustion at the end of the day, saying, “I don’t really understand why, because I felt pretty calm all day.” Kevin said, “It takes a lot of energy to look that calm.”

And that’s the truth.
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:::

This is turning into a long long tale, and I haven’t even reached day two of Carrie aka Writer. But I shall go on (whether you go on with me, I leave to your discretion.)

Yesterday, I led writing workshops at a camp near Eden Mills. It felt like a real “working mother” day, which is still a bit novel to me. I left the house before the kids had woken. Kevin kept me posted by texts. Four of us — me, Evan Munday, Tanis Rideout, and Angie Abdou — led small groups of high school students in hour-long writing sessions on different subjects. (I did the short story.) The kids were willing to write and share their work, and I found the sessions very pleasant. I also appreciated being amongst other writers, since I spend most of my working hours alone in this office, wearing crocs at one end, earplugs at the other. When we first met, Angie said, “Oh, you wrote that blog on not being on the Giller list!” which kind of made me cringe (this could be what I’m remembered for?), although she was very nice about it. Sometimes, in order to keep blogging, I forget (or ignore) the fact that blogs get read, and that the CanLit scene is pretty small.

Because here’s the thing. I do feel, when I make appearances in my writer hat/hair, like I’m dressing up to play a part. I know I’m not a writer with a capital W. It’s not that I don’t take my work seriously, because I do. But as much as I hope for worldly success, I appreciate the obscurity of my existence.

By the time I trudged, over-loaded and over-caffeinated, through the front door late yesterday afternoon, all of my children had miraculously gotten themselves home from school (this had been arranged with great forethought, but nevertheless seemed miraculous), and they were playing wii. Frankly, only the dogs were excited to greet me. I whipped up supper, hung laundry, supervised piano practice, checked email, we ate together as a family. And then I took the kids to the library and the grocery store — because it turned out that despite their lacklustre after-school greeting they had been missing me, enough to want to run errands in order to spend time together.

We had so much fun grocery shopping, I can’t even describe it. Everyone was feeling silly.

It was the best part of my day.

So here’s the sappy conclusion at the end of this long long post: Nothing makes me feel more accomplished as a human being than being happy with my kids who are happy being with me. Nothing.

(Although I suspect we appreciated each other all the more because we’d worked hard on our own, and we’d missed each other; do other working parents stumble into these puddles of mundane bliss, too?)

Party time

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I have the best husband with whom to co-host birthday parties for children. Give him an idea (say, an Olympics theme) and the next thing you know odds and ends from the garage, basement and attic appear in the back yard, arranged into an obstacle course, or high jump (with bouncy landing pad), or relay track.

This was a three hour party. At least two hours were spent on the Olympic events in the back yard. For a full hour, kid you not, the mostly-seven-year-old crowd lined up and took turns jumping over a pool noodle onto a mattress to great cheers and applause.

As you can see for yourself.
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