That is sound of me breathing deeply and sighing it out, like the body needs to do and craves to do sometimes. And then you discover that you’re sitting with shoulders hunched up to ears, and jaw clenched, and you let it all drop down and soften.
Because it’s been two weeks since I’ve had this privilege: the still and empty house, emptied of children and husband, and only mine, for three hours exactly. I’m the only one of us who gets this privilege, come to think of it, since the children are never left here solo, and Kevin’s privilege is to work away from home at an office. I’m grateful to be here, right now.
I am trying hard not to think about CJ in his new pull-ups at nursery school. He was not so keen to go this morning, though the last few times he’s loved it–running out the door with a cheerful “bye-bye Mom!” (Yes, he calls me Mom. C’mon, kid. Couldn’t we do Mama for at least another year?) But it’s been two weeks since he’s headed off to nursery school. Plus, the potty training. That’s enough to throw anyone off balance.
Just ask me.
The constant checking and reminding, the spidey senses alert to the cues, the way I can intuit, even when he is out of sight, that he’s paused and we need to rush for the potty. It’s bizarre. It’s also comforting to know how tuned into him I can be. And hopefully I can be that tuned in to all my kids, when I need to be. Because I’m not always so tuned in. Writing tunes me out. Tunes me elsewhere. Sometimes it tunes me so distracted that the world goes on around me and I respond, but through a haze, so that afterward I remember the things that really happened as if those were a dream, and imagination was reality. Or, worse, that absence was reality.
I’ve been thinking about going deep. What it means and what it takes to get there … to the depths, to the core; that place that is more metaphor and idea than something tangible. I think that to get at the profound emotions, at a profound understanding of the world and one’s place in it, to get perspective, which brings calm, you need time. There isn’t a substitute for sustained time to focus the mind.
Yet, it happens that often I write something profoundly moving and real in a flash.
I believe those flashes of light don’t come out of nowhere. There is hidden work that gets done while I go about my everyday, alighting on surfaces and meeting multiple demands. Effort doesn’t pay out instantly. Experience can’t be bought or faked. There are no short-cuts.
This morning, I greeted the silence by playing piano. I’m not a fabulous piano player by any stretch of the imagination, but I love the way I’m able to let go and be inhabited by rhythm. When I’m in the right mood, I crave the feeling of fingers on keys, getting inside something larger than myself. I don’t even think. It’s not great music, but it feels amazing.
Here’s something funny, though I’ll have to paraphrase, from poet P.K. Page who died last year. She said that a census-taker came to their door, and she gave her occupation as “housewife.” Her husband asked why she hadn’t said “writer.” (At this point in her life she’d been writing for, oh, about forty years). And she replied: You know I don’t feel comfortable claiming to be a writer, I’m so uncertain about my talent, etc. To which her husband said, But you are a writer. You don’t have to claim to be a good one.
Next on the morning’s silent menu … upstairs to the attic to search through old files. Then some writing. I am writing a story for children. It’s short. And maybe profound. And came at me all in a heap, unexpected, while I was working on the potty training and serving lunch to three preschoolers. It didn’t make me a better mother to write this story down, and that’s the damn truth. The question is: did it make me a better writer? Or worse, the question I should really stop asking, but somehow cannot: does writing it down matter? Mindless question. Mind over matter.
In today’s yoga class, which seemed to catch me feeling more tired than usual, I kept thinking: this sucks and it’s hard. Fortunately, the instructor seemed to catch the vibe (which might have been everyone else’s too, who knows), and asked us to take our thoughts elsewhere if something negative was coming up. So, I changed it to: this is challenging, and it might be rewarding. Not quite thoroughly positive, but all I could muster. And it helped.
This week’s classes have brought out a few Big Thoughts. One, that I always have a little more to give. I always do. I don’t think that I do, I can’t imagine it could be possible, but if asked to give a little more, reach a little further, hold a pose a little longer … it’s there. I can. This is a strengthening metaphor for the whole of my life. The only thing holding me from giving more is my own belief that I’m spent, and that I can’t.
That said, my other Big Thought was that pushing toward my potential is a delicate balance of being compassionate while asking more of myself. Compassion isn’t about letting someone off the hook, it’s about recognizing the frailty and vulnerability and strength in another person. Even if that person is oneself. The more I practice yoga, the more open I become to accepting my weaknesses, and the difference in my practice from session to session. It’s humbling. Some days I feel strong and energetic. Other days it is more of a struggle. And pushing through on the days of struggle leave me with a greater sense of accomplishment afterward, while on my strong days the sense of accomplishment is accessible within the practice itself.
In other news … CJ has been peeing on his potty with more consistency–and a lot of pride. The other evening, he timed it with dinner and got a hearty standing ovation from his family. I am almost considering hunting in the attic for some toddler-sized underpants, but I’m not sure how quickly to move with that next step, especially since he gets cared for out of the house and by other people more often than the other children did at the same potty-training point. At this point in the training, once the body awareness is there, it’s a pretty big leap to being consistent all day long. It requires an adult with spidey-senses on the alert. Full-time. For at least a week or two. And when training this early, it also requires spare pants in the diaper bag. If he’s ready, I’m ready. No pushing.
Finally, can I just say … I was pretty disappointed in myself for not enjoying March break more. More precisely, for not enjoying being with my children non-stop during March break more. However, it did make clear that last summer’s writing holiday will not be happening this summer, not unless I crave a nervous breakdown. I’ve become accustomed to having time to pursue my own work. I need it now. Even when it sucks and it’s hard. Because, yes, it is also challenging and potentially rewarding.
After the success of last week’s Chocolate Sunflower Granola Bars, which lasted most of the week and worked well for kids’ lunches and take-along snacks, I thought I’d try adapting another cookie recipe to the one-tray bar version (we all need variety, even in cookies). This bar is a little more chewy and cookie-like, and a little less seedy and granola-y. It’s adapted from the chocolate chip cookie recipe found in Mrs. Restino’s Country Kitchen.
Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars
Cream together 1 cup of softened butter with 1 cup of brown sugar, and 1/2 cup white sugar.
Next, add the following ingredients to the creamed mixture, and mix them in with a spoon till incorporated: 1/2 cup vegetable oil (I use canola), 2 eggs, and 2 tsp. vanilla.
In a separate bowl, sift together the following: 2 cups unbleached flour, 2 cups whole wheat flour, 4 tsp. baking powder, and 1 tsp. salt. Add to the wet mixture in two additions, and mix till it comes together.
As usual, I kept my recipe nut-free (otherwise, I can’t send the end results in the kids’ school lunches, which totally defeats the purpose). In place of nuts, I substituted: 1 cup of oats. Stir those in, along with 1/2 cup of wheat germ, and 1 cup of chocolate chips.
Spread the dough on a greased cookie sheet, and bake in a preheated oven at 350 for 25 minutes. Cut into squares as soon as the giant cookie comes out of the oven. Let the tray rest, with the cut squares, on a rack till cool.
Kevin thought he liked last week’s squares best (more roughage to chew on), and Fooey thought these were the best. I give a gold medal to the baking method. I’ve been avoiding cookie-baking for awhile due to how time-consuming it is to drop the dough onto the tray in individual lumps, and then hang around the kitchen while baking tray after tray after tray. Both of these recipes make a substantial amount of bars that last the better part of the week. Bulk baking, baby.
Yoga day was wonderful. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. I am finding in this seemingly individual physical experience a collective joy that it wouldn’t be possible to find alone. I continue to reflect on the nature of awe, wonder, the body, and the spirit. I am glad. Plus, I baked four loaves of bread before leaving the house yesterday, so added to these cookie bars, and the waffles made fresh this morning and frozen for three breakfasts this coming week, it was a productive kitchen weekend. Kevin and Albus are working on supper together, while we are all glued to the hockey game. Albus’s menu: caesar salad with homemade dressing and homemade croutons, pasta with homemade pesto, and devilled eggs–for protein. Tonight we’ll be enjoying dessert, too: ice cream. Or, possibly, banana splits.
And Canada just scored the first goal of the game. I’m going to miss the Olympics.
This week, I did something I haven’t done before. I removed two blog posts. They were public for about 24 hours, and then I took them down. I’m still not sure whether it was the right decision.
Man, I love this kid. He’s a clown. He’s a peacock. He found this hat (Kevin’s) and put it on himself. He’s got the swagger, the moves, the drama. He’s a talker, too. Loves making up words, trying out words, putting words together. Reading me stories from books. Loves an audience. Sometimes, these days, I’m all he’s got.
Tonight I made it to yoga class. Finally. It had been a week and one day since the last class. I haven’t had the energy recently to get out at night. I’ve chosen pjs and bed over sweating and exertion. But tonight’s class reminded me–as all the classes do–why it’s worth it to go. Because it damn near kills me, sometimes, and those times turn out to be the best. Tonight I was able to manage the physical distress as long as I continued with the poses; I’m finding it more natural for my mind to enter a space where it can cope calmly and concentrate. But when I reached final resting pose, I was fairly certain that I’d pushed myself too hard and had gone too far. Lying still. It felt almost impossible. It took ever fibre of self-control to continue resting there (and for those of you who practice yoga, you know this pose is often the most pleasurable, a place of relief and accomplishment and general good vibes). I was the last person to get up and leave the room, but I stayed till I’d gotten myself back. It took a lot of concentrated breathing. I also kept repeating a mantra given to me by my kundalini teacher and friend, Kasia.
And as I walked out of the room, I realized that I was GRINNING. I felt amazing. Not at all like throwing up. Fabulous. Beyond fabulous.
The yoga practice works as a metaphor, for me. It is like going on a journey, in miniature. A difficult journey. There are moments when you think you cannot endure. You want to give up. You get past that moment, and you’re confronted by another. And another. But if you keep going and stay focussed on something clear and necessary–your own breath entering and exiting your body–you discover reserves of courage and strength. You get beyond. To somewhere you couldn’t have imagined when you started out. To something … not necessarily better, because who’s to judge. Just … to a place that has depth and meaning, and to which you bring the courage that got you there.
I’d title this entry “Flake Out With Obscure CanLit Mama,” but that doesn’t go with the photos.
That’s my word of the year. It came to me in a blink, in fact just the day before Nina and I met to discuss our choices, and was not the word I’d originally tossed around. But it just felt right. I’ve been reflecting on the repetition inherent in my work and my life. Each day I complete many of the same tasks I’ve completed yesterday, and which I’ll do again tomorrow. There is a comfort and joy in repetition, and in the patterns these create, but there is also … well … the potential for boredom, stagnation, even a craving for something, anything, new. Change comes to us all, and is as constant as the laundry. But it isn’t always obvious or easily recognized. Sometimes I want to seek it out; and that can be good (how else would I have gotten to be a doula last year?); but sometimes I need to throw my letters in bottles out to sea and just wait, going about my daily tasks. I need to accept that change will happen when it happens, and some change cannot be forced. I need patience.
The work that I choose to do (writing, right now) comes with a dark side–rejection, fear, self-doubt. When those dark moments crash over me, my response has often been (temporarily) to ask: why bother? Why not find something else to do with my life?
As if doing something else were the only answer. As if something else wouldn’t come with its own template of unique sacrifices, its own potential for rejection and failure.
It’s occurred to me just recently that there is another answer. The answer is to be strong in spirit.
I’m still exploring what that means, concretely, for me. So far, I believe that the pathway to my spirit is through my body, which probably sounds obvious, but I mean that when my body is engaged physically it is easier for my self to find its presence/absence. (There’s some mystery here that I can’t put into words: how presence begets absence).
Do I have access to the divine? I’m not sure it matters to me much whether that question has a quantifiable answer. I believe that I do. Anyone does. I believe it.
Here’s a short-list of what strengthens my spirit (that I’ve discovered so far, anyway): prayer; making music; writing; cooking and eating; yoga; friendship; family; attending at a birth; horses.
I’m hesitating about posting this. Spirit is hard to talk about without sounding flaky, and maybe over-serious. But okay. I’m going to risk sounding flaky. I’m going to hit “publish post.” Any minute now.