A good way to direct our energies on a humid and hot day earlier this week: take one grumpy walk to the grocery store for supplies, whip up a batch of lemonade, popcorn, throw in some homemade banana bread, haggle over the pricing (5o cents per item, or 75 for a combo of any two items), and make some signs. Sit in the lawn and hope for customers to pass you by. We waited for awhile, and had some long periods of doing nothing much, except for reading and playing on the picnic blanket, but in the end each child had earned a small share of the pooled profits, and we’d gone through three pitchers of lemonade, and met a few passersby not previously known to us. (A special thanks to friends who went out of their way to stop by and to drum up business for us!).
Today, I had the brilliant idea to can dilly beans. Really, why not? So it’s hot. Let’s add some steam to the kitchen. Actually, it was happifying to remember, as I do every year, that canning isn’t impossible, or even that difficult. Within an hour (or a little more), I had seven jars of dilly beans on the counter. The kids helped to clean the beans, but spent the rest of the time getting into trouble. Canning isn’t the easiest task to invite kids to participate in, involving as it does a great number of hot things: boiling water, simmering liquids, steaming jars, etc. But I’m inspired. What if I put up seven jars each day for a couple of weeks every August? Do-able? That would be a lot of food by fall. Left on my to-do list: canned tomatoes, and tomato sauce; relish; maybe some canned pumpkin or squash; grape juice. Easy-peasy. Right? Ask me in a month.
My middle brother got married yesterday. We had fun posing in our backyard before heading out to the wedding, where the kids behaved angelically, sat unsupervised on a blanket at the front for the whole ceremony, and tossed flowers after the kiss, on cue, as rehearsed. Proud parenting moment!
Things I’m liking this week …
morning bike rides
outdoor swim lessons
kids helping to clean up
the sound of the vacuum cleaner running (and me not running it)
getting caught in a downpour
letting the four-year-old ride her bike, with training wheels, to the grocery store (bonus: more room in the bike stroller for groceries)
corn on the cob from Herrles
catching a cat-nap
bedtime reading: The Hobbit
Things I’m not liking this week …
feeling more tired, being back with the kids all day
the noise, the noise!
struggling to find time for EVERYTHING
complaints about the service around here
I want to capture the flavour of our summer holiday so far. It’s been busy, but relaxing. We started with a camping trip, and the beach, experienced a couple nights of overnight camp (and for Kevin and me, experienced only having two children around–it was quieter, but the workload was not noticeably different, except that the younger ones missed the entertainment of the older ones). I enjoyed doing a long drive with the kids, and could imagine attempting something like that again–destination as yet unknown. Though it does go against my no-driving summer. Confession: We have done extremely poorly with that plan. Drove to camp, to beach, to camp, to home, to camp, all the while enjoying the air conditioning. For our Friday outing, we walked, but it’s not a huge accomplishment–the movie theatre is uptown. We saw Shrek Forever After, which was more entertaining than I anticipated–and the kids were awesome the entire time. Five kids, one parent, and no bathroom breaks, spilled drinks, or even excessive whining. Thank heavens, because I’d had a writing morning, and I am finding the transition between writing and parenting particularly challenging; translation: Mama’s been grumpy.
AppleApple had her soccer tournament this past week. We dragged out the whole family (some of them kicking and screaming) to the Saturday matches. I felt like a terrible parent, because honestly, folks, I squirmed the whole time she was playing. It’s a peculiar pain–mental anguish. Shouldn’t I be enjoying this, as a loving caring parent? Or maybe it’s that I care too much? In the second game, the ref called back a penalty kick on which AppleApple had just scored an amazing goal (he apparently had called an indirect penalty kick, but gave the children no direction or explanation about what that meant; he, of course, was just a kid himself, and looked pretty nervous; but it was a sad moment to see her beautiful goal called back). And I muttered to Kevin, I just can’t take this, and walked down to where my other three children were wrestling in the grass; but I couldn’t go far. I knew if something happened I’d want to be there for it. And sure enough, after a few deep breaths, I returned to the sidelines–and watched my red-haired fleet-footed daughter on a breakaway–and she scored. The only goal of the entire game, for either side. Now that was a moment worth being tortured for. (And it was a merciful high to end an otherwise losing tournament.) AppleApple cannot wait to go to skills camp this fall, and wants to play indoor soccer over the winter–she’s seen her own potential, and she’s excited to play more.
I must steel myself. How do other parents cope? I imagined being a family member of those young men playing in the World Cup final yesterday–standing on the sidelines, pacing, or unable to look.
That was Saturday. We ended with a marshmallow roast over the fire pit. This was a classic family event, following the classic arc, rising slowly to pleasant heights, and crashing steeply to the depths. That would be the classic tragic arc, but our event did not end in tragedy, just bathtime (which for some of us might just be considered a tragedy). We set up the fire pit, gathered drinks and stools and chairs, and sat around, fooled around, then out came the marshmallows and pointy roasting sticks, and the guitars (that was Albus’s idea). Kevin and I tried to coordinate our chording. I have rhythm, and he does not; he can play chords, and I cannot. We make a swell team. The neighbours must have been thrilled. But for a brief spell it felt like such a holiday, such a time away from ordinary: the smell of the campfire, the mellow sound of guitars, making up funny verses to songs. (“CJ is sticky,” was a popular line.)
And then CJ wanted to play “Dragon Warrior” and Albus had an itchy back, and the two of them were rolling around the grass, when calamity struck–or more accurately, CJ struck. With two mini-hockey-sticks. Two-year-olds. They don’t get boundaries. So that was that. I put down the guitar, plucked up the sticky two-year-old, confiscated the mini-sticks, and headed for the bath. Soon, everyone was in the bath/shower, watering can was applied to the fire, and it was bedtime. But Kevin and I stayed up late after the kids were asleep.
That’s been the story of our summer holiday so far. Kevin and I have been staying up late. The kids have been staying up late. We’ve had some fun; and we’ve had some abrupt end to the fun; we’ve been sticky, and we’ve gotten clean.
Help! I can’t write. I can’t think. It’s too hot. My butt is sticking to this giant exercise ball that I use as a desk chair. There are four (4) children in the house (Albus came home from camp along with AppleApple, but they both had a great time and are thinking about going back in August). There is also one (1) babysitter here, and one (1) neighbour girl who is reading and/or writing with Fooey and/or Albus. And I am upstairs sweating and unable to think clearly and having the smallest of panic attacks that I may never finish these three stories, that I am without talent or ambition; and then I take a deep breath and think, ‘k, but it’s hot. All I want to do is sip a shandy and lie under a palm tree and have somebody fan me (Kevin, honey, are you busy?).
Good thing all three of these stories are set in tropical locales. You’d think that would inspire me. Two hours remain. I can do this, right? Small goals: perhaps one paragraph and an outline? Perhaps one small scene? On a beach? By an ocean? With yoga? I want to put yoga into a story. This may be the day that I try.
Speaking of small goals, I must report that last week I did not quite fulfill my goal of two yoga classes and two runs/week; but I did manage two yoga classes on back-to-back days, plus one run, and felt good and fit. Started this week with one yoga class on Monday (it was packed, despite the heat), and went for one ripping good run yesterday evening after spending most of the day in the truck driving to and from camp, with children in tow. It was a long solo trip–the longest I’ve ever attempted, actually–and we had fun. Video players are wonderful inventions. But, man, did I need to run when I got home; it was like medicine. I had the words “Unbearable Lightness of Being” looping through my mind. I jogged slowly for the first half, then wondered what it would feel like to push myself faster and faster on the way home, and by the end I was burning it up. It reminded me of being a kid and running heedlessly, experimentally, for fun. It’s rare to take that opportunity as an adult. I realized that my usual runs are very light and gentle, pleasantly paced, and my breathing isn’t the least bit challenged; and that it feels very different to run hard and breathe hard. I wonder how long I could keep that pace up? (I’d estimate I ran hard for a little over 1 km). People run marathons in a kind of a sprint, don’t they? I can’t imagine how one would train for such a challenge.
Onto my own private marathon. It’s been a very very slow race. Patiently paced. Maybe what I need is a good hard sprint here at the end.
This summer, I’ve heavily loaded the front end of our summer holiday. Whether this proves to be a good idea or not has yet to be established, but at the very least, it will prevent the early lethargy and cries of boredom that marked the early days of last summer’s holiday.
Albus spent his first few days of holiday at home with us, and he was a changed person. He organized a self-monitoring system (“we all have to be honest”) to keep track of good and bad behavior. With AppleApple, he set up a stage in the living-room and organized a play that they plan to work on over the summer. He was, in short, a suddenly happy, thoughtful big brother, not the surly child we’ve seen so frequently in these latter days of the third grade. I think he must have been suffering more than we’d recognized, at school this year. He and I spent some time together, just the two of us, on Friday, and I asked him what he did not like about school, and he said that he didn’t like sitting still. Sitting still and doing work, because the work was boring–sometimes it was boring because he already knew how to do it, and sometimes it was boring because he didn’t know how to do it. Bit of a catch-22 there.
What most amazed me and Kevin was that these projects that Albus was organizing involved sitting down and writing. We could barely get him to write two sentences for his homework all year, and there it was: evidence of spontaneously occurring, self-motivated, parentally-painless application of literacy skills.
(We see this from AppleApple all the time; in fact, one of our projects last week–hers and mine–was to put together her newspaper, which is now completed! We just need to make copies, and possibly figure out how to post it online and link to it from the blog, to save paper and postage. More info on this soon. If you want a paper copy, send me a message).
So, was it wise to send Albus off to overnight camp so soon after he was released from the bonds of school? The photos I took of AppleApple at camp yesterday show her busily arranging her bunk with all of her belongings (and she took her journal, so I expect new stories for the next edition of “Family Times” to be forthcoming). The photos of Albus, however, show him attempting to smile, then not even trying. His features and posture are transparent. He looks much younger in photographs. I could hardly stand to look at the photos last night, he looks so lonely and uncertain in them. I hope this was temporary. They were going to go swimming straight away.
I wonder–maybe he’s a homebody?
I will see them both tomorrow, because I’ll be picking up AppleApple, who is only staying for two nights. She has a soccer tournament all this week and weekend. Albus has the choice of staying on till Saturday, and I really wonder, now, what he’ll choose.
My two little ones: it’s just like a regular school day, on the days when Fooey is at home. Playing at the counter, colouring, writing. We have hired a neighbour girl to tutor Fooey and Albus this summer. Fooey is very close to reading, and eager to work hard on it–and I don’t have the time to feed her need as much as she’d like. She just spent a full hour sounding out words with our sweet, patient neighbour.
Albus was less keen to hear about the tutoring plan, but surprisingly accepting–we want him to keep working on his writing and reading this summer (which he may just do all on his own–who knew??); they’ll run multiplication tables together, he will read out loud, and work on writing an ongoing adventure story. After seeing Fooey’s appetite for learning this morning, I’m wondering whether half an hour, three times a week, will be enough for her.