Every Monday morning my alarm goes just after 5am and I wonder, why am I doing this? Less than two hours later, I’m showering after a good swim and the answer is loud and clear, because it makes me feel terrific. And just like that the new week begins with good energy and a sense of momentum.
This winter, I’ve really pushed the early morning exercise, aiming to rise early at least four mornings a week. Last week it was five. Surprisingly it was not that difficult, though it did result in an unplanned crashed-out nap on the counch at 7:30 on Friday evening. Still. Worth it? Yes.
I took this photo on Sunday afternoon following my second post-injury run: sixteen short minutes of snowy bliss. I felt just like this: like I was flying, like my feet weren’t even on the ground. Monday morning, after the swim, I went for my first physio appointment and the news was good: dedicated strength work should balance out my muscles and make me faster and stronger in the long run (pun intended). I’ve been feeling rather down on myself, questioning whether I’m too old, whether my quest to become fitter and faster has hurt rather than helped me. But that wasn’t the physio’s take. She sees me as an athlete who needs to focus and hone my training in order to support the good things I’m doing for/with my body. It isn’t silly to dream of getting faster. It’s a perfectly natural goal, and achievable too.
Momentum. Sometimes I think sheer will can get me anywhere. Sometimes I know that’s bull. But will does wonders. Sometimes I feel arrow-sharp, aimed at a goal. Sometimes I feel indecisive and anxious. But even on the most indecisive morning I can get up early and swim, and I do. That’s the sheer will I’m talking about. And if nothing else, it gets me off the ground.
There is no snow. This is a photo from last week, when ever so briefly snow fell and stayed. Now it has rained for days. The wishful thinker in me imagines the piles of snow that would have accumulated between then and now had the temperature been lower, the possiblities for snow forts and snowmen and seasonal festiveness. The practical thinker in me says: Remember shovelling? And scraping the windshield? Remember bad drivers?
Ah, but remember the sound of the snow, the muffling effect, the crunch underfoot, remember crispy eyelashes after a long run.
This morning was one of those mornings when I spent about ten chaotic minutes wishing things could go more smoothly. The obvious every day things like: getting all of the children out the door, along with all of their possessions, and their homework completed. But maybe that last-minute flurry is just the way that it is and ever will be. Maybe I should apprciate all that we managed to accomplish this morning, despite the last-minute scramble.
– I swam 2.5km
– Kevin and Albus swam for half an hour (AppleApple was too exhausted from her multifaceted weekend to get up early)
– supper was started in the crockpot
– six people ate a healthy breakfast
– a load of laundry went into the machine
– Albus completed homework that was due last Wednesday and only discovered at 9pm last night (well, at least he did it; I hope there’s a lesson in there somewhere)
– Fooey practiced piano
– the after-school walk home was arranged
– everyone took their vitamins
– Fooey took her medicine (she’s on antibiotics for strep)
– I talked to FedEx to arrange couriering the page proofs to my publisher
– everyone except Fooey got out the door; most were even wearing appropriate footwear
– I remembered to call the school re Fooey’s absence today
– no one was late
And it wasn’t even 9am.
Is there a better way? It’s so tempting to think that there must be, that life can always be improved upon (and I’m not advocating staying in a rut of obviously wrong behavior). But maybe sometimes there actually isn’t a better way. Maybe sometimes I need to take a deep breath and gut through those ten minutes of chaos, and appreciate everything that is working.
Today is Thursday. I set my alarm for stupid-early and dragged myself scarcely-awake to the pool to meet my friend. She couldn’t make it tomorrow, and I knew I wouldn’t make it without her. And we swam. It was lovely. I thought about next to nothing. That was lovely, too. When I got home, AppleApple had her packed schoolbag waiting by the door, and was at the counter, dressed and eating breakfast. Apparently, she is taking “be more organized” to heart. On Thursdays this year, she is attending a different school, and a bus picks her up relatively early.
My goals for AppleApple are that she learn how to organize herself and her belongings, and that she finish the projects she starts. I was required to articulate these goals for her enrichment program, and I shared them with her. I suggested she come up with some goals of her own, but she seemed content with mine. This was at supper last night. Albus recalled that he’d been asked to set goals at the beginning of the school year (ie. less than three weeks ago), but he couldn’t remember what they were. So I set a few for him, too. This is what we call “family meetings,” now. Basically, it’s supper-table talk. Sometimes I announce: “We have to talk about something important,” and everyone pays extra attention.
My goals for Albus were to pay attention to details, and not give up.
He didn’t appear to be paying attention when I told him.
But he did go upstairs after supper to finish his math homework (in our newly tidy workspace: photo evidence above); and he did pass his piano songs; and he did write out his dictee three times (which is his study method).
He wasn’t keen to try my alternate study method this morning: a quiz. But he managed about fifteen minutes of work at the chalkboard before he lost steam and became frustrated. Kevin and I played good cop/bad cop. We got through 35% of the material (he has to study full sentences for the dictee). It was clear the rest of the material needed the same attention, but he didn’t want to keep going. Kevin hugged him and told him he was proud of the work he’d done. I suggested we spread out the studying over many days, breaking it down into, say, one sentence per day. Like piano practice: he doesn’t try to squeeze a week’s worth of piano practice into one day.
He was skeptical and thought he’d likely forget from one day to the next; but he agreed that if these test results weren’t great, he would try studying differently. Here’s the thing: he doesn’t lose so many points on really dreadful spelling (except for the occasional tough word). He loses points on the details. Not capitalizing names, and words at the beginning of sentences. No punctuation marks. Random accents. Knowing a word is plural but neglecting to add the “s” at the end. “Those are only worth half a point,” he argued. “It’s an easy point to get,” said his dad. “You should get all the easy points you can.”
Hm. Didn’t mean to write about studying, AGAIN. But there it is. That was our Thursday morning. Kevin and CJ left for their walk to nursery school. Fooey and I waved goodbye to Albus, and we walked down the street to meet her friends who walk her to school on Thursdays, when AppleApple is at enrichment. I love that AppleApple gets this special program designed especially for her, and she’s earned the chance to spend a day a week exploring and being challenged and having fun … but I mourn, a bit, that Albus doesn’t. I think he needs it more; she’s the kind of kid who designs her own special programming all the time. Fooey, too. She comes home from school and gets a blank piece of paper and she writes and writes: “Writing workshop!” she calls it.
So we have to work on our own special programming.
One fine discovery we’ve made this fall: Albus loves to swim. So does AppleApple. Kevin has now taken them five times for lane swims at 7 o’clock in the morning. It is slightly eccentric (I’ve never seen another kid at early-morning-lane swim, except for the swim club kids), but it’s working. AppleApple likes to do sprints. But Albus just likes to swim. He swam 26 laps without stopping yesterday morning–and I mean really without stopping. He reported that he had to swim with one eye shut because his goggles had slipped and were leaking and he didn’t want to stop to adjust them.
Kevin and I just look at each other and go: WHY IS THIS WORKING?? Could we have the magic formula, please?
Why is he willing to patiently swim laps, unperturbed when his sister splashes past? What did we do right in this situation? All I can think is that first we had to teach him to swim, which took years of lessons and many complaints along the way. And then we had to take him to the pool. And then … well, then we just let him swim how he wanted to swim. And it turns out he wants to swim back and forth, not very fast, for as long as he possibly can.
I’ve been wanting to blog all weekend, and have been too busy with food preparation (recipes to come), canning, and parties (tough life, I know). Hurray for a quiet house on a beautiful Monday morning!
For four out of six of us, this morning began swimmingly. Let me explain. We keep aiming to make room for plenty of physical activity, individually and as a family. Kevin has soccer and hockey. I swim, run, bike, and yoga. And we’d like the kids to enjoy the benefits of burning off steam, playing, and being fit.
(Side note # 1: I just found last year’s fall calendar in a drawer, and saw that I’d scheduled “hiking” as a possible family weekend activity. Sadly, that happened precisely never. Given that we had, last fall, a two-year-old, I can see how it fell off the priority list.)
This fall, we’re continuing with activities that have proven easy to maintain, such as the kids walking to and from school every day. We live 1.4km from school, so that’s nothing to sneeze at. Even CJ walks every morning to his nursery school, with his dad. AppleApple will likely continue with rep soccer, and the three oldest kids will play indoor soccer this fall/winter. It’s inexpensive, once-weekly, and will be Fooey’s first experience with organized sports. CJ joins in on weekly swim lessons for all, coordinated so that all kids will be in the water at the exact same time.
(Side note # 2: When examining our budget last month, I discovered that our biggest expense, aside from food and shelter is extracurricular/sports activities. There’s a desire to want to accomodate every interest, but we need to be more creative sometimes. For example, instead of the kids doing hockey, we rent ice time and skate/play hockey a couple of times a month with a bunch of neighbourhood families.)
Earlier this summer, AppleApple mentioned she’d like to swim more often, so she tried out for a swim club … but when I investigated cost and schedule, we realized it was a) crazy expensive, and b) would conflict with other activities. Plus Albus expressed interest in swimming more often, too, and there was no way we could put two kids into this club.
Long story short: it occurred to me that the older kids swim well enough to participate in lane swims, which are quite affordable with a pool pass. Plus, Kevin is learning to swim and would like the chance to practice, too. On Monday mornings, I swim very early, and can do an hour in the pool, shower, and be home before 7am. When I arrived home this morning, Kevin and kids were waiting in the front hall, a bit groggy, in swimsuits, ready for the lane-swim experiment. (And how proud I am at their willingness to give this a try).
An hour later, they burst through the door, glowing. Thumbs up. They’d consulted with a lifeguard, swam with the “oldsters,” and practiced their strokes up and down the lanes. Albus was musing about going more often, on “bad” days (ie. days when he has subjects at school that don’t interest him).
When I start the morning with a run or a swim, I notice an immediate boost in mood; why wouldn’t it be just the same for kids, too?
The energy at breakfast was upbeat and positive. Porridge, toast, boiled eggs. And we still had plenty of time to chat and prepare for the day before saying goodbye.
(Side note # 3: Not everyone needs to schedule time for exercise. The little kids, who won’t get extra swimming time, more than make up for it racing their bikes around the house on the loop of driveway, patio, walkway, and sidewalk. Not to mention much trampolining. CJ: “Look how high I can jump, Mom! You have to come and see me!”)
The camera never got past the campsite (which was located very near the basketball net).
That means there are no photos of the pond where we swam, of the campfire where we sang, of the field where exciting boy versus girl soccer games broke out every evening (girls won both times, if I do say so myself, as a member of the team).
No photos of the stars, or of the friendly and entertaining staff.
No photos of the beach where I got to run early in the morning with my friend Nina.
Hey. We’ve got the memories. Here’s hoping we’ll go back next year to make more.
This past week’s lack of posts does not indicate a lack of activity, but the opposite: too much on the go, and no time to sit and create captions for photos. Or, in many cases, even to take photos.
So, here, instead, are sketches of all the blogs I meant to write.
The children migrating to the basement blog
This week it got hot. We chose not to run our air conditioning, which requires shutting up the house. Instead, we toughed it out (still toughing it out, in fact; still hot). On the hottest day (37 degrees C), which was Thursday, it was also oppressively humid. That night, the kids slept in the basement. They’d been migrating there all week anyway, seeking the coolest space in the house. One morning, before swim lessons, they made a band (Fooey, who is really and truly a loud child, did an excellent impression of a punk rock singer; the song went “Ya, ya, ya, I love penguins …”). And I thought to myself: man, I love these kids. (Tiny related observation that could have been its own blog: how awesome to have older kids organizing the younger ones into activities like making a band and putting on plays, which they also did this week; I spent a lot of time on musical marches around the house and homemade plays when the older kids were little; how awesome to see that investment paying off).
The choosing the activities I really like to do blog
(No, the photo is not related.) For two weeks, we’re doing a summer activity I really look forward to: every morning, we bike to an outdoor pool a couple of kms away, the kids have swim lessons, and due to fortuitous scheduling I get a half-hour lane swim, too. Then we shower, snack, and bike home again. Sometimes we stop along the way at the library or grocery store. It’s been hot. I realize this activity, with four children in tow, might sound positively torturous to some; but I really love it. The rhythm is relaxed. We’re getting good exercise together. It’s a mini-adventure, but its daily repetition requires of me little thought or extra planning.
The day of crazy chapters blog
Some days are mere phrases, a sentence at most; some have chapters. Friday had chapters. Chapter one was not good: worn out from a week with the children, breakfast damn near did me in. The complaints. The whining. The stream of criticism. I’m talking about you, offspring. Nevertheless, I chose not to quit my job (ie. of mother). Chapter two: We biked to the pool. We swam. We snacked. We biked home. We lunched. Chapter three: I gathered props and drove to a photo shoot (Kev spelled me off). Yes, you read that right. A photo shoot. I’ll explain later. Chapter four: Home again to pick up local food order from Bailey’s, with three-year-old in tow. Unpacked food. Made supper. Welcomed babysitter. Added necklace to my outfit. Chapter five: Drove away with Kevin to Hillside Festival. Just the two of us. Blissful outdoor evening of dancing, eating delicious food without interruption, drinking beer, washed in music.
The comparison between evenings blog
A little too blissful: Friday evening. Because Saturday, oh Saturday … soccer game in Orangeville, driving in the heat, sitting on the sidelines in the heat, wrangling offspring in the heat, endless trips to porta-potties, ditches, community centre bathrooms in the heat … and then, finally, supper, back home, prepared with care: freshly made gazpacho, steak sandwiches, grilled zucchini and cauliflower, completely rejected by two out of four children. More whining: “I want pearsauce! I want pearsauce! I want pearsauce!” More demands: “Why aren’t you getting my water that I asked for when I asked for it!” More dirty dishes. Kevin and I looking at each other across the table, wishing we were back at Hillside. Just the two of us.
The Mary Oliver blog
All week I’ve been reading a collection of essays, prose poems, and poems by Mary Oliver, called Winter Hours. Enticing title in this heat. There’s a longer blog here on the subject of poetry — writing it and reading it — but I haven’t got the mental space to pull it all together. This is a book I will read again. Every evening, before sleep, it’s been like cool water pouring over me. There is a chapter on her poem The Swan in which she effortlessly tells me everything I’d need to know to write and read poetry with more depth and insight. Count me a convert.
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