|note the floor this morning, and what’s not on it|
Yesterday, I sat down before the kids arrived home from school and wrote up a little list for each child of “Must-do’s.” I’m not 100% confident about my punctuation of that title, but I’m very very confident that each child can easily accomplish his or her tasks. I’ve loosely linked the tasks to their allowances, but we’ll approach this on a case-by-case basis, rather than a flat-out charge per task undone. Basically, I’m going to go on the assumption that the kids can and will accomplish these tasks. I’m going on trust.
Everyone seemed open to the plan. There were no outliers or complainers, though several suggested we use other methods they’ve heard about from friends’ families, where loonies are lost for infractions or dimes put into jars. To this I said, No. We’ve tried such methods and failed miserably. We lose track. We have no dimes on hand. The IOUs get confused or misplaced. It’s hard enough to remember to dole out allowances on a monthly basis. Therefore: trust.
The must-do’s are as follows:
Albus: practice viola 1x/week for half an hour (he rarely brings his instrument home, so this would be an improvement); brush teeth; homework; place all electronic devices outside bedroom at night; and, of course, put dirty laundry in hamper
AppleApple: practice piano 3x/week; brush teeth; homework; put dirty laundry in hamper; pack swim and soccer bags
Fooey: practice piano 3x/week; brush teeth; homework; put dirty laundry in hamper; swim lessons; walk CJ to school
CJ: practice reading 1x/week; brush teeth; put dirty laundry in hamper; place electronic devices outside bedroom at night; swim lessons; no throwing snow balls on walk to school
|the basket is where the electronic devices shall be placed; this is also a new night-time reading nook for Albus (so as not to disturb his sleeping brother)|
I added a few “sometimes-do” suggestions to the list:
* walk dogs *help make lunches *read books *play with each other * carry dirty dishes to counter *hang up coats and school bags (yes, those last two should probably be must-do’s, but I’m focusing on being realistic; I want this plan tailored for success!)
|Fooey’s floor this morning|
|AppleApple’s floor, also this morning|
We’re into our second month without a working oven. This has been less horrible than I would have imagined. It’s also forced us to think about our priorities, and make some choices. We’ve gone the long-and-drawn-out but definitely less expensive route of digging up old paperwork, talking to the manufacturer, and ensuring that when the stove is fixed, its replaced parts will be under warranty. (And by “we” I mean “Kevin,” who’s done all the legwork.)
On the subject of priorities, we’ve also scaled back our AppleApple’s swimming schedule, somewhat, in consultation with her coaches. This was not easy, and I sense it will be an ongoing process rather than a problem neatly and definitively solved. The larger question at play is: why do we do what we do? Why get up early and work out? Why run? Why swim? Why be on a team? Why challenge oneself? Ultimately, it can’t be for some imagined competitive outcome — for the ribbons and medals and wins, for far-off goals, for numbers and times. It just can’t be. It has to be for the joy of the process itself. I’m not against high personal expectations, as you can probably tell, but I know that high personal expectations can kill the love of the thing you’re practicing, if not tempered with realism, kindness (toward yourself and others) and fun. Play. The joyous expression of the self. I don’t get up early and sweat because I’m going to set any records. I do it because the challenge makes me feel good, mentally and physically.
How to nurture the child who is ambitious and competitive and loves to challenge herself? How to make sure she doesn’t burn out or over-do? I think this is something to be lifted up daily, just as I lift up daily the question of how to motivate and support and nurture each of my children, each with such different ways of being in the world.
|frozen world out my window|
I’m spending my days, recently, reading. Right now I’m reading a book my dad gave me called This Bright Abyss, by Christian Wiman. I’m not ready to start writing something new, but I’m ready to begin thinking about writing something new. I’m ready to reflect on what intrigues me, what I want to know more about, and how to illuminate that in fiction. So I’m reading. It couldn’t be cozier. Unless we had a wood stove.
We’re meeting with a builder on Thursday to discuss just such a possibility. A house is a lot like a family. It’s always changing, too, to meet different needs. We improvise. We use what we’ve got. We purge. We add. We experiment. We’re remain both flexible and committed to what’s before us. We’re in motion, and so is our house.
I’m comforted by the thought that my work is unfinished.
|“I am thankful for …”|
Alert: rambling post ahead. My thoughts are failing to cohere around a single theme, and so I shall offer a messy multitude.
Above, my desk. Coffee cup, cellphone, book I’m currently reading, computer-now-used-mainly-for-processing-photos-as-it’s-dying-a-painful-death, and calendar. Good morning, this desk seems to greet me. I didn’t run because the roads are super-icy, so I didn’t set my alarm, so I overslept, so the getting-everyone-out-the-door portion of the morning was hairy, so I decided to walk the little kids partway to school, so Fooey forgot her glasses, so I had to run back home to fetch them, so I had to drive anyway to get them to her, so I drove her big sister as well, so I stopped for coffee and a croissant at Sabletine on my way home. Ergo, I’m over-caffeinated.
the days are packed, and so is this office
I’m not sure my office could accommodate much more than it already does. It’s a small space. And yet it feels almost miraculously expansive. At times I think that could be a metaphor for life itself. Look at what’s going on here: we’ve got a reader and exerciser walking on the treadmill (she read for TWO MILES on Monday evening!); we’ve got another child, legs and arms just visible in the bottom of the photo, lying on the warm tile floor soaking up some doggie affection; we’ve got books, light, art, work, family, all tucked into this small space.
Some days feel like they have themes or threads tying them together.
Saturday was “free stuff” day, as mentioned in my previous post. By early afternoon, we’d received a free treadmill and a free foosball table. That evening, Kevin and I went to the Princess theatre for dinner-and-a-movie, using a gift certificate given to us over a year ago. (We saw Philomena, which I recommend, although we were a good twenty years younger than anyone else in the theatre). We also scored “free” babysitting from Albus, who agreed to be in charge during our absence in exchange for pizza. On the walk to the theatre, I found a pair of i-pod headphones lying in a puddle, which I decided to rescue rather than leave to ruination in the puddle. I feel slightly guilty about that free find.
Yesterday’s theme was good news on the professional front, with hairy/heart-rending complications on the domestic front.
The professional news is nothing to share, particularly; more to do with ongoing conversations and future plans. But it was lovely to receive pleasant messages in my inbox sprinkled throughout the day.
Not much else went smoothly. I’d planned to pick the younger kids up from school to take them to swim lessons. I sent a note to CJ’s teachers to tell them “no bus,” please. I arrived just as the bell rang to discover the note had been missed, and CJ had been sent to the bus line. I tore through the school to retrieve him (thankfully, in time), but by the time we got back to our original meeting spot, Fooey had come and gone, all in a panic at not seeing us there, so we waited and waited and waited not knowing what was happening while Fooey ran around the school (it’s become very sprawling since they built on an addition). By the time we found each other, she was breathless and in tears, and we were late.
Meantime, Albus texted to say he was at a friend’s house, which left me worried about AppleApple, home alone — did she even have a key to get in? Did she know about her soccer practice, starting early? I texted Kev to call home, and added, “You will have to do supper.”
I’d planned to run at the track during swim lessons. By the time people had changed and gone to the bathroom and made it into the water, I had about twenty minutes total to run. So I ran as fast as I could, round and round and round, blowing off steam. As I helped CJ shower and change, I realized I was pouring with sweat … and that my best-laid plan did not include time for me to change (let alone shower!) between dropping the kids at home and racing with AppleApple to the early soccer practice. Suffice it to say that we arrived slightly late at the indoor field, my face lightly splashed with water from Fooey’s shower, wearing decent clothes.
The heart-rending bit went like this. I met a friend for lunch. We had a lovely time together. On the walk home, the weather warmer and sunnier than expected, we passed the social services building, and a young mother exited behind us. She was berating her child, who was no more than two, and who made not a peep. Her tone was loud and angry and caught our attention. My friend and I both kind of froze, went silent. We kept glancing over our shoulders as we walked, keeping the young woman and child in view. Should we intervene in some way? We asked each other. We didn’t know. I think it haunted us both — not knowing whether to speak up, and haunted even in the moment by the fate of this child, and by extension the fate of every child made to feel unwanted or unloved. (I must add that at no time did the child appear to be in any physical danger.)
I’m currently reading a book sent to me by my UK publisher (Two Roads): The end of your life book club, a memoir by Will Schwalbe. Read it. It’s a meditation on the shared reading experience, and the mother/son relationship, and all the while it illuminates and reflects on the particular life of the author’s mother, who is described as a woman always open to the world around her. She’s a natural leader and visionary who believes in action. She meets everyone’s eye. She asks questions of everyone she meets. She listens and responds. She never feels she knows too many people or has friends enough or worries about having too many relationships to sustain — she faces the world (and its pains and problems) with genuine welcome. I’m a bit in awe of her. I want to learn from her.
I wonder whether she would have found some entrance into the young woman’s life. I wonder, thinking it over later, whether it would have been helpful to approach and offer to watch the child or carry him to the bus stop, so the young woman would have had a moment to collect herself and burn off steam. (I didn’t think of this in the moment.)
I felt that my posture and response to the situation was fearful. I was afraid of appearing judgemental and intrusive rather than helpful. I was afraid of getting in over my head. I was afraid of having the young woman’s anger turned on me. I was thinking of the invisible enormity of the problems, hidden like the tendrils of mushrooms, underneath, and I was overwhelmed and paralyzed.
In the end, we walked on (after observing the young woman reach the bus stop with her child), unable to speak of anything other than what we’d seen, weighed-down and saddened and heart-broken, a bit. Truthfully, I don’t know whether we should have done anything differently. But I haven’t been able to let it leave my mind either.
We had an ice storm. These photos are from yesterday, on the way to swim girl’s morning training session.
We had actually gotten up extra early for a soccer game in Mississauga, but the coach cancelled it. I’d already chipped the car out of the ice, filled up with gas, and acquired coffee and bagels for the road when I got the message, but we were happy to turn around. Back home, I walked the dogs, a more treacherous undertaking than being on the roads.
When I stepped outside in the dark yesterday morning, the noise stopped me cold. It was dead silent except for the ominous creaking and cracking from the trees overhead, their icy branches shifting in the wind. Branches fell, big chunks of ice fell. We lost power for most of yesterday, and our guests left a bit early, gathering their belongings in a house that seemed dark and gloomy by 3pm. Electricity is nothing to sneeze at, at this time of year.
Kevin’s family joined us for the past few days. I didn’t get a lot of fabulous photos, but Kevin and I managed to whip up an excellent feast, and hardly even missed the oven. The ham went on the BBQ. The grannies went to the market and brought back pies. Also on the menu: creamed leeks, a vat of mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy, stewed cranberries, broccoli, and coleslaw.
Albus reprised his Santa role, stuffing himself with a pillow and listening to the wishes of the little ones, who decided to be elves, too.
And it wouldn’t have been Christmas without some soccer. Everyone came along to watch Albus and Kevin’s boys team scrimmage for the first time this season. The littlest fellow couldn’t wait to get on the field himself.
That pretty much catches us up. Gifts, guests, parties (a swim banquet and a solstice party), food, soccer, swimming, writing (I’ve been working on my laptop at every swim practice, and there have been lots), and, thanks to the power outage, an impromptu supper with friends in their warm house, a sleepover, and a full-on friend day today. Ahead: more of the same! (I could do without the power outages; our house was cold).
Stay safe, stay warm, stay close to your favourite people.
Dark. Fresh snow. 6:30 in the morning.
Ready to go! Lists made, lists checked and double-checked. Bags packed.
Parking lot. Big bus. Forty swim kids waiting to board. Excitement. Frigid wind.
Headed for Ottawa for the big meet. Without me.
Excited for her. Really, deeply, truly excited for her.
But a bit bereft.
coming from behind in the 200-metre BR
This wasn’t my whole weekend, but it was part of it: another swim meet, a warm-up for the big meet in two weeks, which takes place near Ottawa, and to which my girl will be going without me. She will travel with her team, stay in a hotel with teammates, and race without me there to cheer her on in the stands. “I’ll be fine!” she told me this morning, when I was fretting over it. “You’ll be fine,” Kevin told her, “but I’m not so sure about your mother.”
And here I thought I was prepared to send her off. I was being all grown-up about it and practical (it would be expensive; I’d have to drive myself and stay in my own hotel room), especially knowing how excited she is to be going on an adventure all her own (well-chaperoned by coaches, of course).
I think I can do it. I think I can.
This is what I did in the stands on Saturday, while trying to practice good posture. I’m really enjoying this book, which I’d purchased awhile back before it won the Giller, because I love short stories. Looking down at my little pile, I realized how reliant my afternoon was on electronic devices. The phone to text updates to Kevin and my mom. The Kobo reader. The camera to take photographs. And then the meet sheet print-out, old-school, for keeping track of events.
The late afternoon sun on the water was striking. Sometimes it’s the littlest things that make me feel satisfied, creatively. Even with only a point-and-shoot camera at my disposal, there are moments of beauty to notice and to capture.
She was pleased with her races, but especially with her 200 metre back, where she took 16 seconds off her previous personal best, swum only three weeks ago. This despite thinking she was done with a lap still to go, and stopping at the end; her coach had to yell at her to keep going. (She still won her heat). She loses count during the long races, she says. A similar thing happened in the first race, the 200 metre breast, when she thought she had a lap left to go, and held back a bit rather than sprinting as she usually would in her final lap. She was quite disappointed with that race because she got the same time as her previous best. She’s just moved up to the 11-12 age group, which means no more medals till she grows a bit. Luckily, she doesn’t seem to race for the medals, but for the personal bests.
The sky was beautiful when we stepped out into the parking lot. We were both famished. Kevin made burgers and fried potatoes on the barbeque, and we were home in time to eat together as a family. The conversation was all about dreams. There was also some gentle mockery of my lousy advent calendar activities last year. So I surprised them with chocolate advent calendars yesterday morning, which felt extravagant, I’ll admit.
Also yesterday, we put up the Christmas tree and decorated it. Fooey cleaned up the art area, a massive task, to make room for the tree. That kid can organize! Advent feels unexpectedly real and important to me this year: waiting through the darkest days for the light to come again. The kids interpret this time as anticipatory, and I love that, and would love to grab a bit of that emotion for myself, rather than worrying about all that needs to be brought about, and whether I’ll have the energy to do it. Looking forward to, rather than waiting it out.
I didn’t run this weekend, not at all. On Friday night, feeling flattened by the week, I hung out with the soccer parents at the bar instead (drinking tea). Aha! So this is what they do while I’m out racing around in the dark, thought I. Saturday, I chose not to wake early for a run, and my day was otherwise occupied with the meet. Sunday, the girl had an early soccer game. I’d planned to run when we got home, but instead went to bed and slept for nearly two hours. And then staggered up to make buttermilk biscuits and turkey gravy for supper (a huge hit!), folded laundry, read the kids their bedtime story, and returned to bed early despite that long nap. I do feel better today. So maybe going for a run isn’t always the answer. What do I know?
Yesterday, while grabbing a book to bring along to a soccer field I mentally composed a perfect blog post. Maybe I’ll blog on my phone beside the soccer field, I thought. But the post vanished, and instead, beside the soccer field, I chatted with other parents (whom I see far more often than I do my closest friends) and watched, mesmerized, our daughters pass the ball with great skill and determination. The book stayed unopened in my hand.
The perfect imaginary blog post is not unlike the perfect imaginary book, I suspect, a subject Ann Patchett addresses in her very funny and quite serious essay on writing, “The Getaway Car,” in her new book of essays, THIS IS THE STORY OF A HAPPY MARRIAGE.
Logic dictates that writing should be a natural act, a function of a well-operating human body, along the lines of speaking and walking and breathing. We should be able to tap into the constant narrative flow our minds provide, the roaring river of words filling up our heads, and direct it into a neat stream of organized thought so that other people can read it … But it’s right about there, right about when we sit down to write that story, that things fall apart.
Two things in that passage. One, the obvious point that writing is not a natural act; and two, that we narrate our lives, and it’s the second I’ve been thinking about most.
Yesterday, I imagined writing from inside the new car. I would tell you about the sudden shock of snow, the windshield wipers working, the warm hum from the vents. I might add in a snippet of caught conversation between me and a child. I might even admit to a burst of irritation at the stupidity of another driver. There would be the hush of tires turning. The flash of lights and the smear of their colour across the wet windshield in the early dark.
It’s fitting that I put my book advance toward a new vehicle, as the new vehicle has become my second home in a way that seems almost outrageous when I add up the hours. I’ve undone every green dream I ever had, whilst supporting my children in their extra-curricular interests. On Monday, between 5:05pm and 9:15pm, I spent a total of two and a half hours in our new vehicle, including an hour and a half venture, around town, that had me climbing out at home with a numb posterior. During that particular round, “Aggie” and I visited a far-flung indoor soccer field, a gymnastics club on the opposite side of town, and a pool, before returning home. And it snowed the whole time. The best part was when the eldest voluntarily joined me for the final trip of the evening. “What should we talk about?” he asked cheerily, and, as we’d already covered the intricacies of the PS4 gaming system he’s hoping for, we moved on to music, and soccer, and the mall, and fantasizing about food we’d like to eat.
That’s the one good thing about all this time in the car. It’s time with the kids, and we talk, a lot.
But later, home again, kids in bed, I said to Kevin, “When I’m all done driving these kids around, I’m going to be old. That’s what’s going to happen. I’ll be done driving them, and I’ll be old.”
photos in this post taken by child in passenger seat
Meanwhile — and this may save me — I’ll be “narrativizing” my life.
Yesterday afternoon, I listened to a Writers and Company podcast: Aleksandar Hemon interviewed by Eleanor Wachtel. Hemon uses his own experiences in his fiction, without qualms or apology: “The way I write fiction most often is that I imagine a different outcome of a situation.” Hemon observes something unfolding and ending, a snippet, a glimpse, or a straightforward hike from A to B, and he wonders: what if X had happened instead? A character might appear to be based on himself, yet he seems to harbour no worries about being mistaken for a character. In short, the line between fiction and non-fiction does not seem to trouble him. He’s writing stories, not history, whether they are “true stories” (non-fiction) or fiction. “We go toward the things we do not know in literature. To go in the opposite direction is to write only about the easy things.” (I’m paraphrasing; I took notes while listening, as non-fiction versus fiction has become a bit of an obsession while I try to teach it to my students, and while I reflect on what writing/publishing The Juliet Stories has both given me and cost me.)
I feel myself urgently wanting to use what I’ve got at hand, and to spin it into something different; “to arrive at something,” as Hemon puts it. There is life. There is the rendering of life into story. I’m missing quite a few pieces in my life, right now. Apparently I can’t squeeze everything in to satisfaction, not while driving for hours a day. What gets lost? Wouldn’t I love to host more suppers? Yes. My social life is pinched. I’m tired far too early in the evening. The laundry overwhelms. But there’s something about writing that can set life into balance, for me. I arrive at something there that I can’t here.
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