chance of freezing rain
More portable office sessions have followed Wednesday’s. I’m loving it. All these years of working amidst the chaos of a busy home have inured me to noise and interruption. I pop in those ear plugs, my cue to check out of wherever I happen to be, physically.
I like that my book is set in the past, and in imaginary places. I like the sense of escape I feel upon entering that other world. The work feels light or playful, maybe. When describing my schedule to someone at a party last night — working with a new editor, tight deadline over the holidays, hosting family, no oven, two sick kids — he observed, “That’s a lot of pressure on you right now.” Is it? Oh, yeah, I guess so. Funny how it feels so easy compared to the pressure that I had to manufacture all on my own last winter, when finishing an acceptable draft of this same book. It’s infinitely easier to work with a deadline, with the support of editors, with a wanted manuscript. I can’t even describe the difference. The pressure seems like a celebration, like a party to which I’m thrilled to have been invited. I feel like an actor who’s been waiting and waiting to get onstage to perform, and finally my cue has come. Let me out there! Let me at it! Let me do what I’ve come here to do.
That’s what it feels like.
And the sick kids are on meds and appear to be mending, and the lack of an oven gives me an excellent excuse (not that I should need one) to forget about whisking up the perfect Christmas from scratch. Family is here. Everyone’s helping out. I’m letting them (I have control issues in the kitchen, I’ll be the first to confess).
accidental tree decoration
Maybe I’ll look back on this holiday as the one when I let things go and came out peacefully, blissfully, perfectly fine on the other side.
“Mom, do you know how to do small talk?”
“How do you do it?”
“Look for something you have in common. Like the weather.”
I had several occasions to practice my small talking skills this weekend. Soccer tryouts, both mornings, early. A reading yesterday. I sat in the car for part of both tryouts, the weather being inauspicious both days: pissing rain yesterday, a chilly breeze today under an ominous sky (see photo above; see in photo swirling cloud; see in swirling cloud whatever your imagination would like to invent). So I sipped my coffee and scribbled in my journal for awhile.
Coffee gone, done with deep thoughts, I wandered out to watch the girls on the field, and to chat with other parents. I used to dread the casual interaction. I was painfully shy, my mind a blank against which I would scrabble for useful tidbits of talk. It’s curious to recognize that this is no longer the case. I can’t pinpoint when it changed. I suppose I’m still a quiet-ish person, not all that fundamentally different. Except I like small talk. I like meeting people, making those mini-connections, even if we’re just talking about the weather.
I suspect I used to think the exercise was a waste of time, a bit. We all know it’s raining, right? I didn’t really get its purpose. I was tone-deaf. Closed to the possibilities. But I’ve come to suspect that small talk isn’t so small, that it’s the stuff that keeps us civil, and more than that, too. Convention forces us to express interest, to look just a little outside of the self, and consider another person, a stranger, and by doing so to become just that much less strange to each other. Somewhere along the line, I got a taste for exactly this kind of interaction, and I’m never going back. I will know odd facts about the woman who is bagging my groceries, because I’ve asked, and I’m happy to know. (She’s doing a PhD in biochemistry!)
“I just can’t think of anything to say.”
I know! I totally relate to that panicky feeling, and remember it well. It hit particularly hard in high school.
Just ask questions, is what I suggested, assuming she would be talking to another kid, who might think it was kind of weird to be discussing the weather (I’m not 100 percent certain to whom she’s planning on directing this hypothetical small talk).
One more piece of (happily) not unsolicited advice: Remember, no one can hear what you’re thinking. You do have to say it out loud.
Well, the heatwave broke. And rather dramatically, from our perspective. I was on the phone with a friend when suddenly the sky went dark and the wind blew high. She lives just up the street, so we were both looking out our windows at essentially the same storm, unable to comprehend what we were seeing as the trees were whipped into a furious tumble and the rain came down, lashing so thickly it looked like a descending fog. “Um, what’s happening?” we asked each other.
I think it takes the mind a little while to catch up to an unusual and unexpected event. For whatever reason, I was slow to grasp that there might be any danger.
My kids were standing on the back porch filming the storm with our little camera — I’d told them they were allowed on the porch, not to go into the yard. Suddenly the phone line went dead and a sound like an electronic buzzing — like a paper bag being torn close beside the ear, as a Facebook friend put it — filled the air. It was incredibly loud and innately disconcerting. I ran onto the porch and called the kids inside (we have video of this). That’s when AppleApple and I watched, through the kitchen window, half of a tree come down in our backyard. It fell silently and smoothly and without any ceremony whatsoever.
Our brains couldn’t seem to register what we’d just seen. I said, not at all concerned, “Oh, a tree’s come down.” The winds seemed to turn branches into paper versions of themselves, tossing them wildly.
And then I snapped awake, and we all ran for the basement, dragging the anxious dogs with us. Kevin had left, just before the storm hit, to go to a soccer game. I was thankful for texting. The power went out soon after. The storm passed almost as quickly as it came.
We left our dark house and joined neighbours gathering at our intersection to survey the damage. Every street had big limbs fallen, power lines down, branches and debris everywhere. We walked the dogs slowly around the block, keeping a sharp eye on the trees over our heads, many of which had dangling branches.
Kevin was training in Toronto all day yesterday, so the tree stayed down in the yard. I almost wanted to leave it there. The split down the side of the tree is so long that I’m afraid the half that still stands can’t be saved. I found myself touching the smooth skin of the newly split tree, just under the bark. It was soft, almost silky, though it has since gone hard and dry. It smells like cut boards in a lumber yard, faintly sweet.
The branches spread over the picnic table, creating a little shelter. Miraculously, a blue glass bowl that had been left out on the table, filled with watermelon rinds, was untouched, perfectly intact.
The kids pretended to hold up the tree.
Today, Kevin and AppleApple have spent the entre day slowly removing the fallen tree. Our front yard is now piled with cut branches. It is an enormous job. The yard is a mess. Even half of a tree is huge.
I realize as I write this post that I’m mourning the loss of the tree. But I don’t mean it to be a sad post. In fact, as the kids’ smiling faces show, we came through the storm just fine. We’ve been sleeping better with the cooler weather, especially once the power was restored and we could run the fans again.
Yesterday, I managed a long run during the afternoon while AppleApple was at her goalkeeping clinic. We’ve been biking there, and we passed many fallen trees in Waterloo Park, but the area beyond Columbia Lake, where I ran, seemed untouched by the storm. It was a highly localized event, it would seem. In the evening, after we ate takeout fish and chips, and I did yoga (read: napped on my yoga mat in our living-room in shavasana heaven), we walked uptown, dogs too, to Open Streets, which had a lively relaxed street festival vibe. We listened to a young woman with a huge voice perform in front of the Chainsaw: AppleApple’s face was shining with delight. “I would give up a lot to have a voice like that,” I admitted. Meanwhile, Fooey talked her “very nice parents” (her words) into letting her buy a new pair of earrings from a craftswoman on the street nearby.
She was sunburned from a happy afternoon playing in a soccer game and then swimming. We all had frozen yogurt. The dogs were well-behaved. The kids and I skipped rope in the street. And we walked home in the gathering darkness with paper lanterns lighting our way.
Summer rolls along, sweet and languid, with sudden flashes of strangeness and wonderment. Tomorrow, a good friend and her family leave for year of sabbatical. The following week another good friend and her family will be leaving too, for the same. I wonder what will have changed, again, in another year. Things we can’t guess at, I know, even if we can predict some, and hope for others.
snack on the back porch, with the snails
This weekend’s snow-rain notwithstanding, we’ve been living outdoors again. As of last week, the outdoor soccer season has started, and we’re on the field multiple times a week. I won’t get into the machinations, but a certain son has agreed to babysit a certain other son while the girls practice soccer, so that I can run on my favourite trails two evenings a week. The carshare car is also involved. We all pile home and find the house in disarray: supper abandoned on the table, dirty dishes in the sink, laundry overflowing, bedtime way too late.
the snails: Ally, Emily, Amy, and Alla (who is very small and hasn’t been seen for a few days, leading me to believe he/she is quite possibly lost somewhere in the house)
Last week, it was warm well into the evening, the light was beautiful, and being outdoors felt like the reward for all the mess. This may feel slightly less rewarding when the weather is rainy/snowy/bloody cold.
It’s hard to get up early when one is going to bed so late. That I will observe. I’m down to two early mornings for exercise, and hoping these evening additions will keep me sane. Because that’s the reason I exercise, you know. Sanity! Which is ironic, because it’s the kids’ exercise activities that may drive me to insanity!
carpet of pollen
Our weekend was devoted to sport. Saturday saw Kevin and Albus off to an overnight soccer tournament, and AppleApple and I were out the door even earlier to a swim meet. The meet went late, and it took some frantic messaging to arrange back-up for my other duty of the afternoon: coaching CJ’s soccer team. AppleApple swam her relay (last heat of the last event of the morning!), threw on her clothes, and we drove for the soccer field (only about 90 km away!), arriving 20 minutes late and very grateful to the dad who stepped up to help. My coaching was better this week than last. I’m learning!
pollen after rain
AppleApple spent her spare hours working on her science fair project. I indulged the younger ones with movies from the library. We had hot dogs for supper. Kev texted me news about the tournament and the pizza party at the hotel. I fell into bed essentially depleted. Oh, and I didn’t even tell you about the part where I almost burned the house down by absentmindedly leaving a pan on the stove, burner on, while I walked the dogs before supper. Luckily, as smoke filled the house, AppleApple applied the skills learned in her babysitting class, discovered the source, and turned off the burner. The fire alarm was sounding when I arrived home. She didn’t know how to turn that off. It is not in my character to absentmindedly leave burners on and exit the house! This has never happened before! It speaks to my levels of depletion, I think.
back porch living
Yesterday, I rose early again to wake AppleApple and prep her for another day at the swim meet. She caught a ride with a teammate, because, really, I couldn’t ask my mom to babysit that early two days in a row (and on Mother’s Day!). I’ve said before how tedious I find the meets: crowded, damp, hot, loud, long. And yet I hated missing it. My Mother’s Day was off to a sad start. I crawled back into bed only to be woken by howling dogs and squabbling children. Besides, we had swim lessons. Breakfast and a dog walk, and we were off again. “Mother’s Day makes me grumpy,” I texted Kevin. But he and Albus were back by the time swim lessons ended, so I jumped in the truck and flew down the highway to the swim meet.
gorgeous blooms I stopped to smell while walking the dogs on Saturday evening, blithely unaware of the crisis, of which I was the cause, unfolding at home
I arrived with minutes to spare before her second of four races. And what a race! She improved her personal best by 15 seconds in a race that really takes guts: 200 metre breaststroke. “I almost threw up after I touched the wall,” she told me, glowing at her accomplishment. So the stands were jammed and I had to sit on a concrete step and it was hot, loud, and damp–I truly cared not. My kid was glowing. I was glowing. My Mother’s Day was on the mend.
Mother’s Day feast: four kinds of burgers (lamb, beef, chicken, bison), portobello mushrooms, fried potatoes, enormous green salad
We arrived home to discover the house had been cleaned and Kevin was cooking up a Mother’s Day feast. And then I had the best Mother’s Day gift of all: a long leisurely meal, all of us back together, laughing and talking and telling stories.
* and not the good kind of exclamation point, sorry–these are clearly of the holy-heck-this-is-absurd! variety
This photo illustrates my feelings about our weekend. Life’s a whirl. The weekend was extended by the fake ice storm on Thursday (deemed a snow day, kids home), followed by the real ice storm on Friday (no electricity til bedtime, camping out our friends’ house). By that point, the laundry was already crawling up the basement stairs.
See, I took a picture.
The ice storm made the trees quite beautiful, but dangerous. A limb crashed down in our yard, and narrowly missed crushing the trampoline.
Despite an odd and dislocated day on Friday, I tried to stay focused on Saturday morning’s task. When I arrived home, around 1:30 in the afternoon, I was drained. The laundry was still crawling up the stairs. Kevin was working in Toronto. The sense of dislocation and uncertainty remained. I went out with friends after the kids were in bed, feeling like a shadow of myself. Also, I was wearing dog-hair-infested yoga pants and a hoodie because it took every ounce of energy just to get out the door, and I couldn’t work myself up into changing first. I knew I had before me another early morning, and long day.
But it would be a day spent with these people, so, really, I have no complaints. I took this photo on Thursday evening, pretty much convinced I was living my dream. Book-reading children on the couch snuggling with dogs, while the piano is being practiced. Plus the house looks really clean here. Oh, that’s right — I spent Thursday cleaning. Let’s just say it doesn’t look that clean anymore.
Kevin was working in Toronto again on Sunday. CJ had a swim lesson, bright and early. I felt comfortable leaving the older children on their own for the hour we were gone. I put on my running gear, and dashed around the park for 21 minutes, exactly, arriving back at the pool one minute late to pick up CJ. Almost perfect timing. Back home, had time to shower and gather up supplies, and we were off again. AppleApple had an afternoon swim meet in Etobicoke. The “little ones” were dropped at Grandma’s house, while the “big ones” came with me.
It was her first long-course meet. This is the warm-up session. Points for locating the blur in a green suit on the left-hand side of the photo. By the time she swam her first race, I’d been waiting in the stands for three hours. Along with this guy.
Oh boy, he’s really feeling that smile. He was briefly happy when I gave him some change and sent him off to find a vending machine. Kevin finished work early, and drove over to join us: the first meet he’s been able to attend. But neither of my companions showed great stamina for the proceedings, and left after watching her second race. Two more to go! It was sauna-sweaty in there. I tried to read my poetry book club’s next choice: Seal up the thunder, by Erin Noteboom. I tried to be patient, and to sit up straight on the backless benches. I tried to be supportive and encouraging when the races, with the exception of one, did not go as she’d hoped.
It was nearly 7:30 by the time we made it home. Kevin had supper waiting for us on the table: fresh take-out Middle Eastern fare.
The laundry was still crawling up the basement stairs. I set my alarm for my early Monday morning exercise class. And this morning, when the alarm went off, and I figured out what that terrible noise was and why it just wouldn’t stop, I got up and got on with the brand-new week.
I’ll admit that I’m feeling off-balance, a bit overwhelmed, out of sorts. In between. Waiting. Struggling to be patient on a variety of fronts. I hope to have news to share, by early May, perhaps, and I hope it will be good. (And here’s an update I should have done ages ago: the bad news always less pleasing to pass along than the good. For those still wondering, no, my friend Tricia and I will not be contestants on The Amazing Race Canada. We did, however, go out for a drink to celebrate our effort. Efforts should always be marked, no matter the outcome!)
Meantime, there is no way to plan toward a particular direction without knowing what that direction will be. Betwixt and between. Betwixt and between.
So, this has not been a productive couple of days. That photo, above, was taken this morning around 11am. It is dark, it is raining, the rain has frozen on all the branches, the sidewalks are treacherous, and, oh! School’s on! Except not for AppleApple (power outage), or CJ (power outage). Albus and Fooey were feeling very cheesed indeed when I dropped them at their very-much-open school.
We woke to no power and a rapidly cooling house. The kitchen was dark. AppleApple lit candles. I lit the gas stove (thank goodness for gas stoves!). But we couldn’t make coffee because we grind the beans every morning in an electric grinder. Hey, remember those old-fashioned coffee grinders with the handle and the little wooden drawer? We needed one of those.
I also may need to trade in my large non-portable computer for a laptop, I realize, on a day such as this. My programs and files are all locked up in iMac silence. But you know, all I can think about is the interview tomorrow, so my brain is basically distracted and inaccessible anyway. I am typing this at Kevin’s office, on a borrowed computer, with AppleApple by my side. There is power and heat here. AppleApple is whispering the many many many stanzas of Poe’s The Raven, which she’s decided to memorize for poetry month. As far as I can gather, this is only loosely a school assignment, and she could have chosen to memorize, say, a sonnet, but, no, she’s gone for an 18-stanza marathon. She has til the end of the month. She’s on stanza 11. The raven has made several appearances, and, she reports, has already spoken his famous line several times. “Nevermore.”
All I can hear is the whispering. I can’t concentrate. I’ve got nothing more, just now.