Thoughts come to me while I’m hanging laundry. Do yours strike during particular activities?
On an evening out with friends, recently, we came around to talking about chores (we’re all moms or moms-to-be), and one friend mentioned that she genuinely enjoys hanging laundry on the clothesline–she didn’t mean that she finds it a chore she can tolerate, or doesn’t mind doing, but that she genuinely takes pleasure from it. She described hanging the napkins together so they flapped in the wind like a prayer flag. And those of us who regularly hang laundry realized we often do something similar: making patterns, following interior rules about what goes where; in essence, creating something that pleases us aesthetically. Do you have rituals you follow, or patterns you make; or does another chore bring you a similar kind of aesthetic pleasure? I think it points toward the artistic impulse.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about a particular philosophical dilemma, which is related both to parenting styles and parenthood generally: I think all parents are occupied, whether consciously or otherwise, with finding a balance between individual pursuits and collective responsibility. (This is a societal question, too, and where you land on the scale is probably indicative of your political beliefs).
This balance comes into play in virtually everything I do. Do I push my son to practice piano, or do I hope he will come to develop his own talents? Probably a bit of both, right?
Maybe I need to explain this idea in more concrete terms. I’m thinking about how families work. How very much I would like my children to walk to school together, and to take responsibility not only for themselves, but for each other. However, my eldest wants to walk with his friends: they have made a thoughtful plan for meeting and walking together. I am proud of his initiative, and glad that he has strong connections with friends. But I want him to be a helpful big brother, and I’d planned to have the three kids walk to school together next year. What’s the balance? This one is easy, because we’ve already worked it out. Albus will walk with friends. We have other options for getting his two sisters to school. In this case, we went with the individual, because it did not harm the collective.
I don’t think the balance between individual and collective is ever perfected. It’s an ongoing challenge. For example, I’ve also been thinking a great deal about how spiritual and artistic practice requires uninterrupted time. There’s no short-cut for this. In order to go deep, you need to enter into yourself while letting yourself go. This isn’t necessarily selfish, but it might appear to be, and certainly can feel selfish, when one is a mother (or father) to small children. Children are notoriously good at pulling you out of wherever you’ve gone–if they need you. And mine seem to need me a lot.
But there’s another issue: If I’ve arranged childcare and freed up time to work, what guilt I feel if the work that ends up getting done is invisible, even to me. If it makes next to nothing. If I sit and stare out the window. Writing a story sometimes appears to be a quick process, but I believe there is a great deal of invisible unknown work going on beneath the surface that makes the story possible.
One final thought from my laundry-hanging philosophy session. Practice, and consistently doing something, makes that thing easy to do, so that that what appeared impossible or even merely inconvenient proves otherwise. I am thinking of the snack-making. Nothing in the cupboards to pull out, so I whip together cheese and apple slices and raisins, in individual containers, and the kids love it. Nothing in the cupboards, so I pull out the popcorn popper and everyone watches the process, and devours the results.
Yes, it takes more time and effort, but not that much more. The difference is actually inside my own head. Does it feel difficult and hard, or possible and simple?
(I did not get up early most of this week, and I missed it a great deal. So, this morning, I did again, and went to yoga, and appreciated both the effort and the ease).
Thoughts come to me while I’m hanging laundry. Do yours strike during particular activities?
A recurring issue that’s been troubling me, lately: my children have begun asking why there are no women who … fill in the blank. Why are there no women who play hockey (in the NHL, in the playoffs, which are on every evening at our house). Why are there no women who coach kids’ soccer (thankfully, we found some women coaches to counteract that observation; but it’s still mostly true. It’s mostly dads out there on the field). I’m trying to think of another example of “no women who …” but can’t offhand. Anyway, it’s a good question. It reminds me that we aren’t, exactly, who we claim to be, as a society. Our relentless message is that girls can do anything, be anything, choose anything; and while it’s essentially true, there’s no counter-conversation about why so many girls/women don’t, and what, if anything, we should do about it.
Have you seen him in his Strawberry Shortcake hat? He accessorizes with pink mittens, too. These are his choices, and I support them! The photos of Fooey were taken by her sister; I wanted to show how she’s posing for photos these days, very deliberately. I think it’s an effect of being photographed so often, and also of watching me photograph myself for the 365 day project. I often set up the camera and fool around with various poses and backgrounds … it can take quite awhile, and the kids are used to the beep-beep-beep of the ten-second timer going off, and run to check out the resulting picture. They’ll report, “That’s a good one, Mommy!”
Today, I have some news. It’s not of the good variety, but on the other hand, as I think my way through it, it’s not of the bad variety either. ParentDish, the Canadian version for which I’ve been writing regularly, is going on hiatus while the company retools the American site. That means I am temporarily out of regular writing work. My last column will publish tomorrow. The reason this news is not altogether bad, upon reflection (thank you, hot yoga) … well, a couple of reasons, actually. 1. Over the winter, I have been writing very little other than my columns, and have found it hard to focus, in the few extra hours available, on poetry or short stories. I will enjoy doing that again. 2. I also need to consider whether I would prefer to publish under a pseudonym were I to write a column like this again. Recent posts have gotten a number of comments, some smart and thoughtful, and others a bit hostile and weird. It’s made me go hmmm, if nothing more. I don’t mind having time to reflect on this. 3. There might be a third reason. I can’t remember it. It’s almost time to head to school.
The days go.
But CJ and I had a lunch date with Kevin today, and I thought, walking over in the breezy sunshine, of the great fortune of time that is mine. And I thought of that poem from a few posts back: “This is what the living do.” We get to walk in spring sunshine, and see another spring burst into bloom.
Writing day: organizing and planning for future interviews and columns, which takes more work than one might suspect. It’s the background hidden labour that will bear fruit down the road. Today I have almost too many ideas. Which is better than too few.
This is the kid who’s off to preschool. This is the kid who’s home sick. This is the mother (not pictured; possibly wearing frowny face) who is not using her “work” morning to do much more than make peppermint tea with honey for said sick kid while fielding innumerable bored comments as he sits beside me and reads the words I’m typing.
I forgot to bring my camera to the preschool drop-off. Will have to stage the moment next Friday. It was the first time I’ve felt like a commuting, all-working, no-one-staying-at-home family; though in fact the feeling was pretend, because here I am, working from home. But anyway. We all ate breakfast, got packed up, headed out the door together, and drove to the preschool, where we said goodbye to Kevin and CJ, and then I drove the girls to school (Albus stayed in the vehicle and “spied” on people). On a Friday when no one is ill, this schedule will mean that I’ll return home to utter quiet. Today, not so much. Albus is all about the sound effects.
But even that possibility reminds me that once upon a time, Life was very quiet. I frequently returned home to an empty apartment. And while there is much pleasure to be found in quiet contemplation (or the potential thereof), I’m grateful for the noise and chaos and activity that these four extra personalities bring into the house and into my life.
Last night, despite a raging and persistent head cold, I went to hot yoga. This is my winter replacement for school. I’d gotten in the habit of leaving the house on Thursday evenings, as had everyone else, so I figured I’d better keep that habit up. Hot yoga it is. I walk into the room, lie down on the mat, and it’s like being on vacation in the tropics. Yoga is most effective when the mind turns off and empties out. I love it. By the end of class, I feel spiritually renewed. Each time is a little bit different. One time, I was moved to tears, though I couldn’t say why. There is something about emptying oneself out that makes room for more, for change.
However, I did not get to meet with Nina afterward, which was our plan, to discuss our words of the year. I’m looking forward to it. I think my word will be EXPERIENCE. I like the duality of the word, how it both honours the repetition of my mothering life and days, and points toward the new and challenging as well. Experience can only come from practice, and from putting in the time. It requires patience and commitment. But to have an experience can be quite a different undertaking altogether: it requires a leap of faith, openness, willingness, recognition, courage. Experiences drop out of the sky; sometimes you simply find yourself within them, and sometimes you have to look for them and seek them out. (I’m thinking of “experiences” as adventures, of a sort, but more mundane than that, too. Experiences can include anything: finding yourself in conversation with someone you don’t usually talk to, or sitting down to play the piano and finding you want to write a new song, or picking up a book and being unexpectedly touched and moved by a random sentence. ie. my definition is pretty wide open).
And now. I need to get to work. I’ve just pointed my sick son toward the television. I’m going to let him watch YTV, which is usually off-limits due to the wretched advertising. Does my child need to be inundated with the latest and greatest in toys, cereals and movies? No, my child does not. But an hour or two can’t hurt.
In about an hour from now, Kevin will arrive home with our youngest.
“He won’t be able to tell us about his day!” AppleApple pointed out, as we drove away from the preschool. Unfortunately, that’s true. Or mostly true. He likes to mention details about his experiences, but unless we already know and can make the connections, these are hard to piece together into a full picture. For example: Boat! Shoe! Shoe? Shoe! Daddy coming! etc.
In happy self-promotional news, I’ve learned that my story “Rat” has been nominated by The New Quarterly magazine for the National Magazine Awards, and the Journey Prize. These affirmations do the heart good. They really do.