Category: Big Thoughts
Thinking New Year. Thinking about how, when I’m doing something that I really love, I’m almost out of body, there’s a feeling of transcendence. Yet that out of body thing seems to take me away, too, from the conscious reality of Life. Played piano for an hour yesterday while CJ napped and the other kids played road hockey. It took me far far away, into music’s private space, feeling the meaning of the notes take character and shape, speaking emotion with my fingers on the keys. But then, I wasn’t with my kids and that made me feel vaguely guilty. What does it mean, to be “with” people? That is something I’m struggling with as I try to live life as presently as possible–with presence, with gratitude. The paradox is that often when I’m most present within an activity, deeply focussed, I’m taken away from the everyday-ness, away from the chaos going on around me. Away from them.
We did something funny yesterday morning (pre-road-hockey). The kids were going wild with boredom and CJ was extremely fussy, so I popped him in the sling and paced the living-room while narrating our lives operatically. Everyone found this hugely entertaining (“Get off your sister!” sung in slightly out-of-range soprano with serious vibrato beats plain old “Get off your sister,” any day). The best part was that they joined in. That’s the kind of transcendence I crave–collective transcendence.
There was a program on collective joy, recently, on CBC Radio’s Tapestry. It’s a concept I’d never considered, but instantly understood–that amazing experience of feeling connected to and part of something larger than oneself. It’s even more amazing when the experience is being collectively invented, when everyone is a participant. Think: sports. Think: camp. Think: orchestra, theatre, choir. (Think other things I haven’t thought of or mentioned; and tell me about them, please!). Speaking of which, last night I watched the finale of a deeply moving documentary called “The Choir: Boys Don’t Sing.” It’s a BBC production and may actually be a series, in which a young British choirmaster goes into hard-knock schools and starts a choral program. In this case, Gareth went to an all-boys school and in nine months built an amazing 150-voice choir that included a group of beat-boxers. To watch their performance at the Royal Albert Hall was truly to witness an experience of collective joy. Look up this series if you have even the slightest interest in choral music (and even if you think you don’t).
On that note, I must continue preparing for our low-key New Year’s celebration this evening. These are my New Year’s hopes (forget resolutions): great creative energy, imaginative problem solving, vats of patience, presence, gratitude, calm, reflection, and bursts of collective joy.
So Stephane Dion is on his way out. A CBC commentator had a great line about his political career. She said that cats have nine lives, but Dion seems to have nine deaths–political deaths. I’d heard his address to the nation via radio, and it sounded a bit stumbling, but okay; only seeing a clip the next day on the television did I realize how truly awful it was. Poor man. What an ignominious image to have define your political career: his face was out of focus. It was like he’d already been condemned to political purgatory, ghost-like, blurry, trying desperately to communicate his good message.
I feel a bit that way myself. Not the good message part; the out of focus part. Exhaustion’s blur. There are entire days when I feel too interior, like I need to be shaken, woken from this dream. But, then, it’s a pretty sweet dream. Yesterday’s reveries: Rolling out cookie dough, flour-covered children, Fooey piling pink icing on top of a tree-shaped cookie, slowly devouring it, licking icing off the counter; snow falling, fat flakes; pushing the stroller through uncharted sidewalk snow; pretzels in the church basement; Kevin home by naptime; rolling out stretchy pizza dough; utter chaos just before supper’s served, hungry children weeping, fighting, and pretending to explode various inanimate objects; Fooey eating two bananas instead of pizza; washing dishes in hot water; nursing a baby to sleep in front of the television; So You Think You Can Dance, Canada; tea with honey. If I weren’t writing this down right away, the whole of yesterday would disappear utterly. That’s the blurry bit. That’s the part I can’t reconcile myself to. How fast it’s passing.
Writing day, but this is the first I’ve gotten to the computer this morning. Fooey had her major dental appointment this morning, so that took priority. She was fully conscious during the surgery, but on nitrous oxide (“magic nose” as the dentist calls it) and additionally on a drug that kinda makes her look and act a bit drunk. Amazingly, the dentist (Super Dentist, as I shall forevermore call him) drilled and filled three cavities, including between her two front teeth, and shaved off an additional three more cavities, all in one go. So she’s taken care of. For now. Heaven knows, we are flossing and brushing and treating juice like a rare treat these days (“Juice!!!” the kids squeal with delight when it is offered at a birthday party; the way other children might scream, “Candy!” or “Cake!”), but there are hard teeth and there are soft teeth, and it’s looking like my babies have the soft ones. Something tells me this won’t be Fooey’s last”magic nose” experience. It was quite trippy trying to imagine the experience through her eyes, lying in that chair, breathing nitrous oxide into her innocent lungs, sunglasses on, in a dental office that looks like it’s perfectly preserved from the 1960s, while Super Dentist and his assistant spoke soothingly of “pink and yellow sugar bugs” being “washed away.” (Drilled away). I was starting to see pink and yellow sugar bugs. It wasn’t a bad sensation, actually.
I’ve been meaning to blog all weekend and it’s already Monday. These were some of the topics in mind. Carrot cookies: really good. Taking four children ages three to seven to the musical theatre (Annie) for a 7pm show: surprisingly fun. Midwifery: lots of Big Thoughts. In fact, that’s where I’d like to go in today’s blog.
On Friday evening, I attended the Eby Lecture at Conrad Grebel College, which this year was given by Marlene Epp, a Mennonite historian. The place was packed out with the local Mennonite crowd. It is impossible to show up at something like this and not a) recognize 99% of the audience, b) be known by name by at least 33% whose names you do not, in turn, remember, and c) actually turn out to be related to 5% of those in attendance. (Note: All figures are wild estimates). The subject was Canadian Mennonite women who were midwives/healers. I love this kind of history, largely story-telling, using oral sources, diaries, notes. I loved how she integrated and contextualized the Mennonite story into and within the larger story of immigrant Canada. Proof that I would make a lousy historian, what jumped out at me instantly was the source of great fiction this history could make.
Some of you may know that I harbour distant fantasies about becoming a midwife myself. Likely from the moment I saw my own sister born at home (I was twelve and a half), the profession has seemed to me almost magical, and certainly powerful: guiding a woman through gestation to delivery, being present and receiving new life. It’s the only alternate career path I’ve been able to imagine for myself; yet I’m excruciatingly aware that my interest in midwifery is more idealistic than practical. It seems like the kind of profession one should feel “called” to (though that may be more of my idealism talking). Children and grandchildren of these midwives recalled holiday celebrations broken by the mother or grandmother grabbing up her brown bag and heading out on a mission of mercy. Midwives also acted, in some cases, as naturopaths, chiropractors, bone-setters, healers, and undertakers. Because, of course, tied up so closely with birth is death; at least, it was for most of human history, and still is in many places on earth. The responsibility seems vast. I feel myself torn between wanting to discover whether my own hands and mind could care for women and babies in this way; and being pretty darn sure that pursuing that course would bury my ambitions to continue writing fiction. Not to mention limit my time with these four small children I’ve produced who still need constant care.
I figure on four years of grace till CJ starts kindergarden. In some ways, it doesn’t seem like much time, yet when thinking over the changes in our lives these past four years there are almost too many to integrate and understand. We just are where we are. I like planning ahead. But I like staying flexible and open.
Four years ago, I was just about to get pregnant with our third child. Four years ago, Kevin was travelling long distances, regularly, and working for someone else’s company. Four years ago, my parents were living in the same house they’d lived in since 1991. They were still married to each other. Kevin’s dad was still alive. Four years ago, our kids had two sets of intact grandparents. Though we could hope for more kids, and hope for Kevin to change his job, we really couldn’t predict or control many of the events that occurred alongside those others. So it is. I just finished reading Elizabeth Hay’s Late Nights on Air, and there’s a line that’s stuck in my mind. (I’m paraphrasing). One character says that some people believe everything is all about timing; some people believe everything is all about luck; and she believes everything is fragile. Life is fragile.
I believe that, yes, everything is fragile, connections and relationships are fragile; in some ways. In other ways, everything is damned tenacious. Connections and relationships stick and tangle and surprise us and hold us and remain. Even if only in memory.
Life is fascinating, isn’t it? And that’s why I can’t figure out whether I want to be catching it, literally, or catching it in this other way: on the page.
Writing day, and I’ve promised never to blog on writing day, but have reached the natural end of how far I can go on this particular chunk of story or novel or whatever the heck it is, and yet don’t want to stop writing. Quite yet.
Here’s something significant that we did this weekend: We gave away our baby clothes!!!! I can hardly believe it, but it’s true. I’d been meaning to do it for months, but frankly it took months to work up to the actual giving away, actually seeing them out the door and gone. My heart still aches just a wee little bit when I think of those teeny tiny sleepers that all the children took turns wearing in infanthood. Well. What is the point of keeping boxes of them? I’ll confess to holding back a precious few favourites that can double as dolly clothes; but this tugging at my soul makes me reflect on the meaning of stuff. The detritus of our lives, if you will, the debris, the things we collect that somehow become embedded with our memories, physical proof of our passage through time and here on this earth. Yet the material pull is so often unhealthy. We crave, we cling to, we keep so much that we do not need, and grasp for more. Maybe because it is the easiest way to find identification? By the things that surround us? Who we are, minus our things?
We donated most of the the clothes to St. Monica House, a local agency that provides shelter and counselling and pre- and post-natal support to young pregnant women.
And, who am I, minus my infant clothes? I guess I’m the post-infant-mother. What a brief phase this will have been, all told. Eight years and three months (and counting) of pregnancy and/or nursing. Significant. But not possible to do either forever; and even if I could, doing so wouldn’t prevent me getting older, and my children too. I think giving away the clothes is a symbolic acceptance of this kinda sober mortal truth …
Sorry, the usual writing day bummer is upon us, no matter the topic. Really, writing days make me happy! Honestly, they do! See the judicious use of exclamation points to mark this point!
Ahem. It will be a busy week, and I’m girding up my loins and various other parts in anticipation. Apple-Apple’s actual birthday is tomorrow (six!!!); cake will be made and devoured, and gifts given and jealousy run rampant among short-sighted unbirthday-ed siblings. (Look, kids, these toys will enter the collective life of the house and you will get to play with them too! Talk about stuff …). Kevin is travelling to Ottawa. Albus has his first of FOUR consecutive dentist appointments to fill the most giant of the holes in his rotted teeth. Plus we shall enjoy the usual routines and marvel over the accomplishments, big and small, of, most particularly, the four smallest among us; though occasionally, perhaps, Kevin will pause to express gratitude for a meal well-made and I will pause to admire his efficiency at flossing our children’s teeth. Hey, these things can make a day.
Yesterday evening’s adventure in local food did not start out well, but all adventures need their downs as well as their ups. Kevin had gotten three dozen eggs from our favourite egg farmer at the Kitchener market. Lately, Kevin’s been running down to the market by himself, which ends up being a much more efficient use of our Saturday time; though in the past we have enjoyed going with the kids and staying for lunch. I’d also gotten a HUGE bunch of chard in our CSA box, and remembered that my friend Heather has spoken fondly about chard in the past, so I figured she must know something I don’t, and she kindly sent a recipe called “trouchia” from a cookbook called Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. In addition to the chard, it involves eight eggs. I hardly ever (no, never) cook with eggs. This may change. Eggs make secret appearances in my baking, but otherwise eggs are breakfast food at our house, and Kevin does breakfast.
So I was cracking farm-fresh eggs into a big bowl, when the seventh one whooshed into the bowl in a darkish, completely liquid mass. A rotten egg! I’ve never seen a rotten egg before, whole in its shell. I tried rescuing the other eggs, but couldn’t completely save them from the encroaching cloud. I must have Depression-era blood in my veins, because pouring out those seven eggs felt insanely wasteful. It almost seemed preferable to risk food poisoning. But not quite. The second go-around I cracked each egg into a small bowl, then poured it into the big one. No more rotten eggs.
Here’s Heather’s recipe for trouchia, only slightly modified:
Heat 2 tbs olive oil in a pan you can also use in the oven. Saute 1 onion, chopped, 1 clove of garlic, minced, and cook slowly, about 10 mins, then add your chopped chard leaves (I did not use the entire massive bunch, because I was planning on feeding it to the kids; I also used chard I’d previously blanched). Season with salt and pepper as desired.
Meanwhile, whisk together 8 eggs, add 2 tbs chopped fresh parsley or other herb of choice, 1 cup grated cheese (I used Nina’s cheddar), 1 tbs parmesan, and a pinch of salt. When the chard is cooked, scrape the contents of the pan into the egg bowl, stir.
Preheat oven broiler.
Reheat the pan with 1 tbs olive oil, then pour in the egg/chard mixture, give a stir, let it cook on medium-high for about a minute, then turn it down to low. I covered the pan with a lid at this point. It took longer to set than I’d expected, perhaps 10 mins, or even more. Cook till set, but still liquidy on top. Then remove lid, sprinkle on 1 tbs parmesan and perhaps some extra cheese, and set under broiler. Watch closely. Broil just till set and browned.
Serve in wedges from the pan.
The kids LOVED it. (Usually we have at least one nay-sayer; not this time). Adult family members loved it too, plus it presented very attractively, which my food generally does not. I tend toward hearty two-pot meals, stews, beans, rice, pasta. A ate three pieces of the trouchia, or approximately one-third of the total. We ate it with buttered bread (Nina’s), and a pot of Leftover Surprise: brown rice, hamburger and zucchini stir-fry, and black beans heated up together into an utterly delicious stew. (An example of my usual style of food; good and tasty, but not exactly pretty). No dessert. We rarely do dessert.
Kevin and I popped a bottle of bubbly wine (it was the only kind we had on hand), and enjoyed a leisurely dinner. AB said, “We don’t have to hurry tonight, do we?” After reading from The Long Winter, our bedtime book of the moment, and flossing and et cetera, Kevin and I sat down to watch more Olympics, which are always on in the background these days. I said earlier that it’s exciting to watch our Canadian athletes performing personal bests, and that’s true, but watching a Canadian athlete perform a personal best AND win a medal LIVE really gets me off the couch. Yes, Canada has finally medalled at the Games, thank you women wrestlers, rowers, and a fine young swimmer. Last night, we got to watch a 19-year-old Canadian man from B.C. come third by a hair in the 1500 metre freestyle, an event he wasn’t predicted to medal in. We were on our feet with a whoop at the end, feeling the joyful buzz of a tribal win that must be bred in the bone. We might imagine ourselves sophisticated and civilized, but what are the Olympics but a giant celebration of some basic human tribal impulse? That was my Big Thought of the evening, perhaps assisted by the bubbly.