I just want to paint the scene for you. I’m at the pool, again. The swim kids are doing warmups on deck. I’ve got my laptop and a cup of tea.
I think every birthday should be the best birthday ever, and this one is no exception.
I got up early, and started with poached eggs on toast with the dogs. Fooey came down especially to wish me a happy birthday before going back upstairs to sleep some more. I opened my birthday card from my family with a personalized note from each kid (weep, weep). I drove AppleApple to the pool and stayed for an hour, then, inspired by the hard-working kids, went to a hot yoga class at Moksha, which was free because it was my birthday (the instructor even wished me a very happy birthday, by name, at the end of class).
I was so glad I’d decided to go rather than flake out and skip.
I don’t know why I need to be reminded repeatedly that it’s better to go than flake out, but I do. I seem to forget regularly. The hardest step is the first. It always is. All the steps after that will take effort, but the mental hurdle of that first step is the greatest challenge.
I’d been humming and hawing, wondering: what’s a birthday for, anyway? Is it for relaxing and doing nothing, or should it set the tone for the coming year? Also, am I happier relaxing or happier doing a bunch of stuff? Yes, you already know the answer to that one, but apparently I’d temporarily forgotten. Lucky for me, I remembered in time to really enjoy the whole day.
I was home from yoga, glowing and damp, in time to meet a friend for lunch. We went out for an all-butter all-cream lunch (at Sabletine).
I had arranged for an afternoon matinee date, so Kevin and I left the kids at home, babysitting each other, and headed out together, only to discover a huge line-up at the theatre. Sold out. No way! So we retired to Beertown instead. I think we were meant to do that, so we could talk out the year that was and dream about the year to come, all while basking in the loveliness of having children old enough and responsible enough to look after each other.
The house was still standing when we came home.
my new favourite workplace
Now I’m back at the pool, enjoying the warmth, watching the swimmers about to jump in and start their laps. For the next two hours, I’m going to continue reading through Girl Runner and probably crying a bit because I have to admit it’s a bit of a weeper (in a good way). At this very moment, Kevin’s attempting to bake me a cake on the BBQ (this is so very Kevin), and he’s ordering me take-out tofu with kim chi from the Owl of Minerva for when we get home. I will feast and blow out candles with the kids and read to them before bed.
See? Best day, hey. Just like I like ’em. Somewhat tightly scheduled, but lots of room for fun and relaxation within the busyness. Expansive and crammed. And filled with thanks.
It’s the day before my birthday. I get all contemplative at this time of year, and on this date, specifically. I’ve got journal entries from Dec. 28th (hand-written) going back a decade or more, reflecting on the year past and hopes for the future. Something about reading over these entries fills me with melancholy, though I can’t quantify why, exactly. It’s not because I wish things had gone differently. Maybe it’s the passage of time, generally. Maybe I recognize that I wasn’t always so confident or certain. That shouldn’t make me sad, though. I had to be who I was to become who I am. Today I read the entry from 2005. So much of what I’ve accomplished since then seems improbable. So much could not have been predicted. I had no inkling that I would devote a year to triathlon and marathon training, nor could I have imagined the confidence and determination gained by training and racing. My parents were still together at that point. My father-in-law was still alive, as were both of my mother’s parents. I suspect those losses, yet to come, shaped me, too, and that grief and struggle made me into someone slightly different, someone more open to challenge and conflict and error.
The truth about becoming a better writer is that it’s a long-term process. You start with a flair for language, a love of story and words, as a young writer; you may have a gift for innovation or for structural sense, enormously important building blocks to work with. But it’s patience, only, that will make you a better writer, as you practice the craft faithfully and with hope, while you wait for life to tell you what matters to you, and what it is you want to say, what you want to put into the world. I think about that now. I didn’t used to, so much.
I’m okay with getting older. I’m so much more at ease being me, living in this body, aware of my own limitations and flaws, and comfortable pushing against them, when I feel inspired, or settling right into them, when I’m just plain tired of trying to be better. Sometimes good enough is plenty.
I’ve embraced my own high expectations. I haven’t been crushed by them.
This past year has been an odd one. This is the year that gave me Girl Runner. Wow. This was also the year of employment uncertainty and the stress of financial strain, of unexpected expenses and hits. This was the year I got turned down for virtually every grant and job I applied for. Yet somehow this was also the year of out-of-the-blue serendipity: job offers and book deals. This was the year my writing earned me a good living. Wow, again. This was the year I did not get a hair cut. Yikes! This was the year I applied for midwifery school, got in, and decided not to pursue that career route. This was the year of the concussion. This was the year I taught my first course. This was the year I didn’t can anything. The year we got a dishwasher. The year I drove more kilometres in support of my kids’ activities than I’d ever dreamed possible. The year my green dreams faded to a paler shade.
Here’s what I wrote in 2005 about parenting, and it rings so very true all these years later: “Basically what I want for my kids is the world to be open for them, and them to feel comfortable within it, never excluded or discouraged.”
Maybe I wanted that for myself, too. Maybe that’s exactly what I’ve found and what I continue to try to nurture, for all of us: to be participants in the world around us.
We do a lot of asking for things, searching and applying and imagining ourselves elsewhere, making our requests. It’s part of participating in the world. Maybe getting turned down and turned away is part of participating too. So often what comes to us, when we’re open, is not what we’d asked for or anticipated. We just can’t know. Maybe that’s what makes me sad, on this day of looking back and looking ahead: I really can’t know. There is no way to prepare for what’s ahead. How to let go? How to be open to what the world has to offer, to be determined and ambitious and demanding of ourselves, and also at peace with what we’re given?
I’m a little bit terrified of looking ahead at the year to come. If all goes well, here is what will happen. I will finish Girl Runner and see it published here in Canada. I will get a good head shot (and that long-neglected hair cut). I will research toward a new book, and start writing it. I will consider teaching again. I will play soccer again, come spring. I will return to running longer distances. I will practice yoga blissfully in my peaceful office. I will get a standing desk or even a treadmill desk. I will see my children do wonderful things: play soccer, swim, play piano, do gymnastics, play with friends. I will enjoy their company. I will continue to be blessed in my marriage.
If I write it all down, I fear it won’t come true. I want to knock on wood. Conversely, I want to write it all down and not fear at all what may come, because it’s only by hoping and dreaming for the best that the best can come to pass. That’s what I’ve learned. Forget superstition. The fear of dreaming and possibility is really the fear of disappointment. And tough though it is to accept, disappointment can be overcome. Much more difficult to overcome is the refusal to imagine, period.
So, here I am. December 28th, 2013. Dreaming big, as always.
gummi worm volcano cake
We had a big windstorm overnight, and a power surge that blew out part of the hydro wire running to our house in rather spectacular fashion with firecracker pops and flashing blue light, which made it hard for everyone to sleep last night. Luckily, the line is being held up by the tree in our front yard, so it’s not downed, and is still providing electricity. Don’t worry, we’re doing all the things we’ve been told to do, it isn’t a danger to anyone, currently (so to speak), and all will be repaired soon.
But it was a disturbed night. And it’s AppleApple’s birthday. Maybe we should let the kids stay home from school today, came the pre-dawn thought.
Really?! Yes, really. The joy was unanimous. Some are still in pajamas and it’s nearly 4pm.
I also intended to catch up on things left undone, but have only been partially successful in that.
Still, it seems we all needed this catch up day. It ends at 5 o’clock when the evening activities kick in, but it’s been sweet.
On the weekend, we celebrated AppleApple’s birthday, a small party with long-time friends that allowed her to relax, play, and hang out, which seems to happen not frequently enough. It was a “baking and board games” theme. The girls baked the cake and fashioned a gummi worm volcano in the middle.
We had spaghetti with meatballs and caesar salad, and I thought, looking at the table, that I’m a lot like my dad in my over-estimation of food amounts: ain’t nobody going hungry at my table!
Here’s the birthday girl last night, when she was still 10. She had a loose tooth, which she pulled right before bed. “Don’t forget about the tooth fairy,” she said, and when, about half an hour later, I climbed up to her bunk with a toonie to exchange for the tooth, she whispered, “Mom, I’m still awake!” “Do you want the tooth fairy to come tonight?” I asked, being on my way to bed. “Mom, I’m actually asleep.”
And here she is today, officially 11, blissed out with dogs and book. Yeah, she’s wearing the same pajamas she was wearing last night. I think that means she’s having a happy birthday.
Today was a good day.
We had a birth in the family. As of 9:40 this morning (Friday), my brother and sister-in-law are parents of a gorgeous baby boy. I got the phone call at 4:15 AM, and went over to help doula for the birth, which happened at home, in a warm and calm space, almost peacefully, I would say. There are lots of beautiful and memorable things that I get to do, and this is one of the most extraordinary. Being witness to the birth of new life.
I’m getting weepy just thinking about it.
Maybe also because I’m running on slightly less sleep than usual. And because my little brother is a papa.
I’d promised not to disturb the new family this evening when stopping by to pick up the camera I’d forgotten, but there was a new baby in the house. The kids so so so wanted to meet their cousin. He wasn’t even eleven hours old yet, we calculated. They squealed in the car on the ride home over the cuteness, the tinyness, the babyness.
Today, a good day. A breathtaking day.
Ten years ago, in late June, we moved into our house, two little babies in tow: Albus had just turned two and AppleApple was seven months. The house seemed enormous, and almost unfillable, but we seem to have solved that problem. Our bedroom is perhaps the one room in the house that remained untouched over the past decade. We added drapes. We moved bassinets in and out and in again. For awhile, my writing desk and computer were crammed in a corner (I wrote virtually nothing publishable during that stretch; weird, huh). But the walls remained the unpainted dull white plaster through which the lathe could be seen. Yes, that’s how unpainted our bedroom has been for the last decade.
So it took an invasion of bed bugs to move everything out and paint. Well, at least it happened.
Kevin stayed up late last night to finish it. We decided to go with a darker colour field on one wall against creamy-white ceiling and other walls. We chose a soothing deep blue with hints of purple.
“Your room looks beautiful!” Fooey told us this morning.
We’re debating whether there’s time to paint the living-room, too, which came freshly painted when we moved in, which was, as noted, ten years ago, and is now, not surprisingly, full of holes and scrapes. We are, however, also hosting a party for our eight-year-old tomorrow evening. Can we do it all?
birthday cake for birthday girl, with scrounged candles from junk drawer
Meantime, I actually (unbelievably!) turned over the last page of my manuscript yesterday evening, the version that holds my editor’s revisions. That doesn’t mean the book is ready to send back to her, but it does mean I’ve now worked through every single page and addressed every comment. Today it’s back to the beginning to see whether my many many many changes hold together. Good grief. I’m in a state of anxiety, let me tell you. I also note that we’ve got less than three weeks left of summer holidays. That’s me you hear crying out from the heart: nooooo!
Here’s my tangent, which I post at risk of sounding ancient, crusty, and out of touch with young people these days (say that last bit in a quavery old woman voice for full effect).
I’ve been listening to top forty radio this summer. Sometimes all I want is a singable song while I drive home from a soccer game. Unfortunately, the songs with the good hooks seem to be highly inappropriate, not to mention misogynist in tone. (Blurred Lines, I’m frowning at you, with your fun sound and sticky bass line, which I would like to enjoy listening to, but can’t without censorship: there are kids in the car! And I’m a feminist!) So it was an odd relief to get snagged on Lorde’s Royals while stuck in traffic with CJ the other day. We both liked it. I think my ears were craving that clean choral sound, and a subject unrelated to booty, booty-calls, getting booty, shaking one’s booty, and anything else booty-related. It’s the female body as material object mixed up with materialism itself, and I hate the juxtaposition, and the shallowness and amorality underpinning it. There aren’t even any interesting metaphors in these songs. You know you want it. Um, no, I don’t, not all the freaking time! You’re boring me! C’mon top-forty songwriters! And then I came across Macklemore’s Same Love, and felt relief, too, to hear a straightforward political song with a lovely singable hook, on a top forty station. But I miss K’naan. Where’s he gone? Any other pop fans out there? Who are you listening to this summer?
Birthday eve, ready for bed. Still seven. Photo bombing by 5-year-old brother.
Birthday morn, in her new favourite outfit (from Grandma Alice). This is the dog who loves to pose. The other dog was lounging nearby, unwilling to join in.
Pancakes for breakfast, then presents. Everyone got a birthday crown.
I also got an early morning visit to the dentist (no cavities!). And now we’re prepping the house for a major non-birthday-non-fun-related project. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow. The excitement never ends around here. The birthday girl is being very accomodating and understanding, and we’re trying not to let it take over the celebration.
“Every morning, I get up, get dressed, and check the mirror to see if my outfit is appropriate — for me. If it’s not, I go and change.” Fooey is our earliest riser, arriving downstairs every morning with brushed hair and a happy “good morning!”, ready for the day. She is highly organized, friendly and fun but also independent and quietly creative. She is far and away our most decorative and styling child, with a strong sense of personal taste. She would like to be a veterinarian when she grows up. I think she can do anything she puts her mind to (her dad would agree).
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