Wake to a winter wonderland.
Date with daughter: Starbucks and errands uptown. Such a good start to the day, I’m thinking every Saturday morning should begin with a date with one of my kids. Albus calls the next one.
Advent begins. “Mom is so freaky organized she’s got an envelope in her office with advent activities!” (This is true. I just put them away from last year’s calendar, knowing the season would come around before we knew it. And here it is. Looks like we had a lot “hot chocolate for breakfast” last year.)
Today’s activity: Get a tree!
Uh oh. First we have to clean up the gigantic Lego living-room mess.
Good opportunity to create a new Lego playspace upstairs instead. Buy small area carpet while shopping for the tree, which comes in a box. Yes, we bought a tree in a box.
Tree-in-box was family decision: it’s economical and reusable. And it’s not like we’ve been hiking out to our back forty and chopping down an adorable and unique tree replete with picturesque memories that the children will carry with them forever. No, for the past couple of years, following some truly disastrous never-again hiking-around-tree-farm-experiences, we’ve purchased our tree in a Dairy Queen parking lot. So, really …
Also this afternoon: big kids had their second babysitting gig (he’s the other curly head in the foreground).
And now it’s dark, and we still haven’t had supper. Kevin and the boys are out picking up a take-out Thai order. I’ve got a very hungry and grumpy child curled in the rocking chair beside me, and another trying to solve a sudoko puzzle at the dining-room table (and she’s stuck on something, from the sounds of it). Also crossed off the list today: fresh sheets for everyone, tons of laundry, library run, creative Shakespeare presentation completed, and — still in the works — bread baking.
Hey, food’s here! As Fooey says, “Let’s eat! Let’s eat!”
A funny thing. I’ve started to enjoy the trips in the car to deliver and collect children from their various activities. If I’m alone, I turn on the radio and cruise between CBC Radio One (talk) and CBC Radio Two (music). If I’ve got a kid or two in behind, it’s a chance to talk. We drive through the dark that comes so early at this time of year, watching carefully for pedestrians and cyclists. (Side note: we didn’t spot one cyclist wearing a helmet, let alone reflective clothing or lights, on the university campus yesterday; we even saw a young man skateboarding in the bike lane of a busy street, going the wrong way! Needless to say, he wasn’t wearing a helmet either, because really, if you’re skateboarding in the bike lane going the wrong way after dark, you’re clearly not concerned about head injury. This sparked a conversation about safety and being young and feeling invincible. “Why is it that the things people think are cool are risky or dangerous?” my daughter asked. Well. Why indeed?).
But anyway. The conversations range. It’s always interesting.
And as long as we’re not late, I have a feeling of contentment, of easily-fulfilled purpose. It’s emotionally uncomplicated. It’s relaxing, even. Maybe that’s because it’s so much simpler to drive from swimming to soccer, to tie a shoelace, to greet other parents, to drop off a carpooling extra, than to be at home with the remaining children over the same time, supervising piano practice and homework and doing dishes and laundry. Four out of five weeknights, that’s where I am. Last night, I asked Kevin to trade places, since he happened not to be coaching anyone. When I returned home from my drive, I noticed he had a harrassed impatience about him that is often mine as snacktime gets dragged out and children begin lying on the floor and complaining about tooth brushing.
Situations do that to a person. And I could walk through the door, all fresh and relaxed after completing my pleasant errands, and be the voice of reason. Which is really irritating to the person who’s been stuck at home with the homework and the dishes. Which makes me think that the more we share jobs, the happier we all will be; or at least the more sympathetic.
Halloween planning is in full swing at our house. Last night was pumpkin carving. Costumes are at the ready. And candy is coming … candy is coming … CANDY IS COMING!* [*scary voice]. The eldest has plans for a two-part evening, involving stopping home mid-route to dump off loot, anticipating of course that his bag will get too heavy to haul. Maybe we should make a rule, however. When your bag gets too heavy to haul, you’re done.
I had a small breakdown yesterday evening. I had to go outside and stand on the porch to collect myself, and even then, I wasn’t fully collected. I took note of how many hours of domestic labour I do every day, just to keep our household squeaking along, and it was frightening. By my calculation, I spend five hours every day on chores. Five hours! This work includes: laundry, dishes, cooking, overseeing piano practice and homework and checking backpacks, bedtime, errands, and driving children to and from extra-curriculars. From 4pm until 9pm or later, day in, day out, my energies are consumed by basic household tasks. And Kevin makes the lunches. And only occasionally do I have time, during those hours, to, say, scrub the toilet or vacuum. (I have actually cleaned the shower while showering; do other women do this too? Wash the bathroom sink while brushing one’s teeth? Clean fridge drawers while trying to make supper? This is multitasking at its least pleasurable.)
Far and away the bulk of that 4-9 shift is spent on those first three items: cooking, dishes, and laundry. Cooking from scratch takes time, effort, and advance planning. Cleaning up a day’s worth of dirty dishes and containers from lunch boxes for six people, for three meals plus snacks, is an enormous job. (Sometimes Kevin does the dishes, not me.) It often takes us a full hour, minimum, to clear the kitchen from one end to the other. And I do laundry every day, usually two loads. Sports-related gear does not marinate well, shall we say.
Anyway. Yesterday. Yesterday, at the start of this 4-9 shift, I made a leek and potato soup, and roasted eggplant and zucchini to make a zippy baba ghanoush. I also served children snacks and fielded an endless stream of complaints from the two youngest, who were, frankly, exhausted after school. The complaints got louder and louder the nearer we came to mealtime, until they were a droning background hateful hum. “Garlic? I hate garlic! You always ruin supper. Onions! I hate onions. You promised supper would be done in three minutes! You lied! I’m starving!” Things improved briefly once I’d convinced the two youngest to set the table. Except this turned into a pitched battle over who would do what. By the time Kevin walked in the door after dropping AppleApple at swimming, supper was on the table, and two children were literally weeping and gnashing their teeth (because of the colour of their plates, if you can believe it, and if you have small children, you will).
I’d had it.
Almost two hours of work, a lovely meal prepared from scratch waiting on the table, most of the family present to eat together, and … a household in tears.
I went outside, leaving behind barking dogs and wailing children, and stood for a few moments in the cool autumn evening. Nearly all the leaves were blown off the trees in Monday’s wind. It’s been raining off and on for days. The world could hardly look more bleak.
But there was no solution for it. I didn’t want to go for an angry stroll in my crocs. I was hungry and tired. I went back inside and sat down in silence at the table, and in silence we ate. Everyone seemed apologetic. One of the after-school complainers was particularly penitent and even tried the garlic-laden baba ghanoush, just to make me feel better. After that we weren’t so silent anymore. Life went on.
We need to find some way to direct that after-school exhaustion and angst elsewhere, because, as I explained last night, I’m a person too, even though I’m Mom, and my feelings get hurt too when people yell at me and say mean things. Sometimes I think I get the yelling and the mean things because I’m the most loved and most trusted person in their lives — know what I mean? If you’re feeling really rotten, you want to get it out, and you direct your unhappiness at the safest target — the one who will understand and love you anyway.
But it’s not ideal.
And it’s not ideal that the daily labour of keeping this house ticking falls largely on one person. My children get a free ride, basically, and that’s been my doing, not theirs. I haven’t trained them to do much in the way of helpful household chores, and have expected little help from them, but good grief. I think it’s time to start. How many chores do your children do? And what chores are they? Do you have tried-and-true methods of assigning chores and splitting up work?
This morning I walked my littlest to nursery school. He desperately wanted to walk, not catch a ride with Kevin. The walk seems to be a critical feature of his transition from home to school. I walk him to the bus every other day, and Kevin usually walks him to nursery school (today he was off to Toronto for work, and couldn’t spare the time). I could see how important it was to CJ that he walk, not drive.
So I said, hey, I’ll walk you to nursery school today.
On our walks, we play a game that CJ makes up on the fly. Today we were making juice out of foods of a certain colour, say, red, or blue. “Blueberry juice! What else is blue?” I’m pretty sure the juice gave us special crocodile-fighting powers. Or maybe it was leaf-fighting powers. Fallen leaves feature pretty regularly in these games as objects that must be avoided or danced over (he has a special sideways zig-zag to defeat the leaf powers).
This morning I was glad to feel willing to relax into the moment. To walk my son to nursery school.
Yesterday, by contrast, I was completely miserably resistant to the demands of the day. It felt like a day designed to thwart any sense of autonomy and independence. A long list of must-does barked at me all day long, and I raced to keep up, and barely managed. Dentist appointment, groceries, bank, voting, piano lessons, cooking, laundry, dishes, cleaning, dog walking, putting children to bed. I didn’t have a moment to spare in front of this computer. I resented it.
I wonder: is it okay to resent days that are clearly brimming with privilege and wealth and health and opportunity? Is it okay to resent being able to care for my family and my teeth and my house? When such a day is evidence of a full life rich with fortunate responsibilities? I don’t know whether or not it’s okay. Maybe it’s pointless to judge an emotion.
I guess it just means I’m human.
But the day did improve post-dentist. And by the time I was walking our yappy dogs around the block with two chatty children in tow, I was pretty much okay with it all. The house was clean. There was still time to read to them before bed. We’ve finished Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and are moving on to Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, one of my personal favourites.
(During this reading, I’ve been trying to figure out why Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has had such success and longevity. It’s quite awkwardly written in parts, and has these long rather boring songs, and Willy Wonka is a strange and scary man with peculiar prejudices against things like gum-chewing, and the way he stole the Oompa-Loompas from their own land and brought them to work in his factory makes me deeply uncomfortable. And yet. My theory is that it’s the unromantic sympathy and clarity of the opening chapters, and Charlie himself, which save the book.)
I’m going to write for the rest of the day: the quiet hours that belong just to me. I’m not going to worry about writing a perfect book. No books are perfect. I’m going to follow my own advice and write in order to discover what I’m writing.
And then I’ve got supper, laundry, a kid with swim training, another with soccer skills, a visit to a book club, and a party in Toronto: Anansi’s 45th birthday bash. Wow, hey. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming …
For about 48 hours after the GG announcement, I found it very amusing to narrate my life by captioning all activities with “GG finalist, Carrie Snyder …”, as in “GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is going to finish these supper dishes before anyone gets a bedtime snack,” or, “GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, would like a cup of tea and a back rub.” I’m not sure anyone else found it quite so amusing.
But it amused me this morning too, as GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, stood on a stool in the downstairs bathroom attempting to remove spiderwebs with a wad of toilet paper, and a giant nest fell down her sweater sleeve. (“I told you that bathroom is infested, Mom!” “Yeah, there’s definitely a weird looking nest above the sink.” “That’s an orb spider.” “A what?!” “Don’t worry, it’s not poisonous.”) It continued to amuse me as GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, trudged upstairs to clean the bathroom floor. (“Someone peed on the floor!” “There’s pee in the upstairs bathroom!” “Somebody missed the toilet!”) And the fun kept on rolling as GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, sorted a dark load of laundry while repeatedly shouting up the steps, “I’m in the basement, come down if you want me to zip you up!” Apparently, GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, had misheard the request. “He said that he wants you to pick him up from nursery school.” “Oh.” Sorry kid, but GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is leading a writing workshop for high school students this afternoon, and can’t. GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, also has a vague toothache in the very same spot where the dentist put in a filling last winter (remember that?), which seems like ominous timing given she’s flying to Vancouver in two days. GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is also panicking slightly about what to pack for her trip (how many shoes can she fit into a carry-on bag?). GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, got up in the middle of the night to turn off her alarm and did not go to yoga this morning. Despite getting extra sleep, GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, did not look fabulous in the mirror this morning; she really should have gone to yoga.
GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is putting the hammer down. Stop this now, GG finalist, Carrie Snyder.
This feels like a miscellany day. I’ve been having some random and more serious thoughts on a related subject.
It’s the subject of being paid for one’s writing. The Globe and Mail (a newspaper in Canada) is going to attempt a “paywall,” by asking subscribers to pay for content; apparently, readers are not pleased. The New York Times does this as well, and the truth is, ever since it did, I’ve stopped reading NYTimes articles online. And I’m a writer! I get that writers and editors need to be paid for the work they do, and I respect the work that they do; so why not pay for quality online content? I think the answer is three-fold: one, I’m lazy and it seems like too much work to set up an account and try to remember passwords, etc.; two, I still get most of my news from the daily paper and from CBC radio; and three, there’s a ton of free content online.
Let’s address that final issue. I write a blog. I provide free content, practically every day! I understand why professional writers dislike bloggers — professional writers would like to make a living doing what they do, thanks very much. Most bloggers, like me, do this in our spare time. I have no desire to monetize my blog, nor to figure out how to make money off of it, mainly because I do it for fun. It would change everything to try to blog for a living.
That said, here I am, trying to write for a living. It’s dismal to report, but freelance rates, per word, have actually gone down since I first started freelancing, over a decade ago. I’m not sure freelance writing (for magazines and newspapers) was ever an excellent money-making occupation, but in today’s climate it’s an excellent way to sponge off your spouse. So, is being a writer a sustainable occupation?
GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, has yet to figure out how to make it so.
And it isn’t for lack of trying. I’m beginning to wonder whether being a writer, a serious writer of fiction with hopeful freelancing on the side, is in actual fact a hobby, or an act of volunteerism, or of love, or of obsession, rather than being what one could legitimately call an occupation. A job.
This isn’t meant to be a pity-me rant. I don’t feel pitiable, not at all; I’ve been doing exactly what I want to do; and I do make (some) money at it. Nevertheless, I feel prepared to look at coolly at my options and draw some fairly harsh conclusions. Our four kids need more than I can offer them as a writer; and I don’t believe the burden should be carried unequally by Kevin. The question is: what, then? Well, I’ve got some ideas, to be revealed in good time. For the immediate present, I’m sticking with the status quo, doing the freelance jobs that come in, working on a new book, applying for grants, hustling, and jumping up and down for The Juliet Stories. And blogging.
I love writing. I never started writing fiction thinking that it would earn me a living; and that wasn’t why I started blogging either. With my writing, every step along the way has felt like a gift: the first time I had a poem accepted for publication; the first time an editor at a magazine wrote back to tell me she liked my story (even though she was turning it down); the first time I earned a grant for an unfinished manuscript; the first time an editor called to tell me that she loved my book and wanted to publish it; and on and on. In between all of these steps were innumerable impersonal rejection letters, fat self-addressed envelopes stuffed with rejected stories, and, once I’d acquired an agent (another exciting step), calls of reassurance that also brought news of “no, thanks.” None of this could have been undertaken if it weren’t answering an extreme personal call — a deep probably irrational desire — to keep writing, keep learning, keep practicing the craft. None of this would have been undertaken if I hadn’t loved doing it.
Certainly, none of it was undertaken with an idea of dollar signs dancing in my head, a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I’m a highly impractical person, and I encourage my kids to dream impractically too. To pursue doing what they love, no matter what it pays in monetary terms.
But the thing is, we also have to figure out how to pay the bills. That’s where I’m at right now. I’m doing what I love, and I’ll keep doing it forever; but I’m going to have to do something else, too. My word of the year, this year, was actually two words: work and play. An interesting, difficult, troublesome choice, I think, and prescient.
this is what the sky and leaves look like today
Oh boy. It’s scheduling crunch time at our house. Indoor soccer season starts this week. Rep tryouts for next summer’s soccer season are ongoing, and now include two children and one dad. I’m off to the Vancouver International Writers Festival on Thursday. And I think I need a hair cut too!
This was one of those weekends that does not replenish, to revisit last week’s word.
(Although my poetry book club on Friday evening falls into the category of replenishing the interior resources while possibly depleting, ever so slightly, the bodily ones, due to surprise champagne and scotch to toast The Juliet Stories. We’ve chosen Lorna Crozier’s Book of Marvels for our next read.)
Here’s how our weekend progressed, in soul-sucking fashion. Kevin was at a conference in Niagara Falls on Saturday, while I went to AppleApple’s first swim meet in Etobicoke (ie. not nearby), with two children in tow. The meet was well-organized, but there were hundreds of swimmers and seemingly endless heats for each race. For four hours, I entertained two small children in the crowded pool gallery, in order to watch their big sister swim two races that amounted to less than two minutes in the water, total.
big smiles for the camera!
The little kids were very very good, but I can’t say it was fun for the three of us. I had to ration our food supplies, not wanting to lose our coveted spot by making a long trek back to the truck for more. And I couldn’t even read to them because of the noise. I’m not actually sure how we made it through those four hours. But that evening, both played “swim races” with toys in the bathtub.
she’s the blur in the green suit
AppleApple is new to competitive swimming, and had only learned to do her turn on Tuesday, and her start dive during the warmup at the meet. Neither served her very well, shall we say. She was in tears when we met her in the changeroom after the second event. Turned out her expectations had been rather high, and she was terribly disappointed in her times.
Given that dives and turns in short races make a huge difference, I assured her she’d done her best, and could only improve. But here’s the thing: she’s not one to be discouraged. After she’d cried it out, she cheered right up and said she’d just work harder and do better next time.
Kevin and I improved on the day by driving safely home from our respective locations, despite the rain and the distance. And by ordering take-out Viet-Thai food, including a fiery soup that soothed my scratchy throat. And by snuggling with the doggies and the kids, watching bad tv. A snuggle with those doggies would improve any day.
Sunday’s non-replenishing activities included more swimming (a practice for AppleApple), during which I ran 15.5km, and decided to shelve my plan to do a marathon in a few weeks’ time. I haven’t put on the mileage required, and I’ll be busy with the Wild Writers’ Festival the day before. Instead, I’d like to aim for some winter/spring races, and keep doing these longish runs on Sundays to stay prepared. There is only so much a person can do. You know that fashion advice to look in the mirror before leaving the house and remove one accessory? I feel that applies to my life, sometimes. I look at the day’s schedule and I think, one of these things needs to go. Sadly, it’s usually something fun.
We also took everyone shopping for indoor soccer shoes, including me and CJ. And then I took Albus shopping for a new winter coat, which was not something either of us wanted to do. So …. I baked bread when we got home. It made me feel like I’d done something other than be a consumer.
more sky, more leaves, today
Uh oh. I’m beginning to suspect this a grumpy post. Maybe it just matches this weather. Wet, dull, windy, colours draining away.
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