Oh summer. Summer summer. Summer! I love you and you are killing me with your demands, with your late nights and early mornings, your travel time spent in highway traffic going to far-flung soccer tournaments, swim meets, and beaches, and I realize how privileged that sounds — and is — but I’ve been to Toronto (twice), Ancaster, London (twice), Kincardine, Ottawa, Sauble Beach, and Kingston in the last five weeks, and if I have to spend another kilometre on the road I might dissolve into genuine rage. Or tears. I might come undone. Oh wait, summer, you’re sending me to Elora tonight for a soccer match in a rainstorm. Okay. I will do it. There’s seems no other way but through.
Summer, there’s more. I know I’m putting this all on you, but I have to tell you. You are killing me with your lack of school. It’s my own fault that I have four children. I take full responsibility for that. But there’s no substitute for school. Despite no lack of planning and foresight, summer, these four children, or some combo thereof, have taken over the house all day long. And for large portions of the evening too. I’ve started going to bed before some of them do. They are right this second making themselves elaborate lunches in the kitchen. I can’t even discuss the state of the living-room.
And the laundry. I weep.
I have told my four children to leave me alone for twenty minutes, which, frankly, seems a lot to ask given all the elaborate lunch-making currently underway. I am going to my office, I cried, and you must pretend that I am not here for twenty minutes!
I see my time is nearly up.
I am about to get in the car and drive to another set of swim lessons.
I have a message from a publisher, waiting, regarding a book cover. I have a magazine pitch to work up on a story I’m really excited to dig into — on women in sports. I have an essay waiting to be finished. Not to mention the book-writing writing that is on-going, and that I try to make an every-day event, but which is suddenly — summer, this really is on you — a rare occasion, shoved into corners, typing away in a car at a soccer field behind a high school in Elora. You know? It isn’t ideal. I don’t think it’s conducive to top flight work, summer.
And what of the lounging with gin & tonics, summer? Can you slide that in somewhere, please? Could you give me an evening out with my husband to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary? Could you let me lie around and read a book?
I’m putting this all on you, summer, but I get it, I do. I’m the one setting the course, running the race, putting in the miles. While you while away. So maybe it’s not you; maybe it’s me. Whatever, as the kids say. What’s clear is this: one of us is killing the other.
completely unrelated photos of SPRING!
8:40 PM. Home from AppleApple’s first outdoor soccer game of the season. Kevin off to his soccer game.
Me, at dining-room table, eating a late supper, Business section of the Globe open before me (nothing else available, clearly).
Him, two bowls of bedtime-snack-cereal consumed and teeth brushed, arrives at my side.
Me, hugging him, while trying to finish eating: “It’s bedtime. Would you like me to read to you, or I could play the ukulele for you, or would you like AppleApple to read you some more Harry Potter?”
Him, no hesitation: “Harry Potter!”
Her: “I can read you a bedtime story, Mom.”
Me: “Okay. You can start while I’m loading the dishwasher.”
Her: “It’s about this dog and a boy, and the boy can read the dog’s mind.”
Her: Reading out loud, stumbling over words like “array” and “campaign.”
Me: “This book uses a big vocabulary.”
Her: “Can we read in my bed now? I’ve set it up for you.”
Me, awhile later, dishwasher running, pots washed: “Sure.”
Her: “Are you coming, Mom?”
Me: “I just have to … kiss your brother goodnight … tuck in your brother … get a sheet for your brother because his blanket is too hot … tell your sister to brush her teeth ….”
Her: Waiting in a little nest she’s made for us in her bunk.
Me, climbing up: “Do you want me to read to you for a little bit?”
Her: “You can finish the chapter!”
Me: Finishing chapter.
Her: “Now I’ll read.” Stumbling over words. Patiently continuing. Laughing with genuine delight when the dog eats the boy’s pillow.
Me: “Look at the clock, honey.” [9:30 on the dot.] “We have to stop here.”
Her: Bookmarking spot.
Me: “This book really has a lot of big words. But I don’t think it’s actually very well written.”
Her: “I finished all the Magic Treehouse books …”
Me: “And we’ve already read a lot of the really good ones, like Pippi Longstocking, Charlotte’s Web.”
Her: “I’m not going to read Because of Winn Dixie. We’re reading it at school.”
Me: “I’ll bet your sister could recommend some really good books for you to read. She’s read just about everything. Let’s ask her in the morning.”
Us: Goodnight kisses.
Me, back downstairs: “You are not allowed to start reading another Agatha Christie book right now!!!!”
Her, blank-eyed, glancing up at me: “Whaaa?”
Me: “Mark your page and put down the book, or I will take it away from you.”
Me: “You need to go to bed. You’re swimming in the morning!”
Her: Eyes gazing downward on page.
Me: Turning book over.
Her: Sad face (fake).
Us: Hugging goodnight.
Me: Folding laundry, nearly 10 PM.
Him, coming downstairs, plopping into nearby chair: “Mom, what if video games had been invented before books? Do you think that parents would be making their kids play video games instead of reading books?”
Him: “I mean, what makes books better than video games? At least in video games I get to choose what I want to do next. In books, the story stays exactly the same, no matter what.”
Me: Wondering if fundamentally I don’t get how the mind of a nearly-13-year-old boy operates.
Him: “Why is reading for entertainment better than playing a video game?”
Me, launching into it: “I think it’s because reading is creative. You have to see the characters in your mind. You have to make them up using symbols on a page. In a video game, it’s all there in front of you. You’re just viewing it.”
Him: “I mean, I like reading some books. But it seems like they’re less creative than video games because you can’t make any choices.”
Me: “Well, a book is a linear creation. But even a video game is limited by its own parameters. And in really good books, everything isn’t neat and tidy, and you have to figure out for yourself why characters do certain things, and you wonder afterwards what might happen next.”
Him: “I don’t do that.”
Me: “You don’t wonder why a character did something? Or wonder what might happen next?”
Me, climbing onto soapbox: “Also so many video games are extremely violent. You’re in a fantasy world where you can’t empathize with the people you’re killing. And you basically have eternal life.”
Him: “Exactly. It’s a fantasy. That’s what people who play video games want.”
Me: “Sure. I agree with you. Lots of people want the fantasy. Lots of people watch reality television too. It’s easy entertainment. I guess I just don’t really get it.”
Him, sadly: “I’m going to bed now.”
Me, feeling crummy, missing his company, hearing my ponderous long-winded lecture through his ears (have not transcribed entire ponderous long-winded lecture for the sake of brevity and face-saving)
Me, to self: “I’m the worst mother in the world.”
Self, to me: “No you’re not. Don’t get down on yourself. It’s not going to help.”
Me, awhile later, laundry folded, knocking on closed bedroom door, sitting on the end of his bed in the dark: “Maybe we can agree that we don’t quite understand each other’s preferred forms of entertainment. Maybe you can figure out how much time you think is reasonable to spend playing video games, and I’ll figure out how much time I think is reasonable to spend reading books. And then we can talk about other ways to be entertained too.”
Him, quite agreeably: “Ok.”
Ok. Okay? Ok.
After re-reading yesterday’s post, let me rebut myself, point by point.
How do you manage to travel, to run to appointments, to make presentations, and dress professionally, and be brushed and unwrinkled and fresh smelling?
You do your best. Sometimes you fake it. You nap when you can, and drink plenty of water. You remember to smile. You find a good deodorant. You carry floss. You gain a few key pieces in your wardrobe that are trustworthy. You apply makeup, if necessary. You give yourself a break.
How do you exercise and eat well and keep a sharp eye on your children’s needs, both physical and emotional?
You do your best. You don’t get down on yourself if you can’t run as fast as you used to. You go as hard as you can, in the moment. You exercise with friends. You pay attention. You listen. You show up.
How do you clean your house and yard and fold laundry and cook food from scratch, and lovingly tuck your children in at night, and read them bedtime stories?
Forget the house and yard. The dog hair matters less than you think. Do the laundry when you get a chance. Let your husband cook. Make your kids do some chores too. And then you’ll have time to read to them and tuck them into bed most nights. And when you’re not there, they can look after each other, because you’ve taught them well, so be glad about that—plus they relish the freedom of independence, so it’s good for everyone some of the time.
How do you go to the soccer practices and piano lessons and swim lessons and travel tournaments and meets?
You don’t go to them all, and that’s the long and the short of it. You represent as best you can. Sometimes you won’t be able to be there. Support them in other ways. Schedule rides, carpool, ask questions, cheer when you can. This isn’t the end of your world or theirs.
How do you teach classes and welcome students and read essays and comment and mentor and remain open and flexible and funny and never bitter?
You treat this as seasonal work. It isn’t year-round, because you’re not a full-time teacher. If you’re fortunate enough to be asked to teach, it means you’ve reached a stage in your career when you have something to offer. Remember the wonderful teachers who nurtured and inspired you. You’re getting the opportunity to give a bit of that back to others. And you learn a great deal by teaching.
Also, you don’t want to be bitter. So don’t be. Easy as that.
Journal. Run it off. Don’t say yes if you really mean no. This is your life. Don’t sleepwalk, don’t idly wish or wait for someone else to point the way. Take responsibility.
you braid your daughter’s hair
How do you host meals and go to parties and celebrate birthdays and be a good partner?
You drop some things in order to do others. You compromise. This is seasonal too, in a sense. You accept that you can’t go to everything, and so you prioritize. You spontaneously dash out to a movie on a weeknight with your husband. You decide not to play soccer this summer so you can save your head, and suddenly Sunday evenings open up.
How do you meditate and feed your spirit and do yoga and stay fit and healthy of body and of mind?
You do. Because if you don’t, you won’t be you. You get up early. You pray. You read. You practice breathing. It works.
How do you continue to make art that is worthy of being called art?
This you cannot answer. All you know is that there is mystery in making art, and it’s none of your business as the maker to judge it worthy or not worthy of being called art. What you do is this. You begin. You dream. You research. You prepare yourself in a million different ways. And when you’re ready to write, you’ll know, and you’ll make time and space for it (with help from your husband, who is the person who reminds you that you still know how to do this).
Also, you keep short-term goals present in your mind. You make lists. You check them off. It all adds up.
Change. When you make art on the driveway in winter, here is what happens to it over the course of several months.
I would like to speak today about the idea of being, at least in part, a public person. I wonder how others do it. How do you manage to travel, to run to appointments, to make presentations, and dress professionally, and be brushed and unwrinkled and fresh smelling? How do you exercise and eat well and keep a sharp eye on your children’s needs, both physical and emotional? How do you clean your house and yard and fold laundry and cook food from scratch, and lovingly tuck your children in at night, and read them bedtime stories? How do you go to the soccer practices and piano lessons and swim lessons and travel tournaments and meets? How do you teach classes and welcome students and read essays and comment and mentor and remain open and flexible and funny and never bitter? How do you host meals and go to parties and celebrate birthdays and be a good partner? How do you meditate and feed your spirit and do yoga and stay fit and healthy of body and of mind? How do you continue to make art that is worthy of being called art?
I know I set the bar high, and I know it’s me doing the setting of the bar. We all have our (tragic) flaws. Mine may be that I want to do it all, big and small.
I want art on the driveway. I want books in translation. I want to run fast. I want singing. I want fun. I want to braid hair and apply bandaids and hold hands and honour all the stories. I want deep still quiet reflection. I want to stir. I want to comfort. I want invention.
And I’m sitting here in my office with the dogs, slumped on my stool rather than walking on my treadmill, with eyes at half mast and emails unanswered, wondering how exactly to do all of this. Because I really don’t know.
advance reading copy, i.e. not for sale, still needs to be proofread, but looks awfully book-like
And then this arrives in the mail. Seeming to say: well, you’ve done something you wanted to do, woman. Now, enjoy it for a moment. So I sit on the radiator (because I’m cold because it’s still winter, this spring), and I read the first chapter out loud to myself (and the dogs).
this morning’s run
I’ve been thinking about readings. Maybe because I read at one last night here in Waterloo, representing Goose Lane Editions, on behalf of their new anthology, in which I’m pleased to have an essay: THE M WORD: CONVERSATIONS ABOUT MOTHERHOOD.
There is a bigger launch party tonight in Toronto for THE M WORD, but while my name is on the poster, I won’t be there. This is due to a calendar error. Plans were in place, carshare car rented, chalkboard schedule adjusted, and then, yesterday afternoon, I saw the listed time on the poster — 6PM. 6PM?! Two hours earlier than I’d thought. Oh no! I emailed the book’s editor, Kerry Clare, to double-check. Yes, the launch starts at 6PM (at Ben McNally Books, if you’d like to hear all those other wonderful writers read). So that meant with Kevin at the dentist and me doing swim lessons, I couldn’t magical think myself to my destination on time. I’m sending regrets, and they are enormously regretful, because I was planning on hugging a lot of writer friends tonight.
This will have to suffice.
I don’t know about you, but that felt unsatisfactory.
I’ve been thinking about readings, and how some people just seem to come into themselves more fully when on stage. It’s like they’re radiant. Like there’s no barrier between you and them. You could listen to them all night.
the Canadian ARC for Girl Runner exists! (I haven’t held it yet, but it’s on its way)
My fall calendar is filling up with readings: I’ve got invitations to festivals coming across my desk, and a book launch to plan (Sept. 6th is the official pub date for Girl Runner), and I’m so looking forward to the opportunity to speak and read, again. I really do like being on stage — more accurately, I appreciate it. Even though I felt rusty last night, after a few months off, it’s a remarkable place to get to be, standing behind a microphone, talking to people. Walking home along the dark cold streets, I thought myself a most fortunate woman, and most fortunate writer, to get to share what I’m doing in this way.
In other news, which is not exactly news, I’m a tired woman, a tired soul, right now. I am not sure how to remedy this (although I’m sure my mother would remind me to get more sleep, and if I were my mother I would be saying exactly the same thing).
The house is full of dog hair. Every flat surface is covered in piles of maddeningly random objects. The taxes are due. The laundry pile has stamina. The fridge is full of leftovers that need to be magically transformed into suppers-everyone-will-agree-to-eat. And I kind of feel like for sanity’s sake I need another uke night with friends, or a morning coffee get-together, or to invite friends over for dinner, but I can’t figure out how to host fun stuff when the house is full of dog hair and every flat surface is covered in piles of maddeningly random objects. You know?
so I get up and go, despite the snow
Monday: returned the copyedits to my editor in New York. Big day. That means the book is nearly done, and very little will change from here on in, but I need to take a deep breath when I say that because I’m a tinkerer and tweaker, and it always seems that just a little more effort and a little more time will make the book just a little bit better, so how can I let ever let it go? But I let it go.
Yesterday: felt at loose ends. I wondered, as I sat before the fire holding this computer: am I getting enough done today? I decided to tally it up, even while wondering what’s enough, exactly? I didn’t write the opening sentences to a brilliant new novel yesterday. I didn’t cross everything — or even more than three things — off of my massive to-do list. But I gained a few experience points here and there. (To explain: my brother Christian has an amusing habit of giving himself “experience points” for all of the little odds-and-ends of must-dos in his daily life; life as video game. Oddly satisfying to do, actually.)
Yesterday, tallied up
Up at 5:40 to meet Nina for a run. Floss, take vitamins. Run 8 km. Conversation. 3 friendship points.
Shower. Deodorize. Brush hair. 3 points for good hygiene.
Dress. Eat eggs on toast. Drink cranberry juice. Hug and kiss children and check backpacks. 3 points for smooth start to morning.
Take nap (half an hour). 2 points for renewal.
Drink water and surf Facebook. Waste half an hour. Lose 2 points. Also make arrangements via email re book club visit tomorrow evening. Gain back 1/2 point.
Blog about two books. Stop tallying points.
Call allergist and change Apple’s appointment to next week. Leave message at horse farm about camp this summer. Cross several items off to-do list. Points! Lose steam, fail to return other calls.
Transfer files from dying iMac to laptop. Gather all essays written in last number of years into single folder (think: non-fiction book???). Get distracted reading old poems. Win points, lose some.
Begin writing dedication and acknowledgements for GIRL RUNNER.
Eat leftovers for lunch. Read newspaper.
Try to fix iMac with help from brother Karl. Sit in front of fire. Email Hilary (agent). Finish writing dedication and acknowledgements, email file to Kevin for his opinion. Begin writing this list.
Greet Albus, home from school. Fail to think of acceptable snack.
Walk to meet CJ at bus. Also meet Fooey. Walk home with CJ and Fooey, chatting to both simultaneously about school day. Carry Fooey’s bag. Meet Apple walking home too.
Host playdate with CJ’s friend, steer them away from electronics. Help very grumpy Fooey make her own snack. Negotiate trade with Albus: read for half an hour = play Minecraft for half an hour.
Horse farm calls back, brief conversation about summer camp.
Chop potatoes, onions, garlic, parsnips and squash and make curried coconut soup for supper. Turn on radio. Turn off radio. Receive but do not reply to several work-related emails.
Make Apple eat snack and remind her to get ready for soccer practice. Text Kevin to pick up milk, bread on way home. Instruct Kevin on last-minute supper prep. Yell at Apple to get ready for soccer practice already! Lose points for losing cool; gain points because child now ready for soccer practice.
Drive Apple to soccer practice. Chat with other moms and watch soccer practice. Discuss practice with Apple on way home. Fill up truck with $100 worth of gas (!!!!!). Definitely lose green dream points.
Exchange parenting duties with Kevin, who leaves with Albus as soon as we arrive for their team’s soccer practice.
Eat (cold) supper with Apple. Plan CJ’s birthday party with Fooey and Calvin, add to guest list. Clean up supper, put away food, fill and start dishwasher. 10 points just because.
Supervise Fooey’s piano practice. 2 points.
Feed children snacks. Supervise tooth brushing. Read Farmer Boy in front of fire. Put CJ and Fooey to bed. Bonus snuggling points.
Fold laundry. Try to think of acceptable snack for Albus, now home; no acceptable snacks. Albus retreats upstairs unhappily. Lose a few points. Kevin leaves for hockey.
Eat grapefruit in front of fire, read first chapter in book that happens to be on coffee table nearby: IMAGINING LONDON, by Anna Quindlen. 1 point for self-comfort.
Convince Apple to brush teeth and take asthma meds before letting her finish her book in front of fire, whilst snuggling with dogs. Apple finishes book, briefly discuss, send to bed.
Albus back downstairs, still seeking snack. Helps crate dogs in basement. Cheers up. 3 points for mysteriously good mothering moment. Albus drinks chocolate milk and eats peeled orange. Brushes teeth. Goes to bed.
All children now hugged and in bed! A million points!
Surf Facebook lamely for forty minutes whilst castigating self for not being in bed. Read article on lost Malaysian plane, for example. “Like” photos and statuses of friends. Do not reply to work-related emails. Am reminded of the old days when I would slump in front of the TV and watch just because I was too tired to do anything else. Mildly depressing; maybe necessary? No points gained, but decide no points lost either.
Brush teeth, take probiotics and fish oil. Lock house. Turn out lights downstairs. Carry folded laundry in basket upstairs. Read LADY ORACLE by Margaret Atwood for approximately fifteen minutes. It’s not even 11pm! Turn out light. Goodnight.