I’m writing this post in bed, because it’s bedtime, and because I can, thanks to my precious and much-appreciated laptop. On a day when I spent five hours driving children around to their various activities, waiting outside of their various activities, and folding laundry during the down-time, I just feel like writing before bed, please. (I also spent at least an hour this afternoon watching Canada play Latvia in an Olympic hockey game, while live-texting results to my brother, who was in a meeting, so I really shouldn’t complain about time wasted.)
I want to tell you about the worst hour in recent memory, which happened yesterday evening, just upon arriving home from AppleApple’s soccer practice. I’d made advance plans to meet my siblings for a drink, basically as soon as I’d arrived home from AA’s soccer practice, and I was really looking forward to sharing a pitcher and catching up, as some of us haven’t seen each other since Christmas, and also because the day had started rather on the wrong foot when a dog made a deposit in the front hall, which I stepped in without realizing, and then tracked around the house in the dark, while up at 5AM to take AA to swim practice. Which meant that when the deposit was discovered, in the light of day, to have been tracked all around, I was on my hands and knees cleaning it up before breakfast, which put me in rather an unpleasant mood.
Suffice it to say, I was looking forward to that pitcher of beer with my sibs.
We pulled into the driveway. Kevin appeared rather mysteriously from the back yard, looking a bit perturbed. “What are you up to?” I asked, still, in my imagination, about to depart.
“DJ seems to have escaped,” he said.
“And DJ’s so dumb!” Fooey said worriedly. “She won’t know what to do!”
Well. The panic began. Children circled the house, calling for DJ. I thought I heard her collar jingling. We searched the snow forts in the back yard, the garage, all the rooms of the house. It seemed apparent that she had indeed escaped, likely through the back gate which had been difficult to close with all this snow. The pitcher of beer began to fade, along with the plate of nachos I’d conjured up to accompany it. I decided to eat a leftover baked potato while Kevin drove off to widen the search. AA and Fooey ran around outside awhile longer, then they both came in and AA announced that she was putting on pants. She was still in her soccer kit. Pants sounded like a good idea. She popped in again not long after to say she was going “that way.”
Kevin drove up, no dog.
“Where’s AA?” he asked.
I thought she was in the front yard, or maybe around the corner. But no. Apparently, she’d gone further afield. And that’s when the real panic began. Kevin headed out in the truck, again, this time to look for our lost daughter. She is 11, I reminded myself.
“But she has a terrible sense of direction!” Fooey reminded me.
I gave her twenty minutes, and then I called the police. Perhaps an over-reaction, but it was dark and growing late, and cold, and my kid had left the house in soccer cleats, in an emotional state, and she hadn’t come back. I was kind of losing my mind, actually. Meanwhile, a couple of my sibs turned up and offered to drive around looking for AA, too, even though the snow banks were so high that no one driving by could spot either a child or a dog on the sidewalk anyway. My sister confided later that she thought, “We’re going to be driving around looking for AA, and we’re going run over DJ.”
Kevin’s texts had ceased.
The kindly dispatcher did not berate me for permitting my 11-year-old to search by herself for our lost dog in the snow after dark while wearing soccer cleats. Or that I couldn’t manage a detailed description of her coat. Or I didn’t know the colour of my lost daughter’s pants!
The back door whammed open. There was AppleApple, in tears because she hadn’t found DJ. I let the dispatcher know that the search was off (sorry, DJ).
“I couldn’t find DJ!”
“It’s not DJ we’ve been looking for–it’s you!” I told her, to her complete astonishment. She’d been so focused on searching (and of course she knew that she was perfectly fine) that she had no idea she’d been gone for a good half an hour.
Meanwhile, Kevin was slow to return. Turns out, he’d gotten into a small car accident on a side street. Yeah, it was that kind of an hour.
But the thing is, all’s well that ends well. AppleApple came home, safe and sound. The truck suffered a minor paint scrape that’s purely cosmetic. And not long after, a woman called to let us know she’d found DJ. In fact, she’d picked up DJ not far our house, probably within minutes of DJ’s original escape. DJ, who is not known for her arresting intellect, was crossing the street. (“And she’s colour blind, so she can’t even see when the stop lights are green or red!” Fooey noted.) Kevin and the girls went to pick her up, halfway across the city. DJ responded with typical DJ-ness to the arrival of her relieved entourage: she was largely indifferent, but agreeable to riding home in the car (she loves riding in cars). It appeared that she’d been nicely brushed during the interlude.
But I heard all about this later because I’d left with my siblings for that pitcher of beer. Which at that point seemed hardly sufficient, although it had to do. I was too tired for genuine debauchery. And my brother Cliff is the father of a four-month-old who rises at 5:30AM, so he was too tired, too. And my brother Christian had to leave as soon as we arrived for a soccer game. So it wasn’t quite what it was going to be, in my imagination, and I didn’t bother with the nachos. But it was still a good ending as far as I’m concerned.
Tuesday morning, 9:30AM
Well that was short-lived. I am very definitely, completely, assuredly, hopelessly not alone in the house this morning. The day Albus has been praying for has arrived: Snow Day! School’s cancelled. Although I think it should more accurately be called Really Cold Day, because that seems to be why they cancelled it.
And it is really cold. I can’t deny it.
Behind me comes the persistent wail of the five-year-old: Mom, no one will play with me! Mom, no one will play with me! Mom, no one will play with me!
His sister suggests: If you had an imaginary friend, you’d always have someone to play with.
But imaginary friends can’t win!
Yes, says his sister, it can be arranged that imaginary friends can win. You just have to know how to do it.
Random parenting tip: I find that if you answer in soothingly vague understanding tones, yet don’t follow up with any action, children will go off and find something to do. Case in point: five-year-old has retired to exploding little go-go figures in the living-room. Happily.
Does our living room look really empty? It is. It’s the perfect play area for indoor soccer matches and floor puzzles and exploding go-go guys that you’ve arranged across the barren floor. It’s ugly as all get-out, of course, but that doesn’t diminish its value as a play area.
Kevin and I are currently brainstorming. This is sometimes a good thing and sometimes not. For example, we do have two dogs (unrepentant early morning whiners and poopers on porches in cold weather) due to impulsive brainstorming. But we all know how hard it is to change one’s habits. And Kevin and I maintain a perverse fondness for impulsively brainstormed decisions. Right now what we’re impulsively brainstorming is getting a gas fireplace. Maybe where the sofa is (see above). We can only do this if we don’t get a new stove and range hood. But, we brainstorm impulsively, maybe the stove will prove fixable. (This has not been adequately determined, nor do we know how much it will cost, to keep fixing a stove that has frequently gone on the fritz ever since its costly purchase six years ago. It’s like that car you keep repairing because you own it and you’ve committed so much to it already. “Throwing good money after bad.” That’s the phrase. But then again, there must be a handy counter-phrase, such as “Waste not, want not,” and “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”)
I’ve lost my train of thought. So have you. This is my brain on Snow Day.
I am currently reading Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, an entertaining guide to punctuation, which I fully intend to inflict on future creative writing students, should I ever teach again. Yesterday I haggled over a comma. Today, I’m writing dreadfully long parenthetical asides while my children lie about the house. Tomorrow they will be back in school. Won’t they? Are swim lessons cancelled, too? And soccer practice? Is the entire day a clean slate? If I hide out in my office drinking coffee will they notice? Can I keep them from the siren’s call of ‘lectronics, as my youngest puts it? Should a question mark have been placed at the end of that last sentence?
It’s beautiful out there. And frozen. I’m leaving the office to go for groceries now, actually, because we’re low on everything and this is the kind of weather that screams: STOCK UP OR PERISH!
Although apparently we can expect a light rain by Saturday. (Really, weather?) Sometimes I suspect we’re just lobsters in a pot, happily swimming around without a clue to our fates. Except it’s worse than that. That analogy only works if the lobsters have filled the pot, lit the gas flame, and jumped in voluntarily, while their leaders systematically burn and bury all the scientific evidence that jumping into pots on stoves is certain to cause cooking in lobsters. And strains in analogies. Perhaps I’ve taken this too far.
It’s 2014. I wonder why I thought it would be different from 2013.
the leaves have all since fallen off this tree
I’m distracted. It appears to be Wednesday already, which means I’ve got course prep to finalize, and photocopying to do, which means also that I get to visit the mailroom at the English department and check my mailbox. My mailbox never has anything in it, and yet it gives me such pleasure to check.
my mailbox, in its natural state
I was musing about this little slice of happiness while driving AppleApple to swimming last week, and she said maybe it makes me feel part of something bigger, to have a mailbox at the English department. I think she’s on to something. It’s not that I don’t love my home office (I do!), but I work very much alone (not counting the two dogs), very much on projects of my own devising (which I love, don’t get me wrong). This brings me great satisfaction, but not a sense of connection with a larger community. It’s desert island work, in a way. I’m tapping away under my palm tree, shoving notes into bottles and heaving them out to sea. Every once in awhile (or quite often, lately) a bottle returns with a note that says, I love your note! Or something to that effect, if we’re following this metaphor to its conclusion, which we really must, having committed ourselves thus far.
there she goes, Girl Runner
I’m trying to parse the oddness of what I’ve been feeling as Girl Runner sells abroad. I receive a phone call, or an email, that seems out of the blue: Carrie, we’ve had offers from X,Y, and Z, and we recommend accepting Z’s. And I reply, Sounds good to me! And then I go back to my office and try to maintain good posture whilst working on revisions, staring at the words on the page, and wondering at the power these very words seem to have, and how that power, which might almost be magic, seems utterly separate from me. It’s as if Aganetha Smart (that’s her name, my Girl Runner) is off on adventures all her own, while I’m here in my ordinary office waving goodbye, and admiring her efforts, but quite distanced from them.
I just got a phone call. Spain, people, and all of Latin America. If you visit the publisher’s web site, you’ll see they distribute through Central and South America, as well as to the US Spanish-speaking market. It gives me particular joy to see “Nicaragua” listed among the countries. So, you see, there she goes, Aganetha, off on another adventure.
Suzi, hard at work
Meanwhile, my two colleagues, Suzi and DJ, sigh in their dog beds under my desk, and relax into the afternoon. The other evening, AppleApple and I got a kick out of imagining the conversations I might have with my home office colleagues, Suzi and DJ, as they “get the job done.” Suzi: “Rearranged the blanket on the couch with my paws. Totally got ‘er done.” DJ: “Snored so loud I woke myself up. Knocked that one out of the park.” Suzi: “Shortest bathroom break ever. Did you hear me scratching at the door? Genius.” DJ: “That’s nothing. I’ve been eating something unidentifiable under the porch for the last hour. Rocked it.” (Not sure why the dogs like to brag about their efforts around their water bowls, but that’s what we heard.)
Moving on. Work, Carrie, work! Focus! C’mon. Get it done.
ALBUS Started yesterday. Grade seven. Junior high. New school, starts earlier, ends earlier. Walking with friends. Returned home excited, likes the idea of moving around from classroom to classroom, subject to subject, having a variety of teachers. Likes his locker’s colour and location. Did not jump on my idea of decorating it. His main worry: that he might be late for class and get detention due to being unable to open his lock. Not reassured by parents telling him this is not, generally speaking, a leading reason students get detention. Practiced piano as soon as he got home. Had no homework.
APPLE-APPLE Started yesterday. Grade six. Same school as last year, same classroom, same teacher, same classmates her age. There are new grade five classmates added to the mix, so that’s the only real difference. One of the new students is a soccer-loving girl! So that’s different too. They played soccer together during recess, and today she took her own ball to school, as the school’s ball is flat. Did her homework as soon as she got home. Also, I brushed her hair in the morning while she was practicing piano. She didn’t object in the least. (But I didn’t have time to brush it again this morning.)
FOOEY Started yesterday. Grade three. Same school, same wake time (7:25!), same exit time. Walking with friends and brother. Returned home satisfied with first day, reporting that she’s in her former kindergarten classroom (there is a new wing of brand-new classrooms for the all-day, every-day kindergartners). Went directly to a friend’s house after school to play. I did not, therefore, get a full and immediate report. But she did play the piano after supper: she didn’t want to practice, just noodle on a particular song that we could play together. That was nice. (And I just had to show her carefully chosen outfit in full!)
CJ Look at this guy! He started this morning. Senior kindergarten. Will get to school using a combination of bus and walking. Gave me lots of hugs and kisses and waves as we waited outside the new kindergarten wing. There were six kindergarten classes going in, a huge crowd. His best friend is with him. He said he was excited. I came home and cried my eyes out. Can I admit that?
Now, here are some out-takes from this morning’s shoot.
I am making them hold hands. Ha!
We’re holding hands, we’re smiling. Are we done yet?
Seriously, Mom. Are we done?
Wait! How did that one look? Let me see, let me see!
And the school year begins again. And here I sit alone (save for my doggie companions, who think this office actually belongs to them), in quiet, if not at peace. Too much happening, too much to prep for, too much I can’t prep for, can only plunge into. The good news is, I’ve been able to get up early-ish to run these past two mornings, and my head doesn’t hurt. The bad news is, even during these happy running moments my mind is turning over and over in restless sifting of must-dos and worries. I think of running as a curative for my restless mind, but sometimes the mind doesn’t want its rest, or refuses to take it. I’m not fighting it because there must some purpose to it, some need it is meeting. I’m not fighting it because life has its rhythm of cycles, of tides, of pull, and rest will come again, I know.
ALBUS Grade seven, new school, French immersion, with lots of clubs and teams to join (looking forward to seeing what he’ll gravitate toward). Rep soccer: tryouts for next season start Sept. 21, with a commitment of 1-2 practices a week, plus skills (Kevin likely to coach). Piano: weekly lessons plus practice time. Passed Rookie Patrol this summer, so he’s free from swim lessons til next summer (that was our deal).
APPLE-APPLE Grade six, enrichment program (lots of homework). Rep soccer: tryouts for next season start Sept. 21, with a commitment of 2-3 practices a week, plus skills, plus games. Swim team: six practices a week, including at 5:30 AM, Tuesdays and Thursdays, plus monthly meets (good thing I’m already comfortable rising early; too bad she’s not!). Piano: weekly lessons plus practice time. Horse riding lessons: what she wants to spend her summer babysitting money on, if she can find the time to squeeze one more thing in!
FOOEY Grade three, French immersion. Will walk to and from school, and be in charge of her brother one way. Beginner gymnastics (her choice). Weekly piano lessons plus practice time (my choice). Swim lessons (maybe). Indoor house league soccer (probably, especially if Kevin coaches). Oodles of time with friends (my prediction).
CJ Senior kindergarten: full days, every day. Plans to walk to school with Fooey and ride the bus home. Early childhood music, weekly. Swim lessons (probably). Indoor soccer (definitely, and Kevin will coach).
COACH KEVIN Soccer, soccer, soccer, and more soccer. Well, what did you expect? Plus work, all day, every day, with occasional weekend training sessions. Oh, and late-night hockey (almost forgot about that!). Making school lunches (bless him) and breakfast smoothies.
CARRIE Teaching Thursday evenings, 6-9. Writing daily, 9-3ish. Early morning exercise: weights, spin, running, swimming, yoga. Napping (often). Cooking supper (in harried fashion). Laundry. Driving children to activities and making carpool and carshare arrangements. Preparing weekly schedules to maintain all-family sanity. Readings (here and there). Indoor soccer (maybe). Poetry book club, monthly.
SUZI AND DJ Walks (twice daily). Naps (in office). Food (twice daily, plus treats).
ALL FAMILY (Couldn’t find a photo that included me, too.) Family skating/hockey, weekly, organized by Kevin. Bedtime reading (chapter books, out loud), as often as possible. Also considering: church (occasionally), supper invitations to friends and family (must make time for this!), and planning a trip together.
on the Cataraqui trail
A legitimate concern about blogging, one I take seriously, is whether or not it turns a person into a curator of her own life rather than a participant. I have no answer for this, just instinctive response: if it feels off or forced, don’t do it. Maybe that’s why I’ve been taking less photos this summer, and also leaving my phone at home sometimes, shutting off, disconnecting.
But then I look back over this blog’s history and feel so appreciative of the scrapbook-like nature of its collection of years. Obscure CanLit Mama is almost exactly five years old. I was truly Obscure on the CanLit scene when I began blogging, and I’m only slightly less Obscure now, though much appreciative of the path forged. I wonder what the opposite of Obscure would be? Secure? Established? I’m uncomfortable with the thought of attaching those words to myself. My identity is tied up with being on the margins; but maybe that’s short-sighted and snobbish and needlessly, well, obscure.
My fears: One never wants to get too big for one’s britches. Pride goeth before a fall. Be careful what you wish for.
This is not the post I set out to write. It’s been almost two weeks since I had a chance to settle into my novel revisions, and I’ve missed it like homesickness. I’ve missed it like friendship, like comfort, like a good night’s sleep. Sitting at my desk and writing all day has become essential to my well-being, seems like. Maybe it always was, like running, and I didn’t know it. But I know it. Honestly, I could hug these words for being here right now, for letting me sit amongst them, for letting me think things through via some magical collaboration of mind and hands and eyes. Tap-tap-tap on the keyboard.
This is the post I set out to write.
The one about being a curator of my own life. Still, I would argue that I’m infinitely more participant than curator, that I’m only marginally curator, and that curation is a bit of a calling for me, being reflective by nature, wanting to gather and observe and make orderly. This blog represents only the smallest slice of experience. It’s my hand wrapped around a moment and then opening to let it go.
Here is yesterday:
We’d planned to do back-to-school shopping with my mother-in-law, who loves to shop. Instead, AppleApple sought me out (I was doing laundry in the basement) holding her arm at an odd angle, teary-eyed, to say she’d landed “funny” on the trampoline.
So, instead of shopping, I left my sister- and mother-in-law home with the other kids (Kev was golfing with his brother, lucky man), and we went to emerg. Many hours and several detailed x-rays later it was determined to be a bad sprain and not a fracture, which opened her summer back up again. We’d been sitting there together, bored, chatting, waiting, unable to stop ourselves from imagining the possible cast and all it would affect: camp, cottage, swim team, soccer team, piano. This was definitely a best-case scenario result.
DJ at DQ
We were home in time for supper. Kev and Albus were off to another soccer game, so after supper, the rest of us decided to walk the dogs to Dairy Queen. Spontaneity, family, scooter, stroller, bike, dogs, baby, sling, and a beautiful cool evening. Oh, and sweet treats for all. Pretty much vacation perfection. We took the long way home.
Then it was bathtime. Kev and Albus came home with another tied game under their belts, against the same team they played twice on the weekend — every game weirdly identical, with our boys going down by two goals, and coming back to tie it up in the second half. This third game, and the bizarrely harmonious result, lightened the mood between the two teams, which had been tense over the weekend.
I read from Little Town on the Prairie, with everyone listening. Little kids tucked and lights out.
Kevin is the blur in red and white
And then more spontaneity: the big kids and I went to watch Kev play soccer. My brother also plays keeper on the same team. It happened that a friend was there to watch her husband play, too, so we sat together under the lights on a picnic table and cheered, and made silly commentary, and generally had a blast, despite the mosquitos. Apparently the four of us made a bigger fan club than the team has had in ages, and our shouts were appreciated. We even made friends with a linesman who loaned us his bug spray. The game ended 0-0. We didn’t see the Perseids for the lights, but there was something about it all that brought me great comfort and joy. Being alive … how many moments do we get like this? As many as we want? As many as we leap into?
the trees behind the field looked like a painting (that’s my bro in net)
So I took out my phone and stole a few photos. Maybe it’s curation rather than participation, but I want to remember. I want to remind myself, when I’m busy and harried and it’s not summer anymore, that the best times are easy to come by, in a way. They’re there for the taking. You sit with your kids and shoot the shit. It’s so basic.
And then you come home and enjoy a beer with your sister-in-law and talk about things that want talking about, and you sleep, and you wake, and you work, and you pray, and you write it all out, if that’s what you’re made for.
running through beauty, in it and of it