New games room/study/parent-free zone.
I think my body needed a holiday. From Wednesday, March 11 until Sunday, March 22, I slept in every morning. And with the exception of a very fun welcome-back-to-health family soccer game on Friday afternoon, I did not exercise. This morning, I’m back to the usual schedule, up early, etc. I was happy to be back this morning, but also happy to have taken time off. (Although next time, I should just take a holiday and skip the getting sick part.)
Games room. Kevin even painted! No more stripes.
My energy returned with a roar over the past few days, and we did a massive spring cleaning, rearranged rooms, and opened up new space for the kids to make their own. We’ve got six people in a four-bedroom house. Not everyone can have his or her own room. Them’s the facts. We also don’t have the money or the desire to renovate in order to add more space. People have to share. If we weren’t living a life of ridiculous North American privilege, we wouldn’t even question the sharing of the rooms. You suspect that you’re hearing a version of my lecture to the kids right now, aren’t you. Why, yes, yes you are.
Boys’ room. This is as tidy as it’s ever gonna get.
The main problem is that three of the four kids strongly want(ed) their own room. The fourth kid was like a refugee being moved from fiefdom to fiefdom, grudgingly granted space to pitch his tent, but essentially unwanted. But we’re not a household of kingdoms or mini-nations, we’re more like a socialist democracy. Okay, without the elections. Basically, we have to share the resources in a way that benefits everyone, and privileges no one.
Girls’ room. With bed sheet divider.
So the dictator’s solution (yeah, that’s me), was to make everyone share, and free up one bedroom as a communal games area/study/parent-free zone. Although I’d really prefer if they didn’t eat chips in there. Unless they want to clean it themselves. In that case, eat all the chips you want, kids. I’m not an unreasonable dictator.
Yeah, so I had to get back to my regular schedule, lest in my renewed energetic state, I move us right across the country or something. I’ve got the spring itch for adventure and change. This morning, I heard myself saying (mostly to myself), “Hey, a year ago at this time I was getting ready to go to London. I miss London! How can I miss London when I was only there for a week? Maybe I should go there again this spring! What’s stopping me? Nothing’s stopping me! I’ll go spend a week at the British Library …”
“Why would you want to go to a library, Mom?” (Okay, CJ was listening.)
Anyway. What’s stopping me?
I’m not sure. Maybe it’ll be the early mornings.
[This is what I wrote in my “meditation journal” on Monday, March 16, which in Canada was the first official day of March break, when the kids get a week off school.]
photos in this post by AppleApple
It is the first official day of March break. The kids are doing an admirable job of entertaining themselves so far. AppleApple and I picked up dog poo in the backyard, two enormous bags’ worth. I know. Why even mention it? But it was my first act as my energy returned. The sun was shining, so that was nice. The melting poo was not nice, but the yard is a lot safer to walk in now.
My dad and stepmom are planning to take the kids on a maple syrup outing this afternoon. I’m trying to decide if I’m well enough to go along. I was hoping to do one fun activity each day of March break. I will put fun into air quotes. One “fun” activity each day!
Such as, movie at the Princess. Niko Niko’s for supper. The library. Yes, I include the library on my list of “fun” outings. Because I am nothing if not a “fun” Mom. Also because we have overdue books to return. Also because I love going to the library, although March break is not really all about me, is it.
“There were two little animals with horns on their heads, Mom!” CJ, age six, reporting
I should be doing work.
But I hardly slept last night, due to congestion in head and almost constant cough. I had to sleep half-sitting up. My throat was enormously sore when I woke at 1AM, though it seemed raw from the coughing, which was a different style of sore from the original soreness. Also, fever has gone. Energy is returning. So, good things are happening. For a few minutes this morning, I let myself lie flat in the bed, hoping I could rest better that way, but was soon sitting up with ears splitting. It felt like someone was pouring water into all of the cavities in my head, using a little spouted watering can to be sure to reach every crevice—which is probably a reasonable metaphor for what’s actually happening inside my head right now. The pressure is uncomfortable. The leaking from my nostrils is pathetic. My eyes stream. I cough.
I blow my nose.
I bore even myself.
Something is troubling me. I’m worried because I’m reading almost exclusively non-fiction right now. Why? Why read what I can’t write? Why do I want to express myself through fiction, and why is that what I’m better at?
I finished reading What I Think About When I Think About Running, and it’s so freaking simple that I wonder why the heck I couldn’t write a book like that? I liked it, very much, but I couldn’t understand why it had caught on.
There were two ideas in the book that I wanted to remember. I can’t remember either of them now.
Let me think.
“Aw, sweet brother picture!” “Actually, CJ was walking really slow, so Albus was pushing him along.” “Ah….”
The kids have been sitting around the table playing cards, but just now Fooey stormed off. She didn’t like that Albus was helping CJ to organize his cards. “You’re all a bunch of cheaters!” she yelled, and stomped upstairs. I tried to say soothing things from my position on the couch, but I have very little voice left. I was roundly ignored.
Now, from the upstairs come the persistent sounds of the Harry Potter theme song being played on the recorder.
The other three continue playing the card game.
I continue to type, with dog resting on my legs like she thinks I am a pillow.
The kids let drop on Saturday that Dad (i.e. Kevin) had been telling stories about “sick Carrie” while at my Dad’s for a pancake lunch, which I did not attend, in my contagious state. The kids were laughing about how I had given Kevin various instructions, in the middle of the night, for Important Signs that I Would Need To Go To the Hospital. “If I’m unconscious, don’t minimize it,” I told him. “If I can’t breathe, take me to the hospital. If I start to hallucinate, you have to promise to take me to the hospital.”
Apparently this was the cause of pleasant hilarity amongst Kevin and my wider family. I felt unreasonably hurt. Even though it was all true.
The kids have now all stopped playing cards and are being bored and annoyed around each other. CJ and Albus are still wearing pyjamas. CJ cries that he doesn’t want to change out of his pyjamas. I croak that he can wear his pyjamas to the sugar shack.
Now brothers are pushing each other while sort of playing with a soccer ball. I realize I have no voice available for effectively stopping children from harming one another, nor rallying them out the door.
I text Kevin.
Kevin texts back that he has found problem in most recent software changes, and needs to resolve them before coming home.
Okay, better take care of that.
Don’t worry, I’ll be here, ineffectually supervising children.
Dad calls to say he’ll be here at 2:30 to pick up kids. AppleApple talks because I no longer have working vocal cords. I want to call them vocal chords. But that’s not right, is it?
CJ gets dressed. Others do not. CJ relays Mom’s message to others to get dressed. Sound of doors slamming.
CJ comes down stairs. “Give me some ideas of what to do!”
“Read me a story,” I say.
He goes to get a story in French to read to me. Very cheerful.
I look up weather on Weather Network. It is 8 degrees, feels like 6. “That’s not cold!” says CJ.
“It’s not that warm either.” Thinking bush, thinking no sun, thinking I’m not sure how long this outing will be.
But I am not going. I can’t even talk. I used to lose my voice frequently when the kids were little. I wouldn’t even be particularly sick, but suddenly the voice would go, and be gone for several days. Very inconvenient. I was thinking in the night (night-time thinking = totally rational thinking, right?) that I get sick more often than other people I know. I wouldn’t be able to work a traditional job with an immune system like this. I have now been sick for seven straight days. I am in no state today to go into an office setting, or, say, do home visits with babies, or be a doula, or spend clinical hours with pregnant women. I simply couldn’t do it. I couldn’t teach yoga either, or even creative writing. I couldn’t conduct an interview. I couldn’t be on stage. Am I lacking in fortitude? How do other people do it? Or do they go to work sniffling and hacking and voiceless?
I even got my flu shot!
And yet I got the flu!
Kids are gone, all was oddly peaceful in the hour or so before they left, and now house is quiet, and they are going to see sugar shack, and I am free to cough rawly and blow my nose and leak mucus everywhere charmingly. Whatever am I going to do with this peace and quiet?
I know. I’ll look up the Kardashians. I’ve heard of them. But I have no idea who they are.
Well, that was one of the worst mistakes ever. I just didn’t know who they were. Now I do. And I wish I didn’t know so much.
I cleaned my office!
List of things to do today, on this Sunday, a month after Christmas…
wash bedding; bake bread; make chicken stock; vacuum; exercises; write
Write comes last, but it’s where I’ve begun (well, a second load of bedding is whirling in the washer as I type, but laundry is like that, must be attacked in a steady march throughout the day).
What we’re struggling with, on the parenting front…
motivating a child who does what’s asked, but no more: and I wonder, are some born without a strong internal self-motivational engine and how best to foster/plant the seeds of creativity and initiative? Are we the dreaded helicopter parents if we schedule this child’s life on his/her behalf, or are we neglectful if we allow her/him to drift, seemingly content not to discover or pursue any interests arising from within?
Do we all have interests arising from within? What is interest? Is it creativity, curiosity, the desire for knowledge and challenge? Is it also, perhaps, the desire for more, a positive form of anxiety, a positive channeling of our dissatisfaction with what we already have?
What we want for our children is universal: we want them to be content, but also to be productive, kind, thoughtful, engaged individuals. It’s that last bit we want most of all: to be engaged. Engagement means (to me) that sweet spot where the interests within an individual connect to the world without.
What is working, on the parenting front…
this four-part system of apology. It goes roughly like this. 1. I’m sorry for [insert specific wrong-doing]. 2. It was wrong because [insert specific harm caused to the other person]. 3. Next time I will [insert possible amendment(s) to future behaviour]. 4. Will you forgive me? [to which the wronged person replies “I forgive you.”]
It feels a bit odd and formal when introduced for the first time, but I must say there’s a real appeal to it in practice, and makes saying sorry both more meaningful and more satisfactory to all parties involved.
Good ways to spend some “free” time on the weekend …
playing Bach on the piano; walking to the library with a cranky child; helping coach small boys on the soccer field; lingering, being silly with family over a supper of hamburgers and caesar salad; legendary power nap on the couch by the fire; beer and conversation with Kevin
PS I actually wrote this list on our chalkboard wall this morning. So it really will happen. If it’s on the wall, it must happen.
Sorry about yesterday’s long, rambling, complicated, sort-of-poem post. Note to self: don’t mistake a stream of consciousness “poem” for a blog post. I was trying to be efficient, kill two birds with one stone. I’ve got this project underway to write a poem a day, but you can see from yesterday’s example what these poems look like — journal entries, perhaps, or meditations, completely unedited and unmodified. Poured out, you might say. Which is swell for a private project, but less awesome for a public forum such as this.
Today I’m going to be efficient by telling you far less. Not sure I’ll have time to write the poem, but if I do, I won’t inflict it on you. In truth, a poem a day is aspirational at best.
I’ve got big aspirations. I love this time of year. I love the snow, the cold, the bright days. I love my new-year appetite and enthusiasm for big aspirations.
I love napping on the couch with the dogs.
The nap is my sweet reward for another aspiration: exercise five mornings a week. Early mornings. Five in a row. Not sure yet if I can hack it, but I’m going to try. Monday: spin/weights with group of friends. Tuesday: run/walk/yoga with long-time exercise friend. Wednesday: swim with daughter (!!). Thursday: run/walk with newer fast exercise friend. Friday: spin/boot camp with a couple of friends.
I’ve made it through Wednesday, peeps. (Why am I calling you peeps? Sleep deprivation, perhaps?) Swimming with my former swim-girl was pretty much bliss this morning. We swam for an hour. We shared a lane. She did her thing, I did mine. And Kevin made us a big pan of scrambled eggs when we got home.
Kids are practicing instruments. Meals are being made. Physio exercises in the living-room! Soccer skills in the basement! Reading in front of the fire!
And I’m being efficient because I’ve got writing to do. If you don’t hear from me as often here, assume the best: I’m writing something else! (And it’s probably not a poem…)
PS Physio exercises and laundry folding have been elevated to new heights by a) a subscription to Netflix, and therefore b) ten seasons of Friends available to watch on-demand. It’s the small pleasures, it really is.
Yesterday our family celebrated the winter solstice. My made-up ritual went like this:
〉 bake brownies with Fooey
〉 tell everyone we would eat brownies as part of an after-supper solstice celebration
〉 then tell everyone they would have to recite a poem at said celebration
〉 light all available candles and arrange on dining-room table
〉 turn off all other lights
〉 gather (that took awhile)
〉 enjoy the scene
〉 recitation by CJ: presentation in French, which he wrote and performed at school, on his stuffed tiger
〉 reading by Fooey: a dramatic performance of excerpts from Geronimo Stilton
〉 recitation by AppleApple: a dramatic performance of “The raven himself is hoarse,” Lady Macbeth soliloquy
〉 reading by Albus: from Diary of a Wimpy Kid
〉 recitation by me: of “First Fig” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
〉 reading by Kevin: poem from Ken Babstock’s collection Mean
〉 (with occasional interruptions: moans from CJ, who is suffering a terrible toothache that comes and goes, and will be investigated further by a dentist this afternoon)
〉 the eating of the brownies (probably not helpful to the toothache…)
I know our solstice celebration was just hacked together, like a fort made of blankets or a book made of folded-up construction paper. But it was a really fun thing to do. (Fun = entertaining, creatively delightful, collective and personal.) Even though I love the winter solstice because it means the light is coming back, gathering in the early dark made me appreciate the early dark, too. It lowers around us and encloses us, safe inside our house, and, if all is well, it brings a stronger sense of warmth and togetherness. All is well. It’s never far from my mind how fortunate, how easily disrupted, “normal” is.
Today: kids enjoying first official day of no school. They are currently — all of them — barricaded in an upstairs bedroom, dressed in costumes, making a movie using our little digital camera based on a book everyone finds funny: “Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores.”
Which leaves me free to write this blog post, process photos, and start wrapping presents. Before dentist-time.
I’m nearly done marking, and find myself reflecting on how better to structure my course next year, should I be invited to teach again. I’m also thinking about how I might structure a higher-level creative writing course: what elements are missing from my current curriculum that perhaps belong in a separate course altogether?
My goal for next year would be to teach grammar in a creative way, because without the tools to build complex yet clear sentences, it is virtually impossible to construct complex stories. And all stories are complex when you break them down: there are so many elements that go into storytelling, many of which become instinctive when one has practiced writing for years and years, but which are actually very tricky to manage–slippery to manage, evasive, elusive, invisible, unrecognized, subtle, and unavoidable. Setting, plot and sub-plot, voice, character-building, relationships, dialogue, mood, verb tense, movement through time, descriptive language, meaning, thematic layers, back-story, interior and exterior action, emotion, perspective. Have I touched on everything? Probably not. Beginnings and endings. Deciding when to tell what you know. Eliminating that which is extraneous, even though you love it dearly. Editing. Rewriting. Not becoming attached to any part of what you’ve made, so that you can cut it out, if necessary. (Writing is not like parenting: writing requires a ruthlessness that I would never draw on, as a parent.)
And here’s the issue: to manage all of these things, or any of them, really, you must construct sentences that support what you’re trying to do. There is real technical skill underpinning excellent writing.
So I find myself dreaming up writing exercises that would seamlessly include practice in the craft as well as the art. I think it’s possible. It’s kind of exciting to dream this stuff up, actually.
This is not what our living-room looks like at present. This is my aspirational living-room.
On another note …
Things that go well, and things that do not, and things that mysteriously fit into both categories at the very same time:
– helping children practice instruments in the morning, before school
– walking dogs to meet kids after school
– being injured and unable to run and doing an hour of daily core-strength exercises instead
Snapshot 1: “Nope. I’m not going to practice this morning. I’ll practice later! After school!” “But that doesn’t seem to work. Later never comes.” “But I don’t want to do it now!” “But it’s always now. It will be now after school.” “Well I don’t want to do it right this second!” “It’s a privilege to get to play the violin. We can’t keep having this conversation.” “Ok! I will play! But you can’t comment!”
A few minutes later …
“Why are you so excited when CJ practices, but not with me?” “CJ lets me help him.” “But you can’t help me. You never played the violin.” “Your teacher can help with the bowing, but I can help with the notes.” “I don’t want to talk about it now…”
Snapshot 2: Kids running down the sidewalk after school, excited to see dogs. “Wow, you guys are fast today. You’re the first kids I’ve seen.” Small dog in pink sweater decides to stop and produce on someone’s front lawn. I remove mittens, pull plastic bag from coat pocket, stoop to clean up. What happens next happens all at the same time. Pack of schoolchildren appears. Dog slips collar and begins trotting toward street. Neighbour girl excitedly runs to pet dog who has slipped collar, and who is not the friendly dog! I toss mittens, grab for loose dog, try to hand other dog’s leash to daughter while not dropping half-filled plastic poo-bag, and warning (in what I hope are non-frantic tones) the neighbour girl away from the (undeniably cute) dog who is not friendly. Time skips in jagged leaps. Pack of schoolchildren passes, unharmed. I see myself kneeling on the quiet snowy sidewalk, half-filled poo-bag in one hand, skittish dog in the other, trying to figure out what’s gone wrong with the collar. “Mom, you almost threw your mittens in Suzi’s poo!” “What? There’s more poo?” “It’s right there.” “This is way too much drama for me!”
Snapshot 3: The remains of supper are on the table. I’m lying on a blue yoga mat between the couch and the bookshelf that doubles as a computer desk. Kevin is perched on a stool near my knees, replying to work emails on the computer. I’m doing repeats of bridge, which I kind of hate, kind of intensely. Fooey is kneeling on the couch, leaning over the back, observing me from above. AppleApple is moving around restlessly on the beanbag chair near my head, observing me from above. Dogs arrive on scene, enormously excited at the discovery of a human trapped at the licking and sitting-upon level. Imaginary announcement over imaginary PA system: “Could all family members please report to the yoga mat behind the couch? Calling all family members…” The pay-off will be running again. And, possibly, abs of steel, and glutes that could crack a Christmas walnut. Bad image. Time to stop writing.
* title is tongue-in-cheek; but you got that, right?