Category: Family

What our family does with its spare time

If you read all the way to the end of this post, I will show you what our family does with its spare time. (You’re skipping down already, aren’t you?) Well come back up for some writing-related news.

1. I have an essay in this moving anthology on pregnancy, parenthood and loss. This is just a teasing preview, as it won’t be published until the fall, but I wanted to share the news. I will let you know all about launch party plans when the time comes.

This publication will mark my entry into non-fiction and memoir, which is a departure for me, but may be the start of a new direction.

More to come.

2. You may not know that I’ll be coming to Hamilton, wearing my writer hat. I’m reading at GritLit, Hamilton’s literary festival. My event is on Sunday, April 7, at 1pm, with Cary Fagan and Miranda Hill. “Great Things Come in Short Packages.” I’m 99% positive that the organizers aren’t referring to height. Details in the link above.

That catches us up, and makes me feel like a nice professional blogger again.

And now for the reveal.

Here’s what our family does with its spare time: we spontaneously and collectively brainstorm a parody advertisement, and then we make it into a video. And then I post it here. The original idea bubbled up as we told the kids (one in particular), that if her dream is going to Disney, she will have to tag along with a friend because, well, let’s just say it’s not Kevin’s dream, nor is it mine. Point being: some dreams don’t come true. But the idea amused us. As a family, we watch very little television together, and stream what we watch online, and lately there’s been a rash of Disney ads, so we found ourselves riffing on the theme. AppleApple wrote the script. I recorded the voiceover. Kevin did all the video editing (he’s good!). And now we offer it to you, and hope you find it even a fraction as hiliarious as we do. With humour, it’s hard to know. (Note to friends going to Disney: this is not an attempt at subliminal messaging.)

Ten minutes of blogging bliss

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Can I do it?

All day I’ve been pouring my energies into an alternative non-fiction project, which I shall have to title sooner or later. I’m currently calling it: The Woman Formerly Known As …

Having been so very very good, I’m rewarding myself with ten minutes to blog. Because in ten minutes I will have to leave the house to pick up the kid who rides the bus. Can I offer a small weather-related complaint as an aside? Why is it so cold? Why does the air blow so arctically when spring is, surely, just around the corner? Why is there no sunshine? Why must yet another winter storm approach on the horizon? Why won’t it stop being grey?

That was more than one complaint.

Mildly interesting unrelated tidbit: We’ve had a month of breakdowns. First, the truck (remember that?): transmission. I won’t quote you the fixin’ price, but it hurt. Next, the oven! I had to borrow my dad’s oven a couple of Sundays ago in order to bake bread. Thankfully that was fixed within a week, and for a somewhat smaller fee than the transmission. And now, the boiler that heats our entire house and provides all hot water. On Saturday, suddenly everyone was wandering around shivering and wrapping themselves in blankets and draping themselves with dogs, when I thought to check the thermostat. Falling swiftly. I am thankful to say that has also, now, been fixed.

But seriously.

What else? I’m afraid to ask. I’m afraid it’s some kind of obvious metaphor that I’d rather not apply to my life right now.

I’ve nothing more to add. And look: it’s only been thirteen minutes! Which is admittedly a couple minutes more than ten. I’m going to pop in a photo and press publish, and presto, it’s school bus time.

Expectations: Meet Reality

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Yesterday afternoon, I spent some time helping two little guys launch a squeaking balloon down the staircase, with the happy effect that it squealed overhead and repeatedly smacked its little balloon head against the wall or ceiling before deflating and twisting earthward.

It would be pleasant to turn this into a metaphor, but I’m struggling.

There, no metaphor needed. I’m struggling. That’s it, plain and simple. I hesitate to spit it into word form, especially on a public forum, but there it is. A blog is a troublesome creation: it’s very much in the moment, and therefore can magnify the smallest ups and downs in a person’s life, and this here is a down. Right now I’m happy when I’m running, and that’s about it. But get that right now really is right now.

Suffice it to say that I’m tired after a second night up with a sick child. I’m irritable after another day home with my children, who are on holiday, but who can’t leave the house or have play dates due to the aforementioned sickness. It occurred to me today that the only thing a person can really accomplish while home with four children is cooking and housework — plus the vacuuming covered the noise of the periodic tantrums and steady stream of complaints. So the house is pretty clean. Which is something. But it’s not enough.

I would like to reflect on my impatient response to International Women’s Day, a day I usually respond to with honour and interest, solemnity, even pride. But this year, on this International Women’s day, all that welled in me was intense frustration. And I think my response is the key to unlocking exactly where I’m at right now, and why I’m struggling.

My expectations do not seem to be in line with reality.

I expect that girls and women will be treated as individuals, with the same opportunities as boys and men to pursue lives that are interesting and fulfilling. Every time I read another story about a horror perpetrated on a woman — because she’s a woman — my response is THIS CANNOT BE! Every time I read another statistic coldly demonstrating women’s under-representation in, well, you-name-it, most anything that has to do with power or cultural critique or leadership my response is HOW CAN THIS STILL BE? Every time I read some trumped up story on “The Mommy Wars,” or “Stay-at-Home Mothers v. Working Mothers,” or even hear myself referred to as “a full-time mother,” (what, exactly, is a part-time mother?), I want to shrug it off as mere noise, but instead I feel something akin to disbelief: WHY?

A few more WHYs.

WHY would any family rationally choose to have more than one or two children, understanding that childcare, particularly during the early years, will either cost one parent his or her career, or two working parents the better part of a decent salary? Let’s ask the politicians who a) have no interest in funding childcare and b) want Canadian families to produce more children FOR THE ECONOMY. (Surprise! They tend to be the same ones.)

WHY is Canada’s major news magazine running a photo, this week, of a woman shaving her face under the headline “Man Up,” suggesting that women should be more like men if they want to succeed in the workplace? WHY are we always being told to be someone we’re not? Which reminds me: WHY is success in the workplace our main measure of success? Further to that, WHY are good and moral choices so often couched in economic terms, as if that’s the only language that matters, the only real currency? I heard a news report, happened to be on International Women’s Day, in which an economist (who was a woman) explained that educating girls and women is a sure-fire way to increase the economic well-being of communities and nations. So let’s do it, people. Let’s do it FOR THE ECONOMY.

Dogs sledding

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Just what it sounds like. We took the dogs sledding!

It’s “Family Day” holiday here in Ontario, so we’re hanging around doing things together as a family, as dictated by our children. I’ve actually spent most of the day in the kitchen, making a ridiculous list of homemade items, which I shall share with you now, so as to make me feel like I’ve accomplished something. Okay, I’m a little bit grumpy. I just spent most of the day in the kitchen!

Four loaves of bread. Yogurt. Turnip & beet pickles. Pulled barbequed beef in the crockpot. Homemade buns on which to serve pulled bbqued beef.

I guess that’s all. These holidays always throw me off. Truth is, I feel like I’m holiday when the kids are at school and I’m getting to write all day! So I’m looking forward to tomorrow.

Measuring the weight of a day

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celebrating a birthday

Sometimes it’s best to measure a day’s success by values other than productivity. Sometimes, rather than thinking about what I’ve accomplished, I notice: I’ve connected with friends and family today.

I appreciate that on most mornings, when I get up early, I’m meeting a friend. A surprising amount of ground can get covered during this sleepy, short time together.

I appreciate the drives to and from swimming and soccer and piano. I especially love finding myself one-on-one with a child. We don’t have to talk about anything big or exciting. We’re just happy to be together. There’s a sense of purpose as we head toward our destination, but there’s no sense of hurry.

I appreciate saying yes to crazy projects/events with friends. Yesterday morning, I was running through a snow-covered farmer’s field with a friend. Yesterday evening, I was eating smores beside a campfire under a dark and starry sky. In between, I had lunch with a friend, ferried children to piano lessons, ran fast at an indoor track, hung laundry, washed dishes. I also got zero new writing done. How to measure yesterday’s weight and meaning and worth?

On Tuesday night, instead of reading in bed, I stayed up to listen to my eleven-year-old enthuse about a school project (who knew he could be enthusiastic about school?).

Sometimes I text a friend (or my sister) whom I miss, but don’t have time to meet face-to-face. These disjointed abbreviated back-and-forths feel oddly conversational, like we’ve been with each other during that time.

I am often rushing from task to task, moment to moment, place to place. But in between, sometimes even amidst the rushing, I recognize that I feel quiet, stilled, present, at ease. I feel connected, strongly, to the ones I love. I feel solidly, persistently myself.

I’m not necessarily being productive by worldly measures. I’m not making anything. I’m not earning anything. I’m not going anywhere. I have nothing visible to show for my day’s labours. So it might be asked, why bother throwing yourself in deep, whole-heartedly, if there is no apparent goal being forwarded or accomplished?

Ah, but you know exactly why, I’m sure: because. Just because. This is life.

Dark days

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I took a holiday from electronics over the weekend. The word “electronics,” aka ‘lectronics, is heard often in our house, and is often a source of conflict, as I, responsible mother, repeatedly refuse my children time on their ‘lectronic devices.

Yesterday, driving home from a soccer game, the whole family in the car, the youngest in tears because we weren’t watching a movie or letting him play on his brother’s Playbook — during the relatively short car ride — I had one of my ranting moments, this with the theme “Addicted to Electronics.” It’s kind of like a Ted talk, only unedited, and interactive.

“But what about all the time you spend on Facebook, and doing your blog, and writing?” my eldest pointed out. “What about email? And you have your Blackberry that you’re always checking.”

So we drew some lines. Games and Facebook are kind of the same thing: entertainment. Email/texts are, for me, and for better or for worse, like the telephone; they connect me to friends and family. Writing and blogging can be useful and creative. “If you want to write a story on the computer, I will make sure you have a computer to use,” I said. “But an hour of wii-time on Saturday and Sunday seems like enough.”

I don’t want to ban ‘lectronics from our lives. I want us to use them in ways that are positive, that don’t cause conflict, and that don’t prevent us from exercising our brains and collective selves in non-‘lectronic creative ways.

This is what passes for family meetings these days. I actually think it was a fairly effective conversation, by the end. I had my rant, the kids got to counter with their arguments, and we all finally agreed that Facebook and computer games needed to be limited, but that there are occasions when ‘lectronics are useful tools.

*

I’ve spent the weekend in a kind of hibernation. I’m sick, but functioning, up all night coughing, slogging through during the day. “How can I feel so yucky, and still rock a 10 kilometre run?” I asked Kevin on Friday night. I took two extra-strength Tylenol and ran for fifty minutes at soccer yesterday — our team had no subs. I felt terrific during the game; chilled and feverish afterward. I’m a believer that exercise is curative. But I still feel sick.

I don’t think my electronic hibernation this weekend was about feeling sick, though. I think it was about the latest shooting in the United States. I didn’t hear about it until late Friday afternoon. I’d spent all day setting up my new book in Scrivener, cut off from the world, marvelling at this brand-new-insanely-useful tool, feeling like I could have happily chained myself to my desk for the next three months and just lived in my imaginary world. Which isn’t practical. So at around 4pm, I turned it off to get ready for our complicated Friday evening ritual, which involves a carshare car, a picnic, soccer equipment, and me in running gear.

But first I checked Facebook.

And then I saw the news. And then the news was all I could see or think about or handle, except I couldn’t handle it. Fury and rage. That was my gut response. The thought that these weapons are legally obtainable. The thought, maybe, that these weapons even exist. Tell me why we need them. Why does anyone on earth need a gun that can rapid-fire hundreds of rounds of deadly ammunition? And if you think you need something like that, I’m pretty sure that should disqualify you from getting access to it. As I ran, sick and sad and furious, on Friday night, I thought, this could be my hill. This could be where I take my stand. But I drove home, alone, weeping so hard that I had trouble seeing the road ahead.

How to pick one hill? I feel a familiar sinking. The injustices and wrongs and evils are too numerous to list, let alone to comprehend. Child soldiers, dictatorships, unsafe factories where people work like slaves so we can buy our clothes for cheap, repression, rape, self-interest, tar sands, money and the lack of it and the greedy excess of it, drones, refugees in Canada denied health care, hunger even right here in our very own wealthy country. Is evil ordinary or extraordinary? Can it ever be contained? What is the meaning of safety and security? What is the meaning of prosperity? How can I do no harm? Or even just do less harm? How can I help.

This is the darkest time of the year. The holidays at this time of year celebrate the coming of light, and all that that means.

I don’t know that I know what it means.

These are the words that come to me: Pour out your love, you won’t run out.

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