I went away for the weekend.
I needed to be unwound. That’s what it felt like: a slow and steady unwinding of the tightly knotted self. It was almost like I’d forgotten how to have fun. How to partake of fun. How to be fun.
Responsibility requires armour, maybe.
I skiied on this frozen lake. I hadn’t been on cross country skiis since childhood, but it felt like I could have gone forever. It’s much easier to glide across the snow than to slog through the snow in running shoes. Winter’s long long iteration spoke so differently when I was gliding like a hot knife through butter into the wind. Isn’t this a blast, it said.
Our oven has been fixed, have I mentioned this?
AppleApple baked an apple-cranberry crisp to christen it. The crisp took all evening to prepare, and we devoured the entire pan in fifteen minutes flat. Fooey made brownies a few days later. I’ve used it to bake potatoes, but that’s all so far. I’ve got to get some veggies roasting while winter’s still on.
Oh, yeah, winter’s still on. I checked the 7-day weather forecast, and it’s going to be cold, cold, and also, cold.
I’ve come home thinking: I’ve got some work to do. I don’t mean the laundry or the scheduling or even writing. I mean something different. Maybe I don’t even mean work. I mean: I’d like to figure out how to unwind myself. How to be unwound. How to break down my fears.
I don’t like to think of myself as fearful, but it’s there, so why hide it or hide from it? I’m not afraid of external challenges; I accept many things I cannot change. What I fear is closer to the bone: it is the bone, and the guts, the heart, the spirit. I fear the limits of my mind and imagination, and the limits of a body that ages and changes. And I’m afraid of my fears, closing me off from laughter and lightness of heart.
But I’m not afraid to call them out. And I’m not afraid to chase the light — or maybe it’s enough simply to turn toward it. Throw open the windows and doors. Bask. It might be cold, cold, cold, but the days are getting longer, the sunlight is growing stronger.
AppleApple is obsessed with names. Yesterday, while we were sitting around the supper table, she looked up all of our names in one of her (many) baby name dictionaries: according to this one, Carrie derives from Caroline, which means small and strong. I like that very much.
Yesterday, I played soccer.
Though it may sound odd to say so, it feels like the most significant thing I’ve done so far this year. I played soccer! I feel like a different person, while playing soccer. I feel stronger, smarter, freer, unencumbered. It’s the play I’ve been missing. Play, as in doing something purely for the fun of it.
I haven’t played soccer since August; since the concussion. I was terrified to try again, and wouldn’t have without a lot of encouragement from Kevin and AppleApple, both of whom claimed to want me on their team (flattery always wins; actually, so did our team, but that was mostly due to AppleApple hammering in a pile of goals). My touch was lacking, after six months away, but everything else came back in an instant: strategy, positioning, speed, and the ability to run pretty much forever. We played for two hours, and all I could think was: I have to do this again. Soon.
The players were mostly girls from AppleApple’s team, with some siblings and dads, and me, the lone mom. I was a bit surprised to be the only adult woman on the field. It was so fun playing with these highly skilled, extremely polite and friendly girls (ages 11/12); I’ll bet they’ll still be tearing up the soccer field when they’re my age. When I was their age, there wasn’t anything near the same level of skill-development available for soccer-loving girls, (or probably for soccer-loving boys, either, at least in Canada); I played one season of house league, the summer I was 11. Opportunities have improved for the athletic girl.
I’d love to see more adult women participating in sports: being a participant, a teammate, a competitor gives you a different way of seeing yourself. I think these girls will grow up to be participants, carrying the confidence of their skills. I wish for the skills, but when I get on the field, I find the confidence. And that’s what I’ve missed all these months of not playing: that different way of seeing myself, of being myself.
Mavis Gallant has died. I’ve been reading and re-reading her stories since discovering her in university. How to describe her style? Her stories are like complex riddles that I’ll never entirely puzzle out, and that is their appeal. They offer a clear view into worlds I’ll never know, perspectives as precise as they are unfamiliar. Her stories evoke mysterious emotions, and I think that’s why I’ll never tire of them. She writes of bafflement, of striving and failing and not understanding why one is failing, of being the outsider–always that. My favourite Mavis Gallant story is “The Iceman Going Down the Street.” I’d like to tell you to read it, but only if you’ll promise to read it at least ten times, perhaps over the course of several years, so that you’ll know it and know again, differently, each time.
Goodbye, Mavis. I’ll read you forever.
I am not writing well today. Every sentence comes out like I’m mumbling cliches. I don’t know why. I wanted to write about our weekend, which contained two “I finished my book” celebrations, a series of nature art projects installed throughout the yard, a snow fort, sledding, and a living-room yoga session. There, I’ve written about it. (That’s probably my ten minutes up.)
Friday afternoon: I sketched a map and a family tree for my book, and scanned them, and sent them to my US editor. I can’t draw, and apparently I can’t design a family tree or print legibly, but I tried. It was oddly satisfying to map out the location of the story, which has been so clear in my head. This looks just like it! I found myself saying, like I was drawing something from memory, not from imagination.
Friday evening: Kevin and I decided, rather late into the evening, to duck out for a drink. I’ve got greasy hair, I argued, and it’s so late, and this is not a going-out ensemble (yoga pants and comfy shirt; which I’m actually wearing again today, I see). But he thought we should celebrate. So I changed into jeans, ignored the hair, and we walked uptown. Why is it always so cold? It’s always so cold! At the bar, we were seated quickly but ignored entirely. At last, I declared, Two more minutes, and we’re giving up and going home; which is when a waitress turned up with heartfelt apologies. The manager turned up too, to comp our drinks (we hadn’t complained, being ever so Canadian, so this was an especially nice surprise). Thus, my “finished-my-book” celebration was sponsored by the good people of Beertown.
Saturday day: Fooey and Kevin worked on a snow fort, while AppleApple worked on nature art. “This is the best school project ever!” she declared. We ended the afternoon by lighting the “snow volcanoes and snow chimney” (see the photo at the top of the post). It was pretty awesome. Kev also took the little kids sledding for the first time this winter, while the older kids played with friends, and I fell asleep on the couch (likely in payment for Beertown’s sponsorship the night before).
Saturday night: Pizza ordered for the kids. Kevin and I went out for dinner and a movie, as originally planned (the extra night of celebration was a last-minute addition). We’ve seen three movies this year already, which is two more than we saw last year, total. Philomena has been my favourite, far and away. I was underwhelmed by Inside Llewellyn Davis, in which a folksinger drowns in his own self-pity (tell me that isn’t a tedious concept!). And I didn’t much like Her — our Saturday movie — which couldn’t decide if it was ironic or aiming for some deeper, more meaningful message; however, the dialogue, when it aimed for deep and meaningful, was truly terrible; also, it featured another self-pitying main character, on whose face the camera fixated for excruciatingly long spells (I suppose that’s a necessary complication of a movie about a man in love with his operating system). The best thing about the movie were the pants that all the men wore in this slightly futuristic time and place. I’m dead serious. The pants are hilarious.
I like going out to the movies. I’ve realized, though, that I’ve lost my patience for movies a) in which the characters are very sorry for themselves and/or b) the women play entirely token roles and/or c) love is too mysterious to be understood. Please. Love is not too mysterious to be understood. It’s the stuff of living, not the stuff of pondering. Or maybe I’m just grumpy these days.
It is really cold. It just keeps snowing.
I would like to a see a movie in which the girls and women talk to each other, and pursue interests that do not relate to romance or motherhood (we can throw some of that in too, but it doesn’t have to be the full meal deal). Y’know? Am I missing those movies? Are they out there?
Sunday day: morning run to kick out my restlessness, outside even though it was snowing and really cold; soccer game in Mississauga; late-afternoon tasks and organizing, while Kevin made pad thai.
Sunday evening: yoga in our living-room, led by AppleApple.
Actual dialogue, overheard during savasana:
AppleApple [soothing tones]: Try to empty your mind.
CJ: This is so BORING!
AppleApple [soothing tones]: Lie still. Try to empty your mind. [pause] [tones becoming less soothing] Lie still! [pause] I can see what you’re doing! Try to EMPTY YOUR MIND!
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.
1. Family photo out-takes
We didn’t make a Christmas letter this year. Maybe I will get it done over the holidays (think of this statement as speculation rather than a plan). Nevertheless, as a first step toward creating a Christmas letter, yesterday, I attempted to take our annual family-photo-with-Christmas-PJs. CJ wasn’t very happy about leaving his new Christmas present to join the shot (new present = Game Boy, old school, bought used).
when is this going to be over?
help me pick up the dog, Dad!
please, smile, CJ? please?
he’s smiling! Now, what’s in your mouth, Foo? “Nothing.” Um, can you take it out, please?
could we get just one good photo, here? just one?
this is as good as it gets (click on photos to see in full)
lots and lots of candy; thanks, Santa
This wasn’t on my wish list, but it was the perfect gift. A radio that turns on when you turn it on. Radical concept! No need to download or refresh or mess around with speaker connections. I opened the box, plugged it in, turned it on, tuned it to CBC Radio One, and the rest of the day was perfection. Music all day long. The Messiah in the morning, and cheesy seasonal songs the rest of the day. It’s the one day of the year that I can listen to cheesy seasonal songs with appreciation. Even the Queen’s address sounded good.
I’m embarrassed to say we gave in to his relentless campaign for another of-the-moment electronic device
“Coconut” the giant-eyed monkey (she has a weakness of stuffies with giant eyes)
the “new” Game Boy
3. Do nothing all day
how I spent my Christmas day: my job is done here
This third is a new tradition, only conceived of this very year, in fact, only thought of late on Christmas eve when Santa was packing the stockings. Kevin and I were feeling very full indeed after three consecutive days of Christmas meals (ham; turkey; paella + grazing). Our counters were blessed with pans of sticky buns given us by generous neighbours and family, and we looked at each other and said, “Who needs a big Christmas dinner?” So we decided to skip that part.
We skipped everything, really — all obligations, all work, all chores.
The kids let us sleep in till 9. I kid you not. We stayed in our PJs all day. I did no laundry. We did no meal prep. We did no dishes. I sat and drank coffee and tea and worked on a puzzle and listened to my new radio all day long. The house was thrillingly disastrous, so much so that the 12-year-old looked around last night and said, “This place is a mess.” HAHAHA! This is what it would always be like if Daddy and I took every day off! Then we watched a movie together (Parent Trap, the one with Haley Mills, still as funny as I remembered it from childhood). We ate sticky buns, basically. The kids added sugary cereal to the menu. There were the oranges from the stockings. We did not go hungry. It was exactly what we all wanted — to be together, and nothing more. It was the most peaceful, blissful Christmas I can remember.
These are my favourite people. We almost never get to spend unadulterated time together. What could be more special, more celebratory, more holiday-making?
4. Boxing Day turkey dinner?
Today we’re being healthy and eating fruit and doing laundry and yoga and cleaning up the dishes. Our neighbour has loaned us her electric turkey roaster (there it is behind AppleApple), and we’re going to roast up our turkey today, and make the trimmings, too. I’m feeling ready for it again.
Need a back rub? Consider this simple and inexpensive way to ease sore muscles. It’s all in the toes, apparently.
Your siblings will fight for a turn. You might even get some extra help from the dogs, whether you want it or not.
Want the latest in video gaming technology? Try researching it obsessively, reporting in minute detail to your parents (who don’t always appear to be paying attention), conversing for weeks about nothing else, and, if all else fails, purchasing it for yourself with your summer babysitting money.
Enjoy the fruits of your labours. (I know I do: evidence, above.)