We’ve been away on holiday, a fact I choose never to announce on social media, including this blog, perhaps out of paranoia, but it gives me a sense of security. So anyway, you didn’t know we were gone, but, hey, we’re back!
Right before we left, I took the kids on our annual back-to-school shopping trip. I hate shopping, they hate shopping, we all hate shopping, so we only do it once a year: a visit to the mall that always includes the food court.
Also before leaving, we ditched our couch upon finding a bed bug associated with it. One bug. God knows if it came from the couch, as we couldn’t find any signs of any others, but we’d had the couch for thirteen years, and I’d disliked it strongly for the last three, at least. I was almost afraid of myself — how easy it was to get rid of the couch, after years of indecision. What else might I suddenly admit dislike to and get rid of? A neighbour took it home — the couch, I mean. Albus tried to stop him, citing the bed bug, the broken springs, the etc. etc., but the neighbour insisted. He identified himself as an “unpublished writer,” who was working on screenplays for the CBC. You never know who’s living up the street, do you? But now we know what he’s sitting on.
On our holiday, I read J.K. Rowling’s new mystery, The Cuckoo’s Calling, (being a sucker for mysteries), which rendered me completely useless to my family for an entire day and part of the night, too. I also finished Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, which I loved, though it did take me four months to get from one end to the other. I also read through my dad’s collection of last year’s New Yorkers (so did the older kids, unexpectedly). We swam in the cool lake, kayaked, took the dogs for a row boat ride (a mistake, as apparently both suffer from seasickness), played outside all day long. We went skinny-dipping one night — all six of us, including our five-year-old who spent the entire time announcing delightedly what we were up to at loudspeaker volume. He LOVED it. I hope the neighbours didn’t hear, however. My favourite part of that experience was when we were all standing on the dock, towels dropped, shivering — that awkward moment while we worked up the nerve to jump into the freezing cold. (No photos of that!) There were starry skies, several seriously hot perfect summer days when we didn’t even need a towel to dry off after a cooling swim, a day of rain, three successful water skiers, and lots of junk food and fancy drinks.
(That’s AppleApple, Albus, and Fooey, twice, respectively.)
No electronics were mentioned, though we did watch movies on the rainy day. Work and home started to interrupt a few days in (for me and for Kev), and it was hard to stay in relaxation mode knowing what was waiting for us back here.
Kev and AppleApple worked on a project inspired by a curiously water-carved log that turned up on the beach this past spring — my dad thought it would make a totem pole, and Kevin ran with the idea. He spent the holiday happily working on this project.
(“I really like what you’re doing on the smaller totem pole.”
“You mean, the one with the towel on it?”
“Oh. Uh. Is that a towel?”
Being Kevin, he did not take this as criticism, but ran with it. Towel as inspiration.)
He also brushed AppleApple’s hair. Wow.
I felt a bit starved for creative expression, myself, and found myself missing my desk and computer. I call writing “work” but it isn’t, really. It’s life, for me. I took a lot of photos instead. Way too many. So many sunsets! I include some here.
What else happened? Well, the dogs went swimming:
Oh, and I did something I’ve never done before: I drove a boat. I’ve never driven a boat before, but the cottage is boat-accessible only, and my dad thought I should learn. I might have been sixteen again. AppleApple came along to help, because we had to make the return trip on our own (just me and her), and she took some photos. It might look like I’m relaxed and smiling, but check out that grip on the steering wheel — my knuckles are literally white.
On another and not entirely unrelated note: I feel old! I don’t know why. Maybe it’s my hair. We were comparing hair colour, the kids and I, our different shades of red, and one of them told me my colour was “red-grey.” Really? Okay, maybe it’s not that I feel old, it’s that I look older than I feel. I may never resolve this problem.
School starts tomorrow. I’m working through a mountain of cottage laundry. Kev’s got vertigo from swimming in the cold lake (he gets it every year and forgets every year, and goes swimming). I haven’t been for a run in nearly two weeks, rendering my training plan for the Toad pretty much back to square one, but my mildly concussed head is appreciative, and I haven’t had any symptoms for over a week. There won’t be time to get into proper shape before the race. I’m trying to be at peace with this, and be happy about all those sunsets we got to see. And the sound of loons. And watching my children enjoy each other’s company.
We’re privileged, and I know it, to have a week like this in our summer, and to share it together, no matter the blips and bugs and breaks along the way.
Onward. Keep breathing. Keep hoping.
Conversations with eight-year-olds at suppertime
Kevin: So your mom has no style, I hear.
Me: Actually, she also said you have no style.
Fooey [to Kevin]: And no hair.
Me: What about what I’m wearing right now?
Fooey: Let me see your pants. I like your pants. Your shirt …
Albus: I was going to say the opposite.
Me: You don’t like my shirt?
Fooey: Umm …
Me: Do you think other moms have style?
Fooey: Not really. No.
Me: Can you think of any growups who have style?
Fooey: Fiona! [her aunt, Kevin’s sister]
Me: Fiona’s a mom.
Fooey: Oh, yeah.
Me: What do you like about her style?
Fooey: *shrugs* *thinks*
Me: Is it because Fiona wears jewellery?
Fooey: You don’t wear any jewellery.
Me: What about this? *indicates hippie-type camp bracelet on wrist*
Fooey: I made that for you.
Me: And I’m wearing it!
Fooey: You never wear *indicates earrings* except when you’re going out.
Me: My ears get infected easily.
Fooey: Oh. *not impressed*
Me: What about my ring?
Fooey: *indicates conversation over*
Me: I have style! *wonders: should I start wearing more jewellery?*
Family news: On Friday, Fooey’s five-hour friend party came off without a hitch, and on Sunday, AppleApple left for a week at summer camp. She refused to take along a comb, saying she didn’t expect much showering to happen at camp, but agreed to bathe and brush through her (matted) hair immediately before departure. Hm. Still looks matted.
Book news: I’ve finished this round of revisions on Girl Runner. I printed a version yesterday and then tried to edit it while simultaneously playing board games with CJ. This worked better than expected, though only because CJ is very very creative with the rules (so I didn’t have to follow them precisely).
I’m not lacking for blog topics, but the topics that keep cropping up seem a bit grim. Ya’ll don’t want to hear about me being levelled in Sunday’s soccer game by a ball kicked with force at close range directly into my face, dropping me like a rag doll to the field, am I right? Teammates nearby were convinced I was knocked out, and I honestly don’t know. I lay there hearing voices, curiously removed, and trying to figure out how to open my eyes. I’ve never been hit like that before. It was like running into a wall at top speed.
It’s been that kind of a summer, spotted with the odd misfortune. Yet, I hasten to add, there’s been so much goodness to these months, all mingled in.
When I read old blog posts, say, from the era of toddler CJ and preschooler Fooey, I’m struck by how funny the scenes were, as I described them. Chaos was transformed into hilarity. I’m afraid the current iteration of my blog lacks for humour. It’s followed me where I’ve gone, and I’m so much less with the kids, so much more with my own pursuits. Maybe I take myself too seriously. On Sunday morning’s longish run, I began to think about this somberness I’m carrying around with me. I can feel it dragging on behind me, and I’m not sure what to attach it to. I think it has something to do with not starting midwifery school this fall, with instead sticking to the familiar script of mother, cheerleader, organizer, writer, with readings to prep for and grant deadlines to contend with and rejections to face down. Yes, I’ll be teaching a course this fall (and it’s already filled and I’ve received my first messages from prospective students addressing me as “Professor Snyder”), but, really, life looks much the same as always.
Whatever its cause, there is a sense of weight with me right now, and I find myself entertaining fantasies of moving, selling our house, going on sabbatical, travelling, buying a horse farm — you know, transporting myself somewhere else. Being someone else?
As I ran, on Sunday, I thought about how the things we imagine to be permanent in our lives are so often temporary, while the things that we imagine to be temporary may in fact be more permanent than we’d like to admit. I wondered: is this heaviness my new permanent? I keep expecting it to pass, yet despite moments of levity and relaxation, it continues to hang around.
A friend and mentor, to whom I confided my struggle this spring to choose between midwifery and writing, said this: “Understand that attention is a fickle thing, and will be visited on you in ways that are only partially connected with being deserved. If it’s coming your way, honour it with stepping into the warmth. But always also realize that your ultimate responsibility is to the light on the inside of you, not the light being directed toward you. Listen to those inside voices, they’ll get more jagged if you’re going in the wrong direction.”
I keep returning to her wisdom. Your ultimate responsibility is to the light on the inside of you.
I feel calm, I feel stable, I feel hard-working and organized and capable. But I don’t feel light. I miss that. I hope it’s temporary.
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
Birthday eve, ready for bed. Still seven. Photo bombing by 5-year-old brother.
Birthday morn, in her new favourite outfit (from Grandma Alice). This is the dog who loves to pose. The other dog was lounging nearby, unwilling to join in.
Pancakes for breakfast, then presents. Everyone got a birthday crown.
I also got an early morning visit to the dentist (no cavities!). And now we’re prepping the house for a major non-birthday-non-fun-related project. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow. The excitement never ends around here. The birthday girl is being very accomodating and understanding, and we’re trying not to let it take over the celebration.
“Every morning, I get up, get dressed, and check the mirror to see if my outfit is appropriate — for me. If it’s not, I go and change.” Fooey is our earliest riser, arriving downstairs every morning with brushed hair and a happy “good morning!”, ready for the day. She is highly organized, friendly and fun but also independent and quietly creative. She is far and away our most decorative and styling child, with a strong sense of personal taste. She would like to be a veterinarian when she grows up. I think she can do anything she puts her mind to (her dad would agree).
We visited Kev’s family for the long weekend. Lucky for us, they live just down the road from this spectacular tourist attraction: Jones’ Falls locks on the Rideau Canal. That’s a view of one of the locks, above, and it’s on top of the hill, with this big reservoir that feeds the lower locks (not pictured). The reservoir is a great place to swim. Even when it’s not that hot out.
The kids had fun getting me to photograph them jumping in.
Then we tried to get everyone jumping in at once. CJ had to think about it for awhile. He had a lot of encouragement.
Here we go!
(Kevin and I swam too, but no one got photos of that, which was probably a good thing, since I insisted on wearing my swim cap and goggles. My swim cap is bright orange. Every time I put it on, I wonder why I chose that colour??)
And now for some obligatory adorable cousins-together photos. C’mon, you know you want to say awwwww.
The weekend’s entertainment also included a round of par-three golf (Kev and the older kids), a 21.6km run on a gorgeous trail (me, with Kev accompanying on bicycle), and a whole lot of backyard badminton and soccer (pictured below).
Goodbye, farm. We’re headed home to new adventures that must wait for another day’s telling.