Category: House

Driving versus dishes

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A funny thing. I’ve started to enjoy the trips in the car to deliver and collect children from their various activities. If I’m alone, I turn on the radio and cruise between CBC Radio One (talk) and CBC Radio Two (music). If I’ve got a kid or two in behind, it’s a chance to talk. We drive through the dark that comes so early at this time of year, watching carefully for pedestrians and cyclists. (Side note: we didn’t spot one cyclist wearing a helmet, let alone reflective clothing or lights, on the university campus yesterday; we even saw a young man skateboarding in the bike lane of a busy street, going the wrong way! Needless to say, he wasn’t wearing a helmet either, because really, if you’re skateboarding in the bike lane going the wrong way after dark, you’re clearly not concerned about head injury. This sparked a conversation about safety and being young and feeling invincible. “Why is it that the things people think are cool are risky or dangerous?” my daughter asked. Well. Why indeed?).

But anyway. The conversations range. It’s always interesting.

And as long as we’re not late, I have a feeling of contentment, of easily-fulfilled purpose. It’s emotionally uncomplicated. It’s relaxing, even. Maybe that’s because it’s so much simpler to drive from swimming to soccer, to tie a shoelace, to greet other parents, to drop off a carpooling extra, than to be at home with the remaining children over the same time, supervising piano practice and homework and doing dishes and laundry. Four out of five weeknights, that’s where I am. Last night, I asked Kevin to trade places, since he happened not to be coaching anyone. When I returned home from my drive, I noticed he had a harrassed impatience about him that is often mine as snacktime gets dragged out and children begin lying on the floor and complaining about tooth brushing.

Situations do that to a person. And I could walk through the door, all fresh and relaxed after completing my pleasant errands, and be the voice of reason. Which is really irritating to the person who’s been stuck at home with the homework and the dishes. Which makes me think that the more we share jobs, the happier we all will be; or at least the more sympathetic.

Work at home: the after-school shift

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Halloween planning is in full swing at our house. Last night was pumpkin carving. Costumes are at the ready. And candy is comingcandy is comingCANDY IS COMING!* [*scary voice]. The eldest has plans for a two-part evening, involving stopping home mid-route to dump off loot, anticipating of course that his bag will get too heavy to haul. Maybe we should make a rule, however. When your bag gets too heavy to haul, you’re done.

*

I had a small breakdown yesterday evening. I had to go outside and stand on the porch to collect myself, and even then, I wasn’t fully collected. I took note of how many hours of domestic labour I do every day, just to keep our household squeaking along, and it was frightening. By my calculation, I spend five hours every day on chores. Five hours! This work includes: laundry, dishes, cooking, overseeing piano practice and homework and checking backpacks, bedtime, errands, and driving children to and from extra-curriculars. From 4pm until 9pm or later, day in, day out, my energies are consumed by basic household tasks. And Kevin makes the lunches. And only occasionally do I have time, during those hours, to, say, scrub the toilet or vacuum. (I have actually cleaned the shower while showering; do other women do this too? Wash the bathroom sink while brushing one’s teeth? Clean fridge drawers while trying to make supper? This is multitasking at its least pleasurable.)

Far and away the bulk of that 4-9 shift is spent on those first three items: cooking, dishes, and laundry. Cooking from scratch takes time, effort, and advance planning. Cleaning up a day’s worth of dirty dishes and containers from lunch boxes for six people, for three meals plus snacks, is an enormous job. (Sometimes Kevin does the dishes, not me.) It often takes us a full hour, minimum, to clear the kitchen from one end to the other. And I do laundry every day, usually two loads. Sports-related gear does not marinate well, shall we say.

Anyway. Yesterday. Yesterday, at the start of this 4-9 shift, I made a leek and potato soup, and roasted eggplant and zucchini to make a zippy baba ghanoush. I also served children snacks and fielded an endless stream of complaints from the two youngest, who were, frankly, exhausted after school. The complaints got louder and louder the nearer we came to mealtime, until they were a droning background hateful hum. “Garlic? I hate garlic! You always ruin supper. Onions! I hate onions. You promised supper would be done in three minutes! You lied! I’m starving!” Things improved briefly once I’d convinced the two youngest to set the table. Except this turned into a pitched battle over who would do what. By the time Kevin walked in the door after dropping AppleApple at swimming, supper was on the table, and two children were literally weeping and gnashing their teeth (because of the colour of their plates, if you can believe it, and if you have small children, you will).

I’d had it.

Almost two hours of work, a lovely meal prepared from scratch waiting on the table, most of the family present to eat together, and … a household in tears.

True story.

I went outside, leaving behind barking dogs and wailing children, and stood for a few moments in the cool autumn evening. Nearly all the leaves were blown off the trees in Monday’s wind. It’s been raining off and on for days. The world could hardly look more bleak.

But there was no solution for it. I didn’t want to go for an angry stroll in my crocs. I was hungry and tired. I went back inside and sat down in silence at the table, and in silence we ate. Everyone seemed apologetic. One of the after-school complainers was particularly penitent and even tried the garlic-laden baba ghanoush, just to make me feel better. After that we weren’t so silent anymore. Life went on.

We need to find some way to direct that after-school exhaustion and angst elsewhere, because, as I explained last night, I’m a person too, even though I’m Mom, and my feelings get hurt too when people yell at me and say mean things. Sometimes I think I get the yelling and the mean things because I’m the most loved and most trusted person in their lives — know what I mean? If you’re feeling really rotten, you want to get it out, and you direct your unhappiness at the safest target — the one who will understand and love you anyway.

But it’s not ideal.

And it’s not ideal that the daily labour of keeping this house ticking falls largely on one person. My children get a free ride, basically, and that’s been my doing, not theirs. I haven’t trained them to do much in the way of helpful household chores, and have expected little help from them, but good grief. I think it’s time to start. How many chores do your children do? And what chores are they? Do you have tried-and-true methods of assigning chores and splitting up work?

On being a professional writer who also provides free content

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October hosta

For about 48 hours after the GG announcement, I found it very amusing to narrate my life by captioning all activities with “GG finalist, Carrie Snyder …”, as in “GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is going to finish these supper dishes before anyone gets a bedtime snack,” or, “GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, would like a cup of tea and a back rub.” I’m not sure anyone else found it quite so amusing.

But it amused me this morning too, as GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, stood on a stool in the downstairs bathroom attempting to remove spiderwebs with a wad of toilet paper, and a giant nest fell down her sweater sleeve. (“I told you that bathroom is infested, Mom!” “Yeah, there’s definitely a weird looking nest above the sink.” “That’s an orb spider.” “A what?!” “Don’t worry, it’s not poisonous.”) It continued to amuse me as GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, trudged upstairs to clean the bathroom floor. (“Someone peed on the floor!” “There’s pee in the upstairs bathroom!” “Somebody missed the toilet!”) And the fun kept on rolling as GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, sorted a dark load of laundry while repeatedly shouting up the steps, “I’m in the basement, come down if you want me to zip you up!” Apparently, GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, had misheard the request. “He said that he wants you to pick him up from nursery school.” “Oh.” Sorry kid, but GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is leading a writing workshop for high school students this afternoon, and can’t. GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, also has a vague toothache in the very same spot where the dentist put in a filling last winter (remember that?), which seems like ominous timing given she’s flying to Vancouver in two days. GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is also panicking slightly about what to pack for her trip (how many shoes can she fit into a carry-on bag?). GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, got up in the middle of the night to turn off her alarm and did not go to yoga this morning. Despite getting extra sleep, GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, did not look fabulous in the mirror this morning; she really should have gone to yoga.

GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is putting the hammer down. Stop this now, GG finalist, Carrie Snyder.

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This feels like a miscellany day. I’ve been having some random and more serious thoughts on a related subject.

It’s the subject of being paid for one’s writing. The Globe and Mail (a newspaper in Canada) is going to attempt a “paywall,” by asking subscribers to pay for content; apparently, readers are not pleased. The New York Times does this as well, and the truth is, ever since it did, I’ve stopped reading NYTimes articles online. And I’m a writer! I get that writers and editors need to be paid for the work they do, and I respect the work that they do; so why not pay for quality online content? I think the answer is three-fold: one, I’m lazy and it seems like too much work to set up an account and try to remember passwords, etc.; two, I still get most of my news from the daily paper and from CBC radio; and three, there’s a ton of free content online.

Let’s address that final issue. I write a blog. I provide free content, practically every day! I understand why professional writers dislike bloggers — professional writers would like to make a living doing what they do, thanks very much. Most bloggers, like me, do this in our spare time. I have no desire to monetize my blog, nor to figure out how to make money off of it, mainly because I do it for fun. It would change everything to try to blog for a living.

That said, here I am, trying to write for a living. It’s dismal to report, but freelance rates, per word, have actually gone down since I first started freelancing, over a decade ago. I’m not sure freelance writing (for magazines and newspapers) was ever an excellent money-making occupation, but in today’s climate it’s an excellent way to sponge off your spouse. So, is being a writer a sustainable occupation?

GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, has yet to figure out how to make it so.

And it isn’t for lack of trying. I’m beginning to wonder whether being a writer, a serious writer of fiction with hopeful freelancing on the side, is in actual fact a hobby, or an act of volunteerism, or of love, or of obsession, rather than being what one could legitimately call an occupation. A job.

This isn’t meant to be a pity-me rant. I don’t feel pitiable, not at all; I’ve been doing exactly what I want to do; and I do make (some) money at it. Nevertheless, I feel prepared to look at coolly at my options and draw some fairly harsh conclusions. Our four kids need more than I can offer them as a writer; and I don’t believe the burden should be carried unequally by Kevin. The question is: what, then? Well, I’ve got some ideas, to be revealed in good time. For the immediate present, I’m sticking with the status quo, doing the freelance jobs that come in, working on a new book, applying for grants, hustling, and jumping up and down for The Juliet Stories. And blogging.

I love writing. I never started writing fiction thinking that it would earn me a living; and that wasn’t why I started blogging either. With my writing, every step along the way has felt like a gift: the first time I had a poem accepted for publication; the first time an editor at a magazine wrote back to tell me she liked my story (even though she was turning it down); the first time I earned a grant for an unfinished manuscript; the first time an editor called to tell me that she loved my book and wanted to publish it; and on and on. In between all of these steps were innumerable impersonal rejection letters, fat self-addressed envelopes stuffed with rejected stories, and, once I’d acquired an agent (another exciting step), calls of reassurance that also brought news of “no, thanks.” None of this could have been undertaken if it weren’t answering an extreme personal call — a deep probably irrational desire — to keep writing, keep learning, keep practicing the craft. None of this would have been undertaken if I hadn’t loved doing it.

Certainly, none of it was undertaken with an idea of dollar signs dancing in my head, a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I’m a highly impractical person, and I encourage my kids to dream impractically too. To pursue doing what they love, no matter what it pays in monetary terms.

But the thing is, we also have to figure out how to pay the bills. That’s where I’m at right now. I’m doing what I love, and I’ll keep doing it forever; but I’m going to have to do something else, too. My word of the year, this year, was actually two words: work and play. An interesting, difficult, troublesome choice, I think, and prescient.

Home again, home again

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I really want to do nothing more than blog … but I arrived home after midnight last night, and I’m on deadline for a couple of stories, which means I’m off to do research in exactly nine minutes. Seriously. I often budget my time in terms of minutes.

So: nine minutes to blog! YAY! I missed you, blog. I also missed the dogs, and the kids, and Kevin, but that goes without saying, doesn’t it? Thankfully, text messaging has changed travel. I knew the kids had made it home from school minutes after Kevin knew. I knew who had practiced piano, and what was eaten for supper — in fact, the lunch I ate yesterday in Winnipeg, and texted Kevin about, inspired his menu for supper last night (French onion soup). The comforting and comfortable banalities of daily living travel via text, and that really made me much less homesick.

I’ve got all sorts of things to tell you. Instead of blogging, I wrote them all down by hand in a notebook. How old-fashioned is that? Here’s hoping I can decipher my writing in order to tell you all about it.

But not this morning. It will take more than nine minutes to transcribe.

This morning I just want to say HELLO! and happy Wednesday! and life is fascinating and multi-faceted and travel is bizarre because I was there and now I’m here, and there was something else I wanted to say too … Oh, yes. I wanted to share with you the bliss of having a hotel room to myself for 21 hours.

I’m out of time. More soon.

Eight kids, two dogs, one woman in charge

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Today was a PD day: kids home from school. A friend and I are exchanging some babysitting this year, and my part of the deal is to take her kids on PD days (she’s a teacher, so she has to go to work). Our kids match up almost perfectly, ages and sexes, so this is a much easier gig than it may appear on first glance.

That said, I’ve been operating full-tilt, work-wise, and was a bit terrified about not getting anywhere near my office all day. To compensate, I put in some extra hours last night. And then I decided to embrace today for what it was: a day when I couldn’t get near my office.

Which is actually kind of awesome, from time to time.

I sipped my morning coffee and chatted with the kids who were feeling chatty. I took my time. No anxiety. No sense that I should really be doing something else. Then I whipped up a batch of bread dough while listening to the radio. Then I made banana bread. Then I made lunch. Then I cleaned up lunch. Then I hung laundry.

Around mid-morning, I was called upon to work out a deal: puzzle-making in exchange for screen-time. But mostly they played on their own. There was a bumped head, a bumped finger, and a skateboarding accident. Some hot chocolate spilled. A loaf and a half of banana bread was speedily consumed.

It was all quite surprisingly peaceful.

But now it’s nearly 5pm. The house is quiet again (Kev’s got our kids at the first skate of the season). And I’m tired. Really tired. I am fantasizing about an end-of-the-week ritual, something involving cozy pjs and bad tv and flopping on the couch and a wee glass of wine. The kids can join in too (not on the wine part). And the dogs. We could make popcorn. It would also be really really nice if I didn’t have to make supper.

(We don’t really have an end-of-the-week ritual — in fact, we’ve often got soccer on Friday nights, though thankfully not tonight. What about you? Do you have a Friday night ritual?)

Look how we’ve grown

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Every September we measure the kids on a wall in the basement. We started the annual ritual not long after moving into this house, which was nine years ago this summer. It’s entertaining to compare, say, AppleApple, who has always been my biggest child, from birth onwards, to Fooey, who has always been my smallest. We discovered this year that Fooey measures almost a year and a half behind AppleApple in height! AppleApple, meantime, would be taller than Albus, if they were exactly the same age. And so far, Albus and CJ measure identically at the same ages.

Trivia. The stuff of life.

This year we measured Kevin and me too. It was the kids’ idea. I’d rather not repeat it every year, because really, all we can hope for is that we haven’t shrunk: that’s our only direction at this stage. Amusingly (for me), I proved taller than expected, and Kevin proved shorter. We’re only separated by about 2.5 inches. So we gave everyone a low five: guess what kids, you’ve been gifted with short genes.

Reflecting on measuring changes, here’s another one. I’m realizing that there may not be quite as much blog-time this fall as I’ve been accustomed to. Please accept in advance my apologies for the absences that may occur.

So much I want to tell you about: work, play, exercise, new activites, a family meeting, canning, running, writing, suppers. So much I want to record and preserve.

But the truth is that I’m not keeping up. I’m not used to not keeping up. Professionally, I’m swamped through October, and on the domestic front, well, it’s back-to-school time, and you all know what that means. So I’m hoping to tread water. That’s all.

Actually, come to think of it, I’m hoping not to shrink …

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