Lazy Sunday morning.
My two littlest are playing an elaborate imaginary game together. (During yesterday’s game we overheard CJ saying, in a very harrassed-sounding tone: “I have to do the laundry and make the supper and clean the house and I just can’t do it all by myself! You are going to have to help!” “Is he being the mother?” I wondered, but we couldn’t tell, and didn’t want to disturb the game to ask.)
My bigger daughter has given up trying to join in on the game and is practicing the piano instead.
The eldest kid is at his second swimming birthday party of the weekend.
And Kevin is at a soccer game. I’ve got one tonight too. We admitted to each other that we didn’t really feel like playing. I said, “I just don’t want to get injured,” and he laughed, because that was exactly what he’d been thinking. Honestly, after every game I limp home with some injury or another, which heals itself in time for the next game; so does he. I’m pretty sure this a factor of age. AppleApple pooh-poohed my complaints of injury, and said it was just to be expected — something always hurts after a soccer game! But, then, she’s 9, and heals quickly. I’m a good deal older, and appear not to have the same bounce-back abilities.
This was a lazy week, exercise-wise, in part due to a soccer injury. I did something to my hamstring, and couldn’t lift my leg for two days. Awkward for stairs, unhelpful for long distance training. Skipped my Monday morning swim in part because of the injury, but also because I had a deadline and I was worried about being too tired (I’m quite sure I could not exercise as voraciously were I working full-time; positive, in fact). Skipped my Tuesday evening run due to injury, plus insane heat. Ran Wednesday morning as usual, felt twitchy for first kilometre, then fine. Dragged self to spin/kettlebell class, but barely, Thursday morning. Skipped Thursday evening run due to thunder storm. Skipped getting up early on Friday due to meeting friend for breakfast. Finally, yesterday, forced self out for a long run after spending the day cleaning house.
And here is what I can report. I didn’t really feel like a) cleaning the house or b) going for a long run, but I sure felt a hell of a lot better after accomplishing b) than a).
I spent six hours cleaning the house. I do not exaggerate. It was filthy, disorganized, and disastrous. At the end of those six hours, I felt discouraged, grumpy, and accusatory. Cleaning is so pointless. Within minutes of it being scrubbed, someone walked on my kitchen floor! Can you imagine! With feet that had ever so recently been outside! And with predictable results! Also, every cleaned thing had the effect of showing up every thing that still needed cleaning and therefore looked infinitely dirtier as a result of being in proximity to the cleaned thing.
So I went for a run. I made it 15km. It wasn’t easy; in fact, it was a lot harder than the cleaning had been, in many ways. It took at least as much mental fortitude to continue. I wasn’t sure I could keep up the pace I was demanding of myself. But at the end, after I’d finished what I’d set out to accomplish, by golly didn’t I feel amazing. Elated. Content. Cheerily conversational.
Which is why our house is likely to be, for the most part, not that clean. And why I am likely to be, injuries notwithstanding, reasonably fit.
Whenever I get around to cleaning, I think about my Grandma King, whom my mother remembers rising at 5am in order to scrub her kitchen floor (she also worked a full-time job and looked after five children.) Different times, I guess. When a woman was judged on the cleanliness of her kitchen floor. But we’re still judged, aren’t we? Or maybe it’s that we judge ourselves, and harshly, comparing ourselves to models of perfection, to super-women, and inevitably falling short, as Anne-Marie Slaughter points out in her excellent and nerve-striking article in The Atlantic.
I heard myself on the radio yesterday, briefly, talking about The Juliet Stories. I called AppleApple down to listen (she was the only one nearby). I was mashing garlic to make a ranch dressing and listening to myself talk on the radio. The voice on the radio didn’t sound a thing like the voice in my head; in fact, the radio voice sounded much calmer, approachable, resonant, friendly. “Did that really sound like me?” I asked AppleApple afterwards, who looked perplexed. “Of course,” she said. Here’s the thing: I liked the sounds of that woman on the radio. But she didn’t remind me of myself, except only fractionally. Myself was the woman mashing garlic, wearing running gear, feeling irritable, noticing the dirty windows, trying to work up the gumption to get out for a run.
I was experiencing myself as a projection. And in a sense, that’s what this blog is too. A projection. Incomplete. The person I show myself to be rather than the messy much more complex and in all likelihood somewhat disappointingly contradictory person that I really am. I think we women like to compare ourselves to projections. It’s one of the reasons women always want to know, “How do you do it?” We’re imagining that it can be done. We’re looking for the secret formula. We’d apply it, if only it existed. I’m certain it’s not only women who do this, but maybe men do it differently. Maybe men don’t admit as readily to being imperfect or wrong; or maybe they don’t care; maybe they’re better at managing guilt.
These are horrible generalizations. Please, disagree. Tell me what you think.
My lazy Sunday children have now moved into my office; therefore, it’s time for me to move out. It’s lunchtime.
newly arranged living-room
Saturday. Day of quiet and rain.
Sunday. Day of hopping out of bed early for a long run. Oh, and more rain.
Saturday evening we decided to rearrange the living-room. I’m not sure why, but it always makes me happy to rearrange a room. Baking bread has a similar effect on my spirits. So does going for a run. Life is full of simple cures that are next thing to free for the taking.
practicing for imminent piano recital
The newly arranged living-room changes the focus, upon entering the house, away from the television. (Hurray!) Instead, you’ll see the beautiful painting, as shown in the top photo, by Barry Lorne, which he generously gave us as a wedding gift. You’ll see books, too. Hidden behind the old brown couch is the art section. There is room for a communal computer.
Here is what I am thinking about on this blustery weekend.
This morning it was so easy to go for a run. Yesterday, I felt lethargic, as immovable as stone. Life may be full of cures free for the taking — but I confess that some days it is harder than others to take that first step, to put the best plan into motion. There have been times, lately, when I wonder what I’m doing wrong, wonder why I’m so tired, why I’m dropping the ball as often as not. Maybe I wish I were superwoman, leaping from role to role effortlessly, existing on little sleep, splendidly strong and competent and certain.
Instead, I’m just plain me. Rearranging the furniture, and making pad thai for supper, and falling asleep on the couch with a book.
stop and drink the nectar
The morning is fleeing! I’m running out of time. Stop, Carrie, breathe for a moment. Drink the nectar.
This afternoon, I’m hosting my literary friend Heather Birrell, with whom I will be reading tonight at The Starlight here in Waterloo. She’s been forewarned about the fact that somehow we’ve neglected to vacuum for, like, weeks, and that there are toys and papers and dishes and stuff on pretty much every horizontal surface, floors included, and she assures me that she’ll feel right at home amidst the chaos. Well, she’s got two young daughters. And a brand-new book. I think we’re good.
I want to tell you about her book. It’s called Mad Hope, and the title comes from a line in a pitch-perfect story, “Geraldine and Jerome,” which is set in the waiting room of a medical clinic and links up two unlikely-to-otherwise-meet-and-interact-characters. I happened to read it in the waiting room of a medical clinic (don’t worry, I’m fine). Be warned, if you’re planning to pick up this book and read it in public places: these stories will make you cry. Or maybe it’s just me.
I’m thrilled to say that Heather invited me to be an early reader of these stories, so I know exactly how damn good they are. And the book has been getting rave reviews all over the place. I’m going to get Heather to sign my copy today. You can too, if you happen to be in Waterloo and come out to the Starlight tonight; or in Toronto tomorrow, where we’ll be reading together again at Type Books.
And to add book news upon book news, my many-moons-ago boss, Noah Richler, has a new book out this spring too. It’s called What we talk about when we talk about war, and it’s about how our current government has been steadily distancing our country from its tradition of peacekeeping, preferring the warring nation metaphors instead. Noah will be in Waterloo on May 30th at the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies. That just happens to be a free evening for me (!!), and I’m looking forward to hearing Noah speak. Join me? I’ll post more details closer to the date.
One last thing. Noah’s written a really lovely mini-review of The Juliet Stories, published on the 49th Shelf. In it, he talks about hiring me as an intern at the National Post, and his description of who I was then gave me a really lovely “how others see us” moment. Because who knows how others see us? (What I perpetually fear is that maybe I’d rather not know … it’s a personal hang-up. I need to get over that.)
Short post this morning. Because I MUST CLEAN THE HOUSE. Someone has to do something lest the crumbs start plotting a takeover. And the house is on my mind. Or perhaps more accurately in my subconscious. In the last week I have dreamed about the house, in one way or another, every single night.
The dreams are all essentially the same, though the details change. But the essential thread holding them together is that our house is not our house. We have moved to a different house, inevitably a house in sad disrepair. We’ve sold our house and now regret it terribly but it’s too late. We can never go home. Or, we return to our house but it is changed, and not for the better. We stare at the front window, broken and boarded up. We wonder why someone has torn the numbers off our house and spraypainted new numbers onto plywood. We feel desolate and confused.
In last night’s dream the children had to go to new schools with crowded, noisy classrooms. They had to walk long distances to get there. They were struggling to fit in.
I’m no dream analyst (okay, I’m an amateur dream analyst; it’s an unavoidable side gig as a writer), but this speaks to me as fear of change. Fear of the unknown. That sideways wandering into a life that is just a little bit different from the known, comfortable, and familiar. The way a seemingly insignificant change can tip us off kilter. Not all change is chosen. What happens when we come back to the house and discover it is not the same house? Remember that feeling of going home for Christmas those first few years after leaving home, as a young adult? Remember the dismay and sadness? Realizing we couldn’t go home in the same way–also that we didn’t want to, but that we missed what was gone forever.
This morning, CJ came into my bed to tell me another Cookie Monster story (“I think this will be a short one, Mommy.”) And when that was done, he said, “I forgot! We need a snuggle.” And when a snuggle had been had, he hopped down and headed for the door, paused, turned: “I will remember this snuggle forever, Mommy.” Little feet trotting down the hallway. Stopping. Returning. His face suddenly sad. “I won’t remember this snuggle forever,” he said. “You can always come back for another snuggle,” I reassured him.
Because that’s what we do. We reassure our kids. Even while we’re thinking, man, that is so damn true. You won’t remember this snuggle forever. Neither will I. It’s a pinprick of a moment in a wide life. I mean, it’s a good pinprick. But it’s here and gone. Change, change, ringing like a bell. And we’re opening the door to a house that is familiar, but not ours.
A more cheerful post to come, very soon. Meanwhile, I will test out the theory that tidying, vacuuming, cleaning, and baking will put the dreams to rest, at least for a little while.
**Notes on the rooms.
My office has nothing on its walls. And we’re using my old crappy furniture. But it’s serene, austere, and dare I say perfect as is. I may not change a thing. Yesterday as we worked to move and rearrange four different rooms, I found myself taking moments to sit in my great-aunt Alice’s rocking chair and look at the brick and the lights and the height, and to breathe.
AppleApple and Kevin created a bookshelf from the old costume bureau. An awesome repurposing project. I love that she has The Bible arranged beside other favourites like Bone, Misty of Chincoteague, and Children of War (the latter being a wonderful book that she keeps recommending her big brother read, as way of encouraging him to stop playing imaginary games with exploding bombs.)
The new bunk bed in the little kids’ room is a marvel of design. We found it on kijiji, and it’s not of the best material, but heck, it was available and in our price range. It’s a t-shape, and CJ sleeps in what amounts to a little cozy cave. On one end is a desk with shelves and a built-in light. Bureau drawers are built in to the other end, along with a set of deep shelves. I still can’t believe how different that room looks.
My step-mother figured out how to make a comfy couch out of the guest futon under Albus’s bed. We’ve had the darn thing for about a decade and never knew it was possible. Neither Kevin nor I could understand her explanation (apparently it was very simple.) We’ve decided she operates on a higher level than us. My dad also loaned his muscles and back to the moving. It wouldn’t have gotten done without their help. I’ve gone all wimpy now that I’m running. I keep telling Kevin, I’m a runner, not a weight-lifter. I don’t want to injure myself.
Yet to be done today: painting, or at least prepping for painting; cleaning; and our living-room. I stole that beautiful wooden cabinet for my office from the living-room, and somehow that had a domino effect of toppling the entire room into a disaster zone. You know it’s a disaster zone if the smallest members of your family tell you: “This room is a mess!” Uh, yeah. We’re making use of kijiji to source a few more items. Kijiji is my new favourite virtual place. I’ve been inspired to post a few items for sale, too. If I get organized, I’ll post the entire contents of our attic. My inspiration, in part, came from this blog on the zero-waste home. (And no, we’re nowhere near zero. But hope springs eternal.)
He left first, for nursery school, walking with his dad. He has no need for a backpack, but everyone else has one, so he insisted. The temperature has dropped and we had to dash to the attic to dig for winter hats and fall jackets. The report from Dad was good: they enjoyed a “Star Wars” themed walk to nursery school and parted without tears. I will pick him up in two hours. Repeat every weekday. Our new fall schedule.
After I said goodbye to CJ, the big kids emerged for their annual back-to-school portrait. This was the best they could muster. And yet, they’re all reasonably excited about returning to school. No, really, they are.
It was just as I’d imagined. We always pose the back-to-school pictures on the porch. This year we have no porch (they’re scheduled to start rebuilding in a couple of weeks; please let it be so). And there’s something, um, dismal about the background. Albus doesn’t look so happy either. But he departed at 8:30 sharp in grand spirits, off to walk to school with his friends, all of whom will be in his class this year.
Nothing dismal about AppleApple’s chosen ensemble, despite the brown pants and black shoes; she’s even wearing electric blue socks. On the walk to school, she was extremely focused on getting there, and when we reached the grounds, she ran off without a backward glance, or even the semblance of goodbye. She’s proud to be the first child in our family to be in a portable (and it’s the new portable, which makes me think, off-gassing?).
Look at this glowing child. She’d glow anywhere, in any scene, against any setting. I’m a convert to the background, in this photo. She was so terrifically excited to be starting grade one; though “excited” isn’t quite the right word, because it doesn’t capture her confidence and pride about the big step to full-day, and French immersion, and being with the big kids — being “a big kid.”
Never have we all been so ready so early. Which meant a good deal of hanging around and waiting around on the grass. Finally, the teacher called for her students to line up, and Fooey clung to my hand — I was surprised. One last kiss goodbye, and she let go, and the kids slowly made their way through the doors, and off to their waiting classroom.
Another year begun.
(And I walked briskly home and entered a quiet house. Space to think. Silence. Cup of cooling coffee on the countertop. This feels good).
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