Pouring my coffee this morning, I thought, this is my favourite moment of the day — the smell of the warm coffee, the anticipation of sitting down at my computer and tasting the first sip.
But then it occurred to me that my day is full of favourite moments.
Some are ritualistic in their daily repetition, such as the cup of coffee.
Others alight out of the blue, like sitting beside CJ on the stairs well after his bedtime while he tries to remember what worry he was going to ask me about, what worry is keeping him from staying in his bed and falling asleep, his face in profile to mine, fixed in thought, and it feels like I could go on looking at him forever without ever tiring of the sight of him in the late-evening half-light coming through the window. At last he says: “Why do we have to lose our baby teeth and then grow adult teeth? Why aren’t we just born with adult teeth?”
This is my favourite moment. And this. And this.
Leaping in the air to cheer my daughter who is suddenly rocketing into second place with a pure blast of speed as she comes around the bend at the end of the 800-metre race. Somehow, on the straightaway, her face turns toward mine, from the track to the stands, and it feels like our eyes lock and I can see the fatigue caused by her effort, and I am telling her that she can keep going, she can do it, and she is telling me that she already knows this, wordlessly, and the image becomes fixed in my mind in a way that feels quite permanent.
An email out of the blue from a senior editor at a major Canadian magazine, asking me to consider writing for them — goosebumps.
The light in the early morning as we approach solstice.
The scent of peonies in bloom.
Talking to a loved one, even though they’re not having a good day, knowing a loved one feels comfortable talking to me, even though they’re not having a good day.
Seeing a 4:10-kilometre split while out-running a thunder storm at soccer practice. Saying to my daughter after we’ve dashed to the car through driving rain, now I’m going to go for an under 4-minute kilometre. Just one. And she says, you can do it!
And anything seems possible.
We don’t always have a ton of luck with the vegetables we plant in our raised beds, but every spring we give it another go. One year we scored with a broccoli plant that was still producing in November, but that never happened again. Cherry tomatoes work best, and herbs grow well, but any squash or zucchini that’s sprung forth has been quickly gnawed by our ravenous population of squirrels, which even the dogs can’t keep away all the time, though they relish the battle.
Fooey brought home a very healthy bean plant from school, which she planted with the beans that we’d started for AppleApple’s science fair project. Fooey’s teacher told her she had a green thumb, and it seemed that Fooey took that idea to heart. She’s planting two eggplants in the photos above. Good luck, eggplants! And beans! (I’m already stir-frying you in my imagination.)
This morning I am more tired than I’d like to be, and perhaps slightly more emotional too. I’m in the kind of mood where I’m practically weeping over a story in the newspaper (this one — about a kindergarten teacher in Toronto, who died tragically young). I’m hoping no one turns up at the door. I love stories about people who live outside the box. And I love stories about people who care deeply for the well-being and dignity of children; my son’s kindergarten teachers are amazing, and we’re constantly impressed at the ambitious yet simple events and outings being planned on the kids’ behalf. Life is so much richer when it’s blessed by people who care.
I’ve been to Toronto and back two days in a row, contributing to the tiredness of today.
Last night, I went in for the National Magazine Awards gala, and did not win in my category (the prize went to Liz Windhorst Harmer, who was radiant in her excitement). I went mostly to be a fly on the wall, having never been before, and to celebrate the career of Kim Jernigan of The New Quarterly, who was being honoured with a special prize. It was an odd experience, made pleasant by the company; but in truth I’m not sure I entirely understand award galas. I understand the value of awards themselves, to those whose careers are lifted by recognition, but I don’t understand the gala part. These must be expensive to produce, and as a writer, were I to win an award, I’d much prefer a cheque to a flashy ceremony. This is probably an heretical opinion to express, and I will now be karmically banned from ever being nominated ever again, but I guess I would wish for a celebration of writing to be more, well, celebratory, less American Idol, less winner v losers. What is our mania for making winners and losers out of individual creative efforts? I can honestly say that being nominated was a gift and a complete surprise, but that “losing” last night had an equally surprising effect of making me feel, well, like a loser, at least temporarily. That may say more about me than it does about award ceremonies, but it did get me thinking about the double-edged sword of recognition. One wants recognition, as a writer, and if one wants a viable career, one may in fact need it, but it comes at a cost we’re not so willing to discuss, attached as it is to corrosive emotions of envy and greed. Shake hands with the devil.
I can think of only one response to counteract corrosive emotions: get grounded.
Like Fooey’s doing in the photos above: Get into the earth. Dig in. Get dirty. Plant. Hope for harvest.
So, on this bright fresh beautiful morning in June, I’m going to be thankful for this bright fresh beautiful morning in June, for being here and alive, and for the way things have worked out to bring me right here, right now. I’m going to think about the short life of a teacher who did what he seemed born to do. And I’m going to keep doing what I am so very fortunate to get to do, too.
So … it’s been a week of ups and downs.
Our 11-year-old suffered what appears to have been a migraine, sending us to the emergency room rather than to soccer practice on Tuesday evening. She’s already the kid with asthma, and with big athletic ambitions. Thankfully, she seems completely blasé about the whole experience; I’m the one who needs to sort out my anxieties. I tried doing yoga in my office yesterday morning, with this accompanying soundtrack. It helped. At least a bit.
Occasionally I find myself believing in some kind of cosmic scale that insists on balancing things out. Seems superstitious. But when I was writing THE JULIET STORIES, for example, I got this very weird infection on my eyelids that was both ugly and painful, bulbous red bumps that made it difficult to look up or to the side. It lasted for six months. When I was writing GIRL RUNNER, I was covered in a very weird maddeningly itchy rash that doctors thought was an auto-immune disorder, but which turned out to be bedbugs. That lasted for about six months too. I don’t know whether this (i.e. physical payment for creative grace) is a common experience for other writers, but I was fascinated to discover, in Rebecca Mead’s MY LIFE IN MIDDLEMARCH, that George Eliot suffered from debilitating headaches and other health issues while working on her masterpiece, MIDDLEMARCH, which she wrote over a fairly short but intense period of time.
This was not what I sat down to blog about this morning.
Sure there have been some downs this week. But also some terrific ups.
Such as …
* Shopping at the mall with my 13-year-old, who was badly in need of clothing that fit, and it not being a complete embarrassing disaster for him. In fact, we kind of had fun. And we both hate shopping, so that’s saying something.
* A bowling birthday party for the same kid that was super-fun (and that I did not supervise; it’s best to leave the super-fun outings to Kevin, as I can’t help myself from reining in certain kinds of silliness).
* Getting my course curriculum for the fall laid out, and readings chosen. Big item off of my to-do list!
* A reading at a midwifery clinic last night, babies in attendance, funny breastfeeding essay on offer — and all of the timing and planning actually working out.
* Convincing my 8-year-old to play in a piano recital on Sunday. (Though it may be her last, as she’s thinking of retiring.)
* Summer babysitting plans, as detailed last night (the older kids will be babysitting the younger ones, which worked really well last summer): “Mom, I was thinking of having a ‘Shakespeare-themed’ summer. I could tell them the plots of the plays, maybe a few comedies, a few tragedies, skip the histories because they’re boring, and they could choose one they like, and we could perform it. But we might need more kids. And I was also thinking I could teach them some of Shakespeare’s insults….”
* It’s a PD day and we’re practicing for the summer. One babysitter in charge. One kitchen covered in jam and peanut butter. One gigantic Playmobil disaster upstairs. One mother out running errands on her bicycle. File this under “up.”
That thing woven into her hair is a dandelion. Yesterday, at recess, she and her friends celebrated a completely invented ritual called The Commencement of the Dandelion Festival.
She tells me this, and then she heads off to play a soccer game.
On his 13th birthday, Kevin and I take him out for lunch. (Fries with gravy, a milkshake, and a banquet burger.)
Also on his 13th birthday, his soccer team wins their game, and AppleApple and I pick up a cake from DQ on our way home from her game. He mentions that it’s been a great birthday.
It’s around 9:30 PM when we gather to blow out the candles. For some of us, DQ cake is supper.
Some of us don’t seem to mind.
Friday evening. Tuna melt supper for him, leftovers for me. He’s played soccer in the living alone for too long. He’s bored. It’s only the two of us, alone in the house. And so, of course, we sit at the dining-room table and colour together. We make it into a game. It’s the kind of “fun” activity I cajole my children into doing, when we “play” together. We haven’t done this for a few years. I sign my name to my picture, age 39. He signs his name to his picture, age 6.
This photo is essentially unrelated to our weekend. What I like about it is the small picture within the bigger picture: the mirror looking backward at a scene that appears to be rendered in black and white, while the almost colourless landscape whooshes past out the window. It’s like a metaphor for a blog post.
I haven’t had a lot to say this week, here in Blogland. I think my thoughts have turned to subjects too large to be confined to this space. It isn’t the medium for the long-form essay; nor is it Twitter-sized. It’s like a scrapbook: photos, captions, a snapshot capturing a fragment of the here and now. I’ve been thinking about renovating my blog so that it can display photos more prominently and text more colourfully, but that’s a big project for a solo artist who can’t seem to keep the counters clean in her actual abode, though she did just fold several days’ worth of laundry, leaving it in yet another basket for her children to put away in their drawers, which they may someday do, someday. One lives in hope.
I ran 23 kilometres yesterday. It was about two kilometres more than my legs wished to go, but I’d planned my route slightly ambitiously. I was aiming for a two-hour run, and it took me slightly more than two hours. I’m oddly un-achy today. Yet oddly grumpy, it must be confessed. I’ve run the vacuum cleaner down the stairs, threatened to give away one child’s computer (as in, physically picked up said computer and carted it toward the great outdoors where I promised to hand it to any stranger passing by), and now I’ve wisely barricaded myself into my office. One of my goals for today is to plan out the summer: last summer I paid the older children to babysit the younger children, including making lunches, and not using video games as entertainment, an entirely successful experiment we intend to recreate this summer.
It’s Victoria Day, and a holiday here in Canada, so I’m getting a taste of the summer that must not happen: everyone underfoot and bored and sulking about the paucity of electronic time and asking for snacks and ignoring the simplest instructions whilst I fold laundry and howl about wasted opportunities and my envy of Mordecai Richler, whose biography still haunts me several years after reading it. (I’m not making this up. The howl of “I wish I were Mordecai Richler!” arises surprisingly frequently when I’m in a self-pitying mood: imagine having someone to cook you fine meals and take your children to their appointments and keep the daily annoyances at bay while you work your ass off doing the only thing you really want to do).
Except take a small step back, Carrie. Do you really want to wallow in envy?
And another small step, please. Mordecai Richler was making a killer living doing the only thing he wanted to do, and while I’m doing fine as far as these things go, basically Kevin and I must share the domestic and professional tasks between us to keep our family afloat. In short, we both have to: cook the meals (some of the time), take the children to their appointments (some of the time), and make space for the things we really want to do (some of the time).
And, hey. Would I really want it any other way? I appear to be feeling better, suddenly. It must be the barricade. And the writing. The writing always helps. I can hear, through my ear plugs, children gathering to make their own lunches (ramen noodles) and the vacuum running (Kevin). And now the piano is being practiced. And the sun is shining. Here are some flowers from our backyard:
Let me leave you with a few of the wonderful things I’ve read this weekend:
* Ian Brown’s essay on the mulberry tree that once stood in his back yard (aside: I harbour a deeply held fantasy of becoming the female version of Ian Brown)
* Anakana Schofield’s books Q&A in The Irish Times, which is as enormously amusing as one could ever imagine a books Q&A being
* Oy! Feh! So! by Cary Fagan, illustrated by Gary Clement, a children’s picture book that is CJ’s absolute favourite right now, and which is quite a lot of fun to read out loud, especially if you, like me, enjoy doing voices at great volume right before bedtime
* All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews, which is kind of wrecking me even while it opens me, like all great books do, taking you apart and putting you back together, emotionally and morally, without telling you what to think. I love Miriam Toews.
completely unrelated photos of SPRING!
8:40 PM. Home from AppleApple’s first outdoor soccer game of the season. Kevin off to his soccer game.
Me, at dining-room table, eating a late supper, Business section of the Globe open before me (nothing else available, clearly).
Him, two bowls of bedtime-snack-cereal consumed and teeth brushed, arrives at my side.
Me, hugging him, while trying to finish eating: “It’s bedtime. Would you like me to read to you, or I could play the ukulele for you, or would you like AppleApple to read you some more Harry Potter?”
Him, no hesitation: “Harry Potter!”
Her: “I can read you a bedtime story, Mom.”
Me: “Okay. You can start while I’m loading the dishwasher.”
Her: “It’s about this dog and a boy, and the boy can read the dog’s mind.”
Her: Reading out loud, stumbling over words like “array” and “campaign.”
Me: “This book uses a big vocabulary.”
Her: “Can we read in my bed now? I’ve set it up for you.”
Me, awhile later, dishwasher running, pots washed: “Sure.”
Her: “Are you coming, Mom?”
Me: “I just have to … kiss your brother goodnight … tuck in your brother … get a sheet for your brother because his blanket is too hot … tell your sister to brush her teeth ….”
Her: Waiting in a little nest she’s made for us in her bunk.
Me, climbing up: “Do you want me to read to you for a little bit?”
Her: “You can finish the chapter!”
Me: Finishing chapter.
Her: “Now I’ll read.” Stumbling over words. Patiently continuing. Laughing with genuine delight when the dog eats the boy’s pillow.
Me: “Look at the clock, honey.” [9:30 on the dot.] “We have to stop here.”
Her: Bookmarking spot.
Me: “This book really has a lot of big words. But I don’t think it’s actually very well written.”
Her: “I finished all the Magic Treehouse books …”
Me: “And we’ve already read a lot of the really good ones, like Pippi Longstocking, Charlotte’s Web.”
Her: “I’m not going to read Because of Winn Dixie. We’re reading it at school.”
Me: “I’ll bet your sister could recommend some really good books for you to read. She’s read just about everything. Let’s ask her in the morning.”
Us: Goodnight kisses.
Me, back downstairs: “You are not allowed to start reading another Agatha Christie book right now!!!!”
Her, blank-eyed, glancing up at me: “Whaaa?”
Me: “Mark your page and put down the book, or I will take it away from you.”
Me: “You need to go to bed. You’re swimming in the morning!”
Her: Eyes gazing downward on page.
Me: Turning book over.
Her: Sad face (fake).
Us: Hugging goodnight.
Me: Folding laundry, nearly 10 PM.
Him, coming downstairs, plopping into nearby chair: “Mom, what if video games had been invented before books? Do you think that parents would be making their kids play video games instead of reading books?”
Him: “I mean, what makes books better than video games? At least in video games I get to choose what I want to do next. In books, the story stays exactly the same, no matter what.”
Me: Wondering if fundamentally I don’t get how the mind of a nearly-13-year-old boy operates.
Him: “Why is reading for entertainment better than playing a video game?”
Me, launching into it: “I think it’s because reading is creative. You have to see the characters in your mind. You have to make them up using symbols on a page. In a video game, it’s all there in front of you. You’re just viewing it.”
Him: “I mean, I like reading some books. But it seems like they’re less creative than video games because you can’t make any choices.”
Me: “Well, a book is a linear creation. But even a video game is limited by its own parameters. And in really good books, everything isn’t neat and tidy, and you have to figure out for yourself why characters do certain things, and you wonder afterwards what might happen next.”
Him: “I don’t do that.”
Me: “You don’t wonder why a character did something? Or wonder what might happen next?”
Me, climbing onto soapbox: “Also so many video games are extremely violent. You’re in a fantasy world where you can’t empathize with the people you’re killing. And you basically have eternal life.”
Him: “Exactly. It’s a fantasy. That’s what people who play video games want.”
Me: “Sure. I agree with you. Lots of people want the fantasy. Lots of people watch reality television too. It’s easy entertainment. I guess I just don’t really get it.”
Him, sadly: “I’m going to bed now.”
Me, feeling crummy, missing his company, hearing my ponderous long-winded lecture through his ears (have not transcribed entire ponderous long-winded lecture for the sake of brevity and face-saving)
Me, to self: “I’m the worst mother in the world.”
Self, to me: “No you’re not. Don’t get down on yourself. It’s not going to help.”
Me, awhile later, laundry folded, knocking on closed bedroom door, sitting on the end of his bed in the dark: “Maybe we can agree that we don’t quite understand each other’s preferred forms of entertainment. Maybe you can figure out how much time you think is reasonable to spend playing video games, and I’ll figure out how much time I think is reasonable to spend reading books. And then we can talk about other ways to be entertained too.”
Him, quite agreeably: “Ok.”
Ok. Okay? Ok.