Category: Kids

Wearing my writer hat/hair: Eden Mills, part two

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So I’ve had my writer hat on for the past two days. Luckily it’s invisible because I don’t look good in hats, having been blessed with a teeny-tiny head. Maybe I should say I’ve had my writer hair on for the past two days.

In any case, on Sunday, I read at Eden Mills; and we brought the kids along. There was much complaining about being forced to spend the day doing something other than lounging in pajamas in front of a screen. I’m obviously parenting badly. I assured them that Writers Festivals were Fun, but they weren’t buying what I was selling. We proceeded to spend approximately 85% of the car ride being tormented by one child who kept repeating, “I’m bored! I’m bored! I’m boooooored!” I wish I were exaggerating. This monotonous soundtrack was occasionally interrupted by a) the same child hollering, “And no one’s even listening to me!”; b) other children screeching at said child; c) parents trying not to lose it. Fun times.

Luckily, the day was sunny, the townlet of Eden Mills was most welcoming (we were directed to our parking spot by no fewer than seven boy scouts/cadets), and we caught a ride up the main street on a golf cart, which the kids thought was pretty nifty.

Three of four children had never been to one of my readings. This seemed like the perfect setting to introduce them to this part of my job. But for the most part, the younger two didn’t really get that I was working. Eventually, I gave up and removed myself from their company for a few minutes of peace before the reading began — the new soundtrack at that point had become, “Why can’t I just have some ice cream!”(Yes, there was ice cream — see, told you, kids. Writers Festivals are Fun.)

I was reading with Dani Couture and Tanis Rideout, and we strolled together to the site — someone’s beautiful backyard overlooking a little river — which was set up almost like a Greek amphitheatre (minus the stones, and on a smaller scale), with stage down below and audience on the hill above. Upon arrival, I observed that my children and husband were arranged handsomely upon our picnic blanket. But perhaps they were a little too close to where the writers were seated. I could hear that the soundtrack was still going on, although sotto voce. “I want ice cream!”

I was reading last.

And so I sat and watched the slow motion hour-long crumbling of my handsome family. They were pretty well-behaved, all things considered. But I was cursing our parental lack of foresight — really, we should have gotten them the damn ice cream. After all, it was lunchtime, and then it was past lunchtime.
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By the time it was my turn to get up and read, Kevin had retreated far away up the hill with CJ, who was quite far gone in ice-cream-starvation-mode. But my other three children stayed to listen.

Afterward, Albus whispered, “That was really good, Mom!” And Fooey wondered whether Ronald Reagan was a real person. And they all said that Writers Festivals really weren’t so bad after all.

So it was worth it.

And then we got ice cream. And hot dogs. And soda pop. “This is full of vitamin C,” one of my brilliant offspring proclaimed. We checked the label. And I regret to report that Orange Crush offers not a jot of vitamin C. It is, in fact, 0% vitamin C.

We were a much jollier bunch driving home, all except for Kevin. The solo-parenting-while-Mom-was-in-work-mode had taken a toll on his ordinarily equable personality. And I, too, had to confess my exhaustion at the end of the day, saying, “I don’t really understand why, because I felt pretty calm all day.” Kevin said, “It takes a lot of energy to look that calm.”

And that’s the truth.
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:::

This is turning into a long long tale, and I haven’t even reached day two of Carrie aka Writer. But I shall go on (whether you go on with me, I leave to your discretion.)

Yesterday, I led writing workshops at a camp near Eden Mills. It felt like a real “working mother” day, which is still a bit novel to me. I left the house before the kids had woken. Kevin kept me posted by texts. Four of us — me, Evan Munday, Tanis Rideout, and Angie Abdou — led small groups of high school students in hour-long writing sessions on different subjects. (I did the short story.) The kids were willing to write and share their work, and I found the sessions very pleasant. I also appreciated being amongst other writers, since I spend most of my working hours alone in this office, wearing crocs at one end, earplugs at the other. When we first met, Angie said, “Oh, you wrote that blog on not being on the Giller list!” which kind of made me cringe (this could be what I’m remembered for?), although she was very nice about it. Sometimes, in order to keep blogging, I forget (or ignore) the fact that blogs get read, and that the CanLit scene is pretty small.

Because here’s the thing. I do feel, when I make appearances in my writer hat/hair, like I’m dressing up to play a part. I know I’m not a writer with a capital W. It’s not that I don’t take my work seriously, because I do. But as much as I hope for worldly success, I appreciate the obscurity of my existence.

By the time I trudged, over-loaded and over-caffeinated, through the front door late yesterday afternoon, all of my children had miraculously gotten themselves home from school (this had been arranged with great forethought, but nevertheless seemed miraculous), and they were playing wii. Frankly, only the dogs were excited to greet me. I whipped up supper, hung laundry, supervised piano practice, checked email, we ate together as a family. And then I took the kids to the library and the grocery store — because it turned out that despite their lacklustre after-school greeting they had been missing me, enough to want to run errands in order to spend time together.

We had so much fun grocery shopping, I can’t even describe it. Everyone was feeling silly.

It was the best part of my day.

So here’s the sappy conclusion at the end of this long long post: Nothing makes me feel more accomplished as a human being than being happy with my kids who are happy being with me. Nothing.

(Although I suspect we appreciated each other all the more because we’d worked hard on our own, and we’d missed each other; do other working parents stumble into these puddles of mundane bliss, too?)

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 …

Today, another first day

This morning I biked uphill with CJ “pedalling” on the trail-a-bike behind me. Why is our entire route to school uphill? Then again, the entire route home is the opposite. CJ chattered the whole way. He kept calling out questions, and I kept puffing out abbreviated replies, along the lines of, “Can’t talk! Trying to breathe! Keep pedalling!”

I saw some tears in the kindergarten drop-off zone, but they weren’t his, and they weren’t mine. On the whole, he was excited, although one of the last things he told me before we parked at the school was, “I’m feeling nervous, Mommy!”

That’s okay, kiddo. It’s okay to feel nervous. It’s a big change.

We grabbed some photos on my phone, the bell rang, he got in line, he went inside. A quick kiss was squeezed in there.

Very different from my very first kindergarten drop-off seven years ago.

Seven years ago, my baby, my firstborn, was that kid in the kindergarten line-up who was having hysterics and clinging to his mother’s leg. That mother had a two-year-old by the hand, and a newborn strapped across her chest in a sling. It was a really hot day. The pitying, sympathetic glances were numerous. I could almost hear parents thinking, Thank God that’s not me, poor woman.

I left the school in tears, my kindergartner wailing loudly and kicking the carpet in his new kindergarten classroom, his classmates observing him with vague curiosity.

“Don’t worry, we’ll call you if we need you,” the secretary told me, as she tried to get me to go home. I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to break into the kindergarten room and hug my screaming boy. But I went home.

All was well when I came to pick him up several hours later, though I could hardly believe it. And he’s remarkably well-adjusted and sociable, so I don’t think the experience scarred him for life (though I wasn’t convinced at the time).

This is such a different experience. I felt so much more sadness over that first leaving, more grief about the passage of time. Maybe it’s having four children, and having gone through this ritual repeatedly over the years. Maybe it’s just about being ready.

But he didn’t look back as he walked into the school, and I didn’t wish that he would.

This is what a holiday with four kids and two dogs looks like

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Sunday, day one. Pack up post-successful-soccer tournament and drive east 281 km to spend night in hotel, booked in advance. Eat pizza in truck. Feed dogs by roadside. Arrive after dark only to discover hotel has no adjoining rooms. And the gym is already closed. Split up into two rooms, boys and girls (with dogs in boys’).

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meeting their new cousin
Monday, day two. Take dogs to vet (it’s a complicated story). Spend morning at hotel, swimming, running on nearby lakeside trail. Pick up dogs mid-afternoon and drive east 111 km to visit new nephew/cousin. He’s only five days old!

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Tuesday, day three. Visiting with family, swimming in the basin of a nearby lock, running/hiking on a beautiful wooded trail, playing badminton and soccer, walking dogs on rocks, staying up late to watch silly tv (everyone) … oh, and doing that 11-year-old specialty: the I’m-bored flop.

cousins
best picture ever
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Wednesday, day four. Brunch with grandma, aunt, uncle, cousins; say goodbye. Pack up and drive west and north 423 km. Threaten at various points during the journey to pack it in and just go home (arguing children, restless dogs, exhausted parents). Instead, surge ever onward. Until we get here.

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birthday on the boat
Thursday, day five. Dogs cry all night; luckily only Kevin and I can hear them; unluckily, we are running dangerously low on sleep. Luckily, I find on the cottage shelves a light and fluffy book into which to disappear for the better part of the day: The Nanny Diaries. And the children play. And we swim. And we walk the dogs around the rocks and woods. And we celebrate Fooey’s birthday (again!), this time on a boat in the middle of the lake.

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Friday, day six. Dogs sleep better. Kevin and I sleep better. Motorboat and water skiis tested out. More swimming. I disappear into past issues of The New Yorker, discover the journals of Mavis Gallant from Spain, early 1950s. As the writers of The Nanny Diaries would say: “Swoon.” (Only they’d say it about the hunky guy upstairs.)

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it's a beautiful world
Saturday, day seven. More water-skiing and boating. A long swim out to “Poop Island,” accompanied by kids and Kevin and my dad in canoe and kayaks. More long-form essays in The New Yorker devoured. More food eaten. Dogs happy in shade. Ahhhhhh.

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Sunday, day eight. More swimming, skiing, boating, eating, reading, all crammed in before a late lunch. Pack up. Boat out. Drive west and south 302 km, with interlude by the side of the road due to vehicle trouble. (Should have gotten a photo of that for posterity.) Four kids, two dogs, two parents, seventeen bags of dirty laundry, and by golly, we make it home. CJ: “This doesn’t feel like my bed! It feels different.”

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‘Til next summer, then.

:::

A brief addendum, applicable only today. I’m signing books this evening at Chapters in Waterloo from 6-8. Stop by if you’ve got a few minutes. We can chat about The Juliet Stories. Or swap summer holiday stories.

What?! We went to another soccer tournament this weekend? Why, yes, yes, we did.

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The team made it to the final. They’d lost to the other team in the first round.

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Then their goalie got a nosebleed partway through and had to be subbed off until it had completely stopped. Yeah, that’s my kid. The coach says that his team loves to give him a heart attack. It seems to motivate them.

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Not to worry! She’s back.

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“Mom, I heard the trophies are HUGE!”

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Well, you get take one home. Somehow you kept the ball out of the net during those last panicked moments. You won!

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Why is winning so sweet? But it is.