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.
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’).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.”
‘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.
The team made it to the final. They’d lost to the other team in the first round.
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.
Not to worry! She’s back.
“Mom, I heard the trophies are HUGE!”
Well, you get take one home. Somehow you kept the ball out of the net during those last panicked moments. You won!
Why is winning so sweet? But it is.
Went to hot yoga yesterday, the first time in months. The focus for the class was “gratitude.” Just what I needed! Talking with a friend yesterday afternoon had already got me thinking about the unhappiness that’s caused by comparing oneself to others (see the lovely Soule Mama). Caught up in wishing I had sheep and five homeschooled children and cupboards of freshly preserved home-grown goodness, I completely ignore and minimize all the goodness in my own life, right here and now.
Comparing lives is foolish, and possibly even worse than that — insidious. Now, that isn’t to say that inspiration can’t be found from investigating with interest the choices other people make. I wonder what the distinction is between comparison and inspiration. Is it my own frame of mind?
Here’s a good reminder as I go about my every day activities: I’m doing things that I’ve chosen to do, that I enjoy doing (mostly), and that, by necessity, cancel out my ability to do other things. There is only so much time and energy in one life (or in one family’s life).
Here are a few choices we’ve made:
We live in the city, a very short walk to the uptown core (because I also dislike driving and relying on cars). Therefore, we don’t live in the country on many rolling acres with paddocks and fields and a truck patch and barn. Nevertheless, we enjoy a lively herb garden, and lots of fresh tomatoes from our patches around the yards, front and back.
I write, and I need quiet time on my own to do it. Therefore, we’ve chosen not to homeschool our children, the responsibility for which would fall on me. Nevertheless, the kids have lots of freedom in the summertime, and also pursue extra-curricular activities they enjoy.
I love exercising: swimming, training to run long distance, taking early morning classes with friends. Therefore, most of my free time, which could otherwise be spent baking muffins before breakfast or canning food or tending a garden, is allotted to exercise instead. Nevertheless, I bake bread fairly often and cook locally sourced meals from scratch.
A few random footnotes.
Here’s a very funny essay by writer Lauren B. Davis: 10 questions never to ask a writer. I especially liked number 1. Sigh.
As I’ve hinted, I’ve been writing. In fact, I’ve been writing pretty steadily. But I think it’s pre-writing, telling the basic story to myself in order to understand my characters more deeply, so that I can distill their lives into something more meaningful. As with The Juliet Stories, I wrote many early layers of politics, of explication, of developing characters and relationships and plot that did not make it into the book itself. This is necessary writing, but it isn’t the most satisfying. Every time you sit down to write, you want to believe you’re landing on the perfect shape and form. Instantly. But that’s rare, if not impossible. A deep rich work requires deep rich work. The book that deserves to be read will come out of the disheartening and ultimately invisible work underpinning it. I write in hope!
One more tiny thing. If you’re so inclined, CBC Books is inviting readers to nominate books they’d like to see on The Giller Prize list. Here’s an entry from someone who nominated The Juliet Stories. Want to join in?
saying goodbye to his little brother
Overnight camp was not a huge part of my childhood. But I did work at a wild and beautiful camp the summer I was sixteen (I was the pony girl). And I remember well the feeling of waking early, eating communally, singing around a campfire, and being someplace where the only thing on the agenda, really, is to have fun. To be outdoors as much as possible, and to play.
This week, my biggest kids are away at camp. No ponies at this one, but lots of friends, and already a few years of happy history behind them: this will be their third summer. They know what to expect, and they were looking forward to it when they left yesterday. I could detect not a whiff of anxiety in their goodbye demeanour.
And actually, I feel pretty okay too.
I’ve found babysitting for the week, so I can keep plugging away. Our schedule will be a little lighter without the extra soccer practices to go to. And the two little kids can soak up some time and attention.
Meantime, I’m glad the two big kids get the chance to experience a bit of independence, a bit of freedom, and the beauty of what feels like wilderness (even though, in reality, it’s only a few minutes from the nearest town).
The week will go fast. I’m looking forward to hearing the stories and the songs. To seeing what changes the week has brought (last year, both seemed taller, and more mature, after just one week.) And to doing piles of laundry.