Today is a perfect fall day, crisp, pale blue sky threaded with grey clouds.
Today, I will sit at my desk and write.
Today, I will enjoy this cup of coffee and wish for a second one.
Today, I did not get up early for yoga. When the alarm sounded, I turned it off and crawled back into dreamland.
Today, I ate porridge for breakfast, plus an egg with toast.
Today, I kissed and hugged four children, reminded them repeatedly to get ready for school, listened to them play the piano, and bribed one of them to go to math club once a week.
Today, the builders arrived to continue their work.
Today, I will sit at my desk and make up stories about characters I’ll never get to meet in real life.
Today, I pause to remember my Gramps. Once, he took me to see wild horses. Mustangs. It was sadder than I thought it would be. I was ten or eleven. The mustangs were corralled for sale on a ranch, of sorts. I remember dust. I don’t know what my Gramps thought of it all. What the wild horses meant to him. I think he appreciated the atmosphere of wheeling and dealing. But I know he loved horses, too, like I did. When I think of him, I think of horses.
Today is a perfect fall day, yellow leaves on green grass, and the frost lifted by the sun.
Today, I will write something for Gramps.
My first client.
Just a trim. And the application of a brush to certain rarely-brushed peaks at the back of the head. (We should probably do that more often.) End result: she was pleased.
“I should probably brush my hair more than once a month.” “Some of your hair looks like silk, and other parts look like …” “… a little doormat?” “That’s a very accurate description.”
A brush and a very very tiny trim, please. (She has memories of an unhappy hair cut we undertook several years ago.) “The funny thing is that my hair probably looks longer in the after photo!”
[Stomach churning, scissors poised. Oh, his curls!] “Are you sure you want me to cut your hair short? “Yes.” “So you’re really sure?” “Uh huh.”
But oh my, what a sweet little face. I can kiss his sweet neck.
But this is kind of heart-breaking. He’s seeing himself for the first time. How does he feel about the change?
You can see it in his eyes. Is this me? Does this still look like me? His sisters react to their first glimpse with ohs and ahs of delight: “You look so cute!” And one points out, “No one will think you’re a girl anymore.” [For the record, I never minded that; and it didn’t seem to bother him much either.]
At least one thing’s for sure: hair grows.
I didn’t write yesterday. That felt strange. But I didn’t have anything to say.
I’m not sure I have anything to say today, either. In truth, life feels a little wan this week, gloomy, rainy, pale, grey. Or is that the weather?
I am tired. I might have overdone it on the exercise front, though I don’t like to admit it. I didn’t rest after my trail race, but continued apace, training toward the marathon. And I didn’t rest after Sunday’s long run (the furthest I’ve ever run). By last night, my whole body ached in a way that was unfamiliar. It still aches this morning. I did not get up early to swim, though I dreamed it; even in the dream I didn’t make it to the pool, though in the dream, I got to lounge on a snowbank under a hot summer sun. Ah, dreams.
Before sleep, I am reading the poems of Mary Oliver for my poetry book club. I am searching my heart (it is impossible to read the poems of Mary Oliver without searching one’s heart). And I have some questions. The kind that can’t be answered by reading the horoscopes, though heaven help me, I keep reading those, too.
**Where am I heading, at my breakneck pace? **What am I failing to stop for? **What if I can’t squeeze every fascinating everything in? **What matters? **Will I always be so impatient? So goal-oriented? **Can I be both ambitious and content, or do those two states of mind cancel each other out? **Do I want to be at home, all day, every day?
That last question hangs around me this fall, dogging me. Look, there is the new porch, and at the end, there is the wall and the front window of my new office, which makes the house look unexpectedly much bigger than before. But is it big enough to contain me?
A friend from grad school wrote this heartfelt post about returning to work after spending the past year home with her son, who is now a year. I was riveted by the emotions her post raised in me. She’s a full-time working mother! She loves her job! It’s a whole new frontier! I want to know more in an almost clinical way: let’s dissect and analyze this. What do I feel, reading about her major life transition? I feel envy, longing. She is expressing her working self, participating in the larger world, working with others. But when she describes missing her son’s bedtime due to a late meeting, I am gripped by the same agony she expresses, a pit opening in my stomach: missing a whole day in his brand-new life!
It’s too late to wish I’d chosen otherwise: to wish that in the past decade I’d developed my working self. I didn’t want to at the time. Instead, I got to have all those bedtimes. So many that they blur together. They seem mundane. I didn’t/don’t appreciate them enough. All that time we’ve spent soaking into each other.
**When I unpeel myself from them, who am I? **Who am I outside this home? And the question I’m most scared of, the one I really want to ask: **How do I begin to develop my working self, now, after a decade of being mom-at-home? (Some of you might be asking, too. If you are, or if you have ideas or encouragement or more questions, too, please respond.)
**Monday’s menu: Pad thai (pictured above). Broiled shrimp and tofu. Daikon salad. Stir-fried rainbow chard.
**Original plan: Pad thai with hot and sour soup. But both things require tons of pre-prep organizing and stirring up multiple bowls of things, so I decided to simplify.
**In the kitchen: Whipped up after school. The pad thai is a version without ketchup; it’s made with fish sauce and lemon juice and piles of cilantro (not vegetarian, no).
**The reviews: Eaten too hurriedly for reviews, but everyone seemed happy.
**The verdict: Excellent.
**Bonus recipe: Radish salad was made by slicing the daikon super-thin, then mixing up a dressing of fresh lime juice and maple syrup, plus salt. Sprinkle on some hot pepper flakes. Divine. (My invention).
**Tuesday’s menu: Honey-baked lentils. Steamed rice.
**Original plan: Yup. This one was by request. It needs a vegetable, I know. I’m not awake enough to think of one.
**In the kitchen: Easy work, completed after waking from a killer morning nap, following my night of doula’ing in Toronto. Turn oven off, leave until suppertime. Eaten post-swim lessons.
**The reviews: I didn’t get to hear the full reviews, due to racing off to a soccer coaching clinic with AppleApple. She ate a sandwich instead. But when we left, CJ was in the throes of an impressive tantrum because he couldn’t SEE the honey in the lentils. A reliable source tells me he became so incensed that he bit the table, at which point everyone started laughing, even him. But he didn’t eat the lentils. Everyone else did, however, and within 24 hours, it was gone.
**The verdict: Good meal to make in advance. And yum.
**Wednesday’s menu: Leek and potato soup (crockpot). Bread, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, sliced tomatoes.
**In the kitchen: Early morning chopping and sauteeing, but it paid off. I pureed it in the pot, and called it “Mashed Potato Soup.” (Ever-popular.)
**The reviews: “It looks different, but it tastes the same. Like, no offense, Mom, but when I saw you with that big bowl of vegetables this morning …” -Albus (I did use lots of leeks; and the soup had a greenish yellow tinge that was slightly unappetizing, or, in Albus’s words, “kind of looks like barf.”) Unfortunately for us, right about then, CJ gagged on his egg yolk and threw up an entire egg right onto his plate. I would characterize the moment as matter-of-fact rather than dramatic. Thus endeth supper. You’re all racing to make leek and potato soup right now, I can tell. I was solo parenting because Kevin was in Toronto.
**The verdict: Actually a really good meal, both food and chat.
**Thursday’s menu: Curried lentil soup (crockpot). Saag paneer. Baked brown rice. Plus leftover white rice.
**Original plan: For some reason, when I made the menus on Sunday evening, I was hankering for risotto and had written that down in place of regular rice. Who has time to stir the risotto? Not I, at least, not yesterday. So I threw a lentil soup in the crockpot and made brown rice instead.
**In the kitchen: Was chopping onions for soup when the electrician knocked on the door to go over the outlets and light fixtures and other things requiring thought and decision-making; but that wasn’t all. The kids were finishing breakfast and getting packed for school. Kevin was in Toronto (yes, again). Another parent was telephoning to tell me about a last-minute change to school-walking plans. Albus was refusing to walk his little sister. “Where is the electrical box, can you show me?” “You’re so mean! I never get a chance to talk to my friends! And now you’re going to make me walk her!” Chop, chop, chop onions. The thought crossed my mind: I can’t hold this together. But then I did. On with the day.
**The reviews: Most chose the brown rice and we talked about how nutritious it is. Does it taste different from white rice? We debated. Fooey gobbled the spinach and paneer and requested leftovers for her lunch box. Lentil soup was eaten. It was just me and the kids, and we enjoyed each other’s company. And they all ate lentils and brown rice and, at the very least, sampled spinach and paneer! An I-love-these-kids moment.
**The verdict: Good food.
**Friday’s menu: Bailey’s pickup supper. Plus picnic for soccer girl. Plus dinner out with girlfriends for me.
**In the kitchen: Managed pickup and food storing in under an hour. Additionally, packed picnic, soccer bag, running gear, and ran out the door to pick up a car from the Grand River Carshare, which we just joined earlier in the week, in order to meet Kevin and kids at skating.
**The reviews: I wasn’t home to hear those reviews, but AppleApple and I enjoyed the picnic (apples, red peppers, cheese, bread sticks and pretzels, and a pumpkin muffin) after she’d changed into her goalie gear, and I’d changed into my running gear. Then she went to her goalie clinic, and I went for a run. An hour and a half later, we zipped down to another indoor field for AppleApple’s second soccer session of the evening. I’d arranged carpooling for her, so I dropped off the Co-op car and walked to meet my friends for dinner and a drink. (Kevin was at his own soccer game; Albus was at a sleepover; and the others were home with a sitter.)
**The verdict: All I can say is PHEW. We made it all happen. This scheduling stuff gets easier with time and experience.
Weekend kitchen accomplishments: Four loaves of bread. Double-batch of waffles (three bags frozen for later). Pan of roasted tomatoes turned into sauce. Two jars of applesauce made from apples picked at Kevin’s family’s farm. Banana bran muffins.
Note: All of this accomplished on Thanksgiving Monday. We spent the weekend with Kevin’s family. Good grief but it’s a hot day to have the oven on. I can’t believe I’m saying that about October 10th.
Albus is the only lunch room helper in what sounds like a grade two classroom (the info I get from him isn’t always 100% accurate). At the beginning of the year, he was one of three lunch room helpers in the classroom, all of whom had volunteered for the job, but apparently “lunchroom helper” is a job with some attrition, because he’s now the only one. Lunchroom helpers supervise during two “nutrition breaks” as lunch is now called, and as I understand it there are no teachers in the classroom during that time. Just Albus. And a bunch of kids. Eating. And probably talking and laughing and potentially fooling around.
He says there have been no problems. He just has to stand up to eat his lunch (he didn’t qualify that as a problem).
So I said, um, what would you do if someone started choking?
And he shrugged and said with an optimistic uplift in his voice, “Hope for the best?”
Very proactive of you, Albus. Very proactive. (For the record, I suggested that in addition to hoping for the best, he head for the hallway and shout for a teacher.) But, really, I’m super-proud of him for volunteering to help out, and for sticking with it; and also for volunteering to torture parents walking their children home from school by being a school crossing guard, too. (Parents waiting for the 10-year-old kid in a safety pinny to tell them it’s safe to cross know exactly what I’m talking about…)
**Photo from our summer holiday, but of course. Doesn’t he look beautiful, and quite possibly, responsible?
Today is Thursday. I set my alarm for stupid-early and dragged myself scarcely-awake to the pool to meet my friend. She couldn’t make it tomorrow, and I knew I wouldn’t make it without her. And we swam. It was lovely. I thought about next to nothing. That was lovely, too. When I got home, AppleApple had her packed schoolbag waiting by the door, and was at the counter, dressed and eating breakfast. Apparently, she is taking “be more organized” to heart. On Thursdays this year, she is attending a different school, and a bus picks her up relatively early.
My goals for AppleApple are that she learn how to organize herself and her belongings, and that she finish the projects she starts. I was required to articulate these goals for her enrichment program, and I shared them with her. I suggested she come up with some goals of her own, but she seemed content with mine. This was at supper last night. Albus recalled that he’d been asked to set goals at the beginning of the school year (ie. less than three weeks ago), but he couldn’t remember what they were. So I set a few for him, too. This is what we call “family meetings,” now. Basically, it’s supper-table talk. Sometimes I announce: “We have to talk about something important,” and everyone pays extra attention.
My goals for Albus were to pay attention to details, and not give up.
He didn’t appear to be paying attention when I told him.
But he did go upstairs after supper to finish his math homework (in our newly tidy workspace: photo evidence above); and he did pass his piano songs; and he did write out his dictee three times (which is his study method).
He wasn’t keen to try my alternate study method this morning: a quiz. But he managed about fifteen minutes of work at the chalkboard before he lost steam and became frustrated. Kevin and I played good cop/bad cop. We got through 35% of the material (he has to study full sentences for the dictee). It was clear the rest of the material needed the same attention, but he didn’t want to keep going. Kevin hugged him and told him he was proud of the work he’d done. I suggested we spread out the studying over many days, breaking it down into, say, one sentence per day. Like piano practice: he doesn’t try to squeeze a week’s worth of piano practice into one day.
He was skeptical and thought he’d likely forget from one day to the next; but he agreed that if these test results weren’t great, he would try studying differently. Here’s the thing: he doesn’t lose so many points on really dreadful spelling (except for the occasional tough word). He loses points on the details. Not capitalizing names, and words at the beginning of sentences. No punctuation marks. Random accents. Knowing a word is plural but neglecting to add the “s” at the end. “Those are only worth half a point,” he argued. “It’s an easy point to get,” said his dad. “You should get all the easy points you can.”
Hm. Didn’t mean to write about studying, AGAIN. But there it is. That was our Thursday morning. Kevin and CJ left for their walk to nursery school. Fooey and I waved goodbye to Albus, and we walked down the street to meet her friends who walk her to school on Thursdays, when AppleApple is at enrichment. I love that AppleApple gets this special program designed especially for her, and she’s earned the chance to spend a day a week exploring and being challenged and having fun … but I mourn, a bit, that Albus doesn’t. I think he needs it more; she’s the kind of kid who designs her own special programming all the time. Fooey, too. She comes home from school and gets a blank piece of paper and she writes and writes: “Writing workshop!” she calls it.
So we have to work on our own special programming.
One fine discovery we’ve made this fall: Albus loves to swim. So does AppleApple. Kevin has now taken them five times for lane swims at 7 o’clock in the morning. It is slightly eccentric (I’ve never seen another kid at early-morning-lane swim, except for the swim club kids), but it’s working. AppleApple likes to do sprints. But Albus just likes to swim. He swam 26 laps without stopping yesterday morning–and I mean really without stopping. He reported that he had to swim with one eye shut because his goggles had slipped and were leaking and he didn’t want to stop to adjust them.
Kevin and I just look at each other and go: WHY IS THIS WORKING?? Could we have the magic formula, please?
Why is he willing to patiently swim laps, unperturbed when his sister splashes past? What did we do right in this situation? All I can think is that first we had to teach him to swim, which took years of lessons and many complaints along the way. And then we had to take him to the pool. And then … well, then we just let him swim how he wanted to swim. And it turns out he wants to swim back and forth, not very fast, for as long as he possibly can.