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).
Signs, balloons, excited preparation.
A Friday-afternoon notion turned into a Saturday morning project. We’ve been talking about doing this for years.
The kids did the pricing. And chose the toys from the cornucopia in the attic. Household items were added from basement and garage. There is always, but always, too much stuff. How did we accumulate all of this?
No one bought the office chairs for $1.00. No students came by, which surprised us. (We also had two working TVs for sale, neither of which sold).
But the lemonade and popcorn were a hit. We used last year’s sign, but we didn’t have any “chocolate treats” to sell this year, so we marked them as “sold out.”
We met lots of neighbours. Nothing says, “hey, drop by for a chat” like arranging the contents of your basement and attic on your front lawn.
What didn’t sell was loaded up in the truck and donated to the local MCC store. Everyone chose something to keep (like this pink flashing butterfly wing musical device we’d forgotten existed).
It was fun. But these photos look a little melancholy to me, as I put them together in Blogland. Maybe it’s the concept of arranging your belongings on the lawn and waiting, wondering, who will show up? What will happen? Will anyone want these things that we once wanted and needed and used?
What’s this? you may ask. Why it’s a Quidditch pitch, of course.
And what about this? Ah, this is the breakfast bar disguised as play area, craft area, Lego-building, snack-time, reading, puzzle-making, crap-dumping area. And dimly visible beyond it, the living-room, complete with giant homemade movie-watching fort.
And here are some movie-watching fort-building Quidditch-playing recently eye-examined kids.
This week, the last before school starts, has been a quiet one. I’ve had no writing time. Zero. There seemed little point, having sent the line edits back to my editor at the end of last week (that’s worth a small hurray!), and not having the fortitude to imagine starting a new project in the midst of this. And by this, I point you to the photos above, which capture only a portion of the domestic chaos in our rooms and yard.
The appropriate implement for cleaning our living-room, at this point, would be a snow shovel.
I spent the first day or two of this week making feeble attempts to clean up. I think it was fort day that smacked me in the face with the obvious: there’s no point in cleaning up when the kids are still playing. And what else should they be doing during these last days of summer holiday? Of course they should be building Quidditch pitches out of duct tape and sticks and buckets and hula hoops. Of course they should be setting up gigantic (and sweltering) movie theatres with precariously balanced air mattresses and every pillow in the house, and of course their mother should let them eat popcorn in the living-room just this once, even though it’s sure to spill, just because. So I did. And they spilled. And it wasn’t the end of the world; or the end of anything, really.
I can’t say I’ve enjoyed this week, but it’s nobody’s fault but my own. Where I’m at is caught in my own end of summer turmoil. I find myself performing small (private) feminist rants (while washing the dishes) about a decade wasted in not climbing the corporate ladder (ha! as if that would ever have been me), and erupting in bitterness because Kevin gets to go out the door to work every morning while I stay home and pop popcorn and plan supper and watch the kids stir up enormous messes (er, play creatively). It’s time, as they say, for a change.
Today, Kevin is home from work, and we are getting stuff done. “It feels like it’s fall,” said Fooey this morning as I hung laundry and we listened to a squirrel’s teeth gnawing on a black walnut, and the fallen leaves blew around the porch stairs. “Is it still summer?”
It is. It is! It’s that melancholy late summer that gets me every year. It’s full of promise and hope, somehow, the way endings always are. And restlessness. And a stomach full of butterflies.
It looks like such a lonely position to play. But she’s grown into it over this past season — her first season ever playing goalie, in fact, which seems remarkable. On Saturday, her team played in a tournament against the other teams in her league. In each game, a loss meant elimination. The girls played with great heart, and never gave up, even when they were down by a goal with a minute left (as in the final game). They tied that game up, and went on to win in overtime by four goals. They also won a game on penalty kicks.
Penalty kicks are what the parents of the goalie pray never ever happen. But this was her second penalty kick experience, and she’d learned the hard way what to expect — all of the girls had. The first time, she thought it was her job as goalie to stop every ball, and was devastated when she couldn’t; we had to explain afterward that penalty kicks give the advantage to the kicker, not the goalie, and no goalie is ever expected to stop them all. This time, the first two balls went in, but she wasn’t rattled by it. Her team was behind by one shot, but she stayed cool as a cucumber. She stopped the next shots cold, her teammates landed theirs, and that was it. Game over.
Tears and hugs on the sidelines, and a mad rush to congratulate the goalie.
It’s a lonely position, but also a very visible position. What seems so remarkable to me is that she isn’t bothered by either factor. She isn’t fazed by failure, or success. When I complimented her on keeping her calm even after a goal had been scored on her, she said, “Well, I wouldn’t be a very good goalie if I got bothered when a goal was scored.”
It’s also a dangerous position. Making one stop, she was run over by a girl on another team (no call made by the ref), and knocked in the head by the girl’s foot. Her comment? “I think that girl needs to work on her jumping.” But there she was, fearless among the feet, grabbing the ball. Amazing focus, and amazing instinct — to dive toward danger rather than flinch away.
Her parents on the sidelines were playing a very different part in the story. It’s so hard to watch, and to care so deeply, and to be unable to act. I’ve started to understand that my only role, on the sidelines, is to believe in her. She obviously believes in herself.
When the day was done, Kevin and I felt drained. The team was elated: they’d made it to the final, which they’ll play in a couple of weeks. “Was that fun?” I asked Kevin. We couldn’t decide. It was an experience. There are dimensions to parenthood that never entered my imagination when I was gestating my babies: the way your children will lead you to places and through experiences and emotions you never knew you’d be obliged to go — and privileged to go, too.
This week has been a long and fuzzy one. And yet it’s actually been quite short. We got home on Monday, late afternoon. I spent the evening in a state of intense irritation roasting and freezing a bushel of red peppers. (“Stay out of the kitchen. I’m sorry. I’m just really irritable right now.” “Yeah, I already know that, Mom.”)
The following morning, I took the kids to Vacation Bible School. Total flop. One day was more than enough and I did not send them back again. Albus’s first question, when I picked them up: “Mom, what are sins?” Warning bells ringing loudly. Apparently, the language was heavily weighted toward sin and enemies and the devil and death angels (no joke). I have a fairly high tolerance for religious language, but no. Just, no. I can’t abide the belief that we are born full of sin, fallen. I believe we’re born human, and we will all make mistakes, and we won’t always be right. But we’re not stained by our mistakes; what a terrible and debilitating concept. What a staggering lack of compassion, to see our errors and the errors of others as sinful. Mistakes are inevitable, and come with great potential. We learn by them. We learn pain. We learn to forgive. We learn compassion. We learn critical thinking. We learn to say sorry (and to feel it). We are strengthened by discovery, and discovery comes through trial and error.
So, long story short, no “free” babysitting this week.
I spent all of Tuesday canning a bushel of tomatoes. The kids had to entertain themselves for the afternoon. Albus was helpful, AppleApple, too. Summer has had the effect of bringing the siblings closer together. That’s a beautiful thing.
Wednesday was a scheduling day. My babysitter is back from Germany and we reunited that afternoon, but I hardly got any writing work done. It was all about the fall schedule, an intricate piecing together of interests and activities. I should have gone for a run afterward.
By yesterday, I felt fuzzy-headed and exhausted. But blueberry season is almost over, and there is an organic patch that friends have been raving about all month. We had to go. It looked like rain, and then it did rain, and then it cleared again. And the blueberry bushes did not disappoint, absolutely laden with fruit. We picked 14 pounds without really trying. More fruit to add to the freezer, and AppleApple and I made blueberry “hand-pies,” which ended up being too sticky to eat by hand.
But despite this positive and happy activity, I had a moment of panic late yesterday afternoon. I’m having a breakdown, I thought. Why? Because I was paralyzed by the thought of supper. Something had to be made, and quickly, because AppleApple had soccer practice; and my brain stuttered to a halt. Pasta plus rice plus potatoes? Is that really what I had on hand? Thankfully, I recovered, retrieved hamburger from the freezer, made a rice/hamburger/zucchini mash-up, boiled potatoes and grilled them along with eggplant, and boiled a pot of sweet corn. All’s well that ends well.
While standing in the kitchen paralyzed, it came to me: I need to exercise. I need to run. I need to stretch. I need alone time. Daily. This week, I’ve been so busy preparing for winter (canning and freezing), and planning for fall, that I forgot about today. It’s not about training for a triathlon; it’s about a daily practice of restoring and maintaining sanity, and peace.
I really should not be blogging right now. I should be in bed. But we arrived home late this afternoon, after a week’s holiday, and I want to write. Need to write. There are many things on my mind, but I haven’t got the capacity to synthesize them all, just now, even if they belonged together, which I suspect they do not.
So here they are, in no particular order.
We uglified the backyard, but it’s nothing compared to what happened to the front today: our falling-down porch got ripped off, with a little bit left, stairs and such, so we can get to the door. As we drove up to the house, I got a glance, no more, and I just felt sick. The house looked so strange, so faceless. I couldn’t take another look. But after a few hours, and before it got dark, I went out on my own with my camera and it looked … okay, really. I could imagine what would be there in the future. Even a little office for me, out that side door.
So, we just went a week without doing laundry … I can’t even describe the pile in the basement. Being obsessive compulsive about tasks, I’ve been running the machine non-stop.
Oh, and on the drive home, we stopped for a bathroom break and discovered an awesome farmer’s market. So Kevin made room in our already packed truck for a bushel of romas and a bushel of red peppers. The red peppers are already roasted and in our freezer. The canner is ready to go tomorrow.
But I am overwhelmed and exhausted and daunted by the tasks ahead this week. There seems too much. This is VBS week, assuming the children agree to go (CJ is the wild card; he spent large portions of today in fits over non-existent catastrophes … nothing like a good half hour of crying in the car to make you feel like a holiday is really and truly over; even better if no good reason for crying can be identified by cry-er or his attentive family).
Lessons, schedules, organizing. Confirming manuscript ready to send, and sending. That’s the week ahead.
But the thing on my mind most of all tonight is the passing of Jack Layton. What to say? There’s no one like him in Canadian politics. And it seemed his optimism might carry him over yet another obstacle; after all, he made all kinds of seemingly impossible things happen. Cancer. The language we use to talk about it is the language of battle; but I’ve never liked that language because it implies that those who cannot fight it off somehow didn’t fight hard enough, weren’t strong enough, succumbed. A word that implies defeat. I really hate that. I don’t know how to talk about it differently, though. Anyone’s who’s lost a loved one to cancer knows that it feels like they’ve been stolen, sometimes slowly, and sometimes suddenly, by an opponent. I don’t know why we personify cancer like that. I’m trying to think if we personify other diseases in the same way, and it doesn’t seem like it. Cancer seems personal. It seems crafty and sneaky and it doesn’t fight fair. And this morning, it stole from Canada a real fighter, a tough and bright and incredibly energetic person who can’t be replaced. Goodbye from us. We’ll miss you, Jack.
No summing this mess of a post up, I’m afraid. Photos from holiday to come at some later time. Maybe when the tomatoes are good and canned.