One child home sick since Tuesday. Ginger ale, tea with honey, boredom, sleep.
One child about to lose his first tooth! “Is it still there? Is it still there? Is it still there?” “Yes. You’ll know when it’s gone. There will be a little hole for your tongue to go through.” Brief pause. “Is it still there?”
One child knitting a pink leg warmer for a dog using four small double-sided needles purchased with birthday money. “That’s amazing. How did you figure out how to do that?” “Oh, Mom. You’re underestimating yourself. All you’d need is half an hour looking at instructions on the internet and you could do it too!”
One child practicing the violin. “I’ll only play when you listen.” “I’m listening.”
One woman lying on a yoga mat in the living-room, doing her physio exercises. Opens her eyes, sees her daughters hanging over the back of the couch to peer at her from close range. “What are you doing?” “Nothing.” Dogs arrive on scene, one begins licking woman’s face, the other sits on her foot. A game with a balloon is being played, solo, with every move narrated out loud. “Mom, you have to see this great play this guy just did! Who are you cheering for? Fire or Fireplace? Or wait, no, the teams are Happy or Fire. Remember, you cheered for Happy last time. Happy’s the best.” “Okay, I’ll cheer for Happy.” “Dad’s cheering for Happy.” “Ok, I’ll cheer for the other one.” “Fire? They’re okay, Mom, but they’re probably not going to win.” “I like underdogs.” “So you’re cheering for Fire? Sorry, Mom, they just got scored on. You have to see what the guy just did!” Dog continues frantic licking of woman’s face.
One daughter begins timing physio exercises with digital watch. Other daughter begins practicing the recorder. “I’ll start from the first song I learned.”
Woman calls out to husband: “I need a snapshot of this moment!”
Husband can’t hear. Husband is playing his favourite songs in the kitchen while washing up the dishes after supper.
And that’s all she wrote.
I’ve set the timer. I’ve given myself fifteen minutes to sketch out a few thoughts that have been floating around my mind, not necessarily connected to each other.
The main thought is this: the easiest way to express love, care, and pride to my children is to be present. Example: on Tuesday evening, I drove Fooey to her gymnastics class. I usually drop her off and Kevin picks her up, an hour and a half later. But on Tuesday, I made a spontaneous decision. Did I really need to go home? I didn’t, really. So I stayed. She was thrilled. The bench on which I sat was hard, but the task was easy. Watch. Wave, occasionally. Give a thumbs up. Smile. And on the way home, talk about the class, and anything else.
She’s been a happier kid in my presence ever since.
It reminds of last winter, when I started going to my eldest’s indoor soccer games. It was a small time commitment every week that required sitting on the sidelines and watching (and again, uncomfortable benches!), yet it seemed to bring about a complete shift in how we were able to relate to each other. I wasn’t saying: I care. I was showing it instead.
It is such a blessing to be home again, to have again the opportunities for these interactions. Having four children means having to spread my attention a little thin at times, and this fall it’s meant lacking entirely in attention and presence to offer. Skype calls are ridiculously insufficient, let me tell you. They are the stuff of tragic-comedy. Being present on a computer screen in your living-room is one step removed from appearing as a character on TV.
Okay, so maybe I only have time for one thought today.
Or maybe I can squeeze one more in, here. It’s about what matters. It’s not a small thought, but an enormous one, the kind of thought that should pervade one’s life at all times, and I think it does even if it’s not always at the forefront of the mind. It’s about rejecting cynicism and doubt, and throwing your arms around life in a way that shouts, Life is precious and I am here right now, alive. It’s about putting into perspective the meaning and weight of accomplishment and success, and turning to the people and connections and rituals and routines that bring you daily succour. It’s about humility, grace.
It’s about presence. While present, be present. It’s about giving what you have to give, and not questioning whether it’s big enough, good enough, strong enough, fine enough, valuable enough. It’s about sitting on the sidelines with love, pride, a touch of boredom, a touch of restlessness, and deep, joyful care.
The timer’s gone.
View out hotel window.
In a little over an hour, I’ll be walking across the street in my high-heeled clogs to attend the reception and ceremony for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Prize. Today has been a really lovely day, just infused with loveliness, and I want to sketch out my thoughts and observations, because it’s the little things that get lost. And I want to keep the little things.
* I was woken by a fire alarm. I hurriedly dressed and then did not leave my room, confused by an announcement repeated every thirty seconds or so, telling us not to panic, that an upcoming announcement would let us know what was happening. So I stayed in my room, completely not panicking, as instructed. Until the next announcement, about ten minutes on, which informed me that it was now safe to return to my room. Ah. So that message about not panicking did not mean “do nothing.” It meant, in an orderly fashion please leave your room, as there is a fire alarm going off. Survival of the fittest, I tell you.
* I was asked last night if I was feeling nervous about today’s announcement. No, I replied. I feel happy. It will sound like a cliche but it’s true. I am happy to be here. I am happy to be marking this moment with a ritual, a ceremony, no matter what happens. I get to be here, doing this, now. And that makes me happy.
* Walking up the street today, I passed by a performing arts centre. School buses were lined up out front, and children were being organized and sorted into their various groups in preparation for boarding the buses. My heart kind of cracked open. The children looked to be in grade seven and eight. My children. I actually started to cry because I missed my kids so much. I’ve been burying it in busyness, and I’ve been having a lot of fun, don’t misunderstand, but I miss them so much. Why was this a lovely moment? Because I felt enormous affection for this age group of kids just bursting from me. They’re on the cusp of great change. They’re vulnerable and confident and awkward and real.
* I had a lot of feelings today. Still having them, it seems. I walked around town in the rain feeling all kinds of feelings, and I was happy. I am happy.
And that just about sums it up.
Three of the six of us dressed up. Two of the six of us collected candy. Our haul this year looks almost reasonable. Which seems unreasonable, but is actually very very good. Plus the kids who hauled in the candy shared it with not a shred of proprietary greediness in evidence. (Surprising but pleasant parenting moment.)
“I’m going to eat one last thing. One last thing. I’m going to tell myself that this is the very last thing and if I can’t listen to myself …”
“I don’t know.” Faint panic in sugar-shocked eyeballs.
“How about you brush your teeth after your one last thing?”
“Can you open this for me?” Rapid-fire words. Hands mother small package of Reeses Pieces.
“Are you sure you should eat this? Absolutely sure? You’re not feeling sick?”
Genuine hesitation. Internal dilemma and debate. Furrowing of brow. Desperation in eyes. “Yes.”
I’m going away again, in the morning. I’m not going to say no.
I’m in Vancouver.
The Weather Network tells me it’s 14 degrees, feels like 13, with 20-30 mm of rain expected to begin at 5:50PM, which coincidentally is around the time I’ll be taxiing to tonight’s event, a fundraiser at Vancouver House with Joseph Boyden.
Today may go down in my memory as one of the more surreal; if, that is, I can remember any of it. I’ve been having trouble sleeping on this trip. It was well after 1AM when my body finally shut down, and my alarm went off at 4:15AM. I roused myself, finished stuffing things into my bag (didn’t think it was all going to fit for a moment there), and caught a shuttle from the Banff Centre to the Calgary airport. It was too dark to say a proper goodbye to the mountains.
I slept on the shuttle, like someone who had been drugged rather than like a normal dozing human being. Off the shuttle, I felt delusional from exhaustion, wandering the airport, trying to behave like a responsible adult who understood self-check-in machines and how to attach luggage stickers and where to stand in line. I was randomly selected for the full-body pat-down, which, frankly, bothered me not at all. On the plane I slept that drugged sleep again, surfacing to see on the TV screen in the seat-back next to mine, live footage from Ottawa, where shots had been fired inside the Parliament buildings. A reservist killed at the war memorial for the unknown soldier. A gunman killed too. Baffled Canadians taking cellphone footage. Streets shut down.
There is nothing to be said about this that I feel qualified to say.
I can’t really connect with my emotions on the subject. It sounds trite to express sadness. But I am sad.
When we landed in Vancouver, I realized it was only 9AM here. The hotel generously found me a room. I slept the drugged sleep, roused myself, ate a burger for lunch and watched soccer in a sports bar. I texted with my family while eating, which made me feel less lonely. And then I went for a run on the seawall. Running is hard, it’s always hard, but it works. I feel better.
Kevin is sending me texts and photos from home: right now, my kids are playing music together in our living-room. My brother Karl is recording them. CJ is singing into a mic. The girls are playing ukuleles. And Albus is tapping out chords on the piano. It’s like my dream family come to life. Only I wish I were there to see it.
But I have seen Karl Ove Knausgaard–twice. First when checking in, and then when getting off the elevator in my running gear. Neither time did I fangirl him. It took some restraint.
I feel like I’ve been awake for days.
I need a short nap before putting my Little Black Dress and heading out to a party. Nothing about this day feels concrete, feels like I can dig my fingers into it and find the pulse. I’m oddly removed. I was running on the seawall an hour ago. I flew over the mountains this morning. I’m here now. I’m here, now.
PS This is the photo Kevin sent me of the kids, playing music together. Sorry. It’s very very tiny. It seems fitting: this is as close as I can get. Home feels far away, right now.
photo credit: Shari Lovell
This morning began unusually. I woke at 6AM, refreshed after a very very long sleep, having crashed out just after 9PM last night. Teaching takes a lot of energy, at least for someone who would skew toward introverted on the personality continuum, and I had my class on Wednesday night (a happy place to spend three hours, I must tell you, even though our windowless brick room in a hive-like building resembles a bunker, and gets very muggy when packed out with creativity and debate). What a day to go and teach. I think it was a good thing, as it forced me to be focused and to pay attention to something other than the noise.
There was some noise on Wednesday. There was this lovely interview done by the Canadian Press, which ran in various media outlets. There was the phone call from the Writers’ Trust to confirm that Girl Runner was on the list, and various emails to note upcoming appearances and media requests associated with the award. I checked my calendar a lot. And my phone. Twitter and Facebook kept pulling me in. It was a lot of noise, as I say, and I found myself unable to settle and reflect, or even, quite, to feel what was happening.
So I was grateful to my students for occupying my evening. We talked about poetry. There was so much to learn from the discussion, so many reminders of why poetry matters, why words matter.
photo credit: Shari Lovell
Kevin had gotten take-out ramen for supper, which I reheated in our shiny new microwave when I got home, nearing 10PM. (Yes, we finally got a microwave, and I must confess my leftover lunches are much more enticing than those consumed during our long, cold pre-microwave era.) After eating, all the kids in bed, Kevin dug through his scotch collection (so many bottles, each with an inch or three of liquid, leftover from our years of hosting scotch parties), and pulled out a particularly choice selection. I don’t have the name handy. But he went online to check its current value, were it full and unopened, and announced that we would be celebrating with a $5,000 bottle of scotch. I mean, seriously?! There was just enough for two wee drams.
One of the pleasures of the scotch party is hearing our friend Mike read the tasting notes, so to keep with tradition, I will tell you that this ridiculously pricey scotch tasted heavily of oak barrels, with overtones of straw (or was that the colour?) and undertones of turmeric and cinnamon. Or something like that. Maybe it was nutmeg. And a bit of blue sky.
It was a lovely celebration. I was up five hours later to run with my speedy friend Heather, who kindly slowed down for the occasion; also because that will be my last run before I attempt the Toad, tomorrow morning: 25 kilometres of likely-to-be-muddy trail. God help me.
The book I was reading this morning is called A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki. I’m going to keep talking about it until I’m done, and probably for a long time thereafter, and the next reader I’ve got in mind is my 11-year-old daughter.* We’re both of us possessed of a lot of energy and drive (I hazard to suggest she’s got even more of both than I do), and we both of us need to find ways and reasons to turn down the noise and become still. (And not because we’re crashing!)
my girl runner
Wednesday, after the prize announcement and before teaching, I dashed over to her school to watch her run a cross-country race. She came second out of a large field of 7th and 8th graders. “I’m so tired! Weirdly tired! Like way too tired!” she told me immediately afterward as she lay prone on the grass. “You just ran three kilometres really fast,” I pointed out. “That’s not it!” “Well, maybe you’re too frail and shouldn’t run more than 200 metres,” I suggested, tongue in cheek. She’s read Girl Runner. She smiled faintly. Then she sat up and took off her shoes. “My feet are too hot!”
At first, she was quite disappointed in her performance, and it mattered not when I pointed out that the girl who finished first was two heads taller and a grade older. She insisted on expecting better of herself. I kept assuring her that she’d been wonderful, that she’d given her all, that I was very proud, and finally, much later, before bed, she smiled to reassure me that she was happy with the race. Mostly. I can’t argue with her. Her expectations are her own. She isn’t discouraged when she doesn’t meet them. Instead, her expectations seem to fire her with greater focus and renewed intent. Yeah. I get that. There will always be someone faster, smarter, more talented. But I think she already knows: that it’s not about comparisons. It’s about finding one’s own voice, one’s own passion.
But what about stillness? What about releasing expectation? What about rest for the mind and body?
A Tale for the Time Being is the story, in part, of a 104-year-old Buddhist nun who’s offered decades to the practice of meditation, prayer, ritual gratitude for each gift, no matter how small. She bows with her whole body to the world. She is at peace with mortality. The humility of her daily practice gives her SUPAPOWAs! Even her physical frailty is a strength.
So I wake this morning, early, thinking about how whatever I have to offer must come from a grounded place, a place where I sit in stillness and silence, practicing gratitude, bowing with my whole body to this beautiful, difficult, scary, noisy world, with openness and with humility. A gift is a gift. What to do with it? How to give thanks? How to give, no matter how tired, frail, mortal, flawed? How to be still. How to listen.
PS I’d like to point you toward a review of Girl Runner by a blog-reader who is an Ironman athlete and writer; he also digs into the history of women’s long distance running.
* Note: after writing this post, I finished A Tale for the Time Being, and discovered that in the final third of the book, there are several extremely dark scenes relating to extreme bullying, attempted rape, and child prostitution, and although my 11-year-old is a mature reader, I don’t think the book is meant for her–not yet. But sections of the book are meant for her! However, I can’t figure out how to carve out the darkness to show her the light. I think this Tale for the Time Being will have to wait, for the time being. Nevertheless I highly recommend it to a mature adult audience. What is light without shadow? (The book also contains the clearest explanation of quantum mechanics that I’ve ever read.)