Who’s house is that? We pushed the sofa away from the wall for a poetry book club a couple of weeks ago, and never pushed it back again. Furniture in the middle of the room … who knew? It makes for a cozy seating area with space for piano practice and the art table behind it. I still don’t have a decent location for the piano books, but someday. Someday.
I’m operating on a hopeful mission to sort out and tidy every drawer and surface in the house. And also to keep the bathrooms/kitchen clean. My strategy involves doing it when I see it needs doing. In practice that means I was cleaning out the bottom drawer of the fridge on Monday evening while unloading our Bailey’s food. The idea, borrowed from my friend Rebecca’s blog, is to ask: Do I have five minutes? Usually these minor cleaning tasks take only a few minutes. And I almost always have five minutes. I also found five minutes, which stretched to a few more, to scrub mold off the grout in the shower one evening last week. Just what one feels like doing after tucking the kids in, let me tell you, but that’s when I noticed the mold. Did I have five minutes? I did. We use baking soda and vinegar as cleaning agents, and as I scrubbed and scrubbed (using an old toothbrush) I found myself reminiscing about the Old Dutch cleanser my mom used to use, which would remove a layer of skin from your hands but sure got the tiles sparkling in a jiffy. Advice from fellow green-cleaners out there? Is the secret all in the elbow grease and the lowered standards?
If I’m talking a lot about the house, it’s because this has been a housebound week, high on domestic necessities. My girl is still sick. We will be heading to see the doctor shortly.
I don’t function well in housebound mode (and for the record, yes, my office is at home, but my office does not make me feel housebound). I don’t function well on interrupted sleep. I get grumpy. It’s fair to no one, but by 6pm, on a day when I’ve been doing nothing but scrubbing grout with a toothbrush, preparing meals, cleaning up from meals, entertaining sick children, worrying about sick children, and ferrying other children with sick child in tow to after-school activities — by 6pm I’m liable to bite someone’s head off. Usually my husband’s. Because by 6pm he’s around, that’s why. And he’s not a kid. Yup. Totally unfair.
I’ve been enjoying reading the latest issue of Brain, Child magazine, which has a piece on whether or not mothers complain too much about motherhood these days. Do we? Do I? Or should I really be complaining more? I wonder sometimes whether I get the balance right: truth-telling, accurate reporting of on-the-job realities mingled with gratitude. I do feel some discomfort about being a “mommy blogger” … about presenting my family’s life in some ideal package or inducing guilt in any other mother out there who doesn’t have time (or the interest) to make homemade food or who drives instead of making her kids walk to school or etc. I think we’re all trying our best. We have good intentions. We make mistakes. Life isn’t perfect. And “mother” might just be the most judged and criticized role any of us could have chosen to take on, but that didn’t stop us, so there’s bravery right there.
And I’m rambling.
And it’s time to go.
Yesterday, after running errands and going to the library, CJ fell asleep on the couch listening to a CD he brought home from his grandma’s house when we visited over Thanksgiving. He picked it out based on its cover art: two shaggy Scottish cows. An artist I’ve never heard of. A bunch of cover songs. Grandma didn’t seem sad to see it go. I was upstairs hanging laundry while he was listening, and I heard him chiming in with the first song on the words “Just like a rhinestone cowboy!” Except he was singing “Just like a rockstar cowboy!”
Another funny misheard lyric: on Monday evening I was driving four girls to their theatre rehearsal — there is always singing from the back seat. One girl had just seen The Sound of Music, and at least one other girl knew all the words to all the songs too. So I was treated to “I am sixteen, going on seventeen.” The funny part was when one girl sang the line: “Fellows will fall in line,” as “Pillows will fall in line.”
I can just picture it.
What was I going to blog about today?
Somehow, I think there was another topic in mind when I began.
Oh yes. One boy sleeping on the couch yesterday afternoon = one mildly sick boy at home this morning — my rockstar cowboy. I pictured us spending the day doing fun activities together — crafts, puzzles, baking, reliving the days of yore. But instead he just wants to watch movies and lie on the couch, and I’ve had a nap and read the newspaper. And now I’m blogging. And it’s a beautiful day. My plan is to coax him off the coach (he’s really not that sick) and get the two of us outside to walk around the block … or something … outside.
I’m amazed at how uninspired I am to do anything. How did I ever get anything done when I was home with kids full-time? Well, I never let them watch movies like this, that’s for sure. I should be filled with guilt except I’m uninspired even to do that.
As I look out my window I see
leaves in the street
almost bare branches
pale blue sky
a white apartment building with green trim and crooked window blinds
a recycling truck
people walking dogs
people pushing baby strollers
the floor is warm under my stocking feet
shadows move on the white bare walls
there is an echo
I want to keep this room
I did not know what I was craving
until I sat down in the quiet of this room
my own room
I did not know how much I longed
to be alone
for a little while
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.
This morning, I slept until 7am. I did not get up early to swim or to spin or to run or to yoga. In my dreams, I would get up early five mornings a week, but in reality, four seems to max out my energy reserves. Yesterday evening, post-dishes, I sat down with Fooey to look through a book of baby photos (good grief, I had cute babies!), and when we were done the couch’s pillow looked like it wanted my head to rest upon it, and quick as a wink, I’d dozed off while Fooey and CJ played a game that involved using the angles of my legs and arms as rooms in an imaginary house. Clearly, the game did not disturb my sleep because I didn’t hear Kevin return from dropping Albus at piano lessons, nor did I hear him leaving again to pick Albus up, and therefore assumed I’d been “in charge” of the children all that time. I also assumed that I’d done a good job of supervising them, while asleep. Only to realize that any supervision had happened in dreamland. Sometimes when I’m asleep, I feel awake. And vice versa.
Long story. Very little point.
Today, a couple of things that are making me happy.
1. Albus at supper last night: “Guess what I got on that social studies test?” Me: “Was that the one in French?” “Yes. Guess what I got?” “The one on governments?” “I got an A!” Maybe he didn’t add the exclamation point. The kid prefers announcements by stealth, gotcha announcements. But it’s a big deal. It’s a big deal because usually he doesn’t seem to care, much. What makes me happiest about this result is not the mark, exactly, but the mark’s accurate reflection of his interest in the subject. He was the only one in the house truly excited about the recent provincial election results, and we let him stay up late to watch the polls report. We don’t often see our eldest get excited about things (aside from Lego, food, and high scores on wii games). And you want your kids to get excited about things. It means they care. It means they’re expressing themselves, exploring their own interests, developing unique passions and making connections.
2. Piano. Oh my goodness, but the piano playing is making me happy. Real music is being made in our living-room, people! This year, we implemented a reward system of stickers which has been enormously motivating (at least for those kids who need an extra boost of motivation; I note that though AppleApple practices almost as frequently as her siblings, she has far fewer stickers, because she forgets to add them. Obviously, for her the reward is as much the playing as the getting of something afterward.) But on that note, I’m beginning to suspect that the others, though outwardly motivated by stickers, are by stealth discovering and reaping the reward of regular practice, which is that YOU CAN PLAY MUSIC! I love this. I can’t even express how much I love it.
3. Participation. I also love seeing my kids volunteer and sign up and participate and try things out and expand their fields of vision and experience. Albus just signed up to play volleyball; practices are before school, so he’ll have to get up early on Tuesdays. AppleApple, of her own initiative, created an organizer to keep track of her daily tasks. She is notoriously distractable and understands that her life would run more smoothly if she weren’t always scrambling last-minute (or forgetting important items and events entirely.) And Fooey, who has long been my least-active child, who would take a stroller ride over walking right up until the end of kindergarten (ie. this past June), has suddenly burst forth as a very active soul: she started Highland dance classes, which involve a ton of jumping around (I’ve tried to follow her steps!), she walks to and from school on her own feet every day (more than a kilometre each way), and when we asked whether she’d like to try indoor soccer this fall, she immediately said Yes! And surprised all of us over Thanksgiving by wanting nothing more than to go outside and practice kicking the ball. Watching these personalities develop independently is downright thrilling. There’s probably no greater joy in parenthood.
4. Rest time. AppleApple especially has expressed a need for quiet time. She loves lying on the couch and reading a book for hours on end. So, we’ve been emphasizing that. Even on days when she has an activity, like piano yesterday, she can come right home afterward and flop on the couch with a book. For Albus, his down-time happy-time involves friends. He checks in every morning to ask, “Is today a friend day?”
We all love friend days. And as I write down these thoughts, I think, wow, everything on that list makes me happy, too, not just as a parent watching my kids do these things, but as a person doing these things. I’m happiest when I’m digging into activities and subjects that interest me, when I’m practicing regularly (could be writing, could be photography, could be yoga), when I’m widening my field of vision or trying new things or simply signing up and showing up, and when I get ample rest time, time to veg, time with friends, time to allow the brain to be fallow, and quiet, time to absorb experiences.
So that’s my question for today (don’t worry, I won’t always have a question of the day; sounds too much like homework): What makes you happy?
How to pare down today’s thoughts into a blog-worthy parcel? First, I want to say thank you to the many who added their comments and experiences to the working-mom meets stay-at-home-mom post. So much food for thought. And I’ve been hungry. Here’s where your thoughts led me:
1. Six-and-a-half years ago, I read an essay by Carol Shields that both comforted me and rung true. In it, she offered the idea that there is enough time. She was writing the essay while dying of breast cancer, but even for dying, she wrote, there is enough time. When she was younger, she worried about fitting everything in, but in each stage of life, she discovered time enough. It wasn’t that she could do everything all at once, it was that she honoured and lived out each stage.
I loved that idea (still do). That I could enter fully into intense hands-on motherhood and take my time. And when the stage passed, I could enter fully into whatever came next. And in my untested theory, somehow those years of intense motherhood would be an asset to whatever came next: all the juggling of multiple demands and scheduling and coping with crises and being nurse / healer / calm-amidst-the-storm / psychiatrist / chef / chauffeur / event planner / and on and on as the moment required would be valued, and would add value to whatever I chose to do next.
A couple of big assumptions in my theory. a) That employers would value experience that couldn’t be validated or quantified. b) That careers could be built overnight or slipped into like a pair of shoes. c) That I would get to choose my career like an item picked off a menu. d) That I would have a clear idea of whatever came next. e) That the intense hands-on motherhood stage would pass.
Reading your thoughts, it struck me: my theory is entirely unproven. I’ve spent six years quietly and confidently assuming everything would fall into place at the right time. (And who knows, stranger things have happened.) But let’s just say things don’t. Let’s observe that intense motherhood doesn’t pass, exactly, things just calm down somewhat. Even a decade on, it’s still pretty intense (with children ages 10, 8, 6 and 3). Meeting their needs continues to occupy a large portion of my mind and my time. The stages of life, therefore, aren’t so clear-cut and tidy.
2. Beyond that, I’m feeling a deeper appreciation for the work that career-building takes. Success in a chosen field isn’t something you can step into. It’s a slow build, a steady climb; you have to be there in order to make connections and to stumble into the right place at the right moment. It takes hard work and commitment. And time. Time and commitment that I’ve chosen to put into my home life and my children. Not into a career.
3. But: At the expense of a career? I still refuse to believe that. Especially because I have been (slowly) building a career as a fiction writer, and, yes, it’s taken time and commitment. But as most writers of fiction will tell you, this ain’t a career known for wild profiting; or even, in all honesty, breaking even. Which brings me to …
4. How much do I prioritize financial independence? I am in a marriage with a supportive partner who has shouldered the burden of our expenses ever since we started having children (you could say, conversely, that I’ve shouldered the burden of caring for our children during that time; and that perhaps we both have made sacrifices–and gains–in this arrangement.) I realize that I’m fortunate even to be able to ask this question, but, if I had to choose between nurturing my creative life and becoming financially independent, which would it would be? Because, let’s be realistic, it may be that there isn’t time to be a mother, and a writer, AND a [fill in the blank] money-earner. At least not all at once.
5. Feminism. One reader commented that her mother strongly prioritized financial independence, for herself and by extension for her daughters; and I know my own mom was troubled by her lack of financial independence, and hoped for better for her daughters. I haven’t done much better, not yet. Why does this weigh on me? (Because it does.)
And, finally …
6. Experimenting freely. Does all of this worry and analysis leave out the most important part, the most exciting part, about where I stand, right this second? (Okay, I’m actually sitting.) Because there is so much possibility in the unknown. My imagination runs wild. Sometimes I’m afraid; but mostly, here’s how I want to frame this nebulous whatever comes next stage that no longer seems so well-defined and particular …
**Like I’m marching joyfully up a giant rock in my rubber boots to survey the fields all around.
**Like I’m climbing an old apple tree, not necessarily expecting to find edible fruit, but for the heart-pounding excitement of being up so high; and to test the branches, and my own bravery.
(Now, if you please … tell me what you think.)
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