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.)
Look what we have! Steps. Yup. Walk right up and knock on the door. C’mon in.
We’ve had some funny/awkward moments since we lost the porch a few months ago. My mother AND one of my brothers (on separate occasions) climbed over stacks of wood and balanced on sawhorses to knock on the front door. My brother’s comment? “This isn’t the friendliest way to greet guests.” Most others figured out that our back doors were somewhat more accesible, though admittedly at nighttime not well-lit. But if one really wants to complain about unfriendly design, the back staircase, which we’ve had to use as our temporary entryway, is seriously lethal. It’s unfixable, cramped, a mess of different levels, and the stairs have no railing. Stuff it with wet boots, piles of coats, and several backpacks and it’s a recipe for disaster. Basically, I’ve been on high alert for potential accidents every time that door opens and closes.
So, welcome, again. To the front door.
PS I’m hesitating to post this light-and-fluffy entry, because it means my previous more serious post on working-moms and at-home-moms won’t be the first post seen here when you visit … and I’m still hoping for a few more comments and thoughts. Are you a working mom? Plan to be a working mom? A working dad? Or maybe you’re an at-home mom or dad in love with your life? Or otherwise? I don’t usually do a shout-out for comments, but I’m craving conversation on the balance, on the longing, on the wish to be several things all at the same time, or perhaps it’s a wish to do several jobs at the same time, or to participate in life in ways that seem to conflict with each other. Thanks in advance for joining in the conversation.
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.)
Yesterday morning, I was at a race, all by myself. Kevin was working. The kids were home with a babysitter, and we’d arranged carpooling for AppleApple to get to her soccer tryout. It was so cold. This is me after the race with the medal around my neck.
A nice touch, I must say, though it was earned merely for completion. The race was a 25km trail run, and oddly, it was held at a place filled with happy summer memories, for me: a conservation area not far from the farm my family lived on when I was a young teenager. We had a season’s pass and came swimming all the time, windows down, watermelon packed into trunk; me with permed hair and a black and white bikini and painful adolescent self-consciousness. The start line was at the beach. I was having flashbacks. To read about the race in detail, visit my triathlon blog. For results, check here.
Because of what I did yesterday morning, this is what we did yesterday evening. Kevin was in Toronto at a Toronto-FC game. The kids and I planned a pizza party. We ate every scrap of pizza, the kids got to drink pop, and we vegged on the couch and watched two movies, with a brief intermission in between for tooth brushing and putting on pajamas. I could scarcely keep my eyes open during the last movie. We all went to bed immediately afterward.
I’d say it was a really really good day. Really good. A keeper.
This morning, after breakfast, Albus practiced piano. He always checks with me before getting a sticker, to make sure he’s earned it. Which is awfully sweet. He’s a good kid. Except this morning I really didn’t think he’d earned it. He kept rushing the half-note, always the same mistake in the same place. So I asked him to play the song again, with that in mind. I suggested playing the difficult spot several times over, with the correct notes and timing. But all he wanted was to hack his way through the song and be done with it, regardless of notes and timing.
Then we looked over his dictee results. In French, his teacher had written: “You need to study.” Things is, he’d studied. A fair bit. He’d sat down several evenings last week and worked on his homework, including studying for this dictee. He’d shown me his worksheet. I knew it was true. But the proof wasn’t there in the final test results.
As we were having this conversation, and I was offering more advice re efficient piano practice, Fooey happened by with a question. Albus was extremely rude to her. I reprimanded him. He pushed her. ie. things went from bad to worse, and quickly. I sent him upstairs on a time-out.
Why does he need to act like this? the thought half formed as I raced around the kitchen and cleared the breakfast dishes and wrote a cheque for AppleApple’s sub order and helped Fooey ready her bag for school and tried to remember all the details that needed to get done in the next eight minutes before everyone would leave and the house would go suddenly quiet, and I would eat breakfast and pour a cup of coffee and greet this computer.
Why is he so angry?
And I found myself looking at this morning from his perspective, not mine. From his perspective, he got up and got dressed and ate breakfast and then he practiced piano. And even though he practiced, it wasn’t good enough, and he couldn’t make it better, and he felt frustrated. And then his mother had to sign his dictee and he knew it wasn’t a great mark, and his teacher thought he hadn’t even studied. But he had studied. And he couldn’t make it better, and he felt frustrated.
I called him downstairs, and I said the above, an abbreviated version. He was quiet. Is that kind of how you feel? I asked, and he nodded.
I’m not sure how to make life better for him. Or easier. (Why do parents so often want to make life easier for their kids? But I do. Or not easier, exactly, just gentler.) What is the lesson, if hard work does not pay off in success? You know, it doesn’t always. Some people have to work much harder than others to achieve the very same level of success. I don’t want him to get frustrated, to give up, to not care.
I do want him to take responsibility for the choices he makes. I don’t particularly want to lower the bar.
But what if he’s trying, and it’s not working? Is the answer always: work harder? I’d feel frustrated, too.
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