I’ve recently noticed that my children blame me for many things; and that they do not aim the blame at their dad in the same way. Perhaps blame is not precisely the right word. Yes, there’s some of that, but it’s more that they direct their negative feedback toward me. I wish I could say that I also get all the positive feedback, but that doesn’t seem to be the corollary.
For example, yesterday evening I went to a yoga class. In order to get to there, I’d prepped supper and left everything ready to go–and I was sure it was a meal that would be enjoyed by all. Homemade mac and cheese baked in the oven! Glowing from yoga, calm of mind and body, I walked through the door and saw Albus, glowering at the emptied table (Kevin had already cleared and done the dishes). “How was supper?” I asked. “Bad,” said Albus. “You didn’t make enough.” “What?!” I looked at Kevin, who sighed and said, “Yes, you did. I cut him off after four huge helpings. I’m peeling him an orange now.”
Honestly, I had to laugh. I can make what I think will be The Perfect Dinner and still receive negative feedback–for something I didn’t even do.
At other times, I don’t feel like laughing. Sometimes I’ll admit to feeling deeply discouraged, even momentarily depressed. I remind myself: don’t take it personally! But it is hard to have one’s effort dismissed, even by a group of humans not known for their grace and manners.
However, lines must be drawn. We have a new mealtime rule: no one is allowed to say rude things about the food being set before them. Zero toleration for “disgusting!” or “yuck!” or “why do you always have to make the worst suppers that I hate!” You will try one of the options before you (and I always have options), or you will leave the table. This has been working like a charm.
I’ve noticed that my toleration for negative feedback–for keeping a sense of humour and not letting it get me down–is greatly enhanced when I am able to get out and exercise–when I can burn off some steam by myself, and clear my head. I remember that we all need outlets. Maybe for my kids, I look like the safest outlet around. Maybe I should take their negativity as a compliment. Well. Up to a point. There’s feeling secure enough to let it all hang out, and then there’s a sense of entitlement and a lack of responsibility.
ie. I’m sad/mad/tired/hungry/lonely/bored/forgot-to-study-for-my-test and it’s all your fault.
Somehow, I have to figure out how to remove “and it’s all your fault” from the equation, and from the conversation. Um, is that possible? (Do you still blame your mother for your problems?)
I am typing this in the office/playroom while the two littlest play Playmobil by themselves (with occasional mediation from me). In other words, I am basically ignoring them. I am not playing with them. They are fending for themselves, imaginatively. Is it possible that this good mothering?
Or is this good mothering?: Yesterday, while waiting in the hallway outside music lessons, I played with CJ. Within five minutes, I’d created a monster. He refused to play by himself. He roared when I attempted to converse with a nearby adult. Introduced to the high of mama-holding-a-Lego-guy-and-together-sliding-the-guys-down-mama’s-pantleg, he instantly progressed to attention junkie, incapable of sliding Lego guys down pantlegs all by himself. Yes, I looked with envy at the kid on the floor doing puzzles while his mother talked to a friend.
A few more good mother/bad mother examples, just for fun …
This morning, Albus called me “the worst mother ever,” and dramatically declared, at 8:28 AM, that his day had been ruined. Because I clipped his nails. Then I made him brush his teeth. Apparently, from the perspective of a nine-year-old boy, bad mothers insist on good hygiene.
Last night, while folding laundry on our bed, I initiated a conversation with AppleApple, who was also lying in our bed, reading a Harry Potter book for perhaps the 77th time. “How was soccer?” (She’d just come back from her first soccer skills session). “Fun!” “Wonderful! What was fun about it? Was there a particular drill that you liked especially? Did you know any of the other girls? What were the coaches like?” She was mostly silent, or monosyllabic, glancing up vacant-eyed from her book to respond. Finally, she gazed at me with deep weariness, and said, “Could you please stop asking all these questions so that I can read my book?”
To sum up: let’s just say I’ve resigned myself to getting some bad reviews, as a mother, while remaining convinced that I’m doing a reasonably good job. Is there any job on earth that is as controversial, as subject to criticism and debate, as judged on both a macro and micro level, as well as judged generally, ie. mothers are [fill in the responsible-for blank]?
Please note: this is an observation and not a complaint.
Wow. Some really interesting changes are taking place in my life right now. Changes are causing some conflict, and also opening up opportunities for discussion and potentially radical shifts (though I suspect these will be slow and steady rather than sudden and shocking).
This year, I’ve focused on my spirit, and that’s taken me to places of quiet reflection and also drawn out of me greater confidence and courage. My family has been noticing this is round-about ways, as I head out early in the morning to go for a run, learn how to swim, take time to bury myself in writing, head out as soon as supper’s on the table in order to take a yoga class, or set up the tripod and camera; all things that I am doing on my own, that don’t necessarily connect to their lives, and that might actually exclude them in one way or another.
Kevin and I have been struggling to find, in the midst of this extra-curricular activity, time to spend together. This morning it occurred to us that this is a problem of home economics. Kevin was the one who made this observation, not me. He observed that I am responsible for the bulk of the domestic work, and if I add in other work, whether or not it is of the paying variety, it means that my time becomes more and more squeezed. So I am writing down a list of all the domestic/household labour that I do (and that he does, too), with the idea that we work to split it more evenly, and also among the children, to some degree.
It’s quite a list.
Thinking about sharing this work, and therefore having time to focus more freely on the triathlon project and writing generally, brought me to a new revelation: I think part of me wanted to go back to school and become a midwife because then my time would be accounted for, my work outside the home acknowledged as important, and the family obligated to pick up (some) slack–because I wouldn’t always be there to do it for them, and with good reason. It is a little fantasy of mine to imagine children packing lunches for school and getting their own snacks after school, and then tidying up. (I did say it was a fantasy).
Kevin admitted that he has fallen into gender stereotyping–well, we both have. He works and earns the money, and I keep the home fires a’burning. Except I also try to squeeze in a side career, and it is indeed very squeezed. Partly this is practical: because he earns the money that keeps us afloat, his work-time isn’t optional, and mine, with its occasional grant/prize windfalls and trickle of odd-job cheques is nowhere near enough to feed and house a family of six. So, the divide has made sense. But we’ve also become trapped by it, and blind to it. Because of course my work will never add up to much if I can’t commit to or pursue freelance jobs that would require even moderate time commitment over and above what I’ve already carved out. And fiction writing is the kind of business that demands long-term investment, a risky investment at best. But without investment, it will add up to precisely nothing.
So, our question now is: how to go forward, treating what I do, outside of domestic duties, as work worthy of more time, and energy?
Before and after. I didn’t think she needed a haircut, but she was adamant (everyone else was getting one, you see).
On the other hand, Mama’s hair salon was inspired by these locks, above.After! Now he can see and breathe during swim lessons (that is the hope, anyway.)
No real before/after for AppleApple, because I simply trimmed her ends. And we worked through those dreadlocks that had formed on holiday, due to complete lack of hair-care. This girl is a wild child (for which I love her dearly, though it is my motherly duty to tame her just a wee bit). We were eating out at a restaurant yesterday evening, a stop on the drive home, and in horror Kevin and I watched her devouring clumps of rice with her fingers and sucking soup down the wrong end of the spoon, with hair that suggested we’d captured her in the wild and that our attempts at civilizing her had not been promising.
Before. As if this needs improvement! Yowy.
Well, he can see better after a tiny front trim. But I took one look at those long long long goldilocks curls down his back, and went, nope. Can’t cut those off, can’t even come near them with the scissors.
Yup, we are home from cottaging. Walked through the door and thought, wow, we should go away more often because this place looks GREAT! Totally forgot we’d gotten the place cleaned during our absence, and that it wasn’t by magic that the counters shone and there were no crumbs anywhere.The holiday lethargy never really abated. Kevin felt it too. We rode right into holiday mode and one outing a day was enough to attempt. Which was awesome.
Coming home means looking around with fresh eyes and making to-do lists and discovering energy anew for new projects and familiar routines. Top to-do list is: things we must do before summer’s out! (One thing I can now cross off: cut the kids’ hair).
Three weeks of summer vacation remain. Three sweet weeks.
One thing on our future hopes and plans list is hiking together, now that everyone can do it independently. (Biking together, with everyone on his or her own bicycle is still a few years away, but we’re looking forward to that, too).
We went for a hike around Jones’ Falls locks, on the Rideau Canal, which is very near where Kevin’s family lives. And now we’re considering hiking the Bruce Trail, bit by bit, as a family activity on weekends.While at the cottage, the kids organized and performed a concert, now a tradition in its third (or even fourth??) year. Each year they’ve become more independent, culminating this year in complete artistic autonomy, no adult input whatsoever.
“My name is Albus, and I am the piano artist. My name is AppleApple and I am the singer. My name is Fooey, and I am the dancer. CJ is a dancer too.”
They opened with a solo by AppleApple, Kevin accompanying on the guitar, of “Whisky in the Jar.” Albus played “Axel F” on the portable piano, plus “Wavin’ Flag” (beautifully sung by AppleApple), plus a too-brief invention to which Fooey danced like a dolphin. Then Fooey danced “freestyle” accompanied by a boomboxing Albus (and the rest of us were invited to sing along with any song we’d like). They finished with “Down by the Bay,” a perennial favourite, calling for audience participation. The photos which included all of them were blurred in one way or another: it’s rare that I can capture all of them holding perfectly still at the same time.I had a moment yesterday, walking with them all, when I felt overwhelmed by fortune: look at these children, aren’t we fortunate? I said to Kevin. I can think of nothing I’ve done to deserve such riches, and appreciation seems the least that I can do in acknowledgment and gratitude. Yes, we are often overwhelmed by things other than fortune, such as noise and chaos and mess and complaints and fighting; but heaven help me if I whine too loudly about those incidentals, and lose sight of the beauty and creative energy that surrounds me RIGHT NOW.
Why have I not felt like blogging, this past week? I’ve had a moment, here or there, that could have been turned into time to blog. But I chose not to.
1. My head is full. Too full. Which makes it hard to zero in on a subject. I’ll be honest with you. My head is full of Life, good and bad, dark and light, hope and despair, grief and excitement. Sometimes I just want to sit and let myself feel what I’m feeling, quietly. Without trying to put it into words.
2. This hasn’t been conscious, but I’m finding some balance in my days and hours. In a sense, I’m making compartments for different tasks, different identities. This morning is quiet and interior: I am writing. The house is empty. My mind homes in on this other world I’m making. There’s some of the source of excitement: making something, gathering up the disparate pieces and sensing that it’s coming together, even if it’s not quite there yet. (I abandoned the memoir awhile ago–did I ever write about that? I am working on the story collection, the Juliet stories.)
After school, I’ll enter into the noisy chaotic compartment of motherhood. I’m trying harder to check email less frequently, sit down with a kid in my lap more frequently; that also means not squeezing in a blog post while a child stands at my knee and screams for attention.
Whatever it is, it seems to be working. The full-on mothering days feel sweeter because I have these other days and opportunities to express other parts of myself. I am luxuriating in the freedom I have within every day. I just have to accept its seasoning and flavour. Say, freedom to go out for lunch with a friend. Freedom to bake sweet treats for/with my kids. Freedom to walk rather than drive. Freedom to volunteer at the school fun fair.
It is amazing to discover that commitment to an activity offers up space for real relaxation and enjoyment.
Example … I volunteered at the school fun fair. Yes, I left clothes hanging on the line and it poured rain and I couldn’t run home to rescue them; guess what–they stayed on the line overnight and dried the next day, having enjoyed a lovely soft water rinse. Yes, I had to bring along all four kids; guess what–they had a blast helping out. Yes, Kevin was stuck in Toronto; guess what–AppleApple missed her soccer practice and the world did not end; plus, everybody rose to the occasion, and the big kids were able to do activities with the little kids. Yes, I applied fake tattoos for several hours; guess what–it was a blast chatting with the kids who streamed through, and their parents. I didn’t waste a minute worrying that the evening wasn’t going precisely as planned, or that we were staying longer than anticipated, or that the kids were going to be grumpy the next day.
I am a naturally impatient person, and I’m just beginning to grasp that conceptualizing any time as a waste is itself the biggest waste of all. I don’t have a lot of spare time, so it can be easy to resent time spent doing something that isn’t my first or second or even third choice; I am finding myself more relaxed about that. Inside every moment is a potential discovery.
What comes at me so strongly this week, as I sit inside quiet and some sadness, is that this is my life. I am alive. I am breathing, in and out, and I am living this present moment whether or not it is the moment I want to be living. Can I embrace each moment? Probably not. But the more moments I embrace–chosen and otherwise, going according to plan or going hay-wire–the more moments will embrace me.
You know it when you find it. You likely won’t recognize it till afterward. But you’ll know–an hour, an afternoon, longer, those moments when you are out of time and inside the experience, just being within it. Often, you have a sense of not wanting this–whatever this is–to pass. Or even no sense at all of time passing. You blink, and hours are gone. You wonder where you’ve been. You’ve been inhabiting yourself, that’s all. For me, these moments seem to come more easily when connected to something physical, walking, running, kneading, drinking, laughing, sometimes with company, sometimes alone.
Guess I was ready to blog …
This is what happens when I get up early and exercise. I didn’t even set my internal alarm this morning, it just decided to go off.
I made a special Mother’s Day supper for myself: blanched local bok choy and asparagus, chopped local cilantro, heated and spiced homemade frozen chicken broth, dredged tofu squares in cornstarch and fried till crispy, cooked rice noodles and rice, and brought the feast to the table. Lately, I’ve been serving meals with options. I bring the options to the table, and everyone customizes the meal to his or her liking. This has proven very popular indeed, though does mean that Fooey’s been eating a lot of rice with yogurt. This was make-your-own soup night. It was delicious. As usual, the meal was interrupted by trips to the potty (me and CJ), and so by the time I’d gotten to my second bowl, the table had emptied and I was finishing my Mother’s Day supper alone. Which isn’t the worst fate for a parent.
But then I choked. I really did. I felt something slide down the wrong tube. I stood and assumed the classic choking pose (hands to throat) and walked to the living-room. I was still coughing, but the cough seemed to be dragging the thing further down, blocking the airway almost totally. Since I couldn’t speak, I looked at Kevin, and he looked at me–with what looked to be some annoyance. Like, really, honey, you’re seriously choking? And I was like, yes, I’m seriously choking. Good thing I’m the one who took the First Aid course. Meanwhile, in the background, as I thought to myself, well this is really not the way to go, I could hear my children’s voices. Fooey and AppleApple were hollering, “If you’re going to throw up, go to the bathroom, Mommy!!!” And Albus was repeating, as if deranged, “Mother’s Day surprise! Mother’s Day surprise! Mother’s Day surprise!” These would have been the last words ringing in my ears had I not reached down my own throat and dislodged a cilantro stem. Kevin got into position (it’s not called the heimlich anymore), but I indicated that I was once again moving air into and out of my body. Things began to calm down. The scene returned to normal. But it sends me into paroxysms of hysterical laughter to recall Albus shouting, “Mother’s Day surprise! Mother’s Day surprise!” Tell me that wouldn’t make for a good line in a short story. Where did the kid get his dark sense of humour? (I couldn’t get him to parse afterward why he’d landed on that phrase. He said he knew I wasn’t dying, so that’s why he said it).
To commemorate Mother’s Day (though not the choking incident specifically), after supper, I took a few photos with the kids for the 365 project. I’ve started calling it my 365. As in, I haven’t taken my 365 yet today. Which I haven’t. But I have gone to yoga class. I’m not sure I would have made it this morning had CJ not woken three times between 3am and 5:30am, and when I convinced him to return to bed after the last nursing session, I got up, ate a banana, gathered my gear, and escaped. I thought, at least if he wakes up again, I won’t be here to have to fetch him. He only agrees to let Kevin help if I’m nowhere in sight. And then I was so glad I’d gone to class, despite only five hours of broken sleep. Moving while breathing, in a room of other people moving while breathing. It’s a good solitary/yet not-solitary ritual. I’ve now gone to seven classes in eight days as part of the studio’s fifteen day challenge. It’s been easier than it likely sounds. But our family’s schedule is so busy that I can’t find time to go again till Wednesday, early morning. My best discovery during this process has been that I love practicing first thing in the morning. I’m weaker, less flexible, and it’s harder to balance, but I don’t push myself quite so hard either. I’m kinder to myself first thing in the morning. And I’m closer to sleep, so I’m closer to that dreamy in-between meditative state. It’s been easy to find that quiet mind in every class this past week, but sometimes I wonder whether I’m now practicing on auto-pilot. Is it a good thing to go away from myself so thoroughly, to be lost in the moment, to be mindless? I’m emptying my mind during that hour and a half practice–with what am I readying it to be filled?
Last night, for our Sunday-night movie, Kevin and I watched No Impact Man. It is an inspiring and entertaining film, and what makes it really good is the dynamic between husband and wife. The premise is that the husband (a writer) wants to write a book about living a year with no environmental impact whatsoever, a pretty much impossible experiment, but one into which he throws himself, and his family comes along for the ride too. He and his wife (also a writer) have one young child, about CJ’s age in the movie, and live in New York City in a small apartment that’s perhaps on the ninth floor. They stop using elevators, subways, cars. They stop eating out, and only eat local food. They give away their television. They buy next-to-nothing, and nothing new (including toilet paper). As the experiment progresses, they do with less and less, including no electricity. They wash their clothes in the bathtub with homemade laundry soap. The wife is not a typical environmentalist, and her voice makes the movie refreshing. She sneaks off to get her hair dyed, and needs needs needs coffee. It actually ends up being a dynamic and moving portrait of a marriage. Going off to bed, I wondered what more I could be inspired to do. The idea of giving everything away actually makes sense. It is so hard to go by half-measures. The things that jump to mind for me are … well, honestly, this computer. Can I put limitations of my computer use–would I bide by them–or would it be easier just to close it up and put it out of sight, use it only during working hours? There is some freedom to that thought. On the other hand, this computer is my main form of communication. I would hate to go back to relying on the telephone, a medium I’ve always disliked. Or a real radio, rather than internet radio.
But, I’m going to think about it.