Category: Parenting

Realism and kindness

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the box, in its early stages

I made a mistake last night.

AppleApple’s completed project on “the history of women in the Olympics” sat on our dining-room table, ready to be hauled in to school today. I saw an empty spot on the box (she designed the visual project using a large cardboard box with doors that open to reveal photos of athletes, with blurbs about their accomplishments). I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be the perfect tribute to fill that empty spot with a photo of the project’s author, on the soccer field, with a little blurb in the style of the blurbs she’d written about the other athletes? So I took it upon myself to do this, even though it was really late at night, and I was really tired, and in no way had the child herself asked me to.

This was my blurb: “AppleApple’s name, b. 2002. Swimmer, soccer player, runner. Aspiring Olympic athlete. Dreaming of representing Team Canada at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games.”

She walked in from swimming this morning, 7:30AM, saw her box in the dim light of day, and freaked out. “What did you do to my project?” she wailed. To say that she didn’t like my addition would be a serious understatement. She was in tears. She couldn’t explain why. (Was it because I was putting undue pressure on her to become an Olympic athlete — not my intention? No! It wasn’t that! she told me in a very irritated tone.) Carefully, I peeled off the photo and blurb, apologizing sincerely, and sincerely wondering at myself for trying so hard and getting it so wrong.

“Realism and kindness are your hallmarks,” my mom texted me this morning, on a separate subject altogether. I appreciate her encouragement.

It seems not to apply in this instance at all. That probably makes me doubly appreciative.

I would like to think that some of the time it’s true to my character.

This morning, I was re-reading blog posts from this time last year. Much sounds the same: swim meets, soccer, busy, busy, busy. But there’s one main difference. I was writing. I was writing a draft of Girl Runner, in fact. Happiness shone out of my words. This is what those blog posts told me: I am happiest when I’m writing.

This fall has been hard because I’ve been missing my writing. It’s as simple as that. I’ll get back to it soon. It’s as simple as that, too.

Bedtime, with stripes

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Picture this guy, minus the helmet, in pajamas, tucked into my bed to read stories, which we’ve just finished. Here is the conversation that follows.

“What can we talk about now, Mommy?”

“How about bedtime?”

“Let’s talk about your face.”

“My face? It’s a pretty ordinary face. It’s got two eyes, a nose, a mouth, a chin …”

“And! It has stripes.”

“Stripes?”

“Here, on your forehead. And here, on your neck.”

“Stripes, huh.”(Can’t stop laughing.)

“Now let’s talk about your head.”

“Do we have to?”

“You have a very fat head.”

“I don’t think that’s accurate.”

“I mean, it’s round.”

“Okay.”

“Now let’s talk about your pillow.”

“Let’s talk about your pillow. Your pillow is soft, and cozy, and warm, and you can lay your head down and go right to sleep.”

“Carry me.” (Arms out.)

Of course.

Great grey Friday

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It’s a pattern. Every Friday morning this fall, I sleep in (ie. not up at 5AM), yet can barely drag myself out of bed. I eat breakfast, start the laundry, see the children out the door, and struggle to be otherwise productive at anything. The cup of coffee doesn’t seem to help.

Thursday evenings I teach. Friday mornings I’m drained. I think it might be as simple as that. But frustrating, too, because there is so much about teaching that I’ve enjoyed this fall. It’s gone how I’d hoped it would go. I’m accomplishing what I’d hoped to accomplish. So how to explain my body’s reponse to the job?

I’m going to go out on a limb and self-diagnose as introvert.

A long day of writing leaves me pop-eyed and twitching. Manic, you might say. Or, energized. Three hours of teaching leaves me jelly-noodled, spine sunken like a comma. Bloodless, you might say. Glazed. Is this how other teachers feel?

This sounds like an extended complaint. I’m not meaning to complain, only to observe.

I don’t think teaching naturally drains everyone. I’m sure of it. Kevin comes home from teaching buzzing with good energy. I wish that were me. My students are terrific, interesting, thoughtful, hard-working, open-minded, and a pleasure to share ideas with.

So, yes. I do feel frustrated by myself. It’s not that I’m shy. It’s not hard for me to talk to people. But it may be that I’m introverted, and draw my energy from being alone. Any thoughts on this, from introverts or extroverts alike?

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Two more things. Okay, could be more than two, but I’ll keep it to two in this section of the post. We’ll call this the newsy section.

1. I did an interview about style for BLUEPRINT, a student-run magazine at Wilfrid Laurier. I liked the questions, and I liked thinking of myself as actually having and even cultivating style. (Long-time friends, please don’t laugh.) You can read the interview here.

2. I’m hearing rumour that the latest QUILL & QUIRE magazine has a blurb about the success of Girl Runner at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Kevin’s promised to pick me up a copy on the way home. (Quill & Quire is Canada’s publishing industry magazine.) Couldn’t find a link.

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Final section of Friday’s blog post. This will be the philosophical section wherein I write about an idea that is only half-formed, as bloggers are wont to do. The idea is about work.

Work is a word that I’m beginning to realize has enormous value in my mind. But I define it in very narrow terms. Work is writing. Period. Everything else gets filed under other categories, somehow. This happens unconsciously, and I’ve only just realized that I do it.

Here are some of my (unconciously formed) categories, which all go into the big filing cabinet of LIFE.

Parenting/pleasure. Family. Marriage. Hobbies. Recreation. Obligation. Chores. Cooking and baking. Reading. Friends. And, of course, Work.

Parenting/pleasure encompasses all the things I do for and with my kids. Of course these things have to be done, but they don’t feel like obligations. That’s why I add the word pleasure to the file.

Family is a broader category and includes my wider family systems.

Marriage. Obvious.

Hobbies. I think that’s exercise, for me. It seems to occupy the space that a hobby would. It’s quite time-consuming, and I’m devoted to it for no reason other than I love doing it. Photography fits in here. Blogging, too.

Recreation is anything done in the spirit of pure play.

Obligation is job-jobs. Things I do to earn money. There’s a bit of cross-over here between other categories, and it includes promotional work for my writing life. It isn’t all a grind, and I don’t mind doing it, but nevertheless these are jobs that must be done rather than jobs I would choose to do. These jobs don’t seem to count in my mind as work, no matter the financial value attached to them.

Chores. Also obvious. That overflowing laundry basket on the table behind me right now, for instance.

Cooking and baking. I enjoy doing this too much to call it a chore, and yet it isn’t a hobby either, seeing as feeding everyone is a daily necessity.

Reading. This gets a category all to itself. It comes close to work, in my mind, obviously in a good way.

Friends. Maintaining relationships, trying to keep them fed and nurtured, far and near, in-person and via social media.

And finally, work. As I type out this half-formed idea, I realize that work is a constant, even if I’m not at my desk. I’m feeding my working life, and my writing, by being in the world, by parenting, by playing, by running and reading, by all of it. So work is both a precious and guarded particular part of my life (writing), and work is all of it, all the time, always.

End of idea.

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Getting what you want

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Need a back rub? Consider this simple and inexpensive way to ease sore muscles. It’s all in the toes, apparently.
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Your siblings will fight for a turn. You might even get some extra help from the dogs, whether you want it or not.
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Want the latest in video gaming technology? Try researching it obsessively, reporting in minute detail to your parents (who don’t always appear to be paying attention), conversing for weeks about nothing else, and, if all else fails, purchasing it for yourself with your summer babysitting money.
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Enjoy the fruits of your labours. (I know I do: evidence, above.)

Oh, the places you’ll go

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our Canadian celebration: fast food at Harvey’s, Sunday evening, 6:15

Sometimes it looks, from the blog, like I’m hyper-productive. And sometimes that’s true. But not always. Today, for example. Today I got up at 5am, yet I’ve done nothing more productive than a load of laundry. I just heard the washing-machine buzzer go, so if I get up off of this twirly stool (formerly part of a drum kit) and toss that load into the drier, that will be two loads of laundry, making me twice as productive.

I exaggerate only slightly.

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office, with dogs, Monday, around noon

I took photos of most of the places I’ve been over the past two days. Maybe I need a day like today to do nothing and not be productive, who knows. A body can get tired, and so can a mind, worn down and flattened to dullness by the necessity of production. My energy and drive are renewable resources, but maybe to renew them, I need to sit fallow now and again.

Here’s where I’ve been, since leaving the wild Wild Writers Festival on Saturday afternoon, flying home filled to brimming with words and names and ideas and emotion.

That same evening, Kevin and I went out together to a dinner hosted by the festival, and then to a reading afterward. It really is a treat to be surrounded by writers, to hear about their struggles, and their secrets to survival. I rely on this blog, frankly, to keep me connected to other writers, because I really don’t move in literary circles. My actual physical circle is basically my neighbourhood, and includes friends I’ve known for years, and friends I’ve made since having children. In some ways, I think I’ve been protected by this, and allowed to make my own mistakes and explore my own interests, but in other ways, I miss the camraderie of running into people who do what I do. It’s why I love the Wild Writers Festival, and feel blessed by its existence, and thankful to those who put their energy into bringing it into being.

Kevin and I did not stay late. That is the theme of our lives at present. We do not stay late. Ergo, our social lives are somewhat shrunken. I wilt around 9 o’clock. That’s my glass slipper hour.

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Wayne Gretzky Sports Complex, Brantford, Sunday afternoon, 1:15

Sunday saw me and swim girl driving rainy country roads to a swim meet. It was her second day, and she’d already won a bronze medal in the 200m breaststroke (looked after by her coach, as neither Kevin nor I could be there). I failed to appreciate the significance of this accomplishment until arriving at the meet: it was a big meet! Teams from all across southern Ontario, from Toronto to Windsor, and there was my kid in her purple suit swimming to another medal — silver, this time — in the 100m breaststroke. I got to hug her immediately afterward. I spent much of the meet crouched on a stair-step on the jammed pool deck, reading Ann Patchett’s THE STORY OF A HAPPY MARRIAGE, and wishing myself more tolerant of violations of personal space. I’m so Canadian that way.

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Home from the swim meet, we went out for a family meal at Harvey’s. We had a gift certificate, that’s why. It was ridiculously fun. Hey, maybe we can count it as our Canadian celebration.

Up early yesterday for kettlebell class. I’m back! And symptom-free! And my muscles ache! So yesterday was kettlebells, followed by nap, followed by getting kids to school, followed by office time. Blissful peaceful office time, with dogs snoring underfoot. I’m sifting through my HAIR HAT stories. Not much happened for many hours, and I enjoyed it. Because by 3pm it was kids home, and snacktime, and laundry folding. So much laundry! Three days of laundry! Despite a full half hour invested in folding, I had to abandon the still-overflowing basket because it was time for the hellish Monday swim commute. From our house to UW’s pool (where AppleApple swims) to the Rec Centre is probably less than 4km, all told, if we could go by bike or on foot through the park. But we can’t (aka don’t want to) because it’s dark and snowing. This trip via car, is beset by road closures and heavy traffic, and takes us a full half an hour. We arrive at CJ’s swim lesson just in time, every time.

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swim lessons at 5:30 on a November afternoon

I sit in the stands, and breathe. I watch him kick, kick, kick, and move less than an inch, yet he doesn’t seem discouraged. His googles (as he calls them) are too tight and leave marks around his eyes, yet he doesn’t me to loosen them. He talks non-stop in the shower, by the locker, in the parking lot, all the way home. This is a good stop along the way.

At home, there are 15 minutes in which to devour a tofu stir-fry that Kevin’s whipped up in my absence. My mom has arrived too, to babysit and let us borrow her car for the next portion of the evening’s adventures, as Kevin and I will be going in two different directions.

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soccer field at RIM park, 7pm

I get to go to Albus’s indoor soccer game! I don’t do enough with his boy, and he notices, so I’m making a conscious effort to do more. I believe showing up is a big part of parenting, and matters more than anything I could try to say with words. And it’s doable: it just means shifting things around a little bit, here and there. Kevin will take the gymnastics run (Fooey and her friend) and pick up AppleApple from swimming, instead. It’s companionable with my boy, and I manage not to embarrass him with my (inevitable) running commentary and encouragement from the sidelines, if only because he claims afterward not to have heard me (phew!).

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gymnastics club, 8:50pm

We’re home again. I help load the dishwasher. I dress CJ in pajamas and leave the bedtime tucking to Kevin, because we’re off again, me and Albus, to stop at a convenience store for milk and bananas on our way to pick up the gymnasts. “I forgot my camera!” I say, and Albus reminds me that phones have cameras these days. I finish off the mini-this-is-where-I’ve-been session with a few terrible shots from the gym.

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blurry gymnast daughter: damn you camera phone

And that’s where I’ve been.

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