Today was a PD day: kids home from school. A friend and I are exchanging some babysitting this year, and my part of the deal is to take her kids on PD days (she’s a teacher, so she has to go to work). Our kids match up almost perfectly, ages and sexes, so this is a much easier gig than it may appear on first glance.
That said, I’ve been operating full-tilt, work-wise, and was a bit terrified about not getting anywhere near my office all day. To compensate, I put in some extra hours last night. And then I decided to embrace today for what it was: a day when I couldn’t get near my office.
Which is actually kind of awesome, from time to time.
I sipped my morning coffee and chatted with the kids who were feeling chatty. I took my time. No anxiety. No sense that I should really be doing something else. Then I whipped up a batch of bread dough while listening to the radio. Then I made banana bread. Then I made lunch. Then I cleaned up lunch. Then I hung laundry.
Around mid-morning, I was called upon to work out a deal: puzzle-making in exchange for screen-time. But mostly they played on their own. There was a bumped head, a bumped finger, and a skateboarding accident. Some hot chocolate spilled. A loaf and a half of banana bread was speedily consumed.
It was all quite surprisingly peaceful.
But now it’s nearly 5pm. The house is quiet again (Kev’s got our kids at the first skate of the season). And I’m tired. Really tired. I am fantasizing about an end-of-the-week ritual, something involving cozy pjs and bad tv and flopping on the couch and a wee glass of wine. The kids can join in too (not on the wine part). And the dogs. We could make popcorn. It would also be really really nice if I didn’t have to make supper.
(We don’t really have an end-of-the-week ritual — in fact, we’ve often got soccer on Friday nights, though thankfully not tonight. What about you? Do you have a Friday night ritual?)
So I’ve had my writer hat on for the past two days. Luckily it’s invisible because I don’t look good in hats, having been blessed with a teeny-tiny head. Maybe I should say I’ve had my writer hair on for the past two days.
In any case, on Sunday, I read at Eden Mills; and we brought the kids along. There was much complaining about being forced to spend the day doing something other than lounging in pajamas in front of a screen. I’m obviously parenting badly. I assured them that Writers Festivals were Fun, but they weren’t buying what I was selling. We proceeded to spend approximately 85% of the car ride being tormented by one child who kept repeating, “I’m bored! I’m bored! I’m boooooored!” I wish I were exaggerating. This monotonous soundtrack was occasionally interrupted by a) the same child hollering, “And no one’s even listening to me!”; b) other children screeching at said child; c) parents trying not to lose it. Fun times.
Luckily, the day was sunny, the townlet of Eden Mills was most welcoming (we were directed to our parking spot by no fewer than seven boy scouts/cadets), and we caught a ride up the main street on a golf cart, which the kids thought was pretty nifty.
Three of four children had never been to one of my readings. This seemed like the perfect setting to introduce them to this part of my job. But for the most part, the younger two didn’t really get that I was working. Eventually, I gave up and removed myself from their company for a few minutes of peace before the reading began — the new soundtrack at that point had become, “Why can’t I just have some ice cream!”(Yes, there was ice cream — see, told you, kids. Writers Festivals are Fun.)
I was reading with Dani Couture and Tanis Rideout, and we strolled together to the site — someone’s beautiful backyard overlooking a little river — which was set up almost like a Greek amphitheatre (minus the stones, and on a smaller scale), with stage down below and audience on the hill above. Upon arrival, I observed that my children and husband were arranged handsomely upon our picnic blanket. But perhaps they were a little too close to where the writers were seated. I could hear that the soundtrack was still going on, although sotto voce. “I want ice cream!”
I was reading last.
And so I sat and watched the slow motion hour-long crumbling of my handsome family. They were pretty well-behaved, all things considered. But I was cursing our parental lack of foresight — really, we should have gotten them the damn ice cream. After all, it was lunchtime, and then it was past lunchtime.
By the time it was my turn to get up and read, Kevin had retreated far away up the hill with CJ, who was quite far gone in ice-cream-starvation-mode. But my other three children stayed to listen.
Afterward, Albus whispered, “That was really good, Mom!” And Fooey wondered whether Ronald Reagan was a real person. And they all said that Writers Festivals really weren’t so bad after all.
So it was worth it.
And then we got ice cream. And hot dogs. And soda pop. “This is full of vitamin C,” one of my brilliant offspring proclaimed. We checked the label. And I regret to report that Orange Crush offers not a jot of vitamin C. It is, in fact, 0% vitamin C.
We were a much jollier bunch driving home, all except for Kevin. The solo-parenting-while-Mom-was-in-work-mode had taken a toll on his ordinarily equable personality. And I, too, had to confess my exhaustion at the end of the day, saying, “I don’t really understand why, because I felt pretty calm all day.” Kevin said, “It takes a lot of energy to look that calm.”
And that’s the truth.
This is turning into a long long tale, and I haven’t even reached day two of Carrie aka Writer. But I shall go on (whether you go on with me, I leave to your discretion.)
Yesterday, I led writing workshops at a camp near Eden Mills. It felt like a real “working mother” day, which is still a bit novel to me. I left the house before the kids had woken. Kevin kept me posted by texts. Four of us — me, Evan Munday, Tanis Rideout, and Angie Abdou — led small groups of high school students in hour-long writing sessions on different subjects. (I did the short story.) The kids were willing to write and share their work, and I found the sessions very pleasant. I also appreciated being amongst other writers, since I spend most of my working hours alone in this office, wearing crocs at one end, earplugs at the other. When we first met, Angie said, “Oh, you wrote that blog on not being on the Giller list!” which kind of made me cringe (this could be what I’m remembered for?), although she was very nice about it. Sometimes, in order to keep blogging, I forget (or ignore) the fact that blogs get read, and that the CanLit scene is pretty small.
Because here’s the thing. I do feel, when I make appearances in my writer hat/hair, like I’m dressing up to play a part. I know I’m not a writer with a capital W. It’s not that I don’t take my work seriously, because I do. But as much as I hope for worldly success, I appreciate the obscurity of my existence.
By the time I trudged, over-loaded and over-caffeinated, through the front door late yesterday afternoon, all of my children had miraculously gotten themselves home from school (this had been arranged with great forethought, but nevertheless seemed miraculous), and they were playing wii. Frankly, only the dogs were excited to greet me. I whipped up supper, hung laundry, supervised piano practice, checked email, we ate together as a family. And then I took the kids to the library and the grocery store — because it turned out that despite their lacklustre after-school greeting they had been missing me, enough to want to run errands in order to spend time together.
We had so much fun grocery shopping, I can’t even describe it. Everyone was feeling silly.
It was the best part of my day.
So here’s the sappy conclusion at the end of this long long post: Nothing makes me feel more accomplished as a human being than being happy with my kids who are happy being with me. Nothing.
(Although I suspect we appreciated each other all the more because we’d worked hard on our own, and we’d missed each other; do other working parents stumble into these puddles of mundane bliss, too?)
I have the best husband with whom to co-host birthday parties for children. Give him an idea (say, an Olympics theme) and the next thing you know odds and ends from the garage, basement and attic appear in the back yard, arranged into an obstacle course, or high jump (with bouncy landing pad), or relay track.
This was a three hour party. At least two hours were spent on the Olympic events in the back yard. For a full hour, kid you not, the mostly-seven-year-old crowd lined up and took turns jumping over a pool noodle onto a mattress to great cheers and applause.
As you can see for yourself.
1. Staying up late. Sleeping in.
Yes, I still get up early two mornings a week to exercise, but early morning exercise isn’t so critical during the summer — I’ve got lots of other opportunities. So on all the other days of the week I sleep in, often until 8! The kids sleep in too. And we’re all up much later than during the school year, out at soccer fields, or just playing in the back yard until it’s dark. And we’ve been letting the kids stay up even later to watch Olympic coverage on TV.
Which I’ve already rhapsodized enough about, but hey. I didn’t skip out on my writing time today, but today has been the exception. Around 11am, you can find me at the pool, swimming lengths, most weekdays so far this summer.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this last luxury. On Monday evenings, Kevin plays soccer and AppleApple has a practice, so I’ve been taking all of the kids to practice, along with snacks and water and a bag of soccer balls, and we’ve been playing on the empty field nearby. Often, I’m practicing skills to try to improve my own soccer game, and the kids are kicking balls at me, or we’re all running up the field doing passes, taking shots on net, pretending to let CJ score on us or save our shots, or whatever we’ve decided to do. Whatever develops.
I’ve noticed that while fathers can often be seen playing with their kids — kicking a ball, coaching, running around, winding up to take shots on net — I rarely see other mothers doing this. I might almost say I’ve never seen another mother doing this. I’ve seen the occasional mother coaching her kid’s soccer team. But I’ve never seen another mother playing pickup soccer with her kids — running hard, getting sweaty, shouting, playing.
Is this your experience too? I’ll admit I do feel self-conscious being the only mom (and often the only parent, period) running around. (My purple soccer cleats make me twice as geeky).
I wonder why I don’t see groups of young women gathering at the park to play pickup soccer. I see lots of groups of young men — probably university students — gathering, and, yes, there is often a young woman or two in their midst; but I’ve never seen a group of young women gather spontaneously like that. I see women in the park doing boot camp together. I also meet friends to go to exercise classes together. But let’s face it, that’s not really playing.
Here’s what I’ve been wondering: Is it taboo to play, as a grown woman?
Honestly, I don’t care if it is because I’ll tell you this — it’s fun. It’s so fun.
Last Wednesday evening, our backyard was transformed into a mini-studio: the lights you see above, plus one of those big umbrella-looking things (also a light), and a heavy-duty insanely expensive camera that, honestly, I couldn’t even covet after I heard how much it cost. That’ll never be mine. It would have been fun to take a self-portrait of the portrait being taken, but in all honesty, I was a little embarrassed by my rinky-dink setup. Besides, I was supposed to be posing, looking contemplative and intelligent in my black sweater, not running around trying to take photos.
I’d been invited to be a subject for Jonathan Bielaski, a local photographer who works for Maple Leaf Entertainment, among other clients — yes, he photographs sports stars. But he started a side project this past year called “For the Love of It,” where he takes portraits of people who love what they do.
I hope you’ll browse around his blog. He’s found some very interesting people. Maybe you do what you love and love what you do, too? Let me know, and I’ll let him know. He’s always interested in finding new subjects.
(Come to think of it, this project fits well with my words of the year: work/play. This summer, it’s felt like I’m getting closer to achieving a sense of both in my daily life.)
This morning I blogged that one of the awesome things about doing interviews this week is meeting people in their air conditioned office spaces. And, okay, admittedly, that is pretty sweet, as I sit here at my own desk in a room that is pushing 90 degrees F.
But that’s not actually the best part.
The best part is meeting people — and the conversations themselves.
Here is the benefit of being an observer: the world is endlessly fascinating. There is always more to learn. There are different approaches to problems, different enthusiasms, different values, different organizational systems, different social approaches, and I could go on and on. I must say I had no inkling of how absorbingly interesting it would be to conduct interviews — the research part of my job. I was thinking of it as a necessity, I guess, a means to an end, the end being the writing itself. And truth be told, I was ever so slightly intimidated by the thought of asking strangers personal questions.
But the more work I’ve done, the more I appreciate the privilege of getting to ask questions. To focus my energy entirely on someone else’s interest or cause or life’s work or story or niche area of expertise. It’s a real gift to get to listen. And it’s proving to be a bigger piece of the writing-for-money puzzle than I initially bargained on. Yes, communicating the end story is hugely important, but the end story can’t exist without first going through the process of trying to understand a subject in-depth.
I know. This all sounds very obvious.
Perhaps what has me most happy, on this extraordinarily warm Friday afternoon, is the discovery that I’m really enjoying the work I’ve chosen to do — the work for money, I mean. There is such variety in it. I love variety! I’m a serial enthusiast by nature; this is kind of the perfect outlet for those instincts.
One more unexpected and happy discovery: The work itself feels very genuine, even though the situation is by its nature contrived — by which I mean, I’m writing stories that have been assigned to me, about people I wouldn’t ordinarily get to sit down and talk to. But the conversations don’t feel contrived or artificial. (My hope is that the people I’m interviewing feel the same way too.)
It’s been a good first week of the summer holidays. And I capped it off by dropping in at my local Chapters, in my other guise as fiction writer, and signing their stock of Juliet Stories. The girl was so super-friendly, it made my day.
Next up: soccer sidelines, and a picnic supper.