I spent an afternoon earlier this week attempting to sort through our six bins of Playmobil and reassemble castles and families and scenes. There’s a reason I titled this post “Mission Impossible.” I wasn’t doing it because I’m short of projects, of course; I was doing it because CJ was home sick and desperate for someone to play with. So we dragged out the Playmobil. All of it. If you’d been listening in, this is how our “playtime” would have sounded: “Stop sorting, Mommy! Make your guy talk to my guy!” And then I’d make my guy say, “Let’s find my missing candelabra base. We can go on a deep sea mission to the bottom of this bin and ….” Deep sigh from CJ.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m not good with the playing.
My proudest accomplishment of the afternoon was the completion of one room in a princess castle. One room. It is now on a high shelf and everyone who looks at it has to sing “Aaaaaaaah” in an angelic tone while gazing appreciatively. Or maybe that’s just me. In any case, no one is allowed to touch it. Oh wait. Isn’t that the whole point? Of having TOYS? Maybe Albus was on to something when he came into the living-room later that evening and began vrooming the newly restored Playmobil car (with doctor and doctor’s teeny-tiny kit that includes a teeny-tiny flu shot needle) through my carefully sorted piles. Let’s just say the doctor might be in the wrong profession. She should have been a smash-em-up-derby racer with jet-pack engines and maybe a flame-thrower or two. Can you hear the heart-breaking sound of plastic items being explosively scattered across a wooden floor? I’m sure it was fun on the pure level of play, but I become momentarily deeply discouraged. My carefully sorted piles! Tossed asunder!
There’s a lesson in here somewhere, if I care to extract it. But is that the kind of day it is? A day for lessons? No, today, I’d rather skip the moral of the story, down my cup of coffee, gird my loins, and head out into the horror that is the streets of uptown: thick with people driving their cars around and around as they seek for a parking spot and grow increasingly grim and hopeless (and mentally act out the Playmobil doctor’s wreckless acts of destruction). Merry Christmas! I’m going to walk instead. But wow. I need some girding, some serious girding. I’m in the homestretch of preparations. I can do this! I can find and assemble every piece of this Playmobil holiday!
Wait, what were we talking about?
Oh what a good day was Saturday. Ambitious cookie baking plans. One ambitious cookie baking helper.
Rolling out the dough.
Cutting out the cookies.
And everyone’s favourite step in the process.
Hurray! Treats to share!
Meanwhile, collaborators work on Christmas gifts in mama’s new office.
And one child plays contentedly with Lego.
Evening. Christmas carols being practiced. (Okay, confession time–this started to grate upon the nerves after an hour or so.)
But I was still one happy woman at the end of the day. I wanted to give my kids (and myself) a weekend of holiday preparation in the lead-up to Christmas, into which we will slam at the end of this week–a week in which the kids are still slogging off to school every day. Honestly, I think we’re all a little worn out. In need of a change, a holiday from the routine. Craving downtime. And cookies.
She slept in late after a restless night. She still has a fever, so I kept her home sick. But as soon as she got up, she saw the snow. She’s been playing outside for over an hour. I just peeked, and she’s working on turning the snow fort into a snowperson. Nope, make that snowpeople! “I made a snow angel, too.”
Yesterday I sent the last of the copy edits back to my editor. “We’re really working at the fine details, here, aren’t we,” I commented as we mulled the addition of a “now” here and the removal of italics there. It’s very satisfying to know that a project has been carefully shepherded all the way down to the finest nuance. And just like that, the builders are also dotting i’s and crossing t’s in the new office space. The tile floor has been laid and grouted. Today the electrical work gets started, and tomorrow the trim is installed. Kevin has worked hard to paint walls, ceiling and boards. By the weekend, I will be moving this desk and this computer and this chair downstairs, to my new room.
So it seems fitting to thank this makeshift space in which I’m sitting right now. This is the room where the bulk of The Juliet Stories were written. This is the room where I started my blog. Over the years that this room has served as my writing space, my desk has always been right here, facing the wall nearest the door. I can turn my head to the left and look out the window at power lines over the street, which doesn’t sound very poetical until you consider the birds I’ve seen gathering there, and the squirrels dashing like high-wire artists. One of those squirrels made it into the very last paragraph of The Juliet Stories.
My desk has always been here, but the furniture behind me has changed over the years. Not so long ago there was a crib and a change table and a rocking chair. Now there is a pull-out futon for guests and/or for cozy reading before bed (Albus’s favourite spot.) The closet is crammed with Playmobil. There is an ugly chest of drawers from Ikea to which I cannot wait to bid adieu. (Filled with dress-up clothes.) There is a homework desk, now, too; and homework gum in the tiny set of drawers that serve as my office storage area.
As we look at reconfiguring the rooms, we still have some unsolved problems. Albus will be moving in here, and AppleApple will be claming the boys’ former room, with the two littlest moving in together in what is now the girls’ room. Where will the guest futon go? Will we miss having a communal playroom with shared toys? What will our family policy be on privacy and open doors? Is it time to set up a shared computer space downstairs for homework purposes?
Furniture we’re lacking as we prepare for the move this weekend includes: a bunk bed for the little kids; mattresses; desks; storage cubbies and/or shelves. I’ve been hunting kijiji listings. It’s going to be a busy weekend, a messy weekend, a weekend of playing around with space and imagining and painting and cleaning. It likely to be an unfinished weekend. This won’t all get done in one fell swoop. But it feels like an early Christmas gift, and everyone is excited. Change is exciting. It’s the act of imagining oneself into the future, imagining what might be, what could be. It’s a good time of year for this. We’ll stir things up.
And then we’ll settle in for the winter.
Also, total aside, but did I really used to have straight hair? Like, just a few years ago, as shown in that top photo? Because it’s pretty curly/unruly these days.
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?
What’s this? you may ask. Why it’s a Quidditch pitch, of course.
And what about this? Ah, this is the breakfast bar disguised as play area, craft area, Lego-building, snack-time, reading, puzzle-making, crap-dumping area. And dimly visible beyond it, the living-room, complete with giant homemade movie-watching fort.
And here are some movie-watching fort-building Quidditch-playing recently eye-examined kids.
This week, the last before school starts, has been a quiet one. I’ve had no writing time. Zero. There seemed little point, having sent the line edits back to my editor at the end of last week (that’s worth a small hurray!), and not having the fortitude to imagine starting a new project in the midst of this. And by this, I point you to the photos above, which capture only a portion of the domestic chaos in our rooms and yard.
The appropriate implement for cleaning our living-room, at this point, would be a snow shovel.
I spent the first day or two of this week making feeble attempts to clean up. I think it was fort day that smacked me in the face with the obvious: there’s no point in cleaning up when the kids are still playing. And what else should they be doing during these last days of summer holiday? Of course they should be building Quidditch pitches out of duct tape and sticks and buckets and hula hoops. Of course they should be setting up gigantic (and sweltering) movie theatres with precariously balanced air mattresses and every pillow in the house, and of course their mother should let them eat popcorn in the living-room just this once, even though it’s sure to spill, just because. So I did. And they spilled. And it wasn’t the end of the world; or the end of anything, really.
I can’t say I’ve enjoyed this week, but it’s nobody’s fault but my own. Where I’m at is caught in my own end of summer turmoil. I find myself performing small (private) feminist rants (while washing the dishes) about a decade wasted in not climbing the corporate ladder (ha! as if that would ever have been me), and erupting in bitterness because Kevin gets to go out the door to work every morning while I stay home and pop popcorn and plan supper and watch the kids stir up enormous messes (er, play creatively). It’s time, as they say, for a change.
Today, Kevin is home from work, and we are getting stuff done. “It feels like it’s fall,” said Fooey this morning as I hung laundry and we listened to a squirrel’s teeth gnawing on a black walnut, and the fallen leaves blew around the porch stairs. “Is it still summer?”
It is. It is! It’s that melancholy late summer that gets me every year. It’s full of promise and hope, somehow, the way endings always are. And restlessness. And a stomach full of butterflies.