Category: Play

The play’s the thing

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Yesterday, I played soccer.

Though it may sound odd to say so, it feels like the most significant thing I’ve done so far this year. I played soccer! I feel like a different person, while playing soccer. I feel stronger, smarter, freer, unencumbered. It’s the play I’ve been missing. Play, as in doing something purely for the fun of it.

I haven’t played soccer since August; since the concussion. I was terrified to try again, and wouldn’t have without a lot of encouragement from Kevin and AppleApple, both of whom claimed to want me on their team (flattery always wins; actually, so did our team, but that was mostly due to AppleApple hammering in a pile of goals). My touch was lacking, after six months away, but everything else came back in an instant: strategy, positioning, speed, and the ability to run pretty much forever. We played for two hours, and all I could think was: I have to do this again. Soon.

The players were mostly girls from AppleApple’s team, with some siblings and dads, and me, the lone mom. I was a bit surprised to be the only adult woman on the field. It was so fun playing with these highly skilled, extremely polite and friendly girls (ages 11/12); I’ll bet they’ll still be tearing up the soccer field when they’re my age. When I was their age, there wasn’t anything near the same level of skill-development available for soccer-loving girls, (or probably for soccer-loving boys, either, at least in Canada); I played one season of house league, the summer I was 11. Opportunities have improved for the athletic girl.

I’d love to see more adult women participating in sports: being a participant, a teammate, a competitor gives you a different way of seeing yourself. I think these girls will grow up to be participants, carrying the confidence of their skills. I wish for the skills, but when I get on the field, I find the confidence. And that’s what I’ve missed all these months of not playing: that different way of seeing myself, of being myself.

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Mavis Gallant has died. I’ve been reading and re-reading her stories since discovering her in university. How to describe her style? Her stories are like complex riddles that I’ll never entirely puzzle out, and that is their appeal. They offer a clear view into worlds I’ll never know, perspectives as precise as they are unfamiliar. Her stories evoke mysterious emotions, and I think that’s why I’ll never tire of them. She writes of bafflement, of striving and failing and not understanding why one is failing, of being the outsider–always that. My favourite Mavis Gallant story is “The Iceman Going Down the Street.” I’d like to tell you to read it, but only if you’ll promise to read it at least ten times, perhaps over the course of several years, so that you’ll know it and know again, differently, each time.

Goodbye, Mavis. I’ll read you forever.

Must-do’s, sometimes-do’s, and never-finished’s

note the floor this morning, and what’s not on it

Yesterday, I sat down before the kids arrived home from school and wrote up a little list for each child of “Must-do’s.” I’m not 100% confident about my punctuation of that title, but I’m very very confident that each child can easily accomplish his or her tasks. I’ve loosely linked the tasks to their allowances, but we’ll approach this on a case-by-case basis, rather than a flat-out charge per task undone. Basically, I’m going to go on the assumption that the kids can and will accomplish these tasks. I’m going on trust.

Everyone seemed open to the plan. There were no outliers or complainers, though several suggested we use other methods they’ve heard about from friends’ families, where loonies are lost for infractions or dimes put into jars. To this I said, No. We’ve tried such methods and failed miserably. We lose track. We have no dimes on hand. The IOUs get confused or misplaced. It’s hard enough to remember to dole out allowances on a monthly basis. Therefore: trust.

The must-do’s are as follows:
Albus: practice viola 1x/week for half an hour (he rarely brings his instrument home, so this would be an improvement); brush teeth; homework; place all electronic devices outside bedroom at night; and, of course, put dirty laundry in hamper
AppleApple: practice piano 3x/week; brush teeth; homework; put dirty laundry in hamper; pack swim and soccer bags
Fooey: practice piano 3x/week; brush teeth; homework; put dirty laundry in hamper; swim lessons; walk CJ to school
CJ: practice reading 1x/week; brush teeth; put dirty laundry in hamper; place electronic devices outside bedroom at night; swim lessons; no throwing snow balls on walk to school

the basket is where the electronic devices shall be placed; this is also a new night-time reading nook for Albus (so as not to disturb his sleeping brother)

I added a few “sometimes-do” suggestions to the list:
* walk dogs *help make lunches *read books *play with each other * carry dirty dishes to counter *hang up coats and school bags (yes, those last two should probably be must-do’s, but I’m focusing on being realistic; I want this plan tailored for success!)

Fooey’s floor this morning
AppleApple’s floor, also this morning
We’re into our second month without a working oven. This has been less horrible than I would have imagined. It’s also forced us to think about our priorities, and make some choices. We’ve gone the long-and-drawn-out but definitely less expensive route of digging up old paperwork, talking to the manufacturer, and ensuring that when the stove is fixed, its replaced parts will be under warranty. (And by “we” I mean “Kevin,” who’s done all the legwork.)
On the subject of priorities, we’ve also scaled back our AppleApple’s swimming schedule, somewhat, in consultation with her coaches. This was not easy, and I sense it will be an ongoing process rather than a problem neatly and definitively solved. The larger question at play is: why do we do what we do? Why get up early and work out? Why run? Why swim? Why be on a team? Why challenge oneself? Ultimately, it can’t be for some imagined competitive outcome — for the ribbons and medals and wins, for far-off goals, for numbers and times. It just can’t be. It has to be for the joy of the process itself. I’m not against high personal expectations, as you can probably tell, but I know that high personal expectations can kill the love of the thing you’re practicing, if not tempered with realism, kindness (toward yourself and others) and fun. Play. The joyous expression of the self. I don’t get up early and sweat because I’m going to set any records. I do it because the challenge makes me feel good, mentally and physically.
How to nurture the child who is ambitious and competitive and loves to challenge herself? How to make sure she doesn’t burn out or over-do? I think this is something to be lifted up daily, just as I lift up daily the question of how to motivate and support and nurture each of my children, each with such different ways of being in the world.
frozen world out my window

I’m spending my days, recently, reading. Right now I’m reading a book my dad gave me called This Bright Abyss, by Christian Wiman. I’m not ready to start writing something new, but I’m ready to begin thinking about writing something new. I’m ready to reflect on what intrigues me, what I want to know more about, and how to illuminate that in fiction. So I’m reading. It couldn’t be cozier. Unless we had a wood stove.

We’re meeting with a builder on Thursday to discuss just such a possibility. A house is a lot like a family. It’s always changing, too, to meet different needs. We improvise. We use what we’ve got. We purge. We add. We experiment. We’re remain both flexible and committed to what’s before us. We’re in motion, and so is our house.

I’m comforted by the thought that my work is unfinished.

“I am thankful for …”

The days are packed

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good morning

Alert: rambling post ahead. My thoughts are failing to cohere around a single theme, and so I shall offer a messy multitude.

Above, my desk. Coffee cup, cellphone, book I’m currently reading, computer-now-used-mainly-for-processing-photos-as-it’s-dying-a-painful-death, and calendar. Good morning, this desk seems to greet me. I didn’t run because the roads are super-icy, so I didn’t set my alarm, so I overslept, so the getting-everyone-out-the-door portion of the morning was hairy, so I decided to walk the little kids partway to school, so Fooey forgot her glasses, so I had to run back home to fetch them, so I had to drive anyway to get them to her, so I drove her big sister as well, so I stopped for coffee and a croissant at Sabletine on my way home. Ergo, I’m over-caffeinated.

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the days are packed, and so is this office

I’m not sure my office could accommodate much more than it already does. It’s a small space. And yet it feels almost miraculously expansive. At times I think that could be a metaphor for life itself. Look at what’s going on here: we’ve got a reader and exerciser walking on the treadmill (she read for TWO MILES on Monday evening!); we’ve got another child, legs and arms just visible in the bottom of the photo, lying on the warm tile floor soaking up some doggie affection; we’ve got books, light, art, work, family, all tucked into this small space.

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Some days feel like they have themes or threads tying them together.

Saturday was “free stuff” day, as mentioned in my previous post. By early afternoon, we’d received a free treadmill and a free foosball table. That evening, Kevin and I went to the Princess theatre for dinner-and-a-movie, using a gift certificate given to us over a year ago. (We saw Philomena, which I recommend, although we were a good twenty years younger than anyone else in the theatre). We also scored “free” babysitting from Albus, who agreed to be in charge during our absence in exchange for pizza. On the walk to the theatre, I found a pair of i-pod headphones lying in a puddle, which I decided to rescue rather than leave to ruination in the puddle. I feel slightly guilty about that free find.

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Yesterday’s theme was good news on the professional front, with hairy/heart-rending complications on the domestic front.

The professional news is nothing to share, particularly; more to do with ongoing conversations and future plans. But it was lovely to receive pleasant messages in my inbox sprinkled throughout the day.

Not much else went smoothly. I’d planned to pick the younger kids up from school to take them to swim lessons. I sent a note to CJ’s teachers to tell them “no bus,” please. I arrived just as the bell rang to discover the note had been missed, and CJ had been sent to the bus line. I tore through the school to retrieve him (thankfully, in time), but by the time we got back to our original meeting spot, Fooey had come and gone, all in a panic at not seeing us there, so we waited and waited and waited not knowing what was happening while Fooey ran around the school (it’s become very sprawling since they built on an addition). By the time we found each other, she was breathless and in tears, and we were late.

Meantime, Albus texted to say he was at a friend’s house, which left me worried about AppleApple, home alone — did she even have a key to get in? Did she know about her soccer practice, starting early? I texted Kev to call home, and added, “You will have to do supper.”

I’d planned to run at the track during swim lessons. By the time people had changed and gone to the bathroom and made it into the water, I had about twenty minutes total to run. So I ran as fast as I could, round and round and round, blowing off steam. As I helped CJ shower and change, I realized I was pouring with sweat … and that my best-laid plan did not include time for me to change (let alone shower!) between dropping the kids at home and racing with AppleApple to the early soccer practice. Suffice it to say that we arrived slightly late at the indoor field, my face lightly splashed with water from Fooey’s shower, wearing decent clothes.

The heart-rending bit went like this. I met a friend for lunch. We had a lovely time together. On the walk home, the weather warmer and sunnier than expected, we passed the social services building, and a young mother exited behind us. She was berating her child, who was no more than two, and who made not a peep. Her tone was loud and angry and caught our attention. My friend and I both kind of froze, went silent. We kept glancing over our shoulders as we walked, keeping the young woman and child in view. Should we intervene in some way? We asked each other. We didn’t know. I think it haunted us both — not knowing whether to speak up, and haunted even in the moment by the fate of this child, and by extension the fate of every child made to feel unwanted or unloved. (I must add that at no time did the child appear to be in any physical danger.)

I’m currently reading a book sent to me by my UK publisher (Two Roads): The end of your life book club, a memoir by Will Schwalbe. Read it. It’s a meditation on the shared reading experience, and the mother/son relationship, and all the while it illuminates and reflects on the particular life of the author’s mother, who is described as a woman always open to the world around her. She’s a natural leader and visionary who believes in action. She meets everyone’s eye. She asks questions of everyone she meets. She listens and responds. She never feels she knows too many people or has friends enough or worries about having too many relationships to sustain — she faces the world (and its pains and problems) with genuine welcome. I’m a bit in awe of her. I want to learn from her.

I wonder whether she would have found some entrance into the young woman’s life. I wonder, thinking it over later, whether it would have been helpful to approach and offer to watch the child or carry him to the bus stop, so the young woman would have had a moment to collect herself and burn off steam. (I didn’t think of this in the moment.)

I felt that my posture and response to the situation was fearful. I was afraid of appearing judgemental and intrusive rather than helpful. I was afraid of getting in over my head. I was afraid of having the young woman’s anger turned on me. I was thinking of the invisible enormity of the problems, hidden like the tendrils of mushrooms, underneath, and I was overwhelmed and paralyzed.

In the end, we walked on (after observing the young woman reach the bus stop with her child), unable to speak of anything other than what we’d seen, weighed-down and saddened and heart-broken, a bit. Truthfully, I don’t know whether we should have done anything differently. But I haven’t been able to let it leave my mind either.

This room of my own

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It was the weekend of free stuff. On Saturday morning, my dad called and said they were clearing out their basement and had a lot of items to give away, if we wanted to take a look. Sure, I said. I love free stuff! Very little could make me happier than free stuff! Top of the clear-out list was this treadmill. “I could probably turn it into a treadmill desk for you, if you’d like,” he offered. (He reads my blog.)

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I’d literally just given up on the idea of having a treadmill desk — I’d been pricing out the options last week, and come around to the conclusion that it wasn’t feasible in the short-term. I kid you not, I made this decision on Friday. The very next day, I have a treadmill desk.* (*Technically, I don’t have the desk part yet — it will be a simple removable platform to hold my laptop — but it’s coming soon!)

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Yesterday was a very icy day. People were walking in the street to avoid the sidewalks. I was going stir-crazy from a) too much on my mind, b) driving to Mississauga for an early soccer game, and c) lack of exercise. C) was the only factor I could actually actively affect. Forget the ice outside. I changed into work-out clothes, got on my new (free!) treadmill and ran for 50 minutes.

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As I ran, the kids kept turning up in the doorway. When I stepped off, each kid wanted a turn — and then another. I laid out the ground rules: no one is allowed to use it without supervision/permission, and you have to attach the safety cord. Also, after AppleApple’s trial run, we decided no bare feet allowed. Ouch.

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The results were visible: rosy cheeks, sweaty faces, improved moods, happy dinner chatter. CJ even managed to run for half a mile. AppleApple has devised a treadmill schedule, so that kids can sign up for half hour intervals. (Included on the schedule is a note saying that Mom’s schedule can over-ride what’s on the sign-up sheet. Phew. And I didn’t even tell her to add that clause.)

What’s slightly amazing is how perfectly the treadmill fits in the office, as if this space has been awaiting its arrival. It’s a tiny room, but it can accommodate an awful lot. I’ve got my great aunt Alice’s cozy little rocking chair for reading. I’ve got a small filing cabinet to contain current odds-and-ends and another for office supplies, which also holds my reading lamp. The dog beds fit. The treadmill folds up, which means there’s still room for yoga. I would like to think of this as a space dedicated to reading, writing, research, running, walking, and yoga. It’s a space dedicated to quiet contemplation and reflection, and to physical movement and health. Stillness and motion. Mind and body. The ephemeral and the visceral. A room of my own.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

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Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. I woke with those words in my head, but immediately thought about how it’s today that pulls me. Today that I wake to. All those tomorrows aren’t promises. They’re overwhelming if I consider the repetition of their demands, and even more overwhelming if I consider the speed of their passage. No matter how much I do, time will turn these words to dust.

Yet how much I wanted to run downstairs and write down my thoughts. And so I have. Today pulls me.

It was my second waking of the morning. The first was much earlier, when AppleApple and I woke for her swimming. Being up already, I went for a run. It was very dark when I set out, but as I made my rounds, the sky shifted, pale light between ominous clouds, and at last a pink and blue sky that looked right out of a fluorescent painting. Shadowy crowds of crows called from the treetops, then took off flying in a seemingly endless stream. I liked this somewhat less when they flew directly overhead.

I came home to warm up, shower, and scarf a plate of scrambled eggs and bagel, then returned to fetch my swimming daughter. Tonight my siblings are coming over and we’re making paella. That’s to celebrate the sale to Spain. I haven’t properly celebrated France (the coffee and croissant were lovely, but the kids want in on it, too), nor Italy (which I kind of want to splash out on, if someone can recommend a good Italian restaurant), nor Holland, though a friend, who is Dutch, recommends kale and potatoes with sausages, or “tiny meatball soup,” both of which sound delicious (I will need the recipes).There may be yet one more country to announce shortly (!!), but I’ll leave you waiting for now. It is quite astonishing to consider the variety of languages spoken on this Earth.

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We’ve named our new truck “Aggie,” which is short for Aganetha Smart, fictional girl runner. Yesterday, I christened Aggie with a billion (more or less) errands around town to prep for paella night, and Halloween, and winter, and to replace items my swim child has lost or broken recently. Last week, for example, she lost her asthma puffer and aero-chamber. These things do not grow on trees. Recognizing her own ability to shed personal items at an alarming rate, she opted for dollar store gloves rather than those from Adventure Guide, which are, quite frankly, a shocking investment.

Elsewhere, Fooey found a dress fit for a vampire, with a hoop skirt to boot, but AppleApple rejected my suggestions and insisted on searching for something I fear exists only in her imagination: an old-fashioned formal dress (also with a hoop skirt) that would be both appropriate for trick-or-treating AND she could wear on social occasions. Yeah. Tips? She wants to go as Anne of Green Gables, and I’m not sure Anne wore hoop skirts, and that we may be confusing her with Laura Ingalls in her courting days, as we are reading These Happy Golden Years right now. In other costume news, CJ will be a clown in a suit we found in the dress-up box, and Albus is still debating. I will miss seeing them in full costumed flight, as I teach that evening. I bought some extra treats to take for the students, and I’m hunting for spooky-themed stories to read (suggestions??). Who knows, I may even throw on a costume. Would my students take me seriously as a rhinstone cowgirl? With braids? That’s all I’ve got (and it’s borrowed). I wore it to a party on Friday night, and looked cute and appropriately clad, but felt like I had dragged with me the equivalent of a wilted personality. I’m tired, it seems. Too tired to stay up late, too tired to carouse, though not too tired to spend the evening within arm’s reach of the cheese platter.

It does seem like a happy life makes room for a wide variety of activities, solo and in company, professionally and personally. Leave aside work and play, which are linked, in my mind. The bulk of my efforts goes into relationships, which are like gardens and need tending: there’s marriage and children, wider family, friends and neighbours, colleagues and students and coaches and other parents and acquaintances. When I’m down, I castigate myself for a lack of diplomacy, or a willingness to enter into conflict, and sometimes for exhaustion itself, for feeling spent. This may indicate that I’m an introvert, and yet it’s the relationships that interest me most, that feed me and that I live for. What’s left out of the equation, what gets squashed to the margins? Housework and chores, and often cooking and food. I try to leave room for meditation and stretching. Ultimately, I find, it’s dancing that falls by the wayside.

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I’ll end where I began this rambling post. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. But really, today.

Thankful:

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* Family; cousins; new cousin: hosting (I love to host!)

* Being fed ham & scalloped potatoes for our first Thanksgiving dinner, and relaxing into the weekend

* Playing soccer in mid-October warmth with Kev, kids, and brother-in-law, and not getting concussion symptoms afterward (just aching muscles)

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* Celebrating the UK deal with really good fish & chips

* Long morning dog walks, visiting with sister-in-law

* Listening to Alice Munro being interviewed on Writers and Company, Sunday afternoon, while peeling potatoes and grating beets for our Thanksgiving supper

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* Feeding my family a feast: a roasted 20-pound turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, grated sweet-and-sour beets, fresh cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and baked apples

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* Inviting the new parents to join us — and the new parents coming over!

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* Laughter

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