I’m basically scooping my daughter’s homework deadline, but I just had to share her response to a school assignment to write a six-word memoir. After trying out a variety of ideas that played around with her connection between the imaginary and the real, she came up with the six words above, and had me take an accompanying photo. I love the dreamy, peaceful, joyous expression on her face. The saddle is from my own pony-owning era, with safety stirrups that I remember my Gramps, who loved horses too, insisted I use. We couldn’t find a bridle with reins in the attic, so she’s got a skipping rope instead. Hey, the imagination works wonders. Her little brother and sister have also been welcomed into this imaginary world and AppleApple happily responds to all requests to “go ride Nellie.”
(As an aside, do you think you could write a six-word memoir? Could I? Maybe I will ask my students to try this exercise when we meet for the first time tomorrow.)
This is turning into Carrie’s bad news bed bug and concussion blog, but I figured you might like an update on my head. I saw a sports medicine doctor today. If you’ve got a few minutes, take time to watch this surprisingly helpful and succinct video on concussions made by a doctor in Montreal. Unfortunately, I’m not even at step one of the steps to recovery: I’m still suffering symptoms even while at rest. But overall, I was relieved to know that I haven’t done anything too terribly wrong, with the exception of going back on the field to play out the game in which I suffered the concussion. In retrospect, I realize I would never let one of my kids do that, but apparently my judgement wasn’t the best following a blow to the head; and it’s not a mistake I’ll make twice. Otherwise, I’ve been properly conservative in my attempts to return to activity. I’m going to see a physio tomorrow, who also specializes in post-concussion syndrome, and will report anything of interest. Meanwhile, I need to be cautious even about my cognitive activities (argh!), which obviously take precedence over any exercise-related activities. The doctor’s words that stick in my head are: “You will get out of shape. I know that’s frustrating.” I think my main goal for right now is to accept that, and be grateful for all that I can do in the weeks and months ahead.
For example, I recognize that I won’t be able to race the Run for the Toad this year. It’s not that I couldn’t do it, rather that I would pay a very heavy price to complete it. Running seems to be a major symptom trigger. At this point, if I feel well enough, the doctor suggested an easy walk, and possibly an easy swim. But if I’m honest about how I’m feeling, even an easy walk hurts rather than helps right now. So does looking at my computer screen. Which means I’m signing off for now.
Thanks for all who have reached out to me recently with thoughtfulness and care!
“Do you plan on waking up tomorrow morning?” Kevin asked me last night, as we were reading in bed.
“Um, yes, waking up in the morning would be my plan,” I said.
He meant, should he set his alarm or did I plan to wake up early, but the phrasing seemed ominous under the circumstances. My bad news is that it appears my concussion symptoms have not gone away, as I’d hoped, despite a restful week at the cottage. I tested things out last week with three short easy runs that caused me no ill side effects. So I thought it was safe to do a longish run yesterday in preparation for the 25-km trail race, just a few weeks from now: off I went, enjoying a speedy comfortable 13km run in beautiful weather, returned home feeling terrific, and gradually became aware as the afternoon turned to evening that I wasn’t feeling so terrific anymore. Headache, nausea.
In fact, I was feeling so off that I realized I couldn’t play in my soccer game. You know me. That’s huge! It was our last game of the season, and we were playing in the cup final. It was painful to stand on the sidelines, but my team played an awesome game under the lights (with a sliver of a moon overhead), and I was so glad I’d come out to cheer. We won! So my team went undefeated all year, won the regular season, and the cup final, and as you can see from the photo, we were all pretty happy. Look, shiny medals!
Come to think of it, this is my first experience being on a winning team, mainly because I only recently started playing team sports — this is just my second season. And here’s my observation: it was really fun to win, but it was more fun simply being part of a team that enjoyed playing together (which is probably a good recipe for a winning team). We were well-matched in effort and skill, the talk on and off the field was positive, supportive, and helpful, we put together some awesome plays, and I learned a lot playing with these women. The coach was pretty awesome too. So bottom line: winning is fun, but playing for a happy team is more fun.
I feel fuzzy-headed, today, though. Is my writing fuzzy-headed too?
I’ve made an appointment with a sports medicine doctor who specializes in concussions. Maybe should have done this weeks ago? But there’s no point beating myself up with should’ves and could’ves. I will keep you posted on progress, and meantime, I’m going to do NOTHING exercise-related. I’m also going for a nap as soon as the guy punching a hole in our basement wall is done (yes, we hired him to do it; something boiler-related).
We’re having a nice gradual entry into extra-curriculars this fall. This week Fooey’s gymnastics starts. Piano lessons continue. We have two meet-the-teacher nights, one of which I have to miss due to teaching myself — my class starts this week. I also have a reading on Friday in Toronto, and I encourage and invite you to come: click on the link for details. I’ll be speaking with three other panelists, including the delightful Kerry Clare of Pickle Me This, in support of a new anthology (in which I have an essay) called Have Milk, Will Travel: Adventures in Breastfeeding. These are light-hearted, funny reflections on breastfeeding, and I’m looking forward to sharing stories (and in my case reminiscining, since that time has passed for me, now).
So that’s my week. I also have more revisions to get to following an excellent editorial meeting on Friday re Girl Runner. I keep meaning to make an official announcement with links, but I can’t find any links, so I’ll just go ahead and tell you, in my semi-addled state, that if all goes according to plan Girl Runner will be the lead novel on House of Anansi’s list next fall! Gimme a woot-woot!
This is a Twitter pic of me reading at the Starlight in Waterloo on Thursday night. Fooey and AppleApple watched with great interest as I applied my “going-out” makeup in the dining-room mirror, with Fooey offering plenty of style advice (AppleApple agreed that Fooey was the expert, and shared her own method for choosing her outfits: “I reach into my drawer in the dark and pull out whatever’s on top.” Then she pairs whatever she finds with soccer shorts). My friend Zoe came along to the reading and promised me that I didn’t look old and haggard. I forgot to ask her about looking “witch-like,” which I think the photo evidence suggests may be the case. In any case, Zoe and I are already excited about planning a launch party for Girl Runner. It’ll be epic!
But, oh right, there’s still work to be done before then.
And I must rest my head, too. Good morning.
I’ve spent the last hour reading a book. For pleasure. While sipping a cup of coffee, curled in my great-aunt Alice’s rocking chair, the sound of spring birds and morning traffic out my office window. That sounds indulgent, and it is. I’m a bit under the weather, in fact, and skipped out on soccer last night to crash early.
To qualify, however, the early crash was preceded by five hours of domestic labour that included preparing supper (tacos: fresh-cooked beans and rice, hamburger, avocado and tomato salad, sauteed spinach with garlic, grated cheese, etc.), driving a kid to swimming, hanging two loads of laundry and folding two more, feeding children supper, discussing with younger daughter why she can’t get a kitten right now, cleaning up from supper, supervising bathtime, supervising piano practice, brushing children’s cavity-laden teeth, bedtime rituals, and two extra trips upstairs post-lights-out to fetch water bottles and debate with youngest whether or not his stuffed tiger needed emergency surgery (no, the doctor, aka mama, ruled). If you are wondering where Kevin was in all of this, he arrived home with supplies for supper, we said hello, I left with the swim kid, and he was waiting on the porch when I returned, ready to race off to the U12C boys’ soccer practice with Albus. He arrived home with the two eldest children around 8pm, just in time to put on his own soccer gear and sprint to his own soccer practice. To which I was invited. And simply had not the energy or health to go.
Instead, I took a bath, read a book, crashed early.
I haven’t got a handle on balance, these days. Don’t come to me for advice. I’m tired of waiting for news, but I’ve decided to look on these quiet days — quiet, anyway, while the children are at school — as fortunate. Why waste the quiet with interior storm? I am in need of rest and comfort.
Chicken stock. Tea. A rocking chair. A good book.
It’s in my head, always, like a current pulling out to sea, that I need to get out and run. But maybe I need to curl up sometimes, too. One can’t be constantly pouring oneself out without replenishment.
I worry about being this poem, “First Fig,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay:
My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But, ah, my foes, and, oh, my friends —
It gives a lovely light.
Speaking of poems, a friend from poetry book club sent me this one, “Glory, in the dictionary,” by Erin Bow, in response to Friday’s “How are you?” post.
Glory, in the dictionary: the open mouth
of the glass furnace. A radiant shadow
cast onto mist. Think of Icarus:
his shadow huge and haloed
on the backs of the clouds.
The higher he went, the larger
it loomed. To go into glory, then,
is to walk into fire.
And the angels begin as they always do:
Don’t be afraid.
I’m not sure what I think about this. Glory. Exaltation; or do I mean exultation? The shadow cast. But I love the angels, who begin as they always do: Don’t be afraid. I want those angels to be my angels.
Exaltation, in the dictionary: a feeling of intense, often excessive exhileration; a flight of larks
Exultation, in the dictionary: the act or condition of rejoicing greatly
A few links:
My updated reading list, 2013, now including April. Having not, prior to this year, strictly kept track of books read, a few trends surprise me: I’m reading more male authors than I expected, also less Canadian content, and more non-fiction. Hm. But there is quite a variety. I think of myself as a democratic or catholic reader: I like almost everything. Unless it’s boring. I do, however, have an inner critic that edits for content and structure as I read, and that can be really annoying and next to impossible to turn off.
I wrote a piece for Today’s Parent on Mother’s Day, which happens to be one of my least favourite holidays. I didn’t write about that, however. I aimed for moderately sappy truth. The piece appears in the latest issue of the magazine, but it’s also online. (To put in a plug for the hard copy, the layout in the magazine is inspired.)
One more thing. That kitten that Fooey really wants? Why do I secretly want it, too? Don’t tell her. It’s worse than impractical. But I got the image this morning of a messy open house, where it’s mostly chaos, and all creatures great and small are welcome. Not sure where I am in that picture. Doing the dishes and hanging the laundry and getting a kick out of forever and impossibly trying to maintain order? Or could I be curled in the rocking chair reading a book, covered in cat hair? Or racing in the door from a run? But who’s cooking supper? Who’s making sure the soccer socks are clean? Who’s cleaning the kitty litter box?
Above: letting the photos tell the story of a Big Moment in her life so far. Her older sister has no interest in ear piercing, so it was a first for me too. We went with her friend and her friend’s mother, so all of us had peer support on the adventure.
But that was only one of many things that happened this weekend! While the two of us were at the mall, Kevin was at our doctor’s weekend clinic, trying to figure out what the heck was wrong with CJ, who was sick and getting sicker by the minute. It turned out to be strep. There’s always something, I tell you. Meanwhile, Fooey and I had arrived home to a weirdly empty house — the two other kids were with friends. We had a few minutes to eat lunch, then realized Kevin and CJ would never make it home in time for us to get AppleApple to her soccer practice. Thank heavens for the carshare! I was able to book a car within fifteen minutes of us needing it, and AppleApple ran home to change, and then we all ran about a kilometre to the available car, zoomed out to practice, zoomed back to the lot, and Fooey and I ran home (Fooey in her new shoes, dragged along, and starting to complain of muscle cramps), just in time to meet my brother, who, at the very moment we were puffing up the sidewalk, was pulling into our driveway to pick me up for my sister’s piano recital. With Kev and CJ still on their strep odyssey, Fooey came along too.
new shoes, her choice
How I enjoyed the hour of peaceful listening, with nothing to do but sit in stillness and absorb music. I thought about how we are fed by ephemeral, transient offerings we don’t fully understand, by the hard work and efforts of others to create and interpret and share beauty.
with her aunt Edna
Fooey went off afterwards with her aunt and her grandma for a sushi treat, while I caught a ride home with Kevin and the rest of the family, reunited post-soccer practice, with meds for the sick lad. I would have enjoyed the sushi treat, too, but there is such a thing as duty, and Kev had done some hard time all morning and most of the afternoon. Instead, I used leftover fish heads to brew up a rich fish stock, which I used as a base for a potato and corn chowder. Supper was served terribly late, and only a few of us would eat the fishy chowder (DELICIOUS!). The rest had grilled cheese instead, made on the waffle iron — Kevin’s handy-dandy innovation. We are teaching the kids how to use it so they can make hot meals for themselves next fall. But as CJ was falling off to sleep, he claimed terrible hunger, and what was he hungry for? “Chicken!!!” We had no chicken in the house, so I promised I would go and get him some right away, and that is what I did, with the two big kids giddily joining me on the late-evening mission to the grocery store. We picked up supplies for the week — of course there was no rotisserie chicken left at 9:30 at night, so we chose a packaged of pre-roasted slices that I would never ordinarily buy. Ever. Except when my sick kid wants chicken, I guess. We came home and gorged on mangoes, Kevin already asleep on the couch.
Through the night, I played nurse to the sick boy, who slept restlessly, but woke somewhat better. At least he was no longer getting worse. Kev was feeling under the weather, so I got the kids going, (chicken for breakfast, anyone?), waking AppleApple with mere minutes to spare before driving her to swim practice, and then it was time to put on my writer’s hat. Or pants, as the case may be.
“Are those new jeans?” Fooey, my fashion-conscious-child, inquired. “Nope, not new, but I only wear them for special occasions.” “What’s happening? What are you doing today?” [said with slight panic in her voice] “I’m going to a reading in Hamilton.” “Why are you dressing up?” “A reading is like a performance. I’m the entertainment, so I’m getting dressed up.” [note: “dressed up” is a term used loosely in our family, and yesterday involved the aforementioned jeans, a short-sleeved blouse and a jacket, with boots, and a necklace made of unpolished stones, plus or minus lipstick]
I drove to Hamilton to take part in GritLit, that city’s spring literary festival. I appeared on the short story panel with Cary Fagan and Miranda Hill, a pair of very entertaining performers, indeed. Questions answered, books signed, hands shaken, I then drove fast and made it to my soccer team’s first playoff game, changing in the bathroom and racing onto the field before the whistle blew. We won! Back at home, Kevin was making supper, the laundry had multiplied into a slightly scary mountain, the older children had played in an exhibition soccer game together, and Grandma had come and gone. The sick boy was still sick. The piano had been fitfully practiced. The dogs needed walking.
two sick boys
Today, I’m home with two sick boys, which has been a bonus, as the elder of the two is not that sick and has sweetly entertained the younger. I’ve achieved only the minutiae among goals, but sometimes that’s the best one can hope for. The laundry mountain has been mined down to a timid hill, the boots I left at the soccer field (oh, my spacey-post-game-brain!) have been retrieved, I’ve swung kettlebells in the early hours, and answered emails, and organized our week on the chalkboard, and I’ve even written this blog post. Hallelujah!
But the whole damn weekend went by too fast, and Monday is going too fast, too. I’m sensing a theme. Life, the fast-forward version.
Yesterday afternoon, I spent some time helping two little guys launch a squeaking balloon down the staircase, with the happy effect that it squealed overhead and repeatedly smacked its little balloon head against the wall or ceiling before deflating and twisting earthward.
It would be pleasant to turn this into a metaphor, but I’m struggling.
There, no metaphor needed. I’m struggling. That’s it, plain and simple. I hesitate to spit it into word form, especially on a public forum, but there it is. A blog is a troublesome creation: it’s very much in the moment, and therefore can magnify the smallest ups and downs in a person’s life, and this here is a down. Right now I’m happy when I’m running, and that’s about it. But get that right now really is right now.
Suffice it to say that I’m tired after a second night up with a sick child. I’m irritable after another day home with my children, who are on holiday, but who can’t leave the house or have play dates due to the aforementioned sickness. It occurred to me today that the only thing a person can really accomplish while home with four children is cooking and housework — plus the vacuuming covered the noise of the periodic tantrums and steady stream of complaints. So the house is pretty clean. Which is something. But it’s not enough.
I would like to reflect on my impatient response to International Women’s Day, a day I usually respond to with honour and interest, solemnity, even pride. But this year, on this International Women’s day, all that welled in me was intense frustration. And I think my response is the key to unlocking exactly where I’m at right now, and why I’m struggling.
My expectations do not seem to be in line with reality.
I expect that girls and women will be treated as individuals, with the same opportunities as boys and men to pursue lives that are interesting and fulfilling. Every time I read another story about a horror perpetrated on a woman — because she’s a woman — my response is THIS CANNOT BE! Every time I read another statistic coldly demonstrating women’s under-representation in, well, you-name-it, most anything that has to do with power or cultural critique or leadership my response is HOW CAN THIS STILL BE? Every time I read some trumped up story on “The Mommy Wars,” or “Stay-at-Home Mothers v. Working Mothers,” or even hear myself referred to as “a full-time mother,” (what, exactly, is a part-time mother?), I want to shrug it off as mere noise, but instead I feel something akin to disbelief: WHY?
A few more WHYs.
WHY would any family rationally choose to have more than one or two children, understanding that childcare, particularly during the early years, will either cost one parent his or her career, or two working parents the better part of a decent salary? Let’s ask the politicians who a) have no interest in funding childcare and b) want Canadian families to produce more children FOR THE ECONOMY. (Surprise! They tend to be the same ones.)
WHY is Canada’s major news magazine running a photo, this week, of a woman shaving her face under the headline “Man Up,” suggesting that women should be more like men if they want to succeed in the workplace? WHY are we always being told to be someone we’re not? Which reminds me: WHY is success in the workplace our main measure of success? Further to that, WHY are good and moral choices so often couched in economic terms, as if that’s the only language that matters, the only real currency? I heard a news report, happened to be on International Women’s Day, in which an economist (who was a woman) explained that educating girls and women is a sure-fire way to increase the economic well-being of communities and nations. So let’s do it, people. Let’s do it FOR THE ECONOMY.
Maybe my body is trying to tell me something.
Maybe my horoscope on Thursday was right (it said I was doing too much and needed to slow down).
Maybe one cannot hold a pose of strength all the time.
After a solid writing day on Thursday, and an evening of driving children around to swimming and soccer, I returned home realizing that I felt … not quite right. In fact, a good deal worse than not quite right. In fact, I felt quite terrible enough that I needed to climb into bed without bothering to eat supper.
A few hours later, the youngest woke up with the unmistakable symptoms of stomach flu. I will spare you the details. I realized that I, too, was so queasy I was having difficulty sleeping. By yesterday morning I was basically prone, laid out flat. I didn’t even resent missing a writing day due to looking after a sick kid because all I wanted to do was sleep. He watched movies, I slept, piled upon by concerned dogs.
By afternoon, when sick kid was feeling improved and I discovered myself lying under a blanket on my office floor (it’s very warm) unable to respond to his demands for his water bottle, I texted my mother an SOS. She arrived and stayed until Kevin was home with the soccer/skating children at around 8pm. I slept and slept and slept. And then I slept all night too.
I’m a little less prone today. In fact, I am sitting at my office desk. Yay! Yesterday I was pretty sure I was dying, but today I’m feeling more optimistic about survival. (Yes, I am a hypochondriac; no, I would not make a good invalid.)
Rest, rest, rest.
Can I manage it? Seems an easy demand to meet, especially given that it’s the weekend, Kevin’s home, today is quiet.
Rest, rest, rest.
I’ll try, body. I’ll try.