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.
pretending to sleep
This Monday morning is not brought to you by an efficient or clear-headed start. It begins with a sore throat, an unwillingness to rise early, and a sense of being behind on each and every task of the day. Honestly, I could happily go back to bed right now, and it’s not even noon. I have only my own work to do, and must locate some inner will power and just do it. While washing the dishes last night, I thought, if it were only me, I would be leaving these dishes on the counter and collapsing on the couch in front of bad tv. So many of the things that I do every day, I do only because I have to. I have to lest the larger collective project of family fall apart. I can’t veg on the couch when there’s laundry, dishes, kids need baths and grooming, piano practice and homework wrangling, and the week ahead is waiting to be discussed with Kevin and scheduled out on the chalkboard.
So I just do it, though not with the enthusiasm or fervor of a slogan. Nope. I just do it. Trudge.
Maybe that’s why I get a lot done. I’ve got these dependents, expecting and needing structure. If it were just me, what would I be doing? Maybe every day would look a lot like this morning has: sleepy, dull-eyed, slow-moving, and oddly unconcerned. I would read the paper and drink coffee.
Or would I?
After all, I do have a big sense of adventure to satisfy, and, often, an inner whirlwind of energy. Today just doesn’t happen to be whirling with energy. I’m a bit sick. I’m tired. I spent a multi-faceted weekend in happy activity, bouncing from place to place. I ran 14km through the fog on Friday night; coffee date with my elder son on Saturday morning; baked bread; met with Tricia and our friend Steve to discuss filming for our Amazing Race audition video; library with elder daughter; dinner date with Kev; up at 6am Sunday morning to drive soccer girl to a game in Mississauga (through blinding rain and dark); home in time to grab a banana, change, and head out to film scenes for audition video in a nearby park (splashing through cold puddles and weeds, trying to get muddy, and look tough / photogenic / captivating / ourselves); home to change for a really fun soccer game; and, well, that just about catches us up to those supper dishes. It was kind of non-stop.
Until about 10pm last night, when I just stopped and haven’t really started up again in full indomitable Carrie mode. Feeling a touch domitable. (Domitable? Nope, just checked: not a word.)
I know how to be when I’m rolling and up and moving and full of enthusiasm. It’s when I’m tired and sick(ish) and worn out that I don’t know how to be — I don’t know what to do with myself, or how to rest. Know what I mean? (Stretch, Carrie, stretch.)
I took a holiday from electronics over the weekend. The word “electronics,” aka ‘lectronics, is heard often in our house, and is often a source of conflict, as I, responsible mother, repeatedly refuse my children time on their ‘lectronic devices.
Yesterday, driving home from a soccer game, the whole family in the car, the youngest in tears because we weren’t watching a movie or letting him play on his brother’s Playbook — during the relatively short car ride — I had one of my ranting moments, this with the theme “Addicted to Electronics.” It’s kind of like a Ted talk, only unedited, and interactive.
“But what about all the time you spend on Facebook, and doing your blog, and writing?” my eldest pointed out. “What about email? And you have your Blackberry that you’re always checking.”
So we drew some lines. Games and Facebook are kind of the same thing: entertainment. Email/texts are, for me, and for better or for worse, like the telephone; they connect me to friends and family. Writing and blogging can be useful and creative. “If you want to write a story on the computer, I will make sure you have a computer to use,” I said. “But an hour of wii-time on Saturday and Sunday seems like enough.”
I don’t want to ban ‘lectronics from our lives. I want us to use them in ways that are positive, that don’t cause conflict, and that don’t prevent us from exercising our brains and collective selves in non-‘lectronic creative ways.
This is what passes for family meetings these days. I actually think it was a fairly effective conversation, by the end. I had my rant, the kids got to counter with their arguments, and we all finally agreed that Facebook and computer games needed to be limited, but that there are occasions when ‘lectronics are useful tools.
I’ve spent the weekend in a kind of hibernation. I’m sick, but functioning, up all night coughing, slogging through during the day. “How can I feel so yucky, and still rock a 10 kilometre run?” I asked Kevin on Friday night. I took two extra-strength Tylenol and ran for fifty minutes at soccer yesterday — our team had no subs. I felt terrific during the game; chilled and feverish afterward. I’m a believer that exercise is curative. But I still feel sick.
I don’t think my electronic hibernation this weekend was about feeling sick, though. I think it was about the latest shooting in the United States. I didn’t hear about it until late Friday afternoon. I’d spent all day setting up my new book in Scrivener, cut off from the world, marvelling at this brand-new-insanely-useful tool, feeling like I could have happily chained myself to my desk for the next three months and just lived in my imaginary world. Which isn’t practical. So at around 4pm, I turned it off to get ready for our complicated Friday evening ritual, which involves a carshare car, a picnic, soccer equipment, and me in running gear.
But first I checked Facebook.
And then I saw the news. And then the news was all I could see or think about or handle, except I couldn’t handle it. Fury and rage. That was my gut response. The thought that these weapons are legally obtainable. The thought, maybe, that these weapons even exist. Tell me why we need them. Why does anyone on earth need a gun that can rapid-fire hundreds of rounds of deadly ammunition? And if you think you need something like that, I’m pretty sure that should disqualify you from getting access to it. As I ran, sick and sad and furious, on Friday night, I thought, this could be my hill. This could be where I take my stand. But I drove home, alone, weeping so hard that I had trouble seeing the road ahead.
How to pick one hill? I feel a familiar sinking. The injustices and wrongs and evils are too numerous to list, let alone to comprehend. Child soldiers, dictatorships, unsafe factories where people work like slaves so we can buy our clothes for cheap, repression, rape, self-interest, tar sands, money and the lack of it and the greedy excess of it, drones, refugees in Canada denied health care, hunger even right here in our very own wealthy country. Is evil ordinary or extraordinary? Can it ever be contained? What is the meaning of safety and security? What is the meaning of prosperity? How can I do no harm? Or even just do less harm? How can I help.
This is the darkest time of the year. The holidays at this time of year celebrate the coming of light, and all that that means.
I don’t know that I know what it means.
These are the words that come to me: Pour out your love, you won’t run out.
taken on my phone around 4am this morning
Thursday. Just after midnight. Child wakes with sudden breathing problems — croup, but not a croup that seems to be touched by steam or cold air or anything we can think of in our half-awake state, and we throw on clothes and rush out of the sleeping house and drive to the hospital, me urging Kevin to run red lights if he needs to (which he doesn’t choose to do). Running through the doors at emergency and saying, please help, he’s having trouble breathing. Emergency room is crowded, and I know people are thinking, great, I’ve been waiting for hours and that kid is now ahead of me, and then, when they hear him struggling and panicking, I feel a sense of pity from the room. People are glad they’re not us.
We are being taken care of. We are hurried in to the back room and given a bed where he’s stripped down and his vitals are monitored. We have to wait for a mask to be prepared and meantime he’s transformed into a melodramatic child actor, howling, “Doctor, save me! I’m going to die! I’m never going to get out of here alive!” At least he’s talking and that means he’s breathing. Kevin and I are both embarrassed … it’s like the kid is reading lines off a soap opera script. But the nurse soothes us. She says people of all ages come into emergency in an utter panic when struggling to breathe. She says people say all kinds of panicked things. They’re used to it here.
We are able to laugh about it. We are able to laugh about the fact that he chose tonight to wear his favourite pink Ruby pajamas (passed down from his older sisters), and with his long blonde hair, no one can remember that he’s not a girl.
He’s got a mask. Then medicine. Then another mask. His stomach doesn’t have to work so hard to push the air in and out. And his oxygen levels remain good. As his breathing becomes more comfortable, I wonder, was he really in danger? Parenthood: filled with second-guessing. When I should just be grateful that he’s clearly improving, that the medicine is working.
I think of Anne of Green Gables saving Diana’s little sister from the croup, with ipecac. I think of how suddenly this situation arrived, with no warning. Kevin goes home to the still-quiet house. I stay in the narrow hospital bed with the kid who is now wired from the medicine and who talks non-stop in his loud, gruff, unique voice until five o’clock in the morning, when finally he’s able to relax and rest. I dream we are in a hospital. Maybe it would be impossible not to, with the sounds of beeping machines all around us.
At one point, during a discussion on dinosaurs, I say that maybe he’d like to be an archeologist when he grows up. “Not an archeologist, Mom. A paleontologist!”
This isn’t the post I’d planned to write today. I thought I would write about how blessedly fleeting disappointment is, how quickly it’s left me, and how already I am embracing a strong sense of onward, ho!, excitement for what’s ahead, and appreciation for the crazy and wonderful journey I’ve been on this fall. Did I need a lesson in perspective, if that’s what this is, if life is about lessons at all, which I’m not sure that it is? I’m not sure what this means, other than I’m tired and grateful for our health care system. I’m grateful for health and for life and for breath. I’m grateful, all around.
ring wraith (he and his dad are currently into the second book of The Lord of the Rings)
seriously, when she said she wanted to go as a book, I had no idea which book she had in mind
butterfly in flight
and the knight is the last to emerge
This was the actual order in which they exited the house.
The ring wraith left early to meet a friend. They’d already plotted their route to maximize candy gathering.
The book also trick-or-treated with friends, and stayed out latest of all. She arrived home saying her favourite house was the one where she heard adults on the porch saying, “Hey, it’s The Juliet Stories! Isn’t it up for a prize or something? I heard the writer lives in our neighbourhood!” And then she was proud to tell them: “My mom wrote this book.” She was hampered, however, by the costume design, which went down a little long in the legs, making step-climbing tricky. (And I worried that neighbours might suspect I’d sent my kid out as a walking billboard …)
The butterfly and the knight came with me and some friends.
There is a great article on the joy of Halloween in the Globe and Mail this morning (which I’m still reading despite resident-books-writer John Barber’s seemingly bottomless dislike for contemporary Canadian book publishing). I felt the Halloween magic yesterday evening. The decorated houses, the efforts to entertain and welcome. Children knocking on strangers’ doors and receiving compliments and candy.
The butterfly and I outlasted the knight, and made an effort to visit our nearest neighbours, who don’t get many trick-or-treaters. Our street is busy with traffic, and it is populated by more of a mixed crowd than the family-oriented streets that surround us: students, the elderly, people who have lived here for decades and haven’t renovated their kitchens and never will. We knocked on some doors I wasn’t sure about, even with the porch lights shining. And at every one we were greeted with welcome and kind words — and treats. The students who had dressed up their cat as Superman. The man whose wife came quickly to tell him what to do with Fooey’s treat bag, which he’d taken into his own hands, and stared into as if trying to decipher its purpose. The neighbour who recognized me from the article in the Chronicle and said, “You wrote a book?” as if he were saying, “You’ve been to the moon?”
Back at home the candy-eating and sorting was well underway. Our littlest ate candy like I’ve never seen a child eat candy. He just didn’t stop. I was entranced by his enormous appetite for chewy faux-fruit-flavoured sweets and I stood by his stool watching him with amazement and, I’ll admit it, admiration. When apparently, as evidence would show, I really should have stopped him.
Parenting fail. Yes, parents of four can make rookie mistakes on the last kid. How were we to know? Our other kids have all shown restraint, over the years. Not one of them has ever eaten themselves sick. Which is exactly what happened to CJ last night: he ate himself sick. Even when we declared it cut-off time for candy-eating, he would have gone on; but then he rolled off his stool and collapsed to the floor, holding his tummy. “It hurts!”
I tucked him into bed, hoping he’d wake up feeling better. But instead he woke up feeling worse. It was one o’clock in the morning. I won’t paint the scene for you, but suffice it to say, his stomach didn’t even bother trying to digest those masses of chewy faux-fruit-flavoured sweets. The cleanup took a long time. And then I got up early for spin class. Ouch. This is not an error we intend to make more than once.
At least he felt instantly better.
my favourite photo of the evening, which sums up the agony and ecstasy of excess: view on Flickr for full scene
Yesterday evening, a weird thing happened.
None of us had anything we had to do, there was nowhere we had to be, and nothing was scheduled. Giddy with freedom, I neglected to make supper until very late (and then I had Kevin grill stuff on the BBQ). We ate at a leisurely pace. A normal, human, conversational pace. It was pleasant, a treat; but I could hardly keep my eyes open. I was sitting there, filled up, contemplating the next step — dishes and laundry — when it occurred to me that on this evening of nothing to do, I was too tired to do anything. I was crashing. I mumbled something to the effect to Kevin: must lie down. Staggered to the couch, napped for a few minutes, and then for a few minutes more.
Finally, I arose and conquered dishes and laundry.
But I was so tired. It was almost as if, in the absence of having to keep going, having to maintain energy and momentum, my body figured it could just quit. And so it did.
A confession: I’m having trouble maintaining my early morning exercise; I was down to two mornings this week and last. Unless I’m meeting someone, I’m choosing not to drag myself out of bed. Partly it’s the evening activities, partly it’s the late-night reading (first it was the biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay, and now it’s Jeannette Walls’ memoir The Glass Castle, which has me gasping every other page — have you read it? I realize I’ve come to it late, and it’s been out for years, but it’s one of those memoirs that could not have been fiction because a) it wouldn’t have seemed real, and b) audiences would have despised the creative mind who thought it up. Anyway, it’s pretty close to brilliant, and I’m loving it, and therefore can’t put it down).
That was a long aside.
This week has been good preparation for summer holidays. On Monday, my babysitter was sick, so instead of spending a full day at my writing desk, I got the morning followed by an afternoon with two four-year-olds; who were delightful and spent an hour enjoying lunch, I must add; but still. It wasn’t quite the same. On Tuesday, Fooey felt sick, so she stayed home. By lunchtime, our numbers were up to three kids versus one mom (I was babysitting CJ’s friend again). It was hard not to feel resentful — my quiet house filled up with noise.
But then I realized: this is just a taste of SUMMER. I’ve arranged for babysitting during most days, and that’s wonderful; but I work from a HOME OFFICE, and the children will be AT HOME. The quiet and privacy that is this beautiful humid sunny glorious Thursday morning is a total luxury.
I’m mostly awake. I’m savouring it.