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.
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.
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