There’s a picture in my head made up of words in the shape of a clock, or a circle. The words are ones I associate with myself, with who I am. This is the post I planned to write awhile ago, and it has been marinating ever since. I keep thinking the ideas will come together more coherently, but instead it remains the same as it was when I first came across the thought: a circular list of words. Some are big–bigger than I am–and apply only in a theoretical sense. I haven’t accomplished enough to claim some of them, but they’re not end-point words; rather, they’re associative, hopeful.
Writer. Mother. Chef. Photographer. Doula. Athlete. Friend. Partner. Family-member. Musician. Designer. Organizer.
I could add in a word related to doing laundry and dishes, but I don’t want to. I choose not to.
These words represent the ways that I use my time. Everything I’ve listed gives me pleasure or is something I want to pursue further.
(Which is why the chores get left off the list; yes, I use my time to do a lot of chores, but they’re not essential to who I am. Or are they? Probably they are. Probably they’ve taught me all kinds of good things about patience and persistence and the necessity and and meditative nature of routine. But I’d still let someone else take over the bulk of them, at least half the time, without blinking an eye.)
Thinking about these words gives me a way to consider what I’m doing, and what I would like to be doing. Which words are more ascendant within me right now? Or this week? Or this year? Or long-term? I have a lot of energy, now that I’m sleeping through the night, and when I set my mind to a task or a goal, I home in on it with laser-beam eyeballs and a focus that frightens me just a little bit sometimes. My question right now, having sent off my manuscript, and balancing on the cusp of who-knows-what, is where should I direct this focus? I am filled with ideas, and long-term plans and plots, but everything scatters like dust without concrete goals. Without placement.
The portrait project is a good example of something that has drifted, that, finished, feels a bit purposeless. I like a solid goal. I appreciated the challenge of taking a portrait every day, and appreciated everything I learned over the year. But. There it ends, a series of photographs, some quite lovely, some I’m happy never to see again, without any kind of summing up, without a home. What, I wonder, was the meaning of that? Could it add up to something other than the disconnected list that it is?
In other news, my eye woes are mending. Not altogether healed, but improved. In fact, as soon as the gigantic pustules started shrinking–and even while they remained quite large and ugly-looking–I discovered an instant upswing in my confidence. The confidence was (and may very well still be) entirely out of proportion to the size of the pustules; the confidence relates, quite simply, to how bad it was before. Simple comparison. As long as it is better than it was, I am flying, I’m on top of the world, brimming with confidence. Plus, I have peripheral vision again, which is handy and quite useful.
This is not the post I’d composed in my head during yoga class this morning. That post might yet materialize, but what’s top of my mind in the here and now of this chilly grey first afternoon of spring is my eyes. My eyelids to be precise. On my left eyelid, I’ve developed what may be a sty, though it hasn’t been diagnosed yet by a doctor, and wikipedia suggests several exciting alternatives (and yes, I’m trying quite hard not to self-diagnose). On my right eyelid, another bump is starting up. The one upon my left eyelid has grown rather, well, enormous, let’s just say. I can’t look up out of that eye, or to the left, because of the lump in the eyelid physically blocking my way. It’s red. It’s swollen. It’s disfiguring. It’s the kind of thing that people feel compelled to comment on because, you know, it’s there, in your face, so to speak. In mine, that is, which is facing yours.
What is especially miserable about this unexpected arrival is how it shakes my sense of self. It targets my vanity. I think of myself as being a strong, confident woman. But add in a giant eyelid pustule, and suddenly I shrink. I become smaller, weaker, more cautious. For example, I’ve noticed myself not entering into friendly casual conversation with strangers–you know, the kind of conversation that happens in line-ups at the grocery store, or in other public, potentially (but not necessarily) social situations. Once upon a time, I never had those conversations. I avoided them and stayed quiet. But post-children, I’ve grown to enjoy that kind of interaction, and I don’t think these exchanges are superficial at all, but a way to be present in the world, and open to the humanness of everyone I come into contact with.
I wonder–is my confidence, my willingness to reach out, only skin deep?
Do I need to consider myself attractive to step forth, strong and confident? If I feel ugly or weak, am I still myself? If I were much more sick, or altered physically, would my sense of self crumble quite utterly? What is it that makes me strong and confident? It can’t only be on the outside, on the surface, can it? Can I feel like myself while integrating a mild deformity into who I am?
Can I rock this eyelid pustule?
Green Dream # 6 Front yard veggie patch.
Green Dream # 7 Re-purpose household items (ie. found this old curtain from our last house, hiding in the bottom of the linen closet, and it fits our front door; better yet, it replaces the lace curtain that has been there since we moved in SEVEN YEARS ago, which never ever felt like ours.)
Green Dream # 8 Wash, dry and re-use plastic bags. We haven’t bought new for years. When these run out, I am considering making/buying cloth bags instead. One question: for freezing food, especially liquid food, what would replace the plastic bag?
Green Dream # 9 Reusable mugs and water bottles. Milk in glass containers.
Green Dream # 10 Cloth wipes. We haven’t gone the no-toilet-paper route, however (as per No Impact Man). The used cloths are stored in a diaper stuff sack, (a welcome re-purposing that marks the end of our cloth diapering days). I launder them every other day.
Green Dream # 11 I just wanna ride my bicycle.
This morning the house is Friday Quiet. Ah. I actually sighed while typing that last sentence–a good sigh, a cleansing sigh, as one might put it in yoga practice. I am drinking my ginger-garlic cold fighting brew, because apparently spring ain’t sprung without a touch of the ague. CJ caught it first, and I coughed all night long. Would I choose to set my internal alarm clock for 5:40am, or would I skip early morning yoga? My alarm went off (it’s inside my head; I set it when I’m falling off to sleep by picturing the numbers on the clock–the time at which I’d like to wake; and it almost never fails me). Turns out, I wanted that time for myself; how could I sleep through it? I couldn’t. I leapt out of bed.
Guess what? I’ve been biking to morning yoga. It takes less time than travelling by car, at least on the way there, because it’s downhill and there’s little traffic. Coming home takes more effort and attention (focus, blissed-out yoga brain, focus!), but I don’t lose more than a few minutes in the commute. I am riding Kevin’s old mountain bike, and the front-riding baby seat is perfect for stowing my bag; but I’m coveting a more upright ride that would fit my body better. Add it to the (short) list of Things I Covet.
(Also add: fire pit for the backyard).
As I tinker with a slight re-design for this blog, I’ve changed “Eco-Attempts” to the friendlier and more optimistic “Green Dreams.” Riding bike is going on the list. I fully intend for that to be our family’s main summer transportation. My only concern is that the roads are not terribly safe for cyclists. Apparently a bike trailer was recently struck in the north part of the city, resulting in a broken arm for a small child; and the driver fled the scene.
Our cities are designed around cars. As Michael Enright put it, in a recent editorial on The Sunday Edition (a three-hour radio show that airs on CBC Radio One): There is no war on cars; the war was won ages ago, and we already know the victor: the car. The Walrus recently ran a fascinating article on green cities in Europe (Chris Turner’s “The New Grand Tour”), and the author’s description of cycling around Copenhagen on rented bicycles, one of which included a double seat on the front into which two children could be strapped … well, count this reader as pretty darn envious. He and his family cycled the city on lanes exclusively designated for bike traffic; they never felt safer.
In our city, we have a few paths on which only cyclists and pedestrians can travel, but the paths are broken by busy streets, across which one must dash without any marked crossing or traffic signals. I frequently let the kids bike on the sidewalk, and wrestle with biking on the sidewalk myself, considering that I’m pulling two vulnerable children behind me in a carrier.
I spend a lot of time coaching my children on how to be smart and safe pedestrians: no, it’s not fair, but even if a car is doing the wrong thing (ie. running a stop sign, or not giving the right-of-way to the pedestrian at a crossing, or swooping around a right-hand turn without checking for pedestrian traffic), the walker has to let the car do what it’s doing. Because in human versus car, car wins, human loses.
I wonder whether that’s an apt description of the peculiar lives we’ve built on the altar of car. Car wins, humans lose. Think of everything we sacrifice in order to propel ourselves inside our own individual motorized compartments. Think of the oil gushing out into the Gulf of Mexico, right now. Consider the air we breathe. Remember what it feels like to walk and talk, to exercise, and meet our neighbours, and take time. Cars give us convenience, without question. There are jobs that could not be done without cars (ie. midwife). But a lot of us don’t really need to use cars, not as often as we do, or think we do.
In thinking about my Green Dreams, I recognize that many of these choices and changes demand time. Hanging laundry to dry every day does take more time than throwing it into the drier–not a great deal more, but a bit. So does washing the dishes by hand. Baking my own bread. I’m still trying to figure out how to make snacks more convenient without falling prey to the ease of the prepackaged treat, grabbed as I dash a pack of hungry grumpy children to piano lessons. All of this extra labour would cut into my productivity, if I were employed at a regular job. But part of where I’m headed, I think, is viewing this home-based production as valuable on a number of levels. It doesn’t fit into the stock market. It doesn’t work comfortably with capitalism, but I’ve got a few problems with capitalism anyway; nothing in nature grows indefinitely, and it seems like madness to base a businesses’ success on eternal growth: it’s a recipe for corruption.
This work is valuable because it keeps me humble. It’s valuable because it’s my offering to the earth. It’s a small and humble offering, but so be it. I would like to offer my time–because I have it, and I’m grateful for that gift–to living creatively. Anyone who’s ever made anything knows that there is a great deal of invisible work behind what’s created. There is the original vision, changed and altered and made deeper by reflection and time, there is work, there is error and recognition of error, and incorporation of error, too, and there is luck, happenstance, improvisation. There are bursts of production and activity, and lulls of wondering, daydreaming, even doubt. There is sacrifice. You have to figure out if it’s worth it to you–figure out what you’re sacrificing, and why you want to.
Mostly, though, you just do it: you do the work you’ve chosen to do.
When the two eldest kids were small, and we only had two kids, I remember complaining vociferously whenever our routine was thrown out of whack–by illness, unexpected travel, or unusual weekend obligations. Somewhere between then and now, I gradually came to realize that there was no “normal.” Or, more precisely, that the unexpected was normal. Something always arises. Often these are good surprises and changes, and arrive on a small scale, and it is easy to roll with the waves. Surfing on the unexpected. Have an extra friend over to play. Get invited for a cup of tea at someone’s house. Go to a concert at the kids’ school.
But then there is illness. It comes in waves, too. And there’s no disruption quite like it. I find it tolerable, even calm and pleasant, when it is brief and clearly not harmful to the child and he or she sleeps a great deal more and the day goes on mostly as expected, but indoors. A day or two of this kind of quarantine is okay. I have some hermit-like tendencies that don’t mind the excuse to huddle away from the light, on occasion.
But beyond a day or two, and enforced quarantine begins to feel like imprisonment. We’ve been at this latest flu for nine full days. Of course, we managed to sneak away on a road trip (only one child throwing up en-route) for three days during the early course of this bout, but just when it looked like we’d be in the clear, the little one on the mend and everyone else pink with health, oh no, we woke on that first night home to a dreaded sound in the night: a child throwing up. It may not be the worst sound a parent gets to hear, but it’s right up there for producing those electrical night-time shocks of pure horror. Actually, I exaggerate. If it’s just once or twice in the night, I find myself capable of dealing with it with calm. But the child went on and on, every fifteen to twenty minutes, her body rejecting every sip of water. We ran out of sheets and moved on to towels. I did three loads of laundry before 8 o’clock in the morning. And, then, of course, it spread like wildfire. I even had the pleasure of experiencing it myself, though poor precious Fooey was the worst off. I have never seen a stomach bug like this before, and hope never ever to see it again. It’s a miracle that this morning she arose with a spark in her eye again, having spent four days of her life being unable to eat or drink without her body severely punishing her for trying. It is heart-rending to see your four-year-old clearly despairing, even depressed. She was too sick and miserable to watch TV. That’s saying something.
But we all have experienced that sense of despair and misery this week, and it’s not just due to the illness. It’s due to the distance between us and our normal, our routines, our safety-net of activities and human contact and outdoors and alone time that we’ve so carefully constructed for ourselves. It’s taken practice to build a flexible and adaptive framework of routine that allows both me and Kevin time to go out and exercise and work and be creative. So I’m going to take a minute here to remember good health and look forward to it again. And I’m going to take an additional minute to remember that throughout the world there exist so many other disruptions to routine, much more profound than the stomach flu, from natural disasters to war, to the private violences and silences that go on in lives around us that we may not even know about or guess at.
So there’s disruption and there’s disruption.
This reflection almost makes me grateful for the stomach flu. But that’s likely because we’re coming out of it. I can sense a return to “normal” on the horizon. And I’m grateful we have such a happy routine to return to.
Today: AppleApple went to school. She never looked very sick, but was content playing at home with those well enough to play, so I didn’t fight it. She was excited to be back at school today. CJ also went to preschool, screaming bloody murder in a fit of tantruming rage because (this is just a guess) I didn’t let him put his own shirt on this morning. We were in a hurry. Have you seen a two-year-old trying to dress himself? Oh, and I’ve created a potty training monster. Now he refuses to wear diapers, but gets a kick out of peeing on the floor. The semi-compromise we’ve currently arrived at is pants: he wears pants, gets them slightly wet, decides he doesn’t like the feeling, and agrees to sit on the potty. We go through a lot of pants, but he has a lot, being the recipient of three sets of hand-me-downs, plus a few new ones of his own. I’m thinking of writing a ParentDish column on how one feels like an expert only when one’s child is not at the stage one is having expert-like feelings about. In the midst of it, one feels like a complete incompetent utterly stumped by the whimsies of human behavior.
Only the originator of the stomach bug is all better, hale and hearty and racing around in the nude so we can start working again on the potty training, which hit a temporary plateau … stomach flu, road trip, and then two parents too tired and distracted to reinforce knowledge already learned. Let’s just say we hit a low point yesterday afternoon, while I fell into a brief coma on the couch and Kev attempted to work from home, and … well, it was messy. Nuf said.
There were moments yesterday when I felt I’d lost the will to go on. Luckily for us humans, the going on tends to go whether or not we feel like participating. Today I feel better, even though everyone’s underfoot (the lad in the green blanket quite literally) and mostly sick. Only up three times last night.
“Mommy, come on, a read a book!” Thus sayeth my healthy fellow, who is quite bored. Okay.
Note to self: Never announce that one is mending. One will instantly be swatted back to germworld by the Powers that be. (What are these Powers? Dare I ask?) Mending, say you? Hacking and coughing, say we. Oh, and for good measure, let’s send that stomach flu spiralling through the rest of the family, shall we?
Some pictures from our week …
Fooey and CJ home with me on Monday, posing for a sibling portrait.
Also on Monday, a day of reading and puzzling together: CJ posing with the first puzzle he ever put together–for real! he stopped and held still in this position, thumb tucked into palm, till the shutter clicked! (I helped with the puzzle; but he did a lot–a lot more than I realized that he possibly could).
Yesterday, all four children were at home, giving us a prelude of what’s to come on next week’s March Break. They spent all afternoon organizing themselves to play school (ironic, huh). I peeked into the living-room at various points to discover: a beautiful craft being made that turned pencils into flowers; four children at four “desks” working in math books (apparently we have a lot of these, usually neglected, on our colouring book shelf); four children arriving at the counter for “nutrition break” (a chocolate bunny split into four equalish pieces that we bought from a child selling them door-to-door for his school; I do not want my own children to have to do that, ever); and four children putting on rain boots and sweaters to run outside and play in the slush for recess. And I recorded none of it. The best I can come up with is this out-take photo from my portrait project, which shows yesterday’s post-school littered living-room, and the self-adorned CJ.
[Note: The portrait project can be found by scanning down the right-hand side of the page, but be warned, it’s all about me. 365 days of self-portraiture. What’s the worst that could happen? No, Powers, I’m not asking. Really. That was just a joke.]
And, finally, today … two brothers watching a movie together in the basement. My boys! The younger of the two has just fallen asleep for a rare afternoon nap. So rare, I thought they were extinct. I should go grab a photo of it while I still have the chance, before it flies into the deepest darkest forest known to humankind. (That feels like I’ve written a riddle, the answer to which is: the past).
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