Some days I don’t have so much to say. Some days I’m teeming with ideas. Today is the former. I find myself a bit dazed and distant, wandering my treadmill (though I promised not to mention it). Maybe it was being awoken at 4:44 AM by a whining dog, and then submitting to the realization that I wasn’t fated to fall back asleep, given that my alarm was set for 5:05 AM. And the dog would not stop whining. Even after I took her outside.
I brought the dog inside. I drank a glass of water and brushed my teeth. I woke my daughter for swimming. I dressed and did yoga in the dark of the living-room. And then I went out for a run (-19C). It was a bit earlier than I usually go, and the streets seemed especially dark and empty. My eyelashes became bejewelled with droplets of ice. Cold seeped through my double and triple and quadruple layers. I ran as fast as I could, but I couldn’t run myself warm. I saw three people during my entire run, and a single vehicle passed me. The neighbourhood felt that emptied out, that silent, that blissfully asleep. And I was blissfully awake. I am a complete convert to the early morning.
The people I saw: one woman going for a walk; one woman going for a run; one man I’ve seen before (or smelled, more precisely), who walks down the middle of a particular street smoking a cigar at approximately 6:15 AM (eep!).
Before kids and jobs, as a university student, my interior clock was switched around. I did my best work after midnight, and had difficulty rising in time to make my 11 o’clock classes. Maybe waking early is just another version of that devotion to the hours when most of the world is asleep. I think that’s what I love about being awake early. I love the quiet. The illusion of solitude. The sense of being a watchful eye on the sleeping houses.
My daughter was so happy when I picked her up at the pool, maybe for the same reasons, though I don’t know for sure.
I’m not saying it’s easy to set the alarm, or that it comes naturally, even now, after several years of practice. Oddly, it’s actually not. It’s actually something that I have to remind myself, almost every single time, will be worth it. If there’s a secret to discipline, it’s this: the first step is the hardest one to take. I forget this regularly, and learn it again, regularly, very often at 5 o’clock in the morning when my resistance is low and I’m somehow willing to stagger forth. The first step is the hardest.
1. Family photo out-takes
We didn’t make a Christmas letter this year. Maybe I will get it done over the holidays (think of this statement as speculation rather than a plan). Nevertheless, as a first step toward creating a Christmas letter, yesterday, I attempted to take our annual family-photo-with-Christmas-PJs. CJ wasn’t very happy about leaving his new Christmas present to join the shot (new present = Game Boy, old school, bought used).
when is this going to be over?
help me pick up the dog, Dad!
please, smile, CJ? please?
he’s smiling! Now, what’s in your mouth, Foo? “Nothing.” Um, can you take it out, please?
could we get just one good photo, here? just one?
this is as good as it gets (click on photos to see in full)
lots and lots of candy; thanks, Santa
This wasn’t on my wish list, but it was the perfect gift. A radio that turns on when you turn it on. Radical concept! No need to download or refresh or mess around with speaker connections. I opened the box, plugged it in, turned it on, tuned it to CBC Radio One, and the rest of the day was perfection. Music all day long. The Messiah in the morning, and cheesy seasonal songs the rest of the day. It’s the one day of the year that I can listen to cheesy seasonal songs with appreciation. Even the Queen’s address sounded good.
I’m embarrassed to say we gave in to his relentless campaign for another of-the-moment electronic device
“Coconut” the giant-eyed monkey (she has a weakness of stuffies with giant eyes)
the “new” Game Boy
3. Do nothing all day
how I spent my Christmas day: my job is done here
This third is a new tradition, only conceived of this very year, in fact, only thought of late on Christmas eve when Santa was packing the stockings. Kevin and I were feeling very full indeed after three consecutive days of Christmas meals (ham; turkey; paella + grazing). Our counters were blessed with pans of sticky buns given us by generous neighbours and family, and we looked at each other and said, “Who needs a big Christmas dinner?” So we decided to skip that part.
We skipped everything, really — all obligations, all work, all chores.
The kids let us sleep in till 9. I kid you not. We stayed in our PJs all day. I did no laundry. We did no meal prep. We did no dishes. I sat and drank coffee and tea and worked on a puzzle and listened to my new radio all day long. The house was thrillingly disastrous, so much so that the 12-year-old looked around last night and said, “This place is a mess.” HAHAHA! This is what it would always be like if Daddy and I took every day off! Then we watched a movie together (Parent Trap, the one with Haley Mills, still as funny as I remembered it from childhood). We ate sticky buns, basically. The kids added sugary cereal to the menu. There were the oranges from the stockings. We did not go hungry. It was exactly what we all wanted — to be together, and nothing more. It was the most peaceful, blissful Christmas I can remember.
These are my favourite people. We almost never get to spend unadulterated time together. What could be more special, more celebratory, more holiday-making?
4. Boxing Day turkey dinner?
Today we’re being healthy and eating fruit and doing laundry and yoga and cleaning up the dishes. Our neighbour has loaned us her electric turkey roaster (there it is behind AppleApple), and we’re going to roast up our turkey today, and make the trimmings, too. I’m feeling ready for it again.
coming from behind in the 200-metre BR
This wasn’t my whole weekend, but it was part of it: another swim meet, a warm-up for the big meet in two weeks, which takes place near Ottawa, and to which my girl will be going without me. She will travel with her team, stay in a hotel with teammates, and race without me there to cheer her on in the stands. “I’ll be fine!” she told me this morning, when I was fretting over it. “You’ll be fine,” Kevin told her, “but I’m not so sure about your mother.”
And here I thought I was prepared to send her off. I was being all grown-up about it and practical (it would be expensive; I’d have to drive myself and stay in my own hotel room), especially knowing how excited she is to be going on an adventure all her own (well-chaperoned by coaches, of course).
I think I can do it. I think I can.
This is what I did in the stands on Saturday, while trying to practice good posture. I’m really enjoying this book, which I’d purchased awhile back before it won the Giller, because I love short stories. Looking down at my little pile, I realized how reliant my afternoon was on electronic devices. The phone to text updates to Kevin and my mom. The Kobo reader. The camera to take photographs. And then the meet sheet print-out, old-school, for keeping track of events.
The late afternoon sun on the water was striking. Sometimes it’s the littlest things that make me feel satisfied, creatively. Even with only a point-and-shoot camera at my disposal, there are moments of beauty to notice and to capture.
She was pleased with her races, but especially with her 200 metre back, where she took 16 seconds off her previous personal best, swum only three weeks ago. This despite thinking she was done with a lap still to go, and stopping at the end; her coach had to yell at her to keep going. (She still won her heat). She loses count during the long races, she says. A similar thing happened in the first race, the 200 metre breast, when she thought she had a lap left to go, and held back a bit rather than sprinting as she usually would in her final lap. She was quite disappointed with that race because she got the same time as her previous best. She’s just moved up to the 11-12 age group, which means no more medals till she grows a bit. Luckily, she doesn’t seem to race for the medals, but for the personal bests.
The sky was beautiful when we stepped out into the parking lot. We were both famished. Kevin made burgers and fried potatoes on the barbeque, and we were home in time to eat together as a family. The conversation was all about dreams. There was also some gentle mockery of my lousy advent calendar activities last year. So I surprised them with chocolate advent calendars yesterday morning, which felt extravagant, I’ll admit.
Also yesterday, we put up the Christmas tree and decorated it. Fooey cleaned up the art area, a massive task, to make room for the tree. That kid can organize! Advent feels unexpectedly real and important to me this year: waiting through the darkest days for the light to come again. The kids interpret this time as anticipatory, and I love that, and would love to grab a bit of that emotion for myself, rather than worrying about all that needs to be brought about, and whether I’ll have the energy to do it. Looking forward to, rather than waiting it out.
I didn’t run this weekend, not at all. On Friday night, feeling flattened by the week, I hung out with the soccer parents at the bar instead (drinking tea). Aha! So this is what they do while I’m out racing around in the dark, thought I. Saturday, I chose not to wake early for a run, and my day was otherwise occupied with the meet. Sunday, the girl had an early soccer game. I’d planned to run when we got home, but instead went to bed and slept for nearly two hours. And then staggered up to make buttermilk biscuits and turkey gravy for supper (a huge hit!), folded laundry, read the kids their bedtime story, and returned to bed early despite that long nap. I do feel better today. So maybe going for a run isn’t always the answer. What do I know?
It went and got cold.
AppleApple had an outdoor practice in a snowstorm on Saturday morning, at which I could have chosen to go for a run in solidarity. Instead, I stayed in the car letting the sunshine warm me while starting Hell Going, by Lynn Coady, which I’d purchased on my Kobo awhile back. We passed three car accidents on the way to the soccer field, all fender-benders caused by drivers who had forgotten how to drive in winter conditions. As in: slow the heck down, people! It was a white-knuckle trip, and we were most terrified that someone, travelling too fast, would simply slide into us.
Other activities this weekend included a date night out with friends (no children) on Friday evening, three soccer games and two more practices, one gigantic homework project (still unfinished), and a birthday dinner at a sushi restaurant that was appallingly, and ultimately comically, dreadful. “The only logical way this can end is in food poisoning,” observed one of my brothers. He was hungry — we all were, as wait staff appeared to “lose” our orders in a potted plant near the cash register — but was hesitating to eat what looked like leftover stir-fry rice fashioned into a maki roll, battered, and deep-fried.
I squeezed in a run yesterday afternoon, double-layered, and relished the wind and snow flashing into my face. All was well and good.
But then I crashed. I left Kevin with the supper dishes and crawled into bed early. This turned out to be the perfect medicine. Three of the kids (including my very biggest) snuggled with me and I read them several chapters in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, which is the book we’ve chosen post-Little-House. They’re loving it. CJ almost couldn’t get to bed he was so caught up in wondering when the Lion would come in to the story, and would it be a real lion?
Then I read for pure pleasure for another hour, and then two, and then, finally, slept. Up early for kettlebell class. Dithered a bit, considered skipping, but couldn’t sleep anyway. I’ve trained my body to wake like clockwork around 5AM. I knew class would be hard, but worth it, and it was, and it was. I so appreciate having a comforting, familiar place to go to in the early morning, and a friend to go with.
Fooey’s Christmas wish list, my copy; also on desk right now: inspirational “go!” artwork, also by Fooey; and a much-scribbled-in calendar
I can’t believe it’s almost advent.
Will I put up the advent activity calendar that so disappointed my children last year? Can I slow down even the slightest in order to prepare for the season? So many things I would like to do: bake cookies, put up a tree, take a family photo for Christmas cards, buy something special for each of the kids, dream up delicious menus for dinners …
Be forewarned: I’ve got nothing particular to say. Be reassured: the one thing I’m not going to do is to ramble on about Rob Ford, the spectacularly awful mayor of Toronto, even though it’s just about the only news penetrating the wall of fog that seems to have lowered itself around my noggin. It’s these early mornings, one after the next after the next.
I’ve been wondering about my inclination to get up and exercise, no matter how tired I am. Is it helping? Is it making me a calmer, happier, fitter, stronger, more productive person? I sleep better when I exercise, and that counts for a lot. And I’m often up early anyway, so it seems like the practical thing to do. But I also know that tiredness can bleed into the whole day.
I’ve got a sick kid home. He read me a whole book, with some help on tough words here and there. “Did you know you could read that book?” I asked in astonishment, and he shrugged and said, Nope, he had no idea.
There are only three classes left in the term. Tonight I’m tackling creative non-fiction, a subject that makes me nervous, as my level of expertise is not as high as when we’re talking about the short story. Still, creative non-fiction fascinates me, and it’s worth tackling, assuming my fogged-up brain can make sense of my scrambled notes.
This is where I sat last night to compose those scrambled notes and find readings to support my claims and generalizations. I will miss this office, quite a lot, actually. I will miss the quiet, and the routine. And I will miss the camaraderie that’s been created in the classroom over the course of the term, that I will miss a lot. It will make life easier, not to have this extra obligation, but my preference, as you may have observed, doesn’t generally skew toward easier.
Tonight’s supper: turkey noodle soup, with buttery corn-off-the-cob on the side.
Last night’s supper: grilled salmon, and macaroni-and-cheese made with leftover noodles and real buttermilk.
Yesterday’s after-school activity: music. In this beautiful sunlit building. I’m about to leave for campus, to teach. The kids are home, and it’s our quiet evening, with only one extra activity — karate — to which the boy has a ride, thankfully. I’m letting everyone eat the Halloween candy as their after-school snack. And I’m grabbing some to go. Be forewarned. Be reassured.
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.
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.
I’ll end where I began this rambling post. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. But really, today.