I’m back to napping! And I’m remembering why I love it. All the best thoughts arrive upon waking from a good (short) nap. During the summer, I got by with no naps, partly by lowering my weekly early morning workouts to twice/week, but mostly by nipping back to bed upon arriving home. With no one rushing off to school, our family got in the habit sleeping in. But it didn’t feel like napping, it felt like going back to bed. Like the work-out had been another dream-state.
We’re back to the school routine, and we’re suffering just a little bit, collectively. Trying to adjust bedtimes and wake times. Accepting that there will be after-school meltdowns. Everyone’s tired. Evenings are squeezed. Kevin and I were still doing lunches and dishes last night at 9pm.
There was no moment for a nap yesterday to balance out my early morning run.
So I’ll admit that rising at 5am this morning, in order to go exert myself whilst clad in spandex, was not exactly what I wanted to do. I’m making spin/weights sound way less fun than it is. By the end of the work-out, it felt completely worth it (as it always does), and after breakfast and the getting-ready whirl, everyone departed, and the house was quiet by 8:30. Quiet by 8:30!!! Empty! Just me and the dogs.
So I napped.
I drifted off. And woke with a clear mind, feeling at peace, filled with ideas, thoughts, answers, calm. Call me crazy (or lazy), but I consider napping to be an important spiritual process. Somehow, while gently drifting toward sleep, my mind becomes more open, more at ease. To be creative, one needs to be at ease, not panicking. Many a time, a nap has set me right simply by allowing my body and mind to relax.
This is a long preamble. What I want to write about is the announcement of the Giller longlist earlier this week; should I write about it? Still not sure. But I’m an obscure CanLit mama who had an eligible book out this year (among 226 others), and this brief moment in time is wound into the rest of my life. I knew it would be a long shot to find Juliet on the list, but hope springs eternal, and every Canadian writer understands what a career boost it is to have any association with the Giller attached to one’s book.
In the days and hours leading up to the announcement, I couldn’t get away from thinking about it. It dogged me, no matter how I tried to redirect my thoughts. Such is the power of a prize. So here’s the strange thing: notwithstanding my immediate gut response of plain old crushing disappointment not to see Juliet on the list, I’ve been experiencing an unexpected lightness of heart since the announcement came and went.
I’m grateful to everyone who told me they were sure it would be there, especially those wonderful booksellers who’ve had Juliet’s back all along.
But I didn’t know how heavy the weight of expectation/hope had been pressing on me until after my nap this morning. I got up, voted, hung laundry, planned my attack on today’s scheduling adventures, and realized that I was feeling … really good.
I’m not waiting for anything. The worst outcome has happened. The sadness is over. And in its place is a feeling of gratitude for the sweet minutiae that I’m often too cluttered and harried and anxious to see. Maybe it’s an after-the-storm effect. (And it rained torrentially here on Tuesday.) It sounds trite to say it: gratitude for my kids, for our house, for our neighbourhood, for health, for friends, for kindness, for running errands with two four-year-old boys in tow. For everything, I guess.
I wonder how other obscure CanLit writers are feeling this week.
And I wonder, I’ll admit, how those who made the list are feeling (with special shout-outs to not-so-obscure CanLit mamas, Annabel Lyon, who kindly helped my daughter with her project on ancient Greece this past year, and Katrina Onstad, with whom I shared a seminar table while we were both doing our Master’s at U of Toronto.)
If I could change one thing about myself, it would be the anxiety I feel when outcomes are out of my control. What was I worrying about, all along? What was I hoping for, really? Was it external affirmation, some kind of proof? And if so, why?
Okay, another thing I would change: I would live, always, without fear of failure.
1. Staying up late. Sleeping in.
Yes, I still get up early two mornings a week to exercise, but early morning exercise isn’t so critical during the summer — I’ve got lots of other opportunities. So on all the other days of the week I sleep in, often until 8! The kids sleep in too. And we’re all up much later than during the school year, out at soccer fields, or just playing in the back yard until it’s dark. And we’ve been letting the kids stay up even later to watch Olympic coverage on TV.
Which I’ve already rhapsodized enough about, but hey. I didn’t skip out on my writing time today, but today has been the exception. Around 11am, you can find me at the pool, swimming lengths, most weekdays so far this summer.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this last luxury. On Monday evenings, Kevin plays soccer and AppleApple has a practice, so I’ve been taking all of the kids to practice, along with snacks and water and a bag of soccer balls, and we’ve been playing on the empty field nearby. Often, I’m practicing skills to try to improve my own soccer game, and the kids are kicking balls at me, or we’re all running up the field doing passes, taking shots on net, pretending to let CJ score on us or save our shots, or whatever we’ve decided to do. Whatever develops.
I’ve noticed that while fathers can often be seen playing with their kids — kicking a ball, coaching, running around, winding up to take shots on net — I rarely see other mothers doing this. I might almost say I’ve never seen another mother doing this. I’ve seen the occasional mother coaching her kid’s soccer team. But I’ve never seen another mother playing pickup soccer with her kids — running hard, getting sweaty, shouting, playing.
Is this your experience too? I’ll admit I do feel self-conscious being the only mom (and often the only parent, period) running around. (My purple soccer cleats make me twice as geeky).
I wonder why I don’t see groups of young women gathering at the park to play pickup soccer. I see lots of groups of young men — probably university students — gathering, and, yes, there is often a young woman or two in their midst; but I’ve never seen a group of young women gather spontaneously like that. I see women in the park doing boot camp together. I also meet friends to go to exercise classes together. But let’s face it, that’s not really playing.
Here’s what I’ve been wondering: Is it taboo to play, as a grown woman?
Honestly, I don’t care if it is because I’ll tell you this — it’s fun. It’s so fun.
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.
photo shoot out-take
I’ve been writing non-stop, for pay, for the past week and a half. This week’s assignments have focused on Canada Day. Several stories involved interviewing new and relatively new Canadians, which was a wonderful experience. Everyone has a story, and everyone’s story has some kernal that is poignant or humbling or moving; and I love listening.
A new and exciting development is that I’ve also been assigned to take some of the photographs to accompany the stories.
Let me tell you about yesterday, which was particularly manic and fun.
I started the morning with spin/weight class. Took a quick nap after seeing kids off to school. Biked to an interview. Raced home in order to prepare and test a variety of recipes — food for an imaginary Canada Day party. “I love my job,” I thought, dashing around my kitchen in the middle of the afternoon, delicious smells wafting. With help from Zoe, party-planning friend extraordinaire, we decorated and styled a small area of the back porch as if for a “party,” arranged the food, and I took photos. We worked at a crazy pace. I was trying to get everything done before children arrived home from school. And food is tricky to photograph, as anyone who follows my blog knows. I was thankful for great natural lighting, borrowed glassware and linens, and for the daughter who arrived home early and agreed to be photographed eating a cupcake while smiling non-stop (as directed!).
“Even fake smiles look real in photos,” I assured her. And, as you can see from the evidence above, they do.
It was a crazy fun afternoon.
I’ve made a discovery: all those shameful wasted years of reading cheesy women’s magazines has finally paid off. “Service-oriented copy,” as it’s known, simply flows from my fingertips.
Meanwhile, pleasurable discoveries and cupcakes aside, yesterday rolled on at its manic pace. For supper, we ate the food I’d photographed (bonus!). I processed and sent photos to my editor. I biked with soccer girl to the park. I ran 12km in just over an hour (I can’t do my long run this weekend — too busy with soccer tournament and dance recital — which is why I added mileage). We biked home. Put children to bed. Folded laundry. Worked on stories some more. Briefly spent time talking to husband on couch. Dropped plan to meet up with sibs to celebrate birthdays (something had to give).
Slept like a rock. I love sleeping like a rock.
On another note, let me share with you a pang. Sometimes I look at my children and wonder whether I’m keeping close enough track of their individual needs. In my busyness, in this great whirl, am I overlooking something important? Will each feel cherished and treasured by their mother? When problems arise, and heartache, as inevitably happens, do I spare enough time and attention to help them?
As my working life expands, as I prioritize earning a greater share of our family’s income, what falls through the cracks? What gets minimized or ignored or even lost?
Just before my reading yesterday (Wednesday) evening, the skies opened up. Talk about raining and pouring. And hailing. It was dramatic. Perhaps it purged my anxious mood, because by the time I got to the event at the library, everything felt magically relaxed. Or maybe that’s experience coming into play. After all, I have been reading and speaking in public on a fairly regular basis for the past few months.
A friend commented yesterday that she hoped I would find hidden value in my decade of at-home-with-children work; and there is no doubt it’s made me who I am.
I’m less self-conscious, for example. Any public outing involving infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and yes, even 11-year-olds, toughens the hide considerably. And my children have taught me how to ask for what I want — on many levels. If your child has ever been in need, you will discover within yourself reserves of grit and determination, you will knock on doors, you will be persistant and annoying and you won’t give a damn about being judged. On a different level, asking a child to do a task requires simple, straightforward communication. Forget fancy, forget dancing around a subject — state what needs doing in three words or less. So these are hidden assets I’ve gained over the years.
But other skills are rusty …
Alright, I started this post many hours ago, this is how far I got, and I’d like to finish it before bedtime. What has this crazy day held? I worked all day on a story on dinosaurs that is still not quite done. I set up an interview for tomorrow morning. I discovered we have a meeting at our eldest daughter’s new school early tomorrow morning; and that Kevin can’t attend due to work. I managed to make supper from scratch in about twenty minutes flat. Instead of eating it, I worked on the dinosaur story. Soccer girl and I biked to her soccer practice. The weather was gorgeous! I went for a run, and discovered speed — for the first three kilometres. And I hacked it out for the next two, and ran 5km in 23:38, my fastest time yet; and then I hacked out another kilometre and a bit, making it 6km in 28:52. (This is not record breaking time for anyone but me; but it felt good.) After soccer practice, the two of us stayed and practiced penalty shots — AppleApple in net, and me kicking. Addictively fun! Then we biked home. Dishes awaited. Laundry still on the line. Supper still on the table. Exhausted children to put to bed.
Man. I’m tired. I should not be typing, I should be reading in bed right now. I’m currently reading about the life of Edna St. Vincent Millay, and I spend a lot of time turning to my husband to report on the crazy things she’s getting up to. Did you know she was one of the most famous women in America in the 1930s? A poet! She sold 68,000 copies of a book of poems in eight weeks in the middle of the Depression.
More on Vincent to come, methinks.
For now, to sleep, perchance to dream.
newly arranged living-room
Saturday. Day of quiet and rain.
Sunday. Day of hopping out of bed early for a long run. Oh, and more rain.
Saturday evening we decided to rearrange the living-room. I’m not sure why, but it always makes me happy to rearrange a room. Baking bread has a similar effect on my spirits. So does going for a run. Life is full of simple cures that are next thing to free for the taking.
practicing for imminent piano recital
The newly arranged living-room changes the focus, upon entering the house, away from the television. (Hurray!) Instead, you’ll see the beautiful painting, as shown in the top photo, by Barry Lorne, which he generously gave us as a wedding gift. You’ll see books, too. Hidden behind the old brown couch is the art section. There is room for a communal computer.
Here is what I am thinking about on this blustery weekend.
This morning it was so easy to go for a run. Yesterday, I felt lethargic, as immovable as stone. Life may be full of cures free for the taking — but I confess that some days it is harder than others to take that first step, to put the best plan into motion. There have been times, lately, when I wonder what I’m doing wrong, wonder why I’m so tired, why I’m dropping the ball as often as not. Maybe I wish I were superwoman, leaping from role to role effortlessly, existing on little sleep, splendidly strong and competent and certain.
Instead, I’m just plain me. Rearranging the furniture, and making pad thai for supper, and falling asleep on the couch with a book.
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