I quietly declared yesterday a mental health day. And so I did not blog. Not that blogging negatively affects my mental health. It’s just that it’s one of the many things I try to do every day. And yesterday, it felt like there were perhaps already too many things on the must-do list and that I should therefore ease back, breathe, take a long nap.
And then the power went out. For hours and hours.
CJ ran around the house trying every light switch and reporting back. “Not even the cold cellar, Mommy!” “Not even in my room!” Meanwhile, I cooked supper in an eerily quiet kitchen over the blue gas flame. Partially cooked, would be more accurate. I’d started preparing it rather late, and planned to warm ingredients in the crockpot, leave everything simmering on the counter, and race back home to eat in between piano lessons and “Performing Arts Night” at the kids’ school (see: already enough things to do). I was sauteeing onions when everything but the stove stopped. This is one of those situations when it is extremely handy to work from home. Dump still-frozen ingredients from crockpot to stove. Thaw. Beats arriving home to a chilly house and an unfinished supper waiting on the counter.
Mental health day really only lasted an hour. But it was a good hour. I napped peacefully while CJ watched a movie. He had minor surgery yesterday morning (and it was very minor, no worries), so I kept him home from nursery school. Sleep is good. So good. And it is something I’ve found lacking post-launch-party. Something about coming down off the mountain. Too much oxygen down here. The clutter of the every day. The feeble human mind whirling as it tries to absorb all the good stuff and keep it–and exhausting itself in the process.
After a truly restorative nap, it was back to work. More movies for CJ. Plus some playtime on my office floor. I find myself fearing that what my children will remember of this time in our lives is their mother saying in a voice tinged with the frantic: “Just a minute, please, I’m trying to finish some work!” Or: “Wait, wait, wait, I just have to get this work done!” Or: “Mommy’s working, can’t you get a glass of water yourself?”
You know, that’s not the worst thing ever, come to think of it. A little water-fetching independence never hurt anybody.
This morning the girls were wondering when I might start baking again. It’s true. I bake bread on the weekends, but my cookie and treat-baking has fallen right off the map. Fooey was browsing longingly through a kids’ cookbook from which we used to like to bake banana muffins — together. And I looked at the girls, sitting side by side at the breakfast counter, and I said, “Hey, you’re big enough to try baking together!” “Really? Can we?” “Of course!” (If they’re big enough, I should be big enough, too: to let them learn by trial and error; ie. make a mess, and possibly bake something inedible.)
I’m not going to declare today a mental health day. Nap: check. Power: check. Blog: check. Kids safely to school: check. Supper planned: check. Early morning exercise: check. Discovery of a new blog (by me!) up at the amazing Canadian literary hub The 49th Shelf. The house is quiet. It’s not even 10am. And I’ve got messages like this waiting for me in my inbox:
“I finished reading The Juliet Stories this afternoon. That ending!!!—I’ve read it over and over.”
and this: “My 90 year old mom finished your book. She said something to the effect that you “have an absolutely incredible way with words”.”
and this: “Just wanted to tell you how much I’m enjoying Juliet. In fact, it’s hard to put down! It’s a gorgeous book.”
(If any of you are moved to write such kind words to me, please also consider taking time to let Amazon and Chapters know how you feel too. You don’t have to buy the book from them, but as Tuesday’s post explains, personal reviews and good ratings move the book higher in the rankings.)
Okay, now it is 10am. What am I going to do with my one precious life today? And you, what are you going to do?
This morning started at an earlier hour and less pleasantly than anticipated. A certain small soccer player decided she didn’t feel like playing for her team this morning. Too early, too tired. The Marshmallows would have to struggle on without her. Except her dad coaches said Marshmallows. And there are scarcely enough kids on the team to make a team when everyone shows up. She had to go. Team spirit. Letting her team down. Being a team player. All concepts not best discussed at 7 o’clock in the morning. The unhappy debate woke the house.
At last, small defiant Marshmallow off to play for her team, I returned to my bed, hoping for a wee lie-in. CJ followed.
“Come for a snuggle?”
He climbed in, sat up with blankets over knees, alert and happy. “Should we have a Cookie Monster story?” he asked.
“Do you want a long story or a short story?”
“Whatever you think.” Eyes closed, hoping to drift back to semi-sleep.
“I think a long story.”
“Okay. A long story.”
He thought for a moment, and then launched in. “One day Cookie Monster didn’t know what to do. So he was looking out his window. And his mom was baking something!”
“Maybe it was bread?” I suggested, thinking of the bread I planned to bake this morning.
“No. It was something better than bread.”
“Like strawberry blueberry cookies!”
The story continued, with jumping garbage cans and birthday parties and magic birthday gifts and hiding gifts under the carpet, and lots of mms and ohs from the drifting audience.
I am baking bread right now, but maybe I should consider baking something better, too. The two littlest are playing in the snow (we have snow! it’s cold! just like winter!). They’ll be in before I know it, requesting hot chocolate with marshmallows (and not the soccer-playing kind). Strawberry blueberry cookie recipes, anyone?
my 4:45am companion, with sound effects
I did not take photos at last night’s show. It was late for mamas at mid-week, a decade and a half older than the kids who came out to dance. But we mamas came out to dance too. And we still know how, despite our complaints about the lateness (so late!) and the loudness (first band, so loud!), and the “Oh God, I hope my hip holds out” (so lame!).
The dancing. It was really fun. We danced for the second band, but the really inspired getting down didn’t happen until Kidstreet arrived on stage. I love my siblings! Their sound is infectious, their performance is joyful and welcoming, and my sister is just the most gorgeous and composed creature on stage that you can possibly imagine (whether or not she can see it herself). As the set progressed, my dance moves got more adventurous, less fearful of will-this-hurt-my-hip? By the last song of the night, I’d shed that decade and a half, at least inside my own head. Walking home through the quiet of freshly fallen snow, I had to admit that I was limping ever so slightly. But when I woke up this morning, my hip actually felt years better.
Seriously. I could jog across the living-room without pain. How bizarre is that?
Let me tell you about the few hours between dancing and morning. I was gloriously asleep when the pitter-patter of feet woke me. CJ had gone to the bathroom by himself (yay!), returned to his bed and decided he didn’t like the looks of it (uh oh!), and come into our room lugging his water bottle and a giant sheep stuffie (noooooooo!). “I had a bad dream!” he announced, which is his new code for “I don’t want to go to sleep.” He attempted to climb into bed beside me. The sheep didn’t fit. Seriously, it’s enormous. We could all see this wasn’t working. I dragged myself upright, walked him back to his own room, explained about it being the middle of the night, sleeptime, etc., tucked him in.
Pitter-patter, pitter-patter. No sheep this time. “Is anyone downstairs?” he asks from the side of the bed. It’s pitch black. 4:45am. “Nope. We’re all sleeping. Because it’s the middle of the night!” He climbs in beside me, snuggles up. I’m too tired to object. We “sleep” like this for an hour until I just can’t stand the wriggling anymore. (I know lots of parents share beds with their children, and I just want to know: do those children hold still in their sleep? Because mine are like squirrels, if squirrels were much larger and not furry and had sharp elbows and hot breath and digging heels).
“Listen,” I said at last. “I can’t sleep like this. I’m going to your bed.”
“You can stay here, and I will go sleep in your bed. Or, you can go sleep in your bed and I’ll stay here. One or the other. Because I’m not getting any rest and I have to get up in an hour for a dentist appointment.”
“My blankets are too small.”
“Not the green one. The green one is plenty big. So what you do want: should I go sleep in your bed, or will you?”
Surprisingly, he chose to return to his bed. And then he slept.
And much too soon after that I was sitting in a reclining chair staring at beige ceiling panels, listening to top-forty soft rock while a masked woman scaled tartar off my teeth.
If I were sketching a trajectory of pleasantness upon a graph, say, from midnight until nine this morning, it would look like a ski hill. High to low, baby, high to low. The nighttime bed-sharing was definitely several graph points above the hygienist prodding exposed nerve endings between my teeth. At least with the bed-sharing I got to snuggle up to a hot-breathed, wriggling, pointy-elbowed creature of intense dearness. With the dentist all I got was a return appointment a week from today to fill a cavity — my first in TWENTY YEARS.
See. Straight down. Like a ski hill.
It’s a life.
What to do, what to do?
What do you do when you’re feeling less than inspired?
This morning was my “sleeping-in” morning; naturally Kevin decided he’d get up early and spend about five minutes rustling around in the dark looking for his clothes. I stayed in bed until 7:15 but shouldn’t have bothered. It’s not like it made me happier. Downstairs, AppleApple greeted me with beautifully brushed hair and a packed schoolbag: “You’re always grumpy in the morning, Mom, so I decided to try to have everything ready to go, so you wouldn’t be so grumpy.”
Gee, thanks, kid. A hint: don’t tell your mother she’s grumpy if you’re trying to lift her from her grumpiness.
Truth is, it’s probably more anxiety than grumpiness. Is it the lack of light? General Novemberishness? The sudden onset of Christmas? Whatever it is, this is not my best time of year; never is. As the light recedes, I’m dark with indecision.
**What thoughtful and possibly homemade gifts can I devise to spread cheer and joy this season? Can I find stress-free ways to fulfill our family’s seasonal rituals and traditions and meet everyone’s expectations?
**Should I skip supper and try out that running club tonight? How can I fit a club’s schedule into my own? Maybe that’s why there are no women my age at running club — maybe we’re all at home eating supper with our families and trying to keep a finger on the pulse of each kid’s well-being.
**What the heck book am I writing right now? I keep finding characters and abandoning them: sorry, don’t want to spend the next six years with you.
I’m thinking in massive chunks rather than manageable morsels. I’m thinking an entire book rather than a page or two.
Know what I mean?
As if every tiny individual choice has to fit into a larger whole, has to be a stone in this solid structure I’m building, this thing called Life. And if I go off piling stones in the wrong place, the whole thing is going to be ruined. Hm. Office as metaphor: Remember how the windows were the wrong size? How upset I felt? And how unexpectedly easy they were to change? It took some work, for sure, but it wasn’t impossible or disastrous, and ultimately only cost a day’s labour.
So what to do?
Today, I’ve set myself a small task. I am writing a song for a character in The Juliet Stories. She’d probably write a much better song herself, but that’s okay. My brother Karl has a new recording studio and when the song is ready, I can go and record it, which is pretty cool. It doesn’t add up to anything particular. It doesn’t fit anywhere else. It doesn’t answer a single question. It’s just something I want to do.
It’s just a little pile of stones I’m making in the middle of a field I happen to be passing through.
I think I’ve got it figured out. Except for sleep. I just don’t seem to get enough of that. Mornings are best when I’m up early, out of the house, doing something — swim, spin, run, yoga. I come home to breakfast and morning madness but my mind is clear. I feel good. I’m more patient than when the kids and I roll out of bed around the same time and grump around together in the same sleepy blur.
But then comes the crash. By 9am, my eyes are heavy and I’m moving slowly. So slowly. I slip into a 20 minute nap, get up, pour that treasured cup of coffee (I only drink one cup a day, but it’s a hefty cup.) But I’m still tired. The nap takes the edge off, but my brain still feels only partially operational.
Yesterday afternoon, a writing day, I lay down on my new office floor (yes — on the tile) and took a quick nap. And then I napped again at yoga class during the opening shavashana. In fact, I went early knowing I would nap, so I could nap longer.
Before bed, no matter how tired I am, I have to read. I’m reading a really good book right now: Half-Blood Blues on a borrowed Kindle. (Read it! Read it!) I rarely turn off the light until my eyes are literally crossed with exhaustion. And then I sleep instantly, and deeply, and often right until the alarm sounds to start the cycle all over again. (Last night I was woken at 1:45am by a little voice across the hall calling “Mama!” When I came, he said, “I need a kiss and a hug.” I didn’t even mind being woken up for that.)
Here’s what happens when I don’t get up early: within a day or two, I’m sleeping less soundly. I’m prone to the 3am wakeful worries. And so I keep getting up early — three or four times a week. And taking naps. And planning to crawl into bed earlier. And not. And sleeping deep. And waking again.
One small note on naps: I keep them short. And I consider them to be part of the creative process. It probably sounds crazy, but I get some deep problem-solving done during naps. The stuff that’s too complex or troublesome or bound up with emotions to figure out by just sitting and thinking or trying to write through it — that’s the stuff that gets treated during a nap. I’ll wake recognizing something I couldn’t before. I’ll wake feeling soothed. I’ll wake with a brand-new angle.
But I’m still tired. My nap hasn’t figured out a solution for that.
This has been a weekend and a half. If only every weekend could be like this … but then nothing would get done … but then I might not care that nothing is getting done …
It all started on Wednesday with the first birthday event, chronicled in a post below. Thursday we threw together a slumber party. Albus’s version last spring had been so easy, I had no qualms. Turns out, five girls make a lot of noise. There were moments when I was standing in the kitchen going I can’t stand the squealing. Will they just stop giggling? Kevin found my response very amusing: You’re not much of a girlie girl, are you? The pillow fight first thing in the morning just about did me in. But in the end, I could stand back and laugh and appreciate their energy and excitement.
The irony of it all was that I spent Friday night at my own version of a (non-sleepover) slumber party when my darling little book club got together in a hot tub. Yes, you read that correctly. Let’s just say it was a book club for the ages. It’s not often I’m still awake at 3:30 in the morning. Though I suspect the neighbours might have been having their own moments of will they just stop giggling already?
Friday was also AppleApple’s actual birthday. She celebrated with three hours of soccer. But we also had a surprise for her: her own writing desk for her new room. Thanks once again to kijiji. We’d been storing it in the basement, and post-slumber-party Kevin hauled it upstairs and set it up in her room (all while the birthday girl herself was sitting at the counter, completely oblivious, absorbed in a new book). We then coaxed her up: “Let me get a photo of you in your new room.” The first attempt was a bust. She went into the room, posed, and walked out. Kevin and I just about died laughing. This pretty much sums up our AppleApple: she lives deep inside her head. So we coaxed her back up a second time, she sat down in her reading chair, looked across the room and — at last! — spotted the writing desk. Reaction above. Sweet.
Now, just to put the icing on a truly terrific weekend, last night also featured our turn in a babysitting exchange. Have you heard of the overnight babysitting exchange? If not, may I highly recommend such a venture to you. First, find a willing family of equal size. Second, set two dates. Third, drop your kids off with their sleeping gear. Fourth, thank me later. (And thanks to Tricia for introducing the idea to us.) I didn’t mention step 2.5, in which the other family’s children are dropped off at your house with their sleeping gear. Yes, in our case, it means having eight children in the house (we took our turn last month.) But let me just shout: Totally worth it! Completely. Absolutely. I say we book dates on a quarterly basis. Seriously. Just for example, we spent on dinner what we usually spend on babysitting. And we went out for brunch this morning. Brunch!
Ergo, on this Sunday noon, I am so ridiculously relaxed I can’t remember all those things I should be doing. I’m going with it. Everyone needs to let down the hair from time to time. Forget serious. Get silly. Empty the mind. Inhabit the goofy happy happening. It’s good for the soul.
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