These are the good motherhood years. Not that they haven’t all been good years. But I’m telling you. These are sweet. For starters, I sleep through the night (I mean that literally, as all mothers of infants and toddlers will understand.) But then, my eldest is not so old: he still likes doing things with the whole family. And my youngest is not so old either: he still asks to be carried downstairs in the morning. All appreciate bedtime hugs and kisses goodbye in the morning. All are developing characters with funny thoughts and quirks and individual interests. Bursting with potential. Ages 10, almost 9, 6, and 3. This time is a keeper. Can I bottle it?
A random conversation between CJ and Kevin this morning, on their walk to nursery school (as reported by Kevin):
“Dad, Christmas is on the street now.”
“Are you excited about Christmas?”
Little dance with punches – “Yes! All the presents! How does Santa get all the gifts into the house?”
“How does Santa do magic without a magic wand?”
This morning, I slept until 7am. I did not get up early to swim or to spin or to run or to yoga. In my dreams, I would get up early five mornings a week, but in reality, four seems to max out my energy reserves. Yesterday evening, post-dishes, I sat down with Fooey to look through a book of baby photos (good grief, I had cute babies!), and when we were done the couch’s pillow looked like it wanted my head to rest upon it, and quick as a wink, I’d dozed off while Fooey and CJ played a game that involved using the angles of my legs and arms as rooms in an imaginary house. Clearly, the game did not disturb my sleep because I didn’t hear Kevin return from dropping Albus at piano lessons, nor did I hear him leaving again to pick Albus up, and therefore assumed I’d been “in charge” of the children all that time. I also assumed that I’d done a good job of supervising them, while asleep. Only to realize that any supervision had happened in dreamland. Sometimes when I’m asleep, I feel awake. And vice versa.
Long story. Very little point.
Today, a couple of things that are making me happy.
1. Albus at supper last night: “Guess what I got on that social studies test?” Me: “Was that the one in French?” “Yes. Guess what I got?” “The one on governments?” “I got an A!” Maybe he didn’t add the exclamation point. The kid prefers announcements by stealth, gotcha announcements. But it’s a big deal. It’s a big deal because usually he doesn’t seem to care, much. What makes me happiest about this result is not the mark, exactly, but the mark’s accurate reflection of his interest in the subject. He was the only one in the house truly excited about the recent provincial election results, and we let him stay up late to watch the polls report. We don’t often see our eldest get excited about things (aside from Lego, food, and high scores on wii games). And you want your kids to get excited about things. It means they care. It means they’re expressing themselves, exploring their own interests, developing unique passions and making connections.
2. Piano. Oh my goodness, but the piano playing is making me happy. Real music is being made in our living-room, people! This year, we implemented a reward system of stickers which has been enormously motivating (at least for those kids who need an extra boost of motivation; I note that though AppleApple practices almost as frequently as her siblings, she has far fewer stickers, because she forgets to add them. Obviously, for her the reward is as much the playing as the getting of something afterward.) But on that note, I’m beginning to suspect that the others, though outwardly motivated by stickers, are by stealth discovering and reaping the reward of regular practice, which is that YOU CAN PLAY MUSIC! I love this. I can’t even express how much I love it.
3. Participation. I also love seeing my kids volunteer and sign up and participate and try things out and expand their fields of vision and experience. Albus just signed up to play volleyball; practices are before school, so he’ll have to get up early on Tuesdays. AppleApple, of her own initiative, created an organizer to keep track of her daily tasks. She is notoriously distractable and understands that her life would run more smoothly if she weren’t always scrambling last-minute (or forgetting important items and events entirely.) And Fooey, who has long been my least-active child, who would take a stroller ride over walking right up until the end of kindergarten (ie. this past June), has suddenly burst forth as a very active soul: she started Highland dance classes, which involve a ton of jumping around (I’ve tried to follow her steps!), she walks to and from school on her own feet every day (more than a kilometre each way), and when we asked whether she’d like to try indoor soccer this fall, she immediately said Yes! And surprised all of us over Thanksgiving by wanting nothing more than to go outside and practice kicking the ball. Watching these personalities develop independently is downright thrilling. There’s probably no greater joy in parenthood.
4. Rest time. AppleApple especially has expressed a need for quiet time. She loves lying on the couch and reading a book for hours on end. So, we’ve been emphasizing that. Even on days when she has an activity, like piano yesterday, she can come right home afterward and flop on the couch with a book. For Albus, his down-time happy-time involves friends. He checks in every morning to ask, “Is today a friend day?”
We all love friend days. And as I write down these thoughts, I think, wow, everything on that list makes me happy, too, not just as a parent watching my kids do these things, but as a person doing these things. I’m happiest when I’m digging into activities and subjects that interest me, when I’m practicing regularly (could be writing, could be photography, could be yoga), when I’m widening my field of vision or trying new things or simply signing up and showing up, and when I get ample rest time, time to veg, time with friends, time to allow the brain to be fallow, and quiet, time to absorb experiences.
So that’s my question for today (don’t worry, I won’t always have a question of the day; sounds too much like homework): What makes you happy?
This was one well-planned party. I didn’t plan it, and neither did Kevin. It was planned in detail by the birthday boy, with some initial consultation (to whittle away at the more elaborate and impossible ideas). You can read the plan, on the right. In the end, the party went pretty much exactly like that (minus the 4am wake-up time).
Eight boys walked home from school together. They had a snack. They went to the comic book shop uptown and read comic books on benches (with supervision, I should add). They came back to a pizza supper, and made their sleeping arrangements in the basement. Outside to play baseball.
Ice cream cake served outside (the woman at the shop did not manage to put a “lego block” on the cake, as requested, but she may have been afraid of being featured on Cake Wrecks).
Then some boys played wii in the basement while others played outside til dark. Toothbrushing and pajamas. Reading in the basement (Albus provided a stack of graphic novels). Finally, lights out, a bit after 10pm. We expected talk, and there was some, but by 10:45 all was quiet. Though they woke early, they followed our rule: no getting up before 6. We provided a clock so they’d know for sure. They quietly got a movie started and had been watching for over an hour before we got up.
Kevin made pancakes and I made breakfast smoothies.
There was just time to open cards and gifts from siblings and parents before home-time. Kevin and I agree: this was in many ways easier and less-stressful than the intense two-hour friend party. The boys were very self-sufficient, and all such good kids. It felt almost leisurely. He’s spent the rest of his birthday, so far, playing with a new wii game, and putting together a Lego set he got to pick out himself this afternoon.
We also plan to have all-you-can-eat sushi for supper, and the older kids will get to go to a movie with their dad. And then Kevin and I will sleep and sleep and sleep. Thankfully, the weather was beautiful. I think that’s what made the party so successful. We were able to spend a lot of it outside.
And happy birthday, ten-year-old boy!
I’ve been neglecting to link to my twice-weekly triathlon blogs on Chatelaine.com, but here’s today’s: an ode to yoga, and to cross-training generally.
In other news, my eldest turns 10 tomorrow, and to celebrate, we’re going all out. He’s invited eight friends for a sleepover party. Already, overnight bags are collecting in our front hall. I’ll be heading up to school soon to supervise the walk home (but from a distance, it’s been requested). Albus has spent a lot of time thinking about this party. He wrote out a draft version of his itinerary, and then a good copy (if you know Albus, you know how unusual this is). The itinerary includes a walk to the comic book store uptown. The boys will then read their comics “on a bench or on the curb.” That’s my favourite part.
I’m not expecting much sleep tonight.
But I hope to rest a little bit this weekend in advance of the duathlon on Monday. My next big challenge. I’ve never raced on a bicycle before. But I did learn how to change a tire yesterday (hands on), thanks to this super-woman. In the words of a favourite children’s story: I think I can, I think I can, I think I can! The race is 4km run, 30km bike ride, 4km run. The bike course is described as “challenging,” and having biked part of it on Tuesday morning, I know why: hills and headwinds. It’s also supposed to be raining on Monday. My goal is simple completion. If I don’t chicken out, if I actually show up and do this, I will be a proud.
And now I see it’s time to switch gears and sign off. Writing day done. Full-on-mama again.
Two topics for this bright and sunny Sunday afternoon (yes, there’s snow, but the sun is also here declaring itself).
First topic: naps! Saturday’s Globe and Mail newspaper had a cheery brief on the benefits of napping. Studies show that a 45-minute nap improves both cardiovascular health and mental agility. Agility is not quite the word I’m looking for, but you know what I mean. Nap yourself to intelligence! Should have napped longer today, I guess.
I am napping regularly these days. It is part of my early rising routine. Every day that involves getting up early, includes time for a nap. I nap up to an hour, but rarely longer, and often shorter. Napping has all kind of negative associations, and I had to overcome those by being really really super-tired in order to test out the benefits. No, it isn’t lazy. And no, it’s not a waste of time. On writing days, I’ve gotten in the habit of napping as soon as the kids are out of the house. Within an hour, I’m up and productively at my desk. Without the nap, I’d be up and unproductively at my desk. (I’ve tested both methods). I love rising early. I’m up to four early mornings a week, at least for now, and I love the quiet, the energy, seeing the morning light arrive, and starting my day with focus. I’ve fed myself–metaphorically, anyway–before the demands of the day kick in. It’s a very different way to start the day. Though I look forward to Thursday mornings, when Kevin gets up early instead, that extra hour and a half of sleep is instantly erased by the immediacy of what the day wants from me; often, I’m not even out of bed before the demands arrive, in the form of children needing things. And that’s what I’m here for! But it’s so much easier and more pleasant to give, when one has already received.
Second topic: poetry club! Just a quick summing up of last night’s poetry club, for which we read Billy Collins’ Sailing Alone Around the Room. Kevin read the book too, as I was hosting and he was looking forward to participating–and seeing what the club was all about. I can highly recommend the Montforte Dairy’s Elsie goat cheese pesto spread (which I got from Bailey’s). And I can fairly highly recommend the poems too, though I went to bed wondering … are they too accessible? Is that a fault, in poetry? Collins is a funny funny poet, but it can feel at times that a deeper moment is being sacrificed to a good punchline. Still, there were poems that stabbed into me with a shock of emotion. We talked a fair bit about why we were drawn to particular poems–and because most of us had different “favourites,” we asked how poems could be judged objectively. How do you know that the poem is “good”?
I really enjoyed the many poems about writing. His world felt very domestic and contained, to me, and it revolved around quiet interior days of writing and work, and walking around the house, thinking about writing. What I enjoyed most about these poems was their lack of angst or questioning. He writes with full acceptance that he is a writer. There is no hint of self-justification, nor does he question his own abilities, or the worth of his work, he’s just being who he is. Very refreshing. I would like to arrive there. Certainly, I’m closer than I was a few years ago; even, perhaps, a year ago.
Speaking of a year ago … Kevin keeps marvelling at how easily our family has accommodated my triathlon training schedule. It is fairly remarkable. This past week, for example, I spent 12.5 hours training. That’s 12.5 hours, out of the house, not looking after the kids. If you’re wondering how we manage it, I would say it’s been a long slow and steady change, adjusting everyone to me being out of the house more frequently–which was an adjustment to the way I thought about my role, too, as much as anything. When I started this blog, two and a half years ago, my youngest was four months old. I was breastfeeding constantly, and up often during the night. That is no longer my reality, with my baby on the cusp of turning three. As he’s grown, and I have said goodbye to pregnancy and lactation, I’ve also grown accustomed to expressing myself as someone other than “mom.” I leave the house as often as four or five evenings a week–only for a couple of hours at a time, mind you–but that’s a massive change from my early years of motherhood, oh, eight or so years, when leaving the house by myself in the evening was an enormous production, and happened so rarely it might not have been more than once a month. And sometimes less.
Apple-Apple’s supper menu for tonight (Sunday supper, cooking with kids): baked potatoes with cheese sauce, broccoli and cauliflower on the side, and scones and hot chocolate for dessert. I can smell it cooking as I type.
Stepping into the green dream confessional. Ahem.
Working more makes me lazier on the ecologically sound homefront.
I am not taking time to hang laundry very often; instead, tossing everything into the “home sterilizer unit” aka the drier. (This decision is also based on several lice notices from children’s classrooms, and not wanting to risk an invasion; but when will I stop? I haven’t gone back to the clothes rack yet). I am also choosing to drive on occasions when I could walk. Yesterday, I drove to swim lessons, a walk of no more than fifteen minutes one way. But with the vehicle, I could toss the kids in the car last-minute, endure thirty minutes in the pool with CJ, shower, dry off, dress, and return home in exactly one hour. Which shaved time and stress off of my day’s beginning, and allowed me to invite friends over for a morning play. And then I drove to school yesterday afternoon because doing so allowed me to nap for an extra ten minutes (I’d already napped for ten when the buzzer alerted me to walk-to-school time). I hopped up, added another ten minutes to the timer, and fell back to sleep instantly. I can fall asleep in two shakes, and nap virtually anywhere, including my favourite spot: flat on my back on the the living-room floor. Wouldn’t want to get too comfortable.
(Side question: is my instant-sleep ability a talent, or a symptom of sleep-deprivation?).
Have you read The Road? I ploughed through it almost against my will two nights ago, and it shook me to the core. I can’t recommend it–it terrified me utterly–but it is without a doubt a fabulously imagined creation. I won’t spoil the plot, promise; if you haven’t read the book and want to, you can safely read on. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, it seemed to ask me: could you live without hope? And I’m not sure that I could. Is all of my spirit-searching a meaningless enterprise? Would I have the inner resources to cope with extremity? Are inner resources something that can be built or honed, a skill-set like any other? Of course, the nightmare world imagined in the book is extreme, but as an extended metaphor could stand in for any difficult experience that any of us might face (and most of us will face something–how could we not? We are alive and human, and our world is unpredictable, our fates perhaps unwritten, and certainly unknown to us). Most particularly, the book explores a parent’s love for his child, which might be the spark that keeps him hoping and alive. But the love is explicitly terrifying, because he cannot protect his child absolutely. None of us can. But somehow I let myself believe that everything will be okay, that we will all be strong enough to get through anything we need to, that my children will experience love and joy and comfort. I am almost incapable of contemplating the reverse. That is why the book terrified me. It made me contemplate the reverse, and question my inner strength, my resources. There is no way of knowing how–what? who?–we will be until the moment is upon us, and we are required to respond. This applies to everything we do. I am fascinated by the improvisational nature of living. Yet I also want to keep working–not to memorize my lines, but to trust in my responses, to trust in some inner core of calm and strength.