Yesterday morning, I carried my three-year-old to nursery school, nearly one kilometre away, in the rain. Why? Well, he wasn’t in a walking mood, that’s why he was on my back. But the reason I was walking was bare bones basic: I didn’t have a car at my disposal; Kevin had an early appointment to which he needed to drive. About six months ago, as part of our family’s Green Dream plan, we downsized to one vehicle. Are we a greener family than before? Yes, mostly because having fewer options forces us to make different choices.
Such as carrying a kid on my back in the rain to nursery school.
Listen, if I could have driven, I would have. I’d been up early swimming, I’d gotten four kids fed and organized and three of them out the door. That left one little guy, and he couldn’t get to school by himself. I wanted my quick restorative morning nap. It was too wet to fire up the bike stroller. If there had been a vehicle in the driveway, would I have chosen to walk? Not a chance. So the omission of the vehicle itself is feeding into the success of our Green Dreams. It’s so easy to take the easy route when it’s easily available.
Sometimes, I’m grumpy about it. If you see a bedraggled woman, surrounded by a pile of kids in raincoats, shaking her fist at you as you drive by, think of me. In fact, hey, that is me! And yes, I just cursed you and your car for blocking my family’s passage across the street. Or maybe just for being inside a warm dry moving vehicle. Sorry. It’s wet out here. And we’re moving so slowly.
I am not a naturally patient person, but do subscribe to the notion that by walking (or biking) rather than whisking along inside the sealed world of the car, I am experiencing life differently. Out here, I know the weather. I know the seasons. I know the geography. Plus, I have to leave on time, or I’ll definitely be late. There is no such thing as breaking the speed limit when walking with four children.
But here’s my confession: you’ll still see me in a car pretty frequently these days (maybe that was you shaking your fist at me.) We do have ONE after all and I can’t imagine life without it. Well, I can, but life would include a whole lot less soccer. There are no direct bus lines to either of the two sports facilities that draw members of our family upwards of nine times a week. One is 5.5km away, the other is 9km. In other words, not terribly far, and probably biking distance (though not for short legs on tiny bicycles); but in addition to there being no direct bus routes, there is also no safe bike path to either place (not to mention, as the season changes, we’d be biking after dark.)
It’s one thing to complain about this, but another to ask: Would we choose to bike or ride public transit if it were an option? And truthfully, I think we would not. Not unless we had to. Because we’re usually in a hurry. We’re dropping one kid here, and racing to get another there. We’re cutting corners, juggling schedules, trying to cheat time. Having a car allows us to schedule our lives in a way that cannot be transposed into a car-free life.
So, I’m resigned to carrying some Green Guilt. In fact, our family’s increasingly busy sports schedule also means we consume more water than we used to. I’m telling you. The laundry. Wash those socks as quickly as possible! I hang everything to dry, with the exception of giant loads of towels, which tend to go in the drier. But still. Green, it ain’t.
Maybe it was the Green Guilt over the car and the sports that led me to introduce our latest experiment: we’ve gone vegetarian at home. We are neither buying nor cooking meat (with the exception of seafood, on occasion). The kids are missing ham on their sandwiches, and I am constantly brainstorming ways to get more protein into all of us (like starting the day with eggs for breakfast). And if a grandparent invites us for a meal that includes meat, we’re happy to eat it up. But at home, we’re meat-free. It’s been about a month, and I’m sticking to it, despite the odd complaint, because a meatless diet is one sure-fire way to shrink a family’s ecological footprint. And we’ve got such a big (sweaty) one. We’ve got to try.
Even if it means grumpy walks in the rain. And children fantasizing about summer sausage.
**Monday’s menu: Pad thai (pictured above). Broiled shrimp and tofu. Daikon salad. Stir-fried rainbow chard.
**Original plan: Pad thai with hot and sour soup. But both things require tons of pre-prep organizing and stirring up multiple bowls of things, so I decided to simplify.
**In the kitchen: Whipped up after school. The pad thai is a version without ketchup; it’s made with fish sauce and lemon juice and piles of cilantro (not vegetarian, no).
**The reviews: Eaten too hurriedly for reviews, but everyone seemed happy.
**The verdict: Excellent.
**Bonus recipe: Radish salad was made by slicing the daikon super-thin, then mixing up a dressing of fresh lime juice and maple syrup, plus salt. Sprinkle on some hot pepper flakes. Divine. (My invention).
**Tuesday’s menu: Honey-baked lentils. Steamed rice.
**Original plan: Yup. This one was by request. It needs a vegetable, I know. I’m not awake enough to think of one.
**In the kitchen: Easy work, completed after waking from a killer morning nap, following my night of doula’ing in Toronto. Turn oven off, leave until suppertime. Eaten post-swim lessons.
**The reviews: I didn’t get to hear the full reviews, due to racing off to a soccer coaching clinic with AppleApple. She ate a sandwich instead. But when we left, CJ was in the throes of an impressive tantrum because he couldn’t SEE the honey in the lentils. A reliable source tells me he became so incensed that he bit the table, at which point everyone started laughing, even him. But he didn’t eat the lentils. Everyone else did, however, and within 24 hours, it was gone.
**The verdict: Good meal to make in advance. And yum.
**Wednesday’s menu: Leek and potato soup (crockpot). Bread, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, sliced tomatoes.
**In the kitchen: Early morning chopping and sauteeing, but it paid off. I pureed it in the pot, and called it “Mashed Potato Soup.” (Ever-popular.)
**The reviews: “It looks different, but it tastes the same. Like, no offense, Mom, but when I saw you with that big bowl of vegetables this morning …” -Albus (I did use lots of leeks; and the soup had a greenish yellow tinge that was slightly unappetizing, or, in Albus’s words, “kind of looks like barf.”) Unfortunately for us, right about then, CJ gagged on his egg yolk and threw up an entire egg right onto his plate. I would characterize the moment as matter-of-fact rather than dramatic. Thus endeth supper. You’re all racing to make leek and potato soup right now, I can tell. I was solo parenting because Kevin was in Toronto.
**The verdict: Actually a really good meal, both food and chat.
**Thursday’s menu: Curried lentil soup (crockpot). Saag paneer. Baked brown rice. Plus leftover white rice.
**Original plan: For some reason, when I made the menus on Sunday evening, I was hankering for risotto and had written that down in place of regular rice. Who has time to stir the risotto? Not I, at least, not yesterday. So I threw a lentil soup in the crockpot and made brown rice instead.
**In the kitchen: Was chopping onions for soup when the electrician knocked on the door to go over the outlets and light fixtures and other things requiring thought and decision-making; but that wasn’t all. The kids were finishing breakfast and getting packed for school. Kevin was in Toronto (yes, again). Another parent was telephoning to tell me about a last-minute change to school-walking plans. Albus was refusing to walk his little sister. “Where is the electrical box, can you show me?” “You’re so mean! I never get a chance to talk to my friends! And now you’re going to make me walk her!” Chop, chop, chop onions. The thought crossed my mind: I can’t hold this together. But then I did. On with the day.
**The reviews: Most chose the brown rice and we talked about how nutritious it is. Does it taste different from white rice? We debated. Fooey gobbled the spinach and paneer and requested leftovers for her lunch box. Lentil soup was eaten. It was just me and the kids, and we enjoyed each other’s company. And they all ate lentils and brown rice and, at the very least, sampled spinach and paneer! An I-love-these-kids moment.
**The verdict: Good food.
**Friday’s menu: Bailey’s pickup supper. Plus picnic for soccer girl. Plus dinner out with girlfriends for me.
**In the kitchen: Managed pickup and food storing in under an hour. Additionally, packed picnic, soccer bag, running gear, and ran out the door to pick up a car from the Grand River Carshare, which we just joined earlier in the week, in order to meet Kevin and kids at skating.
**The reviews: I wasn’t home to hear those reviews, but AppleApple and I enjoyed the picnic (apples, red peppers, cheese, bread sticks and pretzels, and a pumpkin muffin) after she’d changed into her goalie gear, and I’d changed into my running gear. Then she went to her goalie clinic, and I went for a run. An hour and a half later, we zipped down to another indoor field for AppleApple’s second soccer session of the evening. I’d arranged carpooling for her, so I dropped off the Co-op car and walked to meet my friends for dinner and a drink. (Kevin was at his own soccer game; Albus was at a sleepover; and the others were home with a sitter.)
**The verdict: All I can say is PHEW. We made it all happen. This scheduling stuff gets easier with time and experience.
Weekend kitchen accomplishments: Four loaves of bread. Double-batch of waffles (three bags frozen for later). Pan of roasted tomatoes turned into sauce. Two jars of applesauce made from apples picked at Kevin’s family’s farm. Banana bran muffins.
Note: All of this accomplished on Thanksgiving Monday. We spent the weekend with Kevin’s family. Good grief but it’s a hot day to have the oven on. I can’t believe I’m saying that about October 10th.
**This is CJ’s drawing of the two of us. Yes, we’re upside-down. He’s the one standing on my head.
Today, I am feeling the effects of less sleep; it seems like there’s always a grace period after sleep-deprivation, followed by a crash. I’m in crash mode today, and hoping for recovery by tomorrow.
Yesterday, during the grace period, I burned through a crazy variety of activities while still flush from the after-effects of witnessing a birth. I napped in a dark room for two hours. I spent the afternoon with CJ. I made supper and vacuumed the house because the floor was nothing but crumbs. I packed a picnic for my soccer girl. I got ready for swim lessons, got kids snacked, changed, and to the pool, and then went for a much-needed run in the park across from the pool. It was gorgeous and sunny and I would have run and run and run had the kids not been waiting for me. I got back to the pool just in time, got kids showered and changed, raced home to put supper on the table, grab a bite to eat myself, and feed soccer girl.
We had less than half an hour to transition to the next activity: a soccer coaching clinic. Turns out Kevin and I are coaching all three of our kids’ indoor soccer teams (CJ isn’t old enough to be on a team, or no doubt we’d have managed to sign ourselves up to coach four). We’re not even sure how it happened. But Kevin is working quite a few Saturdays, which means that I will need to be there if he isn’t (with extra kids in tow? we haven’t worked out the finer details), so off AppleApple and I went to the coaching clinic. The coach leading the clinic is also coaching the U-10 rep girls team, so he had the girls come out to demonstrate. It was a pleasant stroke of luck that as part of the coaching clinic I also got to watch my soccer girl in action.
We spent three full hours at the indoor field, the last hour of which was just a great big game. The girls played, the rep coaches played, and the parent volunteers who had signed up to coach their children’s teams were invited to play, too. Only a few dads jumped in. I was one of two or three moms volunteering to coach, and we all passed.
I was invited to join the game! And I stood on the sidelines instead.
I was tired, yes, but that wasn’t why I didn’t play. I was chatting with a friend, but that wasn’t why I didn’t play either. It also wasn’t because I didn’t want to play; I actually kind of sort of really really did want to. Nope; I didn’t play because I felt intimidated. I haven’t played on a soccer team since the age of eleven. I’ve never practiced any of the skills and techniques the head coach was showing us last night. (Excuses, excuses.) All I had to offer, therefore, was fitness and a willingness to try. Except last night, I lacked the willingness to try. Why? On the drive home, AppleApple wondered why I hadn’t played, and when I confessed to feeling too nervous and not being skilled enough, she kind of huffed and said, of course you’d be good enough!
And she’s right. Because any willing participant would have been good enough. It wasn’t a test of my skills or abilities. It wasn’t about me at all. It was about running around, kicking a ball, and having fun. And those kids were having fun (so were the dads). Just look at my very own small and tough AppleApple who elbowed her way into the mix and stole the ball from the coaches and ran her heart out without once doubting that she should be there, doing that.
And so, regrets? I like to think of myself as a generally unregretful person. But it turns out I have a few. Many (most?) boil down to those moments when I let pride dictate in(action). When I don’t try. When I don’t take the risk, and join the game.
What got done this weekend?
Kitchen drudgery: baked four loaves of bread; transformed shrivelled plums into a sauce; whirled and froze five meals’ worth of pesto; roasted and pureed tomatoes as a base for tomato soup and lasagna later this week; baked cookie squares with new baking soda (going on the theory that bad soda caused my treat fail last weekend).
Plus laundry. That’s what comes of having four children and a family involved in multiple sports activities. Also, I’m mildly obsessive compulsive about hanging it to dry.
Soccer tryouts for this child, Saturday and Sunday morning. Lucky me, I got to take her and start both days with a long run on a beautiful autumn trail beside a river.
Vegging and movie-watching. These kids, both afternoons, the same (fairly awful) movie: Cats and Dogs. Plus Kevin and I got out on our own last night and saw a (fairly good) movie: Crazy Stupid Love.
Work on the new garden beds for next spring.
Which leads us to the question: What didn’t get done this weekend?
Harvesting and drying herbs.
Taking the kids to the Harry Potter matinee uptown today.
Signing up for a marathon in November. But I’ve got the registration window open on my browser, so maybe I’ll get up the guts to do it before the day is over.
Sleep. Two late nights + two early mornings = happy social life (and I need a nap.)
Cleaning and tidying. As you can see. (Are those MY socks on the table???? Oh crumbs, they are. Guess I can’t blame the kids for everything).
I’ve been wanting to blog all weekend, and have been too busy with food preparation (recipes to come), canning, and parties (tough life, I know). Hurray for a quiet house on a beautiful Monday morning!
For four out of six of us, this morning began swimmingly. Let me explain. We keep aiming to make room for plenty of physical activity, individually and as a family. Kevin has soccer and hockey. I swim, run, bike, and yoga. And we’d like the kids to enjoy the benefits of burning off steam, playing, and being fit.
(Side note # 1: I just found last year’s fall calendar in a drawer, and saw that I’d scheduled “hiking” as a possible family weekend activity. Sadly, that happened precisely never. Given that we had, last fall, a two-year-old, I can see how it fell off the priority list.)
This fall, we’re continuing with activities that have proven easy to maintain, such as the kids walking to and from school every day. We live 1.4km from school, so that’s nothing to sneeze at. Even CJ walks every morning to his nursery school, with his dad. AppleApple will likely continue with rep soccer, and the three oldest kids will play indoor soccer this fall/winter. It’s inexpensive, once-weekly, and will be Fooey’s first experience with organized sports. CJ joins in on weekly swim lessons for all, coordinated so that all kids will be in the water at the exact same time.
(Side note # 2: When examining our budget last month, I discovered that our biggest expense, aside from food and shelter is extracurricular/sports activities. There’s a desire to want to accomodate every interest, but we need to be more creative sometimes. For example, instead of the kids doing hockey, we rent ice time and skate/play hockey a couple of times a month with a bunch of neighbourhood families.)
Earlier this summer, AppleApple mentioned she’d like to swim more often, so she tried out for a swim club … but when I investigated cost and schedule, we realized it was a) crazy expensive, and b) would conflict with other activities. Plus Albus expressed interest in swimming more often, too, and there was no way we could put two kids into this club.
Long story short: it occurred to me that the older kids swim well enough to participate in lane swims, which are quite affordable with a pool pass. Plus, Kevin is learning to swim and would like the chance to practice, too. On Monday mornings, I swim very early, and can do an hour in the pool, shower, and be home before 7am. When I arrived home this morning, Kevin and kids were waiting in the front hall, a bit groggy, in swimsuits, ready for the lane-swim experiment. (And how proud I am at their willingness to give this a try).
An hour later, they burst through the door, glowing. Thumbs up. They’d consulted with a lifeguard, swam with the “oldsters,” and practiced their strokes up and down the lanes. Albus was musing about going more often, on “bad” days (ie. days when he has subjects at school that don’t interest him).
When I start the morning with a run or a swim, I notice an immediate boost in mood; why wouldn’t it be just the same for kids, too?
The energy at breakfast was upbeat and positive. Porridge, toast, boiled eggs. And we still had plenty of time to chat and prepare for the day before saying goodbye.
(Side note # 3: Not everyone needs to schedule time for exercise. The little kids, who won’t get extra swimming time, more than make up for it racing their bikes around the house on the loop of driveway, patio, walkway, and sidewalk. Not to mention much trampolining. CJ: “Look how high I can jump, Mom! You have to come and see me!”)
It looks like such a lonely position to play. But she’s grown into it over this past season — her first season ever playing goalie, in fact, which seems remarkable. On Saturday, her team played in a tournament against the other teams in her league. In each game, a loss meant elimination. The girls played with great heart, and never gave up, even when they were down by a goal with a minute left (as in the final game). They tied that game up, and went on to win in overtime by four goals. They also won a game on penalty kicks.
Penalty kicks are what the parents of the goalie pray never ever happen. But this was her second penalty kick experience, and she’d learned the hard way what to expect — all of the girls had. The first time, she thought it was her job as goalie to stop every ball, and was devastated when she couldn’t; we had to explain afterward that penalty kicks give the advantage to the kicker, not the goalie, and no goalie is ever expected to stop them all. This time, the first two balls went in, but she wasn’t rattled by it. Her team was behind by one shot, but she stayed cool as a cucumber. She stopped the next shots cold, her teammates landed theirs, and that was it. Game over.
Tears and hugs on the sidelines, and a mad rush to congratulate the goalie.
It’s a lonely position, but also a very visible position. What seems so remarkable to me is that she isn’t bothered by either factor. She isn’t fazed by failure, or success. When I complimented her on keeping her calm even after a goal had been scored on her, she said, “Well, I wouldn’t be a very good goalie if I got bothered when a goal was scored.”
It’s also a dangerous position. Making one stop, she was run over by a girl on another team (no call made by the ref), and knocked in the head by the girl’s foot. Her comment? “I think that girl needs to work on her jumping.” But there she was, fearless among the feet, grabbing the ball. Amazing focus, and amazing instinct — to dive toward danger rather than flinch away.
Her parents on the sidelines were playing a very different part in the story. It’s so hard to watch, and to care so deeply, and to be unable to act. I’ve started to understand that my only role, on the sidelines, is to believe in her. She obviously believes in herself.
When the day was done, Kevin and I felt drained. The team was elated: they’d made it to the final, which they’ll play in a couple of weeks. “Was that fun?” I asked Kevin. We couldn’t decide. It was an experience. There are dimensions to parenthood that never entered my imagination when I was gestating my babies: the way your children will lead you to places and through experiences and emotions you never knew you’d be obliged to go — and privileged to go, too.