Sunday, November 30, 2008

Gotta Dance

Fooey in the car this afternoon (an announcement): "I'm going to watch Magic School Bus all by myself. I want some alone time. No one disturb me."

It's been a grey day, and it almost seemed that the sun didn't shine. Dim light. Late November light. That closing in ahead of the winter solstice. Last night, Kevin and I went to a neighbourhood Christmas party and it was darn fun. I haven't gotten dressed up for well over a year, and had to plunder the attic in search of party-ish clothes (not that I needed to wear them; it was all a matter of wanting to). I wore a black Lida Baday strapless top with this shruggish sleeves-only sweater (no idea what it really should be called), bought in Toronto almost a decade ago. My one and only designer purchase, ever. I still remember going into the store on the Danforth near where we lived at the time and laying out a fair wad of cash for that overall outfit, which included a balloony ballgown-type skirt that didn't seem right for last night's bash; I went with an old lined wool black-and-white checked skirt.

It was definitely a rush to apply makeup (approximately a once-yearly event), fluff hair, adorn self. Mostly, I love my mama-self disguise--that's not the right word, though. It's not a disguise, it's a true emanation of myself, the jeans and turtlenecks and zip-up sweaters and frumpy winter hat and last-year's-maternity coat and rarely brushed hair and rushing out the door without even a glance into a mirror. Mostly, that' s a very satisfying me to live within. But this other me was delightfully escapist for a night, like going on a full-body holiday. The dancing was the best part. It takes a little time to get really relaxed and uninhibited, I find, but ultimately there's so much release in moving one's body to music.

Baby CJ did wake, but his grandma was able to soothe him till we got home, hours later. We found them cuddling on the couch together at about one in the morning.

Right now, I'm baking a huge batch of peanut granola that smells fabulous. Tomorrow Albus is back at the dentist first thing in the morning, and it's a writing day, assuming everything pans out. We are in the midst of some crammed weeks, with Kevin working weekends, and seemingly endless appointments, dental and otherwise; and then Christmas will be upon us. After lunch today, the kids and I played some songs on the piano, including carols. I bought a beautiful advent calendar yesterday--made in India; Ten Thousand Villages--that you fill yourself, so it's reusable from year to year. I feel like really celebrating Christmas this year, inventing new family traditions and solidifying others, while remaining faithful to a more-with-less philosophy. These seasonal events take on more significance the older I get (maybe), or the more I feel our family to be its own unique entity in the world, with everyone's voice adding to the mix. I want to embrace where our family is at, right now, and not waste an ounce of this togetherness. It's such great fortune to share our lives in relationship with others.

And sometimes you've just gotta dance.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Early Bird, Wha?!

This is the second day in a row that I've made the choice to hop out of bed, brush teeth, and start the day earlier than required. I've never been a morning person. Bed has always called louder than anything else, so the thought in my head this morning as I stood looking at bed, still in pajamas, debating, was, "Why aren't you calling me?" Habit made me hesitate, confused; is this what morning people feel like? Like extra sleep wastes time that could be spent awake? The sensation was unfamiliar, baffling. My instinct was not to trust it. But then I thought, maybe this is some new and entirely unanticipated early bird phenomenon working its way into my system. And I went cheerily off to floss.

Maybe that tincture from my naturopath is working miracles. Maybe the new haircut has me feeling bouyant. Or maybe it's CJ turning eight months. (He's eight months today! Insert a paragraph of exclamation points here signifying immense disbelief). Maybe it's moving that much further from the exhaustion and blur of those early baby days. Maybe it's getting out to a reading, and then, later, for a drink. On a Friday night. Maybe it's all this walking we're doing. Or the great enjoyment I take from my kids. Or something hormonal. Who knows.

But I'm going to make a pot of coffee right now and savour the grey morning. As soon as I've moderated the smallish battle (ah, siblings!) going on behind me.
[Have to add a PS. I just re-read and edited this post about four hours later, and must note that though I may feel fabulous at 7am, I really really should not be writing for any form of publication at that hour. The post was full of errors and repetitions and clumsy rhetorical attempts. Brain not quite up with body, at that hour, apparently.]

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Getting to the Screen

Just don't seem to be getting to this virtual typing page as often as I'd enjoy.

Today I tried doing a writing afternoon--really a short amount of time, approximately two hours total--and approached it with the notion that if something got written, that would be pleasant, and if not, it would be two hours of not entertaining a three-year-old and an-almost-eight-month-old. Then I went off on a story-tangent and had a blast. Felt all revived and did not stress about getting everyone ready for the walk to school, or the after-school mayhem. I encouraged the kids to stay outside and play in the snow when we got home, and set baby CJ in the snow, too, with his little sock-mittens. He was enchanted. What is this stuff? What are the big kids up to? Loved it. Then we got cold, so came in for hot chocolate. I had done prep work for supper earlier in the day (turkey broth with noodles, and cornbread and baked squash), so just waited till Kevin got home to do the rest. It felt easier, more pleasant, though we ate a bit later than usual. More civilized. Mama hanging with the kids. I could focus better on their demands and issues and remarks. And Albus even studied for his French dictee tomorrow, which he'd been resistent to doing. I don't know whether this is good mothering or bad, but I've been trying to encourage him to work a little bit in advance--to learn good study habits--and showing him how that little bit of extra effort pays off. Which it has. But the kid has this inborn confidence that he knows everything. I don't want to shave that off of him; yet also want him to appreciate that hard work can be rewarding. Heck, not even hard work. Just a smidgen of labour. Just copy the darn words a couple of times.

I also got out for a haircut tonight. So it was a day of pampering and luxury, all-around. Then I raced home and washed the rest of the dishes with my fancy new haircut smelling pleasantly salon-ish, and put a tantrum-inclined Fooey into her bed (she was planning for a birthday party for her Pooh Bear tomorrow and had covered the bed in tea cups and plates; and I must mention that Pooh Bear is Poor Bear in name only; it's a pink filthy stuffed bear with a stocking cap). We had to clear the bed, and I made promises about tomorrow's party. After we'd kissed goodnight (a kiss-fest with CJ joining in), I heard her whispering to her bear: "Tomorrow's your birthday!"

Then I hung the laundry that I'd washed first thing this morning. Funny thing, walking to school this aft, I walked with a mom I'd never met before, we ended up talking laundry--and it turns out she's at least as obsessive as I am about not using the drier. She uses dowling tacked up to doorways, and hangers. I use ugly cheap racks and banister railings. We both have a constant never-ending flow of dampish clothes in progress. It was nice to find unexpected company in this particular domestic peculiarity.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Catching Life

Writing day, but this is the first I've gotten to the computer this morning. Fooey had her major dental appointment this morning, so that took priority. She was fully conscious during the surgery, but on nitrous oxide ("magic nose" as the dentist calls it) and additionally on a drug that kinda makes her look and act a bit drunk. Amazingly, the dentist (Super Dentist, as I shall forevermore call him) drilled and filled three cavities, including between her two front teeth, and shaved off an additional three more cavities, all in one go. So she's taken care of. For now. Heaven knows, we are flossing and brushing and treating juice like a rare treat these days ("Juice!!!" the kids squeal with delight when it is offered at a birthday party; the way other children might scream, "Candy!" or "Cake!"), but there are hard teeth and there are soft teeth, and it's looking like my babies have the soft ones. Something tells me this won't be Fooey's last"magic nose" experience. It was quite trippy trying to imagine the experience through her eyes, lying in that chair, breathing nitrous oxide into her innocent lungs, sunglasses on, in a dental office that looks like it's perfectly preserved from the 1960s, while Super Dentist and his assistant spoke soothingly of "pink and yellow sugar bugs" being "washed away." (Drilled away). I was starting to see pink and yellow sugar bugs. It wasn't a bad sensation, actually.

I've been meaning to blog all weekend and it's already Monday. These were some of the topics in mind. Carrot cookies: really good. Taking four children ages three to seven to the musical theatre (Annie) for a 7pm show: surprisingly fun. Midwifery: lots of Big Thoughts. In fact, that's where I'd like to go in today's blog.

On Friday evening, I attended the Eby Lecture at Conrad Grebel College, which this year was given by Marlene Epp, a Mennonite historian. The place was packed out with the local Mennonite crowd. It is impossible to show up at something like this and not a) recognize 99% of the audience, b) be known by name by at least 33% whose names you do not, in turn, remember, and c) actually turn out to be related to 5% of those in attendance. (Note: All figures are wild estimates). The subject was Canadian Mennonite women who were midwives/healers. I love this kind of history, largely story-telling, using oral sources, diaries, notes. I loved how she integrated and contextualized the Mennonite story into and within the larger story of immigrant Canada. Proof that I would make a lousy historian, what jumped out at me instantly was the source of great fiction this history could make.

Some of you may know that I harbour distant fantasies about becoming a midwife myself. Likely from the moment I saw my own sister born at home (I was twelve and a half), the profession has seemed to me almost magical, and certainly powerful: guiding a woman through gestation to delivery, being present and receiving new life. It's the only alternate career path I've been able to imagine for myself; yet I'm excruciatingly aware that my interest in midwifery is more idealistic than practical. It seems like the kind of profession one should feel "called" to (though that may be more of my idealism talking). Children and grandchildren of these midwives recalled holiday celebrations broken by the mother or grandmother grabbing up her brown bag and heading out on a mission of mercy. Midwives also acted, in some cases, as naturopaths, chiropractors, bone-setters, healers, and undertakers. Because, of course, tied up so closely with birth is death; at least, it was for most of human history, and still is in many places on earth. The responsibility seems vast. I feel myself torn between wanting to discover whether my own hands and mind could care for women and babies in this way; and being pretty darn sure that pursuing that course would bury my ambitions to continue writing fiction. Not to mention limit my time with these four small children I've produced who still need constant care.

I figure on four years of grace till CJ starts kindergarden. In some ways, it doesn't seem like much time, yet when thinking over the changes in our lives these past four years there are almost too many to integrate and understand. We just are where we are. I like planning ahead. But I like staying flexible and open.

Four years ago, I was just about to get pregnant with our third child. Four years ago, Kevin was travelling long distances, regularly, and working for someone else's company. Four years ago, my parents were living in the same house they'd lived in since 1991. They were still married to each other. Kevin's dad was still alive. Four years ago, our kids had two sets of intact grandparents. Though we could hope for more kids, and hope for Kevin to change his job, we really couldn't predict or control many of the events that occurred alongside those others. So it is. I just finished reading Elizabeth Hay's Late Nights on Air, and there's a line that's stuck in my mind. (I'm paraphrasing). One character says that some people believe everything is all about timing; some people believe everything is all about luck; and she believes everything is fragile. Life is fragile.

I believe that, yes, everything is fragile, connections and relationships are fragile; in some ways. In other ways, everything is damned tenacious. Connections and relationships stick and tangle and surprise us and hold us and remain. Even if only in memory.

Life is fascinating, isn't it? And that's why I can't figure out whether I want to be catching it, literally, or catching it in this other way: on the page.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bedtime Cheese

I am eating cheese and crackers right before bed. This is probably ill-advised, but I am SO HUNGRY. The past two nights have been off-the-map bad for sleep, basically in ruinous desert territory where sleep is a form of creative drifting, of falling into shallow pits in the earth and being clawed back out and flung onto the sand. How's that for metaphor. Don't answer, please. CJ has a nasty snotty cold and has been unable to sleep in his playpen (at least at night) at all, for two nights. He crawls around screaming and crying as soon as we lay him down; ergo, we don't. Ergo, we hold him and walk him around (Kevin) and hold him and nurse him (me). Constantly. I had these early morning dreams of eating vast trays of sweets, candies, cupcakes, sugar-topped rolls, gorging on them till I woke feeling guilty and ... hungry, apparently.

It felt like I slept no more than twenty minutes at a stretch last night. Kevin said every time he woke, he'd hear or see CJ sucking away at me--that, or whimpering, choking on snot, and trying to crawl blindly off the bed.

It's late, and we can't get CJ down again tonight. And he's still sick, so we can't let him cry anything out, assuming anything could be cried out. People do this, right? People let their babies cry? I have very little resolution and strength on that subject. I am weak weak weak with compassion and desperation to sleep NOW in the middle of the night, which may explain why our baby is still mostly in bed with us, seven and a half months on.

I'll tell you what last night reminded me, though. It reminded me that you don't really know tired till you've been wakened all through the night feeding a baby, on consecutive nights. I had to nap today, seriously no choice, and I was crashed out cold (Fooey watching TV; CJ taking a proper nap in his playpen--why, oh why does he like it during daylight hours??). That was what life was like every single day for months after CJ was born; and now it already seems rare--I'd already forgotten that must-crash-out sensation.

Okay, I've eaten enough cheese. This should hold me through the night.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Carbon Guilt; Six Years

Deep breath. Confession. I just drove the kids to school. Okay, and worse. It made my morning so much easier. Baby CJ slept in, so I didn't rush to wake him and feed him and change him so he could endure a half hour in the stroller. I just let him sleep. Popped him, pajamas and all, into the car seat. The big kids are big enough that I don't need to walk them to the school doors and see them inside. I just hopped out and helped them cross the street, and kissed them goodbye (not Albus; he's too big for kisses--in public, at least). Then we drove home. It was still early. No one was cranky and complaining about being stuck in the stroller.

Oh dear. It was so darn luxurious that I'm actually glad we only have one vehicle so that I will be forced to keep walking the kids to school in the morning (afternoons are different--it actually seems easier to walk than to join the crowd of vehicles being irresponsibly driven and parked on the snowy sidestreets surrounding the school). I wonder why I feel better about my life when I'm doing things the hard way, and guilty when I'm taking shortcuts. Balance, balance. It's a kind of comfort to know there's never perfect equilibrium, and therefore always something more to strive for.

Here are my excuses for carbon-burning this morning. One, Kevin is in Ottawa and I am all on my own today, and seeking ways to make the day that much more survivable. Two, CJ was up most of the night, off and on, with a terrible croupy cough, and wide awake at 5am for a good hour. He needed that extra sleep. Three. Umm, apparently I don't have a third excuse. I wanted to drink my cup of coffee while it was still hot? I wanted a few extra minutes to Blog? In any case, we have a pile-up of other errands to run this morning, all within walking distance (long walks, but nevertheless) ... and I'm considering, maybe, just this once ... driving. (Something tells me that "just this once" could become my winter phrase, as long as a vehicle is available to me. Slippery, slippery slopes.)

Durn snow.

On another subject: boy are we partied out. We had such a blast with Apple-Apple's butterfly birthday on Sunday, and another good family party last night; but there's been enough cake eaten and enough thoughtfully chosen gifts opened and enough candles whooshed out to thoroughly mark the (truly significant) occasion. Six years old. From precocious baby who walked early and talked early (how fascinating to hear what was on the mind of a 14-month-old; she looked up while nursing one afternoon and said, "Daughter"), to determined toddler, insisting on potty-training herself at 20 months, through the process of learning to be a kind and helpful big sister (not easy!), to becoming a schoolgirl and revelling in her independence, in learning, and in being a helpful and thoughtful group participant. My equal parts serious and silly child. My French-language-delighting, yearning-to-play-piano-and-learn-to-knit, Little-House-loving-girl. Six years old.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Minus the Infant Clothes

Writing day, and I've promised never to blog on writing day, but have reached the natural end of how far I can go on this particular chunk of story or novel or whatever the heck it is, and yet don't want to stop writing. Quite yet.

Here's something significant that we did this weekend: We gave away our baby clothes!!!! I can hardly believe it, but it's true. I'd been meaning to do it for months, but frankly it took months to work up to the actual giving away, actually seeing them out the door and gone. My heart still aches just a wee little bit when I think of those teeny tiny sleepers that all the children took turns wearing in infanthood. Well. What is the point of keeping boxes of them? I'll confess to holding back a precious few favourites that can double as dolly clothes; but this tugging at my soul makes me reflect on the meaning of stuff. The detritus of our lives, if you will, the debris, the things we collect that somehow become embedded with our memories, physical proof of our passage through time and here on this earth. Yet the material pull is so often unhealthy. We crave, we cling to, we keep so much that we do not need, and grasp for more. Maybe because it is the easiest way to find identification? By the things that surround us? Who we are, minus our things?

We donated most of the the clothes to St. Monica House, a local agency that provides shelter and counselling and pre- and post-natal support to young pregnant women. 

And, who am I, minus my infant clothes? I guess I'm the post-infant-mother. What a brief phase this will have been, all told. Eight years and three months (and counting) of pregnancy and/or nursing. Significant. But not possible to do either forever; and even if I could, doing so wouldn't prevent me getting older, and my children too. I think giving away the clothes is a symbolic acceptance of this kinda sober mortal truth ... 

Sorry, the usual writing day bummer is upon us, no matter the topic. Really, writing days make me happy! Honestly, they do! See the judicious use of exclamation points to mark this point!

Ahem. It will be a busy week, and I'm girding up my loins and various other parts in anticipation. Apple-Apple's actual birthday is tomorrow (six!!!); cake will be made and devoured, and gifts given and jealousy run rampant among short-sighted unbirthday-ed siblings. (Look, kids, these toys will enter the collective life of the house and you will get to play with them too! Talk about stuff ...). Kevin is travelling to Ottawa. Albus has his first of FOUR consecutive dentist appointments to fill the most giant of the holes in his rotted teeth. Plus we shall enjoy the usual routines and marvel over the accomplishments, big and small, of, most particularly, the four smallest among us; though occasionally, perhaps, Kevin will pause to express gratitude for a meal well-made and I will pause to admire his efficiency at flossing our children's teeth. Hey, these things can make a day.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Fairy-Tale Snowstorm

So much to write about, so little time. Mostly, want to write about the amazing snowstorm that started yesterday sometime between supper and dessert, as the miserably chilly rain that had been falling steadily all day turned to luscious heavy wet snowflakes, and the world was transformed. I had to go out in it. If I'd been a child, I would have romped and made snowballs, but walking in it was pretty sweet too. Sweet. Uh-oh. I am using my eldest son's vocab. You know what I mean. What drew me was the habit of this past winter's nightly walk--when I was pregnant and our house was under renovation and that walk grounded me. What a difference a little snow makes on a November world. The bare trees were clothed again in fairy-tale fluff. And just like last winter, though I started the walk wondering what it could possibly bring me beyond simple exercise, by the end I felt renewed, calmed, my mind wide open. There is something about the body being in motion that allows the mind to wander at ease, to seek and to find, to be soothed.

All of this was made possible by Kevin doing the supper dishes, and CJ going to sleep relatively early, and the big kids playing quietly in their rooms. Thanks, all.

Right now I'm baking cookies for Apple-Apple's birthday party, which will be upon us in mere hours. The butterfly theme has been easy to work with, and Apple-Apple decorated her own cake with candies and frosting--she made a beautiful butterfly and flower scene that I seriously couldn't have come close to creating. We're going to decorate butterfly wings, have a scavenger hunt, attempt to make butter, have a butterfly play, and who knows what else. It's been a solid family effort to plan and organize, and only a little bit of sibling jealousy flaring now and again.

Okay, buzzer's buzzed. Time's up.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Getting Dumber

I should say that the life cycle of a butterfly is actually a really amazing thing. Boy I sounded grumpy in that earlier post. Guess it wasn't just the kids that day. I like to think I'm immune from bad moods, just riding the wave of the day, up and down, without too many fluctuations ... you know, calm mama, serene mama. With a little bit of creative editing and amnesia, this is true.

But this is also true: I am trying to drink a cup of coffee, while listening to the radio, while CJ climbs my leg, while Fooey shouts from the living-room that it is time for her mommy to read her a book, NOW! While blogging. There was an article somewhere (Globe? Maclean's?) recently about how we are training our brains to lose the ability to concentrate deeply by multi-tasking on our electronic devices. This bodes ill for writers of novels, et cetera. But I still enjoy reading, and would confess to being a ridiculous multi-tasker; though maybe I've dumbed myself down and don't even realize it.

Except this is also true: I can still write a story. I can sit for six or seven hours straight, and focus entirely on an imaginary place and imaginary people, and write a story. And yesterday that task brought me great pleasure because the story was good, and it twisted and turned in ways unanticipated. In the world, and out of the world. A bit of both.

Way too rambling. Turn off the radio, maybe! And go read that Fooey some butterfly books, marvelling at the life cycle of these fragile (seemingly fragile) creatures.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

P.S.

Fooey's demanding phrase of the day (standing naked in her bedroom after bathtime, holding her pajamas, throwing them on the floor): "What are you going to do for me next, Daddy?"

Kevin broke out laughing. And then Fooey did too. "That made me feel funny, too, Daddy."

Shark Roars and Butterflies

Supper on the table at 5pm so we can eat together as a family before rushing out the door to the older children's music class. Kevin late. Supper being dished up, Kevin arrives. Family enjoys fresh-made biscuts and beef stew with potatoes and sweet potatoes. Gobble, gobble, gobble. Then the friend arrives whom we take along to music class, and we're out the door again, at least it feels like again, and off into the dark night, accompanied by what looks like a full moon. Eerie clouds across its face. I've dragged along a whack of library books on butterflies, as that is the theme of Apple-Apple's upcoming birthday bash. While the kids are in class, I read through them. They're disappointingly similar in content and arc. To summarize: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly. Throw in an attempt at plot in one form or another (class watches the butterfly life cycle; tortoise observes the butterfly life cycle; butterfly observes caterpillar yet to discover butterfly life cycle). Anyway, fourteen books later my eyelids are feeling a little heavy, so to the chiming music being made behind closed doors by my children (and the moan of a saxophone from down the hallway), I let myself drift off. Actually, not sure whether I have much choice in the matter. I'm pretty tired (see below). As I drift, I sense a mother and child coming to sit beside me on the bench, but lacking all pride don't even attempt to shake off the waves of sleep. The child explodes with an unnerving random roar at least once per minute. As my brain wanders into reverie, suddenly "ROAR," and my neck jerks involuntarily. His mother says nothing to suggest this behavior is inappropriate, and later, when I've given up on the catnap, or it's given up on me, I realize that this isn't just a behavioral tic, but a response the shark book he's thumbing through. Should have opened my eyeballs earlier and offered him a tome on butterflies. They're quiet.

This pretty much sums up my day. Disappointment over a new 1/2 bushel of sweet potatoes found half-rotten and unsalvageable in the cold cellar. Grumpy griping children. Baby napping only to wake in a foul mood half an hour later. Oh, and CJ is not sleeping through the night. Did I say anything to suggest that he was? Yah, he must have stayed up late last night reading that post and deciding he was far too clever to fall asleep on his own after a mere fifteen minutes of crying. Last night was one of those write-0ffs, and despite letting him "cry it out," he never got to out, and we ended up walking him, patting him, and, finally, bringing the infuriated little soul back into bed with us. It was a long one. You're almost glad to see morning so you can get out of bed and have a cup of coffee.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Scoops Aren't My Forte

Here's something I've never done before: blogged while watching an event live on my computer. I'm sitting here in our disastrously toy-littered living-room, kids in bed, Kevin at hockey, watching the 2008 Giller Awards unfold live online, computer perched on the piano bench. The Giller is just about as exciting as a literary event gets anywhere--in Canada, certainly nothing comes close to topping it. Though in my younger, more Communist days, I held a smallish disdain for the wine-and-dine-them-with gala-glamour of the Giller; the medicinal, humbler, early morning non-dramatic announcement of the Governor General's Awards seemed somehow better. Or better-for-you. I had a Pilgrim's Progress streak back then.

Well, all proletariat disdain is gone. What a wonderful, generous gift to the Canadian literary world: of course these hard-working, creative, utterly underpaid people should get one evening to shine and dine and wine. Who cares if it's illusory. And never mind that the nature of all prizes is to eliminate a whole passel of potential worthies; though that's sad. Let's just say that those chosen are the most fortunate of the fortunate and leave it at that.

Okay, if I type the winner's name, then press "publish post" will I scoop the Canadian Press?? Heh.

Joseph Boyden.

There we go. He's telling his mother not to cry, but of course she is. Wish I could remember the name of his book ... Through Black Spruce, maybe? I read his first, very fine book, Three Day Road, and this one features some of the same characters. I think. I'm not proving very useful in the fact-checking department, which is ironic, because once upon a time that was how I earned a living. Fact checker.

And, no, I did not press "publish," but instead watched the speech. So much for this bit of reportage. Were filing a coherent piece on tight deadline my actual job, I would not have an actual job.

Back to the living-room. Bedtime. Will take to the comfort of my humidifier-enhanced sleeping chamber last year's Giller prize winner: Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay. And enjoy. Or maybe not. Did I just dare to write in my very last post, mere hours ago, that baby CJ is sleeping well these days? I knew that was tempting fate. Sigh. He's howling upstairs, after being put down less than an hour ago. Here I go, off to said chamber, not to read after all ...

Work for Peace

Want to note that CJ has been sleeping much better (at night) in the past couple of weeks. This is the sort of news I hardly want to mention, for entirely superstitious reasons, of course. So touch wood. And rejoice. What happened was that after we returned from our Halloween weekend at Kevin's mom's, CJ had gotten pretty comfortable spending all night in our bed, and was waking soon after being put to bed at night, just so he could come and cuddle with his mama. I have only a vague sleep-deprived memory of the magic moment, but what I recall is going to bed early (because he'd woken and wouldn't go back to sleep otherwise), nursing him off and on till sometime after midnight, CJ remaining fussy and restless and miserable, and finally turning to Kevin and saying: "My tank is on empty. I'm going to let him cry." So I laid him back into his playpen, tucked him in, and let him cry. I patted him a couple of times, and he cried for a full fifteen minutes, but that was it. Fifteen minutes of suffering and he fell asleep. All by himself. And it's been much easier getting him into his playpen since then, and he sleeps longer when he's initially put to bed, too.

But he is right now downright miserable in his giant bouncy device, probably hungry, and the living-room is filled with children playing Playmobil (playdate). So I should really, er, get off this electronic device and attend to some non-virtual needs.

Oh, and I had the kids wear the Mennonite Central Committee Remembrance Day button to school today, a red button with the words "To remember is to work for peace." We had a fairly long talk about it before school this morning, and at the end, Albus said, "I think it would be easier to just wear the poppy." I told them they could also wear a poppy. I hope I wasn't overstepping parental bounds by asking them to wear this pin, too, especially because I wasn't entirely convinced they "got' it. But I have deeply ambivalent emotions around Remembrance Day, having been raised a pacifist. To me, wearing the button isn't about standing against people who offer their lives to serve our country, but about being aware of the effects of war, and imagining more peaceful solutions ... but I'm typing one-handed ... and my children are behaving most unpacifistically all of sudden.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Things to Keep

Things I want to keep and remember:

Yesterday after supper, I was lying on the floor with baby CJ just cuddling him and squeezing him and kissing him, and he was so thrilled to be the centre of attention, and the other kids were sitting around me enjoying the scene too. Apple-Apple told me to sing the "zoom, zoom, zoom, we're going to the moon" song, and we did, and then had CJ "blast off" in my arms, flying over my head. He was just busting a baby gut, he was laughing so hard. That was round about when Kevin got home from his training day, and so children ran off to greet him, but Apple-Apple came right back and sat down near my ear (I was still prone on the floor; actually, I was down there partly to play and partly because it was nice to be lying down). "You look so cute, Mommy," she said. "You look like you've gone back to being a little girl again, and CJ is your dolly."

One more thing to remember: This afternoon I baked granola, and cooked apples (going soft in our cold cellar) down to a rough sauce, which I planned to serve for supper, along with--not on top of!--leftover chicken noodle soup and olive-sourdough bread from the market. As the sauce and soup simmered, just before it was time to set the table and call everyone together, I went into the living-room to nurse a very grumpy baby, and told Kevin the admittedly eccentric supper plan. He will dispute this, but it sounded like he said something critical about granola and applesauce as proper supper items; I will not attempt to recreate his actual words, which, heaven knows, might have been altogether pleasant on the subject. I was, in any case, not in the most cheery of moods, having just spent over an hour preparing this granola and peeling and coring mushy apples, and what I heard was criticism. I growled and marched upstairs to continue nursing CJ in the peace and quiet of the "baby" room, in my great-aunt Alice's rocking chair ... except for reasons unknown Albus was hiding in the dark room and jumped out when I entered with an exuberant and highly effective "BOO!!!!" I replied with a blood-curdling shriek. Baby CJ did pause his nursing briefly to reflect upon this.

So I sat in the chair and announced to poor Albus, who really had only been doing his duty as a child, that I was quitting my job. Those were my exact words.

Of course, after CJ had eaten his fill, I went back downstairs and dished out the supper I'd planned, no one complained, everyone ate happily, and all was well. Albus was on his third slice of bread when he said, out of the blue, "Are you still going to quit your job, Mommy?"

I hope I didn't worry him too much. We all had a good laugh recalling the BOO and the shriek, and Apple-Apple observed how some things are very funny afterward, even if not so funny at the time.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Nick-Names for Children

Oh my goodness, my friend Katie has posted pics of her brand-new baby boy, Quinn, on her blog, and I am so in love!!! I don't know how this is possible under the circumstances, but those pics make my ovaries ache ... and technically I still have a baby. Good grief. However, we tried to fit the whole family into a photo booth at the Steam Whistle gallery at my bro's art show in Toronto, Wednesday night, and we were really ridiculously crammed in there. A's head appeared giant (the 'fro) as he was clumped near the front, and the rest of us were squeezed shadowy fragments of face behind the 'fro, and Kevin and I both said, "No more kids." Maybe that's not a good measure (too many kids to fit into a photo booth??), but it seemed as good as any.

The kids have the day off school today, and we spent the morning having a lovely family playdate with another family, quite peaceful, mostly conflict-free, plus the other family brought snacks--cake with canned peaches. That was a lucky thing because without my CSA box and Nina's buying club, and because I've gotten out of the habit of going to grocery stores regularly, our cupboards are truly bare. And our fridge. Our root cellar is nice and full, but sweet potatoes, onions and garlic are not big hits at snacktime. Unless one is feeding bunnies.

I have been thinking about giving my kids nicknames for the sake of this blog. I hope it won't sound too twee, but calling them by a letter seems terribly uninspired. So here's my plan: A will now be identified as Albus (yes, after the Dumbledore variety); AB will be Apple-Apple, which is what she wanted to name her little sister when she was born; F, aforementioned little sis, will be Fooey, which was what she called herself awhile back (I miss those days!); and baby CJ will stay as is, because in his case, the initials work. Though we never actually call him that.

Well, it's nearly time for another playdate (Albus is having a friend over), then it's swim lessons. I am drinking the entire carafe of coffee by myself today because Kevin has gone to Toronto to run a training class. I've boiled up a lovely chicken stock with which to make noodle soup for supper, along with cornbread. I'll be counting on the kids to help. Do you hear that, kids? I'm counting on ya! They've been playing outside for the last half hour because rain is on its way, but it's still beautiful right now. And we haven't reached hibernation mode yet.

Okay, OCMama, slug back this extra cup of coffee and rouse yourself, because it's time to be "on" again. This is why I like blogging. It's a wee bit of time off. I need some moments inside my own head every day. If I don't blog, I just stare blankly off into the distance, or something similarly unproductive (I'm convinced the brain needs this "blank" time in order to recharge), such as surfing the net, or clicking on the "next blog" feature at the top of this screen. Have you tried that? You'll go to all kinds of places all over the world and see photos of strangers and read oddly similar but intimate details about their lives--or more likely, the lives of their children. Just like here. Oh dear, just saw someone walking by on the sidewalk glance with concern toward our backyard from wherein emerged a blood-curdling sound effect courtesy young sir Albus.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Writing Day, with Poem

I'm going to post a poem that comes from a suite I'm working on called "How to Be a Writer." This poem originally started with the words "don't be," which tells you how ambivalent I continue to feel about this writing path. Despite ambivalence, I'm looking forward to going to "poetry club" tonight and talking verse, talking writing. It will be an all-around writing day, from bottom to top. Here's the poem ...

iv.

don't sit before the screen and tap tap tap
don't lick your pen and fill a blank
with scrap scrap scrap

don't whisper lines of verse
at the grocery store
don't narrate yourself at a quarter to four

don't half-light darkness
with old joy and ruin recast
don't lie don't leech don't bargain thieve and grasp

don't write, small soul
don't pretend or imagine
don't ache for a reader
don't prance for recognition

don't do it, you'll regret it
the black dog will eat you whole
don't do it, amputate, amnesiate, enfold

but you can't?
then it's fatal
but you can't?
then you shall

be a writer
be a writer

be it well

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Barack Obama Makes Me Weepy

Obama. At around 10pm last night, briefly considered doing the responsible thing and going to bed, but tossed that notion right out the window because there aren't many moments in a life when you get to sit on the couch and experience history as it is being made. That sounds grandiose, and I generally shrink from anything resembling idolatry, but there it is. When Barack Obama came onstage, I felt myself gasp. All evening long, it seemed too much to hope for, that at any moment something could wrong. There was Henry Champ (CBC) at the White House reporting about a sudden and unexpected mob of young people running down Pennsylvania Avenue, chanting for Obama and against Bush, and it felt, briefly, like something terrible was about to happen--a riot, a display unsuitable for the moment that could potentially ruin it. But, no. It was only students coming out of their dorms from nearby universities, using their (as Mr. Champ put it) "text message machines," to call each other to a spontaneous and, thankfully, peaceful celebration. John McCain's speech was gracious, better than his entire campaign, and perhaps redemptive. And, then, finally, there was Obama walking onstage with his beautiful family in a park in Chicago, and the impossible was suddenly real.

I fear for this man. I fear for his safety. I fear for him because he is symbolic, because he embodies the hopes and aspirations of a country, and of a world. I don't know whether Americans can fully appreciate how stunning his victory is for the world. I don't know whether Americans know how far their nation has fallen in the eyes of the world under the governance of George W., but the overwhelming popular turn-out, the line-ups hours long endured by voters, the grassroots support of Obama's campaign, culminating in his victory, changes the way the world sees America. It renews faith in democracy. It legitimizes the American dream. A bi-racial man who never knew his dad, who has a foreign-sounding name, whose background is unusual, exotic, not privileged, who has not spent decades building backroom political allies, rises in his 47 years to the most powerful position in the country. I am genuinely proud to be American, in a way I never imagined feeling. There: I know it sounds grandiose. I can't help myself.

Okay, I know he faces a crazy, impossible task, trying to set the broken economy straight, working within straitened budgets, two dismal wars underway, and all the rest of it. But he has a quality that's rare: the ability to involve ordinary people in the processes of power. When people feel their voices aren't heard, or that they, as individuals, don't matter, they check out of the system. It seems like Barack Obama has the ability to bring people in, to inspire them to work together, to think of something other than themselves, other than immediate gain. Does that make him sound like a socialist? Well, where's the balance? Individual responsibility, and collective gain. Does that fit with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Patriotism is a sense of belonging, isn't it?

Clearly, speechifying is not for me.

Onward.

Another freakishly hot day, so I hung two loads of laundry. Seems wrong for November. I'm baking a batch of Amish Friendship Sweet Bread, with my own improvised alterations to the original recipe. Yogurt, chocolate chips, less oil. It rose up beautifully. Tonight our family is heading to Toronto for my brother Christian's art opening at the Steam Whistle gallery. We're very excited and proud. This morning, AB said, "He's a real artist! And you know him even better than we do!" Oh dear, baby CJ is muttering to himself in the baby monitor, suggesting he's ready to get up and get busy.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day, USA

Need to hang laundry because it is bizarrely hot today. Walking home from school this morning, it felt like a pleasant spring day with buds about to burst from the bare limbs of trees, and I thought about Barack Obama. It seems impossible, after this long race, that today has finally arrived and Americans are at this very moment voting in their next president. It's been George W. for as long as my children have been alive (in fact, I was working at the National Post when he first "won," and I remember sitting up late waiting on the results, which were so disputed that no one could call it). I hope I won't have to stay up quite so late tonight.

We talked about democracy and voting all the way to school. I found myself getting quite emotional. There's almost too much to hope for.

Overseeing a playdate here, and, as mentioned, the laundry awaits. And after that, a cup of coffee. We're having a beans-and-rice-themed week, so suppers are easy-peasy. Big pot of black beans served with brown rice last night, cabbage salad on the side. Tonight I'll fry hamburger with a bit of cumin and onions, and serve with beans and rice fried together, lettuce salad on the side. And that will leave me with at least one more meal, likely a bean soup. Best of all, when we eat this simple food, it takes me to another country altogether, back to Nicaragua, where we hope to return again soon.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Tangents Galore

Who does one complain to about the clocks changing? What exactly is this policy and why are we forced to comply? This time change used to be the one I looked forward to--before children, that is. You know, that extra hour for sleeping in? Post-children, I spend a couple of days every year walking around glassy-eyed and frantic from lack of sleep, because BABIES CANNOT READ CLOCKS!!! Neither can almost-six-year-olds. CJ woke at 4:52, by the clock. I managed to keep him in bed for a full hour with lots of nursing, but by 5:52 he was climbing me and Kevin and grunting and playing and having a blast. Kevin kindly got up with him. Somewhere around 6:3oish, AB started shouting, wondering when she could get up. That was the tenor of our morning. And we can now look forward to exhausted children who are staying up an extra hour in the evenings, but waking at the same body-time in the mornings. For at least a few more days. And for what? Remind me? I know, I know, early birds like the morning sunshine; but I like walking home from school while it's still light out.

Wow. That was not how I'd planned to start my blog. Guess it's good to get the complaints over with first. Moving on ...

We had such a wonderful weekend. The trip to Kevin's mom's was not exactly easy (driving late in the evening after the kids had binged on their Halloween candy, and after a full and long week), but once we'd arrived, we were able to relax and not do much of anything. I napped for about two straight hours on Saturday. Kevin and I slept in both mornings, while Grandma Alice managed the four children. It felt luxurious--was luxurious. The kids planted bulbs at Grandpa Jim's grave. They went for walks. Did I mention all the nothing that I did? Seriously. Nothing. It was the holiday my body and mind had been craving. We buzzed home yesterday, the kids watched movies, CJ played in his car seat (!!!), and at suppertime we stopped at Ben Than (sp?) on the way home, just ducked off at the Cambridge exit and treated ourselves. Of course, Kevin and I spent most of dinner in the bathroom with one child or another, but hey. That's what makes life interesting. Or something like that. Actually, I'm not sure that "waiting around in bathroom stalls with small children" belongs with the descriptive "interesting," but it amused Kevin and me to compare notes afterward. If we'd had a stopwatch on the amount of time we'd spent sitting at the table and the amount of time we'd spent hanging around the bathrooms, likely bathrooms would have won. While I was in there with Angus (for the second time), the music system in the restaurant went on the fritz and we were treated to the very loud sounds of a CD skipping through eternity, stuck on the same two notes. This had a very trippy effect in the dimly-lit echoing chilly space that reminded me vaguely of hell's waiting room (not that I've ever been there; just guessing here).

Must stop writing. I'm in tangent-brain. And it's almost storytime.