Can you guess what Albus is eating? Yes, it's what's marked on the freezer bag: frozen red peppers. He and Apple-Apple ate half the bag after supper last night. Local Red Pepper Popsicles.
Kevin has the flu. He's utterly out of commission, and I'm worried about him. I've been trying to remember when life got so hard. It feels like we've been running a non-stop marathon, but where was the start line? Months ago, years ago. Last night when Fooey was having a nightmare, and it was 10pm and I'd been on my feet and working all day and just wanted to fall into bed myself, I held her and these words came into my head: "This is the only moment. This one here." It gave me incredible peace and strength to think those words. I felt unexpectedly capable: of being present, and of giving what needed to be given, right then.
CJ and I came upon a car/pedestrian accident yesterday. We'd been playing in our front yard, enjoying the sunshine, when I noticed a disturbance at the intersection very near our house, so we walked down to see what was happening. It had just happened, though three people had already gone to the woman, and were comforting her. There was nothing I could do; someone in a car had already called 911. It shook me. Life's randomness, unpredictability, sadness. We cannot protect ourselves from it.
But my nature is optimistic, hopeful. I believe that attitude matters, that how I react to situations matters, that I have it in me to be ... calm, present, patient, whole. That's why I wanted to hang laundry today. It seemed medicinal. Being outside is medicinal. Sunshine is. This is the only moment.
Chili with cornbread muffins and steamed greens. Enough for leftovers, my lunch today.
Pizza dough made from a Chickadee magazine recipe, using tomato sauce canned with neighbours last fall.
Banana muffins, finally made after days of planning to bake, with friends over to play and to eat the results.
The drier. The drier. The drier! After months of hanging laundry indoors, and despite the fresh spring breeze and welcome sunshine, I have been using our drier. Something had to give on the domestic front, and that is apparently my weakest point.
He's sprouted his first tooth! Given our other children's record with cavities, we decided to waste no time. The bristles probably felt good on those gums. Fooey is this evening's photographer.
In other news, Kevin's acquired a cane. Next, he's getting a top hat and tap shoes and a monocle.
Sorry. My brain is getting mushy from prolonged sleep deprivation. Today I lost the car keys three times in the span of five minutes, just by putting them down different places while thinking about something else. I had to use a spare set to pick the kids up from school. But we were delivered a supper which I'm going to stretch into two: veggie lasagne. With garlic buns tonight. How about with salad and bread tomorrow night? Thanks, neighbour chefs, small and tall.
The viral thing that's plagued our two youngest seems to be abating. And CJ has officially learned how to fall off to sleep all by himself. This is an unexpected side effect of the broken knee: we no longer had time to rock, sing, walk, or otherwise coddle the lad off to sleep; turns out he didn't need all that fussing around anyway.
I've been getting to supervise the kids' baths. It's pretty fun. So this is what I've been missing while doing the dishes instead. Apple-Apple was especially amused by the bath toy stuck on CJ's head (not visible in this photo) and ran for the camera. Are we running for the camera too often these days? Not sure what to do with the wealth of "out-takes" clogging our hard drive that will likely never be printed, but seem somehow too precious to erase. In honour of CJ's first birthday, I've uploaded and printed a pile of photos from his first year, which I'll put into an album ... see, the fourth child won't be entirely neglected! I'd like to do this for each child's birthday this year, and start an ongoing tradition.
It's not CJ's birthday yet. One week from today. But he got to open his first gift today, and despite being sick, was entirely enthusiastic. He knew exactly what to do: reach into bag and start removing gifts. Then put gifts back into bag for an impromptu game. As always, with one-year-olds, the bag is at least as amusing as the gift itself.
This is me trying to capture a particular expression that's been haunting my face recently; not a good one: a pair of verticle frown lines pressed between my eyebrows as I worry about something or other, not even realizing I'm worrying or frowning. Sometimes accompanied by muttering, too.
An Obama dream this morning: President Obama and his chief of staff come into the room, and President Obama sits on a plushy sofa, relaxed, humourous, but clearly exhausted. An aide holds a cellphone to his ear and he has a brief conversation. He tells us that he's just been kidnapped and released, but that it wasn't very serious. I say, "President Obama, are you sure you're getting enough sleep? There are so many people counting on you, and you really need to get your sleep." He admits he probably isn't. I'm worried. He shrinks to baby-size, and I put him into a stroller and go to pick up the other children and their many many friends for a giant playdate.
Wake up. Say to Kevin, "Oh, I was having such a great dream." It's early morning, CJ is in bed nursing, and he's feverish. As I describe the dream to Kevin, he starts to laugh: "If you're dreaming about sleep WHILE you're sleeping, maybe you need more sleep."
Oh, yes I do. Can I have a dose of the kind called Beauty, please?
Fooey has sadly picked up a virus (CJ too), and this is how she has spent most of today, wrapped in blankets, though I'm pleased to report she is eating (cookies) right now. Good news, though: she quickly got over her fear of her dad's crutches and knee, and was a good-hearted little nurse-helper for much of the week.
CJ enjoyed his first complimentary grocery store cookie earlier this week!
Apple-Apple was in need of entertainment this morning and leapt at the opportunity to wash the dishes. She very patiently washed and rinsed the whole pile.
And here is Kevin headed off to work earlier today. He got good news yesterday from his doctor: the new xrays show that there is no displacement and the fracture is healing. Next checkup and more xrays in four weeks.
Chores around the house Kevin does when not immobilized by a broken knee: takes out the garbage, organizes the recycling, empties the compost, gives the kids baths, changes the occasional diaper, does virtually all outdoor work, sings the children off to sleep, puts CJ to bed, makes breakfast, drives the big kids to the walking school bus on his way to work, and this one, which only occurred to me on Monday--cleans the fish bowls! There's probably more I'm forgetting right now. Phew.
Maybe this will bring me and the fish closer together.
For those of you forced to endure even one minute of my ongoing, seemingly bottomless writerly angst, this post is for you. Here is an excerpted acceptance letter I received earlier this week from the editor at The New Quarterly (which is a very fine Canadian literary magazine that has stood the test of time):
"I am thrilled with this story, the leaps and turns it makes in the later section from the heat and humiliation and incomprehension and secret delight of the child trying to make sense of her surroundings ... to the more mature suspicion of her own memories and motives. The way, I guess, that it moves from the specifics of a particular time and place, from sensation, to a more distanced, abstract, reflective mood. ... Consider this story accepted (for the summer or, more likely, the fall issue) .... I hope you are feeling a mounting excitement yourself about what you are doing with these stories, the shape they are finding."
It goes against my instincts to post Good News Related to My Writing, especially with Compliments; hopefully I won't regret this later. But if I'm sharing the agony, it seems fit to share a moment of joy, too. This particular writing project is well into its third year, and has seen a variety of conceptions and forms tried on and discarded, and this letter echoes my own feelings (and egregiously superstitious hopes) about its current shape: "a mounting excitement." There's still a heap of hard, even excruciating, work to be done before it reaches anything I'd dare to call to a book. But. Nevertheless. Yes. This moment is here to be enjoyed. It isn't necessarily going to lead, directly or indirectly, toward something else, it just is what it is; and it's good.
The "Leprechorn" visited our house today. We'd heard from a friend on Friday about this tradition (new to me) ... leave a cup/bowl/bucket/yogurt container on your steps on St. Patrick's Day and receive some treats (in the case of the friend, chocolate-covered almonds). We had none of those, but not to worry, Mommy, the Leprechorn will bring some! Albus took charge. He instructed the girls where to leave the container, he searched for suitable items, including these four green balloons on which he drew lucky clovers with permanent marker. He secretly placed the container. And he waited patiently for someone to notice it. Here it waits in the sunshine, while the children play and play and play.
Experiment's done. I'm going back to the single blog, and will mingle photographs haphazardly with words, hang the consequences and messiness. Life is messy. Here's what we found in our backyard today: snowdrops poking through brown earth; a toddler who looked as comfortable as the old-timers in the sandbox; children climbing and running and imagining; one man resting his leg and supervising.
We are grateful to everyone who has offered to run errands, play with children, and otherwise assist our limping family. Thank you! Your phone may be ringing in the very near future ...
Tonight's serendipitous moment arrived at 5. I wrote for part of the day, and didn't put any thought to supper. Kept putting that thinking off, and off, and off, till it really was suppertime. Suddenly, there was a knock upon the door. Neighbour Nina: "Would this raspberry custard pie fit with your supper plan?" Are you kidding me? This raspberry custard pie IS my supper plan!
Placed pie upon table. Meandered about trying to finish reading through today's story, chasing CJ up the stairs (aargh, what fabulous timing that new skill is!), while wondering what to add to the pie plan. Finally dug through the fridge, found leftover pasta, leftover sauce, heated those together with the remnants of a veggie broth. Would it be enough? Apple-Apple wanted to help, so I set her to making a spinach salad with sliced apples. Apple-Apple slicing apples! Not fingers, thankfully. We made heaps, Apple-Apple tossed it, too.
And then we ate. Like the loaves and the fishes, we feasted upon what was at hand. I cut the pie into eight pieces. "How many will we each get to eat?" "Is CJ having a piece?" "Let's say no." "Oh! Five, so that means three leftover! Perfect! One extra for me and Albus and Fooey." "Hmm ... CJ really likes this pie, too." "What if we split each extra piece in half?" "Perfect! Six pieces! One extra for everyone!"
Just to say: Kev's home, no surgery, leg splinted into place, and we're figuring out his limitations and abilities. He'll go back in a week for xrays and another consultation. The surgeon wasn't keen to perform surgery under the smashed and splintered circumstances, but will leave it to nature to heal. After which, Kev will get rehab. Hey, at least finding a physio shouldn't be a problem.
I ran the children to the walking school bus this morning. Of course, we were late. Sprinted would be more like it. We had to holler the last half-block to flag them down (stop! wait for us!). Fooey insisted on coming too (she's experiencing irrational fear of her dad's knee and crutches), but she couldn't sprint quite as fast and trailed behind howling like a banshee. An A+ mothering moment.
Son CJ will be a year on March 29. He can now enter a room, say, the kitchen, and open all cupboard doors not rubber-banded shut and empty them in a matter of seconds. Last night, while I did dishes, he layered the floor with baking trays and muffin tins, which made a most satisfying crash as they landed. He then got stuck head-first in the corner cupboard. Then he practiced opening and closing the heavy kitchen drawers and attempting to heave-ho the largest of the pasta pots. Nothing delights him more than to march about hoisting high an implement at least three times his height: brooms, hockey sticks, et cetera. He also loves to toot on a plastic recorder or bang a drum, and will stop mid-stride at the sound of a good dance beat to bop up and down. I've also just realized he is talking to us using actual words--"da do" for thank you, "na-na" for nurse and/or mama, head shake for "no," "ma" for more, et cetera. He waves bye-bye, and last night climbed the stairs in the dark (guess he's put aside his fear of heights) and ran into big brother Albus's room to wave an enthusiastic and loving goodnight.
There are more photographs on the parallel photo blog, but above are a few. He's been running to the front door to wave hello and goodbye, or to watch his big siblings playing outside in the cold. And two mornings ago, I let him eat (destroy) a muffin all by himself.
He still nurses several times a night, but he just fell alseep by himself for the First Time Ever. Naptime, and I laid him down, tucked him in, came down and read stories to Fooey. We kept listening for the enthusiastic screams of protest, but they never came. A little fussing, and then silence. He was fast asleep. My goal is to be able to kiss him goodnight and leave the room. I know it's possible, because Albus was falling asleep contentedly by eight or nine months; though the girls were much later. Apple-Apple was twenty-six months, and Fooey was about twenty months. In fact, I couldn't get Apple-Apple to sleep without pushing her in the stroller. After she was weaned, Kevin did bedtime, and when he was travelling for work, I would have to call a friend or grandma to sit in our quiet house, Albus fast asleep, while I pushed Apple-Apple round and round the block.
Ah memories. Can you tell I'm trying to distract myself from worrying about another subject entirely?
Update on The Knee: it's shattered, according to x-rays, which explains why the swelling never subsided. My sweetheart is at the hospital as I type this, waiting to be assessed by an orthopedic surgeon. He hasn't eaten all day in anticipation of possble surgery, and was looking a little wan. And in pain. He's very stoical, however, and fundamentally optimistic, and I know he'll be doing all that he can, and probably more than he should, as soon as the surgery's over. But darn, I hate waiting, and not really knowing. Good thing the kids are having friends over after school, and I'll be more than occupied from 3pm on with the purposeful basics: school pickup, snacks, cooking, supper, cleanup, bathtime, bed.
It's funny how the unexpected happens. Last night at this time, I'd kissed my healthy husband goodnight and waved him off for his weekly two hours of late-night pick-up hockey, and tonight he is climbing the stairs behind me with the help of a crutch, bruised and broken ... literally. Apparently, in the midst of the game, his skate "caught an edge," the ice was soft, but the boards were not, and he struck knee-first, fracturing his kneecap. In an exclusive interview (okay, with me), he said he knew as soon as he hit that it wasn't good. I woke after 11 to the sounds of someone clumsily prowling the house, and had a smallish heart attack whilst confronting the "intruder" on the stairs. Exclusive photographs of the "shinny knee" below.
Emergency cup of hot tea. Quiet time. Blessed quiet time.
There may have been a time when food did not occupy the better part of my day, but that was when I was singular rather than plural. I still startle when hearing us referred to as a "family of six," but that is what we are, and families of six eat lots, and have multiple preferences and dislikes and needs. I need tofu fried with mushrooms, for example. (Okay, need may be too strong a word, but sometimes it feels that way). Several of us require muffins or other lunch-box-friendly items. One of us has no teeth, another loathes potatoes in any form but mashed. Et cetera, et cetera. I also cook almost everything from scratch, and work in principle around a local food diet. So it turns out that designing a daily/weekly/monthly menu based on these variables requires at least one member of the family to be pondering and planning virtually non-stop. Even in the middle of the night. I exaggerate, but only slightly.
On Sunday, we were unexpectedly and generously gifted a pile of organic, purple carrots, which instantly became this week's local food theme. This morning, whilst grating several pounds thereof toward turning them into almost-assuredly-delicious soups and casseroles, I questioned my philosophical rejection of The Food Processor. Which is dimly related to another appliance rejected on philosophical grounds: The Microwave. Oh, and also: The Dishwasher. I've also nearly, but not quite, rid us of our reliance on: The Drier. I claim no moral highground for any of these rejections, but do claim these purple-stained palms.
Part of all this meal planning has to do with a simple goal: I enjoy getting out, on my own, on occasion. And sometimes more than just on occasion. So a walk with a friend after supper becomes a goal toward which an entire day is aimed with precision (not to say that the rest of the day doesn't offer many pleasures and interludes, just that this goal would never be achieved were it not for all the thinking about ... food!). Yes. Food. The hour between arrival home from school and suppertime is the most critical of the day. In that hour, I prepare tomorrow's lunches, and supper. Usually while nursing, supervising homework and playdates, feeding starving children snacks (and myself, too; that sneakily devoured piece of bitter chocolate), listening to the radio, and generally putting every last scrap of multi-tasking talent to the test. The success of that hour is brought to you by the letter P. Prepwork. Planning.
Trying to think of more p-words. No not that one, thank you Albus. No, not that one either. Please.
This happy cup of tea and blog-session has preceded my least favourite hour of the week, upon which I shall now embark with improved spirits and renewed optimism: the hour during which I entertain an eleven-month-old freshly woken from his nap in an empty hallway outside his sister's music class. Happy Tuesday!
Warmth. No jacket. Library. Wind. "I'm afraid of those big trucks, Mommy." Bicycle with training wheels. Stroller wheel corroded off mid-sidewalk push. Cucumber sandwiches for lunch. Afternoon sun. Spaghetti pie planned for supper. Time to wake the baby. (Oh. Can I still call him a baby when he's nearly one year old?).
Almost a year spun by since we first met him. Almost a year since the other children made up the song called "CJ brought spring."
I'm beginning to understand what "labour of love" really means, when referring to an artistic endeavour. This collection over which I've been labouring for several years is beginning to qualify, methinks: it matters deeply to me that I get it right, that the end product feels real and true and good, and until then it's like being caught up in compulsive behavior. This need to push on and try to finish the book to satisfaction, no matter what. That's the love part: it doesn't matter any more to me whether the book will ever be published, whether anyone else on earth will read it, just that I get it right.
Labour of love = hopeful futility?
Every once in awhile a labour of love gets published to great acclaim, and it seems so obvious, such a perfect ending, well, of course, this was bound to happen when he/she slaved over it obsessively for sixteen years, naturally, the end point is worldly reward. But it's ever so much more likely that's the exception, not the rule. It's ever so much more likely the labour of love lives in a shoebox in the attic instead.
I'm not saying that's a bad thing. Just that the other version makes for a better story. And I like a good story.
A good morning, goes like this ... wake, tired, but that's okay. Sun pouring through drawn blinds. "Good morning, Mommy!" Fooey never fails to greet me this way. Apple-Apple is reading in her bunk. CJ cooing from his crib. Albus: "Is it morning-time?"
Coffee grinder roaring, bread toasting. Joining in an endless search for tights that fit and have no holes. Bags packed. The first load of laundry tossed into the washer. Lost snowpants and hat located. Muffin recipe considered, rejected. Kisses goodbye. Diaper change and big sister picking out little brother's clothes for the day (pink sweater with rainbow detailing at wrists chosen). Up and down the stairs. Breakfast shared by mother and babe (we both like cooked cereals with yogurt and pearsauce). Muffin recipe chosen. Hair braided. Outfit for daughter dug out of basket of clean clothes waiting on living-room floor. Skim front section of newspaper. Grocery delivery, teamwork to put everything away.
Arrival of morning playdate! First cup of coffee! Check in with Facebook. Start muffins. Check diaper, change. Clementime peeled, and raisins and seeds doled out. Play. The smell of fresh baking. Second half-filled cup of coffee (the dregs). Diapers into the washer. Muffins out of the oven. Second snacktime. Fussy baby. Girls playing upstairs. Baby in backpack.
Eggs boiling on stove for lunch. Blog. Nap. Peace. Radio (Jian Ghomeshi). Sunlight!
So this past weekend we took a whirlwind weekend jaunt to Archbold, Ohio to be at my grandma's 90th birthday party. The drive used to take about five hours, but we couldn't manage it in less than seven this time. The border suddenly seemed like an almost impermeable membrane, and I've never felt as unwelcome in a country that is actually mine. Border guards are no longer border guards: they belong to the Department of Homeland Security. We were tagged and made to stop and wait at customs. It's almost impossible not to feel slightly criminal in such situations: when told by highly armed men that you must leave your vehicle in their possession, and given confusing instructions about what you are permitted to bring along, and what you must under no circumstances take with you. It all ended up being a fairly brief clerical issue, cleared up within half an hour, but it felt deeply uncomfortable. And then we drove into Detroit, which is an abandoned city, almost like a ghost-town, its roadways permanently under construction. We've been crossing the border for almost twenty-five years, and it seems like that entrance onto the I-75 is a forever changing detour.
We had decided to follow our GPS rather than using one of those old-fashioned devices known as a "map," and that resulted in a rather roundabout route to Archbold, made worse by our collective hunger (we hadn't anticipated the border issue, and had decided to wait for lunch till crossing), and needing to find a bathroom, and the driver (me) making a series of wrong turns (husband says, "Go left"; driver turns right). I consider myself generally calm, as is my gentle husband, but suspect, based on Saturday's evidence, that we are not destined to win the Amazing Race.
The hotel was a lovely oasis, with a beautiful swimming pool. We slept remarkably well, seven in one room. And on the way home, just across the Canadian border, we ate lunch at a Viet-Thai restaurant that we came upon completely serendipitously.
Today is my writing day, and it's short, and I'm Monday-morning-brained. But I've had a piece of good news, professionally: I've earned a small grant toward this book. It shouldn't matter so much, but does make the work feel that much more purposeful. The project is about half-finished, and then will need some sturdy rewriting and editing at the opening chapters/stories. These are BIG stories, much longer and more intricate than I'm used to writing. Yet I want them also to feel as clean and cut-to-the-bone as possible. So that nothing remains but that which matters to the story. Nothing like life, really, yet hopefully illuminating thereof.
I'm mother of four, writer, dreamer, planner, runner, photographer, taking time for a cup of coffee in front of this computer screen. My days are full, yet I keep asking: how can I fill them just a little bit more
-- with depth, with care, with pleasure.