Friday, April 30, 2010

Different

Our family meeting was so good, yesterday, that I was buzzing for hours afterward. It wasn't that we'd solved problems or perfected the use of the talking stick (NO TALKING STICKS! was my decree). It was that we talked. There was conversation. Back and forth. Ideas flowing.
It all started earlier in the day, when I picked the kids up from school for swim lessons. If we walk fast, we can just get to the pool in time. I had fresh-made banana muffins to offer to grumpy eight-year-olds, pining for play dates.
"This is the worst day ever! I hardly have any time to play with my friends!"
Mondays and Wednesdays (and Fridays, sometimes, too) are days we currently keep free for after school play dates. Tuesdays are music days. Thursdays are swimming. And those days are also family time.
"But it's not like we're really together, is it? It's not like real family time."
No, not during the actual in-the-pool swim time. But let me assure you, we're really together the rest of the time, and it really is family time. Walking to the pool and then home afterward underlined the togetherness of the venture. There we were, walking and talking, talking and walking. It's an elemental combination. One of my closest and longest friendships has revolved around walking and talking. We walk, we talk. The forward motion can contain silences, time for reflection, emotion, quiet, bursts of energy and laughter and ideas.
There is no time of silence when walking with four children; but what interesting subjects have occasion to emerge. On the way home, AppleApple put on the winter hat I'd brought (one for everyone, though most declined). We passed a young woman on the sidewalk. Whether or not she noticed AppleApple's winter hat/spring t-shirt combo, I cannot say, but AppleApple certainly noticed the young woman, and kind of cringed and hunched. And then she said to me: "I feel sort of embarrassed, Mom." She was puzzled by the emotion. It was almost as if it were new to her, and she was newly discovering and feeling something unexpected and uncomfortable. She was embarrassed to be seen wearing a winter hat on a spring evening.
What an amazing opportunity to open a conversation about our emotions--embarrassment in particular--and how they can shape (or not!) what we choose to do. "Do you feel chilly without your hat? Would you like to keep wearing it?" Yes. "So keep wearing it." I hope I didn't head down Lecture Lane, but I was thrilled to be talking with my kids, in the most organic way possible, about peer pressure, being different, feeling different, and the multitude of embarrassing moments in their futures that could alter their behavior, or that they could recognize and resist. One of the most wonderful things about growing up is realizing that embarrassment is so often a projection of one's own fears and anxieties--"what if she thinks I look stupid in my hat?"--and having the confidence and self-assurance not to change, if we're happy doing what we're doing. Most of the time, other people are thinking nothing of the sort (except, maybe, other teenagers; I'm not sure; I remember that being a pretty judgmental phase in my life). Most of the time, other people don't really notice, or don't notice to the degree that one imagines. All of this self-consciousness is heightened during the teen years--years of self-discovery, when it is both necessary and painful to examine oneself in depth and superficially, to scrutinize and question and experiment, to learn Who Am I?
We didn't get into that. I told some funny stories from my childhood about feeling embarrassed. I warned them that embarrassment would be a sensation all the more acute and frequent in the years to come, and asked them to tell me if I were ever embarrassing them (they couldn't imagine it! Ha!), and promised that I would never deliberately try to embarrass them ... but that it might happen anyway.
And, then, this came out. Albus said: "Sometimes I feel embarrassed when the other kids in my class talk about Wii and they don't talk to me about it, because they know I don't have one." He had a new friend over on Wednesday (play date day), and his new friend asked whether he had a Wii, and Albus had to say no. "Did you have fun playing together?" Yes. "Do you think he'd like to come back and play again sometime soon?" Yes. "Do you think he liked you less because you didn't have a Wii?" No.
At our family meeting, we revisited the topic: being different, having a Wii or choosing not to. Fooey said she'd rather not have one, because then they might always want to play it (the child knows her cravings, too--she LOVES tv, and knows how hard it is to turn it off). AppleApple said we could always play at C&K's house (uncle and aunt-to-be). Albus pointed out that if we did get one, we could stick to rules about how often the Wii would be played. Both Kevin and I were of two minds. I do think our family would be able to set limitations and stick to them. But the larger and more important point, to me, tends in a different direction altogether: why not be different? Why not be the house on the block where friends come over and play outside? (Plus, in our tightly-knit 'hood, we're not the only house on the block with no Wii; it's just that this year, Albus has been separated from his best buds at school, and has had to adapt to the wider population of kids).
Coincidentally, I'd just read a report yesterday that the AVERAGE DAILY screen time for Canadian kids is SIX HOURS. And on weekends, that goes up to SEVEN HOURS. (That includes computer, tv, gaming systems).
Why not take a small stand against that, as a family, and just go without? It felt, by the end of our conversation, that everyone was willing to think about the larger implications of the choice. Childhood is so short. There is only so much time to play, and to play creatively. When I think of those kids digging that massive hole in our backyard, and the immensity of fun that was had, the enthusiasm, the dreaming and planning, the dirt, the physical labour, the cooperation ... I think, yes! More of that, please! My own childhood was blessed with outdoor play, mess-making, freedom, imaginary play, and a connection to the natural world that was so natural I took it for granted.
:::
Different. It's okay. It's better than okay. To be unique is to be a human being. To be confidently, happily, creatively, serenely, humorously, vividly, acceptingly and compassionately unique is to be a content human being.
Maybe you'll eat ice cream with chopsticks (as per AppleApple, above, at last night's family meeting; yesterday, they learned about China, and the three children in her class who came from China taught everyone how to eat with chopsticks).

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Hole

No, "The Hole" is not a metaphor for something. It is a hole. Well, it was. It started as an idea: shovels in the ground, impressive early depth, everyone pitching in to help. It got bigger and bigger, and more ambitious. Over the weekend it was worked upon by a number of neighbourhood children (whose parents, perhaps, were happy that the hole was not in their backyard). When I discovered it on Monday morning, in inclement weather, accompanied by two eager two-year-olds, the hole had become a hazard. More strip mine or open pit. It was clear: the hole needed to be filled in, lest I lose a small child down there. Breaking this news to Albus resulted in a long walk home from school filled with grief and accusations: "meanest Mommy ever." He had planned to find diamonds and sell them for money! He had planned to build a huge fort and the hole would be the basement! But with assurances that he could start a new project upon filling in the hole (searching the attic for toys to sell--as inspired by a friend's recent sale), and possibly building a real fort, the family got to work after supper and filled it in. Unfortunately, that area of the sandbox is now entirely dirt. And dirt is dirtier than sand. But it's safe to play again. I loved giving the kids the chance to play freely and make a huge mess. Right up until I was done with the mess. Onto the next one.
:::
At the risk of jinxing this news, I must report that CJ is potty trained. He can even get his own pants up and down. He refuses to wear pull-ups and is not pleased to have to put on his overnight diaper, though he still needs it, as he proved last night when Kevin forgot to put a diaper on him. Now that's a great 3 o'clock in the morning discovery. What worked? There was that week post-flu and returning to routine when I was quite prepared to go back to diapers, if need be. But then I realized that he was still willing to use his potty, just on his own terms, so I relaxed my expectations, and suddenly, he raised his. One day, he simply refused to wear pull-ups or diapers. It was messy for a few days, and then it wasn't. Yesterday he wore the same pants all day. We were out and about and busy, and I didn't worry (though we did have to make a pit-stop en route to music, in a random parking lot, at his request). That's the wonderful change: he knows when he needs to go, and can tell us, and then hold on till we find an appropriate place to go. We're there. No more diapers for me!
:::
Spent the morning making a spring schedule for our family. Feel good about the results. Have decided to spend my hours of work time (hopefully about 12 hours/week) on anything creative, writing or otherwise; and on developing relationships with other writers. Very very very excited.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Jump!

The jump! This is how I'm feeling today. I haven't even had a cup of coffee, but it's 10 o'clock in the morning, and the house is emptied of its usual noise. The oven is on, baking up two pans of sticky buns, and I've just jumped on my bed, and recorded it for posterity. Looking at that image, I think, not grown woman with four children and major life responsibilities, but girl. Sometimes it seems to me that I'm too in touch with my inner child: silly, goofy, self-involved, jumping on the bed.
:::
Last night, I walked out of our family meeting. I was appalled afterward to think of the poor conflict resolution skills that action demonstrated. Fight or flight? I'm flight.
Oddly, the results of me saying, "That's it, I'm done with this meeting, and I'm going to do the dishes," turned out to have a positive effect on what had degenerated into an argument over the Talking Stick and its underling, the Second Talking Stick: which had more power? (CJ had been monopolizing the original talking stick for his own purposes, so Albus had introduced a second). No one could hear anyone talking over the talking stick debate, so when I walked off to do the dishes, everyone else cleared off too, and the kids went to play in the living room. They played together for the next HOUR. All of them. Huh? So, let's summarize. Family meeting = children arguing so loudly that no one can hear each other. Mama walking out on family meeting = children playing happily together.
A couple of positives that I took from the family meeting: 1. Albus explained to Fooey what family meetings are supposed to be about: "It's not about the ice cream! It's about us being together and talking as a family!" 2. We actually did discuss one important topic, though found no resolution. Topic? Extra-curricular activities.
This week, Albus has been particularly unhappy, crying, sad, angry, refusing to get out of the car, etc., at both piano lessons and swim lessons. I just sit quietly and gently and wait for him to change his mind and come with us. But it sort of depresses me, wears me down, makes me sad, too; that I can't find a way to make him happier in the situation.
Music isn't an option; to me, it's a skill as important to learn as reading, but it doesn't matter what instrument is involved. Albus has expressed interest in guitar, so why not? But he still has to finish this year's piano lessons. And both AppleApple and Albus were upset about taking the same swim class over and over again (they are on their fourth or fifth round of Swim Kids Five; perhaps a rec centre record?). I get it. It sucks. But only with practice will they get better and better till they pass. They are both close to passing in terms of the skills they've acquired. But I watched them yesterday and suspect they have another round of swim kids five before them this summer. (Though CJ did a whole lesson on his own, while I stood at the edge of the pool in my swimsuit prepared to leap in and rescue him, lest he step off into the abyss whilst his sweet swim teacher was otherwise occupied with another toddler in her care. Yikes. I'm not sure I'll be able to relax in the stands after all, even if he makes the transition to solo lessons.)
:::
Buzzer just went. Sticky buns done! I cannot help myself. I must take a photo and post it right now. They smell THAT GOOD.
:::
Back to the family meeting. How did we resolve the anger and frustration over children not wanting to learn skills that we parents consider to be important? Short answer: we didn't. But at least we tried to talk about it. We can try again next week. Till I storm off. Joking. That was a joke.
:::
This week's yoga revelation: sometimes 100% effort yields less than, say, 80% effort. Sometimes the best things are created when we're not trying quite so hard, when we're loose, when we let go. You measure what you've got, and you give just a little bit less. (This, as a concept, is almost impossible for me to put into action; honestly, I have to grate against my instincts; it's painful). It's partly about setting priorities, saving something of yourself for everything that needs doing. And it's also about letting go of the idea of perfection. Maybe my inner child gets it better than I do. Maybe I should let her jump on the bed more often.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tidbits of News

Have you seen him in his Strawberry Shortcake hat? He accessorizes with pink mittens, too. These are his choices, and I support them! The photos of Fooey were taken by her sister; I wanted to show how she's posing for photos these days, very deliberately. I think it's an effect of being photographed so often, and also of watching me photograph myself for the 365 day project. I often set up the camera and fool around with various poses and backgrounds ... it can take quite awhile, and the kids are used to the beep-beep-beep of the ten-second timer going off, and run to check out the resulting picture. They'll report, "That's a good one, Mommy!"
:::
Today, I have some news. It's not of the good variety, but on the other hand, as I think my way through it, it's not of the bad variety either. ParentDish, the Canadian version for which I've been writing regularly, is going on hiatus while the company retools the American site. That means I am temporarily out of regular writing work. My last column will publish tomorrow. The reason this news is not altogether bad, upon reflection (thank you, hot yoga) ... well, a couple of reasons, actually. 1. Over the winter, I have been writing very little other than my columns, and have found it hard to focus, in the few extra hours available, on poetry or short stories. I will enjoy doing that again. 2. I also need to consider whether I would prefer to publish under a pseudonym were I to write a column like this again. Recent posts have gotten a number of comments, some smart and thoughtful, and others a bit hostile and weird. It's made me go hmmm, if nothing more. I don't mind having time to reflect on this. 3. There might be a third reason. I can't remember it. It's almost time to head to school.
The days go.
But CJ and I had a lunch date with Kevin today, and I thought, walking over in the breezy sunshine, of the great fortune of time that is mine. And I thought of that poem from a few posts back: "This is what the living do." We get to walk in spring sunshine, and see another spring burst into bloom.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Monday

Had three minutes of perfection this afternoon: the kids were all playing (mostly outside), the laundry was off the line and folded, the soup was simmering on the stove, and I picked up the front section of today's paper and read for a few minutes on the back porch. Three minutes. Not bad.
:::
After supper, the kids styled each others' hair. I especially enjoyed CJ's wings, as frothed-up by AppleApple (he, in turn, brushed her hair so that it covered her face), and my heart was touched by Albus fussing with Fooey's hair: "It looks better when it goes like this," [fuss, fuss, fuss]. "Don't worry," I told Fooey, who said she didn't like how it scratched her cheeks, "hairdressers always like styling your hair all crazy, and then you can just go home and stick it back behind your ears like usual." "Okay, I'm home now!"
:::
CJ is just at such a stage. It's so emphatic. There's no mistaking it. He has certain postures, this slump of the shoulders he does when his feelings are hurt, which might just turn into a whirling blithering rage as he stamps across the floor, growling and whacking anything in his way. I enforced a time-out today for throwing. In the midst of his tantrums, he likes to grab any object handy and fling it. Let's see whether we can break him of that. On the potty front, we're having some luck with new training pants (thank you, kind lenders of new training pants!). He doesn't like being wet. The disposable pull-ups are worse than useless since they actually hold more than a cloth diaper. But the training pants don't hold much. "I want to pee on the pot," he declared all day, usually arriving to tell me this after the fact; but I appreciated the sentiment. I'm feeling no sense of urgency, and continue to feel encouraged by his progress. He's getting it, just at his own pace. This morning, his friend of the almost-identical-age was over, and the two of them had a blast in the backyard. They both found hockey sticks and soccer balls and set about playing "Hockeyball!" As they called it. "Hockeyball!" I kicked a soccer ball around, too, and every time I hoofed it into the net (which felt pretty awesome, I must say; stress release? that feeling of being a kid again?), CJ's friend would throw his hands into the air and shout: "Yay! We win!"
:::
It was a day of full-on mothering and calm. I can only manage these days because I know there's more going on later in the week (ie. some hours to work and to be alone); but because Monday is a unique day in a week of busyness and a variety, it's somehow easier to let myself relax and enjoy the calm, quiet, mothering-ness of it, without wishing I were doing something else, or feeling too bored. All I have to do is make supper, hang laundry, and hang out with small children (oh, and a few other chores along the way). So I get to do things like ... kick a soccer ball, meet Kevin and co. for a business lunch, walk to the pick up the kids from school, let CJ walk all the home, read the newspaper for three minutes in the sunshine, play guitar to the boys before bed, sing Fooey a lullaby while stroking her cheek and sensing her drift into sleep ...
Just another Monday. Praise be.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Photo Day

It was 70s day at school on Thursday. We struggled to think of what to advise the kids to wear. Albus went with tie-dye and jean shorts. AppleApple wore beads in her hair and a long skirt. (Fooey is still wearing her pjs because she doesn't go to school on Thursdays. But she loves a good photo op.) The kids wondered what was going on in the 70s, and the only thing I could come up with was the oil shortage and lineups at gas stations, which is why Albus has a sad face. He's sad about the high gas prices. I suck. What exactly happened in the 70s? All of my instincts seemed to suggest more 60s-style symbols: beads, peace signs, protests, drugs (didn't mention those, of course), um, Led Zeppelin, they were 70s, right? Bell bottoms. Fondue. Help me out here.
:::
Yesterday it was so warm here. After supper we migrated outside and played till bedtime. I don't usually indulge in nature photos, but could not resist. The colours are such a relief to the winterized eyeballs. Such pleasure to discover Yellow and Blue and Orange in our own backyard. The play went on and on. Kevin kicked a soccer ball. Hammocks. Scooters. Push-toys. Balls. Balancing acts.
:::
Today it cooled off again, but we had a picnic on the front porch anyway. The kids had the day off school. We shopped for picnic supplies while starving, never a good call, and bought quite a lot of packaged food. AppleApple was particularly disturbed by our choices. We bought kiwis from Italy in a large plastic container, for example. Fooey and CJ had never even seen a kiwi before, because I hadn't bought them for years. We bought those little over-packaged Baby Bell cheeses. We bought yogurt drinks in single containers. The garbage! The waste! I have become so unused to it that it felt ... obscene, actually.
:::
I can't bake bread or cookies this weekend. Our oven is on the fritz and won't be repaired till Monday at the earliest. I upheld the stereotype of the ignorant little woman today while on the phone with the repair company. I could not, for the life of me, find the model and serial numbers anywhere on the stove. I essentially took the stove apart searching for it, while the fellow on the other end gave directions, and Albus helpfully rolled on the floor and begged for a snack. It was all for naught. I never did find the apparently quite obviously placed sticker with that info. Turned out I didn't need to anyway, as the stove is under warranty and they already have the information on file. At one point, I actually said, "Well, my husband is out of town right now and ..." "And when's hubby coming home?" he asked. I was in a pretty bad mood by the time I hung up. I might have snapped at Albus: "Open your own bleeping banana," or something in that vein. But the truth is, I know virtually nothing about the stove or about how it works or even where we keep the manual. So the stereotype is sadly accurate. I just don't want it to be. But then again, I'm not that interested in stoves. So, there's that. Before I started talking to the repair fellow, I'd been feeling pretty chuffed that I'd found the brand-name on the front ...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Good, Better, Best

Could I have used the word "practice" just a few more times in that last post? Still, I'm sticking with the general theory, maybe just need to find a different word for "the practice," ie. the noun.
One more tiny addition to the theory ... with practice, there's an expectation that you improve. That's not always the case, though, is it. Sometimes, instead, all you figure out is what does or does not interest you. We'll all always be better at practicing what interests us. That's why it's good to try things out. Because you never know till you do it. Interests change.
:::
Got a kick out of reading Amy Jones's blog, which she shapes like lists. It totally late-night cracked me up. And made me go ... ugh, I'm so damn serious. Lighten up already. Such a light-hearted thing to think, I know. It's sort of like that voice in your head saying, stop being so self-critical! Um ... okay.
:::
Pickle Me This tweeted a link to an absolutely eviscerating review of Yann Martel's new novel Beatrice and Virgil. I read it and cringed with sympathy for Mr. Martel, though I haven't read his book, and therefore cannot claim with any authority that it is not exactly as terrible as the reviewer thinks ("Worst Book of the Decade" was his headline, actually). It sounds, from the interviews I've read, like Mr. Martel suffered a serious case of writer's block after the runaway success--critical and popular--of Life of Pi (which I did read, and truly enjoyed). Two years writing an essay on the Holocaust. Grim meeting with international team of editors who tell him to toss everything out and try again. Pots of money at stake. Doesn't sound like a recipe for easy creation. Sometimes it's easier to make stuff in the margins. It's all about expectations--the ones we put on ourselves, and the ones we perceive others want us to live up to. Maybe writers/artists could benefit from whatever sports psychology the Canadian Olympic team used in the lead-up to Vancouver. It's not just about what to do after achieving success, but about not being afraid to fail while seeking success. Well, and not being afraid to succeed, though that sounds odd. Who wouldn't want to succeed? Quite a lot of us, I'm guessing. It's like in Anabaptism, where you choose to get baptized as an adult, and then "go and sin no more." Uh. Tall order. You could see how it would be nice to believe in a little weekly Catholic confession instead. Or how you might put off baptism till you're at death's door, just to be sure. Perfection. It's not all it's cracked up to be.
Practice, practice, practice.
This is a little rhyme my mom used to say: "Good, better, best. Never let it rest, till the good is the better and the better is the best." That might be about practice AND perfection. Oh, and about remembering a grammatical point, but I'm always looking out for the metaphor.
:::
I'm rambling. It's because I have to write two new columns this morning. And now I shall. And now my computer crashed. And now I'm working on a new computer. It's just one of those mornings. Not sure what I'm practicing but good writing ain't it.
:::
PS That's a totally random recent photo of AppleApple's hair. I took the picture in order to convince her that it did, in fact, require tending. Whenever I mention picking out her hair (we don't brush those curls, we pick them), she goes into spasms: "Who cares what my hair looks like? I don't care! Why do you care?" And I say, okay, why do I care? And sometimes we decide that it's fine as is, and we neither of us will be overly vain or focused on appearances. And other times ... well, I resort to desperate measures. Because it turns out that I do care that she not enter the world looking like the neglected homeless child of a crazy woman. And even she had to admit, upon viewing this photo, that something needed to be done.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Practice

Thought of the day: everything that we do is what we are choosing (consciously or otherwise) to practice. Today I practiced conversation and empathy. I practiced internet surfing and self-distraction. I practiced cooking (hey--all the practice is paying off; I'm getting pretty good at it). I practiced meditation while hanging laundry. I practiced patience and kindness. I practiced sitting in a hallway outside my kids' music lessons and enjoying time with my two-year-old (also getting pretty good at that). I practiced yoga, and breathing.
How powerful it is to commit to something and to practice it. Think of the depth that is possible within long-term practice. The idea of practice is often boring, repetitive; but in reality, each time is different, and interesting for its own unique set of circumstances. Each practice is a moment, and deliberate practice has the potential to be so satisfying, knowing that you're digging yourself deeper into an experience and a process. Knowing that even if you're at a plateau or slipped a bit backwards, it's okay. It's just where you're at in the practice, and practice itself will take you somewhere else. Long-term practice of anything brings greater freedom. You know yourself within the practice so very well, and you know where you can push harder, or bend, or take a risk, or jump, or laugh, or cry; or you know to hold back just for now and not be so hard on yourself.
Tomorrow, I commit to practicing writing. Oh, and the cooking some more. Dish washing. Laundry. Can't get enough of that laundry practice. (Though, in truth, I'm not much good at laundry, just at practicing it. Sometimes that's okay too.)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tap Tap

Wow. Serious lack of time and energy has lead to a serious lack of writing or creating. I need a kick in the pants to send me back to the keyboard for some tap tap tapping. I almost feel afraid to start up work again. A sense of temporary paralysis. Deep breath.
This morning I spoke to a creative writing class at a local high school, feeling ever so slightly like an impostor. Or maybe just feeling seriously elderly. When I told the young man who led me to the classroom when I'd graduated, it blew his mind. Yes, it probably was long before he was born. How the heck old am I, again?
My own children were entirely baffled by the invitation to speak. "Why do they want you to talk to them? Maybe you should play some music for them so they won't get bored."
I like talking to teenagers. It's like searching for clues to my near-future (Albus is already almost nine).
And upon reflection, the class's question and answer session got me thinking about the writing I've done during this (almost) decade of declaring myself a writer. It's been a split identity, with mother coming out on top almost always. When I think of the concentration and focus that writing demands of me, I'm glad I've chosen mother more often than writer, or been willing to let writer slip to the margins where I tap tap tap only when the occasion arises (or, more precisely, when I make time for the occasion). Yes, it means forfeiting the bigger projects that require more than three hours at a stretch of devoted focus. But less doesn't mean nothing. It just means a smaller scale and scaled down expectations. The kids grow. They don't appear to be slowing down on that front. This season will spin away from me and I won't forget (I don't think) how to dream and be brave between now and then. Meantime, tap tap, I'll try, again, this week. Hopefully back to normal writing hours as of Wednesday.
:::
Food made me happy this weekend. Three bags of spring greens arrived on Friday evening, and I made salad with pecans and apples and maple syrup dressing, and two spinach quiches. Used up the half-bag of mouldering carrots discovered (with some horror) in the cold cellar on Saturday, by making a giant pot of carrot soup of Sunday. I also had fun with phyllo pastry for Saturday's supper: homemade samosas with dahl, and an apple streudel for dessert. That may not be how one spells streudel. The spellchecker on this computer doesn't like any permutation my brain suggests.
I am cooking up pasta sauce for supper right this very second (tomatoes frozen last summer; I still have enough to take us through to the coming tomato season). It's dentist day after school, so supper needs to be ready to set on the table when we arrive home from that outing of fun and joy. This is the all the writing I'm going to get done today.
Tap tap. That's okay.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Last Weekend

A few Easter hunt photos from last weekend, at the farm. AppleApple adored the new cat, who was variously named "Snowflake," "Snowball," and Albus's choice "Furball." At any point during our visit, if AppleApple was missing, we'd just have to ask, where's the cat? And that's where she would be. The cat attempted to hide ... behind the couch, under a car. And nowhere was out of reach of AppleApple. She came in one afternoon with hair askew and wild eyes (actually, that might have been the cat), and said, "Well, the cat was in a tree, but I got him!"
:::
Today: Sunny again. The backyard full of spring shoots and flowers. A houseful of restless people. Older kids off with Kev to hunt out a variety of spring and summer footwear. I'm at home with Grumpy and Hungry. My ambition is to clean the house, at least rudimentarily, sort through clothing drawers, and organize on a micro level. And get moving again.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Notes from Quarantine

When the two eldest kids were small, and we only had two kids, I remember complaining vociferously whenever our routine was thrown out of whack--by illness, unexpected travel, or unusual weekend obligations. Somewhere between then and now, I gradually came to realize that there was no "normal." Or, more precisely, that the unexpected was normal. Something always arises. Often these are good surprises and changes, and arrive on a small scale, and it is easy to roll with the waves. Surfing on the unexpected. Have an extra friend over to play. Get invited for a cup of tea at someone's house. Go to a concert at the kids' school.
But then there is illness. It comes in waves, too. And there's no disruption quite like it. I find it tolerable, even calm and pleasant, when it is brief and clearly not harmful to the child and he or she sleeps a great deal more and the day goes on mostly as expected, but indoors. A day or two of this kind of quarantine is okay. I have some hermit-like tendencies that don't mind the excuse to huddle away from the light, on occasion.
But beyond a day or two, and enforced quarantine begins to feel like imprisonment. We've been at this latest flu for nine full days. Of course, we managed to sneak away on a road trip (only one child throwing up en-route) for three days during the early course of this bout, but just when it looked like we'd be in the clear, the little one on the mend and everyone else pink with health, oh no, we woke on that first night home to a dreaded sound in the night: a child throwing up. It may not be the worst sound a parent gets to hear, but it's right up there for producing those electrical night-time shocks of pure horror. Actually, I exaggerate. If it's just once or twice in the night, I find myself capable of dealing with it with calm. But the child went on and on, every fifteen to twenty minutes, her body rejecting every sip of water. We ran out of sheets and moved on to towels. I did three loads of laundry before 8 o'clock in the morning. And, then, of course, it spread like wildfire. I even had the pleasure of experiencing it myself, though poor precious Fooey was the worst off. I have never seen a stomach bug like this before, and hope never ever to see it again. It's a miracle that this morning she arose with a spark in her eye again, having spent four days of her life being unable to eat or drink without her body severely punishing her for trying. It is heart-rending to see your four-year-old clearly despairing, even depressed. She was too sick and miserable to watch TV. That's saying something.
But we all have experienced that sense of despair and misery this week, and it's not just due to the illness. It's due to the distance between us and our normal, our routines, our safety-net of activities and human contact and outdoors and alone time that we've so carefully constructed for ourselves. It's taken practice to build a flexible and adaptive framework of routine that allows both me and Kevin time to go out and exercise and work and be creative. So I'm going to take a minute here to remember good health and look forward to it again. And I'm going to take an additional minute to remember that throughout the world there exist so many other disruptions to routine, much more profound than the stomach flu, from natural disasters to war, to the private violences and silences that go on in lives around us that we may not even know about or guess at.
So there's disruption and there's disruption.
This reflection almost makes me grateful for the stomach flu. But that's likely because we're coming out of it. I can sense a return to "normal" on the horizon. And I'm grateful we have such a happy routine to return to.
:::
Today: AppleApple went to school. She never looked very sick, but was content playing at home with those well enough to play, so I didn't fight it. She was excited to be back at school today. CJ also went to preschool, screaming bloody murder in a fit of tantruming rage because (this is just a guess) I didn't let him put his own shirt on this morning. We were in a hurry. Have you seen a two-year-old trying to dress himself? Oh, and I've created a potty training monster. Now he refuses to wear diapers, but gets a kick out of peeing on the floor. The semi-compromise we've currently arrived at is pants: he wears pants, gets them slightly wet, decides he doesn't like the feeling, and agrees to sit on the potty. We go through a lot of pants, but he has a lot, being the recipient of three sets of hand-me-downs, plus a few new ones of his own. I'm thinking of writing a ParentDish column on how one feels like an expert only when one's child is not at the stage one is having expert-like feelings about. In the midst of it, one feels like a complete incompetent utterly stumped by the whimsies of human behavior.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

"What the Living Do"

"What the Living Do," by Marie Howe. Have you read this poem? I hadn't. Thanks to Pickle Me This for posting the link. I don't know why, but sitting here this afternoon, struggling with sick kids and boredom (mine, as much as anyone's), it landed in my lap like a beautiful, unexpected gift.

Where We Are Today

Only the originator of the stomach bug is all better, hale and hearty and racing around in the nude so we can start working again on the potty training, which hit a temporary plateau ... stomach flu, road trip, and then two parents too tired and distracted to reinforce knowledge already learned. Let's just say we hit a low point yesterday afternoon, while I fell into a brief coma on the couch and Kev attempted to work from home, and ... well, it was messy. Nuf said.
There were moments yesterday when I felt I'd lost the will to go on. Luckily for us humans, the going on tends to go whether or not we feel like participating. Today I feel better, even though everyone's underfoot (the lad in the green blanket quite literally) and mostly sick. Only up three times last night.
"Mommy, come on, a read a book!" Thus sayeth my healthy fellow, who is quite bored. Okay.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Where We've Been

So ... we took a hasty, six-hour road trip, plagued by Easter traffic and stomach woes (you don't want to know more), that was nothing short of blessed with wonder and luck. We arrived late on Thursday, not sure whether Kev's sister was near labour, or whether we might have headed out too soon, and by Friday aft, when I saw her, I thought .... hmm, I think this is going to come together after all. Around 7 that evening, her partner called to say: Come over! Midwife arrived! Yes, I was honoured to be part of the birth, serving as doula as well as auntie-to-be. We transferred to hospital early on, the daddy-to-be negotiating country roads with an impressive lack of panic, and labour progressed beautifully. Labouring women fill the room with bravery and courage and strength, and my sister-in-law was calm and focused and when called upon for a last-minute miracle, delivered. Literally. Our family's new nephew and first cousin arrived at 1:26 in the morning, with loads of black hair and good wail.
We are home again, alive with love and excitement and pride.