Scheduling: it's a love/hate relationship. I am definitely of an organized mind, and enjoy figuring out how to make things fit together and become orderly and sensical. Which is apparently not a word, but it should be; as in, the opposite of nonsensical. Oh dear. Three sentences in and already off-track. Where was I? Loving to schedule ... but resenting having to do it in order to have a life; resenting the ongoing, neverending obligation to schedule. And coming around to acceptance, because that's a good place to come around to.
Monday morning, I went for a run, then spent the remaining two child-free hours of the day working out the week's schedule, which I hadn't had time to do on the weekend, with Kevin working, and just general exhaustion. I like to sketch out an idea for suppers every day of the week, preferably related to the veggies lurking in my fridge and cold cellar the existence of which I'm otherwise likely to forget. This also prevents the panic of not knowing what the heck to make for supper an hour before supper's due to be eaten by six hungry and opinionated people.
But I also schedule out absolutely everything else, coordinating with Kevin, most closely, and with a variety of other people (the parents of my kids' friends; music teachers; grandparents; friends; health practitioners; essentially, anyone else we're planning to see or want to spend time with during the week).
I think of myself as our family's call centre. Got a problem--emotional, practical, menial, existential? I'm the one you're going to call, the 9-1-1 operator. I'm also the first responder, the triage nurse, the doctor/psychiatrist/janitor/repair-person/garbage collector. And I do out-patient and follow-up work, too.
I've figured out that this means if I'm going to get time to myself, to recuperate, to prevent meltdown (ie. mine), I've got to schedule, in advance, off-call time, time alone.
Every day is broken into pockets of time, each with the potential to be used for something. I am often amazed at how much, and what a variety of activities, can fit. However, the advance plan doesn't always pan out. Sometimes my energy can't keep up with my appetite.
For example, on Tuesday, I'd maneuvered time off between after-school pickup and Kevin's late-night hockey, arranging for Kevin to do after-school care, serve supper, do dishes, and bedtime (yes, it's a lot!), so that I could go to a yoga class and then on to a reading: Annabel Lyon, Alyssa York, and Sandra Birdsell were all in town. But after a full day that included early rising, swim lessons (getting in the pool with CJ), friends over, baking, and cooking, I had just enough energy to drag myself to yoga. Having survived ninety sweaty minutes of exertion, I exited into a damp dark evening, hungry (because I'd gone over supper hour), bone-tired, and feeling chilled ... so I went home instead. I knew I'd be up very early the next morning to run with a friend. And there's only so much of me available for use.
So Tuesday night, post-kids'-bedtime, I went to bed with a pot of tea and watched reality tv on the internet. I won't even try to explain it. But it works for me. Sometimes better than anything else. (And, no, I hadn't scheduled it in, nor do I plan to. Some things are best left to impulse, as needed).
Kevin is crafting the kids' Halloween costumes. Praise be, 'cause crafty, I isn't, and the man has talent. We now have an eerie likeness to the real Spongebob Squarepants grinning at us from our dining-room table. "Paint the rest of me!" he's chirping. "Don't forget my pants!"
On Thursday, it was just me and the two little ones home all day, and though we had several appointments to go to, we also had time to play "storytime." I did not set the chairs up like this: it was Fooey's doing.
This afternoon, the neighbours might have been forgiven for thinking our children were doing violence to each other in the backyard. The shrieks, the screams, the ongoing mayhem. And people are worried about the noise a few backyard chickens might make. Just try living next to us. You'd be begging for chickens. Let the photo evidence show that, in fact, fun was being had, if at ear-splitting volume. The three biggest were playing some sort of sandwich game on the motorcycle swing, while CJ hung around and gave me panic attacks every time he stepped too close.
I think the last post, with its negative angle, may have unfairly represented my kids as constant complainers. Contrary to how it may occasionally feel (to their mother), they do not always complain. It's just that when the complaining happens, I'm the one who (mostly) receives it. In fact, I'm pretty sure my kids fall into the normal category of sometimes energetic, sometimes bored, sometimes tired, sometimes grumpy, and mostly content.
When I asked Albus about his response to the mac & cheese meal, he was baffled: "I did really like it!" he insisted. He remembered being upset with his dad for not dishing out a fifth helping. So maybe I misinterpreted his "Bad!" comment. Maybe he considered the meal bad because it was so good that he was mad not be eating himself sick.
In any case, we had the loveliest after-school time yesterday. We were all so tired after a full week that when we walked through the door, we just crashed out together in the living-room. (AppleApple was at a friend's house). Albus read a Lego book that had arrived from his Scholastic order (I've agreed to pay for one purchase of less than $10 each order, and if they want something more expensive they chip in the difference). Fooey hung out inside the coffee table (it has two lids that lift off, and we store a bunch of toys underneath; optionally, dump the toys out and it's a cozy seating area ... if one is less than four feet tall). And CJ crawled into my lap and lay on me quietly while I read a magazine. It was forty-five minutes of calm togetherness. I so rarely sit down and join in the vegging out. I think it recharged my batteries--not sure without it that I could have managed buying club pick-up (with the two youngest in tow), supper and clean-up on my own (Kevin took Albus soccer skills), and a post-kids'-bedtime beer with a friend to cap off the evening.
So here's to vegetating (she says, in between cleaning out the basement shoe/boot collection, vacuuming the main floor, and dragging the kids to the library/grocery store).
I've recently noticed that my children blame me for many things; and that they do not aim the blame at their dad in the same way. Perhaps blame is not precisely the right word. Yes, there's some of that, but it's more that they direct their negative feedback toward me. I wish I could say that I also get all the positive feedback, but that doesn't seem to be the corollary.
For example, yesterday evening I went to a yoga class. In order to get to there, I'd prepped supper and left everything ready to go--and I was sure it was a meal that would be enjoyed by all. Homemade mac and cheese baked in the oven! Glowing from yoga, calm of mind and body, I walked through the door and saw Albus, glowering at the emptied table (Kevin had already cleared and done the dishes). "How was supper?" I asked. "Bad," said Albus. "You didn't make enough." "What?!" I looked at Kevin, who sighed and said, "Yes, you did. I cut him off after four huge helpings. I'm peeling him an orange now."
Honestly, I had to laugh. I can make what I think will be The Perfect Dinner and still receive negative feedback--for something I didn't even do.
At other times, I don't feel like laughing. Sometimes I'll admit to feeling deeply discouraged, even momentarily depressed. I remind myself: don't take it personally! But it is hard to have one's effort dismissed, even by a group of humans not known for their grace and manners.
However, lines must be drawn. We have a new mealtime rule: no one is allowed to say rude things about the food being set before them. Zero toleration for "disgusting!" or "yuck!" or "why do you always have to make the worst suppers that I hate!" You will try one of the options before you (and I always have options), or you will leave the table. This has been working like a charm.
I've noticed that my toleration for negative feedback--for keeping a sense of humour and not letting it get me down--is greatly enhanced when I am able to get out and exercise--when I can burn off some steam by myself, and clear my head. I remember that we all need outlets. Maybe for my kids, I look like the safest outlet around. Maybe I should take their negativity as a compliment. Well. Up to a point. There's feeling secure enough to let it all hang out, and then there's a sense of entitlement and a lack of responsibility.
ie. I'm sad/mad/tired/hungry/lonely/bored/forgot-to-study-for-my-test and it's all your fault.
Somehow, I have to figure out how to remove "and it's all your fault" from the equation, and from the conversation. Um, is that possible? (Do you still blame your mother for your problems?)
Poetry book club ... an idea hatched several years ago (though not by me), and never quite brought to fruition, finally became an actual factual multi-participant event last night. We read Pigeon, by Karen Solie (this year's winner of the Griffin Poetry prize). The group was (mostly) self-selected from a Facebook status I posted a few months back. Turns out there are people out there willing to identify as poetry readers--or, more importantly, as readers willing to try chomping through poetry. And then to talk to others about it. Why does this often seem so hard, beyond impossible--both the reading of poetry, and then the talking about? As if the process revolves around a test that we will pass, or, we fear more likely, fail.
So. Can a group of people who don't all know each other terribly well get together and talk about poetry? Um, yes, we can. Turns out that we can talk, and talk, and talk about poetry. After some introductions, we just hopped right in. Everyone had read the poems (a good start), and we all had opinions, favourites, lines that stuck with us, bafflements, questions, hesitations, dislikes; and few conclusions. A gigantic dictionary was referenced. Cheese was eventually eaten, wine imbibed, host's children kept up by the seemingly inexhaustible interest we brought to this book of poems.
As one of us observed, we were talking about the poems, not (as novel-reading book clubs often do, ahem, been there, done that) veering away from the text to reference our own experiences. A poem addresses (or tries to address) a vast and existential question, in the most compressed form. It is almost too distilled to elicit an anecdote. It needs treatment both more personal and less specific. It has multiple levels. And like any artistic creation, it is partially made by the person who is consuming it, though in poetry this connection between poet and reader seems even stronger; what is the ephemeral creation being made and discovered on the page out of images and emotion?
We quickly threw out any pretense of knowing-nothing. Of course, we all know enough to talk about a poem. And it is ever so crazy much easier to talk about when others are talking about it, too. We filled a couple of hours with talking about poetry.
A few favourite moments: When we discussed a poem called "The Cleaners," which ends with the speaker hearing a song piped out of a nearby shop, sung by a singer "who is a national treasure," it turned out that at least three of us had imagined who the singer was, though he/she isn't identified. I loved that. (Leonard Cohen; Anne Murray; Celine Dion). I also loved the debate around the poem "Pigeon," which baffled many of us--especially those of us who were looking for an easy solution to the book. Ah, so this will tell us what it all means!, followed rapidly by increased puzzlement and disappointment. Except, after talking and talking about the poem, it began to seem that "Pigeon" was actually just that--the key to everything, the answer to the riddle (and a riddle itself). At least, that's how it seemed to me. I never in a million careful solitary readings would have gotten at that idea.
Next up: Margaret Atwood's Morning in the Burned House. I'm going to look up her more recent collection, The Door, too.
I'm guessing there will be some blog readers out there with suggestions. Please, please, please send your recommendations, favourites, must-reads. We just might--read.
The photo is totally unrelated, but there you see AppleApple heading for the finish line in her second-ever cross country race (it was about 2km in length), run late last week and sadly unrecorded up till now. She finished much better than she'd expected, and was filled with excitement. The same could be said of her mother.
I am typing this in the office/playroom while the two littlest play Playmobil by themselves (with occasional mediation from me). In other words, I am basically ignoring them. I am not playing with them. They are fending for themselves, imaginatively. Is it possible that this good mothering?
Or is this good mothering?: Yesterday, while waiting in the hallway outside music lessons, I played with CJ. Within five minutes, I'd created a monster. He refused to play by himself. He roared when I attempted to converse with a nearby adult. Introduced to the high of mama-holding-a-Lego-guy-and-together-sliding-the-guys-down-mama's-pantleg, he instantly progressed to attention junkie, incapable of sliding Lego guys down pantlegs all by himself. Yes, I looked with envy at the kid on the floor doing puzzles while his mother talked to a friend.
A few more good mother/bad mother examples, just for fun ...
This morning, Albus called me "the worst mother ever," and dramatically declared, at 8:28 AM, that his day had been ruined. Because I clipped his nails. Then I made him brush his teeth. Apparently, from the perspective of a nine-year-old boy, bad mothers insist on good hygiene.
Last night, while folding laundry on our bed, I initiated a conversation with AppleApple, who was also lying in our bed, reading a Harry Potter book for perhaps the 77th time. "How was soccer?" (She'd just come back from her first soccer skills session). "Fun!" "Wonderful! What was fun about it? Was there a particular drill that you liked especially? Did you know any of the other girls? What were the coaches like?" She was mostly silent, or monosyllabic, glancing up vacant-eyed from her book to respond. Finally, she gazed at me with deep weariness, and said, "Could you please stop asking all these questions so that I can read my book?"
To sum up: let's just say I've resigned myself to getting some bad reviews, as a mother, while remaining convinced that I'm doing a reasonably good job. Is there any job on earth that is as controversial, as subject to criticism and debate, as judged on both a macro and micro level, as well as judged generally, ie. mothers are [fill in the responsible-for blank]?
Please note: this is an observation and not a complaint.
Thinking about commitment today. It has been a week since I last ran or went to a yoga class ... the longest stretch in this past year.
It's been a busy seven days. I even got my hair cut early Saturday morning, and glammed up for a party on Saturday night. And just to bump life up into an extra level of exciting, on Sunday/Monday, I was honoured to doula at a birth: friends from the neighbourhood. Like most babies I've met, this little guy decided to arrive in the wee hours before dawn. I was home in time for a Thanksgiving dinner, but not home in time to have to cook the turkey. Kevin's rookie attempt was delicious, and we feasted for what seemed like an entire afternoon. Thanksgiving might possibly be my favourite holiday: please pass the gravy, thank you! But I woke up yesterday morning with a scratchy voice, which is no better and perhaps worse this morning. Are you hearing all of my excuses in this post? All of the logical reasons that have conspired against a week's worth of exercise? Oh, there's one more. I am also getting treatment for a shoulder injury that hasn't budged for two months. Truthfully, though, during my spurts of inspiration, none of the above would be enough to stop me.
Which is why I am thinking about commitment. Is this dip in energy temporary? I believe that it is. I will get back to yoga and running as soon as I've gotten past tired. Real tired. (Or would yoga and running help me get past tired? There's that to consider too). There are other commitments, too, perhaps more ascendant right now, like simultaneous plot-lines that arc and fall in a novel. Plot-line a) triathlon project (taking a cold-weather nose dive). Plot-line b) writing/editing a book (orange level priority). Plot-line c) children (always, pervasive, distracting, the core of my story). Plot-line d) side projects like doula'ing and photography (hanging in there; daily photos are easy to take; doula opportunities don't come often, and are richly rewarding when they do). Plot-line e) health (so critical, yet unpredictable; make hay while the sun shines).
I'm off to make some ginger/garlic cold-fighting brew. And to write. Because the house is quiet this morning, and I am alone with my thoughts.
Yesterday, I did not go to my planned yoga class. Instead, I cooked a risotto that reminded me of an evening out last month, rich with reduced wine, garlic, butter, parmesan, and I stayed home over the supper hour and savoured the food with my family. In order to exercise more, I have to skip something: which ends up being supper, most often. And I miss supper with my family. When I'm home, more things happen. Good food is prepared. Homework gets completed. Musical instruments get practiced. Real talk is exchanged.
What is the mysterious balance? Everything I choose to do weighs against everything that therefore will not happen.
Yesterday afternoon, on the most beautiful fall day imaginable, I took the little ones to the little park and we played. I must have pushed them on the platter swing for half an hour, singing songs, and reminiscing: in the blink of an eye, my babies have grown. Only a minute ago, I was pushing the older two in the same swing, singing the same songs. It was so peaceful, I did not want to rush home and make supper so that I could rush out the door to do something by myself. I wanted to let them lie on their backs and look at the rare cloud passing by, and be soothed. I wanted to sing. Impossible, when in a rush. Impossible, when hewing to a pre-arranged schedule.
Still, I love my schedule. I love to get out by myself.
But here's a toast to being flexible. To breaking plans. To changing my mind.
Working more makes me lazier on the ecologically sound homefront.
I am not taking time to hang laundry very often; instead, tossing everything into the "home sterilizer unit" aka the drier. (This decision is also based on several lice notices from children's classrooms, and not wanting to risk an invasion; but when will I stop? I haven't gone back to the clothes rack yet). I am also choosing to drive on occasions when I could walk. Yesterday, I drove to swim lessons, a walk of no more than fifteen minutes one way. But with the vehicle, I could toss the kids in the car last-minute, endure thirty minutes in the pool with CJ, shower, dry off, dress, and return home in exactly one hour. Which shaved time and stress off of my day's beginning, and allowed me to invite friends over for a morning play. And then I drove to school yesterday afternoon because doing so allowed me to nap for an extra ten minutes (I'd already napped for ten when the buzzer alerted me to walk-to-school time). I hopped up, added another ten minutes to the timer, and fell back to sleep instantly. I can fall asleep in two shakes, and nap virtually anywhere, including my favourite spot: flat on my back on the the living-room floor. Wouldn't want to get too comfortable.
(Side question: is my instant-sleep ability a talent, or a symptom of sleep-deprivation?).
Have you read The Road? I ploughed through it almost against my will two nights ago, and it shook me to the core. I can't recommend it--it terrified me utterly--but it is without a doubt a fabulously imagined creation. I won't spoil the plot, promise; if you haven't read the book and want to, you can safely read on. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, it seemed to ask me: could you live without hope? And I'm not sure that I could. Is all of my spirit-searching a meaningless enterprise? Would I have the inner resources to cope with extremity? Are inner resources something that can be built or honed, a skill-set like any other? Of course, the nightmare world imagined in the book is extreme, but as an extended metaphor could stand in for any difficult experience that any of us might face (and most of us will face something--how could we not? We are alive and human, and our world is unpredictable, our fates perhaps unwritten, and certainly unknown to us). Most particularly, the book explores a parent's love for his child, which might be the spark that keeps him hoping and alive. But the love is explicitly terrifying, because he cannot protect his child absolutely. None of us can. But somehow I let myself believe that everything will be okay, that we will all be strong enough to get through anything we need to, that my children will experience love and joy and comfort. I am almost incapable of contemplating the reverse. That is why the book terrified me. It made me contemplate the reverse, and question my inner strength, my resources. There is no way of knowing how--what? who?--we will be until the moment is upon us, and we are required to respond. This applies to everything we do. I am fascinated by the improvisational nature of living. Yet I also want to keep working--not to memorize my lines, but to trust in my responses, to trust in some inner core of calm and strength.
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.