The sound of the bedroom door opening. Siblings and parents waiting excitedly to greet him as he walks down the stairs. "Happy birthday! It's your birthday! You're a big boy today! You're three years old!"
Deep frown. Adamant tone. "I NOT be THREE! I be TWO!"
So far, he's sticking with his story. Yesterday, I took a photo of him holding up two fingers, to show his age. My plan was to juxtapose this with a photo taken this morning of the birthday boy holding up three fingers (which he's been practicing). But it is not to be. The other kids have decided to shelter him from the dark truth that he is really and truly three years old. Albus keeps saying, in a comforting baby voice, "It okay, CJ. You still be two today." Anything to give the child a happy birthday.
Monday supper. Whole chicken "roasted" in crockpot with garlic and lemon. Steamed rice (or leftover quinoa) on the side. Brussel sprouts in brown butter with walnuts. Salad made of leftover spinach and bean sprouts, plus grated carrot, in a tamari dressing. Thumbs up around the table. Next time, I will not use the whole lemon inside the chicken. It flavoured the meat quite strongly, which was not to everyone's liking. (Just realized the carcass got composted, and I did not make stock from it, as planned). And while the crockpot version of roasted chicken can't beat the flavour of oven-roasted chicken, the ease with which this meal was prepared was totally worth the trade-off. I had to go to the doctor in the morning to get my eye woes seen to, and after school I took the kids to Factory Shoe to get them all new running shoes. Which they wore to school the next day, before spring was foiled by Wednesday's heavy snowfall. Except I bought the wrong size for CJ. In fact, I bought him the size and style identical to the ones he wears at nursery school. Argh! So we'll have to make a return trip.
Tuesday supper. Sweet-and-sour chicken and tofu, with carrots and onions. Baked rice and steamed broccoli. Wow, this was a fabulous meal. I got complaints from no one. I was on my own with the kids for supper (Kevin ate alone, when he got home from work). The two older kids don't like tofu, but there wasn't enough leftover chicken meat to fill out the stir-fry, so I combined both proteins, and dished out one or the other. I loved this meal so much; I must post the sweet-and-sour recipe. Kevin played the final of his soccer tournament, then went on to his last hockey of the season, and ended his own personal triathlon at Ethel's taco night.
Wednesday supper. Baked black beans with sausage in the crockpot. More rice. Cabbage salad with mayo/cider vinegar dressing. The baked black beans were my attempt to mix up the usual chili flavour, with middling success. They were sweetened with molasses and brown sugar. But I had great success cooking them in the crockpot overnight, and adding in the rest of the ingredients the next morning. It should have been a snow day, but it wasn't. When the snow was still falling thickly by school pick-up time, I decided to pass on our music lessons. But supper was still eaten in a rush because I'd planned to go to a yoga class, to make up for the class missed due to Kevin working late yesterday evening; this required elaborate scheduling. We gulped our food and ran in a variety of directions, with limited success: the class was hard and I felt tired and sick and wished I hadn't gulped down quite so many baked beans; a pair of soccer shoes were taken out of a bag and left on the living-room floor; by the time the soccer dad and soccer kids had discovered the missing shoes, they were in the midst of a snow-caused traffic jam and ended up missing practice. And I forgot to take a photo at the table.
Thursday supper. Rice pilaf to use up all the leftover rice. Ginger carrot soup. As I said to a friend who was over for lunch, "It sounded good to me." The ongoing dilemma: do I cook for the kids' tastes, or my own? A bit of both, really, and in this case, I knew the pilaf wouldn't be loved by all, but it sounded delicious to me, and included toasted sunflower seeds. Unfortunately, the leftover rice ended up creating more leftover rice, this time in pilaf form, so I was back to square one. To add to the pilaf, I chopped up a block of queso fresco, a mild Latin-American soft cheese, and the kids gobbled it up plain. The soup was fabulous. I added a cup of toasted cashews and pureed everything together and the flavour was out of this world. Our basement was getting repaired yesterday and today, a muddy business, fortunately contained down below. I skipped a yoga class to enjoy supper with the whole family, and after some frantic post-supper machinations, Kevin and I got out the door together to our kundalini yoga class. It ain't easy, getting the both of us out the door at the same time on a school night.
Friday supper. A sirloin roast in the crockpot with red wine and garlic. Mashed potatoes. More cabbage salad, this time with grated carrot too. My mother-in-law Alice was here for a visit. We all ate together between skating and soccer, though Kevin and AppleApple had to rush. I made an absolute vat of potatoes. I was extremely pleased with how everything turned out, but didn't receive an endless stream of glowing compliments, as seemed fitting (c'mon kids, throw the chef a bone). If we could afford it, and if it were good for us, I'd make roasts more often; but it's definitely special occasion food. We buy all of our meat from local farmers, most of it organically raised, and it is not cheap. But I actually believe that's a good thing: we eat less meat as a result, and get the bulk of our protein from beans and legumes. Better for everyone and everything.
Saturday supper. Shepherd's pie made with leftover mashed potatoes and beef, plus added hamburger, plus gravy made from drippings, plus the rest of that carrot soup to add some vegetable matter. More cabbage salad. And fresh-baked bread! With extra-old cheddar on the side. I went to the freezer to look for peas and discovered we've eaten all of the peas! And all of the green beans! And all of the corn! The only veg left is some steamed beet greens. I wonder why. I accomplished a lot today, too much to list. But the lovely thing was that Kevin got home in time for supper, and we enjoyed a glass of wine, and then Alice put the kids to bed while Kevin and I slipped out to a movie--Barney's Version. Loved it. See it!
Sunday supper. Leftover surprise. Rice pilaf baked with cheese on top. Cold shepherd's pie. Cabbage salad. Dill smoked salmon I'd gotten on impulse at the grocery store (ridiculously--almost suspiciously--on sale), with rye crackers. Nobody was terribly excited or surprised. But AppleApple spent the afternoon at a birthday party, and Albus didn't feel like cooking, and the basement was desperate for a thorough cleaning, so Kevin devoted his afternoon attention to that instead. It wasn't a hard meal for me to prepare. I also made yogurt and baked ginger cookie squares, which are delicious, but for the second time in a row overflowed the pan while baking. I need to solve this problem. Two pans? Casserole pans rather than baking sheets? I will figure this out. The kids played happily together after supper, and even practiced piano and doing homework without grumbling. The basement is clean. And Kevin and I had a scheduling meeting of epic proportions to cap off the day, and the week, over a warm cup of tea. I love scheduling meetings. I probably love them more than is right and proper. I went to bed a happy woman. (With leftover leftover leftover rice pilaf in the fridge).
It's been awhile since I've blogged on a writing day. But I have a feeling today is going to be a good day. Here's why: the manuscript is ready to send, save for a few crossing of t's and dotting of i's, and my editor has given me the green light to send it to her. In the months that it's sat quietly waiting, I've had the chance to polish some stories, and decided in a fit of dissatisfaction last week to completely rewrite one, which seemed weak and undone--the notes to a story rather than a completed story. I didn't want my editor to read it as it was. I knew it could be better.
Last week, I picked and picked at it, with discouraging results. At some point, probably during a yoga class, it occurred to me that the story contained too many disparate elements, and specifically, too many narrative threads that didn't cohere. Of course, I was quite attached to a couple of those threads, which is why they were still in the story (it's funny how that works; I actually recognize the problem, but am attached to it, and defend it until it becomes glaringly, arrestingly, hideously clear that it's indefensible, and we must part ways; I soothe myself by thinking, hey, never know when this might become useful some other time, some other place, some other story). So I scrapped a lot. And suddenly--it was suddenly--on Monday afternoon, as the clock ticked down toward babysitter-going-home-time, my brain jumped tracks and my fingers leapt across the keyboard, and I closed my eyes and typed. The story finished itself. This does actually happen; it isn't a writing myth. I would never have been able to plot this story and its ending out in advance. I had to wait and wait and tough it out and hang around and attend with patience and hope to receive what arrived, at last, like a gift.
I've been thinking about the image created ever since. It comforts me in my mind's eye. I will tell you what it is: the empty cellar of a burned-down house, overgrown and abandoned and forgotten, and in the centre of the cellar is a box, perfectly placed, left to the elements. Do you want to know what's in the box? Well, I'm not going to tell.
With some more work done on Wednesday, and the finishing polishes today (hello, my friend Spellcheck), I will send The Juliet Stories away with a light heart. There is more work to be done, of course, because there always is. But I have gotten the manuscript to the precipice, to the furthest corner of the earth that I can currently carry it. And I will be happy to set it down and rest apart from it for awhile, til a new map arrives to show me a way to get even further, even deeper into territory I can't yet imagine.
I love this process.
In other news, I received a package yesterday and it had a book in it--not mine, though my name was on the back, beneath a short review I'd written of the book itself. I will tell you more about this book when it becomes available in stores next month. It's called Up, Up, Up, and it's a book of stories by a first-time writer (whom I do not know, but look forward to meeting someday; the CanLit world is a teeny-tiny world).
Two days ago, it was grey and cool and mild. All of this snow fell within about 18 hours yesterday.
The older children apparently took my chat about responsibility to heart. Inspired by a specific garbage-dropping incident two days ago, I took the opportunity of all of us gathered for supper to explain that while I, as their mother, am happy to be responsible for many things, including feeding them and washing and folding their laundry, there were other things that were their responsibility. And then I threw the ball into their court: could they think of anything that was their responsibility more than mine? Albus instantly thought of cleaning up the water he always spills when getting himself a drink. AppleApple thought she could take her plate to the counter and scrape food into the compost. Socks in laundry basket, not chucked across the room. Banana peels composted rather than left on a bedroom floor to rot. Basic stuff, but helpful. (These supper conversations are our new version of family meetings--spontaneous topical conversations). Sometimes I feel like I'm talking to myself (though not always), but I do believe strongly that the kids are listening. Spontaneously, yesterday evening, Albus decided that shovelling the walk was something he could take some responsibility for. This morning, I found them outside early, both hard at work with school bags on backs.
These are some of CJs favourite toys: Albus's go-gos. Every single time CJ wants to play with them, he asks first: "It okay I play with Albus's go-gos?" And every single time, I say yes, or Albus does. But he still asks the next time. Which is a good general policy, I think. Shows good little brother instincts.
Fooey is on a photo album binge this morning. In this one, Albus is a two-year-old watching Winnie the Pooh on our old, tiny tv, and AppleApple is a baby. I actually said to Fooey, hey, that's you! Before realizing it was my other red-headed baby girl. When they were babies, they all looked perfectly unique to my eye, but now that they've grown out of babyhood, I find myself looking for other cues--what era was this? where were we living?--to identify them in photos.
No photos of me. The eye woes continue, despite antibiotics--oral and drops--hot compresses, and following all of the dr's instructions on care. All I can cautiously say right now is that they don't seem to be getting any worse. But they're not getting better either.
Temper. Blaming. Complaining. Comparing. Name-calling. Stubbornness. Picking on. I've just been lying here, post-early-morning-exercise-nap, thinking about the negative behavior that can sometimes be observed in my children ... and it occurred to me: wow, I'm guilty of much of that same behavior, only in more subtle, grownup ways.
Example. Blaming. I have a habit of saying, "Someone must have done such and such." Someone forgot to close the front door. Someone's made a mess of the bathroom. Someone must have put the scissors in the wrong drawer. What I'm saying is: hey, I didn't do this and therefore one of you lot must have! Hardly a productive response to any situation, and not so very different from one child saying to another, "You lost my [insert precious possession here]! I know it was you! It was here when I left and now it's gone!"
The opposite of blaming is taking responsibility. As I tell the child, owner of said precious possession, "If it's very precious to you, you need to keep it in a special place, and not on the counter." And if I don't like that someone's made a mess of the bathroom, I need to instill a greater sense of ownership and responsibility in my children for keeping the house tidy, rather than grumbling while cleaning it up all by myself.
(If someone can tell me how to do that--how to instill a sense of responsibility in my children--please let me know).
I'd like to think I don't call names. But I do say things like "that was a dumb thing to do." Which is next-door to name-calling, and even if it's true (which let's face it, in some situations it just might be), if dumb isn't a word I want kids to use, why am I using it?
I won't go through the whole list, calling out each of my less-than-worthy-role-modeling. Instead, I'm thinking about the alternatives.
Okay. Blaming. Taking responsibility.
Temper. Finding other expressions for emotional distress or disturbance. Apologizing as immediately as possible after the fact is helpful, too. Nobody's perfect.
Complaining. Thinking of ways to change the situation causing the complaint, or at the very least to change my response to the complaint. There is always something that can be done.
Comparing. Celebrate and consider each family member as an individual.
The opposite of name-calling? Uh. Don't do it, I guess. (Though there are some situations in which name-calling and poking fun can be positives and can reinforce relationships, and in fact are markers of a trusting and close relationship).
Picking on. I don't believe that I do this. But I do see it happening in my family: two siblings subtly teaming up to bait another sibling. Not pleasant. And we call it out and separate them, but haven't found a better way of curbing it. Maybe maturity will do the trick. I remember my brother and I picking on our younger brother (who we just knew was our mother's "favourite," and who was so darn cute and better behaved than us). And we're all good friends now.
Monday supper. Veggie beef soup in crockpot (made with one steak that simmers all day in the tomato-y liquid until it is rendered meltingly soft). Cornbread. Cut up raw veggies. Albus doesn't like cornbread, which is a pity, but there's always someone who doesn't like something. Fooey didn't like the soup--too much corn. The corn and green beans were from last summer, frozen. That's it for the green beans. Albus had a friend over for a sleepover. They went to bed very sweetly and slept soundly until about 5 the next morning, when they woke up and decided to play wii. Mama Bear, up for an early spin class, did some growling, and they turned it off and went back to bed. For half an hour. It's the thought that counts.
Tuesday supper. Chili in the crockpot. Were the black beans leftover from the week before, or did I cook them up fresh on Monday? I can't remember. I also made yogurt at some point this week, perhaps today. I made a vegetarian version of chili, with few additions. Baked rice and baked squash on the side. The squash was divine--one of the last remaining in the cold cellar, a sweet keeper variety. I love a good orange veggie in this lean month of March. I also baked a tray of ginger cookie-bars that morning. We'd had friends over for lunch (leftovers and sandwiches), and I was tired, on this the second day of March break. Not so much napping with all the kids home. I skipped yoga and went to bed early.
Wednesday supper. Tortilla wraps baked in the oven, using the leftover beans from the chili, the leftover squash, the leftover red peppers, the leftover rice, and some freshly grated cheese. Assembled by Kevin, who came home early so that I could go to a yoga class and regain my sanity. Big thumbs up from everyone. I ate late, alone. Kevin made two especially for me, and heated them up for me when I got home. He also did the dishes. Then we watched a movie together as a family: School of Rock. Must be said, I'm starting to enjoy March break.
Thursday supper. Spring is in the air! And drunken university students are stumbling in their green mini-skirts down the street. Must be Saint Patrick's Day. I took the kids to a movie this afternoon: Yogi Bear. Supper was simple and good. And green. A big bowl of pasta with homemade pesto (toasted pecans and sunflower seeds, basil from the freezer, olive oil, two cloves of raw garlic, salt). Buttered green peas, frozen last summer. A big green salad using up the last of our local greens from Bailey's buying club. Apple-Apple said it was the best dressing ever (olive oil, cider vinegar, maple syrup, salt, and tamari). Fooey said the pasta wasn't green enough. The cook's feelings were hurt, and Fooey wasn't invited to the table until she apologized. We have a rule: no complaining about the food that is set before you. Well, smallish complaints are okay. It's okay to say, for example, This isn't really my favourite. It's not okay to say, Yuck! Disgusting! There is not way I'm ever going to eat that! Add: That pasta is not green enough! to the verboten list. (Especially if said with a certain whiny disgust and disdain). The good news is: she apologized. The other good news is: Kevin discovered two cans of Guinness in the basement.
Friday supper. "Leftover surprise." In other words: I cleared out the fridge (this is the after photo). It was actually quite a spread. Leftover pasta with pesto. Two kinds of soup (the chili, without the majority of its beans, was a bit thin). A fresh loaf of bread gifted to us by a neighbour. Cheese, butter. The kids had skating, but no soccer. The evening was blissfully free, so naturally I filled it with baking: I made granola and breakfast pitas. After the kids were in bed, Kevin and I caught up on my favourite tv shows (currently): Parks and Rec, and 30 Rock.
Saturday supper. Macaroni and cheese, baked in the oven. The kids ate it, and I didn't take a photo. Instead, I took a photo of me and Kevin dressed up and ready to go out for supper at a fancy restaurant uptown. Whoo-hoo! (Though after the photo was taken, we both changed our minds about our outfits and fancied ourselves up a bit more). The day contained a strange mixture of activities: I ran 18km in the morning, came home and quickly showered and changed to go to the funeral for my kids' crossing-guard, came home and picked up all the toys spread all over the house after a week of March breaking (with help from Kevin, but sadly, very little from the kids--which is our doing, not theirs--we need to get them helping more regularly), and then I made supper for the kids. Kevin and I ate a bowl each, too, because our reservation wasn't til 8:15. For my supper, I had: a mojito-like martini, smoked salmon with house-made onion rings, a salad of escarole and sheep's milk cheese, a sirloin steak with green beans and potato croquettes, and an apple donut-like dessert with whipped cream, with the first three courses paired with wines, and the last with a decaf cafe au lait. Put your hands in the air!
Sunday supper. Fooey's menu: make-your-own-soup, with steamed homemade wontons, noodles, spinach, bean sprouts, and shrimp. I helped season up the broth, which was made from frozen homemade stock (I added miso and tamari). Kevin and Fooey are wonton experts--this is the second time they've made them, and he grinds together shrimp, spinach, ginger root, cilantro, and last night he added leftover peas when the stuffing ran low. Thumbs-up from around the table. Something for everyone. Kevin and I tag-teamed the dishes, and ran around like chickens with our heads cut off trying to get organized for school/work/routine the next morning. It was a late night, but I went to bed with the feeling that everything was under control.
This is not the post I'd composed in my head during yoga class this morning. That post might yet materialize, but what's top of my mind in the here and now of this chilly grey first afternoon of spring is my eyes. My eyelids to be precise. On my left eyelid, I've developed what may be a sty, though it hasn't been diagnosed yet by a doctor, and wikipedia suggests several exciting alternatives (and yes, I'm trying quite hard not to self-diagnose). On my right eyelid, another bump is starting up. The one upon my left eyelid has grown rather, well, enormous, let's just say. I can't look up out of that eye, or to the left, because of the lump in the eyelid physically blocking my way. It's red. It's swollen. It's disfiguring. It's the kind of thing that people feel compelled to comment on because, you know, it's there, in your face, so to speak. In mine, that is, which is facing yours.
What is especially miserable about this unexpected arrival is how it shakes my sense of self. It targets my vanity. I think of myself as being a strong, confident woman. But add in a giant eyelid pustule, and suddenly I shrink. I become smaller, weaker, more cautious. For example, I've noticed myself not entering into friendly casual conversation with strangers--you know, the kind of conversation that happens in line-ups at the grocery store, or in other public, potentially (but not necessarily) social situations. Once upon a time, I never had those conversations. I avoided them and stayed quiet. But post-children, I've grown to enjoy that kind of interaction, and I don't think these exchanges are superficial at all, but a way to be present in the world, and open to the humanness of everyone I come into contact with.
I wonder--is my confidence, my willingness to reach out, only skin deep?
Do I need to consider myself attractive to step forth, strong and confident? If I feel ugly or weak, am I still myself? If I were much more sick, or altered physically, would my sense of self crumble quite utterly? What is it that makes me strong and confident? It can't only be on the outside, on the surface, can it? Can I feel like myself while integrating a mild deformity into who I am?
We have hosted one friend sleepover (with the boys waking at approximately 5:30am to play wii in the basement, only to be foiled by semi-outraged, semi-amused mother who was leaving for spin class).
We have gone for walks in springlike weather, and visited our little neighbourhood park.
We have gone to the movies. Okay, so we were too late to get tickets for the one we wanted to see (Tangled), and thus ended up seeing the only other option (Yogi Bear), but it was friendly, corny, and funny enough to keep everyone happy, and the big kids were sent to the long concession line, by themselves, with cash, and returned with change and one treat for everyone, even mama (a Coffee Crisp--good choice, Albus).
We've had a family fun night (drawing, dancing), and a family movie night (School of Rock--who knew? It was the perfect movie for our sometimes ambivalent budding musicians).
We've had friends over for lunch, and vice versa, and everyone's had a playdate or two sprinkled into the mix.
And now it is Friday. I fear the coming of the end of March Break, if only for the list of have-to-dos. We have to pick up all these toys, for example, the ones that have migrated around the house, along with blankets, pillows, art supplies, fort-building materials, and orphaned odds and ends of mind-boggling proportions. We have to memorize the times tables (well, one of us does, and if the rest of us come along for the rote-ride, all the better). There is much baking to be done (granola, pitas, bread). And there is the sense of: have we done enough with this magical week of freedom?
That question seems front and centre in the nine-year-old mind (almost ten). I've been sensing the pre-adolescent emergence this week; more than sensing it, seeing it, witnessing it, being slightly horrified by it. I keep working to emphasize the good, and call out the bad. I'm trying to figure out the balance between expectations and acceptance. If the grumpy nine-year-old has to howl about going for a walk in the beautiful spring breezes, because it doesn't involve any direct pay-off for him that he can recognize, but then agrees to go for the walk, and comes along, and has a generally good time and is generally pleasant, should I get upset because the good was preceded by the bad?
I'm seeing the edge of mood swings. The precipice of myopia. The unlovely view of a sense of entitlement. I want to figure out a way to say, hey, I get it, but I expect more. You're allowed to make mistakes, and lots of them--we all are--but you have to apologize, too. It's natural and normal to want, to crave, to long for, but when you don't get what you want, it's good for the soul to look around and be glad for what you have.
Ugh. Are these just parenting cliches? Cliches generally? Well, they're what I've got. If I find something more effective, I've let you know.
Monday night. Twice-stuffed potatoes, sausages, red cabbage salad. Potatoes leftover from Apple-Apple's supper the night before. Excellent re-use of leftover baked potatoes, sliced in half, emptied out, insides mixed with cheese, crema, and mashed up brocolli and cauliflower. Red cabbage salad recipe from a friend (onion, mayonnaise, vinegar, and maple syrup). We cut each sausage in half, because there were only five. Kevin and I got one half each and the kids divvied up the rest.
Tuesday night. I ate alone. The kids went to a pancake supper at their grandma's church, with Kevin, while I went to a yoga class. I made a house-favourite, mashed-potato soup, to be served as supper the next day. This "mashed-potato" soup contained quantities of squash. Basically anything goes into this soup, which does contain potatoes, too (though not mashed). Once it's cooked, I zap it with a submersible hand-held blender, and hurray, instant happiness around the table. But I ate a bowl alone, tonight, and stored the rest in the fridge.
Wednesday night. Wednesday is always a crockpot supper. I tried out a new recipe with underwhelming results: a lentil and rice pilaf, which would have been far superior cooked on the stove. It was mushy, though smelled pretty good while cooking (cinnamon stick). Luckily, there was also mashed potato soup to warm up and serve. We ate together, between music class and Apple-Apple's soccer.
Thursday night. I ate alone. The family ate pasta with red sauce. Kevin forgot to put out the greens. I cooked up the red sauce from scratch earlier in the day, and Kevin cooked up the noodles. It's a good meal for the evenings when I'm out at yoga class. Which is where I was. I came home, and devoured a couple of bowls of pasta, along with the greens. That night, our youngest got sick, so we cancelled our babysitter and I missed kundalini yoga.
Friday night. I ate alone. This is starting to look like I eat alone a lot, but I feel like this week had to have been an anomoly. Kevin took the two girls to a pizza supper at one of our churches, Albus was at a friend's house for pizza followed by the boys' soccer (lovely parents feed our boy pretty much every Friday), and CJ was home with me, sick. I fried up a package of frozen spinach with cumin and garlic and onions, and ate it over leftover quinoa. Then I ate two pieces of pizza, which Kevin brought home for me. Kevin dropped off Fooey, and immediately left to take Apple-Apple to her goalie practice (soccer, again). Did I mention the pre-supper skating? The kids were all worn out. But also excited, because it was the start of their March break holiday.
Saturday night. Supper out! We went for all-you-can-eat sushi, and ate our money's worth. Even CJ, who was still sick, discovered a fondness for cucumber maki, and ate at least six. This was such a treat, and it felt like we were on holiday, for real. We pretended we were at Disney (a place I fully intend never to go). I don't know why, but it really felt like we were in Florida. We stayed for almost the full time limit, and everyone was beautifully behaved, not greedy, and shared the food. When we went home, we had a family drawing time at the dining-room table, and then a short dance party in the living-room. Considering the still-sick child, and the interrupted nights, and the 16km run that took up a large part of my afternoon, it felt like a real holiday.
Sunday night. All I wanted was not to have to cook supper. Yay! Kevin did it. CJ and I took a nap in the late afternoon, tucked up together in a chair. Kevin made tacos with black beans (which I'd cooked earlier in the day), and hamburger, and lots of fixings. It was an excellent meal, but with the time change, we realized it was nearly 7pm by the time we'd finished, and therefore too late for our planned family movie night. The kids were disappointed, but we let them watch part of a Harry Potter movie, while I did the dishes and the laundry. Everyone got to bed late, but slept soundly. I woke up feeling much more like myself again.
I put this on Facebook, so forgive the repetition between social media. Yesterday evening, I attempted to get all the kids in bed early, but the older two are used to staying up til 9pm. I pictured myself in pajamas and under the covers before that hour, so I requested that they put themselves to bed. They could read in the office/playroom, and they could use Albus's watch as an alarm clock so they wouldn't lose track of time. They were pretty pleased with the idea, and when I came to check up on them, the alarm was set, and the two kids were sitting together on the futon surrounded by books. Heavy books. Books from my office shelf.
"What are you guys doing?"
"We're playing a fun game!" said Apple-Apple, and she went on to explain that she was looking up words in the thesaurus and reading out all the similar words, and Albus was guessing the original word--to which end, he had several dictionaries on the go.
I'm sure there are equivalant moments of delight for hockey parents and soccer parents and musical parents, and etc. This was just such a moment for me. My kids, playing with words, spontaneously, for fun.
One of the books in the pile is a book of fairly tales--originals--which I bought a number of years ago when I was a grad student interested in the history of children's literature. Earlier this week, Apple-Apple said she'd been trying to find real fairly tales at her school library, "not the Disney kind," and I remembered this book. She's been poring over it, very excited to be reading the "real" stories, though I need to caution her that in the case of fairy tales there probably is no "real" version, in the sense of there being an absolute original. That could be the start of another interesting conversation.
On a different subject altogether, I am thinking about people in Libya and Japan, among many other troubled places here on this planet of ours. Thinking, praying. The security we hold to and assume to be rightfully ours is so fragile. I am not sure whether it is right or wrong to feel gratitude for the ordinariness of today, with its ordinary problems and ordinary pleasures that might not seem so ordinary under different circumstances. But I do feel gratitude; it is mingled with a kind of helpless grief.
We used to talk all the time. I shared all the ordinary every day details of my life, and you listened patiently. I posted photos! Those were the days. And now it feels like we've drifted. I have photos, but I haven't unloaded them off of my camera. I have ideas for topics, but I've been compressing them into status updates on Facebook. More efficient. Though more ephemeral, too, gone in an instant.
It's not you, it's me. I have issues with time, and how I'm spending it. Some days I don't even get to email, and email and I were best friends long before I even considered getting to know you. When I first heard about you, I was a total snob. The term mommy blogger made me shudder. (To be perfectly honest, it still makes me wince, just a little bit). But once I got to know you, I really appreciated what you offered. I was tired and sleep-deprived, and you weren't critical. You didn't judge me if I felt the need to post photos of my baby covered in baby food, or if I needed to complain to someone--anyone--about the state of my living-room floor. (You should see the girls' room right now, by the way; I really should photograph the disaster for posterity). You accepted the mundane with the profound. It's very generous of you; though some might criticize you (and me) for shallowness, for not knowing the difference between the grocery list and poetry.
I'm not breaking up with you, please understand. In fact, my feelings are quite the opposite, full of intentions of betterment and promises to be more faithful. Every once in awhile, I feel the need to purge myself of all excesses, even the excess of keeping track of every dream, every plan, every daily chore, the minutiae of every change. But the urge is fleeting. I like keeping this stuff. Even if I never look at it again, even if it accumulates like fluff in the attic, like evidence that could be used against me in a court of consistency.
So, I'm sticking with you. And that's not just this morning's sleep-deprivation talking.
Two topics for this bright and sunny Sunday afternoon (yes, there's snow, but the sun is also here declaring itself).
First topic: naps! Saturday's Globe and Mail newspaper had a cheery brief on the benefits of napping. Studies show that a 45-minute nap improves both cardiovascular health and mental agility. Agility is not quite the word I'm looking for, but you know what I mean. Nap yourself to intelligence! Should have napped longer today, I guess.
I am napping regularly these days. It is part of my early rising routine. Every day that involves getting up early, includes time for a nap. I nap up to an hour, but rarely longer, and often shorter. Napping has all kind of negative associations, and I had to overcome those by being really really super-tired in order to test out the benefits. No, it isn't lazy. And no, it's not a waste of time. On writing days, I've gotten in the habit of napping as soon as the kids are out of the house. Within an hour, I'm up and productively at my desk. Without the nap, I'd be up and unproductively at my desk. (I've tested both methods). I love rising early. I'm up to four early mornings a week, at least for now, and I love the quiet, the energy, seeing the morning light arrive, and starting my day with focus. I've fed myself--metaphorically, anyway--before the demands of the day kick in. It's a very different way to start the day. Though I look forward to Thursday mornings, when Kevin gets up early instead, that extra hour and a half of sleep is instantly erased by the immediacy of what the day wants from me; often, I'm not even out of bed before the demands arrive, in the form of children needing things. And that's what I'm here for! But it's so much easier and more pleasant to give, when one has already received.
Second topic: poetry club! Just a quick summing up of last night's poetry club, for which we read Billy Collins' Sailing Alone Around the Room. Kevin read the book too, as I was hosting and he was looking forward to participating--and seeing what the club was all about. I can highly recommend the Montforte Dairy's Elsie goat cheese pesto spread (which I got from Bailey's). And I can fairly highly recommend the poems too, though I went to bed wondering ... are they too accessible? Is that a fault, in poetry? Collins is a funny funny poet, but it can feel at times that a deeper moment is being sacrificed to a good punchline. Still, there were poems that stabbed into me with a shock of emotion. We talked a fair bit about why we were drawn to particular poems--and because most of us had different "favourites," we asked how poems could be judged objectively. How do you know that the poem is "good"?
I really enjoyed the many poems about writing. His world felt very domestic and contained, to me, and it revolved around quiet interior days of writing and work, and walking around the house, thinking about writing. What I enjoyed most about these poems was their lack of angst or questioning. He writes with full acceptance that he is a writer. There is no hint of self-justification, nor does he question his own abilities, or the worth of his work, he's just being who he is. Very refreshing. I would like to arrive there. Certainly, I'm closer than I was a few years ago; even, perhaps, a year ago.
Speaking of a year ago ... Kevin keeps marvelling at how easily our family has accommodated my triathlon training schedule. It is fairly remarkable. This past week, for example, I spent 12.5 hours training. That's 12.5 hours, out of the house, not looking after the kids. If you're wondering how we manage it, I would say it's been a long slow and steady change, adjusting everyone to me being out of the house more frequently--which was an adjustment to the way I thought about my role, too, as much as anything. When I started this blog, two and a half years ago, my youngest was four months old. I was breastfeeding constantly, and up often during the night. That is no longer my reality, with my baby on the cusp of turning three. As he's grown, and I have said goodbye to pregnancy and lactation, I've also grown accustomed to expressing myself as someone other than "mom." I leave the house as often as four or five evenings a week--only for a couple of hours at a time, mind you--but that's a massive change from my early years of motherhood, oh, eight or so years, when leaving the house by myself in the evening was an enormous production, and happened so rarely it might not have been more than once a month. And sometimes less.
Apple-Apple's supper menu for tonight (Sunday supper, cooking with kids): baked potatoes with cheese sauce, broccoli and cauliflower on the side, and scones and hot chocolate for dessert. I can smell it cooking as I type.
I'm taking way less photos: post-365 project, I have to remind myself to pick up the camera. In one sense, I think it's a good thing. Rather than recording happy moments, I'm simply living them. But in another sense, I want those moments recorded ... or at least a few of them.
I've been writing less here, and more on the sister site that records my triathlon training. The time spent on that other blog is reflective of the time and energy that is going into the project; and is therefore also not going into other endeavors. I have to pick one project and stick with it, like I did with the 365; and am now doing with the triathlon. There isn't time for more than one obsessive side-pursuit. But I am continuing to write (fiction) during writing days, and the parenting is omnipresent. As is the cooking. If I'm having a day when it feels like nothing much is getting done, all I have to do is whip up a batch of something--yogurt, pickles, pitas, bread, granola bars, chicken stock--and suddenly the day is productive. That's all it takes. A couple loaves of banana bread.
I want to describe our past Saturday, for the record. It was a scheduling marvel. And I will need to be as or more marvelous in the Saturdays to follow to continue pulling everything together.
7:30am: Everyone up. The good news is that 7:30 now qualifies as "sleeping in" for me, since I am up three mornings a week at 5:15 (and may add a fourth starting this week, if I can hack it).
8:30: I'm in running gear and off for my planned "long slow run" of the week, only my second, so it's 12km. That takes me an hour and fifteen minutes. The kids play wii. I think Kevin gets them breakfast. Nothing fancy.
9:45: Apple-Apple leaves with a friend (yay for carpooling!) to go to her Singer's Theatre rehearsal.
10: Fooey is picked up by a friend to play. I have time to shower and gulp something down, then head out in the truck with grocery bags to load up on the weekly essentials. Done. Turn on radio. Enjoy a few minutes en route to Singer's Theatre.
11:30: Pick up Apple-Apple and friends and return them home, also picking up Fooey on the way back to our house.
Noon: unload groceries, eat, grab yoga gear.
12:30: Albus walks to friend's house for playdate.
Same time: On way to yoga, I pick up a birthday gift for a party Fooey's going to this afternoon.
1:00: Lying on back in hot yoga class. Ahhhh.
2:20: Home again, just missing handing off gift, as Fooey luckily scores a ride to the party with friend. This bums me out more than it should (the missed present-drop-off, I mean). My scheduling precision is off! By a hair! Kevin points out he can drop off gift at end of party, and in any case, Fooey has made a homemade card.
2:30: Rehydrate and snack. Start making giant pot of chicken stock to freeze for later. Start making yogurt. Kevin heads out with Apple-Apple for her 4:00 soccer practice, now apparently a regularly feature of our Saturday afternoons.
5:30: Kevin picks up Fooey and friend from birthday party.
6:00: Chicken stock stored in freezer, yogurt growing bacteria on counter, and children being fed warmed up "mashed potato soup" and bread.
6:30: My mom arrives to babysit. I apply eyeshadow. Rather too much. Wish I could take some off but there's no time. Decide not to add a necklace to balance it out.
6:45: Kevin and I exit hurriedly, walk uptown, only slightly late for our dinner reservation.
7:00: Debating: should we order a bottle or wine or cocktails? Go with wine. Good choice.
10:30: Home in bed.
He got up the next morning for a 90-minute yoga class. I made waffles and bread and opted for the late afternoon yoga class.
It's the busyness of all of our lives, and attempting to coordinate the variety of activities and socializing--including that of the parents--that makes my head whirl sometimes. I said to Kevin recently: Just when I think I've got this scheduling thing totally under control, a few more variables crop up and I have to take it to a whole different level. I expect to earn my elite gold star in scheduling shortly. After which, the demands will go up to platinum. Because we haven't even begun to factor CJ's interests and activities into our lives. He will have to wait til he's at least five to get interests and activities.
And then someday, before I can blink, our kids will all move out, and I'll be left with a set of superior organizational skills and a need to apply them somewhere. Look out world.
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.