Yes, that feels worthy of the headline. I just could not get my head around the planning, but with some help from Kevin, and from friends, have marked out a number of solid consecutive days, starting next week.
I also talked all of the kids into a week-long, morning VBS program at a church down the street (Vacation Bible School, that is). It's, um, free. (The photo above illustrates the enthusiasm expressed by all the kids toward this proposed plan; I think they'll enjoy it more than they expect).
And all of this should tide me over until my babysitter returns. My only regret is that I've had to cancel some fun summery week-day plans during the next two weeks. But if work goes smoothly, I hope to reschedule fun at the end of the month. Fun is always more fun when a weight has been lifted.
My editor has returned my book, with the line edits. The treatment is fairly light, except for two stories, one brand-new, which is admittedly underwritten, and the other, which has been a nemesis for years now; both need more work, and quiet thought. Every time I look at her message, a faint wave of fear washes over me. Because it's summertime. Because my babysitter has extended her stay in Germany through mid-August. Because I may need to spend our week of family holiday, when Kevin has time off, holed up and working, rather than hanging out with my family. There may be -- must be -- alternatives, but my brain has yet to plot these out. Basically, I need to schedule time away from the children. Quite a lot of time.
July is coming to a close. In my mind, August magically turns into a month of productivity. But what are the children doing, exactly, while I'm confined at my desk, deep in concentration? Imagine us stepping into a parallel universe, one I believed existed pre-motherhood. The children play quietly at my feet; the older ones fetch snacks for the younger ones; no one poops; no one makes up songs with lyrics offensive to anyone else, and sure to draw ire; birds chirp and soft breezes soothe through open windows; words flow from my fingertips; we all wear crisply ironed linens -- why not?; their hair is brushed and their nails are clipped and supper will be a picnic already prepared and waiting for us in a basket. As soon as I've solved this tricky handling of plot and character -- no, it won't take long -- we will dance merrily outside to the bug-free, itch-free grass to eat it.
Alternatively, I need to find some childcare options, and mark out on the calendar a bank of whole days and weeks, and get this done. Yikes. Here comes August.
This past week's lack of posts does not indicate a lack of activity, but the opposite: too much on the go, and no time to sit and create captions for photos. Or, in many cases, even to take photos.
So, here, instead, are sketches of all the blogs I meant to write.
The children migrating to the basement blog
This week it got hot. We chose not to run our air conditioning, which requires shutting up the house. Instead, we toughed it out (still toughing it out, in fact; still hot). On the hottest day (37 degrees C), which was Thursday, it was also oppressively humid. That night, the kids slept in the basement. They'd been migrating there all week anyway, seeking the coolest space in the house. One morning, before swim lessons, they made a band (Fooey, who is really and truly a loud child, did an excellent impression of a punk rock singer; the song went "Ya, ya, ya, I love penguins ..."). And I thought to myself: man, I love these kids. (Tiny related observation that could have been its own blog: how awesome to have older kids organizing the younger ones into activities like making a band and putting on plays, which they also did this week; I spent a lot of time on musical marches around the house and homemade plays when the older kids were little; how awesome to see that investment paying off).
The choosing the activities I really like to do blog
(No, the photo is not related.) For two weeks, we're doing a summer activity I really look forward to: every morning, we bike to an outdoor pool a couple of kms away, the kids have swim lessons, and due to fortuitous scheduling I get a half-hour lane swim, too. Then we shower, snack, and bike home again. Sometimes we stop along the way at the library or grocery store. It's been hot. I realize this activity, with four children in tow, might sound positively torturous to some; but I really love it. The rhythm is relaxed. We're getting good exercise together. It's a mini-adventure, but its daily repetition requires of me little thought or extra planning.
The day of crazy chapters blog
Some days are mere phrases, a sentence at most; some have chapters. Friday had chapters. Chapter one was not good: worn out from a week with the children, breakfast damn near did me in. The complaints. The whining. The stream of criticism. I'm talking about you, offspring. Nevertheless, I chose not to quit my job (ie. of mother). Chapter two: We biked to the pool. We swam. We snacked. We biked home. We lunched. Chapter three: I gathered props and drove to a photo shoot (Kev spelled me off). Yes, you read that right. A photo shoot. I'll explain later. Chapter four: Home again to pick up local food order from Bailey's, with three-year-old in tow. Unpacked food. Made supper. Welcomed babysitter. Added necklace to my outfit. Chapter five: Drove away with Kevin to Hillside Festival. Just the two of us. Blissful outdoor evening of dancing, eating delicious food without interruption, drinking beer, washed in music.
The comparison between evenings blog
A little too blissful: Friday evening. Because Saturday, oh Saturday ... soccer game in Orangeville, driving in the heat, sitting on the sidelines in the heat, wrangling offspring in the heat, endless trips to porta-potties, ditches, community centre bathrooms in the heat ... and then, finally, supper, back home, prepared with care: freshly made gazpacho, steak sandwiches, grilled zucchini and cauliflower, completely rejected by two out of four children. More whining: "I want pearsauce! I want pearsauce! I want pearsauce!" More demands: "Why aren't you getting my water that I asked for when I asked for it!" More dirty dishes. Kevin and I looking at each other across the table, wishing we were back at Hillside. Just the two of us.
The Mary Oliver blog
All week I've been reading a collection of essays, prose poems, and poems by Mary Oliver, called Winter Hours. Enticing title in this heat. There's a longer blog here on the subject of poetry -- writing it and reading it -- but I haven't got the mental space to pull it all together. This is a book I will read again. Every evening, before sleep, it's been like cool water pouring over me. There is a chapter on her poem The Swan in which she effortlessly tells me everything I'd need to know to write and read poetry with more depth and insight. Count me a convert.
If we're not available, think soccer. If you call, and we're out, think soccer. If you wonder what we've been up to all weekend ... yup, soccer.
Soccer has always been important to Kevin, but over the past number of years it's also become increasingly important to other family members, too. For five years, Kevin coached a group of neighbourhood kids in the park, once a week, spring and summer, weather permitting. Then, last year, a change: the big kids decided to play house league soccer, too; Kevin continued to coach soccer in the park, but the little kids showed minimal interest in participating (which was one of the reasons we'd decided to continue). So, soccer in the park came to its natural end.
Only to be replaced by soccer year-round, apparently.
In the fall, both big kids did soccer skills once a week, and Kevin played on his indoor team. In the winter, AppleApple also went to a goalie skills camp once a week; she hoped to make the U9 rep team as a goalie, which she did, this spring, and that's when her thrice-weekly practices began. Kevin signed on to coach Albus's house league team. And the weeks of non-stop soccer continued: often, we'd have only one soccer-free evening.
On Saturday, under a withering sun, Kevin and Albus's shared season ended, with some disappointment; due to a wet spring, they'd really just started going full tilt. But don't worry, there's still plenty of soccer to be had ... and imagine our scheduling acrobatics as the little kids show increasing interest in the sport.
*I'm even considering joining a co-ed team with Kevin this winter to get in on the action.*
Last week was a hard one for me. Home alone (with the children), I thought, well, I'll think of it as a holiday. But it didn't feel like a holiday. It felt like me, home alone with the children, with no writing time. It felt like in one short week, I'd lost the ability to talk coherently to grownups. My patience was thin. My envy of anyone with a job outside the home was thick. Note to all mothers of young children who read this blog and wonder how the heck I do the things that I do: I do those things while other people look after my children. There's no secret to it, really. When I'm home alone with my children, I can barely string together a sentence without interruption. It's a recipe for madness, not for insightful thought.
(I write this while one child quizzes me in multiple choice form and we all stare out the window at a man with a hammer breaking apart some copper piping in front of our house -- not our piping, but I'm guessing he didn't come by it honestly; but as I'm sitting in my bathing suit because it's really really hot, and though the kids have suggested it, I'm not going to approach the man with the hammer to ask what he's doing on our sidewalk).
Neither, really. But this morning, I got up early and went to a yoga class: my first in nearly two weeks. A short list for mental survival arrived. I must write this down and remember it, I thought. Why is it so hard to remember the little things that make life better? And then to step out of inertia to do them?
- yoga, for meditation and quiet thought
- writing, journalling
- reading poetry
And while this week alone with children is not a holiday, and it's not going to be productive work-wise either, it is time with my children, unstructured together-time. We made an attempt at an adventure this morning. It didn't really turn out (too many mosquitoes), but everyone enjoyed it. "This really is an adventure!" someone said, as we fled the woods amidst a storm of bugs. This week, I'm going to write a bit more, hang out a bit more, and yoga a bit more. And not try to wish this summer into something it's not.
The black-raspberry canes in our back yard are enjoying a fruitful season. Which makes for an excellent serve-yourself anytime snack. The very definition of local food. Get 'em while the gettin's good.
And if you're of an entrepreneurial spirit, like AppleApple, you'll spend a good half hour on a Saturday picking a pint of berries to sell to your mother (even better, you'll employ your younger siblings at one penny per berry picked).
This child has not had a day of hanging around the house doing nothing since school ended two weeks ago. The very next day, we dove directly into our Canada Day camping trip; two days after that, we delivered her and her older brother to a wonderful overnight camp for another week of adventure away from home; from which her dad picked her up super-early last Saturday for a two-hour drive to a two-day soccer tournament (she got car-sick on the way to the tournament, and went on to play three back-to-back games looking not a bit like her usual self; thankfully, all was well by Sunday's game); and on Monday morning, bright and early, the little kids and I drove her out to the country to the much-anticipated horse camp.
For the week, she got "her own" pony: this sweet brown mare named Lola. She learned how to ride in proper English style, how to hold the reins, and keep her heels lowered in the stirrups, and how to do a rising trot. She also got to ride a horse while it swam in a pond on the farm. How cool is that?
This morning, she said, "Tomorrow, I'll get to do nothing at all at home."
"Your brother has his soccer tournament, and we're all going to go."
"Well, Sunday, then."
"He might make it into the semi-finals."
"Then I kinda hope he doesn't--"
At which point I stopped her, because that was exactly her brother's attitude toward her tournament the previous weekend; and because, though I get the sentiment, we're trying to foster a mutually supportive environment here. Everybody on board, please.
"Okay, well, Monday, then I'll get to do nothing."
"Swim lessons," said her dad.
"So when do I get to do nothing?"
Luckily for her, I'm pretty sure swim lessons don't start until Tuesday. So she can have a full day to do nothing. And swim lessons aren't exactly rigorous -- it's our one guaranteed daily activity, biking to the pool and getting to swim. And then she can keep doing nothing for the entire month of August, because this is it: the last planned camp of the summer.
Yesterday: five boys in the back yard, already semi-bored from summer holidaying, looking for fun, finding it spontaneously. Four ten-year-olds welcoming the three-year-old into the group. After the splashing and the snacking, they retreat to the basement. The three-year-old emerges, flushed and sweaty, requesting his shirt off, and races back down again, shouting, "I'm a bad guy now, too!" "Um, what are you doing down there?" "Playing a battling game." "Okaaaaay ..." (As long as no one gets hurt.) (No one gets hurt.) From basement battling to board game in the living-room: Mama eavesdropping on the goofy, happy conversation. Finally, Mama needs to leave to pick up the girls, one at a play date and the other at horse camp. "We can stay home alone." "Yah, I've stayed home alone a lot." "Me, too." "It's okay." "Right, well. No. Not gonna happen. You'll have to find another plan." So, five boys walk down the sidewalk and around the corner -- even the three-year-old, who refuses to be left behind -- to someone else's house, to keep on playing. (Mama retrieves the pleased-as-punch three-year-old once they've reached their destination; and drives off to horse camp thinking of boys at a not-quite-in-between-age in damp swim suits on a front porch, playing Apples to Apples; and one of those boys is hers).
Here's what I like doing in the garden: pulling things up, chopping things down, and day-dreaming. I wander around with my garden gloves and imagine what the apple tree would look like if we built a treehouse around it. I imagine a child hidden high in the leafy branches, spying (like I loved to do, as a child). Imagining what could be is as satisfying as bringing it into being. Well, it's not really fair to compare the two, because both are extremely satisfying, but in different ways. I love bringing an idea to fruition: that ah sensation of accomplishment. But I love equally letting my mind wander through plans and plots and possibilities. It's like being at rest and at play at the same time. These are some of the happiest moments in my every day.
There was only one prince at the princess-themed dance camp. "Well, you did sign him up for a girls' camp," said Kevin, to which I took great offense--boys can dance, don't stereotype by sex, all the rest of it, as if I hadn't signed him up purely because it was a camp that his sister would agree to go to AND that would accept three-year-olds (ie. a total marriage of convenience). Then I went to the recital. And I thought to myself: alright, I'll admit it, I signed him up for a girls' camp. He wore an expression on his face, throughout, of toleration. As in: I'm showing up, I'm wearing the knight outfit and carrying a sword, and I'll bow when you make me, but we must never speak of this princess crown again. Whereas his sister looked blissfully happy.
Last week, I enjoyed mornings on my own in a quiet house. It couldn't last. The big kids were at overnight camp and the little kids were at a dance camp, and I knew it would be the only week in July that would provide me with that kind of alone time. I enjoyed having time to blog regularly and to think and plan out loud.
Alone time is a luxury to which I've grown accustomed, thanks to the coming-together of a variety of factors: kids in full-time school and part-time nursery school; babysitting; grant money.
Some of which evaporate during the summer months.
So, I could tear my hair out with frustration (and I may), or I could embrace the off-time as best as possible, and go with the flow. I'm trying to do the latter. It is Tuesday of the first week that I'm trying to do this. Let's say it's going well, but I haven't really been tested.
Yesterday, with three out of four children around all day (AppleApple is going to a horse day-camp this week), we ran some fairly leisurely errands: library, grocery store, dr's appointment. CJ rode his balance bike around town; Fooey begged to ride in the stroller (mostly, I made her walk); Albus was surprisingly compliant in our company. I didn't have the energy to make supper before heading out for my swim lessons, so I whipped up a fresh tomato/zucchini/cilantro/onion/lemon salad, and left Kevin with instructions to top pitas with the salad and some cheese, grill them, and call it "pizza." I think it worked. Hurray for fresh, simple summer suppers.
I'm tending to exercise more in the evening than the early morning. Early mornings work when there is time to nap, and there isn't; I don't want to be zombie-like with everyone around.
This morning, we are having difficulty reaching consensus. I would like to go swimming. Albus agrees. Fooey and CJ are resistant to the idea. CJ is developing a quick temper that he applies as leverage. Fooey has a lot of rules and regulations, of her own devising, to which she expects everyone to adhere. Albus tends toward severe boredom when left to his own devices. And I miss my alone time.
These activities have made the short-list for today: swimming; back yard splashing; gardening; walking uptown to buy seeds, sticker books, and to visit the pharmacy for advice on what appears to be seasonal allergies (Albus); having a friend over (Albus); clearing out the playroom/office to paint it (probably too massive a project to survive the fantasy stage); cutting CJ's hair (couldn't bring myself to do so yesterday); cleaning out drawers and cupboards and hidden areas of the house that get ignored all year long.
I also have as a goal to preserve a vegetable or fruit every week: we'll call it Preservation By Theme. Last week the theme was strawberries. This week ... well, what's in season? Suggestions?
This is my girl. This is where she plays, most of the time, and she plays like it's right where she belongs. I was, frankly, kind of petrified of having my kid play in net, but as the season has progressed, I've come to have confidence in her. It makes standing on the sidelines so much easier. She's not going to be perfect on every play, but she's going to be tough and engaged and focused. And aggressive. She jumps on the ball, no matter how many feet are coming at her. She's learning how to kick it out solidly (practice with her goalie uncle on Canada Day weekend helped).
Today, her team made it to the semi-finals of a tournament. They played against the other Waterloo team in a match that was equal and well-fought. It went to penalty kicks. This is her, right before she stopped the first kick. I stood behind the camera as a way to control my emotions: pride, really. It was all pride. But my girl's team did not win. They ran along the sidelines at the end, for the ritual high-fives from all the parents, looking heart-broken. My girl was at the front, positively bereft.
But she's recovering. Heart-broken is good, in a way. It means she cares a lot about how she plays, and wants to play better. It's good if it doesn't defeat a person. And I don't think it's going to defeat her. I tell you what makes me most proud: it's seeing her play her heart out, no matter the final tally. It's seeing her work hard and never give up. That's the best gift a parent could ask for. So, so proud, that was all I could tell her when it was over.
This is our yard, as viewed from the back porch, where I hang laundry. As you can see, it's very shaded, and spacious, especially for a lot so close to centre of the city. It's been an ideal play-yard for the kids, and we've added, over the years, to the small swing set that came with the house. We now have a large sand area, and a play structure with homemade climbing elements added on. We also have a soccer net in one corner, and some composting bins for yard waste. We poured the patio and laid the bricks, perfect for chalking, biking, and scootering. But there's room for more, as the kids grow older. We're currently saving up -- an all-family effort -- for a trampoline. A treehouse is in the works, too.
A few years ago, we added raspberry canes, which spread like wildfire. This summer, we've tried to contain them, and Kevin cleared paths so the kids could get in to pick more easily. The berries are ripe right now. This side of the yard has a bed of perennials, some which were here when we moved in eight years ago, and others we've added over the years. In springtime, the colours are insanely gorgeous. By July, it begins to look a bit weedy and sparse. Yesterday afternoon, the little kids and I spent a blissful hour and a half before supper picking raspberries, playing (them), and weeding (me). The weeding started giving me ideas.
Look at all this untouched space. As I weeded, I started to hear words in my head like "homestead," and "truckpatch," and "harvest." I started mentally cutting down trees: the old pear and apple, which give next to no fruit anymore. The black walnut. The mostly dead maple. The two Manitoba maples in the middle of the yard. (Wow, that's a lot of trees; what do you think, too many? Will we miss the shade?). But it would call down a lot more sunshine: the valuable morning sun especially. I started thinking goats and chickens, a barn cat, a dog. Could we petition the city to except us from its by-laws so we could have our own little carefully tended urban farm-plot? I won't ask for a pony. (Could I ask for a pony?).
Meanwhile, this is the extent of our backyard edible gardening: potatoes in the raised beds along the back patio. Kevin built these several years ago, and they've never gotten quite enough sun to nourish anything we've planted in them. This year, I added tons of compost and new soil. The potatoes were going to seed in our root cellar. Seemed like a good fit. I'd like to add another row of beds just below these, though it would mean sacrificing the tiger lilies currently sprouting on the incline. (My all-time favourite flower, and one I associate with being in the country).
Talking about thin spaces yesterday ... there is something about being outside in green space, no matter how hemmed in it is inside a city, that brings real peace to the mind. I've had my share of farm fantasies, but, really, I wouldn't want to move to the country because it would mean car-dependency; I love that we can walk or bike almost everywhere we need to go, and I love our close-knit neighbourhood for the kids (and for me, too!). But I'd love for our yard to be a farm-like sanctuary, too.
Something to dream about while weeding on a lazy summer afternoon. I'll keep you posted.
My friend Rebecca wrote this thought-provoking post on 'thin spaces', the Celtic concept of places (or moments) where the spirit world comes very near to our world. We can reach through and touch it; or it brushes us. She asked where we find our thin spaces. It might be a physical place, or it might be an experience. It might be something we can seek out, or it might be something that we can't, that just comes upon us.
Here is my short list, the things that jumped immediately into my mind:
- being with someone during labour and birth
- sometimes while writing, when the words seem to come from beyond me
- when someone reads a poem out loud
- when my body is working very hard and my mind becomes very quiet
I was out with my siblings last night (and Kevin!), and I was thinking about how all five of us Snyder kids are both creative and impractical (thank heavens Kevin is practical). I don't mean we're disorganized or incapable of functioning in the world, but I do think we look at some practical things, such as work and earning a living, differently. Somehow, we must have been raised to value the making of things more than the buying of things. I think within that is some quiet value, never spoken of, of thin spaces. And our thin spaces maybe aren't that profitable, but we were raised to choose unprofitable over practical if unprofitable feeds us in other ways.
I think many people choose the work they choose because it brings them closer to those thin spaces. What's your work? Does it take you to unexpected moments or places of peace / calm / meditation / joy / insight / grace / giving / acceptance / fill-in-the-blank-with-your-word-for-a-thin-space?
My girl takes after me. I like to write my ideas down. I have to write my ideas down, more precisely. It's my version of "thinking out loud," and I recommend it to my older children when they are having trouble with anything: mean siblings, unfair situations, anger management, you name it.
Yesterday, I took my own advice. The big kids are at overnight camp, and the little kids are at a dance camp during the mornings, just for this week; and I have no projects on the go. I've completed the triathlon, and the related Chatelaine.com blog. I am waiting for line edits on The Juliet Stories. I seem unwilling to commit to a new character and a new story, just yet. I am at the crux of something. Restless. Curious. So I spent the morning talking to myself in terrible printing (barely legible, even to me) inside the pages of a handy notebook.
Did anything come of it? But of course! If not exactly peace of mind, then peace of purpose.
My mother has a phrase she uses often: She likes to "stay open to the possibilities." And while there's plenty to recommend the idea, I've decided that rather than staying open to the possibilities, I prefer to pursue, invite, and seek out possibilities--and when the time is right, to choose and to commit, which is kind of the opposite of staying open to more and more and more. Commitment means closing off possibilities--at least, some of them. But it also means believing in the possibilities before you and available to you, and not forever hoping that something better may be waiting around the corner. It's kind of like getting married. When I commit, I like to get it right. That comes with a certain amount (okay, a giant unreasonable amount) of agonizing and analyzing.
But I'm seeing that commitment can be lighter than that, too. I have before me a flexible year. Certain elements are inflexible: my youngest is still a preschooler for whom I am the primary caregiver. But depending on my income generation, there are childcare options to supplement my responsibilities. And I am at home. I can juggle. I'm not tied to the structured hours of a 9-5 job.
One thing became very clear during yesterday's brainstorming: I am finding more satisfaction from expanding my working life--my public life, essentially. To connect, to be engaged with the world--it's what I want.
Something clear to me at this exact moment, as my littlest leans his face onto my leg and says, "I'm bored!" is that I'm not a great mother when I'm typing on the computer or trying to think. The balance ... is so imperfect.
An excerpt from a letter to the editor, published in The Globe and Mail newspaper this past weekend, on the subject of government subsidies for the arts: "Canada subsidizes war. Canada subsidizes car companies. Canada subsidizes oil companies. Why shouldn't Canada subsidize beauty?"
Camping with class: two rooms, bay windows, cereal buffet. (We buy cereal only in the summertime, as a treat, and it's a good strategy for gaining an extra half hour of parental dozing).
Notice CJ's eye? We like to make it a tradition to have at least one child with a mystery ailment on our Canada Day camping trip. This time it was CJ and a well-placed bug bite that made him look like a miniature boxer, post-bout. CJ also starred in a classic first-aid moment of panic while Kevin was in Tim Horton's getting coffee (about an hour after this photo was taken). The kids and I were waiting in the car. CJ started yelling about something up his nose. "Did he say 'rock'?" I asked (not at all calmly). Yup, a little fossil he'd found on the farm and decided to put up his nose ("Why?" the others wondered, but there are no answers to questions like these). In short order, the rock was removed. By lollipop stem. As grabbed from one of the car's compartments (what? no first aid kit?). Quick thinking, Mama. AppleApple thought it might cheer CJ up to get to suck on said lollipop post-op. But we saved it for later. Because you never know.
This is the fifth summer of camping on Chach and B's lawn, under the apple tree. Is it an apple tree? Lots of birds singing in the dawn.
Next on the day's agenda: the beach. But first, a detour for some coffee. Lord have mercy.
Albus saves his schoolwork all year long in anticipation of this wonderful moment. This year, his sisters joined in, too, and CJ spent the evening racing around, searching the grass for things to burn. Thanks to my brother and sister-in-law for providing the bonfire. And the land for pitching a tent. And the indoor plumbing (not pictured).
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.