It’s been a busy month for most of us. And cold and snowy for many of us, at least in our area of Ontario.
I also know it’s a really hard month for people. Even for those who celebrate and love the holiday season, it’s hard. Keeping spirits up when there’s so much to do, when expectations are high (especially our own), through the emotional ups and downs of social occasions, anticipation and letdown, hopes and dreads.
I love this time of year, and I find it hard too. I love the music and the food and the family and friends. Gifts are fun too, especially when you get to give gifts to children.
But I still fight depressing thoughts. I worry that materialism and greed will take over my kids, despite our best efforts. I worry about the germs that spread scarily fast in winter. Especially when it’s really cold out, I worry about the people who don’t have someplace warm to be. I feel the emptiness when Christmas ends. And I struggle with the darkness. It makes me dwell on the things that are wrong in the world. It makes them seem overwhelming.
This has always been somewhat true for me. I remember the way it would feel on winter evenings when I was young… I would consciously turn on my warm yellow desk lamp and read an L.M. Montgomery book, to fend off the creeping knowledge that the world is dangerous and violent and dark and cold. I had to deliberately keep these thoughts at bay, even though I had very little actual experience with suffering. I can only imagine how hard it must be for people who don’t have loving families, who don’t feel safe, who spend their days hungry or in pain.
Right now, I’m hoping that you are okay, and have found some beauty in this month.
I hope you have spent time with people you love.
I hope you have also spent at least a little time just for you, doing what you love most.
I hope you felt awe in Nature, despite the darkness – a sunbeam when you really needed it, a bright star, a pink sunrise, the deep hush of a snowfall in progress.
I hope the shortening of nights has been a comfort, even though it’s hard to see.
I hope that if you were grieving, you did not feel alone.
I hope you deeply felt the support, purpose, creativity, and unity you needed.
I hope you’ve had a really good laugh.
I hope you saw – or were part of – generosity in action.
I hope your home was warm, and your candles burned bright.
I hope you’ve felt some true wonder lately.
And some joy.
Today is a beautiful snowy day. (And it’s packing snow, miracle of miracles!) Our tree is still up and smells sweet. Our kids are not completely healthy right now, but healthy enough to play. We have been blessed to visit with all family branches this month. There’s been singing, which is important to me. Also family games and jigsaw puzzles, which I love. Sean has actually had significant time off, which is a treat for all of us. I’m very grateful for all these things.
2016 has been a rough and upsetting year in many ways, but it’s almost done. We in this house are choosing to be optimistic about 2017.
I mentioned I’ve been absent from school twice within the last two months, for a week at a time. There are only good reasons for this, and this is what I wrote (and didn’t manage to post) when I came back from the first one – a rare and wonderful reunion of my dad’s side of the family in the U.S.
I’m feeling really grateful, for so many things.
Being given permission to attend a family reunion in North Carolina for a week, even though teachers are really never supposed to do vacation time outside scheduled breaks.
Our spacious new minivan that made the trip possible. (Toyota Sienna.)
My kids being, overall, very well-behaved and good sports about the 12-hour drive (plus stops and a teeny bit of getting lost).
My dear sisters, Auntie Em and Auntie Beth, who were part of the minivan crew and made the long driving time totally do-able. (In fact, when the kids look back on those long drives, they insist that they were fun… And they actually kind of were.)
The gift of hand-me-down Bakugan toys, from a thoughtful friend, that made both car rides way more cool.
Sean being an excellent driver, such that we arrived safely and I didn’t have a nervous breakdown, despite my unexpected and uncharacteristic bout of anxiety during my own driving stint in the West Virginia mountains. (Tunnels through mountains = not great for claustrophobes.)
The fact that my two aunts somehow managed to buy houses that aren’t just in the same town – they’re RIGHT NEXT DOOR to each other.
The beautiful Smoky Mountains.
Tromping around in the mountain woods.
Gorgeous weather, like a sweet slice of summer. (While we were still having intermittent snow back home.)
The best screened-in balcony-porch you’ve ever seen.
Being given a bed to sleep on that’s actually more comfortable than our own bed; on our second night there, I had the best sleep I’ve had in… probably more than seven years.
A whole crew of family I don’t just like, or even just love – rather, family I am totally inspired by and adore to pieces. Including every one of the relatively new additions.
Finally cuddling my birthday buddy!! And getting a lovely baby-fix – without craving another of my own. Well, hardly at all.
Getting to hug and kiss my sweet grandma every day, hear her voice, and know that at 97-and-a-half she’s still a good listener and inclined to make sassy comments on a regular basis.
Fascinating, wide-ranging intergenerational conversations, especially leisurely ones over breakfast while we ogled the baby and drank amazing coffee (one of the cousins does coffee for a living, and we all reaped the benefits).
The interactions between the four smaller people – ages almost-one, three-and-a-half, almost-seven, and almost-eleven. They were all so good to each other and had so much fun, age gaps notwithstanding.
Delicious homemade meals every night, made by different folks so no-one had to do too much.
Having time to play two whole games of Cities and Knights of Catan, plus lots of Anomia, Dutch Blitz, Exploding Kittens, and one grand game of Taboo. Lots of laughing-till-we-couldn’t-breathe.
The opportunity to visit the Cherokee village and walk around the grounds (which seemed mysteriously open even though the village itself was closed even though its website said it was open) and then visit the nearby Museum, so as to have an idea of the real history of the area.
Seeing horribly grainy video footage of our clan talent show from New Year’s Eve 1995, to remember how young and big- and long-haired – and talented, of course – we all were.
Watching my children playing with their grown-up relatives, who seemed happy to get down on the floor to play, or participate in endless rounds of bounce-catch. (Thank you!!)
Both of my dog-scared kids getting to know little Tucker, who helped them loosen up.
Getting to see arty Asheville, including the coffee bus and Woolworth Walk and the used bookstore and Real Buskers!
The fact that my kids have aunts and great-aunts who do real art, super-fun full-on art, of a type that I never accomplish with them at home.
My Hubbibi being willing to put the kids to bed basically every night, so that I could spend more time with my relatives.
Being reminded of what it feels like to be at loose ends… having whole days with no set plans, to just loll around and chat and listen to birds and have drinks and hammock and strum and sing and look at old photos. What a crazy feeling.
Getting to celebrate the baby’s first Passover on our last evening in NC, with real matzo ball soup and extra-hot horseradish, and the short version of the sermon with genuine Hebrew singing.
Spending a whole week immersed in beauty and clan-love. It really doesn’t get any better.
That lady at McDonald’s during breakfast on our trip home who kindly got AB a separate plate when she was starting to melt down because of a syrup incident, and then also got us a lot of napkins when she spilled her milk. And smiled at us and seemed not at all perturbed by the perturbations.
Being so fortunate in our home that, even though we missed everyone, coming back across the border was a joy, and coming into our house was comforting. Even E, who had cried about leaving, said, “It’s nice to be home.”
Dear clan – thank you so much, for your hospitality, your generosity, your wonderfulness in general. We miss you and love you lots and lots, and are already looking forward to the next visit. Even two weeks after we got home, E still said that whenever he mentioned North Carolina, he felt sad that we left – but I know both kids had the time of their lives. And me too.
When you’re a parent, discussing parenting is what you do: the easiest way to find out what you have in common – and also to gauge how you’re doing at the parenting gig, and whether you/your kids are normal.
I can’t help but notice a trend among the parents I talk to with young kids – one that contradicts most of social media. If you’re to believe Facebook and Instagram, parenting is about going to the beach, making kick-ass birthday cakes, watching your kids frolic happily, dressing them up all cute, witnessing their endearingly messy faces, and recording their most hilarious soundbites.
In reality, for many of us, parenting is about the little things that are never done and seem to take up ALL THE TIME. Wakeup routines and bedtime routines, endless meals and snacks, potty breaks and body breaks and tantrum-soothing and squabble-mediating and dropping off and picking up and tidying up and laundering and reminding and re-reminding and outright nagging. Somehow, most of the time, Barely Keeping Up feels like all there is.
I don’t believe our social media masks are necessarily disingenuous. If you were to look at my Facebook profile, you’d think my life is all dancing and ukuleles and cute children and animals. Because who really wants to post about their ordinary-but-hectic schedule? More to the point, who makes time for that? We’d all rather look at cakes.
Sometimes I feel like we get that empty jar every day, and for some reason we can only fill it with pebbles, even though we know what the big rocks are, and we want them – and we’re sure everyone else must be fitting in their big rocks, like you’re supposed to.
Now, I’m wondering how many of us are getting any big rocks on a daily basis. There are parents I see as life experts who’ve got it all together… and often, they actually don’t. They are just as frazzled as I am. We all signed up for this parenting gig, and we knew the baby days would be hard, but we sorta thought it would get easier sooner. As in, it’ll be easier when they’re sleeping better… when I go back to work and there’s more routine… when they’re out of diapers… when they get to school… And you’re waiting for the moment when things fall into place. And you’re still waiting… and waiting.
I know there must exist families who are fine, who don’t feel like they’re struggling to keep their heads above water all the time… but I don’t know how this phenomenon is achieved.
Sean and I were talking about this recently, asking ourselves, Does everyone feel this way? Why are so many of us struggling to manage life? Shouldn’t we be able to handle this better? Is it really as hard as it feels?
Banal as it sounds, I think it’s partly “the times.” As a society, we’re in this moment where women having jobs outside the family is normal – which really has not been true for very long. Also, it did not happen that the patriarchs stepped in and switched places to take over the household-running – at least, not in many cases.
Also, in the space of one generation, the cost of housing in Canada has gone from reasonable to… frankly unreasonable. Back when my parents were originally in the housing market, a home was a big expense, but it could be paid off in the foreseeable future, like five to ten years, especially if you had the luxury of two incomes for any of that time. Nowadays, it’s common to be paying off your house for two to three decades – possibly more, if you want to do other things like, for example, send your kids to university. (Which is another expense that has skyrocketed, by the way.)
Of course this means that, for many families, a mortgage is simply not affordable on one salary – especially when so many jobs are unstable, temporary, or just under-compensated. But households still need just as much running as before.
And expectations of parenting are out-of-whack with this scenario. Right now, it’s de rigueur to actually play with your kids (wha??), read to them, snuggle them, do crafts with them, run around with them… unlike the days when you had a gaggle of offspring, let the big ones take care of the little ones, and put them to work as soon as they could carry a hay bale.
Child-rearing in the era of mommy-blogs and Pinterest is now a hobby, an occupation, a science, and an art form. For families with a stay-at-home parent, it’s all the more intense: society seems to accept, and even expect, that the parent will give her whole life to the kids, the household, and the community.
I’m all for playing, snuggling, and reading with your children. I love the kind of direct engagement that lets me get to know my kids as people. But other than family dinners and bedtime stories (which are sacred), these things don’t happen as much as I’d like. (You’ve probably noticed I don’t blog about my beautiful kid-crafts very much. Since I don’t do them.) That’s because the expectations of running a household – making good meals for your family, paying the bills, getting everybody where they need to go on time with the stuff they need, and making sure the house isn’t a constant fracking mess – still apply. And I always feel bad when I fail to keep up with those.
This is another problematic factor. The guilt.
If my kids ask me to play with them and I say no for the sake of housework, I feel guilty. When I do play with them, I feel guilty for “shirking” all the other things that need doing. When I come home from school right away to get some housework done, I feel guilty for not being more on top of my marking at school. When I am doing schoolwork, I feel guilty for the household slack that falls to my husband. When I spend time on email, I feel guilty because it’s such a time-suck – but if I neglect it, I feel guilty because I invariably let someone down. And when I go to the gym, ALL the guilt applies – except for the guilt I feel about wasted money when I don’t go to the gym.
Other things I tend to feel guilty about: letting my kids eat sugar, eating sugar myself, spending money on non-necessities, not taking good enough care of my plants, neglecting my cats, not seeing my friends often enough, forgetting things people I care about have told me… etc. You see how it is.
It’s true for many of us, with kids or not, that “catching up” with life is this mythical thing we never achieve, like getting to Solla Sollew. The tangled cycle of obligations and unease seems neverending.
Now, I’m pretty sure my personal sense of guilt is more finely-honed than many – for myriad reasons. I’m also aware that it’s unhelpful and borderline ridiculous. I certainly hope most people’s brains are less apologetic than mine. Intellectually, I know I shouldn’t reproach myself, because I’m doing my best. (But… am I?? my inner guilt-monitor pipes up.) Unfortunately, guilt is like mosquitoes. You can’t just ask it to go away, and if you swat it, there’s always more where that came from.
I have found that I can fend it off somewhat, as long as I’m doing one of the top three things (parenting, housework, schoolwork) needing immediate attention. But really, I know that neglecting the rest of life isn’t a good idea. Especially when my wishes for 2016 include being more fit and doing more writing. I simply can’t do those things… if I’m not doing them.
So! This month, I devised an approach that I think will motivate me (because I love lists and check boxes and points systems) to make the life I imagine but haven’t managed to prioritize. Sean hammered out a beautiful spreadsheet for each of us that will assign points for things like getting to bed on time, taking vitamins, walking, working out, etc. We can also get points for checking a small job off the to-do list – those annoying little jobs that would only take 10-15 minutes but never get done because they’re never quite urgent enough. And we’ve also assigned points to Writing (in 20-minute slots) and Making Music (in 20-minute slots).
Voilà! INSTANT LEGITIMACY, baby. It’s the key, I know it.
The only trouble is, so far we haven’t managed to get “checking off points chart” on the daily to-do list. But I’m sure it’ll be awesome once we get to it.
Hi, folks. Looks like I (completely, by a long shot) missed posting this “new year post” at the official beginning of 2016. But hey – Chinese New Year was only yesterday! Gung hey fat choy! And since we did not manage a proper Christmas card this year, this must serve as our retrospective message. Time to get this year bloggily rolling.
What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before?
Me: Finally got rid of a lot of baby stuff (sigh), made my own Irish Cream on St. Paddy’s, performed with my dance troupe at the Pirate Festival, made Strata for Christmas morning.
Sean: Turned 38, bought a house while the wife was out of town, and sold a house – also while the wife was out of town.
E: Turned six; learned to draw a minion and read in French (as well as English); got glasses; moved; got a new couch; lost two teeth!
A: Saw aerialists performing on Canada Day, got to try silks myself at Family Camp… and have been aerialisting as much as possible since.
Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Me, Sean: Who can remember? And you betcha! They’re epic.
E: Six-year-olds don’t need to resolve things.
A: My parents didn’t know it, but I resolved to ONLY wear things I DEEM CURRENTLY ACCEPTABLE. I kept this resolution as firmly as possible.
Did anyone close to you give birth?
Me: My cousins had a son ON MY BIRTHDAY! Yeah, baby! Also, congrats and love to Lindsay, Eleanor, Catherine, Jaya, Katie, and probably more…
Sean: See above.
E: Well, I did spawn thousands of pigs in Minecraft.
A: No, but I’m the mama of many babies, including Minnie Mouse. And a minion.
Did anyone close to you die?
Me: Jonathan Crombie, a.k.a. Gilbert Blythe (sniff!), and Jurgen Gothe, a.k.a. my fave CBC Radio voice since I was a kid.
Sean: Leonard Nimoy.
E: All those pigs eventually died.
A: My Elsa crown got broken, which is about the same level of tragedy.
What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?
Me: Organizational skills, for real this time. And an extra dose of will power.
Sean: Discipline. Other than that, I want for nothing. OFFICIALLY.
E: More pages for my Pokémon cards.
A: A light blue stuffed dog that I can take for indoor walks.
What countries did you visit?
Me: The exotic land of my garage. I cleaned that sh*t up.
Sean: Jakku and Takodana.
E: Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Mexico, and the United States (in my virtual car-racing schedule).
A: Arendelle. Many times.
What date from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory, and why:
Me, Sean: August 27th – moving day; October 19th – goodbye Harper!; November 13th – terrorist attacks in Paris.
E: Visiting the Science Centre and the African Lion Safari.
A: Visiting the African Lion Safari and the Science Centre.
What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Me: That one kid-free day in October where I spent the entire day working my tail off and GOT SO MUCH DONE.
Sean: Making the perfect, harmonious configuration of apps on my phone.
Me and Sean: Ten years of marriage!! (Celebrated at Niagara-on-the-Lake.)
E: Surviving another new school – and liking it. Also my earthworm diorama rocked.
A: Dancing at Talent Night with my Grammie and my friends.
What was your biggest failure?
Me: Major blog neglect, e.g. NaBloPoMo. Also, not managing to finish unpacking by 2016.
Sean: I did not manage to keep my bonsai tree alive.
E: I did not manage to convince my parents to move back to the old house again.
A: I did not manage to secure the title of Supreme Dictator of the New House. People keep thwarting my plans to be the OVERBOSS.
Did you suffer illness or injury?
Me: Teacher immunity, baby. I just stave it off.
Sean: I get cut all the time at work, but I’m cool. Nobody worries about it but my wife.
E: Chest infection. Two ear infections. Stomach bugs. But worse than all those… The times I bit my tongue.
A: Stomach bugs, to match my brother’s, and a flu or two. (Remember that time we tobogganed at the big hill and I throwed up on the road?)
What was the best thing you bought?
Me, Sean: New house! AND pretty area rug!
E: I earned myself a lot of virtual cars on the iPad – does that count?
A: My Elsa dress, even though *I* didn’t buy it.
Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Me: Last year’s students. Every damn day.
Sean: Donald Trump.
E: Mommy and Daddy, when they make me wash my hands. Like, ALL THE TIME.
A: Mommy and Daddy, when they don’t let me have and do EXACTLY WHATEVER I WANT.
Whose behavior merited celebration?
Me: This year’s students! (Hurray for 20 kids in a class instead of 29.)
Sean: Trudeau’s, for being just such a nice guy, not to mention bringing everyone to the climate conference and fixing that Cabinet that was all crooked.
E: I got a sticker chart for doing my homework!
A: I got a sticker chart for dry mornings!
Where did most of your money go?
Me, Sean: See #11.
E, A: In my piggy bank!
What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Me: Essential oils and diffusers.
Sean: Two words: STAR WARS.
E: My new zebra backpack!
A: Turning three!
What song will always remind you of 2015?
Compared to this time last year, are you: i) happier or sadder?
Me, Sean: Not that simple, but working on happier.
E: Sadder. We can never live in our old house again.
A: Happier, but I wish I could go back to being two. I liked when I was two.
ii)thinner or fatter? Nope.
iii) richer or poorer? Poor in house-debt, rich in automatic dishwashing power.
What do you wish you’d done more of?
E: Play dates with my best friend from my old school.
A: Wearing tights. Tights are LIFE.
What do you wish you’d done less of?
Me: Raising my voice.
Sean: Spending money.
E: Putting my clothes away.
A: Wearing pants. Pants are for non-royalty.
How will you be spending did you spend Christmas?
All: We were lucky enough to spend time with all the branches – and we all managed to be not-sick over the whole holiday! A Christmas miracle.
What is your resolution this year?
Me: Go to bed earlier. Also, write 52 blog posts. I was going to aim for 100, and then I looked at this past year’s track record and realized I was setting myself up for failure. This is a one-post-a-week number, and I’m already behind, but tarnation, I’m going to make this one.
Sean: Five words: Joy, Patience, Humility, Discipline, Compassion.
E: Finish authoring a 90-page Pokémon novel.
A: Earn back my Pony tights (confiscated due to my bloodcurdling screaming habit).
Did you fall in love in 2015?
Me: Yes, with a golden beet. So much so that convinced my Hubbibi to base our main-floor paint colours on them.
Sean: I stayed in love. I think that’s better. (Direct quote! Aww. Points for you, honey.)
E: Not this year. In JK I was gonna marry Bronwen, but now I’m not planning on marrying anyone.
A: Why can’t I marry my big brother?
How many one-night stands?
If you count standing up at night to help a small someone go pee or feel better after a nightmare… then lots.
What was your favorite TV program?
Me, Sean: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Bojack Horseman.
E: I spend my screen time on Minecraft these days.
A: Paw Patrol, Peppa Pig, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Dinosaur Train.
I haven’t been sleeping well, so today was one of those tired, foggy, grumpy days where it’s an effort to muster the teaching energy. Still, so many things to be thankful for.
Today I’m grateful for:
Having both my sisters, if just for a few minutes, together with me for coffee this morning.
Noticing that E really does seem to be calming down in many ways – his reactions to things, and his overall stress level – when I compare this year to last year.
AB being happy to go to her babysitter – what a relief after the drama in September.
The students that made me laugh out loud today – even on tired days, there’s always at least one or two who are good for a real chuckle.
Our super-nice new vet, who’s helping us figure out why our cat Nico wants to do his business in random places instead of the cat box… (I’m pretty damn sick of cleaning cat scat these days.) I was most impressed when the doc cleaned Nico’s turds off the floor himself without batting an eye, complimenting Nico on their “high quality.” LOL.
Having a set of brand-new, non-sport bras that actually fit me, for the first time in seven years. (I know that seems random, but ladies – you know it can make a difference to your day when the girls are properly supported.)
Dinner with my l’l family. (I’m grateful for this every single time it happens.)
A mostly-smooth bedtime. (Ditto.)
This. (Thanks, Mary.) Sorry, I couldn’t access the subtitled version… But all you really need is “les fleurs… C’est pour combattre les pistolets,” and that little boy’s smile at the end.
And while we’re feeling warm and fuzzy, this. (Thanks, Ben!) I’m so glad there are people in the world who apparently have time to painstakingly choose clips that synch so beautifully with the funk.
This past week, we were having a play date at Skye’s house, and she gave me a very gentle and encouraging nudge about this month. She reminded me that I need to write in November. It’s true. I have been letting writing fall off my radar a lot, and Skye knows (as many of you do) that it’s good for me.
So here is my first post of the month, with a theme for y’all: gratitude.
I’m presently reading (along with three different book club books because I keep not finishing them) The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. It is a very humbly- and intimately-written book, recommended to me by a friend, about things to work on in order to be one of those people who lives life not only with gusto (“Wholeheartedly”), but at peace with imperfections – one’s own and those of others. It has given me several Aha moments already.
One of the big themes in the book is gratitude. Not just gratitude, but deliberate thankfulness for ordinary as well as extraordinary things. I know it’s one of the buzzwords of our time, and that Oprah totally got on that train at least fifteen years ago, and going on about gratitude might at some points end up sounding cheesy or sanctimonious or smug… but it’s a worthy exercise nonetheless. I think of myself as a pretty appreciative person, because I am, in my heart, profoundly aware of how lucky I am to be me, but I find that doesn’t necessarily help me during those times when my patience is almost at zero and I’m not sure I can stop myself from, for example, yelling at my kids (again). I thought, Brené, good idea.
Then a few days ago, another friend decided to turn a bad day into a good one by pouring out gratitude instead of complaint on her Facebook status. I felt good just reading it.
When I think of focusing on the things I’m thankful for this month, it sounds so easy to ask myself to write every day. (Famous last words be damned.) I know I said something similar last year when I was going to do 100 Happy Days (still haven’t finished those) but I was having so many technical blog issues that the process was bringing me down.
So this year, I’m going to try not to take things too seriously. I just want to get back into the swing. Some days it will be brief, and some days it might be partly off-topic. But I want to be grateful, and I want to be writing… so I will.
Today, I’m grateful for Skye, for that nudge. (At first I typed “nudget.” That’s totally what it was. A nice, friendly little nudget.) Also, I’m grateful for our Halloween tradition of getting together to do whatever fun thing we can manage. (Used to be watching non-scary somewhat-Halloween-related movies, but now that we both have kids, it’s accompanying the trick-or-treaters and watching them eat candy.) This year, little G (the lion) wins the citizenship award for wishing almost everybody we encountered a Happy Halloween, in his adorable toddler way.
And I’m grateful for these kids. It was really fun to watch them have so much fun, and to watch people’s faces as they took in the cuteness.
While I’m at it, I was grateful last night for the realization that Halloween is not just about sugar, and not even about dressing up; it’s a lot about seeing and chatting with your neighbours, and feeling the community. We haven’t met large numbers of people in the neighbourhood yet, but we knew a few before we arrived, and the folks on our tiny street are lovely, and we are recognizing more neighbours every day. It’s a really friendly place. With lots of kids (grateful for that too).
Finally, I’m grateful for archival footage of my babies, so I will never forget just how delicious their little cheeks were. Let’s throw in a couple of re-runs, just for fun.