Being OK

What does that even look like right now, being ok. In our house, we’re still home all the time. Probably if things were lighter for my kids, without anxiety, things would be a bit different, we’d be out more, walking. But where we live in Waterloo, there isn’t much to do in walking distance and where I’d love to walk the trails behind our home, no one else is up for it.

So we put in time. Yesterday things were desperate enough to let them tell me an alphabet of all the dirty words they knew, they are 12 and 15 and nothing shocks me anymore, well, not those words anyway. They’ve got some ways to go and as I’d guessed, it sounded more like a healthy sex ed class. And although it definitely did not result in me winning any parenting awards, they did laugh their guts out for almost an hour, so that’s something.

We’re in that weird place where we all stay up too late and don’t get up early enough in the morning. Each day I imagine waking up early and writing on my deck, but when I wake up my leg hurts so much still from stupid sciatica than another half an hour sleeping feels like a better choice. Anxiety makes sleep very difficult to come by for my oldest, and they’re too old to start going to bed very early and then the hours get lost. It’s funny how often motherhood falls into old patterns, memories stirred up, days and nights mixed up.

But at the same time, we’re incredibly spoiled. We ordered soaps and bath bombs from a local company for a treat, and I can’t even tell you the amount of books I have rolling in these days, by Black authors, to read and talk about and learn from. I ask the kids – because I know the answer – if the news makes things harder for them, they say no and it wouldn’t matter if it did. We are talking and learning together, in and around the video games.

I’m doing ok, as long as I stop floating around and above everyone here, making sure they’re ok. School lost momentum a while ago. It’s the guilt I’m struggling with, pushing harder but not too hard, too much screen, too much licorice, too many chips (that’s me). Our tiny worries and struggles which amount to nothing the minute you think past your home. But then there’s the new little bits that creep into your day and darken things, like Rowling – the one news story we’re not ready to share with the boys. There was huge article about it in the Star this morning, I saw the headline and picture just as Rory grabbed for the comics on the next page. I made up some stupid excuse and grabbed it back and he said I was being weird. He just finished reading all the books again, for the seventh time, for comfort. I’ve got a word document collecting the essays I’ve read this week that might help later on.

We’re ok, of course we are. The ups and downs can be intense and in the paper today Scott’s horoscope did say a family member could move out tonight, but we’re not too worried.

Bits

Weird new setting that puts my pictures into circles instead of boxes.

I have nothing to add.

It feels again like it did when this all began in March (how is it June 1st?) Checking twitter and the news constantly, reading and trying to make sense of everything. When something happens (I won’t say something ‘new happens’ because racism is not new) it’s so hard not to fall back on something easier, a memory, even though it wasn’t easy at the time. Like when #sourdoughfails was trending above all else.

I was emailing with a lovely new friend the other day and she reminded me of the gift we have as writers to be able to write in order to make sense of things – the news, the world, our thoughts. I’ve been writing 1000 words a day on a project and nothing else has helped as much to settle the rattling in me. Well, ok, let’s be honest – gardening helps, my hammock, the enormous stack of new books I’ve purchased without much worry to cost, taking baths, watching television, eating great food and ice cream and local takeout – knowing my family was safe. So many things I take for granted, because I am white, and privileged and have so very much to learn.

Our boys have been keeping up with the news, hardly something to congratulate ourselves for, they are more than old enough and if they weren’t what would that say. But I was worried they were hearing things in too many fragments – the stories, the pictures, the asshole tweets – along with my anger swirling in and around it all. We know how much it is. So Sunday morning we sat on the carpet in out living room in a puddle of sunlight and watched the Trevor Noah video on one of our tiny phone screens and his words and the coming together of all of those bits, felt like Church.

I’m thinking of the need to post pictures on Instagram when the space could be used for better things. I even feel doubtful as to the reason I’m posting here today. I guess it all goes back to that idea of having a little space on the Internet of good things, our stories. Maybe we don’t stop posting and writing, we just acknowledge that our space needs to be bigger, needs to better.

Nana and Good Things

Last night my family was enjoying watching television together. It was the end of the day, homework and dishes were done and we were relaxing. The last few days have been harder and I think it’s because we’ve hit a bit of a wall. As my kids say, every day is the same, the school closure has been extended (we knew it would be) and there isn’t a heck of a lot to look forward to especially since the freedom of summer is in question. When I tried to get them to list some things that are good right now (we are watching The Good Place with them after all) it was slim pickings for anything new that wasn’t also good a week or twenty ago. When my husband said how happy he’s been to be able to be at home spending more time with us, the kids balked and said nothing good can be recognized when so many people are sick and dying. Right.

So we slowly opened up a dialogue on the importance of finding goodness when it’s hard. We talked about having less pressure to go to school and work more at one’s own pace, so hard still, but a definite bonus! We talked about Rory having hours to dive deep once again into Harry Potter – those books are a balm for that kid and always will be. We said how much fun we’ve had planning fun pick-up dinners for the weekends to make them stand out and be special. How without school they can stay up later and we’ve gotten out our telescope and star watched and saw Venus this week. By the end of the chat, at bedtime, they weren’t entirely convinced because life right now is the Groundhog Day movie on loop (which us campers do all love but still).

When they get down, I need to do what I can to keep myself up. My own list is pretty good right now. All the books I’m reading (and ordering), the baking, some sunshine, more time for baths (mostly because I haven’t gone a day without pain in 6 weeks and my sciatica is calmed by warm water, but still) but more than anything, the conversations I’m having every day with my Nana.

She’s living right now with family in Orillia, far from her nursing home, where thank goodness no cases have been reported. Her birthday, 93, was right before this happened and we were sick I think with colds and sadly couldn’t visit. I sent her books for her birthday including the first in the Lane Winslow mystery series by Iona Whishaw, one of my favourites. One of my greatest joys of this lockdown – without doubt – has been experiencing her completely devour the entire series and talk about it with her each day.

My Nana has always been a voracious reader. She was the head children’s librarian in Whitby for years – during my early years so I was in very good hands. My birthday parties growing up were amazing – props and costumes and film reels and screens borrowed from her work, each year’s better than the last. I was the star of every Storytime, Bernice’s granddaughters were famous in that building. She taught me to read, introduced me to Harriet and Anastasia and so many other great loves.

She gave me my love of reading which I treasure above most things in my life. Reading has gotten me through so much and so has she, they both still do. To be able to share these books – this reading experience – with her now through such a hard and scary time when, my kids are right, some days it’s so tricky to find the good things, is more than I could ever have imagined.

So Thank You

I’m in the middle of so many things, we all are. Right now it’s a fight between getting some words down and not letting the grilled cheese sandwiches burn. Before it was trying to get some of my own work done while helping my kids stay on task with theirs.

But mostly, it’s these amazing thoughts that are ping ponging back and forth in my head nonstop. And not the practical ones (get school started, then laundry and dinner plans) but the way better ones that are stronger than ever and so surprising, if I’m being honest. I feel inspired and excited to create. I didn’t want to help my kids with school today because the story I’m working on and the blog posts I’m reading and the new books I had delivered to me from my independent bookstore are filling me up with so much goodness! OK, so maybe I’m as scatterbrained right now as the boys are, but I’m also feeling more productive and I know it has much to do with feeling part of a community of artists and creative women online right now who are brilliant and kind. And it’s their encouragement that is overwhelming and so appreciated. To go back to Tara Henley’s Lean Out, she talks about the importance of finding one’s tribe – those people outside of your partners and best friends. The ones who encourage and spark bravery and kindness and courage. So thank you, you all know who you are, for instance, if you are reading this, it’s YOU!

Pardon any typos, I’m just glad the sandwiches didn’t burn! And then back to gr 7 science.

Small Pink Fish

The dog gets it. Find the sun and rest. There hasn’t been much sun this week, or rather there has been but the weather is constantly swapping it’s spring and winter hats. Sunshine to dark and snow, constantly. Light and shadow.

And that’s about how it’s going. My back’s great and I’m a powerhouse and then it goes enough to make me have to sit. The kids are rocking school and then we hit a massive wall and my chest starts to ache – moment of zen, poof! Finding balance is so key but so hard right now.

And it’s not like we had it all figured out before. The weird, really weird thing is that right now, almost, it’s like we’ve been given a gift (that sounds horrible) more like a break. Hear me out. And by we, I do mean my family. School had been almost impossible for my oldest because of his anxiety. But now, he’s on more even footing with his peers. It’s still hard, and I have no idea what will be on the other side of this for us – but we’re doing our best.

I’m halfway through reading Lean Out by Tara Henley and I’m loving it and it’s taking away some of my own guilt and stress. Henley changed her life completely when she realized it wasn’t working for her, anxiety and other health issues being the major clues. She gives so many examples of people who listened to what they needed and then did things differently to survive, do more than just get by. Who wants life to be just getting by?

I loved that she writes that the way out of unhappiness and stress is not happiness, as one might guess, but hope. “It always felt, in those moments of listening, that the opposite of this vast, collective sadness would not, in fact be happiness. It would be hope. Hope for a different future, one in which we were all less alone”.

Things not working out leaves us feeling as though we’re failing because ‘not working out’ usually means that we’re not doing things the way everyone else is doing them, how we think things should be. And of course worries within my home are all very small pink fish to fry. My tiny problems are nothing compared to everything else right now. But they’re our stories. If we can be brave enough to listen, rewrite them (which we’re all going to have to do) and then share them – that’s hope!

Monday

Normally this doesn’t get set up for another month, but there was an hour of glorious sun and warmth yesterday and we all pitched in and cleaned the deck and Rory played ‘fresh bistro’ music on his phone and Scott and I ate grapefruit cake and drank coffee while kids bounced on trampoline and it was perfect.

Yesterday was Easter and our day didn’t look much different than it would have outside of this new normal. There were croissants and an egg hunt, which our kids looked hilariously HUGE doing from my spot on the couch, and that made me love it even more. Scott found and bought us a chocolate FISH! I had ordered bunny shaped bath bombs for us all because we are a family who love our baths and I’m trying to support local businesses as much as I can. I made sour cream and onion biscuits for our ham dinner which were amazing and everyone should make them because they taste like spring.

As long as we can find (not just find but SEE and grab hold of) the tiny moments, the patches of light, the glimmers, then the days will continue to be ok. This isn’t anything new of course, but on a dreary Monday morning, when I’m pretending my back still doesn’t hurt and the dog keeps coming in from outside so muddy and I am reading so many sad stories in the paper, I need to remind myself that – simply put – there is always more good than there will be bad, because there are people and we are good.

So there are good things.

This speaker eats and breathes Sarah Harmer and CBC.

We are on week four of being inside because of covid-19 and we’re ok. I did have a week (two weeks ago) when my back went out and I was in bed mostly except when my husband walked/carried me to the bathroom. During those moments my back rolled with spasms that reminded me of contractions but there was no beautiful baby waiting for me at the end of the pain. But I did manage to watch most of WorkinMoms, all of Netflix’s Feel Good (which is fantastic) and the best memory (besides reading and propping myself up enough to eat Scott and Rory’s homemade cinnamon buns) of that week was the night Sarah Harmer did a live concert on Instagram and I cried and sang my way through it, loving the feeling of being both 22 and 43 at the same time. For some reason, remembering myself over the year felt really important during that first week.

Now, my back is still sore and Scott’s has gone out. Our kids are being incredible and helping and mostly just keeping us happy, so we surprised them with takeout crappy pizza the other night and you’d have thought it was Christmas. Poor Scott and I hobble/race each other to the advil while the kids are happy (how did this happen?) to do their homework. I know it sounds weird, but we had so many very hard months with trying to get school to happen and now so much pressure is off and learning can be fun again. We set up at our kitchen sometime between breakfast and lunch (often still in pjs), with laptops, books and a pot of tea and just get at it. I’m even writing again, working of something that is bring me so much joy! The sun is pouring in. I can breathe easier now that my Nana is living with my aunt and uncle instead of at her nursing home right now and I’ve gotten her to fall in love with Iona Whishaw’s Lane Winslow mystery series.

I couldn’t read for the first week, it was really being stuck in bed that forced me back to it and now things feel right(ish) again. We started watching The Good Place with the kids. It will definitely be nice when Scott and I are feeling better, but we’re getting there and without checking my phone for news updates every five minutes.

Things are alright, enough so that I won’t complain about how the grocery store is out of Mini Eggs or how much I would love some flowers.

Can My Blog be the Good Place?

I started writing this blog yesterday and I lost it, it’s somewhere out there, better perhaps than what I’m about to write now, but I’m doing it anyway.

I wrote about television. I wrote about how I am working through the lovely Kerry Clare’s My Blog School and I am writing about things that I love. Television in general doesn’t make me happy but certain shows do. And those created by Mike Schur are among my favourites.

We have watched Parks and Recreation and The Office (American) with our boys who are 12 and 14. There are plenty of jokes about poop and sex (which ignite great discussions) but it’s for the character development that we watch them. It’s the writer’s way of pushing their characters to be kind, that we love.

My husband and I are watching The Good Place by ourselves because somethings need to just be for the adults. The show has a podcast for each episode, it’s usually an hour or so of various actors and writers from the show discussing that week’s plot. My favourite part is the end tradition where everyone has to say one thing at the moment that ‘is good’. It’s always something small and often can lead to guests (and me) getting choked up. Sometimes even the men (if you can imagine!)

Mike Schur and his team tend to write characters who wear their hearts their sleeves and the show’s motives are rarely subtle. But it works right now, no games. One episode lately spoke to something I’ve been thinking a lot about. It was about the need to accept that people are not ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’. Take my neighbours, they despise us and prove it often with their words and actions, but they also foster and train guide-dogs and I can’t not see that. If we don’t start recognizing this gap between people, it’s going to keep growing.

I’m not talking about the assholes who speak in the name of ‘freedom of speech’ as a means of spewing hatred and all the phobias and punching down. I don’t know, maybe they foster hamsters on the side, I don’t think I care. There is obviously a lot of hatred that is hard to see past.

Obama lately commented that:

The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids. And share certain things with you.”

The Op-ed about Obama’s view on cancel culture was seen as being pretty ‘ok boomer’ and wrote he was basically telling young people their activism was equivalent to casting stones. I doubt it was as simple as this however even if it was I think it’s something we need to seriously think about. I can’t be honest and say I don’t sometimes feel a little smug for having beliefs I know to be the ‘right ones’. And even if they are right (and I think they are) should I be able to feel superior over others instead of keeping my head down (instead of my nose up) and just keep doing the work that needs to be done?

The good line lately on The Good Place was that things don’t have to be good or bad, what matters is trying to do better today than you did yesterday. Again, perhaps another overly simplified and ‘easier said than done’ sentiment however (and back to blogging) something I love is trying to do better each day and trying to keep seeing things from different viewpoints even when it isn’t easy.

Why I’m OK with the weather

I took my dog for a walk this week during the first snow. It was cold and sunny and the snow didn’t stop for hours. My mind, instead of becoming the usual mess of worry upon worry, was taken over with images of lit fireplaces, favourite blankets and sweaters, never ending mugs of tea, so many books and the new hat from my aunt that I was already wearing (and loving!) The quiet dark lets my family relax a little, we are more free to stay in and huddle together when we need to without the guilt that we should be out making the most of things. It means warmth and although I loved (loved!) this summer, and miss my swimming (I don’t have time right now to get back in a pool but oh do I miss it!) which made me feel strong, I know I am in need of a break and just some quiet, the kind that only snowy mornings and early evening blanketed in moonlight can bring.

Seasons

Both of my children we born on the cusp of seasons. When William was born after a very long labour at Mount Sinai hospital in Toronto it was the end of May. It had been cool before but while I was still there, my husband showed up in shorts and it shocked me. There was a humidex! Two days away and summer had begun.

When Rory was born (12 years ago this week!) I was in the hospital in Kitchener for only three hours with my midwives. We drove home when he was only hours old through the first snow fall, hushed and heavy, of the season.

My neighbour died this weekend. Her story is her own and it was amazing. I loved her very much and I know she loved us and watching our children grow. Every summer, until it was difficult for William to go over, we swam in her and her lovely husband’s pool. That was their Christmas present every year – just call and we’ll unlock the gate. Our relationship, for eleven years, was mostly over a fence. Food was passed over, stories and hugs. She loved our dog and watching the kids on the trampoline. She never judged me for not keeping up the glorious garden in our backyard that she had enjoyed for thirty years. She never made me feel bad for that. I remember the day she hugged me and told me it would take time for things to feel easier after my Boppa passed three years ago. On the rare occasions I would run over and have tea with her and she’d tell me stories of her childhood, her siblings. She was only 82. I wasn’t over enough, I feel bad for that now, I knew I would some day. She always understood it was difficult for me to get away.

This weekend was the start of autumn. Clocks turned back and we woke up to snow this morning. I had the task today of buying a sympathy card – you’re never prepared to feel that first welling of pain for someone you’ve lost, in an aisle of a busy Zehrs on a Sunday morning. It’s going to take time for things to feel easier.