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.
This is a caterpillar making it’s lovely, fuzzy way up the front of my house. I saw it yesterday, another truly gorgeous fall day. I can’t believe how many times I have said “this is the most beautiful Fall!”. I’ve said it many, many times and will be sad when I cannot say it again.
I’ve been away. Not from my home, but from the internet. I still read from it everyday, I just haven’t posted any of my own comments or photos for a few weeks. I’m not exactly sure why, there isn’t any meaningful reason other then a break just felt like the right thing to do.
My days right now, as I’ve mentioned as often as I comment on the weather, are filled with my family and taking care of my children and their stories. And that’s just it. Their stories are not mine to tell and at the moment, I don’t have many of my own. I could write and tell you about how when I gave up Instagram I used that time to read the glorious sequel to Olive Kitteridge as well as Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart: HeartAdvice for Difficult Times. I could write about having an ultrasound a few weeks back with my abdomen hurt so much I thought it must be gallstones or something worse but it doesn’t seem like it was (follow up in a month because it was nothing urgent). I could write how after days of that I was eating really well and trying to do better things to take care of myself (…it mama ain’t happy..blah, blah, blah…I know), and then I woke up one morning and couldn’t move because my neck was out like it’s done before and I was cooped up in bed (watching HBO’s Olive ) and began feeling really lousy because if I’ve been taking care of everyone and trying so hard to be good to myself and this still happens, geez, well, what then?
So I’m back? Maybe. My stories aren’t exciting, they sound pretty whiny even though I’m not. And 95% of the stuff in my brain most days I can’t write about. So I’m here at the starting line of Kerry Clare’s Blog School without running shoes (did I mention I sprained my ankle exercising last week ?!) or those wrist sweatband things that would be really cool but I want to push on and just start. And I will. I wrote this didn’t I, the equivalent of the caterpillar making it’s way along the front of my house, slow and steady hoping the wind won’t blow it down.
I have bought a lot of books this summer. I always do, but I may have broken a personal best this summer. And I say best, because I buy these books without guilt (and yes, I do get the irony that I used to work at a library). I buy them mostly at my independent store, Wordsworth, but I’ll be honest and say that this summer many have come from Chapters and second hand shops. I build up piles everywhere and no one complains. They tease but never complain.
My Nana and I were talking about this the other day and she reminded me that I have always done this. I would pile stacks of Baby Sitter’s Club or Sweet Valley around my bed. And I know I did this, I haven’t stopped. All my life I have stacked books in piles around me, like a fortress, while reading them.
When I was small, I grew up a block away from my Nana and Boppa and I lived with my Mother and my younger sister. My mother always had severe mental health issues and it was hard. I can’t imagine not having my grandparents down the street to help, they did so much more than that. I should write a post one day about the ways they were always there for me, it would be my longest post ever.
My piles of books, then and now, aren’t meant to keep anyone away or even provide me with a safe space. I didn’t need that, then or now. Yet my caregiver role started early with my mom, when I was really young. As a mom now I know that’s never ideal. My grandparents around the corner did far more than their best. But those fortresses of stories (and those familiar, brilliant authors from Louisa May Alcott and Judy Blume when I was young to Ann Patchett and Meg Woltizer now) give me a place to retreat and rest before stepping back to my people who need me. Reading is where I go to readjust my armor.
It’s after 10pm and I’m wearing the new pj pants I bought today for seven dollars at Joe Fresh and am reading the last installment of Jo Walsh’s Small Change trilogy which I LOVE. But I keep thinking about the hot dogs we had for dinner.
At the of end of a truly lousy day, the kids and I drove to pick up Scott and we went to the mall to look into buying new cell phones. I was done, we had no plans for dinner. I made a comment about hot dogs, which we rarely eat, and Scott said to get some, why not. Why not indeed, and we did.
We ate the hot dogs, with some chips and a salad I made and had a fun time. The reason I’m thinking so much about this is that before opening the package, I took a quick picture of the hot dogs and posted in on Instagram with some whiny comment about my bad day. I know hot dogs aren’t a preferred choice to feed one’s family, but after we’d had our fun and were feeling better, I picked up my phone and saw the hearts and comments people had left in full support. It’s so small but means so much.
I sometimes struggle with posting so much and writing this blog, but at the end of the day, I love it. Maybe more so right now that I’m at home and not as social as other times in my life. I really value the friendships I’ve made online. By ‘hearting’ my hot dogs, my load was lightened, and if that can go both ways, that’s more than enough of a reason to be here.
We just got home from the mall. I had to return a few things, pick up some groceries. It turned into lunch with me and the kids which was lovely. We also walked through the bookstore and I got a coffee in the new travel cup I got yesterday in the mail from my cousins in BC. Their package had lots of treats, one or two things perfectly suited and chosen for each of us. My favourite part of it was hearing my kids recognize not only how thoughtful everything was but how much each gift shows how well our family knows us.
We had a great weekend as well. Scott made us amazing food, fried chicken, cherry cobbler, brushetta and pasta. I read a lot, I swam a lot! We went to our local outdoor pool and swam in the rain. I’m walking around sore after working on my whip kick. I drank more than one can of radler, my new favourite. We went to the market and bought peaches and corn and cinnamon buns for breakfast one morning. We slept in and played games. Scott and I watched season one of Fleabag which lives up to the hype, it’s amazing! He and I have swapped two of our favourite series to read. I’ve started Jo Walton’s ‘Small Change’ triology and he is reading Eden Robsinson’s Trickster books. We continue to watch The Office in the evenings with the kids, even if it isn’t as exciting now that Jim and Pam are together and the plots are getting extra silly. The kids still laugh so hard.
There are four weeks left of summer and a longish trip to Toronto still to look forward (feel free to send any thoughts of things to do and places to eat!) where we will be house and cat-sitting. It’s so easy to worry about September but it’s so much nicer to enjoy these little things together. So that’s what I’ve decided to do.
This week is the one week all summer when my kids are in camp. It’s working, it’s going well which is a change from other summers. Incentives help to keep anxiety in check.
At the beginning of the week I had envisioned a week to myself, writing as much as possible. I am about thirty pages into something bigger and that’s great and I have been writing. But what happens to me is this: I’m great and busy when I’m needed which I am most of the time, but when I’m not, I fall down. It”s not that I’m a martyr, it’s not that I don’t find time for myself or do things often that are just for me. I do. Often I’m waiting for the phone to ring with bad news. I have trouble with hours to myself and then I get nothing accomplished and there is guilt.
This confession is coming from having just read Kerry Clare’s latest post over at Pickle Me This. At the heart of it, I should just write, I know. And I have. Over the years, all my years, I’ve written a lot. So many stories, so many starts to novels (I am going to finish this one). I took amazing writing classes at George Brown College when I lived in Toronto. Elizabeth Ruth taught them and I ended up in a private writing group with her and a few others she spoke to and we did this for years before I moved to Waterloo. I recently completed half of my classes for UofT’s Creative Writing Certificate and even got some Honours as final grades. I stopped taking the courses when I had to quit my job and be home with my son.
I’m not writing any of this to complain or to brag, it’s just my story. And the honest truth is that I am simply not the determined soul I wish I was. I blame my lack of whatever completely on myself – not on being a mother or a woman, not on anything other than maybe being lazy and maybe having too much self-doubt or just a lack of accountability. Sure I wonder what could have been writing-wise from time to time, but really only if I’d gotten my ass in the chair way, way more often than I did. And I’d rather look forward than back.
Some days I feel like as wannabe. I sit on the side-lines of the CanLit world admiring and following the authors, reading everything I can get my hands on. Who knows, who knows.
I am not going back to work any time soon. High school and middle school both start in September for us and there is no way of knowing how that will go. Plans I make fall through, others I have and look forward to (like signing up for Kerry Clare’s Blog School this fall!) I’m 43 and I have time (this week for sure!) to write, and her post came at a very good time.
Today I wanted it to be super summery, a really hot and sunny day. I have a swimming lesson this afternoon, Rory’s at sailing camp after being invited by a friend and we’re having dinner and another swim tonight with those friends. These things will all still happen, however because of the lack of sun and cooler temperatures, I might now have much feeling left in my fingers and toes by the end of the day.
And I feel kind of sick and my back hurts. So right now I’m in bed after trying to have a nap, it didn’t work. But it’s cozy under my quilt and the wind in the trees outside my open window is lovely and it’s dark and cool. It’s got me thinking of some of my favourite summers.
When I was small we went to cottages every summer. We didn’t own one, but my grandfather who worked for Chrysler, would rent one from a friend or co -worker each year. The best ones were in Sauble Beach, or maybe those were just the ones we went to most often and when I was older so I remember them most. Or maybe my memories are from a combination of many summers, it doesn’t matter.
I remember lakes that I loved, learning to swim with a small inflatable mattress with a picture of E.T. on it. My grandfather, my Boppa, who loved the summers and the lakes as much as I did, was always there with me in the water. Today, I can’t stand waist high in a lake and have the waves push me forward, without thinking of him, without missing him.
He taught me to play catch at cottages. We spent hours outside the front of one home, surrounded by a wooden porch where we threw a baseball back and forth while watching squirrels fight over the peanuts he’d left along the top of the railings. Queen Anne’s Lace surrounded us, acting as back catcher for when his throw went sailing past. I still know I can throw and catch a ball pretty well though, thanks to his constant praise. Boppa never said five words if two would do, so I’d hold tight to them because they meant so much.
I remember driving into towns, restaurants for pop and pizza subs, penny candies and Teen Beat Magazines. One had a centerfold of a young Michael J Fox which I left open on my bed, loving the thought of Alex P Keaton waiting around just for me.
I remember cool mornings and new pjs and Dr Seuss books leftover on a bookshelf. The smell of new crayons in plastic containers that snapped closed and you could carry around by a handle. Mine was red and the inside was black, a special slot for each crayon, possibly some circles of paint and a few brushes. My favourite crayon for was always Blue- Green, the only one worn down to a nub by the end of the summer.
I remember antique stores and collecting tiny glass animal figurines and one summer Flintstone figures my sister and I would line up on the table between our single beds. The beds we slept soundly in each night, only learning years later of the mouse infestation one summer than kept our adults wide awake.
But it’s Boppa that means summer to me the most. Even when cottages stopped and I was an adult, summer was the smell of his pots of basil and the tomatoes he grew on his own deck. The way I understand, only as an adult, how unhappy the winters made him, how much pain his legs were in as he got older, and how the summers were more than a relief for him, but a solace. Sitting in his chair with a book we’d both read and talk about later and a rum and coke. Making us burgers for dinner with fresh tomatoes he’d grown himself.
He’s gone now, he died almost four years ago, and we don’t go to cottages with our kids. I’d love to but it’s hard for different reasons, it doesn’t matter. And as I get older, I find the summers hard, the heat is sometimes just too much. But today, an overcast, cool day that didn’t start out feeling so summery, has left me feeling nostalgic and so grateful for some of the best summer memories of my life. And for Boppa.
I have about half an hour. One kid is at a friend’s and the other is at his volunteering gig. I wanted to sit still (albeit feelings jittery after flitting around all morning in order to make things happen and because this humidity is the pits) and write. Write about good things.
This past week, we celebrated being married for 18 years. Scott made us eggs benedict for breakfast which is so amazing he has ruined all other eggs benedict for me forever. Then we drove to Guelph to do what we love best, ice cream and books. We hit up one of my favourite bookstores, The Bookshelf where I found a copy of Pachinko by Min Jin Lee which I am so late to the party for but was reminded of it when Kerry Clare mentioned it the other day on Instagram.
We went to a comic book/ game store and an amazing ice cream and candy store called Sweet! which was right across from a splash pad at city hall. We found an amazing used bookstore and everyone found books to buy. We came home, made hamburgers for dinner and rounded out the night watching Stranger Things. So yes, it was a simple and a good day.
My time is up, I need to run and do pick ups. Other good things: Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett was amazing, my hammock, beer raddlers, watching the US Office with the kids, and swimming!
I had my first swim lesson last week and it was amazing! It’s at 4:30 Friday afternoons and the pool is outside and perfect. There were two instructors and only three students. One teacher for me and one for the others who came as a pair. The instructors knew exactly how to not make a forty- something year old woman feel anything but great for showing up. I passed all of the criteria for Adult 1 in forty-five minutes and was promoted to Adult 2. The hair in my face and the glare in my eyes was tough so I’ve got a cap and goggles all ready for tomorrow. It’s kind of the best way ever to end the week.
On a good day I read and I write, and starting tomorrow afternoon, I swim. I am trying something new this summer and it’s working so well. I have lowered my expectation of writing 1000 words a day and aim for 250, most days I do more, every day (except weekends) I hit my goal. The best thing about this, besides the words and pages that are starting to add up (I’ve got 14, which isn’t much but still!) is this technique is slowing down my writing. I always tend to write very quickly, I think that’s partly because I type so quickly and have since I was in second grade (more on that in another post) but also because when I sit down to write there is so much to get down on the page. This leads to a lack of control in quality but it definitely works in starting (but not finishing) shitty first drafts. However, right now with my 250 words a day, I am staying longer in the moment, in a scene, in a description. There isn’t a point to look ahead because I won’t be getting there today. And this is how I’m going to finish this shitty first draft, a novel about a young woman named Flora.
And writing these words a day is making it feel so much better to come here.
As for the reading, lately I have loved Elizabeth Gilbert’s City of Girls. I’ve never been a huge fan of her non-fiction but her novels are among the best. If Eat, Pray, Love has kept you from devouring them, please get over it and pick them up. I loved, loved Every Little Piece of Me by Amy Jones, which is so different and so wonderful from any other book I’ve ever read and I was heartbroken when it ended. Autopsy of a Boring Wife was terrific and funny and not at all unhappy, written by Marie-Renee Lavoie. And I just finished Kate Atkinson’s Transcription which I gobbled up over the long weekend and loved so much because it was exactly what I wanted to read – a British spy novel with twists and a sarcastic and witty protagonist.
And that’s only been the past two weeks, things are off to a good start thanks to low expectations.
This is not the pool where I will be going this Friday at 4:30pm to start my swimming lessons (!!!) but they will be at an outdoor pool and I can’t wait. This is the first summer in a few years where I have been at home full-time and I want to seize something that’s all mine. Of course there’s reading and also writing, the kids know that’s happening and it did today, hooray! But this will be a big challenge, something new to do and to think about. Not to mention I need exercise. When I signed up for the lessons weeks ago I wasn’t sure if I’d follow through, but now that the first class is almost here, I can’t wait! I catch myself dreaming of swimming laps all winter long (albeit indoors) with my newly claimed superpower. I can walk to the pool, which is a bonus and it will be the perfect ending to each week throughout the summer. I guess it was only a matter of time until this blog became a little bit about pink fish swims.