September 22, 2014

Family Circles and Traffic Patterns

We were in the (stomach flu) hotel for a week.

One week.

When we came home, our house, which - if you remember, looked like this we left:


had undergone a dramatic transformation in the hands of the insurance emergency team and our friendly neighbourhood electricians, and now looked like this:

Yeah. Ask me why we agreed to check out of the hotel - the hotel, remember, that had free breakfast, a pool, electricity, and drywall...even paint - again? To save the insurance company money, I think. I dunno. I was still in shock from all the barfing.

I'm sure you can imagine what life was like as a family of five in a house with one functioning living space that wasn't a bathroom and electricians and general construction folk in and out of the muddy April weather all day, every day. 

Days: spent at Mom and Dad's house


Nights: spent watching Community on Netflix and sleeping in the dining room.


Even after the lights came on and we got access to the rest of the house, that dining room is still functioning as the centre of our house, so - naturally - the children congregate in all of the narrowest spots and generally clog up all the thoroughfares. 

And, because it's so hard to imagine how three adorable cherubs could possibly be a nuisance in a situation like ours, I've drawn you a helpful diagram of the traffic patterns, in charming Family-Circle style, except with less charm, and even less skill:

I mostly just gibber in the corner

Hold the phone, I found an expertly shot and professional-quality video that perfectly demonstrates my point (if only I had one):

video


---

Also, yesterday's Facebook post was supposed to be me making fun of the fact that I was bragging about how awesome I am, and turned out to be just plain old bragging about how awesome I am. So, since I'm into bragging about how awesome I am, I forgot to mention that I stripped wallpaper in the dining room before I did all that other stuff. I've now filled my productivity quota until approximately March, and will feel free to nap on the couch and/or drink an entire bottle of wine every afternoon until then.

September 15, 2014

The Girl Who Read (not to be confused with the girl in the green scarf)

I used to bring home stacks of books from every conceivable section in the library, twelve high, and return them a week later to check out more. I honestly listed "reading" as my one and only hobby at least seven times. I used to joke that the book store I worked at paid me in books - one came home with me at least every other shift, not to mention the ones we were allowed to borrow for "product knowledge". I wrote down every book I read in a series of little black books, and from what I can tell, I've read more books than had conversations with real live people.

(I think it probably shows)

For a while, the reading petered out. I had other stuff to do, you know? An ever-increasing number of children who need food and water and attention and stuff, a job, then a business that involved the kind of reading you can't really lose yourself in on a rainy day with a really hot coffee, not to mention a husband who likes to talk and be responded to with interest and friends and family who inexplicably enjoy my company.

The logistics have posed a bit of a problem too: this house suffers from an acute lack of book shelves, so all my book friends have been packed up in boxes in the basement for four-and-a-half years, That time I wanted to re-read Jane Eyre to prove Leslie wrong turned into a Tomb Raider style treasure hunt, complete with complicated box shifting and the danger of imminent death by crushing.


Also: except in very rare circumstances, I don't buy books I haven't read and loved, and it's hard to browse the library shelves for something good to try when a) the library is very small with a distinct - though fading - preference for Danielle Steel and b) a very small person is either attached to your leg whining to play with the computers (!) or running up and down the aisles yelling (!!).

So it's been a wee quandary, but one that's been good for me. I'm a better human, Plus, there are a lot of words that I can spell and pronounce now, so there's that.*

Lately, though, The Girl Who Read is coming out of hibernation (assisted in equal parts by a subscription to Scribd and a reduction in the number of very small people in attendance at the library), and it turns out she's rather ravenous. I'm gorging myself on some of the dystopian YA that isn't news to anyone but me, I've finally started in on the Lois McMaster Bujold I've been told numerous times that I've been meaning to get around to. There's a lot of Simon Winchester queued up, some cooking memoirs, and a bunch of C.S. Lewis, Vonnegut, and Dickens books I've never managed to get my hands on.

It's nice to be back.


*I should probably tell you the "indict" story sometime. It's good.

September 8, 2014

What To Expect

Today this boy is headed off to school. Full time. 

I know.


I don't know what to expect, really. My mom (WHO IS NOT SIXTY-TWO BUT IN FACT SIXTY-ONE AS IS MY FATHER AND SHE WOULD LIKE YOU TO KNOW THAT THANK YOU VERY MUCH) told me not to feel guilty about feeling happy about having more kids in school than out.

I don't. (Well, I sorta do, but I'm fighting it valiantly, as one does.)

I already expect a shorter walk to and from school.


I already expect more reading.


And I already expect more alone time with Lucy.


Yesterday afternoon I took Lucy for a walk in the perfect September sunshine as a sort of preview of the next two school years. She tucked her vile and filthy bunny under her sweet little toddler armpit and wandered along beside me, mostly silent, but every once in a while piping up to point out a particularly lovely cloud, or motorcycle, or to ask me if Norah died*

As we walk, I feel the need to pass some gas. So I do. We're alone on our side of the street, it's a Sunday afternoon in a tourist town in the fall...why suffer in silence?

From me: [barely audible, completely genteel] thwarp

From Lucy, with glee, as loudly as her two-year-old-lungs can manage: "TOOT! MOMMY TOOT!"

So now I know what to expect.

---

*My mother (who is sixty-one, remember)** picked Norah up on Friday night for a sleepover, after Oscar and Lucy were already in bed. It took them until Saturday morning - let's say eleven-ish) to notice she was gone. Oscar asked if she had died.

**I'M SORRY, MOM. I CAN'T STOP MYSELF. IT'S A DISEASE.

September 2, 2014

Pool Noodle Propitiation


I walked down that long stretch of beach again, Oscar wailing in the background where I left the kids, past the pleasant man and his pleasant son, and laid the pool noodle down beside the beach chair. She was still way out in the water, not yelling anymore, but still visibly upset, even from this distance.

As I passed the pleasant man on my way back to gather up the kids and somehow wrangle the weeping children into the van, he said, "I'm sorry, I guess I should have asked you first."

"No," I said, "it's not that. I'm sorry. I don't know what else to do."

---

Sorry, sorry, sorry. Should have started at the beginning, I guess.

We went to the beach. There was another family there, with - you guessed it - pool noodles. My children, as they do, stood around and gawped at them. The woman gave one to Oscar.

Oscar, as he does, asked her why her tummy was so big. She did not take it well.

The beach visit ended.

---

Sorry, sorry, sorry. I've been thinking about this post all week, trying to be truthy and empathetic without putting this woman down. I don't know what I would have done if some kid crossed a whole beach to me and then asked me why my skin has spots on it (which would be my most embarrassing body issue thingumy). I'd be embarrassed. I'm not sure that I'd start yelling.

To be fair, she didn't yell at Oscar. She yelled at her husband at me. I know this, because he was two feet away from her mouth, but her voice was pitched loudly enough for the fish - and me, sitting twenty feet away and well out of range of The Question - to hear.

"Did you hear what that kid said to me? He asked me why my tummy was so big! I don't look bad, do I? Why would anyone say that to me?!" Etc.

At the time, I had So Many Answers, but they all boiled down to this:

It is, and he's four. 

Inadequate, eh? Sounds kind of hippy-dippy: "my son is four and innocent and full of curiosity and he wasn't making a value judgement, everything is beautiful, I refuse to legitimize your emotional discomfort, la-la-la."

But at the opposite end of the spectrum was this answer "I'm so sorry that my son asked you why your tummy was big. It was so wrong of him and I'm going to force him to apologize, because asking why someone is bigger than you/looks different than you is BAD."

I know that Oscar wasn't using his question to shame this woman because her body was bigger than any other woman's body he'd ever seen in real life, mostly because I know how short the passageway is between his brain and his mouth - there isn't enough time for him to add any extra meaning to the things he says.

What I don't know is how to explain that it doesn't matter what he meant, it's what she heard that's important.

Giving back the pool noodle was the only thing I could think of.

August 22, 2014

I Am Not A Raving Narcissist, I Just Act Like One

This is a picture of my grandmother's hollyhocks, because we're talking about friends and stuff, and that's girly, so here's a picture of flowers or something. Also I think they're pretty, and I like the green shutters. The end.
On Wednesday I ran into the mother of two of Norah's kindergarten classmates, and she asked me how our trip to Manitoulin went.

I was so confused. So utterly, unbearably confused. And embarrassed, because you know what happened inside my head as soon as she asked me, right? C'mon, you know exactly what happened:

She reads The Mrs! She found out about me somehow, probably by googling me because I'm so interesting and SHE THINKS I'M OKAY AND NOT AS WEIRD AS I SEEM AND WANTS TO BE MY FRIEND.

This is not why Robin knows I went to Manitoulin.

This is why she knows: I ran into her at the grocery store before we left and Lucy told her. I know, I was physically present at the time. Unfortunately, it appears that my higher brain functions were not, which is how I found myself thinking wildly vain thoughts while looking quizzically at her and asking how she knew.

Bless that gentle woman's heart. She reminded me - very sweetly - and then proceeded to continue conversing with me.

Writing is easier than conversing. When I write, I'm only interrupting myself to tell stupid jokes. I'm thinking and talking about MEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!! and don't have to stop and command myself to BE SILENT AND REALLY LISTEN to the other person, because there is no other person.

Other people are hard. Even without (probably especially without) the benefit of reading all this nonsense about me, Robin might still want me to know the names of her kids who I've seen approximately three hundred times by now, ask her how she's doing (for real), and remember that she talked to me a week ago. She might even want to be my friend.

I like friends. I'm not very good at them, but I really, really like them and want to be one to lots of people, even if it means being silent more, leaving my house more, and not-sounding-like-an-ass more.

It's the being silent thing that I have trouble with. When I meet silence that's not of the "the kids aren't awake yet" or "I have a good book to read and am ignoring the entire world" variety, I need to fill it up. I gabble. I get kind of flail-y. And it ends up being all about me - again - when really all I want to do, socially inappropriate as it may seem, is ask Robin what she's worried about, or what her days are like, or what she used to be like as a teenager.

Actually, that's probably why I get flail-y. My subconscious tries to take over my mouth to ask the inappropriate questions and then shut up and listen, already, and the rest of my body throws itself into the battle and all hell breaks loose and I sound (and look) like a raving narcissist.

The next time I see you - any of you, even those of you I haven't met yet (or avoided meeting at a certain wedding three years ago because I was too embarrassed, ahem), can you just tell me to shut up and be silent for a minute already? And then proceed to tell me things about you that are important to you, whatever those things happen to be?

August 20, 2014

How To Explain A Whole Island?


I've spent the last two days* trying to think of a way to explain Manitoulin Island to you.

I'm not really sure that I can. In fact, I'm fairly certain that I can't. But I'm going to try really, really hard.

---

First, a warning: My parents grew up there. I grew up going there. I have the rosiest of memories, and can really only think of two bad(ish)** things that happened to me in 35 years of going to the Island. So what I'm about to describe in no way resembles reality.

---

The Island is about a five hour drive from us - five hours of slowly moving back through time, until you reach approximately 1962. That's where you stop, before JFK was assassinated, before the FLQ, before all sorts of initials, actually. It's the largest freshwater island in the world (so I've been told. I haven't bothered to ask Wikipedia, who surely knows better than me), and it's the most astonishing mix of farm land, bare limestone slabs, and cedar trees so thick that you can't possibly push through them without losing a(nother) eye. It's full of it's own lakes, some of which have their own islands.

I realized something on the trip home Monday, and if you've never read any L.M. Montgomery this won't make any sense to you...but nothing about me has ever screamed sense, so here goes: when Rilla Blythe or Jane Stuart or Patricia Gardiner**** talk about how special the Island is, and how the people of the Island collectively have a character that seems all intertwined with the character of the Island itself, I've always unconsciously imagined Manitoulin (not Prince Edward) and agreed.

I've never been there without my parents. I'm not sure I'd know where I was without them - every house and barn and field and pond has either a story, a relative, or a nickname. It's to the point now where I've heard the stories, relatives' names, and nicknames so many times that I think I could take over and orient myself in the landscape, but when I try it all slips away.

When I run into people here in the real world who come from the Island, or who've been there, I get inordinately excited and start babbling like a fool (stop acting surprised), but when we get to the part of the conversation where they say they're from the so-and-so family in Gore Bay or wherever I realize that - while my parents could immediately connect the dots - I'm hopelessly lost.

I'm thirty-five. My parents are sixty-two. If I don't do something to write those stories down, or - better - follow them around with my phone and get the real, honest-to-goodness verbal accounts, cadence and all - I'm going to be hopelessly lost forever. Woe, etc.

In so many ways, my perception of the Island last weekend and every other time I've thought about it or been back as an adult is coloured through and through by by my own happy memories of childhood visits, my parents, and their stories, and - like everything else in life - trying to recapture that exact feeling is silly and impossible.

I think where I'm going with this is that this trip was particularly meaningful to me, because it's the first time I've been there with my kids, and as we all know, travelling with kids - no matter how idyllic the destination - is about the furthest thing from the halcyon golden memories of past visits as one can possibly get.

(The potty breaks alone...)

And here's the thing: Manitoulin (experienced) stands up to Manitoulin (remembered, even idealized). I have experiential proof that it does. Because it rained, Lucy got sick, the kids had very little sleep, and I slept in a tent, on a couch, and in a tent again - a tent built for two very small people, mind you, and occupied by one large and two small bodies - and still had a perfect time.

That's the Island.

*A few minutes here or there, mostly thinking "I should write about Manitoulin" before lying back down again because tired.

**I broke the branch off my Grandpa's apple tree*** by swinging on it after he told me not to, and I ripped a leaf that my brother found and thought was cool. Both times my Grandpa said my name like he was a little disappointed in me, and both times his disappointment was The Worst Thing That Ever Happened To Me.

***The apple tree that now produces so many apples that they multiply overnight even after you pick them. You're welcome, Grandpa.

****But not Valancy Stirling - she's from Muskoka, and I'm from Muskoka, and my ironic, sarcastic little soul still gets a ridiculous thrill from all the sincerity and whole-heartedness of it. Also, these footnotes are getting ludicrous.


August 15, 2014

You Don't Need It, But I'll Give It To You Anyway

Proof that I'm not completely all there:

1. I don't have a house cleaner anymore. 
We are so hip-deep in renovations and uncertainty about the total funding of said renovations that to pay someone else to clean when I have perfectly good hands and at least thirteen seconds every other week or so of free time between kids and clients in which to clean the entire house is silly.

That sounds like complaining. It's not - in fact, my house feels cleaner because I was physically present when the cleaning was being done, so it's a win for everyone*. Right? Right.

As God is my witness, I'll have a house cleaner again!
2. I'm leaving today for Manitoulin Island.
With all the kids but not the husband.

3. Norah and Oscar and I are sleeping in a tent in the back yard of my grandmother's house.
Norah is six. Oscar is four. I AM THIRTY-FIVE AND HAVEN'T SLEPT IN A TENT FOR THIRTEEN YEARS.


*Also because the house actually is cleaner. Discuss.