Flying Solo

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I’m going to be solo-parenting for the next little while, and so far the experience has brought a few things forward for me. First is a deep appreciation for all that my partner does in the running of our household. I sometimes feel resentment because the childcare falls primarily to me. But now that I also must monitor our water and fill the water tank weekly, keep the generator fueled and its oil changed, clean up the kitchen after I cook, find someone to buck up a cord of firewood, find more firewood…I really see just how much he does. Even the little things, like starting a fire in the early, chill hours of the morning, putting on the birch because I love how it smells: I see them and appreciate them now more than ever.

Last night, when I came home late from work, I got the fire going again so it would be warm when we woke up today. Crouched in front of the stove, breathing life into the flames, watching them lick up the kindling that I’d split in the yard a few days earlier, I felt so grateful to the friends helping me through. Who not only babysit my children but clean my house, too. Who take my kids to the park so I can write (or, you know, run some errands unaccompanied), or who give up their weekend so I can go to work.

I felt grateful for this whole experience. In the last week, I’ve learned skills that I never made time for before. I feel empowered and independent again, something I have missed since getting married and starting a family. It was easy to give over all these running-of-the-home tasks to him. But I would also feel frustrated if they needed to be done, and I had time but lacked the knowledge. I used to worry: what if something happened to my partner and I had to keep this place going on my own? It’s hard for me to ask for help. It’s hard for me to be dependant on another. And this experience has challenged both of those things. Leaning on my friends for help with the kids, while gaining a measure of independence at home. I can now do almost all of the things that I’d previously boxed up as “blue jobs.” (I know, super sexist.) The only thing I’d like to learn is how to run the chainsaw. That will have to wait, for now.

I’m grateful for all the hard work I’ve done in the last two years to learn how to better take care of myself. I know those skills will be essential in the coming weeks. I’m down to bare-bones self-care, but I try to savour it. Making time for meditation when I can. Not worrying about writing and polishing poems, but instead focusing on 10 minute freewrites, just to keep my hand moving across the page. Taking some extra time in the shower, even. I’m grateful we have a dog that forces us out for a walk, and that there’s no cell signal in the woods. It’s an hour where I’m far away from my phone.

The season is turning abruptly here. We had a week of uncomfortable, dry heat. Each afternoon, it would reach 35 degrees celcius in the sun. Then: cool mornings and the leaves of the birch and aspen turning golden and brown. One night, strong winds blew much of the leaves down, at least around our place. Geese gather, ready for the long flight south. My thoughts turn to the woodpile, to soups and stews and home-baked bread; to checking which kid needs new boots this winter, or a new coat, and actually trying to be prepared for that (because I’m never prepared for that). I pulled the big duvet out last night and put it on the bed. It’s cozy with the kids in there, too, and for once, I’m glad we still co-sleep.

I’m going to try and keep up with my weekly posting here, but if I miss a week or two, please know life is busy right now and I’m okay! You can find me sporadically on Twitter, and more frequently on Instagram (my account is private, so if you want to follow and we don’t know each other IRL, just send me a DM) and Facebook. Take care, friends!

Reclaiming My Time

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Did you guys see that clip of U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters? In it, she asks a direct question of a colleague. His non-response is an attempt to flatter and distract her from the serious issue at hand. She speaks over him, repeating: “reclaiming my time. Reclaiming my time. Reclaiming my time.” It’s awesome.

Across the internet, her words are being held up as a rally point for women and other minority folks to reclaim their time and power from those who would keep them oppressed. The phrase “reclaiming my time” has been stuck in my head since I watched the video, too, and it’s come to have significance for me in a slightly different way (though I’m pretty sure I could make an argument for the overarching forces of capitalism controlling my time.)

I’ve got a smartphone addiction. Who doesn’t, right? How is it that a thing that wasn’t a part of my life four years ago has since become such an enormous part of it? Five years ago, I was proud that I didn’t have a smartphone. When I visited “the big city”, I would shake my head at folks who kept checking their phones. I grumbled under my breath at family gatherings when phones would slip out of pockets, when loved ones would send a quick text in the middle of a conversation or check sports scores or Facebook. And now, I’m that person. And if I’m not actively checking my phone, I’m thinking about it. It’s ridiculous and I’m tired of it.

But in the four years that I’ve had this thing, it’s become indispensable to me. How else would I let my sister know that one of the kids just pooped their pants? How else would I let a friend know I saw a thing that made me think of them? How would I let everyone know I’m sitting on the riverbank in the sun? Is life even happening if I can’t simultaneously document and share it?

An addiction is a behaviour you persist in even though you are aware of the negative consequences. When I’m glued to my phone, I’m less patient with my children. How dare you interrupt my reading this Buzzfeed list of 25 Things Only Kids Who Grew Up in the 90’s Will Understand?! I’ve said it before but when I’m paying attention to my phone and not my kids, they have to try even harder to get my attention, leading to “bad” behaviour, leading to me yelling at them, leading to me getting frustrated and overwhelmed and checking out even more on my phone. Repeat forever.

I also wonder, and think I’ve wondered this here in the past, how much more I’d get done if it weren’t for my smartphone. Yesterday morning I woke up way too early with a sore back, but instead of sitting on the couch scrolling through my Facebook feed, which is what I would usually do, I stretched my back with a few yoga poses, meditated for 15 minutes, wrote in my journal and started reading a new book of poetry. All in an hour! And when I did eventually check Facebook, it was still mostly full of boring and useless information that I don’t actually need.

How many minutes in a day do I spend tending to my phone? What do I miss, what inspiration, what opportunity to just sit quietly and let my brain mull things over? A big part of writing and creativity is just having mental downtime. With my smartphone, I am constantly engaged in something, whether it’s the news cycle or the lives of my friends, acquaintances and favourite internet personalities. I’m missing that critical downtime my mind needs to wander and dream.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t just put my phone down once I’ve accomplished what I first picked it up to do. I can’t just send a text or read one article. Eventually, I find myself seeking out more things to keep myself occupied, visiting blog sites I rarely visit, or checking Instagram’s explore tab. Some days I have so much screen time that I feel, oddly, like the only way to fix it is with more screen time. Like that archaic punishment where your mom catches you smoking and she makes you smoke a whole pack, the idea being it makes you so sick you’ll never do it again. Except I keep doing it. I feel powerless to this fucking thing and I’m so tired of it.

It might be a watering down of the original intent of the message, but I want to reclaim my time and my power from this flashy, sleek, fits-in-my-hand-so-well device. I want to be in control of it, not the other way around. It’s going to mean a lot of self-discipline (not my strong suit). It’s going to mean a pause before I reach for it, and it’s going to mean staying connected to my original intent when I do use it.

What’s your smartphone usage like? Have you got a magic formula for not letting it be the boss of you? Please, tell us your secret in the comments!

 

Quilled

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We’ve recently fostered and adopted a 5 year old Husky named Winston. He’s a big baby who just wants to be around his people. We all love him; it’s really nice to have a dog again. But having a dog and living in the bush comes with its share of hazards, porcupines being one of them.

Earlier this week, I took Winston and the kids out for a trail walk. Now that he’s familiar with us and knows where home is, we leave him off leash. This particular day, he hung back, barking at something I hoped was squirrels. Eventually, he caught up to us and we finished our walk. When we got home, he went right back to the same spot, barking and sniffing around. I went to check it out: down towards the back of our clearing is a bunch of old rotting stuff–building materials, truck tires, and windows. He had something trapped in a big jumble of plywood. I looked around but couldn’t see anything, so I left him there and headed back up to the house to see what the kids were up to and get to some yard work that needed to be done. The barking intensified though, so I grabbed his leash and headed back down, figuring I’d bring him up to the house and secure him so that whatever was trapped could leave peacefully.

I was too late.

By the time I got to him, he was rolling around on the ground, yelping. Poor baby had a mouthful of porcupine quills. I took him back up to the house, put him on his line in the yard, and went inside to figure out what to do. I put a show on for the kids to keep them occupied, found a pair of needle nose pliers, and went out to see if I could do this myself. There weren’t too many, maybe fifteen to twenty quills, mostly in his lips and gums, with a few under his tongue. I held him between my legs, pried his mouth open with one hand, and got to work. With a few breaks, I managed to pull nine quills myself before he’d had enough. He wouldn’t hold still long enough for me to get at the rest of them, especially the ones under his tongue. I needed help.

I sent a text to Paul, who was in town, asking him to call the vet and find out if he was available. Our vet here is what I would call a “country vet”. He can immunize dogs and perform simple surgeries. He doesn’t have an x-ray machine and he works out of the front of his home. Paul got back to me to say that John was in town and heading home to meet me in thirty minutes. I loaded up the kids and the dog, and away we went.

John was waiting for us when we got there. I left the kids in their car seats with books and toys, and brought Winston into the cramped and cluttered front office. After weighing him, I heaved him up onto the metal exam table. John sedated him and he fell heavy against me. I lay him down on the table and held his mouth open so the vet could remove the remainder of the quills, only five or six. Before long I was carrying my dopey pup out to the truck to head back home, with instructions to keep him on leash for the rest of the day.

John said he figures there are two kinds of dogs: the first kind gets quilled and thinks, “that hurt! I won’t ever touch that animal again!” and the second kind gets quilled and thinks, “ouch, he got me this time, but I’m gonna get him next time!”

Let’s all cross our fingers that Winston is the first kind of dog.

 

Off Track

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We’ve had a hot, dry summer so far, and my pots are suffering for it. I’m great with houseplants, but I tend to let my outdoor plants languish in the sun. I see the flowers drop, the foliage hanging limp over the side of the pot, and I’m guilted into watering. I’m not sure why I can’t manage to pour a little water in each day, but that’s how it is. A few days ago, as I was watering two pots that I was pretty sure were past saving (they came back, though!) I realized this is an accurate metaphor for my writing practice.

As much as I want to make writing a daily practice, I neglect it. I go through regular periods of drought that are not so much writer’s block as they are my own refusal to just come to the page and write. These days, I’m caught between being too busy and feeling like I need dedicated time to draft or polish poems. Once again, I’ve forgotten the simplicity of journaling and freewriting, and I’m telling myself the same old story of “if I can’t have it just right, I won’t have it at all.” That is not how to build a daily writing practice.

Going too long between watering causes plants to go into distress. Most plants can’t thrive if they are constantly going through that kind of stress every few days. This is the same for my writing practice: the longer I go between writing, even writing just a few minutes a day, the harder it feels to come back to it. I start to doubt myself, even if it’s just been a few days. If I don’t keep up some kind of daily putting-words-on-page regimen, I go into survival mode. The new blooms of words in my mind close up in self-preservation and then when I finally tend to them, it’s too late.

A week ago, I was telling myself that this new job was the problem. I’ve started serving in a restaurant 2 or 3 nights a week, and though the kitchen closes at 10, it can be 11 before I’m on the road home. Tack on a 30 minute drive and some time to decompress before bed, and my nights are pretty late. The next day I’m trying to stay engaged with the kids while keeping myself going on a steady stream of caffeine and carbs (which I think cancel each other out but whatever, it gets me through). It can be hard to focus my brain on writing. Or that’s what I tell myself. I tell myself that maybe the job has to go.

But the job makes me feel good. Having work outside of the house is another piece of the puzzle that is my mental well-being. Since starting back to work, I find myself more patient with the kids. I don’t feel so trapped. I like working as part of a team, I enjoy getting feedback for the work I do, and I love food service. The job is not the problem.

The problem is my always waiting for conditions to be perfect before I can let myself write, which, at its heart, is just a load of self-sabotaging b.s.  Thankfully, I’m getting quicker and quicker at wising up to this fact, and maybe someday, I’ll just live it, without any slips.

The problem is also in my hands right now: my smartphone, on which I am finishing this post because the wifi in my office isn’t working. If I approached my writing practice with the same devotion I do stalking social media and news blogs, well, I would probably have a book length collection of poems ready to publish. Or, at the very least, a steady, thriving writing practice.

So here’s to getting back on track, and watering the damn pots before they all die.

 

How to Make a Summer

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Each morning, my husband and I sit in our favoured places in the living room, sipping our respective cups of coffee with cream and green tea, the kids fully immersed in intense dragon battles. He’ll look at me through blasts of dragon fire and when there is a lull in the roar, he’ll ask “when does school start up again?”

It’s a hopeful question, and a useless one. They’re here, all three of them, every day. How will we get through the summer? Just by getting through. One day at a time. Tuesdays and Thursdays we go to the pool. Every morning we walk to the pond near our house and throw rocks. There may be more rock throwing later in the day at the river. There are car naps, and french fries, and mosquito bitten ankles. Yesterday, there were wild strawberries.

At work the other night, someone tipped me off to a strawberry patch accessible from town, so on Wednesday after our lunch, we loaded into the truck and drove to town, drove all the way to the end of Front street and parked under the slide, where every August the mud bog is held. As we got out of the truck, I could see the strawberry plants spread out in a mat over the hillside, amoung soapberry bushes, golden rod, plantain and the odd raspberry cane. The kids ranged over the patch, grazing. Colm, who wouldn’t eat fruit if I paid him, brought the berries to me one at a time to drop into the container I’d brought. We’re late in the season or this particular patch has already been picked clean, because the berries were sparse. I let Charlie eat what we’d collected, gone in two fistfuls.

I want to be the person who fills her freezer with wild berries each summer, lines her pantry with jewel-toned jars of preserves.  But truthfully, I find gathering wild berries to be tedious. They are so small: a good sized wild strawberry isn’t even as big as the tip of my pinky finger. Whenever I do pick wild berries, I can’t help but think of the Han people who have lived here and gathered here for thousands of years. Of the devotion they must have had to picking wild produce as it ripened. It’s not for me. I’m content to graze and to let the kids do the same. The berries are a tart burst of flavour, best enjoyed in the sun that brings them to fullness.

The kids went to bed last night with their mouths and fingers still berry-stained. Today is a pool day, maybe a rocks-in-river day. Now that we know what it’s like to have a kid in school, having three at home seems impossible, like filling a pail with tiny berries. But we get through it, one day at a time, and I try to make them about more than just “another one down”, if that makes any sense.

I’m not writing much, I am working more and the days are busy in other ways. It feels like I can’t fit it all in without letting something slip. It’s always the writing that slips. I have notes and half-poems started in my journal. I think about poems. I’ve been trying to read some poetry every day (to do that I’ve let slip the Trump-Russia fiasco and I gotta tell ya, it feels really good). I imagine that some day I’ll have it all figured out: work, family, writing, myself, so delicately balanced that even the seasons changing can’t throw it off. More likely, life will continue to be one day at a time, dragon fights and berry stained fingers and poems jotted down in between it all, each day never quite the same.