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!

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.

In Spite Of

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July. This is it, the few brief months of warmth and wild growth and freedom and endless days. We are in the middle of it and tipping ever so slightly towards cold and dark but mostly just sweating in thirty degree heat, hanging out at the river bank or at the edges of tailing ponds, dipping our feet in the icy cold water and letting the delicious chill of it give us goosebumps. These are the days of working two jobs, squeezing in friends and family and maybe even some sleep. These are the days of wildflowers and mountain climbing and new friends and live music and festivals. It’s all happening, as it does every summer, and it should be great. Mostly, it is.

But the last two weeks, since the solstice, I suppose, I’ve been in a real funk. I’ve learned enough by now to know that this doesn’t mean THE END of happy days, but rather that it’s a bump in a very long road. That doesn’t make it any easier, though. For the last two weeks I’ve been saying such mean things to myself. I’ve stopped putting cream on my feet so that deep cracks have opened on my heels and it hurts every time I take a step. I’m so thirsty, and I tell myself to drink some water, and I don’t drink the water. Maybe I have some more tea because I’m so tired because I’m staying up too late and not getting enough sleep so I need caffeine to buoy me.

The fact that all of this was happening while my wonderful parents were visiting, while the wildflowers bloom, while life continues to happen around me, is such an insult. And it feels so shameful. How dare I feel like shit? One more thing to add to the nasty things I would say to myself. Stupid. Fat. Ugly. Talentless. And then: Ungrateful. Ouch.

I let it all build up for a while. I mentioned it to a close friend, and to my husband. But otherwise I smiled my way through it (or maybe not, I’m sure my mom knew something was up. Hi, Mom!) If I’ve learned anything in the last few years, it is to have patience with these things. I could feel tears dammed up inside of me, but I had no time to cry. Work, family, writing and poetry readings and friends and garden…no time for tears.

This morning, home with the kids, Colm threw a toy at Aedan and Aedan exploded, as he does (he gets it from me. We’re both learning how to stop doing this). He picked up a Transformer he got in a toy exchange at school, a hard plastic thing with lots of angles, and chucked it at his brother. And missed. He pinned me instead, right above my lip. Instantly, I burst into tears and I sobbed for a good little while, all three kids just staring at me. Finally, I regained myself and we talked about why that wasn’t okay and what he could do instead. I’m grateful that toy didn’t hit Colm, because it fucking hurt. I’m grateful something broke the dam and I had a good cry. I’m grateful that Aedan got shocked out of himself a little bit, and that it lead to a conversation about how to better handle anger.

I’ve started to come out of my funk. I think I’m on the other side of it. The nasty voice in my head is silent. I’m in my studio writing this, Wednesday night, and below the open window, people sing on the sidewalk. The swallows swoop through the air, gathering up the mosquitoes. One block over, I can see kids on the swings in the schoolyard–it’s ten thirty and the sun is still in the sky. There is still July, and if we’re lucky, August, too. But then it will be brilliant autumn, and then the gorgeous, difficult winter and I will try and remember to take the highs and the lows in stride. And if you’re having a hard time this summer, know that it’s okay. Drink some water. Ask for help. Do what you need to get through.

 

 

Sprung

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Last night, around 2 am, I was woken by the sound of banging on our shed. Coming out of sleep, it sounded like Paul was trying, unsuccessfully, to get in. Why doesn’t he just open the door, I thought in my haze. Then I came fully awake, and could hear him snoring softly in bed.

A bear, then.

I shook Paul awake, quietly so as not to wake the kids, and asked him to go downstairs and lock our front door. It opens out, but with the new handle we installed recently, a bear could potentially swing it open. A bear in the house is one of my greatest fears. I sometimes lie awake in bed, wondering what I’d do if a bear got in. Could it climb the stairs to the loft? What then? Could we jump out the window? Where would we go from there? I’d have to run back in to get the keys to the truck.

Stop. It will never happen.

Back to last night, and Paul and I standing in the kitchen with a flashlight, peering out into the rare darkness, watching the shadow of a big black bear lumber away from the shed and barbeque, in the direction of the garbage cans; heard the bear find the cans, knock them over, the “wildlife proof” lids no match for a bear’s strength; watched the bear lope off behind the shed towards the woods, dragging a bag of garbage with it.

Everything was quiet again. We went back to bed. What else is there to do? The bears are awake, curious and hungry. They’re not just a problem at our place in the bush: they are sighted in town, too, and on the hiking trails that surround town. As I drift off to sleep, I wish for a dog. I think about how the garbage cans are right by the outhouse, and of how I had to pee. If I’d woken with that urge just 20 minutes sooner, I might have encountered the bear in the yard, in the dark. Another of my greatest fears. Stash bear spray in outhouse. Learn to use a gun. Get a dog.

I’d intended to write about summer unfolding, and then a bear happened. It’s too good a story not to share!

The leaves are all coming out now: what was a buzz of new-green has become a roar. Wild lupin and bluebells push up from from the soil; the crocuses have already bloomed.

The ice has gone out on the river, and the ferry that carries people across has gone back in the water. Soon, the first tour buses will roll into town, covered in dust, off-loading people who will walk around town in matching jackets, all wearing name tags, standing in the middle of the road to take pictures of decrepit heritage buildings. They will creep past the bar, most too afraid to step foot in the local watering hole. The braver ones will find out we don’t bite and it is, in fact, the best time you can have in town. (But I’m biased).

I said I wouldn’t plant a big garden but of course I am busily getting all four of the beds ready, turning the soil, adding in sheep manure, digging out the grass that overtook two beds the summer we were in Ontario. In another week, I’ll plant potatoes, bush beans, sweet peas, radishes and lettuce. This weekend is the Gold Show, a mining trade show that has grown to include much more than mining: the local nursery, and the one from Whitehorse, will set up with bedding plants and herb and vegetable starts. I’ll buy flats of flowers and plant my pots the first week of June, hoping we don’t get a late frost.

We spend more and more time outdoors these days. Like with plants grown indoors from seed, I harden my children off, leaving them outside a bit longer each day until they can tolerate the elements, the change of atmosphere. They “help” me in the garden, or we kick a ball around or we walk in the woods. With bear spray. Singing loudly.

Summer here goes by in a flash: it is packed full of festivals, Saturday markets, friends, picnics, camping, and work. I try to slow down, savor each day. I hope you do the same!