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.

 

Back To It

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This morning, as I was about to get Aedan dressing for his first day back to school, the power went out. The house, the whole town, went as dark as if a curtain had been pulled. The kids were all scared. I remembered a turtle nightlight they’d been playing with, on the floor by the chair. I felt around for it and clicked it on. Instantly, their fears were forgotten as they marvelled at the green stars flung across the ceiling. Paul lit a few candles, and we sat in the dim until finally, the power came back on.

I got Aedan dressing himself, packed his morning snack into his backpack, and before I knew it, he was out the door with his daddy. As the door closed behind them, I picked up my phone, absently checking my email. A submission response came in from Mom Egg Review, a magazine I submitted to months ago. They want to publish one of my poems in their Spring issue. I felt a momentary thrill, followed by a little pang of regret that I haven’t been writing much poetry lately, haven’t submitted anything new since last fall. I wonder briefly where my writing life will go in 2017.

And just like that, we’re back to our normal. School days, a quieter house, soggy Cheerios, late morning sunrises and poetry.

Distant Horizons

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A few days ago, my mom and I sat across from each other in her living room, having a rare direct conversation about some big things going on in my life. The kids played around us; there might have been a kid’s show on t.v. At a natural pause in the conversation, I asked: “Is there anything else you want to talk about, while we’re being honest?”

“Yes,” she answered. “Sometimes your blog really worries me. Like I think you’re in a deep depression. And it sounds like you–” she lowered her voice. “Hate being a parent.”

I thought about it for a second. “I’m ok. But I do hate being a parent.”

It was hard for her to hear, and looking at those words now, and turning them over in my mind as I have been since our conversation, they do seem pretty ugly. And I wonder: if my mom thinks that, others probably do, too.

Honesty seems kind of rare in conversations about motherhood. Or, if we are being honest and talking about how it’s sometimes hard and thankless, it is always buffered by the “but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Being a stay at home mom to three little kids is fucking hard. I am constantly overwhelmed, overstimulated, overtired. Even as I’m typing this Aedan is telling me about some movie about whales even though I asked him to quietly watch Finding Dory while I write. I have been giving him my attention all morning. But it’s never enough. They are always hungry. As I clean up one mess, they are trashing the house behind me. I feel like I have little relief. Little support. Maybe that’s what I hate.

Yesterday, I bundled the kids up and we walked down the street I grew up on to visit an old friend and coworker of mine. She is a bright, shining soul. She is peace and light and love. She is a talented ventriloquist, artist and writer. She also has two grown sons, with jobs and passions and girlfriends, and her perspectives on parenting are always so refreshing for me. They bring me back down to earth, show me that there is life after this life. She reassures me, as my own mother does, that I’m doing a great job. But as a fellow creative person, she also is careful to remind me, every time we get together, how important my creative work is. How necessary it is to my own wellbeing, and to the wellbeing of my kids, and in the world. She always encourages me to make time, if I can, for my work.

As we talked, I felt the dark cloud lifting a little. As she told me about spending time with her kids, now adults, sharing things they love, I saw glimpses of a time when my grown children, with their own independant lives, would visit me. How they might one day celebrate the creative work I did and continue to do. These years are a slog, absolutely. And I am, at best, ambivalent to them. I love my kids to the point of heartbreak. I inhale the scent of Colm’s scalp as often as I can, and I notice that I no longer have the opportunity to do that with Aedan. And when Charlotte nurses a million times a day, though I am irritated by it, weary of it after almost 6 years, I watch her pat my breast as she does it and I know there will be a day soon when they’re mine again. But the only way to those distant horizons is through all of this.

I’m realizing that I might be a better parent not just with a “little relief,” a yoga class or a mindful cup of tea sprinkled throughout the week like favours. I think I would be a better parent if I worked outside of the home. After Aedan was born and my year of mat leave was up, I thought “why would I go back to bartending? It’s not like I have an important ‘career.'”

How wrong I was. How I underestimated the sense of independance and freedom and agency my service job gave me. I can’t rewind and change my years as a stay at home mom, but I can rewrite the script going forward.

We leave for Dawson tomorrow morning. When we get back, I’ll be picking up another shift in the bar. And I’m going to find childcare for two mornings a week. And I’m going to take a private office space for myself, and I am going to sit in my office space two mornings a week, and maybe for an hour before each of my two bar shifts, and I am going to write. I am going to put words on paper like my life depends on it, I am going to “write like a motherfucker” as Cheryl Strayed puts it, and I’m going to see where it takes me.

And for my readers who are also struggling with these early years of parenting: it’s okay that it’s really hard. It’s okay that you don’t like it all the time. You don’t have to. We are doing this thing in a bubble, and we’re not meant to do this thing in a bubble. The system is rigged, and not in our favour. So be kind to yourselves, and ask for help as often as you can.

Turning Towards

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I’ve made a habit of turning away from life, lately. It was a means of survival, at first. Checking out from intense emotions was getting me through. Now it’s just a thing that I do mindlessly, reflexively. And I feel like I’ve been writing this post over and over for a year now. I’m tired of it. Are you tired of it yet?

Today I’m making a concious choice to turn towards life. Limited time on social media. Actually getting out of the house, out of the driveway, out of the neighbourhood. I took the kids to the woods today and although it was a grey day and the path was solid ice, we made our way through the dry brown leaf carpet along the edges. And instead of looking for the exit, as I always do, I chose instead to notice what was around me. The constant hum of distant traffic and the lonely sound of crows. Red berries clinging to a bare, thorny bush. Frozen puddles and how the ice shattered like glass under the kids’ boots. The bright green creep of moss on deeply furrowed tree bark, the texture of it. Coyote scat. My breath, in and out. How impossibly tired I am. The weight of the baby in the carrier on my back, the ache in my shoulders and neck. Noticing all of it. Turning towards. Choosing to stay.

It’s been easier, in some ways. It means less yelling, because I can see the shit before it hits the fan. It means happier kids, because I’m paying attention. And I suppose, grudgingly, I will admit that it means happier me, too. Turning away from life is no way to live life. Even if what you’re turning towards is mind-numbingly boring, or uncomfortable, or cold or whatever. At least it’s mine, right?

Have Kids, Will Travel

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I do a lot of traveling with the kids. I suppose it’s a function of having my heart in two places, of straddling the country to make my family feel whole. So here we are in Ontario again, and this time I made the cross-country trip alone with the kids. It was my first time traveling alone with all three, and it went way better than I expected; even though I generally dislike the upset of travel, once we’re through security I tend to take a “que sera, sera” approach. Flight delayed? Oh well, not much I can do. Kids walking at a snail’s pace? People can go around. I wish I was better at applying this to the rest of my life. There’s something about being trapped in an airport that invites surrender, at least it does for me.

Something that really struck me on this trip, and maybe it’s because I was the crazy lady traveling alone with three small children, is the way parents look out for other parents in this situation more than in any other. On our flight from Whitehorse to Vancouver, a woman pacing the aisle trying to settle her baby stopped to offer her husband’s help to me if I needed it. In the Vancouver airport, when all three kids fell asleep just 20 minutes before boarding our (delayed) 11pm flight (can’t blame them) a business woman traveling alone offered to help me any way she could. It’s my way to turn down help at every chance, of course, because people obviously don’t actually want to help (haha) but I literally could not get all three sleeping children onto the plane alone. So she wheeled Aedan in the umbrella stroller while I carried the other two, and then when we had to check the stroller, she carried Aedan to our seat. As we wove our way together down the narrow aisle, she told me that her youngest two were twins, so she understood what it was to have too few hands for a task. I thanked her and she disappeared into business class. As I sat between my sleeping boys, Charlotte asleep in my lap, a man stopped by our row. “How are yours? My kids are still awake! It’s so late! Where’s the Ativan when you need it?” We laughed together and I wished him luck. At every stop, it seemed there was a sympathetic parent ready to help. It warmed my heart, and I know that if I’m every a business lady traveling alone, I’ll go out of my way to help any and every frazzled, struggling parent I can.

Parenting littles is hard. Traveling with them is harder. Let’s look out for each other!

Image via Flickr user Yuichi Yasuda