Archive for the ‘family’ category

Brutal winter magic

March 29, 2014

It started with the flu and a power outage. It developed into a cold, a cough, bronchitis. Weekly storms brought winds that nearly blew me off my feet. Someone threw up. Someone else got an ear infection. Cold sweats and hot chills, and he we go with the flu again.

This winter has been less than kind to the general health of my family.

There were four PD days to manage in February, snow days and sick days from work and school. Several times I said aloud, I did not go back to work to be stuck at home with kids! Then I’d get sick again, for punishment.

Still, there’s been magic. The tooth fairy visited us with Santa Christmas Eve. I’d forgotten about this until my daughter lost her first molar last week.

The next day, after she’d stashed her four dollars, she said she had something to ask me. I didn’t know it at the time, but my body was brewing another bout of flu. So maybe I wasn’t feeling much like keeping the magic alive, which made it easier, when my daughter asked if it is, in fact, parents who leave money for teeth, to ignore the angel on my one shoulder for the devil on the other. I told her the truth. Then, when she asked about the Easter bunny, I believe I used the word ridiculous.

Now I might have the angel and devil mixed up. Because what I will never forget, despite my haze of cold sweats, is how grateful she was that I didn’t lie to her direct question. And what I hope my daughter never forgets about this conversation, was the advice I gave her to move forward with this new information: how, when you are no longer told what to believe, you are free to discover your own magic in the world.

It’s taken a certain amount of magic to get through this brutal winter. I found plenty between the covers of books. Quite literally, in The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, what a cool idea! Very much an impossible love story, where real magic is almost believable against a backdrop of realism, with so much great detail. I have re-read some of my favourite authors, Jane Urquhart, Anita Rau Badami, Barbara Gowdy, Michael Ondaatje, Susan Musgrave.

Did I mention I am going to Iceland? I can hardly believe it, it seems so unreal, but I’ll be there in just over a week. My preparation for the Iceland Writers Retreat has open several doorways to new discoveries, including Sjon (I read The Blue Fox in an afternoon, and it summoned ancient storytelling methods in a modern setting, very different from anything I’ve read lately). Another book that was on my list but I got to it sooner because of this trip, was The Orenda, by Joseph Boyden (which won Canada Reads this year!). This is a very important book, one I feel like I’ve been waiting for, for a long time, for its very honest depiction of Canada’s beginnings, a story we don’t talk about often enough.

And finally, I discovered Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book. I haven’t been able to pick up another new book since putting this one down. This is the most incredible work of historical fiction I could ever imagine. This one makes me squeeze my eyes shut tight and imagine I can time travel to the places Brooks brought to life on the page, several different time periods, all drawn so clearly it makes my fingers itch to touch the dirt, the rocks, and clothing of the people there.

I’ve had at least one sick day with each of my children this winter. With my three-year-old, I made train tracks and caught up on some Kids’ CBC episodes. With my middle son, I played Uno, Monopoly, and enjoyed his favourite Disney movies. My daughter and I watched two seasons of The Dance Academy on Netflix. I’ve hardly had time to think about how stuck I was feeling last year before I found a job. Things are ticking along, just as they should.

 

 

Brain not stimulated in sweatpants

October 4, 2013

I am a master at sleeping through the night when not woken by one of my children, so it was a shock to be startled from dreams the other night. I felt around the covers the way I search for a pen on my desk, tapped my feet as I do while preparing lunches in the kitchen, and blinked, as at a computer screen in a windowless office during daylight. All of this because I wasn’t sure where I was.

I wouldn’t say it was a relief to be in bed, with hours of sleep time left before dawn. My newest routine involves being dressed and ready to leave for work as my children head to school every morning. I have a hard time calling it “work” when it doesn’t involve laundry, managing the bathroom, activity, playtime and eating schedules of three little humans. I quite enjoy this thing called work I do with other adults on weekdays. It’s a routine which will become dull with that inevitability of anything we repeat over and over, but for now, is completely refreshing.

And the world of adults is equally as entertaining as that of children. Add and subtract certain frustrations. Traffic for spilled milk. A slow-talking janitor for a whining two-year-old. The entry-level position (for which I am grateful, it’s a foot-in-the-door as I am told over and over) for bum-wiping.

Women are making all kinds of choices these days, but our one restriction will never completely disappear: that of the career-halting reality of having children. Of course, different women are managing this in various ways. For me, I have spent the last decade supporting my husband’s career and making babies. I am glad, thanks to the women a generation before me, I have the choice to access childcare, and look for a job. It’s been a year since I started to work on this plan, and it is finally a reality. I am eternally grateful I have three wonderful children to make a childcare plan for. The truth is, I have been out of the workforce for five years, and am starting from zero, once again. And yes, I want it all.

I’ll be blunt: I found being home with my children extremely isolating. I never enjoyed “playdates”. My style is more, kick the kids out the door so I could engage my brain in my writing. I have no regrets about having been home with them (and seeing all of my kids’ firsts is a gift I cherish), they are great kids, and we get compliments about them all the time, in particular, how polite they are. If me being home with our children had anything to do with their (so far) good natures, then it was worth it. But I have a brain, and it wasn’t stimulated in sweatpants.

One working mom I know once said, “Your children will be happy if you are happy.” I felt stuck at home. Now, I offer undivided attention to my children when we’re together, rather than trying to do two things at once. Of course there is still the laundry, my husband and I still have meal plans to make and barf to clean up from the kitchen floor, turns to take when someone is up in the night. And, I continue to pursue my fiction writing. But if I’ve learned anything over this last month of being back at work outside the home, it’s that we are all, barring any real health issues, capable of more. Not less. Everything and anything we do can become repetitive, and it’s the more that will break up those routines, keep us motivated, and show our children how to do so, also.

Practicalities

I spent too long fretting over how it was all going to happen, but in the end, me going back to work outside the home only made sense for us this year (even though I would have been glad to have done this a year ago), with two out of three kids in school full time. There’s enough juggling (sick days, appointments, activities to manage) without adding extra confusion to that nasty Kindergarten year, of 2.5 hrs. of school in the middle of the day. And financially, with two kids in full time daycare, one in after school, I would have been paying to work. Yuck. The balance is slightly tipped in the right direction with (only) one child in full time daycare, two in after school care.

First thing was to get our youngest into full time daycare. I decided on the one I wanted, ignored the people who said “you’ll never get in there, the wait list is years long” and called or emailed the director every day all summer until she offered me a spot.

It took another week to figure out after school care for our other two children, a couple of days of my husband picking them up early so I could get settled in my job (teamwork!). But same thing happened with that: once I decided on the program I wanted the kids in, I bugged and bugged until I got two spots.

The job? That part now seems easy compared with organizing three children. A few months ago I dug deep into my past, summoned one or two of the best references I hadn’t realized I had, and they really came through for me. I’d also been concerned about how my resume looks, seeing as I haven’t had many long-term positions. But none of that matters when you add up experience, a positive attitude, and determination to get out there.

The Motherlode of Inspiration

May 10, 2013

I’m suffering a roadblock where my due may not be coming. My due time to sleep, my due time to have two coherent thoughts back to back, uninterrupted by tiny hands and persistent munchkin voices, my due time to put on clothes that haven’t been trampled under a hoard of dirty laundry.

It’s eight am and my daughter is not dressed or finished her homework and my son is anxious to start walking to school and my two-year-old is freaking out because his cereal is soggy and he wants a cookie. I take a deep breath and pass out small glasses of orange juice and bowls of oatmeal, make sure they are all wearing clean underwear (the pants and shirts I can’t be sure of). After school my daughter comes home crying because of a fight she’s had with friends and I ask all the diplomatic questions and nod understandingly in all the right places. My son is crying on the stoop because his father, his hero, is not home from work yet and nothing mom can do is quite as magnificent as what he can do.

My next deep breath conjures an image that’s been hovering in my peripheral vision through weeks of sleepless nights with one coughing kid or another, weeks of being one pace behind a clean house or a move made on my job search. This image is one that lives in my heart even with thousands of kilometres between us, and it is of my mother.

Image

A pregnant me celebrating a birthday with my mom.

Mother of composure who can pass on dessert and make me believe that a morning walk is important as sunlight. Mother of compassionate determination in the face of sky-high demands of career and family and self-care. Mother of creativity when it came to birthday parties or PD days, always ready with a cardboard box — aka fort — from an appliance store, scissors and crayons, glue and scrap material. Mother of hilarity, who has this great ability to laugh at herself (she once sent me a copy of her disastrous passport photo in a letter I opened, to my great embarrassment, in front of my friends at camp. But I had to laugh  because I could imagine her chuckling to herself as she sealed the awful picture into an envelope and put it in the mail for me). Mother of a remarkable way of creating fabulous meals in a wake of charred oven mitts and broken dishes, spilled soup and sticky dribbles in the creases of the kitchen. Mother with a knack for something more laughable than a good comedy sketch in the way she never fails to screw up the punchline of a joke. Mother of maturity and insight who could pinpoint the appropriate lessons and events by which I have marked out some fabulous courses for my life — summer jobs where I was able to work outdoors, encouragement to not just talk about writing but to call myself a writer, and so many other practical ideas she sought out to place in my lap. Mother of energy and unconditional love, unafraid to be wrong (but really, always right), to get angry or express joy, who taught me to fight my own battles and for God’s sake pick up after myself (that one didn’t really stick, sorry mom), and to go after whatever it is will make me most happy.

During the daily grind of rearing children I find it tough to imagine what will make me happy but that, like my mother in my life, is always there, even if it is pushed to peripheral places where it mixes like watercolours on the canvas of my existence. Thoughts of how best to proceed day to day blend with images of my own mother looking when I wanted to show her a dance step or a story I’d written, answering whenever I call her seeking advice, encouraging me to study or practise or move a little faster in the mornings while getting herself ready for another day at a job she loved.

I’ve had a lot of great role models in my life but my mom tops them all, and here’s how: because when I’m not feeling up to the struggle to shove pudgy round feet into square shoes, or to arm wrestle carseat straps, to clean another poopy bum, deal with midnight barf-a-thons or the confusing new math homework, and I’ve yelled at my kids not because they are awful children but because I’m tired and I’ve lost my patience, I think about all the wonderful things my mom manages alongside her roles as mother, daughter, wife and friend. This business of motherhood is not, even with well behaved, perfect children like my mom had and like I have, an easy job. So far, the only place I’ve got my mom beat is having three children to her two. But I know that when one career wasn’t satisfying, my mom worked hard, taking courses or networking to find another. And when that challenge was old hat to her, she strove for more. Always while remaining an available, approachable, and loving mother. She is my light at the end of a sometimes murky tunnel.

As I was writing this my two-year-old got out of bed, whining and wanting me to come upstairs and I said no, go back to bed, but I asked for one more hug and kiss from him. He refused. I put on a pouty face and he said, Don’t cry, so I pretended to cry and he ran into my arms with a smile and gave me a big hug and kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, all over my face the way I do to him, the way my mom did to me, and when he walked away he said, Don’t cry, and I somehow maintained my composure.

I have many wonderful female role models in my life. My very own fit and healthy ball of energy, humour, intelligence and wisdom who is a superstar of a mother, truly. Lovely aunts and a mother-in-law and sisters-in-law I admire and can confide in. I had two amazing and loving grandmothers. I have had terrific female bosses, also mothers, and only the best women friends with little ducklings in tow. My mom introduced me to the battle we as a gender have been waging, to be able to fulfill our dreams that extend outside of our work in the home while answering the very natural pull toward motherhood. Her actions as a working mom have been a lesson to me in how to go after what I want, while celebrating my femininity and my capacity as a mother. I adore time spent with my mom shopping or hiking or getting lost on a road trip and finding our way into a quaint cafe. I cherish the unending talks my mom and I are capable of, which drive the men in our family out of doors to swat flies in reverential silence. I celebrate the fact that, thanks to my mom and other women like her (although no other is quite like her), where we are is a place of true partnership between the sexes, if not complete equality. I know women like my mom worked hard to get us here.

Another thing my mother taught me is to be myself. And this self, as a mother, is something I can only be as a woman, full of both self-doubt and confidence, creativity, ambition and hope. I embrace this part with love, laughter, thoughtfulness, and never without compassion. Kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss and kiss, to you, my beautiful fellow moms but most of all, to the brilliant shining star who is my very own and much beloved, mother.

Boo, I say, for Blue Monday

January 21, 2013

According to CBC, and probably other sources as well, today is Blue Monday:

http://www.music.cbc.ca/#/blogs/2013/1/Feist-to-Dan-Mangan-the-Big-Bummer-playlist

Ha! My frown is upside-down today. The sun IS shining. These songs are glad, not sad. They have heart. And heart matters. Whether you’re up or down. Heart matters.

Life is busy, to say the least, with three kids. Sometimes I don’t have time to look up from the craziness to see where I’m going. But today, I peered around yesterday’s clouds and saw three small beings who need more than a fraction of my attention. Something other than, be quiet, mommy’s writing, or, keep quiet, the baby’s sleeping and mommy’s trying to get writing done.

My son loves Pokemon cards (LOVES them) and my daughter loves cats (oh my gosh that is a huge understatement, when my husband took her to the animal shelter yesterday, one of their daddy-daughter dates, she came home, flopped on the couch next to my writing desk with an enormous love sigh, and told me, That was Heaven!), and the baby (two-year-old) loves whatever his big brother and sister love. So I told them, kids, after school today, let’s play.

Pokemon? said my son.

Get a kitten? said my daughter.

Pokemon, kitty? said my two-year-old.

I offered a compromise. How about, we pretend to get into a rocket ship and go to the moon where we meet aliens who have alien Pokemon cards (my son’s eyes lit up), and we’ve smuggled a cat in the ship with us and she is adorable and loveable (my daughter’s eyes lit up). Baby ran around us jumping up and down, cheering, Pokemon! Kitty!

Okay, that’s a playdate for later. For now, back to my mountain of a story (this week’s story, Ray! THANK YOU).

The Clarity of Moments

December 31, 2012

IMG_4268Does it seem that the lessons get tougher even as the years, the accumulation of them as individual stretches of twelve-month periods, feel shorter?

I started this conversation then got horrendously distracted. Pre-menstrual and parent-weary. A bit anxious about getting any writing done while trying to get the house ready for a party tonight. But that’s not what I meant to say.

I meant to say how pleased I am with the piles of books we as a family collected this Christmas. I meant to discuss what I’m reading, Aritha van Herk, an author I identify with because of her daring female protagonists and especially their time spent in northern landscapes, their search for that place called Home.

I’m also reading Ted Solotaroff’s book of essays. He offers advice to writers just starting out that will give me a pep talk whenever I need it in the coming year. To keep going. Keep writing my way toward the goal of being a weaver of words into thought-provoking stories. My goal of clarity (also the goal of each individual moment), a burning desire that shines between the lines of well-chosen words. In fiction I can be a product of all that I am and all that I’ve come from and seen and done and felt. In fiction, I can take control of these things.

TS, in one of his essays, discusses how the novel can come across as self-conscious compared with the immediacy and honesty of the oral tradition. I worry about this in my own writing, of a self-consciousness rather than an authorial confidence. There was a writer I “met” online when I did my first NaNoWriMo. I adored the subject of her first novel, her characters and her story. But “self-conscious” was exactly how the writing felt to me. Like it had been over-edited, cut down to too few words because publishers will only print a limited number of pages for a first-time author. This writer, Sarah Dooley is her name, her blog has such an intimate and draw-you-in kind of a tone that seemed lacking in her first book. I’ve bought (for my daughter, but I might get to it first) Sarah’s next book, a YA novel titled Body of Water. I believe in her capacity to grow as a writer. To shed some of that self-consciousness, and let the more relaxed voice of her blog seep into her fiction. I can only hope to trip over my own feet a number of times, learn these tough lessons, and to keep trying until a piece of writing feels “right.” To Fail Better as Zadie Smith wrote.

I’m often anxious, like many of us, about where technology is taking us. But as I’ve seen with Sarah’s writing, perhaps blogging is the true continuation of an age-old tradition of oral storytelling that has otherwise been mostly lost in the world. I am terrified of the things we all know are heading for “lost” in the world, but maybe this is one instance where lost can actually be found.

Gifts for our children. This was what I really wanted to write about on this last day of 2012. I’ve thought a lot lately about the truest and best gifts I could possibly pass along to my children. Besides love, nutrition, discipline and shelter. As important as all of these, I think, is the gift of words. I’ve got three small heads in my household (and two larger ones) that bow to books several times a day. As well, all five of us have been getting our heads (and hearts, I hope) to church some Sundays this year, a place where this love of words is continued in the form of the oldest method of storytelling, that is, words passed along orally.

This gift of words is one I can see the affects of hour by hour, season by season. My children are capable of sitting quietly between outbursts of rowdy play. Sitting with a book is when they recharge their batteries. They can recite certain lines from books we’ve read together and stories we’ve heard at church, talk about them, laugh about them. From who sitting my chair? our two-year-old growls at Goldilocks, and the historical facts our five-year-old is learning about in a children’s chapter book about Christopher Columbus, to What is synchronicity? our eight-year-old daughter is exploring in the chapter books she devours at a pace of one every other day. The fact that words can lead to discussions we share together, this is the tie that binds all the other important gifts, from love to shelter. Words. Most important, every day of the year.

One of the things I am most proud of at the end of 2012, and what I will take into the new year as my central focus? The fact I can’t count the number of times each day I hear, “Read this, mummy! Read this!”

Pity Parties and Perfect Paragraphs

December 16, 2012

I have a new favourite paragraph. I’ve read it over and over and over again today, check it out (from Zadie Smith’s latest novel, NW, this is the opening of Chapter 14):

A great hill straddles NW, rising in Hampstead, West Hampstead, Kilburn, Willesden, Brondesbury, Cricklewood. It is no stranger to the world of letters. The Woman in White walks up one side to meet the highwayman Jack Sheppard on the other. Sometimes Dickens himself comes this far west and north for a pint or to bury someone. Look, there, on the library carpet between Science Fiction and Local History: a knotted condom filled with sperm. Once this was all farm and field, with country villas nodding at each other along the ridge of this hill. Train stations have replaced them, at half-mile intervals.

This paragraph has everything, at least, everything I seem to be looking for at the moment. The camera casts a wide glance over an area of London, England. It zooms in for a look at a particular place in a library. It has a dreamlike quality with the mention of infamous characters from literature and history (Wilkie Collins! I’d forgotten about Wilkie Collins, I’ve only read The Moonstone back in lit class, but I remember it well…..now here’s Collins’ Woman in White meeting up with a criminal, I love it), and its scope is both historical and current with those last two sentences, which I absolutely adore.

Sigh. I’m not jealous of this perfect paragraph, I think that’s the silliest thing in the world, to be jealous of another writer’s words. I know I have a sense of language. Of the rhythm and music created by words when they are put together in a certain way. I know that there are as many different ways to do this as there are writers, both past and present. No two writers will ever put the same words or ideas together in the same ways. Like snowflakes, we writers are. Like each individual human, past and present, and oh, alright, future as well. I’m only anxious to get around to creating my own ideal sentences. Perfect, ideal, these are not the right words. Striking, maybe? Memorable. Lasting.

I just need more time to work on this glorious, heartbreaking, obsessive craft of writing. And it’ll come. The few scattered hours a day of writing I get in now isn’t enough, but it’s worth it to push on through, keep going. On through snowstorms (it’s about time the snow arrived, and I hope it lasts through Christmas), through illness, through all of the life that can’t be separated from work and writing…..

Oh illness. Our youngest had croup recently. Croup is one of those things I’d heard of, but which taught me, again, how you never really, truly know a thing until you experience it yourself. In this case: how it will keep you up all night (your child coughing, gasping for air). How the cough will linger throughout the day, make the whole family miserable. How you will end up in and out of the doctor’s office and the hospital for a week straight.

The first night he was sick, when we didn’t realize it was croup (which is really just a cold virus, but in small children, their trachea swells making it difficult for them to breath, and they will make a sound like a seal when they cough, and it is agony to listen to), I’d get up when I heard him cry, put his head back on the pillow, cover him with the blanket. Then I’d lay down in my own bed, sure that he was drowning.

He wasn’t. He didn’t.

But then I got so sad over the fact that we are all alone out here on the Rock, without our families, the grandparents who would, if they lived close by, come over for even an hour or two during the day to be with the other two kids while I took the youngest to the doctor. I felt sorry for myself over the fact that I’d been in and out of the house all week, arms loaded with sick child, diaper bag of snacks and water and toys to keep the kids occupied in waiting rooms. All the while looking longingly over my shoulder at my neglected writing.

My own cough made me weak. Sent me into a two-day pity-party. Catching the baby’s cold was inevitable, being covered in his coughs and sneezes around the clock. By the end of the worst day I was exhausted, and had to make the clear, conscious decision that the next day would be different.

My husband filled in the role the grandparents would have taken on had they been here, leaving work to pick up the kids from school. We pulled together as a team, and made it through the croup and our own bad colds. I put aside my writing for those few terrible days, and turned to reading which, for a writer, is sometimes equally as productive. With cold, without the bad attitude. Pity party over. Simple as that, really. I mean, none of this was tragic. But during those few days I felt th pull that sometimes happens when you think only dark, sad thoughts. The sideways lean that sometimes has me reaching for the liquor cabinet….hand slap. Deep breath. Don’t make a bad situation worse.

And then the skies open up (and snow like crazy) and this amazing paragraph appears and brightens everything. So I’ll read it one more time, then get outside to play in the snow with my family.

The bigger web of humanity (or something that has nothing to do with anything)

August 30, 2012

I took the summer off blogging for a couple reasons: first, hey it’s summer, and second, I’ve been feeling resentful of this whole social media society that says you must have a certain web presence, and if, for example, you don’t have a facebook page, then you have something to hide. Do we really live in a world that is so superficial, we call having a social media account “real”? I suppose. It is the age of “reality tv” after all. But then, our world has  always contained both superficiality, and truth. Remember Anne Shirley, LM Montgomery’s most beloved creation? Remember when Anne poured her heart out in a story which her well-meaning friend Diana submitted to the Rollings Reliable Baking Powder Company behind Anne’s back? I still remember Anne’s reaction, all drama and tears, over the humiliation of having her story commercialized. I loved Anne’s characteristic stubbornness that stuck up for the authentic artist inside of her. We can choose, at any given point, to take part in what’s superficial (and we sometimes have to, I admit; for work, for survival) but we can also choose to spend more of our time in the realm of real, heartfelt living.

For me, as it was for Anne, what’s real is often in my fiction. Meet Dan. He’s one of the characters I’ve been writing about. I call him my video store dad because he works at a video store and he was a teenager when he became a father.

In my story I completely humiliate this character, at the same time as I make him a victim of love for his daughter. The story opens with Dan standing in the middle of the mall, patiently waiting for his ex to show up with their daughter. He’s wearing a homemade superhero outfit.

The story, in it’s first drafts, ended sadly. Dan gets more and more humiliated, from the giggles of teenaged girls who point at him and wonder if he’s being paid to wear that hideous costume, to his four-year-old daughter forgetting all about him when she has the chance to visit the same accessories store as the teenaged girls.

I was struggling with this ending, because I really like Dan. He’s not smart, or ambitious,  but he’s courageous enough to give himself over to this love he never in a million years could have imagined for himself. My original ending for this story painted him as nothing but a looser. But I know it could be different.

After getting some feedback on this story, I was looking up the word vulnerability. That’s what Dan is, he’s vulnerable enough to feel this love that makes him do something as silly as put on a unitard and stand in the middle of the mall, to humiliate himself in hopes of impressing the object of his devotion. I came across a TED talk about this very thing, vulnerability (see Brené Brown on TED).

Listening to the TED talk reinforced, in a coincidental sort of a way, the hunch I had about my character. I think that Dan truly is a superhero, and that I need to re-write my ending, if not some of the story. I feel confident that it will work, because in attempting to impress a child, you have to step down to a child’s level of understanding. Dan is trying to appeal to something in his daughter she just might get. In the adult world, adult to adult, this would only be humiliating, and Dan would remain as he was in my first drafts — a loser.

I’ve been thinking about my own loser versus heroic moments throughout our relocations. This summer was yet another challenge, to go back to the place I call “home” (which is, ironically, not a place I ever have, or ever will, live full time, it just happens to be where our families live), and return to a place I was less than excited about coming back to. But it’s made me draw on my heroic self, while acknowledging my loser self.

There was this song we used to sing at summer camp (Oh Beausoleil, to the tune of Oh Danny Boy), and it always made my bawl my eyes out. When I think back to my summer camp experiences, I remember crying a lot. I’d cry because I was homesick, then I’d cry when it was time to leave camp and go back to my family. I wish, now, that I’d had the advice, then, that someone gave me before my wedding: to not start crying, because once you start, you’ll be a wreck the whole day. My camp memories are full of tears; my wedding day, only joy. I’ve been thinking about this, about how it applies to life and to great writing, which is so much more than just blurted emotions on the page. There’s a lot of restraint involved in great writing, and in living well. A lot of managing, but first acknowledging, the loser inside, to get to the hero.

One of the highlights of my time back in Ontario this summer was taking my five-year-old son into Toronto for a day, just the two of us. We rode the subway and the GO Train. I took him to Port Credit, and stood outside the apartment building my husband and I lived in when we had our daughter. I was hit with a huge wave of nostalgia for a time of life that seems eternities away from where I am now. I must admit, I started to give in to my loser self, feeling the sting of tears (man, I’m a sop!), but then I got an idea. And suddenly I was making notes about a story, the first draft of which I completed this summer, called Periphery, which in part is about childhood nostalgia.

My husband and I had our heroic-versus-loser selves challenged when we returned to St. John’s from Ontario. Our two eldest children stayed in our home province for two more weeks to spend time with both sets of grandparents, and we travelled back with the baby, now 21 months old. We arrived in St. John’s at 1:30 AM after a horrible flight where we were “those people” with the child who screamed the entire time.

Amidst the baby’s cries, my husband and I casually discussed the fact that neither of us could remember where we might have packed our house key. In the whole kerfuffle to get the five of us off to the airport that Saturday in July, I could not remember having put the key anywhere in our belongings.

Here’s how not together I can be: I’d made a couple copies of our house key the week before we left. Two were sitting on a shelf in the kitchen. One, I gave to our very generous neighbour, who had agreed to drive us to the airport in our van. The same neighbour who was going to be away when we were (ie, not home when we got back to St. John’s). So I gave him the extra key I’d gone to the effort to have made, and when he said goodbye to us at the airport, I handed him my van keys (house key still safely attached), and asked him to leave the van keys in our house when he locked the door behind him with the extra key, so that even if he wasn’t home when we returned, we’d be able to drive the vehicle when we got back into town.

At 2 AM after gathering our luggage and catching a cab back to our house, the baby was surprisingly calm. I wrapped him in my jacket and sat him in a deck chair while my husband and I circled the house trying to think of the best plan of attack to get inside. The basement door has never locked properly, and my husband had wedged a board behind it. Knowing it was held closed by the board, but that the lock was broken anyways, we decided that bashing it in was our best option.

An hour went by as we pushed and kicked at the door, and we each commented on how composed we felt. This time last year, I said, I would have been breaking down, sobbing, freaking out. Now look at me! Look at us! We can laugh about this, right?

From his perch on the back deck, the baby exercised his new vocabulary: Door. Lock. Key? Crash!

Finally, with both of us chanting in whispers, One, Two, Three, and kicking the door in unison, we were in. Broken door frame and all.

At least we know it was secure.

The really embarrassing part of this story is that there’s a part two. A couple days ago we took our children out for a walk to a park, dutifully locking all the doors behind us. When we returned from our walk with the kids, the front screen door, which is of course placed outside the door we have a key for, was locked.

This time, our five-year-old son got to be a hero. We lifted him up to climb through an open window, then he ran through the house, unlocking the doors for us.

If there’s a moral here, I’m not sure what it is. But yesterday, as we headed out for a walk, I checked to see that at least one door was unlocked. Loser or heroic moment? I don’t know. But I’m attempting to celebrate all my moments, as both.