Posted by: Hannah | 09/24/2018

the sweater

Today is the first really cold day of fall. The first morning that I woke up regretting slightly that I’d left the window open all night. The first day I insisted the kids wear warm jackets to play outside.

I don’t mind. This is the time of year I love the most. Nova Scotian summers are humid, the springs are non-existent and the winters a damp cold marathon, but September & October are as close to paradise as you’re ever likely to get. Cloudless skies of a deep penetrating blue. Leaves red, yellow and orange. Purple asters blooming along the roadsides. Fresh breezes and warm sunshine but enough chill in the air that a sweater makes you feel like you’re getting a hug all day long.

It almost makes me feel guilty, when I know I have dear friends out west who are already in winter. Almost. Mostly it just makes me want to entice them to come here and see for themselves.

Right now I’m sitting in my sunny living room. The house is silent as I only have two dayhome kids today and they’re both napping. I’m wearing fuzzy slippers and my new sweater, drinking double spice chai out of my favourite mug and nibbling ginger biscuits. Literally the only sound right now is the tapping of my keyboard and the dog’s gentle snores.

I think I need more time alone in my own house.

A word about my new sweater. It is soft. It is a cream & black twill. It is a cardigan-style with no buttons or zippers. It is nice and long.

IT HAS POCKETS.

As I get comfortable with being in my 40s I am becoming obsessed with the whole pocket thing. There were two very similar sweaters on the rack the night I bought this one and one was much cheaper but there were no pockets and reader, for the first time in a long time I did not stint myself based on saving a few dollars. I bought the sweater with the pockets and I use the pockets every goddamn day. They can hold my phone, tissues, snacks, my car keys. Michael said he likes my sweater and leered encouragingly at me to which I replied “I am not wearing it for your male gaze!” and then hissed menacingly “it hasssss pocketsssssss” so I guess the next ten years should be super-fun for all concerned.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what comes next for me, professionally speaking. On the one hand I’m getting pretty good at this dayhome gig and have lots of routines worked out that make things run smoothly. On the other hand I’m 40 and getting pretty tired of being so entangled with families I’m not actually friends with. In 2020 I’ll have two spots opening up and the thought of starting over again with two new babies and their parents just make me feel tired. I think I will be closing. But what I’ll do then… I don’t know. I don’t want anything earth-shaking. Two of my best friends are currently doing work that they are passionate about, work that makes them feel fulfilled, and I am so happy for them! I am! But I also am not fussed about that. I’ve had my passion project. I’m doing it now. All I want after this is a job where I clock in and clock out, and have a set list of tasks and I never have to offer marriage counseling or parenting lessons.

I think I’m stalled out on what comes next because I feel this pressure to choose something I love and that will complete me when really I just want to make widgets and earn about what I do now. And never work overtime.

Do you know how hard it is to say that to people? Really hard. People want you to have A Big Dream You’ve Been Putting On Hold But Now You’re Going For It. It can be incredibly hard to say “look, I wanted to be home with my kids for as long as possible. I was. It was great! But I still have a very busy family schedule and want my evenings and weekends free, so I’m fine with whatever job lets me do that”.

I think I need to give myself permission to stop trying to think of something AMAZING and instead just think of SOMETHING. In the meantime I’ll be looking out for opportunities to make my existing skills more current (online courses to update some of my software training, for example).

My sweater and I are ready.

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: Hannah | 05/04/2018

in which I turn 40

Last week I turned forty, and it was mostly pretty good. I mean there was some shit that went down around any special day for which I have expectations that my family for whatever reason struggles to meet, you know? Harry bought me a small bag of chips in my favourite flavour to smuggle into Infinity War which was admittedly quite thoughtful, but then he also fell apart during the brutal last half-hour of said movie and proclaimed himself too sad to attend my birthday dinner… into every life a little rain must fall, and I’ve mostly managed to pretend I didn’t miss him around the table at the incredibly hip taco & tequila bar we went to. I wanted to not lift a finger to do anything for anyone else, and that decidedly did not happen; if I am ever hit by a bus on a Monday when my children are still living at home please send a replacement ASAP because while they all try, I am confident that it would be The Walking Dead season 1 by Thursday.

Parenting and adulthood are all about reconciling expectation vs. reality, you know? I mean I should really have known that it wasn’t suddenly going to happen that things would go the way I wanted them to just because sitcoms and Instagram have told me what I should expect. And besides, things are actually fine! My kids love me and are mostly happy people. My husband is a good kind man with a sexy beard who tries every single day to do right by his family. I am good at my job and have many loving friends. This is entirely exactly what I always wanted my life to be like and except for my personal fitness level which is direful and in need of repair, I have pretty much ticked all the mental boxes I had for entering my forties.

And yet. I’m struggling these past few months. I’ve had worse depressive episodes. I am getting up in the morning, getting dressed, making coffee, managing to remain pleasant no matter how many times I have to go knock on Harry’s door to get him up and ready for the bus. I’m really killing it dayhome-wise; I’ve got a bang-up routine down that works well and the littles are thriving. I’m putting a healthy and tasty meal on the table almost every night. The laundry is usually caught up. I’ve started reading again and I’ve been getting out for more walks and I’m not completely stuck in the Slough of Despond. Just… it’s there, out of the corner of my eye. I can see it, and I’m trying like hell to stay out of it, but sometimes it’s only a mere suggestion like a heat mirage on the highway in August and other times it’s lapping at my feet while the tide comes in.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about emotional labour, and how every thinkpiece I’ve ever read about it says it is things like remembering to book the kids’ dental appointments, or what shoe size everyone wears, or if today is library day. Those people are missing the point. The real emotional labour is offering guidance and support to your child who is having a hard time adjusting to the social minefield that is junior high, or figuring out if your other child is quirky or lonely, or making sure that your youngest child is remembering to make friends his own age. It’s making sure you remind your spouse to care for his mental health while stubbornly refusing to make space and time in your life to care for your own.

If you don’t remember your kid’s shoe size that’s what those shoe sizing gizmos at every single store that sells shoes is for. You don’t need to remember that, it’s not important. You do need to remember the names of your kids’ best friends and worst enemies, though.

Sometimes I worry that by the time all three of my boys are raised and gone I will be a husk, scooped out and hollow. Other times I can remind myself that I’m in the weeds right now; that we’ve had a very difficult year, that for a whole host of reasons it makes perfect sense that I would feel weary to my bones with it all just now. There will be a time after this I whisper to myself, a mantra, as each new crisis pops up and I’m rolling my sleeves up to deal with it, again.

I assume that when the sun begins to shine again, finally, that I will feel better. We’ve had a miserable rainy spring here and on the odd sunny day I can feel my mood change minute by minute. I hang out bedding and scrub floors and plan hikes and do big projects and I know that me is still in here, somewhere, waiting to come out and meanwhile passing her time hate-watching Riverdale.

Still, as my friend Nicole says (HI NICOLE!) at least I’m not pregnant in a covered wagon.

 

Posted by: Hannah | 04/06/2018

in which Caroline Ingalls got the shaft

Anyone who has talked to me for any length of time knows I’m big fan of the Little House book series (not the TV show, I watched exactly one episode and it was an abomination, sorry). As a kid I deeply envied my friend Leah; her grandmother was big into sewing and smocking and made her what to my eye was a perfect Laura Ingalls dress AND MATCHING SUNBONNET, CAN YOU EVEN. She wore it to school every couple of weeks for the entirety of second grade and we nearly broke up over it, I was so covetous. I read my Scholastic book order copies so many times that the bindings all fell apart and I had to replace them. I did a whole bunch of book reports on them. I’d spend entire days in the woods around my house pretending to be Laura.

Aside: Did anyone EVER want to be Mary? Wasn’t being Mary kind of like being Meg from Little Women? Thank goodness I had brown hair just like Laura so I didn’t have to wear a wig or anything.

Anyway I loved them even when really I’d outgrown them; there was something comforting about returning to them periodically throughout my teenage years, and when I had kids of my own I bought the boxed set so I could share it with them too.

Recently I started seeking out some of the non-fiction works about Laura and her life. I have a copy of the annotated Pioneer Girl which is a treasured part of my library. I’ve read several biographies from different points of view and over Christmas I devoured the excellent Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller.

Here’s what I’ve discovered (and this post was prompted by a discussion with my friends Nicole and Peady on Twitter today): LAURA INGALLS TOTALLY GAVE US ALL THE WRONG IMPRESSION OF CAROLINE.

As kids, we all thought Pa was the fun one, didn’t we? The one who told stories and played the fiddle and bought horses and candy and hair ribbons. The one who just wanted to go west and was always looking for a way to make more money and improve their lives. “We’ll live like kings!” he kept insisting as they squatted in a dirt hole beside Plum Creek, mocking the wise Norwegian immigrant who made a buck off Pa’s deciding that the lack of a useful wheat crop was due to said Norwegian’s poor farming ability and not the drought / historic plague of grasshoppers that decimated the state.

And then he buys an entire house on credit because that’s always a really smart idea.

Pa makes so many terrible decisions, and when you’re an adult and reading the actual historically-accurate versions of the Ingalls family story it gets really hard to forgive him for very much. He uproots them all from Wisconsin to head for the cheap prairie land (because the government is going to make “the Indians” move on, that’s a whole ‘nother series of posts but “Colonizing Land Thief” isn’t a good look for anyone). He buys the useless land on Plum Creek and congratulates himself for getting the better of an immigrant. When that doesn’t pan out he takes a job working for the railroad company, which is smart, but then he moves his family including two attractive teenage daughters into a 10 x 10 shack in the railroad camp, miles from anywhere and surrounded by men who haven’t seen a woman in months. He guilts Caroline into letting settlers stay in the surveyors’ house, making sure that she & Laura do all the work to cook and clean for literally dozens of strange armed men every night for weeks… and tries to tell her it isn’t nice to charge these men a dime a night for room and boardWhen the admittedly very handsome and eligible Almanzo Wilder pursues Laura, Pa not only encourages it, he brushes aside Ma’s very real and legitimate concerns about their daughter “who is only fifteen!” being squired about town by a man ten years her senior.

Don’t even get me started on him selling a cow to buy a freaking pump organ and the materials to build a room to put it in just so Mary can play it when she comes home from college.

Through all of this is Caroline, portrayed by Laura as formidable but not loveable. Beautiful but untouchable. Laura clearly fears her mother as much as she admires her, and craves her approval at the same time as she pushes back against Ma’s many rules for how to be a real lady.

As an adult it is hard not to see what’s really going on here; that Caroline Ingalls was holding the family together body and soul, that without her Charles would have been a homeless wanderer rather than the pillar of the community he eventually became.

RANDOM SUDDEN THOUGHT: Mr. Edwards was exactly who Charles Ingalls would have been, if not for Caroline keeping him on some kind of reasonably-productive forward path.

To sum up, Caroline was the lynchpin (old-timey reference!) around which the entire family revolved. Re-read the books and imagine being her while you do. Once you notice how many times she keeps them from ruin, you’ll never be able to unsee it.

You might even stop rolling your eyes about her pride in having a waist so tiny Charles could span it with his hands.

 

 

 

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