Productive artists

This week, I am pensive and volatile, introspective and critical, vibrating with anxiety and full of energy. I am all these conflicting, competing things and I am struggling to make my words perform the way they want to.

Flora: “I’m feeling so sad. I don’t know why!”

Me too, little flower,me too. I put an arm around her and suggest we go up to bed, watch an episode of Friends together—mind pap, not even brain candy, more like Pablum that used to be the marquee brand but has now been retired, gathering dust on a creaky shelf in an old warehouse. It’s well past its expiry date—no matter, today, we will eat it anyway, because it’s what we… well, not what we need. But what we want, right now.

We watch. But it’s not about the watching. It’s about the cuddling—the 22 minutes of togetherness and physical contact and presence. The show on the laptop ensures we can be together without words. Without me lecturing (or whining). Her justifying (trying to put into words what can be silence).

Flora’s little brother was evil today and I worry that I am raising a vandal, possibly, worse, the Anti-Christ, a destroyer of worlds. I’m probably not—but I worry. That’s what mothers do, you know. Worry, worry, worry.

Flora’s worried too. She’s going on a trip next week, to New York City! With her grandmother, without me. She’s excited.

But worried.

Why?

Flora: “I’m concerned it’s not going to be productive.”

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, whose sentiment is she echoing there? Not mine, or is it? (What she means, really, is “I’m worried I will miss you.” But she chooses those other words. They’re safer.) Her father strokes her hair and kisses the tip of her nose. “To an artist, every experience is productive, important,” he says. I smile. Idly wonder if I should interject, correct “to an artist” to “to a human.” We respect-recognize-value-nurture the artist within Flora so much, but maybe that’s as harmful as trying to squash it, suppose down the line, she decides she’s over this drawing thing and she wants to be a neurologist, shop keeper or construction worker? Are we limiting her with the label?

(mothers, worry, worry, worry, worry…)

Flora’s room, in its glorious messiness, artistic chaos is so beautiful to me. When I open the door and peek in there, I am flooded with joy and love—her room is evidence of her creativity, her freedom, her exploration of the world and of herself in an explosion of colour. It is her self, her soul made physical—the same way my the space-that-is-me-made-into-place is mine (or, I detour, the way my words are me? Are my words me? That’s another story to explore…)

We have been talking about rejigging the children’s rooms for some time now, doing, finally, the Canadian thing and giving them each a room. This week, trembling under the weight of deadlines, consumed with anxiety over “Why haven’t they gotten the mark up back to me yet!” (and also, “why haven’t they paid me, yet, again, oh, wait, they don’t do that anymore, it’s most cost-effective for them not to pay their writers, bastards, I really need to rethink my career NOW”), I channel the nervous energy into making that happen.

It’s a game of dominos—the old film production office on the flood plain transforms into a sanctuary for me and Sean (“But it’s so cold!” “Yeah, but it’s two stories away from the ears of the children!” “And the bathroom!” “Lover, it will be so good, you’ll see…”), Flora, taking over the big bedroom currently shared by the boys and their Lego, Cinder into the shoebox with the big window that’s currently Flora’s over-crowded room (“Roof access!” he proclaims gleefully. “If you abuse the roof access, I’m going to put bars on it,” I warn him. “No you won’t,” he retorts. “It’s our fire escape.” Busted, dammit, never make threats you can’t keep), and Ender inheriting the former family bedroom with the king size mattress he’s been peeing on since he’s been born.

(As we play the dominos necessary to effect the change, I am most excited that my future holds a mattress free of child urine. Yes, yes, yes, YES!)

“Why does Flora get the biggest room?” this from Ender, the third child who’s most sensitive to “not fair”—and says “not fair” even when things are perfectly equitable and reasonable; “not fair” means “I don’t like this.”

I want to say, first impulse, “Because she’s an artist,” but of course, he has an artist within too. So, instead, “Because she needs the space and the light. You and Daddy can use her studio sometimes to draw and paint in—that’s part of the deal.”

“Not fair,” the little vandal humphs and goes off in search of, what? Possibly a hammer, something to smash. To follow him, or to risk it? I follow. He goes to a bin of Lego, starts to create.

I sigh with relief, for the moment. Call for Cinder to help me move a dresser down two flights of stairs. He takes over the logistics of the operation. “As you’re still a little bigger, you’d better be at the bottom,” he instructs me. I look up at him–yeah, another inch, and he will be bigger than me, and I suspect he might already be stronger… “No, just one stair at a time at the top here, but at the third step, veer right and over…” We get the dresser—it’s actually an antique Chinese medicine cabinet, totally useless as a dresser, three pairs of socks fit in each drawer, and my bras barely, BUT I LOVE IT, it is so beautiful—down to the bottom floor without hammering any new holes in the wall. I feel very satisfied. Productive. Lifting heavy stuffy, moving shit from one room to another—when you’ve done it, you feel you’ve done something, accomplished something, right?

Changing three words in a perfectly good sentence to make it better… not quite the same oomph. Waiting for a response to your email, phone message? Utterly draining.

Pensive and volatile, introspective and critical, vibrating with anxiety and full of energy, I survey the chaos I’ve thrust my house into. The work’s not done yet, but my minions are exhausted. “Go play,” I command, and they scatter.

I text a witch to ask if she can come smudge, exorcise some of the 2013 anxiety from the flood plain-level ex-office, our new bedroom.

Do all the things. Then, drink wine with people I love. Sleep like the dead.

Wake up, still pensive and volatile, introspective and critical, vibrating with anxiety and full of energy. Which is good, because there’s still so much to do…

xoxo

“Jane”

NBTB-beakerhead 2015 intrude

The Family that eats together, or “Help! I can’t make my kids stay sitting at the table through the meal”

English: The end of dinner

Question: What is that that you’re trying to achieve with “family” dinners?

I don’t make my kids stay at the table until everyone’s finished eating. Never have. Rarely will, even with the elder two. But guess what? Now that they’re 10 and coming up on 8, they’ll often―usually―choose to stay at the table through the meal. Even when it’s one of those festive family meals that drags on together.

On “regular” days, although we almost always eat at home, we don’t always eat dinner together as a family. And here’s why.

When your purpose is to create a time that’s special, shared and valued–a time, place and space where the family comes together and builds itself, strengthens itself–how can that possibly occur when that togetherness is enforced and participated in unwillingly? The “family that eats together” myth is so ingrained in our culture — the picture of the family sitting down to dinner together such a sacred cow — a lot of us don’t really think critically about what it is that we are trying to achieve — and how we may be subverting our actual goals by the “we’re all eating dinner together goddammit” action.

There are so many other ways to come together over food if a ritual meal time is something you’re after:

Picnics.
Tea parties.
Dessert.
Appetizers.
4 o’clock tea
8 o’clock snack.

It doesn’t have to be dinner. In fact, depending on the ages of your children and the work schedules of the adults, dinner may be the worst possible time for a ritualized get-together: too late for the children, too much in the middle of too many other things for the adult who’s come home from work and needs to rush off to a meeting…

It may be so much more pleasant for everyone involved if young children eat their meal (meals) an hour or two before the parents eat their dinner – and then everyone can come back to the table or kitchen for drinks, dessert, cleaning, the post-dinner game, whatever. Or get the togetherness you’re shooting for from cuddling together on the couch, wrestling on the carpet, going for a walk, going swimming―at another time of the day. After dinner. On the weekend. Before bedtime.

The ritual power of the joint meal is huge, I get that, totally–the most important events in my calendar are our community potlucks, family dinners and food celebrations with friends–but their strength comes from voluntary, joyful participation.

I know from the example of my elder two children that my toddler will one day happily join us at the family dinner table for a prolonged meal. But it probably won’t be this year. Or next year. And that’s okay. He’s learning the power of ritual and community and family even as he runs laps around the dinner table―or eats two hours before us, and is asleep by the time we have our meal.

What do you think? Do you eat together as a family? Is that important to you? Does it work for you? If it does―how do you make it work? If it doesn’t… why do you keep on doing it?

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