Tackle

The day that many stay-at-home parents long for has arrived — my youngest child has started school. And while Kindergarten in Alberta is only half a day, I have half a day all to myself, Monday to Friday, to… do… what. Or, more accurately, what first?

Tidy, laundry, groceries, errands, organize, meditate, hibernate?

Pitch those features, polish that short story, finish the fourth attempt at a solid first draft of my manuscript?

Walk the puppy? Cuddle the cat? Spend quality time with our 12-year-old dog whose slip into senility has been hard to ignore?

Retail therapy? (Better not.)

Exercise? (Probably should.)

Coffee? (Start here.)

Despite imagining this moment for months, even years, its arrival has been surprisingly anti-climatic. Maybe that means I’m ready to manage my time, maybe that means it hasn’t quite hit me yet. Either way, the kids are at school, husband’s at work, and my growing to-do list remains relatively unchanged (and largely unchecked.)

Life. Moves. Forward. So, without much choice, will I.

To get to the other side

Things have been… busy, lately. And when things get busy, I start to notice my sanity unravel. I’m loath to admit this, because of course I’m perfect, but unfortunately it’s true. I’m not built to be too busy. I like being just busy enough.

My tipping point arrived a few days ago, during one of those ridiculous weekdays in which every minute was scheduled, every task was essential and every word I spoke to my kids was, “Hurry up. Quiet down. WHY AREN’T YOU DRESSED YET?” Everyone had been sick, including our pets, and I had committed myself to several things that were outside of our typical timetable. In between hours of errands and our very limited minutes at home, I prepared dinner in advance. I made chicken.

In the past, one of my most stressful daily experiences was driving home during afternoon rush-hour and having absolutely no plan for dinner. Now that I stay at home and our kids are a bit older and my brain is almost at a functioning level, I have all of our weekly meals planned. I have our fridge efficiently stocked. I have food on the table every day by five o’clock. It’s not just my best attempt at a Norman Rockwell painting, it’s part of my self care. (It’s also delicious.)

Minutes after the meal was cooked, I had just enough time to pat myself on the back before running out the door with all the kids for another appointment. It would be quick, and we would all be back in time to meet my husband at the door when he got home from work and sit down to a family dinner. What I didn’t have time to do was put the piping hot chicken just out of reach of our naughty nine-year-old dog who sometimes (enough for me to know better) has the habit of eating off the counter. When I returned home around five o’clock, it took me two seconds to realize where the chicken went. And my head exploded.

It wasn’t just that I was upset about the chicken. That’s not how my brain works when I’m overworked. Instead, in those moments, my brain pulls every bad memory, every moment of weakness, every failure on record and parades them in front of me like a slideshow of shame just to say, “See, Shannon, this is why you can’t have nice things. Or chicken.”

I couldn’t stop the tsunami of thoughts that went very quickly from, “Dinner is ruined!” to “Our dog’s going to get sick! Our vet bill was already enormous this week and shoot, did I give my daughter her medicine this morning? Why is this house such a mess, I just cleaned it and why did the school call, was I supposed to volunteer? I didn’t write today, no one’s socks match in my family, what happened to my career and F*** YOU NORMAN ROCKWELL!”

Or something like that.

Eventually, I calmed down. This was after my husband came home, we pulled together a meal, put the kids to bed and coaxed our darling dog out of the corner where she was hiding because she knows what she did. When I was finally able to breathe again, I was almost grateful for my breakdown because it gave me the chance to say, “I can’t do this. Today was too much.” And for my husband to remind me that that’s ok. And that we have each other. And to remind me that I am, in fact, perfect. (I’m paraphrasing.)

The next day, when I had to clean up our dog’s barf which consisted of my perfectly cooked chicken and some undigested grass, I wasn’t even mad.*

*Ok, it was barf. So I was a teeny, tiny bit mad. Like, the appropriate amount for cleaning up dog barf, if there’s a scale for those things.

This post will self-destruct in 3, 2, 1…

Yesterday afternoon unfolded in a pretty typical manner, which means it was total chaos.

After an especially tense lunch and an emotional chorus of, “I had it first!” I finally get the kids to settle upstairs. I had been folding laundry for fifteen minutes when I realized they were unusually quiet. I decided to investigate.

My oldest girls had set up their puppet theatre as a ‘book market,’ which was as fantastical as it sounds. They beckoned for my business as I tip-toed around their pop-up shop with a fool’s load of laundry in my arms. It’s depressingly rare that I get a chance to play along so I was happy to oblige.

Then I saw whose books they were selling. My precious hardcovers, perhaps the only possessions left in this house that have remained hands-off, were strewn about the make-believe market. The dust jackets were torn and discarded, and my place in the pages lost.

And overreaction, maybe, but my mood turned on a dime (the asking price for my copy of Bird by Bird) and I told them in no uncertain terms: clean it up.

In the meantime, my two-year-old uncovered a long-abandoned bottle of nail polish – in a colour I knew I’d never wear and should have tossed long ago – and painted the bedroom carpet a violent shade of red.

Perhaps in shock, my immediate reaction was that I cannot possibly call the carpet guy again for another emergency stain removal. Sharpie ink, chocolate stains and spaghetti vomit have been business enough for him this quarter. (Does anyone else receive a Christmas card from their carpet cleaner?)

I stand, arms akimbo, staring blankly at the state of the carpet gore, while my girls wait curiously for my next move. Despite my deep-breathing attempts, I’m the parenting version of a ticking time bomb.

I’m also a walking heartache. I’m still reeling from the recent loss of our gorgeous girl Cheesecake. She had a habit of darting through doors just as I was shutting them. As I’m closing the bathroom door after grabbing some industrial-grade nail polish remover, I instinctually check beneath my feet for a flash of white fur. Nothing.

Sigh.

The phone rings and rescues me from the fumes of the stain remover. I assume it’s the debt collection agency calling again and anger continues to swell inside me. (No, Armaan does not live here. No, I do not know Armaan. Yes, we’ve had this phone number now for seven years.)

It’s not the debt collectors (lucky Armaan). It’s my husband. I can see from the caller display that he’s using the phone in his office. Which means he hasn’t left yet. Which means he isn’t pulling into the driveway this instant, as I had secretly dared to hope.

We hang up, because our tone of voice reveals everything about the kind of day we’re both having. I feel slightly sorry for him, because now he knows that once he leaves his bad day at the office, he’s coming home to my bad day here. Well, our bad day, because we’re in this thing together (it’s legally binding and everything).

I decide it’s time to turn things around. It’s Thursday afternoon before the Easter weekend and our spring vacation. The house is relatively clean, the chores are relatively done, and I still have a relative grip on my sanity. (As long as I avoid any and all thoughts about where my career is going and when my goals will evolve beyond finishing chores and laundry, but I digress…)

The red polish lifts from the berber after a few pats and lots of chemicals. My two-year-old appears to be sufficiently remorseful (and covered in red polish). I gently wash the paint from her palms with a milder polish remover.

My oldest girls have resumed their book selling, so I raid my husband’s vanity for pocket change and buy back my precious hard covers. We even have a little fun.

My husband arrives home earlier than expected, ready to tag me out of the ring if need be. He’s happy to see that we’re happy, and I’m happy to report that things have been diffused.

Finally, our vacation can begin with a bang. (And not my self-implosion.)

Happy Spring Break!

Cheesecake

IMG_1504Our darling cat has passed away.

Yesterday we said goodbye to our beautiful flame-point ragdoll, after we learned she was in the late stages of kidney failure. It’s a long story that happened in a short amount of time.

I held her in my arms when her heart stopped beating, and even though our hearts are breaking, I know they will be full again with the memories of her beautiful spirit.

Think Healthy Thoughts

I still remember the feeling of utter dread when I read the subject of this email from daycare:

Attn: Pinworms

It was my second week at work after returning from maternity leave. My first and (at the time) only child was in her second week of daycare.

The email was a ‘heads up’ that another child at daycare had been diagnosed with pinworms. Here are the symptoms. Here’s how they are transmitted. Attached is a friendly reminder of our illness policy.

Overcoming my urge to dial 911 and simultaneously book a flight home to Nova Scotia and move in with my mother because F*** this, I instead popped into a co-worker’s office. She had kids, and hopefully a brown paper bag for me to breath into, so maybe she could provide some perspective. She did.

Turns out, these emails, PSAs and health alerts were about to become part of our parenting routine, like ABCs, 123s and Clara From Kindergarten Has Lice.

Once children enter into social activities of any kind, parents enter into an illness obstacle course – sidestepping parasites, pertussis and pink eye (oh my).

Notices like these don’t incite the same panic for me as they once did. I’ve become conditioned not to overreact, and to take any (to be expected) unexpected health scares in stride.

This isn’t always the case with our pets. About a year ago, my husband was rubbing our beloved canine’s belly after the kids were finally in bed. He noticed a lump on her chest. Our dog is eight-years-old and incredibly healthy, so this was a bit of a shock.

I took her to our vet, who made no effort to hide his dire concern that this mass was more than just a deposit of fat. We ordered the gold standard of diagnostics tests. Cancer? Pancreatitis? Feline Diabetes? Run them all!

Turns out it was a deposit of fat. We were grateful for the outcome, but it did demonstrate how unprepared we were for a pet health scare.

Fast forward to this week. Our precious cat has been lethargic and a little withdrawn. And yesterday, she ‘eliminated’ on the floor outside her litter box. When she hadn’t moved from her bed for hours, I called our vet. They couldn’t fit us in, but suggested we take her to the animal hospital.

There, the vet examined her symptoms and took her temperature (worryingly high).

After the blood was drawn and the fluids administered, I paid our bill. (The last thing you want your vet to say is, “First things first, do you have insurance?”)

It was steep – especially considering this was just diagnostics. Who knows what the cost of treatment may be. But paying for treatment would mean that at least it’s treatable, which is better than the alternative.

Now, I’m not saying that I can handle my kids getting sick, but I can’t handle my pets getting sick. I can’t handle anyone being sick, ever. We will wait and see what’s going on with our feline family member, and just hope that it’s something the vet can handle.

In the meantime, I’ll embrace the impending end of the flu season and some possible relief from sniffles, sore throats and sickness of all kinds.

Until we see this sign at the local pool when swimming lessons start up again:

Outbreak: Warts.