On Monday I email my mentor with the Saskatchewan Writer’s Guild to update him on my situation. Instead of having two days a week to myself for the apprenticeship, I now have four girls sharing 1140 square feet with me, indefinitely. Belén and Susanna are confident the school cancellations will not get in the way of my writing routine. “It’ll be no problem, Mom. You’ll probably get twice as much writing done as before because we’ll be here,” says Belén. I appreciate her optimism but I’m not sure she’s right.
Lists start blooming everywhere: taped to the wall in the dining room (What would you like to eat? Corona Virus Meal Schedule), in the hallway (Quarantine Home School Schedule), on the chalkboard (To learn and Do), and on scrap paper (To Clean and Organize). Remarkably, I haven’t written any of them. Although I love lists, it’s the older girls who have taken the initiative to organize and brainstorm. In fact, the night of the school cancellations there was only heady excitement around the kitchen table. What will we all accomplish? Learn? And make? “We’ll be geniuses by the time this is over!” one of them shouted.
“We’re making history,” I tell them on Tuesday morning, borrowing a line my sister is using with her kids. I am still buoyed by the potential of our time together. When I hear Susanna blasting Csardas on Youtube, sitting in front of the speakers with her violin in one hand and turning up the volume with her other, trying to learn it measure by measure, I am thrilled. And when Belén takes a stack of books on wild edibles off the shelf and sketches plants it feels like we are living on the set of a modern-day Little Women movie.
But my expectations rise and fall quicker than a roller coaster. At first it’s the food. So much food. It feels like we are consuming about twice the amount we normally do. Our caloric needs haven’t changed so why am I chopping, stirring, slicing, boiling, eating and then washing every day away? Our diet is going to have to accommodate my schedule but I am not sure how that is possible.
At lunch time, on Wednesday, one of the girls sneezes and showers us all with her saliva. Chunks of ground beef and cheese fly across the table into someone else’s plate. People cringe, yell and stomp away. By mid-afternoon everyone is lethargic and there are horizontal bodies everywhere–on the couch, in beds and on the floors. This was all right for a while after lunch, but suddenly I can’t stand the the lethargy. “We’re not going to lay on the couch all day,” I announce. “So here’s a new rule: everyone gets out for at least an hour a day.” One of them snuggles deeper under a blanket, another pretends she doesn’t hear me. “Up, up, up!” I continue. “I don’t care what you do. Get exercise, get cold, get bored, just as long as you get out!”
On Thursday morning, Belén spends two hours teaching Saron and Vivi about animal tracking and hibernation habits. They read books, look for tracks while cross-country skiing, and dig under the snow to find the subnivean zone (the space between the snow pack and the ground). After they come in it is time to make the dioramas that Belén had prepared earlier by hot-gluing boxes together out of old CD cases.
When I come upstairs, from my makeshift office in the basement, I can see the situation is deteriorating rapidly. Dirt is all over the floor and their winter jackets. Vivian and Saron seemed more interested in defacing the models on the magazine pages, that Belén had put down to protect the table, than finishing their chipmunk tunnel models.
“Wow, tell me what you’re learning about,” I say, crouching at their level. The younger girls cackle and point to the pigtails, tears, beards and crowns they’ve added to the women in the photos. When I ask Vivian what animal they are studying she is unsure. “A groundhog?” she says, looking at Belén for confirmation.
“You mean chipmunk,” Belén says.
“And what are the chipmunks eating?” I ask.
“Stones,” says Saron.
“No, it’s seeds,” Belén corrects her, “sunflower seeds.”
Vivi and Saron pick up a magazine page, sending another pile of dirt to the floor, and start laughing again. Belén looks at her students then at me. “Frankly, I’m disgusted,” she mutters, referring to their behaviour.
They’re not the only ones who are having trouble focusing. My writing mentor responds to my email with some advice regarding my added responsibilities at home: “Tell your children that your bossy mentor wants you to get in four hours of writing each day and you are not to be interrupted during those hours unless someone is injured or in some kind of danger.” He is trying to be helpful and, at first, I am bolstered by his suggestions. Yes, I think, this will be no problem. We just need a routine and then I will continue with the apprenticeship like normal. But by the end of third day I look back on the last 72 hours and wonder where they all went. Divvied between porridge and reading and lasagne and groceries and bleach and five other bodies, I suppose.
This morning I wake up before my children, sit down at the kitchen table in my bathrobe and open my notebook. Last week I knew exactly where I was going with my mentorship. Now I re-read the outline of topics that I made so confidently, only days ago. The first on the list is spirituality and I wonder how, exactly, I was planning on tackling that one. I feel so discombobulated at the moment, I can’t remember having any shred of wisdom that would be worth sharing. I note 6:56 on my page and start writing anyway. Minutes go by without stopping. By the time I get to the bottom of my third page, my hand is moving so fast that my letters are big and sloppy. It doesn’t matter. It feels good to practice forming sentences this morning despite the fact it won’t “count” towards my project or constitute something I can work on with my mentor.
My friend, and writer, Kristen Krymusa, just told me she is giving herself a poetry challenge. She plans on writing one poem a day for the next week. The poems might turn out to be astonishing works of art, or they might be awful. She says she doesn’t care as long as she’s writing them. I think I want to emulate her. In these days of abrupt and unexpected transition I can’t tackle a masterpiece on God. I have to practice the small things first. Things like making my bed, braiding hair, chopping an onion, and picking up a pen. Even if it just turns into a blog post.