At Home with Melissa Kuipers

A Note from the publisher

We’re living in an unprecedented moment in history, and it’s been amazing to see how people are pulling together to support one another. Here at TouchWood we’ve decided to ask our authors what has been keeping them busy during a time when we’ve all been asked to stay home to Flatten the Curve.

Meet Melissa Kuipers

I’m currently on maternity leave with my second child, so I’m the cliché stay-at-home mom during this constantly-stay-at-home time. I cook, I take the kids for walks in the stroller, I read stories to my kids, I bake a lot, I try to teach my toddler to bake without getting flour everywhere. Everyone is baking these days. I see people on Facebook talking about scavenging for yeast. I think baking gives us a small sense of control in these times when so much has been put on hold, when so much is beyond our control. When we can’t see our loved ones, at least we can make food we love, if we can find the ingredients. I’ve recently revived my sourdough starter, and this active entity brings me great joy. It’s another living being in our home. I love watching it bubble throughout the day. I’ve been avidly making crumpets in mason jar rings with leftover starter. I won’t write much more about cooking and baking as there are people on this blog much more qualified to write about these things than I.

The toddler and I are crafting, baking, reading, and playing frequent rounds of hide-and-seek. The baby and I are singing, bouncing, playing peek-a-boo, and following that familiar baby rhythm of eat-sleep-wake-change-play. This stage of motherhood is a dance between the two of them and chores—trying to put clothes away while calling “Ready or not, here I come!”, letting the baby gnaw my fingers while reading to the toddler, cutting a paper crown while the baby sleeps and passing it to the toddler to decorate while I hurriedly chop vegetables for supper.

In some ways life is not that different from before, and in some ways this pandemic has flipped my parenting on its head. I’m a strong believer in having a village around us as we parent, in relying on others because it’s a bloody hard task and we can’t do it alone. But what do you do when your village is shut down? Virtual play dates just don’t do the trick.

I have always appreciated the municipal services available to us as a young family, but this experience of losing them is making me realize just how essential they are. We miss the Ontario Early Years Centre, where my toddler can engage with new toys and doting early childhood educators and learning stations. We miss the library with its story time, train table, new books, and aquarium. We miss the parks.

We miss. We miss. We miss. My toddler talks about all the things we will do “when the sickness is over.” “When the sickness is over, can we go to the children’s museum?” “When the sickness is over, can we visit our friends?” These are probably still early days so we have a lot of missing ahead of us. There is a great amount of beauty in our lives right now, and it is lovely to have my husband home more with us all. But as we are all extroverts, sometimes the weight of our loneliness is very heavy.

I recently tried to convey to the toddler how unique this time is in history. “This has never happened in Mommy and Daddy’s life,” I told him. But he can’t even comprehend that we knew each other before he was born, let alone that we’ve never experienced a pandemic shutdown.

Not surprisingly, much of what I’m writing now is around motherhood. I’ve been working mostly in creative non-fiction: personal essays about parenting, spiritual writing, contemplations around how we see children and mothers in our culture, looking at Medieval mystics and their thoughts on God as Mother.

As for reading, I wish I could say I’m using this pandemic to feed my mind with some good and heavy literature. But with a baby who evades sleep there is little time for that. Instead I’m reading a lot of good but very short and wonderfully illustrated literature. My three-year-old likes to dissect the stories and pictures we read, so at least I’m getting a little intellectual conversation that way.

It’s so easy in this time to be envious of myself in a stage of life I am not currently in. If this had happened, I imagine, before I had children, I would have been so productive. I would edit my next book, finish my quilts, learn guitar, master watercolour . . . But I know that each stage of life would have come with its own challenges and difficulties in isolation. There are so many others who are in much more difficult situations than we are. It is tiring, especially on cold days, not being able to bring the kids out anywhere. There are difficult moments, hours, afternoons, days. But the littles also bring such joy, and distraction from the dreariness we are feeling.


Road Pizza

Excerpted: The Whole Beautiful World

On their way back from the Beer Store, the night before the accident, Volk and Jason found the road pizza. The car’s headlights along the causeway lit up the white pizza box, and they pulled over to find a fully intact Hawaiian pizza.

When they got back to the cottage, they folded pieces together and ate them like sandwiches. Rachel and I wouldn’t touch the stuff.

“Seriously, best pizza ever,” Jason said with pride as we brushed our teeth before bed.

“Don’t kiss me,” I heard Rachel shriek at Volk from their bedroom. “Who knows where that pizza’s been.”

The next morning, the Saturday before Labour Day, Jason and Volk sat shirtless on the second-storey deck drinking breakfast beers. Rachel and I sat below them at the dock in wraparound skirts and bikinis. The fish in the channel bobbed and opened their tiny grey mouths like a nursery of babies learning to coo.

“Can’t be good for them, all these carbs,” said Rachel, tossing stale sour cream and onion chips to the fish.

“There’s that turtle,” Jason called down from above us, pointing a sloshing beer towards the water. The turtle poked his sharp face out of the water amongst the fish pretending to belong.

“I swear that’s the one we saved,” he said. He had been quite proud of himself last summer when he spotted the little thing crossing the causeway, the wetness of its shell gleaming. He pulled the car over and lifted the small creature into the trunk. When we arrived at the cottage he carried it safely to the channel.

If it was the same one, it was now three times the size, and would frequently sun on the banks of the channel. “He’s thanking us,” Jason said, leaning over the edge of the wooden railing, “by entertaining us.”

“You’re blocking my sun,” I called back to him.

That day last summer when he found the turtle was when Jason and I hooked up for the first time, in the musty air of the boathouse. We lay on a deflated inner-tube on the cement floor, the water lapping against the boat rhythmically, encouragingly. Rachel and Volk had started dating at the end of first year and had been together three months. “Jason’s so sweet,” Rachel would say when we were alone, “and cute,” prodding me in the ribs with a dainty elbow. But I had resisted, looking for more of a reason to be with him than the expectations of friends.

When we returned to school after the summer I was unsure of what to make of things with Jason. It was convenient and comforting, the four of us going to the Strange Wolf in the evenings, cramming together on a tattered couch in Volk and Jason’s apartment to watch movies, Rachel and I huddled under a blanket at the boys’ rugby games. But during our weekends at Volk’s cottage, it seemed we could spend a lifetime together and never grow tired of each other.


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