Tag Archives: parenting

The Talk

“Does anybody have a map?

Anybody maybe happen to know how the hell to do this?

I don’t know if you can tell but this is me just pretending to know”

Dear Evan Hansen

I work with a woman who happens to have a daughter who is the exact same age as my daughter. They are both 8 and in grade 2. Their names even start with the same letter. So, it’s not usual for us to talk about what our kids are up to, and to compare and contrast their schools, teachers, soccer coaches, playtime friends, eating and sleeping habits. You know, the usual stuff.

So, the other day I got a pain in the pit of my stomach when my co-worker showed up at our desk with a stack of “how to make babies” books. It turned out that her daughter had to do one of those “my family tree” reports where they talk about their backgrounds (racist!) and their grandparents and siblings and whatever. Her daughter point-blank asked if her Mom was “done having babies”, to which my co-worker responded with an unqualified “YES”. And then she asked again how do the babies get inside a mommy to begin with. My co-worker was NOT PREPARED to have this kind of talk at that particular moment, and said something like, “Let’s talk about that on the weekend” (this was a Thursday), and so she was trying to cram (no pun intended) all the “appropriate” info she could into her brain so she could have a reasonable, informed and open talk about it.

Yeah, right.

She and I both knew that she would be flying blind on this talk, and that she was NOT looking forward to sitting down with her daughter. AT ALL.

Which got me thinking that AT SOME POINT in the next ten years I am going to have to do the same (our daughter is 8 right now, so as long as we do it before she’s 18 we should be good, right. RIGHT?!) I can feel your eyerolls from here.

I couldn’t help but think back to my own elementary school days and the moment that my parents had “the talk” with me. I remember I was in grade 4, and up to that point I was blissfully unaware of any of it. ANY OF IT. I probably could have gone on for QUITE SOME TIME not knowing or caring about that stuff. How long? Who’s to say? Maybe even today I would be just fine living my life without the smallest bit of curiosity. In fact, I think that the only reason why my parents thought they should talk to me was because my brother (who is three years YOUNGER than me) had all kinds of questions about it. The little twerp was in GRADE ONE, people! He was always more inquisitive than I ever was, questioning Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy much earlier and aggressively than I ever did. Also, I think my parents wanted to get the ‘first crack’ at telling us what’s what, before we heard some inaccurate and disturbing versions of the truth on the playground.

As a contrast, I was never one to read ahead. I remember in grade 2 our teacher would read a bit of Charlotte’s Web”to the class each day, and we were encouraged to follow along with our own copies. We could sort of read at that point, and some kids went ahead and read the rest of the book, and acted all smug about it. Not me. I was happy to just follow along at my teacher’s pace and we all reached the climax and the satisfying conclusion together. (Yes, I realize I just used the words “climax” and “satisfying conclusion” to describe Charlotte’s Web. What of it?)

But back to sex.

My Mom came home with this book called How Babies are Made and literally sat my brother and me down on the living room couch to read it together. Up to this point, remember, I had NO IDEA about 90% of the whole process. Sure, I understood the concept that a baby starts very small inside a lady, and that over the course of few months (9 actually, but I don’t want to be a pedant), that baby will grow and grow and then it will eventually come out, but this whole “sperm and eggs” business was a game changer. I distinctly remember the book had these weird felt board style illustrations, which I guess were meant to be vague enough that they weren’t explicit, but detailed enough to get the point across in a non-threatening way. My brother took in all the info in a detached, almost clinical way, but I could NOT believe what I was hearing. At one point my Dad walked through the living room and I blurted out, “So, did you……” and I trailed off. I just couldn’t come up with the full sentence that would have been something like “So, did you stick your penis in my Mom’s vagina at some point?” and without a verbal word, he closed his eyes, pursed his lips and gave two almost imperceptible nods of his head.

I felt my face flush. Up to this point, I saw my Dad as an affable but ineffective boob who happened to live in the same house as us. He worked all day at a government job, and played with us at night and on the weekends, but to paraphrase DI Hardy, “What was the POINT of him?” I guess it all became pretty clear in an instant and I didn’t really like the picture that was emerging.

cuddles

Hetero-normative cuddles

A few weeks later, my Mom’s CRAZY theory of how babies were made was confirmed somewhat by a special “education session” put on by our gym teacher. Parents had to sign permission slips to let the class hear it, which may have been another reason for the pre-emptive talk.

Instead of a storybook with felt illustrations, we were shown a slide-show with more realistic drawings and were handed out little booklets which were supposed to address any concerns we had about puberty. Boys got different booklets than girls, and I didn’t like the fact that we were being told different information. What were in those girl booklets?? I had gone from blissfully ignorant a few weeks before to an anxious conspiracy theorist!

One memorable part of the slide show were diagrams of different ways you could get pregnant. According to one slide, if the male were to ejaculate OUTSIDE of his lady partner’s vagina, that could even be enough for the sperm to make their way inside to the egg. I distinctly remembering having a round-table discussion with my guy friends on the school yard recess immediately after this presentation. We all decided, and declared, TO A MAN, that when the time came we would all choose the ejaculation “outside the vadge” option. I mean, it just made the most sense, and I’m sure our future wives would prefer it that way too. I felt a little better about the whole thing after that. If I’m going to have to ejaculate somewhere, it’s going to be on my own terms. It’s best for everyone involved.

And don’t even get me started on masturbation. Why were they so super vague about it? Were they worried that they would create an underclass of CONSTANT FIDDLERS if they really were honest about how great it is? I feel like they really glossed over that in the books and the presentations, like it was an afterthought. It was such an afterthought that I didn’t even think about it until fully TWO YEARS LATER towards the final days of grade 6. (maybe I wasn’t ready for it until then), and I was literally self-taught, but man oh man, look out world! Things would never be the same again. Hell, I’ve just done it twice since I’ve started this blog post today! [editor’s note: that was a joke, but STILL].

So let’s fast forward to now. Where does this leave me? My daughter is just in grade 2 (just!), but they say kids are on a faster track now than a generation ago, so is it too early to talk about stuff like that? And where to begin? I mean, she still believes in Santa Claus. Should there be a rule of thumb that if Santa is still in play, let’s hold off on the sperm and eggs? BUT WHAT IF SHE HEARS STUFF FROM SOMEONE ELSE? I mean, Star Wars is already kind of ruined for her because of the DAMN SCHOOLYARD CHAT. She already knows that Vader is Luke’s father (spoiler!) and that Luke and Leia are siblings (spoiler again!), and she even knows what Yoda looks like, so there goes his great reveal on Dagobah.

But I digress.

I’ve heard it said that you should maybe only present info that is “age appropriate” so you don’t spill the beans all at once, and maybe that’s good advice, although we have been trying that with explaining our daughter’s adoption to her. We didn’t ever want it to be one of those things where we sit her down at age 16 and say, “Well, we have something that we think you might as well know…” so we’ve been pretty open about it. Which is all the more surprising that at breakfast the other day our daughter said, “I’m not adopted, right?” and my wife and I looked at each other like “WTF?” How could she have thought she wasn’t? Have we been TOO subtle, like the masturbating chapter in my elementary sex ed course? “Trust me, you’re adopted.” I said to her, and reminded her again of the night she was born and all the wonderful craziness surrounding it, and she just said, “Well, I don’t FEEL adopted.” Huh. My response, “I’m not sure how being adopted is supposed to feel. It’s probably different for every person. It’s a part of who you are, but it isn’t WHO you are. You’re you.” And that seemed to be that. For now. Another stellar conversation for the scrapbook…

Which is all to say that if we take the subtle approach to this whole “talk” thing, it may not register with her at all.

Aside of the plain mechanics of it all, which is actually the least interesting part; window dressing, in my opinion; I want my daughter to feel good about herself. I want her to develop a positive sense of her own well being, and to be comfortable in her own skin. I want her to know that she doesn’t necessarily need to have another person in her life to make her life feel complete.  I want her to have the confidence to be the person she is meant to be. Hopefully if this first part is true, then she will be equipped with the tools to make the smart and right choices in her relationships, not just boyfriends (or girlfriends if that turns out to be her persuasian) but even choosing the people in her life, her lifelong friends, who will support and love her and laugh with her and cry with her, and yeah. And humour! Try to find the humour in any situation. It’s not always easy, and sometimes it feels downright impossible, but if you can find the lighter side to ANYTHING (and you can, trust me), you’ll be okay.  I want her to be safe, first and foremost, physically, but also mentally and spiritually tough. To know she doesn’t have to put with any crap from ANYONE. Knowing herself. That’s the key. Knowing what turns her on and knowing that she can do all of that her herself. We are living in a golden age! Maybe I could quote that line from Wonder Woman where Diana is schooling Chris Pine about “lady business” and says that men are needed for procreation, but when it comes to pleasure they are QUITE UNECESSARY? (or something like that! I’m working from memory!) Or maybe I can burst into song? “Look around, Look around at how lucky we are to be ALIVE right now”. Or what about Whitney? “LEARNING to love yourself. It is the greatest LOVE OF ALLLLLLL!” Or perhaps I can do a dramatic reading of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself? I’m sure that would go over great. This is all good in theory, but can you actually see me talking to my daughter about all of this? I just want her to know that it is all okay. Better than okay. It’s healthy and good. It’s great! Will I really need to tell her this? I might need some help.

Maybe I should just put on that Jane Siberry song, You don’t need anybody and tell her, “I think you’ll find all the answers to your questions about sex and relationships in this song.” and leave the room. And if she has any follow-up questions, I can put on Sisters are doing it for themselves by Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin. I think that probably covers all the bases. I realize I am going to be terrible at this.

I haven’t even touched upon periods, you guys. I know they happen. I’ve seen the evidence. It’s all a bit of mystery, isn’t it? Maybe my daughter will have one of those pituitary problems where she doesn’t get her period until she’s well into her 20’s? I guess I can always dream.

To bring this all back to the start, I asked my coworker about how “the talk” went with her daughter over the weekend, and she said that they were so busy running from soccer to ballet to swimming that the daughter never brought it up again, and that my co-worker sure as heck wasn’t going to be the one bringing it up. She bought herself some time!

And it seems so have I. My daughter’s main concern was getting the spelling of “Dalarna Horse” correct for a presentation she was doing on Sweden today, along with her daily campaign to get a fidget spinner and a pet fish. Maybe she doesn’t feel adopted, and maybe I don’t feel like a Dad who is very soon about to see his world change completely in front of his very eyes.

“So where’s the map?

I need a clue

’cause the scary truth is

I’m flying blind

And I’m making this up as I go”

Dear Evan Hansen

 

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A rabbit’s tale

This is a sad story, but it also captures the mind of a particular seven-year-old, so I want to share it.

A few weeks ago, my daughter and I were walking to church, and there was a DEAD RABBIT in the middle of the road. Curiously, from a distance, it didn’t look like it suffered any physical trauma at all. It was dead, though, surely. Right? I mean it was lying in the middle of the road.

“Look, Daddy! A sleeping bunny! It’s sleeping, right? Or is it DEAD?”

Who’s to say? I didn’t know for sure, and there have been many cases of birds hitting our windows, and a small little frail mass is found in the garden, and only minutes later a second check will reveal an absence. Recovery! A miracle!

Now, this was no bird, and this was no garden, and we were running late for church so I didn’t really want to get into it with her so I just said, “I don’t know! It sure doesn’t LOOK dead, does it?”

And I thought that would be the end of it. By the time we got out of church a couple of cars will have run over it and there will be no doubt. Or some animal will have carried it off and it will be gone from our minds and from this story.

But it didn’t go that way.

Instead, my wife turned up at the end of church to collect our daughter and she was a little out of breath and she said, “something really eerie just happened to me.”

This is her story:

She left for church, saw the same rabbit my daughter and I saw, but instead of ignoring it she went back to the house and got a shovel with the intent of moving it AND MAYBE EVEN BURYING IT. She is much more thoughtful and kind than me, and when she got that bunny on the end of her shovel, there was no doubt in her mind it was dead. There WAS some blood around its neck, and it probably was killed instantly but not dragged which probably explained its faux peaceful repose in the middle of the road. My wife found a quiet corner of a neighbouring yard which had a huge pile of fallen leaves, and decided that she would just bury it in the leaves and let nature take its course.

The eerie thing for her was that she just put the shovel back and returned to the burial site BUT THE RABBIT WASN’T THERE. There was a little disturbed spot where the leaves were moved around, but no rabbit. And so, like Mary to the remaining disciplines, my wife bee-lined it to the church to share the “GOOD NEWS”.

Our daughter was overjoyed with the story, but I was skeptical. A animal must have grabbed it, I suggested, but my wife was steadfast in her belief that there simply wasn’t enough time for anything to grab it in the minute or so it took for her to return the shovel.

A friend of ours, (AND INDEED A FRIEND OF THIS BLOG) was going to head home for lunch BUT INSTEAD BECAME SO INTRIGUED BY THIS REVELATION that she joined us on the walk home and came for lunch. On the way, we all examined the area where my wife “buried” the rabbit, and we all saw the disturbed patch of leaves, and it all seemed very mysterious until one of us noticed that in fact the rabbit was STILL THERE, but just slightly over from where we were looking. When you have hundreds of leaves in a corner lot, they all start looking the same, and it was quite easy to mistake a disturbed spot as “THE” spot. There was a certain little twang of sadness in my gut when I saw that furry body partially hidden under leaves. I am a grown man, of mostly rational thought, and yet a part of me wanted to believe.

You’d think this would be the end of the story, but it’s not.

This lot was right on the way to school, and so every morning my daughter and her friend and I would walk by, and we would always stop and look for the rabbit. The cooler weather was doing a good job of slowing the decay process, but this couldn’t really end any other way. I’m not sure I really wanted my daughter to see this lovely little rabbit go from fur to bones over a few weeks, but what was I to do? Take a different route to school? Get the shovel and dispose of it properly? I don’t know. And this also gives you a little insight into the mind of this 7 year old, because even though the rabbit hadn’t moved in weeks, she was always checking to see if it “got better”. What does a 7 year old really understand about death? We’ve talked about it. She knows one of her grampas died before she was born. She knows that one of her cousin’s dogs died. She knows death means loss, and death is sad, but I was starting to wonder if she really understood how any of this works if she thought this rabbit was going to rally.

And then: something weird happened. This past Sunday we were walking to church, she and I, and we stopped to look where the rabbit had been. We were pretty good at locating it by now, but THIS TIME the rabbit really wasn’t there. I guess something finally came and took it away, but all my daughter said, matter of factly, was “I guess it recovered”, and I could have actually cried at her quiet faith and belief in the miraculous.

It’s been a tough week for a number of reasons, and a part of me really wanted to believe in this weird little resurrection miracle. My brain said “No”, but where was the body? People will believe what they want to believe, and maybe what they NEED to believe to get them through the night. I’m no different. Hope is addictive, and maybe the only fuel we have at the moment. What is going on here? Was this some kind of “Velveteen Rabbit” level of magic? Wait, that’s not right. The Velveteen Rabbit was a toy rabbit who became real because of the power of a child’s belief, right? What’s THIS situation? A “reverse velveteen”? *nervously checks Urban Dictionary* I’m not saying my daughter has magic powers, but I’m ALSO not saying that she doesn’t.

I thought I’d end this story on this ambiguously hopeful note, but as I said at the beginning: this was a sad story, so we have to go a little further.

I left it for a couple of days, until a recent morning when I went out for my morning walk. It was before our most recent snow, so the ground was frosty but not covered. I took my usual route, and not far from our house, on the sidewalk, I stumbled over the rotted, flattened corpse of a rabbit. It was startling to see such a sight in the pre-dawn gloom, and I couldn’t be a hundred percent sure it was the same bunny, but what were the odds? Whatever magic had been preserving it in the leaves had long worn off, and the thing looked very dead, and dead for a long time. Weeks. It looked how a rabbit who was hit by a car a few weeks ago should have looked. Somewhere, a painting of a rabbit has been slashed in an attic, and this is what was left. The sight of that little bunny’s remains really hit me hard, and in spite of myself, I started crying over its broken body. I was crying for how I feel about the world and this American election and our future and Leonard Cohen and how I feel about myself and my many petty worries and inadequacies that seem to loom large as soon as my head hits the pillow these days, and somehow the quiet faith of a 7 year old in the restorative healing properties of a glorified rodent wasn’t enough at this moment. I wish I hadn’t seen what became of that rabbit. I wish it just went away.

You often feel better after a good cry, and maybe I did for a moment. Life moves forward, and we do the best we can with what we’re given. Let’s try to be kind and good to one another, at every chance. Why live any other way?

You’d think this would be the end of the story.

But it won’t be.

I’m not mentioning the rabbit to my daughter. There will be plenty of other opportunities for life to get her down. She’s only 7. And this isn’t a faerie-tale, this is 2016.

 

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“Graduation” Day

Well that’s it, everybody. It’s official. We’re done with Kindergarten. One year down. Twelve to go.

Today was our daughter’s “graduation” day. I’m sticking “graduation” in “quotations” because it was drummed into me in grade 9 that you only graduate once, in grade 12, and if you refer to graduation in any other scholastic context you’re only fooling yourself. We had to call our grade 9 graduation a “farewell”. Sure, we all wore suits, and we all bought corsages for our lady friends. (Yes, I went to my grade 9 farewell with a lady, you guys. A nice one.)

But enough about me and my lady friends.

Apparently our daughter’s school is TOTALLY OKAY with using the term “graduation” because it’s plastered on the pamphlets and everywhere else.

I walked her over to the school this morning, just like I did that very first morning back in September, although this time it was different. We had to go in the morning. It still took just as long though. We had to stop and pick flowers for her teacher, and then we had to race to the cross walk, only to stop again on the other side to pick up pebbles.

As we got close to the school, I spotted a familiar figure and say to our daughter, “Isn’t that Mr. Bailey?”

“MR. BAILEY!” she yelled as she rang up and gave her gym teacher a big hug.

“Well, well. Who’s this little movie star? Audrey?” (She was wearing sunglasses).

“Yes it is! I’m graduating today!”

“Oh yes! In two days you will be a grade oner!”

Thanks, Mr. Bailey, for stating the obvious.

“Well, see you in gym!” he shouted in a jovial way and went into the school. Mr. Bailey has been teaching there for as long as anyone can remember, and by God he was showing no signs of stopping. I guess there’s something to be said for staying in good physical shape.

The “ceremony” itself was to happen at 11 am, so we arrived just a few minutes before to get a decent seat. The place was packed! We got the impression that we couldn’t invite grandparents and the like due to space restrictions, but look at all those grandparents! Damn, I hope my Mom never finds out. I’ll send her a pic and hopefully that will suffice.

The music teacher actually starting playing “Pomp and Circumstance” on the keyboard and in marched the kindergarten class.

No one told me they would be wearing cute little mortar boards!

I kind of lost it a little when I saw those damn mortar boards, actually.

Audrey was in the middle of the group and when we walked in I could tell she was rubbernecking, try to spot where we were sitting. Me, in 100% goofy Dad mode, half rose out of my seat and gave her a hearty wave. She caught it and tapped the top of her head in response.

This is this thing my wife started with her. You know how some new agey people say you can teach your infant sign language so that they can tell you if they are hungry or if they have pooped their pants? (SPOILER: they are ALWAYS hungry and they are ALWAYS pooping their pants). But we didn’t know that then. We thought we were doing something helpful by teaching our baby some signs.

Well, we didn’t really get all that far with it. I think the signs for “I love you” are tapping your head (the “I”), hugging yourself (the “love”) and pointing at a person or thing (the “you”). Audrey never really learned anything past the head tapping part, and that became short-hand for “I love you” when she was a baby, and from time to time she still does it when she’s trying to be cute or something.

Audrey was feeling anxious about this whole graduation thing, so my wife told Audrey about this thing that Carol Burnett used to do on her show. Apparently she used to tug her ear or something and that was a signal to her Mom back home watching the show on TV. I don’t know. Something like that. So my wife told Audrey she could do that at the ceremony and it would be our little signal. And so she did. I feel like I’m over-explaining all this.

So what else is there to say? They sang a couple of songs, and then each one had their name called and they walked across the floor to get their “certificate of completion”. We were encouraged to clap for everyone, but really who cares? I was really only interested to see Audrey, and sure enough, even at kindergarten some kids got more applause than others. It’s hard to be some screenwriter when you happen to die the same year as Robin Williams, and the same mentality held sway here. Some kid called “Malcolm” got the most applause. I don’t know. He didn’t look that great to me. Audrey’s turn went by way quicker than I thought, and she skipped so fast to the other side of the room she lost her mortar board and the principal had to stick it back on. After that, I was restless while the rest of the kids got called, but it was all over soon enough, with cake and iced tea for everyone who came (even for those interloping grandparents).

The scholar

The scholar

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A Momentous Occasion

I worry about kids today not having time to build a tree house or ride a bike or go fishing. I worry that life is getting faster and faster.”
John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer, Pixar

Two blog posts in two days, you say to yourselves?

It’s true. It’s your old blog buddy, trevorlibrarian, here. Not some blogbot or God forbid, an intern who has logged into the lighthouse’s dial-up connection. Yes, that’s right: we’re sill working on mid 90’s technology here. They haven’t figured out how to run cable out to the island where this lighthouse stands yet. (I’VE SAID TOO MUCH).

First: a knitting update for all of our new crafty followers who joined us after our misleadingly tagged blog post yesterday. It’s true that I mentioned knitting yesterday, but I mostly wanted to talk about Dave again. Dave is this summer’s Mr. Pauls apparently. (That’s a deep cut for regular readers).

So: knitting update. I found some string today on the kitchen table. It might have been yarn, but it was PRETTY THIN and not very FURRY. I asked my daughter if she knew what it was and she couldn’t give me a straight answer.

So that’s been the knitting update. I can tag this post “knitting” again with a clear conscience.

So, the REAL reason I wanted to check in is that LAST NIGHT WAS THE FIRST NIGHT OUR DAUGHTER ACTUALLY RODE HER BICYCLE BY HERSELF.

Who knows if this blog will even exist after the inevitable omega pulse, but ASSUMING THAT IT WILL, by the good graces of WordPress, let it be recorded that May 26, 2015 was a MOMENTOUS OCCASION. (and on the off-chance that none of this will be saved, does anyone want to volunteer to print all 200+ posts out and stick them in a duo-tang for posterity? I’ll provide the duo-tang. Are duo-tangs still a thing? The word sounds slightly questionable when you see it written out like that, doesn’t it?)

So yeah: I had this vision of me (and my wife) being out there with our daughter, patiently encouraging her as she went back and forth down the sidewalk, falling, struggling, getting back up, scraping knees, hug breaks for encouragement, more falls, more little victories, and this would go on for a couple of weeks and then she’d be off and it would be like a commercial for the Mormons and all would be well. I’d strip down to my Mormon-sanctioned undies and pour myself a nice cold glass of WHITE MILK and……do whatever Mormons do with their MANY WIVES after supper. Most Mormons don’t have multi-wives any more, right? The official church stepped away from that a while back, I’m pretty sure. I watched the first couple of seasons of HBO’s “Big Love”. I know what’s what. I don’t know what that Bill Paxton guy was thinking. Jeanne Triplehorn is all you really need in a wife, isn’t she? I mean, she’s the real deal. Look at her! Why did he have to go marry Chloe Sevigny? And then Ginnifer Goodwin? That lady doesn’t even have a properly spelled first name. It was all just too much. Three houses? Come on now.

Well, anyway, the reality was nothing like a Mormon ad. Our Audrey went through the usual stages of stroller, wagon, tricycle and then a BIG GIRL BIKE two summers ago. We had some training wheels on there, but I think they were second-hand and one of the screws was stripped so you couldn’t go more than a couple of blocks before you had to stop and reattach the trainers. It wasn’t great. I honestly don’t remember having training wheels as a kid. They seem to slow down the process. For me, there was just a time when I couldn’t ride my bike and then all of a sudden a moment when I could. It was almost that seamless for our daughter. At the end of summer two years ago, we took the training wheels off and tried riding without them for one afternoon and the result was so traumatic for everyone involved that we spent most of last summer not riding anything.

Then, at the end of last summer, my wife acquired this weird “third wheel” contraption that would attach to her bike and Audrey had her own set of handlebars and her own seat. She would ride along like as if she were in the rumble seat of a 1920’s Model T and we went for quite a few bike rides as a family in our extended autumn last year.

So fast-forward to last night. Our daughter asked if she could “practice” riding her bike in the front yard after supper. I thought that was a good idea. The soft grass would break her fall on the countless expected spills. My Mormon Ad Moment was finally here!

Well, you can imagine my surprise and chagrin when I came out to the front yard to see our daughter PERFECTLY RIDING HER LITTLE TRAINING-WHEEL-FREE BIKE back and forth in front of our house.

“Holy COW, Audrey! Look at you go! You’re riding a bike!”

“I know, Daddy.”

I went to get my wife.

“How long has she been doing this?” I asked her.

“Just today. I pumped up her tires and away she went.”

So, we have a new bike rider in our house now.

Another challenge met. Another victory won. Another milestone passed.

[This blog post has been paid for by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints]

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[Seasonal] Concert

Okay, so last night was our daughter’s [Seasonal] concert. The big time. It’s happening. A public acknowledgement that we are now PARENTS OF A SCHOOL AGED CHILD. And we can’t pretend that we’ve got a wee toddler toddling around any more. She’s in kindergarten and unless she fails colouring, will most likely be in Grade 1 next year and so on and so forth.

I took an hour off work so I could get home in good time to get over to the school. In my experience, for most concerts, there are explicit instructions for arrival times, places, etc but for Audrey’s concert it was disturbingly vague. The concert started at 6 pm. That’s all we knew.

“So what time does she need to be there?” I asked my wife. “What does she need to wear? Does she report to the kindergarten room? The music room? Go straight to the gym? What’s the plan here???”

The concert was offered twice yesterday, with a “Matinee” at 1:30 pm, which my wife also attended.

“I don’t know. All I know is that the kids were in the gym when I got there and they were rehearsing as parents filed in. I don’t know where we take her tonight.”

Unhelpful.

I worry about these things. And by the time my Mom arrived from across town, it was already 5:15 pm and I was getting anxious.

“I think we need to get going, right? I mean we want to get a seat, get a good view of the stage and whatnot, right?”

Audrey was already pretty pooped from the afternoon show, and she was in no mood to get the ol’ “fancy dress” and the ski pants on again, so as it turned out we drove over to the school, even though it is just a 5 minute walk. I went in with Audrey, and my Mom and wife went to park my Mom’s vehicle down a “secret street” that only a select few know about.

The school was already buzzing with excitement. I had no idea where to go, but the doors to the gym were still firmly closed, so that wasn’t an option. I thought maybe we should head down to the kindergarten room, but it was locked and the lights were out. What next? Where do we go from here? There were a couple of tables set up by the front doors, filled with homemade baking and questionably named “Joy Jars” for sale. Now I don’t really know what a “Joy Jar” is, aside from the fact that it sounds like something you might find in the bargain bin of a Swedish Sex Shop, and I didn’t bring my wallet so Audrey’s repeated requests for a cookie went unheeded.

Where was everybody? Did I get the times wrong?

No wait, here was Audrey’s teacher, Ms. M, flitting down the hallway with a eggnog spiced latte in one had and the kindergarten room’s keys in the other.

“Sorry, sorry! I got delayed at the Starbucks!” she explained as she opened up the door. Audrey and I filed in and like magic the room was suddenly filled with both the morning and afternoon kindergarteners and their parents. I got her ski pants and jacket off, and decided it was okay to leave her there. I wasn’t sure what happened after, and I didn’t want to ask the teacher, so I spotted a friendly face, a Mom to one of Audrey’s classmates and asked her instead.

She was well-informed.

“The kindergarteners go first and when they are done they sit on the side and watch the Grades 1 and 2’s do their thing. Then everyone files out for an intermission and you don’t need to go back for the Grades 3-6 part. You can pick Audrey up in the kindergarten room after.” She had, like my wife, been at the afternoon concert too. I asked her how she liked it.

“It was surprisingly good. Not like the Jr. High school’s concerts. They are kind of shit, but I’d never say that to my son.”

Fair enough.

By the time I got back to the front doors, my wife and Mom were just coming in, and the Gym was open so we made our way in.

There were still good seats available, and my first impression was how small the gym felt, compared to my own memories of my own elementary school.

Before long, Ms. M led the kindergarteners onto the stage. Audrey’s hair was sticking up at the back and the ribbon on her dress was all dangling behind her. I got this look from my wife as if to say, “You didn’t comb her hair or make sure her dress was done up?” and I shot a look back which hopefully conveyed “Look, no one told me to do ANYTHING and at least she’s wearing shoes. I didn’t even stick her shoes on. She was still in socks when I last saw her.”

There was nothing to be done about the hair, but the ribbon was a tripping hazard so one of the other Moms who was in the front row called Audrey over to the edge of the stage and did her ribbon up for her. This all happened out of my Mom’s line of vision so she started to say, “Where’s Audrey? I don’t see her!” and I tried to explain about the minor wardrobe malfunction but she was soon in place (front now centre, I dare say) and all was well. I caught Audrey’s eye and waved to her, and although unsmiling, she waved back and that little gesture meant more to me than you might think.

A bit about the concert itself. It clearly wasn’t a “Christmas” concert, but it didn’t really even feel like a “winter” or a “seasonal” concert either. It’s theme was something like “Let’s celebrate the hell out of everything EXCEPT Christmas” and for the next 45 minutes we got a Bollywood style song and dance number from the grade ones, a German pop song from the grade twos, and even African drumming from the grades ones and twos with a number accurately titled “Celebrate Africa”. At one point, the kids were singing about “Eid”. I asked my wife if she knew what it was, and she said “Is it an aboriginal thing?” I had to look it up when we got home. Nope. Close though.

Even though the word “Christmas” was never uttered out loud, the school is infused with Mennonites these days, and Christmas motifs were snuck in here and there. For example, the music teacher played actual Christian carols (without words, obvs) as the kids filed on and off the stage, and the principal wished the audience on two separate occasions in her address “Hope, Peace, Joy and Love”: the four cornerstones of Advent. It was as if she was winking at the Christians in the crowd and also saying, “Suck on THAT, School Board!”

Still, it was a very entertaining evening, and I was happy to see it. But my favourite part was that little moment before the concert began, where I made eye contact with a nervous 5-year-old in the front row, and exchanged the smallest of waves. That filled me with all the hope, peace, joy, and love that I could take, and that was enough.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

From everyone here at the Mountains Beyond Mountains’ lighthouse, see you in 2015!

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Get the lead out!

“Get the lead out, MISTER.” Sargent Fury and his Howling Commandos

 

Let me set the scene for you. Sunday evening, just after supper. When it’s just the three of us, we break into our after dinner roles without discussion. I go to fill the sink with water and start the dishes, and my wife runs a bath for our daughter and gets her into her pjs ready for bed. I don’t know how this tradition began, but it seems to be our default behaviour assuming everything else is equal. I mean,  I’ve run baths and my wife has done after supper dishes, of course, but if I were a wagering man, and I had to bet on where you’d find me after supper on an ordinary night, I’d bet on finding me in the kitchen, with a podcast playing, or maybe just some “dish washin’ music” to complete the scene.

And so it was last night, a night like any other. By happy coincidence, I am usually just about done the dishes the same time my wife is done overseeing our daughter’s bath and bedtime routine. For some reason that I won’t get into in this post, I had come into possession of a 79 minute CD full of nothing but English madrigals, and I thought, “what better time than now for me to give it a listen?” and so I did.

I was nearing the end of the dish washing and madrigal listening, (which, incidentally, is beautiful for like 5 minutes and then it kind of gets a bit, um, samey, doesn’t it?) when I heard protests coming from the bedroom. I wasn’t too concerned at first. There’s always a bit of a negotiation as who what night-gown is to be worn, or which furry friend gets the honour to be the bedmate on any given night, but then I heard troubling language like, “I’m going to get your father if you don’t stop” and “how did you DO this?” and “I can’t do this on my own”. Now, to be fair to me, none of these sentences were actually calls for help from my wife, but rather negotiation tactics on my wife’s part to get our strong-willed daughter to do whatever she didn’t want to do, and I was so close to finishing the dishes and earning a tiny window of quiet time.

My wife came out and said in a rather calm voice, considering the context, “could you light a match for me?” and held out a book of paper matches.

“Um, sure. What’s going on?”, I asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

My wife didn’t answer but held up a needle to the match flame.

“I need to sterilize this”, and off she went back to the bedroom.

Well, I couldn’t ignore the situation any more, could I? Plus, my wife was now shouting, “Trevor, get in here. She’s not cooperating!”

I put my sponge down (with just the dutch oven left to go) and headed into our daughter’s bedroom. I was met by a scene of Bosch-like depravity. Here our daughter was, lying on top of her bed, covering her chest, sobbing quietly, and there was my wife at the end of the bed, holding the needle out menacingly.

“Good LORD, Marla. What’s happening?” I exclaimed.

“She has lead in her chest. I have to get it out,” she said calmly but firmly.

“Wait, what? What happened? What’s going on?”

Well, apparently, as the story goes, our daughter was running around after church yesterday because my wife and I were stuck in a meeting. Since it was just after Halloween, there seemed to be a shitload of candy lying around, and I had to stop her periodically to make sure she wasn’t running with a sucker in her mouth. I guess I was so preoccupied with the suckers I didn’t realize that the kids were also running around with sharpened pencils. This is where the story gets muddled. (Maybe I can interest the producers of the podcast Serial to take on this case when the Adnan case runs its course?) We don’t know if our daughter stabbed herself by accident with a pencil, whether another kid stabbed her, and whether it was an accident or on purpose. Our daughter doesn’t remember it happening, or at least isn’t able to give a clear account of the morning’s events. What I do know is that we got home from church, had lunch, she and I went out to a park for a couple of hours, we hit a Starbucks on the way back, had supper, and all this time she didn’t say that she had a chest wound.

But I guess it was spotted during her bath, and all of a sudden my wife has turned into Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman and she’s about to cauterise the wound with a hot needle or something.

“You’ve gotta hold her down. She’s squirming too much!” was all my wife said.

“Jesus! Let’s hold back for a bit. Do you know what you’re doing? Did you google this?”

She hadn’t googled it, as it turned out. She just went into some weird survival mode. I was too surprised to do anything but obey at this point, and as I tried to hold Audrey’s arms out of the way, I saw the wound for the first time up close.

Now, let’s not over dramatize the wound. It was not much bigger than a millimeter around, I’d guess, but black. Lead black, with a bit of redness (infection! Marla pointed out) around the outside.

Still, it kind of turned my stomach to see her wee little chest like that. I’ve sort of prided myself in making sure that nothing really bad has happened physically to our daughter in the past 5 years. Sure, there was that terrible gash on her forehead when she was six months old when she crawled up against her dresser when I was supposed to be watching her, and that time last summer when she was at a friend’s place and tumbled off the front steps and actually required stitches (I technically wasn’t looking after her that time, so I’m really just on the hook for the 6 month old forehead gash, which I am happy to report miraculously disappeared completely a couple of days later). In fact, as her father, I feel like I just need to make sure she gets to age 21 without getting pregnant and I will have done my job. 5 down, 16 to go!

But back to this bedroom drama. I was trying to convince my wife to hold off. “You know, it’s probably not even lead, it’s probably graphite” which was meant to sound intelligent but I honestly don’t know what graphite is, and whether getting stabbed by graphite is any better than getting stabbed by lead. Maybe it was a whole “Butter vs. margarine” debate but in the writing utensil world. Neither one is probably all that good for you.

“These were church pencils. They were probably ancient,” was her reasoned response and she began to move forward with the needle.

Our daughter was not having any of it.

Between the screams, she was saying, “it’s going to hurt, it’s going to hurt” and I thought, “she not wrong.” I also had the thought that maybe if my wife demonstrated on me what she was going to do to our daughter, it would aleviate her fears.

“Sure, it’s not like Mommy’s going to stick that needle right in there or anything, she’s just going to try to get some of the lead out, like this”. I took my wife’s hand and lightly brushed the needle against my arm.

“It’s not the same! It’s not the same. Do it to that!” our daughter screamed, pointing to a pimple on my arm. I gave my wife a look that I hope conveyed this thought: “there’s no fuckin’ way I’m going to let you stick that needle into my pimple, okay?” and luckily I think that message came across because my wife said, “I’m not worried about Daddy’s pimple, I’m worried about that lead in your chest” and kind of unexpected lunged forward with the needle.

She got one good pass at the wound with the needle before our daughter spun around, but that one pass got a little bit of something black out of the wound. I honestly couldn’t tell if it was lead, graphite or even just dried blood, but it encouraged my wife to try to get the rest out.

But seeing that needle go into the wound and kind of move around really made me feel sick to my stomach.

“Good GOD I don’t think this is the way. At the very least let’s google this” and I was out of the room looking for the iPad. All this time the English madrigals were playing merrily away in the kitchen, and what started as a pleasant musical diversion to wash dishes by, soon took on more sinister and incongruent connotations.

Well you know how no matter what you look up on the internet, the answer 99% of the time is CANCER, right? Well in the case of puncture wounds, there’s a lot more grey area. I found a site that asked a lengthy questionnaire with questions like “is the wound from an axe” No. “Do you have a history of Crohn’s disease?” What the heck does that have to do with lead poisoning? ” or “Was the wound self-inflicted or was it done by another person?” Still don’t see the relevance, but I asked our daughter, “Did anyone do this to you? Did you do this? WHO DID THIS?” but you can imagine this approach yielded no fruit.

The advice seemed to be “well, it could be treated at home (without actually saying how to treat it) but it might also need medical attention!” Oh, internet. I DID find out that two famous composers, Handel and Beethoven, were thought to have suffered from lead poisoning during their lives. I absent-mindedly wondered if they also suffered from Crohn’s disease or composed any madrigals in their day.

I resigned myself to the prospect of heading down to emergency on Sunday night, and said this to my wife, but a calm had come over her, and she seemed partially satisfied with the little bit of lead/graphite that she got out of the wound already. The storm had passed, metaphorically speaking.

“Well, I don’t think we need to go down tonight,” she finally said. My daughter seemed relieved that the treatment had ended, and we stuck a band-aid on it (why the hell not?) and called it a night. I thought that was the end of it. We’d check on it the next day and it would be just fine.

Well, the next morning, as I got back from my morning walk, I came into the kitchen to find my wife on the phone with “healthlinks”, this service where you can call and ask a nurse about medical things and they will advise what you should do. It seems like my wife had been on the phone for quite some time before I came home, because I heard her say,

“No, I don’t think there’s a history of Crohn’s disease. Yes, she’s had all her shots. No, I don’t know if anyone did this to her or if she did it to herself…” and so on. What’s up with this Crohn’s question anyway?

My wife got off the phone and said that the nurse thought she should get it looked at “in the next couple of days” so off we went, the three of us, to our local walk-in clinic, only to find out that the doctor himself went home sick himself.

We found another clinic further afield which could take our daughter in an hour, so in the mean time we hit a McDonalds for breakfast because at this point we realized none of us had anything to eat. Our daughter was so excited that we chose a McDonalds that had a play area (a fluke), and being 9 am, she was the only kid in the place, so she had it to herself.

I was feeling a little bad that she was having this merry time, knowing that within the hour some stranger was going to be using tweezers on her chest. It reminded me of my own childhood when my Mom would take me out for a McDonalds treat and then on the way home say, “SURPRISE! We’re going to the DENTIST!” and then I would proceed to throw up chicken nuggets everywhere because you really should eat a big meal of fast food when you are known for your unrepentant gag reflex.

And here I was doing the same thing, letting our daughter have a gay old time minutes before things take the inevitable  turn. But then I thought maybe this could be some radical form of aversion therapy. Maybe if our daughter associated fast food and McDonalds play with excrutiating chest pain, she may adopt a healthy lifestyle as an adult.

Or maybe I’m just trying to rationalize things.

So, to make a long story short, if that’s even possible at 2121 words, once we were back at the clinic, my wife took our daughter in to the examining room while I waited in the waiting room. I reasoned that there really wouldn’t be room for the three of us in there, and my wife thought that our daughter would probably act better for her than for me, but the real reason was that I didn’t want a repeat of last night, where I nearly threw up witnessing my wife’s game but rather amateur attempts at lead removal. I had just scarfed down a sausage mcmuffin and most of our daughter’s hot cakes (she was too busy playing on the damn play structure to eat), and I’d rather keep them down.

It wasn’t long before I could hear my daughter’s screams, and then, even more disturbing to me, her little sobs between the screams. They seemed to go on for quite some time, and other people in the waiting room were turning to me, since they saw the three of us come in together. How should I react? Should I look surprised? Shocked? Concerned? I think I pulled off one of those “kids these days!” kinds of faces but I’m not sure. I had a brief memory of the very first time I heard those screams, 5 and a half years ago on a maternity ward in a different city under what one may call “unique circumstances”, but that’s a story for another time.

Before I knew it, the door swung open and out bounded my daughter, cheeks stained with tears and eyes red, but a huge smile on her face and the biggest grape popsicle I’ve ever seen sticking out of her mouth.
“Don’t run with that thing!” I said to her as I hugged her, but then I realized that was the same thing I said to her yesterday at church, and she ended up taking a pencil to the chest. I asked my wife, “was he [the doctor] nice?” I always seem to ask this. I don’t know why. I mean, why does it really matter if he’s nice or not? I guess I just want to connect on some level with him, and I wouldn’t be able to judge if he was a good doctor, but niceness is universal. He was nice, as it turned out. And he was able to take some tweezers to it and get a bit more out, but he wasn’t even sure if there was any more to get. He couldn’t tell if it was just dried blood or what. I got the sense that my wife wasn’t entirely satisfied with the outcome, that maybe a different doctor, maybe one who had more experience with kids (or experience with puncture wounds maybe?) would have given her a more definitive answer, but it was all grey. He thought she should have some baths and maybe she’ll have a little mark on her chest from it forever but maybe not.

At least he didn’t ask about Crohn’s disease.

 

 

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A momenteous occasion

I think I may have just had my first complete phone conversation with my daughter, Audrey, age 4. Sure, I’ve talked to her on the phone before, but it’s always been a part of a bigger conversation with an adult. Either I’m talking to my wife and Audrey ambles into the room and wants to say “Hi”, or maybe she picks up the phone first and talks a bit of nonsense before my wife wrests the phone away from her.

But today was different.

I was running a bit behind: a late night followed a bit of a sleep in, so I didn’t have time to actually thank  my wife for a lovely breakfast. Even though it was a workday, she had got up before me and made WAFFLES and coffee. We were busy talking about other, more pressing, important stuff and I was out the door and on my way to work before I realized I didn’t even thank her for doing something special, (or doing anything at all, actually.) Breakfast for me, if I even have it at all, usually consists midweek of a banana and maybe a piece of toast if I’m lucky.

So I called home when I got to work just to say “thanks” and Audrey picked up. What follows is the transcript, although the NSA and CSIS probably already have a transcript. I hope you enjoy it, spooks!

[BEGIN CONVERSATION]

Audrey: “Hello?”

Me: “Oh hi Audrey. How are you? Is Mom there?”

Audrey: “Mommy is having a shower. I’m watching Boo’s Coos! [sp]”

Me: “That’s nice. What’s that Steve up to today?”

Audrey: “Steve is silly, Dada”.

Me: “Yeah, he is, isn’t he? He wears a bit thin after a while.”

Audrey: [SILENCE]

Me: “So anyway, I was just calling to thank Mommy for that nice breakfast. Wasn’t it nice?”

Audrey: “I’ll tell her you said thanks when I see her.”

Me: “Oh, okay. Um, thanks. Well, have a great day. I love you!”

Audrey: “Don’t let the bed bugs bite!”

[END OF CONVERSATION]

A few minutes later, my wife called, and sure enough: She had been in the shower, and Audrey did pass on my thanks. So I guess we’re in a stage now where I can call home and can actually talk to my daughter and have a sort of meaningful exchange. [Cue poignant music]

So anyway, I wanted to write it down, and since my journal is at home, I guess I’ll share it with all of you. Onward, right?

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Grumpy

“As all the friends who’ve been real or true, wonder who you’re talkin’ to.” Ron Sexsmith

So our daughter has an imaginary friend.

This started last week. My wife was out with Audrey running some errands. They were walking down the sidewalk near some shops when all of a sudden Audrey said, “Mommy LOOK!” and gestured with her hand, like a pint-sized Vanna White.

“What? What do you see?” was my wife’s panicked response. I should say that my wife will often panic and see things that may or may not actually be about to happen. This happens mostly when we’re driving and she senses that a car, stopped sensibly at a stop sign on a side street, will all of a sudden dart out in front of us. She’ll gasp and brace for impact. The first few times she did this I would slam on the brakes and shout, “What? What’s happening? An accident?” or something. It took awhile for me to get used to the idea that my wife is quite mad, and that she’ll see potential problems where none exist. The car in question remains stopped at the stop sign, the car in the lane next to us does not cut us off, and that light that is about to turn red so we should slow actually stays defiantly green for the duration of our time in the intersection.

“Don’t look for trouble. Trouble will find you anyway. Don’t look for trouble,” was an adage espoused by one of my Geography professors, and it is one that I try to follow to this day. My wife never took Geography, obviously.

So back to last week: there was nothing on the sidewalk next to our daughter. Just snow.

“Don’t you see him? He’s cute.”

Through a little back and forth, my wife is able to ascertain that Audrey has a friend called Grumpy. He’s a Care Bear.

Jesus, I thought: Is that how far we’ve come that my kid’s imaginary friend has to have a brand name? Are Care Bears even a thing anymore? I remember my brother and I each had one growing up. I can’t remember which one my brother had. I had “Friend” Bear. Or maybe it was “Friendship” Bear? He had a couple of flowers on his chest, anyway. He was alright. Not one of my faves, but I still played with him, worked him into the routine, as it were.

I also thought: why does she have to choose “Grumpy”? I know mental illness runs like crazy in both sides of our family, so is “Grumpy” some kind of early manifestation of Depression and/or anxiety? Something akin to Churchill’s “black dogs” or Lincoln’s “melancholy”. She didn’t seem particularly grumpy or upset when “Grumpy” was around, so that’s a good sign. He walked with my daughter and wife for the length of a few shops when all of a sudden Audrey said:

“Mommy, LOOK at all of them!” and again with the Vanna sweep. Apparently now Grumpy was joined by “dozens” of tiny baby bears, all making their way down the sidewalk slightly behind Grumpy. It must have been a real magical moment, but my wife was totally freaked out by it.

Later on, I looked up “Imaginary Friends” to see what the child psychologists had to say. Not good news from Dr. Spock. He referred to it as a “problem” and that it was most common in only children because they don’t spend enough time around other kids. Thanks a lot, Spock. Yes, I know. My wife and I are both painfully aware that our daughter is an only child (not by choice) and that in addition to all the adoption issues we will probably have to deal with down the road, there is the stress of knowing our daughter won’t have a sibling with whom to grow up. And she might be bonkers.

But wait! More contemporary experts are more kind. They say it’s common for kids, regardless of whether they have siblings or not, to have imaginary friends, “even non human ones” from about age 3 to well into elementary school. So we may have Grumpy with us for a while. They also say it is a sign of creativity and intelligence. Well, we knew that about her already.

It turns out that Audrey comes by it honestly. Although my wife and I don’t remember having imaginary friends as kids, my Mom remembers that she had one when she was a little girl. She called her “Alice”. It really became a thing with her. People couldn’t sit on the bus next to her for fear of squishing her friend, there had to be an extra place sat at the table for supper, and extra books were checked out of the library for her.

My grandma got so worried, that she took my Mom to a child specialist. This was the 1940s, remember, and you didn’t go to the doctor unless you were deathly ill. These were the years before Tommy Douglas and universal health care. My grandparents didn’t have a lot of money, but this “imaginary friend” business really worried them and they paid for a special consult. To the doctor’s credit, he said all the things that modern clinicians are saying. He said that was a sign of creativity and intelligence, and not to worry about it. He said to take my Mom’s lead on it, and if she mentioned Alice, to go ahead and talk about it, but don’t bring it up unless it comes up. Sort of like my Mom’s next-door-neighbour’s gimpy arm.

So there it is. Since his first appearance, Grumpy appeared once in my presence. He’s putting appearances like Christ after the resurrection. It’s always unexpected. I stepped on him when I opened the fridge. I told Audrey that maybe if Grumpy was watching where he was going, I wouldn’t have stepped on him. Was that the wrong thing to say? Will Grumpy appear again? Stay tuned!

Hello, friend.

Hello, friend.

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Garage Days Revisited

So yesterday, about five minutes after my wife left for work, the phone rang. It was Jean (of DonJean fame, as regular readers will know). For the irregular readers (and I’m sorry for you if you are), Jean (and Don) were our “backdoor neighbours” (backdoor neighbours? Heyo!)  up until a week ago.

Jean was calling because my wife had called her earlier in the day to let her know that their garage door was wide open and had been for a day or two.

“I know you don’t actually live there anymore, and I don’t want to be a snoopy neighbour, but I wasn’t sure if you wanted it open and wanted to let you know” was how the earlier conversation went, allegedly.

The new neighbours haven’t moved in yet, and so they are in a weird transitional period where Don and Jean are still sort of looking out for their house, since it is one of their granddaughters who will be eventually moving into it.

“Well that’s no good!” said Jean. “I’ll just call Tony next door to go over and close it!”.

“Tony?” I said. “No need to bother Tony, I’ll just go across and do it. No problem,” was my response.

No problem, indeed.

As soon as I got off the phone I had to explain to Audrey that I had to go across to “DonJean’s” and close the door, but that just was the invitation for a deluge of questions.

“Why? What DOING? Why the door up? How you close it? Me want to see!”

I tried to assuage her enthusiasm by telling her she could sit up in the kitchen window and watch me do it.

“I will LITERALLY be out and back in a minute. It’s no big deal!” I told her confidently.

I got my on my boots and jacket and was out to the garage, looking around for the “button”. Well, it was a little further in to the garage than I had thought a button like that would be. I gauged the distance and thought I could push it and still have enough time to run out the big door, Indiana Jones style, before it closed behind me.

I don’t really know a thing about automatic garage doors, seeing that I do not have an automatic garage door myself, or even a garage door, or a garage come to think of it. I didn’t realize that as soon as I pushed the button and made a run for it that there was some invisible sensor or beam that would detect my movement and immediately stop the garage door from descending and in fact send it completely back up to the fully open position.

Now I think Einstein said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

CALL ME CRAZY, I guess, but I tried it again, running out the corner of the door instead, but that’s some strong beam, dear reader, and it caught me again.

I can hear you say to yourself, “Why doesn’t he just push the button and then exit by the small side door like a normal sane person?” Well, let me tell you that the small side door was/is PADLOCKED from the outside, so here I was in a bit of a pickle. I had promised Jean I would get that door down, and here I was, unsuccessful so far.

It was at this point that I hear sound outside the garage door. At first it sounded like a person walking their dog and I thought: “Oh crap! This is going to look really weird. It will be one of my neighbours and I’m going to look really sketchy standing in this empty garage with nothing to say for myself. I was scrambling for a cover story when I heard two words that brought me back to my senses:

“Hi Daddy.”

It was Audrey! Holy Lord, she had gone and got her boots on (on the wrong feet but STILL) and opened the back door of the house, wandering out through the snowy backyard, OPENED our back gate, came out through our parking pad, and most troubling of all, crossed a sometimes very busy back lane by herself. I was stunned, and also a little impressed.

“I want to see the button, Daddy.”

“Audrey, that was very wrong, what you did just there. You KNOW you’re not supposed to leave the house by yourself, right?”

She was unrepentant. “I look both ways, Daddy, I look both ways.”

It was then that I noticed that she didn’t have her jacket on, and she had a short little dress with bare legs. I knew immediately that when this story all came out, it would somehow be my fault. And yet at the same time I felt a little pride that she would have the gumption to get herself together as well as she did and STILL remember the lesson of looking both ways. That kid’s going to be okay, I thought to myself.

Then all of a sudden, I had an idea.

You know how in Dickensian times they used children as chimney sweeps because they could fit into tight places? Well I thought maybe Audrey would be just small enough to evade that pernicious beam and we could both go back inside and forget about this whole thing and get started on the hamburger helper.

Well, that was a disaster too. First of all, the button was too high for Audrey to reach, so if I held her up and she pushed it, I would still be in the way of the beam. So I found a step-ladder and I had the crazy notion that she could stand on the step-ladder, I would stand outside in the lane, she would push the button, jump down off the step-ladder and run out before the door slid shut.

NOW BEFORE YOU CLICK OFF OF THIS AND CALL CHILD AND FAMILY SERVICES, I want you to know that I DID NOT attempt this. Even dumb me knew this was child endangerment and the situation could have gone down with her pushing the button and NOT getting off the step-ladder in time and falling and breaking an arm or something and THEN having the door shut all the way so that I would have created a situation where I had an injured three-year old, improperly dressed for winter, locked inside a stranger’s garage.

I was about to “call uncle” as it were and thought that maybe calling “Tony the responsible neighbour” would have been the correct thing for Jean to do in the first place, when I looked up and noticed something curious.

Near the top of the door there was a rope handle, dangling down.

Like I said before, I know nothing about automatic garage doors, but apparently you don’t need to use the automatic part if you don’t want to. I pulled on the rope handle and the door started to close manually. I got Audrey and me out into the lane, (looking both ways, ALWAYS looking both ways) and pulled the door down the rest of the way and that was that.

*Editor’s note. I thought I would leave the post there, but in reality, I DIDN’T close the door all the way from the outside. My main concern was to get Audrey back into the warmth, so without thinking I carried her back to the house and got her out of her boots and settled in the kitchen again. I looked back out at the garage and realized that in my haste I had pulled the door down only halfway, so it looked REALLY half-assed. This may seem unbelievably poor parenting, but I ran back out into the lane to finish the job, and yes, you guessed it: in the 30 seconds or so that it took me to complete the job, Audrey had gone back and found her boots AGAIN (still on the wrong feet, we’re going to have to work on that) and came outside AGAIN, but that’s kind of a lame denouement to the story so feel free to ignore it. You know what they say about the truth and how it sometimes gets into the way of a good story and all that.
Til next time!

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It was all just a Bloor: our trip to Toronto.

Miss me?

We’re all back now safe and sound from our summer vacation: a trip “down east” to visit my wife’s relatives. We made it! I knew there was an excellent chance we’d forget something along the way, and sure enough…

There are two kinds of vacations out there: those where you sit around and just relax and unwind, and those where you run around and see a bunch of things. I like both kinds. Last summer was definitely a “sit around and do nothing” kind of vacation, and I loved it. We spent a couple of weeks at my wife’s parent’s cottage and it was perfect. For the most part, I prefer the “run around and sightsee” kind of holiday, especially if it is some place I haven’t been before. I’m a city mouse, not a country mouse, I guess.

This holiday was a weird kind of hybrid where we raced around but didn’t really see much of anything. It was as if Marla’s relatives were hell-bent on us having a “nice relaxing time” and wouldn’t rest until we had gone everywhere we could have possibly gone to rest and visit, only to pick ourselves up again and be off to the next place. We’ve been to Toronto many times before, so there wasn’t alot of new sightseeing to be done, and with a three year old your priorities shift. No trip to Kleinburg, no Blue Jays games. Next time!

I didn’t mind, really. I knew it would be this kind of holiday before we left. Our three-year old daughter has two cousins who were born six months on either side of her, and they’ll never be this age again, so it was important to do this trip now. I could make a ton of arguments about saving this money or putting into the much talked about basement renovations, but the truth of the matter is, we won’t get this chance to visit with that side of family in quite this way again. Also, Marla’s Uncle Richard, who is almost 80, and Aunt Lynn, who just turned 70, are not getting any younger too. Uncle Richard once told me, years ago, that in all the years that he worked for a living, the only things he remembers are the summer vacations he took with his family. That stuck with me.

Originally, this was going to be a road trip. Aside from having a slight aversion to flying, I just like the idea of road trips. Flying somewhere seems like you’re cheating a little bit. When you’ve gone somewhere on a road trip, you feel like you’ve earned it. You see highway signs for your destination (TORONTO 396 km) and you find memorable stops along the way. Also, psychologically it feels cheaper, although when you factor in gas, accommodations, and meals I don’t know how much you’re actually saving vs. airfare and car rental.

But the thought of actually spending three long days in our car with our daughter didn’t seem fair to anyone, and the icing on the cake was when my wife, casually over supper one night, announced that her Mom was coming with us.

“What? I mean….great.”

That tipped the scales towards flight.

We have friends who fly routinely for work. To them, it’s just a slightly different commute and has become second nature for them. For us, it took a bit more out of us. You’re allowed one piece of checked luggage each, plus two carry-ons, but if you’re a child, you also get to take one piece of “child equipment” along with you. This can be either a car-seat or a pack ‘n play thing. We opted to bring the car seat because on a previous trip we relied on the kindness of the strangeness of a  car rental place and we went with the “house model”.

Big mistake.

The car seat looked like it had been dropped or maybe even been in an accident. The fasteners didn’t seem to want to work with the hooks in the backseat of the rental, and the only way we really secured it was by pushing the passenger seat back as far as it would go so that we kind of wedged it in there. It was totally unsafe and I’m really surprised my wife went for it. Also, the car was total shit, but that’s another story. The accelerator vibrated your entire leg when you pressed down and the cruise control didn’t work.

So we decided to bring our own car seat. I was convinced that we were going to leave it somewhere. I mean, how often do you think about your car seat? Bringing it with you when you park your car makes about as much sense as bringing the seatbelts or steering wheel. It becomes a fixture, and sure enough, when my Mom dropped us off at the airport in our car at 4:00 am (don’t ask) we were halfway to the check in counter before we realized the car seat was still in the back. We raced back just as my Mom was about to pull away. Close one.

The flight went surprisingly well. I think it had to do with the early hour, but our daughter sat quietly and watched a little tv and then read a couple of books, sat up when cookies and apple juice were offered and snuggled in for a little rest. It was only the last little bit of the flight that she got a little restless, but you can’t ask for much more from a three-year old.

The only real snag was when we went to collect our luggage and headed off to the car rental place. We were almost out of the luggage area when we realized….”Car Seat!”. We had to go track down the oversized luggage area and collect it. Another close one!

Actually fastening it into our rental took more energy than I was prepared to exert. These rental places in airports always seem to be in the gloomiest, shadowy dungeons of parking garages. And do you think I could get the car seat in? Imagine the scenario. My wife, my mother-in-law, and my daughter are all standing around a pile of luggage in this dimly lit hell as I fight and swear and stretch to make it work. The most maddeningly thing of all was that I got one clasp attached almost immediately, so I knew it was supposed to work. There was the well dressed, all smiles, car rental guy who was trying to up sell me a GPS, roadside assistance and additional insurance, not to mention a larger model of car, but he was nowhere to be found, of course, even though his parting words to me were “If you have any questions or need any help, I’ll be here.” He wasn’t, of course.

“You sure you can fit all that luggage in that car?” he said to me a few minutes before. “Even that stroller?” “You sure you don’t want an SUV? It’s only $10 more per day.”

“Don’t worry, it’ll fit.”

It would fit all right, as long as I could get this FUCKING car seat latched properly. My hands were shaking, I hadn’t had any breakfast, I was working on three hours sleep the night before and my entire shirt was drenched with sweat AND I was trying to keep my cool in front of my mother-in-law. I collapsed in exhaustion the backseat after about 10 minutes of futility.

“Are you okay? What’s the hold up?” was the helpful comment from my wife at this point.

“I, can’t, get, this, FUCKING, seat, in, right.” was all I could manage.

“Or for God’s sake let me have a go.”

And so I did. She didn’t have any more luck than I did, and for one crazy moment I debated about whether I could actually drive safely with only one latch on. I actually voiced this aloud, and the wordless look I got from my wife gave me my answer. At the very least, the few minutes of her struggle gave me a chance to recover a bit.

Now we were both sweaty.

And still only one latch on.

I climbed back in and worked at it some more. It seemed like this car never had a car seat in it, which is probably true, so the latches were all super tight and hard to get to, not to mention there was ZERO light to work by, but after another five minutes of wrangling I heard that magic “snap” and all was well.

“That car seat stays in until we return this car next week”. No one disagreed.

Amazingly, when it was time to return the car ten days later, it came out in two seconds. Once we were home we remembered to go to the oversized luggage first and collect the car seat. My Mom met us and we thought we were all doing so well when got out to her vehicle and tossed the car seat in the back. Home again! It was not until we got home from the airport and were about to settle in for the night when I spoke up. “Um, where’s the stroller?”

You guessed it! Despite all the diligence we showed in making sure the car seat made its way home, we somehow forgot the stroller at the airport!

I drove back with my Mom and asked the security guy if there was a lost and found.

“Are you the stroller guy?” Great, so now I’m famous.

The security guy continued, “We made an announcement a while ago, we figured you got the kid but left the stroller. You wouldn’t believe the kind of stuff that gets left behind. Somebody even left a car seat once. Those things are expensive! Your stroller should be over in luggage services.”

And so it was.

“I wish the world was flat like the old days
Then I could travel just by folding a map
No more airplanes, or speed trains, or freeways
There’d be no distance that could hold us back.” Death Cab for Cutie

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