This weekend was our first camp. The older kids stayed for the weekend, but our guys just went for a fun day on Saturday.
At the end of the night, there was a mass of fun confusion in the cabin we used as home base. The boys had just returned from campfire, and were finding their mums and dads. Some of the boys whose parent's hadn't arrived yet were running around.
Jack, our smallest Beaver, approached me. He was mumbling quietly, keeping his eyes to the ground. I thought I heard a 'thank you.'
Me: Aw, Jack. No problem. I had a great time. Did you?
He smiled and mumbled some more. I thought I heard him say 'yes.'
Me: That's great. And next time-
Jack: ..forty-nine, fifty! READY OR NOT, HERE I COME!
He ran away in search of his hiding comrades.
Me: I am a moron.
It's Hot Dog Day. I know this because I'm staring in disbelief at the red-headed lunch monitor sent to us from the Grade-Six class. She had dumped the entire contents of a bag of chips onto a paper napkin. She dips each chip into the largest puddle of ketchup I have ever seen before shoveling it into her mouth.
I wonder why this disgusts me. I put ketchup on french fries and fried potatoes. This just seems.... wrong.
Suddenly, an idea pops into her head.
Monitor: Who here still believes in Santa? Put up your hands.
I thrust my hand in the air. Of course I believe in Santa Clause! Toys! Chimneys! Reindeer! Flying reindeer!
A giggle ripples around the classroom. I look around and see mine is the only hand in the air, save for the keen, waving hands held aloft by the two Old Colony Mennonite students who just moved from Mexico and probably don't understand the question.
The giggles turn to laughter. Everyone is looking at me.
Monitor: Don't laugh, you guys. I think it's sweet they still believe.
She hoists another dripping chip into her mouth and crunches down.
Both Erin and I were overloaded with bags filled with wet towels and bathing suits. Alice wriggled in my arms. Erin dragged a reluctant, cranky, and tired Jane by the hand. We were about 15 steps around the corner from the pool entrance when I noticed something missing.
Me: Where's Henry?
Erin: (all business) Jane, stay here with Dad.
The three of us watched Erin rush towards the pool and duck around the corner. I expected her to return immediately with Henry in tow, but the seconds ticked slower and slower with the realization she couldn't find him. She ran back around the corner empty-handed.
Erin: I'm going to see if he snuck out the back door.
Alice, Jane, and I waited. The cement mixer in my chest dripped a fresh drop of cement into my stomach with every second Erin was gone.
Jane: Where's Henry?
Jane: Where's Henry?
Jane: Where's Henry?
Me: Mummy's finding him, Janey. Don't worry.
It was probably less than a minute later that Erin returned with Henry grasping her hand. Henry ran up to me, trying to look strong. He dragged his sleeve across his eyes, but couldn't wipe the unmistakable shape of fear and loneliness from his mouth.
Me: (hugging him tight) It's alright, Cornbread. We've got you.
Thank humanity for kindly mothers in parking lots who know a lost and scared boy when they see one.
Me: The same way he delivers them in the snow.
Henry: But his sleigh can't drive in sand.
Me: Ah, but you forget the magical flying reindeer.
Henry: (thinking) But, there's no such thing as magic. (thinking some more) So, there's no such thing as Santa.
Henry: Um.................. Santa?
Me: I can think of no further explanation.
Me: But how else will we save the lost kingdom of Zanbar?
Me: We have to find the lost treasure that will restore the ancient kingdom!
Henry: How was it lost?
Me: The entire Island Kingdom of Zanbar was plunged into the deepest ocean for a thousand years, only to be returned as the island we know as Prince Edward Island.
Jane: Who plunged it?
Me: The residents of an alien planet by the name of Troolops.
Henry: I hear the Troolopians are trying to get the treasure, too.
Me: It's true! We have to go and get it! The legend says the treasure is hidden on this VERY FARM! And we have to take our treasure-seeking dog!
Henry/Jane: Let's go!
(Later we learned our family is the heir to the throne of the lost kingdom; our ancestors were off-island at the time of the great plunge. We also banished the Troolopians [who raced us to the treasure] in our magical, one-way rocket back to Troolops. The treasure was exposed when we recited an ancient spell, passed down through the generations of our family as a nursery rhyme. "Round and round the garden, like a Teddy Bear; one step, two steps, and a TREASURE under there." Also, we all have swords.)
Me: Take the dog for a walk. I'll finish supper.
Erin: Are you sure?
Me: Of course. Just go.
She leaves. And then Jane has to go to the bathroom, which she is mostly capable of doing herself.
After a few minutes, I check on her. She needs a bit of help, so I clean her up, and help her with her underwear (why is girl underwear so silly and unpractical?).
Me: I need to check on supper. Can you get your pants on and wash your hands?
A few minutes pass. Henry is so busy yacking at me that I lose track of how long Jane has been gone.
Alice: Ah! Ah hahaha!
I walk into the dining room to find Alice waving the toilet brush around like a sword.
Me: Oh, yucky! Alice! No no no! Let me take that.
I do. She weeps and wails. I pick her up to take her to the bathroom to clean her up. I walk in to find Jane staring into the toilet.
Me: Jane... where are your pants?
Jane: (pointing in the bowl) In there.
Me: Jane... why did you put your pants in the toilet?
Jane: I forget.
Me: What about the lentils?
Erin: When they come to a boil, turn them down to simmer and put the lid on. Or just slightly askew.
Henry: What's "askew"?
Erin: A street in Leamington.
Jonah: What's that? Is it your guys's toy box?
Henry: No. It's full of blankets.
Jonah: You guys have lots of blankets.
Henry: Yeah. Our Grandma D. makes them.
Jonah: Two of my grandmas are dead.
Jonah: But one is still alive!
Jane: Grandmas are nice. You'll see when they come. You don't have to be shy of them. They're not for shy.
Phone: Ring. Ring.
Female voice: Hello, sir. I'm calling from Bell Aliant to tell you high-speed internet is now available in your ar-
Me: Yes. Sign me up.
Female voice: Don't you want to hear about -
Me: No. Just do it.
Female voice: Alright...
Me: Is this the easiest sell you've ever made?
Female voice: It's up there.
It took until this week for the technician to come hook us up. We'd been without high-speed internet since we moved from Cape Breton.
Henry was more excited than I. And for good reason. Imagine going a whole five months without being able to watch this.
Me: The lady at the liquor store says I have great taste in wine.
Erin: She was flirting with you.
Me: Is it so hard to believe that I might actually have a developed palate?
She lived most of her adult life in Toronto, but moved to London, Ontario when my grandfather retired, somewhere around the time I was born. They visited us in Leamington every few months.
Inevitably, every morning of her visit, she would creep into my bedroom at some ungodly hour to retrieve something she had left in my closet. Whatever it was, it was hidden at the bottom of a crinkly Eaton's bag. The harder she tried to keep the crinkly plastic from making noise, the noisier it got.
Me: (after several minutes of crinkling) I'm awake now, Grandma. Do you want me to turn a light on?
Grandma: Oh, goodness. I didn't wake you, did I?
One year at Christmas, my aunt tried her new hair-trimming kit out on my teenage head.
Me: You're not going to buzz me, right?
Aunt: Of course not. See? This is the longest attachment.
Her first swipe at my skull began at the peak of my forehead and ran to my crown.
Aunt: (looking, tilting her head) Oh my.
Aunt: Nothing. It's just...
By the time she finished, I was nearly bald -- which, at the height of my sloppy, grungy, indie-pop years was just about the worst thing that could ever happen to my head. Grandma T knew just what to say.
Grandma T: You look like one of those football players!
Grandma T: You know! A football player! Very preppy.
I didn't think much of my grandma. Which is not to say that I didn't love her, or that I thought poorly of her. I just didn't think about her.
I was in college when she had her first stroke. It was big. It was followed soon after by a string of others. Overnight, my grandma transformed from the woman I'd always known to a frighteningly pale human form lying very still on a hospital bed.
Our family moved her to a care home in Leamington. She eventually recovered a bit. She could speak and feed herself. But she was never again the Grandma T I had known. She was way better.
Every time I visited, it was a different time, a different place. She was always Marjorie T_, but a younger version of herself. Completely lucid in whatever time and place her mind brought her.
Sometimes she was a five-year-old girl. We'd talk about candy and how mean little sisters can be. Other times she was a teenager. She was very keen to talk about boys.
Grandma T: Sometimes I don't know which boyfriend I like best.
Me: You have more than one?
Grandma T: Don't tell!
Once, she confessed the nicest boy she ever met was a fellow named Gerry T_. My grandpa.
Me: You're just saying that because it's me, Grandma.
Grandma: Maybe. He was nice, though.
Grandma lived just long enough for me to get to know her -- to realize this tiny person I had grown up apathetic to was a complex, intelligent, feeling person.
The day before her funeral, I found a photo of her and and my grandpa on their honeymoon. They took a cruise of the Great Lakes. In the photo, they're lazily leaning back against a guardrail. Grandpa's arm goes far enough around her shoulders that Grandma can hold the tips of his fingers with her hand. They look look young, attractive, and cocky. Their faces wear an unmistakable expression. It says: "Awwww, yeah."
I didn't cry at her funeral -- something a creepy church fellow pointed out to me.
Creepy: It's OK, you know.
Me: What's OK?
Creepy: To cry.
Me: Oh, I know. I'm not sad.
Creepy: Riiiiight. Look, we both know you can't lie to me. Go ahead. Cry.
Me: I'm not sad.
He grasped my arms, and spoke in a whispered growl.
Me: (matching his tone, leaning forward) No.
I probably should have explained how happy I felt that day. That I had a picture in my head all day of a smiling young woman and her new husband with their whole lives ahead of them. That I was lucky enough to get to know her before it was too late.
Do the dance!
Do the Cornbread* dance!
Do the dance!
Do the Cornbread dance!
One, two, three, get loose!
(At which point I break into some wicked beat-box action.)
(Seriously. It's wicked.)
When this song starts, Henry's head cocks so far to the side in embarrassment his flushed cheek marries his shoulder. His grin stretches from ear-to-ear. He tries desperately not to laugh.
Most importantly, he does not dance. It's not that he doesn't dance (the boy can mooooove), he just never wants to be the centre of attention. He doesn't want to be The Show.
Do the dance!
Do the Beancorn dance!
One, two, three, get loose!
Jane closes her eyes (or crosses them in a silly way) and dances. Her arms flail. Her legs jerk. She looks like a bad reaction to heavy medication, and she doesn't care. Completely unselfconscious, she is 100% in it for the fun.
Do the dance!
Do the Shortstop dance!
One, two, three, get loose!
Alice has already been dancing since the first note of Henry's song. The girl never met a beat she didn't like. Standing, she holds herself steady with wide-spread arms that ride the waves of beats like a champion surfer. Sitting, she rocks back and forth to the beat. Her eyes are always on you, making sure you know it: she's The Show.
My kids. Dang.
*I nicknamed Henry "Cornbread" when he was about 3-days old. Jane, who would prefer to be "Just Jane", finally accepts "Beancorn" as an alternative. Alice is "Shortstop." Substitute the appropriate name when you sing it for each kid.
Her eyes widened. She plunged her 13 month-old arm into the bucket's depths. When the full length of her arm proved too short, she went further, and shoved in her shoulder and a bit of her neck.
Still too short.
She lifted one foot to help her get atop the bucket, and was teetering back and forth on the other.
The fall was inevitable. Luckily, she landed on her bottom. Her brow came together into a frustrated 'V'.
She looked at the bucket. It had fallen over beside her. Her brow relaxed, she grabbed the bucket, and turned it upside down...
Me: Well, hello!
Alice: (charming smile) Hai.
Me: Are you having a good day?
Alice: (pointing back into the living room) Muh ma.
Me: Is Mumma with you?
Me: Hello. It's wonderful to see you.
Me: You want to play ball?
Alice: Muh ma.
Me: I'll be right in.
Henry: (pausing before a pitch) Are you thinking what I'm thinking?
(I think so, Brain, but if we didn't have ears, we'd look like weasels.)
Me: Um.. maybe? What are you thinking?
Henry: That now would be a pretty awesome time to catch some crickets.
And suddenly we're catching crickets. Having a very fun time.
Erin: What do we have?
Me: Um.... eggs?
Erin: Poached? On that nice rye?
Me: I think we have smoked salmon in the freezer.
Me: And those greens!
Yes, the greens. We had been advised to buy greens from a certain stall at the farmers market. A friend promised they were the best she'd ever eaten.
We moaned in silly pleasure as we ate at our picnic table. Normally, I make a dressing for the salad, but this night we just drizzled a bit of olive oil, and splashed on white vinegar. We didn't bother adding extra vegetables. The greens were seven kinds of spicy. So many different flavours and colours -- every bite, a new adventure.
Meals thrown together like this always remind me of those Erin and I enjoyed on hot summer nights in Windsor, Ontario right before we were married. I was renting a room in a house near the university. The landlord was rarely home, and we'd make these meals of whatever was new, fresh, and delicious: ears of steaming sweet corn; tomatoes picked red off the vine and sliced on a plate; baguette baked every morning at a little place around the corner; cheeses so rich and stinky we worried if maybe we wouldn't live to see the next morning.
I alternated between bites of the toast/egg/salmon and the greens. Half-way through the meal, we pulled cold bottle of white wine from the fridge and filled our glasses.
It was heaven.
I lifted my fork for what I believed was my third-to-last bite of greens and found him: a slimy, wriggly slug. Fully intact. Quite healthy and robust. The vinegar hadn't hurt him -- I suspect a healthy coating of olive oil protected him from the sprinkle of salt. He waved his tentacle-like antennae in my general direction.
I thought back to an essay I'd read several weeks earlier by Peter Gzowski. He wrote about the early days of his marriage, how he and his wife taught each other to cook. How they took foods their mothers had previously destroyed by boiling them until they were completely robbed of nutrition and flavour, and nurtured them into deliciousness.
He wrote about the first time he prepared escargot -- a food he had enjoyed many times prepared by chefs in restaurants, but never had attempted before himself. He described steaming them, slathering them in butter, and putting each one back in its own little shell with a thin sliver of garlic. He almost made it seem like something I could enjoy.
I slid my fork under my little friend and launched him backwards over my shoulder. I assume he landed somewhere in the grass near the foundation of the deck.
Erin: Aren't these greens amazing?
Me: They're alright.
Jane: Dad! Let's pretend Charlotte's Web!
Me: Arright. Who are you?
Jane: I'm Fern.
Me: Ok. I'm Fern's daddy.
Mr. Arable: Good morning, Fern.
Fern: (munching her toast, instantly uninterested in pretending) 'Mornin', Dad.
Mr. Arable: Some pigs were born last night.
Fern: (chewing) Mmm hmm.
Mr. Arable: Wanna know why I'm carrying this axe?
Fern: (looks out the window)
Mr. Arable: Well, I'll tell you. One of them was born a runt.
Mr. Arable: And runts are nothing but trouble.
Fern: (takes another bite)
Mr. Arable: So, I'm going to kill it...
Mr. Arable: ...with this axe.
Mr. Arable: Don't try to stop me.
Fern: Ok, Dad.
Mr. Arable: Ok, then. (walking out the kitchen door, axe slung over his shoulder) Gonna chop that runt to bits.
Meanwhile, at Homer Zuckerman's farm...
A long silence hangs over the barn. The goose readjusts the clutch of eggs nestled beneath her feathery girth. The old sheep stands in the corner of its fold, quietly chewing its cud. Lurvy, the hired man, walks past on his way to weed the asparagus patch.
Goose: *Sigh* You ever get the sense something's missing?
Old sheep: (swallowing) Nope. (looks up to the door frame) Hey, that's a pretty web.
Henry: Oh, man! My shirt is inside out!
He picks it up and looks at it.
Henry: Oh, it's not. I guess this isn't the worst day of my entire life.
ALERT! THIS MUST NOT HAPPEN. IF JANE NAPS FOR ANY AMOUNT OF TIME, SHE BECOMES AN INTOLERABLE BEAR FOR THE REST OF THE DAY.
We've tried many things. Mostly, we shout, "Don't go to sleep, Jane!"
Leave it to Jane to devise a solution to her own problem. She has found a series of landmarks along Route 2 which she anticipates with glee, and announces at the top of her lungs when she spots them.
1. "Marshmallow farm!" (a field of hay which has been baled and wrapped in white plastic)
2. "Sleepy cows!" (a field of Black Angus cattle, who always seem to be laying down)
3a) "Llama farm! Llamalamalamalamalamalama!" (a llama farm)
3b) "Llama farm! Ohhhh. No llamas today. Llamalamalamalamalama!" (sometimes the llamas aren't grazing in that field)
4. "Marshmallow farm!" (a second field of baled hay)
5. "Space church!" (A church with wood shingles painted red and grey, which give it an oddly futuristic look, especially the rocket-like steeple)
From here it's a three-minute drive to our house. Just long enough that us shouting usually gets the job done.
I must say, I occasionally shout "Llama farm!" when I'm driving by myself. (helps keep me awake)
Jane: We're workers!
Me: What are you working on?
Jane: We making a sign. It says, "No Daddies, No Mummies, No Henries."
Alice's eyes blazed with excitement, so happy to be part of whatever this madness of smashing was.
Me: Is that true, Alice?
Alice: Gah! (SMASH! SMASH!) Gah!
My brother, who was probably six or seven at the time, looked up from his peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Two long purple lines of grape jelly smeared across both his cheeks.
"You need to eat from the points," explained Dad. "You're sawing that sandwich in half, and it's making a mess of your sandwich and your face."
John gazed at the two, sloppy bits of bread in his hands. "Where's the point?"
"Here," explained Dad, holding up the corner of his own toast. "Eat from the points, and you won't make a mess.
He took a neat bite. My brother did the same. The result: food in face, not food on face.
We made a big deal of these lessons, and pretended Dad had hundreds of them. We commonly referred to this one as "Dad Lesson Number 236."
My dad is a sniper of dry wit. As an obnoxious teen, I told a lot of stories of what I thought were my amazing adventures. Most people ate them up. Dad just listened quietly, smiled occasionally, and at the tale's end would quip something like, "You ever think maybe you're a little weird?"
I didn't realize at the time that was Lesson 237.
Henry and Jane now know how to eat from the points. They're very proud to trot this lesson out when Dad and Mum come to visit.
As we ate breakfast together last November, Dad popped up from the table to grab two halves of an English muffin fresh from the toaster. He held them together in one hand, smooth-side out. They immediately burned his fingers. He threw them on his plate.
"Can I show you something?" I asked.
He looked up.
"If you hold onto the smooth side of the English muffin, you maximize muffin-to-finger contact. That's why it's so hot. If you turn them cranny-side out, you'll find them much easier to handle."
He didn't say anything. I wondered if he thought maybe I was a little weird.
Whack! Whack! Whump! ("Whump" being the closest spelling I can find for the sound of a hammer hitting flesh.)
Me: (sharp intake of breath)
INTERNAL MONOLOGUE BEGINS:
I need a word. A good, sharp word to express how much this hurts.
I think I may swear. Yes, I'm sure of it.
This is well beyond 'damn.' 'Frig' just seems silly. The other 'f' word is so crude: more of an angry word than a hurt word. Could we be in 's' word territory? I think we might.
Wait. Are the kids nearby?
No. They're inside having a snack.
I'm going to say the 's' word. Not loud or anything. Just barely above a whisper. Such a pleasing, soft 'sh' followed by a precision 'it.'
Yeah. The 's' word.
INTERNAL MONOLOGUE ENDS:
Me: (barely above a whisper) Shit.
The sound of work stops. The two guys working with me drop their tools and turn to me.
Guy One: Did you hit your finger?
Guy Two: Are you ok?
Yes. Yes. A thousand times, yes.
And then Devin told me the one thing that could make the news better: we would be paying a musical tribute to Stompin' Tom Connors. And if you're toasting the Stomper in Leamington, there's only one song you need to do it with. The Ketchup Song.
"There was a guy from PEI we used to call Potato.
He met this young Leamington, Ontario tomato."
I showed up in the parking lot of the old Leamington arena wearing a straw hat and a plaid shirt with mother-of-pear snaps tucked into tight jeans. Devin had already set up on the flat bed truck with his snare drum and cymbals. I hoisted my heavy, 1960s-era guitar amp beside him, cranked the bass up as high as it would go, and prepared for the adventure.
"But he had eyes for other girls, and she was a little mushy.
So they said, "Let's get wed. There's no sense being buzzy."
Which is the silliest lyric ever. Why didn't he just say "..no sense being fussy?"
"Big size, French Fries: How they love tomatoes.
So dress them up with Heinz Ketchup -
Ketchup loves potatoes.
Ketchup loves potatoes."
The rest of the float comprised of a bunch of waving Zellers employees wearing Club-Z t-shirts. They sat in joyful expectation on bales of straw beside baskets of tomatoes. Before the parade began, I knew they would come to hate Devin and me.
"So he went down to Windsor town to buy a ring on Monday.
Saturday, they said, 'Ok, we'll cut the cake on Sunday.'"
The parade took a while to start. We were near the back, and there were many dozens of floats. The Zellers employees were getting antsy.
"Come on!" they yelled. "Play us a song to pass the time!"
"But Sunday came, and what a shame, they had no one to fetch it.
Without a cake they just sat and ate potato chips and ketchup."
So, we did.
"Big size, French Fries: How they love tomatoes.
So dress them up with Heinz Ketchup -
Ketchup loves potatoes.
Ketchup loves potatoes."
By the time we finished the song, our float had joined the parade. The sense of jubilation was palpable. This crew from Zellers was ready to rock.
"More!" they cried.
"Ok," we replied.
"And now that guy from PEI they used to call Potato,
he's got two boys and a little girl - two spuds and one tomato."
At song end, a few people on the float cheered, a little less enthusiastically this time.
"What else do you know?" they asked.
"Besides what?" we replied.
"You know, the Ketchup Song!"
"What's that?" said Devin. "Sure, we'll play it again."
"They romp and run around Leamington, and boy, when they get hungry
The bottle drips all over the chips way down in the Ketchup Country."
And we did, and we did, and we did, and we did.
"Big size, French Fries: How they love tomatoes.
So dress them up with Heinz Ketchup -"
"The Ketchup Song!" Screamed the crowds along the parade route. These were Leamingtonians, and this was THEIR song. I'm sure some of them wondered why the waving Zellers employees looked so grumpy.
Only Devin and I knew the reason.
"Ketchup loves potatoes.
Ketchup loves potatoes..."
The Tomato Festival Parade route runs south along Erie Street from Wilkinson Drive to Seacliffe Drive. I'm not sure the exact distance. Far enough that I think we sang the song at least 2 dozen times.
"Ketchup loves potatoes!"
I have since become a much nicer person.
Me: Jane, do NOT eat those lentils.
Jane: (giggling, shoves them into her mouth)
Me: Oh, you make me so mad. I said, DO NOT EAT THEM.
Jane: (rushing to eat as many as possible, still giggling)
Me: I AM NOT JOKING, JANE. I AM NOT TRYING TO TRICK YOU INTO EATING THEM. STOP IT RIGHT NOW.
Jane: (plate empty, giggling too hard to eat anyway)
Turns around to bite you in Situation B):
Me: Ow! Jane, don't hit me with that!
Jane: (giggling, wielding a plastic golf club)
Me: Hey! Seriously! That really hurts. Don't do it.
Jane: (wildly thrashing the club about, still giggling)
Me: (realizing the monster I've created, searching desperately for logic a two year old might understand) JANE! THIS ISN'T ONE OF THOSE TIMES WHEN I SAY ONE THING BUT WANT YOU TO DO SOMETHING ELSE. DO NOT HIT ME WITH THAT CLUB!
I blame Dennis Lee.
PS. PEI is way nice. You should visit.
Suffice it to say it has to do with the economy, the loss of my job and the finding of another job in Charlottetown.
Details, details. The important things remain the same.
And yes, this song just got cooler..
Me: Is this animal a shark?
Henry: Dad! You can't ask that as your first question!
Me: But, is it a shark?
Me: OK, my turn. I'm thinking of an animal. What is it?
Henry: Does it have fur or feathers?
Henry: What colour of fur?
Henry: What sound does it make?
Me: Sort of a 'chit-chit-chit' chatter.
Henry: Where does it live?
Me: In trees.
Henry: Is it a squirrel?
Me: It is TOTALLY a squirrel.
Henry: OK, my turn. (pause) OK, I'm thinking of an animal.
Me: Is it a shark?
Erin: I was doing fine until about three o'clock. Then the exhaustion hit me, like - wham!
Me: Like, Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go?
Erin: Not even a little bit.
Me: (from the bottom of the stairs) LITTLE PIGS, LITTLE PIGS: LET ME COME IN.
Three Little Pigs: Not by the hairs of our chinny-chin chins.
Me: THEN I'LL HUUUUUFF...
Three Little Pigs: Eeeeek!
Me: AND I'LL PUUUUUUUUFF...
Three Little Pigs: Squeeeeeeal
Me: AND I'LL BLOW YOUR HOUSE IN! WAAAAAAH!
I ran bellowing up the stairs. Alice, who until this point had been very patient with our foolishness, lost it.
Me: (running back downstairs) It's ok, Alice! Don't be scared.
Three Little Pigs: Hurray! Alice saved us!
This morning, I went through a bunch of cycles of my sunrise salutation (a pre-set series of positions to help start the day). Every time I got to the downward-facing dog position, Henry turned my back and legs into a bridge over which he marched his toy dinosaurs. Then he marched them under me, which was funny, and forced me to the hold the pose longer than I would normally.
Henry: I think you should call this Downward-facing Dino Bridge.
Henry had moved on to something else by the next time I got to downward-facing dog. Instead, Jake, who has a wonderful knack of knowing exactly when someone has placed something as comfortable as a yoga mat on the ground, came out of nowhere, and flopped right under my face.
Me: (staring into a smiling doggie face) No, I think 'dog' is appropriate.
Luckily (and unluckily), Henry has inherited my huge head. (There's an image. Did it come in a box?)
It fits him perfectly. And, it looks great on him. Very little-boy like. Which is appropriate.
So: what does SP stand for?
We've gone through several ideas. For the a while, it was Super Penguins. Today at lunch, we decided it's Shark Punchers.
Awesome, right? What could be tougher than a team of dudes who are willing to punch a shark? (They also have bats)
Any other ideas?
Erin: I can't believe we watched a whole movie.
Me: (almost asleep) Mm.
Erin: This is nice.
Me: This is nice.
Erin: (looking down at the sleeping baby in her lap) She's good stuff.
Me: She is good stuff.
Erin: (resting her head back, a contented grin on her face) They're all good stuff.
Me: They are all good stuff.
She pauses a moment.
Erin: You're not capable of independent thought past ten o'clock at night, are you?
Me: I'm not capable of independent thought past ten o'clock at night.
Stef: Do you know what this is?
Henry: (scrutinizing a fuzzy picture) No.
Stef: It's a jellyfish.
Henry: (nodding in recognition) Oh, yeah!
Stef: Do you know what a jellyfish is?
Henry: It's an invertebrate with stinging tentacles.
Stef: (mouth agape) You know what an invertebrate is?
Henry: Yes. A creature with no backbone.
Stef: (mouth agape) !
This is the same boy who stares at me as if I am speaking Latin when I ask him to clean up his Lego.
Henry: I have to poo.
Erin: (reading a sign indicating the next town is 39 kilometres away) Can you hold it?
Henry: Yup. (suddenly squirming, leaning forward) Nope. Dad!
Me: No worries, Cornbread. We'll find you a spot.
Erin skillfully navigates us off the main highway onto a side road, and eventually onto an out-of-the-way lane in the bush.
Henry: I'm going to poop in the woods? Cool!
I lead him from the car to a nice quiet spot. I hold his arms as he hunches over.
Henry: (looking me in the eye, speaking between held breaths) This is really valuable for the soil.
Henry: I hate this wind. (shuddering) Who controls the wind?
Me: That's a good question. Some people think there's a god who controls things like that.
Henry: What do other people think?
Me: Other people say no one controls the wind. That wind comes from the heat of the sun, the cool of the water, the bumps and ridges of the earth, and a whole lot of other things working together.
Me: And some people think a god controls the sun, water, and earth in order to make wind.
Henry: (more thinking).
Me: What do you think?
Henry: I think I want to play hide and seek.
92 years later....
Me: I'm not bored. I'm having lots of fun.
Henry: But we're not talking about you, Dad. This is about me. I'm bored.
Me: I'm sorry to hear that. (something catches my eye) Woa! Did you see that?
Me: That duck that just landed. Have you ever watched how they land? It's kinda like a float plane coming in for a slow landing. Look! Here comes another one.
A female mallard eases herself out of the sky. Her wings are held back and slightly cocked. She comes in at a low trajectory, getting closer and closer to the water before finally touching down with her feet, skiing for a moment on the surface, and eventually bobbing in place at the end of her long wake.
Henry: Her feet are pontoons!
We spend the next twenty minutes watching ducks take off and land. He anticipates each landing with an uncontrollable flapping of his own. He then turns his attention to the gulls.
Henry: They don't land like planes! Watch!
A screeching gull glides out of its obnoxious flight in wide sweeping arcs.
Henry: Coming around... Coming around...
When the arcs finally sweep to about half a metre from the surface, the gull seemingly gives up on the concept of flight and drops unceremoniously to the water.
Henry: Wee! Flop! (peels of laughter)
Another twenty minutes later, I drag him away from the stupid, boring lake.
Super Dad will follow up this victory by displaying how cool it is to watch bread turn to toast through the little window on our toaster oven.
Roy: So, they gave you the old heave ho, did they?
Me: It's not 100%, but we're pretty sure.
Roy: (nodding) Hmph.
I shoveled for another minute.
Roy: Well, suck it up. You've got three beautiful kids.
Me: (pausing mid shovel) I will. And I know.
Roy: It's damn cold out here. I'm going in.
Jane: I got one! I got a fish!
Erin: Wow! What kind is it?
Jane: A trout!
Erin: A Rainbow trout?
Jane: No! A fish one! (looks at Erin with a mildly scornful expression) It swims in the water.
Jane insisted on a candle in her's. Once Henry saw, he had to have one. Erin topped them off with a rousing chorus of "Happy Monday To You."
Later in the morning, Erin got the kids to help her sort out some of our coins. Jane was particularly interested in the lady on the back.
Jane: Who this? Is this a mumma? (gasp!) It's a witch!
Henry: (laughing) It's the Witch of England!
"Wow," she declared, her mind searching for the right word to call this thing. "A yellow-copter."
As it flew up and over, her neck strained up, up, up, and backwards until there was no more backwards left. She fell on her back.
I flicked my towel in mid air.
I make a very pleasing whip sound, if I do say so myself.
Erin: I used to hate it when my brother did that to me. I never could get him back. I could do the twisty twirl, but the towel never cracked for me.
Me: (twisting the towel) I never found twisting it made much difference...
I gave it the tiniest flicks.
Erin: OW! Owowowowowowowowow!
Me: I am so sorry.
Henry: Show me how!
The stories always ended the same way. After the dramatic conclusion (the farmer's wife emancipates the bee trapped in Poombra the pony's tummy, Nice Snake learns to ride a bike, Barney the barn owl and Jovo the dog learn they can play together at dusk), we would always say, "So they all had a nice glass of juice, and took a nap."
The stories stopped about two years ago, when Henry discovered chapter books.
This morning at breakfast, I told Henry the story of my Friday-night curling match. I had never curled before, and really enjoyed it. Near the end of the story, Henry's eyes grew wide as he recognized a familiar cadence.
Me: When we were done, we all shook hands and said, "Good game." Then we all went up to the bar and had a glass of beer.
Henry: ...and took a nap.
Me: Yup. A four-year old, a two-year old, and a six-month old.
Her: Wow. You started having kids late in life.
Me: (pause) I was 26.
Her: But that would make you...
Me: I turned 31 last week.
Her: (pause) Well, you, uh, started early then. I guess.
I gave Hen a little hug. He snored a contented 'snooooxx' in response.
I rolled to face Jane. I gave her a little hug. She took the palm of her hand, placed it on the bridge of my nose/forehead, and shoved.
Jane: Get off my pillow, Dad.
I took this picture about two weeks ago, when he first came to live with us. He was very happy to be here, but wasn't quite sure about his new life.
He's pretty sure now. And I'm pretty sure about him.
He fits into my silly little family so well. I really don't know how we got by without him.... laying on his back all the time, begging for a belly rub.
I will always miss Murph. But it's nice to have a best friend again.
Her: I love you.
Me: Oh, wow. I think I love you too.
Her: No one has ever felt like this before.
Me: I even love the baby toe on your left foot.
Her: You can have it.
Me: No foolin'?
Her: It's yours.
Me: Wow. Like, I can do with it whatever I want?
Her: Whatever you want.
Me: Like, cut it off?
Her: Um... I would hope you would chose not to.
Me: Riiight. So, we're talking, forever?
Me: My toe?
Her: Your toe.
Me: Even if we break up?
Her: Yup. But that'll never happen.
We broke up a month later.
Valentine's Day the next year, her new boyfriend confronted me in the hallway of our school.
Boyfriend: I have to talk to you.
Me: Uh, ok.
He took me to a quiet corner of the cafeteria.
Boyfriend: I need the toe.
Me: The toe? (realizing what he meant) Oh! The toe! You can have it. It's yours. I don't want it.
Boyfriend: No, it can't happen like that. I must pay you for the toe.
Boyfriend: Five bucks.
Me: Ok. Should we draw up some sort of contract, or receipt?
Boyfriend: Oh, yeah. She'd love that.
Me: Yes... she would.
Cutting cabbage is hard work, but fun. Dad drove the tractor in its lowest gear while a crew of six or eight followed behind. Each of us had a good-sized knife in hand. As quickly as you could, you grabbed a cabbage by the head, pulled it to one side to expose its thick neck of stem, and chopped. Then you launched it through the air to land in a pile on the wagon.
We'd do this from about seven in the morning until three in the afternoon. Dad would then park the wagon under a tree. We'd spend the rest of the afternoon packing the cabbages into waxed-paper boxes. Then he'd drive them to the wholesaler in town to sell.
The last day of cabbage season, we skipped the packing stage. Dad got a better price for the cabbage when it was packed, but this day, we just wanted to get it done. Instead of neatly packed boxes, we threw the whole wagon load into big wooden tote boxes which measured about 6x6 feet, and about 4 feet deep. Dad hauled them all to town to sell to the wholesaler.
The tractor came back down the road a few hours later, the totes still on the wagon. The market was flooded with cabbage, and wholesaler couldn't buy them. Dad wasn't happy about it, but the tomatoes were ready to pick, and there wasn't time to cry over a wasted day. There wasn't even enough time to empty the totes of cabbages...
July was hot. August was hotter. The thunderstorms of southern Ontario rolled in at just the right time. We were still picking tomatoes when suddenly, the the peppers were ready. Many days, we worked from seven in the morning until it was too dark to see if the tomato or pepper in your hand was ripe.
One morning, in about the third week of August, Dad tapped me on the shoulder and told me he had another job for me. He walked me and two others over to the cabbage wagon.
"We've got to dump it. All of it."
There was a bit of room around the edge of the wagon to stand on, so I climbed up. The stink was horrible: a combination of sweet rotting vegetables with hot, bitter vinegar. Over the past five weeks, most of the individual cabbages had rotted into slimy handfuls of dripping leaves.
I reached for what seemed like a tangible head. My fingers went right through it. As much of it as I could hold onto, I grabbed, and flung to the ground.
After about forty minutes, the piles in the totes had diminished enough that it was clear if we wanted to get any more out, we'd have to climb right in. I swung my leg over the side of the tote and sighed in disgust as my foot sank to my ankles in rotting goo.
I threw handful after handful of dripping rot over my head. The clouds of fruit flies were thick. Dozens of them ended up embedded in the crusts of cabbage juice that now stained my arms, legs and face.
Henry: Aw, Dad! I hate cleaning up my Lego! It's the worst job in the world!
I sit on a bench; Henry ooches up to me on his little yellow scooter car.
Me: Hello, sir. Welcome to the Night-Time Drive Thru. Can I take your order?
Henry: What do you have?
Me: Tonight you can chose either the Self-Serve package, or our limited-time offer of a Full-Serve, All-inclusive Bedtime package.
Henry: What's that mean?
Me: That means I do everything.
Henry: I'll take that.
Me: Scoot through to the next window, please.
He scoots around and pulls up to the other side of the bench.
Me: Let's start with PJs. We have a delightful pair with a Racing Car motif I think you'd like.
Henry: Yes, please.
Me: Arms up, sir.
He obliges. The PJs are on within a minute.
Me: And for your dental hygiene, do you mind strawberry-flavoured toothpaste?
He opens. I brush.
Me: I have a warm cloth for your face.
He closes his eyes. I wash.
Me: Excellent. I see here your account is pre-paid, so that's good. I'll just give you your complimentary hug (we hug), and you can drive up to the couch where a nice lady is waiting to read you the book of your choice.
Henry: Thanks, Daddy.
Me: Not at all, Cornbread. Come again.
Take a minute, if you need.
We're all very excited about it, including Henry. We've been thinking about it and planning for years. And yes, we've thought of all of the things that you're "but, what about..."-ing in your heads. We'd just really like our kids to learn at their own speeds, in their own time, with us.
We were going to make a big deal out of registering him as a homeschool student today, just to join in the ceremony of it all. But, the province hasn't yet posted the 2009 registration forms online. So we let Henry pick the food for our Registration Day Supper (pancakes). Oh yes, and we made a point of telling you about it.
I think, more than the fun ride, she liked being being on level footing with her big brother and sister. They jumped, shrieked and twisted right along with her.
After she finished, I sat her on my lap. She told me all about it.
Alice: (eyes wide) Eeeya!
Me: What's that?
Alice: (bouncing and kicking her little legs) Eeya!
Me: Really? You bounced?
Me: And jumped?
Me: And kicked and shrieked? All by yourself?
Me: Sounds like lots of fun!
Today at lunch, she reminded herself of an incident earlier in the day where she accidentally knocked over a dish and broke it. It was in no way her fault, but she felt pretty bad. Even the memory made her feel guilty.
Jane: I broke bowl. I sorry.
Me: It's OK, sweetie. It was an accident.
Under the table she went.
We tried to coax her out over the next couple of minutes. After a while, a hand shot up over the edge of the table like a periscope. It skillfully guided itself to Jane's plate, grabbed a piece of cheese, and retreated to its hiding place under the table.
Erin: I think she may be feeling a bit better.
Erin: It'll be useful. Just wait.
So I waited. And every time we moved (from Fredericton to Leamington, from Leamington to Iqaluit, from Iqaluit to Saint John, from Saint John to Sydney...), I kept my wondering to myself.
But, as promised, the husks have proven to be very useful. Erin has stuffed almost every soft toy she's ever made with it. It's light and sturdy, and the animals keep their shape forever without getting mooshy or smelly.
This morning while I was at work, Erin had a couple of mums over with their kids. It was blissful mayhem, by all accounts. Both of the visiting kids are just one-year old, and both of their mums worried that they'd be into our stuff, making a mess. Jane ended up being the real culprit.
Right before everyone arrived, Erin walked upstairs to get something. She entered the room where she keeps her craft supplies and found Jane standing in the middle of the room. Her one arm was wrapped around the last-remaining bag of buckwheat husks. The tie that (formerly) kept it shut had come loose. Husks slowly poured on the floor, scattering to the four corners of the room.
Jane: What this stuff, Mum? It messy.
Poor Jane is feeling very much the neglected middle child these days. We try to celebrate her as much as we can, but she is so darn undemanding and independent. I decided to give her morning a boost.
Me: Ladies and Gentlemen! May I pleeeeeease draw your attention to the one, the only JANE! WOOOO!
Her sleepy eyes brightened as she entered the kitchen. Feeling like a celebrity, she pumped one arm in the air.
Jane: Yay! (dropping the heap of clothes she was carrying to the floor) I bringed my own clothes!
Me: Alright! (chanting) Jane! Jane! Jane! Jane! Jane...
She started dancing, in the spotlight at last.
Jane: (reaches down, grabs her t-shirt and throws it triumphantly in the air) Wheeeee!
This is when life turned to slow motion. The pink shirt sailed through the air, pausing briefly at the apex of its travels. I watched in horror as it tumbled, shirt over tail, toward the pot of oatmeal. That's where it landed: half in the pot, half draped over the side, just barely touching the hot stove element.
Me: (diving) NOOOOOOOOOO!
I snatched the shirt from its flammable perch. I was fast enough to stop a fire. Not fast enough to stop my reaction.
Me: Jane! We never ever throw things in the kitchen! You know the rule! That could have started a fire!
Jane's eyes faded from celebratory pools of bright emerald green to dull, guilty puddles of stagnant pond water. And that water was leaking out in tears.
We hugged for a long time. She eventually felt better and had a great morning. Still, I think it's time for a daddy-daughter date.
3. Getting faster.
4. GETTING FASTER.
5. I really like this.
6. I'm free!
7. I'M FREEEEEEE!
9. We're going very fast.
10. Faster than I anticipated.
11. OH, CRAP.
12. What's going to happen when we hit --
15. (uncontrollable laughter)
16. You're ok?
17. (uncontrollable laughter)
18. I'm ok?
19. (uncontrollable laughter)
After the carnage of opening presents, we had a big family breakfast. From then until supper, John and I were outside, shootin' stuff.
The rifle was the real prize. I liked my sling shot, but I couldn't hit anything with it.
John: Can you hit the side of the barn from here?
Me: Ha. Watch me.
(I shoot. I miss.)
Me: I guess not.
We traded them back and forth, both us us impatiently wanting to be the guy with the gun. We put a lot of holes in pop cans. It was boy heaven. Then John got bored.
John: (pumping the gun to prepare for a shot) You'd better run.
By this, I knew he meant he was going to shoot me*. The gun took ten pumps to prime. He was at pump three when he gave me his warning. This gave me seven pumps to get as far away as possible.
Oh, how I ran. We were in the field behind the greenhouses. I knew if I could just run around the corner of the first greenhouse I'd be safe. No way would he chase me with the gun. If Mum or Dad saw him, they'd take it back, for sure.
Just as I was about to clear the corner, I turned to see if he was really serious.
He really was.
I do not remember exactly what syllable I screamed out, but I do know that I probably couldn't spell it now, even phonetically. A very small, hurt animal with a big mouth and powerful lungs screamed from the very depth of me (specifically, the flaming red welt that instantly appeared on my thigh).
I still held my sling shot in my left hand. My right hand instinctively reached to the ground and picked up an egg-sized piece of snow. I squeezed it, letting the force and heat of my palm melt it into a perfect projectile.
John: (pumping the gun again) Go ahead! You haven't hit anything all day.
I placed the snow into the leather pocket of the sling. I pulled it back as far as the rubber would allow. I looked through the forked prongs to my brother. I let it go with a curse and a prayer.
I never before or since hit anything with that sling shot. I nailed him square in the forehead, just above the brow line, barely an inch from the bridge of his nose. The blow and surprise threw him on his back in the snow.
Later at Christmas dinner, we had to find some reason why John had a red mark in the middle of his forehead that didn't involve us shooting each other. I wish I could remember what it was.
*I should point out that my brother is not a violent man. He is, in fact, a one of the most gentle men I have ever known. I was, however, very obnoxious. Our childhood was peppered by a series of incidents where I pushed my gentle brother until he snapped. The fact that he shot me tells me I was particularly "on" that day.