Monday, July 28, 2008

If they’re happy, drive fast. If they’re unhappy, drive faster.

It is safe to say that Isaac made no lasting friends at the Dryden Best Western. Not that he cares, but one day he’ll realize that waking up screaming at 4:24 a.m. and refusing under any circumstances to go back to sleep will not land you first place in a popularity contest with the people in the rooms on either side of you. To say nothing of the people in the room with you.

But because we are such adaptable, make-lemonade-with-lemons sorts, Rachel and I decided that we might as well take advantage of the early morning to get on the road. And so we packed up the car and the children, hit the Tim Horton’s on the side of the highway, and drove the rest of the way to Winnipeg Beach, Manitoba, Rowan and Isaac conked out in the back seat.

We made good time.

My father just laughed when I told him we had booked a last-minute cottage rental and were driving to the Beach. He is a veteran of many such drives — each summer, my parents hauled the family in our Ford sedan from Toronto to the cottage we shared with my mom’s sister and her family. (Apparently I nearly drowned in a hotel pool in Thunder Bay.) The moms and the kids stayed out all summer, while the dads showed up on weekends or, in the case of my father, for a couple of weeks at the end of the summer. The kids went to Winnipeg Beach Day Camp, the moms kept house and played tennis and picked us up at the end of each day and took us for ice cream and to the beach. At least, that’s what I remember.

Now my aunt and uncle still own the cottage, which they’ve renovated entirely to accommodate the new generation. My cousin Jill spends a month there every summer with her three kids, her husband driving the minivan from Toronto to the beach, and then showing up at the end of the summer for a couple of weeks. My mother’s brother and his family summer in another place, also recently renovated to accommodate their next generation.

And our cottage? Not so much with the renovations. Which was totally fine with me. “It’s been in our family for 90 years,” said the woman renting to us. I loved it because it smells like the Beach, a sort of chlorinated mildew, with a touch of fish fly. I’m guessing they last touched things up circa 1950. I did a little photo essay of the decor, and thought long and hard about the ethics of permanently borrowing the vintage Pyrex cookware and the fabulous three-tiered dainties tray. Even if I bought them replacement bowls at Sears? Come on.

Our second day there, Isaac took his first steps in the kitchen of my aunt’s cottage. He stood, surrounded by cooing, clapping adults, and burst into tears at the sudden attention. Rowan spent hours and hours playing with his second cousins, holed up in the bedroom I used to share with my cousin Jason, who was also visiting that weekend from Toronto. He’s still mad about the time I bit him on the ass when we played puppies. Isaac fell in love with his Great-Auntie Sheila, my mom’s sister, reaching for her and nestling into her arms, lighting up when she walked into the room, sitting on her lap while she fed him bits of cookie. Rowan went to day camp, albeit reluctantly. The camp is smaller now, a sign of the times, now that the moms work, too. The mosquitoes were terrible. We ate lots of ice cream and played on the beach with the cousins.

Our last night there, we went out with a bang at Boardwalk Days, where Rowan went on every ride he could while Isaac, who met no height requirements, screamed in frustration from the stroller until Rachel took him home and put him to bed. I idiotically took Rowan on the pirate ship ride. He loved it, but I almost hurled, and then sat with my head between my knees, trying to recover, while he, oblivious, rode the toy train. Staggering home, I was just starting to wonder if I would make it when old family friends, Sharon and Eddie, drove by and scooped us up and took us back to our “holiday house,” which Rowan keeps calling our “Halloween house.”

I spent every summer at Winnipeg Beach until I was 12, when, wanting to spend time with my own friends, I chose sleep-away camp for eight weeks. Then, bored, disillusioned, I swore I wouldn’t come back.

And then I did, and it was perfect.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Brothers in arms

Rowan has taken to carrying his baby brother around the house by hooking his arms under Theo’s armpits and sort of goose-stepping him forward. It’s a good thing Isaac loves it, because he has absolutely no choice in the matter. He’ll be sitting there, absorbed in a toy, or crawling along happily, when Rowan will swoop down, scoop him up, and drag him away. “I’m helping him walk!” he says, and, indeed he is: Theo’s feet and legs start going crazy. (For those of you familiar with Ian Falconer’s Olivia books, think of Olivia moving her cat. That’s what it looks like.) And the two of them march off together, the big one cooing, the little one grinning madly, forming an eight-limbed mass of childhood symbiosis.

“See ya,” we say.

(Okay, we don’t say that — we follow the two of them closely, calling out, “Don’t go too fast!” and “Okay, gentle! Put him down gently!” and “Not on the stairs!”)

I can just picture the same dynamic, applied to different situations. In about (kill me now) 14 years, it’s going to be the car. Rowan will have his (hopefully heavily graduated) driver’s licence, and he’ll scoop up his bro and the two of them will drive off to get Slurpees, the stereo blasting, Isaac grinning madly, Rachel and I standing in the driveway, calling out, “Careful!” and “Don’t go too fast!”

I love that they love each other. More than almost anything, I want them to love each other. I just hope they don’t kill each other — or me — in the process.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Apparently, my parenting strategies are paying off.

Remember the time I bribed Rowan with chocolate to wear his corduroy pants? Those nice, navy blue, skater-boy, wide-wale, warm warm warm corduroy pants? Well, now I no longer have to bribe him. Just Monday, he voluntarily put them on. In fact, “voluntarily” is too mild a word — “insisted” is more like it. He even went so far as to dress himself, without any of the usual chasing and kicking that goes into getting dressed. He even paired them with a tasteful, long-sleeved, navy-and-red striped T-shirt.

It was 29°C and humid.

But to focus on the weather — or the fact that the pants were on backwards — would be missing the point, don’t you think?

The point is, Rowan's wardrobe choices are expanding. It helped that when we returned from our trip to Vancouver last month, the fleece sweatpants and the Thomas, rainbow, and “letters” T-shirts — the only things he wore — had all magically disappeared. Where did they go? I do not know. His new current favourites are a fuchsia button-up shirt with batiked fishies on it, and a pink-and-navy striped polo shirt that Rachel picked up for a song at Winners. Maybe I’m just being paranoid, but I speculate that it was reduced to clear because parents don’t want to dress their boys in pink. What do you think?

(P.S.: Rachel also wants me to mention that Rowan wants pink Crocs — like hers — and pink Dora pajamas to go with them. He may or may not get either of these things, but if he doesn’t it won’t be because they are pink. It will will be because every time we buy that boy a pair of sandals, he refuses to wear them, and because Dora is humourless and over-earnest and I am tired of Nickelodeon marketing to my son. How’s that for humourless and over-earnest?)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tubular meat and frozen dairy products

Points to you if you can decode the above riddle. Thus far, Rowan cannot, and so we use such terms to describe his two current favourite foods when we do not want him to hear us talking about them and immediately explode in a tizzy of excitement and demandingness. Come on, think: tubular meat ... tu-bu-lar meat ... meat in a tube ... you’re getting warmer, warmer, hot, hot, hotter ... yes! Hot dogs! As for frozen dairy products, that’s kind of a no-brainer, well, now, isn’t it? And Rowan’s favourite flavour is whatever happens to be on top of your cone at the moment.

Which is why Canada Day celebrations at Marina Park yesterday were such a hit, despite the rain, despite the fact that that we arrived and left too early to catch any of the day’s planned activities. We spent a slow morning at home, waiting for Isaac to wake up from his first nap of the day, paste Rowan circling the backyard in various states of dress and undress, and talking to us incessantly about hot dogs and ice cream. When we finally got there, it was all, “Can I have ice cream now? Raspberry ice cream? Now? Now?” And when we said, “You have to eat a hot dog first,” he said this word I hadn’t realized he knew: “Okay,” he said, and Rachel muttered, “Heaven after Heaven.”

So we all got our hot dogs (well, everyone except Isaac, who tore apart a bun with great zeal), and Rowan ate his as quickly as he could after I broke it into little pieces to cool down (he won’t eat the bun), and then ate the rest of my Bratwurst and Rachel’s spicy Italian sausage, and as soon as there wasn’t a speck of tubular meat left in sight, he said, “Can we get ice cream now?”

And so we traipsed across the field to the ice cream truck and I bought three cones, and Rowan, thrilled, inhaled about half of his in four seconds and then wanted to taste mine, and then Rachel’s, and then I felt like such a real mom because I legitimately had to “lick his cone around” like my mom used to do to avoid the ice cream running over his hand and down his arm. By the time we returned to the base camp we had set up under the not-yet-open face-painting tent, all three cones were worse for wear.

And then Rachel, who was sitting on the grass, took out a baby spoon and said, “Here, Isaac — try this,” and spooned some frozen dairy product into the angelic mouth of our one-year-old. I turned away for a moment, and when I looked back, the children had covered her like rabid locusts: Isaac had climbed up on her thigh and hoisted himself to standing, one arm around her shoulder, trying to divebomb her cone and shouting, “Ta TA! Ta TA! Ta TA!” between bites. Rowan was taking advantage of the opportunity to divebomb her cone from the other side, saying, “This Mom, let’s share!”

Our friend Judy — who had wisely held out for the caramel kettle corn and freshly fried mini donuts sprinkled with cinnamon — had the presence of mind to take a photograph before I rescued Rachel by offering Rowan a lick of my cone.

And then we went home and had intoxicating liquids.