Thursday, August 28, 2008


So I picked up Rowan from his babysitter on Tuesday, quietly buckled him in to the car, and casually started driving in the opposite direction than we usually go.

“Hey!” said Rowan. “Where are we going? Are we going to the barber?”

“Why, yes,” I said. And then, before he could say anything else, I added, “And then we’re going to the ice cream store!”

Still, he protested. But he got out of the car, helped me put money in the meter, and walked into Sam the Barber’s shop — the real deal, a one-room, one-chair establishment complete with stripey pole outside and a wood stove to keep warm in the winter. The chair is so old that it has an ashtray built into it. Things are held together with duct tape. Sam is a nice old Italian man with infinite patience. Rowan saw him and flipped. Tears, kicking, wailing, flailing, snot, running out of the building, the whole bit. “I don’t want to go to the barber,” he repeated. “I don’t want ice cream!”

Still, I managed to wedge him into the chair as Sam turned the TV to Treehouse — and, miracle of miracles, Go Diego, Go! was on. Rowan almost immediately sank into a television-induced coma (complete with drooling), and Sam went to work with the scissors. When he was done, we had to stay and finish watching Diego and his cousin Alicia rescue the pygmy marmosets.

And then we went to the ice cream store, where Rowan got a twisty cone and I got to look at his new hair.

“Hey Rowan,” I said, “that wasn’t too bad, was it?”

“No,” he said, carefully licking his cone, “that was good.”

Monday, August 25, 2008

Hairstyle of the gods

So, Rachel and I kind of made this pact not to cut Isaac’s hair. No particular reason, just an effort to preserve his strawberry blond babyhood a few moments more, let him get all ringletty and wild.

Fortunately, our pact contained a clause that stipulated that, in the event that the baby began to develop a mullet, I was free to take out the scissors and even things up a bit. At least, that’s what I thought we agreed.

And so one day last week, when I decided that Isaac was starting to look just a tiny bit like Carol Brady, I sat him up on the bathroom counter and got out the scissors. I thought I did a pretty good job, all things considered. (The things considered would include the fact that Isaac tried to look at the scissors every time he caught a glimpse of them in his peripheral vision. I’m thankful that he still has peripheral vision.) In any case, my technique has certainly improved since Rowan’s first haircut, when one of our friends witnessed the clear-cut that was the nape of his neck and stage-whispered to him, “Don’t ever let your mommy do that to you again.”

Rachel wasn’t so sure. “He doesn’t look like a pretty little girl any more,” she wailed, when I brought our smiling little newly shorn lamb downstairs. For about a day afterwards, she moaned every time she saw Isaac and his big-boy ’do.

What the haircut made abundantly clear, though, is that Isaac, like me, is probably doomed to a life of difficulty finding hats that fit. He has what is known in the millinery industry as an “elongated oval,” which, loosely translated, means he has a big, weird, alien-shaped head. It’s a family curse: my dad recalls having to buy a fedora (to go with all those three-piece suits) when he was hired at IBM in the 1960s. The hat maker charged him $60 — probably something like his weekly take-home pay — for a custom-made number, because nothing in the store fit. I maintain the elongated oval is storing all that extra brainpower that makes us so smart.

As for Rowan, any day now I'm going to take him into the barber and erase the mop-topped evidence of the last summer of his life before entering the school system. Part of me hates to do it, sees it as the symbolic curtailing of all his freedom and creativity.

Part of me can’t wait.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Nothing but flowers

Sometimes, it feels less as though we had children than were infested by them, this riot of small bodies (are there really only two?) inexorably altering our environment, working their way deeper, deeper, into every crevice, step by tiny step.

Rowan is a small but powerful magnetic force, instinctively able to set the default language on my iPod to German, alter the task bar on my computer, or switch Rachel’s homepage to Google. The clock radio in our bedroom seems always, randomly, set to the wrong time — each morning, a small boy comes into the room and propels us continually into the future, trying to get the numbers to 7:00, which he knows is “wake-up” time. Each evening, we set the clock back again.

But it’s a losing battle — all of it. We put away the blocks, the trains, the cars; sweep up the crumbs; fold the laundry and put it in drawers; try to find homes for the craft projects and paintings and pieces of plastic that arrive, amass, multiply, gather dust. I make 48 zucchini-carrot muffins, Rowan cracking the eggs and helping measure out the flour, and, five days later, we make 48 more muffins. Every night, without fail, it’s dinner time again, and after that we have to clean up. And pack up lunch for the next day.

We go to bed to find Rowan asleep in our bed, clutching my pajama bottoms like a security blanket. We carry him back to his bed. Morning comes, and he is back, either crawling into bed with us or knocking on his own door until one of us stumbles into his room and his bed with him. “Cuddle me,” he says, to which a couple of days ago I replied grumpily, “I will cuddle you if you lie still and don’t stick your feet and elbows into my back.” “I won’t,” he said, but he did. Because he does, he expands to fill the space that you might take up. This morning, he climbed in with Rachel and me, and then swivelled his way around like the horizontal bar joining the two vertical strokes of a letter H, pushing my head off my pillow. He wanted to see the clock, he explained. Or he sits at the dinner table and plays footsie, his foot nudge, nudge, nudge, nudge, nudging my thigh until I move it. “Why?” he says, and I say, “I don’t like how it feels.” “Yes you do like how it feels,” he responds. Okay.

The CDs no longer play — they are covered in scratches and fingerprints. We lose things — water bottles, keys, fridge magnets. We find them later, behind couch cushions, underneath the fridge, inside the wardrobe. I open a drawer and Rowan appears, pulling out underwear, T-shirts: “Wear this one — this is the one I love.” Food disappears from my plate, my hand, as a child walks or toddles by and spirits it away. Isaac at my feet, reaching up, twining his hand into the hair at the back of my neck, exploring my mouth and nostrils with his fingers. He buries his face into my shoulder when strangers speak to him, drools down my arm, laughs and tries to eat my nose. He agitates for a bite of whatever’s on my plate, and then tosses it on the floor. I sit, and suddenly, two children are playing in my lap.

It’s summer, and I am continually struck in Thunder Bay by how easily we could slide into wilderness. The house is filled with spiders and bugs. There was a skunk in the garage the other night. We drive minutes to get out of the city and discover frogs and leeches (shudder), go berry picking with friends and take their dogs to ward off bears. We are covered in bites. Alone for a moment, hunched over a blueberry bush, I think of Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, and briefly consider going deeper into the bush, disappearing.

But I would never survive, not without those small bodies to keep me warm.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

My subconscious has a fairly enlightened parental leave program

I have this recurring dream in which I realize that, for some ungodly reason, I have committed to being a counselor at my childhood sleepover camp. Me and the seventeen-year-olds. Apparently, I still have unresolved issues about my stint as a camper (1982–86) and, subsequently, as a counselor (1989–90).

Back then, the highlights of my summer were nights off spent drinking to get drunk on margaritas at Earl’s in Kelowna and winning the mini Maccabiah games — a Zionist camp’s answer to the colour wars; I wrote the team song each year, Jewish-themed lyrics to classic tunes such as the theme songs to Fame or Cheers or “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” (“Our team is tzedakah — charity — that’s what we stand for; We make the world a better place by helping out the poor...”). Not to mention the drama that breeds in a closed society where teenagers are mostly left to govern themselves.

But, twenty years later, I have other commitments. In my dream, I try to explain this to the camp directors, but they are curiously unresponsive to my plight. I explain to them that I have clients; that I really cannot afford to earn just $800 for nine weeks of work; that I don’t remember applying; that the idea of spending a summer taking care of other people’s children with a bunch of horny, self-absorbed teenagers as my closest colleagues was just not what I had in mind. And besides, as always happens in these dreams, I have no luggage.

Somehow, it never seems possible (maybe because I have no wallet? no access to a phone?) to simply, politely, explain that there must be some sort of mistake and quit. Instead, I plead with the powers that be in the dream to release me from my apparent obligations to them. Which they never do. But last night, last night in my dream, I suddenly slapped myself on the forehead and said, “My God! I have two little children! I have a baby! I can't leave them for nine weeks! I have to go right now!”

And the powers that be said, “Oh, okay.”

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

And you asked because...?

Rowan is dropping his toothbrush down the back of his radiator, collecting it from his scungy bedroom floor, and dropping it behind the radiator again.

Me: “It's time to get pajamas on.”

Him: “I can't. I'm playing a game.”

Me: “Oh, really? What game are you playing?”

Him: “I’m playing the toothbrush behind the radiator game.”