Monday, September 29, 2008


“Mama?” Rowan asks as we cuddle in his bed on Friday night. It is a time for Big Questions. “Mama, do we ever go over to Mrs. S’s” — and here he names his junior kindergarten teacher — “house, and ... break all her stuff?”

The look on his face is a mixture of curiosity and horror, as, I’m sure, is the look on mine. What?

“No,” I say. “We would never go over to Mrs. S’s house and break all her stuff.”

As I’m saying the words — and, also, trying not to laugh at the sudden image of me and Rowan arriving unbidden at Mrs. S’s house and ringing the doorbell: “Hi! We’re here to break all your stuff!” — it hits me, what must have happened: kids in the class destroying a toy or some such object, and the teacher saying, “Would you like it if I came over to your house and broke your things?”

I asked Rowan if that’s what happened, and he nods. “Some kids were breaking boxes. But not me.”

Mystery solved. A lesson in empathy, although it’s doubtful that it had the intended effect on Rowan, who has been mulling over a world in which people appear at your door to trash your place. Which is, I suppose, is what does happen to people as a regular occurrence in Iraq certain parts of the world, but Rowan doesn’t need to know this just yet. It’s bad enough that Isaac — nicknamed King Kong — lives to knock down towers of blocks and destroy intricate train tracks. To introduce the spectre of a roving band of JK teachers imposing vigilante justice on the stuff-breakers of the classroom is more than he can process just now.

Not that I am unconvinced that Rowan wouldn’t be capable, given the right conditions, of gleefully breaking plenty of other people’s stuff. Lately, we’ve been having lots of conversations about his body, the spaces it takes up and the ways in which it moves and how these can hurt other people and make them uncomfortable. He can clear toys off a surface with a swing of his arm, run into you full-blown to hug you and be surprised when you totter, insist that there is space for him to sit behind you on the couch or in your dining-room chair. He reaches for a dish on the table and knocks over his milk. He misjudges how much Isaac weighs as he tried to lift him, and lets go. He raises his voice to be heard over our requests, and then our reprimands. On Saturday, we played the Goldberg family classic game of “Grabber Machine” (which, if I described it here — and maybe I will, one day — would sound utterly creepy but is in fact entirely innocent and hysterically funny) and he accidentally butted me with his big, rock-hard head and left me with a fat lip. And then in an effort to make me feel better, he kissed it too hard and made it hurt more. “Slow down,” we keep saying. “Watch your body. Be gentle.”

I’m so intent on raising boys who grow into men who don’t take up too much space — who don’t impose their wide-legged bodies and their opinions and their activities and their conversations on the rest of the world without regard for other people’s “stuff” — that I’m hyper-aware sometimes of how much space Rowan can take up, how much is appropriate. I forget that empathy, the consideration of others, are learned skills, that he’s really still just a baby and utterly vulnerable. I reminded myself of that as I watched him sleep with his head on Rachel’s lap on the couch yesterday — a much-needed nap for an overtired junior kindergartener with a cold that seems to be settling into his chest. I would have taken a picture if I hadn’t been afraid of waking him up.

So, stuff. The breaking of other peoples’. We go through it, and I try to explain his teacher’s comment to him. And while we’re on the topic of mind-blowing revelations, I decide to tackle another one.

“Rowan,” I say, “you know that Mrs. S lives in a house, right? She doesn’t live at the school.”

“Her house is the school,” says Rowan.

“No,” I say, “she lives in a house away from the school. A house like our house. She lives with her family. She’s married. She has a partner. And she has kids.”

“She has lots of kids,” says Rowan.

“No,” I say. “Not the kids at school. Mrs. S has her own kids. Two boys. Like you and Isaac. ” And then I add, for emphasis: “She’s a mom.”

“She’s a mom?” Rowan is incredulous.

“Yes,” I say, “a mom. Like me.”

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I don't think he's ready to date yet

One of the cool things about Rowan going to school is that we get to talk to him about his day. So far, he’s still interested in telling us about what goes on in and out of the classroom, although I’m sure we’ll eventually descend into the “how was school/fine/what did you do/nothing” dialogue. And Rachel and I are fascinated by it all, even when it’s not that fascinating. Take his recounting of his lunchtime conversation with Trinity (she being the little girl who would not hold his hand on that first, doleful, day):

Rowan: “And I ate lunch at the table...”

Rachel and I in unison: “Really? Who did you eat lunch with?”

Rowan: “I ate lunch with Trinity. I talked to her.”

Rachel and I in unison: “Really? What did you say?”

Rowan: “I said, ‘Hi, Trinity.’ And Trinity said, ‘Hi, Rowan.’”

He pauses to eat a bite of chicken. “And then I said, ‘TRINITY, WHAT YOU SAYING?’”

End of conversation.

And you just know that Trinity’s thinking, WHAT A SMOOTH OPERATOR.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The good morning song

Rowan agreed to perform the junior kindergartners’ good morning song on camera for me as long as I agreed to let him play with the camera afterwards. But the real beneficiaries of our deal? You, dear reader. Note the sticker on Rowan’s right cheek (“for doing some jobs,” he explained), and be sure to sit through all 30 seconds of him just humming, with commentary from Isaac in the background. Now, imagine imagine an entire classroom of three- and four-year-olds intoning the song together, along with the Solid Gold dancer arm movements. There’s so much to do in a world full of cuteness.

Monday, September 15, 2008

BFF, with an extra F

I thought I was taking Rowan to a play date with Ben yesterday, but, apparently, we stumbled upon an open casting call for three-year-olds interested in playing opposing gang members in West Side Story.

Ben is Rowan’s best friend, by virtue of the fact that his mother, Karen, and I are friends, which — in a chicken-and-egg kind of way — has to do with the fact that our children are the same age. At the local farmers market two winters ago, we each spotted the other, pregnant and hauling around a two-year-old boy, and things grew from there. Now, we get the boys together at fairly regular intervals, with mixed results. Sometimes, they get along like stink, rough and tumbling about in games of flashlight tag and Go, Diego, Go! Sometimes, one or the other is tired, hungry, on the verge of a cold, or just plain ornery, and I or Karen gently try to redirect.

And sometimes, both kids just kind of act like jerks to each other the whole time.

Yesterday’s get-together started off auspiciously enough. In the car on the way over I had listed the rules: 1. Share with Ben and his brother; 2. Listen to me and to Ben’s mommy; 3. Remember to pee.

“Well,” said Rowan, “I don’t like to share. But I will share with Ben.”

As we drove up, Ben emerged from his front door, radiating with excitement. Karen told me that he had refused to sit at the table for his lunch and had instead stationed himself at the window to watch for his friend. Rowan, who had been gapping out in the backseat on the drive over, slowly uncurled, a huge, shy grin spreading over his face.

The two disappeared into a bedroom almost immediately, and almost immediately the complaining and tattling began.

“Ben’s not sharing with me, so I’m not sharing with him.”

“I want to go to sleep, but Rowan won’t have a nap with me.”

“Ben rode into me with the tricycle!”

“Rowan hit me with the dinosaur!”

Things came to a head when Ben emerged to complain that it was, “... 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, BLAST off!” and not “... 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, FLAST off!” like Rowan was saying.

From there, they began to engage in a junior kindergartener’s pissing contest:

“I’m first.” “No, I’m first.”

“I’m swinging higher than you.” “Well, I’m swinging higher than you.”
“It’s my turn to ride the bicycle.” “No, it’s my turn!”

“My hand is bigger than your hand.” “No, my hand is bigger than your hand.”
I got them to hold their respective right and left palms together to measure. In fact, with the exception of Ben’s slightly longer index finger, their hands are identical. Which adds weight to my theory that Rowan and Ben are clones, and that their conflicts stem from the fact that they are two bodies vying for the same soul.

Friday, September 12, 2008


This is what happens when your older brother refuses to acknowledge that YOU KNOW HOW TO WALK ALL BY YOURSELF, DAMNIT, and tries to pull you in one direction on the sloping sidewalk when you want to go the other way.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Cycle path

Maybe it was the German couple (him from the East, her from the West) Rowan and I met in the park a couple of weeks ago, cycling across Canada with their two-year-old daughter. They had two fully loaded bikes — front and back panniers, more gear neatly bungeed on top of racks, handlebar bags — and they were towing their toddler in a single Chariot carrier. With a child’s bike strapped to the top of it. They had started in from Vancouver, and, over the course of four months, made it through the Prairies and into Thunder Bay. Now, they were trying to decide whether to take the (very) non-scenic logging road up to Armstrong and catch the Via Rail train to Toronto, or risk the heavy traffic and narrow shoulders of the TransCanada on their bikes to catch the gorgeous views of Lake Superior.

I wish I had known to tell them to cycle Superior, cross the border at Sault Ste. Marie, and take the Amtrak to the Big Smoke. Whatever they decided, I hope they made it to Toronto in time to catch their flight home. They plan to return to Canada next summer and pick up where they left off, cycling to the easternmost point of Newfoundland.

I can barely tow Isaac and a diaper bag up a hill in our double Chariot without getting lightheaded.

But I digress.

Maybe it was the German couple (did I mention they spoke perfect English?) that sparked Rowan’s interest in his bike, the one my father bought for him in June and that has remained in the garage, mostly untouched, since then. But two weeks ago, he asked to get it out and cycle to our weekly brunch at Judy and Jill’s.

(Another digression: Did you know that, for the past year, Rowan and Isaac’s godmothers, Judy and Jill, have had us and our children over for brunch every Sunday morning? As in, just when we realize that the weekend is — depending on your perspective — already half over or only half over and Sunday stretches before us like this great yawning chasm of time in which to keep children happy and occupied, we are treated to coffee and muffins and eggs and back bacon and blueberries and two adults who dote on — and entertain — our children. It’s heavenly. Just in case you didn’t know that.)

So, the bike. If Rowan were cycling across Canada, he would take a lot longer than four months, because:

a) he can’t steer and would probably end up in either Montana or the Yukon
b) he tends to get off his bike every 10 feet or so to examine more closely a pothole or a rock or a tree
c) midway through each trip, he decides he’d rather walk, leaving me to push his bike along, the equivalent of leaving it somewhere in Saskatoon.

Still, we persist, because my theory is that, for Rowan (for anyone, really), any and all bike time is good. The more he pedals, the further he goes, the better he’ll get and the more he’ll enjoy cycling. So I walk along beside him, holding the handlebars gently and lifting my hands when he’ll let me (“Hold on, Mama! You need to hold on!”), urging him to LOOK WHERE YOU’RE GOING, adding to his forward momentum, and waiting as he pops off to explore again and again. “Ready to hop back on?” I’ll ask after a few moments. And sometimes he does, and we set off again.

For Rowan, cycling is so completely about the journey and not the destination that there’s no point in being anything but patient and accommodating. And besides, I’m loving it. I love watching my kid ride a bike, love walking or jogging beside him holding the handlebars, love letting go, love the idea that one day, we might ride our bikes together. I love how riding his bike seems to make Rowan more attentive to the outside world.

And I love being around to hear him say things like, “Mama, if you get me a basket for my bike, I can put flowers in it.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

One day ...

I will check my email one last time before shutting down, and something magical will have arrived.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Jonesing for a nannycam

Last night Rachel dreamt that she and Rowan were boarding a plane together, only when she took her seat he was nowhere to be found. “I tried all kinds of things to stop the plane, but to no avail,” she says. “Last thing I remember we were heading for the runway and I was convinced Rowan was in the luggage compartment, or worse.”

Welcome to Rowan’s first day of junior kindergarten.

Things started auspiciously enough, when he wandered into our room at 7 a.m. and said, “Buenos dias! Good morning, Mamas!”

But then, once he realized that today was the first day of school, it kind of went downhill. He spent much of the morning in tears, trying to convince us not to send him. In the end, I carried all 40 pounds of him the four blocks to his school, him mostly wailing along the way. Neighbours drove by in their minivans and honked and waved and smiled mournfully at us. The playground monitor shook her head kindly but knowingly.

When we got to the classroom, he calmed down a bit, and began to explore. He even played for a while with another kid, every so often letting out a post-meltdown shudder. By the time the teacher got the boys and girls (my son has entered the realm of being addressed as “Boys and girls”) to sit down, cross-legged, on the circular carpet, he was red-eyed but mildly interested. I felt kind of bad for his lovely teacher, surrounded by a gaggle of innocent three- and four-year-olds — and then a wider circle of anxious, hovering, camera-toting parents. “Could you all sit down?” she asked us. “I’m feeling a bit intimidated.”

The kids went on a tour of the school, checking out their own private playground, the gym, the library, the computer room. Poor Rowan tried to grab the hand of a little girl as they walked, but she stuck her hand behind her back. I saw him smile as the teacher got all the JKs to run “as fast as you can!” to the end of the gym and back. He wandered all over the library by himself, and skipped back to the group. As we circled back to the classroom, he started looking for the locker with his name on it. And then they all sat down and read a story about a little raccoon’s first day of school. They practiced jumping up and down five times. And Rachel and I slipped out of the room quietly. And I tried to calm the tide of rising nausea in my stomach.

We came home to Isaac, jolly as could be, hanging out with ├╝ber-babysitter Clair, who was just about to take him on a walk. Shortly after they left, the phone rang. I grabbed it. It was Clair, on her cell. She had walked to the school to see what intelligence she could gather, and had talked to a set of parents just leaving. “They said that Rowan was fine. His eyes were a little red, but he was playing with another kid.”

So Rowan is gonna be okay. He isn’t going to be his classmate Owen, who skipped into the room by himself, raised his hand, and proudly told the room that that was what you did when you wanted to talk while the teacher was talking. Owen, whose mom showed up halfway through the tour, carrying a coffee. “Yeah,” she said, “he came by himself on the bus this morning so I followed later on.”

But Rowan doesn’t have to be Owen. Rowan is Rowan, and he will be fine — good, great, wonderful, even — at school. And we get to go pick him up in two hours. Keep me company until then.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Rowan starts junior kindergarten tomorrow. We’re mostly ready. We’ve got the backpack, the lunch box, the indoor shoes, the haircut, the vaccinations. We’ve read library books with Rowan about the first day of school. We even made an appointment with the teacher to discuss the fact that Rowan Has Two Mommies (she was cool, had a kid with two dads last year). Weirder probably to her in Thunder Bay is the fact that he’s Jewish, but, no problem, more or less. “Oh,” she said, “I don’t do much for Christmas. Just the tree, and stories about Santa.” (I am now committed to showing up on major — and likely some minor — Jewish holidays with some activity for the kids.)

Rowan’s teacher also told us that the first thing she does is teach the kids how to line up. Which kind of seems terrible, as though the entire purpose of elementary school and beyond is about corralling unruly children and making them conform to society’s rules and expectations.

But — and perhaps I am exposing myself for the tyrannical parent that I am here — really, although we hate to admit it, doesn’t that make up a good chunk of the parenting we do at home? It’s just that we would never admit that it’s one of our primary activities — and, with only two instead of a dozen or two children to deal with, we don’t have to state our intentions as baldly.

Still, it’s those kinds of statements that get me fantasizing momentarily about just skipping the whole school thing — until I realize that I’m just not cut out for homeschooling. Which means I don’t want to. In any case, I know lots of homeschooled kids — and their parents seem to want them to know how to line up, take turns, speak politely to other people, and share, too.

So, we’re mostly ready. Except for how we’re not. In the last two days, two different parents on two different occasions have told us, “It’s a terrible day. A terrible, terrible day.” One of them paused for a moment. “Terrible.”

I have a sneaking suspicion they may be correct. Not because I’m paranoid (no, really), but because when we took Rowan to Winnipeg Beach Day Camp in July, he melted down in a fit of tears and screaming and kicking every single day when we left. And then, when we picked him up, he said over and over, “I don’t want to go to camp. I don’t like it when you leave me.”

With that in mind, we’ve been talking a lot about school. And, slowly, we’ve been hearing less about how Rowan doesn’t want to go, how he wants us to stay, and more about circle time and painting and toys and snack. So I’m hopeful, or slightly less unhopeful.

But I’m also prepared for all hell to break loose tomorrow.

And, not prepared at all.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Closer

Rowan is finally up to date on all his vaccinations. He won’t need another needle for a good ten years. And this is a good thing, given his latest doctor’s appointment.

We’ve been reluctant but resigned passengers on the vaccination train — the result of a certain amount of neurotic over-education that kept us researching the ideal way to balance the risks and benefits of shooting up your kids with altered versions of serious illnesses.

On the one hand, we were suspicious of Big Pharma’s agenda to sell as many drugs as possible to doctors, parents, and governments, as well as unhappy about the idea of assaulting a six-week old baby’s immune system with four or five different strains of disease.

On the other hand, we weren’t happy about relying on other children’s immunity to protect our own kids. And in the absence of any convincing literature that suggested that vaccinations were inherently dangerous, we finally decided on a compromise: wait until at least a year, and/or until the kids were weaned or weaning, and do one vaccine at a time until done. It also helped that our vegan, home-schooling family doctor had vaccinated her kids. Although, apparently, our midwife hadn’t. To each her own, and we made our decision.

Since embarking on project immunity, we have spent a small fortune on Emla patches, in order to minimize the pain for our little hothouse flowers. Two Saturdays ago, we took the boys in for the latest round of sticks. Isaac had been napping during the Emla applications, so he was patch-free. I took him in, while Rachel and Rowan watched Thomas videos in the waiting room. He didn’t even flinch.

Then Rachel took Rowan, while Isaac and I waited outside. And waited. And waited. And waited. Just as I was beginning to wonder, Rachel emerged. “Your turn,” she said, taking Isaac from me.

I went in. Rowan sat on the examining table, a lipstick case in his right hand and his left palm planted firmly over his left thigh where the Emla patch had been. “I want lipstick but I don’t want a needle,” he told me. I looked at the doctor, eyebrows raised. “Well,” I began, “they’re not mutually exclusive...”

Apparently, Rowan had stated quite firmly but calmly that he was having no needle that day. They had discussed why he was getting a shot, that it wouldn’t hurt, but it would keep him from getting sick. “But I not sick,” he had said. Rachel had rooted through her handbag to find something to distract him, and had come up with lipstick (usually a winner). I tried to lift Rowan’s hand from his thigh but it wouldn’t budge. “He’s been pretty focused on not moving that hand,” said our doctor.

Finally, I climbed up on the table, and pulled him, facing me, onto my lap so that he was straddling me. “Close your eyes. Hide your face in my shoulder,” I told him. Then I pried his hand off his thigh, tucked the hand under my right armpit, held his head into my shoulder with my left hand and his left leg down with my right hand and our doctor gave him his needle. He didn’t feel a thing.