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Last Monday in August

On the last Monday in August, a father and daughter tried something they’d never done before: stand up paddle boarding in Brentwood Bay.

Some people, my husband, my mum, the boat captain for Butchart Gardens, said it would be cold, that our ankles would hurt, that we would come out of the lesson frozen and whiny.

Before you try to match the comment to the person, let the record show: paddle boarding was ah-mazing… once I got over my fear of falling into the dark greeny/blue, a killer whale might be lurking, abyss.

Don’t worry, my dad and I overcame that falling hurdle early and simultaneously – done in by the Brentwood Bay ferry as it made it’s last run to the dock. Even though both of us had our boards pointed with the wake, the space between the trough and crests, coupled with our wobbly sea legs, proved our undoing.

Surprisingly, the water was refreshing, not frigid. In Brentwood the water can be up to 15 degrees warmer than it’s counterpart over in Oak Bay. Sure, I’d read that somewhere, but didn’t believe it until I was completely submerged.

Buoyed by the lifejacket, I lay on my back in the water, looking up at the blue sky, head on my board, feet on my dad’s, waiting for him to swim over.

Our instructor held my board as I slid up it like an ungraceful sea lion. Once I’d regained my balance, I felt my whole body relax into the experience – as refreshing as the dunk was, I had to remind myself not to get too complacent.

It was peaceful out in the bay: the water flat, sun setting, and seals spying. The only disturbance was my dad stepping back on his board, causing the second, and last, splash of the evening.

As we paddled back to the dock in the twilight, the air was so still it felt like we were in another world.

It reminded me of another space and time, back when I was thirteen, when my dad and I made a midnight run in our sailboat from Sidney Spit to the town of Sidney to drop one of my friends off to her parents at the dock.

The moon was full that night, the water calm. My twin brothers slept below as I kept watch for my dad as he steered us back to where my mum, brother and his friend waited. “One day you’ll want to be out here on a night like this with someone other than your dear-ol’ dad,” he said as the moon’s reflection rippled in our wake.

I didn’t really understand what he meant at the time. But now that I finally have someone other than my dad to share moonlit cruises with, we don’t have a boat and, it turns out, the salt water doesn’t run deep in my husband’s desert lungs.

Needless to say my husband has been forewarned and the boat fund has been resurrected.

Though it will be at least another outing before I feel comfortable plunking Miss C on the front of my board and taking her for a spin, getting to paddle tonight when nature was in harmony with itself was pure magic. And, just as it was when I was thirteen, sharing the moment with my dear ol’ dad was all right too.

Camp S

balloons2Miss S wanted an inside out party this year.  Inside out to her meant her friends would play both inside and outside – “I am sick of just outside birthdays,” she told us with a hint of a teenaged groan.

Fair enough, but summer birthdays itch to be held outside.  There’s the slip ‘n slide, water balloons, shaving cream… riiiight, it’s her birthday, not her mum’s, who, given the choice, would like the messy fun to stay outside; however, let the record show: food colouring, glue, sparkles, you name it, it’s all welcome in my house.

This year, Miss S turned five.  Five.  FIVE.  As my second child, this number hits a little harder than the first.  Of course there’s the obligatory, “Where did the time go?”  But with Miss S, I’ve been all too aware of time slipping from my fingers like sands from the hour glass and the number looming on the horizon.

Second children give you perspective on how fleeting every stage is.  Sure, you think you’re stuck in h-e-double hockey sticks when your newborn isn’t breastfeeding properly, or your toddler isn’t sleeping through the night, or, or, or, but the thing to meditate on, tattoo on your forehead, spray paint on the nursery wall, is This too shall pass, because it does.

Second children allow you to sink farther into the stages, enjoy them more because you know in a few short years they’ll be standing on the cusp of independence, of someone else’s influence, of full-day kindergarten, of new friends who you haven’t had a hand at picking.

This doesn’t mean you’re completely zen with it all.  Just writing the last sentence gave me heart palpitations.  Thankfully, here in BC school might not start until the middle of October, and this mama’s okay with that.

Being five to Miss S meant a party.  Like any child worth their card carrying membership, Miss S is excited to be growing up.  She can’t wait to return to swimming so she can do cannonballs with her instructor; skating so she can be in a different level.  And she takes great delight in the fact she comes up to Grandma S’s chest when they stand back to back…er, Grandma’s chest is where you’d expect it to be, in the front, but, well, you get the picture.

Present wise, Miss S had her eye on a Monster High doll.  Sure she wanted other things, or at least we, her parents, made her think she wanted other things, useful things, like a bike, jacket for school, backpack, money for an activity, all of which she welcomed enthusiastically.  But her eyes were locked on a Monster High doll.  Thankfully she has an aunt who turned a blind eye to the commercialization of childhood and surprised her with one.

Her party was small and surprisingly quiet.  Four friends from preschool came to our house with brightly coloured present bags filled with art supplies, bubbles, a board game and dolls. They started inside, as per the birthday girl’s specifications, but after lantern making, ventured outside on their own free will, baited by balloons, a tent, and  boxes of fun cereal.

A camping theme ran loosely through the party, so my husband dressed up like a werewolf/cat/bear, and the girls defended their fortress by pummelling him with water balloons.  Some weren’t too sure when he launched an unpopped balloon back at them and it soaked their feet.  Daddy.

Olaf made an appearance, but because it was summer when he came out, he melted.  We sang happy birthday to Miss S as Olaf’s eyeballs, hair and carrot nose floated around in a bowl of water.

Here’s the great thing about being five: you aren’t quite sure if your parents are joking and the Olaf cake you remember seeing in the kitchen still exists or if he really did melt.

I hope five stays with us for a while.  As I’ve typed this out, I’ve been asked to snap arms back into the Monster Highs, found construction paper and twisted caps off glitter glue.  You couldn’t pay me to be somewhere else.

So here’s to our sweet and spunky, sometimes bossy, always up for adventure, beautiful Miss S!  May five be the year you spread your wings while keeping your feet firmly in the nest.

Lanterns before.

Lanterns before.

After, with a battery operated tealight.

Lanterns after, with a battery operated tealight.

Camping cereal.

Camping cereal.  The easiest birthday party snack food we’ve had to date.

 

Olaf cake.

Dear Disney Animators, Could you please pause before creating the next big thing, and  think about the parents who have to re-create in batter and icing your vision for their attention to details littles?  Sincerely Cautious Mum

 

 

 

 

 

Hello, Kitty.

“She only likes Hello Kitty, or those big eyed stuffies,” my husband declared as I walked out the door.

“Okay, I’ll see what I can do.”

It was 7:40 a.m. on August 2nd.

A meare 16 hours before, I’d casually flipped the calendar to welcome the new month, and spied my blue printing: Birthday Party 12:00 August 2nd.

Of course this realization came about 15 minutes before I was leaving for work, while my husband was prepping dinner.  I wouldn’t be home until 10:45, long after the stores were closed… unless cans of Hello Kitty in tomato sauce were suddenly en vogue for a present. Hello 24-hour grocery stores.

I took Miss C with me for our early morning jaunt. Miss Q, the birthday party attendee, was sleeping in for the first time in forever, and I dared not wake her after all the bike riding and swimming she’s been doing.

Walmart was a gong-show at 8 a.m.  Who knew so many people were up and at ‘em wandering the aisles with towering shopping carts and coffee?  Not me.

The plan was to get in, find Hello Kitty something and get out. Badda-bing, badda-boom.

Apparently the Kitty is not as popular as Monster High, Barbie or Ever After High. With Lego as the only option, Miss C and I hit the second floor.

Hello Kitty duct tape and Hello Kitty bandaids, I fought my urge to put function behind the gift, and, fear that function would make Miss Q the odd Hello Kitty gifter out.

Thankfully the shopping gods were with me. On a random shelf, away from all the pink and cat sat a box: Hello Kitty stepping stone. A do it yourself, age appropriate Hello Kitty craft. At $15 it was over my $10 limit, but at the eleventh hour, beggars couldn’t be choosers.

I almost crushed my little helper, Miss C, under the weight of the box. “I’ll carry it,” I told her pushing the stroller to the elevator.

Back at home, Miss Q gave it a suspicious once over, but the gift passed. Not that she had a choice: that gift was heading out our door with her in 3 hours.

Miss Q came home from the party glowing. It had been fun to see her friends after six long weeks of separation. She loved the trampoline with the sprinkler underneath, the home made ice cream cake, everything. “My gift was the heaviest,” she said.

“Awesome.”

The next weekend I was prepared. I’d studied my August calendar, I’d seen the next birthday looming. Miss Q and I were going to hit the town and find the perfect Hello Kitty gift to accompany this next birthday girl’s stash of Hello Kitty.

As I opened the van door for Miss Q she said, “Do you know what she likes more than Hello Kitty?”

A chance to buy not Hello Kitty?  I was all ears. “What?”

“A store called Claire’s.” Miss Q looked puzzled.

“Do you know what Claire’s is?” I asked.

“I don’t know but last week, birthday girl x kissed the gift card to Claire’s, birthday girl z gave her.”

Awesome?

We walked into Claire’s with all the promise that one has when they find out that it’s a “favourite store” and see sale signs. However, a quick scan of the prices made me realize all birthday girl z was going to get was a Hello Kitty necklace and maybe some Dr. Pepper lip gloss, even with the sale.

Miss Q did laps, pointing out what the other girls in her class wore or owned.

Had I missed a memo? Did 7-year-olds really shop here? How could a place filled with jewellery and hair accessories be a favourite store?

Nothing against Claire’s. I bought my first pair of dangly earrings there when I was twelve: solid red longboats, complete with shadows of little men rowing.

Didn’t anyone like art or stuffies?

Apparently only the wide-eyed ones.

I tried to talk Miss Q into a gift certificate to make the birthday girl’s money appear to go farther. No dice. We’d been there for too long, Miss Q was overwhelmed; we walked away.  Thanks to my pre-planning, we had time, this party wasn’t for another two weekends.

Before calling scene on this mall trip, I threw caution to the wind and took a spin through Toys R Us in hopes something other than a Hello Kitty heart locket would be “the one”.

Within minutes of entering, my seven-year-old lost her glazed look and began gushing over the giant sets of equestrian Playmobil and a Fur Real Baby Panda.  All gifts for Miss Q, mind you, but my faith in all that is seven was restored.

Hello Kitty and Claire’s may be beckoning, but for the moment, my girl is all about imagination and creative play.  Sorry, pop culture.

As for the birthday girl? We arrived home only to have my husband point out the party we’d been shopping for was actually a Twoonie party.

Hopefully by September I’ll have this party thing figured out.

The ‘L’ Word

They like clean hair. Four words that taunted, like a Murphy’s Law broken record, as I patiently parted hair this morning.

Searching, examining, scrutinizing, I felt like a paleontologist trying to unearth an object I had never seen in person. With only disgusting internet images and icky stories from parents who have volunteered to spy objects leaping off elementary children’s scalps, I was coming to this as one might approach a placid lake: the alligator was one follicle away from attack.

Thankfully my children, all three of them, were clean, uninfected, nary a nit in sight. I should stamp their foreheads with a red “pass”, or at the very least French braid their hair into triple checkmarks.

There is nothing but hair in this house. With three girls ages 7, 4.5 and 2.5, plus myself and our dog, our vacuum is in overdrive. So when the word “lice” enters our domain, it causes more than a pause; my germ radar, along with my heart, spikes off the charts.

When notice came home with Miss S from preschool, last year, I felt like I was in lock-down: for a week children couldn’t come into the schoolhouse unless their scalp was checked and cleared, the dress-up clothes were instantly bagged and sent home with the parent washer, anything that could be scrubbed was. Not to mention the mounds of laundry the family who had the infected child suddenly found themselves doing: stuffies, pillows, couch cushions, nothing soft was left unsanitized.

As a parent, I was grateful for the sense of urgency and deep clean. The last thing the preschool or my family needed was an outbreak.

This alert was different. Word came 2.5 weeks after our last contact with the family. The mum who reported it was completely chill; educated. She’d spoken to the pharmacist, bought the shampoo, done the research – apparently these buggers calmly crawl from head to head when an opportunity presents itself, no jumping; no flying. They also can’t live more than 3 hours off the scalp.

She joked that telling people felt like she admitting to an STD.

No matter how understanding, no one wants to tell their friends, “Thanks for the playdate. Oh by the way, the plague might be on the way, stay vigil.”

Sure, we say over coffee and sandboxes that it doesn’t matter, that communicable diseases are rites of passage, but the truth is they’re uncomfortable, routine altering and to some children, hospital admissible.

Fortunately lice are just a minor hassle in the grand scheme of things – A minor hassle, that if it darkens our doorstep, I’ll try not to go all Velveteen Rabbit on the stuffies.

So, knock-on-wood, throw salt over our shoulders; soak our tresses in tea tree oil, because with hair that stretches four feet, if you shave the girls bald (tempting) and lay the brown and blond strands end-to-end, if their childhood passes without checking the ‘L’ box off, you’ll get no complaints from me.

Comfort Reading

Cleaning out the basement doesn’t yield much discovery these days.  Though we’ve lived in our house for coming on nine years this November, I’m proud to report more items have made their way out than in; even with three girls underfoot.

The boxes my husband and I just can’t get rid of – text books from university- are slowly making their way to recycling.  But it’s hard to part ways with monoliths from biology classes that cost upwards of $100 when you bought them new in the 90s, or a library of Shakespearian plays with your prized notes written in the columns.

Even though I know, like the plays themselves, my notes are timeless and will help future thespians through high school litit’s time to face the music: if I’m not going to crack open Word Carving, Great Stories from the Prairies, or anything that involves dissecting plays, as in theatrical productions, what makes me think someone else under this roof will?

The same can be said for the myriad of tennis, gymnastics and biology textbooks belonging to a certain male member of our household.

Betcha can’t guess what our majors were.

The box I unearthed this afternoon was filled with novels from my teen years. And though none of my girls understood how delicious it was to hold up books written by Eric Wilson, Christopher Pike, and Brian Doyle, they were curious to know what a Choose Your Own Adventure book was like, and were keen to listen to chapter one, book #2, of The Babysitter’s Club: Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls.

CM BOok

Side note: I always related the most to Claudia, the artist, who liked to eat red licorice while she read Nancy Drew mysteries.  Like Claudia, I too drooled over a boy or two in grade seven, so we might wait another year or so before Miss Q dives into the series.

Same with Sweet Valley High, for now way beyond the trio’s scope, but one day I hope they sit with Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield for a summer or two.

And while on the subject of books, there has been a great metamorphosis in our house this summer: Miss Q has turned into a bonafide bookworm.  She’s always enjoyed being read to, but now she’s taking it to an all new level and curling up with a book – alone.

The amazing part isn’t that she’s inhaling books, it’s that she’s comprehending what she’s reading.  “Do you want to hear something hilarious?” she begins, then without waiting for a response, out rolls a detailed description of the plot and crazy characters she’s stumbled upon.

Currently she’s reading the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home Series, specifically: Bruno; but she’s also into the Rescue Princesses and anything with adventure, friendship, magic and mystery.

My husband is re-reading her book two of Harry Potter at bedtime.  They’ve gone up to book four, and now they’re doing it all again.  He doesn’t mind.  Whatever the girls bring him, he reads with little complaint, he’s amazing like that.

Other children’s books on our July radar are:

Meanwhile in adult-land:

My husband is currently working his way through book five of Harry Potter, and has now deemed Harry too angry for Miss Q’s ears, at least this summer.  He really wants to sink his teeth into book two and three of the Gentlemen Bastard Series by Scott Lynch, but had started Harry Potter before he received them, so now he must read quickly.

As for me, I haven’t had much time for reading, not because of the stereotypical obvious; but because after nine years, three babies, and two major re-writes at the suggestion of editors, one of the novels I’ve been chipping away at is complete.

Maybe in August as I’m waiting for a publisher to bite, I’ll have added something more than P.B. Bear to my summer reading list.

What are you reading?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The list of places I can take the girls where they are free as birds and I am not on red-alert: eyes darting for cloaked strangers, four-wheel steel speeders, and poisonous frogs, is short.  So short, that until two weeks ago I didn’t even have a list.

Every where I have taken the girls for the last seven years has had an element of unrest, either because of the environment or their ages.  Nothing like a relaxing trip to the beach in December, and watching your toddler wade head first into the ocean; or being swarmed by well meaning tourists at Butchart Gardens, because they just want to take pictures of your blond-haired- blue-eyed children.

Two weeks ago, spurred on by a conversation I had with friends, my husband and I loaded the car with three bikes, three helmets, three girls, and headed to the bike park.  I’d heard it was an awesome place for kids to learn to ride.  I’d heard it was chill.  I’d heard it was a secret spot.  (Yes, by blogging about this I realize the spot won’t be so secret, so just do me a favour: don’t go when we’re there.)

We arrived at the North Saanich Bike Park after swimming lessons.  There was one more thing I knew about this park: my brother, Uncle A, had been contracted to build the Rotary Pump Bike track two years ago.  The girls and I had ventured out to see him and his crew, brought them donuts and admired the mud.

You’d think in the last two years we would have visited his work.  But with all things child like, if they’re not at the right stage, these cool places aren’t cool, they’re just more work for, well, me.

I brought my husband for physical support.  Miss Q loves to ride, so she wasn’t my worry.  It was Miss S, the sometimes peddler, and Miss C, the scoot biker, who I worried the park would eat up and spit out.

It didn’t.  Far from it.  The girls had a blast.  They were over the moon with the different trails, and fun of flying down the small mounds.  I was over the moon by how quiet it was.  Even when we returned this week, there was enough space for the Bettys to shred gnarly corners (yes?) and the bike camp from the local recenter to run.  The riders were all very respectful of the littles, even though their bikes were pink with streamers and- er- baskets.

I lost Miss Q to the pump bike track her uncle had sculpted.   For the first time in her life, the reigns were loosened and she was racing through the forrest up and down the hills, out of sight, lost in her own world.

Miss S and Miss C gained independence too.  Though watching their front wheels wobble stopped my heart, there was no fear on their faces as they sometimes slid to a halt; bikes on their sides; plume of dust in the air.

Okay, so the bike park still has an element of danger, blood, disfigurement, gruesome gore, but for some reason, as I stood amidst the firs, blue sky above, picking out the pink helmets as they bobbed up and down their individual paths, all I could think was freedom.

So you say a streamer caught in the plastic crank  protector isn't a "normal" accident for this place?

So you say a streamer caught in the plastic crank protector isn’t a typical accident for this place?

 

 

Sudden Stop

Two weeks ago, June 10 at 9:23 a.m. to be exact, I was driving up the crescent on-ramp to the Pat Bay Highway when I noticed an unmarked police car parked in the opposite lane.

In the time it took me to glance at the police car, the woman driving the silver car in front of me came to a dead stop. Not a gentle, you-have-warning-that-I’m-breaking-stop, I mean: a complete, tires no longer rolling on the asphalt, STOP.

Both hands on the wheel, horn blasting, anti-lock brakes click-click-clicking, mind racing: We’re not going to stop in time. Why aren’t we stopping?  Yet, somehow, the far-reaching corners of my brain found my Young Driver’s crash avoidance training, and I started looking for a way out.

The silver car, sensing a Toyota Sienna was moments from landing in her backseat, turned ever-so-slowly towards the right shoulder.

We stopped a foot from her bumper.

The silence in our van was palpable.

My fingers were slow to unclench. I believe, but can’t confirm, “Ohmy@#$!god.” was the first sentence out of my mouth.

Squealing tires snapped my eyes to my rearview mirror. The hood ornament of a Dodge Ram Pickup reflected back at me.

Angels were certainly at work.

Once the Dodge stopped, my brain went into overdrive: were the kids okay? Yes. Was I okay? Yes. Were the cars behind the Dodge stopping? Yes. Yes and yes.

Then something moved in front of me. Huddled against the cement median was a family of ducks.

“Ducks? She stopped for @$#&% ducks?” I exclaimed. My poised, Carol Brady take on motherhood, crumbled as a string of sentences containing expletives rolled off my tongue in front of wide-eyed Marcia, Jan and Cindy.

The ducks pressed against the median, until they were sure they had everyone’s attention. Then, one at a time, they followed their mum across the lane.

Make Way for Ducklings or not, the silver car had had ample room to swerve without ruffling a single feather. Instead the choice was made to stop in the middle of a lane, just as her fellow drivers were starting to think about accelerating to highway speeds.

“What did the sucky woman do?” Miss C chirped from her five-point harness behind me.

“She stopped for – er – ducks,” I replied, feeling hysterical. “We could have died.” Yes, another uncensored, hope-they-don’t-remember, mothering sentence. “But we didn’t,” I added feebly.

Until June 10th, I was the woman who drove my husband bananas whenever we crossed paths with wildlife.

“What are you doing!” he’d say, grasping the armrest as I swerved to allow the little grey friend safe passage.

“That was a squirrel.”

“Just run them over.”

“I can’t do that!”

“You have to. It’s either them or you.”

Never. I silently declared. How horrible would it be to feel Thumper under your wheels or know you were the reason Slappy didn’t make it home?

But, now, in light of the fading headlines in the Emma Czornobaj verdict, and my own moment with a driver who focused on an animal’s mortality rather than her own, or the lives of those in cars behind her, I am a changed driver.

I can’t say concretely I won’t ever slow down for an errant deer or squirrel darting across the road; it’s human nature to tap the brakes when startled. But I can say concretely: that given the choice, I will never choose wildlife over the safety of my children.

In the aftermath of the sudden stop, and once those lucky ducks were safely across, I maneuvered around the silver car and merged onto the highway as if nothing happened, though a large part of me wanted the woman in the silver car to know how much she’d scared me.

While I drove, Miss S described in great detail how her foot had hit the back of the co-pilot seat when I stopped. That’s why you’re wearing a seatbelt.

Miss Q was silent.

And Miss C continued to chant, “Why did the sucky lady stop for the ducks?”  Thankfully ‘sucky’ was the only word she had added to her vocabulary.

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