Heading East

Duncan, Owen and I will be heading East tomorrow so please forgive the light posting schedule for the next little while. We will be listening to the waves, swimming (if briefly) in the cold Atlantic, and visiting with Duncan’s family.

I’ll be sure to post pictures!

Playing Around at the Playground

Owen and I have been playing around. We’re straying from the usual, dipping our toes in new territory. We’ve been unfaithful, shopping around for newer, better, slicker, shadier varieties of parks and playgrounds. One of the best ways to convince Owen to go for a bike ride is to say we’re going to a park. It’s actually a little bit difficult to cycle past playgrounds (especially parks we’ve been to once before) since he sees them out of his carriage window and yells “park! big-a-big-a park!”

Parks are odd patches of social gathering. Maybe I’m unusual, but I feel like an interloper in some of the parks we don’t “belong” to – the ones that are in adjacent neighbourhoods or fancier areas. We were in Westmount today and I wondered whether I was being judged for my non-designer sunglasses or Owen’s fake Crocs. Ridiculous, I know, but I thought it.

In our local parks, we feel at home. They’re OURS. If you go to the same park enough, you start to know the kids, and then their names, and then the parents’ names, and it actually becomes quite a social venture. I also know what playground equipment is dangerous, and Owen knows how to negotiate the difficult bits (and to stay away from certain steep drops), so we can relax into our play. Every new park , on the other hand, is a bit of a land mine. Somehow, the see-saw has been deemed dangerous (we’ve seen one in our travels through 10 or more parks) but steep drops onto the sandy ground with lots of metal bars for added head trauma seem to be matter-of-course.

We went to one new park recently (actually in the village where I live but on the other side of it). It’s just been redone, and is slick and shiny – and has woodchips all over, so you don’t get filthy and sandy. I struck up a conversation with another woman, and since it was my first time, assumed she was a local – nope. It turns out she was from Laval, and her GPS had led her (misled her) to Ste-Anne’s (she was on her way to the beach). Her husband had left her to do some fishing, so she brought her son to the park. Anyway, Owen was happily playing in the 18 mo-5 years section of the park, but the woman’s son, who was seven, wanted to go to the more challenging section (6-12 years, or whatever the age category is). She asked if I’d bring Owen along. This playground equipment looked dangerous. The platforms for the slides were 10 feet off the ground, but it looked like they’d been rigged so that little kids wouldn’t be able to climb up to them. So I said sure, thinking I’d just spot Owen as he climbed the first 4 feet or so. Well, didn’t the boy manage to get all the way to the top… And then I was standing at the bottom with my 2 year old up above my head, way out of reach. On the other side was a slide – well Owen’s good at slides in general, so I figured I’d just spot him on the landing… except that as I came around I realized that it was both steep and had a kink in the middle. Anyway, his foot jarred at the bend, he spun around, and I caught him. Phew. Accident averted. He was crying, but I comforted him and figured he’d be fine. Except that when I put him down, he collapsed. Then I helped him up and he took 2 steps – and collapsed. This continued for a little while with me panicking and thinking he’d broken his leg – except that he was giggling by this point. I packed him into the stroller and walked home – let him out? Collapsed. So we went home and I called the health care line and spoke to a nurse – by this point he was eating his supper like a little champion and not at all distressed – but every time I tried to get him to walk, he’d collapse – always on the same side. Anyway, after verifying that there was neither redness nor swelling, the nurse said to just watch him for a couple of days. He collapsed once more the next morning and then was basically OK. That’s what you get for going to strange parks, apparently!

I think parks end up saying a lot about the neighbourhood. The fanciest neighbourhoods don’t necessarily have the fanciest parks – you can kind of tell when a certain area used to have lots of children when the playground is huge but run-down. It seems like everyone left in the area has children who have flown the coop.

We’re thinking of changing homes at some point in the not-too-distant future, and I’ve realized for the first time in my life the vital importance of parks. When you have a toddler, you have to run the energy out of him somehow, wind down those batteries so that he… finally… sleeps!

So for now, we’re on the move, exploring new neighbourhoods and flirting with potential neighbours … at the park.

P.S. Where have all the see-saws gone? Anyone know?

The Story of Your Day

The books Owen has been choosing lately are HIS favourites, not mine. There’s just not that much to say about soft dinosaur puzzle books, or books about French vocabulary, or books about what is wrong with little Pookie (though this last one is pretty fun to read with a responsive toddler). I’ve managed to slide in a couple of books of A A Milne poetry (and have also discovered how intensely disturbing some of the poems in Alligator Pie are – more on that another time, perhaps?), but we’ve basically been doing the rounds of a bunch of books Owen loves and I… well… get bored with.

No matter what we read, lately, Owen is concerned that the characters in question are happy (he is, after all, the Minister of Happiness). He has a Thomas the Tank Engine book in which Thomas crashes into the station master’s house. Thomas’s expression is one of dismay, but Owen points to it and says “happy?” and keeps asking if Thomas is happy right up until the end when he really is happy again. He also really relies on the pictures to let him know if a character comes out of hardship alive. Words alone will not convince him if the picture is of a monster running off with a crying mum.

On that note, he actually bit my behind this morning… Uncharacteristic and surprising – he hadn’t bit me in a year or so. And a little painful. Anyway, he asked me right after I yelled at him if I was happy. “No,” I said. “Mummy’s not happy. Mummy’s sad because you bit her on the bum.” To which: “Mummy happy?” He still gets quite panicky when he realises that he’s upset us. He eventually hurt himself (not very badly) and started crying his eyes out. In the midst of his tears, he said: “Owen no happy. Owen sad!” and then, after getting verbal confirmation that I was again happy, he said (still crying, mind you) “Owen happy! (Waaah)” – quite the emotional roller coaster with this child.

The other thing he’s doing with books lately is asking to take the characters “out.” It started about a week ago, quite out of the blue. He picks at the page, saying “out. out.” Of course, you can’t get the pictures out of books. And he’s surprisingly unimpressed with stuffed animals in the shape of book characters. He wants the picture, not the stuffed animal… obviously.

In any case, at the end of our book reading sessions, every night, I’ve started telling Owen the story of his day (in part because sometimes he wants to read more and more and more books and I just need him to be sleeping). We sit in the dark (or half-dark) and I narrate an account of the day we had together. It’s nothing complicated. It includes things like waking up, what we ate for breakfast, and whether we went to the pool or the grocery store, but it’s still a story, with a beginning (you woke up) and an end (and now it’s time to sleep). Owen, no fool, usually asks for more – not “more story” but “mo’ park?” (if we went to the park) or “mo’ baby pool” (if we went to the wading pool) or “mo’ nunning down de l’eau?” (if we let him run himself into exhaustion down by the water). So sometimes I tell the story of his day twice. It’s kind of a nice ritual, because it reinforces how much we’ve done, even in a day where all I thought we did was a whole lot of nothing.

As always, I’d love to hear about your favourite books (or stories) and what helps your children (or you) drift off to dreamland.

High Praise

Owen, like many toddlers, is wildly self-congratulatory. He praises himself for pretty much everything he does: peeing in the potty, jumping (5 mm off the ground at this point, but he’s actively working on it), handing me a clothes pin (or a sock), whisking some eggs for a quiche, or strapping himself in. He usually praises himself in French: “Bravo Owen!” but sometimes there’s some applause thrown in for good measure, or a “Yay!” … and when the cheers have died down a little, our boy often asks for “More Yay?” And why not? Why shouldn’t we all be celebrating our minor accomplishments at every opportunity? I cleaned the kitchen. Yay! I folded the laundry. Yay! I biked to Beaconsfield. Yay! I called the Régie de Logement. Yay! While biking to Beaconsfield might get lauded as some kind of achievement (hey – I posted that on Facebook), the mundane everyday things we do don’t get credited much once we reach a certain age. Owen is excited to do the dishes (read: rub tupperware with a sponge and spill buckets of sudsy water on the floor) but for me, it’s just another chore.

And yet, again, this is where a child comes in handy.

Because Owen is not only free with praise for himself, but he lavishes it on me. When I successfully strap him into his stroller? “Bravo Mummy!” When I slide the key into our front door lock? “Bravo Mummy!” When I slip a homemade quiche into the oven? “Bravo Mummy! Bravo Owen!” … and you know? It’s really nice. As much as my cynical side might scoff a little at being lauded for the tiniest achievement (or, let’s be frank, chore), most of me really does feel pretty puffed up with pride.

Not only did I buckle that car seat with flair, but I’ve raised a little boy who will praise me to the skies.

Baby Book Club: Frog and Toad

One problem with these Baby Book Club entries is that I am almost always trying to write them during Owen’s nap time (or after his bed time), which means that the books in question are usually upstairs in his room (where he is sleeping). Thus means that unless I’ve really premeditated the entry, I have to work on memory. The great thing about children’s books is that you end up reading them so many times that the words stick in your head… With Frog and Toad, it’s not the words so much as the patterns of the stories, combined with the memories of these stories from my own childhood.

Each book in the Frog and Toad series, by Arnold Lobel, is a collection of five stories, and every story in the collection (much like Mouse Tales) is perfectly plotted. My favourite Frog and Toad tale from my own childhood is the one in which Toad makes a list of things to do that day and crosses them off as he does them. When he loses the list, he is paralyzed and does nothing for the rest of the day until he remembers he had written on his list “go to sleep.”

The "Toad and Frog" puppets my mum made for Owen's 1st birthday.

Frog seems to be the more energetic and enthusiastic of the two friends, whereas Toad seems vaguely depressed and anxious. In a couple of stories, Toad wants to stay in bed to wait out winter. In one, Frog brings some winter clothes and gets him on a toboggan (with dire results) and Toad ends the story back under the covers (where he belongs). In another, Frog tricks Toad by tearing pages off the calendar just to get his friend out of bed.  I often feel that my own personality is split between Frog and Toad (and maybe that’s the point). Half of me is desperately lazy and would like nothing better than to waste the day doing nothing much, but the other part of me knows that if I’ve done very little, by the end of the day I’ll feel miserable. I think in many ways, Owen is the Frog to my Toad: his very existence goads me into action.

One of the other things I love about the Frog and Toad books is that Frog and Toad drop in on one another. Not only that, but Frog sometimes walks right into Toad’s house to shake him out of his lethargy. I LOVE the idea of dropping in unannounced (or having people drop in), but it seems to be a pattern that has just disappeared from my life. The only person I drop in on now is my grandmother, and that’s because she’s lost much of her memory. Partners seem to remove a lot of that spontaneity from life, not intentionally, but just because there’s another person to consider. Dropping by happened so much more when I was single – and I miss it (but not being single)… (Or is it the suburbs?) Anyway, Frog and Toad are single, so they wander in and out of each other’s lives and houses in a way that people must have had to do in a world before telephones. And though Frog and Toad are – well – a frog and a toad – they do wear clothes, so if phones existed in their worlds, they’d have them, right?

I guess part of the magic of the the stories is that they are themselves nostalgic. The books are from the 1970s but are looking back to a still simpler age (pre-technology, when men and toads wore tweed everyday?) I know that when I read them, with Owen’s warm body on my lap, I remember these characters from my own childhood, and I love the palimpsestic nature of old memories and reflections being covered up by new ones (and knowing that we have many more years of reading these stories before we put them in a box and wait – maybe – for the next generation).

P.S. For the Frog and Toad puppets, see my mother’s Etsy shop.

Home Hunting

For the last little while, Duncan and I have been trying to buy a house. We entered into the real estate market very differently than most people, and maybe because of that seem to have had some bad luck. Or we just like difficult houses.

What happened was that our landlord asked us if we wanted to buy the house we were renting. It turned out that with a little bit of help, we could actually afford it. I love this house. It’s my favourite place I’ve ever lived. I love the town, the street, the proximity to work. I love the painted wood ceilings and lovely mouldings and odd angles. I don’t like all the bits that are old and falling apart, but I thought we could patch those up eventually. I don’t like the dirt basement, or the fact that you can hear the neighbours through the thin partition between the semi-detached houses.  Anyway, it turned out that the house needed some fairly significant and immediate TLC to allow it even to be insurable. It was sounding like we would be dropping a significant amount of money in the first 30 days and the house would still look identical. So, after trying to convince everyone in my life that buying this house was a good idea, I eventually freaked out and told our landlord no deal.

In the mean time, we’d become accustomed to the idea that we would own something. Our landlord was trying to sell this house when we moved here 4 years ago, so we’ve always known that he would want to get rid of it eventually. And we have talked and talked about where we want to live and where we want Owen to live, and we think our village is perfect for us. It’s a little shabby, but it’s full of life and we love the people and the market and the waterfront and kind of want to stay. To be fair, Duncan claims (on a fairly regular basis) that he doesn’t want to live in Quebec at all – his heart is in Nova Scotia – but he acknowledges that our town is a pretty good compromise.

And luckily enough, there was another house for sale, in our price range, about a 10 minute walk away. We weren’t totally thrilled with it, but for our budget, we’re unlikely to be thrilled about much we can afford to buy. So we looked at it. Owen loved to go “round and round and round” the house. They had a train table in the basement, so Owen thought it was the best house ever and since then has been asking to go back to the woo woo house (woo woo=train). We went so far as to look at train tables, thinking we couldn’t very well buy the woo woo house without the train table.

Anyway, we found out today that the family have decided that they don’t want to sell after all. Not only that, though, but the house has actually failed the inspection 4 times – so 4 potential buyers have walked away. I am a little glad that we don’t have to waste more money inspecting a house we can’t afford to fix.

So we’re back to where we were, renting the house where I’ve been very happy – renting the house that Owen calls home (or: “Owen Mummy Daddy Mummy Owen Daddy Owen house.”) When we leave in the car or stroller, he says “Bye home!” and when we approach again he exclaims “home back!” I was told by many concerned people when I was contemplating buying this place that I shouldn’t let my emotions get in the way of my judgment. But I am still so uncertain about the decision we’ve made not to buy the place, and every other house we’ve looked at (not many yet, to be fair) has seemed so soulless. No other house is our home (yet).

I’d love to hear your stories about house hunting. Did you look long and hard and find the perfect house? Did you compromise something you thought you always wanted? Did you choose size over location? Did you buy a starter home that you knew you could sell again easily? I’m eager for any information/suggestions to make this easier.

We have our lease till next July, so we’ve got some time to find something, but I am so impatient to put down roots in a new home.

Home for the Holidays

It wasn’t too long ago that the thought of having Owen home all the time was, frankly, undesirable, if not actually frightening. I found being a stay-at-home mother extremely difficult, isolating, and boring for the only 7 months I ever tried it. I thought daycare was a godsend: here was a chance to work and think and read… while someone else looked after my child! I guess I felt a little guilty, but Owen seemed to enjoy himself, and anyway, as a family, we all really needed me to be working.

This summer will mark a transition between daycares. We got accepted into the daycare attached to my work, which is by all accounts marvellous, beginning at the end of August. Our first daycare provider had to go to France to look after her elderly parents in mid-June, so she needed to reduce the number of children in her care. I probably wouldn’t have thought of this plan on my own, but when I realized I would have no childcare for the summer, I was actually overjoyed. Owen is not NEARLY as much work as he was when he was 7 months old. In fact, being with him hardly feels like work at all. He naps now, for me (which he wouldn’t do for about a year), he walks, he’s interested in the world, we chat… And as an added bonus, being with him means there’s really no way for me to get any “work work” done. Will my thesis get turned into a book this summer? No. Do I care? No. Will it ever? Probably not. Oh well. Will I read all those important novels I’ve yet to get around to? No. Will I write my novel? No. Will I ever? Oh, probably not. But we get to the park and the pool almost every day. We check out the second-hand bookstore and the library. We eat alfresco on the dilapidated deck. We go on field trips: so far, we’ve taken the train twice (to the Jazz Festival) and the bus once (to visit Pointe-Claire Village). I’m not saying I’d like to do this for the rest of my life. I’m sure I’ll be happy to go back to work when the time comes. But for now, Owen and I are on vacation. And I’m really loving it.

Baby Book Club: Llama Llama Mad at Mama (Anna hates the Shop-O-Rama)

I hate shopping. Hate it. Hence my shoe situation. The pair of sandals I bought last year have completely worn out. The heels are gone. I have some 10+ year old sandals that I don’t particularly like. And I have pink sequined slippers. Practical! And they go with everything… And… flip flops. Anyway, I wanted to get a pair of sandals that were at once elegant and low-heeled but not completely flat and practical and comfortable and leather and under $50. Yeah. So Owen and I hit the mall last week. I told him we were going to the shoe store (without realizing how many shoe stores there were in the “big big mall”). I think I looked at every pair of sandals in the whole mall.

Owen is pretty much game for anything, so in the first 3-4 shoe stores he was having fun. He tried the ladies’ shoes on on top of his sandals, pronouncing them “nice!” and generally (sort of) enjoying himself. But of course, his Mama couldn’t find anything that fit her multiple criteria, so we had to go to 7-8-9-10 shoe stores.

At around 11:00 (1.5 hours into the shopping expedition), Owen started to complain “No mo’ shoe store! No mo’ shoe store!” – at 11:30 we went and had a snack: a berry oatmeal muffin and a huge glass of milk. The snack was a success. Ever since, Owen has been asking to go back to the “big-a-big-a-big-a mall” for num-nums.

But when, after the snack, I tried to go back into another shoe store, he almost lost it.

All this to say that for Owen’s birthday, Duncan bought him two new books, Llama Llama Mad at Mama and Llama Llama Red Pajama, both by Anna Dewdney . They are both absolutely perfect for Owen’s age and they somehow capture the frustrations and fears of a toddler as well as the (potential? inevitable?) abstraction of the parent. It contains useful lines you can use in everyday situations, like when your toddler starts to pout and whine to get your attention (“Little Llama, what a tizzy! Sometimes Mama’s very busy”).

Initially, all Duncan saw of the Llama Llama Mad at Mama book was the title and the cover. He showed it to me and we both agreed that we had to get it because it so perfectly captured Owen’s expression when we have to go to the grocery store (or shoe store) and he is hungry… Not a happy scene:

Dewdney manages to capture the frustration of the little Llama, who is having a great time playing “blocks and puzzles in the sun” when his Mama Llama comes along and whisks him off to the Shop-O-Rama. Poor Llama even falls asleep in the car only to hear (too soon) “Wake up! Wake up! Here we are!” And when they get to the store:

At some point, after trying on new socks and shoes and being asked whether he wants Cheezee Puffs or Oatie Crunch, little Llama loses it. He has a full-blown temper tantrum in the middle of the Shop-O-Rama. What I like about the book is that Mama Llama keeps her cool. She realises that her son is bored out of his mind, so she includes him in the activity rather than remaining aloof in her adult mind. These books are good for reminding parents what it must be like to be a toddler, without much control over activities or even the ability to express frustration beyond whining and all-out protest.

Duncan and I were a little worried (before having read the book) that it would promote some kind of rampant consumerism, but I can relate to this Mama, who says “I think shopping’s boring too. But at least I’m here with you.”

Acknowledging Owen’s limits, I finally went back to the first store and bought a pair of shoes and a pair of sandals. The shoes are comfortable and will be great for fall. The sandals I have since returned. Oh oh. Looks like Mama will have to go back to the Shop-o-Rama. Actually, I think I’ll make do with $4 flip flops and shoes I don’t particularly like.

THE END!

Names and Labels

Owen won’t admit to being a boy (or a girl for that matter), but he is currently obsessed with names. He has discovered that Mummy is Anna and Daddy is Duncan, and he likes to use these names to get our attention.

In the car:

“Mummy, Mummy, Mummy, Mummy, Mummy, Mummy”

“Yes, Owen”

“Anna!”

“Yes, that’s my name!”

“Hi!”

I turn back to face forward (I’m in the passenger seat).

“Mummy, Mummy, ANNA!”

“Hi Owen!”

“Hi Anna!”

(etc…)

He can say my name really well. Duncan ends up sounding like Unkin, which is close enough, I guess. This is all well and good, but sometimes (as you can see from the above conversation excerpt) our names ARE the conversation. Like – Anna is Mummy, Duncan is Daddy… that’s all I’ve got. Carry on.

Owen has also learned his own last name (great fun because there’s a cow in it). This morning, Duncan told him that his name was Duncan Cowie, and Owen’s name was Owen Cowie. And Owen turned to me and said “Anna Cowie!”… and I had to say no. It was the first time I felt the tiniest twinge over not changing my name (and I still wouldn’t do it)… but to my boy, we’re a family – why aren’t we all Cowies? Anyway, I explained that my last name was Lepine, and he seemed OK with that.

Of course, the first thing that popped into my head when he learned our names was
“oh, good. Now if we lose him in a crowd and someone asks him what his name is or what his mummy and daddy’s names are, he’ll be able to tell them.” Seriously? Why is my brain wired to disaster? As if the child would have the presence of mind to say such things in the midst of a crisis. I might have been thinking along these lines because we brought Owen into the middle of a mini-mob yesterday to try to catch a glimpse of Will and Kate as they were visiting Ste-Justine children’s hospital. We were trying to explain to Owen that we were off to visit a prince and a princess (though, strictly speaking, apparently, Kate is merely the Duchess of Cambridge). The security was so intense (ridiculously so) that all I saw was a caravan of black cars. They treated Will and Kate like they were Stephen Harper and not minor celebrities (major celebrities?). Duncan got a glimpse of Will through the window of the car, but I saw nothing at all. Owen spent most of the time waiting doing up the straps on his stroller “More strapped in? … Bravo Owen!” When Will and Kate finally arrived, I got him up on my shoulders and he clapped with the best of them, though I imagine he was confused as to why we were clapping for a bunch of black cars. I tried to explain that we clapped for Will and Kate because they were more important than regular people, but that just sounded so wrong.  The whole way home, though, Owen asked for “More yay? More people yay?” so he clearly liked the cheering, without necessarily understanding what we were cheering about.

They are just people, after all, but people who don’t really need to know their last names.