An Inconvenience Button

On Friday, I went into the city on the train. I’ve become so suburban. Was the city always so crowded? I missed the first metro because I wasn’t pushy enough, and stood there agape (with a couple of other clueless souls) as the doors closed in my face. A woman in a red coat actually pushed me out of the way so she could board instead of me. I assumed that she had somewhere to be that was more important than my somewhere. I still got to my conference in plenty of time, so all was well. Still, I’d forgotten that some people live with that much crowding all the time, and that the natural response to crowding seems to be to ignore that anyone else has needs as important as your own.

After my little seminar (a little educational symposium on how teach in a way that your students actually learn, which, like many of these sessions, managed to demonstrate that your students could be less bored but possibly not learn anything new), I had a lovely lunch with my brother (thanks, Luke!), and then headed back to the train station so I could get back to the suburbs in time for Owen’s swimming lesson. I missed the first train, but caught the second in plenty of time, and sat down to enjoy the ride. I read a little bit of Wilkie Collins’s The Evil Genius (recommended by a former student: kind of like Jane Eyre gone bad, but — alas — bad in Victorian literature often means sappy).

In any case, we arrived at my home station and I and several other people waited patiently for the doors to open. We waited. Then I pushed the “open door” button, though you don’t usually have to. But the doors stayed closed and we waited some more. Then I followed some preteen boys who were running toward the front of the train (thinking that it was just our door that was faulty). But that door wasn’t opening either. We passengers looked shiftily at each other, muttering out loud in English and French. Several of us eyed at the emergency stop buttons, shining red with loud warnings not to touch them unless there was a real emergency, and threats of fines if you pressed the buttons without due cause.

And that was just it. It wasn’t an emergency. It was an inconvenience. A big one. The next station is a 30-40 minute walk back over the bridge and onto the island. I would not only miss swimming but would leave Owen to be possibly the last child to be gathered from the daycare on a Friday afternoon.

I stood there as the train moved slowly forward onto the bridge, defeated and resigned. I wished I had pulled on the emergency button, but I’m too reasonable (passive?), it seems.

As it turned out, someone in charge finally realised that the doors hadn’t opened. When the train was halfway across the bridge, it stopped again, and we were let out of the last door that was still on the platform. I climbed out, exhilarated to be free of what had felt for a moment like a trap. It hadn’t helped that the night before, Duncan and I had been watching old episodes of James Burke’s Connections (1978!), about just that: technology traps and how we don’t realize we’re trapped until something goes wrong.

I made it to the daycare, collected Owen, and got him to swimming (just 3 minutes late). The thing is, I felt kind of triumphant, as though getting trapped inside a train (and then escaping) made me feel like I’d accomplished something important. I think I might need more excitement in my life.

Since then, though, I’ve been mulling over this “inconvenience button” idea. I think we need such things. Not everything is an emergency – and what is an emergency? Does someone have to be trapped in the doors or having a heart attack? For the little things: the students who don’t read instructions, the toddlers who spill their pee on the floor beside the toilet, fender benders, flat tires, broken strollers, lost gloves, missed deadlines and opportunities, I wish there could be an inconvenience button. Not even a stop-rewind button, so we could pause and back up and correct the mistake, but just to acknowledge that this is a moment where something went wrong – to mark it somehow.

It wouldn’t fix anything, of course, but sometimes all you want is for someone to notice. To make eye contact. To acknowledge that you’ve had a bad time.

Before everything goes back to normal.

Friendship

For the longest time, “playdates” were for the grownups. The children would at best ignore each other, at worst bite each other. I sometimes wondered if the kids had much fun – they learn how to share, but that’s not a lesson that’s so palatable when you’re under two.

In the past couple of months, though, I’ve noticed a shift in Owen’s ability to play with his friends. They use their imaginations, they joke around, they laugh. Here he is with Layla, his date for Wednesday afternoons:

Here he is with Natasha (that red mark on her cheek? Inflicted by Owen):

Owen talks about his friends all the time. He asks how they spell their names, and we practice.

Casey and Mimi are his teachers; Jacob and Elise are daycare friends. The other day, when Layla had to go home early, Owen was ready to go back to the daycare: “We have to go find another friend. We have to bring Jacob home with us.”

Last summer, with Theo:

There’s nothing quite like an old friend.

Easter – a week late

I’ve been salivating over the idea of hot cross buns since Christmas, so I made some. I used the recipe from The Joy of Cooking, which someone posted here:

Look what else I made! These are supposed to look vaguely like bird’s nests – or at least that was my justification for trying out the recipe.

Owen had a great time painting eggs, hunting for eggs, and eating chocolate.

Happy belated Easter, everyone.

Sleep and the Teenoddler

Lately, many mornings are unusually lazy on the part of our almost-3-going-on-13 boy. To be fair, I don’t think he’s slept past 7:30 am in his life. These days, anything after 6:30 is perfect, and 7:00 is like sleeping till noon. I think Duncan misses our sleep-in sessions, but I’m still so grateful to be sleeping full and complete nights that I still feel triumphant every morning I awaken rested.

I teach at 8 or 8:30 most work mornings, so I usually get up at 6:00 to shower and dress before Owen’s awake. Owen is usually in our bed by the time we wake up. He falls asleep around 8:00pm, and at some point in the night (between 2-4 am), we hear his bedroom door close and, shortly thereafter, a small voice:

“Is there ‘woom for me?”

We always make room for Owen (’cause Owen is not very big – pace Sharon, Lois, and Bram), and he settles in to sleep for the rest of the night without a peep or a whimper. I consider this a very successful sleeping routine, though I know eyebrows go up when I mention this to some (beloved!) people. From my perspective, I get more sleep letting him come into our bed in the middle of the night than I would trying to (likely unsuccessfully) get him back into his own bed. I also figure that he’s little for such a short while that I might as well enjoy his sweet cheeks while I still can.

This arrangement is not without its occasional downsides. One morning, a sleeping Owen tried to put his foot down the side of my pyjama pants. It felt weird. I pulled it out. He put it back. I pulled it out. He woke up.

“Mummy, stop taking my sock off!”

We got no more sleep that night. Well, it was morning anyway.

Sleep in toddlers is like some kind of holy grail, so when you get any kind of formula that works, you tend to cling to it, I think. I used to scoff at people who planned their lives around naptime. I scoffed because Owen wouldn’t nap at home, so I pretend-exulted in my freedom from schedules and restraint. Now that I have child who successfully naps at home, it takes a seriously powerful excuse to miss it. I don’t care if I sit and stare at the wall. I get peace and Owen remains human.

I’m so grateful that I finally have a child who loves sleep. I didn’t expect that it would happen so soon. Several mornings this week, I’ve returned from my shower to find Owen sleeping deeply in our bed. Often, when I try to wake him, he rolls over.

“Five mo’ minutes,” he says, closing his eyes.

Sometimes, he’s checking up on me. Concerned that I might cheat and give him just four more minutes of snooze time, he says, “By the clock.”

The Blue House

From the front, the house is nothing special. In fact, it’s so unassuming that we almost lost our loan guarantee, since the place looks like a tiny bungalow, and the CMHC (Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation) would only insure half the floor space.   That’s another story, for another time. (Didn’t they know that it’s the house with money inside?)

From the back, the house takes on more depth (like all good people, you know?):

Below is the front lawn. Perched on the cliff, off to the left, you may see a gazebo. Apparently the sun sets just beyond, so you can sit with a cup of tea and watch the sun through the trees.This is the entryway, which I am claiming as a reading nook, since it has built-in shelves and a big window.

Here’s the main floor:

It was a headache to get this house, headache almost amounting to heartache. For a house that was FOR SALE, the place was difficult to see, possibly because the tenants didn’t want anyone to take over the ownership of the place. They wouldn’t let us in for our first scheduled visit, claiming that they had to leave just as we arrived. When we eventually did get inside, they hovered. They would have been more hostile had Owen not complimented their taste immediately upon entering the house: “I really like your carpet!”

We put in an offer far lower than the asking price, fully expecting to be laughed at for our nerve, yet when they returned with a counter-offer, we began to see that the house was within our grasp. When we had our next offer accepted, I was floored.

Then the inspection came. Having had two unsuccessful (read: both flawed and revealing flaws) inspections before, we were leery. We hired an inspector based on our agent’s recommendation and, having noticed a crack in the chimney upstairs, hired a chimney inspector. As it turned out, this was both a blessing and a curse – the chimney/fireplace was immediately condemned. Apart from minor things, the house was otherwise fine. Still, we were told: one more fire and the house could burn down.

I’m going to cut a long story short: I’m bored already. We stalled at the fireplace. The owners had one idea; we had another. Our attempts to meet in the middle were foiled by miscommunication and well-meaning advocacy on the part of our respective agents. Six weeks after our initial offer, and after we’d received verbal confirmation that everything was fine, the deal fell through.

That knocked the wind out of my sails. Luckily, my brother-in-law Nico had mentioned to me at Christmas that when he was buying his place, he had contacted the sellers directly to try to come to an agreement. I thought: what do I have to lose?

I called one of the owners. Despite all deep breaths and attempts to pretend that I didn’t care, my voice was shaking on the phone. I hate it when my body betrays me like that. I get red and blotchy when I’m nervous, or lose command of my voice. It used to happen in the classroom, but I’m past that now (mostly). Anyway, maybe my weakness helped: he agreed to meet with us.

What came next was odd: it was as though we were being interviewed for the place. Do you plan to have more children? Are you handy? Why do you want to move to this house? Do you garden?

It occurred to me, in between fits of frustration, that the old owners were trying to find their house a home. They eventually saw in us some kindred spirits, so that I think, by the end of two meetings, we trusted each other and felt fond, friendly.

After such a long (and, frankly, unexpected) battle for the house, I was initially overwhelmed and anxious more than jubilant. Now, the idea of the house is growing on me, and I am looking forward to settling in some time in June.

Swimming Success

Just in case you were wondering, Owen’s second unparented swimming lesson went much better. After our first experience, I was uneasy letting him out of my sight lest he fall in again and sink to the bottom. He remembers what happened. He said that last week there was no floor under his feet and he was crying under the water. Indeed. Anyway, his teacher said that the kids do better when the parents are further away. Obediently, I walked back several steps, leaving my crying boy at the side of the pool. He reached out to me but didn’t get up, so that seemed like a promising sign.

Kirk (the teacher) gave him his very own floating turtle, which he held onto in and out of the water, and that seemed to do the trick. He actually willingly participated in all of the activities. I was especially puffed with pride to see him acting like a starfish at the side of the pool. He’s the shortest child in his class by far (and the youngest), so it was really nice to see him listening and following instructions, his arms spread wide.

I also took him to the free swim at the YMCA on Sunday so we could play and hang out in the water. We had a bit of a rocky start. For one thing, they don’t allow water wings. Owen didn’t quite understand. Then we needed bathing caps. It had taken me so long to get undressed and dressed again in bathing suits, and the front desk was so far away, that I almost bailed right there. But then Owen asked:

“They don’t want me to go in the swimming pool?”

And I realised that I had to just make it work. Ten minutes later we were back in the water in matching bathing caps, and we stayed in the water for the entire hour and a half of free swim.

Afterwards, Owen said, “I had a really nice day, Mummy, at the swimming pool.”

Phew! It was work, but we’re back to a place where he enjoys the water.

This Week in the Toddler Trenches

1. Me: “How was daycare?”
Owen: “I was grumpy and frustrated.”
****

2. Tired of dipping a pretzel, Owen decides to stick his face in the hummus container, proving that toddlers are indeed animals.
****

3. Commenting on his wee member, wrinkled from some time in underpants (don’t get excited: he’s not potty trained yet): “My penis have lines on it!”

****

4. Observant child: “You have big boobies a’cause you’re a lady and I have little boobies a’cause I’m a boy?”

****

5. Waking up from troubled dreams: “There are people in my bed. And they want directions!”