Glenn Miller and Toronto Take a Ride

Owen built a runway last night, got out his toy plane and helicopter.

“Where are you going, Owen?”

“To see Nana and Grandpa.”

“Are you driving the plane?”

“No. It’s Daddy. And Mummy is coming too, and Owen.”

“So who’s in the helicopter?”

“Glenn Miller and Toronto and a pig and a cow and a tractor.”

“Wow. That’s a full helicopter.”

“Yeah.”

“He puts in requests for “Glenn Miller” as if Glenn Miller means record. Glenn Miller is our go-to dinner music. Duncan bought me a collection of The Complete Glenn Miller (on vinyl) for Christmas last year.

“I love Glenn Miller”

“I love you, sweetie.”

* PS – This story is meant to be cute. Owen knows nothing about the fact that Glenn Miller lost his life in an airplane.

My Fair Poopy

Owen loves to sing. Everyone remarks on it. This child sings from morning to night, a sponge for lyrics. Not only does he sing “You spin me right round baby” and “Bang bang bang on the door baby (bump bump) Knock a little louder sugar” and other eighties classics, but he has a fairly extensive repertoire of nursery favourites, complete with their various verses. On Friday Melissa, his substitute daycare teacher, was surprised to hear that London Bridge does not merely fall down, but also gets built up again with silver and gold, iron and steel, and stone so strong. Owen  was apparently belting out all the verses he knows, as if to say “Come on! Doesn’t everyone know this one?”

He also loves “The Wheels on the Bus” and splices all the lyrics from all the versions he knows into a very long song. There are monkeys that chatter chatter chatter, flamingoes that flap flap flap, babies that go wah wah wah, and a Daddy who says “stop doing that” all through the town.

Recently, Owen has been inserting his demands into songs. Yesterday we brought chocolate chip cookies to Owen’s great-grand-aunt Joy. Owen very clearly wanted to eat those cookies, but we insisted that we had more at home and those were for Aunt Joy. Owen was singing “Mary had a Little Lamb” when all of a sudden the song morphed into this:

Owen wants an Aunt Joy cookie, Aunt Joy cookie, Aunt Joy cookie

Owen wants an Aunt Joy Cookie, An Aunt Joy Coo-Coo-kie!

***

We’ve been trying to toilet train Owen, and it’s not going especially well. If we remind him about every hour, we can get him to do all (or very nearly all) of his peeing on the potty. I read that poop training was easier, but we’ve only managed one poop on the potty. We know he’s going because he gets quiet and usually says something like “I love you sooo much” or something equally complimentary. And then sometimes he gets red in the face. It’s like he knows he’s not supposed to be pooping in his pants so he deflects with praise. “Mummy so nice”; “Mummy loves you soooo much”; “Owen not bad”; “Big hug?”

This morning, he told me he loved me soooo much out of the blue, so I immediately assumed he was pooping (oh dear, why can’t I just believe that my child loves me?). I asked him if he needed to use the potty. He said “Not yet” (a classic answer). Then, to the tune of London Bridge, he belted this out:

Owen pooping in his diaper, in his diaper, in his diaper

Owen pooping in his diaper, my fair lady.

Pooping pooping in his diaper, in his diaper

My fair poopy… and so on.

This was when Duncan and I looked at each other in mock despair. I mean, he’s beaten us. We’re done. We can’t top this level of creative willful toilet training avoidance.

And as it turned out, he really did just love me. He was only singing about pooping in his pants. This time.

“Owen right round, baby?”

When I was growing up, my father was a constant source of random musical lyrics. My favourite kind of apple for a while was a Granny Smith, so after lunch, I’d ask (rather innocuously) if someone could pass me a green apple. Invariably, my dad would burst into song: “God didn’t make the little green apples / And it don’t rain in Minneanapolis / In the summertime” and I would get frustrated and teenagerish (UGH! I just wanted an apple, not a concert, DAD.) I’m not sure if he’s still serenading my mother at the supper table, but when I was growing up, he was a constant source of melodies, related (or just as often unrelated) to what was going on. One of my favourites was “Eight foot two, solid blue, / Ten transistors in each shoe / Has anybody seen my / My supersonic cutie-pie / Has anybody seen my girl?” (Lyrics pulled from the recesses of my memory, so probably not accurate). These songs were often accompanied by finger drumming on the kitchen table (rat-a-tat-tat!).

It turns out that we’re a household of melodies, too. Duncan taught Owen a swimming song for bathtime, which he now sings nightly: “Swimming, Swimming, in the swimming hole / When days are hot, when days are cold / In the swimming hole! / Front stroke, back stroke, fancy diving too / Oh don’t you wish you never had / Anything else to do, but / Swimming, swimming…[etc]” Then, at the end of his bath every night, we ask Owen to “Get up, stand up (woo hoo!) / Stand up for your rights/ Get up stand up (woo hoo!) / Don’t give up the fight” and Owen supplies any words we leave out. If singing doesn’t work, we unplug the tub and tell him he’d better get out or he might go down the drain. That works too.

Apparently, we sing other songs regularly too, because this morning, Owen was trying to climb up onto our revolving stools in the kitchen. He said to me “Owen right round, baby?” – Can you hear it yet? Whenever we spin the child, we sing “You spin me right ’round, baby, right round, / Like a record, baby, right round round round.” And yes, the video is even more awesome than you might imagine (the hair! the dance moves!)

…And now it will be stuck in your head all week.

The Circle Game

And the seasons they go ’round and ’round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go ’round and ’round and ’round
In the circle game.            — Joni Mitchell

Last weekend Duncan and I took Owen to the Ormstown Fair. I hadn’t been to the fair in ages – I almost want to say decades, but not quite. Probably a decade, anyway. The weird thing about it was that apart from feeling really small, the Ormstown Fair felt oddly familiar. It wasn’t familiar from my youth (which was what I expected) but familiar in that I recognized the names of the people running the cotton candy and hot dog stands. It turns out that the Ormstown Fair is serviced by Campbell Amusements, which also operates rides and concessions at the Big Ex in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. Guess where we were last summer?

Now, this photo does not tell an entirely true story, since Owen looks perfectly thrilled to be on the horse and, to tell the truth, it was work to keep him happy. Anyway, this year we rode again (it’s the only ride that doesn’t require the adult to pay, and at $4.50 per person per 4 minute ride, I wasn’t too ambitious to do more).  He loved it. He kept saying “up, down!” and was able (mostly) to hold on by himself, though I kept my arm around him just in case, because that would have been a nasty fall (which of course flashed through my head incessantly even though I was holding onto him).

Unfortunately, we forgot the camera and my new phone doesn’t seem to allow photos to be uploaded, so this is all I’ve got:

Look how much longer his legs are!

Almost a year has passed since that first photo. Owen can now walk, make demands, run, use the potty (occasionally), make jokes, smile upon request, say “please,” “thank you,”  “bless you,” (confused with achoo!) and “I love you,” sing bits and pieces of songs, and understand all manner of words. He knows his colours (except weird ones like beige), his numbers up to 10 (except 7), and the letters O, D, M, N, G, and Y.

It’s strange to look through this blog, which I began about a year ago, and to realize how very much does change in a year. Time has always felt circular to me, rather than linear, and I’ve always liked “The Circle Game” because it’s kind of wistful about the passage of time but acknowledges that circularity. We can’t return. We are captive, moving ever forward, but of course moving forward brings us back again. We spin through the seasons, we revisit the same places over and over again in slightly different bodies, and we even (sometimes) revisit places with people whose bodies we’ve had a hand in creating.

Owen turns two today. Happy birthday, my beautiful boy. May your dreams keep their grandeur and your eyes be filled with wonder for as long as they possibly can.

* The Baby Book Club will resume next week! Huzzah! Right?

From Our Minister of Happiness…

Duncan is disheartened with the state of our current government (frankly, so am I — but I am more resigned). Anyway, he’s taken to dreaming of an Alternation – a space of ideals hearkening back to a Canada that was (or that was at least envisioned): multicultural, artistic, environmentally aware, literate, idealistic, etc. I’m not sure such a place is not just a classic utopia (with all the inherent problems of such a good-place/no-place), but I do like that he believes that we can all be better if we can envision the nation we want rather than the one we have. In Duncan’s imagined nation, Owen is (of course) the Minister of Happiness. His minute-to-minute inquiries after his parents’ happiness actually creates the stuff out of nothing. It’s hard to be sad when your (almost two-year-old!) boy asks you “happy Mama?” – it’s pretty rare that I answer no.

One reason I am happy today is that Owen’s eardrum has healed. PHEW! He didn’t even cry when the doctor looked in his ear, and the doctor didn’t seem so insensitive now that he was offering me good news instead of bad. Perspective changes everything, of course.

Yesterday was Duncan’s birthday (in a month of many, many important birthdays: Adam, Luke, Duncan, Owen, Erin, Liz… did I forget any?), and we’ve been getting Owen to practice singing happy birthday. Perhaps because he’s the minister of happiness, though, Owen sings not about happy birthdays, but general happiness. “Happy to You! Happy to You!” he says. Witness:

And very, very soon it will be time to sing happiness to Owen. I can’t wait.

Suddenly Thirsty

“Like children who listen in vain to the sea in plastic seashells they sat bewildered. Like children at the end of a long bedtime story they were suddenly thirsty.”

I’ll confess, I am not going to attempt to properly analyze the above passage from Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers. For one, I’ve not yet finished the book, but even in the context of the passage I’m a little confused (and intrigued). These sentences come at the end of a paragraph in which a French-Canadian missionary attempts to convert a group of Mohawks to Christianity. Unwilling to be swayed, the Mohawks place their fingers in their ears, which Cohen suggests is a means of hearing internal sounds that also connect them to the earth – raspberries growing, trout swimming: life and death and nature. When the missionary presents them with his painting of a vision of them in Hell, however, they are frightened. By removing their fingers from their ears, they lose the connection to the earth and everything they have known and they sit, “bewildered,” no longer understanding or having access to the spiritual knowledge they seek. The plastic seashell suggests that the knowledge the priest will present to them is inherently false or manufactured, but what of the thirst?

I noticed this passage in part because the last sentence is so true of Owen lately. At the end of a series of bedtime stories, he has started to try and delay going to sleep. “Mo’ books? Mo’ books?” he asks, or “Nik [milk]?” Rather than agreeing to go to sleep, he seeks comfort, becomes extra alert, hungry (thirsty) for something he does not need.

I’m a mean mother, because while I might relent and read another story, I’ll almost always deny him the milk, assuming that it’s a ploy to get out of his bedroom and back into the world. Is it barbaric to deny my child a drink at night? I don’t really think so. After he’s brushed his teeth and is minutes away from sleep, Owen’s request is strategy more than thirst. So what we usually do is to sing a song. Owen has two favourites for bedtime. One is the classic, Wynken and Blynken and Nod. I know all the words to that song, more or less, and when I get to the last verse, Owen moves his hands in the dark to point out that:

Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes [points to each eye]
And Nod is a little head [points to his head]
And the wooden shoe that sails through the skies
Is Owen’s little bed [points to himself and to his bed]

His other favourite is probably inappropriate, but it has a lovely tune. I started singing it before Owen really grasped any language, and had no idea it would rise to the top of our repertoire. I learned it in Dublin at the Irish Theatre Summer School of the Gaiety School of Acting. I think we were taught the song because it requires us to use almost the entire range of our voices (at least, it challenges mine. I croak out one or two of the words). Here it is:

A boat, a boat
Come to the ferry
And we shall row
And be quite merry
And quaff some wine
And good brown sherry.

I know, I know. Soon he’ll be asking for wine before bed.

It sounds beautiful in a round, but Owen’s not up to that yet. He does a slightly mangled version that sounds something like this: “A boat, a boat, Caooodaddy, Aeeee wow, a baddy, A wine, A shawwy.” Because of this song, all boats are “a boat, a boat.”

I heard somewhere recently that no matter how badly we think we sing, we should all sing to our children, that something about the warmth of the body and the vibrations caused by the voice are just good for us (of course I forget the details as to why). I was so cautious about singing to Owen when he was small. My voice felt too big and his body too small (to contain the vibrations?) Anyway, the songs were all wrong. I felt like a plastic seashell, false, tacky. But of course at some point Owen became person enough to sing to. His body grew big enough to absorb some of the sound (if you know what I mean) and he decided which songs he liked: “mo a boat a boat” or “no no no stop stop.” So instead of catering to his manufactured thirst, I guess I’m trying to satisfy something deeper.

And he doesn’t even seem to mind that I can’t hit all the notes.

Life is So Peculiar

Owen is certainly not the only toddler in this city who loves to dance, but he might well be the only toddler who commands his parents to play his favourite song on the Victrola (a Christmas present from Duncan from 2 years ago):

Our go-to song right now is Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters singing  “Life is So Peculiar” from the movie Mr Music. Full disclosure: I love Bing Crosby. I started playing his Christmas album White Christmas in early November and had to force myself to put it away at the end of January. The actual collection of music we have for the Victrola is pretty sparse, but this song sounds better on our old, wind up gramophone than it does digitally. The sound literally transports you. It’s faster when we play it, too, so infectiously danceable.

The lyrics are 50s silly: “When I get up in the morning, there’s nothing to breathe but air / When I look in the mirror, there’s nothing to comb but hair [at this point, Owen points to his hair]. When I sit down to breakfast, there’s nothing to eat but food / Life is so peculiar, but you can’t stay home and brood.” What the song stresses, though, is the predictable, and not the peculiar.

I was teaching Thornton Wilder’s Our Town this week, not my favourite play, but certainly one that made me think. The most important message in the play is that human beings never “realize life while they live it,” and while the play’s version of daily life is lamented, the truth is (I think) that much (most) of life is trivial and banal and repetitive. On the other hand, you can’t only live for the exciting moments, but sometimes have to wait for the magical to appear out of the everyday. I confess that I have spent too much of my time with Owen waiting for time to pass so that I can get on with the next task I am trying to accomplish. I had to keep him home from daycare on Monday and the morning stretched ahead of me like some looming wasteland I had to get through. We had a lovely day together, in the end, but that morning was LONG. Teaching a four-hour class (or two two-hour classes back-to back) passes in the blink on an eye by comparison. I get physically tired teaching (and today lost my voice), but mentally, I am active and so don’t get bored. With Owen, I run out of mental resources. I don’t have enough ideas of what to do with a 20-month-old, and so many of his games require my active participation that I, quite frankly, get bored. And when I do get interested (in building elaborate train tracks or tall towers out of blocks) I sometimes have to remind myself that I’m playing for him, so when he starts taking my train tracks apart and putting them away, it’s his game, not mine.

My point, though, is that over the course of the day, Monday, I realised that I was having a really great day at home with my boy, but it had taken me time to relax into it. I tried to balance getting things done (like shovelling out the 30 cm of snow that had and was still falling) and surrendering to Owen’s whims (dancing for as long as he wanted or letting him tear the stickers in his colouring book. Because it’s his colouring book, not mine, and if moving the stickers around brings him joy, I should just relax).

What I guess I am saying is that life is predictable, but that in and among the mundane are glimpses of the magical (or peculiar), and, as the song says, “that’s life, that’s life, that’s life.”

World Lullabies

When Owen was just born, my friend Irina, who is Russian, sent me a link to a series of animated lullabies created by Metronome Film. I had forgotten about them for a while, but since Owen is now officially addicted to YouTube, I’ve discovered them again, and they are so lovely – as much fun for me to watch as for him. I can’t understand the language in most (I can sing along to the French lullaby and the German one, and can guess at the lyrics in the Yiddish lullaby, but some, like the Turkish one, escape me). Still, this film speaks for itself:

Apparently, the lyrics do have something to do with chasing cows out of a vegetable garden, but I just love how the mother is wishing and waiting for a baby, and then one appears in the cabbage patch – only narrowly saved from marauding hungry calves! I tried to find out more about the baby in the cabbage patch legend and have come up with nothing. There are the infamous Cabbage Patch Kids, huge in the 80s (mine was named Mildred Fritzie and I immediately sent in the name change certificate, horrified that a child of mine could have such a name. Who calls a baby Fritzie, anyway?); there is the French expression chou-chou (which I have also heard refers to cream-puff); and there is this video. If anyone knows more about this, please tell me, since I am kind of fascinated, apparently, with finding babies among the cabbages. There’s also that great and vaguely poetic line from Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain: “Il dort dans les choux-fleurs.”

Another lullaby I love is this one, and I don’t even know what language it’s in. I love how winter is made to seem kind and hospitable (with snow as coats and blankets keeping the trees warm):

And finally, here is a Chukchi lullaby, which I don’t relate to as much as I did, but which I found hilarious and extremely relevant when Owen was a newborn. Warning, screaming baby… may cause shell shock if you’ve been there:

If you follow the links from these, you’ll be able to access many more, or as Owen would say, “Mo? Mo? Mo?” …

Smell like a Monster

Forgive me if this video is old news to you, but I live without a TV so never saw the Old Spice ads when they first appeared. I stumbled on this clip by accident while trying to interest a tired Owen in youtube Sesame Street clips.

We listen to too much CBC radio and believed that TV would be the downfall of our child. Now he’s not interested at all. Every now and then I catch myself thinking “Now couldn’t you just sit and watch TV for 3 minutes so I can [insert mundane task here]?”

In any case, enjoy Grover at his finest since Near and Far!

Wooo Wooo! Kids’ Music for Grown-Ups

I heard the Train Song on Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Café on Mother’s Day last week. Charlie Hope is my new favourite singer. Duncan bought her CD “I’m Me” yesterday and I can’t stop listening to it. It’s a children’s album, but it is soooo beautiful, and some songs are ageless (especially the Train Song). Her voice is young and light and fresh.

Also, her frogs try to eat edamame before being reprimanded and resuming their ordinary diet of flies.

Enjoy!

I’m Me!