Halloween Joy

We had such a good Halloween. My previous guilt over the makeshift nature of Owen’s turtle costume was alleviated by great idea from this blog about sewing eyes onto a hoodie (thus eliminating the need for face makeup). And I painted the turtle shell reasonably successfully. Plus Owen is ridiculously cute, so he animates an obviously homemade costume. Most people even guessed that he was a turtle, though one our 6-year-old twin neighbours  (a witch) said “Il est tellement cute!  Mais il est déguisé en quoi?”

During the day, Owen was fascinated with the jack-o-lanterns we carved, and kept running into the kitchen to point and let out an excited “Aah!”

At about 5:00, we got him into his costume, talking it up all the while. We’d been showing him pictures of turtles all week, in anticipation. He was a little uncomfortable at first (what with the pillow on his back) but gradually started to warm up to his costume. Here it is:

And when the kids started arriving, well! pretty soon he started to trot towards the door whenever the doorbell rang. Owen did, however, have one fright, one of the first of his life, that certainly took us by surprise. One of the earlier groups of kids who came by were wearing masks. One of them had a huge St-Bernard dog mask on. Now Owen LOVES dogs, and is not afraid of dogs at all. But this one terrified him. The child underneath (about 12?) waved at Owen the Turtle, but Owen’s face stiffened and he burst into tears. The mask was quickly removed by the (very apologetic) trick-or-treater. Duncan and I reassured him (as we reassured Owen), and after a couple of wary door openings, Owen was back in the game. I think he would actually have enjoyed going door-to-door.

Next year Owen will lead us by the hand to strange doors and charm the world with his smiles.

He stayed up a little later than usual and was quite tired by bedtime. After his bath and his story, I turned out the light and in the dark I asked.

“Did you have a good Halloween?”

“Mmmm,” he nodded vigorously.

“Did you like being a turtle?”

“Mmmm,” he nodded again.

“Are you ready for bed?”

“Mmmm” he nodded.

I don’t know exactly how much he understands, but his nods were so emphatic that I believe them.

Hats off to Kind Men

Owen seems really to enjoy people. He has a smile that draws both men and women to him and a warmth and delight that seems to make them want to forge connections with him, make him laugh. I’m never surprised when women play with him, but I’m always especially moved when men go out of their way to amuse him. Owen has made several special bonds with men, strangers, who have taken a shine to him. I’ve written about one very memorable experience in Würtzburg and recently, two more men have managed to make Owen laugh so gleefully that I felt myself thanking them and thanking them as we left.

The first was our waiter at the St-Hubert Restaurant in Rivière-du-Loup. First, can I just say do they ever know what they are doing when it comes to kids… the high chair tray comes with a bib and CRACKERS! If you have a hungry child and no immediate food, you have something to feed him! Anyway, our waiter was pretty ordinary at first, but near the end of our meal, and the end of his shift, he had more time, I guess. Well, he started to make faces at Owen and hide behind his high chair. We got into a conversation about the benefits of bilingualism (his four-year-old daughter was learning both English and French, and her English was already better than his.) Language is a difficult subject in this province, so it was nice to meet someone so open to bilingualism. I told him how instinctual I had found the mother tongue. I had every intention of speaking to Owen in French when he was born but found myself unable. The songs I knew, the expressions, the baby language – all of it was English. And I imagine that French will continue to be spoken in the homes of Quebec even if more English education is provided. Then again, it always shocks me when I travel outside Quebec (or Ottawa) and realize how little French so many people know. Up with bilingualism! Anyway… I digress. Our waiter came by again while cleaning up and noticed that Owen was pretty dirty (from the meal)… so with great fanfare, he started to wash his hands (making sure to get into the cracks between the fingers) and then washed the tray – all the while making Owen laugh hysterically at his antics. Thank you Grégoire!

The next day, we stopped in Quebec City to see an exhibition of Victorian paintings at the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec. The exhibit was fantastic, but what was in a way even more memorable was Richard, who had been hired to assess the impact of the exhibit on Quebec tourism. He was a total clown with Owen, running behind the exhibition sign, playing peek-a-boo, and making every funny face he could think of. He was so animated and involved that he had us all laughing (Owen hardest of all). Thank you Richard!

We arrived home tired and happy, in part because of the generosity of spirit of these (and other countless, nameless) strangers.

Take Two

On Tuesday, Duncan and I got the idea in our heads that we should go whale watching. Great idea, right? It had been sunny almost every day since we arrived, and the forecast predicted showers for Wednesday and clearing on Thursday. We immediately booked a night at the Brier Island Lodge, followed by a whale watch cruise on Thursday morning. It was going to be expensive, but worth it!

We had both forgotten our raincoats in Montreal, possessed with the packing amnesia that comes of hot and sunny temperatures over 30ºC — it will never rain or be cold again! We also had to drive Duncan’s sister Liz to the airport, so we got off to a bit of a late start. Brier Island is at the tip of the tip of Digby neck, a long, skinny promontory that juts out between Saint-Mary’s Bay (la Baie Sainte-Marie) and the Bay of Fundy. You have to take two ferries to get there, and the ferries leave just once an hour. We stopped in Digby to buy warm sweaters and jackets, which somehow took two hours. We went to Guy’s Frenchy’s Family Fashion Outlet, where we bought Owen a too-big winter jacket and fuzzy pants, and where Duncan and I found sweaters, then off to Canadian Tire for rain slickers.  Of course, it wasn’t this simple, since I insisted in checking to see whether Digby had a Joe Fresh fashion outlet and Owen lost (and found) a shoe. And there were diaper changes and snacks and the etceteras that come from being vaguely disorganized and having a one-year-old.

Two ferries later, we arrived on Brier Island in the midst of a deep, thick fog. It was spectacular (from what we could see). We checked into the hotel, went straight to the dining room, and stuffed our faces on fried seafood. I have never seen Owen as excited as when eating fish and chips. Probably not ideal nutrition, I know.

We overheard mutterings of the fog continuing the next day, but we blocked our ears. “It will burn off” said Duncan.

But the next morning was foggier than the night before. We got ready anyway, and went down to the whale watching office, bracing ourselves for the news that our boat was cancelled, but it wasn’t. In fog, you just have to listen for the whales’ blowholes, and then you follow them, they assured us.

Owen fell asleep in the two minutes it took to get to the wharf, so we carried him on board the ship, and listened attentively while our guides told us how we would find the whales – we would go to their feeding grounds, listen for the sound of their blowholes, and smell for their stinky breath. We did not know that whales had stinky breath!

So off we went, and it was so foggy we could barely see the water. It was eerie and kind of beautiful. I kept thinking I was seeing a whale out of the corner of my eye, but no – just my bangs. Owen eventually woke up and began entertaining people. I kept my mouth gritted shut, since I was starting to feel a little, then a lot, seasick. It was quite choppy out there. When you are seasick, you’re supposed to look to the horizon, but alas! no horizon was remotely visible. Two hours later, proud of myself for holding it all together, I handed Owen to Duncan and rushed to the side of the ship. And was sick. And again. And again. And then I felt MUCH better. I didn’t even care that there were no whales. I was no longer seasick!

After 3 hours, the chase was abandoned. The wind was so loud that we couldn’t hear the whales, and the fog made it so that we couldn’t see them. We got a voucher for our next trip. And I considered the nausea I was likely to experience again.

We then went for a hike through the fog where only the day before there had been reports of fifty seals basking on rocks. We thought we saw four seal heads in the water, until we realised that they were birds. Because of this wild seal chase, we missed the ferry.

We stopped for coffee in Annapolis Royal. Our plan was to have dinner in Wolfville and then to drive back to Halifax and slip a fed and sleeping Owen into bed. Outside Wolfville, Duncan asked if I still wanted to stop in Wolfville for dinner. It was already 7:30 and I thought we’d better feed Owen, who had already been clamouring for whatever food we had in the car for an hour. (I always said I would never feed my kids in the car. Ha. Ha. Ha.)

We stopped. Owen wouldn’t eat. He was fussing and throwing food on the floor. Laughing. Fussing. It had been about 2 hours since his last diaper change so I figured I would change him before we left the restaurant, so he’d be fresh for the road. Did I mention that both Duncan and I made a bee-line for the bathroom the moment we got to the restaurant? And didn’t change our son, who had had more to drink than usual to keep him quiet?

Anyway, mid-way through dinner, I thought to change his diaper. I picked him up and realised that he was soaked. His diaper was so full it was like he was sitting on a wet sponge. We had to wipe down the high chair. That bad. And did I have a clean set of clothes to put on him? No! I had a dirty shirt from a leaky diaper from the day before and a pair of shorts. So we did the walk-of-shame-with-half-naked baby back into the restaurant. We had pushed Owen a bit too far. He was exhausted. When we got him in his carseat, he did not fall asleep, but wailed. And then it started to POUR RAIN. Buckets. Gushing fountains. The OCEAN was on our car.

And Duncan said: “So you had to stop for dinner.”

And I kept very quiet. And I actually prayed that the rain would stop.

The visibility was so poor that we ended up on the shoulder by accident, having mistaken an entrance to the highway for a passing lane.

Eventually, the rain did subside. We missed the exit we wanted, but ended up by some trick of all roads leading to Halifax, in Halifax. I said I was sorry we had decided to stop for dinner. Duncan acknowledged that there was no way we could have predicted the torrential downpour. We laughed.

We arrived at Duncan’s parents’ house with a fast-asleep baby. Then the dogs started to bark. Owen woke up. “Dodeh! Dodeh!” He said, too awake. I don’t even remember how we got him back to sleep. I think it might have been traumatic.

The point of my story?

So much went wrong. But we have a voucher! So we have to do it all over again. And it has the potential to go wrong all over again. You can’t predict the weather. (It has been sunny every day since we got back). But we want to do it again. And I would get seasick again, for the chance to see the whales. Do you see where I am going with this?

If we did decide to have another child, at some point, there is so much that could go wrong. Everything that was difficult this time would be difficult again, or, more likely, different things would go wrong, challenging our sense that we knew what we were doing. But I still want to go on that journey again. I’ll risk the seasickness or morning sickness for the chance to see a watery creature emerge from its watery world. And the optimist in me assumes (with the amnesia that seems to set in after having a baby) that the next time there will be clear skies and smooth sailing.

Our Adventures

We’ve been in Nova Scotia for about a week, and it’s been full of new experiences. We’re doing a lot of things we wouldn’t necessarily have done without a child, but having Owen makes us remember what it was like to be kids again.

We’ve been to the beach:

And we’ve seen dinosaurs (or at least models of them):

We’ve visited the Toyota dealer (I know… what fun!):

We’ve investigated pigs (who are all nose) and have been spooked by BAAAAAing sheep:

We contemplated the ferris wheel:

But in the end decided that the merry-go-round would be more fun:

The merry-go-round made Owen a little nervous…

until he started looking for Daddy:

Owen’s granddad taught him how to eat cherry tomatoes whole…

until he looked a little like a vampire:

And we went to a parade:

As you can see, we’re having fun!

Idle Parenting?

Here’s an article referenced by Dana in response to this post by Rebecca Woolf of Girl’s Gone Child:

Idle Parenting Means Happy Children.

Tom Hodgkinson’s tone is slightly tongue-in-cheek, but he voices real enthusiasm for leaving your children alone to develop their imaginations. I’m kind of torn on this one. I think I aspire to be a bit of an idle parent, but Owen’s still too young to be left on his own entirely out of sight. He can play by himself without tons of stimulation, though I still get down on the floor to play with him if he seems to be bored or fussy. I build lego animals, he destroys them. I hide balls in boxes, he finds them (or throws them). I say “mama,” he says “baba.”

I grew up with a healthy amount of neglect. My mother, at her wit’s end, would often yell “Go play outside!” And we would grumble and head out wondering why mothers didn’t have to play outside too? But then of course we would discover something – a ring of rose-shaped weeds? A fairy garden! Or we’d build a snow fort. And then we’d forget our griping and come inside only when our fingers were numb and our snowpants wet through.

My friend Stephanie’s house bordered a fairly large river and we played IN the river on a fairly regular basis. Most of the time, we just skipped from rock to rock (once we did this in Parisian party dresses). We got in trouble, but we thought it must have been because we were wearing our party dresses, so the next time, we changed into ballet leotards (which is exactly like a bathing suit, perfect for rivers!). This time we waded to an island in the middle of the river, up to our armpits in fairly fast-moving water, losing our footing occasionally. We were genuinely shocked when we got in trouble again.

Another time we decided to walk from her house to my house, through the woods. We hadn’t planned it, but we were playing in the forest and got so far in that we figured it was closer to go to my house than to hers. Our houses were 2-3 km apart. And again, we got in trouble! We were so surprised. I think we expected the accolades of explorers discovering a new continent.

That our parents punished us for these escapades I guess indicates that we weren’t supposed to play in the river or hike through the woods without telling anyone. But that we did, fairly often, means that we were left to our own devices, and that no one missed us for hours at a time. These memories of play remain, when the memory of punishment has faded.

Duncan has similar memories of childhood freedom: exploring World War I forts near his home in Halifax, tobogganing and almost falling into the harbour, or playing with a real hammer and whacking his thumb.

We want to allow Owen to have these kinds of memories, and I’m curious to know what my response will be when he’s old enough to understand the concept of danger. I’d like to think I’ll allow him a good deal of freedom.

Then again, I burst into tears yesterday after hearing on the news that a one-year-old had drowned in the bathtub (left unattended for just a couple of minutes) and hurried around the house trying to childproof whatever still caused me anxiety – the cupboard doors under the bathroom sink, a tall bookshelf in Owen’s room not yet attached to the wall…

My lazy side is going to have to do battle with my anxious side. I’m just afraid my anxious side will win.