Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)

While I was still pregnant with Owen, I thought, rather optimistically, that I would be able to brave the pain of childbirth without drugs. I made a “birth mix,” which seems kind of hilarious now. I thought that if I played lots of tunes, my adrenaline would carry me through labour or something. As it turned out, I didn’t want to listen to anything. I didn’t want to speak. I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to do anything but … endure? survive?

Anyway, one of the songs I put on my birth mix was Janis Joplin’s “Try.” It was kind of a joke to myself. I remember debating whether I would think it funny when I was in labour. Probably not, as it turns out.

Someone asked me the other week whether I had a “good birth.” It’s a shame, but I still can’t answer that question in the affirmative. At the time, I equivocated, said I guess so. I still feel a bit guilty that I wanted (needed?) an epidural. Then, this wise woman said, “but your baby came out healthy?” and I had to acknowledge that yes – if that was the standard – if it wasn’t about my feelings of accomplishment – then I definitely had a good birth.

I guess I thought that if I had tried (just a little bit harder) that I might have managed to bear the pain, as if that were some kind of rite of passage or badge of honour. I didn’t try hard enough, I thought, healthy baby in my arms. I “failed.”


The person who’s been making me try harder lately is the boy himself. He sets me Herculean tasks.

“You make it snow,” he says, pointing to his lego house.

“I don’t know how to make it snow out of Lego,” say I.

“But you will try,” he says, shrugging his little hands.

I get an idea. Suddenly, small blue pieces of Lego are falling over the house.

“No, Mummy. You make better snow.”

I grab a kleenex, wave it over the structure. “Look Owen, it’s snowing.”

“That not snow. That a kleenex.” (Silly Mummy).


Another day, he asks me to draw a zebra. I admit, “I’m not sure I know how to draw a zebra.”

“But you will try.”

I start on the head, draw the back, get the legs done – a vaguely equine being is taking shape.

“That look like a donkey,” says my ever critical son.


Walking home from the park the other day, Owen asked me another, more delicate question.

“You make me a brother or a sister? Maybe, If I lucky?”

Many of his friends now have brothers or sisters, and he’s a bit jealous, I think.

“I don’t know if we can, honey. It would be nice, though, wouldn’t it?”

He nods. “But you will try,” he says, walking on.

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.


I bought a whale pool for Owen last Thursday. It was white and royal blue. When you attached it to a hose, it sprayed water out of its blowhole. Owen LOVED it:

It took me half an hour to inflate (with my lungs!), at the end of which my cheeks ached. But it was so worth it when he splashed and squealed around. We used it Thursday. And Friday. And Saturday.

On Sunday morning, Owen and I came downstairs for breakfast. The pool was lying on the lawn deflated. That’s odd, I thought to myself. Maybe Duncan let the air out yesterday? I wish he hadn’t… it was so hard to blow up.

But then Duncan came downstairs.

“What happened to the pool?”

We went outside, expecting to have to search for a tiny hole (the pool came with a small patch). Instead, we met with whale carnage. It had huge, gaping holes EVERYWHERE. In the bottom, on the sides, where the hose attached, where the air went in, where the water went out. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

“Did it get hit by lightning?” I asked Duncan. “Or do you think a coyote attacked it?”

We looked for evidence of fur. Whale pool CSI.


We think it must have exploded. We’re not sure how, exactly. It had rained the night before, so maybe it got overfull, but it’s a POOL – designed to hold, you know, WATER.

I searched the house, the recycling, my wallet, and finally found the bill. I thought that since it had been 3 days, they might consider refunding me. I dread confrontation, so my stress built and built all the way to Zellers as I anticipated the salesclerk’s accusations of whale maltreatment.

“Did you harpoon the whale? Did you let a coyote into your back yard?”

No on the first. Maybe on the second?

In the frenzy of my departure, though, I had forgotten my wallet. So I had to put Owen back in his car seat and drive home again. By this point, I felt like someone had taken the air out of me. Half the morning was gone. But I was determined not let the loss of the pool ruin the rest of my day.

In the end, we returned it successfully yesterday. The salesclerk didn’t even ask about the coyote, though she did eye us a little suspiciously and asked if we had overfilled it.

And it’s silly, I know, but I am kind of mourning the pool. It was a shiny, vibrant part of our lives for those three days. It brought us so much joy. And now it’s gone. Exploded. I mean, I would totally have bought another if this one hadn’t self-destructed in three days. But it did.

This is only tangentially related, but I get so frustrated with things that are accidentally disposable. Like plastic bibs that start to smell after a couple of weeks but self-destruct in the washing machine. Or sleepers with snaps that break. Or shoes that look like leather but aren’t and then crack (I have made this mistake twice this year)! If something is disposable, fine. But if it looks like something that is a relatively permanent purchase, even if it is inexpensive, then I feel like it should last until you’re finished with it.

I wanted to use that pool next summer. Instead, I am feeling kind of deflated.