Farewell to Nova Scotia

For when I am far away on the briny ocean tossed

Will you ever heave a sigh or a wish for me?*

Our trip to Nova Scotia was great. The weather wasn’t entirely on our side, but I conveniently forgot to take any pictures in rainy or drizzly weather, so our memories will be of warm days by the seashore (when in fact we spent just 45 minutes at the beach).

Owen really got into packing:

On the way there we stayed at a hotel in Fredericton. It wasn’t fancy, but something about the hype made Owen pretty jazzed about it. When we turned out the lights to got to sleep, after about a minute, he yelled “HOTEL!” with an abundance of joy. It cracked us up.

Before the rain set in, we had some glorious days. We went to Mahone Bay to the Pirate Festival and Regatta. Here we are being tarred and feathered:

Owen was fascinated by the silver man, but was quite disappointed that he did not get one of the balloon swords Sylvester the Jester made. “No balloon Owen. No balloon Owen.” He repeated that for much of the day.

Then we were off to the beach – had we known it would be our only beach day, we would have planned an entire day there… note to selves for next time. Owen found it very sunny and thought the waves were terrifying.

Building sandcastles kept him quite engaged, though.

The next day we went to Ross Farm, which is a restored farm (with parts of a village) animated as though it were the 1880s.

Apple juice makes my boy happy.

And after sitting on every piece of farm machinery there was, we ended up (a couple of days later?) in Lunenburg, where Owen climbed on boats and turned every captain’s wheel he could find. Those that were tied in place were lamented: “NO ‘wound and ‘wound and ‘wound.”

On the days it rained, we visited lots of historic houses (one of which had a room just for kids, filled with old-fashioned wooden toys – ingenious in a place full of ropes across doorways – which Owen quickly learned meant “No go in!”).

Some of the houses had ponds (with frogs), lakes, and bridges.

Duncan and I got one glorious night away, with Owen in the loving arms of his Grandmum and Granddad, and we also squeezed in a couple of afternoons of kayaking (as you may remember).

That’s it until next year!

* We sang “Farewell to Nova Scotia” at the end of the last concert of the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival, so it seems fitting here.

A Little Light Reading

On the way to Toronto, I looked back to see this:

His feet are bare because he cannot abide boots and socks on long car rides and removes them at the first opportunity, whining and crying if he can’t undo the velcro himself. (He also likes to bare his feet at shopping malls, so the stroller constantly snags on errant boots or shoes). Books were a life saver this time around, because they kept him interested for much longer than static toys (or even an electronic phone). Another perk is that I know all the words, so I can almost read the book from the passenger seat.

Notice how one foot is helping to hold the book.

The book he’s reading, 123 by Alison Jay, is awesome. It’s a counting book (1 to 10 and back again) but oh what a counting book. The pictures are magnificent and so detailed that you discover something new every time you read. It’s a dream book, where a little girl dreams her way through nursery rhymes, and images morph (but still follow one another) from one page to the next.

We had a brief period in Owen’s life when he was too rambunctious to read. I am glad that books are back to being some of his favourite things.

Good Night, Sleep Tight…

You know the rest, right?

Don’t let the bedbugs bite!

Well.

So it seems we picked up bedbugs on our way home from Nova Scotia. We stayed at a fairly flea-baggy motel (with one of the more spectacular views ever). It seemed clean. It may have been clean. You can apparently pick up bedbugs in 5-star hotels and movie seats. But the day after we got back Owen woke up with 3-4 bites on his face. And then the next day there were some on his leg. And then none the next day. And they might have been mosquito bites. But there were too many and they kept showing up in the morning. Three more on his back, in a triangular pattern. One nasty one under his hair. One behind his ear. And another one. And some more on his face. Duncan and I were trying to deny it because it was so gross (and if you google images as we did you will regret it: be warned). It was mosquito-ey out. Anyway, at some point last week we had to admit that we had a problem. We had the whole upstairs fumigated yesterday morning, and this morning, Owen woke up bite-free. I still can’t quite believe that this happened (is happening?). I mean, it makes my skin crawl to think about it, but in the end, we may have had one bug. But that bug might have lived for 300 days. And if it was a male, that would have been the end of it, but if a female, it might have laid 5 eggs a day. And I don’t even want my brain to go there.

I put Owen to bed in his crib every night with the knowledge that he might have his blood sucked by a nocturnal vampire-like bloodsucker. I did not feel good about this but we didn’t really have any other place to put him. We tried to get him to sleep in our room but our one experiment failed. Plus maybe it was nocturnal mosquitoes. Right? He has been much harder to get to bed lately, and I’ve been a lot more patient because, who knows? Maybe the bugs woke him up? Poor guy.

So we spent a small fortune on one bug (or two) plus all the potential bugs we didn’t want in our house. And we have a year warranty on our bedbug-less state. Because if you haven’t heard, like Vampire fiction, bedbugs are an epidemic – the fact that we are travelling more makes the bugs hitch rides to new and exciting mattresses. To suck new and exciting blood.

I just hope that this is the end of the story.

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!

Some Birds Are Like That

Have you ever ignored a child? A child who was grinning and waving at you? I’m not sure. I think I might have, in black days past when I was fuming at something or other and I didn’t want to be cheerful to anyone, for anyone. But I’d like to hope that I didn’t ignore a child’s beckoning glance. That I cracked a miniature smile, looked back into small, trusting eyes.

Owen is a pretty gregarious kid – he grins and waves at everyone, soliciting grins and waves back (most of the time). But it was strange and kind of sad to see one woman who, on the S-Bahn back from Bad Homburg, ignored Owen’s multiple attempts at communication. He didn’t seem fazed by it at all. It looked like he thought she mustn’t have seen him yet, so he kept trying – every five or ten minutes or so – to make her crack a smile. And she wouldn’t! For almost an hour she stared in our general direction but without a glimmer of recognition for the little boy trying so hard to make friends. She looked to be in her late twenties, was well put together, quite pretty. And I guess I keep thinking about her because I remember a time (not too long ago) when I was a little like her. When I didn’t really get kids. When I was broody and self-absorbed.

My former roommate Janet used to tell me that when I was feeling miserable, the best cure was to smile. And I hated hearing that when I was moping and glowering – but of course she was right. And I think that is part of why Owen has cured so many of my bad moods – because I can’t help but smile when he’s around (especially at his latest trick, which involves pointing at Duncan or me and then applauding vigorously: “Hooray for Daddies!” or “Hooray for Mummies!” we shout).

One of our favourite books lately is called Lost and Found, by Oliver Jeffers. It’s about a boy who finds a penguin on his doorstep and tries to bring him “home” to the South Pole. In a way, though, it’s also a classic tale of misunderstanding, misreading, and miscommunication. When the boy is trying to figure out where the penguin comes from, he asks some birds – but they don’t answer him. “Some birds are like that,” comments the narrator. Indeed. His rubber ducky is similarly silent. All the while, the penguin follows the boy around trying (silently) to make friends, while the boy is so intent on returning his new friend to the South Pole, that he fails to notice that the penguin just wants some attention. Isn’t that clever? The boy is a little like those birds! Fortunately, the boy realizes his mistake and the book has a happy ending.

And then they hug.

I guess all this to say that I think we all risk ignoring each others’ wants and needs, when sometimes that need is just a smile, an acknowledgment, a nod. And I hope I will never again be one of those birds – you know – the ones who are like that.

The Kindness of Strangers

Owen and I just got back from Germany, where we visited my sister Erin, her husband Nico, and their “child” Bagel the dog. It was my first solo trip with Owen, and I was quite nervous anticipating the plane ride and jet lag with a one-year-old. Well, leave it to Owen to make me want to take him anywhere, anytime. Er ist sehr freundlich! He waved and grinned his way through check-ins, security checkpoints, crowded planes, trains and streetcars.

But still, I did get tired. It was new for me to be the only parent, and as much as Erin and Nico helped, I was on bath duty and bed duty and feeding duty (and the mum is generally the one to calm a fussy child… Aunts and uncles are fair-weather stand-ins).

One beautiful evening, after a wonderful day meeting up with some of my friends at the zoo, Nico drove us to Würtzburg. We stopped in at the Residenz, a Baroque palace with spectacular gardens. As it happened, there was a wine festival, and since it was a lovely evening and we had to eat anyway, we decided to stay. Despite the glorious surroundings and the sunset and the cool wine and cool breezes, I was a heart-thumping stress case. There were only benches to sit at, so I couldn’t use my fantastic portable fabric high chair. I tried sitting Owen on the bench beside me, but he was topply and squirmy. Then (before I noticed what was happening), Owen started feeding Bagel some of his flammkuchen and Bagel, excited to get something to delicious to eat, snapped Owen’s fingers along with the crust, leading to tears and more maternal stress.

Erin noticed that I was kind of losing it, so she took Owen across the table, and already it was better. I could see his smiley face and interact with him without being “responsible” for him. Owen started grinning and waving at our neighbour at the end of the table, a middle-aged gentleman with a very kind face who grinned back and started holding Owen’s hand and making faces. My quick-thinking sister then handed Owen over to this man, who graciously accepted the charge. He kept him entertained for about an hour, poking his finger through a hole in a wooden tray, making funny sounds and faces, and dancing (with Owen) around the jazz band that came by. His wife was also delightful; she commented that they have sons in their early twenties, but that her husband certainly looks ready for grandchildren. We separated Owen from his temporary grandpa, and I left the garden refreshed and happy. I will repeat this over and over: full-time parenting is exhausting, and it takes just little breaks to make an otherwise arduous responsibility into a real pleasure.

Owen continued to make friends throughout our trip. An American man carried him (in his stroller) up several flights of stairs in 35C heat so we could reach the castle in Heidelburg. Also memorable were our neighbours on the plane ride home: a lovely Indian grandmother played with him while I filled out our customs forms, a middle-eastern gentleman played peekaboo and held Owen on his lap for about 15 minutes, and a young German woman walked Owen around the whole plane, allowing him to grin and wave at everyone as he passed them.

I don’t know the names of any of these people, but thank you, thank you, thank you!