Thoughts of Home

The house I grew up in was wonderful. Warm and cheerful, the colors on the walls welcomed you like a hug, and the spacious open plan was downright elegant. My family and I worked hard personalizing it, and painting it, and the years I lived there were some of my happiest and most carefree. What I loved most about the house was how it made me feel safe and secure. Whether during the rainy season with the furnace pumping merrily through the grates, or in the summer with the windows wide open and a cool breeze blowing through, I always knew that I was “home”. In the mornings, I would lie in bed and listen to the comforting sounds of my mother making coffee, listening as she opened the fridge to make my sister and me our lunches. My father would open the creaky mudroom door, and he and the dogs would walk down the long driveway to get the daily newspaper. These familiar noises became the soundtrack of my childhood.

As I’ve grown older, the saying “you can never go home again” has come up more and more. I travelled a lot in my early twenties, and I found that each time I came back, the house was slightly different. Was the paint always so chipped on that mirror? Was that closet door always so squeaky? Was my bed always disassembled and stored in the basement? “What’s the problem?” my mother asked, “I wanted an office. You can just sleep on the air mattress.” While struggling to sleep on the slowly deflating mattress, I tried to think of what else had changed. The house itself seemed altered; it was smaller and less fantastic than I remembered. It even smelled different; almost imperceptibly, my childhood home had transformed into something I didn’t recognize.

Eventually, my parents downsized, and moved into a two-bedroom apartment. I was sad to lose our house; it was indelibly a part of my childhood. Who was going to take care of my mother’s rose garden? Who was going to mow the lawn? Would the new owners love it as much as we had? Once or twice, I drove past our old house, and each time it broke my heart. It was no longer “mine”.

Over the years, I would dream about waking up in my old bedroom. I would see the pale-yellow walls and the blue carpet (which I’m sure had been quite stylish at one point). I would walk down the hallway and steal a glimpse into my sister’s room, where she had taped up pictures of teen heartthrobs. A wave of happiness would wash over me: “it’s still ours!” I would think in my dream, “it’s still mine!” I would wake up happy and content, only to snap out of my fuzzy dream state with a jolt. The house was gone; what sweet torture.

The years passed, and I still thought of our old house with regret, instead of remembering the wonderful times we had there. I had to move on, to let go – we would never live in that house again. Eventually, I started to look at things differently. What hadn’t changed? Certainly not my parents, who were as congenial as ever. My mother still drank coffee like it was water, still made German apple cake, still delighted in cooking Thanksgiving dinners. My dad still read voraciously, told bad jokes, and then laughed when we rolled our eyes. It didn’t matter where we lived; they were still the same, and they made the apartment a home.

That’s the feeling I want my kids to have; that feeling of familiarity and contentment. The knowledge that no matter how things change, they’ll always stay the same. Wherever they go, Jeremy and I will always be home to welcome them, wherever “home” may be. Twenty years from now, I’ll still be baking chocolate-chip cookies, and Jeremy will still be fixing up old cars. We’ll stay just as cranky, funny, and content as we are; for our two beautiful children, our house and our arms will always be open.

Best Laid Plans

“You need a break,” my husband Jeremy said, “why don’t you take tomorrow off?” After a long and frustrating week, I wasn’t going to argue. The kids and I had been annoying each other non-stop, and there was only so much more I could take. Jeremy had been keeping count; I had asked the question “do you want a timeout??!” forty-eight times in three days. A timeout was just what I needed, and the kids would love spending time with dad.

Saturday morning dawned bright and pretty. Jeremy took the kids into the yard, and the absence of thundering toddler footsteps meant I slept in until nine. I had a long, hot shower, blow-dried my hair, and even put on some make-up. With the family off to the park, I went into my office, ready to happily putter around.

An hour later, I was enjoying a rare phone call with a friend. My daughter Molly clomped up the stairs and wandered into my office, wearing her shoes and comically large bike helmet. She started chattering away, and I listened with half an ear.

“Daddy was in his workshop,” she said.

“Uh-huh,” I replied.

“He was drilling some metal,” she said.

“Uh-huh.”

“His hand slipped and now there’s lots of blood,” she said, saving the best for last.

Springing into action, I dropped my phone and leapt from my chair, stumbling awkwardly. Grabbing some first aid supplies (a tampon and a Band-aid), I rushed downstairs, tripping over the vacuum. My husband was standing in the driveway, holding his right hand, and wincing in pain. “This is a bad one,” he said. Maintaining my composure (struggling to control my panicked, raggedy breathing) it was agreed that Jeremy needed to go to the hospital. Despite my best efforts, he insisted on driving himself (“the baby is still napping,” he pointed out. “And I don’t think you can drive right now,” he said with a raised eyebrow, as I inhaled deeply into a paper bag.) Ever pragmatic, he insisted on hosing down the driveway first (there was, in fact, a lot of blood).

Strange thoughts cross your mind when your partner is injured. Uncomfortable thoughts about (God forbid) going it alone. What if he passed out while driving to the hospital? What if the truck rolled down a ravine? What if hungry bears, attracted by the smell of blood, crawled into the truck, and chewed his hand off?

All these wildly improbable scenarios flickered through my mind as I waited by the phone. While I was wondering how to put a bear in a headlock, Jeremy called. There didn’t appear to be any tendon or nerve damage; he received seven stitches and an admonishment to be more careful. Relief flooded over me; my husband was bruised and sore, but he was okay. Even better, I hadn’t had to fight off a bunch of bears like some enraged female Grizzly Adams.

Jeremy came home tired and drained. Molly excitedly asked him about the doctors in the hospital (“did the doctor give you a needle?” she asked, her eyes wide), while Andy drooled and repeated the word “daddy” over and over. “I guess your day off was kind of a bust,” Jeremy remarked with a rueful smile. I didn’t care about my day – it wasn’t important. All that mattered was that my family was safe and whole. Events like this put things into perspective; the days may be long and occasionally irritating, but we’re all healthy and thriving. We have a roof over our heads and food in the fridge. I’m grateful for the happy home we’ve built for ourselves. Besides, I have the rest of my life to take another day off – next Saturday sounds good to me!

Wasted Days

When I was eleven and my sister was thirteen, my parents decided that we were old enough to stay at home weekdays during the summer. Our house was a forty-five minute walk from the nearest bus stop; being that we were lazy, there was little chance of us walking to catch said bus and ending up at the mall with the other miscreants. Also, there weren’t any other kids on our street (none that we liked, anyway), so our parents were content to leave us to our devices every morning as they went to work.

So, what did two young kids with an infinite amount of free time on their hands do? What wacky schemes did we think up? What did we do with an empty house and no parental supervision? The answer: absolutely nothing. We didn’t do a single thing. Our days would pass agonizingly slowly, peppered with the occasional fridge raid to break the monotony. There was no cable TV; we had six channels, two of them were fuzzy, and one was Cantonese. I would wake up at 11 am and watch “The Price is Right”; I didn’t even like that show, but it was better than watching men’s golf, which was on almost daily. This was before cell phones, before Instagram, and before the internet. There wasn’t much for two homebound kids to do. Sure, we could play outside or ride our bikes, but that was boring. Besides, where could we ride our bikes to? Down the street and back up again? Repeatedly?

Each day stretched for an eternity; we lazed around on the couch and the floor, bored out of our minds. Could we have gone outside and played in the fresh air? Absolutely. Did we ever do that? Not really. My sister was never interested in playing with me, and it gets lonely playing by yourself, so we ended up staying inside. I do recall that this was slightly before caller ID, so we delighted in making prank phone calls. These calls involved dialling the number of someone we knew, waiting for them to pick up the phone, and then staying silent as they said “hello”. We were not creative pranksters, obviously.

The one benefit of this unrelenting boredom was that summer lasted forever. Two months would drift slowly by, and the idea of September was a far and distant dream. Looking back, I can see those days so clearly; the warm sunshine, the smell of flowers in the morning, the wind rustling in the pine trees – how achingly pretty. If only I had appreciated my free time when I had it! Oh, to be bored again! I had no idea that boredom was a luxury.

Now, I’m lucky if I can get a spare second to enjoy the weather. Most of the time I’m worried about sunscreen, naptimes, and hats (because you know how much toddlers enjoy wearing hats). What I wouldn’t give to be bored! To have nothing to do, nothing to clean, no noses to wipe… wouldn’t that be lovely? To relax on the soft grass in the sun, reading a book, instead of breaking up another scream-fight because someone stole the other’s sunglasses. (Hint: they have identical sunglasses).

I’m trying not to wish my life away, though. Most days are fun because they’re new for my kids, and we’re making summer memories together. Memories of running through the sprinkler, chasing the ice-cream truck, and playing outside with the dog. Hopefully, my kids will look back on these long, long, long summer days as fondly as I will! I won’t leave them to their own devices for a while, and when I do, I’ll make sure to tell them to enjoy being bored. I can already predict how their eyes will roll when I tell them “consider yourselves lucky! I wish I was bored!”

Seaside Adventures

It was a good plan, I swear. What could go wrong with a day at the beach? Memories of my childhood summers drifted through my thoughts. My mother would pack the large, dented orange cooler with ham sandwiches and juice boxes. The station wagon would be loaded with what seemed like a week’s worth of food and disappointing inflatable beach toys. The ride to the beach would be quiet; my sister and I would still be half asleep! After lucking into a parking spot (“I told you we should have left earlier,” my mother would chide my dad), we would awkwardly drag the cooler across the burning hot sand. The red calico beach blanket would be unfurled, and the faded beach umbrella would be opened with a satisfying chhhhh-fwump.

The day would drift by lazily, with my parents sunbathing, and my sister and I running around the beach like crazed monkeys. Eventually, my mother would walk into the water and start breast-stroking slowly across the lake in a straight line. I would watch her until she disappeared – where was she going? Europe? Hours would pass (it was only thirty minutes, but time moves slowly when you’re a kid) until my mother leisurely swam back to the beach, where she would sit on the blanket until it was time to leave. My family would end the day sunburnt (always sunburnt! Where was the sunscreen? Hadn’t it been invented yet?), happy, and tired.

With those cheerful thoughts in mind, I packed the kids and the dog into the van for a day trip to the beach. It’s only a five minute drive from our house, so I figured we could make a quick getaway if things went awry. The sky was blue and cloudless, the kids were slathered in sunscreen, and the beach was deserted. We made our way down to the sand; Molly was carrying a bucket of toys, and I brought up the rear holding Andy and the dog on his leash. Things were going well! The kids were shrieking and laughing, scooping sand into piles, and racing up and down the beach. I winced when Andy plopped down into a swampy puddle, instantly soaking his shorts; I could only chuckle as his diaper swelled up like a basketball and he waddled away awkwardly. (Note to self: put swim diapers on Andy when water is involved. He will always find it and sit in it).

My troubles began when I walked a few feet away to look at seashells. Unfortunately, the sand below me was much more viscous than I thought, and each step caused me to sink up to my shins. Not wanting to alarm the kids (had anyone ever drowned in quicksand on this beach?) I silently struggled, yanking my thighs up with both hands. This, of course, dislodged my cheap dollar-store sandals, so I plunged my arms into the muck and found them by feel. Walking back towards the kids, with all four limbs slathered in dark brown sand, I stepped on a razor sharp clam shell and sliced my toe open. While removing the shell from my now bleeding toe, I cut my finger open on a barnacle-covered rock. Like some creature from the Black Lagoon that just wouldn’t die, I lurched towards my kids — filthy, exhausted, and bleeding in several places.

“Okay kids, time to go!” I chirped brightly, washing my open wounds in the ocean (salt water is a disinfectant, right?). Amid a chorus of whining, I gathered the dog’s leash, the toys, and the offspring and limped steadily towards the van. Molly was chattering excitedly, the dog was panting happily, and Andy was babbling merrily. It had been a great trip! As I loaded up the van, I realized that somewhere between the beach and the parking lot Andy had lost a shoe. Tired and injured, I decided that the loss of one shoe was a price I was willing to pay. We drove away from the beach, full of new memories of laughter and sunshine. The only cost? A little bloodshed and one toddler’s shoe! For my sand-covered kids, the day had been perfect.

The Art of Self-Feeding

Toddler Meredith feeding herself messily.

Watching my toddler son Andy feed himself is an exercise in hilarious frustration. Every move is economised to smear as much food as possible around his mouth, chest, and highchair. Forget about actually consuming the food; I’d estimate that only 40% of any meal actually ends up in his stomach. Instead, he spends his time creating abstract compositions that wouldn’t look out of place at the Tate Modern. He’s in what I call his “experimental” phase, wherein he experiments with how long it will take before Mommy loses her patience.

At lunchtime, for example, I’ll start him off with some soup. He now refuses to let me put a single spoonful in his mouth; he’s a big boy, and he wants to practice. Unfortunately, he insists on holding the spoon by the head and thumping his entire fist into the bowl, then cramming said fist into his mouth. Any attempt to get him to hold the spoon more efficiently results in a furious scowl and a refusal to finish his meal. Do I want him to eat his soup like a drunk baboon, or not at all? I’ve given up the fight on this one.

Next, I move on to finger foods, which he’s generally more successful with – successful in the sense that the food ends up in his mouth, but usually all at once. Cheese cubes will be stuffed into his mouth until his cheeks bulge. Peas will dribble out in a waterfall of drool, soaking the front of his bib. But I refuse to complain! He’s actually ingesting nourishment!

Foods that he’s never tried before will be eyed with hostile suspicion. Last week I gave him a mini-Oreo cookie, and he acted like a grizzled detective eyeing the scene of a crime. First, he placed a single finger on the cookie, causing it to flip over. This allowed him to inspect it from another angle. Next, he delicately picked up the cookie and held it between his thumb and forefinger, intermittently waving it around. Despite my encouragement to eat it, he held the cookie for the next seven minutes. Eventually, while I watched in quiet desperation, he slowly placed the cookie on his tongue and began chewing. He broke into a wide smile and blurted out: “yaaGAAAHHH!!!”, spraying cookie chunks across the table. Thankfully, the process was sped up with the next cookie (the first one having passed the test).

Meals are over when Andy stops eating and starts shoving food into his pockets. At this point, the tray on his highchair is a minefield of scrambled eggs, Cheerios, and blueberries. His face and hands are sticky and mysteriously wet. I can usually wipe down his flailing hands and glowering face during the day, but nighttime is another story. Without fail, the dinner meal always ends up splashed all over him, streaking his hair and pooling in his ears. There’s no chance a quick wipe-down will clean him, so every night he ends up in the bath. I wrestle him into the tub while my husband cleans the highchair, floor, walls, and dinner table. I could make soup from the bath water.

Bath time is the ONLY time that Andy lets me cuddle him. As I hold him to my chest and look into his beautiful, mischievous face, the mess in the dining room fades away, and my only thought is: “it’s worth it!”

The Aging Process

Elly glares at herself in the full-length mirror.

When I was 22, I was invincible. Young, dumb, and full of energy, I could work for eight hours, party until dawn, fall asleep on a pile of rocks, and wake up the next day feeling great. I had no commitments and no pressure. Oh, how times have changed. Nowadays, a strong sneeze will cause me to throw my back out. Getting older is challenging; I never imagined that I would be dealing with wrinkles and pimples at the same time. Who knew that once you get pimples as a teenager, they just never stop appearing? Every grey hair I find is another reminder that time is marching on, whether I like it or not. I remember my mother feeling the same way: “sometimes I look in the mirror, and I wonder who that old woman is staring back at me,” she said. “I still feel 22 on the inside.” Now, at 36 years old, I know exactly what my mother meant. Who is this woman in the mirror? Why does she look like an older, crankier version of me? Where have I gone?

I still feel as unsure and anxious as I did when I was younger. Am I ever going to feel like an actual adult? I have a sneaking suspicion that no one actually knows what they’re doing. I think everyone else is just as confused as I am, they’re just better at hiding it. Actual adults know important things, things like when to file their taxes and how to roast a chicken. I still have to read the instructions on how to microwave my daily pizza pop (does it need one minute or two? Never mind, it always ends up hotter than lava).

When I was a kid, my parents knew everything. They were smart, thoughtful, responsible adults. I’ve gotten pretty good at faking it, but my façade is starting to crack. My daughter recently asked me what butterflies do with nectar from flowers, and I had no idea. I’m pretty sure butterflies don’t make honey, but what DO they do with nectar? “They, um, eat it?….. Yeah, butterflies eat the nectar,” I blurted out, feeling panic sweat beading on the back of my neck. Molly considered this for a minute, then said “yep, that’s what they do.” Relief washed over me. I had dodged another bullet, and Molly had no clue that the intricacies of butterfly physiology are way beyond my paygrade.

I’m looking back on my early twenties with rose-colored glasses. A quick look through my diary from that time reveals heartbreak, frustration, and desperate uncertainty. I didn’t have a stable job, I didn’t have my own home, and I wasn’t sure if I would ever have those things. All things considered; would I go back in time if I could? No, definitely not. Life is much more rewarding now, even as a stay-at-home mom with two kids who occasionally make me want to yank out my nose-hair in frustration. Watching them grow is a gift – one that I take for granted all too often. Just like how I took my slim waistline for granted when I was younger. On second thought, I would go back in time, if only to tell my younger self to lay off the Doritos!

Father’s Day

Elizabeth and Michael startle John awake on Father's Day.

When I was five years old, my older sister Emma and I were members of the Girl Guides – a youth empowerment organization designed to promote confidence and leadership. She was called a Brownie, and she had a smart brown uniform with a sash to display all the merit badges she earned. I was a member of the Sparks, a different group for younger girls. We wore pink shirts and met once a week to sing songs about friendship. I remember being annoyed at the curly-haired woman in charge (also called the den mother), because she never picked me to lead the group in song – a bitter regret I’ve held onto all these years.

One week, my sister came home excited; she was going to a sleep-away camp! Her entire troupe would be going to a campsite, where they would roast marshmallows, sleep in cabins, and explore the forest. I was pumped! This was going to be great! At the next Sparks meeting, I happily told my friends all about the camping trip, and about how thrilled I was to be going. The woman in charge, her stiff, hair-sprayed curls standing on the top of her head, narrowed her eyes and said: “the camping trip is just for Brownies. You’re not going.” Complete and utter devastation does not describe the scene that followed. Tears filled my eyes, and I started sobbing with all the might of a broken-hearted child. My little friends, not completely understanding why, also started to bawl. One after another, every little girl in the troupe started crying and wailing. At this point, my dad arrived to pick me up, and was met with ten sobbing, snot-dripping, utterly bereft five-year-olds and one stressed out den mother. Bewilderment on his part would be an understatement. I chokingly told him that I couldn’t go on the camping trip, and how it wasn’t fair. My dad, taking my hand, said “don’t worry. We’ll have our own camping trip at home.” We left the meeting, as the other parents arrived to pick up their own desperately unhappy daughters.

When the time came, Emma and our mother packed up the station wagon and headed off to camp. I stared at them through the window like some tragic heroine who’d lost her husband to the sea. Sighing, I turned around and there was my dad, smiling, holding a bag of marshmallows and a pack of hot dogs. “You ready to go camping?” he asked. That night, we skewered hot dogs on sticks and cooked them in the fireplace. We laughed as we roasted an entire bag of marshmallows, most of them congealing into puddles of goo on the hearth. At bedtime, Dad pulled open the lumpy fold-out couch, and we slept in sleeping bags, pretending we could see the stars. I drifted off happily to sleep, our “camping trip” having thoroughly exhausted me.

That night is one of my earliest and best memories of my dad. All it took was some marshmallows and long sticks from the garden, and we had a night that I still remember lovingly thirty years later. My dad later admitted that the fold-out couch gave him terrible back pain, but he slept on it anyway. If that isn’t the ultimate dad move, I don’t know what is – other than wearing socks with sandals (and bonus dad points if he wears a fanny pack as well).

Eventually, our family went camping at an actual campsite, which was really fun. We slept in a bright green tent (that smelled musky and damp), went swimming, and cooked meals on a tiny Coleman propane stove. It was a wonderful experience, but still – it doesn’t compare to the first time I went “camping” with my dad. He taught me how to whistle, snap my fingers, and make the world’s best crêpes. He was emotionally supportive; there were many times I sought him out for comfort and reassurance, and many times I cried on his shoulder. He taught me how to be a good listener – something that I’m trying to instill in my kids. He’s perfectly imperfect, and I wouldn’t want him any other way.

Horticultural Disaster

Elly, in gardening gear, looks at her wilted daffodils in confusion.

Now that we have a house with a yard, my desire for a lush, green garden has fully bloomed. Weeds will be tamed, strawberries will ripen, and flowers will explode with color under my green thumb. My garden will be one of the natural wonders of the world! This will be so easy!

Occasionally, I get tired of how wrong I am, because in this case, I’m very wrong. I know nothing about plants, and even less about maintaining them. The fact that every house plant I’ve ever owned has died, should’ve been a clue. They were either over-watered to the point of drowning or forgotten until the leaves withered and turned to dust. Why did I think I could handle an entire yard? Look at this thorn-covered thingy here – is this an evil, invasive weed or the beginnings of a rose bush? Is there an actual adult around here who could help me out?

Dressed to kill in a floppy dollar-store hat, rhinestone sunglasses, and winter boots, I set out to accomplish my first task: mowing the lawn. The previous owners having focused their attentions elsewhere, the grass in the backyard was a healthy knee-high mixture of weeds, rocks, and forgotten toys. Undaunted, I started up the mower and got to work, pushing with all my might. My first impressions were as follows:

  • GOD, this thing is heavy. Why are my arms so weak? It’s like I did those three push-ups yesterday for nothing.
  • Did I just run over some Legos? An unfortunate elf?
  • I’m never doing this again. Molly is four years old – how long do I have to wait until SHE can mow the lawn?

After sweating and shoving the cranky second-hand mower around the yard for forty minutes, I’m happy to say that the grass was cut. The next task was to rake the clippings into bags, which would have been easier if I had a rake. I found a broom! I can do this! The bone-dry clippings and a slight breeze meant that more grass ended up in my mouth than in the bags, but I was determined. I was now a homeowner, and I was going to accomplish things. Two hours later, I was filled with a certain sense of pride; despite some bare patches and the scattered remains of an unfortunate Barbie doll, the lawn looked much better. I was done.

I was starting to see the garden take shape; a swing set could go in that corner, next to a rose bush. Maybe a bench could rest under that tall pine tree, with a vegetable garden in the corner. Possibilities are blooming as rapidly as the dandelions on the front lawn. It’ll take time, but I’ve got the rest of my life to get this done. Besides, eventually the chore of mowing the lawn will be passed down to the kids (I’ll have perfected my nagging by then), and I’ll have more time to figure out the difference between a blackberry bush and stinging nettle. Maybe one day, I’ll even feel like an actual adult, and I’ll get to yell out that classic grumpy old person phrase: “hey you kids! Get off my #@%* lawn!’”

Driving Drama

Elizabeth and friends riding in a convertible.

As much as I hate to admit it, I failed my first driver’s test. I remember the exact moment it happened: with the silver-haired examiner sitting in the passenger seat, I cautiously inched into the middle of an intersection, waiting to turn left. As the seconds ticked by, the green light turned yellow, and then red. I completed the left turn, and the examiner carefully directed me back to the licensing centre, scribbled something on his exam pad, and calmly told me that I had been “unsuccessful”. I remember being confused; hadn’t I been doing well? I hadn’t crashed the car or hit anything – didn’t that count? I had even sort-of parallel parked! (I was miles away from the curb and had worked up a sweat cranking the wheel back and forth eighty times). I sulked for days afterward, feeling sorry for myself. Being a teenager was already frustrating enough, and now I had failed at my first chance of freedom. I hadn’t told my sister or any of my friends that I was taking the test, so no one found out that I flunked it. That, at least, was genius. But still, the failure made me cry.

My sister Emma was no help. While I wallowed in the depths of my funk, she would commandeer our parent’s gas-guzzling Jeep and make sure to oh-so-casually rub it in my face. “I’m going over to Jessie’s to study,” she’d say, “and then we’re going for coffee.” Of course she didn’t invite her terminally uncool younger sister to go with her. She’d prance out the door, car keys jangling, full of confidence and youthful invincibility, leaving me in the dust.

She might not remember now, but her journey to solo driving was not as smooth as she’d have you believe. I remember an instance where Emma was driving, with our mother instructing in the passenger seat and me in the back. Emma was smugly rolling her eyes at Mom’s suggestions, since Emma thought she knew everything and believed our mother was a total drag. We were heading towards a crosswalk; a family was stepping off the curb to cross the street. Emma wasn’t slowing down. Mom shifted uncomfortably as the car sped along. Emma wasn’t slowing down. We were twenty feet away now, and Emma wasn’t slowing down. Panicked, and temporarily forgetting the word for “pedestrians”, our mother confused the English language with her native German and screamed out: “WATCH OUT FOR THE FOOT PEOPLE!” Emma slammed on the brakes and the family safely crossed the road, shooting our car dirty looks. That’s how we learned that the German word for “pedestrian” literally translates as “foot people”. Shaking with adrenaline, Mom kicked Emma into the back seat and drove us home, the day’s lesson being obviously over.

Eventually, I crawled out of my self-pity and resolved to pass the driver’s test. I took lessons, practiced daily, and memorized the driver’s manual like it was the Lord’s prayer. Three months later, I nervously retook the test and passed! I was elated – I was on the road to adulthood, cruising around our small town in my dad’s squat little Nissan Pulsar. Like a typical teen, I drove too fast, didn’t pay close enough attention, and played my angst-ridden music too loud. I drove like I owned the road, scoffing at all the other lame, uncool drivers I passed. Looking back, I like to think I was a decent driver, but some of the memories make me wince with regret. Being young makes you feel immortal; is there anything more hazardous than a know-it-all teen behind the wheel of 3,000 pounds of metal? Why was I such an idiot?

Today, with my preciously annoying kids in the back seat, I’m extremely careful. There’s no reason for taking chances. I don’t speed, text, or eat while driving, and I rarely even take a hands-free call. I drive our comfortable family minivan like it’s full of rare cargo, which it is – even though occasionally, said cargo makes my left eye twitch with barely controlled irritation.

As confident and controlled as I am while driving, I’m still terrible at parking. I have no idea where the edges of the van are, and I don’t trust the mirrors. There’s no way I can back into position, so occasionally I’ll drive around a parking lot until I find a pull-through spot. Thank goodness I don’t have to take the driver’s test again, because I can’t parallel park to save my life. In fact, the last time I successfully did was twenty years ago during my second chance driver’s test! Hopefully my kids will remain blissfully ignorant of my terrible parking skills for a few more years, and who knows – maybe I can improve. I mean, I didn’t cry with frustration the last time my husband tried to teach me! Well, not that much.

Motherhood and driving a car are similar. You can read all the manuals you want, and you’ll still be surprised. I’m confident behind the wheel, and my confidence as a mother is growing. When it’s my turn to teach the kids to drive, I’ll make sure they’re prepared and ready, and I’ll make sure they watch out for the “foot people.”

The Great Move

There are three sentences you never want to hear when you’re moving:

  1. “I thought YOU packed it!”
  2. “There’s no time.”
  3. “Uh oh.”

Hearing one of these sayings, at any time, is bad enough. Hearing all three in one day has got to be a record. What did we do to deserve this triple whammy of misfortune? The day started well enough; we woke up on time and loaded the mattresses into the minivan. The kids were actually in decent moods when we woke them, as we hustled bags, pillows, and offspring out the door. I buckled my son up in our comfortably sensible Dodge Caravan, while my husband Jeremy and our daughter clambered into his wildly impractical four-wheel drive truck.


The trouble started at the ferry. I didn’t have my son’s sippy cup of warm milk; the one he drinks before his nap as part of his wind-down routine. The very specific sippy cup, the only one he’ll drink from. A quick chat with my husband, a confused look on his face, and the first inauspicious uttering: “I thought YOU packed it!” Okay, no big deal. Kids are adaptable, right? The hostile look on my son’s face said otherwise. As the slow rocking of the ferry lulled him to sleep, I sat quietly in the front seat, not daring to move. Delicately maneuvering the van off the ferry once we docked, I drove with bated breath and silently counted every minute of his nap. Mercifully, he did manage to sleep for half an hour, which is more than I hoped for. Unfortunately, the dramatic twisting and turning of the road we were on caused his head to flop back and forth, waking him up and causing him to scowl furiously at me from the back seat (not even two years old, and he’s mastered the stink-eye!)


With the minivan now containing one grumpy toddler and a stressed out mom, we pulled over for a bathroom break. We were at a rest stop, stretching our legs and eating cheese sticks and muffins. This time, the trouble started with my daughter saying she needed her stuffed puppy; the one that had apparently ended up in my vehicle. As my husband buckled her into her car seat, she loudly insisted that she needed to look for it herself, since she knew exactly where it was, but she wasn’t telling because she wanted to get it on her own. Anxious to get the house keys from the realtor’s office before it closed, we had more pressing issues than a misplaced toy. Growing more and more irritated, my husband finally said: “there’s no time!” and we were one step closer to total chaos.


With all four family members teetering on the edges of cranky meltdowns, from the backseat I heard my son say: “uh oh.” I didn’t want to look around. There was no way this was going to end well. Those two syllables have never, in the history of parenthood, been followed by good news. No one has ever heard “uh oh” and received a surprise birthday cake, or an unexpected cash prize. It’s always “uh oh, I dropped your wedding ring down the sink” or “uh oh, someone left the gate open and I can’t find the dog.” Hesitantly, I looked at my son in the rearview mirror, and it was just as bad as I suspected. He had somehow gotten hold of a family size bag of cheezies, and the contents of the bag were cascading from his lap, into his car seat, and onto the floor. His pants were orange, his socks were orange, and there was bright orange fallout everywhere. A blizzard of fake cheese dust was settling like a gentle snowfall. At this point, there was nothing I could do. We had a lot of ground left to cover, and fresh clothes for my son were crammed somewhere in the bowels of the van, probably next to my daughter’s stuffed puppy. So on we drove, with my bright orange son and my clown car of a minivan, the baby happily licking cheese dust from his fingers.


In terms of road trips, this wasn’t the worst one I’ve been on. Arriving at our new house with my son, who was now more cheezie than toddler, I was proud of how my family had rolled with the punches. Walking through the front door of our new forever home, tears of happiness slipped down my cheeks. I knew I would cry at some point on this trip; I’m just glad they were happy tears, not “I’m-so-frustrated-I-want-to-rip-my-nose-hair-out” tears. The day ended with my daughter and her stuffed puppy reunited, my son rinsed of all traces of snack food, and my husband and I drinking lukewarm champagne. We celebrated amidst the welcome chaos of our new kitchen, and the good news is we never have to move again.