My Kingdom for a Bridge

Life in a small town is often idyllic. The pace is slower, the birds sing more, and even the trash-ravaging bears are friendlier. Since relocating three years ago, our family’s never been happier, and, after a trip down to the big city, my husband Jeremy and I were reminded why. Due to the vast amount of ocean separating our town from the mainland, traveling by ferry is required (unfortunately). Our initial trip down was smooth; the boat was on time, and we made it to the city in one piece. After completing our various bits and bobs and spending the night in an overpriced hotel, it was time to head back. We checked out bright and early, loaded up the caravan, and set off. Had I known then what I know now, I would’ve driven straight off a bridge and saved myself a massive headache.

After a murderous trip through rush hour traffic, we finally made it to the off ramp for the ferry terminal, and that’s where the trouble began. Six lanes of traffic were at a dead stop, turning the highway into a parking lot. We couldn’t even see the ocean; we were so far away. Well, nothing to do but wait. And wait. And wait. TWO HOURS LATER, we finally made it to the toll booth and breathed a sigh of relief. The worst part was over right? RIGHT? The god of mischief himself chuckled, and we inched along the laneway, heading to our doom. We waited again. For another two hours. At this point, we couldn’t even leave the car – there was nowhere to go. The tiny town beside the ferry dock was miles away. We’d been up for six hours and the only food I’d eaten was a dusty mint I’d found in my purse. Did I mention it was ridiculously hot? And that we had our senior dog, Teddy, with us? And that the air conditioning was broken? What had I done in a previous life to deserve this? Jeremy and I eventually left the van and collapsed in a patch of shade. Like a mirage, the “Ferry Café” appeared before me, and I rushed towards it with renewed energy. The tarmac was an oven, sweat dripped from every pore, but salvation was at hand! The bored teenager behind the counter lazily prepared my order, and I was so famished I didn’t blink at the price. One orange juice, two muffins, and a cookie set me back twenty-seven dollars. AND THE JUICE WAS TERRIBLE. Truly, hell on earth is sitting in a hot van with bad food.

Finally, FINALLY, traffic inched forward, and we could walk into the town. Everything was overpriced, but at that point, Jeremy and I didn’t care. We would’ve paid in blood to have a cold drink, and we almost did. FOURTEEN DOLLARS for a glass of soda? I’m swallowing my pride along with my pop, at that price! We found a restaurant patio, tied Teddy beside us, and sat down for our first meal of the day.

The hours drifted by, and the temperature remained high. Teddy cooled off in the town’s fountain while I watched jealously. Eventually, the ferry appeared, and our odyssey was at an end. We’d arrived at the terminal at ten that morning, and we boarded the boat at SIX THAT NIGHT. Even with the patience of a SAINT, you would’ve been ticked off. I am wildly impatient, and I practically ripped my skin off, I was so frustrated. As we pulled away from the mainland and headed home, I had one thought and one thought only: next time we go to the city, I’LL SWIM INSTEAD!

Expanding the Family

I was against it from the start. “Think of the mess!” I cried, “think of the cost, and the noise, and the sleepless nights!” But my protests were in vain, and the Hunter family brought home a tiny bundle of joy. A really, really tiny bundle, weighing less than a soda can, covered in fur, and with round, teddy-bear ears. We’d like to announce the arrival of: Sprinkles, the domestic hamster. Talk about a double take!

Jeremy (my husband) and I had talked about possibly getting a new pet, but I was reluctant. I didn’t want another mess to clean up, even though my kids insisted they’d “take care of it!” Aside from sounding like a vague Sicilian threat, I didn’t believe them. Their abandoned ant farm testified how well they kept their vows! And yet, here we all were, setting up a veritable mansion for the little guy (or girl? How can you tell?) His terrarium is decked out with a hammock, exercise wheel, sand bath, and swing. He’s got shavings deep enough to dig to China and has climbing tubes that stretch to the sky. In terms of hamster houses, this guy is living in Buckingham Palace. His digs are nicer than mine!

My offspring are overjoyed with our new addition, but I’m less impressed. First of all, he doesn’t do anything. He seems to sleep eighteen hours a day (which I’m jealous of) and only stirs when we go to bed. Then he furiously runs in his wheel, sending shavings and poop pellets flying. Every morning I’m greeted with a mosaic of debris on my clean floor. It’s only been two weeks, and this guy is pressing his luck!

Sprinkles also stirred up a long forgotten memory from my childhood. When we were kids, my sister Emma and I had a Guinea pig. She was a pretty creature, with big brown eyes and rumpled brown fur. We kept her downstairs and would play with her under the watchful eyes of our parents. Imagine my surprise when I glanced into her cage one day and saw not one, but three Guinea pigs cuddled up in the corner! Guess who bought the only pregnant rodent in the pet shop? After convincing my disbelieving mother, who greeted the new arrivals with a surprised “what the #@$!%^?” we were faced with a new question: what to do with two extra Guinea pigs? Luckily, some family friends were happy to help, and the two babies were sent off to good homes. Fluffy, the mother, stayed with us for the rest of her (uneventful) life. Sprinkles better not pop out babies; but, if that happened, at least we’d know his gender.

I admit, the little creature is growing on me. Look at his sweet brown eyes, and his cute little hands. Look how he takes a treat and stuffs it into his cheeks; isn’t he adorable? Isn’t he the cutest thing ever? He’s lucky he is, because look at the pile of crap he’s kicked onto my floor. Which brings me to my last question: which one of you kids is cleaning up this $%#&*^# mess??

A Mother’s Intuition

In my pre-offspring days, I luxuriated in sleep. Weekends were spent flopping around in bed like a happy walrus. I wore my pajamas like combat fatigues; twenty-four hours a day and in every season. It was amazing. Imagine waking up refreshed, instead of feeling as though you slept on rocks (which is how I currently sleep). I’m only thirty-eight, but my joints hate me.

However, when you have kids, sleep is elusive and sometimes fraught with worry. My post-baby brain has woken me countless times, snapping me from slumber like a crack of lightning. “Did I lock the back door?” my frantic lizard mind whispers, “is it too cold in Andy’s room? Did I leave my keys in the washing machine again?” Never-ending questions bubble up during the deepest parts of the night, ensuring I’m forever fatigued. And yet, I owe my nervous mind a debt of gratitude for the terror and relief it put me through one night last week.

I woke with a start at four am, utterly confused. What year was it? What country was I in? Where were my keys? Out of pure habit, I rolled over and checked the video monitor for Andy’s room, and, as my vision cleared, an icicle of pure fear stabbed my heart: Andy wasn’t in his bed. All synapses fired at once as I leapt up and raced to my son’s room, terror and adrenaline surging through me. I’ve never gone from zero to one hundred so fast in my life; I was fire and brimstone, Mother Almighty as I burst open the door to Andy’s room. In the dim glow of his nightlight, my heart pounded like a war drum as I stood, every limb quaking. His bed empty, his sheets tossed aside, I was about to raise holy hellfire when a tiny bundle caught my eye. My little boy was curled up fast asleep on the hard floor and out of range of the camera. Relief washed over me so fast my legs trembled. My baby, my son. I’d been holding my breath and started gasping for air, struggling to keep silent, lest I wake my tumble-prone child. Slowly, I bent down and scooped Andy off the cold floor, and as I placed him back in bed, he opened his bleary eyes and mumbled “night night” before fading back to black. “Sleeping like a baby”, indeed!

I closed his door behind me and stumbled to my room. Jeremy, my husband, was snoozing peacefully, unaware that his wife had just been through the seven circles of hell. He wasn’t blessed with my quick-trigger anxiety riddled brain. Sigh. It’s no wonder my chin hair is going grey; my kids scare me half to death on a weekly basis. I will say this, though: being terrified is exhausting. That night I collapsed into bed and slept six hours straight. I haven’t done that in years!

A Return to Normal

With summer fading fast, the Hunter family is settling into our ‘regular’ routine. Gone are the barefoot days of summer; here come the days of industrial strength woolen socks. That glass of lemonade I used to drink is now a steaming mug of ginger tea, and, instead of the sun greeting me in the morning, I wake up to angry grey clouds and sullen children. It’s not my fault they have to wake up – I want to stay in bed, too!

Seven-year-old Molly is now in the second grade and seems to be enjoying herself. Like her mother, in the morning, she’s as grumpy as a hungover Grizzly. Most days I can shuffle her out the door on time. Four-year-old Andy has one more year of preschool, and I’ve gotta admit – I’m jealous of his schedule. I’d love to spend my days coloring, snacking, and playing, instead of scraping peanut butter off my floor like I did today. You know your life is exciting when you’re jealous of your toddler.

This month is such a downer. September is the equivalent of mucous-blocked nostrils. Where is the caress of a warm breeze? Where is the fragrant smell of freshly cut grass? And, most importantly, where is the sun? That thing ran away faster than a greased pig (which, I’m assuming, is fairly quick). As much as I love this season, it’s not without its drawbacks. The unseasonal heat created such dry conditions that wildfires raged out of control in parts of the province. People watched their homes and businesses go up in flames, and in some cases were lucky to escape with their lives. Noxious smoke drifted around our cities and even blackened the skies of our southern neighbors. On those smoky days, I held my kids extra tight, grateful that the blazes didn’t reach us. Tragedies like this are sadly becoming more common, so I’m extra thankful my family and my little town were safe.

“Focus on the good things!” my mother always told me, and she’s right. There’s no point moping and ‘whinging’ as my British friends say. There’s Halloween (one of my favorite candy-focused holidays), then there’s the magic of Christmas and its gluttony of gifts (when my kids think they’ve won the lottery). There’s New Year’s, Valentines Day, and my birthday’s in there too somewhere (I turn 29 for the eleventh time). There’s lots of joyful events to look forward to, and the only downside is eight continuous months of rain. If I get to eat some Halloween candy, I just might make it!

So goodbye, Summer, I loved you so. I loved watching my kids splash in their favorite lake, I loved the feel of warm grass under my feet. I didn’t like your buzzing flies or mosquitoes, though, and I really didn’t like the intimate part the latter bit me on! All will be forgiven if you hold off on the rain for a few more weeks. That might tide me over; it’s only eleven more months till next summer!

Isnt’ It Great?

April and Elly shop for back-to-school clothes.

Excited mom Sarah is back-to-school shopping with her dispirited seven-year-old daughter, Molly, and her four-year-old son, Andy.

Sarah: “Ohh, Molly, this one has unicorns! You love those!”

Molly: “Sorta.”

Sarah: “Let’s see, do you want unicorns or rainbows?”

Molly: “Do they have monkeys on trampolines?”

Sarah: “…………Why would they have that?”

Molly: “I saw it on the internet! There was a monkey jumpin’ up and down an’ he was having fun.”

Sarah: “Sweetie, we’re back-to-school shopping, not cavorting around a circus.”

Molly: “Ugh. Unicorns, I guess.”

Sarah: “Great! Okay, let’s see, now you need some pencils and crayons and ooooo! Construction paper! Isn’t this fun?”

Molly: (whines) “NO! I don’t wanna go back to school! Why can’t it be summer forever?”

Sarah: “Because mommy would go monkey-punch crazy, sweetie. School is for keeping mommies and daddies happy!”

Molly: “So how come you don’t go to school?”
Sarah: “Because I’ve suffered enough. Oh look! Sparkly pencils!”

Molly continues to pout, while Andy runs up excitedly.

Andy: “Can I get dis?”

Sarah: “Do you really need a jar of pickles, Andy? I mean, really.”

Andy: “Yeah, I need it for school.”

Sarah: “Put those back.”

Andy sighs dramatically and walks away.

Molly: “Will Miss Arthur be my teacher this year?”

Sarah: “No, you’ll have a new teacher.”

Molly: “What if she’s not nice?”

Sarah: “Sweetie, I know it’s scary going into a new grade and having a new teacher. I understand what you’re feeling. I promise that once you go to school, you’re gonna have a great time. Remember last year? You were scared but you did it anyway, and now you have lots of new friends and tons of cool memories. Just think of how much fun you’re going to have in grade one.”

Molly: “Mom, I’m going into grade two!”

Sarah: “WHAT? Wow, that went by fast. Well, just remember what I said. It’s okay to be nervous. I’ll keep checking in with you when school starts, okay? Now, how many pickle jars do we……..”
Molly: “Ew, what?”

Sarah: “Oh, wait, that was Andy. Okay, we’ve got everything you need. Let’s head over to aisle six.”

Molly: “Why?”

Sarah: “I wanna see if they have back-to-school sales on champagne!”

Wonderful Nothing

Today, for the first time since the Cretaceous Period, the Hunter family had a Nothing Day. A delightful, relaxing day of doing absolutely nothing, and it was as terrific as it sounds. Three-year-old Andy and six-year-old Molly were finished with swim lessons, summer camps, and playdates, so I didn’t have to drive them anywhere. We had a fridge full of food, so whining was minimal. The best part? I actually got to sit down during the day. I would’ve jumped for joy, but I was so comfortable I melted into the cushions.

Elly and John sit on the couch doing nothing.

Nothing Days are great, after all the hurrying we’ve been doing. I’m a lazy person by nature, and before I had kids, I was prone to lying around and wasting oxygen, like a walrus on a sunny dock. Why go for a hike when I could stay in bed? Why learn a new hobby when I could lick Cheeto dust off my fingers? I dare say I turned slothfulness into an art! Having kids made me an active person, whether I liked it or not. Plunking baby Molly into her stroller and taking her for a walk guaranteed a nap. Strapping baby Andy onto my chest in his baby carrier while I vacuumed made him sleep as the house was cleaned. Hey, I actually accomplished a lot when my offspring were younger! Don’t get me wrong, you’d have to tie me to a rocket to send me back there, but I deserved more credit than I gave myself at the time.

Our day of idleness continued into dinner, when I declared it to be a “free-for-all” night, and it was every man for himself. Molly had leftover pizza, Andy had a peanut butter sandwich, and I ate a bag of microwave popcorn. My husband Jeremy fared a little better, making himself scrambled eggs on toast. This dinner was a win, because all the major food groups were covered (sort of). The plates were left close to the dishwasher and our terrier, Teddy, licked the floor clean admirably. What a good boy.

Bedtime rolled around, some teeth were brushed, and my offspring were ushered into bed despite their protests. I finished off my Nothing Day with a big bowl of ice cream and my favorite movie. Sigh…. I could get used to this! No pruney fingers from washing dishes, no sweaty brow from vacuuming – what a life! Everything has consequences, though; I went to bed early — doing zilch all day exhausted me!

First Aid Andy

Three-year-old Andy is chafing at the yoke of independence. Too big for a playpen, too small for kindergarten, he’s testing his limits every chance he gets. Unfortunately, he’s testing my patience, too. Whether he’s refusing to get dressed or insisting he can cut his own hair, I’m torn between letting him make mistakes and his attempts to off himself. Yesterday, I caught him perched in the kitchen sink like a parrot; when questioned, he was “getting a gwass of water”. Two days ago, he scaled my bookshelf like a monkey, looking for his favorite story. This kid is determined to drive my blood pressure up!

When he’s not practicing his high wire act, Andy’s getting better at taking care of himself. He happily brushes his teeth, washes his hands, and dresses himself with ease. Last week he scraped his knee and administered first aid to himself. He used nine band-aids, an entire tube of antiseptic cream, and left greasy footprints all over the bathroom. Hurray? Lately, band-aids are his favorite toy; he peels them open and scatters them like rose petals. Then, he greedily raids the band-aid box and polka-dots his body with the plasters. Why? Who knows. I’d prefer it if he stopped having accidents, but he’s a kid and I can’t win ‘em all.

My son is growing up quicker than I realized. His crib is gone, his diapers are gone, and he’s getting taller by the day. Part of me (a very, very small part) is sad that my tiny baby is gone, but I love watching Andy grow into a marvelous child. A marvelous, frustrating, mischievous child. There’s no rhyme nor reason to three-year-olds. Today, he was upset because his socks didn’t match. The socks that he picked out. How can a toddler’s world fall apart due to foot coverings? If only he could be a baby again; he’d wear whatever I chose without complaint. I could pop him into the stroller and not chase him around like a headless chicken. Wait…. Am I forgetting something? The two a.m. wakeups, the non-stop breast feeding, the exhaustion……….. oh no, NEVER MIND! I DON’T WANT A BABY AGAIN! Keep growing up Andy, I love you just the way you are.

Trash Walrus

The shy deer hesitates, stepping slowly onto the lawn. Her big doe eyes and graceful neck are elegant, yet all I can think is: “GET THE @#!$% OFF MY GRASS, YOU DUMB PLANT EATER!” Honestly, deer are lucky they’re so cute because they’ve ruined my yard too many times. My landscaping is one big all-you-can-eat buffet for them. However, dealing with those pesky lawn donkeys is nothing compared to what befell my yard last weekend. Imagine waking up on a gorgeous Saturday morning to your husband informing you that a bear ate the swimming pool. “…………………What?” I asked. “A bear. It ate the pool,” Jeremy said, sipping his coffee with the insouciance of a French socialite. I must be hearing things wrong. Jeremy was speaking nonsense. Wait, was I even awake? Was this some weird fever dream? I knew I shouldn’t have eaten pastrami before bed last night.

There’s no reason for a bear to stroll onto our property. We don’t have fruit trees, trash cans, or a smorgasbord of compost bins for those @#$%&*! waste walruses to gorge on. There are no berry bushes, vegetable gardens, or even bird feeders back there, so that miserable @#$%$^&* snuck in just to use the pool. Didn’t this knucklehead have a pic-a-nic backet to steal instead? We’d only invested in a small inflatable kiddie pool, so we weren’t out a great deal of money. Unfortunately, that same pool held an impressive amount of water which had unleashed a tsunami all over our yard. The lawn was a quagmire of mud and grass, my roses were upside down, and my petunias had all drowned. But that wasn’t the worst part. This bear, not content with flooding the yard, had gone out of his way to eat the kids’ water toys. The pool noodles were chomped into pieces, the goggles were cracked, and the floating donuts were popped. Every. Single. One. I couldn’t help but feel this was a personal attack. How long had that land whale been in our yard? Why hadn’t we heard anything? “Some alarm system YOU are,” I muttered to Teddy, our pint-sized terrier. He’d been snoozing while our yard hosted an all-night Ursus rave!

Outraged, Jeremy and I mopped up the yard as best we could. The lawn would dry out, but the flowers were goners. Short of digging a moat around our house, how could we stop this from happening again? We conferred with the neighbors, who were equally annoyed. One senior suggested landmines, but he was narrowly voted down. Turns out that the simplest solution is sometimes the best one. We strung fishing line on top of the fence, from which we hung tin cans filled with pebbles. If that giant garbage gopher tried to climb over, the cans would rattle, make a terrific noise, and hopefully scare said blubber ball back to Kingdom Come. I’m quite pleased with my homemade defense system; you might even say I’m “smarter than the average bear!”

The Sanctuary

Swimming, running through sprinklers, and water balloon fights are fun ways to beat the heat, but what if there’s a way to cool off without looking like a drowned weasel? A trip to our town’s public library made me rediscover the magic of literature, and the free air conditioning didn’t hurt either. Housed in a brand new, purpose-built structure, the library has become a heat-free refuge for myself and my offspring, Andy and Molly. When tempers have frayed or our house became too stuffy, we’ve piled into our trusty Dodge Caravan and made the short trip into town. Walking in through the library doors is like walking into an old friend’s house. Amazingly, there’s a little café inside – if I wasn’t enticed before, I sure am now!

Michael does a research project at the library.

Libraries have changed since I was a kid. The one from my childhood was dark, dim, and full of ugly brown furniture. There was always the vague smell of cheese, and someone was always coughing. The children’s section consisted of a smelly, stained rug with tattered copies of alphabet books scattered around. Despite that, I spent many happy hours hiding amongst the stacks, reading to my heart’s content. I remember joyfully playing with the old microfiche machines, not understanding how they worked, then quietly retreating once they broke. Newspapers hung from wooden rods in a specially made contraption, and magazines were enclosed in plastic covers. This was pre-internet and pre-computer, so to locate a book you’d search in the card catalog, a system of dozens of file cabinets that took up half the room. Papercuts were a given as you shuffled through tiny index cards, and you’d better hope they were still alphabetized. Sometimes, my mother gave me money to buy lunch from the sandwich shop next door. Oh, to be a kid in a library once more!

Now, I get to watch my kids enjoy the library, with its educational toys and comfortable couches. Andy’s taken a keen interest, asking “can we go to the libwary?” almost every day. He loves playing with the build-a-blocks but struggles with the concept of sharing (which isn’t my favorite thing, either). Molly would rather be riding her bike, but I’m hoping she’ll come around. What’s not to love? With art classes, story time, and activities galore, we’ll be spending lots of time there. Most importantly: the library’s air-conditioned and our house isn’t!

Melting Away

It’s hot. Mercilessly, unbelievably hot. The streets are deserted. Lush, green lawns are a thing of the past. The ice-cream man refuses to venture out, lest he be mobbed by sweaty, feverish five-year-olds. Air conditioners struggle valiantly, pumping out muggy air in vain. And through all of this, life must go on. I must find a way…….. to finish my chores. What happened to Super Mom? Can’t she accomplish everything? Forget it. Super Mom is splayed on the kitchen floor, cooling herself on the tiles. She is ever graceful, just like a spread-eagled squirrel heat dumping itself on a rock.

The family is out in the back yard gardening, or playing in the sandbox.

I’m only exaggerating slightly when I say it’s too hot to work. Yesterday I vacuumed my bedroom and nearly passed out. If I’d tried to do the whole house, I might have died! Imagine the headlines: “Stoic Mother Killed by Dust Bunnies”. What a way to go. My kitchen is buried under piles of dishes, mounds of Cheerios, and the remnants of microwave meals. The dinner table is lost beneath artwork, crayons, and crusty shards of playdough. Miss Havisham herself would feel comfortable here. The only cool time of day is at six in the morning, and there ain’t NO WAY I’m getting up that early. Logically, I should clean when the sun goes down, but by then I’m as frazzled as a thunderstruck ferret. I’m stuck in a vicious cycle of apathy.

Like unwashed feet, a messy household is a sign of summer, along with sliding doors that are open all day. Barbecues cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We have popsicles for breakfast, as snacks, and for hydration. Any meal that requires boiling a pot of water is simply not made. And any chore that requires breaking a sweat can be put aside until winter. The oven can be used to store dirty dishes until the scraps become penicillin. Use the heat to your advantage, I say! When your bathmat starts crawling across the floor begging for death, simply hide it in the laundry hamper. In this heat, any task that requires movement is not worth the effort, unless that task involves scooping more ice cream. For that, I’ll exert myself like a long distance runner in the Sahara Desert!