Tristan

It has been a good long while since we’ve had a cat picture around here, hasn’t it?

Tristan and Willie

Both the cat and the man-child are growing up. Lucky for me, while the cat remains averse to cuddling, the man-child is still open to the idea of a hug every now and then.


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I was poking through my archives looking for information about Blog Out Loud Ottawa (did you know BOLO 2016 is this weekend?) and came across this post, which I read at the very first BOLO in 2009. It made me laugh, so I thought I’d share. This is pretty much my whole parenting life in one anecdote!

It seemed like a straightforward question. On the enrollment form I completed on the first day of Tristan’s first day-long day camp: “Can your child swim 25 meters unassisted: yes, no, I don’t know.”

25 meters? How long is 25 meters anyway? That seems kind of far. So I checked “no”.

Then I thought of Tristan bounding off the diving board and dogpaddling happily the length of our friends’ pool, and his success in swimming lessons, and scratched out my “no” and checked the “yes” box.

Then I paused, and reread the question. And I had visions of Tristan foundering in the deep end of some lake-sized pool, alone and far from safety, going under for the third time. And I quickly scratched out my check in the “yes” box and circled the previously scratched out “no” box and drew a little happy face beside it.

Then I paused again. Suddenly, I was picturing Tristan sitting dejectedly on the pool deck in a life preserver as the rest of his camp mates splashed happily in the pool. I pictured him at 35, in his therapist’s office, describing how a childhood spent in a protective bubble ruined his life. So I drew a squiggley line through my circle around the “no” box and scratched it so definitively out that I bled through the paper. And I put a big X on the happy face, too.

I hovered my pen briefly over the “I don’t know” box. I tried to imagine in which universe a skinny, pimply-faced teenager with no investment in the future social and mental well-being of my oldest son was somehow in a better position to make this decision than I seemed to be capable of, and didn’t check that box either.

In the end, I redrew the little box above the “yes” and ticked it off. For good measure, I pointed a few arrows at it and wrote the word “yes!” at the end of the question, and underlined it. I think maybe I was trying to sell the answer to myself.

At the end of the day, I grilled Tristan with the usual questions about his day, and he answered with the usual dreamy inexactitude I have come to expect. He told me about his art class (it was an arts camp) and the monster he was creating in a distracted sort of way. I asked about the pool.

“Oh yeah!” he said, snapping awake into the story, eyes bright with the memory of it. “It was great! I jumped off the highest diving board!”

I paused to digest that. “You mean the one closest to the ground, right? The low board? Not the one that you have to climb up a ladder to get to?” Surely to god my six year old who only learned how to jump off the diving board in the last year was not jumping off the 3m (10 foot) board.

“No, Mommy, the big board! I climbed up the ladder, and the first time I was scared, but then it was a lot of fun so I did it a bunch of times! And it was great! I can’t wait to go back tomorrow and do it again!” At least, I assume that’s what he said. I think I died of fright somewhere around the first exclamation point.

Six year old Tristan on a much more appropriately-sized diving board!

Six year old Tristan on a much more appropriately-sized diving board!


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A love letter to Tristan, Age 14

by DaniGirl on March 8, 2016 · 0 comments

in Tristan

My sweet, funny man-child: Tristan, today you are 14.

T drawing

As I write this, you are busy sifting through books, papers and Lego sets to replace an older, smaller bookshelf with a larger one we filched from the curb last night. It’s a great metaphor for where you are in your life – trading in Captain Underpants and Geronimo Stilton books for a growing manga collection, giving up some little-boy toys to make room for teenager stuff. The best part, though, is that YOU are doing it, organizing your stuff to your preference, while I tap away up here on the computer.

The Toy Factory at New Glascow

Tristan, you continue to be creative, funny, clever and adventurous. You love to make things, in the digital world and in the tangible one. You are currently using Minecraft to create pixel art of your favourite manga characters from inspiration you found online. You’ve come a long way, and yet not so far at all, from your endless days at the table with crayons and paper.

driveway sliding-7

Speaking of manga, it seems to be your new passion. From Sword Art Online to the row of manga books on your new bookshelf, you have a growing fascination with animé, manga and Japanese culture. You’ve watched so much animé on Crunchyroll this year that you’re starting to recognize some Japanese words, and your new favourite snack food is Pocky. You’ve also become interested in cosplay, and see no reason why you shouldn’t wear at least some parts of your Kirito costume to school occasionally. You continue to be disappointed that I won’t buy you the expensive thigh-high boots you covet to complete the look.

A birthday party at the Ottawa Humane Society

You still love to play Minecraft and the Wii with your brothers, and you watch way more YouTube than conventional TV. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I saw you choose the big screen over the smaller one of your various devices, although you do like to watch the Amazing Race and Masterchef with the family. You do more than just mindlessly watch videos on YouTube, though; I’ve been fascinated to hear you teaching yourself complex video game scores on the electric keyboard based on YouTube tutorials you find online.

Diefenbunker 2016

You have a quirky, subversive and truly delightful sense of humour, and I adore your dry, droll delivery. You see no reason why you should follow the crowd or subject yourself to meaningless societal conventions. You have a keen sense of justice and are quick to call an outrage, but your temper itself is even-keeled. It’s often very difficult to tell what you are thinking, and you must be a mystery to others who know you less well than we do.

Basin Head beach, PEI

You are always up for an adventure, or a walk. One of my favourite memories of our soggy, grey vacation in PEI this year was the long, rambly, rain-soaked hike we took to explore the land-locked lighthouse and beach at St Peter’s Harbour. You still choose to leap, climb, slide and zig-zag rather than walk a straight line. Despite spending some time in physio for patello femoral syndrome in your knees, you continued to hone your skills as a runner this year. You participated in both the cross-country meet and track and field, where you competed in the pentathalon and won your heat in the 100m race.

Tristan's big race

Because you are a renaissance man, in addition to art and athletics you continue to do well in the academic world too. Your grades are solid across all your subjects, and you seem to have a natural affinity for math and science. You and I had an insightful chat not too long ago in which we discussed the grades you are able to achieve now without really trying, versus the potential you could achieve with a little bit more focus and attention to detail. You picked courses this week for your first year of high school, which led to poking around potential fields of study for university, and you are showing interest in computers and technology as a future path.

End of summer jump

For your birthday this year, you chose the same laid-back party format you chose last year: to invite your friends over to spend a few hours hanging out, doing things that Tristan likes to do. In this case, that comprised Wii U, pizza, charades, hanging out, Magic the Gathering, and a rogue game of Settlers of Catan. The same old gang showed up, and their affection for you is obvious through their quirky, handmade cards (fine art, a short story, and one written in code with a key for decoding on the back of French homework) and gifts that show a surprising and heartwarming amount of thought and insight into your personality. You have chosen your friends well, and they are always welcome here.

Tristan's birthday

Tristan, there is so much more I want to say about what makes you so delightfully YOU at 14: how you wear that infernal blanket around the house like a cape, how much Willie loves you, how you lean in for a hug that doesn’t actually involve your arms, how you stereotypically communicate in a teenager’s monosyllabic grunt, how you love to chop the vegetables for dinner so you can play with the big knife, how you carefully maintained a spreadsheet of your allowance so you could save for your own PS Vita, how much I love our inside jokes and daily routines and the simple pleasure of your company.

East Point and Basin Head-10

Happy birthday, my man-child! Know that your family loves you beyond measure.


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Thanks to Facebook, I know that five years ago today I wrote this post. Tristan is now in middle school and safely walks to and from the bus stop without incident. What I find charming is that he was in Grade 3 when I wrestled with the idea of the risk of letting him walk home by himself, and Lucas in Grade 2 has done it several times now without incident or angst on my part. Not only do the boys grow up, but the parents do, too. :)

I am standing at the fence as I do every day, waiting for the bell to ring and the tsunami of energetic children to come spilling out of the school. I brace myself, as I do every day, for Simon’s enthusiastic hug that will one day knock me clear off my feet. Tristan too still hugs me, but in a more reserved and shy way that leads me to believe that while third graders still bestow public hugs upon parents, I’d best be prepared in case fourth graders do not.

WalkingWe’re headed toward the car together when Tristan stops. “Mom, can I walk home by myself?” he asks. We’ve talked about this a few times before. We live exactly 0.9 km away from the school, down one reasonably quiet and safe street with a sidewalk and two very quiet streets with no sidewalks. We’ve walked it together on many occasions, and I know Tristan prefers to walk. Most days, however, we have to drive as I make it to the school from work with barely a few minutes to spare, and we still have to drive over to pick up Lucas from daycare a couple of blocks in the opposite direction.

I take a searching look at his face, weighing in my mind the walk, the traffic, the buses, the snow, his relative trustworthiness, how long it will take me to pick up Lucas and make it home, and my mother’s reaction if and when she ever hears that I’d let him walk by himself. Another part of my mind is busy admiring the fat snowflakes caught in his gorgeous eyelashes and how his gray-green eyes mimic the stormy clouds above us. He looks so grown up to me in that heartbeat of a minute, pleading his case not with words but by simply returning my gaze. It’s the briefest of exchanges, and yet it resonates with me as a milestone in progress. I can trust him or not, trust the world or not. The choice is mine.

“Are you sure you know the way?” I ask. I make him describe it to me, each corner and turn. We’ve walked it a dozen times and driven it a hundred — I’m pretty sure we could both do it blindfolded. I briefly wonder if we should ponder this more, hold a family council and debate the pros and cons, but in this moment I trust my instincts and acquiesce.

“Okay, but you go straight home,” I tell him. “And if you get lost, I want you to step back from the road and just sit down on someone’s lawn, okay? No wandering around. If you make a wrong turn, stop moving and I will come and find you.” It’s less than a 10 minute walk with three intersections. There is really so little chance of him being lost that I can only laugh at myself and the lasting impressions of the time I got lost the first time I walked home by myself from a new school back in 1975. Remember that one, Mom?

As expected, Simon also wants a piece of the deal once it’s brokered, but I’m having none of that. First, being older must come with some privileges, and second, I think walking home is enough of a test without being responsible for minding your little brother at the same time. Simon, who generally prefers driving to school over walking anyway, is easily persuaded that walking alone is more of a second or third grade sort of activity.

As we pull out of the parking lot, I scan my rearview mirror for signs of Tristan and can see him bobbing along in the stream of children burbling down the sidewalk. It takes me only a few minutes to retrieve Lucas, and although respect all traffic laws regarding speed and full stops, I do forgo the usual end of day chat with his caregiver in my haste to pack him up and get him out.

We pass by the school, and I begin scanning the sidewalk and snowbanks for Tristan’s blue snowsuit and black watch cap. There’s no sign of him on the way home and as I pull in to the driveway I catch sight of him, swinging gently and patiently on the porch swing, with not even a self-satisfied grin on his face.

The next day when I meet them at the fence, I expect Tristan to ask to walk home by himself again. I’m secretly pleased when he does not. He may have trod a few more snowy footprints on the road to independence, but I’m glad he still knows I’ve got a warm car standing by for those most bitter and blustery days.


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Sigh. I like autumn with it’s new faces and new schedules and new friends, but I’m always sad when summer ends.

End of summer jump

Happy end of summer, y’all!


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Although we’d had a loose idea of what we planned to do pretty much every day of our epic PEI trip, we awoke the morning of the final day with no clear plan. We chatted as a family to make sure we’d done just about everything we’d wanted to do, and discussed how we wanted to invest our last precious hours. The forecast was rather grim, with grey skies and thunderstorms pending in the afternoon. The boys wanted to visit a Cows store for ice cream and souvenir t-shirts, and I wanted MOAR BEACH. The choice was clear: Cavendish!

The boys got their t-shirts and stuffies and browsed the kitschy shops on the boardwalk, and I looked speculatively at the heavy grey clouds, which seemed to want to disappate. We debated various beach options: Cavendish is right there, and we had not yet visited it on this year’s trip. Basin Head, our hands-down favourite, was a good hour and a half away. Brackley? Greenwich? Nope. As occasional peeks of sun broke through the clouds, I checked the tide tables. If we leave RIGHT NOW, we should arrive at Thunder Cove well before the tide climbs high enough to cut us off from the arch and teacup yet again.

As we drove, the peeks of sunlight grew in intensity, the clouds thinned, and by the time we pulled off on Thunder Cove Road, the forecasted thunderstorms had given way to unexpectedly sunny skies. Beloved and Simon found a comfy spot to park our blanket and sandcastle building tools, while Tristan led Lucas and me down the beach the 800m or so toward the rock formations.

As we got closer, I began to suspect that we were to be thwarted yet again. The waves, considerably calmer than our last visit, were nevertheless lapping gently at the foot of the cliff we had scaled. Tristan had already scurried up and over the rocks when Lucas and I arrived, and I tried to convince Lucas to walk through the seaweed-choked water to go around the rocks that we couldn’t climb over last time. Lucas took one look at the seaweedy waves and abjectly refused. I couldn’t say that I particularly blamed him, but there was no way that I was going to have come all this way not once but twice and be kept from the rock formations yet again. I’d even checked the tide tables! I was unsuccessfully trying to convince him to hop on my back for a piggy-back ride, and simultaneously trying to discern whether there were any jellyfish or sharks or killer whales hiding in the seaweed-tossed waves, when Tristan called to us from a ledge above.

“Come up!” he called. “There’s a path!”

Right. A Tristan path and a mom path are not the same. Mom paths are wide, have directional markers, and are maintained by the province. Tristan paths have scree, toe-holds and vertical drops. Regardless, turning back was not an option (oh you stubborn woman!) and the waterward option was less than palatable. Up we went to inspect Tristan’s path.

We started off where we ended our adventure last time, on a ledge that wraps around the edge of the cliff but becomes narrow, scree-filled and entirely inappropriate for seven year olds and those on the eve of their 46th birthday.

Revisiting Thunder Cove, PEI

I scowled and began to protest, but Tristan said, “No, look, we can go up and over.”

Oh good, higher is the direction I wanted to go. Not. But up we went, and to his credit there was a path, an actual path for humans and not just billy-goat kids, through the marran grass.

Revisiting Thunder Cove, PEI

What goes up must come down. Tristan skipped down, Lucas scootched down, and I eased down, one tentative, baretoed step at a time. Tristan coached me on each step.

Revisiting Thunder Cove, PEI

And then – success!

Revisiting Thunder Cove, PEI

We made it to, and through, the arch, and on to the teacup.

Revisiting Thunder Cove, PEI

Revisiting Thunder Cove, PEI

My trophy photo. In two weeks of grey skies, I love that we a beautiful blue backdrop for this one!

Revisiting Thunder Cove, PEI

And then, back up and over we went, some of us more quickly than (ahem) others.

Revisiting Thunder Cove, PEI

For Tristan, the final descent back to the beach was as easy as one big leap.

Revisiting Thunder Cove, PEI

Then he climbed halfway back up to hold my camera for me while I scootched and slid and picked my way down one careful step at a time. Lucas was half way down the beach by the time I got down.

Revisiting Thunder Cove, PEI

And look at that sky, that cloudless perfect blue sky. One could weep for all those grey cool days, but instead, we celebrated the sun by playing in the waves.

Revisiting Thunder Cove, PEI

Revisiting Thunder Cove, PEI

And so the tide begins to turn on my relationship with Tristan. I never would have made it up and over those sandstone cliffs if he hadn’t been there. It was partly sheer stubbornness (if he can do it, I can do it!) and partly his genuine conviction that of course we could get over the other side that motivated me. I see a sea change here, and I’m not sure if I’m ready for it. But at the same time, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Is there anything better than an adventure and exploring on a sunny summer day? Of course there is – when you share it with a friend!


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Photo of the day: Tristan’s big race

12 June 2015 Photo of the Day

They say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but sometimes it rolls out of the orchard, down the farm lane and clear into the next county. We were bemused last year when Tristan placed well in the school’s track and field events, as he’d never really expressed an interest in running – […]

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A love letter to Tristan, Age 13

7 March 2015 Tristan

Wait, what? I have a TEENAGER in the house? How could my sweet baby Tristan possibly be 13 today? Tristan, it has been a great year for you. So many big changes, so many big moments, and so delightful to watch you grow from a little boy to a man-child. And when I say you’re […]

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Photo of the day: Rich autumn tones before and after

11 November 2014 Photo of the Day

I‘ve seen a lot of photographers using an edit that darkens the background and makes for warm, rich tones. I had my handsome model pose for a portrait so I could have a play. Here’s the final edit: Here’s the image straight out of the camera: I think his face might still be a little […]

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Tristan’s grade school graduation

21 June 2014 Tristan

Remember this? Tristan’s first day of school. Doesn’t it seem like it was just last week? And then yesterday, this happened: Grade 6 graduation. It was the most lovely day. The school thoughtfully thought to include as many younger siblings in day as possible, so Simon was asked to be an altar server during the […]

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