Flashback faves

I was poking around in the archives looking for something and found this story from 2009. Given that we’re creeping up on back to school time, not to mention the enduring family fascination with Pokemon, I thought it would be a good story to re-share. Heading into high school next month and he’s still a Pokemon fan!

PokeTristan

Way back in early summer, Tristan saw a Pokémon backpack at Walmart, and every time the subject of back-to-school came up this summer, Tristan pined for that Pokémon backpack. He was due for a new one, as his Disney Cars one had held up remarkably well through both Senior Kindergarten and Grade One, so I had no problem with him getting a new one this year.

I was picking up a few things back-to-school items at Walmart (I do try to avoid it, but sometimes the siren song of convenience and cheap are hard to resist) one day, and saw the backpack with which he was so enamoured. I reached out to pick it up, and knew the moment I touched it that it was crap. It was thin, plasticky, and looked like it would fall apart in a hard rain. It was only $10, though.

For a few minutes, I played out possible scenarios in my mind. I bring home the backpack, and Tristan is ecstatic. It would definitely help overcome any potential back-to-school blues. The boy is seriously obsessed with Pokémon — not a day goes by that he doesn’t crank out two or three or eleven Pikachu and Tristan-the-Pokémon-Trainer drawings. $10 is easily worth that much joy.

But — the thing is going to fall apart inside of a month. Will he be heartbroken? Will we have to duct tape it back together on a regular basis, so that by December it’s more repair than backpack? Will we be able to negotiate an acceptable replacement? Will his homework be strewn all over the playground on a regular basis?

I decide on a carpé diem kind of approach, and figure we’ll deal with whatever repairs or replacements are required later. I pick the backpack up and put it in my cart, and that’s when the wave of chemical smell hits me. The thing *reeks* of that plasti-vinyl PVC stench that you just know must be toxic. (Oh look, it really is toxic. Lurvely.)

I put it back on the shelf. I can’t expose my kid to this. He’ll carry this every single day — and keep his lunch in it. I look at Pikachu. He’s been coveting this backpack all summer. Am I that mother, the one who denies her kid all the funnest stuff because of her personal agenda? I pick it up with the intention of giving it another sniff, but I don’t even have to get it up to my nose to smell it. I put it in the cart and pace around the store a while.

Eventually, I decide that I’ll buy it but not show it to him. I’ll look around online and in some other stores and see if I can find a Pokémon backpack that’s somewhat less nuclear than this one. I shop around a bit, but can’t find anything similar. I do find a really nice red and blue Roots backpack (I have a pathological addiction to Roots products, I’m not sure why) and buy that one too. It’s really nice, with lots of pockets and hooks and places to stash a seven-year-old’s treasures — but it’s not Pokémon. When I get in the car, I can actually smell the PVC smell from the bag sitting in the hot car, it’s that strong.

The whole way home, I agonize. I really, really don’t want him to have this particular backpack, but he has had his heart set on it for months. I can always tell him that they don’t carry them, that I couldn’t find them, but we’ll likely run into the problem all over again next time he’s in Walmart. He’s getting too old to trick. I get home and leave all the packages in the car. I surf eBay and a few other online places, all the while wishing (for the first and likely only time) that my computer had smell-O-vision so I could sniff the various wares for sale, but I don’t see anything remotely enticing.

Finally, I decide that I’ll leave it up to Tristan to decide. I’m not sure if I’m empowering him or chickening out. Maybe both? I tell him that I looked at the Pokémon backpack, but that I really thought it was a piece of junk. (He gets that his mother has quality issues. “It’s a piece of junk” is a frequent reason for being denied something shiny that has caught his eye.) I explain my concerns about the chemicals, and the smell, and the quality. I cross my fingers and tell him that I did find a backpack that I thought was really nice, but not Pokémon. I’m watching his face pretty closely, and have watched comprehension and disappointment flicker through his eyes. Now his face brightens as I suggest that maybe we can get a Pokémon keychain (see previous comment re: junk) to decorate this bag.

“Oh yeah,” he says, and enthusiasm lights his face like sunshine after a storm. “We can get some stickers, and I can draw some pictures.” And just like that, we’re good. I’m so relieved and so proud I want to cry.

The next morning, I notice the new backpack sitting by the front door. It has a Pikachu keychain dangling from one zipper, and a few other Pokémon tied to the straps with long bits of string. A fresh picture of Pikachu and Tristan-the-Pokémon-Trainer has been scotch-taped to the front, and there is a Pokémon trading card tucked in the mesh bottle holder. It is, by far, the most lovely Pokémon backpack I’ve ever seen.


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One of my favourite features on Facebook is the “On This Day” app. There’s something wonderful about dipping into the minutiae of years gone by. It got me thinking that I now have enough years of content that I can look back and see in (occasionally painful and cringe-worthy) detail exactly what was happening in our lives ten years ago.

It was ten years ago this month, for example, that we were beginning the last of our infertility treatments, having “frostie”, our little frozen embryo left over from our IVF, thawed and inserted into my uterus. Also ten years ago this month, we had two-year-old Simon and four-year-old Tristan baptized: “Father John was kindly and patient didn’t seem to notice that Simon squirmed and wriggled incessantly and Tristan sang under his breath through most of the readings. Simon provided comic relief with his ongoing query of “We go now?” and by excitedly hopping up on the little stool in front of the baptismal font and declaring, “It’s my turn now!” after watching his brother being baptized.”

Ten years ago this month, also wrote this sweet tribute to Simon, my quirky two year old. I thought I’d share it in its entirety:

Simon is becoming more of a character every day. Inasmuch as ‘character’ means mostly adorable, occasionally insufferable, and often hilarious. He seems to develop a new peccadillo every week, and I’m writing this as much to capture them for posterity as for entertainment value.

For instance, he’s picked up a couple of phrases from the bigger kids at daycare, and I’m by turns mortified and amused every time they come out of his mouth.

The first is a very blasé ‘That’s BORing.’ Any time he doesn’t want to do something, wear something, eat something, it’s ‘BORing’. Imagine it uttered with all the disdain a teenage girl could muster, multiply it by three an infuse it with a world-weariness unprecendented in your average two-year-old.

The other is a very staccato ‘No way!’, as if whatever you’ve suggested is the most idiotic thing he’s ever heard.

“Simon, would you like a banana?”
“No way!”

Or:

“Simon, could you please let go of the dog’s lips?”
“No way!”

He’s also exhibiting vaguely alarming tendencies to hoard things, and to depend on rituals. Bedtime has become a complex series of arcane protocols – first books, then the story of his day, then soothers (three, always three, and he will cycle through them looking for just the right one. If one is not to his liking, he will pull it out with a very lispy “Too small,” and repeat until he finds just the right amount of suction and resistance. And yes, they are all the same size.) I’ll push play on the CD player to start the lullabies, place him into his crib, and start the blanket ritual. He must have at least three or four blankets. It can be February or July, but if he sees a blanket you haven’t put on him, he will hector you for it – he’s kind of like a reverse princess and the pea, except he’s the pea. And then there’s the de rigeur rounds of “Hey, you! Put your feet down” as you place the blankets. And he needs companionship as well. Just now, I put him to bed with three blankets (it’s 25C in his room), Gordon, Percy, Scoop, Wags the dog and Dorothy the dinosaur. There’s barely room for him in there.

I have this image of him, twenty years in the future, in a bingo hall somewhere. He’s about 6’5″, 300 lbs, and you’ll loose a finger if you touch the collection of treasures arrayed out in front of him with his bingo daubers. Either that, or he has to touch the doorknob five times before he leaves, tap the glass twice, turn around once, and walk to his car without touching any of the cracks in the sidewalk, with one eye closed and his finger resting against his right earlobe.

If only I could argue with any conviction whatsoever that he doesn’t get it from me.

IMG_3320

That quirky little toddler still sleeps in a bed so full of stuffies that there’s barely room for him, and he graduates from grade school this week.

Who, me? No, um, it’s nothing, I just have something in my eye…


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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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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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One thing I really, really love about having had the blog all these years is finding these little morsels of joy. I wrote this for me six years ago, and I was right — I had forgotten almost all of these things, and each one of them is exquisite and worth remembering. For #TBT (throwback Thursday), here’s a treat from the archives – October 2009.

Lucas in the land of chalk drawings

These are the things I want to remember about life with 20-month old Lucas. I write them here because they are ephermal, because they’ll disappear in the blink of an eye or the beat of a heart and I won’t even notice they’re gone, and someday I’ll be sad that I didn’t capture them a little bit better.

I want to remember how he says “Yeah!” with such enthusiasm when you ask him a question, like “Do you want to wear your Bob the Builder jammies tonight?” and he says it so that you cannot mistake the exclamation mark at the end.

I want to remember how he grabs me around the neck and squeezes hard when I pick him up, often crushing his face into mine in a sweetly aggressive sort of mashed-up kiss, as if he has just a little bit too much love for an ordinary hug and kiss to express.

I want to remember how even though he is perfectly capable of saying “Nimon” he calls both of his brothers “Tittan”. He started out calling them “Ninon” and “Ninnan”; now, they are the two-headed brother monster with one name.

I want to remember how he begs for whatever bit of tasty treat you’ve got not unlike a labrador puppy might, by standing as close to you as he can making obvious eye contact with you, all the while encouraging you to share with a musical “Mmm hmmm! Mmm hmmm!”

I want to remember how he must be just like his big brothers in all things, and how he loves to draw when they draw and play with lego when they play with lego. I really don’t think it’s occured to him that they are any older or any different than he is.

I want to remember how he loves certain videos and how he asks for them by ‘name’. Bob the Builder is of course “Bob!” (always with the audible exclamation mark) and Blues Clues is “Puppy!” The Muppets episode with Mark Hamill is less easy to convey; he gargles in the fashion of Angus McGonagle, the Argyle Gargoyle who gargles Gershwin. I’ll need to get the new Flip video camera out for that one, I think.

I want to remember how he loves for us to sing “Old Macdonald” in the car, and how when we pause to allow him to name an animal, he says “Cow!” each and every time, over and over again. (And yes, the exclamation mark is audible on that one, too. I think like any new skill that gets acquired by a toddler, he’s busy incorporating the exclamation into his repetoire through fierce and constant repetition.)

I want to remember how hard it is not to laugh when he is vexed and falls to the floor in a disappointed heap, not exactly throwing a tantrum but utterly exasperated by being denied the whimsy of his desire.

I want to remember his good ear for mimicry, and how he can repeat several words in a sing-song of sounds even though he’s only stringing together a word or two at a time. He will stack up a couple of blocks and then look at me and say, “Don’t you do it!” daring me not to knock over his tower the way he knocks down the ones I build for him. And he is pitch-perfect in capturing my tone as he climbs up onto the table and then scolds himself: “Git DOWN!”

I want to remember the way he chortles with glee and relief when we say it’s time for “Blankey and Soo” the bedtime duo. “Banky Sooooooo” he repeats.

I want to remember the way he looks solemnly into my eyes each night as I tell him the story of his day, agreeing with “Mmm hmm” to the key points, around his mouthful of soother.

I want to remember how utterly beautiful, and exasperating, and exhausting, and fulfilling it can be to parent the ball of curious and relentless and lovingly adorable energy that is Lucas at 20 months. It’s so hard to believe some days that it won’t be like this forever, that it might not be like this next month…

I cried when I read this again. Wasn’t this just yesterday? And how, how, HOW had I ever forgotten how he called both brothers by the same name? Even now, he refers to them as “the brudders.” And how he used to gargle when he wanted that Muppets movie – priceless.

I think maybe I’d better get to work writing a post that captures the boys at 7, 11 and 13, before the wonder of now is lost to the rushing sea of time.


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I heard on the radio today that carbon monoxide detectors are now mandatory in Ontario, and it reminded me of this old blog post which I thought would be worthy of re-sharing in my ongoing celebration of my 10th anniversary of blogging. From 2011: Lucas’ most excellent day.

A day that starts with fire trucks in the driveway is a pretty exciting day for a toddler. When you get to the part of the day that has a boy-sized carton filled with packing peanuts? You’ve hit Nirvana. Such is the day Lucas is having today.

It started innocuously, and early. It was just before 7 am. Lucas and Simon were watching TV, Beloved and Tristan were still sleeping, and I was two sips and four pages into my morning coffee and newspaper routine, when I heard the chirp. I cocked my head, listened to the silence for a minute, and then went back to my paper. When it chirped again. I let it chirp two more times before I finally resigned myself to tracking it down.

I figured it was a smoke detector, but when I followed the aural trail, I ended up in the furnace room. I looked all around for the smoke detector with depleted batteries I was expecting to find, but saw nothing. Well, nothing except the 19 year old furnace and the five week old hot water heater. I watched the flashing LED on the hot water heater for a while, and tried to decode the rather unintelligible translation of the signal. Greek. So, I picked up the phone and called the gas company who installed the hot water heater on the day we moved in to the house.

The attendant I spoke to was perplexed. “There’s nothing in the manual for a chirping alarm,” she told me. We chatted as I walked around the hot water heater, trying to figure out exactlly what was emitting the sound. She was just reassuring me that it was likely nothing of concern and getting ready to book a service appointment when I looked up from my squatting-between-the-furnace-and-hot-water-heater-in-my-pyjamas position and saw it.

“Hang on,” I told her as I peered at it, trying to read the writing beside the red flashing LED. I had to stand on the tool box to resolve the label. “Um,” I said, “it’s not the hot water heater that’s chirping. It’s a carbon monoxide detector.”

“Oh,” she said, and in that syllable I heard a complete about-face in her demeanor. “Well, that’s a bit of an emergency, then.” Before I knew it, she had me conferenced-called in with the fire department, and the fire department and the gas company were on the way, and we were supposed to ventilate the house and go wait outside. My first thought was for my coffee, waiting patiently on the side table. My second thought was for Beloved, still snoring in blissful oblivion.

And then we were all five of us outside, sitting on my grand verandah, watching the fire trucks pulling up. Cuz nothing says good morning like fire trucks in the driveway at 7:07 in the morning. The boys, of course, were delighted with this spectacular break from our morning routine. Me, though, I’d begun to feel a little uneasy. The adrenaline rush of, “You must evacuate your family from the house” had begun to wear off, and I had a niggling little worry I was trying to suppress.

Sure enough, when the rescue truck driver did his walkthrough of the basement, he detected no measurable levels of carbon monoxide. He did, however, detect a detector with failing batteries.

Yep. The fire department and the gas company came for a pre-breakfast visit to help us change the batteries in the carbon monoxide detector. In my defense, it was actually the gas company who called the fire department. Had I not been on the phone with them and panicked by the sudden onset of their sense of urgency, I would likely have thought to test the batteries before calling in the civil authorities.

Heh. At least it makes for good blog fodder, right? My humiliation for your entertainment.

And THEN! As if that weren’t enough excitement for one day, a REALLY BIG BOX arrived mid-morning. I’ll save the story of what was in the box for tomorrow, but look how much enjoyment a curious toddler can derive from one box and a whole shitload of packing peanuts.

“Hmmmm, what are these things?”

Lucas and the packing peanuts - 1 of 6

“Hey! This big box is FULL of them!”

Lucas and the packing peanuts - 2 of 6

“They squeak when you walk on them!”

Lucas and the packing peanuts - 3 of 6

“Get these things out of my box!”

Lucas and the packing peanuts - 4 of 6

“Wheeee, I’m upside down!”

Lucas and the packing peanuts - 5 of 6

“Yeesh, who’s gonna clean up this mess?”

Lucas and the packing peanuts - 6 of 6

And at naptime I carefully picked up each damn one of those styrofoam peanuts and put it back in the box to save for another day. If you’re looking for Christmas gift ideas this year, you might want to check the packing supply aisle in the post office!


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Flashback Faves: Zed versus Zee, a love letter to Nancy

11 February 2015 Flashback faves

To commemorate 10 years of blogging, I’ve been sharing some of my favourite old blog posts. This one is from way back in 2005, when I still had enough energy and clarity of mind to research a topic and mount a passionate debate about minutiae, rather than just whinge in 140 characters or less, and […]

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Flashback faves: Is this my life?

20 January 2015 Flashback faves

In honour of the blog’s tenth birthday this month, I’m revisiting a handful of favourites from my archives. I think this post from 2005, which I refer to as “my epic wail,” was a seminal moment for me in a lot of ways. Years later, people still mention it to me, and it brought a […]

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Flashback faves: Picture this!

16 January 2015 Flashback faves

This month, I’m celebrating an anniversary-palooza of ten years of blogging by revisiting some of my favourite old posts. I have to tell you, I was utterly delighted to find this post about us getting family portraits done from the winter of 2006. I wrote long before I had even the faintest idea of opening […]

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Flashback faves: So THIS is why we don’t host dinner parties

15 January 2015 Ah, me boys

In celebration of 2015’s anniversary-palooza and 10 years of blogging, I’m revisiting some of my favourite blog posts ever. This is from the spring of 2005. We had some friends over on the weekend for dinner. No no, we didn’t have them à la Hannibal Lecter, we had the grilled chicken fajitas you told me […]

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