Newsflash (not really): I have a mouth like a sailor.
It’s only fitting. Mom used to dress me like this:
Kidding. That’s not me. That’s Shirley Temple. I didn’t have golden curls and a sailor suit. I had a mullet and a sweatshirt that said Pop Music.
I also had genie pants and an acid wash jean jacket with brown leather fringes. But no sailor suit. Reason enough to develop a mouth like a pirate, all the same. Mom, how in the fucken fuck of fuck town could this look have been remotely attractive? I declare aesthetic child abuse.
Or maybe my sailor mouth is on account of my growing up in a Newfoundland outport, with the Atlantic Ocean licking at my bedroom window. You know, the ocean – where sailors sail. Yeah, let’s go with that. A scene from my oceanside playground:
Fuck it’s cold, Barbie said to Ken.
I know, Barbie, I can tell by the topography of your sweater.
Ha ha. Oh, Ken, you sure know how to make a bitch laugh.
Let’s go out in punt and get jiggy.
But I’m a mother now. And dog gone it, I’ve curbed my cursing significantly. But it’s a daily challenge. Think about it. How do you shield a toddler from the devil’s diction when the toddler is the one precipitating the profanity?
The list of swear-inducing scenarios is infinite, but for demonstrative purposes they can all be crystallized into one all-too-common occurrence we’ll call Juice Box Bedlam. You know what I’m talking about, parents of wacky wee ones. What does every little kid do when handed a juice box? They squeeze it. Which would be okay… if the straw was in their mother bloggin’ mouth! Juice goes everywhere. In their hair, their eye, in every nut and bolt of the car-seat and stroller. Once, when putting on Max’s pyjamas, I couldn’t get him to lift his arm because his armpit was stuck together with apple juice.
Juice Box Bedlam warrants an f-bomb, at least under the breath.
We’ve been lucky so far though. Max’s vocabulary has been growing exponentially, but it’s a good-as-gold jambalaya of nouns and verbs and adjectives.
He has a hard time with his “f” words, pronouncing them as “d” words. “Four” and “five” are “door” and “dive.” “Fork” is “dork.” (When he asks for a fork, I push his father toward him.) But thankfully, it doesn’t work in reverse. A “duck” is a “duck.” Phew.
Every word has been pure and clean and innocent. Until today.
We were out shopping, waiting for daddy in the parking lot of a sports store. It was almost naptime, but Max was pleasant, sitting quietly in his car-seat. All of a sudden, he calmly uttered something from the backseat.
What the how.
He repeated it several times. What the how. What the how…
I looked back, trying not to look too surprised or amused. What did you say, buddy?
He smirked. That irresistibly mischievous smirk that says I know I’m doing something I’m not supposed to do and that’s why it feels so goooooooood.
Funny how you don’t even realize your own pet sayings until you hear them from the mouth of your parrot boy. Apparently I say “what the hell” a lot. A whole lot. And Max clearly has ears and a mind like Sponge Bob Square Pants.
But hey, it could have been so much worse, right? If he was gonna pick up a phrase from my repertoire, that was a dang good choice. Just enough bad to be funny. In fact, when Andrew got back in the car I had to resist the urge to get Max to say it one more time for his father’s enjoyment.
God, kids are frickin’ amusing, aren’t they? What the hell, maybe I’ll have one more. Bah! What the hell am I saying? Having kids is way too hard on the ol’ juice box.
I sit here staring at two big boxes of books. Books I’ve toted around for more than a decade, from province to province and house to house. Damn, books are heavy. Time to lose some paper weight.
What was I thinking? Look at these titles. Criminals, Idiots, Women and Minors: Victorian Writing by Women on Women. What. The. Hell. And this one, The Norton Anthology of African American Literature.
This is not a book. It’s a 2,600-page door-stop for a castle. A memento of a second-year English class at Dalhousie University. Why’d I keep it? Hmmm. To fondly remember the sculpted professor who looked more like a buff basketball star than a literature buff? (He’d recite Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech in class, and I’d be thinking the exact same thing.) For emergencies? One never knows when one might find oneself in dire need of some post-abolitionary haiku.
The husband calls me a hoarder. (Better than whore, I suppose.) This, from a guy who kept the bloody tissues from the day his dog got ran over. (RIP, Spook Murphy.) This, from a guy whose prized possession is his collection of over 200 beer bottles which lovingly adorn the walls of our basement. There are brown bottles in the background of all the photos from Max’s birthday party. If you ever thought I was a control freak, now you know how very wrong you are.
I’m a packrat. But some things are simply not trash. These books, for example. You can’t throw a book in the garbage. That’s just WRONG. To innovate on my mother’s go-to guilt-inducer when I was a child: Tsk tsk. All those children in Ethiopia with nothing to [read]… shockin’.
Besides, no matter how awesome the iBook, Kindle and Kobo are, there is just something irreplaceably cool about a book of the paper kind.
But for many of these volumes, The End has come. As much as I love the mildewy smell of their yellowing pages, they take up too much room in my life. And by life I mean basement. Besides, just because you OWN a book does not mean you’ve read it. It’s not like I can proudly stack them all on a shelf and wear a cigar jacket while I tell visitors how sophisticated and well-read I am. Yes, I confess – I am a writer who doesn’t read much beyond the cereal box. (That’s an exaggeration, but you get my point. I don’t even really like cereal.)
Most of these books are dad’s. Books I meant to read but never did because I was too busy seeking the right mousse for curly hair and boys who liked girls with big, orange afros. (Check back later and there’ll be a picture here of said afro. You know you wanna.)
I didn’t even read half the books on the reading lists of my Honours English classes. They were too big! (Be quiet, husband.) I will name my second child after he who helped me graduate. First name Cole, second name Notes. In my defense, who the f*ck has time to read Vanity Fair (fattest novel ever) in two days when you’re partying five days a week because God is telling you to? Exactly.
Bye-bye, books. Some will wind up at used bookstores, some will go to teacher friends, and others to coworkers who amazingly appreciate a book in the hand while an iPad sits idly by.
I will, however, keep a few books with a particular autograph on the inside cover. I open up a 65-cent copy of Hamlet and read:
It takes everything in my being to refrain from dialing this number.
A paperback survivor from the sixties, when dad studied English and Shakespeare and poetry and philosophy and cute girls at Memorial University. This book is a little piece of history, from what was surely one of the best times of his life. The very fact that he penned his name right here on this page I hold in my hand, before marriage and kids and responsibility and cancer were ever in his vocabulary… there is something profound about that. There is the ink. Still bright. Still there. Never fading. A metaphor if I ever heard one.
I will keep this book, and a few others. The husband can turn to page 69 and kiss my ass. Love you, honey. Beer bottles and all.
But the other shit I’ve collected over the years… it’s time to let go. I had a yard sale a few weeks back. It’s unbelievable what people will buy from you. One kid bought my Jeopardy board game, circa 1989. You know it’s old because Alex Trebek’s moustache is thick and black.
One lady bought a rusty pot for ten cents. I don’t even know what to say about that. She was also looking for an electric can opener for her son who just got his own apartment. I asked her – why an electric one? She said – because he is too lazy to turn the handle on the manual one. Wow. Our future is in excellent hands, folks. (But don’t expect them to actually USE those hands, except to jerk off all over our hopes and dreams for the future of the universe.)
I sold a big, pine box (not a casket) I built in grade nine industrial arts class. On the outside it looked decent – well-made, with a boy and girl carved into the top. But when you opened the lid, BOOM, it hit you in the face: VICKI 1993, scrawled on the inside of the lid in bright, red paint. I joked that I should have put a piece of sandpaper inside as a hint that this paint could come off; your name didn’t have to be Vicki to enjoy this exquisite box of awesomesauce.
No need. Just as I was packing away all the unsold crap, a young man pulled up in his car inquiring about kids stuff. I directed him to a box full of kiddy crap, with my wooden work of art sitting on top of the pile. He grabbed the pine box, said his little girl would love it, and asked me how much I wanted for it. With my aunt- and mother-in-law snickering in the background because I had exclaimed “He wants my box!”, I said “a buck.” He threw me a loonie and left with a handful of VICKI 1993. All you need is a handful.
Yard sales are nightmarish. At least Max helped by cleaning up and spreading some pre-Christmas cheer.
Hey, it was $300 in my pocket that would have gone to the Salvation Army, and don’t they have enough musical instruments already? Sheesh.
I admit, I like to hold onto some things. Hard to shake the teenage girl off completely. In high school, we kept everything, didn’t we? The REO Speedwagon sticker out of a Hostess potato chip bag because you were eating those chips when you met the first guy who ever touched your boobs. The beer label off a bottle of Red Dog that a really hot guy gave you because everyone knows what that label really means.
God teenagers are f*cked up. And I was one of them. No worries, all that crap is gone now. Except for maybe most of it. Stay away from that chest in my bedroom, mom!!!
My husband says I’m a packrat. But he doesn’t realize – the reason I have a lot of crap is because I left home when I was 18. Not much choice there, b’ys, if you want to do something more than work at the gas station or fish with your uncle. No offense to all ye who work at the gas station or fish with your uncle. I enjoy gas, as well as fish. Thank you.
So, from age 18 until the time I bought my house at 23, I was steadily accumulating things. Those five years were prime crap-collecting years for me, unlike my husband who lived with his parents until he met me. (When he moved in, he was standing on the front step with a brown paper bag full of socks.)
In my young adult poverty, I collected things from anyone who’d offer. Sure, I’ll take that old toilet seat off your hands; it could be a table with a hole in the middle. A doughnut table – innovative! Mom and dad replenished my bank account regularly (God bless them), but I couldn’t use that money for furniture and home décor. That was beer money! And what was left over was money for a new slutty shirt to wear to the Liquordome on Wednesday night. Yes, I said Wednesday.
As you move from piss poor to financial mediocrity you start to shed the crap and replace it with things of quality. Fewer, nicer things. But it’s a phasing out process. I’m still working on it. Obviously.
Here I am in the sweatshirt dad spilled tea on once as he tried to squeeze around me at the dinner table. It’s cute, right? A little bit of dirtbag, a little bit of Lady Macbeth: Out, damn’d spot! out, I say!
Call me a packrat, but this sweater, this stain, and this Hamlet, are not going anywhere.
My Aunt Linda babysits Max. But now that he’s two, we’re thinking maybe he should go to a daycare centre once or twice a week. You know, with other kids. (Uncle Rex, you are the size of a 10-year-old, but remember – you share your name with a dinosaur.)
So I have Max on several waiting lists in the city, but it seems he has a better chance of getting into Harvard. But hope springs eternal. I hope this daycare has six or seven other children who are gentle, vaccinated, and cootie-free. I also hope one of them is Asian, and one of them is black. Maybe I’m just mackin’ on terrorist slayer (not to mention super cute) Barack Obama right now – holla! But seriously, I see great value in raising my family in a diverse community. Which begs the question: why do I live in Torbay? The town’s theme song is A Whiter Shade of Pale. They don’t even sell blackberries at the Price Chopper.
Growing up, I was lucky enough to have a couple un-white families in our community. One from the Philippines, one from Laos, and a handful from Asia. Doctors and their families, mostly (shocker). In spite of my small rural existence, I knew there was variety in the world; we weren’t all pasty-as-me-arse honkies of English or Irish descent. (It’s okay, I can say the h word because I am one.) Dad subscribed to National Geographic, so that helped too. Although for a while there I expected all black women to have boobs down to their knees and wooden thread spools in their ears. My friend Tina also had a black Baby Brenda doll. So we knew babies came in all colours. In fact, one Christmas during our church concert, we put Black Brenda in the manger to play the role of Jesus. The kids who were playing Mary and Joseph were white as the driven snow, but no odds – this conception was immaculate; God was Jesus’ baby daddy! I’ve always entertained the possibility that God looks a lot like Morgan Freeman. Fat freckles are the birthmarks of angels.
When they were toddlers, my friend Kelly took her twin boys (two of my greatest sources of blog material) to the swimming pool. They saw a black guy treading water nearby, and the boys started to panic. No, they didn’t think they were going to get mugged. (Does that sound racist? Sorry, I’m a writer – anything for a cheap joke.) The boys just didn’t know what it was; they had never seen a black person before!
On another occasion, they were in the checkout line at the grocery store, standing behind a black man. One of the boys looked at his mother and said, quite loudly, Why is that man’s face so black? Not sure what to say at the moment, Kelly shushed him. What the heck is the answer to this innocent inquiry anyways?
Because there are all kinds of people in the world, honey. Of all shapes and sizes and colours.
Because that man is clearly of African descent. I’ll show you Africa on the map when we get home.
The dude overhears and interjects: Sure I’m from Mount Pearl, b’y!
I grew up on a farm. Well, not really. It just felt like one because it was so noisy. Not because there was a slew of kids and pets. There was just mom, dad, myself, Glenn, and an empty doghouse out back. (R.I.P. Skip). But the thin walls of our two-storey echoed the voices of Glenn Tilley, Gerald S. Doyle and Lloyd Robertson extremely well. There may have only been two people at home, but it would sound like ten. I’m pretty sure Peter Mansbridge was the narrator in my teenage dreams. Wow. That’s just creepy.
Mom and dad were loud talkers, to be heard over the blare of CBC radio (dad’s first necessity after water and air) and the television that wasn’t about to let the radio have all the glory. At 6pm, open the front door and the rest of Badger’s Quay could hear Carl Wells’ weather predictions for the weekend.
So maybe I’ve been conditioned to need noise. I’d probably veer into the ditch if the radio were not on in the car; the gas pedal doesn’t work without a light underscore of classic rock, right? I don’t watch a lot of television, but it’s almost always on. When we’re eating supper. When we’re playing trains. When we’re cooking. We come home, turn on the lights, adjust the heat, and flick on the telly – even though we don’t even plan to watch it. Why do we do that? Whyyyyyy?
Because noise is comforting. The sounds of voices and music are a familiar backdrop, filling up uncomfortable silences, a virtual safety net for sudden moments of boredom or loneliness. God forbid we try to entertain ourselves without the aid of some electronic device. (One sec, I gotta try and pass this level of Angry Birds on my iPhone.) I mean it would be preposterous to break out a board game, or build a tower with blocks, or play ring-around-the-rosy, or… wait for it… TALK! And imagine doing any of these things without the television in the background, providing some texture to the otherwise ordinary scene. Why the constant need for amusement anyways? Why can’t we just be? Yeah, try telling that to a two-year-old who would rather let a turd fester in his diaper for half a day than put down his toys to get changed.
And because I am a lazy mother. I use the television as an easy out. When I am trying to get ready in the morning, I flick on a dvd and Max is the best behaved child in the Milky Way. (No dvd and he’s sticking fridge magnets into the hair dryer and climbing into the oven, Hansel and Gretel style.) When Max won’t get out of the bathtub, I lure him from the bubbles with the promise of a movie – because I am too lazy to come up with something more creative. When he is whining for something, climbing up my leg to reach what he can’t have, I divert him to the flat-screen where he is safe and entertained and quiet, and I am not annoyed.
So yesterday I tried something different. I called it Project Break-Free-From-TV. I gave the electronic babysitter the entire day off. (She’s a bit of a square anyways.) And it was one of the best days ever.
No movies. No Treehouse or Disney Channel. No computer. Daddy and Splash were gone in the woods for a boil-up, so it was just us. Me and Max. And our imaginations.
First, we broke out the paper and crayons. He whined for a red ballpoint pen that was lying so irresistibly on the kitchen table. I gave in. He drew a tornado and a ball of red yarn. Stellar work.
Next, we read. He ripped the last remaining flaps out of a lift-the-flaps book. Lift… Rip… What’s the diff? He was fully engaged in this book, and I was going with it, destruction and all.
Then we built a train track and played with the cheeky one and all his friends. I got down to his level, face to the floor, and pretended I was the voice of Percy (the green train) delivering the mail… or a deadly surprise! Ka-boom! Occasionally, I’d catch a glimpse of Max’s face watching me. Total awe. Best feeling ever. I stayed down there for at least an hour. Damn, sometimes I wish we had carpet.
When I had exhausted my caboose, I opened the lid of the toy-box where long forgotten gadgets were rediscovered. Max took his Fisher Price dog for a vigorous walk; thankfully the pooch hadn’t gained weight after weeks of neglect. He picked up Dustin Nolan (Cabbage Patch Kid), stared into his lifeless eyes, and gave him a flick back into the abyss. Poor Dustin. One day, someone will comb his cornsilk hair and give him a second outfit.
For breakfast, he had a grapefruit and cereal – in a big boy breakable bowl. Shag it. Who cares if he breaks the bowl? As long as it’s not on his eyeball.
At 10:30am we went to the gymnasium at MUN, a new Saturday morning ritual. He ran and jumped and swung as usual, and when it came time for the sing-a-long at the end, he actually sat down, clapped his hands and did the actions to the songs with the other kids. What is this – focus? A rarity for Mad Maximus Murphy in such busy social settings.
For lunch, he ate fresh cod and nine Brussels sprouts. I sang as I cooked. He swayed his hips and arms – his trademark move – to mama’s mediocre music. It was a peaceful meal. No television in the background. No leaning over the side of his highchair to see Handy Manny and his talking tools. It was just me and him and the sound of our chewing.
Next up – bath time. Sun poured in through the bathroom window as I leaned over to wash his copper curls. Everything was blissfully quiet, except for Max’s laughter, the splashing of water, and the squeaky friction of his little butt cheeks on the bottom of the tub. While he played in the bubbles, I wrote a few thoughts down in my trusty notebook. As I was scribbling, a picture of dad fell out from between the pages and onto the floor. Well hello to you too, Poppy Jim; we’re having a great day. (Side-note: When dad was about to take a bath, he’d announce that he was going to go blow bubbles in the tub.)
By 2:30pm Max was zonked and ready for a nap. Breaktime for mama, yeehaw. I had earned this, damn it. Hmmm, what would I do for the next 2.5 hours? Watch TV, of course! Psych. It crossed my mind, but naw. I read a couple pages in a book, “A Short History of Nearly Everything” (which is soooo not short at all), and caught forty winks on the couch. At 5pm I was awakened by a little voice down the hall. The sweetest sound in the world. Well, in my world anyways.
We remained TV-Free until bedtime, at which time we declared it was no longer 1918. 30 minutes of a Thomas dvd and the little man was on the Sodor Express to Dreamland.
Don’t worry, we’ll still be watching television. It’s Superbowl Sunday, for cryin’ out loud! Me and my first round draft pick (he has a onesie that says that) are gonna bust a move at half-time and watch for wardrobe malfunctions. Seriously though, TV is great. In fact, I attribute at least a portion of my creative chops to Mr. Dress-Up, and a small but respectable fraction of my intelligence to Alex Trebek, that sexy, silver-haired nerd. I know Max is learning a lot from TV. But I think we’ll be practicing idiot box moderation from now on. The electronic babysitter is switching to a (very) part-time position. Not just because of the theory that too much TV causes ADHD, but because yesterday felt real and rich and good. Undistracted by sophisticated animation, we made our own silly music in the quiet of each other’s company.
Is this wrong? Maybe. Does it allow me to eat breakfast undisturbed? Hells yeah. So if my toddler being a movie junkie is wrong, then I don’t wanna be right.
Okay, so I do wanna be right. I’m not Lindsay Lohan’s mother for God sake; I actually do want my kid to turn out normal. So I have to ask myself – is Max spending too much time with the electronic babysitter? Will too much tube make my boy a boob?
There’s this theory (I hope it’s just a theory) that too much television watching causes ADHD in small children. I hate to admit it, but it does make sense…
A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics was published in 2004 proposing that “the viewing of television by children less than two years of age is linked to the development of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) later in life. The study found that the quick-paced action and frequent scene shifts of many programs “train” the brain to perceive this type of rapid movement as normal when real everyday life clearly moves at a slower pace. When a child perceives this overstimulation to be the norm, it makes sense that they would be bored by and expect more excitement from everyday life. How can we expect a child who is used to being entertained by flashing lights and quick moving animation to be interested in what their considerably less high-tech teacher is saying in front of the class?”
I have just one thing to say in response to these scientific results: eek.
Maybe this explains Max’s boggled facial expression as he watches Cars, or Wall-E, or – his fave – Toy Story 3. He’s not thinking “wow, cool, look at that!”, he’s thinking “whaaaaaaaaat the fuck is thaaaaaaat???” Confusion escalates to terror when he sees TS3’s monkey with the cymbals. Can’t blame him; that chimp makes me wanna go hide under the bed and suck my thumb.
I’d be sad to see Toy Story 3 go; I’ve watched it about 40 times and could watch it again right now and still be intrigued. God bless you, Disney Pixar. But part of me (my right hand, specifically) would be happy to take all the Thomas dvds and put them in the blender. “They’re two, they’re four, they’re six, they’re eight…” The theme song haunts my dreams. It’s the soundtrack to our lives. What does shunting even mean???
Sometimes I also find myself spontaneously breaking into a British accent. This can’t be healthy.
But that wretched song makes Max dance, so I gladly tolerate it. I know one day this stupid song and these little wooden trains will be treasures, placed on a high shelf somewhere, reminders of a simpler time when my little boy, now out there in the big world, was safely under my wing.
So… do I say “No, Max, no more movies today.” Whining ensues, followed by pouty face, then outright crying, then, my favourite, thrashing. When he pounds his fists and forehead on the couch – that’s the best, isn’t it? I know I need to ignore this behaviour so he knows it’s not working, but that’s easier said than done. His unjoy is a dog wrapped around my leg. I just want it to stop, and after a long day at work I’ll do anything to make it so – anything! And when one little flick of a play button can return us to complete and utter tranquility, how can I resist?
Perhaps I was a bee in a former life. Or maybe it was a beaver. Yeah, a beaver; beavers are really busy. I had buck teeth as a kid too. That settles it – I was once a beaver. There’s a chewing on wood joke here somewhere, but I digress…
I complain about having too much to do, but truth is, I’m addicted to being busy. I need to be doing something productive – creating something, building something, making something better. Now don’t get me wrong; I don’t need to be my mother’s kind of busy – cleaning, cooking, and churning butter while knitting sweaters and polishing silverware. That’s not my kind of busy. I like to be on the move. Shopping; seeking the perfect something for our humble abode. Writing – if not for work then for myself; working on my dad’s book, or my own. Watching; feasting my eyes on the mastery of Mad Men, or the delicious debauchery of Californication. (Which reminds me – anybody got Season 3?) I need to be constantly seeking something. A new vintage toy for my boy. The perfect metaphor. A great photo opp. A new idea.
But I know, life is short; God, how short it is. So I remind myself daily to stop and smell the roses. Pet the dog. Cuddle the boy. Sip the tea. Be in the moment.
I’m good at being in the moment. I’m deep like that. I’m a writer for God sake; it’s a curse. Sometimes I’m so in the moment, I forget to be in pants. But sometimes my high-speed nature gets the better of me. (Thanks for the crazy genes, mom.) Especially during this time of year with the hoards of people and endless traffic (will the Torbay shit-snake ever die?) and lists of things to do compelling me to go go go go get ‘er done NOW.
Holiday mall mopers? I hate them. And they travel in packs. So not only are they slow; they form an impenetrable wall of mope.
I start my Christmas shopping early so I don’t have to stand in busy checkout lines when the holiday rush is on – a fate worse than death. 20% night at the Avalon Mall? No b’y. I’d rather pay 20% MORE to NOT stand in those lines.
Tonight, the Torbay Santa Claus parade started 15 minutes late; I rained curses on the jolly old elf and his entire slow-ass posse. It was cold and I had a little boy who kept flicking his mittens off. Time was of the essence; digits were on the line. But I kept my patience, largely due to the friendly reminder I received earlier today…
A reminder to slow down, via an officer of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. Yes mom, it’s true; I got a speeding ticket. And yes, I am about to drop the f-bomb. Fuckin’ ghost car! Damn those clever crime-fighters!
Despite my predicament, I was in a good mood, so I went with it. For a moment, I thought I would flutter my eyelashes a little, see if Goody Blue Shoes might be influenced by a fair damsel on her way to volunteer at the orphanage. (Or to get her hair done, whatev.) But naw, that‘s not how I roll. So I decided to just own it. I screwed up, I admit. Now, how about a bit of tomfoolery to lighten the mood? I rolled down my window to greet him and said…
Okay, no I didn’t. But I thought it. That thing was colossal.
What I actually said was, “Gosh darn it, officer, ya got me.”
“License and registration, mam?”
I opened the glove compartment with glee. The kind of smile that hurts. “Pink sheet – check. Blue sheet – check. Got it, yay! Here ya go, officer.”
“Do you know how fast you were going, Ms. Murphy?”
“Ommm… one millllllllion?”
“90. In a 60 zone.”
“Wow. My heavy foot disease must be acting up today.”
“Okay wait here, Ms. Murphy.” He turned to walk back to his Decepticon.
“Hurry back!” I say with a genuine Texas-size grin.
He came back with a yellow slip of paper.
“Yellow, my favourite colour. How did you know?”
There was a brief chuckle. And the slightest hint of bacon on the wind.
His parting words, “Slow down, okay?”
“Oh I will. Slowing down is my favourite.”
I’m lucky he didn’t give me the breathalizer. This encounter is not without embellishment, of course. But hey, there’s a moral to this half-true story…
It’s a busy time of year, but let’s not let it cloud our judgment. Let’s not be so caught up with the details that we forget to see the bigger picture. Let’s be beavers! Do a lot. (You know you’re going to anyway; it’s what we women do.) But do it slowly, thoughtfully, and carefully. Not necessarily perfectly. If you have to be full speed ahead to do it all, then maybe you’re doing too much. Silly beaver.
Thinking about flying with a toddler? Three words: DON’T DO IT.
I don’t mean that. I mean, in the grand scheme of a two-week vacation, the four-hour flight there and back is just a fart in the pants. You can do it! But be forewarned. And pack at least six kinds of crackers.
Children under the age of two can fly for free. In Canada, at least. So, as new parents, we think Yippee! We’ll take a trip somewhere before the half-pint is two. Give him a ride on a big ol’ jet airliner – for free! Not so fast, opportunistic little mama; think this through. If it’s relaxation you seek, leave the lil’ squirt home. There won’t be much time for kicking your feet up. The kicking (and screaming) will be done by someone else.
The drama begins at the airport. For the love of lemon gin, take your umbrella stroller. A toddler on the loose at the airport? You may as well post an ad on Kijiji: One toddler for the taking. Likes cheese puffs, pooping in pants, and long walks on the beach. You can push the stroller right up to the door of the airplane. Leave it there and board the plane; the stroller is magically waiting for you on the other side. But don’t get too excited; the nightmare occurs in between.
Our August flight to Ontario would have gone much differently had Max been a 9-month-old crawler instead of a 16-month-old Olympic sprinter. With a perfectly immobile baby on my lap, my biggest worry would have been keeping his ears clear and his belly full. I could have flicked on the cartoons, stuck a bottle in his gob, and giddy-up – Toronto, here we come. But Max had learned to motor and had been honing his legwork for the past five months. And now he was bringing those mad skills onboard. No amount of Thomas the Tank Engine was going to stop him from busting a move on that Boeing 737. In fact, Thomas probably just reminded him to go full steam ahead.
For Max, boarding the plane was like walking into a new world of possibilities. His eyes lit up when he saw the endless rows of seats, each containing a different face. I could almost hear his thoughts, spoken in a British Stewie Griffin accent, of course. What is this? A life-size Fisher Price Shake-n-Go Flyer? Must… explore… now. Check out the giant porn stash on that dude. Feast your eyes on that chick’s big dangly earrings! Can I grab them, mommy? Can I? Can I? Oooooh, this little window shade is fun! It’s open, it’s closed, it’s open, it’s closed…
When we took our seat, we were pleasantly surprised to have been assigned the row with extra legroom. Bless your heart, travel agent lady. At least you tried.
I’m no dummy; I came prepared. I packed several NEW dinkies and toys. They worked – for a while. Eventually, Max started tossing everything to the floor. Half the time the toy would wind up under someone else’s seat, so I’d have to retrieve it with my head in a stranger’s crotch. Excuse me, sir, could you move your undercarriage so I can find my son’s train?
I also packed snacks galore. My purse was a vending machine. Raisins, fruit, Cheerios, Goldfish crackers, and a few sugary sweet treats for emergencies. But there were not enough snacks in the world to keep our boisterous boy down. By the time the seatbelt sign was switched off, Max had turned on the Turbo Ginger.
We made the mistake of traveling at night. The flight left at 7pm, so I thought – Perfect. He’ll get on board in his pjs, have a bottle, then go to sleep… and we’ll watch a movie! Dream on, Self. Max was tired, but he fought it with every fiber of his 25-pound being. And how could I blame him? This was an exciting new place. There was no crib, no darkness, no familiar surroundings. It couldn’t possibly be bedtime! Damn, that kid is observant.
He tried to escape our two-seat row, but Andrew’s leg served as a barricade. It’s not safe out there in the aisle! Some parents walk their kids up and down the aisle to let them blow off steam. But this could easily go awry. People have hot beverages, and there’s always a flight attendant coming or going. Besides, if I gave Max an inch, or 10 feet of aisle, he’d take a mile. One glimpse of the buffet of faces beyond our row and things would get real ugly real fast. Try returning to our seat once he had a gander of that sweet action. Max Murphy Meltdown imminent.
Thankfully, he was content to stay in the one-foot by two-foot playroom in the clouds – i.e. the space between the window and the aisle, minus the space taken up by mine and Andrew’s legs. He flashed greasy grins at the gentleman across the aisle from us. He danced up a storm. He was deliriously tired, lying on the floor for a few seconds as if he was going to go to sleep, then suddenly springing to life and cackling like something possessed. Aha! You thought I was asleep, didn’t you? Suckas! Sometimes he’d lie there for a few extra moments and we’d get our hopes up – could this be the beginning of peace? – when suddenly I’d feel little teeth chomping into my foot. What a case. Andrew and I cracked up. Until we cracked. Three hours into the journey, we were desperately begging the sandman to arrive.
Max slept for the last hour of the journey. Just enough time for Andrew and I to fall asleep and – ding ding – buckle your seatbelts, we’re coming in for a landing.
The return flight was even worse. It was the red-eye; need I say more? This time, we even had a spare seat between us. A blessing? You would think so, wouldn’t you? Mastermind Max only utilized this luxury for his lunacy. He stood up on the seat and threw things over the top at the poor people dozing behind us. A die-cast locomotive to the face leaves a mark.
My recommendation? Fly with your under-two-year-old before he or she is walking. If it’s too late for that, travel with a partner. Don’t fly at night unless you have the patience of job and caffeine injected directly into your veins. If you have money to burn, buy the kid his own seat and attach your carseat to it. (Apparently stapling his sleepers to the seat is a no-no.) If your mini has miraculously developed the faculty of reason – If you sit down and be a good boy, mom will give you a marshmallow – lucky you. Or, if you were blessed with a naturally chill child, congratulations; I was not. Turbo Ginger makes for a frustrating plane ride…