Forget June 21st, summer, when you have kids, starts the day after the last day of school. The morning began just as I imagined, tea in bed with the paper, Kate and Simon puttering about, Marc snoring (that man is always snoring). A quick breakfast of cereal for the girl and oatmeal for the boy meant I could jump back into bed with minimal kitchen tidying, and enjoy 8am sluggishly. Summerly. 

Marc eventually stumbled to the shower, commenting that unlike me, he had to go to work. But after months of juggling opposing schedules, not eating until dinner, chasing laundry like some kind of runaway freight train, herding, cooking, make-believing, volunteering, listening, ignoring, sympathising, encouraging, counting, remembering, and of course, parenting, I was only too happy to lie there while he went to work, because today, I’m on vacation. 

Oh Marc’s comment was all-jealous-and-no-spite, and when he finally dashed off for a meeting with a very-important-person, I knew I’d send him pictures during the day of all the nothing we’d get up to so he could enjoy the first day of summer with us. But by proxy. 

For the second year, Kate will be going to overnight camp for a week this summer. A gentle introduction to regular camping, this mini-camp (5 days, instead of 7) is part of a bigger-kid camp. Twice a summer wee ones are invited to give camp a try, doing everything in a group, sampling all the camp activities, bunking together, and joining their larger counterparts only at meal times. With 1 counsellor for every 3 little guys, it’s pretty super-awesome. Like last year, we’ll chuck her on a coach bus in a mall parking lot, and with her friend-since-before-birth, will head a few hours out-of-town to run amok in the county. 

Being the ridiculous city-folks we are, we did not even consider appropriate luggage for our camper-in-training, and thought nothing of packing up her pink, world’s-lightest-carry-on. And since we tend to learn best by fucking it up first, we were suitably humiliated at last year’s drop-off when we discovered that other, normal people, sent their kids to camp with canvas, not hard cases. Our foolishness did not go unpunished, and Kate’s once pristine case, returned 5 days later looking very much like it too had been to camp. And dropped off a ledge. 

This year we are less dumb, and today, the first day of summer, I was going to bike the kids down to Mountain Equipment Co-op, and get canvas, of the duffle variety. Simon aloof, Kate ecstatic, having already selected the colour of bag from the online catalogue (red) and desperate to get a  Canadian flag patch, (since you know, she’d be travelling),  bounded up the stairs to change out of summer pyjamas and into fall clothes – it’s cccold in Toronto today. I was surprised to find a startled Kate back in my room just moments later, imploring me to come upstairs, and “look at one of the rats.” 

Life is a cycle, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. My experience with death is that when it comes at 83, after a long, good life, it is sad, but not tragic. Tragedy occurs when death is out of order, before it should be, like with a child, or a parent with young children. Or a middle-aged rat. 

At the ripe age of 6 1/2 Kate’s not so little anymore, so when she solemnly requested for me to assess the “situation upstairs” I understood she wasn’t asking me what was wrong, she knew, Kate was asking me to make it better. 

We marched upstairs together, although Kate followed a few paces behind, tentatively. It was clear before I got near the cage that the one, lying on top of their little wooden house, was no longer of this world. I confirmed Kate’s worry, and she waited as I approached the scene. I’m not sure if it was all the blood, or the fact that her insides appeared to have relocated outside, but I gave a little start when I got a close-up of the carnage that signified the end of Marzipan’s* life. Literally blood and guts everywhere, and poor Sheila*, her sister, staring wide-eyed and wondering. (Or not giving a shit I couldn’t really tell). 

Opening the cage, Sheila poked her head out, probably for air or something. I scooped her up and told Kate she was probably lonely and sad and needed some love. Carefully taking Sheila from my hands, Kate tip-toed to her bed, gently placed Sheila down and immediately began treating her like some sort of stuffed animal, which probably made Sheila wish she was back in the cage. With her dead sister. 

The task before me, while Kate roughed up the living rat, was to figure out what to do with the dead one. Armed with a bag and not nearly enough fortitude, it took at least three failed attempts before I worked up the nerve to slide the not-yet-stiff creature off the roof of their nest. Once I finally did this, Kate paused her over zealous playing for a moment and asked earnestly what I planned to do with Marzipan. I faltered. What do you do when a child’s pet spontaneously explodes one morning? The same thing you do with anyone who dies- you say good-bye, even if (or especially) it’s a rat. I crouched down and told Kate we would bury Marzipan when Daddy got home. Kate’s sense of relief was palpable, she needed to give her pet a send-off but didn’t know how or what to ask for.  

Standing up, the weight of the bag I was holding seemed suddenly heavier – what the hell am I supposed to do with it until after dinner? I phoned Marc, and he told me like he’d done this a thousand times, to stick her in the freezer. So that’s where I put her. Double-bagged. 

So good-bye Marzipan. I’m sorry your life was cut short by some sort of invisible, internal bomb, it is my sincere hope you didn’t suffer. We are looking after Sheila extra special now, and while it did cross my mind to just pick out all the bloodied bits of the bedding, I came to make senses quickly, recognising that when someone dies in their bed, you don’t just wash the top sheet. She should be comfortable now. 

It was always hard to tell you and your sister apart, but when Simon, was encouraged to bite your tail, and did, the little blunt end where the tip used to be became a useful way to distinguish the two of you apart. The herd of children who came downstairs to expose Simon and proclaim the “rat is bleeding” surprised all the delinquent parents, full of wine and good times. It took a few days for that tip to fall off completely – again, I hope you didn’t suffer. 

One frozen rat, one clean cage and three dressed people later, we were finally ready to grab our camping bounty. But it was late now, and we didn’t have time to bike down and make it back for a lunch time visitor, so we drove. It took a long time. Longer than usual and we probably should have biked. On the way back we were stuck behind a garbage truck, but it was in our neighbourhood and garbage day was yesterday. I’m still confused. 

Today was a funny day and not at all like the one I imagined, even though it began like the one I’d imagined. But I guess that’s summer, feeling all weird and unfamiliar until you get used it. If I remember correctly September will feel the same way, at the beginning. 

Hello summer, good-bye rat. 

Sheila, 2010 (Marzipan looked the same, but with less tail).

*Kate named Marzipan and Sheila in the cab on the way back from The Menagerie, a pet shop for not dogs/cats. She was very proud. So was I.

p.s. I only sent Marc one photo today. It’s okay, summer just started.

indoor camping at MEC

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