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Ahem. Yesterday Kate, Simon and I begin the second leg of our Cross-Canada Adventure: for those who don’t know, last summer I decided (for better or worse) my kids (and I) needed to drive across the country on the Trans-Canada. I decided they (we) needed it to be Canadian. I decided they (we) needed it to be a better family. I decided they (we) needed it because the only way to really see the world is to get out and take a look, and it’s a lot easier to do that in a car then it is in a plane. They decided driving across the country is long and boring. I won the argument, but they haven’t changed their minds.

Heading east last July we spent a few days in Quebec with a  final destination of  Aspotogan along the Lighthouse Route of Nova Scotia’s South Shore. For those who live in (or love) Newfoundland and the rest of the Maritimes, you will insist this we haven’t finished going east, but certainly this is a good first step.

The Reader’s Digest version, for my sanity and yours:

There were matching hats and holding hands.

holding hands

Dancing through walkways,

dancing

and whatever this is.

wall kung fu

There was a beach house,

beach house

with unobstructed views

moonlight

and rocks we could only see when the tide went out.

high tide

We waited for waves in the coldest water

cold water

that normally fussy children forgot to complain about.

okay to be cold

We threw sand,

sand

walked on rocks carved by receding glaciers

old rocks

and saw tall ships in the city.

tall ships

We discovered that barn swings are more fun than park swings,

but couldn’t find any sand dollars at Sand Dollar Beach.

sand dollar

That didn’t seem to matter though,

no one cared

to anyone.

ice cream

It was perfect.

lAR

Yesterday we arrived in Calgary, on a plane, but we weren’t trying to see anything we flew over (this time).  From here we drive west until we hit the ocean. Just like last year.

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**My arm is stupid after I decided to drop something heavy on it. The pictures are talking because words hurt right now. I’m fine, but will complain if encouraged.

***If it doesn’t look like me or my children, it isn’t. No I’m not pregnant.

This summer has been big, in all ways possible. Big fun, big challenges, big life. The challenges come from two children who are rapidly becoming real people, who take up the same space, physically and mentally, as any one else. The big fun comes from tagging along while all the Big happens.

There were big chairs.

 

Big lego.

 

Big tubes.

 

And big water.

 

There were big hills.

 

Big summits.

 

And big fences.

 

We traipsed through big streams.

 

With big slime.

 

We caught big cray fish.

 

Built big bridges.

 

And big castles.

 

There were big trees.

 

Big towels after big rapids.

 

And big, beautiful bellies.

 

Mostly it was big happy.

But sometimes it wasn’t. (no picture necessary).

Sometimes it sucked. Okay, sometimes it fucking sucked. Sometimes I wanted to give Kate and Simon to another family, abandoning the plan only when I recognized that at 4 and 7  it would be harder to find “takers”. Sometimes summer is too big.

And then your children hug.

 

And hold hands waiting for the bus on the first day of camp.

 

And it isn’t about big things anymore.

 

 

It’s about small things.

 

And coffee.

 

please note: wordpress sucks balls and I will be moving this blog elsewhere when I can summon the strength to bother. Formatting is fucked and this is likely rife with spelling grammar/errors because I’m so scared to edit it, lest wordpress fail and I lose all the text -for the 3rd time. My apologies. 
 
It was a cold day. A really cold day. That day, back in January was reaallly cold. That day, when Marc, Alicia (the sister) and I all agreed to go on then booked a holiday with our four combined children. 3, 4, 5 and 7 – I’m not counting, that’s how old they are. Even though we’re the ones who make the sandwiches, we’re not despots, and also don’t pretend it isn’t a bit of a  game. Kids vs. Grownups. Generally we’re competing together, as in everyone wants to eat enough, sleep enough, play enough. The only wrinkle is that in the game of Kids vs. Grownups, they (the kids) generally want less, less more. While we (the grownups) generally want more, more, less. 4 children + 3 parents + 1 week = This could go either way.Cooking on vacation makes me want to cry. I feel this requires little explanation, and when it was suggested that we rent a house on a beach somewhere, strolling daily to a charming little town, enjoying the local fare, markets and people, it was all I could do not to hide under the table. Until 3, 4, 5 and 7 can make their own breakfast, happily eat the aforementioned sandwiches for lunch (every lunch), and not bitch continuously about strolling to the charming little town, we’re pretty much going to let someone else do the cooking. This narrows things considerably, and on that freezing day in January we decided to go to a resort in Mexico. In April.As the kids counted down the number of days until we left “how many more sleeps,” we all seemed to get infected with the buzz of our impending holiday: Alicia packed the week before we left, I was so excited I had butterflies in my stomach waiting for the airport limo, and 3, 4, 5, and 7, of course, were practically on fire with anticipation by the time we got to the airport. I remember thinking fuck, things are going to go really, really badly.Armed with two iPads, an iPhone, iTouch and Nintendo DS, we felt prepared for what we-hoped-woudn’t-be-but-knew-could-be excrutiating wait then flight. A trip the day before to the local Dollarama also proved invaluable as I loaded up 4 mini backpacks with never-before-seen crap to be occupied and amused by. Everyone fortified by snacks and juice (also in the backpacks) I tested the waters of tolerance and took their picture.
 
still. momentarily.
 

It was fine. It took Marc standing in the background jumping around making faces like a madman to get them all to look in the same direction at the same time, but that’s how it is when kids are 3, 4, 5 and 7. Mostly they didn’t complain, and we took that as a win.

We filled the hours before departure with more food and investigating the contents of their backpacks. Deciding to leave all screens locked up until departure, when 3, 4, 5 and 7 would be strapped into seats, seemed like a wise way to minimize arguments, and, er, screaming. And unbelievably it worked.  4 was asleep at take off, with 3 and 5 not far behind. 7 didn’t really sleep, but she happily occupied herself with all the screens 4 wasn’t playing with while he snoozed. At some point the captain announced we were 25 minutes from landing and were beginning our approach, prompting Alicia to look back at me perplexed. Really? That’s it? And that was it.

There was only one point when things almost went terribly, terribly wrong: Cancun airport is a complete gong show. We were spared some of the madness by taking an afternoon flight on a Monday, but were still forced to have all our bags re-scanned. What the hell was meant to happen to them in the belly of the plane 30 000 feet in the air I’ll never know, but no one asked me what I thought. With our bags x-rayed and children coralled, we sidled up to a small woman on a stool sitting beside a big… thing. With a button. “Push the button” she said to me. Fuck that, “you push the button” I thought. Images of every season of Lost flooded my head, what would happen? Will the airport blow up? Does pushing the button open a door unleashing a monster? Mostly I thought it was stupid and didn’t think I should have to push a button just because someone sitting on a stool tells me to. Without knowing why, why would anyone push a button. That’s when two men dressed in army fatigues, with drug dogs walked toward us. That didn’t bother me so much, but the automatic rifles so large the distasnce between stock and muzzle was nearly the length of their bodies, pretty much had me convinced. I pushed the button. Turns out it’s for random searches. Green = no search, red = search. There ought to have been a sign.

That was it, the big problem, the 2.5 seconds of internal deliberation I always go through when someone tells me to do something “just ’cause.” It could have been terrible. I could have told that small woman sitting on stool that I don’t push buttons. Thankfully I’m almost as well behaved as 3, 4, 5 and 7.

You’re probably bored and skimming at this point, I’ll relieve you of the minutiae. In just a second. I want to quickly note  the complete and utter absence of shells on the beach, a natural consequence of perfectly soft sand. This was only a problem because 3, 4, 5 and 7 all promised to return home with shells for friends and after exhaustive hunts, were only able to turn up a few shell fragments among the vast, white sand. In a moment of inspiration Alicia suggested buying shells from the gift shop, leaving them on the beach for the children to “find.” And there I was, the morning of our departure, tearing into mesh bags of perfect shells, distributing them across the sand. People stared. Once I finished spreading the shells across an area large enough to the kids wouldn’t bonk into each other but not so large I coudn’t effectively marshal my shell fifedom, I waited. I cannot tell you the stress of protecting the shells that belonged to me on a beach that didn’t, or how hard I hoped no other children would stumble upon my territory on this hither to shell-less beach. Thankfully fellow beach-goers ignored me. Or they were scared of me as I paced up and down the 15 feet of sand which without saying a word, clearly belonged to me. A few minutes later Marc and Alicia arrived with the troops, who descended upon the ocean’s apparent midnight bounty, announcing their luck at the shells arriving on the very day we set to leave. It was perfectly magical.

hunting.

bounty.

 And the summary:

We held crocodiles, snakes and fed monkeys.

7 holding a crocodile, age 3.

4 holding a boa, age 1.   

3 feeding mowgli.      

 We jumped waves, built sand castles, swam and swam.          

gilligan and 7.

     4 beating the ocean.              

startling white. day 1.

5 conquering his fear of “the deep.”

3 being… herself.

 

They cried sometimes, sometimes even a lot of the time. They bickered, complained, refused to eat then complained of empty tummies 15 minutes later. But that’s just kids, and as professionals we were unphased because mostly (honestly), they were awesome. It’s true the kids won the game of less, less, so they could have more, but I can’t help but think we all won.

beach kung-fu.

  (more…)

Marc was in Las Vegas last week and that was fine. Being a single parent would be exhausting and difficult, but four days of not having to think about Marc was sort of really nice. The day before he came home I told Marc he’s either a slob or being in a relationship with him is such an impossible time suck I don’t have time to be tidy, because without him there, the house was spotless. That’s when he said “I’ll stay for another week than since it’s so great without me.”  And that’s when I responded “sure, go ahead, we’re fine WITHOUT YOU.” And that’s when I decided we missed each other and should say that instead. So yes I missed you Marc, I just didn’t miss your mess.

Toronto was finally blessed with a proper snow fall to make the doldrums of cold winter days bearable by having something to do outside other than walk to school.

SNOW, 2011

I recognise this picture hardly represents the scale of the snowfall, having a picture, any picture, obscuring the rotting, threadbare shingles of our garage made me feel better. It made me feel like don’t have a problem under all that snow. Nope, no problem. I’m going to look at this picture forever. Especially in the spring.

Toronto got snow which is fun. Vegas got no snow AND was chilly. When I do the math, chilly + no snow = not fun, therefore:

Toronto – 1

Vegas – 0

Our Friends Jess and Chad invited us over for dinner and I didn’t have to cook OR clean up the kitchen. It was amazing, a gift, I practically floated. We made our own little pizzas, which were delicious (though mine and Jess’ were most delicious). Kate and Simon didn’t really eat because when we visit Pizza Jess (the endearment is a literal one), Super-tall Chad (yup, also literal) and baby Ada (totally a baby), it’s a little too fun to bother with food, but they pretended. At least for a few seconds.

eating. sort of.

Yes they are drinking coke. Yes it’s the only thing they finished (other than the popcorn Chad made after they didn’t eat their dinner). Yes everyone wished I’d brought them a teeny bottle of coke too.

Unfortunately I don’t have a shot of Baby Ada, who is really so delightful and lovely and cute and I wanted to put her in my pocket and sneak her out of there, but I do have one of Jess and Chad even if happens to be a wee bit out of date..

2002, 2011

For those of you who know Jessica and Chad you might find this photo surprising. Especially the Chad part of it. Whoa. It was taken at our wedding (I met Jess in junior high), where instead of a typical guest book we fitted corners into a scrapbook, left it on a table with a Polaroid camera (I know, what’s that?) and gold pen, and people basically got the idea. I’m sure when our guests saw they were given half a page for their message instead of the usual one line, they were really, really happy.

Marc had dinner out that night too, but someone always cooks for him so that makes it less special. Obviously. 

Toronto gets a whole point, Vegas – half.

Now it wasn’t all snow days and dinners out while Marc whooped it up in Nevada. There were also birthday parties, two of them. So what if Vegas has gambling, night clubs, fine dining and… other things, it doesn’t have parties with birthday cakes for loot bags.

cake 1 of 2.

Two kids, two loot bags, two cakes.

 Toronto – 1

 Vegas – 0.

The best thing in Toronto, and something that absolutely, 100% could not be found in Vegas:

better than vegas, 2011

And one of these:

also, better than vegas.

I’d like to offer up “me” as a final reason why Toronto beat Vegas this weekend. Sure, Vegas has a fair streamlined system for replacing spouses (albeit often temporarily), but why would Marc avail himself of such things when he as this:

better than vegas?

Simon took this picture when we got home Friday night, making it an honest illustration of our time Marc-free. Hard to beat? You betcha!

For the two children, 1 point each. For the accommodating, irreplaceable wife, 1.5 points. Vegas got Marc though, which is a point (cue sappy music) but he loses half for anything stupid he did I don’t know about.

Toronto – 2.5

Vegas – 0.5

Grand total:

Toronto – 6.5

Vegas – 1.0

The numbers don’t lie folks, the clear and expected winner is Toronto. I’ll let you know how the city fairs when I’m in Northern New Hampshire for four days in the spring. I suspect the good times come with me, but we’ll see.

Aaaand for the two of you who give a shit:

sweater, 2011

4 – The number Simon turned at the end of  November.

animals that belong to other people are fun for kids at parties (yes, Simon is also taking pictures).

 

17 – The number of commitments we had, individual and family, between December 5-21st.  I’m not sure why I stopped counting on the 21st, before Christmas and before fulfilling all our commitments, but every time I counted, that was where I stopped. The holidays beat me.

48 – The number of times I swore silently to myself because Simon is short and got stuck in the back row during the Kindergarten songs at the school Winter Concert. The only snap I could get was this blurry one as they were filing out:

argyle simon, 2010

When all I really wanted was one like this. But singing:

songless simon, 2010

0- The number of presents/anything Christmas-related Marc organised before December 23rd. 

1 – The number of people Marc decided he was responsible for this Christmas.

1000 million – The number of reasons the holidays are so much cooler now that we have kiddies.

reindeer kate, 2010

5 – The number of things we got up to between Christmas and New Years. Apparently we don’t learn.

7 – The number Kate turned at the beginning of January.

last kate photo of 2010

1 – The number of Queens in the hive at the museum we went to on the last day of December.

last simon photo of 2010

7 – The number of (adult) revelers around my friend Judy’s table on New Year’s Eve (the children were in the basement. Destroying it).

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

innumerable – The number of ways I’m fucked because my friend Steph, a fine knitter who happens to TEACH speed knitting, just declared the sweater we are knitting together (separately, two sweaters, but at the same time, a knit-a-long) wasn’t a race. And I know Steph, and that totally means it fucking is. Steph has a furnace war every autumn, trying to out-freeze participating family in separate households to see who can go the longest before turning on their heat. There is no prize, only the glory of… winning? Of freezing voluntarily (a freeze-a-long?) for no particular reason? Knitting is way more comfortable than that, and the outcome so much sweeter. She has two sleeves and part of the body. I have this:

wool. not a sweater.

2 – The number of mittens I have to finish (Christmas gift- knitters I know you understand) before beginning the sweater.

almost mittens, 2011

1 – The number of lessons I learned about starting a knit-a-long with Steph.

Happy New Year folks!

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care

Holy shit is Disney World expensive, like way, way more fucking expensive than we thought – and we’re thinkers. I know cussing in the first sentence of a big long paragraph about Disney World is probably, I don’t know, against the law, but after spending $150 to rent a double stroller for five days (yes, the cost of a real stroller that we actually get to keep – forever), we began to realise Disney is smarter than us, and our futile plans to hold on to our retirement savings and still have fun at the park were just plain dumb. 
  
Okay, that is perhaps the most enormous a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s definitely pricey, and we screwed up everything by arriving snack-less, water-less, coffee-less (gasp) and fan-less, and so had to purchase all of those things to keep us from passing out from the deep, penetrating, Florida heat. 
  
And oh that heat, with its enticing, misty smell, so deep and hot.  The pool at our hotel is unheated, but warmer than my parent’s pool. The air is so hot it practically smokes, I’m worried it will light itself on fire, making the use of a towel all-habit and no-necessity. 
  
Since I can come, partake, then leave, the heat is welcome and exotic. Still, I think I understand why when I spoke to a woman at a Disney reservations desk she exhaled longingly when we exchanged weather anecdotes about our respective parts of the globe. I think I understand because during the sun’s fullness just before lunch, we stood in front of Cinderella’s castle watching Disney’s finest sing and dance about the power of dreams. (In anywhere but Disney World I would throw up in my mouth, but here, in the happiness place on Earth, I think I actually believed…) So yeah, it’s hot, singing, dancing, trickling? That’s right – right down my leg. I was frozen in horror by the instant thought that having two kids had finally caught up with me, that all that kegel shit is a big fat lie, that I was so damn happy listening to Mickey’s inspirational lyrics I lost control…  AND PEED MYSELF.  
  
That, or I was sweating  profusely. Fuck it’s hot – Reservation Lady, I completely understand.
  
Smart enough to bring my camera cable to upload pictures throughout the week, I wasn’t smart enough to bring A) the software or B) the computer the software is installed on. I could probably find it online, but that’s a pain, so I used Marc’s Blackberry and took pictures of pictures on my camera’s screen. This partial vindication I think makes me semi-smart. Maybe. 
  
So we got a stroller: 
  

"kate's squishing me" 2010

  
 
  
With minimal tears we went on rides: 
  

OHMYGODSIMONSTOPCOMPLAININGABOUT KATESQUISHINGYOU!

  
 
  

We paid too much for lunch for the privilege of eating at a table, with air conditioning and bottomless glasses of water: 
  

after lunch, dispositions better.

  
 
  

 We got autographs: 
  

all characters with fake heads don't speak. which is weird.

  
 
  

We saw rainbows: 
  

rainbow. duh.

  
 
  

Yes it’s hot, and yes it’s expensive, but it’s also absolutely delightful. The one thing I don’t have a picture of, the thing that sums up perfectly the reason we came, was the look on Kate’s face when arrived today. Wonder, amazement, shock, magic. Who doesn’t love magic. 
  

This isn’t a trip just for our children, but for our family, both in the way we delight in their happiness and in the way we’re enjoying the park for ourselves. Sure a trip to France would have been lovely, but I suspect Notre Dame Cathedral can’t hold a candle to Cinderella’s castle*, at least not for my kids.   

Another reason we’re having such a grand time:

wait time, five minutes.

  

*We’ve been here, it’s crazy-cool. One day my kids will feel the same way, then we’ll take them.

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