Category Archives: parental leave

Playground Days Are Here Again

Two playground visits this week. No snow and temps creeping up to a balmy 7° C. Nellie-Rose and Noah-David are in perpetual motion – slides to swings to bridge to climbing arcs. Their voices fill the sky as they call out to each other. Each breath of laughter is a deep exhalation, moments of momentous joy.

They race, encourage, and hug each other eyes wide open to adventurous new feats for their respective inventories of playground conquests. “Help me, help me,” rings through the air – a nudge up a last step here, a meter lift to the monkey bars there. Their independence is striking. Papa’s great contributions are helping when things are out of reach, pushing the swings and watching raptly as the equipment is put through its paces by two all star players.

I can’t get enough of their rosy red cheeks, their speedy fast running, or the calls for more, more, more. I relish with great anticipation the thought of Lila-Jeanne joining us for the playground capades.

Noah is impatient to get back to Sorel this summer. He talks about what we’ll do in Québec and often speaks about the Marathon of Playgrounds that we’re starting to plan. He thinks we should get one happening here in Halifax too.

We take a nice walk along a trail that overlooks the harbour in the Mount Hope area of Dartmouth. The sun is a magnet pulling people out of their homes for a more temperate engagement with the elements. There’s a steep hill with brown, windswept grass uncut and unkempt from last fall. The two mischief makers scamper half-way up and roll, tumble, slide down, down, down. This is a dust off and repeat manoeuvre until I strong voice them to the bottom for the trek back to the playground.

There’s no end to the exploring. Vessels are at our disposal in several locations throughout the city. This new one is tucked away in a small subdivision a five minute drive from our house. On this our second visit, we are the lone crew members. Good thing too as Nellie had to get a rapido outdoor diaper change.

I have a mutiny on my hands when I tell the two junior deckhands that we have to set sail for home. There’s a bit of chasing around and shiver me timbers talk. I’m tough with them though. It’s in the car, or walk the plank. They choose the lesser of two evils and we speed home for a reunion with maman and Lila.

My step is feeling a bit lighter. What’s the reason? Our kids and playground season – it’s here again.

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Just Duckin’ Around, Waiting for Canards

As Nellie and I arrive at Shubenacadie Park, we head straight for the ducks meet the people gathering place by the canal’s edge. It’s a great spot to go when winter begins to loosen its grip and there is more open water than iced surface. Steps lead quickly to a dock where canoers and kayakers come ashore, or push off in finer weather.

It’s an ideal place to sit and wait for the ducks. Pieces of pita bread tossed in the air are a telegraphed invitation. They fly in from all over. Moments ago there were two and now there are twenty or more milling about waiting for the next morsels to be thrown in abandon.

We are so much luckier than Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon. Our waiting is short lived. Despite the grey tones in the sky and the muted light there is not much here in the way of melancholy existentialist angst either. The ducks do provide a certain unasked for camaraderie for both of us.

We’re having good fun watching the ducks and experiencing a feeling of largesse through our bread crumbs charity. It’s a simple pleasure through and through. It’s not until our bread is all gone that we see a sign requesting that no one feed the ducks. It’s well beyond the congregation area where we sat. How absurd is that?

Before we leave, we peek at the waterfall. The fast melt water surges over the precipice. There is more adventure to be had here. It’s a place we love to come for walks.

Elephants, swimmers, grampas and centennials

We’re just sitting here talking about Lila-Jeanne’s noises – not the gas inspired farts and burps, or the air squeezing through narrow passages giving life to snores and hiccoughs – no we’re talking the trumpeting, nasally charged noise that is Lila’s personal signature. There’s no telling when she’ll join the conversation with an insouciant riff just letting us know she is there.

Out shopping with maman this afternoon she was on a roll. She had a monologue going on loud enough for other shoppers to hear and then look around to find the source. When their eyes lit on Lila, Mé looked at them and said, “I’ve got an elephant here.” Yes, there were smiles.

It’s been a sporty day. Nellie and I went for our first swim together. This was a contentious issue for Noah last night before bedtime and all morning from wake up to school drop off. There was some behaviour on the loose and well articulated unhappiness pointedly delivered about his absence from the pool excursion.

Nellie had a blast skimming along the water’s surface like a boatman supported in papa’s hands. Then she saw the slide. It was a must do. Nellie and another girl were taking turn about and watching each other’s exploits as they whizzed down and landed with a splash in their respective parent’s outstretched arms. The perpetually wet plastic makes the ride slick and speedy. Nellie leaned too far back on one of her descents and banged her head on the slide hard enough to make the tears flow.

After some hugging, buoy like bobbing and softly spoken words we made new fun over at a basketball net. Nellie was the champion player coming in to the basket with ball firmly gripped in both hands. Just as we approached, I whooshed her out of the water, lifted her to the full extension of my arms and watched as she slam dunked the ball through the hoop. This was a repeat many times activity capped with a giggle each time she threw the ball through the hoop.

Before our session was over, there was rafting on a large size float board, sliding on a ‘baby’ slide, soaking in the shallow, warm pool, more swimming in the water with papa and, at Nellie’s request, a final conquest of the nasty, head bump slide. The final whooshes were without incident, a sure indication that there will be more sliding and gleeful squeals on subsequent visits.

We popped into Canadian Tire on the way home – two visits, in two days. There could be a trend developing here. I feel a third visit coming on tomorrow to swoop up one of the new $1 coins that will be available December 5 and 6.

Coming out of the store, a fellow shopper looks at Nellie in my arms and asks me, “Grandad?”

“No, I’m the dad,” I reply.

“Yes,” he says with a laugh. “I had a girl when I was 44. She’s 19 now.”

“I know what you mean,” I say. “I had a girl at 52. She’s just two weeks old.”

“Wait, you mean two years don’t you?” he says pointing at Nellie.

“No, this is a new baby I’m talking about. It’s her little sister. Got it all figured out how this happens now though,” I say with a grin.

This causes some more laughter. “You have a great time with those girls and enjoy your day,” he says as we part ways and head for our respective vehicles. This was my first taken for a grampa by mistake encounter. There will be many more of those in the years ahead.

What better way to end the evening than to watch les Glorieux thump the Bruins on the centenary of the club’s founding. Les Canadiens have a mythical stature in professional sports that is beautifully captured in Roch Carrier’s The Sweater, a great story and a wonderful NFB animated short. Unlike Carrier, I would have been thrilled to receive a Maple Leafs jersey by mail order catalogue when I was a boy. Living in Toronto I was a natural Leafs fan and on occasion sat in the Greys at the Gardens for an Original Six dust up.

It was all class tonight at the Centre Bell. This was a time to recognize great individual achievements and team efforts, to pay respect to the players, the fans and the game. Two more banners were raised high above the ice surface to join the timeless immortels. Émile Bouchard (3) and Elmer Lach (16) joined 13 other former Habs whose numbers have been retired. Bouchard’s son Pierre, also a former Canadiens, wheeled his father onto the ice for the ceremonies. Toward the end of the celebration the elder Bouchard blew kisses to the crowd. A moment of tenderness, love and thanks. What a night, what a franchise, what a treasure.

Cool runnings

Tomorrow Noah and I will be lacing up for the third time this season. We’ll be skating round and round and round the ice surface at Cole Harbour Place – Sid the Kid’s old haunt. We had a couple of sorties last winter. They were outdoors at Frog Pond and the Kiwanis Park on the Caldwell Road. They were not overly successful venues to actually getting our hockey mad lad to learn how to skate.

After just two times this year, the learning has gone exponential. Earlier in the week he was out on the ice for a solid 45 minutes. He keeps his balance through the age old Canadian tradition of leaning on a chair. On two occasions he went half way around the rink without falling. When he does lose it – the balance that is – 30 or 40 times a session, he’s a real champion about picking himself up and dusting himself off. So far, he’s managed to retain his patience, his sense of humour and not get discouraged. By my estimation, Noah will be skating unaided by props within the next few weeks.

We’re fortunate that the rink is virtually deserted during the morning public skate hour. There are no worries of Noah getting inadvertently knocked over by a passing skater as he veers off any semblance of a course and winds up going opposite the prevailing direction. There are quite a few other kids using a chairs as props also. He’s not alone and this is a good feeling.

He’s excited about his accomplishments to date as am I. I think he’s doing fantastic but I’m not sure if I’m providing him much beyond encouragement. Right now it’s about Noah-David getting comfortable out on the ice. The fact that he never wants to leave is a pretty good indicator that this one is just about in the bag. The letting go of the chair and general teaching to skate will be the hardest part. My dad did a fine job teaching me even though he never clapped eyes on a pair of skates until he emigrated to Canada from Scotland in his early 20s.

I’m sure Noah and I will sort things out. There are some helpful sites to give parents a hand. Canadian Parent has an excellent article on Teaching Your Toddler to Skate. Wondertime also provides some practical tips. I’ll be putting some of these into practice tomorrow.

Noah is fast like an éclair he says – a bolt of lightening. Given a little time and some practice, I have no doubt that Noah will be able to give even Anthony Lobell a run for his money.

On your marks, get set, go… Watch out Olympians.

Not like teen spirit – babes in the woods

It’s time for a pinch. Just a quick one to make sure I’m not spinning at 33 1/3 in a long play dream. Well I felt that. I recommend going light on the unsupervised pinching. I’m still here, looking out the home office window at a drizzle day. Our new babe Lila-Jeanne has been home from the hospital for a week. She’s a big hit with the whole family.

So here I sit in the midst of luxury, a new baby in the house and nine months of parental leave beckoning me. The wealth is measured in the extended period of time I have to spend with immediate family. This is my second go of leave to love babies. The first time was for six months and it was a smash success.

Big sister and big brother light up when the little one is awake. They can’t get enough of cute, beautiful baby sis. Whenever Nellie-Rose sees either maman, or myself without le bébé in our arms, she immediately asks in a probing, semi-alarmed voice, “Where is Lila-Jeanne?” Lila is on Noah-David’s mind too. Just the other day he pipes up right out of the blue from the back seat of the car and says, “Dad, you know why I like this time of the year, this Christmas time?” When I told him I didn’t know, he replied, “It’s because I can buy a gift for Lila Dad, that’s why.”

Smells like a heady blend of pre-school, toddler and new born spirit to me. Their spontaneity swirls about in unique and unpredictable ways. Their mindfulness is compelling for its generosity, tenderness and absence of guile. There is plenty of learning here if I look and listen carefully. This stepping out of an adult centric world and falling into imagining play is a gift of gargantuan proportions. I want to be the turtle – slow, steady and in the race. Winning is not important.

I’ve never experienced anything quite like this before. My previous parental leave started when Nellie-Rose was six months old – a whole different dynamic than getting in on the ground floor so to speak. There is no vacuum in the absence of the paid job. The day is pretty much filled the entire time my head is not on the pillow.

For now it’s like Christmas, New Year and vacation all wrapped up in one, a kind of holiday mash up. There is loads of anticipation and excitement watching Lila-Jeanne day by day. She is the gift, like all my other children, that just keeps on giving. There is the relaxation and freedom to embark on mental walkabouts that’s associated with the temporary release from the 9 to 5 world. Then there is the planning, the resolutions of how best to make use of this gift of time. No matter how many times I cut the deck, I come up aces.

I want to spend scads of time with the kids learning together, teaching where I can, laughing, trying to see what they see. I want to write, to tell our story, to remember these moments before they fly away.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve got shitty diapers and runny noses here too. From time to time I might attempt to wax eloquently about the earthiness of domestic bliss, that banged head on the cupboard door, or dishpan hands that can still be restored à la Madge.

Seems Madge even made it to Australia – no end of degradation in that hot water environment.

The dishes, parenting, cleaning house – this is the kind of work that’s been undervalued for years. Parental leave puts a monetary value on the table for this kind of work for a short period of time. It’s a great beginning. The enhanced leave that came into effect on December 31, 2000 is having a positive impact on Canadian families according to a summative evaluation carried out by Human Resources Development Canada in 2005.

More about babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers and domestic bliss in upcoming installments.