Category Archives: the finest gift

The Indelible One

It only takes a minute with Nellie. She sees an opportunity and she goes. Not literally of course, but then again she’s not allowed out on her own. No, I mean she dives into her latest project passionately, fully, deeply.

We’re not sure if it’s fashion madness or faux pas for her most recent adventure. It depends on your point of view. Nellie transforms herself into the amazing human whiteboard. She’s her own design playground. Already she can tote up tattoo artist in her experience column. Not a bad job either given the brief spell she is on her own to create this solo work of fun and fancy. The close up of her sole demonstrates her attention to detail and her flair with the marker.

Being at work, I don’t have the joy of seeing this live. As a consolation prize, I do get to show my workmates a photo and share a good laugh about our talented and unrepentant Nellie-Rose. She is a maverick blazing her own trail. There’s a lot more in store for us. We’ll be well educated over the next few years.

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Montréal by Night

Time out on the town is an infrequent treat for Mé and I. When we get to solo it’s a blast, like drinking a good long draught of playful fancy. Our last night in Sorel and we’re zipping west down the 30 to Montréal. The three babies are with grand-maman and grand-papa being lavished with final moments of delicious spoiling prior to our Nova Scotia departure.

We’re on our way to an African celebration at le Cabaret du Mile-End on Avenue du Parc in the heart of Montréal’s Plateau district. It’s the kick-off for the well-established Nuits d’Afrique festival now in its 24th year.

Mé finds the club as I’m parking the car – in an expensive, we’re giving you a ticket spot as it later turns out. There is only a trickle of people arriving. Up two flights of stairs and into the venue. It’s packed. All 500 seats and more are taken. There is a hum of excitement in the air, that electric charge of pre-show anticipation. We find seats at a table that already has two occupants and settle in.

A symphony of languages swirls through the room. Flowing boubous of riotous colours are tropical beacons in the dimly lit interior. This is an evening to step out and salute African culture and music. I’m happy we’re here together to hear Dobet Ghanoré, a rising star from Côte d’Ivoire. The fans on her myspace page are a who’s who of African music. This is no surprise given her voice, musical arrangements and arresting stage presence.

Our table companions are a brother and sister in their 40s, or early 50s from the city. We speak a little over the buzz sharing snippets like bite-sized amuse-gueules. We hear the voice first and then Ghanoré takes the stage, embracing us in a sweep of her arm. For the rest of the evening, we are transported to her place of dance, of drum, of story and for good measure some sweet West African guitar licks.

Thanks Dobet. It’s a night out to remember – festival city, vibrant beats and time alone with my love. That time alone piece is hard to squeeze in with three under fives. When it does roll around at the end of the day, we’re usually dragging our asses, or lolling into sleep. It’s fun to get out and stir it up.

Pucks and Popcorn

We’re all sporting our mighty tricolore jerseys – almost all that is – Lila-Jeanne doesn’t have one as yet. We need to rectify this before the next game. Noah and Nellie are up late to see the first period of les Canadiens against the Caps. They’re eating popcorn, rambling around the living room floor – freshly zambonied by Noah that afternoon using the customized features of the toy stroller – and having that peculiar kind of edgy, we’re dead beat fun.

Noah’s got his gloves on and is brandishing one of the several sticks in his collection. We need to retire it as it’s swooping through the air on a not entirely controlled journey of discovery. Off it goes to the hockey box until the morning.

Nellie gallumphs through her popcorn like a ravenous ox. Come to think of it she didn’t each much supper. As she finishes her small bowl, she looks over to me, jumps down from her seat and skedaddles over for a cuddle. Well I thought it was going to be for a little loving but her eyes betray her as she can’t pull them away from those popped kernels. Her coquettish mien is nothing but a ruse to get at my bowl of popcorn.

I let her squirrel away a few cheekfuls before making her go cold turkey following her inaugural popcorn adventure. She is so smitten that she hunts down rogue pops that have escaped from the bowls and consumes them with a smile of abandon. Just in time I catch her reaching for the unpopped kernels. I convince her that’s not the way to go.

It’s a helluva first period – end to end action, great goalkeeping and scoring chances galore. The kids are shuffled off to bed and over the next two periods we’re left to buoy our deflated spirits with a glass or two of wine.

Tonight, popcorn was the big winner. On Wednesday night we’ll be plugged in for a new game. We’ll be practicing our olé, olé and go Habs go chants hoping to help take them over the top.

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.

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.

Winterluding

The days are clear and bright as crystal. Each step crunches as we break through the old snow’s crusty covering. The powder underneath is a fine spray of fresh wisped away almost weightlessly, each flake a granule of geometric perfection. There is a lightness in the air, a cleansing crispness that shines and sculpts faces buffing cheeks and furrowing creases.

An unrehearsed symphony weaves its way in diminishing waves across open spaces. The refreshing crack of pucks and children’s voices are counterpoints to the traffic releasing us from its drone. Slapshotting sticks, squeals of laughter, skates spraying to a stop float across the white expanse. This soundscape rings true like impromptu celebrations, breathless victory dances and joyful embraces of fun.

We are getting a high quotient of snow and ice time over the last couple of weeks. I’m enjoying plenty of kid flashbacks to winter days in North York – extreme tobogganing, outdoor hockey, snowball fights, frozen feet and perpetually wet mittens, the standard stuff.

There have been windows of winter wonder in the adult years just nothing sustained. Alexa and I had a few Citadel Hill sledding adventures and had a blast of Winterlude in Ottawa when we lived there. Halifax is not a blustery winter place. There was no snow on the ground when we left at the end of January. We can’t really lay claim to a deep of winter tradition unlike the culture in Québec as immortalilzed in the Gilles Vigneault classic, Mon Pays.

Sorel has a strong recreation program that maintains several outdoor rinks with boards, lighting and cabanes for changing and warming up. We’ve checked out Parc Nadeau and Parc de la Rivière and have been eyeing the rink at Parc Bibeau. It’s the largest of the ice surfaces we’ve seen.

The skating and hockey are Noah activities. It’s quite amazing the leaps he has taken on our few capades on the ice here. We’ll get Nellie-Rose out next year. By that time Noah will be skating with the greatest of ease and we’ll be able to focus all of our attention on our new skater. Noah will be there to give her a helping hand too.

Neliie-Rose is getting some quality sliding in. The hill is just a short walk from rue Hébert. Raymond and I pull the kids up and give them a little push down. We’ve got the legs for about 20 trips. The kids are still going strong when we start to beg off. Toward the end, Nellie is tumbling off the back of the sled on the way to the top. Our only clue that something is up is Noah’s infectious laughter. When we turn around from our beast of burden duties, there is Nellie sprawled on the hill giggling about 15 metres away.

At the bottom of the run, where the squeals of delight start to trail away, the flats are a sheet of ice. Some of the smooth spots prove tricky for Nellie to keep her footing. She does well though only landing on her bum a couple of times. She improvises a little skating routine pushing her feet out and to the sides in an alternating sequence. She nails the movement and has a nice skating flow on the go minus the blades.

The day before our departure, we are treated to a St. Valentine’s Day sleigh ride. La tante Danièle takes the reins and King and Prince, the gentle giants, pull us along the back trails. It’s a greatly anticipated family adventure in a class all its own. We’re out for over 2 hours and even though it’s a toasty -8 °C and the trees cut the wind to a whisper, I’m very glad Mé ensures I’m wearing the proper gear.

There’s a big gathering at La Halte today. Four sleighs, six horses, five or six dogs and about 25 people are milling about the cabane. There’s a wood stove inside burning hot, bubbling chocolate for fondue with strawberries and pineapples. Hot dogs, toasted buns and all the fixings are the main course. Coffee with liqueur, champagne and beer are the beverages on offer.

There is lots of laughter and camaraderie. Danièle and Richard know everyone under this blue sky clearing. They are a passionate lot. They love their animals, the outdoors and the bonhomie of the woods and sweeping fields. Everyone is welcome to share a few moments of cheer, to befriend the cold, to imagine the days when sleighs ruled the countryside.

An older fellow comes to speak with Danièle. He has a horse he’s been trying to sell for two years, a ringer for King, he says. He wants to know if Danièle is interested. Danièle extends her arm, “My team is here. King and Prince pull this sleigh. I’m not looking for any other horses.” It’s a no pressure pitch. The old guy says, “You never know, he’s getting old…” Danièle is not biting. She’s polite and says she’ll keep in touch.

Out of reach of the horses, Noah, Nellie and Maxime are eyes to the sky, immersed in the snow waving their arms and legs in unison making angels. The white stuff’s powdery texture means no forts, projectiles, sculptures, snowmen, or other fun possibilities of this nature. Now that the yummy Krispy Kreme donuts have all been scarfed the younger adventurers are starting to get restless for this show to get back on the trail. There is one notable exception, Lila-Jeanne. She’s as quiet as falling snow, not a rustle, not a sound.

Noah’s favourite spot is the securely fastened saucer that drags, sometimes flies, behind the sleigh. It glides in a bumpity-bump fashion over everything including generous quantities of road apples in various degrees of freshness. Doris and Sam do whizz, buzz, zips skirting the saucer on each side at full run. Noah hears them charging and looks out of the corner of his eyes for the flash of balled muscles in full stride. They’re our outriders making sure everything is right.

Noah is riding the saucer like a pro. He gets a little additional speed and requests even more juice. Then it happens. The saucer is off the trail. He tips and at the same time King falls to his knees. Prince continues to canter dragging King and the sleigh. I run back for Noah. His tears are quickly dried with a kiss and a hug. He has snow up his nostrils and in his mouth. Despite the scare he hops back into the saucer and continues until we hit the road.

The woods are lively
Light and clear
But biting cold this time of year
I’ll keep you warm, I’ll hold you dear
I’ll not let go, I’ll keep you near.

Apologies to Robert Frost for the doggerel.

The three bambinos

It’s -9 °C (16 °F) with wind chill this afternoon and Lila-Jeanne is out soaking up the rays. She is motionless in her car seat on the front steps leading up to the house. Mé is making sure she’s getting as much natural vitamin D as possible. Our main source is syrupy drops and Mé has determined that they are the likely culprits of some intense digestive pain that Lila has been experiencing. If the winter sky is blue and bright, we try and get her out sun worshipping.

There is no unanimity about the need for vitamin D supplements in exclusively breast fed babies. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics, Health Canada and our family doctor all recommend supplements for infants beginning in their first couple of months as discussed in this iVillage Q and A. Health Canada’s 2004 recommendation can be found here

We’ll continue with the supplement for the time being while monitoring for digestive pain. We’ll also be luxuriating in whatever wan winter sun we can conjure up.

The real news with Lila-Jeanne is that her smiling is on high beams now. She flashes them frequently and holds them for 10 seconds or more. She’s helping us all increase the happy quotient in a house that is already well endowed with laughter, kidding and general all around funniness, if not foolishness. If there was a Just for Laughs for kids, our guys would be headliners.

She’s also discovered her arms. That is, she knows they belong to her. Co-ordination and control of the flailers is developing slowly. She is reaching out though to touch just as we reach out to her to caress lightly, to rub and stroke and to comfort.

But best of all, she is now a conversationalist. She lies on her back gurgling and cooing away. I try to have a few exchanges with her every day. I interpret her talkativeness as commenting on the excellent cuisine she is being served, the overall superbly welcoming environment and a desire to pass on the innocent wisdom of babes in arms. It’s all happy talk with bright eyes and a sometimes protruding pointy pink tongue. This kind of talking play is an activity that I will never tire of.

Nellie has been having some socializing time with peers in group settings. As is to be expected at this age there is a lot of parallel play on the loose. I’m glad to see though that she is very confident with the other children and has no qualms about being assertive. I guess it helps when you have a brother two years older than you. She needs to be able to stake out her own ground.

Twice a week she is going to a small group that I’ve dubbed Romper Room with Diana, the leader. It’s a one hour encounter held in a small room at the local community centre. Parents stay to engage, encourage, or intercede as required.

The hour is structured with free play, crafts, storytelling, more free play and a final round of crafts. Nellie loves bouncing in the miniature inflatable jump palace with its whirring electric air pump. It’s a front end activity that’s unplugged and deflated after the first ten minutes. It’s interesting to see how the five or six children who participate all have varying levels of interest in the different activities. Their social skills, their ability to listen to instructions and their engagement in self directed play are each individualized idiosyncratic riffs. The strokes folks mantra is already going strong at the age of two.

Nellie and I have also stepped out for the first week of ‘Scuddles and Puddles’. I’m not sure what a scuddle is but I’m all in favour of inventing new words. I’ll have to ask one of the young women who direct the program when we return this week. I don’t think they mean the mining operation in Western Australia, or the web design company located who knows where.

Let’s get back on track. There are about 20 toddlers and their respective parents who come together for ‘Scuddles’. We meet in a dance studio whose 40 foot window overlooks one of the rinks in Cole Harbour Place. Inside the studio are the requisite mirrors that the young ones seem only mildly interested in. The narcissistic years are still ahead.

The kids gather in a circle for a song. On our first outing it’s Wheels on the Bus. This is a great choice for us because it is one of the handful of English songs that our Nellie knows. Who knew that Roger Daltrey laid down vocal tracks for the eponymous children’s series. Was he approached because of his original work on the 1968 tune, Magic Bus?

After the bus song, the kids disperse throughout the room to check out a variety of different play stations – a slide, a balance beam, hula hoops, tumbling mats, a rotating seat for two and the pièce de résistance, a mini, solo trampoline. Now this is an incredible improvement on any bed that Nellie-Rose has had the chance to surreptitiously jump on. This and the balance beam are the stations that get return visits.

A wrap up song in the toddlers’ circle and then it’s off to the puddle component of the program. We’re in the pool with instructors going through introductory exercises – starfish front and back, blowing bubbles and fishy in the middle. It’s all great stuff. Nellie is a floating sensation except when she’s slipping down the little yellow slide smiling her way into my outstretched arms.

Noah is a counting machine. He’s counting the days now to our next Sorel visit. There’s a January page ripped from a calendar taped to his headboard. He’s crossing off each day. At the outset, cross off time started when he went to bed. It then slid ahead to just after supper. Today, the advance continued and January 22 dropped off round about mid-afternoon.

There’s another week to go and I hope our wee boy will be able to contain himself. I predict though that by the mid week, the days will be getting checked off shortly after he wakes up in the morning. He is desperate to be in Québec, to see his grandparents and revel in the new playroom complete with toy airport. He’ll see his tante Titi too and experience a deep, snowy winter with sleigh rides and canal skating.

Skating is liberation, gliding joy. Noah is getting better with each outing. He’s still using the chair but should be ready to fly on his own any day now. He usually does a little solo step each time we’re at the rink. The distance he covers increases with each solo flight. In a couple of weeks we’ll be racing on the Rideau Canal.

We have a new landmark on our street. We have front row seats to Mt. Noah in the front yard. Our strong guy spent about 90 minutes outside redistributing snow into one central elevated location. He thoroughly enjoyed himself in the process wielding the big shovel expertly, skimming snow in pathways and pushing it to an ever expanding pile. What a lad, what a bunch, what a trio.

These last days I’ve been thinking of them as “all by myself”, “me too”, and the cooing dove. Noah is always doing things ‘all by myself’. It’s like he jumped right out of the Mercer Mayer book of the same name. There are plenty of things he can do, and do well, all by himself. The list gets longer almost every day. Sometimes it feels the time is passing way too, oh so quickly. Nell is big brother’s shadow, the ‘me too’ to all his shenanigans and adventures, to his heartbeats, to our love.

Noah is calling out tonight. He’s dreaming but I can’t reach through to his consciousness so don’t know what it’s about. I wish him a sound sleep and safe journey in his dreams. They will be in our arms again soon.