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Papa, c’est pour toi

Nellie-Rose is rocking on her own art extravaganza. Most days on arriving home, I’m presented with one of her latest pieces – mixed media, a painting, or a drawing. She looks at me with a smile and says, “papa, c’est pour toi“.

I now have a growing body of work and I’m running out of exhibit space. Mé has bought folders for both Nellie and Noah where we can keep the originals of selected treasures. Others will digitized by scanner or photo. I think it will be great for them to see their visually creative stirrings years from now.

This is an early family portrait. Nellie is always positioned right next to maman. She’s her right hand gal. Lila and Noah are orbiting in a free valence kind of way, certainly not part of the central action. I am not really a ping pong ball.

And this suits Nellie’s outlook on the world – crafting with nature. She is a collector of shells, leaves, rocks and twigs. Her coloured hand is sprouting leafy flowers and one is even a coeur d’amour, a heart of hearts.

Merci Nellie pour tes beaux cadeaux. Je les adore. Your art always lifts my heart.



Teddy has been a lot of things over the years including left behind and lost in Southern California. He made it back home to Halifax that time only to have to hop into a car and drive to Montreal to be reunited with his buddy Noah.

Now, Teddy is a sports star. Not just any sport but the glorious game of hockey. He’s also one of the many inspirations Noah calls upon to practice his writing, spelling and alphabeting. The other morning, maman got the spelling out call – “how do you write awesome?” Noah shouted. Maman thought this was a great chance to use the dictionary but Noah couldn’t wait so he went out on his own.

Maman could hear him voicing out the sounds – “aw, o, aw, o, ssss, ssss, mmmm, mmmm. aw sss mmmm. Maman, come see, come see, I’ve got it.” This is what he came up with – awesome = osm. And how does Teddy fit into all this? Well, he scored seven goals in a hockey game and he was, you guessed it, awesome!

Drum me Better, Drum me Sweet

It’s hot and humid, sticky like glue. Around the world, hundreds of millions are tuned to TV and radio for the glorious final of the beautiful game. Live from South Africa new kings are waiting to be crowned.

Noah and I are on a just the boys mission to Montreal. First stop is the playground installed last year in Parc Mont-Royal. It’s right there next to Lac des Castors – such a patriotic name, Beaver Lake. There’s nice, new equipment unlike the standard fare seen in most playgrounds across North America. Noah takes in some swinging, climbing and splashing before we make our way to the base of the mountain on the Avenue du Parc side. On the way down, we pit stop at the panoramic look off. It’s a great view of the city stretching east beyond the Olympic Stadium – quelle vue urbaine merveilleuse.

We find a parking spot at the corner of Rachel Ouest and Esplanade just a short walk to the monument that honours Sir George-Étienne Cartier. This eastern slope of the mountain is the djembe jam beat of the city. Since the late ’70s, tam-tam lovers have congregated here on Sunday afternoons to listen, play and dance.

I’ve been percussioned here a handful of times over the last couple of decades. Drums are a compelling force for me since spending 5 months in Sénégal in ’78-’79. There, they are a fixture of daily life, the soundtrack of major rites of passage – births, baptisms, weddings and death.

I love the staccato shots of the Oulof drums, hands cracking sound that set limbs moving involuntarily. Further south, the Diola drummers of Casamance dance their hands across the three skins of the bougareb-bou. One night the Suelle griot motions me to come forward from the starlit sidelines. He gently straps his belled leather bracelets on my forearms. The dancers continue their gyrations and the deaf mute starts to step out to my pitiful, whimpering rhythms.

Even though I cannot find the beat, the moments are magic. Smiling, the griot returns to his three drum orchestra and lets loose a rich rumble of rolling thunder. Arms and legs like speeding pistons trace an intense choreography between earth and sky. Ululations pierce the night and the ground shakes deep down into the silk cotton tree’s roots. Heart pounding furiously, my first public concert is a wrap. I am still amazed at the generosity and graciousness of the villagers allowing me to lead the dance.

I have wanted to bring Noah-David here for the last few summers but the timing has never been right. Now we’re walking across Parc Jeanne-Mance and we can hear the drums over the drone of traffic on Avenue du Parc. We cross the four lanes and approach the monument. In the southwest corner there are about 15 drummers fanned out in a crescent with dancers drifting in and out of the open circle.

Noah and I walk around the periphery looking at the vendors’ merchandise. We need a small drum for him to play. This afternoon the event is not very crowded. Usually drummers are chock-a-block on the western steps of the monument. Today no one is seated there. It’s the pull of the World Cup. We purchase a small drum from a young Senegalese woman. “Jërëjëf,” I say (thank you) as we make our way to drummer central.

We stake a place just off to the side of the main action and Noah does his thing. The beat is coursing through him. At home we have an assortment of drums that we break out occasionally for jam sessions. This is his first time playing in public. After all these years I have not really improved much. Maybe it’s a retirement project. I have a beautiful djembe that I received as a gift from Mélanie and buddy Moussa for my 50th. With Noah’s early start perhaps he’ll be our drummer boy.

Out of the blue, Noah looks up at me and says, “Papa, I want to go now.” He’s looking pale. I gather our stuff and start heading to the car. We stop at the lights. On the other side in Parc Jeanne Mance he needs a rest. We lay down in the grass and I shade him with my body.

After a few minutes I take him to the water fountain for a drink. He doesn’t take much even with continued coaxing. He’s tired and overheated. We lie down again. He vomits a little. It’s back to the water fountain. I can lead him there but I can’t force him to drink. We’re in the last stretch to get to the car – about 200 metres, maybe a little more. He’s too tired to walk. I scoop him up in my arms and cover the distance as quickly as I can.

Next to our parked car on Rachel Ouest, I lay him down softly on the grass. We watch an unleashed dog cross the street its owner in close pursuit. Though not his usual litany he is asking some questions. His face is pale. I start the car and flash the air conditioning to high. He wants to get back to Sorel and see maman. We have to wait a few minutes because the car is an inferno.

When it’s cool enough to move out, I buckle him in and give him kisses on his forehead and cheeks. I tell him we’ll be in Sorel soon and he’ll see his maman. Almost immediately, he falls asleep. I’m a little worried. I shake him every couple of minutes or so as we make our way out of the city. I shout his name loudly to see if he stirs. When he does I ask him where we are and what we are doing. He gives the right answers. I’m still a little nervous because of the precipitous turn of events at the drumming, the vomiting and the pallor.

I have to gas up at the station on rue Papineau next to the Jacques Cartier bridge before starting out on the 40 minute drive. Noah’s breathing is steady. I decide that he’s okay and just needs to sleep after a busy outing and a little too much sun. I keep looking in the rear view mirror as we cross the bridge. I wish I was hearing the excited, chattery questions he was firing off as we crossed the same span just a few hours earlier.

I hit the 30 and I’m speeding. I just want my boy to wake up and be fine, to be brimming over with that ebullient wonder, the unstoppable force of why and how. I turn on the radio as a distraction. English commentators serve up a torpid play by play of the Dutch and Spanish World Cup final still tied with 20 minutes left to play. I look in the rear view and my boy is back – eyes smiling. He’s alert, awake and okay. “Allo papa,” he says. My world gets back to the one son beat.

First seen here

There have been so many firsts with the kids over the course of this finest gift parental leave wonderathon. Recent weeks are no exception. We left for Québec in June with a wobbly, gummy girl and returned home in July with a two toother who sits up by herself. Two nights ago for the first time in her young life, our Lila-Jeanne went to sleep solo in her playpen without rocking, cuddling, cajoling or cooing. There was some wailing and gnashing of the two teeth but eventually sleep won over. This is a huge breakthrough for us.

Nellie-Rose is just out of the blocks rolling on her new tricycle. She likes the mobility and the fact that she is now in league with big brother in the self propelled wheels gang. When I started this leave Nellie had just turned two. Over these few months, she’s been rocking through the changes – from high chair to the dining room table, from diapers to petites culottes (panties) and from soother heaven to cold turkey schnuliefest cutoff. The adjustments – some still ongoing – have been colourful, occasionally loud and always infused with that trademark je ne sais quoi Nelliness. By her own reckoning, she is now a grande fille and we support her in this assessment. She is also fiercely independent and can do just about anything ‘all by herself’.

Noah-David is fully engaged in soccer, his first organized sport. The coed Bumblebees play in a five team league twice a week in Eastern Passage. Parents, grandparents and sundry relatives cheer on the wee ones as they buzz around the ball moving it in fits and starts up and down the field. There is now a medal hanging from the curtain rod in his bedroom attesting to his participation in a soccer mania weekend hosted by the Dartmouth United club. I filled in for the regular coach in game 1 (a loss) and helped the coach out in game 2 (a win). Noah got his first two goals ever in organized play. He is still glowing.

This finest gift is unwrapped and well out of the box. There are just three weeks left before I return to the workplace. It’s gone by so quickly. I know I’ll be dreaming of this gift for a long time to come.

Night Ride

We roll out just after 23h00 across Forest Hills Parkway headed for the Trans Canada. There are hours of bleary eyed driving ahead for both Mélanie and I. The momentum of departure goes to me. It’s first shift time.

The kids are great the whole trip snoozing until sevenish. That’s when we pull into the McDonald’s playground in Grand Falls, New Brunswick to let them release a little energy. We get to fuel up too with on the road comfort food.

We pull into the thank god we’re here pit at Drummondville. Nicole and Raymond have come to relieve us. They’ll drive the last 45 minutes of the trip. What a sweet break – we’re wilting on the vine. The kids fly into Nicole and Raymond’s arms. We tank up with a bit more sugar and make the final push to Sorel so happy to get out from behind the wheel.

Soccer in the Foggy Dew

The fog horn is growling as we get in the car. It’s a short drive down to the fields – left at the lights, right at the fire station and down the dead end street until we see the field house and other cars parked on our left. A steady stream of parents toting fold up chairs, energetic kids in brightly coloured jerseys and tag-a-long siblings out to cheer on brothers and sisters are making their way along the path to the playing area.

Three mini-fields are laid out at the base of a steep hill. One dad tells how this was a rockin’ sledding place before the soccer pitch was put in and enclosed with a fence around its perimeter. Five teams, 60 kids aged four to six bouncing around, make up this youngest age group in the Eastern Passage league.

Tonight as the odd team out, it’s practice time. Our coach is awesome. It’s obvious that he’s been doing this for awhile. He keeps the kids’ attention and ensures that everyone is having fun. One of the kids grabs coach’s ball cap and makes a mad dash for it around the field. A chase and lots of laughter ensue. In a short time, coach makes a real connection with the kids.

There is a pairing off passing drill, a shooting drill and of course some running. Noah is beaming the whole time, particularly when he has the ball. After the drills, it’s scrimmage time. This is what all the kids are waiting for. The ball is moving up the field, down the field, around the field. With their yellow jerseys, the players are like a cloud of bees buzzing around that sweet nectar ball.

Noah does a short stint between the goal posts and saves a couple of shots. He wants out on the field though to get in on the action running after that ball. He’s the smallest of the group and has to pump his legs all that much harder to keep up with the bigger kids. He’s going for all he’s worth.

The yellow cloud comes in around the coach and his assistant. They all cheer and celebrate their first outing together. It’s going to be a great season. And the weather, well it can only get better – all the spectators are chilled to the bone in the foggy, intermittent rain. Nellie needs to be held to warm her up. Lila is snoozing all the way through the cold.

Next week is our first game against opponents. It’ll be a lot of fun.

Half loop at MacCormack’s

Nellie and I are on an early morning trek to one of our favourite slips of waterfront – the boardwalk loop at MacCormack’s Beach. It’s a small peninsula exposed to the wind.

We haven’t been much through the winter. It’s damp with a promise of sunshine behind the low ceiling. We’re here to return rocks to the briny deep. The parking lot is a puddle splashing love story. We’re told my a man walking his dog that there’s a family of foxes on the island across the channel. Maybe we’ll see them another day.

Nellie rakes her fingertips through time
Grains of millenial magic dusting her hands
In the channel a flurry of ducks beats by
As boots step boldly water rising
More stones into the big pool
Splashes smiles and silence
Fog is our wispy cotton veil