Milestones

The other day I was on a bike ride with the kids, and for the first time since they were born, I think, I had to actually dial my gear up a level, in order to keep up with them.

It felt like a big deal. At least, my thighs thought so.


In other growing up news, my youngest at age 10 is finally able to pass the swim test with confidence. This means that when we go to public swim at the community pool, I am able to act as a “remote supervisor” instead of an “arm’s length at all times” supervisor.

So far I am still going in with them, because I do enjoy a good dip in the pool. I can horse around with them a bit, or even take time to do a few lengths (ha ha, ONE LENGTH, who am I kidding).

But at any time that I want, I could be sitting at the side of the pool, keeping my hair safe from chlorine, reading a novel, while my kids splash around on their own. BLISS.


And in even better news, we have reached that glorious hour when all three children are able to shower on their own, with no supervision. We trust them to go in there, get themselves more-or-less clean, and emerge again safely. They complain about it, especially my youngest who enjoys being read to while in the bath, and my middle daughter who thinks that demons live on our upper floor and are likely to jump out any time she is alone up there. But they do go, and they go seem to get clean(er), and all the while Sir Monkeypants and I are sitting on the couch with a cup of tea, playing Clash of Clans.

These are good, good times.

Night Night

We still do the full bedtime routine around here. Once they’ve brushed and gotten into bed, we go up to tuck them in. We read a story to the youngest, spend a few – several! – minutes chatting with the older two. We turn out the light and make sure they are comfy and secure, let them know what’s on for tomorrow, and wish them good night.

Sometimes we even make it out of the room at that point. Usually they try to draw it out as long as possible, though.

Since our older two are now going to bed around 9:30 or even 10, that means Sir Monkeypants and I are “on the clock” until pretty late. So late that I’m often asleep on the couch by the time the older two are going up, but they still want a tuck in, still want a parent to come up and see them off for the night.

Sir Monekypants and I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, they aren’t always going to want to be tucked in (…right?). Eventually they’ll be busy in the evenings or staying up later than us and having a parent hover anxiously at their bedside will be so very last year, and then we’ll miss these little moments. And I do like having a little check in with the kids at the very end of the day – a chance for them to talk about anything that is upsetting them, or just to reassure them that everything will be okay in the morning, or to laugh together over a shared experience.

But it gets harder and harder to push aside our time for bedtime. It used to be we’d tuck everyone in by 8, then have a couple of hours together to watch some grown up TV or chat or battle each other at Mario Kart. Time to just flake out and remind ourselves that we were something other than Mom and Dad, once.

It’s a weird time, these in-between days when they are both children and yet moving to adulthood. They still need us and want us but we no longer get the breaks of naptime and early bedtimes. I love my kids and want to hang out with them…but morning, noon, and night? Hm.

The other day I was putting the youngest to bed, and she’d had a hard day and I was doing all the usual Mom soothing stuff, making her feel better. Out of nowhere I remembered a time – this goes back at least three or four years – when she was having trouble falling asleep every night, claiming she was afraid of bad dreams. I somehow managed to convince her that I was able to actually see her dreams, floating gently in clouds over her head, as she was settling into bed for the night. Each night I’d tell her what colour her dreams were (always happy shades of pink, yellow, turquoise) and then I’d “pluck” the bad dreams out by waving my hands over her head, pulling little imaginary tufts away and dropping them in the garbage. It was so hokey I always thought that she could see right through me, and maybe she could, but that didn’t stop her from asking night after night – she couldn’t go to sleep unless Mommy cleared away the bad dreams.

It’s such a lovely thought, don’t you think – that we, as parents, have the absolute power to take bad stuff out of our kids’ brains, their lives, their dreams, and just throw it away. Even though we don’t do that whole dreams routine anymore (when did it stop, exactly?), I think I still have kind of the same effect at bedtime – giving them a moment of comfort, a moment of quiet, a moment of pure love to send them off into dreamland.

And that’s a nice thing, and a good thing, if a little bit of a tiring thing.

Someday, my heart whispers, someday…this will pass. And it will be a sad thing and a happy thing and a bittersweet thing.

Moving On Up

Today is the last day of school, and it’s the last day ever at this school for Captain Jelly Belly. He’s gone there since Junior Kindergarten, and now he’s graduating from Grade 8 – ten full years at the same place, on the same routine, with more or less the same set of kids. It’s a small school with a small graduating class and I’ve known most of them since they were wee little things – many of them, since they were still in diapers. And now they’re grown and moving on to high school next year and sunrise, sunset.

Here’s a weird thing: I’m totally fine. I am known in our house hold as A Cryer – I cry at all movies, happy or sad; most television commercials, funny or touching; pretty much every book I read, ever. I’ll tear up if I catch one of the kids doing something kind or when someone changes the page on the bunny calendar and there’s a new picture of baby bunnies and OMG SO CUTE.

But when it comes to major life events, I’m the absolute opposite. I don’t cry at funerals or weddings. And apparently, not at Grade 8 graduation ceremonies. The Captain had his yesterday, and I packed a wad of tissues – all those kids, so grown up! Moving on! Looking so earnest in their fancy clothes!

And yet, nothing. I mean, it was nice and all, but I didn’t feel particularly sad about it. I did have one small moment of emotion when I saw several of the girls clomping around in high heels, obviously trying them out for the first time, uncomfortable with the motion. It was sweet, but it felt more like watching kids play dress up, than seeing kids I know truly move from childhood to young adulthood.

I guess the thing is, they’ll always be small in my eyes. When the Captain was in Grade 1 or 2, I remember seeing the Grade 8s in their fancy clothes on graduation day and thinking, God, they are so HUGE. Not just physically big, but grown up, wearing makeup and ties and looking so eager to move on from this little place that they had outgrown.

But when I saw the kids yesterday, I could still see the youngsters they once were, even in the Captain. I just know them too well, and I know that behind their maturing exteriors, they’re still pretty little on the inside. Even the Captain, when I look at him, looks like my little kid. I have yet to find that way of stepping outside and taking a sober second look and seeing him fresh, like others will when he meets them next year at the high school.

I suppose it helps that I still have two kids at that school, so it wasn’t any kind of dramatic goodbye for me, personally. And it helps that I’m so, so ready for summer vacation that I’m looking forward to giving all school the big kiss off (5 more hours to go, and the last lunches already made and sent – WOOT).

But for today I’m just feeling pretty okay – okay with moving on, okay with moving up, and ready to see what the future holds.

Edited to add…

I just got home from picking up the kids on the last day of school, and the Grade 8s poured out of the school in tears, sobbing their heads off. The Captain himself was a mess – he’s a cryer, like his mom – and the minute I saw his crumpled face I burst into tears myself. Then we walked home in the rain with tears running down our faces and it was the tragic end of a French movie.

So much for being all stoic about it, I guess!

Breakfast

This morning, at breakfast.

Gal Smiley, 12 years old: Mom, what can I eat for breakfast?

Me: There’s no bread, I’m sorry – maybe some cereal?

Gal: I don’t feel like it.

Me: There’s lots of fruit, or you could have cheese and crackers, or a bun with butter.

Gal: Do we have any broccoli?

Me: ….uh, yes?

Gal: Will you make me some?

Me: For breakfast?

Gal: Yes.

(Makes a whole head of broccoli. Kid eats it.)

Gal: That was awesome!

Twelve years old is WEIRD.

911

I’ll just start this post by saying we are all okay, we are all fine, no need to panic.

(I love it when the school calls and they open with that. “It’s the school calling, no need to worry, everything is fine!” Whew.)

So yesterday evening we had a little visit at our place by an ambulance and some lovely EMTs.

Side story: I remember not too long ago, I was talking to a friend of mine and she – mother of three – said she didn’t even know where the children’s hospital is in Ottawa, because she’d never been there. And then I laughed and laughed because I think we have had every form of emergency care at every single hospital in town. GAH.

Anyway, the ambulance was called because one of our children was having a severe allergic reaction.

Was it Captain Jelly Belly, who is allergic to milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, and other legumes? Nope.

Gal Smiley, then, who is terribly allergic to all tree nuts, all seeds, seed oils, coconut, and other sundries? Guess again.

It was our youngest, previously known as our carefree allergy-free child, Little Miss Sunshine. Sigh.

And it wasn’t even food related! She is so terribly, terribly allergic to cats, and now it seems, guinea pigs too. Yesterday she was at a friend’s house for literally 45 minutes and spent five of those minutes petting her guinea pigs and BAM.

By the time she got home her face had started to swell. Within a half hour she couldn’t open her eyes due to swelling. Her nose ran until it bled and her face was covered with hives.

I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty freaked out. We gave her an adult dose of Benedryl as soon as she got home, but things kept escalating, so I called Telehealth Ontario to see if it was okay for us to give her another dose. Telehealth heard the words “allergic reaction” and didn’t mess around, they called 911 for us and sent an ambulance right away.

But everything is okay. By the time the ambulance got there, she had plateaued – not any better, but not getting worse. They checked her breathing and blood pressure and they were okay, which means it wasn’t anaphylactic. We’d already given her the maximum dose of Benedryl for her size, so they couldn’t give her any more of that. So they just sat there chatting for a bit and then we signed some forms and they left.

I mean, her head was the size of a basketball and her face looked like molten lava, but sure, she was okay. She managed to get some sleep and we gave her more meds in the night.

This morning, the Little Miss is better but still so, so swollen. Her face looks like she’s a pro boxer who lost a particularly bad bout last night.

I’ve never seen a kid have such a severe reaction to an environmental allergy before, but this is how she reacts to cats too, so I guess it’s happening. One more epipen in the house, one more kid who has to carry around meds, one more kid who is The Allergy Kid.

To tell you the truth, I think she’s a little bit happy to be included. But I’ll feel much better if she outgrows it. Poor little miss.

Just realized I wrote this whole post without even mentioning that Sir Monkeypants twisted his knee and ankle at ultimate frisbee yesterday and can’t walk – he was already laid up on the couch barely able to stand during the whole ambulance situation. We’re a swelling, swollen, ice-pack wielding household today, yes we are. Is it naptime yet?

Summer! Of! Awesome! 2017!

Summer is, believe it or not, just around the corner. I know, I know, it’s still barely in the double digits for temperature in Ottawa and I have forgotten what the sun looks like and I still haven’t washed and put away the winter hats and mitts because we might still need them. Sigh.

But soon school will be out, and I’m looking forward to it. I’ll still be working, but reduced hours, and this year I’m hoping we’ll have a good time. It’s Captain Jelly Belly’s last year before high school, so time for a big blowout, I’m thinking. Enter: The Summer Of Awesome.

Every year I make a little softcover photo book of our summer adventures. My kids spend hours going over these – both at the end of summer, to review their memories, and at the beginning of next summer, when they’ll go through them all and pick out places they want to revisit. (I use Shutterfly for this but I’m open to suggestions if you know of a better place – they do good work but are pretty expensive, especially with the American shipping rates.) This week we’ve been going through the bookperms and the kids – who are already pretty mentally checked out of school – are getting excited about the break.

This summer I’m hoping to go back to some Greatest Hits but also to explore some new places. It’s Canada’s 150 celebration year and there’s tons of special activities on in Ottawa, so there’s never been a better year to staycation.

(Side note: isn’t it crazy that the Canada 150 celebrations are here? I remember when I first saw the Ottawa 150 logo and Ottawa started mentioning it – it was THREE YEARS AGO. At the time I was all like, Super Early Prepared Much? That’s forever away! And then I blinked and here we are. I take it all back, City of Ottawa, I do indeed.)

Here are a few things that are on our list for this summer. What’s on yours?

Red Bull Rallycross Races – at the Museum of Aviation, June 17/18. Uh, that’s next week! Memo to self: GET TICKETS. Hopefully they are still available.

National Gallery – I usually drag the kids to the National Gallery under duress each summer, but then they have a surprisingly good time thanks to their awesome Artissimo program that sends kids on treasure hunts, has them trying on costumes, and encourages them to create their own art. This year, they have a totally revamped Canadian gallery featuring tons of Indiginous art, opening June 15.

RCMP Musical Ride – June 23 to 25

Museum of Nature – new permanent exhibit on the Arctic opens June 21

Museum of History – their completely revamped Canada Hall opens July 11

Bank of Canada – they’ve been remodelling their building for like, three years, and the new foyer and currency museum reopen July 1

We Day Canada – This is so un-Ottawan of me, but I cannot stand the Hill on Canada Day – even though they are pulling out all the stops this year with Serena Ryder, Alessia Cara, Ruth B, Gordon Lightfoot (!!), and the Cirque du Soleil. But We Day is having a secondary concert – it runs most of the afternoon and evening of July 2 on Parliament Hill, featuring Alanis Morrisette, Hedley, Lily Singh, and about a thousand other people. I’ve been to We Day a few times and it’s oddly inspirational, and usually you have to register and do acts of charity to get a ticket but this one is free to all. Still not sure we will trek downtown for the inevitably gross Parliament Hill crowd, but we might.

Inspiration Village in the Market – I’ve heard this is kind of lame but of course, we have to go take a picture in front of the giant Ottawa sign. And it’s always nice to go to the market for treats – perhaps we will combine this with a trip to the National Gallery or The Mint, both popular places around here.

Mosiacanada – a weird, funky garden installation in Jacques Cartier Park that opens July 1 and runs until September (free access!)

Kontinuum – This is some sort of futuristic display/experience set up in the new, as-yet-unopened, Lyon transitway stop. It’s supposed to open in late June and run all summer.

Kingdom of Osgoode – medieval festival running July 8/9 in Osgoode. We recently watched all nine seasons of How I Met Your Mother on Netflix with the kids, and one of their favourite things to quote is how Ted’s character insists that it is pronounced “RenNAYsance Fair”, so I figure, let’s take them to one because that joke seriously does NOT get old.

Northern Lights Sound and Light Show on Parliament Hill – same show as last year, but we’ve never taken the kids – I feel like their bedtimes are finally late enough that we could see this in 2017 (runs July 11 through September 16)

La Machine – These are giant robots? that will be walking around downtown? And telling a whole story over the course of four days of impromptu live robot theatre? It’s all very mysterious but let me just say this: giant dragon fighting giant spider. YES. (Runs July 27 through 30)

Cirque Du Soleil Volta – apparently there are roller skates involved. So YES. (August 3 to 27 in Gatineau)

The Canada 150 Train – CP is taking a heritage train, pulling a series of restored historical cars, across Canada this summer in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday. They’ll be stopping in Ottawa on August 20 for a concert and a chance to check out the train. I have a kid here who LOVES trains so this is a must-do.

Ottawa Welcomes the World – these are the country-specific celebrations held weekly (approximately) at Landsdowne throughout the year. We have our eye on Macedonia (August 6) and of course, India (September 29).

Company of Fools – Shakespeare in the Park – this has become a beloved event for us and I could not be happier about it. It’s mostly due to my pre-show Lego recreation of the plot (so they can follow along, despite the difficult language) but the show itself is always hilarious and fun. This year it’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. (Runs at a variety of parks from July 3 through August 19, check their website for the full schedule)

Fortissimo – We’ve never been to this outdoor military concert, hoping I can convince the kids this year. (Runs July 20 to 22)

Casino Du Lac Leamy Sound and Light Show – this has been on our list for a couple of years now, hopefully we’ll make it out to the fireworks show in 2017 – running August 6 to 17.

Also on the list:

  • Saunders Farm (every year, at least once, sometimes twice)
  • Westboro Beach
  • Pink Lake hike or Carbide Willson ruins hike in Gatineau Park
  • Classic Car Night at Hazeldean Mall (our middle daughter is SUPER INTO cars right now)
  • 1000 Islands Boat Cruise (maybe an overnighter?)
  • Mont Cascades water park
  • Upper Canada Village
  • The Pottery Playhouse – one of those paint-your-own ceramics places, I might take the youngest here one day when the older two are being cranky

…and swimming as much as possible at Ottawa indoor and outdoor pools, going to the library often, and going to see ALL the movies (Wonder Woman, Cars 3, Despicable Me 3, Spiderman: Homecoming, Son of Bigfoot, and I will probably get dragged to The Emoji Movie, lord help me).

What are you up to?

New Houses

We bought our house, the house we live in now, just before our second kid was born. At the time, it was a completely new house – a new build on a new street. We wanted more space and to live in a specific school district and this new street they were putting in was a perfect fit.

At the time, though, I got kind of frustrated at the money pit that is a new build. First of all, there’s all the fixtures – you go to a big design centre to pick out tile, cupboards, and flooring, and everything other than the most basic thing costs extra. It felt like we were nickel-and-diming ourselves into the poorhouse.

After we moved in, it was one additional cost after another as well. We had to paid for air conditioning, eavestroughing, and a ton of landscaping. We put in a fence and built a shed and, after a couple of years, finished the basement. Every room needed new furniture and art, and it was just one trip to Home Depot after another.

That was almost 13 years ago, and I’m just now realizing the true benefit of having bought a new build – the fact that our house needed very little maintenance while our kids were very young.

It turns out that right around now is when everything goes to pot. We had to replace our roof last fall. We got a new water heater. Our driveway is heaving and we have some broken siding to replace and our foundation has cracks. It’s all small jobs – not the kind of jobs where you’re throwing money at it, but rather, the kind of jobs where you’re throwing time at it.

It seems now that every weekend we have a to-do list a mile long. Clean out the work room. Repaint everything. Top up the river rock in the gardens. Fix the broken eavestroughing spouts. Repair the fence. Replace every single light bulb ever.

I remember when the kids were little. Almost every weekend was about going somewhere. I used to have an Ottawa Events newsletter, and we’d actually DO something from that list every week – we’d hit a museum, or we’d visit a local festival, or we’d tour a cool boutique shopping area. We’d go to all the major events and we’d see shows at the NAC and we’d catch The Wiggles when they played the Canadian Tire Centre. We were OUT of our house, because our house was doing just fine.

But now we spend our weekends in maintenance mode. I’m hoping this is a life cycle kind of thing – we’ll spend this year doing a massive amount of repairs, and then we’ll be good for another decade or so.

(Stop laughing. It could happen.)

Ah, home ownership. It’s like having a fourth kid. A really whiny, needy, expensive fourth kid. There’s no place like home.

Fire!

We had some excitement on our street last night, when a couple of fire trucks with sirens blaring and lights flashing roared into our next-door-neighbour’s driveway. It was about 9:30 at night and we were just getting our older two kids ready for bed, when our whole house lit up with flashing red in every window.

Soon a group of neighbours gathered in the road in front of our house, and Sir Monkeypants went out too to make sure everything was okay. Turns out, everything really IS okay. They had an outlet that started sparking and smoking, so they called the fire department just to have it checked out. They didn’t really expect the Ride of the Valkyries, but I guess the fire department doesn’t mess around.

In any case, there was no actual fire and they’re calling an electrician and all is well.

But given that it was the house right next to ours…it does give one pause. What if, you wonder? What would that mean? What would we do? Not six weeks ago, there was a fairly major fire in a home three streets over from us. Due to seriously fortunate winds – blowing directly from the back of the house – the two houses on either side were completely saved, with only a bit of buckled siding in damage, even though they’re only a couple of feet away from the house that burned down. Lucky, lucky, lucky.

What if we weren’t so lucky?

I’m surprised to realize that there’s little that I would lose that would truly devastate me. If everyone got out alright, that’d be fine. The only objects I would really want to save are family photos. Many of the ones of the kids are in the cloud, so that’s good; a lot of my older ones are not, and maybe I’ll find the motivation to preserve the best ones in some way. They’re the really only irreplaceable thing, I think.

My kids would probably not leave the house without their extra special stuffed animals, and yup – that would be the one thing that would be terrible to lose, I can’t imagine the heartbreak. If we had time to gather a few things, I know they’d try to bring ALL the stuffed animals. You’d see us out on the street in our jammies with six bins of stuffies and a box of photo albums. PRIORITIES, people.

It’s interesting to me how much things, material things, mattered to me when I was young. The very idea of getting rid of a toy or throwing out a piece of artwork was too horrible to consider. The thought of a fire destroying my room, my home, was unbearable – in fact, my best friend in Grade 5 used to say goodnight prayers each night that ended with, “And God protect us from fires,” which resonated so much with me that I started doing that too, even though we weren’t all that religious.

But now, surprisingly, I’d be okay. I’d find a way to replace my kitchen gadgets and my thousands of books and all the Lego. We’d get new clothes and a new couch and a new piano.

As long as I have my peeps with me, we’d be just fine, just fine indeed.

Who Owns What?

My kids are getting to an age where they don’t really play with toys much any more – the poor Toys R Us flyer goes unopened and unloved each week. They still get out the Lego and the Hexbugs every now and again, but things like dolls and Strawberry Shortcake and stacking rings are no longer in use.

But they’re still in my house. Taking up space, mostly in storage bins in the basement, but also sprinkled in just about every other room.

Lately I’ve been thinking about getting rid of some stuff, but I’m torn. Do I own it, or if was bought for the kids, do they get to say?

My grandmother – my mother’s mother – was a thrower-outer. That led to a few incidents where she got rid of things that my mother considered “hers,” and was attached to. As a result, my own mom firmly considered our toys and books and things from childhood ours. As an adult, I’m still getting the occasional box of stuffed animals or puzzles from her that were mine as a little girl. Sometimes I value it – I’m overjoyed that she kept the entire Nancy Drew series, for example, and my youngest has gotten hours of fun out of my old Pretty Ponies. But sometimes it’ll be some cheap thing I won at a local fair at age 8 or some notes from my Grade 10 English class and I wonder why she bothered to keep this stuff all these years and to ship it to me.

I suppose the real point here is that she left it up to me to decide for myself. I can decide now that I’m grown what’s crap, and what I value enough to want to share with my own kids.

But do I need to do the same? With everything?

I’ve tried in the past to get the kids to go through their own stuff for filtering. It’s hit and miss. The youngest is actually ruthless – to the point where she always makes a big bin of things to get rid of that includes things that I personally am attached to, or think are high enough quality to last through to the grandchildren, so I end up talking her back off the ledge. The other two are terrible – they want to keep EVERYTHING and if I manage, after hours of cajoling, to convince them to let go of a shoebox worth of crap, they’ll lament about it for weeks afterwards.

When they were younger I used to have one day a year – a school day – when I went into their rooms and “cleaned up.” I’d make my own giant box of things to get rid of – old notes and birthday cards, McDonalds toys, various craft creations – and I’d put this box in the basement, labelled “phase one removal.” If no one asked for the stuff in the box for six months, it’d go out without me even opening it to double check what was inside. Maybe I should go back to this process?

Or maybe it’s just time I put my foot down and had them go through their own stuff again, with a firm hand and some limits. It all sounds so tiring, though. Wouldn’t a “phase one dumpster” be less painful for everyone? Or am I going to get some kid, at age 25, ask for one specific Hot Wheels car that is long gone, and be crushed when she finds I gave it away?

I wonder.

Driving Captain Jelly Belly

And we’re back! It wasn’t pneumonia, and we’re all doing well now. In fact, our doctor only ordered the x-rays in the first place because we were leaving the next day for Florida – glorious, sunny, hot Florida where we could forget we live in a soggy, freezing Canadian city for six whole days. Do you know that it snowed today in Ottawa, SNOWED, on May 8? I give up.

But the trip was great – we had amazing weather, and we had so much fun at the theme parks (we went to Orlando), and we came home exhausted but with heads full of magic and wonder. When I was a younger mom, I used to love reading stories about people’s trips – actually I still do, I’m always curious to see how various problems were handled and what the accommodations were like. But I feel like a detailed summary of our trip would be tedious for everyone so I’ll sum up quickly, and if you want more detail on any specific point please comment or email me and I’d be happy to wax on about it for pages and pages.

The short version:

  • For Ottawa-area readers: we flew Alligiant out of Ogdensburg, which had been heralded back in October as the Dawn of Cheap Flights. It wasn’t a huge savings, but it was a small savings, and it was pretty easy to do, although the airport in Ogdensburg is about the size of my house and when your flight is delayed by four hours in a place with no wifi and no cell phone coverage and no food it can be pretty grim.
  • We rented a house in the Windsor Hills area and it was glorious. Everyone had their own bedroom AND their own bathroom AND we had our own pool and hot tub. Recommended!
  • We spent three days at the Universal theme parks because we specifically went to explore the Harry Potter worlds, and they did not disappoint. But I’m glad we waited to go there until our kids were older and taller, as the rides are a bit bigger than Disney.
  • We spent one day at Magic Kingdom and one day at Hollywood and they were magical.
  • We spent one day at the Kennedy Space Center and now I am OBSESSED with the Mercury 7 and Apollo moon landings. OBSESSED.

If that sounds like a super packed, full six days, it was – my fitbit recorded over 20K steps on all the days except the Kennedy day, and we were so, so tired at the end of the day (but not too tired to pass up a sit in the hot tub). We had originally planned to go for 10 days, and have some rest days in between the parks, but we ended up having to cut the trip short, so we had to squeeze it all in. It was worth it, but still, not exactly a relaxing vacation!

The reason we had to cut the trip short is that Captain Jelly Belly, who is in Grade 8, was invited to attend a week-long course at the University of Ottawa last week. They take a few hundred kids in grades 8 through 11 and send them to university for a week, studying one thing in particular – he chose Civil Engineering. (Mini-review: he enjoyed it, but I think it’s safe to say that he is not planning on becoming a civil engineer any time in the future.)

So for the past week, I’ve been driving him to the university every morning, then picking him up every afternoon. Due to rush hour traffic it’s about an hour each way, meaning we’re in the car together every day for a good long while. And you know what? It’s been awesome.

He’s older now and often has his head buried in homework or a tablet or his phone, and if we do pry him away, it’s usually to do something as a family. Having this time alone with him was so great. We listened to the morning show and did the daily Game Show Bit together. We talked about silly things, like what Harry Potter spell is the best, and serious things, like what unions are, and whether they are good or bad. We plotted a different route for each day and then compared traffic and roads for each, and he grew into a great navigator. We talked about his day and my day and made jokes about classmates and clients.

The best part was close to the end of the week, when I found some Vinyl Cafe CDs and we spent a couple of commutes listening to Stuart McLean tell his sweet, funny stories about Dave and Morley. During one of the last episodes, there was a particularly funny moment involving Dave and a duck and a dry cleaner, and the audience laughed with a roar, followed a few seconds later by a single man laughing loudly. This single man’s laugh was booming, a Ho Ho Ho like Santa Claus, and when he laughed on the CD, the Captain and I looked at each other in instant recognition, our mouths gaping open in disbelief.

Every year I take Sir Monkeypants to see The Debaters, another CBC comedy show, recorded at a local theatre, and for the past three years we’ve taken the Captain along as well. All of those years we’ve sat just in front of a man with a distinctive, booming, Ho Ho Ho kind of laugh, one that often comes late, building steam to explode out just a moment or two after the rest of the audience has moved on. This guy is sometimes annoying and sometimes endearing but always a major feature of our post-Debaters analysis.

And here he was, clearly at a taping of the Vinyl Cafe, caught forever on our recording. It was the ultimate in joke – something no one else would get, something just for us, and something so instantly recognizable and strong that we didn’t even have to say anything – we just looked at each other and knew immediately what the other one was thinking – and then burst into laughter ourselves.

It was a great marker for the week, a way to know that he’s my buddy, my guy, my first baby, my always baby. I feel quite sentimental about it, but I embrace the mushies. It’s been a good couple of weeks.