On August 25, 2015, Indycar driver Justin Wilson succumbed to the injuries he sustained two days earlier during an event at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania. Wilson, travelling in excess of 200 mph, was struck in the helmet by debris from a crash that had occurred ahead of him on the track. He was subsequently airlifted to hospital, where he never regained consciousness.
Wilson was 38 years old and leaves behind a wife and two small children.
It’s asinine and grossly trite to say that he died doing what he loved. But, as racers are want to point out, it’s likely true. Every professional driver that has ever buckled themselves into a cockpit has done so fully aware of the risks awaiting them when they make their way onto the track. As former Indycar champion Tony Kanaan once said, “This is a dangerous sport... Not everybody can do this.
“This is how we're wired... This is who we are.”
I began what has been a 25-year love affair with auto racing while I was still somewhat young and when I latched on to the emerging career of an up-and-coming Toronto driver, Paul Tracy. There are many forms of auto racing — Formula 1, Nascar, Sportscar, Rally — but it was this young pilot’s endless ability that drew me to Indycar. He was fearless, he was aggressive, he was skilled, and most of all, he was fast.
And it’s that speed, that endless pursuit of shaving another tenth of a second from your lap time, for laying on the throttle just one more blink of an eye before braking into a blind corner that is so intoxicating. The speed is impossible for someone outside the car to fully comprehend. It is blinding. It is also extraordinarily dangerous.
In 1991, Tracy scored himself a seat at one of the most coveted organizations in all of racing: Penske. Roger Penske, a former driver himself, was the chief architect of what was to be known as Penske Racing, among the fastest and most successful Indycar teams of all time. Tracy’s first race for his new team would be at Michigan International Speedway, a two-mile, banked oval where average lap speeds were in excess of 220 mph. Tracy, before he could complete his second lap of the race, crashed hard into the outside retaining wall, demolishing the car and breaking his foot for good measure. Safety crews would need to extricate the young Canadian from the wreckage. He was 22 at the time, and in only his second professional open-wheel race.
Tracy would work himself back into the car later that same season, looking, as always, to shave another tenth of a second from his lap time, looking to lay his foot on the throttle for just one more blink of an eye before braking into a blind corner. When all was said and done, Tracy would go on to contest nearly 300 races in his storied career: winning 31 times; breaking vertebrae in his back twice.
To this day, I would consider Tracy my racing hero.
My first brush with the death of a driver occurred May 1, 1994. Brazilian Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna, arguably the best racer of any generation, was killed from the injuries he sustained after crashing from the lead at the San Marino Grand Prix.
The news of Senna’s death was surreal. He could do the unimaginable in a car and could seemingly bend the rules of physics to suit his needs. He was Superman in a firesuit and a crash helmet. But on that fateful day, Senna’s right temple was pierced by the broken front suspension from his mangled race car.
Superman was dead.
Still in shock, I remember well the trepidation I felt as I tuned in to watch Tracy compete that following week in Indycar. A pit sometimes forms in your stomach when you think of the danger awaiting each driver. But I also remember how exhilarating it was when the hair stood on the back of my neck as Tracy and the rest of the field dropped the hammer and laid it out going into the first corner.
A young Michael Schumacher would win his first F1 title that year. Al Unser Jr. would win his second Indycar title. Senna was 34 at the time of his death.
Auto racing, particularly Formula 1 and Indycar racing, by the 1990s, found itself in a technical revolution of sorts. Speeds were climbing almost exponentially. Sponsor and manufacturer support offered the financial wherewithal to develop cars capable of unimaginable speeds. Things came to a head when, in March of 2000 at Fontana Speedway, Penske driver Gil de Ferran set the closed-track speed record of 241.428 mph (388.541 km/h). In 1980, the pole-winning speed at the famed Indianapolis 500 was 192.257 mph — a full 48 mph slower than the Penske driver’s lap speed at the California track. de Ferran’s lap record was set just days short of the one-year anniversary of Canadian racer Greg Moore’s death at the same track.
Like Senna five years earlier, Moore’s death was a shock. An emerging prodigy, Moore’s career was just then approaching its zenith. The emptiness of watching his lifeless body transported to hospital is still, to this day, difficult to find words for. Adrian Fernandez would go on to win the event, nearly seven seconds ahead of the second-place driver, Max Papis. Christian Fittipaldi would set the fastest lap of the day with a nearly unimaginable race speed of 230.190 mph. Juan Montoya, with his fourth-place finish, secured the overall season championship.
Greg Moore was 24 years old.
During the first decade of the new millennium, Indycar, along with most other forms of professional auto racing, looked to curb speeds. Engines, which at the end of the 20th century were spitting out more than 1,000 hp, were scaled back. Further aerodynamic restrictions were also enacted to slow the cars and increase overall safety. Nevertheless, since Moore’s death some 15 years ago, several other Indycar drivers (including Paul Dana, Tony Renna, and Dan Wheldon) found themselves unable to escape the sport’s dangers and lost their lives to on-track mishaps and crashes.
The allure of auto racing, to both the driver and the fan, is by its nature, the speed. But speed, in and of itself, is only half the story. The sport’s allure would be left wanting should the cars ever circle the track on, say, rails. Divorcing the sport from the possibility — even the remote possibility — of calamity, of injury, of death, would remove the elements of auto racing that make the sport so endearing, so alluring, so addictive. The notion that these men and women might, in their pursuit of going even that tiny bit faster, lose control, or that, in their attempts to will themselves past their competitors, they might botch a corner, or miss a braking point and find themselves against the wall is, ultimately, why we watch. Without the inherent danger, racing would be little more than a parade, minus the clowns.
We cherish, even if most of us haven’t the courage to admit it, that breathless feeling we experience as we wait to see our favourite drivers muster their senses and step out from their broken and ruined cars. We applaud as they then wave to the crowd and as they head back to the pits no worse for wear. But it’s the moments prior to that, as we wait to see what the culmination of the speed and the dangers has in store, that we truly long for.
And at its core, we as fans cheer on the drivers, knowing full well that, at those speeds, they could well die. It’s savage and difficult to accept. But it’s why we watch. Were that not true, we wouldn’t have tuned in to watch the race in 2001 a week after Alex Zanardi lost both his legs in a horrific crash. We’re closer to Romans watching the lions feast than we would ever care to admit.
Were that not true, we’d content ourselves watching the 100m dash. But we don’t. We can’t. So instead, every race, every lap, every crash, we applaud a driver’s aggression. We marvel at their mastery over the car, and we watch helplessly — breathlessly — as they risk their lives. And it is for those reasons our adoration for the pilots that man a race car is so resolute. Drivers are well aware of the risks. But unlike us, they accept the risk, and we love them for it.
Kanaan, in response to the danger he and other drivers face each race, said, "That's what we have to live with and that's what makes us different than other people. Not everybody can do this. It is tough, it's never easy to see a friend of yours get hurt or lose a friend of yours. But this is the sport we chose."
The same sport I have chosen to watch for nearly 25 years.
And then, as I did when Wilson died, I curse it. I cry and recount how unfair the danger and the brutality and the finality of it is.
I hate the sport.
I hate that I find such passion and such thrill in seeing men and women risk their lives.
And I hate that, if I am honest with myself, I know full well that I’m going to tune in to the next race and watch with the same excitement and anticipation.
"This is how we're wired… This is who we are."
Life has been somewhat hectic lately. I would be remiss, however, were I to suggest that I’ve done anything terribly noteworthy. Far from it. While the past few months have found me busy at work and have seen me filling my weeknights and weekends with family and friends, much of my time has been spent whiling away the mundane day-to-day trappings of suburban life. Finding the time and the inspiration to write has been a challenge as the past while hasn’t lent itself to my usual biting commentary on all things toddler-related. And, to be honest, I’m loathe to allow myself to descend into simply writing for the sake of posting, y’know, something — “Hey gang, wanted to let you know about a great new supermarket I recently visited.”
Nonetheless, the other morning started like any other: Owen woke too early; I cried a little; I sucked it up (well, I stopped crying) and, with the boy in tow, went downstairs; I made a coffee…. It was like every pre-dawn Saturday and, with each passing minute, was positioning itself to mimic every other nondescript day that is The Vaughan.
Owen and I have a little game that we play each morning. He asks for pancakes or waffles, I say no and admonish him for asking, and I then direct him to pick a cereal to eat instead. He has a pancake-related hissy fit and I make some less-than-veiled threat to send him back to his room unless he complies. This goes on for a couple minutes and always ends with the boy sitting at the table eating cereal while I stare blankly into my coffee. (I’m usually not crying still at this point, but with the shadows at that time of the morning being what they are, it’s really hard to say for sure.)
This particular day was like all others. He asked for pancakes, I said no and eagerly waited for the coming, ho hum, fit of rage. But then, instead of our choreographed back-and-forth, things went slightly awry. “Daddy, I want cereal. I want the one you bought me at the supermarket. I want to eat it with a big-boy spoon.”
I was confused. There wasn’t a hissy fit. No shouts. No tantrums. Not even a derisive sigh of contempt. There wasn’t a groan of displeasure. The boy was smiling. Something was wrong.
Owen had fired a shot across my bow. He waddled into the kitchen and took a seat at the table. This wasn’t normal for the boy and I was confused by his aggressive posturing. I sensed a trap.
“You want cereal?” I asked.
“Yeah, I want the one you bought me at the supermarket,” Owen said, pointing to the box on the counter.
Our morning back-and-forth is a comforting routine. We arch our back towards one another and make a big show of things. He asserts his ill-founded belief that his opinion should matter and I assert my overarching Daddy-ness. Then, and after a bit of a to-do, our bluster evolves into a détente of sorts and we get on with our days. Think of how North and South Korea occasionally shoot at each other along the border. Nothing ever really happens, but they make a lot of noise before getting continue with their Tuesday. This was unusual, though, and I wasn’t sure I liked the smell of Owen’s kimchi.
I poured the cereal, added the milk and gave it to the boy. He looked at it, smiled, and pushed it away. “I don’t want that cereal. I want a different one.”
Owen’s mortar round landed inside the demilitarized zone.
What?” I asked.
“I don’t want that one. I want a different one.”
Looking to extinguish any hotspots before they erupted, I sent an emissary with possible rewards for his breakfast-related compliance. “Owen,” I said, “remember, you need to eat your cereal if you want to go to the gym later. And don’t forget, we’re going to Grandma and Grand-dad’s after that. You need to eat your breakfast if you want to visit them.”
Owen smiled and pushed his bowl away.
I’d seen this before. The boy will often, on a whim, rebel against eating his lunch or dinner. It’s like when a smaller country blusters about invading a neighbor in order to rattle a larger, first-world country’s cage a little. In Owen’s case, typically the threat of sanctions will bring about his compliance. “Owen, you asked for that cereal. I want you to eat it,” I said. “If you don’t eat it, there’ll be no gym and no Grandma and Grand-dad.”
“I want to go to the gym and then see Grandma and Grand-dad,” he replied.
I had him. “So eat your cereal,” I said.
He turned away from me. “No.”
His response was simple and unequivocal. This was particularly aggressive for Owen. I decided to escalate things. “Look Owen, you’re going to sit there until you eat. And until then, no gym, no grandparents, no tv ,and no toys.” I was mobilizing my troops.
This was all I really had in my quiver. “Daddy, I don’t want cereal.” He again pushed his bowl away. I would need to enforce my new sanctions, lest he try and slip away and smuggle toys and crackers back to the table, so I sent a carrier group to patrol his waters and promptly took a seat across from him at the table.
With my guns trained squarely on the boy, I expected a reaction. By now I was seated right next to him and lording over him in an obvious show of force on my part — if he doubted my intentions before, he had to now know that I was serious. I expected him to explode in a frenzied display of emotion or melt into a quiet puddle of acquiescence. Instead, he just sat there.
“Owen, eat some cereal please.” This was a subtle change in my language. Rather than demanding complete and absolute compliance, I sought to dial back the rhetoric and get Owen eating his breakfast…. Or at least some of it.
Our standoff had been going on for 15 minutes. There was tension. His response was damning, “No, Daddy.” He slouched in his chair. He was readying to wait this out. In was in it for the long haul.
My advisors in the back of my head were ready to do away with diplomacy. They were tired, what with having woken so early that morning, and argued that, with each passing minute, I was losing face in the eyes of the rest of the world (i.e., the cat). They preached a more aggressive tone.
The doves, whose round-table discussions were found predominantly in the bags under my eyes, argued for a more conciliatory approach. “It’s just cereal,” they said. “Offer him an apple and be done with it.” This drew a derisive response from the hawks who reasoned that, whereas today he doesn’t want his cereal, tomorrow he’ll balk at going to bed or at having to take a bath. With a firm show of strength now, we’ll have Owen eating cereal today, tomorrow, and every day after that.
Ignoring my top advisors, I decided the most prudent course of action would be to further back away from my show of force and try to de-escalate the situation. I left the table and took a seat in the living room, across from the kitchen. From there, I would still be able to assess the situation from afar, but would give Owen and his advisors time to plot their next move. I was putting the ball in his court. I left the cat to perform rearguard action and patrol the kitchen while I extricated my forces to the couch. Now nearly 30 minutes into the conflict, Owen finally responded to my gesture.
Owen picked up his spoon and, while holding my gaze, tossed it to the ground.
Our Cold War went thermal the instant his spoon hit the kitchen tile. My generals were barking for a retaliatory show of force. The doves had suddenly gone quiet. I mustered my forces and lit up the skies with a dazzling display of “shock and awe.” I slammed his spoon back onto the table. I took his milk and shoved the cereal back in front of him. “No tv and no internet,” I declared. “No gym and no grandparents. You’re going to sit here until you eat your cereal.”
Owen was neither shocked nor awed. He viewed my response as nothing but bluster and called my bluff. He looked at me and shook his head. “No.”
My possible responses were limited. Whereas in generations past, upset parents might have cut themselves a switch and firebombed their son on his butt, I wasn’t in a position to do that. Civilian casualties are to be avoided, no matter how much you wanted to call Corporal Punishment to the front lines. Dresden and Tokyo would smugly live to stand tall for another day.
And Owen knew it.
Nearly 40 minutes into the standoff, and with no real resolution anywhere on the horizon, I decided to cut a deal. I would pull my missiles out of Czechoslovakia and give the boy an apple if Owen agreed to eat ONE granule of his breakfast. The right-wing side of my brain threatened a coup d'etat, but I needed this to end.
The boy considered my offer. “No,” he said.
It was then that I decided a full-on shooting war was inevitable unless I took drastic measures. Owen is afraid to be alone in a dark, unlit room. Using this bit of intel to my advantage, I laid it out my final ultimatum:
“Owen, unless you eat one piece of cereal, I’m turning the lights off and going downstairs. And you’re going have to stay at the table… in the dark. Alone.”
And with that proclamation, I ordered my bombers into the morning skies and prepared to carpet bomb Owen’s capital, PainInTheAssVille. I would have my peace with honour, no matter the cost.
With the threat of blackening the kitchen sky weighing overhead, Owen reluctantly agreed to my demands. Vindicated, I watched as the boy scooped a single piece of cereal onto his spoon and as he put it into his mouth.
I was jubilant. “The settlement of the Cereal problem, which has now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which all The Vaughan may find peace. This morning I had another talk with Herr Owen, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine. Some of you, perhaps, have already heard what it contains but I would just like to read it to you: ' ... We regard the agreement signed this morning and Daddy-Son agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again,’” I said, to no one in particular. “My good friends, for the second time in our history, a father has returned bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.”
As agreed, I handed Owen an apple and began to make my way back into the kitchen to fetch myself a well-earned coffee. It was then that Owen hopped from his chair and spat the cereal from his mouth and onto the floor.
My attempt at appeasement had failed.
I’d been duped, snookered and lied to at the bargaining table by a remorseless dictator who was less than a year removed from wearing diapers. Were the kitchen Poland, Owen’s tanks would have been rolling into Warsaw and hoisting a Spider-man flag from the fridge.
I had stared down my son and, after a moment of what I had viewed was exulting victory, found myself with nothing. I matched wits with him. I negotiated in good faith and, ultimately, acquiesced to his wishes in the mistaken belief that I would find peace on that otherwise pedestrian morning.
He hopped onto the couch and took a bite from his spoils of war.
He smiled at me.
He had won the battle, but the war was far from over. Not by a longshot. I would soon call upon my reserves: His Mummy would be up soon.
God have mercy on us all.
Owen turned three recently. I love the little scamp.
And why wouldn’t I? For starters, he’s inquisitive and has a soft spot for superheroes. Why, just last night, he and I spent the better part of the evening discussing why Spider-man is not a member of the Avengers while similarly lamenting that Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk and Thor are. From the boy’s perspective, understanding why Spider-man hasn’t cracked the team is about as important as the reasons why Megan won’t let him eat pancakes every day. (And equally baffling.)
“He’s a superhero, Daddy. Spider-man is a good guy. Why isn’t he an Avenger?”
“I don’t know buddy, but he’s just not an Avenger; I’m not sure why.”
“But Spider-man shoots webs, Daddy. Why doesn’t Hulk shoot webs? And why is Hulk so angry?”
“There’s probably a lot of reasons why. I’m not sure, though.”
“And why doesn’t Spider-man use Captain America’s shield when he smashes Green Goblin?”
Understanding the social underpinnings of comic book superhero cliques and explaining why one hero is deemed worthy for inclusion while the boy’s favourite superhero is not is a complex fatherhood-nuance I hadn’t expected to have to come to terms with, at least not yet.
Many of Owen’s most philosophical ramblings always seem to happen when he’s trying to poo. The other night, the boy, mid-poo, wondered why the Queen in his book, “Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat,” was afraid of a mouse. Before I could answer, however, Owen veered into a delightful story where he reasoned that the Queen’s fear was likely because mice were “sneaky.”
He then launched into a deliberate recital of an instance, not long ago, where he “saw” three mice on the roof of our house and, after scooping them into a bucket (conveniently the very same blue bucket we use to rinse his hair with in the bath – the very bucket that also just happened to be in front of him as he told his tale), he dumped the mice into the toilet.
“So why are they sneaky,” I asked.
“Because they got out of the toilet.”
“Why would you dump them into the toilet?”
“Because they’re bad,” he said.
There’s a simple logic behind the boy’s thoughts. He can rationalize anything into good and bad. Happy and angry. There’s an innocence to it. Mice are bad; superheroes are good. (Spider-man is really good.)
The boy is now three. He likes to ask, “why.” Kids this age want to understand everything, even if it’s just so they can manage and orient their world and make it more understandable. Why did you do this, Daddy? Why does Mummy do that? Is it good? Is it bad?
Sometimes, however, his questions are more difficult to answer than others. Sometimes they’re less humourous. Sometimes, though, they’re just as important. The problem is that, sometimes, as an adult, it’s harder to pigeonhole something as merely being good and bad. Sometimes, things seem so monumental that Owen’s black and white interpretation would serve only to trivialize concrete, or even abstract, notions that go to the heart of what we, as a society, hold dear.
The other morning, the boy noticed the poppy I wear on my jacket. He looked at it and quietly asked to see it up close. I unpinned it and handed it to him. He looked at it and asked what it was. I told him. He put it to his chest and asked, “Why is the flower, the paw-pee, on your coat?”
“Because it‘s a way of remembering the important things that some brave people did; it’s so Daddy remembers everything they gave up for us.”
He didn’t understand.
Owen, as I‘ve said, is only three. How do you explain to a toddler that, sometimes, tragically, there’s a need for men and women to make important sacrifices for us?
How do you imbue to a child notions of sacrifice, honour and devotion to a cause? How do you explain even the simplest concepts of freedom to him?
How do you begin to describe the unimaginable horrors that these men and women bore witness to?
How do you tell a young boy that there are men and women, so scarred from what they did and what they saw that, decades later, they still have nightmares and live their lives in constant pain?
How do you explain to a three-year-old that, despite what his Mummy and Daddy have told him, there really are monsters in the world?
How do you tell him that, the poppy you wear over your heart, is to thank the young man that stood at post in Ottawa and died, defending us from one of those very monsters?
How do you explain why that young man would have, as his family tearfully told the media, done the exact same thing even if he had known what was to have happened to him on that fateful day?
“The poppy helps Daddy remember that so many of our superheroes fought the bad guys for us.”
“Like Spider-man when he smashed the Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus?”
“That’s right. And the poppy helps me remember the times when, no matter how scary Electro was, or how much the Sandman hurt them, our superheroes still did their best to save the day for all of us. And it helps me remember that, sometimes, our superheroes gave up everything they had for you and me.”
“Did our superheroes lose their Spider-man figure, Daddy? Bad guys are sneaky. I hope they don’t take my Spider-man, Daddy. Why would superheroes fight the bad guys without their Spider-man, Daddy?”
“Sometimes Owen, Daddy just doesn’t know the answer why. But sometimes it’s enough to know that they did. This poppy is how we thank them.”
Owen handed me my poppy.
“Thank you, superheroes. Daddy, they can have my extra Iron Man.”
Owen turned three recently. He asks “why,” a lot. I love the little scamp. And that’s why.
Owen has, from the time he could stand without falling over, been an energetic little dude. He hops, skips, runs, gallops, prances, dances, leaps, and jogs. It has been a supreme challenge for Megan and I to burn some of that energy, or at least to direct it towards good and away from evil. Through the summer, we’d spend as much time as we could at the park. We’re constantly enrolling him in city-run gym classes, and we even shelled out the cash to send him to a private facility where we paid teenagers to take a stab at tiring the lad out on our behalf.
I’ve often theorized (rationalized, hoped, insisted) that some of Owen’s more thuggish Daycare tendencies, such as picking on smaller children, was nothing more than toddler’s way of venting excess energy. So, when he pushed a little girl into the toilet, he really wasn’t being “bad,” he was just blowing off steam.
Just go with it. The alternative frightens me.
Fortunately, however, the boy has recently found new ways to redirect his exuberance. He’s been flinging himself from the couch.
I should probably explain. Some time ago the boy developed an affinity for Spider-Man. Though we can’t say for sure, I suspect he discovered the friendly neighbourhood wall-crawler on You-Tube. From time to time we let Owen watch videos on the tablet, where he likes to take in, of all things, toy commercials and the occasional episode of Fireman Sam. Once you begin watching a video, You-Tube, along the side of the screen, offers suggestions for other videos it feels you might enjoy. The interesting thing is, the more of these suggestions you click on, the further you’ll find yourself from your original search parameters.
For example, were you to search for “Fireman Sam episodes,” You-Tube might suggest a video about Fireman Sam lollipops. (As a complete aside, the number of adults that post “reviews” of children’s toys, children’s food items and, in general, kids’ stuff is quite disturbing. More to the point, that there are as many Kinder Egg-related videos is irrational, to the point of being downright scary.) Nevertheless, that lollipop video would then lead to a video about chocolate, which would lead to a video about superhero-shaped chocolate candies, which would lead to Spider-man cartoon, which would then lead to a video about two Taiwanese adults each dressed as Spider-man hopping on mattresses while singing Beatles songs in the rain.
That’s like, trippy… Coo coo ca choo.
Suffice it to say, throughout the muck, Owen picked up Spider-man and ran with it. He’s since become the proud owner of a handful of different Spider-man action figures, Spider-man books, dvds, cups, toothbrushes, hats, shoes, stickers, and a Halloween suit.
He digs Spider-man.
And while we’ve had to keep him from watching Spider-man cartoons on tv (he was having nightmares), it’s obvious we’ve been somewhat responsible for enabling his new-found superhero affinity. Daddy, for one, has been somewhat naughty, having been the financial backer underpinning the expansion of his collection of do-gooders to include Iron Man and Captain America. The boy is also a fan of Thor. And The Incredible Hulk. And Wolverine. And Batman. And Superman.
He digs superheroes.
One of the negatives of allowing a superhero-addicted toddler to watch superhero videos is that the impressionable toddler in question tends to act out many of the actions of said superheroes…. Such as flinging himself from tall buildings. Or, in Owen’s case, flinging himself from couches. To be fair, he’s gotten pretty good at it. He hasn’t landed on his face in some time.
It’s remarkable how many times he can hurl himself through the air, only to bounce back up and do it again. His latest wrinkle is to have me sit on the ground in front of the couch so he can launch himself onto my back…. Again and again and again.
Should you find me wandering the streets, hunched over, you’ll know why.
The boy also likes to pretend he’s Spider-man and shoot his imaginary “webs” at people — he even makes the “ptew” sound as he flicks his wrists at you. Our wrestling matches have morphed into cataclysmic encounters pitting Good (i.e, Owen) against Evil (i.e., moi). His favourite game seems to be where I’m “The Incredible Hulk” and I lay down on the ground while he, with a running start, torpedoes himself through the air and lands on my face, back, or chest. For those of you with no children, or children less inclined to reimagine themselves as Norse gods or armour-clad heroes, imagine hucking a 35-pound bowling ball at my ribs and then adding an obligatory laugh track to compliment my muffled cries and you have a vague image of what any given night at the Wormald household is like.
Searing pain and likely concussions aside, it’s generally in good fun. Where things kind of went sideways was when Owen’s need to fight dastardly daddies left the basement and made its way to Daycare. Apparently making Daddy whimper in pain is all well and good, but he also feels responsible for fighting injustice in the playground as well.
A few weeks back, Owen’s Daycare minders told Megan that he was being “handsy” with the other kids. Now, “handsy” has a few connotations but it seems that, in this case, it didn’t mean Owen was trying to perform CPR on the other children. His minders were careful not to say that he was being “bad,” or “hitting” the other children, but they did seem to make it clear that he was annoying the Hell out of the little scamps.
To be frank, Megan and I weren’t sure what to make of this. We finally pieced things together when a little girl in his class cryptically told Megan that “Owen is always flinging his webs at me. I don’t like it.”
“Do you think Owen is playing superheroes at Daycare and bothering the other kids,” I said.
“Well-reasoned, Holmes. You might be on to something,” Megan replied, in a 19-century cockney accent.
The next day, a couple other little girls and a little boy each told Megan that Owen was pestering them with his superhero exploits. To be honest, they seemed a little uppity for three-year-olds, but their personal space is their personal space and if they don’t want to be blasted with repulsor beams or entangled with imaginary webs while they rode tricycles, then that was the way it needed to be.
Flicking imaginary webs or pretend lasers at classmates is one thing, but we’re a few cracked toddler ribs away from a lawsuit should he crash his Spider-man butt or knees in to little Tabitha or Elijah.
We quickly dropped the accents and told Owen that he wasn’t to play superheroes with his chums at Daycare and, were we to find out that he was still bothering them with webs or lasers or clichéd attempts at extracting justice, he would lose his tv and tablet privileges. He could still wrestle the Hulk (i.e., his evil bedtime-enforcing Daddy), but any future attempts at crime-fighting had to be done at home.
Owen seemed to take the threat to heart and a superhero-less detent ensued at Daycare. The “handsy” complaints ceased. All was right in the world (well, except maybe for the Middle East, eastern Europe, a lot of Africa, much of the Middle East… and don’t get me started on Maple Leafs botched start to the 2014-15 season).
After a few weeks of uneventful Daycare drop-offs and pick-ups, hints that Spider-man might be making the odd playground appearance seemed to emerge from the ruins. After bidding Owen adieu one morning, I overheard one of the boy’s friends mention that it was raining, so they wouldn’t be “able to be Spider-man and save the day outside.”
We weren’t getting complaints, so I didn’t push the matter until, days later, many of the same children that complained about my sweet little wall-crawler (couch-flinger???) ran up to Owen and I and defiantly told him that he wasn’t to shoot his webs at them that day. I looked down at the boy and scolded him for playing superhero. I reminded him that he wouldn’t be able to watch television were I to find out that he was disobeying his Mummy and I. Owen ran to the corner in tears. The other kids were still a little uppity — well on their way to be wonderful suburban children — but this was the way it needed to be.
I dropped the boy off at Daycare this morning. Many of those same children that had complained about Owen’s exploits again made their way up to us. As I helped Owen take his jacket off and change his shoes, one of the very first little girls to complain about the boy and his webs threw her hands towards Owen and yelled, “clink clink clink.”
Owen smiled. Another little boy reprimanded her, “You can’t be Wolverine, Samir’s Wolverine. You’re Captain America and I’m Iron Man.”
Owen smiled. The girl frowned, “Simir isn’t here, so I’m Wolverine. You’re Iron Man and Owen is Spider-man.”
Owen smiled. “Clink clink clink,” she said as she imitated Wolverine’s claws. The other little boy blocked her imaginary blows with his equally imaginary shield.
Owen smiled. He leapt to his feet and fired his webs at them both.
“Are you guys playing superheroes,” I asked.
“Yes,” said the once-uppity little girl.
“Yes,” said the once-uppity little boy, “We’re Avengers.”
It’s fascinating that through force of will, Owen has assembled himself a team of pint-sized heroes. His energy is infectious.
Not sure I want to stifle that.
I looked down and they each ran off to protect the Daycare from evil and injustice. “Ok,” I said. “Just be sure to protect your ribs.”
“We’re not going to walk, right Daddy?”
I got into a little bit of trouble on a social media site a short while ago. But before I get into that, some background for you to chew on.
This past August we enrolled Owen in a new Daycare facility. The boy is slated to begin kindergarten in September of 2015. And while kindergarten in Ontario is now officially referred to as “all-day,” it actually only runs until 2:30ish in the afternoon (at least it does in The Vaughan; consult your local listings should you find yourself with both a kindergarten-aged child and a residence outside of my wonderfully-efficient municipality).
Sadly, Megan and I work well past mid-afternoon and, barring some sort of religious awakening where we look to God to provide for us, we’re going to continue working into the early evenings for the foreseeable future. Fortunately, Owen’s would-be school houses a YMCA-run Daycare and after-class-care program. So, once the boy turns four and begins learning the skills he’ll need to elevate himself from a common thug into an evil genius (or, barring that, a street-level lieutenant in a The Vaughan mob family), we will be granted the opportunity to spend $38 a day to have him minded, moulded, and forcibly subdued by the seemingly capable people at the Young Men’s Christian Association.
As you can imagine, there are limited spaces available and a ridiculous number of kids that need post-class minding by relatively poorly-paid college grads. Megan, being the insanely meticulous planner that she is, figured out that children graduating from the YMCA’s Daycare program and into the school’s kindergarten classes are also grandfathered into the after-school care program.
So, after carefully debating our alternatives, Megan vetoed my plan to hold on to our $38 and have the boy wander the streets for a couple hours each day, and the plan to rip him away from the comfort of his friends and beloved old Daycare for the cold, sterile YMCA-run facility was set in motion. Megan toured the new facility and signed the necessary papers — Owen would begin in late August.
We started prepping him for the change. He would be leaving “Daycare” and, like the big boy he was, would instead be starting “School.” Every few days, we would drive by the facility and pop into the parking lot to show him what everything looked like. We played up how much fun he’d have and downplayed that he would never see his friends again and that they would likely soon forget him and find themselves a new alpha toddler to dispense playground justice. He was excited and, after a few tears and a few hesitant moments, Owen seemed to take to his new environment quite well.
Now, as I’ve alluded to, the YMCA-run Daycare is housed in a public school. In truth, the Daycare takes up a significant portion of the facility. The city has been expanding the school; much of the past summer was spent adding a new wing to the building. (And, funnily enough, as The Vaughan is want to do, they didn’t finish in time…. Actually, despite having a September completion date, they still aren’t finished. Shocking, I know. )
Owen’s transition into his new Daycare occurred during the weeks immediately preceding the start of the new school year. Drop offs were beyond simple. The parking lots were barren as, outside of a handful of staff and construction workers, the school itself was empty. To be honest, it was almost creepy how quiet it was. Owen’s old Daycare was situated near a train station and it was always fun dodging kamikaze Lexus and Audi drivers hurdling me and other cars to try and make their morning train. This, by comparison, was serene. Birds sang. Old people waved at you from the stoops in front of their houses. I half expected a troop of hippies to wander by and gently place a flower in my hair.
Then September rolled around. Then the school year started. Then, things changed.
It was also about then that I cheezed off some people on Facebook.
The first day of the school year started like any other: lug the boy out of bed, feed and clothe him, clothe him again because he didn’t like the pants I chose, hoist him into the car, drive him to Daycare, go to work…. Except, then, it wasn’t.
It was different.
Instead, there were literally hundreds of cars converging on the school from every direction. There were SUVs of every make from the north, sporty Mercedes and BMWs from the south, dependable Toyotas and Hondas from the east, and motley selection of passable Fords and Chevys from the west. Every little Billy and Tabitha from the surrounding region had been loaded into the car and were each impatiently sitting in this Machiavellian suburban Hell. Each vehicle idled for what seemed like an eternity while little every scamp-sized Jonathan and Celeste disembarked in the school’s designated drop off zone.
Owen and I were a full three blocks from the school by time we reached the end of queue.
I was confused. What was going on? Being the first day of school, I had expected more cars and fewer hippies than from the week before, but I hadn’t expected this. “Honk, Daddy,” Owen said. “They’re bad drivers. Honk at them.” In all, it took 20 minutes to navigate the backlog and make my way to the front of the line.
Why on earth are all these children being driven to school? I suppose I can appreciate the really young ones being sported away, but the school goes to grade eight and I can assure you I didn’t see any 12-year-olds ambling down the road with pop rocks and chewing gum.
And I said as much on Facebook… which would be were a couple people voiced their discernible displeasure with my biting commentary on just how pathetic suburban parents are. Far be it for me to comment on the blizzards I trudged through in my youth, but I can assure you that I hiked a fair way to get to school and none of my friends were ever chauffeured on a daily basis either. I grew up in a tough neighbourhood (gangs, drug dealers, crappy old cars with questionable brakes) and I still managed to waddle my way to and from school.
Some people supported my rant. Others, not so much. One person privately noted the peril of sending their kid to school on foot because of the dangers presented by the insidious number of cars lining the route. This person seemed to miss the irony of that. Another person noted that they didn’t trust their kid to walk alone. Which of course begged the question: Why not? What has changed in the past 20 or 30 years that a ten year old isn’t competent enough to walk to school, but my friends and I were fine and dandy to get there by our own devices?
Megan and I are constantly pushing Owen to succeed and fail on his own. We push him to do things himself wherever he can. We insist that he try to go to the washroom by himself. We insist that HE go upstairs and get the toys he wants to play with. I’ve given him the daily chore of helping me feed the cat. We are trying to instill the notion that he has to work for things and that not everything will be handed to him. We try not to give in and acquiesce to his every whim. And, perhaps more important, we are trying to ensure that he learns that, yes, his Mummy and Daddy have worked hard to provide him with a lot of cool things, but he can’t expect everything from us. He should cherish what he has, and work for what he hasn’t… And chief among what will be excluded from him will be a guaranteed ride to school each day.
To that end, a week later, Megan and I settled in to each enjoy a week off from work. We planned to spend it relaxing and recharging. This year has been busy and exceedingly hectic (hence the lack of blog postings) and we decided we would spend much of our time around the house doing as little as possible. We further decided that Owen would go to Daycare for much of that week — both for our sanity, and also to keep him in the rhythm of his new surroundings. One morning, Megan gathered the boy and told him they were going to walk to Daycare.
Owen, not yet three, was unimpressed. Nevertheless, the two of them made the 15-minute sojourn and the boy was dropped off at daycare, uneventfully. That evening, I hopped in the car and sprung the lad from his forced incarceration. As we left, the boy looked to me and said, “Where’s the car? We’re not going to walk, right Daddy? We’re going to drive, right?”
My reasons for writing have always been deeply personal. To be honest, this blog is for me far more than it is for anyone else. That so many of you dig my words is both unexpected and a source of great pride. I have written about my fence, my son, my family, my community, my upbringing and, regardless of the topic, I have always tried to offer you a colourful glimpse of my world… at least how I see it. This space has been a means for me to vent, gripe, celebrate, explore and, yes, even grow.
And, apparently, to get free swag.
About a month ago, a representative from Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament contacted me. They were looking to invite a number of “family” bloggers to “a rousing live jousting tournament,” where I could ”marvel at awe-inspiring horsemanship and falconry,” and feast on “a four-course meal fit for royalty.” As it was, they were willing to pick up the tab for me and my family if, in return, I blogged about my experience.
The first thing to cross my mind was whether they had actually read my blog. I has me a way of sayin’ things that — how should I put it — doesn’t always jive with typical corporate-marketing 101 strategies (just ask The Vaughan). Not willing to compromise my integrity merely for the cost of dinner and a show, I replied asking whether I would need to say or include anything specific in my then theoretical piece. It was only after I was assured that I was free to write whatever I wanted that I agreed to be bought for the price of a four-course meal.
For the ladies out there, yes, I am that a cheap a date. It’s what first attracted me to Megan.
In addition to dinner, we were invited to attend Knight Training, where innocent, impressionable kids could witness a “weapons demonstration” and experience the “grueling” training it takes to be a knight — quite the bonus since Daycare has been reluctant to include weapons training in its curriculum. And frankly, their day-to-day routine of song and play could hardly be characterized as “grueling,” even by the most hippie of standards. With Owen now nearly three, it’s high time he learn the subtleties of falconry. By the end of their training session, the kids would then be “knighted” by King Carlos (the tournament magistrate). This demonstration was for children aged 5–12, a mite bit older than Owen. We decided to skip it. I trust Daycare will pick up the slack.
For those of you that aren’t hip to Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament, allow me to explain. For 30 years, a group of actors, dressed in 14th century knightly garb, have performed a variety of period-specific games; made their horses dance and frolic; jousted; and clobbered their fellow knights with swords, maces, and axes for our viewing pleasure. You are seated around an oblong stadium, are adorned with a paper crown, and you are plied with dinner and drink whilst the King and the Lord Chancellor lead you through the events with their modern, olde tyme microphones.
It would be dishonest (i.e., complete B.S.) were I to suggest that attending Medieval Times was on my bucket list. When it comes to live theatre, I’m more of an artsy Shakespearean sort than I am two brawny dudes walloping each other with swords while on horseback. I’m quite refined for a guy that lives in The Vaughan. But, and I can’t stress this enough, everything was free. Aside from parking, I was comped everything. It’s amazing what you’ll do when it’s prefaced by, “No charge, sir.”
Megan and I were concerned about how Owen would handle his first knightly games. A thug among those he knows well, he’s exceedingly shy among those he doesn’t. We had been playing up how much fun we were all going to have, but you never knew how he’d react once we actually got there. Assuming the horses didn’t terrify him, we also worried he wouldn’t keep still through the nearly two-hour show. Let’s face it, he gets antsy sitting on the potty when it takes him more than a few minutes to poo. (That last sentence is straight from Chapter 9 of the Corporate Marketing Strategies handbook: Use “poo” at least three times in your promotion material.) [#1]
We arrived shortly before the scheduled 4:30 start time, presented our reservation number, and were promptly given our tickets and swag bag. That’s right, not only was I to be fed and entertained, but I was given a Medieval Times notepad, mouse pad, key chain, candy, pen and assorted other goodies. I read somewhere that Academy Award nominees receive $85,000 worth of swag — wormaldwords.com mustn’t have the same level of cache as the Oscars.
Nonetheless, it was time to party like it was 1399!
Two young ladies directed us to have our picture taken with the “King” and his comely young “daughter.” We took our positions and Owen buried his face into Megan’s shoulder. We now have an exquisite picture of a smiling King, Princess, and the back of Owen’s head to hang on the wall. Maybe not the best start to our evening, but a cherished memento nonetheless.
We took our seats towards the middle of the arena in the first row of the VIP section. The three of us were given metal plates and handled bowls. Menus listing the set course for the evening were printed on paper napkins. That night, we would enjoy helpings of garlic bread, tomato bisque, roast chicken, BBQ spare ribs, roasted potato, and a pastry dessert. In keeping with the 14th century motif, no cutlery is provided.
Whereas forks have been around for millennia, they didn’t make their way into common use in England until the 18th century. How the British conquered half the planet but hadn’t the wherewithal to incorporate a fork into their global pillaging is truly baffling. There’s an odd feeling to sitting watching chivalrous knights on horseback at an indoor stadium while eating a half potato and pork rib with your hands while slurping Pepsi in a plastic cup. Pepsi, which our server mentioned was transported by time machine to us in the 14th century, and water were the only libations offered with your paid (or in my case, unpaid) admission. Alcohol is available for a fee.
The food was good, but if I were to level a complaint, it’s that Owen found there little to eat beyond the bread. He took a bite from the rib, but found a half chicken intimidating and the rest simply unappealing. Asked whether any arrangements could be made to supplement his meal, our server voiced how that would not being possible — other foods wouldn’t hold up during the time machine process as well as Pepsi does. Cute as that response was, that meant there was little available for a picky toddler to eat and enjoy. We were fortunate to have brought some snacks of our own to supplement his meal. He was still hungry when we left, however.
The show started with the introductions of the six knights. One by one, each knight and his loyal steed galloped into view. Owen’s eyes widened as soon as he saw the first horse and rider. They certainly are impressive. Each knight Is decked out in a different colour that corresponds with a section of seating in the arena — the knight matching your section is “yours,” and you are encouraged to cheer him on and boo his competitors. Our knight was red and yellow and represented the fictional Count of Perelada.
Owen took a seat on his Mummy’s lap and watched intently as the knights on horseback lapped the arena and performed a medley of tricks. Sitting in the first row, you really get a sense of the power each horse has and the mastery each rider has over them. As each successive knight galloped by, you could tell Owen simply couldn’t take his eyes off them.
Now, I’m going to have to get a little hippie here. Not dirty, awful hippie, but hippie. I am not fond of shows that use animals. In my view, animals are not meant to perform tricks for our amusement. Their beauty is in what they are, not in their ability to hop or pirouette. I’m not in any way suggesting that these horses are, or ever have been mistreated. Quite the contrary, they looked exceptionally well-cared for. But I dislike that they are there and being made to dance and hop. It’s a part of what this show is, I get that, but it’s not something I traditionally go for.
Ok, that’s it for my hippie rant… My misgivings aside, Owen absolutely loved them. His eyes tracked the horses every time they made a pass and he broke out a Cheshire smile when they did each of their tricks. Screw you Daddy, the boy was in awe.
Owen’s a funny little dude. We have him toilet trained, but he can often get distracted by shiny things, bright colours and, as it turns out, shiny knights and colourful horses… Instead of visiting the washroom when he first feels the urge, he’ll get distracted by whatever he’s doing and wait to the last possible moment to go. After fidgeting for a while, he finally said “Mummy, I have to poo poo!” [#2] Megan hoisted him up and took him the washroom. But as soon as he’d get there he was already excited to get back to the show as quickly as he could. In fact, he was so excited that he needed to go three separate times, never actually using the facilities. To our relief, far from being intimidated, the show had him over the moon, bathrooms be damned!
What might well have been the pinnacle of the evening for Owen, however, was when a single lad entered the arena with a falcon. On command, the bird of prey took flight and screamed through the air, darting over the crowd before heading back to the arena. Owen squealed with delight. He laughed and marveled at the bird as it soared over our heads. I have never seen the boy so focused on anything like he was that falcon. He pointed and cheered every time he saw it circle over us. His smile was now ear to ear.
The show ended with the knights “fighting” one-on-one battles with one another. Far from frightening him, Owen, now nearly two hours into the presentation, was standing in the aisle, laughing, clapping, and dancing to the sound of the trumpets. He was even waving the flags we were given to cheer our knight on with. So entertained was he that half the crowd in our section was paying more attention to the giddy little toddler than they were to the battle taking place in the arena.
“The red one, Daddy! The red one. I like the red horse,” he cried as he rushed to the edge of the retaining wall to get an even closer glimpse of his favourite horse and rider.
He was euphoric by time the show ended. And to me, that is what made Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament so delightful. I would be hard pressed to say that I couldn’t find dozens (and dozens) of other things in Toronto that I wouldn’t rather do. The presentation is garish and a bit over the top. But I can say with total sincerity that I have never seen my son so happy as he was throughout this show.
And that is what made the evening so special.
Beefy men pretending to slay one another with swords and axes while we all ate with our hands isn’t how I traditionally spend my Sunday evenings. But Owen was so happy, so excited, so exhilarated, that both Megan and I have already discussed when we’ll eventually make our return — it made that big an impact on us. I’m pleased that Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament asked me to blog about their event. I’m happier still that they made my son so genuinely happy.
Now, should Apple, Sony, The Toronto Maple Leafs, or any other brand out there wish for me to test their product and explore how happy they can make me and my family, please feel free to contact me directly at email@example.com
I am available. I have Owen at the ready.
I’m probably getting ahead of myself, what with Owen being still less than three, but I sometimes wonder what life has in store for the boy. I’ll sit and stare at him while he’s doing puzzles and wonder what career awaits him and what path he’ll choose to follow.
Then he’ll start pouring his milk on the rug and I go back to watching tv.
I used to joke that his thuggish tendencies at Daycare were preparing him for a lucrative doorman position at many of the city’s finest clubs. Of course, that isn’t to suggest he’d just start his door-minding career at the middle-upper-lower clubs. No, no. I envisioned him starting at seedy hick bars in Northern Ontario and working his way, one clobbered head at a time, to the moderately-seedy clubs in Brampton or, barring that, Barrie. I can see Owen excelling at allowing only the prettiest girls into the club while telling the riff raff that they need to wait in line.
Recently, though, I’ve wondered if the club life is really what’s in store for the boy. Owen has been pacified of late (well, aside from that kid he bit a month or so ago). Okay, pacified insofar as no one has told us about any of his misdeeds, and frankly I choose not to broach the subject. Sometimes I think it’s better that I not know what goes on at Daycare. (What happens in Daycare stays in Daycare.) That way, should the boy one day rampage through the community, I can assume a stunned look and tell the media, “I don’t know what happened. It’s just not like him. His fascination with the occult, guns, and the pop music aside, he’s always been such a good boy. I never saw this coming.”
Let’s just agree that, at least until I finish the bunker, I’m hedging my bets and adopting ignorance as an early defense strategy.
Owen’s favourite television shows are Spider-man and Fireman Sam, and he likes to act out many of the things he sees on both programs. Much like his fire-fighting hero, Sam, the boy will rescue his little action figures from a burning barn and will look to extinguish imaginary fires around the house. And, much like his wall-crawling champion, Spidey, Owen has developed an affinity for flinging himself from the couch and other high spaces. The thing is, beyond his ability to leap, the boy hasn’t the ability to shoot webbing from his wrists and, unlike Spider-man, he hasn’t mastered the ability to land. He tends instead to land squarely on his face a lot. Owen, sadly, has no discernible super powers. A super hero career seems unlikely.
Which would leave him with a life filled with fighting fires, saving cats, and washing the fire truck. Or, depending on how often he continues to land on his face, simply washing the fire truck.
I used to want to be a fire fighter when I was his age. I had a LOT of toy fire trucks and, much like Owen does today, I used to ensure our apartment was safe from harm. I’d douse stubborn blazes smoldering on the couch, I’d save those trapped in toy car crashes, and I’d even park the trucks in their fire station under the tv stand.
We lived in a bit of a rough area. Beyond the poverty and the constant threats of physical harm, the great positive of this, of course, was that a lot of tenants in my community used to pull the fire alarm all the time for no particular reason. This meant a medley of different fire trucks was always in the area. From my perspective, who cared if someone got mugged because I got to sit and marvel at our city’s first responders and their bright shiny red trucks and imagine myself riding along, ready to thrust myself into harm’s way the minute I heard the station’s alarm ring.
Then I got a little older and realized that I hated heights; I hated the thought of burning to death; and, perhaps most important, I hated the idea that I would need to work really hard to overcome my fear of heights, fires, and burning to death somewhere high up. I now work in book publishing, where my greatest fears are nasty paper cuts and running out of espresso.
I choose to believe that heroes come in many different forms.
Naturally, being so young, the notion that Owen is destined for any one career is silly. For example, after bravely deciding that I wasn’t cut out to wear a firefighter’s boots and helmet, I decided I would instead be a lawyer. If I remember correctly, that decision had less to do with justice, helping the innocent, or prosecuting the guilty, and more to do with a girl I liked wanting to by a lawyer herself. For about a year I told everyone that my future would be in law. Then the girl transferred schools and I suddenly realized that the world had too many lawyers, that being a lawyer was dumb, and that I would instead seek a different career.
The point, or course, is that one needs to find what’s right for them and that the journey to that decision is a long one, filled with many pot holes, forks, and girls (mostly girls). It’s impossible to say where Owen’s destiny might lay. The most we can do it try to raise the boy the best we can — impart him with the tools he’ll need to succeed and, hopefully, point him the right direction (which, again, will be especially important if he doesn’t stop jumping and landing on his face).
For the past while, Megan and I have been spending much of our time toilet training the boy. It’s gone remarkably well. He picked up peeing in the potty quickly and, not too long after, he started pooing there as also. Compared to some of the horror stories we’ve heard, Owen has done remarkably well.
Owen has reached a point where, aside from perhaps needing help hoisting or lowering his pants and undies, he’s quite proficient at going on his own. I’ve begun trying to leave him be and let him go by himself as much as I can. He needs to learn to go without the help of his mummy and daddy, so I’ll step outside the washroom and wait until I hear him call for help.
The other day Owen raced past me and said, “Daddy, I have to go pee pee.”
I got up and followed him to the washroom. By time I arrived, he had pulled his pants around his knees and was in the process of pulling down his Fireman Sam underwear. I watched as he hopped on to the potty and, just as he began to pee, I stepped out of the room.
No sooner had I exited the washroom than I heard, “Wee oh, wee oh…. Need to put the fire out. Put it out over there. Put it out over here. Wee oh, wee oh.”
Confused, I stepped back inside and saw Owen, hand firmly on his penis, aiming his pee at a series of imaginary toilet fires.
“Fireman Sam to the rescue,” he said, directing his pee at a raging inferno nestled just below his right leg.
“What are you doing, Owen?” I asked.
“I have to put the fires out, Daddy, I have to save the day” he said. “Uh oh! There’s an emergency, I can’t put the fires out!”
He had run out of pee.
Owen then tried forcing every last drop out. The fires were raging and only he could save the day. He bore down, his face flushed, and pushed — only instead of pee, he loosed a tremendous fart that reverberated through the toilet and echoed through the washroom. That was apparently enough to extinguish any stubborn brush fires because he promptly hopped from the potty and started pulling his undies and pants back up. “I did it,” he said, “I saved the day.”
Ok, for the moment, we’ll mark “Fire Fighter” off on his career to-do list… at least in pencil.
I’d like a cup of tea. I’d like a little something to wet my whistle.
Off to the kitchen. Fill the kettle and then to the stove. Put the burner on high and wait for the water to boil. Tea needs boiling water.
I’d like something to drink. I’d like a little something to wet my whistle.
The fire department is here. The kettle caught fire. Silly me. It was electric. The fire fighters seem concerned. Angry, even.
“Sorry,” I say. “Sorry it happened again.”
I smile. I’d like something to drink.
Off to the kitchen.
My son and daughter love me. They’re concerned. Concerned that I misplace things. I’m locked out of the house. Silly me. My son made me a necklace so I can hang my keys from my neck. The gold key for my door. The silver key for the laundry room. I must have dropped them. I must have lost them.
Did I drop them in the laundry room? Did my keys fall in the laundry room? The nurses ask me the names of my son and daughter. “They love me,” I tell them. “They’ll be concerned that I lost my keys.”
“What?” I ask. “My name? But I lost my keys. Maybe they have my name on them.”
“Maybe they’re in the freezer.”
My daughter and son will know who they are. They’ll know what to do about my keys. They’re on the necklace my son made me.
My family is special. They help me remember when things slip.
The nurses seem concerned. They’re talking to the doctors. The doctors seem concerned. They’re talking with my family. The young man and woman seem concerned.
Because I fell?
A psych hold. The people here say that medication will help.
I’d like a cup of something to drink.
The people here are nice. They lock the door and keep me safe. They help me remember. They help me.
They tell me when I have visitors. A man. Sometimes a woman. They smile at me. We have lunch together. They give me something to drink. I must be special. They tell stories. Nice stories. I like their stories. I like to hear about the people in their stories. They seem nice. They’re really nice.
I’m here. Sometimes, but not always. There are people. I’d like a drink. There are people around me.
I would like.
Such a long goodbye.
Goodbye, Mrs. H.
Click HERE to donate to the Alzheimer Society of Canada.
Owen bit a kid at Daycare again.
Actually, to be more precise, he may have bitten two children at Daycare. I’m unsure of all the sordid details, but it sounds like these other kids either took a toy from Owen or they wouldn’t share. None of it, ultimately, is all that important beyond that he tried to extract his pound of flesh from a couple of children between the ages of two and four. In truth, the only positive to come from this unseemly event was that Megan was the one who had to sign the incident report.
I never quite know what to say when presented with my toddler’s misdeeds. “Ummm, bad Owen,” rarely seems a firm enough response — especially when everyone’s steely gaze is focused on you and your “bad parenting.” Megan made some sort of uncomfortable-sounding “did you bite someone, Owen” comment to the boy and was heartened to no end when he grinned and proudly exclaimed, “YES!”
Earlier, they boy’s minders had scolded him and told him “teeth are for food,” which Owen dutifully parroted for the remainder of the day. That night, Meg gave me the gist of what happened and prompted me to ask Owen “what are teeth for?”
“Owen,” I said, “What are teeth for?”
“For food,” he replied, “at Daycare.”
Megan raised an eyebrow. “What? At Daycare?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, “For food at Daycare.”
Notice the little qualifier he added? Apparently that nugget he tacked on wasn’t how he had been phrasing it when Megan sprung our thug from Daycare that afternoon.
“No, Owen,” Megan countered, “teeth are just for food.”
“…at Daycare,” Owen said, completing his Mummy’ sentence.
This isn’t the first time the boy has parsed the language to fit his agenda. Not long ago we would need to set limits on how much milk he could have during a meal to ensure he ate some solid food. “Two more bites and you can have more milk,” I once told him. Sure enough, he took two bites of his dinner and waited for me to give him his sippy cup. I did, and he promptly spit his two bites back out onto the table and started chugging his milk.
He’s a crafty little bugger.
It was also why it’s so important that we nip his “at Daycare” caveat from the teeth–food thing — not only to preclude more children from being bitten, but to set clear rules and prevent him from finding similar loopholes when we tell him to brush his teeth or go to bed.
“Owen, it’s bed time.”
“Ah yes, Father, your simplistic, and let’s face it, archaic notions of ‘bed time,’ are little more than a cleverly-honed attempt to impart your will over me. Your callous disregard for my opinion is tantamount to indentured servitude, which is expressly frowned upon in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Children. As such, it would be more agreeable if I were to continue playing with my fire truck and, upon request, plied with milk and an assortment of night-time crackers, cookies, and other snacks. Then, in keeping with the spirit of the UN’s declaration, you shall be duly informed of the point at which I feel sleepy. Similarly, at a mutually-agreeable location, we shall discuss in earnest how best to proceed with ‘bedtime.’”
You know, or something like that. Hey, it could happen.
After all, the boy is already skewing his Daycare punishment to allow him to bite off-site children willy-nilly. Who knows what loopholes he’ll look to exploit tomorrow.
Don’t believe me? Consider this. Beyond simply parsing language, Owen has, for some time now, learned to play fast and loose with everyday verbiage. He’s developed a sort of toddler-speak where he uses common, everyday words, but spins their meanings to suit his malevolent purpose.
“One more minute.”
Whereas you or I might interpret this to mean, “I’ll be finished in about 60 seconds or so” — or if taken less literal, to mean, “I’ll be finished in a couple minutes” — in Owen’s measured interpretation, it more often means, “Bugger off, Dad, I’m not done watching tv. Come back in an hour and I’ll say ‘one more minute,’ again.” (See also, “Five more minutes,” “Ten more minutes,” “One more second.”)
“I’m so hungry. Don’t want supper/dinner.”
This is my favourite. One might think the boy is just confused and can’t decide whether he’s actually hungry. No no, it means, “I’m hungry, but I don’t want to eat what you made for dinner. I want breadsticks.” (The boy digs breadsticks. He may also want raisins.)
“Where is my [Insert Item]”
This one threw me for a loop for some time as I used to mistakenly believe the boy had misplaced something and was asking for help locating it. Silly Wormald. I was only recently able to discern that the boy is actually saying, “I’ve purposefully hidden something and am now going to pester you until you discover where I put it. Should it take you too long to find it, there’s a better than average chance that I, too, will forget where I put it and will throw a fit of rage until you find it for me.”
Literal translation: “Everything is great, thank you for asking.” In Owen-speak, this actually has two distinct meanings: “You want me to do what? No way!” and “Wait, did you just ask me something? I best say something that will preclude you from needing to pester me any further.” Megan believes he learned the second meaning from me.
“I don’t need to go potty.”
Translation: “I just peed/pooed in my pants. Don’t worry, I’m fine.”
“Don’t want it.”
Or, “What the hell, why haven’t you given it to me? I’m going to continue yelling that I don’t want it until you given it to me.”
The boy has cleverly mastered the art of double speak. He can zero in on words or sentences that grant him the most leeway. At times, you would almost forget he’s a toddler. Were it not for his propensity to bite, I’d almost think he’s slated for a career as a lawyer. Sadly, of course, he does bite… so he’s more likely to end up in municipal politics.
We need to fix this, immediately.
Here in The Vaughan, they say they build sidewalks
But often than not it’s nothing but talk.
They dig and they dig, and they dig some more.
Sometimes, however, they tire of chores.
Yep, that’s right, quite often they do
And then they move on to things of no use to you.
In this case they started a path, early last year,
And in front of my house concrete soon would appear.
A crew of motley workers huffed and they chuffed.
They laid down their mortar, much more heavy than fluff.
But once it seemed that all would be done
They soon disappeared for somewhere more fun.
Though the city was paying them to finish the pass,
They had to stop once they reached an old gaff.
The workers before them didn’t read their right maps
Because those in charge were all taking long naps.
So an earlier sidewalk aside my abode
Was misplaced and built too close to the road.
Which seems like such folly, until you accept
That this is The Vaughan, so it all makes much more sense.
I was soon told by a chap at the city,
That the old walkway needed to be moved in a jiffy.
And thus an end date could not been commissioned
Until their guys dealt with this ungainly addition.
Of course I was told this early last year,
And it wasn’t that long before it was abundantly clear
That a jiffy to me is but a vague novel concept
And not something soon that I should come to expect.
Don’t worry, kind sir, it’ll be done by the Fall.
The words which now make me laugh most of all.
The sidewalk wasn’t torn, nor was it even slightly dented.
No new walkway was ever cemented.
So with winter fading from mind and from sight,
In front of my house I have but a blight.
An unfinished walkway with nothing but vows
That they’ll finish it by time home come all the cows.
I wonder if this is not like my fence,
Which took many years and cost many cents.
The Vaughan will promise that this time they mean it
They’ll finish the sidewalk in just one more minute.
I’ve heard it before and I don’t much believe them.
After all, sidewalks are big, who screws up where to dig them?
But alas they did so I sit here and wait
While the city considers why everything’s late.
So as it goes, and as things continue,
To speed I will keep you,
And most fully abreast,
This I promise, and I will do my best.
But please don’t expect me to write here in rhyme
Such requests will make me grumble and whine.
Instead seek yourself a different stout bard
Since writing this way is actually hard.
Dollar stores in The Vaughan are different from the ones I remember growing up in the ‘hood. More on that in a second…
I’ve spent much of the past while either spelling my crippled wife from having to do anything around the house that requires the use of a hand (ok, Megan isn’t crippled, per se, but her broken wrist has left her incapacitated — at least insofar as she can’t change a diaper, which is incapacitated enough; the poor thing) or in the basement doing manly construction stuff.
In fact, much of my waking time has been spent coordinating, obtaining, and assembling all the nagging nuisances that underpin the completion of a fully-finished basement: like hauling doors down my incredibly tight stairs, trying to minimize the searing pain in my knees while installing the subfloor, and surfing the ‘net to ascertain the differences between a T-mould and a Baby Threshold.
Don’t I sound all tough and construction-y when I talk about building and building-related do-hickies? I like to tell myself that I do. I even formed a callus on my finger. Luckily I was able to pumice it away.
The major construction has been done for a while. I now has me nice set of fully-wired-in, drywalled rooms. While technically Megan and I did think we’d finish by spring, there were days when I wondered why we couldn’t get it done sooner. Nevertheless, caring for an exuberant toddler whilst lugging much of the materials downstairs all by my lonesome has been both exhausting and time consuming. And, as such, here we be.
The basement has, to this point, taken shape through a combination of hard Wormald labour (to be fair, any labour is hard labour for your favourite blog-writing Wormald), and the fine work of highly-qualified, highly-expensive tradespeople. I’ve tried to do whatever I can to help keep costs down. The savings I accrued by doing the framing myself, for example, paid for the spray foam insulation. In fact, we’ve arrived at a point where much, if not all, of the remaining work is mine to do. With the electricians having done their final hook ups, everything now rests on my broad, if not slightly mushy shoulders.
More recently, I began installing the subfloor. A subfloor is the wood panels sandwiched between the concrete and the carpet/laminate. It keeps the floor you walk on from direct contact with concrete and any corresponding moisture. People will argue that subfloors are highly important; I say they’re highly expensive. Fortunately, in the grand scheme of basement construction, the subfloor is not that hard to install.
Once I reached the washroom, I discovered that I would need to cut a couple holes to allow the drains to poke through the subfloor. The plan would be to draw the circles on the wood and cut them using a jigsaw. Harkening to my grade-school days, I knew the best thing for outlining a circle was a compass. Sadly, with no compass to be had anywhere in the house (good –for-nothing cat), and not wanting to spend very much to draw two circles, I decided to take a field trip to my local dollar store. (How’s that for a segue? Some might call it verbose and long-winded; I say that you didn’t read fast enough.)
I grew up po’.
We needed to be frugal and careful with our money. While dollar stores as we understand them today (i.e., establishments that sell things for, you know, a dollar) didn’t yet exist, there were a number of forerunners. Places, such as BiWay and Bargain Harolds, were discount stores that sold everyday items, often not the brand names, for less than the department stores.
I hated them.
I knew we weren’t affluent, but the idea of spending less on day-to-day items irritated me. What if one of my “richer” classmates saw me shopping there? I’d be mortified and outted as poor. I fully believed we should spend more for those products in order to maintain a facade that we far from poor — upper-middle-lower class.
I was eight, what did I know.
Still, regardles of your social standing, shopping at these joints wasn’t something you broadcasted. Casual 1980s conversation, for example, rarely started with “Hey, I bought me some no-name tin foil and shampoo last night. Saved forty-three cents over the supermarket brand!” It was the ‘80s, and over-the-top opulence was the rage.
The same cannot be said of The Vaughan.
Today’s discount stores, true “dollar” stores, carry items all-together inferior to the discount stores from the 1980s. Which is all the more interesting when you realize that you will find, on any given day, a smattering of Porsches, BMWs, Mercedes, and Lexuses parked in front of the local “Dollarama.” Indeed, in a complete role reversal from the ‘80s, the rich have made it accepted commonplace to stock their shelves with an assortment of discount items from a dollar store.
In The Vaughan, up is down, down is left, and no one knows for sure how long it takes to make a fence.
Parking between a silver BMW and a black Lexus, I ambled into the dollar store and made my way to the aisle that housed the store’s school supplies. Pencils. Markers. Calculators. Binders. Rulers.
I stopped at the end of the aisle and stood next to a young woman with a Coach purse, impeccably manicured nails, and perfectly coifed hair. She was shopping for batteries and seemed unable to decide between two brands, neither of which I had ever heard of before. I doubled back and then made my way through a couple of the corresponding aisles. Still no compass.
I spied a woman wearing a red smock. Clearly she worked at Dollorama since you don’t see many Mercedes’ drivers wearing red smocks nowadays. I was therefore confident I could ask her about compasses. As I approached, she was directing a man in a finely-tailored suit to the aisle with the adult flip flops.
“Excuse me,” I said, “Do you know where I could find the compasses?”
“The things that tell direction? Aisle six.”
“No,” I said, “The compasses that draw circles.”
“We don’t sell them,” she said.
“What? But what do those of us that want to draw circles on a budget do then?”
My penetrating attempt at Wormald-related socio-economic humour was lost on my hardened, smock-wearing friend.
“They’re too dangerous,” she said, “So we stopped carrying them.”
“Are you kidding,” I asked.
“No, kids hurt themselves.”
“But you sell knives.”
This went on for some time. She was mystified about my inherent confusion concerning the logic behind selling knives to rich children while simultaneously protecting them from the dangers of drawing circles. Still, for all the compass-inspired injury talk Sue and I engaged in (from the tag on her smock, I was able to ascertain her name was “Sue”; I’m perceptive that way), it didn’t get me any closer to obtaining the holy grail of basement construction — a #$%@ing compass.
I did however, snag me some candy. Dollar stores have a lot of candy. I like candy.
In what amounted to another stark difference in the ‘hood-versus-The Vaughan “buying for less,” the two women ahead of me in line paid for their items with a one-hundred-dollar bill and a fifty-dollar-bill, respectively. In my old neighbourhood, you tended to see more dimes and quarters than you did hard currency. And neither of them seemed the slightest bit embarrassed as they waited to be handed their ninety-plus and forty-plus dollars in change.
After paying for my gummy bears, I popped a couple into my mouth and wandered back to the car. Curious about where at city hall I’d need to apply for my concealed compass permit, it dawned on me that, if the rich shopped at dollar stores, where then did the po’ shop? And, to be honest, I’m not sure what to make of a world where the rich go out of their way to openly shop at dollar stores, where compasses pose an unacceptable risk for today’s youth, and where my wife can’t change a diaper.
The Typhoid Marys at Owen’s daycare are at it again. I dropped by last night to pick up the boy and was greeted with a series of signs ominously warning everyone that the toddler rooms had experienced an outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease. (Not to be confused with Hoof and Mouth disease; that’s cows – fortunately, Owen and the other toddlers aren’t cows!)
Three kids had, over the past few days, come down with the illness and we were to be put on notice that, should our children break out in spots, they wouldn’t be allowed to return to the facility until they were fully symptom free.
The past couple months have been rough on the boy. Owen spent Christmas day in various degrees of being not well. He was a crusty little dude, but his lack of holiday cheer made more sense when we learned that he was suffering from what the doctor dubbed, “a really nasty ear infection.” A ten-day prescription of antibiotics had him back up at ‘em…. Or so we thought.
By early January he developed the flu. His condition worsened over the following few days and he was again back to see the doc — only to discover that his ear infection had also returned. We learned that he had been prescribed half the dosage of antibiotics he needed and, subsequently, his ear was once again a cesspool of puss and infection. We upped the dose and took our little buckaroo home.
At which point he promptly broke out in hives.
We then plied our mule with supplies, loaded the wagon and hit the dusty trail back to the doctor. He was given a new antibiotic and we again moseyed our way back to the Wormald homestead to mend our sick little gaucho. It had been several days since the boy had fallen ill and it finally seemed that the flu was starting to break. Couple this with the new antibiotic for the ear infection and Owen, we presumed, was back on the path to good health. He’d be back bustin’ broncos in no time.
At which point things got worse again.
Owen had had a fever off and on throughout this latest ear infection, but that afternoon it finally seemed to be abating. We put the lad to bed and, for the next two hours, listened to him cough. He coughed and he coughed and he coughed. And then, he coughed some more. I went upstairs to see if he would settle if I held him upright only to discover that my little hombre was roasting. Seemingly out of nowhere, his fever spiked to the highest it had been since he had fallen ill. Coupled with his seeming inability to stop coughing, Megan and I began discussing whether we needed to take our little cowpoke to the ER.
He looked awful. It was just before nine in the evening when we arrived at hospital. Ontario emergency rooms are such that you need to visit with a triage nurse upon your arrival. Then, depending on the type and severity of affliction, you’re directed to different rooms from which a nurse and a doctor will see to it that your ills are righted and your wounds mended.
Simple in theory.
However, when you arrive at night with a sick toddler, the sight of thirty people lined up ahead of you just to see the triage nurse is more than a little depressing. In all, we waited more than half an hour before we were even able to meander our way to the front of the triage line. We finally recounted Owen’s story and the nurse took his temperature. The boy was displeased and wouldn’t sit still. His fever was still raging. The nurse fetched some children’s Tylenol and asked if Owen would take it.
I laughed. Megan laughed. Heck, I think Owen even chuckled at little. “No,” we said. By that point, he had been sick long enough that he had had his fill of antibiotics, pills, drops, balms, and ointments that he simply refused any of it. We had been forced to plead, beg, bribe, and manhandle the boy to get his antibiotics into his mouth. It was even harder to then get him to swallow it.
“Well,” she said, “we need to get that fever down. We need to get this into him.”
I should remind everyone that Owen is two. He’s a big dude for his age, but he’s still just a toddler. I am a strapping lad. Megan is an adult. The nurse is a trained professional. It took the three of us to get the Tylenol down him. He screamed. He fought. He chewed. He punched. He kicked.
It wasn’t easy.
We were directed to sit in an ancillary waiting area until we were instructed to enter the primary ER room…. Sadly, that wouldn’t be for another two hours. It was nearing midnight before we were asked to take our place among the truly pathetic — the sick and the dying were strewn together in what was tantamount to a holding pen for the afflicted. Pestilence and disease were riff and were each accented by the groans and whimpers of the ill and the infirmed. From one corner to the next, people with tubes hanging from them were sitting among those hacking up phlegm and other unsavory fluids. And there, nestled among them, was a little boy, sick with fever, wearing his Batman jammies while laying half asleep on his mummy’s shoulder.
The ER was busting at the seams. We could hear the nurses, each at their wit’s end, complaining they were running low on supplies and lamenting that they hadn’t had a break in eight hours. The area was so small and tightly packed that privacy would prove impossible. Tests were ordered and needles administered in plain view and in full earshot of everyone. Nothing was sugarcoated or spoken in hushed voices. We were a communal family where even the mightiest or the most feeble’s diagnosis was for public consumption.
It was an hour before a nurse came to see us. Now one in the morning, she had a children’s dose of Benadryl. Owen was still sprouting hives and this would hopefully calm them. She asked if Owen would take it. I laughed. Megan laughed. Heck, I think Owen even chuckled at little. “No,” we said.
Well,” she said, “we need to get this into him.” And thus began what has come be to known in hospital lore as, “The Struggle.”
Megan clasped the boy in as firm a bear hug as she could. I pried the boy’s head as still as I could between my hands and positioned my body to pin his legs. Then, a trained and experienced ER nurse tried to unhinge Owen’s jaw to get the medicine into him.
He screamed. He fought. ”The Struggle” would prove epic.
Let me preface this and say he didn’t simply speak loudly. He screamed, “NO! STOP IT! DON’T WANT IT!” He didn’t simply thrash about. He twice broke free from our grasp. He tried to spit the medicine back out as soon as it touched his tongue. He fought with everything he had. I have never done anything so physical than trying to administer a couple tiny doses of Benadryl to a toddler. He was so angry he was nearly rabid. The anger seething through Owen was shocking in its ferocity. Purple medicine and saliva bubbled and dripped from his iron-clenched jaw. I looked around to see everyone watching us. Even the most deathly ill of the lot were aghast at the struggle they had just witnessed. The nurse confided that, in all her years, she had never experienced anything so demanding. “I thought he was going to spit it back into my face,” she said. “I’ve never had a toddler try to do that before.”
It was against this backdrop that we then learned Owen would require a chest x-ray.
The doctor summoned us and gave Owen a once-over. It was now two in the morning and he wanted to ensure that nothing was sitting in the boy’s lungs. Owen was, by now, exhausted and the befallen that comprised the ER were themselves growing crankier as the hours slowly ticked by.
We took Owen to the radiology room. Megan would need to accompany him on her own while I managed the coats in the hall. Then, still suffering from fever and from his ear infection, and having been removed from his bed some five hours earlier only to be forcibly administered two separate oral medicines against his will, the boy was strapped into a Dickensian device that completely pinned his arms to his side and fully encased his chest. My sick two-year-old was unable to move any of his appendages and was completely immobilized while they x-rayed his chest. You could tell Owen was beyond simple anger and wanted nothing more than to go home.
Once they finally sprung the lad from his shackles, we returned to the waiting room of the damned. It would be a further two hours before we were again hailed to speak to the doctor. His lungs were clear. He had the flu and an ear infection. Things should clear in a day or two.
“But the insatiable coughing,” we asked. He as the flu.
“But the fever that spiked out of nowhere,” we asked. He has the flu and an ear infection.
The clock neared 4:00 am — we had just spent seven hours in ER only to be been given Tylenol and Benadryl and told to go home.
I spoke to Owen’s daycare minder about the Foot and Mouth outbreak. Kids suffering from this break out in spots that can then turn into painful blisters. Not fun. I asked if there is any treatment for it.
“Nope, just keep them home.”
I looked at Owen. Somehow, I think I could swing that.
“Fatherhood” comprises so many things. The intricacies that go into raising a child are so multifaceted they almost defy reality. The expectations underpinning “fatherhood” are never ending.
I’m a young father. Young in the sense that I haven’t been a dad for long (the number of grey hairs I’m currently sporting make the other meaning increasingly less apt). Every day is a new learning experience and Owen has been good at, if nothing else, teaching me that I still have so much more to learn about “being a dad.” I think that I am a good dad; one day, I hope to be thought of as a great dad.
I went into fatherhood with the understanding that everything I did, every waking thought I had, was aimed at the betterment of my son. I would do anything to give him the tools he needed to be a good and solid person. I’ve said it before, so much of parenthood is cliché. The thing about clichés, of course, is that they are all ultimately rooted with some level of truth. A parent giving themselves wholly to enriching their child’s life is, perhaps, no bigger a cliché than any — but it’s also likely the most honest and truthful.
There’s little that I wouldn’t do for Owen. He is, simply, my life now. There is nothing I have that I wouldn’t give up for him.
Or so I would have assumed.
We try to keep Owen active. He has a lot of energy (a LOT of energy) and we need professional, third-party help to burn it off, especially on weekends. Over his short life, the boy has been enrolled in a number of different community classes. In less than two years, he’s participated in Wee Hands (baby sign language), Monkeynastix and Kindergym (baby and toddler gym classes that typically result in baby and toddler free-for-alls; or, more specifically, an opportunity for Owen to run screaming through an enclosed space whilst pushing smaller children), and a number of different swimming classes (where Owen is afforded the opportunity to scream, “I want Mommy! I want to go home,” for half an hour each Sunday morning).
Owen is currently nearing the end of his current crop of swim classes. He’s made great progress over the past six weeks. Under the sage tutelage of some pimply-faced teenager, Owen now only dislikes the pool when he gets wet. Before, he grew angry if you even mentioned that you were taking him swimming. With his fear of water nearly conquered, our next endevour is get the boy past his searing hatred of snow on his boots. (It’s a long story… but suffice it to say, in Owen’s mind, his greatest achievement to date was learning to kick the snow from his boots after he gets in the car.)
Each week, Megan wades into the water with the boy and does her best to temper his apparent disdain for water. It’s ironic that he sprouts crocodile tears to voice his displeasure at having his toes dipped into the pool. A few days ago, however, Megan slipped on the ice in front of our house and, unfortunately, broke her wrist. Despite rockin’ her new cast like a boss, her now-immobilized wrist and thumb have left her unable to do a good number of things… like wading into the water with the boy and doing her best to temper his apparent disdain for water.
Never fear, good netizens and loyal readers, Wormald — father, husband, blog-writing dude for the people — was still of sound mind and of mushy-around-the-edges, but largely solid body. He’d step up! In his wife’s dinged and wounded condition, he would carry on in her stead.
Come Hell or high water, OWEN WOULD NOT MISS HIS SWIMMING CLASS.
That’s what I assumed I would have said. Though if I’m completely honest, I would have had the Superman theme song playing in the background and there would have been a slight breeze blowing just hard enough to flap my Wormald-emblazoned cape stoically behind me. There might even have been a rash of my faithful, adoring fans cheering me on as I ambled heroically towards the pool.
This was my opportunity to prove a fatherhood cliché reality. I would not let my child down.
As my wife and I lamented the pain she felt in her wrist, and as we discussed how her plaster cast would limit her ability to do much of much, and as Megan signaled that the burden of seeing my only child bob up and down in the water would have to fall on to my shoulders, the first thing that sprang to mind was not, “Fear not, I shall endure. I shall provide for my son.”
It wasn’t even, “Crap, ok, what time do we need to get to the pool?”
The first thing that entered my mind was, “BLOODY HELL! The Olympic hockey game is on then!”
Father of the year? Not so much. Meg asked me what I was talking about. “The men’s Olympic hockey finals are on that morning,” I cried.
Well, I didn’t cry… not completely. “But Owen is just starting to like swimming,” Megan said, grimacing from the pain she so bravely endured. “He doesn’t have many more classes. I’d hate for him to get out of his rhythm.”
“But it’s the gold-medal game,” I whined. “This only happens every four years!”
“Well… think about it,” Megan said, meekly.
#$*& ! ! !
Parents need to make sacrifices. They sometimes need to give up things that are important to them in order to provide for what’s important to their children. But geez, the Olympic finals? Couldn’t I just donate a kidney to someone? I mean, to see Canada in the finals, I’d adopt instead one of Sally Struthers’ starving kids and proudly offer up the picture they send to show that my hard-earned-dollars are going to good use.
Hell, here’s my veins, take what you need. Just leave me enough to watch the game!
And c’mon, Owen is only two. I can’t imagine missing a single swimming class would stunt his emotional and physical development so fundamentally that it would doom him to a life of indentured servitude or forced incarceration — let’s face it, his penchant for smacking smaller children upside the head will likely have more to do with that than a missed opportunity to frolic in the community centre pool with Daddy.
I spent the next couple days mulling my responsibility as Owen’s father. I considered what it is to be the role model in his life. I thought a lot about what it takes to be a dad and how much my little guy was relying on me. There really was only one thing to do. The decision was easy.
And now, days later, I am satisfied with my choice.
It was a great game! Owen can go swimming next week. CANADA! CANADA! CANADA!
“Mommy, Abu hit Owen.”
“What?” asked Megan. “Where did he hit you?”
Owen pointed to his head. “Abu hit Owen.”
“Well,” Megan said, “Did you tell him, ‘Stop! Don’t hit. That’s not nice’?”
“You don’t hit. You look for a teacher and then, remember, you say, ‘Stop! Don’t hit!”
Owen looked at me.
For a while now, Megan and I have been concerned that Owen was developing into a bully. I’ve written about it be before, but the boy has never been shy to lean on smaller children, especially if they had a toy or a cookie that he wanted. Whether it was an itty-bitty tyke in the infant room, a still small but less-itty-bitty scamp in the toddler room, or some random imp at the playground, my son has never been averse to asserting any size advantage he might have.
No one loves a bully — even a two year old bully — so we’ve been mindful of trying to tame, or at least reel in, his overly-aggressive tendencies. I joke that it’s better we set the boy on the straight and narrow now as, if he were to follow his current trajectory, he’ll lock himself into a career as a doorman at a downtown Toronto club. No disrespect to downtown Toronto doormen — when a drunken head needs bustin’, they do good work — but it isn’t exactly what we have in mind for him. Frankly, I would rather see Owen’s strength and aggression used for good, instead of evil… like a professional sports career, where he could earn enough to care for his parents in their early-retirement years. Heck, I’d even be cool with an acting career where he could make a name for himself in action flicks as “Hired Goon #3.”
At any rate, we’ve had some success mollifying the boy’s “hitting” tendencies: he doesn’t bite the cat anymore (though that might have more to do with my decision to stop cutting Peanut’s claws and let her have at it; after a few cut noses, Owen seemed to learn really quick it’s best not to piss off the ‘Nut) and we haven’t had nearly as many incident reports at Daycare.
This all being said and true, there’s a fine line between being the bully and being bullied. I’m hesitant to reel him to such an extent that he can’t take care of himself. As bad as it would be for a high school-aged Owen to walk into the cafeteria and steal some unsuspecting kid’s lunch, it would be just as bad if he was the kid getting his lunch pinched from him.
Trying to explain the difference between “Owen, no hitting,” and “Owen, only hit when you are being picked on” or “when someone else starts it” is a stretch when you’re dealing with a kid that still won’t use the potty. Complex social issues and the nuances separating when to strike and when to hold back tend to get lost in the fog when he still isn’t completely sure of the difference between the colours red and blue.
Owen loves to rough house it with me. I’ll toss him in the air, he’ll leap from the couch into my arms, and I’ll pin and wrestle him to the ground — all to a chorus of laughs and giggles. He particularly enjoys it when I push him over on the couch or bed. “Fun, Daddy! Again,” he’ll cheer. At his young age, however, he has a difficult time separating “rough housing it with Daddy” and “pushing this other kid over because he just happens to be standing there”… especially when, from his point of view, Daddy is, technically the one “picking on him,” and that Daddy was the one who “started it.”
You run into all sorts of complex confusing social issues when you try to explain it’s “playing” when I push him over, but that it is isn’t “fun” or “playing” when he does it to a 13-month-old. It’s harder still when you have to then explain that, yes, the cat did hit you for no good reason, but that he still can’t take a swipe at her afterwards.
It’s must be really confusing to be two and be presented with all manner of blatant life-related hypocrisies. It’s ok under these circumstances, but not those. Do this now, but don’t do that then. The poor boy must sometimes think up is down and that we’re all nuts.
And, to be honest, the boy might not always be wrong.
The one constant, however, is that at least Owen can count on a unified, consistent voice from his Mummy and Daddy. Owen, no matter how twisted and confused life might be, will always know that his parents will come together as one to present a cohesive, well-reasoned plan of attack for him to consider as he faces the challenges awaiting him. For example…
The other day, Owen was seated at the table and given his dinner. I took a seat beside him and asked how Daycare was. He turned to me and said, “Daddy, Abu hit Owen.”
“He hit you? Where?”
He pointed to his head. I asked, “Did it hurt?”
“Yeah,” said Owen.
“Did one of your teachers see,” I said.
“No,” said Owen. “Abu hit Owen.”
“Did you hit him back,” I asked?
“Well, when someone hits you, you need to hit them back. But just once. That way, they won’t hit you anymore.”
“Owen hit Abu,” he asked, inquisitively.
“Yes. But only if he hits you first, Owen,” I said. “And just once.”
Meg made her way to the kitchen. She had been upstairs when Owen and I had our man-to-man. She took a seat with us at the table.
“Mommy, Abu hit Owen.”
“What?” asked Megan. “Where did he hit you?”
Owen pointed to his head. “Abu hit Owen.”
“Well,” Megan said, “Did you tell him, ‘Stop! Don’t hit. That’s not nice’?”
“You don’t hit. You look for a teacher to come help and then, remember, you say, ‘Stop! Don’t hit!”
Owen looked at me.
I looked at the boy, looked at Meg, smiled uncomfortably and excused myself from the table.
I had likely done enough.